A/N: This piece was written for the 2014 HP Horror Fest on LiveJournal. You can find more information about my prompt below.
This was my first attempt at writing SSLM and I had a lot of fun with them, as well as in composing this particular piece!
For those who may not "dig" this pairing, this prompt doesn't contain slash, so perhaps that will entice you to give it a read. If you do dig the pairing, firstly, YAY!, and, secondly, my sincerest apologies for the lack of lemony goodness. ;) However, the prompt didn't really call for it.
Many thanks, as always, to my wonderful beta, Brittny, who encourages me and puts up with my consistency of making her eyes bleed.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is copyrighted to and belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just playing in her sandbox. No money, just fun.
LJ Fest: HP Horror Fest 2014
Warning(s): Mild Language
Prompt: Making a deal with Death. After seeing his lover dying (or knowing he is going to die), the remaining partner, almost delirious with grief, makes a deal with Death to save his lover. Death has his own conditions for the deal.
Suggested Character(s)/Pairings: Harry/Draco, Sirius/Remus, Snape/Lucius
Any optional extras: Death's conditions could be mental or physical tasks. If possible at all, happy ending or at least hopeful.
Lucius Malfoy was a man of many supercilious traits: prideful, arrogant, self-serving at times, and cowardly (depending on who you spoke to); but there were also ill-fitting characteristics that couldn't ever be applied to the war-weary wizard (or any Slytherin, for that matter), such as brainless or entirely inconsiderate, particularly when it came to consideration for those whom he loved. And yes, as certain unquestionably heroic actions during the Second Wizarding War had exhibited, even Slytherins could prove unselfish, and even openly compassionate, when it mattered most.
Thus, as the Malfoy patriarch stood stiffly outside of his lover's hospital room, where the man presently slept and fought for his life, Lucius wasn't his collectedly cool self, nor was he delirious about the grave reality staring him unforgivably in the face. He just wasn't ready to face the grim reality that had slapped him so cruelly; perhaps he would never be prepared for such horrific matters of the heart.
Lucius shook his head fiercely in denial of what the Healer was telling him, the hopelessness of the situation settling weightily upon his chest like a ten ton brick. Merlin, but how painful this news was to bear!
His lover hadn't simply been taken ill, with the expectation of recouping from his sickness in a matter of days, weeks, or even months. No... In drastic contrast, his condition, according to the young Healer who had the misfortune of relaying the news to him (and rather poorly, to Lucius's manner of thinking), was apparently deteriorating rapidly, somehow bloody permanent and incurable.
How could that be?
"But it's just the flu!" Lucius snarled defensively, unhinged by the Healer's unthinkable communication. He thumped his cane furiously on the tile floor, the sound of which reverberated eerily across the otherwise quiet hospital ward. Too quiet—at least, to the abnormally distraught. "How can you be so sure? How can you fucking tell me he won't recover from something as simple as a bad case of fever and bloody vomiting?" Lucius demanded of this pitiful excuse for a Healer, who seemed far less experienced in the ways of the world—too unqualified to be overseeing Severus's care, that was for sure!
He must be new, Lucius snuffed between gritted teeth at the pretty, curly-haired lad. Late twenties, perhaps? He must be completely unversed in dealing with Muggle ailments, the daft idiot! How the fuck did Severus's care wind up in this laughable cretin's hands? Preposterous!
"I can assure you, Mr. Malfoy," the Healer who referred to himself as Bram issued calmly, considering how he was being talked down to, "that what Mr. Snape is experiencing is not a simple case of flu. It's worse than that. Much, much worse than we imagined."
Lucius felt a cold dread whip through him like a savage current, though the opposing rippling of heat creeping up his neck and onto his flushed cheeks wasn't at all chilling; rather, it was a fuelling anger and an acute refusal to face facts.
Yes, this fucking dimwit doesn't have a clue! His upper lip curled back in disgust. Severus will be furious when he learns of this amateur prat's conclusions! Just wait till he's well! I'll make ruddy sure of it!
"What?" Lucius snapped, his worried eyes drawing back to the remarkably composed expression the Healer wore.
"I need you to prepare yourself for the worst. I cannot deny that it's...not looking good."
"Then make it good!" the blond wizard demanded, advancing on Healer Bram in an instant. He towered over the man by two or three inches. "Make him well!"
"I - I'm doing everything in my power, Mr.—"
"That's not good enough!"
"I understand you're upset—"
"Upset?" Lucius snorted and thrashed at his robes. "Upset? You're telling me Severus won't recover from the bloody flu! How do you expect me to react? How old are you, son? Have you no experience with the Muggle flu? It's quite easy to treat, damn it! He merely requires more fluids and—"
"We've followed all the necessary protocols to lower his fever, Mr. Malfoy," Healer Bram responded slowly, despite the heat he was taking in a public hallway. "None of them have worked, nor have any of our mixtures of Muggle and Wizarding remedies done him any good. His body is too weak and shutting down. We're running out of time."
"No! NO!" Lucius violently shook his head from side to side, his steely grey eyes beginning to water. The thick lump forming in his throat worked to replace his ire, as grim reality heavily sunk in. "I won't believe it! I refuse to believe that you can't bloody cure him!"
"Sir, we've done everything we can—"
"Then try again!" he ordered of the now stunned Healer, who drew a step backward but not fast enough before Lucius had him by the collar. His tone no longer held any disgruntlement, only distress to restore Severus's health. "Make him well, Healer Bram! Make him well this instant!"
"Mr. Malfoy, please," Healer Bram urged the visibly overcome Slytherin, as other Mediwitches and Mediwizards were now popping round to see what all the commotion was about. "Please, you must calm down. I know this is awfully hard for you to digest. I know how difficult—"
Sensing the raised eyebrows he was garnering, Lucius abruptly pushed the Healer away and masked the pain marking his anguished face behind long curtains of well-brushed hair. "You don't know, Healer Bram!" he choked out loud enough for the young man alone to hear; his voice wavered on breaking down. "You don't know. You don't know..."
To Lucius's utter surprise, a moment later saw a gentle hand squeezing his shoulder. Crestfallen and at a loss with how to deal with what was happening, he reluctantly met the Healer's gaze, his eyes brimming with unshed tears.
"Why don't you take some time? Get some fresh air? Perhaps a walk might help you clear your head."
A walk? A fucking walk? No, he would be damned if he went anywhere! He refused to leave Severus's side. In fact, he had lingered far too long outside his lover's hospital room as it was.
"No, I... I'd like some time alone with him."
Healer Bram nodded understandingly. "Of course. Take all the time you need. I have to make my rounds to check on other patients, but if you need me, or if Mr. Snape wakes up and requests anything, you need only notify one of the Mediwitches."
Lucius wasn't focused on whatever the Healer was blabbering on about, however. It all sounded like distant mumbling to his far-away ears. His mind and attention were directed elsewhere, all focus on the welfare of the dying man feet away from him and situated behind a closed metal door.
Lucius's numb legs gravitated towards Severus's room and drifted out of sight, leaving Healer Bram and lurking staff members to look on as the wizard's fine-tailored, royal blue robes disappeared.
Severus's hospital room was considerably quiet—too muted for Lucius's liking—especially when contrasted with the overpowering thoughts screaming inside his head. His dampened eyes turned to the sleeping figure lying supine on a hospital bed, white sheets drawn up to his chest and his thin face hollowed and colourless. His black eyelashes fluttered in sleep, as though, to Lucius's horror, he was already greeting the other side of the Veil—a place Lucius would not be permitted to follow.
Strange movement near Severus's blanketed feet caught Lucius's eye. He thought he detected a dark shadow, almost like a figure, float away from the bed at Lucius's discovery, but when he blinked and chanced a second glance, the shadow was gone.
My damned eyes must be playing tricks on me.
Lucius hadn't slept a wink since Severus's arrival to St. Mungo's two nights ago, retching violently and sick with fever, so he thought nothing of the peculiar silhouette he dreamt he had glimpsed after entering Severus's room and approached the dark wizard's bed. His boots felt entirely too dense, as if each step took considerable strength. With little effort, Lucius sunk into the chair positioned near Severus's side, where he had sat, eaten and slept—only a few hours at a time—since his lover's arrival. The vain blond even forewent transfiguring something more comfortable and to his high-end tastes, having been entirely consumed with Severus's briskly declining health.
For the past forty-eight hours, Severus had been too sick to speak or converse much, and his deteriorating condition left Lucius utterly helpless to do anything useful except hold tightly to Severus's hand (when the surly wizard was asleep and unaware of being coddled, of course), stroke his perspiring forehead when he mumbled incoherently in his sleep, and help him sit up when he was momentarily conscious long enough to empty the remnants of his stomach into a plastic bowl.
It's only the flu, Lucius kept reminding himself, though the excruciating pain in his chest wasn't in agreement with that conclusion. It's only the wretched flu, for fuck's sake! He'll be all right. Give it another day or two, and Severus will be up and growling at you like he always does. Yes... He'll be well. Soon.
Something else besides concern for his partner had also kept Lucius on edge since their arrival. There was an unsettling tension in the air—a sort of static, corrosive energy that he hadn't been able to put his finger on, only that it felt spookily similar to what Lucius had experienced whilst in the presence of the Dark Lord when that madman had still been alive; it was a horrible sense of dread and fear that couldn't be defined with words. Every time Lucius found himself nodding off, something startled him awake, whether it was Severus's laborious breaths, a creepy murkiness out of the corner of his eye that seemed to vanish as soon as he directed his sight towards the movement, or the uncomfortable inkling that he and Severus weren't alone.
But, of course, that was impossible, and Lucius chalked up his reservations to being sick with worry over the possibility of losing Severus. Every waking hour had been intense since he had brought the man here, so, to his rational frame of mind, it was only logical that his sleep-deprived mind was reaching the point of hysteria, his eyes seeing things that simply weren't there.
"Severus," Lucius found himself muttering aloud, a trembling hand reaching out to grasp the unresponsive wizard's hand. Alas, those elegantly nimble fingers he had for so long admired didn't squeeze back. "Severus, please, for fuck's sake! Damn it, man, would you wake up? Te - Tell me what to do! I don't know how to help you! I... I don't know how to get you back! Please, help me!"
Long, straight hair draped over the top of a slumbering Severus's chest, but there was no response, only a stifling silence that stretched out for an eternity, with the exception of a few strangled words Lucius managed to sputter before all the pent-up fretting and sleep-deprivation finally caught up with him. He collapsed and entered a deep sleep against that of his lover, unaware of the eerie shadow he thought was nonexistent reemerging at the foot of the bed.
A ghoulish vision of Severus materialised before Lucius's eyes, and it was a most disturbing sight that made his blood run cold with trepidation. This wasn't the Severus Snape he had known and loved for many, many years, always trim in stature, yet well-defined and graceful, pale, yet healthy—at least, never white enough in complexion to warrant concern. This Severus was translucent, ghostly.
Lucius blinked several times over, praying against hope that this vision would disappear and return to the vigorous Severus he remembered. To his increasing alarm, however, Severus didn't change. He stood before him—grey and nothing but skin and bones—and dressed in a plain, silver robe that flowed effortlessly to his ankles, exposing bare, elegant feet. Every blue vein trekked across washed out skin. Raven eyes that were once so expressive now appeared lifeless, empty...
'Severus?' Lucius sought to repress his troubled reaction, eying his lover up and down with worry.
'Wha - What's happening?'
'You know what's happening.' There was no malice in Severus's frank tone of voice, only a gravitating sadness that pressed upon Lucius's chest.
'Tell me what I should do! Tell me how to help you!'
Severus scowled. 'There's nothing left to be done.'
'I know that's not true, you cad!' Lucius barked back, his emotions getting the better of him.
'He's already visited me.'
Lucius was stricken by that muddling remark. 'Who's visited you?'
Severus's face stared on, profound. 'You know who, Lucius...'
'Stop playing mind games with me!' Lucius spat and threw up his hands in desperation. 'Tell me who's visited you?'
'We've had some insightful conversations, he and I. In fact, we've reached an agreement—'
'WHO, DAMN IT?'
Severus fell silent, his expression composed and unruffled. When he finally answered, his response brought Lucius up short. 'Death.'
Suddenly, another voice trickled in from the edge of this gloomy, atmospheric space, but Lucius couldn't place it. "Mr. Malfoy?" the voice called to him, but he readily ignored it, too rattled by Severus's revelation.
'Death? What? I... I don't understand!'
'Yes, you do, Lucius.'
A heaviness hovered in the air, enough that Lucius tried to swallow it down the back of his throat to little avail. 'I don't understand why,' he ended up countering defensively, sneering as he crossed his arms over his chest. 'It's not like you're going anywhere, Severus!'
'You're not dying, so it makes no bloody sense!'
A pause later and Severus's pointed nose scrunched up, as though he smelled something foul. 'You? Whimpering like a school boy? It's pitiful, Lucius. I expected more dignity on your part.'
'Damn it, Severus, I CAN'T HELP IT!'
'Why?' that achingly familiar register challenged, low and deep. 'What's got you snivelling so?'
'Because I... I'm frightened.' A troublesome lull followed this childlike confession that provided Lucius no consolation. 'You said you've spoken with Death. I'm not ready to lose you, Severus. I... I don't know how to be alone. Not yet. I'm not ready. I don't know how to be without you!'
The response his lover offered was one Lucius didn't care for. 'Yes, you do, Lucius.'
'No, I DON'T! I'm not ready for you to go, Severus! You can't!'
'No one's ever ready to face such things,' Severus attested more delicately, 'but it's the reality we're facing now, Lucius. You think I've been somehow ready to go?'
'Then don't! Don't leave me!'
"Oi, Mr. Malfoy," came that disruptive voice a second time, causing Lucius to snarl in frustration, "wake up!"
'I don't have much of a choice, Lucius.'
'You do have a choice, damn it! STAY, SEVERUS! Stay with me!'
'I've already accepted Death's terms, Lucius.'
'SOD WHATEVER SODDING AGREEMENT YOU MADE! NO! You can't go, Severus! You can't leave without my consent!'
To his dismay, Severus had the audacity to appear smug at his outburst. 'You don't call the shots, Lucius. That's not how this works. Your bountiful finances won't work, either, I'm afraid.'
'But...' Lucius's pleading had subsided to barely a whisper. 'I need you, Severus. Please... Don't leave me, I beg you!'
Neither Severus's frown nor his eyes concealed their despair any longer, and the look he bore broke Lucius's heart. 'I don't see any other way out of this, Lucius. I'm afraid it's time...for me.'
'NO!' Lucius argued, losing his nerve fairly quickly. 'There's still time left!'
'Wake up, Severus! Just wake up!'
"Mr. Malfoy, wake up!"
'I can't, Lucius. It's already been decided.'
Lucius reached out to the wizard but couldn't touch him. 'No, Severus! NO!'
'He's coming... He's coming... I can feel his icy grip all around me...'
'I'm so cold, Lucius... So very cold...'
"OI! Mr. Malfoy!"
A wild shake brought Lucius abruptly to, and his head snapped up so fast that his view of the hospital room was momentarily blurred. He moaned in protest at the wave of dizziness that hit him and rubbed at his temples.
Once Lucius felt that he could safely open his eyes, he turned apprehensively to Healer Bram, who was standing at his side with a somber frown that immediately put the Slytherin on edge. He swiftly darted his worried eyes towards Severus, still lying on his bed fast asleep and as frail-looking as before. Night had fallen hours ago, and a gentle, pastel moonlight now trailed lovingly across the sharp features of his unnaturally tranquil face, illuminating every gaunt facet most beautifully.
"What is it?" Lucius inquired in a small voice, fearing the answer that might come. "What's wrong with him?"
"I'm afraid his condition has worsened in the last hour."
"His heart rate and breathing have slowed. His brain activity has also become more sporadic. The fever has taken hold. It's nearly over."
'It's nearly over.'
Lucius wasn't grasping those words. They were too final, too few for the terribly unfair life Severus Snape had been served; but, to Lucius, this wasn't the misread double agent or the controversial former figurehead of Hogwarts. He was so much more than that. This was his only friend following the end of the Wizarding war—the only person in the world who still gravitated towards him despite his atrocious past faults and misdeeds, who could see past the surface to the underlying good beneath, a feat his own ex-wife, Cissy, hadn't stuck around to reacquaint herself with. He had never blamed her for walking out on him; he understood why she finally turned her back and left.
Severus, on the other hand, had been there to strap Lucius up by the toes of his boots, to kick his sorry, drunken arse up from off the floor and under a cold shower head, to force him to 'wake up and suck it up.' Lucius had despised the no-nonsense of Severus's damnable interventions at the time, which felt more like never-ending migraines, but it hadn't taken long for a down-on-his-luck Lucius to find himself clinging to Severus Snape's company. When the man was away, he found himself sorely missing the surly wizard's cutting remarks and clasped the pillows Severus had previously laid against, if only to capture a whiff of his pleasant scent.
Between identifying with one another as Death Eaters caught up in madness that neither ever desired, and understanding one another's shortcomings better than most, the two Slytherins developed a deeper connection than they bargained for. Lucius had been the first to fall and confess his sentiments, and Severus had reluctantly followed—not because he didn't return Lucius's affections, but because he didn't think himself a worthy candidate, as ridiculous as that was.
Now, this aggravating Healer Bram was informing him that he could do no more for his lover, his companion, his best friend. 'It's nearly over.'
Panic crept up Lucius's spine, leaving him shivering and overrun with anxiety. The gravity of what those words meant was enough to send him into a downward spiral of despair from which Lucius was certain he wouldn't crawl away.
There would be no recovery? No return to the pleasantly quaint, secluded life he and Severus shared on the outskirts of Lourmarin, in southeastern France? No more casual strolls through town to take in the eclectic local art scene? No more late-night dinners at their favourite restaurant where they knew all the town locals—Muggles, of course—and kept relatively to themselves, Severus often reading before their wine was served whilst Lucius chatted up the owners about their small vineyard investment that blossomed in their backyard?
No... It's not over! It's not!
Lucius never heard Healer Bram excuse himself from the sterile hospital room. He was too preoccupied, staring down at Severus's near lifeless form, to eyes that wouldn't awaken to him and an acerbic tongue that wouldn't fight him on staying put. Irrational anger boiled up inside him; desperate tears stung his eyes.
Suddenly, Lucius remembered Severus's last bone-chilling words; or were they, in fact, his last? Hadn't it all been a dream?
'He's coming... I can feel his icy grip all around me... I'm so cold, Lucius... So very cold...'
That had only been a nightmare, surely? Then again, why was Lucius experiencing the same deathly chill Severus had described to him in this very room, at this exact moment?
Something—or someone—compelled Lucius to shudder. A prickling broke out on his skin as the biting atmosphere settled into his bones. Lucius's eyes hesitantly turned towards the far corner of the room, as though whatever it was that was unsettling him had urged him to do so.
No moonlight graced this corner of the room, where that strange chill seemed to be manifesting; or was that, too, his overactive imagination running wild on him in this moment of overwhelming grief?
Lucius squinted hard but saw nothing, yet still, he couldn't tear his eyes away from that black spot, going so far as to twist entirely around in his chair and raising himself—unsteadily—to his feet.
"I know you're there," he found himself speaking to the seemingly empty room, his voice catching in his throat. "Show yourself."
For several seconds, nothing happened, and the only responding sound was the reverberation of the wizard's own command. Absentmindedly, Lucius reached out and snatched up Severus's limp hand, squeezing it tightly in his death-hold grip.
"I demand you," he spoke again with braver authority this time, "show yourself."
You're going mad, Lucius. He frowned into the hollow darkness. Utterly, stark-raving mad.
His shoulders slumped. He was talking to air; to nothing.
Then, suddenly, an arctic wind drifted over Lucius's goose-pimpled flesh that was far colder than anything before, piercing through the heavy fabric of his finely-tailored robes. He cowered backward a step, as unexpected movement in that darkened corner of the room suddenly pinned him to where he was, incapable of speech or motion.
A black, atmospheric shadow materialised out of the shadows before Lucius's stupefied eyes, swirling and billowing upward until it practically reached the ceiling, and moulded itself into a somewhat transparent figure. It wore a tattered hooded cloak of night, and the shape of what had to be its face bore no outlines or decipherable features other than a pair of misty, grey eyes, soulless and devouring.
The heaviness that descended upon the room was enough to swallow Lucius whole and nearly had his knees caving to the floor. He leaned into his snake cane for support, watching with fright as an airy fog formed at the shadow figure's feet and it came floating towards him, as well as an unconscious Severus, without gait, not making any contact with the ground whatsoever.
It wasn't a wizard, that was certain; it wasn't even human or of the magical world. Being unidentifiable made it all the more terrifying to behold, and Lucius opened his mouth to speak but found his mouth had run dry.
"Who..." he started but was brought up short, for the shadow figure issued a deep-throated moan, its voice haunting and horrid and completely inhuman. Lucius stumbled back into his chair, staring up at the towering figure through eyes that now recognised its invader.
"Y - You..." he stammered in a shaky breath.
Yes, it bemoaned knowingly.
"Wha - What do - do you want?"
He who asks knows why I've come.
"W - Who are you?"
The figure let forth a bellowing wail that had the force to shake the entire room, if it weren't for the magical wards in place. A fierce wind surged around them, and Lucius visibly quivered from head to foot. The temperature had dropped so drastically in the space of a few seconds that, for a moment, Lucius thought his lungs might freeze.
I am Death, it howled and raised its cloaked arms high in the air. I am Thanatos, Ankou, Samael, Abaddon, Yama. I am he who transports between realms; a spirit of no kingdom, who resides neither in Providence nor in Hell. I come to apprehend that which is no longer his own.
Lucius forced himself to raise his head, against the frigid wind that rippled across his face and stung his eyes. "You - You are here to take Severus from me?"
Lucius's mouth faltered at those harsh, emotionless words. "Please... I... NO! Do not take him from me!" he begged pitifully, his legs sagging against his chair.
Death shrieked with such ferocity that Lucius, at last, sagged to his knees, collapsing beside Severus's bed in a shivering heap of terror and despair. He gripped his lover's hand in both of his own, refusing to let go despite the fear that clenched his heart.
I must, Death declared above the noise. I hold no claims. I seek to transport he who has sinned to another sphere. His physical existence is over, and I shall deliver him to He to whom his soul is eternally bound.
Lucius reluctantly raised his gaze. "H - He?" he questioned, with dread.
Death nodded slowly, gracefully. He who presides over eternal torment.
HELL? Lucius immediately startled, his heart racing faster within his chest, causing his breath to come in frantic spurts. Severus—my brave, ever-faithful to the Light, unjustly wronged Severus—damned to an eternity in...Hell?
A combination of panic and denial rose up inside Lucius, ignited by the savage injustice of which Death spoke so collectedly. He violently shook his head against the roaring gust that continued to ripple all around him, ignoring the haunting moans of Death himself.
"NO! NO, PLEASE!" he cried out in desperation. "He doesn't deserve to go there! He doesn't—"
He has sinned, and he must do penance for his damned immortal soul.
"HE'S NOT DAMNED, DO YOU HEAR? YOU HAVE IT WRONG!"
Death does not judge. Death only ferries souls to those to whom they are bound.
"PLEASE! He doesn't deserve to die! You've come for the wrong man!"
Death does not come erroneously, the wraith countered, resolute. His soul has called upon me, and I answer.
Lucius was abruptly startled at a sudden mist that took form beside him on Severus's bed, sensing, too, the troubling chill that had settled upon the limp hand he grasped. Not only was Severus completely unresponsive, but his hand had gone lifeless, ice cold despite Lucius's own warmth.
Lucius clambered onto the bed and proceeded to shake the listless body of his lover as furiously as he could, without thought; but no matter how fiercely he tried to wake Severus, he wouldn't stir, and the strange orb of light hovering above his body morphed and changed before Lucius, momentarily blinding him as it soaked up more light. Lucius threw up his hands to shield his eyes.
Once he chanced reopening them a moment later, horror overtook his senses at the wraith-like vision of Severus from his dream, now standing—floating—on the opposite side of the bed, his skin grey and translucent, while his eyes had turned vacant and robbed of life.
There was no mistaking what Lucius's sight perceived: it was indeed Severus's ghost—his eternal soul—not the flesh and blood of the man whom he adored and whose touch and warmth he yearned for so deeply. That man was gone.
Shakily, Lucius stretched out a hand to his dead lover, in urgent need of Severus's touch, but, to add emotional injury to alarm, Lucius experienced nothing once their flesh met. There was no heat, no electricity, nothing but a blast of frigidly cold air that stirred Lucius's breathing into a frenzy.
"S - Severus?" he tried to speak, unsure of his own voice.
Alas, Severus didn't so much as look in his direction. He merely turned away, even as his lover fiercely cried out his name several more times to gain his attention. He coasted towards Death, as though he was being pulled by some unknown force towards his final destination: Hell.
Death waved Severus's soul onward with a raised, cloaked hand, the other directed towards the dark corner of the room from whence he had first emerged out of shadow. Lucius's heart pounded vehemently in his ears at the sight of a whirlpool of air—Death's portal—that churned and curled and beckoned a lifeless Severus into its opening. The dark wizard walked the short distance it took to cross the room in no time, much to Lucius's distress, and effortlessly stepped straight through the portal, never so much as looking back before making that defiant leap into the abyss. His soul faded beyond the wall, leaving nothing but a black hole in his place—a void that ripped through Lucius's own shattered heart.
"NO!" he screeched like a fatally wounded animal and clawed at his face. "BRING HIM BACK! BRING HIM BACK!"
Death is absolute. It cannot yield.
"BRING HIM BACK, I SAY!"
Death does not answer to the living.
"Then I'll bargain with you!"
Death does not negotiate with souls.
"But you will bargain with me!"
No longer satisfied with tearing at his face, Lucius scrambled ungracefully onto the floor and stared up at Death beseechingly, no longer in fear but overpowered by wretched sorrow and distress for the man he loved—the only individual who had ever truly loved him back. "What can I do?" he pleaded and wrung his hands together, like a Muggle praying for a miracle. "How can I bring him back? Please, Death, tell me how! There must be something you can do?"
Death cannot retrieve souls. Death is absolute, it repeated dispassionately, fuelling Lucius's frustrations. It may guide the living, but Death cannot intervene, bargain, or summon souls back to the living.
'Guide'? Lucius's ears at once clung to that word. He scrambled closer, intent on extracting the answer he sought. "Tell me! Tell me how I might retrieve Severus's soul! What must I do?"
Death moaned loud and long, as though it was personally offended by Lucius's insistence. You will not succeed. No one who has dared has achieved the unachievable. His soul is eternally bound to Him now; he will not answer.
Lucius didn't hesitate to argue, "Tell me what I must do, damn it!"
He won't come.
"Then I'll go to him!" Lucius growled, resolved to do whatever was necessary, Death itself be damned. "If you show me the way, Death, then I'll go to Severus and convince him to come back myself!"
Death seemed to ponder the determined wizard's choice—or perhaps he wasn't thinking at all, only stalling to aggravate Lucius's already frazzled nerves—but, eventually, he waved his arm in a circle and the portal magically reappeared in the wall. The wind in the room picked up, surging and blowing a torrential gust around the cavity's opening like a vacuum. A series of haunting noises—were they actual screams from the dying, nay, the dead?—reverberated out of the portal, coursing an unnerving shiver throughout Lucius's body. His wobbly knees rose from the hard floor, his solid frame otherwise caught up in the intensified atmosphere that swarmed and surrounded. He looked to Death for further instruction, waiting with bated breath for what was to follow.
Death can transport, but it cannot yield or impede on what the living might encounter.
Lucius swallowed thickly. He could sense his reservations starting to rise at the unknown, undoubtedly dangerous prospects that awaited him once he stepped through that portal, but, quickly, he knocked all looming fears aside. He had to retrieve Severus back to the living before it was too late, whatever the costs. There wasn't a prayer of continuing on in this lousy, dismal Wizarding world without his wizard—all snark and sourness of him—by his side, so Lucius raised his chin determinedly, gulping down the trembling starting to grab hold and threatening to tear him back.
"Will you take me to him?"
His soul will soon reach the Inferno gates. Death shall transport you as far as his soul leads, but this is unwise.
I'll be damned! Lucius banished all heed of Death's warnings at once. Regardless of how eerily those words rang in his ears, or how perilous this venture was about to become, the adamant blond was already moving his shaky legs towards the portal's opening; towards the entryway to the other side of everyone's tomorrows, where he would hopefully find Severus...
And bring him back. You must bring him back.
"What are the conditions?" he nearly choked out, reaching out to steady his gait by gripping the wall. The gust was too strong now to allow him to walk freely without the added support of his cane.
You must convince his soul to return, Death wailed, its voice spine-chilling. He must come willingly or not at all.
That's it? Lucius reflected dubiously; the task sounded easy. Too easy.
Death continued through a piercing howl, Transporting you between realms shall be troublesome. Leaving shall cost you should you find your efforts to be unsuccessful.
"Cost me?" Lucius whipped his head up towards Death, both eyebrows knitted together, disturbed. "Cost me what?"
Should you be unable to convince his soul to return to the living, then you shall become a wraith, neither living nor dead. You shall wander alone for the rest of eternity, invisible to the naked eye and mad with grief and despair, for you shall be barred access to the eternal gates.
Lucius's heart pounded furiously as the dreadful possibility that awaited him sunk its claws into every fibre of his being. Damned to an eternity between realms? To wander the rest of his afterlife as a mere ghost?
No Severus by my side? No Severus at all?
Lucius frowned thoughtfully; but what else was there to do? He simply couldn't accept the loss of Severus, not when there was the slightest chance he might possess of getting him back. If he stayed, he would damn Severus's soul to an eternity in Hell, whilst he went on living. How could he bear to live with himself, knowing that his lover was suffering beyond his reach, beyond the Veil, and that he had done nothing to prevent it?
After all, none of this was about Lucius or his eternal soul, of which he was certain wasn't in good standing. This was about Severus. For the first time in Lucius's life, all consideration for his own welfare was being kicked to the curb, and he couldn't have given less of a damn than he did at this moment. However a long shot it might be, a war-weary Lucius Malfoy had nothing left to lose in this world, or the next.
Nothing except Severus.
Exercising a freshly quivering hand, Lucius reached inside his robes to extract his wand, but the wind instantly caught him off his guard, instilling enough force to blow the wooden instrument out of his unsteady fingers. Lucius flailed his arms uselessly to try to nab it from the air, but he wasn't swift or strong enough to withstand the gust that threw him back against the wall in the next instant, rolling his cane away out of reach as well. His wand vanished amidst the billowing black gust and terrifying screams of dead souls, rendering Lucius entirely at Death's mercy. He pressed himself further against the wall, visibly stricken to find himself both defenceless and ill-confident as to what to do next.
Your magic is ineffective where you are going, Death bellowed but did not stir, continuing to tower high above him. You shall have no need of it.
"But how am I to defend myself?" Lucius argued, apprehensive at Death's gradual shake of its head. "If - If I need to—"
Death has said that this is unwise, but if you wish to go on—
"I DO! Please!"
Then you shall have no defence going forward but yourself. As you are living, your body can be affected by the environment. Your physical being shall be powerless, and time shall no longer exist. You may not touch, harm, or aid any other soul, and you may not touch the one which you seek to retrieve.
It took Lucius a moment yet to come to grips with this unclear, though unshaken, path stretched out before him. What if he wasn't successful? What if he couldn't convince Severus to return and the wizard's soul actually went to Hell?
If time no longer exists...
Hesitantly, Lucius stared into Death's blackened, nonexistent face, resolution burning brightly through steel grey eyes. "How long do I have?"
Death cannot say. Death can only come when called upon.
"In other words..."
Yes. Should your soul or his summon me then I shall come again.
Lucius shuddered where he stood, pressed against the wall, and wrapped his cloak tighter around himself. Even in the midst of negotiating with Death, he could recount the aforementioned warning: no person who had ever attempted to retrieve a soul ever returned. He could search out Death's dull eyes for some precarious glimmer of hope, but he suspected that he would find none. If Death was the deliverer of souls, then he certainly wouldn't want Lucius Malfoy to succeed at this task.
"What's happened to those who've tried this before?" he asked; was he stalling for bloody time now, or did he really need Death to answer the question, especially when he already knew the answer?
Between realms. Between the living and the dead. Their souls remain trapped, and they go mad with grief.
Trapped. For eternity. Lucius fought to calm his pounding heartbeat. Set adrift, forever astray, forever separated from Severus...
Lucius brandished those crippling fears that threatened his resolve once more. There would be no turning back. The only solution in his narrow line of sight was fetching Severus back to the living world; to him. He would take back Severus's soul. He would bring the double agent, who had already sacrificed far too much for the benefit of so many in life, back from the fiery pits of Hell if that's where he was led, so help him! And if he was unsuccessful?
"I'm willing to pay the ultimate price," Lucius declared aloud to drive the point home.
Mustering what Slytherin strength he still had, Lucius turned away from Death, unyielding, and sauntered forward towards the swirling portal's entrance. The fierce wind scathed his skin and fought his every step. Violent gusts, along with those eerie screams of the dead, roared in his ears and obstructed his vision the closer he drew, but he paved a path forward, regardless, without his wand or confidence to better his chances.
Find Severus, he told himself when he sensed his bravery floundering; each step was the equivalent to riding a broom with a blindfold. Find him and bring him home.
Inhaling deeply, Lucius finally let go of the wall and was suddenly spinning into the wind's maddening current. He sprung his legs forward at the last instant in an attempt to dive head first into the portal, but then something else happened he hadn't anticipated. Lucius was unexpectedly swooped up by Death, who led him through the portal at tremendous speed.
Lucius whirled wildly through time and space, and through what felt like a bottomless pit. Unable to grip anything for purchase or to discern his whereabouts, Lucius quickly became distraught. He could neither see nor identify Death and, all around him, countless souls cried out in anguish for what he had willingly just exited: life.
The black hole sucked Lucius downward, pulling him into a seemingly never-ending darkness, until, at last, his body crashed onto something hard, and he winced in agony.
No going back now.
Lucius had been clutching his stomach for nearly twenty minutes, stumbling and fighting his way past the pain that had knocked the wind out of his lungs upon impact with the hard surface he now found himself wandering: a barren wasteland. He had been struggling to keep pace with Death but was more distracted by the troublesome scenery that passed him by.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of phantoms graced this flat, bleak desert which stretched out for as far as the eye could see. There was no sound coming from their lips, only the persistent trampling of Lucius's own footsteps on dry surface and his thrumming heart that pounded in his ears. Their cries had ceased upon the wizard's dramatic contact with the ground, and now, each individual was eerily silent, their vacant eyes unblinking as they glided towards wherever they were bound.
It took Lucius a minute or two to come to the realisation that these ghost-like figures weren't, in fact, lost souls, doomed to travel between realms (as Lucius might very well find himself in the near future), but souls who, like Severus, had recently separated from their bodies. They were now trailing Death—their guide, who would lead them to their eternal providence—to whichever gateway they might pass through.
It discomforted Lucius immediately how each face he happened upon was distinct, but all of their expressions carried a passive weightlessness about their predicament, as though they were wholeheartedly accepting of their fates, some saved and others doomed. None of them made eye contact, either, or seemed to notice the living, breathing person amongst their company. Would Severus react with the same stone-like expression? Would he not acknowledge Lucius once he saw him in the flesh?
This is going to be harder than I imagined...
The longer Lucius wandered, and with none of his fellow company breathing a word in his direction, the more irked and worked up he became. Why would none of them put up a fight? Why would not a single person challenge Death? If not at peace, each soul was seemingly resigned to their demise; it left a nauseating feeling in the pit of Lucius's stomach, which had already taken a beating soon after coming here.
This aimless, void wilderness matched the emptiness that was so disturbingly transparent upon each soul's lifeless face that Lucius's mind kept hammering back to where he was and the ultimate challenges he faced: find Severus, convince him to come home, and get the hell out of here.
Absentmindedly, Lucius cast his eyes to the left and startled in his boots. His eyes grew as wide as saucers, and his heart leapt into his throat.
The world stopped moving as soon as Lucius found his lover floating idly. All thoughts of other spirits, unknown perpetuity, and Death itself deteriorated from Lucius's otherwise frantic mind. For a brief moment, he experienced a wave of peace and tranquility overriding the panic that had been building inside him at locating Severus—his Severus—amongst so much gloom and ambivalence, and his heart actually swelled with hope. There was no mistaking that midnight hair that waved naturally about those defined shoulders and had been in desperate need of a trim, or that protruding nose that angled sharply—erotically, rather, to Lucius—and stuck out from the rest of his sharp profile, or that porcelain-like skin that the wizard had painstakingly protected from the sun, even well-after the war's end and the two stretched themselves out upon countless sun-bathing beaches.
Yes, it was Severus, only he wasn't himself, and the short lapse of calmness Lucius had experienced upon discovering him withdrew, tightening the knot in his stomach.
Desperate to call out his name, though saying it seemed to be stuck at the back of his throat, Lucius soundlessly opened and closed his mouth. Severus hadn't noticed him yet. In fact, he stared blankly ahead at nothing in particular, those deep, raven eyes seemingly very far away and...empty.
"S - Severus?" Lucius finally managed to sputter, sucking in a deep breath as he carefully approached the wizard—nay, his soul.
There was no reaction. Not even a flicker or rotation of his head.
"Severus?" Lucius called again, uncertainty plaguing the back of his mind. "Severus, it's me."
Still, there was no response. Not a soft sound or a whisper of recognition from his dead lover.
Lucius finally reached Severus's side and strolled around to come face to face with the man's soul, worry scraping to the surface of Lucius's eyes at the chilly greeting he received: a wooden, unrecognisable stare. It was as though Severus were gazing straight through him; or looking at nothing at all. Lucius might as well have been invisible, perhaps even a ghost.
Lucius recoiled slightly at such a painful lack of reaction and a troubling frown stretched across his perturbed face, paling his skin. "Severus, it... It's me. It's Lucius."
Nothing, only silence.
Lucius's frown intensified the longer Severus stared on impassively. What he wouldn't give to gather the wizard into his arms then and there and hug him fiercely, to smell that intoxicating herb-like fragrance and experience the comforting familiarity of straggly hairs tickling his face. It was taking all of Lucius's touch-starved emotional control not to reach out and stroke his lover's translucent cheek, or brush those long fingers that had caressed him so many times before. So many memories... He hadn't forgotten that he would be forever separated from Severus should he cave to his desires, though, and that churlish threat was the only obstacle stopping Lucius from grasping onto the wizard right away and never letting go.
"It's me, Lucius," he whispered again, taking a cautionary step closer. "Severus? Severus, can you hear me? What's wrong with you? Please, look at me."
Determined to reach him somehow despite that ever-persistent glacial stare, Lucius stared hard into Severus's eyes, making sure not to look away for an instant, and repeated his name several times over, praying for some flutter of acknowledgment. "Severus, it's Lucius, remember me? Lucius. Your Lucius. We've known each other so long, you and I. Severus? Severus, you must look at me. Please..."
At last, Lucius's command that Severus look at him changed the energy. A rippling wind swept through the atmosphere—between the living and the dead—and seemingly awakened Severus's soul. Sedated, black irises blinked wearily and, though they remained rather haunting and unrecognisable, they acknowledged Lucius's presence with a confounded stare.
"Lucius?" he muttered, curious and addled by the blond standing before him. "Is that you?"
"Yes!" Lucius exclaimed excitedly, extending a hand to touch Severus's arm before catching himself. "Yes, Severus, it - it's me! It's Lucius!"
Severus cocked his head, his eyes narrowing in skepticism. "Are you dead, too?"
Lucius visibly rattled. "What? No!"
"Oh..." A befuddled frown settled along Severus's mouth as his eyes scanned the desolate landscape, though there was nothing to see; the wind made it more difficult to perceive. "Strange... I think I am," Severus confessed quietly.
A lump formed in Lucius's throat. "Yes... You are, Severus."
"But if you're not dead, then how are you here?"
"It's a long story. I'll tell it to you sometime; after you return."
Severus's bemused eyes didn't blink, but Lucius's words ignited a peculiar interest within their depths. "Return?"
"Yes, home, Severus. I've come to bring you home."
"Home? Home where?"
"Our home, Severus!" Lucius expressed with urgency. "Where we belong, you and I!"
"No, I..." Severus shook his head. "I don't think so. I believe this is my home now."
Lucius's scowled deepened. "Severus, this isn't your home. You don't belong here."
"No, it's not."
That brought Lucius immediate encouragement; was he having some luck? He tried to coax Severus gently. "So, you need to come with me—"
"But I can't."
"Why ever not, Severus?"
"Because He's expecting me."
A blood-chilling cold pierced Lucius's body, as if the chill already swirling about them wasn't biting enough. He knew at once of whom Severus spoke, without hint of fear or reluctance at what awaited him, and the binding in Lucius's stomach tightened its grip. The Devil.
"Severus, you - you don't have to do this. You don't have to accept death."
"But I am dead," he countered lowly, his voice entirely lethargic and unemotional. "I cannot go back."
"Severus, yes you can!"
"No, Lucius. I... I don't belong there."
A stabbing pain hit Lucius square in the chest at that hurtful remark. "You belong with me, Severus!"
"No, not anymore."
"Yes, you do! You're mine, damn it, and I'm yours! We belong together!"
"Go back, Lucius," Severus bemoaned quietly. The air whipped pieces of hair into Lucius's eyes, but Severus's soul remained unaffected by the changing environment. "Go back. You don't belong here."
"You belong amongst the living."
"I belong with you, Severus!"
"No, Lucius. Death has divided us."
"NO! I won't hear of that! It doesn't have to be this way, Severus! I'm telling you—"
"Go. Home," his soul insisted, though in a soft, wheedling fashion that tore at Lucius's gut-wrenching sorrow. "You need to go back, Lucius. You must."
"You don't understand! I... I can't go back."
"Yes, you can."
"No, Severus." Lucius firmly tossed his head back and forth, finding his mouth unexpectedly parched as the words poured out of him. "You're mistaken. I... I can't. You see, I can't go back. Not if you won't come with me."
Finding Severus's soul evermore painful to look at, Lucius's eyes darted towards the ground, which was now picking up dust and sending it flying into the air. Lucius drew his cloak tighter around himself to shield his face from the wind, but it didn't do much to prevent the cold gust and gathering soot from penetrating his skin.
"Because I... I made a deal with Death, Severus." He paused, waiting, but when he chanced peering up at Severus, his soul said nothing back, so he hesitantly continued, "If I can't convince you to come back with me, then I'll... My soul will be lost. Forever."
The only sound for a drawn-out moment was that of the billowing wind, until Severus angled his head more severely, and the reaction that came forth was unmarked and unsympathetic in tone. "Fool!" Severus spat angrily, his sharpness catching Lucius off guard. "You're a fool, Lucius! You shouldn't have come here, especially knowing the price you would pay for doing so! What's the matter with you?"
"But, Severus, I—"
"You cannot bring loved ones back from the dead, Lucius! You know this! We all know this! In fact, it was you who helped me come to terms with that very sobering fact a long time ago. Do you remember?"
"Yes, I - I know but—"
"Then why would you do something so irrevocably stupid?"
Severus sneered unpleasantly; it was the most animated Lucius had seen him, well, like this: as a ghost, no longer of flesh and blood, sheer and numb to behold.
"It wasn't stupid, Severus," Lucius asserted weakly, fighting to maintain his stance as the wind threatened to knock him sideways. "I did it for you! For us!"
"You did it for yourself!"
Lucius was brought up speechless. Severus's furious goading may have lacked the sardonic whip it once carried in life, but the brutality of his words weren't lost on the distraught wizard, who drew back as though he had been personally struck.
"No. No, you misunderstand, Severus. I... I didn't do it for me. I did it for you!"
Lucius detested the feebleness of his own voice quality. Severus's curled upper lip transmitted that he wasn't at all convinced, for that matter.
"You were always so heavily reliant upon me, you know that?" he hissed, scrunching up his nose in revulsion; it preceded any hateful glare Lucius had ever received before from this man and left him utterly crushed. "You could never be alone, never do a bloody thing on your own, never could look after yourself."
Lucius hobbled a step backward, barely able to stand. "What is this?"
"You always had to be in control of the situation," Severus bulldozed over Lucius's question, those once empty eyes glimmering with hatred. "Well, you have no jurisdiction here, Lucius. You cannot determine whether someone lives or dies, do you understand that? It's not up to you. It's not your choice."
Lucius was at a loss for words. Where the hell were these accusations coming from? He knew his Severus to be hot-headed at times, particularly when he was infuriated or backed into a corner, but this didn't even remotely sound like the man he knew and loved.
"I... I never insinuated that it was somehow my choice to make, Severus. I just thought... Well, I wanted to make a try for it. Can you blame me?"
"That's it? That's your reason?"
Lucius lowered his eyes a fraction, muttering softly, "Not all of it, no..."
"Then what, Lucius?"
Slowly, Lucius met cold, dark eyes that were no longer Severus's own, for he could see through them like a fog. "Because I... I can't live without you."
"That's a pathetic answer and useless reasoning!"
A prickling of tears welled in Lucius's eyes. As irked as he was with his own pitiful reaction to Severus's tenacious remarks, he was also irate with the whole situation. Certainly, he had expected this trying task to test him on an emotional and physical level, and it most certainly was so far, but Lucius hadn't anticipated being spurned so deeply by Severus; a combative Severus he was well-equipped to deal with, but not a verbally abusive one. The Malfoy patriarch's emotions were already hanging on by a mere thread with the harrowing prospect of losing Severus forever looming ever closer, so to have the man he so yearned to save berating him was more than the prostrated wizard could bear.
"It isn't! It's not pathetic or useless, you imp! What would you have done?"
"I wouldn't have come. I would never have come after you—"
"Don't say that!" Lucius barked, his long hair continuing to whirl against the wind. "I know you would come for me! I know you would!"
"—like some overly touchy, lovesick prat who doesn't know his dimwitted, peanut-sized grey matter for a brain from his arsehole."
Lucius struggled to keep his emotions in check, swallowing hard at the vile words being spat at him. "This is a test," he gulped, straining to keep his voice steady. "You're testing me. That's all."
"No," Severus's soul negated, sneering chastisingly, "this is reality, Lucius. You've done a stupid thing. A very, very stupid thing, with which I cannot help you."
"I. Cannot. Help. You."
Lucius sensed the forbidding dread seeping to the forefront of his thoughts and clammed up. He was about to lose Severus—forever—and was quickly running out of time. The dirt-ridden gust had picked up with every contentious word Severus's soul spat at him, placing them no closer to the resolution Lucius so urgently sought to bring his lover to his side.
What else could he do? Think, Lucius! he reeled frantically, though in a short span of time he was still unable to wield a more congruent idea. He briefly considered trying Legilimency, but that would be a futile effort. As Death had pointed out before, Lucius's magic was powerless in this realm and certainly wouldn't summon the dead to yield to its life-force. He couldn't risk touching Severus, either, no matter how desperately he longed to, or he would surely not only lose the fight to win him back but also forfeit his own soul in the process.
With each passing second, however, that possibility grew staggeringly closer to actuality, much to Lucius's horror. Fighting the furious breeze that threatened his sight in order to stare resolutely into Severus's too white, too transparent face, Lucius wasn't ready to concede and give up yet. He had to reach Severus. He could reach him.
"Severus," he began with unshakable morale whilst simultaneously dropping to his knees. He stared up at Severus's soul, which stared him down mercilessly, allowing for Lucius to carry on without interruption; so the proud wizard raised his head and spoke from the deepest recesses of his heart. "You're right," he confessed, not quietly but emphatically. "I am a control freak, an impulsive gambler, prone to stupidity when forced into making life-altering decisions... I always did depend too heavily on you, and I'm sorry if I ever caused you to resent that about me. I know my strong tendency to cling to those I care about and not allow them proper room to breathe; I suppose, since the war ended, I'm so fearful of losing anyone ever again that I bind myself too forcefully, especially you.
"I hate being alone, I detest silence, especially yours whenever you've been pissed at me and given me the silent treatment, and I gather that I can sense that I've needed you far more often than you've ever had need of me; I'm strangely all right with that, though. It's never bothered me. I tend to lavish those I love with whatever I can afford, whereas you've always been the more practical and levelheaded lover. I appreciate your subtlety and delicate tenderness with your affections and I never told you that enough." Lucius grimaced, a gravitating sadness penetrating his eyes. "All I ever did was tease you mirthfully about your restrained affections rather than admit to you how much I actually valued your love. I regret that so deeply, Severus..."
Lucius scooted closer, ignoring the raw gust that prickled his face, as well as his own unrestricted sentiments. "I regret and lament so many things from my past...much of which somehow involved you.
"I've been horribly selfish, you know. I committed my only son to ruin by forcing him into becoming a Death Eater rather than protecting him as any good father would have done, then watched him destroy himself with drink and depression rather than try to save his life. You warned me he would eventually lose the battle with his demons if I didn't intervene, and I dismissed your concerns as self-serving when you were, in fact, being the only friend in the world who reached out to help.
"I never safeguarded my beautiful Cissy and her well-being when she deserved it most, and it was no one's fault but my own that she left me, even when years later I continued to blame her for our marriage falling apart. You were the only one who had the gall to tell me that the fault was mine. You always told me what I needed to hear, Severus, not what I wanted to hear.
"You were the only person to ever come into my life who accepted all of my shortcomings," Lucius unexpectedly found himself choking on his words and struggling to get them out, "as loathsome as many of them have been, and still saw someone worth loving underneath all my damned insecurities. You let me love you openly, adhere to you like a lifeline, tease you relentlessly, and express myself as I so chose, and all without tearing or breaking me down. You saved me, Severus. Merlin... You helped me recognise the love I still had to give, and that I was, in fact, despite my failings, worthy of another's affections after all. I... I don't know how to possibly thank you for all of that, Severus. It's more than I ever deserved, and you gave it to me in abundance."
Severus's face tilted slightly. Although his scowl did not falter, those dark, albeit murky, eyes imparted a heightening awareness, though Lucius hadn't really caught on yet. He pressed on, praying against hope that his thoughtful remarks would be heard and considered, if nothing else. Even if he had already lost the battle in gaining his lover back, he wouldn't go quietly into the endless, lonely nights that awaited him after this moment without Severus first hearing all that had gone unsaid between them in life.
"Just as you saved me, and gave me a life worth living, it is only suitable that I return the gift that was so selflessly bestowed on me. If there was even a glimmer of hope of bringing you back to me—back to the Wizarding world, to life as we know it—until you're truly old, crippled, and grey, and we can afford to part ways in peace," Lucius forced a small smile, one that was genuinely sincere, "then I was willing to take that risk. I'd do it again. You don't deserve to spend the rest of eternity suffering, Severus. You least of anyone! You deserve to spend your afterlife well above these hollow grounds; high above them.
"If there's a prayer still of giving you that chance, in life, to repay the afterlife debts you still owe, then I'll gladly spend the rest of my days helping your eternal soul achieve salvation rather than see to my own affairs, because that's what you mean to me, Severus..."
Severus's eyes flickered at this, becoming more and more focused with each heartfelt word. It didn't prevent a once self-respecting Lucius from gathering his robes together and crawling forward on his hands and knees, though, humbly begging the wizard's pardon.
"You saved me once," Lucius pressed on, "so I wanted to, at the very least, try to save you. If my soul is to be damned and denied access to the gates of Heaven or Hell for my foolishness, for my stupidity, for fucking loving you enough to risk it all, then I want you to know that I'm glad I was brainless enough to attempt to outsmart Death! I'm pleased to have given it a go, because... Well, I love you, Severus Snape. Damn it, man, I fucking love you, and I'd make the same foolish choice again if faced with the same likely probability that I'd lose more than just you in this fight! You're worth it to me. Your soul merits so much more than any of this. You deserve having someone take a bloody chance on you, even if that person is sodding me, all right?"
Finally, Lucius went quiet, listening to the wind curl and howl in his ears. When that quickly grew too deafening for his restlessness, he chanced glancing up at Severus and was instantly bereft of speech by the drastic transformation his lover had apparently undergone when he wasn't looking.
Severus stood before him now rather than floated off of the ground. Although his complexion was still ghostly ashen, to Lucius's amazement, it wasn't translucent anymore or grey. Even those black irises were back, expressively rich and deep. There was true, genuine emotion there. Life was peeking through beyond the Veil again.
Severus's altered appearance stopped Lucius short of breathing. Had his words rung true? Was Severus's soul finally responding to the depth of Lucius's confessions, which he had kept buried inside himself until now? Was that what it had taken to bring about this turn of events?
Lucius staggered to stand and started to reach out again for Severus's hand before abruptly remembering the predicament he still faced. He stepped closer, however, determined to assess whether his imagination was playing tricks on his mind, or if this was indeed real.
"Lucius, I..." Severus murmured, sounding quite unsure as to how to get across his thoughts, until his face took on an awareness that shook Lucius's footing. "You came for me? You really came?"
"Well, yes, of course I did!"
Severus was about to say something else, but, suddenly, the ground beneath their feet gave a violent tremble, jerking Lucius off balance. He collapsed onto his knees, scuffing them to the point that they bled through his trousers, and he threw out his hands in an attempt to break his fall. Something snapped upon impact with the ground, though, and Lucius began hollering in pain.
Suddenly, something out of the corner of his eye distracted him momentarily from the shooting pain running the length of his left arm. Death spun and morphed out of the cracked, barren ground, intensifying the savaging wind, and loomed down upon Severus and a wounded Lucius, its once dull eyes ablaze with fury.
You! it bellowed, pointing a cloaked hand at the crumpled form of Lucius. You were not to satisfy him! You were not to reason him to leave! We had an agreement!
"So did we!" Lucius shot Death down, all whilst wincing in pain. "If I could convince him to come with me, you were to let us go!"
Death never said you could leave!
"What?" Lucius shot up onto his skin-scraped knees. "You can't break a contract! You can't—"
I am Death! it defied heatedly, spreading its arms wide. Death doesn't yield to the living!
"You will yield to me!" Lucius boldly snarled in return; he had no idea where this newfound courage stemmed from, but now that he had somehow awakened Severus's soul, he wasn't about to back down, Death or no Death to deal with. "You told me that if I convinced Severus's soul to come back with me, that he could do so! You cannot break that contract! Just as you made a bind with Severus's soul, you made a new one with me!"
A low rumble that closer resembled a ferocious growl fought its way out of Death's mouth. How dare you!
"How dare you! I command you, O Mighty Death, to let us go back to the Wizarding world! NOW!"
Severus's solemn-sounding voice cautioned his freshly brave lover and seized Lucius's attention. Lucius turned to Severus to discover the former spy standing back and eying him with apprehension, apparently dithering between heeding Death's warning or coming with him.
The wizard's angst-ridden look prompted Lucius to his feet. Ignoring the stabbing aches in his arm, which, at the moment, didn't allow him to bend it properly, Lucius rose to his full height and motioned Severus away from Death with a vigorous toss of his head.
"Come on, Severus. Let's go home."
Severus hesitated, however, unwilling at first to follow. "Do you mean it?" he questioned softly, his eyes searching Lucius's earnestly for the first time since Lucius had laid eyes upon his lifeless form.
That avidly keen expression instilled the hope Lucius had been craving. He had reached Severus's soul, initially deemed to be unsavable. He had actually accomplished what he set out to do: to woo Severus back from the Inferno gates; to give their love one more try.
Lucius returned Severus's trepidation through a reassuring smile. "Yes, I do. You can come back with me. You can live again, Severus. We can start over and make things better for the both of us. Please, come home?"
For a split second, Lucius experienced a flicker of panic, for it seemed as though Severus was about to drift away from him instead of towards him; but, to his utter relief, Severus at long last turned his body towards him and stepped forward, resignation sweeping across his handsome features.
"Yes," he whispered upon reaching Lucius's side, though not touching, "I would like that...very much."
"As would I," Lucius returned appreciatively, fighting back tears; he so wretchedly wanted to scoop up Severus's hand, embrace him tightly, snog him senseless, but, alas, it would have to wait. He motioned the pair of them onward, overjoyed to find Severus willingly following along at his side. Finally! They were going home.
No! You will not go! You cannot leave! Death's weary-worn command echoed at their backs, which the defiant wizards valiantly disregarded, smirking at one another sidelong. You mustn't! You won't!
Lucius spun on his heel and stared Death down; Severus followed suit. "Yes, we will, and you shall take us back. NOW!"
Death's openings for eyes turned into furious slits that had Lucius somewhat regretting his daring demand, but there was hardly any time to reflect on the grievance of this misdeed, for Death swooped down upon him in seconds (and Lucius assumed Severus as well) and sent them spiralling backward with such wild force that Lucius braced himself to have his spine severed.
However, the blond instead found his damaged body spinning through the air and progressing upward at rapid speed, through a similarly pitch-black portal as the one he had originally entered from. It was too dark to make out his surroundings, so Lucius could only pray that Severus was still with him as they ascended faster and faster through Time and Space, to emerge unceremoniously back into Severus's ordinary hospital room, where Lucius landed on the cold, hard tiles with an aggressive thud that left him flinching and clutching his already fractured left arm in agony. He opened his eyes in time to see the last remnants of the portal closing in that same shadowed corner of the room, and then all was quiet and still.
Lucius inhaled sharply and stumbled to Severus's bed, falling ungracefully to his banged-up knees at spotting Severus where he had last seen him alive: in bed, though fast asleep. At once, his concerns mounted; he seemed to be as unresponsive as he had last time, as his pale face was motionless and placid-looking.
Lucius's heart bound into his throat. No... Did Death trick me? Did he send me back through but not Severus? No, no, no!
Just then, the hospital door flung open and in flew Healer Bram, looking tense and beside himself. "I heard a loud crash. Is everything all right in here?" He hastily approached the bed, noting Lucius hunched over on the floor, and his brow knitted together in surprise. "Did you fall?"
"It looks like you took quite a tumble, Mr. Malfoy?" The Healer nodded questioningly towards Lucius's oddly bent arm.
Lucius's eyes widened in shock as they inspected the injury. So, it really had happened! For the brief lapse in time he had been alone in the room with Severus, Lucius had fleetingly doubted whether any of it was actually real or a demented figment of his imagination, formed in the midst of his all-too-raw grief. Speaking of which...
"Mr. Malfoy, are you all right?" Healer Bram repeated, frowning down at him, concerned.
"I— Yes. I mean, no. I - I took a tumble," he stuttered, fighting to lean over Severus's bed and grab onto the wizard's hand.
"Well, then here, let's take a look at that—"
"No, wait, please!" Lucius interrupted, stretching further to hoist himself onto the bed; to his growing alarm, Severus's hand seemed unresponsive to his touch. "Him first! Please, check Severus, would you?"
"Of course." Healer Bram crossed around the dark wizard's bed and extracted his wand to cast a series of diagnostic spells. His youthful face soon took on an expression of dumbfounded astonishment. "I don't believe it..." he murmured in awe, his breath catching in his throat.
"What? What is it?"
A stunned Healer Bram met Lucius's gaze, his eyes lighting up with excitement. "His body is counteracting the flu! His vitals, they're... They're improving!"
At once, Lucius felt his chest swell with overwhelming relief. Death had brought Severus back! No, he had brought Severus back, and thank Merlin for that. Lucius reacted to this bloody swell news by squeezing Severus's hand. He started when the wizard proceeded to to stir in response.
"Severus? Severus? It's me; it's Lucius! Wake up."
"I'll see about administering some potions and ordering him some food." Healer Bram bustled past Lucius, stating over his shoulder, "Merlin knows, he hasn't eaten in a couple of days. He must be starved. And when I return, I'll take a look at that arm of yours."
"Thank you!" Lucius called after the Healer gratefully. Perhaps that Healer Bram wasn't such a dunce after all.
Lucius's lips curled into an appreciative smile and stretched farther at the sight of a pair of dazed, obsidian eyes opening and drifting towards him. "It's about bloody time you woke up," Lucius exclaimed cheekily and pressed the back of the wizard's hand to his lips, bestowing him with several earnest kisses. "Welcome back, my love."
"Yes, it's me. Who else would it be?"
"I... How long have I been out?"
"I'd lost count, I'm afraid. About twenty-four hours, I'd wager."
Severus's brow furrowed and he gingerly made to sit up. Lucius joined him against the headboard and cradled his good arm around Severus's back, supporting his lover against his chest.
"Funny, I had the oddest dream..."
"Mmmm. I dreamt..." When he met Lucius's intrigued stare, he seemed to think better of broaching the subject. "Never mind."
Lucius grasped Severus's hand tighter, enormously grateful to be able to touch and breathe in the man's scent again. "No, Severus, please tell me."
"I... I dreamt that I died..."
"You did, eh?"
Considering that Severus had just re-awoken from a very deep sleep, and had also very well escaped death, Lucius decided that the serious subject matter of the wizard's brush with death a second time around could wait another day. He leaned into Severus and pressed an avid kiss to his forehead.
"Well, you're back, that's what's important. Healer Bram says you're improving."
Lucius couldn't help smirking at the mockery in his lover's tone of voice. "Yes, he does. You know, I think I've been a little too hard on him. He and the staff have been working round-the-clock to help you, Severus. I'm so grateful to them." He paused to affectionately kiss Severus's brow one more time. "How about you tell me more of that wacky dream of yours after we're out of here?"
Severus snorted. "Not satisfied to stay here with your four-star accommodations?"
Lucius sneered suggestively. "Far from it. If I'd have known you'd be keeping me here this bloody long, I'll have you know that I'd have at least dolled the damned place up a bit; maybe given it some green undertones. It's like a fucking funeral parlour in here."
Lucius was contented to hear Severus's rough laughter come through. He really had survived a close encounter with the Inferno gates. Severus Snape was back, in his arms, and wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon.
Severus issued a heavy sigh and sank against Lucius's chest, settling his head comfortably beneath the pondering Slytherin's chin. "I'm afraid I'm still a bit tired," he confessed through a strangled yawn.
"Healer Bram should be bringing some food shortly."
"And some potions."
Severus showed less enthusiasm for that and mumbled half-heartedly, "Bloody wonderful..."
Lucius reacted by securely encasing the sleepy wizard snug around his good arm. He thoughtfully peered down, but Severus's eyes had closed. It didn't matter, though. Lucius was overwhelmed with emotion at having Severus back again, so much so that he was preoccupied with sustaining the lump in his throat from breaking through when Severus sluggishly piped up, "Lucius?"
"Yes, love?" he responded most devoutly.
"You know...in my dream...you saved me..."
Lucius's hand began to stroke up and down Severus's arm. "Did I?" he whispered, caught up in this moment of great triumph.
"Mmm..." Severus drowsily returned, his eyes remaining shut. "You brought me back...to life..."
Lucius remained perfectly quiet, preferring to take in Severus's faint breathing, enjoying the comforting notion that was life lying peacefully in his arm. After a considerate pause, he smiled into Severus's hair and took a moment to inhale his serene scent.
"I do enjoy playing the hero from time to time," he ribbed quietly.
Severus didn't answer. He was already fast asleep. Of course, there would be time later to explain and better contemplate that 'dream' of his—many, many more years, in fact—but, for now, Lucius simply enjoyed the tranquility of Severus sleeping the rest of the day away. Together, they focused on regaining the wizard's strength so that he could leave St. Mungo's and return to their quiet life in France, with a peculiarly reformed Lucius by his side.
A/N #2: Thank you for reading. Reviews are always greatly appreciated.