Disclaimer: Believe it or not, anything you recognize does not belong to me. Surprising, isn't it? No, all the recognizable bits belong to the goddess, JKR. However, if Severus ever showed up on Ebay…well…that is another matter entirely. Has everyone marked June 21st down on their calendars? I know I have!

Bedside Manner

I can take care of myself.

I have always been able to take care of myself.

And, once I am out of this damned place, I will go back to what I do best…taking care of myself.

I know the walls of the infirmary by memory. Each crack in the wall…each bit of cobweb that escapes the wrath of the countless cleansing spells cast daily. All of it is familiar to me.

My prison. Oh, it is not Azkaban…but it is a prison nonetheless.

Although I realize that the war is over and that Voldmort is nothing more than a soulless body…still, I wish I were not stuck here. I had wanted to be there when the fortunate Dementor consumed the soul of one who had been my master.

I am my own master now…and I am stuck in this cot, being taken care of by that dratted medi-witch. I feel like an invalid…like an old dotard who can't even get up to take care of more personal matters.

How humiliating. Will I ever live down the shame of it all?

And she says nothing. She is all sweetness and light. Typical Gryffindor arrogance. Smiling as she helps me eat…helps me dress…casts the cleansing spells so that I do not stink to high heaven. I always expect some sort of sarcasm from her. Some caustic remark…something that would demonstrate the irony that I am the one who must look to her for help. Gloating. Yes, that is what I would expect.

But there is none…and that is most disconcerting, to say the least.

If I did not know any better…I would almost say that she wants to take care of me. Although why she would want to do that is beyond my comprehension. Why would anyone take the time to bother about me? Albus would have…but he is dead now. On the other hand, the Boy Who Lived lives yet and he has been in to see me. Flushed with his victory over the Dark Lord.

That is unkind of me.

He did not seek recognition…he had his own losses to bear. I suppose it tempered the final victory with a tang of bitterness.

I know what bitterness and disappointment and guilt taste like. I know what it is like to lose a friend despite your best efforts…to save the world and lose a part of your soul…and I would not wish it on him. Not at all.

One day, I suppose I will have to talk to him…I don't think the others truly understand what he is going through. Yes, we will chat…over tea and crumpets and reminisce over the days when I terrorized him in Potions class. Very happy memories, those.

No, in all seriousness, I will talk to him.

Later…when I can actually move around on my own.

The sound of footsteps turns my attention elsewhere.

"Severus? It is time for supper," her voice calls as she comes into view. I almost smile in spite of myself.

"I am not hungry," I grumble.

"Of course not," she smiles at me. There is such warmth in that smile. Has anyone ever noticed? "But you know I will stay with you until you have eaten everything on your tray."

She places the tray on the small table beside my bed and assists me into a more upright position, summoning more pillows so that I am comfortable.

I feel I deserve a bed of thorns.

"Tonight the house elves have outdone themselves," she announces as she lifts the napkin from the tray. "Steak and kidney pie. Scalloped potatoes. Corn. Apple crisp. Iced pumpkin juice. In a word, delicious."

"I'm not hungry," I repeat in a sullen tone.

"I know…but all good Potions Masters must have their supper so that they can heal more quickly," she replies lightly as she picks up the plate with the pie and vegetables and starts to feed me.

I do not reply as I eat the food as slowly as possible, chewing carefully.

"How do your hands feel, Severus?" She asks as she patiently waits. It's her little trick to get me to swallow. Ask me questions. Next, she will ask me about what modifications to the Pacifus potion would render it useful for colicky children.

I swallow and, holding out my bandaged hands…move my fingers slightly. "As you can see, the range of motion is increasing daily…I will soon return to my customary duty of taking points from Gryffindor."

She smiles in delight and gives me another mouthful of food. I have to admit…the house elves certainly know their craft.

"You are making wonderful progress. I have requested to take you for short walks in the gardens next week. The fresh air will do you a world of good," she comments.

"Wouldn't the sunlight be rather detrimental to this overgrown bat's health?" I ask, furling my brows as she chuckles.

Shaking her head, she feeds me again…the potatoes are just the tiniest bit burnt…exactly how I like them.

"Despite the constant rumours, I have no reason to believe you are a vampire, Severus," she replies.

I swallow. When did she become so comfortable using my name? Puzzling. It seems that graduation and five years away from Hogwarts have taken away her sense of respect for a colleague.

We continue in this way for a long time. I refuse to eat quickly and she does not press. She merely sits patiently…feeding me and indulging my many whims. It is almost as if we are playing a game…although I sometimes feel that it is more than just a game…

Oh, for heaven's sake. What is wrong with me tonight?

I know I am not an easy patient to look after. This is something Poppy used to tell me over and over again ad nauseum. I do miss that meddlesome witch. However, her replacement is…adequate. More than adequate if truth be told.

"Do you like apple crisp?" She asks as she takes away the goblet of iced pumpkin juice. I would have preferred a bit of Ogden's Old Firewhiskey. No, I would have preferred a lot of Ogden's Old Firewhiskey. A bottle would be appropriate. A glass would be nice but not necessary.

"I prefer bumbleberry," I reply with a wry smirk. Ah yes, bumbleberry crisp and Ogden's. An excellent match.

"Would you like me to get some bumbleberry crisp? I am certain the house elves would be delighted to make it for you," she asks in sudden concern.

"No!" I exclaim suddenly, earning a strange look from her. Forcing myself to calm down, I manage to muster a more sedate response. "No, apple is fine."

As I eat the apple crisp, bite by bite, I am suddenly struck by the fact that I don't want her to go. I don't want her to leave me by myself.

How did I come to this sorry state? Perhaps I should be at St. Mungo's.

The last sip of pumpkin juice and the meal is over. She puts the empty tray and dishes on the bedside table and then comes to sit next to me once again. Suddenly, I feel afraid. Afraid to see her go. Afraid she will never come back.

What is wrong with me?

"Severus? Are you all right?" She asks me quietly, touching my forehead with her hand. I close my eyes…I am feeling very ill…no, that is not it at all…

Her hand caresses my cheek, brushing back several strands of hair that had been tickling my nose.

How have I come to this? Reduced to the level of a spineless whelp by the merest touch of her hand.

How did I become so weak? So vulnerable?

"Severus?" I feel her hand run through my hair…jolts of electricity course through my body.

Is this what I think it is? Oh gods…what am I going to do?

And then…I feel her arms around me and her head pressed to my chest. I open my eyes and stare in silent amazement as she holds me tightly. I can only manage the crudest of embraces. How I wish I could do more…the smell of her…intoxicating…

I am truly lost.

"I know you think that I merely look after you out of caprice…or take some fiendish delight in being the one who has some sort of power over you. But, that is not it at all," she looks up at me and I can't help but feel that my heart has stopped when I see the expression in her eyes.

No one has ever looked at me like that before.

No one has ever made me feel worthwhile with a single glance.

I simply look at her…I must appear to be dazed.

"I don't expect you to understand. I barely understand it myself. But…I care about you. In fact, I may even love you," she rests her head on my chest again. I know she can hear my heart pounding.

Love.

She loves me?

100 points to Gryffindor.

"Hermione…I…" I don't quite know what to say.

"It's all right, Severus." I can tell she is crying although she is trying hard not to show it. "I don't expect you to feel the same. I just wanted…"

Enough of this nonsense. Clumsily, I manage to make her look up at me. I have every intention to tell her…explain to her…try to put into words exactly how I feel.

And, in looking at her tear-streaked face, I realize that words will not suffice. Not this time.

And so…I kiss her instead.

Several moments later, she is smiling and so am I. Will wonders never cease?

"I must commend you, Hermione…such bedside manner is exemplary in a medi-witch," I smirk good-naturedly.

"Why, Severus…are you suggesting that I conduct myself in such a manner with each of my patients?" She answers cheekily, her face flushed with happiness.

I hold her close in a subconsciously possessive movement.

"No," I reply emphatically. "Absolutely not."

A/N: As you can imagine, hospitals and nurses have been on my mind in the last little while and I had to write a little something to get the nervousness out of my system. I just wanted to thank everyone for their support and encouragement. It is really appreciated and will give me something positive to focus on when I go in on the 17th. I hope to be back in mid February.