V: Terminus

She could not mean that she loved him. Not really.

But his eye fell on blue curve of the empty bottle.

"Show me, Severus." She stood and reached for her cloak clasp.

"Wait."

Her hands froze.

He sat up slowly, leaning his elbows on his knees. Dark eyes glittered through a lank fall of hair. "You're asking for the impossible."

Her fingers rested on the clasp, and her eyes were calm. "Really?"

"I cannot show you, Hermione, because…" Damn. She was right. "Because the circumstances no longer exist."

"They never really did." She released the clasp, letting her cloak fall.

-#-

"Who do you want me to be, Hermione?" He gestured toward the bottle. "The man who long ago spent nights dwelling in violation, excused by a crime he'd be helpless to prevent and thus intended to commit, finding solace in the forbidden? Or simply the man who offered you his arm and was undone when you accepted it?"

"Yes."

He scowled.

"I want to know, Severus, how it feels when you hold me, to know the silence of your touch, see your eyes at their darkest." She shrugged simply. "I want what you offered three nights ago."

"However tainted?"

"However."

-#-

"The only difference, Severus, is that I know. It doesn't make me want you any less."

"Impossible."

"No." She gestured to the empty bottle, and the thin strap of her robes slipped off of her shoulder. "Believe that, if nothing else."

His gaze transfixed on the strap where it curved, softly blue, on her skin.

He couldn't breathe.

Slowly, he rose to stand. He'd meant to speak, but instead, he felt his hand raise, his finger extend to slip the strap back up to her shoulder.

Skin met skin.

Their eyes closed, and they released the breaths they'd been holding.

-#-

She felt him trace her arm and slide the strap up, back into place.

In a shaking, too-breathy voice, she asked. "Is that a 'no'?"

"No." His lips curved slightly, and his eyes did not leave hers as he offered her his hand. "No." A gentle pressure drew her back to the chair.

She sat down, not knowing what to think.

"Before we proceed, you'll forgive me if I take a moment to disarm you."

He knelt before her and slipped his hand under her foot to lift it.

She watched, awed, as he unbuckled her sandal with trembling hands.