He settled himself on the couch, so that Minerva's head rested on his chest and he could wrap an arm around her. She put up some resistance, but when she was safely ensconced with his arm wrapped around her, she fell into a deep sleep.
He suspected she had not been getting much sleep. Now that he was able to look at her without fear of reproach, he saw light circles under her eyes and what looked like a permanent line between her eyebrows. Even in her sleep, Minerva wore a mild expression of determination.
Albus kissed her forehead in an attempt to erase the troubled expression. Her expression softened and her arm reached around him, holding him in place.
Which he did not mind at all.
Minerva awoke to the sensation of being warm. Almost too warm…and, as she slowly came back to consciousness, she was aware that she was not, in fact, in her bed. Instead, she was on the sofa in her living room, underneath both the tartan throws normally draped across the back. As she fully awoke, her memories of the day and night before came flooding back. She grimaced slightly, remembering the horrid parent-teacher conference and the feeling of quiet desperation that had enveloped her after. Until Albus had appeared in her chambers, bringing dinner and helping her relax and forget the traumatic event.
She stood up and looked around, but there was no sign of him. Of course, she thought, he would have retired to his own rooms last night. It was ridiculous of her to expect him to stay.
But, there was a part of her that missed him already. A part of her liked how he took charge of dinner and helped her forget about her bad day. She felt her throat tighten.
For a brief moment, Minerva had not been alone. She was able to survive the end of a very long, bad day because Albus was there to care for her. And she liked it. Did that make her weak?
She wished he was still here. She wished that, when she woke up, he would be the first person she saw. Minerva wanted to be with him not just because she liked his company, but because she was tired of denying her true feelings.
She loved him and he was the only person that could make her happy.
The thought had stopped her cold. Minerva had buried her feelings for so long, she could now barely stay standing. She was unsure how to proceed. Acknowledging her true feelings was such a foreign action. What could she do? Could she do anything?
"Ah, my dear, you're up."
"Albus! I thought you left last night!" Minerva said, hand over her heart in a gesture of surprise.
He ran his hand through his hair. "No, I'm sorry to disappoint you." He walked toward the couch. He was not sure if he should sit or stand. "It was late and. . ." He remained standing.
"I'm not disappointed."
"I mean, I don't mind that you're here. I mean . . . What I mean is. . . " She closed her eyes for a moment before she opened them and said, "I'm . . . are you hungry?"
Minerva walked toward the kitchen. "I'm going to put on some water for tea."
When she reached the doorway, she turned and said: "You don't have to stay."
"So, you want me to leave?"
"I . . . I just don't want you to feel like you have to stay. You don't have to worry about me. I can take care of myself."
"But, yesterday, you were so-"
"I know. I won't deny that I was pretty shaken up. I was, but I'll be fine now."
"Are you sure, because-"
"I don't want you to feel sorry for me."
He stared at her for a minute before he said, "You think I feel sorry for you?"
Minerva looked down. "I won't deny that I . . . I appreciate all you've done for me, but I don't want you to feel obligated to-"
"Obligated? I'm not here because I think I have to be."
She looked up at him. "Can we just not say anymore? I don't want to ruin the start of a nice weekend."
Albus paced the room. Minerva watched him and waited for some kind of response. He stopped in front of the window when he said, "So, that's it. You really didn't . . . you just tolerated me being here."
"It has been difficult."
"Of course it has. You had a rough time yesterday and here I am just adding to the stress." He turned to face her. "I'm sorry. I was-am worried about you and wanted to make sure. . .but, I think I've been selfish. I'll just leave."
Minerva turned, but in the process the stack of papers on the counter scattered to the floor. Albus helped her pick them up. When he held the papers out to her, he saw that tears were streaming down her cheeks. He put the papers aside and guided her back to the sofa.
He wiped the tears away and said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
"It's alright. It's just been-"
"I know. Difficult. I didn't mean to make it more difficult."
"Of course you didn't." She looked at him with shining eyes. "Yesterday, I didn't know who to turn to. I had meant to call Poppy. But, I automatically . . . I was surprised to hear your voice, but at the same time. . ." She straightened up and Albus let go of her. "Yesterday was so difficult, so hard. I've born the brunt of a parent's wrath before, but yesterday. . ." She shook her head.
"You said there were two."
She nodded. "But, I think normally, I would've been fine. It's just that. . . I'm not bothered by what they actually said, but by how they made me feel." She took a deep breath. "They made me feel like I didn't care. They made me feel as if I didn't care about their child."
She blinked back the tears that were forming in her eyes. "The thing is, they will never know just how much I care. They'll never know how much I worry, how much I hope, how much I want the best for their children." She wiped away the tears that spilled down her cheeks. "I hate that they think I don't care because . . . I do . . . I can't say how much . . . almost everything I do is for them. The kids."
"That's what makes you such a good teacher. I've always admired your compassion."
She gave him a watery smile. "Sometimes I wish I didn't get so involved in my work, but I can't help it. I can't just leave my work at the door. I can't just turn it off once I leave the classroom."
"I know." He took her hand.
"How can you know?"
He squeezed her hand. "That was one of the first things I noticed about you. You love what you do. I've never seen anyone so committed and dedicated in their work. I mean, there are people who are good at what they do, but no one I know really cares like you."
The last part caused new tears to spill from Minerva's eyes. "How can you say that? Even after-"
Albus guided her to him and wrapped his arms around her. He said, "I know you care."
Minerva lifted her head and pulled away from him. "See, but that's the thing. You don't."
"I do, Minerva." He wiped the tears from her face.
"No." She took his hand from her face and held it. "What happened yesterday . . . it made me realize that I was tired of pretending to not care . . . about you." She squeezed his hand. "I can't pretend anymore." Fresh tears streamed down her face. "I never could. I. . ."
"It's alright, Min. I understand-"
"No. When I said that it's been difficult having you here, I think it came out the wrong way."
He waited for her to continue.
"It's been difficult because when you leave, I have to return to the fact that I might not see you here again."
"And that hurts me. Last night, I thought you'd leave and that would be that. But, you stayed. You've never stayed before."
"It was late." He brushed away a strand of hair with his fingers. "I didn't want to leave you."
She blinked back tears.
He laughed and after a moment, he said, "I was really worried about you."
She saw the concern in his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"I'm glad you called me by mistake."
"What were you doing when I called?"
"I was in the middle of a meeting."
"Was it a really, really important meeting?"
She put her hand on his arm. "I'm so sorry. I promise I'll make it up to you somehow."
He raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Just because I'm falling for you-" Minerva gasped and covered her mouth.
He moved closer to her. "What did you say?"
"Nothing." She tried to move away.
"That was not nothing." He held onto her hand.
"I-I," She felt her throat tightening.
"Is it possible that you. . ."
"I didn't-I-you-" She stood up.
"Minerva," He stood up as well, "Wait." He caught her wrist. "Did you say you. . ."
Minerva's throat had closed up. She couldn't get the words out. She never thought she'd get this chance and now that it was here, she couldn't bring herself to say anything.
Albus saw the struggle in her
eyes. Perhaps he was pushing too hard too soon. They just barely
agreed to the possibility of a relationship and now he was demanding
answers from her.
"Minerva, I'm sorry. I don't have any right to-"
"I don't want you to go."
His eyebrows shot up, but he remained silent.
Minerva continued, "I. . . I don't know how I would've gotten through last night without you."
He held her face. "You're stronger than you think."
She shook her head. "I don't know about that."
"OK. Maybe just really stubborn then."
She laughed and then said, "I love you."
Albus stared at her with his mouth partly opened.
It was not the response Minerva had been expecting. "I can't believe I said that." She stepped back. "I shouldn't have expected that you would. . . that everything could-"
Before she could turn away, Albus took her face in his hands and kissed her.
Then he pulled away and said, "I thought it would take a while to get to this point."
She raised an eyebrow. "Get to what point?"
"Where I'd get to tell you that I'm in love with you."
"You can still tell me." She smiled.
"I love you, Minerva." He gave her a warm, but gentle kiss. "I wasn't sure if I'd ever get to tell you. "
She laughed and smiled at him. Minerva would continue to have some bad days in the future. However, they would never be as bad as this one. "I'm happy you're here."
It was as if he was experiencing a sunrise and it promised to bring a wonderful day, but it was not just a day, it was his life. Minerva needed him. She did not have to explain herself or be strong. He knew whatever happened, good or bad, Minerva needed him and Albus would be there for her.
"Now," he gently stroked her face with his hand, "Is it possible to continue where we left off last night?"
Her brow wrinkled. "As far as I know, we were talking, then I fell asleep."
"Right, so you didn't let me finish."
"Finish what? Were you in the middle of saying something?"
"No, I was thinking. . ." He kissed her temple.
"Thinking about. . . how I could make you forget about your bad day." He slid his hand behind her head and gently tilted it back. He breathed a kiss on her collarbone.
Minerva steadied her breath. "Actually," his lips on her skin made her heart beat faster, "It was a very long, bad day."
His mouth found its way to hers and he kissed her with an ardor that had been held back for years. After a moment, his lips lingered on hers while he said, "Well, I'll just make sure I'm thorough."
And he was.