Kissing was supposed to feel wonderful. Pure elation, in fact, as they had once told me. I no longer remembered who 'they' were - nameless blurs of featureless faces that blended into one turmoil of emotion. 'They' felt like home, even though he had told me time and time again that my home was now with him. To my dismay, it did, in the most usual way possible - the plush furniture around us, the melodic crackling of the fireplace, the tiny statues of sentimental value on the tabletops and the ornate mahogany wainscoting - they all seemed welcoming, and, perhaps, in a different situation I would have called his home cozy.
Cozy, maybe, but comfortable... Never. It all fell in discord with my own troubled thoughts, as I fought the impulse to push him away from myself, to put an end to the fiery feeling that roamed my skin as he trailed his calloused hands over it.
There had once been a time when I would crave his touch, longing for his affections as if he were the only thing to bind me to this Earth, as if one kiss were the center of my being, as if I only lived to melt in his arms day after day. Back then I had been a selfish fool, starved for affection by my family, an ignorant idiot who had known nothing of love. Now I do, though, I thought to myself bitterly as he bit my lip in that deliciously beautiful way only he was capable of. The worst was that he knew how far gone I was with him, how much I would give to spend a minute or two leaning my head against his chest, listening to the calming sound of his heartbeat, breathing in sync with him. He had ruined kissing for me. He had ruined many things for me, kissing being the most insignificant of them: family, values, distinguishing right from wrong - they had all become biased by his own views and my foolish heart.
"Mhm, stop," I finally murmured into the kiss, gently putting an open palm against his chest to keep him from leaning back in. His eyes roamed my face for a split-second, brow furrowing slightly, analyzing my words. This was new territory: me denying him. Pulling back even more, he sat back on the heels of his feet, looking down at me as I lay on the sheepskin rug, my hair undoubtedly tangling into the wool, my breath ragged. I felt blood pulsing in my ears as I licked my lips and sat up a little, supporting the weight of my upper body with my elbows. His gaze never left my face, an intimidating gesture that had always left me ducking my head and submitting. Not now, though.
"What is it, love?" His rich voice washed over me, reminding me of warm chocolate and Indian chai, both exciting and soothing at the same time, bringing warmth into my very bones. I had fallen in love with his voice long before I had feelings for the man, and it still managed to send sparks of both comfort and danger all over my body.
"I..." Gulping, I shook my head, knowing it would be harder than I had thought. In my own love-dazed brain he had always been mine, from the very first time I had laid eyes on him and until now, even though the rational part of my consciousness that had survived the shock of being with him had been skeptical. Rationality, something only fools used to justify their actions. "I wanted to ask you something."
He laid down onto the rug next to me, his face inches from mine. I let my gaze slip to his collarbone - I could just see myself peppering kisses there, making him gasp and close his eyes in pleasure. Not now. Not ever, I thought, pain stabbing my chest, if this talk confirmed my suspicions.
"Does it have to be right now, angel? We were quite in the middle of something, don't you think?" He smirked playfully, a tiny dimple appearing on his left cheek. Again, an overwhelming feeling of pride washed over me, for I knew I was the only one to see that dimple. I was the only one to see him smile, really smile. Or at least, I had been the only one.
"It's important," I pressed gently, hoping I would not make him angry. I was relieved to see only mild annoyance flicker over his handsome features as he sighed and propped himself up onto one elbow, leaning his head into his hand. He was the very image of relaxation and self-control, if these two were ever able to go together. His half-opened burgundy button-down shirt exposed just a sliver of skin that my hand itched to reach out and touch, his sleeves rolled up casually, the lose yet elegant black pants hugged his long legs in all the right places - one might say he was overdressed for a simple evening at home, but then so was I, having learned of the significance of clothing and image from him.
"Alright then, my sweet, what is it?" He asked calmly, giving me another disarming smile. I fought the urge to close my eyes, for I knew that one endearing gesture from him could send me off-course. Instead, I looked straight at him, something I rarely did for the fear of my feelings being too open for him to read.
"I overheard something last night. I... I didn't mean to eavesdrop, I was just walking through the corridor down to our bedroom, past your office and..." Why was I the one making up excuses? He was supposed to be the fidgeting, tremulous mess that I was. After all, in any healthy relationship he would. I righted myself, trying to remember what dignity felt like, something I had long forgotten when I had first stepped into his open arms and out of sight of the world that I had used to live in, a world where I had been a responsible, albeit fiery person, a world where I had been the one to make choices, where I had been able to say no, a world that no longer existed for me as I lay by his side.
"Are you having an affair?"
"What?" His face blanked for a mere second, after which his upper lip curled in disgust: "What on Earth gave you that idea, kitten?"
"Stop it," I responded sharply, my voice losing some of the trembling it had held moments before. Suddenly, I felt more in control than I had for the past few months I'd spent with him. My jaw set, I looked at him, trying to blink as little as possible. I didn't know what I was more scared of - finding out whether what I had heard was true, or not. If it wasn't, he would accuse me of distrust, shunning me even further than he had when I had first walked through the front gate of the mansion; if it was, I would end up on the street, or worse... He wasn't a patient man, and I had been fortunate enough to escape his wrath, if only he bedded me regularly and considered me... I didn't really know, I realized, biting my lip. I had been with this man for seemingly ages, and yet I still didn't know where I stood. "Stop it with the nicknames. Stop with the endearments. Just tell me whether I have reason to live or not."
My words brought him up short as he ran his free hand through his hair, his relaxed posture tensing up. I had once been an expert on reading people, although with him it had always been quite impossible, yet I still watched out for any indication of dishonesty on his face. It had been a habit once, not trusting people, always being on the lookout, and being with him had made me soft. Incompetent. Perhaps it had been his intent from the very beginning, weakening me.
"I may not be a kind man, my angel, but I am a man of my word. I believe in honor. I fight for truth, however bitter it may be. I thought you knew me better than that. I refuse to answer this atrocious question," he answered, his voice suddenly hollow and void of emotion. He was detaching himself from me quickly, I understood, as he often did with people he didn't trust. I was becoming one of them, after all, he had probably trusted me because I had voluntarily forsaken my power, I had gone weak and me taking matters into my own hands and questioning him pushed him out of his comfort zone. I refused to give into his words:
"Just tell me."
"No. I am not going to be commanded by you, boy. I will not be pushed around by someone inferior to me." His voice turned to steel. He sat upright, looking down at me, a condescending curve to his lips as his features twisted into contempt. He was closing off even more, retracting back into the persona he would show everyone he came in contact with, except me. He could be human with me only because I refused to put my morals before my love for him.
"You talk of honesty and honor, yet you can't answer a simple question?" I asked, hurt spreading through my body, though stubbornness was what kept me going. I couldn't believe it - if there was one thing this man was, it was honest. Evading the question made it much more difficult for me to let it go. "And I am in no way inferior to you. I let go of what I am for you, but I can easily stand up to anyone in this world, including my apparently wayward lover."
He winced visibly at my words and for the first time in months I felt no remorse for it. If I hadn't said anything, if I had lived with my suspicion forever, not telling him of it, I would have already bowed my head in regret, muttering a soft 'sorry, I didn't mean it' under my breath, waiting for him to rung his fingers through my hair or rest his hand on my cheek, telling me it didn't matter. But this time it mattered, if only because I meant it. I was tired of being the wife, the concubine, whatever I was to him, I was wary of it.
"You shall know your place," he growled at me, his eyes flashing dangerously. Any other person would have already started cowering in terror, but I refused to back down. I remembered my first one-to-one meeting with him, when I had been captured by one of his followers and tortured to near-insanity by that wench of a woman who had drooled over his every word. I remembered seeing him for the man he was for the first time in my, and I guessed his, life. I remembered the first kiss we'd shared by this very fireplace, when he had roughly tossed me onto the rug and claimed my mouth in a vicious lip-lock, uncaring that he had been hurting me, even though I had been more than willing. By that time, I had passed so many stages of human relationships with him - I had gone from being a captive to a slave, to an assistant, to a friend, to a spy, to craving his company within mere weeks of my captivity. I was no fool: I had seen the lingering looks he had been giving me, I had heard the disdain in his voice whenever any of his followers spoke to him of family matters, the disdain he had used to veil his own desperation. He was, after all, a mere person. A great one, yet still a person.
"Then tell me, Tom. Tell me my place. During this whole... thing that we are in, call it a relationship or imprisonment, you haven't told me who I am to you once. Never. I gave up everything to be with you, I betrayed my friends, the people who mattered to me most, for evenings by the fire and mornings buried in mountains of plans and tactics. I gave your views a chance, and I can almost agree with all of them now. You have never given any input to this," I snapped, nearing the end of my patience. I had been weak for far too long. I could only pray for one thing now: whatever happens, please, don't let him kiss me. I would never be able to withstand any 'romantic' advances from him. "You know all this is a lie. I can walk out of this mansion unscathed and go back to being the Golden Boy in a heartbeat and I -,"
"Then go!" He suddenly slammed his fist onto the hardboard floor next to rug, inches from where my head had been. I felt a trickle of fear make its way into my chest, setting itself somewhere in between my lungs. I had felt resentment, disgust, pity, affection, love for the man. I had never been scared of him. Until now, as he gazed at me, his eyes ablaze with anger, the crimson tint more vivid than it had ever been with me. "Leave! Walk out! Like everybody else who expect too much from me!"
"I never expected anything!" I gritted through my teeth, nearly shouting. My back rigid, I sat up completely, my face level with his. God, how I hated him... No words could ever express what I felt for Tom, he was the only one who had ever evoked enough emotion within me to really care. Maybe that was why I was so scared of letting him go. I felt stinging behind my eyelids but looked up to roll the pooling tears back, not wanting to show him turmoil that was raging inside. "I came here to die! Do you remember that, Tom? Do you? I walked in through that door knowing I would never walk out! I didn't know I would become dependent on you, you idiot! Now I know why you don't get attached. Because it hurts. It hurt then when you fired curse after curse at me, and it hurts when you kiss me just as much, but you know what's torture? Overhearing that you share the only person you've ever loved with someone else!"
He stared at me, panting, not moving an inch after my little outburst. I had learnt to control myself around him long ago, and this display would have earned me a torture curse or twenty before. Now he was only sitting there, on the floor, dumbstruck, and then I realized - no one had ever shown him defiance like I had. It scared him, not being in control. It absolutely terrified him.
"I love you, Tom." I looked him straight into the eyes, unblinking, knowing it would break down his walls even more, maybe then I'll be able to get to the bottom of his intentions for me. We had played happy home for far too long. I wanted stability, or at least - to know what I was in for for the rest of my life. "I love you and it's absolutely devastating. I have to go day after day after day just trying to find a reason why I shouldn't walk out, because feeling this for you is torture. It's pain. It's ruining me from the inside. I hate you for making me feel this way. I hate you for your kisses, for your words, for your touches, but you know what? I love it more and if being with you means enduring years of agony, I will happily endure the misery of being by your side until the end of our lives."
My confession was nothing surprising in my opinion, after all I had always been the one to voice my affections for him. It was always me. I was the one had who cried out in horror when his followers had dragged him in, half-conscious after a close shave with Dumbledore and the Order, I was the one who had waited up for him for a week until he showed me the mercy of turning up, just because he had suddenly decided he needed a break in France... without me. I was the one who would look after him when he had gotten the wizard flu, something so embarrassing, he had been reluctant to admit he was ill until he collapsed.
"I never knew," Tom answered, his voice hoarse.
"Well, you should have. I spent most of my life fighting you and the last months being completely in love with you. I saw you kill and torture and I never judged. Because I know that I will always be safe with you. Because I know you would never hurt me. But tell me one thing: if you spared my life, would it be out of love, or out of pity? Or maybe just to make a mockery out of me?" I felt my magic sparkle to life for the first time in months. When I had arrived at the manor, my wand had been taken away and I had never tried to reach out to my powers - I didn't need to. Now, it seemed, a wand didn't matter.
"Fine." He swallowed audibly. I saw his Adam's apple bob up and then down, a shuddering breath escaping his throat. It struck me how mortal he appeared, how utterly human... How much control my words had.
"I am not having an affair."
I exhaled, relief flooding me, now being quickly replaced by suspicion:
"Then what was that talk of getting away? Of beautiful evenings? Tom, I may be a child and I may be ignorant about so many things but... Prove it."
"Damn it, Harry!" He reached forward to grip my hear in a painful grasp than made me breathe out in pain. I found myself being drawn into his vicious red eyes as they searched my face. "I was... asking for advice. You know emotions are not my forte. You stupid idiot, I was asking Lucius how it would be best to tell you that..." He gulped once again, his gaze pleading, as if unsure he should have started the conversation in the first place.
"I didn't know what was the best way to tell you that I love you."
I felt one of my hands fly to my mouth, covering it in shock. Sure, I had been looking for admittance, but never for... this. I had learnt to accept that my feelings would never be returned fully, after all, I was a consort. A person who was always to vie for attention.
"I planned for us to go to France for our one-year anniversary, well, technically, the day when you were dragged through these doors and into my arms. I wanted to give you this." He reached into his pocket to produce...
"Is that a ring?" I breathed out reverently, looking at the tiny piece of jewelry in his hand. It was exquisite - golden with a ruby, an emerald and a diamond set in, but not too overwhelming. It was almost as if it was...
"It's an engagement ring, Harry." He whispered, closing the palm of his hand around it, his chest heaving slightly from the effort of hiding his emotions. I could see right through him, he knew that, and what I saw was just… a man, trying to express something bigger than him and not knowing how to do it. "The engagement ring, actually, the one Gryffindor gave Slytherin when he proposed their marriage bond. I had gone away for so long so many times because I was hunting it down. It took me quite some time but I knew this ring had to be the one. Call me sentimental or something, but I see the significance and the irony of the situation. Now, though… I don't know if I can trust you anymore, Harry. It looks like you don't trust me as much as I thought either."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. No, no, no! Harry Potter, you are officially the biggest fool on the planet. You had been starving for love and when you finally get your change to fulfill this huger, you let it seep right through your fingers. You prat.
"I don't know if I can trust you," Tom continued, another shuddering breath escaping him, "but for some reason I do. Tell me Harry, why is it that I feel I can hand my life over to you and you'll take care of it no matter what?"
I considered him for a moment before sliding closer to him and touching the fist he had made around the ring tentatively. I closed my own smaller hands around his wrist and leaned in, pressing a kiss to the silken skin of his knuckles. I looked up, tears in my eyes, an apology on its way out before something else came out entirely:
"Because you know that I can't live without you."
His fist came open, revealing the ring a second time. His other hand grasped it, his fingers holding the small circle delicately as he looked at me, determination like no other etched into his features:
"I want to do this right, Harry. Oh well, I'm already on my knees, aren't I?" He joked, letting out a small humorless laugh that came out slightly strangled. I had never seen him unnerved and this was simply a sight for the books. I loved seeing him vulnerable, it created the illusion of me being slightly more in control than our relationship let on.
"Harry James Potter, my angel, my kitten, my companion, I love you. So much. You have no idea how difficult it was for me to come to terms with it, how many times I contemplated turning back into who I used to be just to escape this haunting emotion that followed me around everywhere I went. I love watching you sleep next to me, I love hearing you talk, I love the way you push your hair back when it gets into your eyes, even though you stubbornly refuse to cut it. I love everything about you. I may not say it often, but know this: you are what matters to me the most." With that, he gently took my hand and slipped the ring onto my finger, but didn't let go. I remained motionless, my mind trying to process everything. One second I was feeling betrayed by the only man I had ever loved, and the next...
"You just proposed to me."
He chuckled softly, smiling a little wider, the stress ebbing away from his face:
"I believe I did." He ducked his head: "And you still haven't given me an answer."
Numbly, I leaned forward, letting my lips brush his for the first time without fear of being used. I didn't know what I was supposed to say, I didn't know what to do, I only knew I had to be as close to him as possible. My chest constricted with need as our chests pressed together and his strong arms enveloped me in a tight embrace. I didn't battle for dominance in the kiss like I usually did, after all, I was the one being proposed to, and I was the one who had accused him… oh gods.
"Yes?" He drew back.
"Just yes. I want to be Harry Riddle. I want to wake up next to you and I want to be the one to wash away blood off your hands after battle. I want to be the one to betray everything for you." I pressed my lips onto his for a split second.
"And, for the record?"
"Hmmm?" He breathed into my mouth as we carried on kissing.
"I want you to keep your office door open every time Lucius comes over."