Hannah is an unnameable kind of safety that Susan never really thought she could have--a kind of support she never really thought she deserved. And it’s hard sometimes not to fall back into that place, no matter the reassurance, no matter the reward. It’s hard for Susan sometimes not to let her eyes slip shut behind the silky black ribbon that Hannah tied around her so lovingly, and surrender to the dark thoughts instead of the true ones.
You left when it got hard.
You left when they needed you.
You left when you were supposed to be strong.
They don’t usually play when Susan spirals like this, and Susan isn’t sure if it’s more or less helpful. She’s new at this, after all, and so is Hannah. They’re learning together about when to slow down, when to push, when to stop altogether. They’re learning together about what it feels like for Susan when she lets go, what it feels like for Hannah when she takes Susan there. They’re learning together about what it means that this is the shape their love takes.
“Where are you?” Hannah asks, but she must already know the answer because her hands have stopped in their slow descent down the long column of Susan’s spine. Her thumbs press in just enough to ground Susan, to remind her of where she physically is. “Tell me where you are,” Hannah says again; a command, but a gentle one.
Susan sucks in air shakily through parted lips, and holds her breath for the count of five while she contemplates which of the three places she could be. She could be in Hogsmeade, which means she’s fine, she’s good, she’s ready, she wants more; she could be in London, which means she needs time, she needs a minute or two, she needs reassurance before she can have more; or she could be in Azkaban, which means she needs to stop--and that’s all right, it’s okay if she needs to stop, it doesn’t mean that Hannah will love her any less.
“London,” she whispers, before she repeats it more firmly just in case, “London, Hannah, I--I’m in London.”
“Good,” Hannah says, as her fingers press the affirmation into Susan’s tense muscles, small twin circles of perfect pressure. “That’s good, ducks. Thank you for telling me.”
Susan melts a little into the bedspread. “Hannah,” she sighs, “Hannah, Hannah, Hannah,” like devotion.
“Can you tell me what’s in London?” Hannah’s massaging hands drag upward a little, pressing up under Susan’s shoulder blades and sweeping out broadly.
The answer is easy because it’s always the same, but Susan knows better than to avoid using her words. Hannah never lets her get away with hiding. Hannah makes her want to always put herself on display. “I was supposed to be there for you all,” Susan begins, letting Hannah’s warm, firm palms leach the anxiety out of her body, “and I failed. I couldn’t do it. And I don’t deserve this.”
Hannah’s fingers walk delicately up the top-most vertebrae of Susan’s spine and gently squeeze the back of her neck. She huffs a laugh at Susan’s half-stifled whimper and continues to work her thumb and forefinger there, before she switches to dig her knuckle in, drawing out a long moan of pleasure. “Thank you for telling me, ducks. You’re so good for telling me the truth.”
“You’re not--ah, yes!” Susan hisses, when Hannah slips her fingers up into the hair at the back of her neck and scrapes her fingernails against the sensitive base of her skull. It takes her another long moment of breathing, of enjoying the pressure, the release of tension, before she can try again, “You’re not--”
“--You know that I’m not angry with you, Susan,” Hannah interrupts her, voice firm and serious, though her hands continue to work.
Susan shivers. “I know,” she replies. “I know, I’m sorry.”
Hannah’s hands have reached the knot that ties the ribbon in place, and she finally stops her ascent. Susan tries not to hold her breath as Hannah seems to take the two ends in her hands and tugs just enough to loosen it. “Why do I ask you where you are?”
“Please don’t take it off yet,” Susan whimpers, avoiding the question. “I’m sorry, I know you’re not angry with me--”
“Why do I ask you where you are?” Hannah repeats in that same gentle commanding tone; her hands remain still.
“Because,” Susan’s voice breaks, “because you lo-love me, and you don’t wa-want to hurt me.”
“Yes,” Hannah answers, “that’s right, that’s so good, ducks. So, so good for me.”
Susan exhales a sharp breath, relieved, and smiles against the pillow. “I like being good for you. I always want to be good for you,” she explains. “And that’s why...why…”
“Why, what?” Hannah prompts after a long moment of silence that’s only broken by the sound of their breath and the quiet, metronymic ticking of the clock on the mantle.
“That’s why I’m in London sometimes,” Susan confesses. “Because I want to be so good, but I get stuck on when I was bad.”
Hannah doesn’t respond aloud, and after another long moment, she tightens the ribbon’s knot and then begins the slow descent of her hands again. She makes it to the soft curves of Susan’s hips before she says, “It was hard, without you, but we understood.”
Her voice wavers--just a bit, just enough for Susan to notice. Susan opens her eyes, but sees only the black of the ribbon, so she closes them again, surrendering to it. “I’m in Hogsmeade,” she says clearly. “Please, Hannah, I’m in Hogsmeade.”
Hannah’s fingers ghost along Susan’s own, and nearly of their own volition, Susan’s try to clutch, to hold on. “Are you cer--” Hannah stops herself, and Susan manages to hook her little finger around one of Hannah’s own.
“Hogsmeade,” Susan repeats, squeezing Hannah’s finger as best she’s able to reassure her. It can be hard sometimes for Hannah to trust--not, Susan knows, because she doesn’t trust Susan to tell the truth, but because they are still figuring this whole thing out and because London is trickier to navigate than Azkaban.
In her head, Susan answers the choked-off question: yes, she’s certain that she’s fine, that she’s ready, that she can continue. Because even though she knows that the voice is there on the periphery of her mind ready to spit its venomous lies when it has the chance, it’s quieter now, and that should be enough for her. It should be enough to know that she can voice those fears and Hannah will listen and will stifle them with what’s true. It should be enough to know that Hannah loves her enough to take care of her even if-- even when she’s undeserving of that love.
“Wait, no,” Susan says quickly, breath hitching in her throat. “No, I’m in London. I’m still...I’m still in London.”
Hannah sighs gently, but it sounds relieved rather than angry. “That’s okay, ducks,” she breathes out. Her hands move to ribbon binding Susan’s wrists together, untie the knot, and loosen the ribbon. It falls away, and Susan can feel the silk rasping softly against her skin. “You’re so good to have told me.”
Susan doesn’t uncross her wrists from where they rest on her lower back; instead, she lets Hannah move her arms one by one. Hannah moves her left first, carefully places it on the bed flush with Susan’s side, kneads the length of it from shoulder to wrist, and repeats the same with Susan’s right. All the while, Hannah murmurs to her, a steady stream of quiet praise that seeps warm and solid into Susan’s body and coalesces in her chest to dissolve a buzzing knot of anguish.
“Count for me,” Hannah then says, as she lifts Susan’s left hand and braces the wrist, before she squeezes the tips of Susan’s fingers in succession after Susan counts each off.
Hannah then repeats the whole process with Susan’s legs after she unties the ribbon around her ankles. But when her nimble hands reach once again for the ribbon around Susan’s eyes, Susan pushes herself up on shaky forearms and stays Hannah’s hand. “Leave that one, please?” she asks. “Just for...just for a little longer?”
“Of course, ducks,” Hannah says, warm and syrupy. “Anything for my good girl.”
“Thank you, Hannah,” Susan breathes, as Hannah tugs gently on the ends of the ribbon, making sure the knot still holds.