Disclaimer: Once again, not mine.
A/N: This was a Christmas gift-fic for the lovely Sylvia - darling, I hope this quenched your thirst for good D/C fics during this long drought. ;)
Draco Malfoy opened the front door of his manor and took in the emptiness like a slap in the face. He wasn't surprised by it, but it stung all the same. With a sigh, he headed to the library and took a seat behind his desk, shuffling some papers around before settling on a report that needed to be written. He could just imagine his mother's voice in his head, scolding him for leaving the office late just to come home and work even more. Well, he didn't care. Work was just a distraction – something to keep his thoughts away from her.
The ticking of the grandfather clock invaded his mind and irritated his nerves. He was sorely tempted to smash the blasted thing with his bare fist and be done with it, but he kept his temper in check. Losing control wouldn't help – not in the long run. It wasn't the clock's fault that his head pounded and his hands shook. He couldn't even blame it on the lack of firewhiskey in the house – his mother had emptied his cupboards of the "vile drink" months ago when a not-so-loyal house elf had informed her of his drunken binges.
No, it wasn't the clock. It wasn't even his forced sobriety. It was the insomnia – and she was the reason for that.
Her face kept him awake at night – every night – and had done so for months. He could still see her sleek black hair, her beautiful dark eyes. The vision haunted him. He couldn't escape from it. He couldn't get away from her.
Then, of course, came the annoying question – did he really want to escape? Part of him craved the sight of her, even if only in his memory. But the other part wanted to push away that memory, sink into a bottle of Ogden's, and forget everything about her. She was poison to him – a destructive force that would ruin him if he let her invade his senses.
Poison, and yet a healing balm. She was the embodiment of everything good in his life. Everything he'd ever wanted. Unfortunately, he hadn't realized that until too late. Far too late.
When he actually did manage to sleep, his dreams were filled with memories. The first time they met. Dates in Hogsmeade. Picnics by the lake. He was a different person when he was with her – and it was a good change. She made him want to be a better man – she believed that he could be a better man.
With a sigh, Draco opened a desk drawer to put away the finished report, pushing aside folders to make room for the newest one. As he reached toward the back of the drawer, he paused when his fingers met something hard and metal.
A picture frame.
With an overwhelming sense of foreboding, he pulled it out and looked at it. Not surprisingly, it was a picture of the two of them all dressed up and looking as if someone had given them the world.
Their wedding day.
They had been so happy that day. It was as if no one else existed; just the two of them, hopelessly in love. It was a day where they could pretend that nothing was standing in their way, that nothing could ruin their happiness. It was a day when the world revolved around them.
Draco didn't even bother to ask himself where it had all gone wrong. He knew. He knew why she was gone. He knew what he had done to drive her away.
Setting the picture on the desk in front of him, Draco rolled up his left sleeve and looked mournfully at his forearm. The Dark Mark was still there, inactive since the fall of the Dark Lord, but still a reminder of the choices he had made. The choices he wished he could undo.
He hadn't joined the Death Eaters until a few months after his wedding day. Up until that point he had tried to ignore the "cause", as his father had put it. But the Dark Lord had found him and "persuaded" him to join. Draco still bore the scars of that day.
She'd been furious when she found out. She'd asked him why and cried when he'd told her angrily that it was his choice to make.
"Don't you love me? Don't you trust me enough to let me be a part of your life, your decisions?"
The words were still imprinted on his mind, but not as much as his response.
"I don't have to answer to you."
"No, Draco, you don't. I'm not your mother. I'm not even your father. I'm your wife. But apparently that doesn't mean anything anymore."
Those were the last words they'd spoken to each other before she'd packed her bags and left. With tears in her eyes and one last pleading look, she had walked out the front door and never come back. And he hadn't stopped her.
He had never regretted anything more.
Slamming his fist down on the desk, Draco stood up and stormed out of the library and into the main hall. He pulled open the front door of the manor and stepped out into the pouring rain. He needed to get away, he needed to think.
He didn't know how long he walked, the heavy downpour weighing him down, the wind stinging his eyes and cheeks. He didn't care. He just kept walking. His mind was focused on one thing and one thing only.
He had to find her. He had to make things right.
But how on earth could he possibly explain everything after five years? He doubted he could find the right words even if he, by some miracle, managed to get her to listen. How was a man supposed to tell his estranged wife that he was so filled with regrets that he couldn't sleep at night? That her face was always in the forefront of his mind? How could he tell her how much he needed her when he couldn't even describe it to himself?
He kept walking, his head down, his feet guiding him on the unfamiliar streets. The rain mixed with his tears. He reached up to wipe the water from his face and suddenly slammed into someone.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed. "I wasn't watching where I was…" Her voice trailed off as she looked up into his face.
All of the air seemed to have left his body. He sucked in a short breath and whispered, "Cho."
She looked as if she'd been slapped. "What are you doing here?" she demanded.
"I was looking for you, actually," he replied, still unsure if she was real or not.
She shook her head and glared at him. "Liar." She turned away from him determinedly and held out her wand into the street. With a loud bang, a violently purple double-decker bus appeared and pulled up in front of them. Cho climbed up on the first step and looked back at him. "Goodbye, Draco."
She turned. "What do you want from me, Draco?" she asked, exasperated.
His mouth suddenly went dry. What did he want? Could he actually tell her?
"You comin' or not?" the bus conductor asked, looking at his watch. "I got a schedule, y'know."
Cho gave Draco a questioning look. "Well?"
He couldn't speak. The words wouldn't come. He was so desperate to make her stay, but he couldn't make his lips move.
"I should have known," she said. "You don't answer to anyone but yourself."
She turned to climb the bus stairs again. She was leaving him, walking away, just like last time. And he was watching it happen.
"No! Don't go!"
She turned on him. "Yes!" she shouted angrily. "I'm leaving, Draco! You're out of my life – I don't want you anywhere near me! So just go away!"
"I won't go away!" he retorted. "Good gods, you're my wife, Cho! I love you!"
Her eyes were spitting fire as she stepped down from the bus and stood in front of him. "Well, I don't love you!" she yelled. "You're a selfish jerk, Draco Malfoy, and I hate you! I hate you for what you've done to me!"
"I don't care, Cho," he countered. "I don't care if you hate me – I will love you till the day I die, and you can't stop me!"
Tears were streaming down her cheeks. "Why can't you just leave me alone?"
"Because I love you so much it hurts! I want a fresh start – a chance to fix my mistakes! I'm not the same man I was five years ago! I've changed. I want you to come back to me, Cho, because I need you. I need you with me forever." He reached out and took her hand. "Tell me you feel the same," he begged. "Tell me that it's not just me!"
For one agonizing moment, she looked into his eyes. Then, with an anguished cry, she pulled her hand from his grip and turned away from him. She climbed back into the bus, and in a moment, she was gone.
Draco stood still for a minute, absorbing the shock. She had left. He had opened his heart and she had slammed it shut again. Rejected him once and for all.
"I really thought she'd stay," he spoke into the night. The finality of the words hit him hard, and he sat down on the curb, his head in his hands, and wept – truly wept. He wept for his mistakes. He wept for his failed marriage. He wept for the love that he had thrown away, all for a stupid black mark on his arm.
It was a long walk back to the manor. He didn't even notice that the rain had tapered off into a light drizzle. He simply trudged along, dragging his wounded heart behind him.
How could he have been so stupid to believe that she would actually want to stay with him? That telling her he loved her would be enough for her to forgive and forget? No woman in her right mind would return to a man who betrayed her without some proof that he had changed!
It was over. There was no hope left for them.
Draco plodded across the grounds of the manor, listening to the sound of his shoes against the wet grass. The gardener wouldn't be happy about him traipsing across the perfectly groomed lawn this way, but it didn't really matter. Nothing mattered anymore.
As he approached the house, Draco saw a small figure huddled on the front steps. He quickened his pace to match his racing heart. "Cho!"
She looked up, and he saw the remnants of tears on her red cheeks. She stood and ran down the steps, launching herself into his arms.
"Oh, Draco, I'm so sorry!" she cried, her face buried in his shoulder. "I'm so, so sorry! Please forgive me!"
He wrapped his arms around her, relishing the feel of her against his chest. "No, Cho – I'm the one that needs to be forgiven. I've made so many mistakes and done so many things that I regret. I don't deserve it, but I'm asking for your forgiveness. I've changed, and I want to show you the new me. Will you give me another chance?"
She looked into his eyes and smiled – oh, how he loved that smile. "Only if you do the same for me," she said. "We've both made mistakes, Draco, but I want to start over. We can work through this, can't we?"
He grinned – the only real smile he'd had in years.
"It's not just me, is it?"
"No, Draco. It's not just you."