Holding The Fort

Monday, 13 April

By Sushi


Knocking. Again. His head throbbed too much to make out the pattern. "For god's sake, whom do I have to kill to get some privacy around here?" he muttered under his breath. Then, much more loudly, "Unless it's important, bugger off."

"I'm headmaster, Severus," came the chuckling reply. "Everything I do is important." Snape dropped the stack of nerve-grindingly poor essays he was marking for a change of pace and dragged open the door. Albus looked annoyingly smug, as he always did when he was sure one of his little plans had worked. "May I come in?"

"If you insist." Severus waved Dumbledore inside and watched with a twitch of annoyance as Albus took his chair.

"Ahh," Albus sighed, leaning back. "Comfort itself. I may have to visit you more often."

"Is there anything I can do for you, sir?"

Twinkling eyes like summer sky caught him. "Why is it that, no matter how long they've known me, people insist on calling me 'sir'?"

"What the bloody fuck do you want, you barmy old codger?" They were hard words to get out, but it might prove a point about one extreme and the other. Snape hadn't slept well. He kept having nightmares about Harry: Harry screaming, bound, ripped and ruptured, Severus standing by too petrified to utter the curse.

"That's more like it! Philia said almost the exact same thing to me on numerous occasions. She'd be proud."

It was a totally honest statement, with totally honest glee. Snape felt the blood rise in his face. "Thank you, sir," he mumbled.

Dumbledore sighed. "Oh, well. Old dogs and new tricks, I suppose." He cleared his throat. "How go things with our Mister Potter?"

"I fear I may be forced to kill him before the week is up." Kill, shag senseless, take your pick.

"That badly?"


Dumbledore looked downright crushed. Severus had to close his eyes for a moment. He had stoically witnessed a great many horrific things, but the slump of Albus' body and the childlike droop of his wizened face were more than he could bear. It wouldn't be so difficult if it weren't his fault in every sense. "Should I ask what the problem is?" Gentle blue eyes pleaded with him.

"Is there any way I could stop you?"

Albus bobbed his head. "Hmm... no. What's going so horribly wrong?"

Severus fingered the door handle. It wasn't a handle so much as an iron ring with a latch mechanism. He lifted it absently and let it slide away. I hate him and all he is with every fiber of my body and soul. I want nothing more than to never have to lay eyes on him again. I want nothing more than to see his face every day. Of all five isolated bouts of necessary evil in my last fifteen years, only the one I spent with him meant anything more than flesh on flesh - and then the little bastard came back. "We're too different."

"Well, you know what they say about opposites attracting."

Severus shuddered. "Please, I hardly think any sort of attraction is going to spring up between Potter and me."

"You might be surprised there, old friend."

Snape raised an eyebrow. He cupped his elbow and his cold chin. "Please, do go on," he muttered dryly over his thick tongue.

"You have one shared trait that, I think, will attract you like magnets. When you can both accept it."

Snape sighed. "Voldemort?"

"Affection. Each of you has an insatiable need for affection."

"Albus!" Severus went rigid. "How dare you even suggest such a thing?"

"Hear me out." He settled deeper into the chair, hands folded on his electric-blue-and-orange stomach. "We both know your history, Severus. Harry hasn't gone through nearly so much, but he's had more than his share of tribulations. I've no doubts that he's strong, brave, and loyal to a fault. I've also no doubts that, while many people have kept an eye on his well being, far too few have shown him any real care."

"And I suppose you expect me to drop my sanity and 'care' for the brat."

Dumbledore could certainly make a look imposing. He was almost as good at it as Gran. "I only ask that you give him a chance for the sake of the greater good. Once he's given you his trust he'll be hard pressed to revoke it."

So he's demonstrated. "What happened to not asking us to sleep together?"

"I never said anything about sleeping together, Severus. I only said to give him a chance." Dumbledore raised his eyebrows coolly. "It's perfectly possible to show care and affection without sleeping with him. You're more scrupulous than to have that type of relationship with a student."

Snape gazed coldly for a moment. Something deep in his shadow of a soul withered. "Yes, Headmaster." He realised something. "Albus?"


"What do you hope to achieve?"

Dumbledore steepled his hands and rest his chin there, pensive. "The most obvious goal is to combine your skills in effort to flush out Voldemort so that he and his followers can be annihilated."

"What else?"

Albus smiled. "Am I that predictable?"

Snape glowered. The old coot never did anything like this without some ulterior motive. Really, he could have been in Slytherin.

Dumbledore went on, "I suppose I'd like to prove to you, once and for all, that there really is a decent human being living in that skin of yours. You've committed more selfless acts than anyone I've ever known despite what you've lived through, and there's no way I can possibly express how humbling that is compared to the rest of us mere mortals. But you still refuse to accept that you're anything more than a whipping boy. Perhaps if the two of you can forge some sort of truce, it might show you some part of yourself you've tried to forget?"

Severus cleared his throat. He couldn't quite look Albus in the eye. It was too difficult to express that anything decent he did was only scant penance for the evils he'd performed. He couldn't explain that all the parts of himself he'd forgotten were forgotten for good reason. "And for Potter?"

The dark, sad look he received turned his spine to ice.

"Ah." So, my job is to prevent him from turning into Harry Snape. The boy's soul had certainly been raped before he was out of nappies; he probably didn't realise it, only knew that his future had been struck without his consent. No wonder he resents it. Severus wrapped his arms around his chest. The air was unusually cold. "I may still fail."

Albus stood slowly and stretched. He paused on his way out and rubbed a wrinkled hand gently between Snape's stiff shoulder blades. "I have faith in you, old friend."

The sound of the latch rang in his ears for several minutes. I'm sorry, Albus. Either way, you're going to be dreadfully disappointed. He put his head on the desk and tried to breathe.


... 'Cissa smiled gently down at him as she stroked his temples. The thin, cool silk concealing her body slid smooth over his hair as his head pressed into her abdomen. Long white tendrils tickled his face, his neck, got stuck in one of his ears. She brushed it aside. "How're you doing, sweetie?"

Severus reached back and wrapped an arm around her waist. Before he could say anything, though, he gave a sharp sudden cry. Air rushed too fast into his lungs at the terribly familiar sensation. Frantically, he looked down. It actually came as a shock to see Lucius' light head moving slowly and carefully. He stared, fascinated. Something tried to crawl up his oesophagus and out his mouth. He wouldn't let it. He wouldn't. Swallowing hard, he managed a dry, sticky, "Fine."

"Just hold onto me. That's it, both arms. Nobody's going to hurt you, not ever again." He hadn't told her much, just that... something... that sort of something had happened to him once and it hurt. He hugged her tightly against his skull. She smelled of honeysuckle and soap. Narcissa never smelled of anything but honeysuckle and soap. Again, he cried out in hideous pleasure, screwing his eyes shut, willing the Destroyer to go away.

Lucius' slender, tapered hands stroked his sides, his belly. One finger found and traced the crinkled black line pointing up towards his navel. Eversor had never done that. It was only ever cold hands on hips, acid mouth on something else. It always started slowly, gently, lulling him into petrified contentment, but by the end it was so harsh he felt as though his innards would come flying out. Nobody could ever want that. Severus certainly couldn't. Lucius' soft tongue pulled loose another knot of sensation. Severus moaned.

Pale fingers ran through his hair. 'Cissa had insisted he wash it first, of course. He'd not combed it; it would dry in messy false waves. Damp distant curls clung to her clothes. Her eyes were such a faint blue they looked white in the low light of the hearth. A red flush cut through her untainted white skin. Angels looked like that, or so he'd read. They were brilliant and shining - the Muggle book downstairs said so. Very little of it held his interest. A few passages, though, enthralled him with their poetry, and hidden deep within the pages of his beloved journal, where only he could find it, was a sketch of his cousin's wife, six wings holding her vengeful body high above the remains of the Destroyer, sword of fire pointed lest they twitch.

Warmth was filling his pelvis now. It wasn't the infectious burn he'd known since it was first ripped from him before his tenth birthday. Rather, a slim candle had been lit, never scorching his flesh but burning down through dripping white wax and curling wick. Severus made himself look down. Lucius' eyes were closed, sand-blonde hair falling out of place and barely teasing his sickly flesh on each slow downbeat. Hesitantly, Severus unwound his fingers and moved one painfully long arm from 'Cissa's waist to let his hand quickly touch that shaking light hair. It didn't turn black.

Lucius glanced up at him and smiled as best he could. Suddenly, he began to move faster, sucking more but never harshly. Severus started to pant; a soft cry escaped with every vivid exhalation. His hand dropped and he clutched his cousin's head as though it were a raft in the coming flood. He watched, light glinting off the sweat forming on his stomach, light glinting off the slickness Lucius' mouth left behind. The purple flesh his body put forth made a rich contrast to the pink mouth around it. Fine, milky hands had come to rest now, steadying that frail Malfoy body around which he'd spent so many hours wrapped, one under his back and the other kneading his waist. For the first time in his life he understood human beauty, and the fire reflected in those silver eyes burned the last of the candle and warmth shot willy-nilly through his shaking, shouting, celebrating form--

Stubborn knocking ripped him from the nightmare. It was the type he especially hated: ferocious in its beauty, crippling in its joy, until he woke up and the swamp of his soul filled his belly. "Who's there?" he barked in a sleep-husky voice.

"Who do you think?" Bloody Hell, he picks his times. Severus started to stand up blindly. Something partially unexpected and far less wanted bumped the edge of the desk. He groaned.

"Come back after dinner," he called.

"It is after dinner."

Snape forced the crust from his eyes and looked at his watch. It stared straight back at him: seven twenty-seven. His heart thrummed as he realised he'd been asleep for nearly three hours. The day's Prophet was half read and moist with sweat or saliva or tears. He touched it. Saliva. It was too slick for anything else.

He looked at his lap. Go away, you idiot. Much to his annoyance, his anatomy remained firmly as it was. It didn't show any signs of changing its state, either. There were only two real options left: he could unlock the door by wand and pray, or tell Potter to fuck off. Of course, one of them wasn't even a hope. Cursing himself, he picked up his wand and muttered the long counter-charm.

The door swung open. Harry looked thoroughly exhausted when he staggered in, burdened with his schoolbag. The door slammed with a kick, the bag dropped with a thump, and Potter stood there glaring. "Do you have any bloody idea what it feels like to fall twenty feet off a broom after a Bludger's hit you in the stomach?"

"I imagine it's somewhat painful."

"No shit." He sat down gingerly. "And then everyone panics when you say you don't want to stay in bed." He rifled his bag viciously. "I only got down here by saying you've taken to giving detention over the holidays. Dunno how they bought that one. Except you're the type of arsehole who'd do that sort of thing."

Snape raised an unimpressed eyebrow at his... student. "Five points. And why would you bring your bag to detention?"

"You want what I told them, or you want the truth?" He yanked out his Transfigurations text and opened it. Harry grimaced and shifted in his chair.


Potter stuck a quill in his mouth quickly and started scrawling in the margins. "I told them you wanted me to bring my book. Between practise nine hours a day and spending the rest of my time in your sorry presence I don't have much room for homework."

"You're more than welcome to avoid my 'sorry presence'."

The scowl he received was decidedly odd. Potter blinked and settled back in his chair. He hissed. "Ow. Don't reckon you've got that cloak handy?"

Severus stared at him a moment. His, erm, situation wasn't going to get any better at this rate. "Why?" he asked suspiciously.

"Don't worry, I still haven't come down here to seduce you. Right now I don't much want to seduce anyone. Landed on my back, it's a little sore."

"What did Madam Pomfrey say?"

"I haven't been to see Madam Pomfrey."

Severus almost stood up. "Why, for the love of god, not? You could have been seriously injured! For fuck's sake, you could have been killed! What sort of arrogance gives you the... the license to come down here just so you can drop dead in my--?"

"She'd only try to keep me, and I don't want to have to spend another night in there. Anyway, Toby Gill cast a Cushioning Charm before I hit. I'll be fine." Harry tried to settle back into his book, but between the winces and the throttled grunts there was obviously an impediment.

Severus growled. "Come over here, show me your back." Potter gave him a look of utmost surprise. "Please. It's nothing I haven't seen before."

Harry stared for several seconds. Apparently, however, he was in enough pain to risk whatever violation he might be subject to. Just in time, Severus remembered to cross his legs, effectively hiding his vascular annoyance. He cursed silently when Potter turned his back and hitched up his robe; thankfully he was facing the door and couldn't have seen the distinct twitch. As soon as the brat's middle back came into view, Snape's more carnal thoughts went the wayside. He touched the two wide patches of blackened, swelling flesh. Potter gasped.

"Is it bad?"

"That all depends on your definition of 'bad'. Compared to, say, flying headfirst into a mountain, this is relatively minor. Bloody Hell, boy, you look like you're sprouting wings!"

"Wish I were. Wouldn't have hit so hard."

Severus was surprised at his own soft chuckle. He turned to the shelves behind him and plucked up a vial and a small jar. He held the vial out. "Drink some of that."

"What is it?"


Potter nearly dropped it.

"Your sense of humour is in serious need of repair. Not to mention your eyes. If you haven't noticed, it's clearly marked."

Harry turned the bottle of Painkilling Potion in his hand; a moment later he downed the lot. Snape sighed. "I suppose five doses should be sufficient."


"Never mind. You won't overdose - if you've convinced your fellow Quidditch twits I've given you detention, I won't let you out of it just because you're not satisfied with only risking your life once today." Severus unscrewed the jar. It was filled with one of Gran's minor experiments, a bruise salve that worked on both the damaged capillaries and the underlying muscle. It was far more potent than what Poppy used, but wasn't the most pleasant substance. He wrinkled his nose at the burnt rubber smell. Potter made a noise of disgust. "It's your own fault," Snape muttered. "If you'd gone to the hospital wing like you should have you would have received far more pleasant treatment."

"Just hurry up. I'm cold." Indeed, goosebumps were rising on Harry's smooth skin. It still felt unusually warm to the touch. Severus focused on the wide, triangular expanses of bruise sprouting from his shoulder blades. The salve was slimy, and sent creeping tingles up his fingers. Harry squirmed.

"Hold still."

Harry didn't.

"Would you rather I stun you first?"

"No, sir," Potter growled.

"Then stop fidgeting like a first year in Honeyduke's." Severus worked as quickly as possible, and as gently. There would be a good deal of damage to the underlying tissues in his back - fortunately, the salve was quick to work, and by the time he'd rubbed in the last of the purplish smears most of the swelling was gone. "Turn around."


"Because I said so. Bludgers can do damage too, you know."

"I'm not bruised there."

"I said, 'turn around'."

Potter started to pull his robe down. Severus grabbed him by the hips, turned him sharply, and was confronted with swelling rather lower than he'd expected. The unmarked skin of Harry's abdomen turned red. Snape didn't need to look up to see how far it spread. "Well," he managed, his own uncomfortable situation having taken a dramatic upswing, "I think this will heal on its own. Do your homework."

Harry nodded, blindingly red, eyes squeezed shut. He let his robe drop as quickly as he could and huddled in the chair. His quill scratched far too quickly.

Severus tried to turn his attention back to the soggy Prophet. It wouldn't stay put, though. Between the overt reaction he'd just seen and his own nagging ache there was little else he could think of. This is ridiculous. It's a conditioned response. Nobody in his right mind would have that sort of reaction to you, Severus, not anymore. This is ludicrous. This is Harry sodding Potter! He picked up the paper and squinted hard. It felt like his eyeballs were trying to crawl back in his head. In disgust he rolled it up and threw it at the brat. "Here. You wanted detention, you can have it. Read the whole thing and give me a report on anything you even think might have to do with Death Eaters, Lord Voldemort, or the Dark Arts in general."

Potter stared at the scroll in the middle of his book. His frown was prodigious, and his wide eyes were split between shock and exasperation. "But... I... I have to get this done. I haven't even started Potions..."

Severus leaned on his elbow, face crushed into his palm. "If you give me a report every day on the current Prophet I'll call it the same as homework." His eyes throbbed. It felt like his corneas had been shaved away. Just to make sure that hadn't happened, he glanced up; much to his dismay his gaze landed on Harry's lap. It was in the same condition as when he'd sat down.

Potter looked at him nervously. (Or was that hope in the convolution of his raised eyebrows?) "Um, thank you, si... Severus."

"Just make sure you show some effort. I will be giving you a mark."

Harry nodded and pushed the hair off his face. His blisters were faint reddish marks; they looked like old spots. Shame, really. Snape caught himself, again, and silently chastised himself. There really wasn't that much attractive about the snot. He was just another of the unwashed masses who filtered through class, taking in as little as he could. So get your eyes off of his crotch and your mind back up in the gutter, Severus! Right now!

"Is there anything wrong, sir?"

"What?" he snapped.

"I just asked if there's anything wrong." Potter hunched a little. His book slid deep into his lap. A small shudder went through his body when it did.

Severus gave him a weary look. "Should I give you a few minutes alone with Transfigurations For Advanced Students? I assure you, it's an excellent text, but nothing to get that excited about."

Potter's head snapped up and he glowered. "Sorry. If it's that much of a problem I'll go."

Years as a spy had made Snape quite proficient at thinking one thing and doing another. It didn't, however, always leave him terribly skilled at making them coincide. Potter was up and stuffing his book into his bag, which was awkwardly clutched in front of him, before Snape could open his mouth. "You can keep your fucking research." He stormed towards the door. Something in Severus' gut broke.


Green eyes turned back, silent and narrow. For a moment that seemed like far, far longer Severus considered his pride. It would suffer incomparably; the concept withered his stomach. He would never forgive himself if he made the boy stay, but he could never forgive himself if he let him leave. Rigid, fingers close to puncturing the leather on the arms of his chair, he uncrossed his legs, turned to face the horrible little cretin, and stood up. Part of his mind wondered how in Hell he'd gotten himself into this humiliating position. He kept as much of his fleeting dignity wrapped around him as he could. Harry stared.


"Yes, Mister Potter. It's what you think." He couldn't look his student in the eye.

"For... me?"

Severus scowled haughtily. "If you must know, your arrival woke me from a rather intense dream." It wasn't a lie. It just hadn't been very pleasant.

Harry's eyes were large, and crossed slightly in disbelief. "You've got morning glory."

Severus shuddered. "I should take points for that remark."

Potter sniggered. One hand flew to his mouth. "Oh, my god. You still get morning glory?"

"Yes, I still get 'morning glory', as you insist on calling it! Nearly every human male experiences such a phenomenon at least once in his life!"

"I thought it, y'know, went away."

Severus arched a brow dryly. "If you're making reference to my age, I'm thirty-nine. That's still well within the bounds of virility, as you already ought to know. Whether it 'goes away' or not is completely subject to the individual. For all I know, Headmaster Dumbledore still suffers the blasted curse!"

Harry's brow wrinkled in unnerved disturbance. "Um... you know, I really think I could have gone a long time without getting that picture in my head." He looked down. "Bloody Hell, it worked."

"Hmm." Severus crossed his arms in annoyance. "I wish I could say the same."

Potter took a tentative step forward. "I could always--"

"Sit down, Mister Potter! At what point did the word 'week' come to mean 'two days'?" The brat turned pink.

"Sorry," he mumbled as he slinked back to his chair.

Severus scowled at him. He prayed to a godless universe that Harry hadn't noticed the twitch at the front of his robe. "Start reading. It's on the floor." He sat down and waited silently while Potter groped for the scroll and unrolled it. He leaned back and tried to think of every possible reason Quernus would have for closing shop. He couldn't focus.

First off, it struck him that no matter how much Potter found, there were plenty of details he couldn't know. The names of most of the Death Eaters, for instance. If his eyes didn't get better he might have to resort to drastic action, like glasses. It's bad enough to look like a vulture without looking like a blind vulture!

Secondly, the damnable lump in his shorts was starting to ache. He considered taking the Floo back to his quarters for a few minutes, but it would look too suspicious to leave with a distortion and come back smooth. He tried to will it away. Even when he closed his eyes, though, he could see that soft mess of black hair, and the lopsided way the brat bit his lower lip while he concentrated. Probably doesn't even know he does it.

Third, an edge of fatigue had started to creep up on the edges of his brain. In the end he just leaned back and stared. The ceiling was the same dark grey granite as the rest of the dungeon, rougher than the floor, not worn down over a thousand years. A few rusted iron rings still stuck from the stone. Shiny occlusions flashed and flickered in the ever-low firelight. It occurred to Snape that the poor lighting might be one reason for his failing sight. He made a brief mental note to bring in some torches - if nothing else, he'd not have Harry's eyes ruined further. He frowned. You don't want him to come back, Severus. Why should you worry about his eyes?

Snape looked down. The dark head was still bowed, brow furrowed and lips now puckered. It was a glaring contrast to the peace he'd seen two nights before. "Why do you keep coming back?"

Potter glanced up. "What?"

"There is such thing as eloquence, Mister Potter. Five points from Gryffindor. And I asked why you keep coming back."

"I told you. I... sort of liked... y'know."

"You realise that's never going to happen again, don't you? I suggest you go find some young man--"

"I like girls."

"Could have fooled me. Five more points for interrupting. I suggest you go find some young man - or woman, I really don't care - and use him for your rutting urges."

"Why the fuck would I do something like that?"

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

"I liked talking to you. I thought we were having fun. Anyway," he shifted sullenly, vivid eyes going dark in frustration, "I liked what you said. About Sparta."

"It's my job to educate, Mister Potter."

"Yeah, well, y'know, it sounded like a lot more than just a Muggle Studies lesson."

He was right. It had sounded exactly like what it was: a promise of protection. Whether or not Severus had the spine (or the weakness) to carry it out in full was something he'd rather not have to think about. "You've successfully answered why you came back Saturday. What about yesterday? And tonight?"

Potter glared, surly. "I wanted to."

"Why would you want to? It's a risk to your reputation as a good little Gryffindork for you to even be seen near the dungeons, there's certainly no aesthetic value in visiting me, and I'm more than eager to take points for your slightest infraction. What possible reason could you have to return?"

Potter mumbled something.

"Speak up, you obnoxious little brat. Are you aiming for some sort of record for points lost?"

"I like you," he growled. "At least, I do when you're not being a greasy bastard."

"I'm always a greasy bastard, Mister Potter. Just as you shall always be an obnoxious brat."

"Shut up."

"Ten points."

"There's a shock. Greasy sodding bastard." Potter narrowed his eyes one last time and went back to the Prophet. Severus tilted his head back and tried to focus on something besides the annoying lump still hanging steadily on in his pants.


... The moon was especially bright that night. It poured in through the window like a silent goodbye, highlighting everything that really made it her room: the silver cauldron tarnished by months of neglect; the rows and stacks of heavy books with covers worn smooth and pages crammed with paintings and artifacts and anchors to the past; the Ravenclaw crest, yet another House he'd failed to achieve; the soft pink roses like the ones he'd picked every year for her birthday until the now-late Malfoy Senior caught him. It all felt hollow now - everything was made a ghost in moonlight.

Muffled footsteps stopped at his door. It was the next room over. Severus held his breath. Terror froze his tears. The door swung open - he heard the small creak halfway through - and closed with barely a click. Anyone else might have missed it.

His right hand moved under the pillow. Tonight, he had to do it tonight. His soul or his sanity, one would have to die. The footsteps shuffled near. They stopped too close, too close, for the love of Gran and god, too close. A shard of black swallowed some of the moonlight. Now, Severus, do it now! His wand flew out and locked on the demon advancing through his private little Hell.

"Aww, look at the little wizard playing with his wand. You're not very good at hiding."

"Av... ava..." he choked. "Avia!" Moonlight rained down from a cold sky. It gave the answer: silence. Alone, in silence. It came closer, the demon came closer, eyes glinting far too blue in the light of death--

"Severus!" Eversor was shaking him. Automatically, he reached out to finish the curse. "Wake up, Professor!"

"Leave me alone! A--"

That wasn't Eversor's voice. Not as smooth, not as deep, not as perfect and clinging as wet silk. Oh, god, he could have seduced his own brother with that voice. Severus looked. "Potter," he rasped.

"You were screaming. You said 'ah-we-uh'." The green eyes were round with selfless fear. "What happened?"

"Nothing of your concern," he muttered, leaning forward to stack a loose pile of parchments. A bitter taste rose up from his throat when he realised his erection was gone. "Have you finished?"

"No, sir. You were screaming."

"You've already said that." His hands fluttered too much; his heart did the same. A soft cry of surprise echoed when he felt soft, puckered lips touch his cheek.

"Um... d'you want me to get you anything?"

"No. I said, 'leave me alone'!" It didn't matter to whom he'd said it. He didn't want yet another reminder that, while his waking life might be clear of conscious tortures, his ghosts were never content to let him sleep. "Get back to work."

Harry nodded vaguely and went back to his chair, but not before taking one long, sallow hand in his and squeezing. He glanced up far too frequently.

Severus stared at him. Vehemently, he tried to deny the lump of gratitude crushing his lungs. Only one other person had ever woken him like that, but this was another time, another situation. A thought that he couldn't let it get away again was razed by his harsh, lonely, immutable reality, and the unspoken threat of the watch going tick tick tick in his pocket.

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