By This, And This Only

By Dien Alcyone

Rating: R for implied slash, angst, and language

Contains spoilers for Order of the Phoenix; do not read if you don't want spoilers

Summary: Kingsley Shacklebolt wasn't at the Hogwarts Express to wish Harry a happy summer with the rest of the Order. Was he still healing from the fight with Bellatrix Lestrange? Perhaps. Perhaps Severus was helping him.

This got way more angsty and deep than I meant it to.

Assumed Kingsley/Severus relationship.

Disclaimer: JRK owns all the characters, I'm merely engaging in idle musing and wishful thinking... the title was inspired by a few lines of Mr. Eliot's that are reproduced at the end of the fic.

Believe it or not I made fan art for this. Sort of. Kind of. Maybe. Link is: www.geocities.com/ theshade00/ bythis.jpg Since FF.N doesn't seem to let URLS be included in text anymore, I had to toy with the spacing to get it to show up.... Copy, Paste, and get rid of the spaces. Lot of work for a little piccy, no?

****

Professor Snape sucked in a harsh breath between gritted teeth as he finally caught sight of the face he'd been looking for, the face he'd been dreading seeing. The normally calm, peaceful features of the Auror looked strained and uncomfortable, even in unconscious sleep. The face was bruised, cut, bandaged.

Without waiting for permission from the St. Mungo's orderlies or the Healer that had accompanied him and Dumbledore, he pushed the door of the ward open and strode in, past the few other beds, until he reached the bedside. He stood there silently, black eyes roaming up and down the battered and slowly healing body.

He did not reach out a hand to touch, to feel. That was not his way. If their situations had been reversed, perhaps Kingsley would do that. But then, Kingsley was the tactile one, the one who liked to hold and be held, touch and be touched.

Dumbledore came up silently beside him, concern written in his features-- though whether if was for the man in bed or the black-clad professor standing like the spectre of death next to him, it was impossible to tell.

"I want him released," said Snape softly, but without any gentleness in his tone. "He can heal just as well home with me as he can here."

"Severus--"

"Now, Albus."

And it was done.

****

The charms and sleeping draughts didn't wear off for two days, during which Snape flitted round his lover's bed-- their bed, the bed they shared-- with a grim determination and cold efficiency. He replaced bandages as needed, tended the cuts, bathed the wounds with professional detachment. At times, he administered potions of his own creation, and more potent than the remedies the St. Mungo's idiots had sent home with them, intravenously into Shacklebolt's arm. If his long pale fingers lingered a bit on the dark skin, Severus didn't let himself notice.

The third day Kingsley woke, eyelids blinking slowly in the sunlight from the window. The light hit his dark, dark irises, their color only a touch warmer than Severus's own black eyes, and turned them to melting brown chocolate, thick enough to drown in. Kingsley blinked sleepily, raised a hand hesitantly to block the light. His eyes found Severus, sitting beside the bed, the latest Ars Alchemica open and ignored on his lap.

Kingsley smiled weakly, white teeth in his dark skin, beautiful contrast when the bottom lip wasn't one big cracked split, when the flesh around it wasn't mottled and swollen. "Hey."

His voice hadn't changed at all, still that rich low bass that had always had the power to make Severus feel instantly better, more at peace with himself and the world. A slow strong river of a voice, and the sound of it after the tense and silent days gradually began to thaw the ice at the pit of his stomach.

He gazed back into Kingsley's face silently, not smiling himself. Kingsley shifted in the bed. "Draw the curtains, will you?"

He didn't move from the chair. "The sunlight suits you."

"Maybe, but it hurts my eyes."

Severus's gaze flicked down to the floor, once, then he got up, unfolding his tall thin frame from the chair, and drew the curtains. He turned, his back to the window and to London, shoved his hands in his pockets.

Kingsley laid back on the heaped up pillows, closed his eyes again.

"How are you feeling?" Severus forced himself to say after a long moment, hearing the words scratch in his throat, knowing the other man wasn't asleep despite the slow steady breathing.

"All right. Better. Tired. A little hungry."

"I'll get food," the thin shadow by the window murmured, left the room. Glad for something to do. Glad the apartment wasn't as quiet as before. A faint smile on his thin lips.

****

He fed him, sitting on the edge of the bed and acknowledging only internally how much better Kingsley always took this sort of thing than he himself did. When Severus was healing from a battle or misadventure, he was an irritable and cross patient; bearing the enforced rest and the babying poorly. Kingsley took it all in stride, acted as if it wasn't anything out of the normal to have to be spoon-fed his soup.

"Who was it," Severus asked tersely after Kingsley had had as much soup and softened bread as he could eat.

"Bellatrix Lestrange. I got her husband Rodolphus, Avery, and Rookwood though. You should eat some too, Severus." Said with the remembered slight smile on his full lips, distorted and rendered grotesque now by the still-healing lip and facial bruises. Severus looked away, was instantly annoyed with himself. A split lip was such a tiny thing; he'd bandaged the broken ribs with nary a flinch, dispassionately inspected the burns on the battle-hardened body... the face was the most minor of the injuries Kingsley had received. Why he had such trouble looking at it he didn't know.

"What curse?" he asked, idly dipping the spoon into the soup but not really intending to eat.

Kingsley shrugged; winced as his body reminded him it wasn't a good idea. "More than one. An Impedimenta-- actually that was Malfoy's... a Stunning Spell or two... some things I didn't recognize. And she kicked me. Powerful kicker." A weak chuckle.

The two settled back into the silence that years of familiarity had rendered comfortable. Neither of them were gregarious talkers, though with Kingsley it was simple a natural comfortability with silence rather than an antipathy to making conversation. Even so, Kingsley spoke again after a few minutes. "You need to eat too, Severus."

Severus scowled and stopped shredding the loaf of bread with his fingers, dropping what was left into the cooling soup. Kingsley smiled again, fondly. "I bet you haven't had a bite since you brought me home."

Severus's scowl grew more pronounced, but he lifted a spoonful of soggy-bread-and-soup to his mouth, not tasting it, just swallowing it down because Kingsley had a point, eating was a biological requirement.

The room was dim without the sunshine and Severus sighed. Kingsley really was a creature of warmth and heat and sun; he looked best with summer sun spilling over his strong features, glinting off his white white teeth and gold earring and bald head. Severus knew how the picture should look, in his head: the warm summer sun should come in and bathe the other man with its caressing rays, should gild his black skin and paint him like an Ethiopian king, transmuting the stark white of the sheets and pillows into his gold-covered throne. Kingsley should smile his quiet slow smile, sit there absorbing energy from the sun until he was well and whole again, powerful muscles moving under his skin with his fluid, gentle movements.

But the scene did not do that. The curtains stayed drawn and the room stayed dark and Kingsley's body proceeded to health at an agonizingly slow pace. He did not look like an African prince, but an Auror who had been sent on a deadly mission and had gotten the shit hexed and beaten out of him. Which he was.

Severus bit back a sigh and forced himself to continue eating, his eyes on the Japanese print next to the bed rather than Kingsley's swollen, bruised face. When he was done, he took the tray back to the kitchen, returned to the sickroo-- to the bedroom, sat down in the high-backed simple chair, replaced the journal on his lap, and promptly returned to staring at Kingsley's hands.

After a time that he did not measure, one of the hands twitched, lifted. It raised to the mouth, covered a yawn. "Severus."

"Mm."

"What... *yawn* ... what happened at the Department? I know we won, but I don't recall anything after Lestrange cursed me.... nobody at St. Mungo's told me, not that I was in any state to listen."

"Black is dead." Little more than a frosty exhalation from Severus. He did not wish to speak of Black. Kingsley's eyes opened wide, and Severus forestalled his next question. "No, we didn't lose anyone else; though others were wounded, they have all recovered.  The Prophecy, however, was destroyed in the fight. ...Albus appeared and started rounding up the rest of the Death Eaters. The boy--" he couldn't bring himself to say Potter's name, "--ran after Lestrange on his own... then the..."

Severus took a bracing breath, ignored the twinge in his arm. "Then the Dark L-- then Voldemort appeared. He and Dumbledore dueled in the Ministry. There were witnesses. Fudge has been forced to admit His return. The war is no longer covert."

Kingsley listened impassively to Severus's emotionless and precise voice, relaying the facts so calmly. He closed his eyes in silent mourning for Black, who had been a likeable enough colleague and partner; not that he would say as much around Severus. He chose to avoid confrontations when he could.

If Severus noted his partner's temporary grief, he said nothing about it. After a moment of the cool silence, he spoke again, the savagery in his voice sharp contrast to the impersonality of mere seconds ago. "I shouldn't have told Black anything about the whole bloody affair! I should have let the boy deal with the mess he got himself and his friends into on their own. Idiot child! Idiot, foolish child! He's as stupid as his father was! More!"

Kingsley sat silent, watching Severus with impenetrable calm, with dark river-mud eyes. The tall, gaunt professor stood from his chair angrily, the journal sliding from his lap to land unnoticed on the floor, and paced as much as the small, cosy room would allow. "If I had-- you wouldn't have gotten hurt."

The Auror blinked slowly, clasping his hands together in his lap. "My injuries are not Harry Potter's fault, Severus."

"They might as well be! If the stupid child had just done as he was told and learned Occulumency like he was supposed to, none of it would have happened! He could have thrown off the dreams! The attack would have never happened! You wouldn't have had to go risk yourself! Even that moron Black would still be up and around and sniffing the crotches of strangers!"

"Severus," interjected Kingsley with his deep voice a faint remonstrance. "I risk my life all the time. So do you. We accept it, as members of the Order--"

"Fuck the Order! Being a member of the Order doesn't mean you should have to throw yourself into situations when a little prudence and discipline and intelligence would have made the whole issue completely rhetorical! It's one thing to have to sit here and watch you heal when it was a necessary fight-- but when the only reason was that boy's absolute selfishness and stubbornness--" Severus broke off, too furious to speak, jammed his hands back in the pockets of his trousers, and turned to face the wall.

Kingsley was quiet for a long moment. "Harry is still very young, Severus. He's only fifteen."

"At fifteen, you knew better, and so did I! If the Headmaster had told us to learn something, I damn well think we would have, either of us!"

"Harry isn't 'either of us.' He's--"

"James Potter's bastard son, yes, Kingsley, I know," spat Severus in fury.

Kingsley summoned the energy to shoot a deeply reproving glance at his lover. "I was going to say, he's himself, Severus. He's himself. Yes, it is a pity the boy didn't learn the Occulumency well enough to guard himself from He Who... from Voldemort's attack... but from what you've told me, maybe... maybe it was better this way. The Prophecy is gone, meaning He--Voldemort can never get at it; we captured many of the Death Eaters; and the world now knows he is back. Harry is still alive. All of the students are still alive. Most of the Order is still alive. ...I'm still alive, Severus."

Snape exhaled weakly, dropped back into his chair, and leaned forward hanging his head between his shoulders. "I... was worried, Kingsley. I... the whole time I scoured the damn forest for that child, I was thinking what you and the others might be getting into, at the Ministry. I should have just gone straight there and bugger orders."

"No, you shouldn't have," Kingsley said; always the voice of reason. Snape glared at him angrily, then gave it up. His glares had no effect whatsoever on Shacklebolt, nor had they ever, even before they'd started sharing a bed some twenty years ago. Even as students.

Snape sighed, feeling bone-weary now, drained and empty and oh-so-goddamned tired. There were days... there were days he didn't even know why he tried, what kept him from just curling up in a dark corner of his dungeons and telling Albus and Voldemort and the Order and everyone to just go-- to-- Hell. Everyone.

Except Kingsley.

Except the young Auror who had been there, in Dumbledore's office, the night he had dragged himself in, dripping with rain and Muggle blood, ripping off his mask and his sleeve and telling them to send him to Azkaban, telling them to kill him, telling them everything they wanted to know and then agreeing to go back and do it again.

Kingsley had looked at him, that night; he had curled on the carpet coughing blood and bile and been aware of three sets of eyes: Dumbledore's blue eyes, sad and grateful at the same time; Fawkes' burning beautiful golden eyes; and Shacklebolt's assessing, deep gaze.

He had wrenched himself up, pointed his wand at the Auror-- an enemy, just by that title, a hated and self-righteous foe. He might come begging to Dumbledore, but that didn't mean he bore any love for the Ministry and their fucking bloodhounds.

It had been with a slight shock that he'd recognized the dark face set above the clean new Auror's robes: Shacklebolt-- a Ravenclaw-- same year as himself. They'd worked together on a project in Defense Against the Dark Arts, hadn't they, a lifetime ago? A world ago?

The expression in the young black man's eyes had been what had thrown him, all those years ago. Not hate, nor revulsion, nor pity; none of which he could have borne. Nor the simple mercenary appreciation for the weapon they'd just been handed; that would have hollowed out what was left of his heart. It had been... an understanding. An empathy.

A year of working together on dangerous missions, of covert rendezvous and this thing Albus called the Order, to build some sort of trust. There were missions where you had to have a partner. Few were willing to work with Snape; the venomous, cynical, arrogant young man whose weapons were poisons and curses and viciously hissed words that were always dead on target. Shacklebolt, however, had volunteered to be his back-up; had put up with the insults and the nastiness, the rage and the sadistic, occasionally self-destructive behaviour; had watched his back and said nothing for himself, not to the worst slurs and epithets Severus could think of. And at the end of it, when they'd made it back from an evening filled with Hell and Unforgivables, and Severus had started swearing at him with the foulest words he knew, just to get a reaction, and it had had no effect--

--then he had asked why. Why that look of empathy, back in the office. Why Kingsley was willing to partner with him, willing to put up with the abuse. And Kingsley, all of twenty years but seeming so much wiser, had told him how thinking about the Dark Arts had kept him up nights from his second year on; how the bright Ravenclaw had had hobbies and interests his professors had never suspected; how he'd known the temptation but not given in to it, and how Severus would never find judgment or condemnation from him.

And then one of them had reached for the other, and what Severus thought should stop at one night went to two, and then three, and then a month; and the months had changed into years of getting a little older together. Getting hurt and patching each other up. Getting drunk once a year but never at the same time. Getting used to the looks from others in the Order who never saw what that Shacklebolt (such a good fellow) saw in that Snape (such a git). Getting time off from the Ministry and from Hogwarts to go to Spain for six months of sunlight. Getting the stony silence from Shacklebolt's close-knit, respectable Ravenclaw family. Getting the less stony but more absolute silence from Snape's very dead father and mother. Getting tickets to Muggle plays. Getting the apartment in London, getting the cat ten years ago, getting used to picking up towels after each other, getting to learn each other's favorite recipes, getting joint Christmas party invitations from Dumbledore, getting on each other's nerves, getting to know what each quiet pause meant, getting to tell each other life stories at three a.m. over cognac, getting the smell of rotten eggs from a botched potions experiment out of the flat, getting your arse beaten at chess, getting on with love and with life until fifteen years had gone by and he, Severus Snape, sat here losing the energy to be angry at Harry Potter and just wanting to thank Someone that Kingsley was still here, in his life, in his home.

He sighed and leaned back in his chair, wanting nothing so much as to lock the door and climb in bed with that familiar body next to his, a beautiful broad-shouldered body with an Auror's scars tracing lines in the dark skin.... Severus closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around himself, trying to pretend he wasn't listening for Kingsley's breathing.

"Severus."

Jet black eyes flickered open, looked to the speaker. Kingsley smiled at him, and it wasn't so bad this time, the bruises and cuts not quite so painful to look as before. "Severus, come to bed, will you?"

He exhaled. "Kingsley-- that's not a good idea, you know it. You're not up to--"

"No. No, I know; I just want you here next to me. All right?"

And when said like that, in the slow gentle patient voice that was like river water over his soul, how could he refuse? He didn't bother undressing, just kicked off his shoes and clambered gratefully onto the mattress, on his side, nearer the wall. He closed his eyes as he laid a very tentative hand on Kingsley's wrist, feeling the pulse there, steady and reassuring.

Severus closed his eyes. And slept.

When he woke, it was dark in the room, not just dim, and he had in his sleep moved closer to Kingsley's body. He could feel now the solid muscles of shoulder and arm against his chest, noted that his own arm was draped across Kingsley's torso. Conscious of the still-healing ribs, he made to move it, trying to shift as little as possible.

"No, leave it there. I like your arms around me." Slow warm voice, honey in the darkness, the smile heard in the tone. Severus hesitated, then settled back in gradually, in the sheltering absence of light. Kingsley chuckled once, his laugh, a silent laugh that came from the chest and rumbled through Severus's arm like bees in a jar. He closed his eyes again and shifted around until he'd gotten his face in the hollow between Kingsley's neck and shoulder.

"Sleep well, love?" Kingsley said, his voice sending pleasant vibrations through Snape's body. Severus grunted a negative reply. He hadn't-- his dreams had been dark and foreboding. If he had been the sort to pay attention to his dreams... but he wasn't. Still, Kingsley's presence was comforting, reassuring, tangible, real; he clutched a little harder than he meant to, forced his fingers to let go at Kingsley's stifled hiss of pain, muttered an apology.

"Severus. Are you all right?"

He stiffened. "Am I all right? You're one to talk, as the one who got cursed into St. Mungo's. Don't be an idiot, Kingsley. Why would I be anything less than all right?" he hissed unpleasantly.

Kingsley didn't respond to his rancor, just heaved a sigh and said, "I don't know. You just seem-- shaken. Severus-- it's not like this is the first time I've come back from a job a little scratched. I've been worse than this before, and you've never... just, are you all right?"

Severus pulled back his arm, rolled over onto his back to stare at the ceiling he couldn't see. "I'm fine, goddamnit."

Long silence. Then Kingsley's voice, a little pain creeping in at the edges... "You don't have to talk about it. But I thought we didn't lie to each other."

Severus bit back on a choked laugh. Yes. Yes, that was true; they were always... honest with each other. It was how they stayed sane; just as Snape alternated between his roles of professor and Death Eater, so Kingsley had to go wear his mask of loyal Ministry Auror, and keep his ties to Dumbledore a hidden thing. But there'd been an unwritten compact that the masks, all of them, came off when they came home. That was just the two of them. Kingsley and Severus. No robes no masks no lies no masters no Marks.... nobody being owned by anyone except themself....

"I lied earlier," he whispered to the ceiling. "When I said I was worried. I wasn't worried. I was terrified."

He paused, worked on the words to go on. The dark helped him, hid Kingsley's expression and reaction from him, made it possible to keep talking. "... I think we're going to die, Kingsley. Here. In this war. One of us. I don't know who; me or you or both of us, I don't know. I'm no Seer, it's not a prediction, but I fear it, I fear--"

He broke off, swallowed his words, kept down the panic. The sounds were breathing, rustling of bedclothes; a warm hand found his shoulder, moved up his neck, brushed the lank greasy hair out of his face. "Nobody's going to die," Kingsley said, the solidarity of a Rock of Ages in his tone.

Severus let out a filthy word he'd taken ten points off a Gryffindor for using. "You don't know that! You don't know that, Kingsley!"

"Neither do you."

"Goddammit! How can you just lie there and be so fucking calm?" Snape snarled, shoving himself into a sitting position. "You nearly died in that fuck-up of a battle, all it would have taken was one Avada, Lestrange was never too picky about using them you know! Dammit, do you have any idea-- any fucking clue-- how stupid it all is-- how-- Merlin's bones, Kingsley, there's just no sodding point, whether the war gets won or not, don't you see that? Because I'm going to lose you, and victory's not worth that, not worth being alone, not worth--

"Christ, would they mention us at our funerals you think? Mention we were lovers? Or gloss it over for the sake of the oh-so-innocent and corruptible children? And Dumbledore, that old and benevolent spider, be the only one to remember it? He'll keep it in his fucking Penseive! All of it, all of us, all that we are Kingsley, just reduced to silver piss in a bowl--" he snarled, took half a breath, kept going.

"And the Ministry officials and solicitors coming to our home; coming and running their dirty fingers through our belongings and our life, and the Prophet putting us in the obituaries-- if we're lucky we'll be at least in the same paragraph, since 'Shacklebolt' is right before 'Snape'-- and what's the bloody fucking point, tell me why we do all this--

"Severus. Love. You're ranting." Strong hand on his shoulder, trying to pull him back down to the bed; he shoved it off with more force than he intended, heard Kingsley's pain-filled moan and instantly lost his anger to the chill.

"Gods. Sorry, I'm sorry, are you all right?"

"...ngh. I'm fine..."

"Oh hell, let me get the light, where's my damned wand--"

"Severus. I'm fine. Calm it down, love."

Breaths in the dark, then; forcing his heartbeat to slow down to something approaching normal. The large strong hand, palm worn to smooth callouses, pulled again at his shoulder, back down horizontal, to rumpled sheets and warm flesh. He didn't fight it. He was tired of fighting.

"What do we accomplish, Kingsley? What in Circe's name does this, does you and me, what good does it do for us in the end? Gets us our fucking hearts broken, that's what. Somebody loses somebody. Why do we-- why are people so stupid-- why do we still try and make it work..." he whispered, miserably, to the skin of the man next to him, his hands balling in the fabric of his shirt. "We don't have anything to show for it. We haven't taken anything from life, nothing worth showing to god or whoever comes after..."

"You're lucky I don't sink into depression when you get hurt, you know that? or we'd be in trouble. Lucky one of us is sane," muttered Kingsley's breath in his ear, warm and not unpleasant. A soft grunt of discomfort as the injured man tried to shift position, closer to his partner.

"Kingsley-- you shouldn't be moving, what the hell are you trying to do..."

"Trying to explain something to your thick snake's skull. Severus; you're still Slytherin through and through, you know that? ...don't you know, love, after all this time... it's not what you take from life... It's what you give. When... when you let someone else handle your heart, when you surrender that defense... takes more courage than facing any Death Eater, Severus, takes more courage to love than to hate..."

A warm hand found the side of his head in the dark, lifted his chin until their mouths met. Severus tasted too many flavours, most of them unpleasant; the bitter aftertaste of healing potions, the bloody, sickening taste of the split lip, the salt of sweat and warm tears... but also the familiar taste of Kingsley's mouth and skin. Cinnamon and lemon and something tropical and floral, vivid and lingering like the scent of sandalwood...

In the dark, his hands moving terribly lightly over Kingsley's warm skin, relearning the lips and the mouth, Severus felt the ice that had started riming his guts at the beginning of last year start to crack and shiver. Voldemort couldn't touch this, couldn't defile this; this moment at least was safe and clean and perfect, salt and blood notwithstanding, pain and bruises notwithstanding.

They pulled back for air, Kingsley's warm skin seeming to transfer heat to Severus wherever their bodies touched. "We exist for this, Severus, for the moments in which we surrender our selves-- not to force, or out of fear-- but because it's the most precious gift we can give to someone else. Because we want to. This, Severus--" and a large smooth-calloused hand rested itself on Severus's lean chest, over the layers of fabric that covered the heart. "By this, and this only, we live."

****

...What have we given?

My friend, blood shaking my heart

The awful daring of a moment's surrender

Which an age of prudence can never retract.

By this, and this only, we have existed

Which is not to be found in our obituaries

Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider

Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor

In our empty rooms.