"Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain.
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide."
- Edna St. Vincent Millay
In Amsterdam, he learned the danger of the written word.
He learned that certain words could open a man's veins, and he learned which words were sharpest and slimmest, and he learned how best to avoid them. Prophet in hand, he learned to cut his eyes away from "Har -" or "Pot-" or "Savi -" before the words were even finished, learned to skim articles as if he were navigating slick, uneven stone.
Pictures were another matter. Once you had seen a picture you couldn't unsee it; even if you glanced away quickly, even if your eyes were left with only a blur of colour (young men green eyes glass of champagne) some shapes might still manage to find form (smiling tightening slim fingers around shoulders, flash of white silk, flash of red hair).
He cannot recall how many Prophets he tore cleanly down the middle during the wedding coverage. Too many to recall (not that he tells Harry any of this.)
At night he slept on a boat (stink of canal water like the foggy air of a potions class) and had dreams that were not dreams at all. Some nights Severus woke with the scent of dark hair and the taste of pale skin still branded (white-hot, a diamond) on his tongue.
Not that he tells Harry any of this.
The first night, he goes home alone. Harry makes dinner for them both in a kitchen that can only be called a kitchen with generosity, roasts vegetables with butter and herbs and almonds (Severus stops eating meat after the war, has seen enough flesh to last him a lifetime.). They drink wine, which Harry spills, and sit on opposite ends of a shabby sofa ("If I had known you were coming -" again and again, a litany like a love song.).
They have already kissed. Severus has already said that most horrifying of words, that most static of all confessions, so tried and trite it means nothing. It means nothing, but he said it just the same. Surely then, it shouldn't be this hard; he shouldn't feel this weird electric tension, the certainty that if Harry touches him he will either crumble or combust, if Harry touches him he might die, he truly might. Already he can feel his heart stammering in his chest, the Neville Longbottom of internal organs: ridiculous.
In a fit of nervousness, he tucks his feet up underneath himself, the way he used to sit when he was a boy. Harry does the same, and in his awkward arranging of limbs his foot grazes Severus' knee, and Severus rises so quickly he makes Harry spill his wine (that slight brush of contact running hot like whisky all up and down his side).
"Christ - sorry, I'm such -" Harry brushes excess droplets from the front of his blue shirt, white wine clinging to his fingers the way Severus' tongue wishes it could.
"I should be going."
"You - really? I thought -" Harry stands haltingly, unfolds legs too coltish to be reasonably approaching thirty. "You don't have to. I have a spare room you could - if you didn't want -"
He speaks the way Severus reads the Prophet.
"A spare room?"
"Well - half of one. Bit of a hole in one wall - I'm getting to it, swear. But you could have mine, and I could sleep down -"
Severus says no, the word leaving his mouth like a tooth. "I would not think of putting you out. And I have a room in town."
Harry seems about to protest, but thinks better of it. Or thinks better of something; his eyes linger too long on Severus' starched collar, perfectly pressed cuffs.
"When will you come back?"
The young man reaches out, brushes sticky fingers gently across Severus' palm. Severus does not let himself shudder, stores the sensation away at the small of his back for later, when he is alone in his rooms (shudder and shudder again, the softness of Harry's hands and a trembling gasp into his pillow).
"Tomorrow," he says, since he has no control over the matter. Peppers soft with butter, fingers wet with wine - he would return tomorrow if his back was broken.
He flees before the man can kiss him.
In Amsterdam everything was for sale, and Severus drank Heineken like it was water and forgot to eat for days and days and let men take him home. Never the same man twice, and never more than a night, and never that often, to be honest. It was enough to know that he could if he wanted to, that he wasn't so angular and sour-faced that nobody would touch him, not yet. The best part of it all was the sound the door made clicking shut when he left the next morning, the silent streets where he bought his coffee and his paper and went home (alone).
He wasn't depressed, he couldn't have been, because depression should come and go in a rush like a wave, and to be depressed for ten years isn't a rush, it's a dull reality, a truth as hard as wood. He couldn't have been depressed, and if he wasn't depressed he must have been something else, something he did not yet have a word or name for.
At night, he sat in bars staring at nothing, learning all the different types of things a man could smoke. Sometimes other men looked at him, sometimes they sat down at his table, tried to chat, but for the most part the men were wrong, completely wrong, and Severus was just so tired, and he'd been so tired for ten bloody years.
Harry prefers white wine to red, Severus learns, which is completely ridiculous. He always spills his, regardless of colour. They sit on the same sofa, they talk, sometimes they watch movies.
There is a stack of letters piling up on Harry's front table.
When they do touch, it is controlled. Hesitant. Severus runs his hand up the back of Harry's head, black hair soft as down beneath his fingers (later that evening when he is alone he will press that same hand to his mouth, move his lips like he were uttering a prayer.). They shift their fingers inches closer on the tattered couch cushion, then closer still, even closer, until there is that sudden and sharp flash of contact and Severus must leave for the evening (Harry burns too hot against his fingertips, too smooth to gather cleanly in his hands.). Sometimes they kiss, but always on the sofa, never in the bedroom, never lying down. Severus cannot remember what sex is like, really, and certainly not sex with someone he is unutterably in love with (he can think that word now, almost without cringing.). It should make him ashamed that he believes in it, after everything he's seen and touched and been burned by. It should, but it strangely does not (Snivellus, they called him, Snivellus, because his heart at Hogwarts was already in pieces.).
Harry tells him stories about time.
"It hurt at first," he murmurs against Severus' neck, while Severus takes sharp quick breaths to stop himself from crying out. "Like my heart might stop. Like I was being pulled somewhere I shouldn't be." He bites Severus' earlobe, just enough to sting (no real pain, only honey). Severus has not yet had the courage to touch the young man's ear with his mouth, but oh he wants to oh, how that pale shell cries out to him, speaks a secret language to his tongue and to his teeth, begging to be translated. Severus can translate French and Dutch and German into English, can manoeuvre his way around forgotten Latin, but he cannot explain the sonnet of Harry's skin, his forehead, his ear. He is at a loss.
For weeks, it goes on like this. One day, Harry goes back to school.
He tells Severus over breakfast, pausing to add heaping spoonfuls of sugar to each new cup of tea (takes it strong as coffee, sweet as peppermint).
"It's been over a month. I think people are starting to wonder if I'm a bit -" He does not finish.
"Oh. I see."
"I made a key for you, of course."
The shock is so great that Severus nearly asks, "To what?"
"In case you wanted to stop by. While I was out."
"I could - simply step through one of the holes in your walls. Kick in that weak bit of plaster."
"After all my hard labour?" The young man's grin is another kind of key. It reminds Severus of old fairytales (every room in the house but one). "You wouldn't dare."
That night Harry takes his shirt off, and Severus spends hours navigating the slow curve of his spine, the shoulder blades that fit so well between thumb and forefinger, like Harry was a ship that he could steer. And he wants - oh he wants -
"Stay with me," Harry murmurs, pulse jumping at the hollow of his throat. "Stay the night."
Severus says no, "I will not sleep," and it is true. He will lie awake until dawn, he knows he will. He could not possibly close his eyes with that pale body in bed beside him, shining hot as starlight. He will not sleep.
"Neither will I," Harry tells him, though it makes no difference. Severus does not stay the night, but rubs Harry's left foot, hand sliding up his calf to grasp the muscles in his knee (the ache that tells of coming rain) until Harry bites his bottom lip, a hiss that is almost pornographic. If Severus had wine he would spill it.
Instead, he presses a feverish kiss to the bones beneath his hand.
In Amsterdam, the buildings were old and the streets were older, and women with the same eyes as his mother (grey) stared out of large glass windows, a long way from home and so so tired. Severus gave up drinking, then took it back gladly; smoked for a bit before the chest pains got bad; ran a business that was quiet and steady as the slow moving water that rocked him to sleep at night. He read by candlelight until the words trembled and bled across the pages; he let men and women call him Stephen, men and women who ignored his long sleeves and high collars.
And he knew he was lost.
Knew it with each heartbeat that jerked beneath his ribs, knew it with each man he could barely be bothered to chat up, barely summon up the interest to get hard. And that morning, when he saw the picture (Boy Hero Leaves Mungoes after Unsolved Attack - full story on p.2) saw the bruises beneath Harry Potter's eyes, his arms, his neck (scalding coffee running down his hand, sleeve soaking) he said "no."
Out loud to no one in his empty shop. No, that would not happen - no, he would die first. He would let himself be humiliated, let himself be laughed at and spit upon and lit afire (there are some wars that do not end.).
He did not pack much. Signed a few papers, got his affairs in some semblance of order. Lowered the blinds, locked up the shop; he would return or he would not, but they would kill Harry Potter over his charred and broken body, and that was the end of it.
During the day, there are dishes. Harry leaves half-finished cups of tea trailing in his wake like petals, and Severus enjoys the hot and soapy water, enjoys each surface Harry's mouth lingered over, each item his hands lifted and set aside and lifted once again.
He leaves his bags (always) at the hotel, but comes to spend more and more time in Harry's home, browsing the library (abysmal), cleaning up after late nights spent drinking wine and watching Hitchcock, performing what repairs he feels he can comfortably manage without wounding the homeowner's pride. And he knows he should get on with his life, knows there is a world outside this house, outside his hotel, knows Minerva is leaving letters for him that he hasn't opened, knows he is being absurd -
He finds, after a time, he does not care.
One afternoon, Harry does not come home alone. A tiny dark-haired boy sleeps in his arms, mouth leaving a wet spot on his shoulder. A slightly taller, equally dark-haired boy stares up at Severus, eyebrows knit together.
Harry quickly takes the smaller one upstairs, and Severus watches him; the man is like a bloody painting.
Something is talking to him. It has scuffed pant legs and an impossibly dirty mouth (honestly, some people's children.).
"Did you know that I'm four?"
"No. Well. Four." The front door is only a few feet away; the outside world shines like a dream around its edges. "Goodness."
"I'm not afraid of you. Did you know that?"
Plans of escape are temporarily postponed. Severus peers down his nose at the small frowning thing beside him.
"And why is that?"
The child tugs on both earlobes while he thinks it over (certainly some sort of complex beginning to manifest).
"Cause you saved him. Dad told me."
Upstairs, Severus can hear Harry moving around, speaking softly. The man might even be singing; there is a slight musical cadence to the rumble of his voice, and it fills Severus with such inexplicable longing that his knees feel weak. He looks again at the child beside him, evidently immune to his father's quiet melodies.
"Look, do you want a…sweet, or something?"
James nods, very seriously. Severus decides that (against all odds and reason) he is brilliant with children.
"They liked you," Harry says as he undoes Severus' collar, later that night. The flinch is not so much a flinch as it is a tremble. His collars are high for a reason - a reason other occasional lovers never failed to notice (questions that made him seek his clothing in the darkness).
Harry touches the silver bite marks with the pad of his thumb, and asks no questions. If Severus closes his eyes, he can still feel the blood running down his neck, pooling like cold water in the hollows of his collar bones. If Severus closes his eyes he can still see Harry Potter fading out of sight, cobalt blue and slipping through his fingers.
He opens his eyes. "They certainly did not."
Harry laughs, and pours more wine. Red is not the colour of the Killing Curse. Red is the colour of blood, but also roses. The lipstick Severus' mum used to wear, barely covering the bruises on her mouth. A Gryffindor tie, striped with gold and loosening slowly.
"The first time I saw you," Severus manages through dry lips, "I felt that I knew - you, that I must have -"
Harry hums a response, but is more concerned with the taste of Severus' throat. Severus drops his head back against the sofa and the onslaught continues, moving up his neck to his jaw, eventually finding his mouth.
Harry kisses like he's starving, and Severus gasps a grateful breath (years and years of living underwater).
There are fingers against his belt buckle.
The younger man pulls his delicious mouth away and slides to the floor, rubbing his cheek (catlike) against Severus' thigh. Small hands navigate Severus' zipper.
"No, I -"
"Oh please, please let me. God, I need to, it's been so -"
Severus says no, still says no, and moments later comes helplessly between soft lips and hard tongue, shouting nonsense, crying himself hoarse (embarrassingly fast but he cannot bring himself to care). Harry lets him go gently, almost reluctantly, moaning as he climbs onto Severus' lap.
"Can I - oh, can I can -" A quick rustle of fabric, a few jerks of Harry's arm and he is coming, white hot spurts over Severus' dress shirt and stomach and softening cock.
The boy is on his knees again in moments, licking his come off Severus' burning skin, long damp swipes of tongue until Severus feels himself harden again (good god) rolling off the sofa to crush the man beneath him, and they are all clawing hunger then, clutching nails and clothing torn and (crack of the floor, Harry's head) Severus kisses bruises up a slim white throat, grinding grinding, their cocks together, their stomachs together, their hands desperate against skin and fabric, this I need this I need you -
"Oh -" Severus makes a sound like a sigh or a sob through a swollen throat.
He had forgotten - he had forgotten everything.
They lie for a bit on the floor, foreheads pressed stickily together. Severus contemplates never getting up; he could learn to live against Harry Potter's skin.
Eventually, Harry breathes.
"Stay the night."
"No, I - I cannot," Severus says, when what he wants to say is something entirely different. He wants to say he can count on one hand the number of men he has slept with, one narrow white hand that feels awkward and inelegant when grasping at Harry Potter's faded grey pullover.
He wants to say that this sort of love (and he can think that word now, almost without cringing) is devastating and frightening, and if he could cut his feverish heart out of his chest, scrape it cleanly from bone and flesh, he would do it in an instant. This sort of love leaves him unmoored, adrift (a tiny ill-made boat).
He wants to say all this. But he does not (Harry kisses him regardless.).
In Amsterdam, Severus had a different kind of dream.
The air seemed foggier, thicker there, and Harry Potter was reduced to tastes and scents and colours, Severus' mother a long straight line at the sink, the Dark Lord a calligraphy curl of rust and bile. Now in England, the dreams are much more clear, people speak to him and sing him strange melodies in places he would rather forget (his mother in the last few days, the smell of urine in that tiny room, "Sweet and low..." she murmurs through lips gone bloodless, "wind of the western sea..." as if Severus were the one who was sick or having nightmares, as if Severus was the one shot through with cancer like the weeds in their garden.).
The night after he finally summons up the courage to lick the shell of Harry's ear (and again refuses to stay the night), Severus dreams of Albus Dumbledore. Albus Dumbledore, and a vast and empty classroom.
"Severus," the old man says, beard so long it trails along the polished floor. "He loves you."
Severus has seen Albus before in his dreams, usually in settings rather like this one. (Occasionally falling. Occasionally raging and weeping, "it was you," hissed between cracked lips.)
"Do not be absurd."
"I would think it was quite obvious, even to one such as yourself." Albus sits casually against the edge of a desk. Severus realizes the walls are lined with high windows, rain beating against glass.
"One such as -"
"A cynic. A disbeliever. I might even say hard-hearted. Do you disagree?"
"Far be it for me to disagree with the greatest wizard of the age." Severus moves toward the former Headmaster, and his steps echo through the room.
"My goodness, no. You are quite wrong in that assessment, though my vanity thanks you. There have been far greater wizards and witches than I."
"I thought you -" Severus begins, but then pinches his lips. There are some things he cannot say, and Albus smiles sadly, peering over his rose-coloured spectacles.
"Severus Snape. You have done so much - sacrificed again and again, proven yourself beyond doubt."
"I fail to -"
"It is time you asked for what you want."
Severus has no words to reply. He feels his mouth trembling, and briefly tears his gaze away from the older wizard, gazing at the storm outside.
"You are strong enough. It will not hurt nearly as much as you think."
"I -" Severus' voice cracks slightly, "I am nearly fifty, Albus. It has been so long since - I do not -" (Only Albus Dumbledore could make him stammer like a child, words like foreign money in his hands.)
"Fifty? My dear boy, fifty is the new thirty." Albus quirks a silver eyebrow. "So the magazines tell me, and I am inclined to believe them."
Severus traces his fingers over the surface of a desk, and finds the edges unexpectedly sharp. He pulls his hand away.
"Are you happy?" Albus asks.
"It is - it is no life, Albus. I cannot depend upon - I cannot live solely - if his affections were to -"
"Are you happy?" the man asks again.
"I -" (Some afternoons he falls asleep on Harry's sofa, and wakes to find the fabric imprinted on his cheek. Some nights he returns to his hotel and finds his hair and clothing tangled with Harry's scent, and his hands tremble against buttons.)
Severus realizes he has never been this happy.
It is an odd feeling. A little like panic.
"Albus," he murmurs through his dry mouth.
"It will not hurt nearly as much as you think," the old man says again, before crumbling into pins and rain and feathers (black and dark as magic against the polished marble floor.)
He brings his bags the next day. Drops them heavily to the ground, and Harry looks up from his reading, turns around all elbows, knocking a textbook to the floor.
Time Travel and its Metaphors.
Severus Snape smiles, and strangely his face does not shatter. Green eyes lock on his, and something seals itself around his heart, a line of poetry (you did not make me suffer, you only made me wait.) And he knows now that he would have come for this man regardless; Honeycutt or death threats or no, he was just biding time until his spine straightened and his hands stopped shaking and he found the words to ask.
"My body has changed since you last saw it." He feels the sick, compulsive need to disclose. "My stomach -"
"Are you - staying, then?" Harry rises from his ridiculous rolling chair, almost stumbles in his haste to cross the room.
"I am very - I have not - for some time -"
"I haven't for six years."
"I do not - I cannot believe that."
"I'm in love with you," the younger man says. "Can you believe that?"
Severus cannot believe it yet; can barely contemplate it.
"Perhaps," he breathes, "something a bit smaller."
Harry almost laughs, rests his white hands against the collar of Severus' coat. It is raining outside, and he felt the urge to walk; no doubt he is leaving a puddle on the floor.
"I love - your mouth?" Harry traces the pad of his thumb against Severus' bottom lip.
"I love your hair." Harry twists a few lank black strands around his fingers.
"I don't -" Severus starts and stops, though he is beginning to quite like this game. Goosebumps trail up his spine, and he resists the urge to lean into Harry's hand.
"I love your -" Harry searches his eyes, "your record collection."
He ghosts his lips over Severus' own, which are trembling slightly.
"How's that?" The young man smiles.
Severus wets his lips. "That is - sufficient."
"So you'll come upstairs now?"
"Yes," and the word is pulled from him, a long drawn-out golden strand of a word, from his spine to his throat to his lips, "yes" to any question Harry would ask, "yes" over and over.
Later that night, he says it again. Trails slick hands over Harry's thighs, in between his legs, cupping hot skin (yes), and when he finally slides inside tears spill across his vision (Snivellus, they called him but his heart is here; dark-haired, green-eyed, this is his heart.).
"Fuck me," Harry whispers, and Severus does, long deep thrusts (the first time in nearly a year) pulling out gasping breath then sliding in again, trembling at the back of Harry's neck and whispering things that will later make him blush red-hot in the darkness ("you're gorgeous, so - oh god, so fucking - oh fuck me, yes, like that, oh -") and Harry fucks him back, meets Severus thrust for thrust, turns his head to gasp a kiss that breaks off in a cry, and Severus can no longer speak, can only press his forehead (damp black hair) desperately against Harry's back, coming coming, his body one giant arching rush of pleasure while Harry fists himself ("oh fuck, oh fuck oh oh oh -") and pulses damp against his pillow.
If Severus had wine, he would spill it.
The next morning, he wakes in bed alone.
He is not afraid. He does not leap to painful and unpleasant conclusions. Instead, he breathes deeply, stretches out his stiff and skinny legs. Eyes squinting against the dim light, he reaches for the note on Harry's empty pillow, crumpled paper against three strands of ink-black hair (he presses his face into the pillow, inhales deeply, once just once.)
Gone to buy tofu bacon. I'm fairly certain it exists.
Don't get up.
(You're ridiculously sexy when you're sleeping, did you know that? Ridiculously. )
In Amsterdam, Severus learned the danger of the written word. He learned that certain words could open a man's veins, and he learned which words were sharpest and slimmest, and he learned how best to avoid them.
In England, he learned that some words were not dangerous after all. Indeed, some words could be gathered close, lay smooth and cool as moonstone against skin.
"Harry," he says.
"Yes," he says, and the word sits warm on his tongue. "Yes," he murmurs against Harry's pillow, breathing in the scent so familiar he could bottle it and keep it in his breast pocket. "Yes," he murmurs into his cupped hands, almost giddy with his own absurdity.
Through the thin and cracked walls, sunlight spills like leaves across the hardwood floor.
Severus lifts his hands, brimming, to the light (love he says love and the word is oh so soft.).