grasp only your whiskey bottle

. ... .

She had wanted love to be an epic thing that lasted forever - something that she could cling to and depend on; something that would give her a reason to smile when everything else was ashes - because she was a Gryffindor and she was brave but she needed something (someone) to be brave for. The intangible only lasted her the first month of war, and after that she was clever enough to grasp Ron with an iron grip. (She is a very clever girl.)

She is a very clever girl, and love fades. It doesn't last and it doesn't endure, and her theory (hope dream support) has been disproved in a very slow and gradual way.

She doesn't love him anymore, and if asked to pinpoint the exact moment this slip out of love occurred, she would calculate for a moment before closing her eyes and saying in a precise manner, "Third year into the war, when we argued over Harry's emotional dissociation and I didn't want to kiss him."

So love fades and Hermione finds herself dreading telling him so, but it all turns out okay because then Ron is killed.

It is the fourth year of war and Ron is lying (like that doll one of the boys in her class stole and burned with his daddy's cigarette lighter when she was in the third grade - he held it to the plastic until it warped and bubbled right in front of her, laughing and cruel as all little boys are, and the doll was a misshapen parody of perfection when he finally gave it back) four days in his box in the dirt, and Hermione is so clever: she draws quick thoughts of the Japanese conjunction of "four" and "death" - the same pronunciation, and isn't she so clever? She stopped loving him long ago and only realized it four weeks before his death, and isn't she so clever?

She needs something to be brave for, but she is grasping at straws and killing on pure mental focus. She is alone and dissociated and has long since known how Harry feels.

And this is when Snape comes in.

The kitchen of their headquarters is dingy and dusty and old. The oak table is knotted and worn smooth by countless meals and touch-and-go surgeries when the medical wing was overrun with bodies. There is a blood stain frozen in a permanent drip on the two-inch edge of the table, and Hermione stares at it as she sips her whiskey.

It is the cheap, burning stuff, but she doesn't really care. She is empty and grasping and trying to get her clever mind to find a fucking solution to the new Skin-Rotting Curse the Death Eaters have begun using.

He enters the kitchen in a tired way that isn't covered by his usual dark poise. His glide is somewhat stiff and his robes are ripped. Hermione catches a glimpse of a worn (like the table), expressionless face in her peripheral vision before Snape recovers. His sneer is as blackly elegant as usual, a work of anti-art that Hermione cannot find the will to appreciate or be struck by.

She doesn't look away from the bloodstain.

"Granger. You have obviously never developed a taste for fine liquor."

She takes another sip of her cheap alcohol. "Would you like some, Snape?"

A flask appears from out of nowhere. "I have my own. No need." He moves to sit in the rickety wooden chair (broken countless times by anxious Order members flinging it at the wall while waiting for friends and lovers to Floo) and glances at the cold fireplace, drawing his own conclusions.

"Everyone who will be returning has already returned, and no new large-scale missions have been implemented. You're late, Snape. You were supposed to check in six days ago. "

Snape scowls. "I was ambushed when I arrived in the Port-terminal in Bucharest. There is a leak."

Hermione nods amiably.

"We know. The late Parvati Patil."

Snape's eyes glow with dark satisfaction. "Very well. In any case, I was forced to make my way here by means of non-magical travel."

"The Dnipropetrovsk Council?"

"Cannot aid us. They have a revolution in the works," he relays, and if he were any other man his voice would be utterly weary. Hermione raises her tumbler in a toast, and Snape complies silently. After a moment, he is snide again. "And where is your redhead?"

Hermione smiles grimly. "Ah. He was killed six days ago. You missed the Weasleys gathering for his funeral by four days. Impeccable timing, if I may say so. Wouldn't want to be down yet another Weasley so soon after Ron, and I doubt you would have been able to restrain yourself."

Snape is thrown but does not show it. Hermione is slightly impressed by this, but it is a dull sensation that fades quickly. After a moment, Snape ventures on in a strangely gentle way. "And aren't you going to rage and angst and self-destruct like every good Gryffindor should?"

She is very nearly smirking, her smile is so wry. "Sorry to disappoint you."

His black eyes are fixed on her for a good minute or so. She allows him to stare just as he allows himself to stare, and it is an exchange of trust that most people wouldn't recognize. He says, "Ah. It's like that."

"Mm. Handy, really. I had been planning on breaking up with him after dinner that night, and this way everyone is happier." ron is dead ron is dead my best friend and lover is dead and love has nothing to do with it.

He turns his gaze toward the fireplace again before balancing his chair on two legs and propping his feet against the bricks of the hearth. "I distinctly remember loud declarations of love, Granger."

She snorts and finally tears her eyes away from the bloodstain to glance at him. "Love isn't permanent, Snape. It isn't forever or always or any of the other things that children like to dream of - love isn't immortal, and neither are we."

Snape is quiet and looking over her in a strange, evaluating way. "You have only just figured this out?"

She throws back the rest of her whiskey without grimacing and twitches her wand. The bottle pours itself as she replies. "Go against your innate nature and cut a Gryffindor some slack, Professor."

"I had thought you to be smarter than that, Miss Granger."

"Compliments? From you?"

Snape throws a glare her way and she glares back. They are weary, though - too weary to fight when they don't need to, and Snape doesn't lash out and rip her apart this time. He simply sips at his flask. "Nothing of the sort. Merely an observation."

She chuckles harshly. "Well, Snape, give me another observation. They're entertaining."

"You shouldn't ask a Slytherin for his thoughts. You will never like what you hear."

She looks at him - really looks at him - for the first time tonight. Deep lines are carved around his eyes and his oily hair is singed and missing a chunk in the front in a way that almost gives him bangs. His black eyes, bottomless and unfathomable, and the tired smirk his thin lips are stretched into are the only slightly familiar things. He is beautiful in an ugly kind of way.

He notices her scrutiny - of course he does; he was the guide and master of all the sneaky young fucks and he survived spying on Voldemort - and smirks a bit wider. "Yes, I've changed. The war has changed you as well, Granger. To state the obvious."

"What else is obvious?"

"You don't want the obvious from me, Granger. You want to know what I see - you need to compare my observations to yours because you don't think you know yourself anymore." He pauses and lets the chair rock onto all four of its legs again. He stands and deftly fetches another tumbler from the cupboards before making his way to the table and sitting across from her. Her wand twitches again and tops off both of their glasses. He takes a sip and locks eyes with her before continuing. "You are ever so lost, of course. It is basic and plebeian. What are you fighting for? What are your friends dying for? Why doesn't your lover's death seem like the end of the world? You've been disillusioned." He tsks. "Poor Granger. You can't find a reason to fight - can't find a reason to survive beyond simple tenacity, and even that's starting to fade, isn't it?" Her silence is irritated acquiescence, and she tears her eyes away from his to stare into her drink. Snape leans forward and slams his glass down. "Look at me," he spits out. Her gaze meets his unwillingly, and he sneers and repeats, "Poor Granger. Poor lost, weak little Granger. We don't have any reason to fight beyond the fact that we will die if we don't. The fear of what comes after is what drives us - all of us, even the Dark Lord. Love is ephemeral; purity is passing; light fades." She turns away again and stands. He stands with her, striding angrily around the table in two short steps to block her way. "No, you don't get to run away," he hisses, inches away from her face. "You will fight because you are Hermione Granger. I will fight because I am Severus Snape. We do not fight for weak, hypocritical reasons like the safety of society or freedom of others - not to reshape the world or to have revenge on other weak-willed killers. We are all murderers here, and we fight for our solitary selves. Stop looking to others for reasons and look to yourself instead. Use that big brain of yours and kill and maim and torture because you don't want to bow to a delusional, wand-happy sociopath. Use that big brain of yours, if only so I can have intelligent conversation with someone other than my mirror."

Hermione is breathing heavily by the end of his little speech. "For myself."

Snape nods, glaring into her eyes and still only inches away.

She breathes - one two three four - and doesn't say YOU'RE RIGHT or THANK YOU or I WON'T HOLD ON TO ANYONE ANYMORE. She won't give the arrogant fuck the satisfaction. Instead, she surges up and kisses him, and it is only roughness and teeth and anger and pleading and thanks. He returns it, grasping her neck with long, strong fingers. They both taste like whiskey and epiphanies, and it is not love.

As Snape grasps the hair at the nape of her neck, yanks her head back in what is possibly the most erotic motion she has ever felt, and peppers her throat with sharp kisses, Hermione sucks in a breath and thinks with her clever, intelligent mind that this is a better deal anyway.

Love fades, but this isn't love.

A/N: Written for Saphira. Requests welcomed! Also, after many, many fics, I'm writing my first multi-chapter story that isn't a series of vignettes - if you know Naruto, do me a favor and check it out. It's rather twisted, though. So... not for the faint of heart. My lovely reviewers who asked for an actual story instead of my plethora of oneshots? Yeah, These Are All Things You Don't Understand is it. Hope you know the basics of Naruto. grins