Time slowed as Severus watched in horror as the green light crept toward his chest. He couldn't move as the light slithered toward him in excruciating deliberateness.
The light flared as it touched him... Severus felt a jolt of pain... then gasped as he woke. He panted for a moment.
"S'vrus?" Harry mumbled next to him.
"It's nothing, go back to sleep," Severus whispered, fighting to get his breathing under control.
A small hrrrmphp told him his 'nothing' was not believed, but Harry snuggled back into the warm cocoon of blankets.
Severus eased himself out of bed, shivering slightly as he pulled on a robe and slippers. He listened to Harry's breathing for a moment, to ensure he had not disturbed the other man. He padded to their den, and sat heavily in an armchair.
He debated for a moment whether a cup of tea was worth getting back up for but he was too tired to move. He cast a quick Tempus and found that it was 4:45 am... Sullie would be getting up soon to start baking the fresh scones Harry loved to have for breakfast. Severus could wait.
He sat in the dark room, trying not to remember...
"Master Severus is not sleeping again," Sullie grumbled as he sat a tea tray on the table next to Severus' chair. The House Elf turned on a soft light and lit the fire. "Breakfast be ready shortly."
Severus sighed. He ran a hand over his face, already knowing how haggard he looked.
He drank tea and ate a piece of the toast Sullie had provided.
"Bad night?" Harry asked, eyes sympathetic when they sat at the table.
Severus shrugged. "No worse than usual," he admitted.
It had taken Harry a long time to get Severus to admit to the nightmares that plagued him. Harry had lain awake next to Severus for weeks, documenting the restlessness and the apparent nightmares. Presented with the evidence, Severus finally admitted he was having a problem.
Harry has considered. "I don't know enough about it, but I've had dreams about a green light coming toward me that goes back to Riddle killing my mother. There has to be something about using the Unforgivable that affects everyone involved."
That was Harry's gentle way of referring to the night Severus had cast the Avada Kedavra, killing Albus Dumbledore. Even if Dumbledore was already dying from Riddle's curse on the ring, it was Severus who had cast the final blow.
"Severus, I love you but we have to do something," Harry said calmly.
Severus sighed. "I'm working on a potion..."
"I'm not convinced it will be enough," Harry persisted. "There has got to be something we can do."
"I'm working on it!" Severus snapped.
Harry sat back in his chair and held up a hand. "Sorry," he murmured.
Severus got up from the table. "I'm sorry, also," he said. He went to his lab and closed the door behind himself.
Once alone, Severus dropped on the stool. He was appalled at his behavior but didn't know what to do about it. He rested his elbows on the empty bench and sank his head onto his hands.
He didn't move when Sullie tapped on the door and announced, "Lunch is ready."
It was dark outside when Severus forced himself out of the lab. He was exhausted, had a headache, and his body ached from sitting still all day.
It was late enough that Severus assumed Harry had gone to bed already. There was a meal left for him, sitting under a warming charm. Severus ate perfunctorily, knowing that he would have both Harry and Sullie looking woebegone if he did not eat something.
The night brought no nightmares, but also little comfort. Harry was gone by the time he woke, although Sullie was glad to feed him eggs and bacon.
Severus was not surprised when Harry crawled out of bed one morning when he could not sleep. Harry followed him to the den.
Severus sat back in his chair. Harry paced back and forth silently but clearly agitated.
"Harry. Stop." Severus already had a headache and watching Harry move back and forth did not help.
Harry dropped in the armchair next to Severus.
"Just say whatever it is you want to say," Severus muttered
"I love you," Harry said without preamble.
That was not what Severus had expected. "And I love you," Severus replied.
"And I cannot watch you in so much pain," Harry continued. "It's not fair to you, or to me."
That did hurt. Severus had not been paying attention, and he finally saw how drawn Harry looked.
That is because of me!
Harry looked tired. And worried...
"I... it's getting better," Severus offered.
"No. It's not." Harry said flatly. "You haven't slept an entire night -- even when you take a potion -- since I don't know when."
"I've never slept much," Severus countered.
"That's not the point!" Harry growled. "You're not sleeping at all!"
Upset, Severus stood and walked to face the empty fireplace at the far end of the room. Looking at Harry was too painful at the moment.
Harry went on. "You've lost weight you can't afford to lose and you haven't done anything productive in months!"
"Now you're worried about my work," Severus shot back.
"NO!" Harry all but shouted. Severus could hear him take a deep breath before going on. "Bloody hell, I don't care if you don't do anything productive for the rest of your life. But you're disappearing from life... that's what I'm talking about!"
"It's my life." Severus knew the moment he said the words, that it was the wrong thing to say. He didn't really need Harry's sudden intake of breath to confirm that.
The I'm sorry was on the tip of his tongue, but it wouldn't come out. Severus stood with his back to the room, more weary than he had ever been.
"I... I can't do this any more," Harry said gently. "I can't watch you do this to yourself... to us." Footsteps came near. "I love you too much..."
Footsteps moved away and the door to the room closed with a small snick.
Severus stood rooted, miserable and tired. He was paralyzed... it was like watching that green light come toward him again, only this time he was awake and it was real.
He didn't know how he would manage without Harry in his life. Long, empty days and nights stretched out before him. In the end, the green light would finally strike and take him... he shuddered at the thought.
He found himself panting, as if he had run a race... but he didn't know where he was running. Was he running away... or maybe he could start running toward something... he closed his eyes, focused on his breathing...
The green light crept toward him, and he didn't know what to do...
He gasped, flinching at the sound of his own breath.
He moved his mouth, but no sound would come out. He grit his teeth and swallowed. Tried again.
A breath of air escaped. "Please... help me..." No more than a whisper of sound...
He all but sobbed in relief as a warm body plastered itself to his back, strong arms coming around his waist to hold him.