Author notes: I wrote this for the less_for_you (Lily/Severus) exchange on Livejournal - last spring. After submitting it, I actually never re-read it until tonight. But I found it's something I'm able to claim with surprisingly little pain. *turns to writing for the current exchange, which she will hopefully upload more promptly*


One Night for a Lifetime

The Flayed Fish was by no means a fine establishment, but it was accepted as Spinner's End's best. There were two or three other pubs -- one which only travelers used, considered boring by the young people -- and one which you only visited when you didn't much care what might happen to you. Severus's father frequented that one. But part of Spinner's End's fondness for the Flayed Fish lay in how the bartenders would not share about who came with whom or what teenagers snuck in to buy drinks and hide out in the back rooms.

Nevertheless, Severus had never thought he would hear Lily suggest that they go there.

It was a December night, just a couple days after they had gotten home for the Christmas holidays. She had told him earlier that day to meet her outside his back porch. She was shivering now, hands jammed into the pockets of her short cream-colored coat.

"Let's go to the Fish," she said.

He squinted at her, though there was hardly any light but from a street lamp far away. "Did you take something Potter gave you?"

She kicked at his ankle. "No, don't be stupid. I want to go."

"Why?"

"Because I want to do something with you, you prat. It's been a hell of a term and I haven't seen you at all, so I want to drink a little with you to see if we can actually talk. Now come on, it's too cold to stand still."

He fell into step with her as they walked away from his house, staying out of the light of the road until they rounded the corner. "Have you drunk before?"

She shrugged, pressing close to his side for warmth. "What Mary and Anna brought back from Hogsmeade. I've never been drunk before. Have you?"

"No, I think it's a rather stupid thing to do with most people."

"Well, but when you're with someone you really trust, even if you get really drunk..." Severus wasn't sure if she were deliberately pressing harder against him, or if it was just his imagination. "Have you drunk before?"

"Yes." He didn't tell her with whom.

They entered the Flayed Fish, which as usual was too dark and occupied for anyone to look their way. They weaved their way to the side of the bar, out of sight from most. Lily looked at him.

"Did you bring any money?" he asked her.

She produced two twenty-quid notes. Severus took them, folding them in his fist. "What do you want?"

Lily shrugged with seeming indifference, but Severus recognized the imploring look in her eye, same as when some piece of wizarding knowledge was being discussed which she didn't know. "Not anything pansy-ish."

"Are you certain?"

"Yes."

Severus hunched over the bar, raising his hand slightly when the bartender glanced in their direction. "A dry martini and a shot of vodka."

"Martini for the lady?"

Severus gave a short nod, and the martini soon appeared with a cherry in it. He watched Lily sip at it while trying not to wince at the taste, and took the vodka all in one swallow.

Lily eyed him. "Don't show off."

"I wasn't trying to." He tried to sound neutral, but it wasn't a tone he had practiced much lately, and he saw Lily frown into her glass.

They drank in silence after that. He ordered white wine for her, figuring to give her taste buds a break, then whiskey. He only had a couple more shots himself, realizing Lily would soon enough be facing her first experience of inebriation and whatever happened, he wanted to be alert enough for it.

On her second glass of wine after the whiskey, Lily was frowning with her forehead in her hand. She sat up, pushing a lock of hair back. "This is peculiar. I feel clear in my head, but -- it's hard to focus." She picked up her glass, holding a thumb at the bottom and her index finger to the level of wine, as though trying to measure it. Then she put it down and glanced at him. "I'm not drunk."

"Buzzed, I believe, is the term," he told her.

Her forehead creased, as though it hurt her to look at him, but she didn't look away. "I've missed you. I -- I really have."

Severus hesitated, feeling cornered; he wanted to be honest with her, but it went against everything he had been striving for the past year, or even longer.

The silence went too long. Lily picked up her glass and took a large swallow, slamming it down. "But never mind, if you've gotten toomanly to express your feelings. Or you just haven't." She set her shoulders back, folding her arms on the counter and looking in the opposite direction, no matter that it was the wall ending the bar.

Severus leaned towards her, feeling a little desperate now. "I have. Missed you." Lily turned back to him, though the set of her shoulders did not change. He struggled on. "I wish -- we could be together more at school. But I'm not a Gryffindor, Lily."

"I know," she said. She had raised her hand to lean her temple on her knuckles, more sympathy in her eyes now. It seemed to Severus he had spent his whole life trying to read her eyes. "I wish I could approach you without feeling like I'm about to be hexed. Or that you'll be punished for it later by your friends."

He swallowed, suddenly wanting another shot. "I don't want it to be like this."

"Of course." She reached out, very hesitantly, and laid her fingers on his arm. They looked in each other's eyes, then Lily's mouth twisted and she pulled back to take another drink. "It's like some damn Romeo and Juliet. In a friendship way." She gave her head a shake, as though to clear it. "We've been best friends for how long –- since we were nine -– and now we're afraid to be seen together at school. God. Merlin, I should say." She finished the rest of her glass.

He ordered another for each of them, but Lily had only taken a first sip before shuddering and dropping her head into the crook of her arm.

Severus put his hand lightly on her shoulder. "Don't fall asleep."

"I'm not," she said, voice muffled. "Just really dizzy."

He paused for a moment, remembering they were essentially alone here –- and carefully wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Lily froze for a moment, then raised her head to set it against his collarbone, her breath lighting across his throat. Severus tightened his grip.

Around them was the dim rumble of the pub: coughing, barks of laughter, and continual muttering. A dirty napkin lay by Severus's elbow, while he could feel a sticky spot on the floor beneath his shoe, and Lily's side pressed against his, closer than they had been in so many months. Severus tasted something bitter in his mouth that had nothing to do with the vodka, and he wondered, is this all we have?

The bartender returned, unasked, with another shot and glass of wine for them. Severus reached for his, but Lily was quicker, snatching it from before him and pulling away as she downed it in a swallow. He eyed her as she shuddered again, then used the glass to prod her own towards him, meeting his gaze unrepentantly. She was definitely drunk now, he decided as he picked the wine up.

She reached for that too after he had taken a sip, fingers overlapping his as she brought it to her lips. He acquiesced, watching as she swallowed and closed her eyes, forehead creased in a line like her mouth. At last she took a deep breath, bringing her hands to either side of her head. "Okay. I think -– do you know where the bathroom is?"

Severus stood up, helping Lily to her feet as well and putting his arm back around her shoulders; he did not trust her ability to walk steadily. On a second thought, he took the half-empty wine glass as well, unwilling to leave it alone on the bar.

Lily leaned on him, awkwardly reaching up behind his back to hold onto his shoulder, as they made their way around the tables. The bathroom was a single unkempt stall, unmarked for either sex. He locked the door behind him, and she leaned heavily against the wall, looking ill with her eyes closed.

He set his glass on the sink, watching her. "Are you going to be sick?"

"Mm." She looked unwilling to open her mouth, and abruptly slid to the floor, turning her face to the cold tile wall.

Severus crouched down before her, reaching to cup her chin and turn it back toward him. "Don't do that, it's filthy."

Her eyes opened, looking at him bemusedly. Severus felt caught, but couldn't pull away from the opportunity to touch her skin. He stroked his fingertips over her cheek hesitantly, and she leaned into his hand.

The moment, as surreal as it was, broke suddenly as she lurched sideways, gasping only, "Move," and Severus jumped backward out of the way of the toilet. She caught hold of the side of it, and as her shoulders heaved he pulled her hair back because he knew that was what you did.

Unbidden, the thought came to mind of what Malfoy and Lestrange would say if they could see him now, and indeed he could already hear it: holding a Mudblood's hair back, Sev-–

But this was Lily -– his best and only real friend, the only one who made him feel he could perhaps be something more than where his father and companions set him – Lily, vomiting into a dirty toilet, drunk and sick and only with him, and he had the word Mudblood in his head. Severus felt a rush of self-loathing, disgusted at himself and what a weak creature he had let himself be turned into. Fuck them, he thought, and squeezed Lily's shoulder with his free hand as he leaned in to kiss the back of her neck, and told himself he would do the same if they were watching.

Not long afterward she finished, gasping, and Severus grabbed a wad of toilet paper. She took it weakly, blowing her nose into it before dropping it into the bowl. "Sorry," she said hoarsely.

Severus harrumphed, reaching for more toilet paper. "Don't apologize. I expected it to happen."

Lily gave a weak snort of a laugh. "Oh, did you?"

"I did," he said remorselessly.

Lily took a deep breath. "Thank you."

The thanks made him just as uncomfortable, felt just as inappropriate as the apology. He realized he was still holding onto her hair, and decided there was no need not to let go yet. "Well," he said softly, "better me than other people, right?"

She finally lifted her eyes to look at him, her lips cracking into a small smile with real warmth and gratitude in it. But there was something still above her upper lip which didn't bear close analysis, and without thinking about it Severus raised his wad of toilet paper to wipe it off.

Lily flushed deep red. "I guess this counts as a bonding moment." She reached past him for more paper, but he put his hand over it first and finally let go of her hair to stand up, wet some of the paper in the sink, and hand it to her. She scrubbed her face before dropping it in the toilet, and he pressed the handle to flush.

"How do you feel now?"

"I think I'm okay." Lily lifted her hands, an unsure half-signal for help, and he bent down to brace his forearms underneath her before pulling her to her feet. "Thanks." She leaned back against the wall again, perspiration glistening on her forehead.

Severus picked up the glass of wine from the sink, raising it to her mouth. "Just a sip," he instructed, and she obediently took a small one, bracing the glass from underneath with her own hand.

He had managed to keep busy thus far, but now he was running out of things to do and couldn't keep from worrying that if she had noticed his rash and entirely imprudent kiss, it would come out now. She was smiling at him in a way that wasn't reassuring.

"Not a very manly, Slytherin situation, is it, Sev," she said softly, and his tense muscles relaxed. She placed her hands on his shoulders, then looped them together behind his neck, forcing him a step closer. "It's all right, I promise I won't tell."

He snorted. "I do believe I have the more powerful blackmail material out of this night."

She angled her head back, grinning now in a familiar mischievous way. "Is that so. Well, I guess I'm at your mercy then."

What made her say a thing like that? Possibly she was not entirely sober yet. He was distracted by her exhaling loudly, her eyes closing, and she slowly leaned forward to touch her forehead to his chest. For a moment he felt awkward, but that was ludicrous compared to everything that had already happened, and he allowed himself to fold his arms over her back. She was very soft.

"Are you really all right now?" he asked.

"Mmm." She turned her head to lay her cheek flat to his thin chest. "Yeah, I think so… I just got dizzy for a moment. I like it in here." At his noise of disbelief, she added, "It's better than out there, anyway. And I don't want to go home yet." Her hands tightened where they clasped behind his neck.

Severus decided that it might be all right to linger here for a few more minutes, just to make sure Lily was steady enough for the walk back home. It had certainly been a hell of a night… and they had had more physical contact than perhaps even all of last summer. Not even considering that kiss. Had she felt it? His fingers unconsciously worked upwards to find the spot on the back of her neck, while his other hand remained holding her side, stroking to feel her ribs through her shirt. Surely, after everything else tonight, it wouldn't seem strange.

Lily shivered, raising her head to -– no, there was no other way to describe it besides nuzzle against his neck. Severus felt his face heat up, and his hands stopped moving.

"It's okay," she whispered, and spread her own hand flat against the base of his neck, squeezing the skin there. She sighed again, lifting her head to look him in the face, and he touched his forehead to hers. Their noses brushed, and they breathed against each other's lips. She turned her head and they were cheek-to-cheek, her breath sighing in his ear as her hands moved against his back, holding him close, and Severus wondered if the eroticism of the situation could be so entirely one-sided.

But everything was still all right –- Lily didn't mind touching him this closely. She seemed to like it. So he dropped his hands to hold her sides, massaging over her ribs and dropping beneath them to squeeze her stomach. She inhaled and exhaled slowly, and he didn't trust himself to try to interpret what it meant. They moved back to meet eyes again, too close to see both but saw overlapping vision of one eye, green and black. Their noses brushed together again, this time intentionally, and Severus didn't know when he had moved his knee between her legs, or when she had let him. This was slowly spiraling out of control, crossing so many lines that soon they wouldn't be able to pretend it wasn't happening, and did she realize yet? Could she? What was she thinking?

She sighed again and again, exhalations so close to his ear that aroused him more and more, and he pulled his knee higher between her legs to ensure their hips didn't meet. Her breath hitched, and she brought her hands down to his waist to slide under his oversized coat and cross over his back again, stroking up and down on either side of his spine.

Then she touched her lips to his cheek, a kiss that made him jump, but she held tighter to his shoulders and whispered, "Shhh, it's okay."

Severus no longer had the slightest clue what she meant or thought or intended – he could only reciprocate and take these tiny steps with her, so he turned his head and pressed his lips to her cheek for as long as he thought would be permissible.

Lily kissed his forehead, and he hers, slowly dragging his face down against hers. At this point everything felt fuzzy, drunken except that he couldn't be drunk, and too good to be real, so he was never sure who was responsible for moving their head that fractional, monumental degree so that their lips brushed together.

Neither of them reacted at first, in that first kiss with nothing more than their lips uncertainly still, eyes just open to stare at each other. And it was Lily who pulled back, just enough to kiss him again.

Severus found it was difficult to think, react, or feel much at all when one of your longest and deepest fantasies came true. It still didn't seem real, as she kissed him twice, three times -– shy, brief exchanges. It wasn't until she started to pull further back, looking more unsure and anxious, that it hit him. He grabbed her shoulders as though afraid she would leave entirely, gripping to what must have been a painful degree.

"No," he said. "Please."

Lily smiled, lifting her hands to gently touch both sides of his face, and kissed him more confidently. He tried to reciprocate now, doing what he knew –- it was clumsy, far from perfect, but he was kissing Lily and he could do it forever.

A thunderous banging shook the door so it seemed it might break open, and they both jerked violently and broke apart, staring at it.

"You've been in there long enough for a shit, get your ass out so other people can use the pot!"

They stared at each other, boggled, until Lily lifted her hand to her mouth to cover a nervous grin. She whispered from behind it, "This is going to be so awkward."

That broke the spell for Severus, and he moved forward, reaching without consideration for her hand. "Just be natural. He's drunk anyway."

He unlocked the door and pushed it open, and they exited without making eye contact with the pot-bellied man who waited outside. He made no comment, but entered the stall after them.

Severus, holding Lily's hand behind him, squeezed his way through the tables to the door. The cold snapped his brain back to earth, clearing away whatever fuzziness and strange illusions which might have lingered from the bathroom. He looked at Lily apprehensively.

She smiled wide at him –- a nervous smile, full of uncertainty and perhaps some bewilderment too -– but it was friendly and open, almost conspiratorial, and shared it all with him. Wasn't that crazy? it said. I never expected that to happen.

She wound her arm around his and clasped his hand tight. "Let's run home."

So they did, in an awkward joined way, slowing to walk occasionally as they wound through streets and alleys and shortcuts they knew so well, through their old playground, to the Evans' home. They stopped under the back porch, Lily panting as she dug for her key. When she found it she grinned up at him again, squeezing his hand tight.

"Well," she said, after a moment, "I guess we'll have to figure out who has the blackmail from tonight."

Severus dropped his head, trying instinctively to hide his smile. Lily laughed and stepped towards him, giving him a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. She started to turn towards the door, but he said, "Lily."

She looked back at him, and he touched her face very carefully before kissing her lips, dry from their run and the cold. Don't forget this. Don't blame it on the drink, don't say it was crazy and shouldn't have happened. Don't regret it, whatever happens.

He wasn't sure if any of that got through, but when he finished her cheeks were very bright, eyes glittering even in the dark. She looked more affected than anything that had happened earlier that night, and completely speechless.

"We'll talk tomorrow," he said, because he felt he had to say something.

"Yeah," she said, breathlessly. "Of course." She continued staring at him for a few moments, then turned to fumble with her key for the lock. Severus watched her at last work the door open, and she gave him one last glance before disappearing into the dark inside.

As he walked home alone, Severus pressed his knuckles to his lips, trying to preserve any lingering bit of her on his mouth. His whole life told him what happened tonight would not erase all the problems they had at school, everything which weighed on them before tonight. He was inclined to think, even, that the best part of – whatever it was that had taken place tonight, had already happened, and that soon enough they would return to being childhood best friends with too many adult differences. But now, as he walked along the dark road of Spinner's End, that seemed all right to him. He didn't mind how miserable his life might become, whatever might happen, because he had experienced what he had thought would never happen. He had kissed Lily, and felt her arms wrap around her neck and her mouth pressing back against his, wanting it.

The wind blew freezing cold and the night was dark and lonely, and Severus knew nothing of it.