Author's Notes: Written for my OTP Boot Camp Challenge on the HPFC forum with the pairing Bellatrix/Voldemort and the prompt "breathless", Lady Phoenix Fire Rose's Boot Camp One Hour Challenge/Hardest Challenge Ever with the prompt "wait" and Weekly Quick Fic #5 on writerverse with the prompts "comforting" and writing in present tense.
The Dark Lord's skin feels so much colder now than it had before he had fallen.
He had been human then – a man made of flesh and blood with only his mind to separate him from other men. Time had gone by and he had ascended further and further above the level of an ordinary person, but to the day before he had fallen, he had still been distinctly human in a way that he no longer is.
His new state is far more beautiful.
Bellatrix clings to him, touching his hands slowly, running her hands almost reverently over his bony fingers and shivering with every touch. She knows that he is watching her, knows that he is being far more patient with her than he needs to be…
"It is… it is a miracle to see you again, my Lord," she says at last, her voice soft and breathless.
"No miracle," he tells her indifferently, not even looking at her, but keeping his eyes on his pale and spidery hands, on her grip on them. "God did not intervene on my behalf. This is simply a case of effective magic and my own ingenuity…"
"Of course, my Lord," she nods. She is quick to agree with anything that he might say – he had, after all, saved her life, and she would willingly say anything to please him (do anything to please him) in return…
There is silence while she returns her attention to his hands, turning them over in hers and admiring every perfectly formed detail. More perfectly formed than the hands of any man born of woman…
"I cannot say," she says after a time of silence, "I have not the words to say how it pleases me that you have risen again, after all this time…" Her voice chokes with emotion and she wishes desperately that she could communicate to her master the thousand ways in which she had wished for his return while she was in Azkaban. His absence – and with it, the fear, lurking in the back of her mind while she waited, that he might be gone forever the way people had said that he was – had been what had torn her apart until he had come for her, far more than the Dementors, the confinement, or any of the other qualities of Azkaban that were meant to drive the prisoners mad.
"I know how faithfully you waited for me, Bellatrix," he says, his hand twitching slightly in hers. Had she not known better, she might have thought that the movement was intended to be a swift caress, a comforting touch, but no, the Dark Lord would never do anything with the intention of comforting her – and why would he? She had done nothing more than her duty to him and she would have been presumptuous to hope that that would be enough to justify a reward…
And yet, her heart aches when he pulls his hand out of hers and turns away from her.
"There were so many who abandoned me," he says, his voice low, and Bellatrix wonders whether he had heard her thoughts. "You did far better than any of them. For all the time that you were in that prison, you never lost faith in me…"
"But I did, my Lord," Bellatrix whispers. The confession agonizes her, but she saw no use in lying to the Dark Lord. He could know when she was lying in any case – and perhaps this was a test by which he intended to gauge her honesty. "There were many moments while I was in Azkaban in which I feared that you would never come for me…"
"Feared," he says, nodding. "You feared it. You did not believe it. One cannot be blamed for their fears, Bellatrix, as long as one does not allow them to inhibit their behaviour…"
She bites her tongue and clenches her fist in her skirt, her heart beating erratically. "You do not see that as a lapse in faith, my Lord?"
"I do not." He shakes his head. "I cannot expect even my most faithful Death Eater – and you are my most faithful Death Eater, Bellatrix – to have not a single moment of doubt while she is in my service. That is more than can be expected of any human."
"I… agree, my Lord…"
"And," he continues, and now he is looking at her again and she feels as though all the air has left her lungs. She cannot breathe, she cannot think, as long as his eyes are upon her. "And a Death Eater who is so close to having perfect faith in me should be rewarded above what her fellows receive…"
"I ask for nothing but to remain in your service, my Lord," Bellatrix begins, all humble solemnity, but he shakes his head.
"Do not think that you can hide your thoughts from me, Bellatrix – you are always unsuccessful. I know that you wish for more than simply being in my service."
"Your desires," he continues, and he speaks with a sort of clinical detachment that makes Bellatrix wonder whether he understood all-consuming desire of the sort that she felt for him, "childish though they perhaps could be said to be, are not unreasonable. I see no reason why you should be denied…"
Bellatrix trembles, half shock and half fear, for she never expected him to be willing to reward her for what she had considered a part of her duty. It is comforting, in a way, to think that he did not disdain her for what she wished for from him – or, if he did distain her, he was willing to hide it and not openly mock her.
"I would be most honoured, my Lord…" Her voice catches and breaks and she swallows back the tears of gratitude that threaten to spill down her cheeks.
"It is an honour that you have earned," he tells her, then takes her hand and leads her to his bed.