Severus Snape allowed the door to his chambers to swing shut behind him as if it were below his notice. The instant it latched shut, his angry stiffness flowed away, and he let his back fall against the door as he hid his face in his hands. Here, in his own rooms, he could admit to being tired, admit to being worried, admit to being human. Just for a moment, he could allow himself the luxury of being a man, instead of a tool in a war, or a monster that ate first years for breakfast.
And in that moment, he realized that the air smelled ever so slightly of something new, and he could just hear the sound of cloth moving on cloth. There was another person in his room, despite the wards and alarms. His wand was out, and his humanity fled, in less than a blink.
The intruder sat on the sofa and made no attempt to hide. His legs were crossed and he rested both hands on his knees. His smile brightened ever so slightly as Snape looked at him. Snape lowered his wand and put it away, trying to act as though it had simply been in his hand. He didn’t fool himself or the other, but it was the closest he could come to saying "Sorry, I wouldn’t really blow your head off." After all, intruder was a much less accurate description than honored guest.
Pleasure and fear-laced concern performed a tango in Snape’s stomach. His guest was always welcome, but the circumstances of his visits were often not. The uncertainty that had recently plagued him rose up again. Had he made some error recently? Had he misjudged some detail? Or was this simply one of the rare occasions where they would be able to enjoy each other’s company? Being British, Snape put the question in the short form. "Would you like some tea?"
"Only if it’s no bother." He was one of the few people who could say something like that and completely mean it. He really would not enjoy the tea if it had been a bother to make it. And by accepting on such terms, Snape also knew that this was, if not a recreational visit, at least not one that would be rushed.
"Would you like to chose the type of tea?"
"Please." The delight was genuine. Snape supposed that tea had come a rather long way in two thousand years, but it might also be that the man rarely had the opportunity to enjoy food. Snape’s tea collection was legendary among his fellow teachers, though none of them knew this was why. And although it was extensive, he had nothing that he disliked in it.
Snape shed his outer robe as he walked over to the cold fireplace. He saw no reason to tempt fate or test his fireproofing charms by having long billowing robes near open flames. He tried not to think that he was removing armor. He was not about to get into a fight and didn’t need the robes to hide his body. And he wasn’t removing the robes to reveal his body, either. He was just getting them out of the way. Really.
His guest followed, just close enough to seem eager without being close enough to crowd. Snape could never say how he knew that—he didn’t look back—but there was something in him that was just attuned to the man. It was how he knew that his guest had stopped. Snape looked back and arched an eyebrow in inquiry, hiding his sudden stab of concern that his guest might have to leave, or simply cut to business.
"You've got a new mantle piece for your fireplace."
The comment was beyond left field, until Snape remembered that, yes, it had been that long since his guest had visited here, and his guest had been--was?--a carpenter and prone to noticing such things. "Yes. Would you like me to wait on starting the kettle so you can look?"
He thought for a moment. "No, go ahead. I can look later. I’m sure that the level of craftsmanship will be extraordinary."
Snape slipped his wand back out for a moment, and pointed it at the neatly stacked logs. "Incendio." As the fire started to burn, he put the wand away again, and opened a cabinet to pull out the kettle and tea service. "I keep my tea here now," he said as he moved the tea service out of the way. The same incident that had damaged the old mantle piece had also inspired Snape to put the tea a bit farther from the fireplace. "You’re welcome to start looking while I fill the kettle," he added awkwardly, only because he wasn’t sure that his guest would start looking without a direct invitation. Guilt was for after the visit, not during, if they could help it.
Snape moved around his rooms getting the kettle ready and doing the little things he did after supper. Even though his path never took him near the tea cabinet or even let him look in that direction, he remained uncomfortably aware of the man. It seemed his room was just a little brighter, the air was just a little fresher, and he kept having this utterly disgusting urge to start humming. In fact, he would have been in a very good mood, had he not been so obstinately opposed to the concept. Even so, his resolve was breaking down slightly, by the time the kettle whistled.
Snape’s long fingers performed an elegant dance over the tea service as he prepared the Orange Pekoe, and brought the tray over to his small coffee table. His guest returned to the sofa, and Snape wavered between sitting on the couch next to the man, or sitting in the rather uncomfortable chair that would let him keep his comfortable distance.
Snape did not jump at the sound of his own softly spoken name, because it was cosmologically impossible to think that he would do such a thing. Of course, if it had been anyone else, it would have been called jumping. He arched an eyebrow slightly and said, "Yes?" in his normally chill tone.
"Severus, you’re avoiding coming near me. You’re avoiding looking at me. You’re avoiding even thinking my name and I’m here. Should I leave?" How could the man be so sincere and honestly concerned when questions like that would be petulant from anyone else?
Snape sank down on the couch and leaned back with his hands over his face. "No." He let his hands move up almost into his hair before they fell into his lap. "No, please stay. I just...." I just want to be near you. Snape’s thought process kicked back in. "How can you tell what I’m thinking?" He could have kicked himself for the suspicious tone in his voice, but he could hardly struggle against a lifetime of patterns.
"I can't. I told you once that I would not read your heart without being asked, and I will hold to that. I simply don’t feel the resonance that means you are thinking my name. And it isn't because of Occlumency. That won’t stop it." He tilted his head slightly, waiting for some sort of reply even as he removed the only lie that Snape could think of.
As soon as Snape realized he wanted to lie, he felt incredibly ashamed, which was a novel experience for him. "No. I." Snape considered picking up a teacup to occupy his hands, but he didn’t want to know if they were starting to shake. He stared down at them instead "I don't feel comfortable with the names I know for you. I don't want to use a name for a distant symbol, not when I know you as a man. But I was thinking about you." Being honest wasn’t painful. The reply to honestly was what could hurt, and Snape realized he was trying to brace himself.
He should have known better. The man shifted beside him and placed a hand on Snape's. A distant corner of Snape's mind noted again that the fingers were a bit wider than his own and held a sort of strength that had nothing to do with muscles. They were hands that could hold the world if they had to. "Then I suppose we will have to find a name that you are comfortable with. I've always rather liked Joshua, myself. Or perhaps Melvin."
That’s absurd, preposterous, impossible, ridiculous, ludicrous, so utterly him to offer a solution just like that. "Uh, Joshua. Joshua would work." Snape looked up and finally met... Joshua's eyes to see a good-natured smile there. It occurred to him that perhaps he was being teased ever so slightly, but from Joshua it wasn't painful. Snape broke his train of thought by reaching for his tea. "What is the occasion for this visit?"
Joshua looked away now. "I... I suppose it was because I felt like it."
Being hit with Stupefy was less disorienting than talking to Joshua. Snape shouldn't have been surprise that he was surprised; yet there he was, completely and totally off guard. Last time Joshua has surprised him this badly, Snape had gone to Dumbledore and joined the Order of the Phoenix the next day. Joshua-induced surprises tended to completely rearrange Snape's life, but Joshua was also prone to total honesty unless he was telling stories. So Joshua wasn't here because of his father, or any sort of plan. Snape's brain wasn't flexible enough to wrap itself around the idea. "You felt like it? Why?"
"Um, because?" Joshua sounded embarrassed, so Snape was sure that his ears were playing tricks on him.
"Because." The tone of voice he used could strike terror in the hearts of seventh-year Slytherins. It was that doubting, you'd-better-have-a-bloody-good-explanation-for-this tone that no guilty conscience could defend against.
Of course, Joshua was the last person on the planet to have a guilty conscience, so all he said was, "Your tea is getting cold." Apparently, scare tactics only helped him to recover his poise.
Snape was about to swallow when his brain caught up with his words. The resultant coughing fit was spectacular.
Snape felt a warm touch on his back, and the choking feeling stopped so abruptly that his body didn't catch up right away. His first gulp of air was much deeper than he expected it to be, and it nearly set off a whole new round of problems. That warm touch slid around to his chest, pulled him back, and supported him while his body worked out just how to act to get the correct amount of air.
He was still wheezing slightly and wiping the water from his eyes when he realized that the warm thing at his back was not a thing at all, but a person. A very specific person. A person whose light and goodness and joy was multiplied unbelievably through physical contact. Snape couldn't help relaxing into Joshua’s embrace any more than he could help letting one of his hands rise up and rest on Joshua's.
Snape didn't realize that his hand was sliding along Joshua's exploring the calluses and scars that must have come from woodworking until his fingers reached a large mass of scar tissue on Joshua's wrist. He could feel Joshua tense and start to pull away. Before Snape could react at all, Joshua relaxed again and said, "Sorry. It’s just some scars...."
"Some scars are deeper than what can be seen?"
"Yes." The reply was half sighed, and the warm air skimmed over Snape's face. In an echo of Snape's own thoughts, Joshua asked, "How have I avoided your scars for so long?"
"I don’t know." Snape's hand had started exploring Joshua's again. This time, he made a conscious effort to avoid that one scarred area as he talked. "I keep waiting for it. I keep waiting to remember that letting people close will only let them hurt me, abuse me, mark me. I keep waiting for the moment that I have to pull away, but you make me forget that I'm waiting. When I can think at all, I just wonder if that will make it all hurt worse." If Snape had managed to really swallow any of his tea, he would have wondered if Joshua has snuck some Veritaserum into it. The thought led him to discover that the fingers of his other hand were still twined around the now-empty teacup. Snape didn't know how he had hung onto the thing through that coughing disaster, but he set it on the coffee table now, and tried not to wonder just where the tea had ended up.
Joshua's hand moved, capturing Snape's fingers. "Old wounds are harder to heal than new ones, but it can be done."
"Can it, Joshua? Your scars...."
"No one has ever tried. Not really. I think they expect them." Joshua's voice was soft with regret and forgiveness. Snape thought he heard just a touch of pain as well, but it might have been his own pain instead. It still brought up a chilling rage.
"What? No one ever thinks that if could have hurt to be betrayed? To have your friends deny ever knowing you? To have the world around you scream out hatred while you do your best to save them anyway? Or do they just think that it's been a long time and you must have gotten over it." Snape used the voice he normally reserves for Longbottom's worst screw ups, or Potter on a normal day, but he trusted that Joshua wouldn't think that venom is directed at him.
"I suspect," Joshua said softly, "that they don't think nearly as much as you do, Severus."
"Damn." Snape flinched inwardly at his own profanity, but finished his comment. "Joshua, how do you always get me to talk so much? Maybe we could bottle it and sell it. Goodwill and honesty for all." For Snape, the bitter sarcasm was minimal. He knew it, and shifted so that his bitterness wouldn't darken Joshua by touch. Joshua, for his part, managed to move so that they were both sitting up and leaning against each other, though Joshua's head was on Snape's shoulder.
"Severus Snape, you are not allowed to reject yourself on my behalf. You're allowed to decide that you don’t want me around, but really. At my age, I think I’m old enough to chose my own friends."
"Friends." Wonder, confusion, surprise, joy, fear, shock--Snape has them all in that one word.
"Yes, Severus, you are my friend." Joshua didn't hide his exasperation or his amusement. "Unless...." He paused and Snape was sure he was changing phrase. "Unless you object."
For a moment, the world hung in balance. For a moment, there were two paths that fate could take, and when the moment ended, a path would be chosen, even if it was chosen by neglect. "Joshua." It was suddenly vitally important to know. "Joshua, what were you going to say?" Deep in the core of his soul, Snape could feel something break with his asking.
Joshua let his head fall back to the couch, and away from Snape, so that he could make eye contact. "From the moment, I met you, you were very adamant about one thing. You insisted on treating me like a person, despite what it might cost you. You completely ignored other people, and tried to see me for me. Why?"
"Because," His voice was barely above a whisper because he still didn’t know exactly what he had chosen. "It's like you always said, 'Do unto others....'"
"...As you would have them do unto you." Joshua gently brushed a stray bit of hair back from Snape's face. "Who would have thought that it would take so little."
"So little to do what?"
"I was going to say, 'Unless you want to be something more to me.'" Joshua's eyes held steady with Snape's as he waited to be hurt again.
Snape stopped thinking. His mind went totally and completely blank. No thoughts. No images. All he had was an awareness that the bars that held the pain inside him were gone, and the key to healing them was looking him in the eye. Empires could have been built before Snape managed to think again, and he wouldn't have noticed. He wouldn't have cared either. But when he did think, he thought to act. He slowly closed the inches between his face and Joshua's, and gently kissed him with his eyes open to the choice he was making.
Then Joshua returned the kiss, and Snape wouldn't have noticed if his eyes were opened or closed.