unsafe lover

When Scorpius got back from the bar, Rose was poking at Genia Roberts' new Muggle toy and barely spared him a glance as he slid another glass of wine onto the table by her elbow.


Scorpius shook his head but he was smiling at her single-minded focus. Genia arched a wry and sympathetic brow, and he rolled his eyes and shrugged and continued on to the table where he'd been sitting with Al before he went to get them drinks.

"So," Al said as Scorpius slid the full glass over to replace Al's empty one. "How long have you and Rose been screwing around."

Scorpius froze. "How'd you...? I mean, we're not..."

"Liar, liar, pants on fire." Al sipped his beer and his eyes drifted over to where Rose was brushing a strand of hair out of her face with one hand and gesturing with the other. "It's small things. You've been looking at her all night like you're a Niffler and she's something shiny. She's more comfortable with you - she doesn't react when you're in her personal space. And I know Rose - she's always been prickly. More so since Pendergast."

"He did a number on her."

"Yes. He did. So I have a vested interest in making sure nobody else does a number on her."

Now Scorpius glared at Albus. "You're not the only one." Then, because honour and friendship demanded it, he added, "Nearly six months."

Now it was Al's turn to nearly spit his beer. "Six months-? Since she left Pendergast?"

"Not quite." Four weeks after, in fact. She'd been staying in his apartment, taking refuge, and...things had happened.

Why me? He'd asked as Rose set her knee on the bed, climbing on with the unflinching determination that was so very Rose Weasley when she'd chosen her course of action.

Because I trust you, she'd said. You're safe. And we've known each other so long, this won't get complicated.

Scorpius had been surprised - sure - but he couldn't deny that he was attracted to Rose, even if he'd closed his heart off since Elise. He hadn't argued with her that night, and he wasn't arguing now, six months later.

"Look," he said quietly, hoping that Al wasn't about to hex him into some slug-like horror, "Rose started it, and she hasn't asked to step away. We're friends. If things change, we'll re-evaluate."

Al gave him a long, measuring look. "If things change?"

"Yeah." Scorpius forced himself to hold the other man's gaze without flinching. And in the end, Al nodded.

"Okay, then. But you'd better not break her heart."

They were silent all the way to the Apparition point for the village. Scorpius because he was thinking about Al's words, Rose...well, probably because she was just thinking. She never stopped.

He forced himself to sound light as they turned to face each other. "Shall I, or did you want to?"

"You'd better," she said with a wry smile as she held out her hand. "I'd be likely to splinch us."

Scorpius wasn't so sure he wouldn't splinch them himself, especially when he slipped his hand into hers, cool fingers against his warm ones. How was it that she could wield such power over him and be completely unaware of it?

The cool bright evening of the village was replaced by the twilight of their London apartment.

Rose unwound the silky scarf she'd tossed around her throat, and then squeaked as Scorpius pinned her against the wall, body against body, his hands pushing back loose strands of hair from her face as he bent his mouth to hers.

"I've been thinking about this all evening."

The sweet bow of her mouth quirked under his. "And here I was thinking you were just being broody."

"Well, that, too."

He teased her - light kisses to draw her out, to encourage her to want him. After nearly six months, he could get the message across in moments - the slide of his lips in her mouth, the caress of his hands on her skin, the press of his hips against hers. Desire was an easy language - unmistakeable.

She slid her hands inside his collar, lacing her fingers around his neck. Her head tilted back, inviting him to slide deeper, and Scorpius did - falling into the touch and scent and sight and taste of her.

They undressed their way through the apartment - a button here, a zipper there, his shirt, her dress, his trousers, her bra.. They paused in the middle of the kitchen to let Rose fondle him, and again at the door of his room so Scorpius could go down on her through the lace of her panties while she clawed at the door.

He thrust her over the edge of pleasure with his tongue, then let himself be seated on the edge of the bed and mounted, sighing as Rose eased herself onto him, fitting together as perfectly as two connecting pieces of a puzzle..

They shagged like they were drunk on Amortentia. Rose left nail marks in his back and shoulders in the midst of passion, and Scorpius figured there'd be bruises on her thighs when she woke up the next morning.

"Sorry," she murmured when he came back in after turning the apartment lights off. "Be more careful next time." Her finger traced the welts over his shoulders, her eyes almost completely shut. Scorpius watched her lashes flutter that last hair's breadth...and then held his breath as she drifted into sleep.

He hadn't told Al the whole truth tonight.

They were friends. Rose had started this, and she hadn't yet backed away. And until she did - when she did...

After Elise, Scorpius had sworn he was done with love.

It was a painful realisation to make that love wasn't done with him.

You're safe. It won't get complicated.

How did one go about changing a steady footing? Scorpius didn't know. Perhaps he could have just announced one morning at breakfast, "By the way, Rose, I love you," but...

Scorpius was a coward and he knew it. Terrified of losing what he had in a bid for more. And Rose was easy around him, almost carelessly affectionate. But passion was saved for sex, and sometimes he caught her staring into space with an expression that seemed almost lost. He could chase that expression away by making her laugh, or transmute it to a cunning tenderness, but there was a part of her that she kept separate from him.

Then there was him and his tendency to be...intense in relationships.

Elise had left because he wanted too much too soon. Chiana had issues with his family, yet sometimes Scorpius wondered if she wouldn't have come back if he hadn't pressed so hard. And Solange... Well, Solange hadn't wanted him full-time in the first place. Maybe that was why he poured so much of himself into the women he loved - because Solange had taught him that her attention was a brief and fragile thing.

Only the last thing Rose needed was someone who wanted more of her than she was ready to give. Pendergast had been like that - pushy and pushing, jealous and possessive, manipulative and controlling.

In the end, Rose had run to Scorpius.

She'd taken shelter under his roof, climbed into his bed, and worked her way into his heart. And now Scorpius was at a loss as to how to keep her from walking away.

He made her toast as she skimmed the Quibbler, and fought back the urge to run his fingers down her cheek when he put the plate in front of her. Butter and jam were placed on the table, and she thanked him, absently, then lifted her eyes to him and almost smiled. Almost.

"Sometimes I wonder what I did to deserve you."

He grinned. "Sometimes I wonder, too."

Rose flushed then, and looked down and away. Scorpius cursed himself as he broke eggs into the pan. That had been a perfect opening, and instead he'd given her a stupid, glib answer. He turned on the wizarding wireless just so he didn't have to listen to the silence, and fried eggs and kippers with a skill that would have had any of his old Hogwarts house-mates shocked.

A scrape of the chair later, and Rose stood. "I'll be home a bit later tonight," she said. "There's a meeting - it'll probably run late..."

"Hold dinner?"

"Actually, I might... I don't know about dinner," she said after a moment. "Assume I'm coming home. If things change, I'll owl you."

"Okay." It was courtesy that had her informing him of her movements, nothing more. But there were some days when it felt so domestic that Scorpius couldn't breathe for the pleasure of the little things - not just great sex, but small tenderness.

She tossed a light scarf around her shoulders and headed for the door.



I love you. Think about it. Scorpius swallowed the words, squashed the momentary madness that had taken him over, and smiled. "Have a good one."

Her smile was wry, but somehow wistful, too. Then she was gone with a pop, leaving Scorpius cursing his cowardice.

It was the off-season in Quidditch, and Scorpius mostly spent his days catching up with the news, seeing old school friends for lunch, and going through the mess his apartment became while the season was going.

His father muttered about the difficulty of finding house-elves since the legislation giving them employee rights, and his mother suggested a personal organiser, but Scorpius wasn't about to let either of his parents dictate how he'd manage his own space.

Just one more reason why he wasn't living in Malfoy Manor.

He was presently working his way through a cupboard that Rose said usually had linen in it - at least in any normal house - but currently sported an array of bits and pieces he'd shoved in there for keeping out of the way, or as a cleaning up measure before guests arrived. So far, Scorpius had found three old brooms from previous seasons, a bag of coffee beans, fourteen old copies of the Daily Prophet - none of them younger than a year old, and a set of old mouldy Quidditch robes which he'd immediately burned.

He was on the second shelf down from the top now. There were boxes with old school assignments in them - he tossed them on the pile to throw out; a pile of old quills, their feathers shredded and shabby - also thrown out; several single socks - he chucked those in through the door of his bedroom, figuring he'd find a match for them there; and an old pair of dragonhide boots - why had he bought the things in the first place, other than that they'd looked cool?

He frowned a little at a couple of boxes he didn't remember seeing, but it had been a few weeks since he'd last done some cleaning out and it was entirely possible that he'd just forgotten them. They were packed full of dishes that he didn't recognise...perhaps they were Rose's from when she'd first moved in?

Behind those...

Scorpius grimaced as he pulled out the bag - two scarves, a pair of underwear, a silky shirt, and one red leather ankle boot. Odds and ends that Elise had left behind, collected together and shoved away by a man who'd then still hoped she might someday come back.

And on top of it all sat box - square and flat, with a velvety top, hinged at the side.

Scorpius took a deep breath and picked up the box.

Inside lay a necklet - flat links of silver, blank and rectangular, joined by fine silver chains. Gifted by a Malfoy man when he proposed to the woman he was going to marry, it closed with a clasp in enamelled green that showed the Malfoy family crest. Each year on the anniversary of their wedding, another link was etched with a spell tokening his commitment to his marriage.

He'd been going to propose to Elise the day he came home to find her leaving. There was a spell on the box that activated when it was touched - the whisper of her name, a murmured promise delicate as the brush of mouth against mouth...

Typical Malfoy arrogance - to assume that just because he wanted marriage, she would, too.

He wouldn't make that mistake again.

Scorpius closed the box and put it on the dining table. He'd take it to the jewellers and have it melted down. If Rose ever... If he ever found someone who'd have him, he'd ask first, then get it made up for her.

It seemed like an impossibly big 'if' at this moment.

The knock at the door in the late afternoon was unexpected - and slightly puzzling. People didn't usually just drop in on him - most people owled ahead, or arranged to meet him out. An apartment in Muggle London wasn't the most comfortable thing for the majority of magical folk - therein lay the convenience of such an apartment, even if it did make it a little inconvenient for other things, such as the Floo Network and Apparating or Disapparating.

Thinking it was Muggles trying to sell him things - the downstairs doormen were supposed to stop that, but sometimes they got confused, thanks to the memory modification charms that had occasionally been cast upon them - Scorpius yanked open the door. "Sorry," he said, "I'm not interested..."

He trailed off.

Elise tilted her head, a long cascade of pale hair falling over her bare shoulders. "Is this a bad time?"

"Elise. What are you doing here?"

She fixed great violet eyes upon him - huge and dark-lashed. "You said to come back if... When I'd sorted things out..."

He took a deep breath, not quite believing he was hearing this. "It's been a year. I figured you weren't coming back."

"I said I needed space to think," she said, evenly. "I know I never wrote..."

"Never wrote, never owled, never Floo'd..." Anger flooded him - a sudden, painful rush of memories. It had taken him months to get over her; months of guilt and anger and grief, when he'd lashed out at whoever was close to hand in lieu of being able to rage at Elise for leaving him.

"I..." Elise hesitated and glanced over her shoulder at the passage outside. "May I at least come in?"

Scorpius nearly said 'no' - how dared she just walk back into his life as though she had the right after months of silence? But this wasn't a conversation they should have out where anyone could hear it.

She walked in past him in a cloud of summer flowers - light and exquisitely airy. It jolted his stomach for a moment - a hard punch to the gut at the memories it evoked.

Old memories, old love.

Yes, he'd loved Elise - if she'd stayed, he would have asked her to marry him. But Elise had gone and he'd picked himself up off the floor. Now that she was back, he didn't want her.

The thought was curiously freeing.

So he kept his voice calm and cool as he closed the door behind her. "You can't come back and pick up where you left off, Elise."

"I know." Her hands twisted one over the other as she roamed through the room, trailing fingers over the furniture like she was greeting old friends - a nervous gesture he recognised from the time they'd been together. "I don't want to. I mean... I do want to, but...I know I can't just..." She took a deep breath and turned to face him by the dining room table. "I wasn't ready then. I'm ready now. If you're still..."

Scorpius started forward as she trailed off, her fingers just touching the jewellery box. Then he grimaced and stopped himself. She had the right to know what he'd felt - what she'd given up.

Elise opened the box and swallowed. "Is this...?"

"I was going to ask you the day you decided to leave."

One finger traced over the necklet, and when she lifted her eyes, they were huge and stunned. "Scorpius..."

There was a soft pop of air behind him.

Scorpius turned in time to see Rose freeze as her eyes played over the scene. The instinctive greeting died on his lips as she looked from him to Elise.

"Oh," Rose said after a moment, "I...seem to be in the way. Scorpius, I just wanted to let you know that I'll be out tonight, so you don't need to worry about dinner.


"It's okay." The words tumbled out of her, bright and crisp and sharp with something he hadn't expected. "I can fend for myself. You don't have to look after me." Stunned by the edge in her voice, Scorpius struggled for something to say. While he was finding the words, she turned to Elise. "He was a wreck for months after you left, you know. If you screw him up again, I will kill you."

"So noted," Elise murmured, sounding almost amused.

"Bloody hell, Rose, will you just listen-!"

The pop of Disapparation was all the answer Scorpius got, and his hand passed through the space where her arm had been a moment before.


"Yes, I can see you've been doing that." Elise took a deep breath. "I guess that explains a few things."

He glanced at her. "You can't have expected me to wait forever for you to decide you wanted me, Elise."

"No. But...I guess I hoped." Her mouth quirked a little and she shrugged. "I would never have guessed that Rose Weasley would replace me, though."

"I don't think anyone did." Scorpius dragged his hands through his hair. Merlin, her expression when she'd seen Elise-

"Including her?"

"Including her." He knew he sounded bitter about it. "Of all the times you had to show up-"

"Of course it's all my fault. Although one does wonder what you were doing with the necklet out on the table - seeing as it was obviously meant for me."

"I was going to take it back."

"Not use it again?"

"Yes, because that would be so classy." Scorpius exhaled and reined in the thread of temper that rose in him even now. "She hasn't even- We're not officially- Look, none of this is to the point, which is that what we had is gone, Elise. I moved on. We're over."

Elise made a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sigh and put the box back down on the table. "Just in case I hadn't gotten the message the first time. Scorpius...for what it's worth now, I'm sorry. About what happened."

He looked her in the eye and felt a moment's regret - but only a moment. "I'm not."

"I deserved that, I suppose." Elise crossed the room, and Scorpius flinched back when she moved into his personal space, but then accepted the kiss she brushed against his cheek. Soft hair, soft skin, soft lips - but not the woman he loved anymore. "And I'm sorry about Rose. I hope you get her back."

"So do I," Scorpius muttered as the closed behind her with a soft click of the lock.

Two hours later, angry, hurt, and very close to splinching himself, Scorpius Apparated back to his apartment, stumbled over to the couch, leaned back and closed his eyes.

He'd been everywhere he'd thought she might go - her parents', Al and Hilary's, her cousin Dominique's, other friends - even her offices in the hope that she'd gone back to work... Nobody had seen her since she'd Disapparated from the apartment, which left Scorpius in the position of waiting for her to come back...

Unless she was already back.

Alohomora took care of the lock, but the room was empty.

Despair squeezed the breath out of him, and Scorpius grabbed for the bedpost as the room swam around him. He took a deep breath and sat down on the edge of her bed.

Rose would be back. She had to come back home sooner or later. And when she did, he'd explain about Elise and the necklet. She'd understand that he didn't love Elise any more and that he wanted her to think about being in a relationship with him instead of their current state of sex-under-the-radar...

He flopped back against the sheets, his stomach in shreds. What would he do if she said no? The old mattress sagged under him, and the sheets crackled.


Scorpius frowned as he shifted and felt the rustle of something that was most definitely not sheets.

He reached under him and pulled out a piece of parchment - a letter from the look of it-

Rose, we need to talk. You've refused every other time, but this time I swear it's different. 7:30pm at the Windsor Arms on Thursday. Please - I've changed and I need to make amends, even if you listen to nothing else.


Scorpius read the letter through. Then he read it through again, and thought about Rose at the breakfast table that morning, distracted and disturbed. I don't know about dinner. And her words when she'd found Elise looking at the necklet. I'll be out, so you don't need to worry about dinner...

He looked at the clock - just on 9pm. So if she'd gone to meet Pendergast, she'd stayed over an hour.


Surely it was a big if? Rose was no longer the woman who'd turned up on Scorpius' doorstep needing somewhere to stay. Pendergast had indeed done a number on her, and she recognised that now.

She'd moved on, found her footing, climbed into Scorpius' bed...

Seen him with Elise and the necklet.

If you hurt him again, I will kill you.

And then gone without a further word to Scorpius. Gone to Pendergast? Surely not.

She cared. She cared enough to warn Elise against hurting him again. But that wasn't the same as caring. She'd climbed into Scorpius' bed because he was safe - because she'd believed he didn't have a heart to break after Elise left.

He wasn't safe anymore. And maybe that would change things for her - too much too soon after Pendergast. Maybe he would have to back away a little, give her the space to work things out for herself. Only... Merlin, what if she decided she didn't want him after all?

Scorpius forced himself to focus on the positive side of things.

Rose cared. That meant she'd come back eventually. They could talk. Work things out.

All he had to do was wait for her to come home.

Scorpius waited.

With every hour that crawled past he told himself that she was just late, that she'd gone to her parents, that she'd been delayed...

That she hadn't gone to Pendergast after all. That she wasn't sitting with him in a pub somewhere, listening to his lies, letting herself be cozened by him, leaning into his touch...

He'd seen Pendergast seduce Rose in the middle of a group of people. A touch here, a kiss there, a caress there - all very natural and comfortable, but the effect had been to focus Rose's attention almost entirely on him.

Scorpius had almost admired it then - a strategy worthy of a Slytherin. Of course, that was before he'd realised that Pendergast wasn't merely adoring or admiring, but controlling.

It had been long before the afternoon a month ago when Scorpius had come out of his room on his way to go drinking with some Quidditch buddies and found Rose sprawled on the couch in her pyjamas with a cup of hot chocolate and a book. And had found himself wanting to stay in, to move her feet into his lap and just sit there in silence with her until it was time for bed.

Midnight came and went, and Rose still wasn't home. Scorpius paced the floor, thought about owling her relatives, then decided he didn't dare. He'd already roused suspicions when he went looking for Rose at her parents' house before. And he might not have had to dissemble why he was so desperately trying to find her when he spoke with Al, but there'd been no sympathy there.

And woke with a start in the morning light, dazed and disoriented at finding himself on the couch instead of in his bed-


He jerked off the couch - too fast, his head spun as he stumbled towards the kitchen. But her door was open, the bed left exactly as it had been all those hours ago.

Rose hadn't come home.

Scorpius held onto the doorframe, trying to get his breath back, his gut twisting as he faced the empty room. The morning light left him no illusions, no defences, stretching out across the bed to highlight Pendergast's letter.

He needed a wash. And breakfast. And a conversation with Rose.

He could do the wash and the breakfast. Talking to Rose would have to wait until she came home.

He refused to think about what she might have to say.

Instead, he let the hot water wash over him, trying to let it wash away the fears that clung to him no matter how hard he scrubbed. He felt a little better when he got out - slightly more awake, at least. Hungry, too - or maybe that was the sick hollow in his belly at the thought of Rose walking in after spending the night with Pendergast.

He contemplated toast, eggs, and kippers, and decided that his mood required something uplifting.

Fifteen minutes later, the wizarding wireless blaring on the windowsill as he moved about the kitchen with a dishcloth flung over his shoulder, his attention given over to the sizzle of batter and the beat of the music, Scorpius turned and found Rose standing in the door.

His heart stuttered as he looked at her.

She looked tired - exhausted, actually, as though she'd spent a sleepless night. The shadows under her eyes gave her a haunted look, even as her gaze slipped away from him, drifting over the kitchen, the pile of pancakes, and the plates on the table. Why, haunted, though? If she'd gone to Pendergast, shouldn't she look elated?

Not that Scorpius was arguing.

"I was getting worried."

Her eyes flew to his and her cheeks, already pale, stained with bright colour. "I...I thought you wouldn't want to be interrupted. I'll move out as soon as I find somewhere else, of course-"

"You don't need to do that."

"I don't want to be in the way."

"No," he agreed, beginning to feel heat ball under his breastbone. How could she think he would go from her to Elise in the space of a day? What kind of man did she think he was? "You're not going to be in the way. I sent Elise away last night."

That jerked her head up - hazel eyes wide and startled. "You sent...? But...the necklet...?"

"Was made for her before she left me. I should have thrown it out, but..." He took a deep breath as the heat surged fiercely in him, but kept his voice level and his hands open. "Elise and I are finished. We were finished as soon as she walked out of here the first time."

"Oh." The flush across her cheeks deepened to take in her ears and throat. She looked away, but not before he saw something like a kind of panic in her eyes. "I... I was thinking that I should take this as a wake-up call, anyway. Find somewhere of my own to live. Get some separation."

Her words sucked the breath from Scorpius' lungs. The kitchen was suddenly scorching. So she wanted to walk away from him? Out of his apartment, out of his life?

He'd allow that when he allowed himself to be Crucio'd without a protest.

Scorpius yanked the dishtowel off his shoulder and tossed it over the back of a chair. "No," he said flatly. "You're not moving out."

"Scorpius- This isn't- We can't continue-"

"We can," he said, taking her shoulders in a hard grip. "And we will. I've been nice, Rose. I've been patient and thoughtful and gentle-"

"Like you're being now?"

"No." Scorpius walked her backwards through the hallway and out to her bedroom. "I'm taking the gloves off. Because all you see in me is a friend who's good to stay with and sleep with, and I'm tired of being Rose Weasley's convenience-"

"You're not-" He cut off her protest with a hard kiss, his hands already tugging at her shirt, baring her shoulders as her hands came up around his wrists - slim cool fingers that didn't have a chance against the need raging inside him.

Scorpius seduced Rose - trapping her hands, silencing her protests, nipping and biting and licking and sucking. He used everything he knew about Rose to reduce her to a yearning wreck, to make her stop thinking, shut up, and reach for him when he eased her down into the sheets, then took her hard.

"You don't get to walk away from me, Rose," he rasped as he moved in her, long, slow thrusts that tormented and pleased both of them. "I won't let you go back to Pendergast."

"I wasn't-" Rose arched and moaned as he ground into her.

"You're going to stay here."

"With you?"

"With me." He shuddered as she did something - clenched or flexed or something - and his vision nearly exploded in white. He kept it at bay by drawing back and thrusting deep. "You don't love me yet, but you will. You could..."

Rose's eyes fixed on him, sudden startlement through hazy desire. "Is that what you want, Scorpius?"

Nowhere to go but forward, nothing to do but take that step into nothingness and hope that she didn't let him fall.


Her hand pressed flat against his cheek. "You can't control that, Scorpius."

"I know," he whispered against her throat. "But leave me my illusions, Rose... Until you fall in love with me, they're all I have."

"And this."

She whimpered into his hair as she came, her hands flexing against his neck, his back, her body shuddering under him, around him. Scorpius drove her over the edge, watched her writhe mindlessly under him, and only when he was satisfied she was satisfied did he let himself go.

He rested in her arms, relishing the feel of her heart pounding under his, not wanting to break the moment.

Rose broke it instead.

"Why did you think I was going back to Bran?"

Scorpius lifted himself off her with his elbows, but didn't let her up - not just yet. "His letter."

"His- You read that?"

"I found it when I was... I thought you might have come home while I was out."

"You were out? With Elise?"

He frowned. "I already said I sent her away."

"You did. Sorry." Rose sighed and her finger traced down his cheekbone. "Did you mean it? What you said about...about me staying with you."

"Of course I meant it!"

"There's no 'of course' about it. You went a little crazy after Elise left you." The finger traced into his hairline over his ear. "I thought you still loved her."

Scorpius' eyes narrowed, even as his heart skipped a beat - or a dozen. "Do remind me, Rose, exactly whose bed I've been sharing for the last six months?"

She shrugged. "We both know sex doesn't have to mean love..."

"Do we?"

"You never said anything before." Rose watched him. "And there was the necklet."

"The neckl- You found it?"

"I was looking for some dishware, and..." She looked away. "You don't have to be nice about it. I know I'm not like Elise..."

"Merlin!" Scorpius took one shoulder in his hand and gave her a quick, hard shake. "Don't you ever say that again. Or even think it. No, you're not in Elise's class - you're much more than she turned out to be. And..." He took a deep breath. "And I love you. I thought you'd gone back to Pendergast last night - stayed with him. And when you came back this morning..."

He trailed off as Rose gave a little laugh and locked her hands around the back of his neck. "Would you believe I spent last night sitting in a diner, practising being happy for you and Elise?"

Practising being happy? "Why?"

"I thought you were still in love with her. And if you wanted her back... "

"You'd have just stood aside and let me go?"

"I'd have let you go to the woman you loved," she murmured.

"And smiled while you did it?"

"As best I could."

He thought about it for a moment. Thought about standing aside if she wanted to go back to Pendergast and couldn't imagine it. He'd have fought her every inch of the way. "If you wanted to go back to Pendergast, I wouldn't let you."

"So you said." Rose's mouth tilted along one edge. "So you're going to make me stay with you?"

"Yes." He brushed his lips across hers and savoured the slide of her limbs under his. "I'll use any and all means to keep you from walking out of this."

"Until I fall in love with you?"

He met her eyes. "Yes."

Her mouth twisted a little, and Scorpius told himself it was all right. She didn't have to declare it right away - he could wait for Rose to realise what it meant that she would have let him go to another woman if it meant he'd be happy. She was smart; she'd get it sooner or later.

"Still waiting for the axe to fall?"

He frowned a little. "What do you mean?"

"You've got this little wrinkle in your brow, and your eyebrows draw together while the corners of your eyes pinch..." Rose's fingers stroked his face as she laughed. "You don't have to keep me from walking out, Scorpius. I'll stay with you. I love you."

He caught his breath - sudden fierce pleasure burning in his belly - and rubbed his cheek against her fingers.

"And you'll marry me."

She arched one brow. "Is that a question or a statement?"

"Both?" Scorpius huffed. "I know you don't want to be pushed again after Pendergast. I love you, but I don't want you to feel trapped."

"I felt trapped last night," Rose said after a moment. "Thinking about having to come home and say that I was glad for you and Elise. Like I didn't have any choice but to be happy for you. I don't feel trapped now."

"You could walk away."

"I could," a wicked smile grew on Rose's lips as she shifted under him, a soft, sexy undulation that rubbed Scorpius in all the right places. "But I'm not going to. You'll just have to get used to the idea that I'm not going to run from you like the others."

"Okay," Scorpius managed, although his head was beginning to swim. "Are you going to take measures to persuade me?"

"I guess I am," Rose said, and rolled them over so she was lying on top of him. "If it takes me the rest of my life."

"You know, I think it just might," he murmured just before lips met and melded.

And it did.