A/N: This is something that I wrote for the delightful Em (silverotter1) who has always been such a huge encouragement. Just a little thank you, I suppose.

I've always been a little intrigued by the old Celtic rituals of Samhain, and since it's nearly Halloween, it seemed an appropriate time to write something. The lyrics at the start are from Rachael Yamagata's song Sunday Afternoon, which I strongly recommend people listen to. Some inspiration was derived from it as well.

Blood in My Heart

You poured blood in my heart

I can't get enough

I'm drowning

And you can't decide

October 30th, 2004 – Present Day

Darkness rules the night, spread like a blanket to dim the burning light of the stars. It swallows up the sounds. Silence is a serenade to her listening ears. She's awake, plagued with thoughts of tomorrow, of possibility. Her eyes fall in fleeting glances across the shadowed plains of the room. It's not her room, and yet she feels at home here because it's his room. And he has become home to her.

The light that falls in through the high windows is clean and pure, not the burning orange of Samhain that lingers on the cusp. Now is for the living, she knows. Tomorrow is when it changes, when the ghosts that haunt them in the dark parts of their minds can come free and haunt them beyond dreams. Once, this was what she wanted, what she craved. The remembered look in his bright blue gaze, his crooked grin and potty mouth, red hair like fire and a heart as warm. She doesn't yearn for him in the way she did, like a crippling illness that made the act of drawing breath impossible.

She has learnt, over the years, to love in other ways, less perfect perhaps, but just as fierce. She thinks the boy she remembers would have wanted that for her.

Hermione casts her gaze to the pale skin revealed in the white light. It is a contrast to the dark sheen of the sheets in which he's tangled. His brow is smooth, his lips puckered. The man that holds her heart in his grip is sleeping, peacefully.

When they first came together, it wasn't about them; it was about filling the void. It's not about that now. He's so much more to her than that, but she worries she's alone. She worries that sometimes when the piercing grey of his eyes fall upon her that he sees another.

She wonders whether he will ever feel healed the way she does, whether he will be freed from the grip of a former love. She's not sure. She'll know soon. If he goes to see her, to watch her white face in all its transparent and illusive glory, then Hermione will know.

And if that is the truth, then she will leave. Because she can't live in a world in which his body breathes and his mind does not.

November 1998

When one read about the act of war, it always seemed as though it was a spectacular affair, all wands blazing and agonised cries. It seemed quick. It wasn't though. War was like disease, eating through the hearts and spirits of those on both sides. It festered until even those that survived its reign of terror were somehow irreparably damaged.

Hermione had known before many others that it was something she would have to face. She'd never believed in Divination, but there were some intrinsic truths in life that couldn't be disregarded. The fact that her best friend was the person he was – marked - meant that somewhere along the way she would be too. She'd made the decision, when she was far too young to know quite what it meant, that she would be by his side through it all. That's what friends did.

She didn't regret it either, though she often wondered about all the people that were lost, the ones she'd known and laughed with that no longer walked the grimy earth with her. She wondered if it were somehow possible that things could have ended up differently. She always came to the same conclusion though. No. They were all marked. A shared misfortune.

And yet, even as she accepted this, it made the facing of each new day harder than the last.

The past year had been spent, in the larger sense, entirely focused on battle strategies. Hermione didn't see much of general warfare though; she had the fortune of missing out on the general death and decay. Her time, like Ron and Harry's, was primarily spent in researching and the hunting for horcruxes. An endless attempt to win ground. There were times, however, in the lull and the quiet between missions, during which they stayed at headquarters. The Order of the Phoenix and its many other derivatives had taken up residence in 12 Grimmauld Place in addition to a number of other safe houses which had been established.

She used those times of quiet and reprieve to prepare. She spent hours amid the towering shelves of old and dusty tomes in the family library at Grimmauld Place. As to be expected, the subject matter covered in some of the books she found there spanned all manner of dark and twisted magic.

It wasn't only information on horcruxes that she sought; much of her time was taken up in reading through the histories of the last war. She thought it prudent that, on this occasion, they avoid making the mistakes of the past. She knew that, at that time, there were many witches and wizards who had remained uninvolved. They were too scared to draw on the wrath of Death Eaters and their Master. It wasn't the same now. People were tired of living in fear, knew that without defeating Voldemort utterly, there would never be freedom from the fear of yet another return. So they had raised their hands and put themselves forward for battle. Many were too young, like her. And then there were those even younger still. They all fought for something though. A future.

It was a particular demographic of witches and wizards this time around who made all of the difference. They were called the turncoats. She supposed they fought for redemption, freedom from their legacy. She could never be sure. Among these were the children of former Death Eaters, those raised with the disdain for non-purebloods, but not the conviction to kill them. There were two people in particular who stole the breath from others, spreading shock and unease in their wake.

The Malfoys, mother and son. They stayed at the Headquarters instead of one of the safe houses as Ron had vehemently suggested. Hermione could only suppose that this was because they were deemed untrustworthy, and in need of supervision. These doubts weren't entirely without merit, but as it turned out, they were unnecessary.

In any case, neither Hermione nor her companions saw much of them during the earlier months after their defection. They tended to stay removed from the general hubbub within the house, perhaps conscious of the lack of warm reception. Despite their heated proclamations of defection after the murder of Lucius Malfoy at the hands of his Master – the cruellest of lessons perhaps – there was an all pervasive lack of pity or concern for them.

With Lucius no longer alive to guide his family, and the bitter taste of loss on their tongues, they had sought out the Order on the promise of allegiance and assistance. Ample money to provide resources, the pledge of another pair of hands in battle, and the knowledge they had gained about Death Eater activities was what afforded them the little protection that times like these could offer.

Despite the fact that she was often away and Draco Malfoy was ever in the thick of battle – whether he wanted to be or not – she often saw him, passing by in the dark corridors of the former Black residence. Most people didn't wonder too much about him, but the hollow look on his face and the expression of his eyes always seemed to linger in her mind when he was gone. They showed the kind of loss that she had never experienced. Though there were many that she knew who had died, her friends and her family were blessedly not among them.

She often thought that whatever kind of hateful person he had been back when life was trivial, the burden of loss and the fear for his mother had rendered him someone else entirely. He seemed to have guessed at the direction of her thoughts, because she often caught him casting dark looks at her. A kind of warning, she supposed, that he wanted nothing akin to pity. She didn't pity him though, many people had lost loved ones, and none of those lost had been the kind of person that Lucius Malfoy was: the kind that hurt others.

There wasn't room for hatred within the walls of the old house, certainly not the kind directed at one's cohabitants. It was something they had all learned over time. Whatever quibbles and pains they had experienced in the past, they had to bury them deep to survive. Hatred was reserved for the battle-field, for fuelling curses that would ultimately save them all.

Hermione knew it took him longer to realise that because he didn't have the friendship and security the rest of them had. He only had walls, and they were almost impenetrable. He didn't turn his nose up at the peace offering though, when the time came before one particular raid and Harry turned to him and held out his hand. The look in his eyes was unreadable, but Hermione thought there was something of uncertainty there as well. Even Ron, her lovely Ron, had done the same. She knew that it cost him something to make the offering, but the cost to do otherwise was far greater.

And they, all of them, were wise beyond their years.

It changed when Narcissa Malfoy died. She was his last bastion against the pain he buried, and what came knocking continually at his door. Hermione thought she saw the fight leave him that day on the battlefield. It was like a gust of wind, the roaring of battle-fury, which rushed from his body as the older woman's pale form crumpled lifeless to the ground. A blaze of green light, which stole her essence. The shouting of curses, flashing lights and tumbling bodies had continued, but Hermione hadn't seen it. She'd only see him staring, shoulders hunched, in the middle of it all, gazing at the last of his family.

That was the first time she knew loneliness: the crushing, bone-weary kind that ate away at the soul. She knew it in Draco Malfoy's intense grey eyes as they held her own, and the window revealing all that was lost, bereft within him.

He didn't want a friend, would never lower himself to beg for a voice in his ear to fill that stifling silence. She thought he needed it though. He spent his time fighting with a vengeance, a reckless sort of desire to eradicate those who had stolen all he knew. The times in between were spent in one of the small sitting rooms that afforded a view of grimy London from its window. The room was dark, dank, and he stood in it staring at the rain splattered scene beyond. She never figured out what he was looking for, what truth he sought beyond the glass.

She did know that, no matter what her friends thought, he needed something to pin him to reality, however unpleasant it might be.

That was why she first crept into that room, about a week after he had buried the elegant Malfoy matriarch. She had even prepared herself for the inevitable: a forceful reminder that she should leave.

It never came though. In fact, he didn't so much as glance in her direction. He knew she was there, though, for the floor boards creaked as she entered, and she hadn't concealed the shifting of her clothes as she sat in one of the old armchairs. Still, in spite of her presence, he stood ram-rod straight and stared beyond. Hermione had passed the time by watching the way the flames from the half-lit hearth danced a pattern around the room and across his back. It cast a vision of heat and warmth over his partially-concealed face.

Eventually, the warmth and the silence had rendered her drowsy and she had fallen asleep. When she awoke some hours later, it was to complete darkness, the heat from the fireplace gone and a chill in the air. An old blanket was thrown over her curled shape and there was no sign of Malfoy.

She took from that night that, whatever about his demeanour, some sort of appreciation for the quiet gesture existed. She went back to the little room quite often, soaking up the stillness with him. There was something therapeutic about it for her as well, the ability to unwind and forget about the day.

Ron didn't really like that she was doing that, couldn't understand the worth of the action or her need to do it. But he knew it was important, somehow. When she went to his arms, felt the heat of him soak right into her being. With the beating of his heart against hers, she often wished that Malfoy knew this. It was the only true source of comfort in the war.

February 1999

Time was a funny thing. It could rush up around a person, push them swiftly through days and months no matter how they yearned to savour each second. On other occasions it stagnated, little fragments of time which seemed to fall away from the fabric. Those were the hardest to contend with. It made war, and the horrors one found there, all the more excruciating. Though it was the good moments, the freedom in forgetting, that sped by her. Hermione tried her best to relish each one.

Whenever she looked upon the young man, as she supposed he now was, with fair hair and the ghostly presence, she wondered how time passed for him. Slowly, she suspected, trapping him in its prison-like embrace.

It took a long time for him to emerge from the cocoon in which he sought numbness and escape from pain. Hermione wasn't sure whether Draco Malfoy had mourned and recovered, or whether he just learnt to block it out better. Either way, he seemed to finally make the decision to live beyond the sallow walls of his quiet room, and away from the death-strewn battle field. He now lived in all the in-between moments.

Those were the ones that counted, she knew. The little details, remembered jokes and smiling faces over breakfast, when people forgot for a split second where they were and why; they were what counted in the vast spectrum of life. Life in war, in any case.

And, she thought, wasn't all of life a war in some respect? It was the mêlée for one's life and for freedom, or the battle for a better job and house and love life. All the latter points had been dreadfully important to Hermione once, to all of them she suspected. They were foreign concepts now.

Perhaps it was the length of time that had passed, and the way they had grown accustomed to this new rhythm of theirs, but war seemed normal. It was the mundane daily existence of their generation. And they were all jaded. It still hurt to think about the lives lost, but eventually one tuned it all out. It was like every moment spent beyond the safe walls of Grimmauld Place was time spent in another realm. But within the dark confines of the house, that was when they were living. That was real life.

Hermione had forged her special memories there. Time spent with Harry and Ginny, Ron and Neville playing exploding snap with Malfoy watching on, partly amused. More special still were the quiet moments with the boy she loved, the one she'd waited so long to be with. Ron Weasley always managed to say things that drove her mad, and follow them up with words so fumbled and sincere that they stole her breath.

His touches were gentle and uncertain, like hers. They sent her heart scattering through her chest.

It was in that house, with its drab furnishings and howling paintings that she forged the map of her life with him. She thought of their future, when they could live in a world that was safe and secure. Those thoughts painted colour across her vision; they made the weariness abate. It was in this vision of a world that they did more than just kiss him. He held her afterwards, both shaking and giddy. She knew it would be like that always.

This was the time that was perfect. She knew that she would always cast her mind back to it, and recall that no matter how much death and loss and suffering coated their skin when they left that house, within its walls was something sacred. Something that couldn't be taken away.

May 1999

Humans were just as base as other animals, their instincts just as true. The difference was that they so often elected to ignore the vital signs. People followed the path of reason and logic, as she often did, and pretended that the prickling on the back of their necks didn't signify that the body knew what the mind didn't.

The residents of Grimmauld Place, those fighting the unending battles, had started to trust those instincts more. The necessity for survival made trust in the senses vital. This was how she had known, as the others had, that it was all drawing to some kind of close. The air around was thicker with the anticipation of it all, and harder to draw into their lungs.

The horcruxes, all baring the most inaccessible, Nagini, had been found and destroyed. That meant to all who knew of their existence that the time for the final battle, as it would be called, was drawing ever nearer. Harry was no longer able to stall for time in the hopes of preparation. He was as ready as he would ever be. It was a thought that scared her, because none of them were ready.

How could one prepare for death, if that was their path? They thought that they had though. Like romantic heroes of the past, each of them - brave and righteous - held their wands aloft in the face of glorious death. They all thought that they were ready to go out and face the common enemy once more, as they had many times before.

There was no glory in death though. There was only the siphoning of spirit from the body, then emptiness. Then loss.

The fighting waged for one night only. After nearly two years in the build up, the end was swift and cataclysmic. Somehow Hermione had known it always would be. She'd also known - with those instincts she ignored - that she couldn't get through the wreckage fully intact. Not when so many others had suffered in a way she had not.

And yet, even as she expected to feel the torment, in all of her most morbid imaginings she had never expected it to be him. It was her spirit they stole that night, the burning fire that had pushed her through every other battle and into this. Because they stole him. The most vibrant part of her that thudded in her chest. Ron.

No more smiles, crooked and wide. No more warm hands, or comforting words and inappropriate jokes. He couldn't be summed up, all that he was. He couldn't be described, except to say that he was gone.

And so, irrevocably, was she.

Hermione thought, at the time, whilst running through debris and bodies, ducking curses and throwing her own, that they would be okay. Somehow, impossibly, they would emerge triumphant, as they so deserved to be. And on paper, when the world sang of their success and cried out with relief, they would be.

But she knew better, as did Harry who lost his best friend that night, and Ginny who lost her brother, and all the other people who lost their love and their hope and their reason for being. They all knew that there was no triumph. There was only the end of one chapter and the start of a new one.

Nobody won in war. They were all losers to the wrath and decay.

She tried not to blame him, Malfoy, for what happened, because consciously she knew it wasn't his fault. But the bile that burnt her throat caused a poison she couldn't deny. And it made her lash out at him, for he was the one to make the choice. And he picked her. Draco Malfoy had decided in a split second when a choice was vital that, for whatever reason, she was the one worth saving. Hermione. Not Ron.

She also blamed herself for giving him a reason to choose her. And maybe that was the problem.

In reality it had happened fast, but in her mind - when she cast it back over that moment in time - it moved with an agonising slowness. Voldemort was dead, and Harry the victor, but the fight remained for hours after that. Death Eaters crawled the grounds, raising their wands and cursing all before them, because their master was dead and so, shortly, would they be. They had nothing to lose.

Amid the confusion and furore she'd been taken out by an errant Stunning Spell; they still weren't sure from whom, but likely friendly fire, because Death Eaters aimed to kill. Ron had turned in realisation and so had Malfoy. Time seemed to stagnate, as it so often did. Ron running to her. The watchful Death Eater. Two Killing Curses uttered in quick succession. One for her. One for Ron. There had only been enough time for Malfoy to cast one protego charm. And he chose her.

He told her later it was because she was unarmed and defenceless. But he had known that Ron had only eyes for her, hadn't seen the curse coming until it had stolen the life from him.

Once released from the spell, realisation had struck and she collapsed over him, ignoring the crushing sound that pervaded the area. Her fingers, numb and frantic pushed and pulled at him. His name tumbled urgently from her lips. Please Ron. Please. But he wasn't there anymore to hear her cry his name. He was somewhere else altogether. Gone to the kingdom of the lost, wherever that was.

Hours later, or perhaps minutes – time in its inimitable fashion had blurred into noise and colour that she couldn't distinguish – she was back at the old and decrepit house in which each room was a story, a memory. She stood still and lifeless as the body of people swarmed around her with hugs to comfort both her and themselves. She found him in the back room, and she didn't remember walking there herself.

He stood, as always, by the window, bathed in the orange glow of the fire and staring out beyond. Only this time he turned his attention to acknowledge her. It was a stare that seemed burn through her walls and to the pit of her.

"Why?" The question emerged in a voice that was foreign to her.

He took a long time to respond, and the words were true but she hated him for them. "He wanted to save you. It was his choice as much as mine."

Draco Malfoy cared nothing for what Ron wanted. She knew that; so did he. The words were a lie wrapped in truth. The bone locking pain started again, the heaving of her stomach followed and all she could think was that she had to block it out. Somehow.

She was hunched over, her mind intent on closing it all out, when he made to leave the room. And though she barely recognised the softly whispered words as he was leaving, they made her hate him more. He made the decision, the one she didn't think that she could live with.

His voice was unrecognisable as it formed the words, "I didn't want it to be you."

When the door opened for him to leave, the truth came knocking. Ron wasn't gone, she thought. Not really. He couldn't be.

The words were a chant in her head and on her lips. Like broken glass, they shattered in the quiet space. Again and again. Malfoy moved forward then, and shook her firmly by the shoulders. The denial continued louder and louder and she fell against him. The sobs that were wrenched from her shaking frame were the true sounds of war.

He wasn't gone. He couldn't be.

September 1999

Mourning was an act performed for the lost. An expulsion of emotions and grief that was necessary to pave the way to healing. She wouldn't be healed, didn't want to be. And she refused to believe that he was gone for good. She refused to believe she would never see his face again. How could she be a witch, and have faith in all that was seemingly unthinkable, and not believe there was a way to achieve that end?

It scared her family and her friends, she knew. They cast worried looks at each other behind her back, and spoke in soft and reassuring tones. It angered her because she didn't understand how they could give in, and accept defeat, when it meant losing him. Mourning meant admitting that he was gone, that the scent she thought surrounded her wasn't him, but just a memory. It meant bringing forth a future that didn't include arguments followed by his rueful expressions. Her friends seemed to think that she should lock herself in her room and cry. But crying meant an ending. She wasn't ready for that.

Time had lapsed since the official closing of the war, and the cheers had been raucous. Even that hadn't lasted long. People always went back to normality, the day to day run of things before they'd known what war really was. And there were those, like herself, who couldn't remember life before the threat of death and defeat had loomed over head.

They were the ones lost in the fallout. They didn't know how to pick up all the shards and piece them back together in a way that fit. Hermione didn't think anything fit anymore. So they floated on, like so much lint in the air.

The old Hermione, if that could be defined as a different person who now wore her skin, would have sought employment and distraction, a cause to be championed. She had a cause, one that she couldn't voice for fear of ridicule. She didn't mope though. Time passed with the turning of thousands of worn pages. Book after ancient book that she pored over, her avaricious gaze starved for information that would give her what she wanted.

Pinpointing when the idea had occurred would be impossible. She only knew that sometime after he had been buried, she had recalled the references to a certain of branch magic, a mysterious and lost sort that people rarely spoke of now. It was the sacred sort that allowed one to manipulate truth and air, to bring back the lost and let them walk the earth again.

It was a dangerous magic, one which she would never have considered in the past. But that was the old Hermione. She was something different now. Different concerns, and sometimes none altogether.

The knowledge of its existence, and the possibility, had lingered in her mind for years. Just one of the many nuggets of information she had stumbled upon during her years of foraging through bundles of parchment. Hermione was well read. She knew of the sorts of magic that existed in the old days, when magical folk cared about the earth and its connection to their powers. She had read about the rituals, sacred and secret, and what they had revealed. And she wanted fervently to know those secrets too. She wanted to unravel that knowledge and exploit it, to see him once again.

Necromancy was, for the most part, a forgotten art which dated back centuries upon centuries, practised by those who wished to bring back the dead to help them divine the future. Hermione cared nothing for Divination; she wished only to see the light bend across Ron's face again.

It seemed strange to her to know that children, both Muggle and magical, celebrated All Hallows' Eve with pumpkins and witches hats, but no real knowledge of what the night meant, of the possibilities it held. They'd all forgotten about the last vestiges of stories about that sacred night. Samhain was the night when the barrier between the living and the dead was most malleable. It was the time when one who knew what she was doing could see the one she'd loved and lost again.

The realisation of what she planned to do did not actually set in until she found herself knee deep in tomes, their pages filled with images of the distinctive markings of the druidic language, ogham. The sort of books that she had access to were not the kind that gave instruction on the primordial forms of magic, considered by modern standards to be of the Dark Arts. They provided commentary on the mystic rites of Samhain, but little else.

She spent almost all of her time following the close of the war in this manner, much to the great concern of everyone around her. She didn't want to tell them that she had discovered a way to find closure. She told herself that she wanted to see him just once more, to say goodbye. It wasn't strictly true, but it was the justification that she clung to. The finality of that night was what had undone her. She told herself that if she could just see the lines of his friendly face once more then she would be okay. She would move on like they wanted her to.

Or at the very least, she would try.

Hermione wasn't unaware of the dangers of the necromantic rites of Samhain. She knew that if performed incorrectly she could summon other spirits, malevolent ones at that. She had read the stories of witches who had been driven mad by the rite and the urge to see their loved ones again. They had wasted away each year for it. It was a fine line, hovering on the edge between this life and what came after. People weren't supposed to blur those lines. Yet she who had always been cautious, suddenly wished to attempt it with a fervency that scared her.

The fear and the uncertainty weren't enough to stop her though. In fact, she threw herself into the hunt for knowledge with abandon. It was, if nothing else, a way to pass the time. And she craved such distraction like a thirst that was endless.

It was for months during this quest for information that Hermione visited all manner of bookstores, each increasingly obscure in nature. She had found, in her readings, several references to a rare book which was said to illustrate the very fine details of the rite, in a way that no others had. It was said to have been written in the Celtic tongue, by a witch who had been very skilled in the arts of necromancy. When Hermione spoke with some highly perturbed rare book dealers, she was told that few copies were still in existence and all were privately held.

It was on one fortunate occasion that she stumbled across a small bookstore specialising in hard-to-find tomes, that the wizened proprietor seemed inclined to share his wealth of knowledge. He told her that he himself had been the one to procure the last seen copy of the book. It was sold, he said, to one Abraxas Malfoy almost half a century ago. The Malfoys were known for the extensive collection of uncollectable books apparently. Hermione's heart had quickened in her chest.

There was some bitter twist of fate that his grandson was the person she would have to approach in such a time of need as this. And he would, unquestionably, know her reason for seeking the words within the book's pages. He was precisely the last person she wished to see, yet she'd known that she would all the same.

Draco Malfoy hadn't been surprised, as it turned out, to see her on his door step mere days later. Apparently the old book dealer had told him she was interested in the volume. She stood proud beneath his scrutinising gaze.

"You look like shit, Granger." He didn't. He looked more whole than she had seen him in a long time. She hated the fact that he could stand before her, almost entirely put back together. It was the cruelty of life that some could recover and others didn't know how.

His words about her appearance were disparaging on the surface, and yet somehow hinted at a concern she'd never credited him as being able to muster. She knew she was a little thin, distraction and determination caused her less concern for bodily needs.

"I know why you're here," he said. "I won't help you." She didn't listen to the words when he told her it was an unhealthy obsession and that he wouldn't be her enabler.

She asked him instead why he cared, and he told her that he didn't. It was a lie, of course. But she couldn't figure out how that had come to be.

The warning that came from his lips made her want to lash out. She saw the pity and judgement written across his face. He should know, she thought. He had to understand. And indeed, he must have seen something in her eyes that made his own soften fractionally. When the offer came, she knew she had to accept. He said he would give her the book, but that he would be there when the time came to perform the rite. She didn't want that though. Her pain was a secret she couldn't bear to unleash in front of him.

"No," she whispered.

Malfoy told her he was responsible. She wasn't sure what he was referring to then. Giving her the book? Or for Ron? "I have enough blood on my hands without yours too."

She should have told him it wasn't true; the guilt wasn't his alone.

Yet she found that she could not.

October 31st, 1999

Hermione had read once that the spirit never died; it lived on in magic, becoming one of the shining pearls of starlight that watched over head. If this was so, she hoped that Ron, watching over her, shone brighter than all the others.

She knew when she stood on that sacred hill of Tara, where the druids had stood more than a millennium before her that Draco Malfoy was watching. Hidden. She could feel him there though. She could also feel the magic steeped soil beneath her bare feet and smell the scent of burning apples from the bonfires.

It was exactly as she had read in the small, richly bound volume that spoke her heart's desire. She stood on the sacred soil, the knowledge that witches hundreds of years before her had performed the same secret pact was the sort of heady realisation that use to make her heart flutter. She didn't care about unravelling mysteries now. She cared only that it worked, that she would see that pearly-lit shape of Ron emerge from smoking bonfires and that his eyes would light up to see her.

It was a volatile, pulsing sort of mysticism that throbbed in the air around her. It stole her breath and gave it back again. Hermione was thorough; she chanted words that were foreign on her tongue. Just as the writings instructed, on the worn parchment of the small book, she had built two blazing bonfires encircled by ancient runic etchings in the disrupted soil. Her lips moved and her eyes watched the passage between the two towering flames. Time seemed to swirl around her, stagnating and speeding up, making her dizzy and breathless. The wait was intolerable.

And then the quality of light changed, thickened like a fog and swirled, making shapes that whispered to her. And she knew.

When he stepped forward a sob was wrenched from her throat. He was less distinct than a ghost, more like a trick of the light than anything else and yet it was him all the same. The sound of his voice calling was so insubstantial that she thought she might have imagined it, another of her fevered yearnings in the dead of night.

But it was real, cool like the wind against her skin. She revelled in the sound.

Hermione, he whispered. You haven't forgotten me, have you? She told him no. She could never forget. No matter the pain it caused her to think of him, she feared nothing more than forgetting. She wanted to be haunted by the memory of him always.

The smoky image of his face was broken with confusion, the look of the lost. She moved forward to touch him, to feel his ghostly presence running through her.

Why did you leave me? Where did you go? The broken voice whispered to her, so unlike the rich, laughing tones that she remembered. She told him sorry. Again and again. The word tumbled from her lips in torn out gasps that left her body shuddering.

Her stomach twisted and her bare feet moved closer to the searing flames. Her fingers reached out desperately to grasp at the intangible. When the voice came again it was pleading, tempting. Come with me. She listened, her eager feet willing to shadowy form of him was pulling back, ready to pass between the narrow strip of space that lay between the two blazing bonfires.

And she wanted to follow, with a clawing sort of urgency, fearful that his glimmering form would fade further still. She lunged forward, and was stayed only by the very real hands which hauled her from the flames.

Draco Malfoy had saved her once again. So entranced had she been by the vision of Ron that she had completely forgotten his presence on the lush green hill. But she could not find it in herself to thank him, not quite yet. At another time, with distance from the remembered offer in Ron's voice, she would thank him, but in that moment it was far too raw.

The searing look in his ashy gaze broke through the film of yearning and brought the sobs that had caught in her throat. They roared to the surface in a body-wracking fury. She clung to him. And, once again, he let her.

When he did speak again, after a length of time beyond her determining, he told her what she knew already, in her heart of hearts. It wasn't him. It wasn't real.

"He would never want to hurt you." The hushed words were whispered against her ear.

That was true, Hermione knew, and yet she was hurt just the same.

July 2001

People always said that time healed all, and whilst Hermione didn't think that this was strictly true, she felt certain that it took the sharp edge off the hovering blade. It made it easier to breathe. It made it easier to smile on occasion and to stare into the faces of those she loved, especially his family. They looked so much like him. Blue eyes. Hair like fair. And, on occasion, the briefest hint of his smile.

She also knew that other wounds, much smaller in the scheme things, had caused her some distraction. They averted her mind at times from the gaping wound within. The hurtful, yet true, words of Draco Malfoy that day had cut piercing little jabs across her skin. She could never seem to figure out why it was that she cared about them, except to say that she did. Unfathomably. She felt connected to him, in some unwanted way. They were bound together by a string of events and moments that could not be denied.

Whenever she did cast her mind back to that night, it was like another person had stolen her body, leaving her bereft. She understood Malfoy's logic, knew what he had said was true, and yet it had broken her heart afresh. She had holed herself up for almost a month, crying endlessly, the way everyone had said she must in order to grieve. She'd always thought she was grieving, just differently. As it happened she hadn't been grieving at all. She never worked out was worse: the pain of acknowledging the truth, or the murky cloud of denial. They each hurt in different ways.

After the incident that Halloween, and Hermione's self-imposed seclusion, Ginny had sent for her mother, for which the former had been most grateful. There was something about the embrace of one's parent, so giving and unfailingly comforting, which made the pain abate just a little. It made one revert to that time when they were little and all of life's problems could be solved by one's mum. And no matter the differences of opinion between Hermione and her own mother, nothing could have stopped her from traversing the great divide and falling into those comforting arms.

The outpouring of grief had dulled the pinprick of the blade just a touch, enough so that in some glorious moments, she could breath. The heady rush of air and the millisecond when she simply forgot to hurt were pleasures beyond reckoning. She'd finally begun to own the truth: he was gone, truly and irrevocably, and no amount of magic could draw him back to her.

In spite of the intensity of that night which seemed to sew her and Malfoy together – or perhaps because of it – she hadn't seen him since. It was far too intimate and emotional a connection for either of them to contend with. That he should be the one to literally pull her from the flames was a truth she grappled with, because she didn't want to owe him anything.

And she rather thought that, in some strange way, he held the same belief. After all, she had been the one to start it, that first time she went to see him in the dark corners of Grimmuald Place, because she'd thought no one should be alone after the death of a loved one. In a way this was his repayment. But it was also a pattern, the most dangerous kind.

It was easy for her to forget, in the face of her own losses, that he was alone. And she wasn't even conscious of that fact until it was no longer true. It was something of a shock to her when she heard the announcement of his engagement. She hadn't even known that he was with someone. But she saw photos in the newspaper. The look on his face when he stared at his pretty fiancée was familiar. It was the look in Ron's eyes when he looked at her. Indulgent.

Somehow Hermione had always thought he couldn't possibly know what love was like, the real kind. The kind that burnt through the skin and lingered in the pit of one's stomach. It was the kind that, though no longer immediate and present in her own life, still lingered as a memory. The realisation that she was wrong, that perhaps he did know something of love, made her feel lonelier than ever. It was a funny thing, because she could recall back when her life had been held together that she had wanted this for him. She just didn't want it for him when she had nothing. That kind of bitterness was unbecoming, she knew. But it festered just the same.

She had lost the person she loved because of him: his choice to keep her alive. And he had the audacity to fall in love himself. She thought she hated him that day. It passed though.

October 31st 2001

She thought it was funny how people tried to assume responsibility for someone or something beyond their control. Yet so often the smallest of details had an impact, created a bond whether it was wanted or not.

Soon she realised that he recognised the bond as well.

It was the night of Samhain, and the call to return to those hallowed grounds burned like a needed drink, a drug to the system. The thought, however wrong and depraved it was, to see Ron's face, had her knees locking and her heart hammering. She had thought about going and sitting on the sacred plains, just to remember and revel in that memory. She wouldn't do it, not again.

Except she wanted to.

He must have known, because he arrived on her doorstep, bright white like a saviour she didn't want. And he had no right to play that role. There was a knowing look in his gaze when it fell on her. She asked him why he was there, when he should have been with the pretty witch in the picture.

He told her that he was staying, to make sure that she didn't do what he knew she craved. She hated him in that moment once more. But the relief was more acute. The knowledge that she could pass the weight of the decision to someone else and off her back was a sort of freedom that she needed.

When they sat in her small house, watching the crackling flames, it reminded her of Grimmauld Place, when she had come and sat by him in the quiet. A comforting presence in the silent room. She supposed that was exactly what he was doing too.

The minutes seemed to slip into hours like rivers into lakes. Fluid lapping motions that were so gentle, she was unaware of them. Only him, and the hearth, and the bright glow it cast around the room. It was like a stolen moment, a separate and secret one. She supposed that meant something neither of them was willing to explore.

She did ask him, finally, the question that had threatened to spill from her red mouth all evening. The sounds formed words and she listened as breathlessly as he did, uncertain of their meaning. Did he love her? The pretty girl in the picture. She thought she knew the answer, a resounding yes, but somehow the words on his lips were important.

"I wasn't sure," she said finally. "I didn't know if I could be happy for you, after what happened. But I am."

He looked at her, his eyes burrowing through the layers of her skin to the very centre of her, home to ugly truths. It still throbbed with a pain that was unending. Whatever it was that he saw though, he nodded. It was a thank you, she supposed.

When he left in the early hours of the morning, as dawn crept closer, she noticed how the air seemed to shift with him. It was quiet, a different type of quiet to the one they shared. An empty quiet.

She didn't see him after that for a very long time.

August 2002

The tragedy of war was that it never truly ended. Not really. There was no clean break, no way to sweep the debris – the hatred and resentment – under the rug and start afresh. The mourning never stopped, and neither did the lingering desire, in some, for revenge. It left them foaming at the mouth.

Hermione had read about the deaths of several turncoats at the hands of those embittered. They were seen as the worst sort of traitors to a cause that forgave nothing, and many were killed without recourse. It wasn't until she read one name, however, that the icy grip around her heart contracted. Astoria Malfoy and her unborn child had been struck down in the middle of Diagon Alley, after shopping with her mother.

It was a message, the cruellest kind. The culprit was shown in photos covering the Daily Prophet, grinning maniacally at the flashing cameras as she was dragged away.

It may have been a war, but all Hermione could think was that no one person could be expected to absorb that much loss and bear to walk the earth. Alive and alone. She thought, though she would never say it aloud, that the living were the victims. Death brought peace to all who suffered it, and the weight of their loss hung like chain around their loved one's necks.

The second time she walked the white stone path to the vast gates of the Manor at Wiltshire was the day of his wife's funeral. He hadn't invited her, but she had felt the need to come all the same. The intent behind her actions, and the desire to be there, was beyond what she could divine. It was that pattern again, creeping into her life and tying her to him. Even though she knew she was somehow succumbing to it, she knew that she had to hold up her end. Whatever that was.

He was blinding white amid the sea of grey faces and sombre black attire. Her eyes unfailingly watched for every tick that moved across his face, the image of mourning was somehow morbidly fascinating to her. An urge, unwelcome though it was, to move through the clambering figures and to reach up and smooth fingers across the fair planes of his face, welled within.

Though his gaze never once moved from the engraved marble, she knew he was aware of her presence. When the droves of people left, clasping firm hands on his shoulder and whispering words of sorrow in his ear, she moved to stand beside him. They stood for an eternity. And it wasn't until the heaven's outcry, a deluge of rain that fell around them, had soaked them to their skin that he headed back indoors.

She followed.

When they shivered by the fire, drying charms having stolen the moisture from their bodies but not alleviated the chill, she looked at him and felt her heart thump in her chest. Perhaps it was some innate desire to relieve him of something she could recognise, or perhaps it was because she knew that someone had to and there was no one else, not for him. All she knew was that the invisible threads that had bound her to him had cinched her ever closer.

It was like a renewed sense of purpose she hadn't felt in a long time: a distorted dream she half remembered. She only knew that for all the times he'd saved her, she would save him back. She would sit by the fire and fill up the silence with her presence, so that it wouldn't be empty. He didn't deserve that sort of emptiness.

It seemed absurd that they had come to a point in their lives in which she thought him deserving of anything. Yet there they were.

It was a while before he seemed to truly acknowledge her continued presence in his house, to come out of himself enough to rudely request she leave. She wouldn't though. He spent his time in a sea of pain-dulling liquor, and she spent hers in finding new ways to hide the bottles.

She also whiled away the hours in wandering the corridors and sneaking glimpses of the ornate rooms of the Manor, and in reading by the hearth.

The day he put down his bottle, albeit momentarily, and turned to her to speak, she felt her stomach squeeze in response. She wasn't surprised by the words he spoke, the demands that fell from his entitled tongue. She had been expecting them, yet hoping somehow that he was a stronger sort of person than she.

As it turned out, no one was. Not in the face of such temptation.

Hermione had hidden the book, snuck into the extensive library one afternoon and prowled the shelves until she found it. The little book in its worn leather casing: the one that still made her heart thump with remembered yearning. It was a phantom desire, brought on only by the memory of the pain that was, at the time, so piercing in its quality.

She could see it in his eyes, the way that burning need engulfed him. He had been the one to make her see the truth, the danger of the secrets held within its pages. He had been the one to sit with her, to make her stay among the living and not dwindle into sorrow and dance with the spirit of her loved one. He couldn't see that now though, couldn't see the logic and the truth.

He wanted only to have the chance to look upon the pale arch of her neck, and see the way his wife's eyes gazed upon him. Hermione hated to be the one to tell him no. In the end it didn't matter. He found it on his own.

And she found him on the hill, in the early hours of the morning. His eyes were trained on the narrow space between the two charred mounds of wood, remnants of the fires. They were watching for movement, for the ghost of her, but there was only smoke and wind by then.

"It's not real," she told him. His vacant gaze seemed to stare right through her.

The problem, she knew, was that regardless of reality, it felt real.

June 2003

In the early days when she watched him it was like willing life into a corpse. It made her wonder if she had been like that, impervious to reality and the outstretched hands of help. Her suspicion that she had been became one of the primary reasons why she refused to give up on him. It didn't matter what her friends said about it, in tentative voices that showed their fear of her relapsing.

She wouldn't though, for she'd found solace in another. And day by day she breathed life back into his vacant shell. He didn't ignore her anymore, but seemed instead to expect her presence, bustling around and telling him what to do. The day he stopped accepting it, and raised his voice to cow her own was the day that her heart quivered anew and her knees began to buckle.

He was there, chipping at the walls around him and letting the light peek through. It wasn't every day, but it was some and with each new one she fought tirelessly for another. And another.

When they argued, she laughed. It was a foreign sound in the vast house, and almost unrecognisable to each of them. It was a rich and uncontrolled sound that rose higher and higher, causing his now sentient gaze to narrow. When she laughed, he shouted and told her to leave. She wouldn't and he tried forcibly to make her. A firm grip around her wrists, his nose pressed firmly into hers.

Go. The whispered demand. Never. Her solemn vow.

Each time the shared breath, and the heat that jumped from him to her and back again, was like a red flag. Something in Hermione wanted to charge ahead. But he always released her tender wrists and backed away to his corner, the tucked in safety of his mind. Her memory always haunting.

It wasn't until fingers pulled hard at the length of her hair, and his lips bruised her own that she realised it was precisely what she wanted. No. Needed. Her hands clawed at him, pulling him closer so that his chest braced her own and the thudding of their hearts created a tempo that pulsed right through her. It had started the same way it had every other time, when the threat of crossing the line and giving in had been there, but somehow harnessed. It wasn't on that particular evening; it was unleashed with a fury that left them both shattered and spineless on the expensive rug that lined his entry hall.

It formed a new pattern, more binding than the last.

When they came together it was a roaring deep within, a volatile collision of broken spirits and hunger-fuelled bodies. The crescendo made them forget. It made them rise up together and drown in the thick and luscious cloud of each other. It was relief and punishment all at once.

The rise before the fall. And they always did. With a crash.

When she was alone with her thoughts they were like barbs pricking into her skin and the memory of Ron. Her sweet Ron. It seemed a crime, when she was away from the pull of it all, to drown her sorrows in him. And yet, though she could never forget Ron, never not love him, she suffered through it.

Somehow it was necessary. Like breathing.

She wasn't certain when it had begun. At times she thought maybe it was at the very beginning, when she would look at him in the dark corridors, walking alone, and wonder. Or perhaps it was more recent, a gradual breaking down of preconceptions about the person that he was, whoever he'd become. She hated to think that person was lost to the grief. She could save him.

Perhaps it was the justification she needed in order to come undone in his eyes, to feel the warmth of a body against her and the steady thrum of a heart beat. Because when they came together with a crash, he wasn't the only one who came to life. She did too. All sense seemed to snap and the burn of oxygen in her lungs and the singing of her blood made her feel unbound to earth.

After a while they stopped pretending they didn't want it, or need it. After a while he wouldn't leave the room, revert back into himself. He would let her lie with him and accept the gentle touches of her hand on his bare chest. After a while, she rather thought he came to need that too.

October 2003

Transference was what the healers called it. At least that was what Harry told her gently when he finally voiced his long harboured concerns about her time spent with Malfoy. Apparently the fair-haired beacon in the blackened fabric of her days was nothing more than a replacement for Ron. A vessel to fill the void. The accusation was both agonisingly true and so completely wrong all at once.

Malfoy did fill her hours, her thoughts, and her very world with his presence. He ate slowly at the space filled up with memories of Ron and other times, happy times. He had become a primary concern. That did concern her, but not enough to stop.

Yet, though he did all these things, he was not and could never be a replacement, she knew. They were so inherently different, Ron and he. She revelled in those disparities. Perhaps that was because she was different too now. Altered by the war and things she'd seen and done. She wasn't made for the kind of rosy-hued and youthful purity of the love she'd had before. Hermione Granger was a bit too broken for that. She didn't want to be. She wanted to soar with the wind and dance in the sun. She wanted to watch the yellow light gleam across his hair, and his lips to curve upward when he looked at her.

She thought that, maybe someday, they would.

Hope was the crusher of spirits. She'd never been a pessimist, because in the world she lived in - with what had loomed ahead - hope was the only thing that kept them going. Now it seemed only to torment her with what she couldn't have.

As the days crawled closer to that night, when the sky seemed to fill with the blood orange aura of Samhain, she grew ever more restless. So did he. She hoped fervently that she was enough, though they never put their relationship into words, it was enough for her.

It was everything to her.

But he always held back. Even when he looked at her at times, she wondered at the direction of his thoughts when his pupils dilated and he seemed to be somewhere else. Hermione constantly worried that she wasn't enough, that she would always be to Malfoy what Harry was so convinced he was to her. A vessel.

Yet there were so many times when he would look at her, his gaze washing her in clear and knowing grey. She knew then that he saw her and her alone. And she wished that she could bottle up those moments, trap them in her chest and make them the truth.

As it happened, her fears were the only sort of truth that lingered in the vast halls of the Manor. When the last night of October did arrive, and she lay wrapped in sheets and him, she let her eyes fall closed and her breathing ease. And when he thought she was finally asleep, she felt the shifting of limbs as he moved from the bed.

She was bereft; lungs burning and old wounds coming undone at the seams.

May 2004

It seemed so appropriate that the first time she went to the pretty green knell on the far reaches of the property surrounding the Burrow that spring was with her. It filled the air with that light floral scent called optimism, the scent of a future. And, if one was feeling particularly hope, a happy one.

She wanted that.

In the years since Ron's death, the only time she had come to visit him here, where he now resided, was at his funeral. And she had blocked out that memory with a fierceness that still made the day hard to recall. She was letting go. Not forgetting, never that, but she didn't want him caged within her, struggling to be free.

The flowers around the pale stone marker were blooming, bursts of scent erupting from within the safety of their petals, like a welcoming hello. The light wind tickled her hair and wrapped her in its earthy embrace. And she felt light, like the barest of feathers floating on the back of the breeze. There was something of peace in being there, and it made her wonder why she'd never come before.

It was human psychology, she supposed, because even when she had known he was never coming back, had truly acknowledged it, the act of seeing his grave was beyond reckoning. She'd thought for so long that she was fine, that she could reach into the dark parts of her and find them healed. It wasn't strictly true. She could only hope that now there would be a chance, a gleaming beacon of light in the future towards which she could stride.

Denial about the trajectory her life had taken meant that she'd spent the last few years cloistered away, feasting on imagined truths. But now, she knew, was the time for the sun. Now was the time to walk bare foot on the grass, with the yellow light blindingly bright against her eyelids. She'd walk it alone, she knew, if she must.

She didn't want that though. She wanted a strong pale hand around her own. She wanted to revel in the glory of that mercurial gaze that made her heart start beating once again, well before she'd known it could. She wanted Draco Malfoy in the sunshine with her, away from the dark and festering corners of his home where everything they did together was a secret and a shame.

It took small steps, Hermione knew. Little ones that lead from here to there and back again. And though she was ready to leap into oblivion, she'd tread softly and surely for him, if that was what it took.

She told herself that she would wait. A while. But not forever.

October 31st 2004, Present Day

She's dreaded this night, knowing that it will be the one that answers the unspoken questions that she has. And she wonders if he knows that too.

Her eyes are closed to the vision of him leaving. But she can see, behind closed lids and formed of familiarity, the curve of his back and the bunched muscle beneath a sheath of white skin. She knows the lines of him perfectly, knows them like she knows her own.

When she feels the warmth of his breath on her cheek, and the firm pressure of his kiss, she thinks her heart breaks again. Not the chip, chip of before. This time it's ragged and red and pulsing. She's a mass of poorly sewn parts in that moment. And she knows now that she's not enough. Not for him. Because she's not her. The pretty witch that was his future, now his past, his present, his every thought.

He spares none for Hermione.

She knows this because if he did, after all of this time, he wouldn't be leaving their bed to go to that sacred place and watch the pearly white face of another. If he did he'd wrap Hermione closer still, kiss her shoulder and remind her that she's the one. She's flesh and blood and his. And that it's enough. They're enough.

They are for her.

His footsteps barely creak on the highly polished floorboards, and the door hisses open and closed to signify his departure. Her eyes, dark and wide, fly open and fall upon the cold light of the moon which casts its glow across their bed. His bed. It's not hers any longer, and maybe it never was.

Hermione's just a presence in his house. A person who was never invited and who hasn't left. She's nothing more than a balm to his wounds, a distraction until the time comes to see the one he does love. The one that's canker to his soul, eating him inside then out. She never likes to think badly of the dead, but she hates that transient smoke of memory that is his wife, and how she taints every room of this house with her presence.

Ice clutches around her heart and she tries to ignore the bone-locking chill. She pushes her hair from her face and sits up, her shoulders pushed back with the righteousness they barely recognise. She's not infallible, it seems. And though she's stubborn, she knows a lost cause when she sees one.

Her feet are cold as they tip onto the floor. Her movements are rigid and her fingers are numb, uncooperative. She gathers her things with a haste that has been absent for some time. She wants to do this quick, like a splinter in his thumb; she wants to remove herself entirely. Stave infection. When she's clothed and her eyes have had their fill of the room, she walks with purpose through the corridors and down the sweeping staircase. Hermione wonders whether he'll come for her. She doesn't want him to, and yet she does all the same.

Her attention is caught by the sound of movement in the library and the glow that seeps like a golden liquid from beneath the closed door. She wants to leave now, to turn her back and be stoic. She's not though, she never was. When her fingers brush the door it falls open with ease.

And he's there. A vision of light in the otherwise darkness. His face is turned away from her, but he tenses at the sound of her entrance.

"You're leaving... I wondered when you would." The cadence of his voice, low and rough, acts like metal grating her open wounds.

It's quiet, but for the crackling at the hearth and the sound of it is familiar. The light it casts across him is also. It makes her think of beginnings, back when the pattern forged and he started to mean something important. He's not merely important now; he's the life she knows. It's not really life though, it's another form of death, murky dark and hidden. And she won't live like that any longer.

"I'm not her," she says finally. "I'm not Astoria."

He turns to look at her then, his brow furrowed. Hermione isn't certain what she should think about him being here. There's that wretched thing, hope, which niggles in her veins like a poison, polluting her resolve. It means something, the fact that he's sitting here and not where she thought he was, bare feet in the grass and gaze staring through the fog for another.

She feels her feet moving toward him without her permission. She craves to run her curious fingers across the high arch of his cheek bones, to press into the fine corn-silk of his hair. She wants to run her mouth on a quest across his shoulders, to taste the salt of his skin on her tongue. Mostly she wants to hold him, stroke him and whisper softly in his ear.

She wants him to whisper back. Hermione. Her name sung sweetly around words of reassurance and promise. He doesn't make promises though; she knows this and yet the fervent wish has never abated.

"I know," he whispers back. It cuts like a blade through her skin. She always thought she was hard, like armour from her battles. He's made her realise she's not. She's soft and malleable.

She doesn't know what to say to that, so she turns to leave because she must. He's beautiful in the eerie light of the library. It casts him in its ethereal, pearly glow. Its familiarity makes her ache, and the knowledge of her goodbye is pain. Not the sort of pain she felt when Ron was gone, because she has her memories of him, untainted and untarnished by his death.

But Draco is different. She knows that when she walks the cobble-stone paths that he will be somewhere with feet on the earth as well.

His hand catches hers as she turns, and she stops. She can feel the swirling motions his fingers make in patterns on her palm, and she wants to read stories in their shapes. She turns to watch as his firm lips press against her wrist. Her breath catches in her throat.

"You're nothing like her," his mouth tells her hand. "Soft. Warm. That's the thing about you that…" He pauses, and so does her breathing. "You need to go now… if you are. I won't watch." There's a crack in his voice which cuts through the layers of entitlement that colour his words.

The sound of her throat swallowing seems to fill up the room with noise. Hermione turns to go because she knows she should. Despite the pretty words he almost spoke, and the hint of a promise that lingered there, she thinks it won't change. They'll descend back into the murky undertow that never ceases to capture them. They aren't healthy; they aren't functional.

It's ironic. After all, she struggles to breathe when she thinks of walking out the door. She thinks dysfunction is life without him. A sorry state of affairs.

She can only blame the little things: the stepping stones that led from there, that time when they were disparate and he was a stranger, to here. Small gestures. A blanket thrown over her form in the cold, dark room. The choice: her life. His firm grip hauling her from the flames. Her standing next to him in the rain. A voice in his ear, comforting whispers. Lips and teeth and hands and tongues. Words, soft and loud. Laughter in the silence, then tears. Her name. His name. Burning lungs and thudding hearts.

Her fingers caress the door knob, and the air steals from the room as it opens in her wake. And then she closes it again. It is enough, after all. For him. For her. They're enough.

His face is still turned, and she sees the shudder that ripples through him at the closing of the door. She's back then, and her fingers reach down to where he's sitting to brush a streak across his cheek. His eyes as they turn to hers are wide and open, and then they narrow as he speaks.

"I'm not him either." And though the words are harshly spoken, she understands his meaning. He brings her close then, wraps her up and pulls her to him. His skin is warm, the pulsing of blood, heated in his veins. Alive. Her fingers push and pull at the fabric of him, and she wants to slip inside of him, swim and revel in his skin.

Her lips frame his, and she kisses away his fears. She wants to tell him that she knows he's not, that she doesn't want him to be. And though she won't tell him today, she knows there is tomorrow. And maybe she'll tell him then.

The End