Disclaimer: I don't own them. I'm just playing with them for a while.

A/N: Kind of an AU. You'll see why it's "kind of" when you read the fic.

So, how was this fic created? At first, there was the picture I drew of Severus crying over the moveless body of Sirius. Then I thought how unfair it is that Severus cannot express his sorrow openly because nobody knew of his feelings for Sirius.

And then came the one line ever that has probably permanently got stuck in my mind from any fic. In Fabula Rasa's wonderful fic Stone Cold Sober, Severus asks from Minerva after Sirius's death, "Tell me, as one old adversary to another, when does inhaling cease to be painful?"

And, finally, the last version of the "grieving" song I wrote (the original draft I've used in Goodbyes). Yeah, I know I've already introduced it in FAP as Remus's song after Sirius's death, but I originally carefully made it fitting for both Remus and Severus's feelings.

Then, mix these elements with about an hour of lazy time in the darkest moments of a warm summer night. What do you get? This fic.

WARNINGS: Much angst, character death, implied SLASH SS/SB.

Painful to Breathe

The Final Battle was in its fullest blow. Men and women fell down everywhere, never rising. Death Eaters, Aurors, Order members - all went alike. The air was tingling with the magic of the curses and hexes tossed to every direction.

There was nothing to focus on - at least to most. Severus Snape, however, was an exception. He kept his mind firmly at the task on hand, making sure to keep his back pressed tightly against that of his husband.

"There's more coming from your left," he heard a low grumble. In a second, they'd spun around, the other man throwing curses at the attackers while Severus kept his back clear of the Death Eaters.

The fight was getting, if possible, even more heated by every passing second. There was no telling where anybody was located now - the best anyone could do was to keep themselves from cursing their own allies. Severus and his husband, however, kept together, taking down more enemies than anybody other, even any pair of the others combined.

Slowly, the fight was turning to the Aurors and Order's benefit. There were always more and more Death Eaters who didn't get up, and more and more fighters of the Light Side were standing again, continuing the fight, or simply avoiding the blows. This gave them all renewed hope, as well as more force to continue the battle.

Severus allowed himself to relax a little. He regretted it immediately as a nasty hex hit his shoulder, making him gasp in pain.

"You okay?" asked a low voice behind him, still well audible over the cries and yells everywhere around them. The concern and worry were clear in the other man's voice.

"Yes... Just a bit faint," replied the Potions Master through clenched teeth. "Let's just go on."

Some time later, however, the shoulder was again in pain. Severus staggered in his steps, and their backs slid a bit away from each other. Just then, a curse hit them, throwing them apart.

The ex-Death Eater glanced around him, both to locate his companion and to see the source of the curse. He saw the groaning form some way away from him, worry immediately filling his heart. All this was wiped away in a wave of fear as he saw who'd thrown the curse.

Lord Voldemort, who just moments ago had been duelling with Harry Potter. Now, however, Potter was kneeling on the ground, panting in pain after obviously having received a nasty blast. The Dark Lord had nailed his red eyes at Severus, clearly enjoying the horrified expression on his usually so well-controlled face.

"You, the traitor," Voldemort snarled, "are going to face the whole force of my hatred. Avada -"

"- KEDARVA!" shouted suddenly another voice. Potter, who'd seemingly been just acting, had sent his own curse at his worst enemy's back. The black-clad form wavered once, twice, then started to slowly fall down.

With a sickening crush, Voldemort's skull-like head hit the ground, and he just lay there, unmoving. His curse, however, was still moving - a glowing bolt of green light heading right towards Severus.

And just then, Sirius sprang from his previous kneeling position right in front of Severus, taking the full force of the curse on himself.

For a moment, the whole world seemed to have stilled. Nobody moved - not the Death Eaters, not the Light Side's warriors. Everyone stared at the fallen Dark Lord.

And then nobody looked at him, not even Harry. They watched as Severus slowly kneeled down, pressing Sirius against himself. He raised his head in a shout of pain and agony, "NO!"

The sound of the pained cry echoed over the silenced battlefield, over and over, expressing all the tearing pain inside him.

Then he fell down, sobbing, still clutching Sirius on his arms.

As if woken up from some curse, everybody started moving. Most Death Eaters surrendered right away, while some had to be fought down, but no one died.

Sirius Snape had been the last victim of the Second War.

"I'm sorry, Severus, I truly am."

Rain washes over and wind blows,

But I notice none of those.

Severus sighed deep, shaking away the comforting hand placed on his shoulder. "I know you are, Albus," he replied quietly. "It still doesn't help me the tiniest bit." Tiny tears were rolling down his cheeks. Previously, he'd never allowed that to happen. During the week after the Final Battle, however, he'd found himself unable to stop the tears, just as well as he was unable to stop the pain that was tearing him apart from inside. Sirius was away, dead, and he was that because of Severus. He'd died in protection of Severus, buying the Slytherin's life with his own.

And as much as Severus loved Sirius for his sacrifice, he still thought his husband had made precisely the wrong choice. He should have been the one who died, he should now be lying cold and unmoving in some cemetery. Not too many people would be left behind to mourn him - well, Sirius, obviously, and maybe Albus and some of the other Order members. Other than Sirius, however, nobody would have been in blinding agony, crying their eyes out for the Potions Master. But for Sirius, everybody was crying - everybody, even some of those who hadn't known him personally, simply because he'd been a wonderful and loveable and handsome and friendly. Everything that Severus wasn't.

"It was the way he wanted to die," the Headmaster said quietly, still trying to comfort him, although he didn't make an attempt to return his hand to its previous place. "His death meant something, Severus - it meant everything to him, because it meant letting you live. You were his life, and letting you die would have been worse than death to him."

"I know that," Severus mumbled, unable to stop the sob bursting from somewhere deep within his chest. And truly he knew that, oh, he'd spent all nights after it tossing and turning, unable to find any rest. Maybe, just maybe, if he hadn't been so stupid - if he hadn't staggered, maybe Voldemort couldn't have separated them, maybe Sirius was still alive, Merlin cared about Severus himself. Right now, he'd given his soul to have Sirius again for even the shortest of moments.

And he couldn't do that, so he had to just grieve.

Now your star, the brightest one

Rises to the sky, but you are gone.

Albus wasn't the only one who tried to comfort him. Almost everybody who was still alive had come to meet him these past days, telling him how sorry they were, how much they wished that he hadn't experienced such a loss. And Severus had let them, knowing that it would help their grief, even though it made his own pain only worse.

Even Potter had come to him right the first day after their victory, tears making the emerald eyes even brighter than usually, and told how sorry he was. "I may be in pain," Potter had said, "but I know that your pain is worse. Nobody mourns him as much as you do. We all loved Sirius, loved him dearly, but you were in love with him, and it makes your grief much greater and deeper than ours."

And then The Boy Who Lived, or, nowadays, The Man Who Lived, had started to cry, and Severus had started to cry too, and they'd cried together for the man they both had lost. In a very different way, of course, but still, their grief was the same. For the first time in their lifetime, there'd been no differences between them. The shared grief did what even years of fighting on the same side couldn't, broken the walls between the two men who'd both lost so much.

Safe travel for you,

My friend,

Safe travel now,

Through the end.

Lupin, of course, had also made an appearance. Not crying in his presence, the werewolf had still looked as if he hadn't done anything else but cried ever since the battle. Their grudges had also been wiped away, and deep inside his mind Severus had bitterly thought whether Sirius had sacrificed himself earlier if he'd known what would be the result. And, coming to the conclusion that he maybe would have done just that, Severus had started to cry, unable to stop once he'd started. Lupin had watched him in confusion and agony at the same time, unable to do anything else but hug him comfortingly and tell quietly that it would be okay.

But Severus knew now, he'd known even then, that it would never be okay, not anymore.

Safe travel for you,

My friend.

Beyond the end

I'll be with you.

Once - had it truly been two years already? - he'd asked Minerva what it was like to lose a lover. Minerva had shed a single tear over the memory of her long-lost husband and told him that even though the ache eased over the time, it would never go away. That every time she had to wake to an empty bed, that every time she fell asleep alone, every time she even breathed, she felt a slight, yet agonizing pain somewhere deep within her heart.

Back then, Severus had shuddered, wondering whether that'd happen if he lost Sirius, too. Also, he'd wondered whether the pain could truly stay for decades.

Now, he didn't doubt Minerva's words the slightest. The only thing he doubted was the thing she'd said about the pain getting easier. Right now, he couldn't even imagine that ever happening, although he could easily think that he'd feel the pain for the rest of his life.

The wind blew faintly over the little graveyard on the cloudy autumn evening. Severus glanced around himself, seeing teared faces and trembling hands everywhere he lay his gaze. He himself did not cry, not anymore. He couldn't force any more tears up; he'd cried himself empty.

Besides, he'd promised. He had told Sirius he wouldn't cry in his funeral. Even if it had been just a joke at that time, there'd been a serious tone in Sirius's voice that had made him decide he would indeed do that.

I promised you not to cry,

But I can't help asking, "Why?"

He was still wondering why it had happened. Why had Sirius sacrificed himself for him? The old, nasty, ugly Potions Master the whole school, even some of the teachers, knew as the "greasy git." And still, Sirius had loved him enough to be with him, to marry him, to give his own life to allow Severus continue the sorry excuse of life that was his existence.

Suddenly, he felt like being watched, and glanced up again, breaking off from his thoughts. Everyone looked at him, expecting him to say something.

But he couldn't. There was no telling how much Sirius had meant to him, how much Severus had loved him, how the pain of losing him was tearing him slowly apart, how his heart was still full of unshed tears.

So, he just raised his hand, which was empty. Staring firmly at it, he searched for the only bit of wandless magic he'd ever learnt.

Sirius had taught it to him. They'd together studied it, creating roses, and Sirius had just laughed as his roses were red and Severus's black, saying that they matched their characters just fine.

This time, however, the rose was white. And somehow, Severus knew that it would never again be, that no matter how he tried, all his roses would be black. There was no changing that. Only this once he'd managed the miracle.

Letting the white rose to fall down to the coffin, he whispered, "I miss you, Sirius."

Then, the tears stinging in his eyes, he turned around and walked stiffly away, unable to bear watching the end of the ceremony. Nobody questioned his escape.

All the tears I still can't save.

One white rose I lay on your grave.

It was quiet, quiet and peaceful. Severus glanced out of the window, seeing a star twinkling to him from the endless nightsky.

"What are you thinking about?" asked a quiet voice behind him.

The Deputy Headmaster of Hogwarts turned to see the Headmistress watching him. "About Sirius, of course," he said just as quietly. "It's hard to believe it's been fifty years already. It feels like a couple of days, and still forever."

"That's the way it is." Minerva chewed her lip, seemingly trying to find something to say. The pain in her eyes, the pain they both shared, however, told more than any words could have.

"You were right back then, you know," Severus said quietly. As Minerva raised a questioning eyebrow, he continued, "When you said the ache would never go away. It hasn't. It's become more bearable, but it's still there."

"And it will be," whispered the witch, stepping to his side and watching the dark sky. "It won't go away. And in a way, I don't want it to. As long as it is there, I know that I still love him, that he's still there, in my heart."

"Exactly." Severus nodded, wholly agreeing with her. For a moment, they were both quiet. Then he broke the silence, saying, "You know, it truly is painful to breathe. Back then I didn't believe that could be possible, but now I know that it is."

She nodded, once again in loss of words. A silent agreement passed between them as they watched the stars, remembering the ones they'd loved and lost.

Somewhere up there, a star seemed to wink at them.

And for a moment, it was less difficult to breathe. But never, ever painless.

Stars light up above us so high,

They are casting their blessing light.

And for a moment, all in sight

Is only light.

It's only light.

Severus awoke with a startle. For a moment he was still in the world of his dream, so many years from now on.

Then reality hit him, and despite all his self-control, he started quietly sobbing into his pillow. As painful as the dream had been, a nightmare to most, it seemed like a treasured daydream compared with what had truly happened. Sirius hadn't died saving him. He couldn't cry openly for his lover. Voldemort wasn't dead.

No, the Dark Lord was very much alive, which was proved by the burning pain in his left forearm.

As he started to hastily dress for leaving to the meeting, his thoughts drifted back to his dream. Albus had been right there; it'd been just the way Sirius would have wanted to die in. Meaning everything, meaning life, meaning love. Not just a futile attempt to get his stolen life back to him, not a fatal mistake in a duel and a silent fall backwards.

He had to do his best to stop the tears as he emerged from his personal quarters. Sirius was dead, and he'd died for nothing, when the battle had already been over. And Severus hadn't even been there, leave alone able to express his awful loss.

Nobody was telling him how sorry they were that his lover was dead. No, everyone was walking on eggshells around Potter and Lupin, saying that they needed time to deal with the pain. As if to add to the irony of the situation, Albus had recently often sent Severus to missions he'd normally managed to avoid, saying that the rest of the Order was too deep in sorrow to function. And he, who was pained the most, who hadn't slept a single night not filled with nightmares, who had to hide all his sorrow and pain, had to work for those who could express it all openly. If anything, everyone would expect him to be glad, to be happy that his "archenemy" had been killed at last. When he'd managed to - albeit awkwardly - tell Lupin that he was sorry, he'd got only disbelieving gazes from everyone and a sad glance from the werewolf.

Oh, the irony of the world.

Well, he'd never expected the life to be fair on him.

'At least,' he thought as he hurried to inform Albus before heading to the edge of the wards, 'I got an answer to my question.

'Breathing never ceases to be painful.'

Safe travel for you,

My friend,

Safe travel now,

Through the end.

Safe travel for you,

My friend.

Beyond the end

I'll be with you.

A/N: Yes, it was intentionally "Sirius Snape." They were husbands in the "AU," you see.