For my beautiful wife Amber, who is an amazing human being, a force of nature, a glorious soul — and who does not deserve to have a birthday that falls right at her busiest time of work.

Hope this can make that the tiniest bit better, darling. I love you.

.

You press your lips to the top of his head because you think he's asleep, but you feel his lips curve up into a grin and then he murmurs, "What the hell are you doing awake?" Mutters a quick spell — wandless, because he's Theo and he's always liked flaunting that in front of you. Three. In the morning.

You're awake because something is coming, something is changing and you can feel it in the air. It makes you uneasy. But you don't say that.

"I could ask the same of you."

He flips around so that his face is turned toward yours, his legs perpendicular to yours. You prop your head up on your arms, giving up the pretense of sleep.

"That isn't an answer," he says, smirking in the faint light, and you know he didn't expect one. He knows you too well. Just as you knew well enough that he would call you out on it.

"I was just thinking," you say after a moment. Something dark gleams in his deep brown eyes. Something that makes you uncomfortable. You shift the subject. "And what about you?"

He sighs deeply, and your discomfort grows. "Theo?" you ask, your voice whisper soft. His face twists.

"How do I know?" he finally asks. You have to strain to hear him. He shifts again, staring at the ceiling, not meeting your gaze.

The sinking feeling in your stomach is sickening. You have a bad feeling that you know what this is about — you are surprised it didn't come up earlier.

But you are going to make him bring it up. If he wants to ask, he has to ask himself.

"Know what?" you ask.

He looks frustrated as he fumbles for the words. You hate it, seeing him struggle when he's normally so smooth. "I… Blaise…" He stops. Collects himself. Collects his thoughts. Starts again. "How do I know that you aren't going to be her, Blaise?"

You know your gaze darkens. Couldn't stop it if you tried — and you don't. You are offended, hurt, and for once, you want him to see that. Want him to see what he's doing to you.

Still, you play it oblivious. You don't want to make a mistake, here. Not when everything is so precariously balanced. "Who, Theodore?" Your voice is cold, almost a growl. You never use his full name. He flinches.

"You know who," he says softly, and he doesn't even seem to notice the double entendre. You'd smile if you weren't so cold.

"I want to hear you say it, Theodore."

Finally, finally, he looks up, dark eyes meeting yours. "How do I know you aren't going to be your mother, Blaise? How do I know this isn't all just some charade?"

The words would hurt if you weren't so busy being angry. "I… am not… my mother," you bite out. "I have spent my whole life learning from her mistakes — I know what it does to people, Theo, pretending to love them. It kills them. I have seen it happen. And I promised myself a very long time ago that I wasn't going to be her. I have seen what it can do to people, and I will not be a part of it." You feel your rage dwindle, and all you feel is drained. "Love… is a terrible, powerful thing. It's not something you screw around with. It's not something you take lightly. It's not something you give lightly. Or––" you laugh bitterly "––it's not something I give lightly, anyway."

The way you see it, there are two things you could have learned from your mother, from your life — how to string people along and then crush them, or how not to. You chose to learn the latter. You don't want to break people — because, truly, people are such fragile things. A little pressure in the right place and anyone will shatter. You know how to do that. You know where to push.

You could shatter Theo into a million pieces right now, with just a few words.

But you won't.

You won't, because you love him.

Because you need him.

Because you gave him your heart. You made yourself vulnerable — as your mother would see it. You risked… everything.

Because you trust him. You trust him, and so you can love him.

He looks at you with those dark eyes and they are momentarily unfathomable and then he lunges and for a moment you think he's going to hit you, for one crazy moment you think he might head-but you — but instead he curls his hands around your face and he kisses you fiercely. You close your eyes and kiss him back until moments later he pulls away. He rests his forehead on yours. "I love you."

It is the first time he's said it.

It is the first time either of you has said it. For a moment, just one moment, you freeze. But then you lean forward, free your arms, echo his movements — you take his face in your hands and you kiss him just as desperately, and almost as briefly, before moving your mouth to his ear. "As I love you, Theodore Nott."

And this time, his full name isn't an insult. It isn't the creation of distance — quite the opposite. Instead, it is a melody, the syllables rolling naturally off your tongue as though they were meant to be there — not that you believe anything so soppy.

Based on the shudder that travels down his spine, he knows this.

His mouth meets yours again but this time it's different — it isn't desperate. It's secure. You are both safe in the knowledge that this is an even playing field, that you are both vulnerable, that you have both opened yourselves up to a potential world of pain.

Just as you have given him your heart, he has given you his, and you cradle it in your palms so gently, because you, of all people, know how fragile a human heart can be. You, of all people, know how easily they shatter.