Title: It's Elemental, My Dear Snape
Author: cathedral carver
Pairing: Snape/Hermione
Spoilers: AU after Deathly Hallows
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.

Summary: Everything has been figured out, except how to live. Pay attention – there's a test later.


5. Aether

"There is no space without aether, and no aether which does not occupy space."


Also known as The Fifth Element, aether was originally the personification of the "upper sky," space and heaven. According to Einstein's theories of Relativity, particles could move faster than light and communicate telepathically through an aetheric medium.


He continued to dream about her, after all, a fact that he found both infinitely comforting and infinitely distressing.

Near enough to touch, to smell, to kiss, if he so chose — but did not — she was always there, waiting, warm and familiar, as he drifted away into sleep and the all-too-real dreams that inevitably followed.

And they were dreams, he convinced himself, because he was asleep, and when he awoke he was quite alone, in his bed, in his room, in his house, far away from anything even remotely connected to one Hermione Granger.

Sometimes he found her waiting for him in the hut, smiling and welcoming, sometimes by the Rubercuratio racemus tree, and sometimes in the forest where he'd once cradled her, bleeding and trembling. He supposed — he reasoned, sternly — that these episodes, these meetings, were not like…Before. These were different. His subconscious mind had simply catalogued those intense experiences, held onto them, and was now replaying them, scene by scene again in dreams, for no matter how desperately to tried to forget that time, and forget her, he could not escape either in sleep.

"Hello, again," Dream Hermione said, falling into step beside him. Tonight's dream found them strolling along the banks of the stream, which was now fuller and faster than it had been the last time they'd visited, when she had waded in up to her knees, arm raised, hair blown across her mouth. The sun was shining and a breeze, light and warm, rustled the leaves above them.

"Hello," he said, studying her profile. He reached out and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

"This is nice, isn't it?" she said after a moment.


"And you're being nice," she said.

He decided she was teasing and did not reply.

It was all very nice and, for the first time in his life, he found himself looking forward to his dreams.



You will be pleased — I hope — to know that I have suffered no lasting ill effects of my excessive Calendula imbibing. I know you were most concerned about my well-being when I saw you last.

I realize you said you didn't want to see me again, but you said nothing about writing, and I am nothing if not a stickler for the little details.

School is keeping me busier than ever and, despite your misgivings, I am pulling top marks in Potions once again. I'm sure that news will thrill you.

Do you miss teaching? It must be strange to not be here, after so many years. It's certainly strange to not have you here. I mean, everyone says so, not just me.

I hope this letter finds you well and feel free to reply, if you have anything of interest to share. Or, if you should just like to let me know you are alive, I should like to know that, as well.

I suppose that's it, then.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

All for now.



He had, indeed, felt the tug, the almost physical wrench, on his body, his psyche, the first day classes resumed at Hogwarts.

As he stood amongst his half-packed sitting room, trunks and boxes stacked here and there and her letter clutched in one hand, he wondered if he'd made the right decision.

He never imagined he would miss teaching this much.

He never imagined he would miss her this much.


They were seated in the hut, staring at a fire that burned merrily before them. Dream Hermione was tossing small sticks into it, her chin resting on her knees.

"Are you keeping busy?" she asked idly.


"Well, I mean, since you're not teaching this year, I just wondered what you're doing with all that free time. Are you reading? Are you researching? I mean," she teased, "you're certainly not doing any writing, are you?"

She tossed another stick, watched it flame and wither.


He looked at her, but in the flickering light, he could not properly see her eyes.



I see you have chosen to not reply to my last letter, but don't worry — I am not easily deterred!

Life here is busy, but routine, which is a most effective way to ignore those pressing concerns you don't dare ponder too deeply. I'm sure you know what I mean.

I don't have anything particularly brilliant to report. I just felt like writing a letter, so here it is.

I'm feeling rather low, if you must know, and overwhelmed and tired and, well, lonely.

How are you passing the time? You can tell me in your letter, if you'd like. When you write one.

I would like to say that the students miss you, but I'm not sure that's exactly true. I, however, do miss you.



They were walking the path from the woods to the stream in companionable silence.

"This feels very…familiar," he remarked.

"Well, we've done this before."

He looked at her.

"So, you do remember."

Dream Hermione looked at him. "Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

"Well," he began, drawing his brows together. "This is my dream, is it not? I wouldn't expect you to know particulars about this…place."

"But I know everything about it, you daft man," she said. "For instance, you kissed me, right over there!" and she jabbed a finger at the tree.

He stared at her.

"You haven't been slipping any Calendula into your tea lately, have you?"

"No. I told you I haven't."


"In my first letter."

They stared at one another, unsure of how to proceed, what to say.

"Pardon me?"

"My letters, which you have been ignoring, I might add." She paused. "Unless you haven't even received them. Damn owls."

"This is a dream," he said suddenly, backing up a step and shaking his head. "Isn't it?"

She shrugged, holding her hands out in front of her, startled, supplicating. "If it is, I think I'm having the same one."

He took a breath.

"I would like to say that the students miss you, but I'm not sure that's exactly true. I, do, however, miss you," he recited with a small sneer. She gaped at him. "I mean, there's no need to get all mushy, is there?"

"Wait one bloody minute," she said, hands on her hips, her face a thunderstorm as she glared at him. "What's going on here? And where the hell's my hair brush?"



Yes, I'm giving you yet another chance to do the decent thing and write me back.

I'm not sure what is going on here, but I would appreciate your input, if nothing else. No need to get all "mushy." Believe it or not, at the moment I'm only interested in your estimable brain power.

You know the address.



In truth, he had absolutely no idea what was going on. Was his addled, lovesick mind playing cruel tricks on him?

Was he brain damaged?


Was she brain damaged?

More possible.

While the notion seemed likely, he still wasn't completely convinced.

Were the two of them somehow…connected?

Dear Merlin.

And that thought, above all others, caused him to toss and turn at night, clutching his temples, holding the inevitable dreams, and her, at bay.


"What's happened to your hand?" he asked suddenly. They were sitting with their backs against the Rubercuratio racemus tree, listening to the wind above them. She was playing idly with the dirt, letting it sift through her fingers when he caught a glimpse of red on her pale skin. He took her hand in his. There was a nasty, half-healed weal across the thin skin of her wrist. He wanted to lean down and press his lips to it.

"Burned it in Potions," she said shortly. "Look. Aren't you the least bit curious about what's going on here?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"Yes, you do." She gestured at their surroundings. "We're here, again, and yet it's not like…Before. This is different. I'm not doing anything this time. It's happening on its own."

He looked away from her.

"Why don't you want to talk about it?"

Why? Because talking about it would lead to dissecting it, which would lead to learning about it, then, of course, it would change, which would lead, inevitably, to—

The end of it.

"You're obviously avoiding me in the real world, and yet you allow these dreams to continue." She paused. "Why haven't you answered my letters?"

"There hasn't been anything worth replying to!" he spat. "Mindless prattle! 'Hope you're well!' 'I'm as bloody brilliant as ever!'" he mimicked.

"That's it," she said suddenly. "I need to come see you. When we're both awake."

"I don't think that's advisable." He rose and stood stiffly by the tree, arms at his sides, hands balled into fists. She stood in front of him, arms crossed, feet planted firmly.

"I don't care what you think," she said, clenching her jaw. "What's the date — December 24?" She pondered. "I'm supposed to…go to The Burrow tomorrow. I'll stop by after that."

"You don't know where I live," he said frantically. This couldn't be happening. He wouldn't allow it to happen.

"I have the address. I'll find it."

"I'll be waiting with bated breath," he said, rolling his eyes. "With the fire stoked and the tea ready."

"Good," she said. "It's supposed to snow."


He shouldn't have been surprised at the knock on his door the following evening, but when he heard it — three brisk raps at 9:30 — he startled so badly he dropped his book on the floor and his heart did a slow cartwheel in his chest. He sat frozen for several moments, wondering if he had imagined the sound, when it came again.

Rap rap rap.

Swallowing with some difficulty, he went to the door and, against his better judgment, flung it open, hoping the look on his face was both blackly threatening and yet carefully detached.

"Miss Granger," he said automatically, barely moving his lips. She was here. She'd come. They stood facing each other in the doorway, neither one moving forward nor back. They watched one another warily. "It's Christmas Eve. What on earth are you doing here?" he said finally.

Snow was falling on her hair. There were snowflakes on her cheeks, stuck to her eyelashes.

"I told you I'd find it," she said, then added, "Ron thinks I went home and my parents think I'm staying at The Burrow."

At the mention of Weasley's name Snape's heart momentarily stopped beating.

Perfidious muscle, he thought. Outwardly, he merely smirked, curling his lip most effectively.

"And what would they all say if they knew where you really were?"

She pulled her shoulders back. "I don't care."

"Really?" he drawled, still not moving an inch. "And yet, you chose not to tell them. Interesting."

Her jaw clenched. He resisted the very strong urge to dust the gathering snow off the top of her head.

"How did you get here, anyway?"

"I'm perfectly capable of maneuvering about the city on my own," she sniffed. Then, stiffly, "May I come in?"

"If you must," he said ungraciously, surprised any coherent sound could emerge past the enormous, hot lump lodged in his throat. He stepped aside and she brushed by him, unbuttoning her coat and stamping her feet.

"I'm not interrupting anything, am I? I mean, I assumed you'd be…alone," she said, looking around to make sure. "No offense."

None taken. He usually spent the evening of December 24 — and most of the 25th, actually — getting drunk on Firewhisky and reading A Christmas Carol for the 345th time.

Yes, he was very much alone.

"Sit," he said, then found she already had, in his favourite chair. He heaved a sigh and sat across from her, back ramrod straight and legs crossed. Now that she was here, actually here, he found he couldn't tear his gaze away from her.

"Why is it so dark in here?" she asked, shouldering off her coat.

"It's night time."

"Why don't you turn on more lamps?"

"Mood lighting," he snapped. "Maybe you'd like to get to the point, Miss Granger."

She looked at him.

"Why are you here?"

"I told you why," she said, then paused. "Last night, when we…spoke?" She sounded suddenly unsure and Snape didn't know how to respond. He decided playing dumb was his best defense.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean." He kept his expression carefully blank, regarding her as imperiously as he would any impertinent student.

He couldn't help noticing, however, that the snowflakes had melted, clumping her lashes so her eyes resembled dark stars. He swallowed hard.

"Oh," she murmured, disappointed. "I see." She had her hands clasped in her lap, and she lowered her head to study them. When she looked up at him, he realized her eyes were wet with tears.

"What is it?" he asked, alarmed.

"It's nothing," she shook her head, dislodging one lone tear. She pursed her lips. "It's Ron…he's asked me to marry him," she said thickly.


Though he moved not a fraction of an inch, Snape felt as though he'd imploded, somehow, that the floor beneath him had given way, and that he was falling through a great, black, gaping hole on which his fingers had no purchase. He closed his eyes for more than a blink. She was watching him closely, the rest of her tears very close to spilling over.

"I see," he finally managed to say. "And those," he gestured at her eyes with one shaking hand, "are tears of unadulterated joy, I'm to presume?"

She shook her head slowly. "I—"

"Well," he interrupted, standing abruptly and taking two glasses from the sideboard. He poured Firewhisky into both and thrust one at her, spilling amber liquid onto her lap. "How thoughtful of you to come and let me know in person. Congratulations are in order! Tell me, when is the big day?"

She took the glass but did not drink.

"There isn't one," she said dully. "I…didn't accept."

The sound of Snape's glass hitting the worn carpet made a dull thud and he jumped back.

"You didn't?" he whispered.

"It's utter insanity!" she choked out. "What on earth was he thinking? Marriage? First, we're entirely too young. And my schooling! My plans! Work and travel and maybe further schooling! I have so much I want to do before I even contemplate…I won't start pushing out babies for some boy who doesn't have a bloody clue what I want!"

Composing himself with great difficulty, Snape evanescoed the spilled drink and put his glass on the table beside him. Then, shaky, he sat once more, fearing his legs would give out at any moment.

"Women have been known to do both, you know, work and have children," he said smoothly. "And war, if you hadn't realized already, has this curious…effect…on people. They are forced to grasp how short, how precious, life is. They want to expedite certain events." He took a deep breath. "They don't want to let those who matter most to them get away."

She gaped at him.

"You…condone this, this lunacy?"

He shrugged, scrambling madly for even footing. "I foresaw it, if you'll recall. I can't believe you're actually surprised. People in love do the most impetuous things."

Hermione struggled, for once, to express herself.

"But…I don't love him," she said at last, in almost a whisper.

Snape's eyes widened before he caught himself. He looked down, brushed an invisible speck off his pants.

"Really?" he smirked.

"Not…not like that," she said.

"And now the pitiable Mr. Weasley knows that as well?"

She shrugged, miserable, turning the glass around and around in her hands. "I…didn't know what to say, to be honest. I was too gob smacked to say much at all. I may have laughed! I don't remember. But I certainly didn't say yes." She paused. "I think he thinks I'm thinking about it."


"But, you have…made your decision?" He realized his voice sounded hopeful and bit his tongue until he tasted blood. How did this girl manage to have this reprehensible effect on him, in his own house, too?

She nodded once and raised her eyes to his, but he saw too many things there, painful, exposed things, and he quickly looked away.

"Fine," he waved dismissively. "So you are rejecting poor Weasley's proposal. I'm sure you will receive many others that will be much more suited to your discerning taste in the coming years." His fingers dug into his thighs savagely. "But the question remains: Why are you here? Why have you interrupted my perfectly peaceful evening? Why are you telling me? Why do you think I give a bloody rat's arse who and when you choose to marry?"

His voice had risen steadily until it concluded with a shout that made the glass tremble on the table.

"I…had to talk to someone."

"Any old port in the storm," he muttered.



She took a breath and looked about the dimly lit room, desperate for a new avenue of conversation.

"You…haven't unpacked yet?"

"I am packing. I leave next week." She looked at him. "I'm traveling for six months."

"Oh." She nodded. She opened her mouth and he knew she had a thousand questions, but she said only, "I am interrupting you then."

"I think I made that clear already."

Still, neither one moved.

"My question remains, as well, however," she said quietly. "If you and I are not…" She paused, tentative. "If we're not meant to be…together—"

Snape stiffened.

"Then why are we still meeting with one another…in that world?" she said quickly. "We still have some sort of…connection. You can't deny that."

No, he could not. And yet, he would, because what possible good could come from admitting it?


"Power of suggestion. A coincidence. A glitch. Nothing more."

"A glitch?" She stared at him, then laughed, harsh. "Why can't you see what's happening?"

"Why can't you leave it alone?" he snapped.

She shrugged, her face unreadable.

"I need to know," she said. "After everything you — we — went through, after all the almost unendurable pain I saw you endure, I felt—"

"Ah," he pounced. "You pity me. I thought as much."

She glared at him. He glared back.

"Is that what you think?"

"I do. And I neither need nor want your pity, Miss Granger."

She stood then, and walked unsteadily towards him, hand clutching her glass so tightly he feared it might shatter. She walked towards him until her knees were almost touching his. He'd never seen her face so angry, not even in the potions classroom last summer when he'd made that rather rude comment about her sexual proclivities.

"You, Professor, have my deepest respect, my undying admiration, my devotion, my heart," she hissed, "but you do not, nor will you ever have, my pity."

He stared at her, mouth slightly agog.

Wait. What was that fourth thing?

"And don't ask me to repeat it. I know you heard me."

He swallowed.

She stared into the depths of the glass, lost in her thoughts.

"Ron…doesn't understand me. He thinks he does, but he doesn't, and he never will. After…after what happened between you and I…I couldn't tell him." She looked down at him. "I haven't told anyone."

"Nor have I," Snape said sharply. "Miss Granger: We shared a very…difficult, unusual experience, none of which, I may add, was of my doing. I was at your mercy. I had no say in the experiment whatsoever."

"Don't start again," she warned. "I saved your—"

He held up a cautionary hand. "Don't you start again."

"You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself—"

He let out a long breath and seemed to deflate slightly.

"That time we…spent together," he interrupted suddenly, attempting to put words to a thing he hadn't dared speak about, had barely allowed himself to think about. "It…mattered to me. It affected me—"

"You don't think it mattered to me?" From the depths of her jumper she fished a silver locket — one he'd never seen before — and clicked it open with a fingernail. Inside, curled safely and still vibrantly yellow, was the Wood Sorel.

"Oxalis Stricta," he said. "Heart-shaped cloverlike leaflets."

"Yes," she said.

He leaned forward, plucked it impulsively, handed it to her.

"Here," he said.

She accepted without a word and stared down at it. When she looked up at him, her smile was tremulous, her eyes wet with tears.

His heart lurched.

Oh, he hadn't expected that.

She'd kept it.

"I—" he stammered.

"You don't think it affected me?" She yanked up the edge of her jumper, revealing the pale, pale skin of her midriff, marred by two large, round marks in the side; healed, of course, but puckered and silvery, and still faintly red around the edges.

"Well," he said faintly, feeling both wildly exhilarated and slightly ill. "We both have our scars to bear, don't we?"

She could only shake her head at him.

"What were you thinking, coming here?" He was suddenly angry beyond reason. "I told you quite plainly last summer I didn't want to see you again."

"In the dreams…things seemed different, like they were…before," she said miserably. "I thought you might be…happy to see me now."

"And you thought wrong, and now you're upset. What did you expect?" he snapped, his arms folded tightly across his chest.

"I don't know," she admitted, biting her lip. She suddenly brought the glass to her mouth and swallowed its contents in one quick gulp. Blinking back tears at the unexpected burn, she looked directly at him. "I didn't expect any of this."

"Any of what?"

"I didn't expect it to work, first of all, any of it. I didn't expect you to be so nice…I didn't expect to…look forward to…being there, in that world, and I didn't expect to miss that world so…much…I didn't expect—" she took a breath; it hitched in her throat. "…to fall in love with you."

Once, when Snape was a child, his father had fired a gun in the basement of their house. This felt like that. The sudden, short, sharp shock, the blast of noise and the infinite sound of silence afterwards, louder, somehow, than the blast itself. This was like that. It was truly defining. It reverberated in his ear drums. He could hear nothing else.

"Don't lie to me," he said at last, very slowly and deliberately. "And, more importantly, don't lie to yourself. Believe me when I say it is no way to live."

"You dare presume that you know what I'm feeling? That I'm lying?"

"I think you are too young to—"

"And you are too old, am I right?"

"Perhaps," he said through a choking haze of self-loathing. Then, all in a rush: "What would you want me for, anyway? I would only repulse you."

She looked as if he'd slapped her. Her mouth dropped, her eyes widened.

"You…that's what you think? That I'd be…repulsed by you?"

He did not reply. He did not move. He did not blink. He could hear her faint, shallow breaths as she stared down at him, her hair lit like a halo by the lamp behind her.

Time slowed, and sound became weirdly amplified. He could clearly hear her shallow breaths, heard the small clink as she put her glass down next to his, and she moved even closer to him, very, very slowly.

She leaned down, placed her hands on his knee. Very gently, but very firmly, she pushed it to the side, sliding his top leg off the bottom, so his foot landed with a soft thump on the floor. She hesitated for only a second, and before he realized what she was doing and could voice his disapproval, she straddled him, her knees resting on the edge of the seat of the chair, her weight resting on his thighs.

"Miss Granger—" he whispered. He'd meant with all his heart for it to serve a warning, but it sounded, to his horror, like an invitation.

"Professor Snape," she replied and her voice sounded both very far away and lodged, somehow, in his brain. He watched, mesmerized, as her throat worked once, twice, above the collar of her jumper. She took a breath and leaned down and very lightly pressed her lips to his jaw, right at the soft spot where it met the bottom of his ear. Her lips were warm but her skin still cold, despite its high colour. She lingered there, as if she was waiting for him to react, to push her off his lap roughly, to bolt from the room screaming. He could feel her warm breath on his neck, ruffling the ends of his hair.

"Miss Granger," he tried again, feebly. His arms were still crossed tightly across his chest, fingers gripping the fabric of his shirt, as he feared what his hands might do if he dared set them loose. They'd take on a life of their own; havoc would ensue. "What do you think you are doing? You are a student."

"Yes," she agreed, her mouth moving against his skin. "But not your student."

Well, that was true enough. The girl was certainly right about that

Then he sucked in a breath as, emboldened, her mouth made a slow, tentative circle around his face, touching his cheekbones, his forehead, his hairline, chin, his eyelids, light as air, strands of her still damp hair trailing sensuously behind. Her hands — which were not cold, he noted with interest — moved up and rested on his shoulders, then, tentative, slid up the sides of his neck and cupped the skin beneath his jaw. He caught a glimpse of the pale skin of her wrist and the still-angry burn there, like a slash, but he wouldn't think about what that meant now, because her mouth continued to find different places to kiss.

The top of his head.

The tip of his nose.

The small cleft below his nose.

The corner of his mouth.

The other corner, just to be fair.

He was trembling.

No one had ever kissed him like that, ever.

No one.

But then, because he was Snape, and because life was cruel—

"How do I know this is real?"

She stopped, considered. She took hold of one of his hands, wrenching it free from its death grip on his shirt, and placed it, palm down, over her heart, just below the swell of her breast. He could feel it there, her heart, below the skin and below the bone, a wild thing struggling to get free, it seemed, even as it kept her alive, kept her there with him.

"It feels real," she said, and she was breathless. "It feels real to me, it has to be real, right?"

Without waiting for an answer, her rather inexperienced hands fumbled about his waist, and then down, down, while her mouth sought his and—

"Hermione," he choked out finally, moving his hands at last and sliding them about her waist, beneath her sweater, along the impossibly smooth skin and over the impossibly horrid scars, lingering to lightly finger the injured spots, and her head dipped again, and her mouth found his and she kissed him in earnest — a frenzied clashing of lips, teeth, tongues — with an urgency that both frightened and delighted him.

She pulled away when she could no longer catch her breath, cupping his head in her hands, shaking with the exertion. He held her very tightly around the waist, fingers digging into her back and the room was filled with the sound of their ragged breathing.

"Now what?" he asked against her neck, panicked, terrified, joyous. "Now what do we do?"


She returned to school, is what she did, and he spent the interminable week between Christmas and the New Year swinging wildly between bouts of blind euphoria and blind panic.

Neither was doing his heart much good.

She came back, however, the day before he was scheduled to leave and they stood, stiff as soldiers, regarding one another warily from opposite sides of the room.

"You could…continue to write to me, if you so choose," he said. It was early January and thin light slanted in through the window. Hermione looked very pale and chewed on the inside of her cheek.

"Perhaps," she said. "Will you actually reply?"

"Perhaps," he said. "If you write something worth replying to." They both smirked at that.

"We won't need letters anyway," she remarked casually. "We'll be…seeing one another, yes?"

And his heart did a slow, lazy cartwheel at the thought.

She took a step closer. "And…when you return?"

He exhaled through his nose. "Apparently you know where I live now."

She nodded and took another step. "Then I'll…come back."

Another step and another, until she reached him, leaned up and pressed her lips against his.

"I'll miss you," she said, before she turned and left him to his books, his clothes, his thoughts, which swirled madly around two diverse and yet similar notions:

I don't know what I'm doing.


What have I got myself into?


"You have a package, Hermione," Ginny said in February and leaned over to watch her unwrap it.

Hermione knew that handwriting, and pulled the wrapping away with trembling fingers and sat staring down at the contents, unable to utter a word.

"Well, that's a bit rude," said Ginny. "Who on earth would send you a hairbrush?"


March and a mad snowstorm that rattled the school's windows and doors, its very foundation. The winds raged for days, snow blocking almost all light, transforming the school into a cave, a haven.

Students went into hibernation mode.

Nothing to do but sleep.

And dream.


And in April:

Dear S,

The snow is melting.

Spring is coming.

I can feel it.



And the following week in April:


I miss you, too.


May and grass, green beneath her feet, gentle breezes and the bluest skies imaginable, so blue they hurt her eyes.

"You're certainly getting a lot of letters this year," Ginny remarked casually. "Someone I should know about?" She cut her eyes sideways.

"Maybe," Hermione said as they walked. "Soon."

"It's too bad, you know," Ginny said, holding her vibrant hair back from her face as spring winds caught it, whipped it wildly. "I would have liked to have a sister."

June and a collection of postcards from Seville and Leipzig, of the Schloss Schönbrunn and the Uffizi Gallery.

She held them in her hands, those glossy-faced images of far-off places, slipping against her fingers, reading his descriptions again and again until every word was memorized. She sifted through them over and over, pictured him there, wandering those streets, seeing that site, pictured him thinking of her as he chose just the right one.

She held them close and smiled.


It was almost time.


He was sliding books onto shelves when he heard the door click and swing open slowly. He froze, a copy of Europe on a Budget clutched in his hand, unable to move or speak.

"Hello," he heard her say.

Her voice.

He closed his eyes and when he opened them she was there, in full view in the doorway, all June light and heat and a short-sleeved shirt, watching him hold the book.

"You came back," was all he could say.

She frowned at him, dropped her bag at her feet.

"Of course I did." Neither one moved. "School ended two days ago. We…talked about this." She stopped, studied him. "What? You didn't think…you thought I wouldn't come?"

Now that she was actually here, it seemed silly to voice it, to say it aloud, so he only shrugged, one shoulder, nonchalant. But he was paler than usual and his throat worked under his collar.

He shoved the book into its allotted space, let his hands drop to his sides.

Of course he thought she wouldn't come. Silly girl.

This was his life he was talking about, after all.

She took a deep, rather unsteady breath. "Do…you not want me here?"

Oh, dear Merlin.

He was before her in an instant, pulling her roughly into his arms, feeling her warm and solid and real, his lips against her hair and her arms around him and she was laughing against his chest, laughing like she'd never stop.


And later—

I knew a woman—

He couldn't close his eyes, couldn't look away for fear of missing a single movement, a sigh, a shudder, a smile—

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:

I'm martyr to a motion not my own;

It was fire and it was earth, it was water and air and something more, something lighter, than all of that, too—

What's freedom for? To know eternity.

I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.

It was passion and skin and tears and gasps and the unspeakable beauty of the long, trembling curve of her throat as she writhed beneath him, her hair tangling across the pillow, dark and light—

But who would count eternity in days?

These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:

It was her mouth on him, and her hands on him, and her lips forming the shape of his name, over and over and over

(I measure time by how a body sways.)

He pushed his face desperately into the sweet hollow of her neck, felt the smooth ridge of her collarbone under his mouth, tasted the salt sheen of sweat, felt her hands moving, moving on his neck, his back, his ribs, and as he swayed against her, into her over and over and over he thought—

I want to stay here.

I want to stay here forever.



I Knew a Woman ~ Theodore Roethke


A/N: Yes, for those of you who have asked, -30- means done. Sorry for any confusion: it's simply a lingering habit from my journalism days. I have no clue of its origin, but it signified the end of a press release, and I've carried it over into fanfiction. Thank-you to everyone who didn't give up on this story, and left such lovely, encouraging reviews. I know it was confusing at times — for me, as well! heh — but I had so much fun writing it. And, I'm a sucker for happy endings, so. Onwards.