Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Ok – short and sweet this time. I cannot even say how incredibly sorry I am for the gruelling process this has turned out to be. When I first started writing, I swore I would not be one of those annoying authors that took forever to update. But hey, I guess plans don't always work out, huh. So. I am so very, very sorry but there is really nothing I can do about it, so I just hope there are still some readers out there who haven't given up in utter frustration.
Am I happy with this chapter? Some of it yes. Some of it not so much. It is short, and I really wish I had more time to do something else with it. Check it, rewrite it – something. But I am literally leaving for holidays now, and I will not have a chance to do anything else for 2 more months. And as slack as I undoubtedly am, I really didn't want to leave it that long. Also, I have no time to write individual thank-yous, which I am really really not happy about, but – leaving. Now. Not good. So, here it is. Let me know what you think, and please tell me if you think I should rewrite it! If there's anyone still out there, that is. :smiles hopefully: I promise I will get around to individual thankyous and some stage, but I have no time at the moment. Thank you so much for your incredible patience, and I am really. Really. Sorry.
She woke and reached for him, still dangling in that delicious realm that lies between sleep and reality, only to find her hand sliding over smooth, cold sheets with no hint of his warmth left to comfort her.
He was gone. Pushing aside a slice of disappointment that really had no business worming its way into her chest, she rolled over and buried her face in the pillow, hiding from the sunlight and all the reality and problems it brought with it. Except the pillows smelt like him, and the stabbing in her chest escalated a little more.
She sat abruptly, pushing the covers aside, and stepped onto the lush carpet, her feet sinking into its softness as she padded across the room to find something to wear. Grabbing the first thing that came to hand, she shoved aside the overwhelming urge to climb back into bed and pull the covers over her head. This was her life now, and it wasn't going to go away. It was up to her to make it work.
Sucking in a determined breath, she straightened her shoulders and pushed open her door, stepping into the sitting room that served as a central hub for all rooms in the suite. Standing still, uncertain where to go, she caught the scent of bacon wafting through the air, bringing with it memories of home-cooked breakfasts and lazy weekends. And suddenly she was smiling, warmth blossoming in her chest, pushing aside the stark coldness that had lodged there since she'd woken up alone. Sure now, she went towards the smell then stopped, her hand resting on the cool doorknob. This was it – the final step towards her new life with Draco. Their first day together as a married couple – the first day of the rest of their lives. But the thought no longer brought a haunting ache to her chest, so she let the smile inside spread across her face and twisted the knob to get to him.
Cheerful was the last word Draco would have used to describe what he was feeling - blind panic, on the other hand, would have been rather appropriate. He had absolutely no idea how to handle this marriage without going insane. If last night were any indication, he wouldn't last more than a week.
He slammed his palm against the cupboard in frustration, but it did nothing to abate the images of Ginny swirling through his head that just wouldn't quit.
She'd been so damn innocent, curled up against him all night – so young and vulnerable. And trusting – god, she gave him so much, but if she knew how much control it had taken for him to keep his hands off her last night she'd run away screaming. Only the knowledge that she trusted him to comfort her as a friend had enabled him to hold onto a thread of sanity instead of diving into the madness she evoked in him and taking her. And god, how he'd wanted to give in – every time she moved, her hair slid across his bare skin and drove him a little more out of his mind. Every brush of skin against skin caused almost unbearable friction, every breath she took pressed her more firmly against him and made him aware of just how soft and warm she was. He'd tried moving away, putting some distance between them, but she just curled tighter around him and held on. Christ, she could drive him out of his mind even in her sleep.
He'd eventually fallen asleep, tossing fitfully for a few hours before waking up with a start, his arms full of soft, warm woman. His thigh had found its way between hers, his arms were curled around her tightly, and his face was buried in all that glorious hair.
He'd looked up at the ceiling and wanted nothing more to love her awake, to see the sleep clearing from those beautiful eyes to be replaced with heat, to make her shiver and cry out his name again and again.
But that wasn't what they'd agreed on, so he'd gotten out of there before the madness could suck him into doing it anyway.
So here he was in the morning – frustrated, irritable, and cooking breakfast for the woman who'd got him like this to start with. Christ, he was a mess.
He heard a muffled sound behind him and whirled, startled, only to come face to face with his tormentor.
"Ginny-" He spoke without any clear idea of what he was going to say, but was cut off by a lash of indignation as he realised where the sounds had come from. Her shoulders shaking, hands over her mouth, eyes sparkling over the top-
"Are you laughing at me?"
That only set her off into another fit of giggles, and he felt his annoyance melt away as he remembered how damn beautiful she was when she laughed.
She tried to reign in her amusement, knowing it was probably offending him, but he looked so adorable standing in the middle of the kitchen, hair mussed, feet and chest bare, apron tied around his waist and spatula in hand. A far cry from the cool, polished façade he presented to the world – and a welcome sight to her hungry eyes.
Gradually, she saw the annoyance drain away from his face as she vainly fought for control, until his mouth tipped up at the corners and an amused glint crept into his eyes. He advanced on her, growling playfully in his throat, backing her up against the wooden wall. Giggling uncontrollably, she stepped back, feeling the solid wall at her back and the heat radiating from him in front. Gasping for air, eyes sparkling and laughter bubbling from her lips, she grinned up at him, happy just to be there and have him laughing with her like old times.
And then his fingers sprang forwards, dancing along her sides, and she was squirming against him, gulping in air only to expel it in uncontrollable gasps of laughter. Twisting, caught between him and the wall, she gasped out "Truce! Truce!" and felt his skittering fingertips still against her. Grinning so widely her cheeks hurt, she beamed up at him, feeling the hot press of fingers against her sides, the strength of his chest against hers, and waited breathlessly for his reply.
He stared down at her, stunned by how damn gorgeous she was sometimes, in those moments when her face was open and laughing, her body loose and boneless against him. Sucked into her warmth, dizzy from the intensity, he leaned down to rest his forehead on hers, breathing in the scent that was just Ginny. A hoarse whisper of "Truce" fell from his lips, and she tipped her face up to his, so damned happy it almost hurt to look at her. His breath went ragged and his body tightened, drawing her into him, seeing the spark of something – shock, desire, need – growing in her eyes. And then his lips were on hers, his tongue was licking inside and her body was crushed against his, and all was right in his world.
Dizzy, spinning out of control in a star-field of light, she swirled, lost in the world that was just Draco. Breathing him in, their lips clashing, taut muscles underneath her wandering fingers, she fell into him completely, not caring about words like 'platonic' or 'safe' – just wanting to feel.
Gradually, their desperateness calmed and the kiss morphed from ravaging to soothing, and then to content. Lips slid softly, hands rested quietly, the intensity slowing until it was enough to just stay there, a moment paused in time before they had to return to reality and 'platonic friends'.
Eventually, Draco murmured something about breakfast against her lips and she laughed quietly, for no reason at all. He smiled back at her and they stepped apart slowly, the invisible wall of 'just friends' sliding back into place. What had just happened – it was too much, too soon. Too intense, a break in their carefully built wall of friendship brought on by laughter and taught nerves eased by childish play.
To follow on would be to invite disaster – at least, that's what Ginny told herself as she turned to plate the bacon and eggs. To be just friends was better – safer. At least for now. But as she turned to carry their breakfast out the table, she allowed herself the very first spark of hope that, maybe, there was some form of feeling on his side as well. Something more than just friends, even if it was something as basic as lust or want. Something that could be built on – from lust to want to need, so that someday, maybe – just maybe – Draco might learn to love her just a little. Someday.
But for now, she set their breakfast down and smiled placidly at him, extending the hand of platonic friendship once again. He looked at her, eyes unreadable, then smiled back slowly. Friends again – real friends, like before this whole mess began – a truce, of sorts. And, for now, it was enough.
She knelt, swatting at flies absently, dirt running over her hands and the sun beating down on her back. Moving slowly, carefully, she picked up the uprooted plant and settled it in its new place, her actions firm and precise. She piled the dirt around the stem, pressing down hard then heaping a little more on, allowing the mindless repetition of the task to drive all other thoughts out of her head. Thoughts like 'too hard' or 'not enough' – troublesome thoughts that had been running through mind her more frequently of late, humming along tautened nerves and fraying tempers. Thoughts that had no business being in her head to start with.
Letting out a frustrated huff of air, she sat back on her heels and rubbed at her dirt-stained face, succeeding only in smearing it more completely. Her patience was tried of late, her temper ragged – her nerves were strung too tight, and she had no idea why. Well, that wasn't strictly true – she knew perfectly well why, she just didn't want to admit it. It had little to do with the sticky heat that had overtaken them in the past days, as she had suggested to her mother when pressed for an explanation, and a lot to do with Draco. A lot to do with the way he would rush out of the house in the morning, stopping only for a snatched breakfast and a hurried goodbye. A lot to do with the way that he never talked to her anymore, or even looked at her if he could help it. A lot to do with the way he made feelings of hopelessness run through her every time his eyes slid past her as though she was invisible.
A fat, wet tear plopped on the ground beside her and she smiled shakily, rubbing at it. Good to know it was going to the earth to do some good for once instead of just soaking her pillow every night.
But the worst part of it was, she thought it had been getting better. She thought they had gotten past the initial awkwardness and moved on to being, if nothing else, friends. For that one moment weeks ago as she had stood there, smiling at him and seeing an answering glint in his eyes, she had allowed herself to believe that it was ok. That it was getting better. That he might even love her one day, if she waited long enough.
More tears rained down now, sparkling silver plopping in the damp earth beside her. That was what had hurt the most, she decided, drawing in a shaky breath – that she had allowed herself to believe, to hope. And then he had gone back to that cold, hard stranger that she didn't know at all. Draco, the Quidditch player – Draco, the socialite. Never Draco, her friend - not anymore.
But she had never been promised anything different, right from the start – it had been clear that this was a business arrangement and nothing else. It had been stupid – stupid of her to expect something more, and she knew it. So she straightened her shoulders, taking in a deep breath and scrubbing roughly at tear-stained eyes – ready to go inside and get ready for another stilted meal where she made polite, stiff conversation with the cold shell that was all that was left of Draco these days.
And it was nowhere near enough.
He stood on the in the doorway, watching her move around the kitchen, her movements careful and precise. There was no spark in her eyes anymore, no glint of fun or happiness. Her limbs were stiff, her face guarded – she moved like a woman on the brink of exhaustion, and he cursed himself each and every time he saw her for being the cause. For he noticed every change, every nuance – nothing about her escaped his notice, even as he worked harder and harder to conceal that fact from her. It was better that way.
Even now, his limbs shaking with fatigue and his muscles infused with that particular blend of tension-stiffness that came only after a gruelling practice, he saw the way her head drooped hopelessly, as if she didn't have the will to hold it up properly. And damned himself to the deepest region of hell for turning his beautiful, sparkling Ginny into this defeated woman without hope or pride. But it was really the only way it could be, so he sucked in the despair and desperation and moved into the room, ready for another night of trying as hard as he could to make himself cold and unreadable. Ready for another night of seeing the warmth fade out of her eyes with every frigid look and word he lashed out with, slashing feelings with hurt and deliberation.
She looked up at him as he moved in, desperation and need flashing in her eyes briefly before being swept over by a practiced blankness. And she tried, oh how she tried to make herself cold and vacant, but he could still read her every thought even as they ripped him apart. Such was the price of love, he thought bitterly as he smiled the icy smile that had become second nature to him in the weeks gone by.
And for the protection of his heart, it was a price he would willingly pay. Even as every breath he took in ripped across his lungs, even as every carefully blank look from her made him feel like he'd been sucker-punched. Even as he was torn from the inside out, he would give it all and then give some more to keep his heart from the one thing that could shatter it completely instead of just bruising.