AN: I lub you all!
The crisis came during tea, three months later. Things had been coming to a head all week long. Severus' skin no longer recovered from the sallow pallor and he'd been walking around all week rubbing his belly and drinking antacid potions. Hermione knew it wasn't his stomach. She pretended not to notice that he'd begun researching liver regenerating potions, and he pretended not to notice her not noticing. Just like no one noticed the smell of alcohol, or the taste of Soberup. And they didn't notice the desperate way they held each other in the dark of the night when the truth was harder to push away.
There had been plenty of warning, and yet there was no warning at all. He had turned with a full pot of tea, just as she'd been reaching for the plates. They had collided in the tiny kitchen and he'd scalded her. It was a minor burn, but he reacted as if he'd stabbed her. He smashed the teapot against the wall and dragged her over to the sink and shoved her arm under the tap.
"Don't move! I'll get some burn paste," he ordered.
"It's just a small thing, love," she said. "I'm fine."
"It's not! It's not fine! I hurt you!" he shouted. "It's because this fucking house is too small! You don't even have room to walk! You don't have room for your things! I hate this fucking house!"
"I love this house!" she cried.
He scraped his hand down his face and sucked in a ragged breath. "Everything would be better if we had a new house," he said in a quiet voice. "I wouldn't hurt you in a new house."
She reached over and shut off the water, drying her arm on a tea towel. She took a deep breath and looked him in his yellowing eyes.
"Yes, you would, Severus."
He froze and then violently jerked away from her as if he'd been the one scalded.
"What are you saying?" he whispered.
She couldn't hide the tears running down her face, so she didn't bother.
"I'm saying that even if we move into a new home, you will still lie to yourself and keep secrets from me. You will still poison yourself trying to pretend you're not a drunk, and I will still watch you slowly die and hate myself because I'm too afraid of your sense of shame to ask you to save your life. Please. Don't do this anymore. At least talk to me about it. I love you."
Hermione held her breath and started counting, staring at his shifting expressions of hurt, anger, shame and betrayal. The last felt like a knife in the gut. She made it to twelve before he turned his back on her and walked away in silence.
She watched him disappear down the stairs to the lab with fat tears tracking down her face. When she heard the first jar smash, she sank to the floor. She wailed as she listened to him smash the rest of them. When she heard the long oak workbench tear out of the wall with a splintered groan and crash against what she could only assume was a desk, she sent a Patronus. She couldn't do this alone anymore.
Snape sat on the floor staring at the wreckage of his lab and wondered what time it was. His mind slid languidly in circles, cycling through the same thoughts and trying to avoid the most painful one. He wondered what time it was. He wondered if he could fix that bench. He wished he'd eaten something. He wished he'd just fade away, so he didn't have to deal with it anymore. He wished she didn't love him, so it would be easier. He wished he hadn't turned out like his father. He wondered who'd entered his wards earlier and was upstairs comforting her.
All of these thoughts, profound as they were, were just a distraction from the awful pain at his core. He'd hurt her. She probably still didn't realize he was already drunk when he'd burned her with the tea. He knew he was killing himself with the Soberup potion and had simply masked the smell of alcohol and tried to fake it. And he'd hurt her.
How had things got so out of hand? He'd simply wanted to stop once she moved in. He'd been happy and didn't need to drown the pain anymore. But then he'd started making all of these justifications and coming up with more reasons, and everything started to slide through his fingers.
Lately he'd found himself contemplating ways to get her to move back out again, but he couldn't come up with a viable way to return things to the how they were before and yet hold on to the beautiful thing they'd created since. Each time his mind played out a new scenario to the end, he always ended up alone. He couldn't lose her. She was everything to him now. Maybe things would be better if she lost him instead.
He lifted up his bottle and took another long drink. He wondered what time it was.
The kitchen floor creaked under a heavier tread than his little lioness could make. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and slowly turned his head when he heard someone come down the stairs. It wasn't her. She always danced down the stairs. This was a plod. A heavy walk of doom. Each step sounded like the pounding of a nail into a coffin. It was over. One way or another, everything was different. He'd tried to keep it all together for her and had failed spectacularly. He took another drink, in case it was his last, and wished he hadn't turned out like his father.
He finally saw who it was, and he groaned and banged his head against the wall. The other man stepped carefully through the wreckage of the lab and squatted down until they were on the same level.
Severus stifled a bitter laugh at the pleasant greeting, given the circumstances.
"Hello, Arthur. Come to kick my arse for hurting your daughter again?"
"You should, you know."
"Would it help?"
They stared at each other in silence for a moment, and then Severus shook his head slowly and said, "No." He took another sip, in case it was his last. "I tried, you know. I really did."
"That's what she told me. She blames herself. She says it wouldn't have got this bad if she hadn't moved in with you and broken your routine."
Snape gave him a long stare and replied, "She's right."
Arthur gave him a disappointed look. "If she hadn't moved in, you wouldn't have started sucking down all that Soberup until you looked like an anemic canary. But you'd have still been a drunk, Severus. Don't lie to yourself about that. The drink would have got you in the end, it just would have taken a lot longer."
Snape scowled and looked away, surreptitiously cradling his bottle tighter, in case Arthur tried to take it away.
"So you've come to save the damsel from the ogre? I suppose she's packing her things? It shouldn't take that long, most of it is still in boxes. I couldn't make enough room for her in this fucking house."
"Don't be an idiot. She's not going anywhere. If I thought it would help, I'd have the boys to drag her away. But no one can get Hermione to give up something she's passionate about. If you think you can drive her away, you've got another think coming, son. She'll stay. She'll stay, and she'll watch you die, and she'll blame herself. None of us can stop her. From the look of you, it won't be much longer."
"It doesn't have to be like this," Arthur said suddenly, gripping Snape's knee. "You're strong. You were released from St. Mungo's too early. We all knew that. You finished healing yourself. Alone. You healed your voice. You healed your muscles. You healed your nerves. You can heal this. This is just another injury left over from the war, don't you see? You were left this way, just like they left you the other way. You're stubborn enough to heal yourself of this too; you just need to ask for a bit of help this time."
Snape looked up at him, feeling a dim spark of hope. "How?"
"First we have to get you to the hospital. You've poisoned yourself, and we need to get that fixed. After that? There's people who have been through the same thing and come out the other side. They have the answers. Hermione say there's a group within walking distance of here. Muggles."
Snape recoiled and Arthur patted his knee. "Don't think about that now. Just think about getting up off that floor."
He stood up and stretched out his hand and Snape eyed it. He went to set the bottle down but suddenly clutched it tighter.
"Bring it with you if you need it to get you through the door," Arthur said.
Snape held the bottle tight in one hand and grabbed Arthur's with the other. He stood up and the room swayed. He'd have fallen if the other man hadn't grabbed him. The bottle slipped out of his hand and smashed. Severus looked at it and wanted to cry. He'd never got that chance for a last sip.
"Leave it. It was meant," the older man said, guiding him through the debris to the bottom of the stairs.
Severus balked at the thought of letting Hermione see him this way. He reached into his pocket but Arthur took the potion from his fumbling fingers.
"No," he said. "You know you can't take any more of that."
"I need it," Snape hissed, hating how much it sounded like a whine.
"No you don't. You're not hiding anything from her, Severus. No more lies."
Hermione heard them coming up the stairs and snatched up the cloaks and her handbag. She stepped back from the door, terrified, but then planted her feet, refusing to hide. Ron and Harry came up and flanked her. Harry took her hand and squeezed.
There'd been no shouting. No hexes had flow since Arthur had gone down there. It had been preternaturally calm, until that last sound of glass breaking. Now he was coming. Was he angry? Humiliated? Had she done the right thing? Did he hate her?
The door swung open and there he was. She started to cry. Not just because he looked awful, he did. With his hair lank and greasy and his skin like yellowed parchment, he looked just like he had when she'd still been his student, and she realized just how long he'd been in this fight. He stood upright, swaying slightly, but Arthur's hands hovered around him as if he were an over-sized toddler taking his first steps.
What really made her cry was the fear he couldn't hide. He stared at her in silence and waited for her judgment in noble terror.
She walked over to him and wrapped her hands gently around his arm. "Shall we go, love?"
He pulled his arm tight against his side, trapping her hands. "Yes," he said.
Snape woke up in St. Mungo's and panicked, as he had every other time. He took a quick survey of his body, making sure he had all of his parts, before memory filtered in and he remembered why he was there. He turned his head and saw Hermione, curled in a chair by his side and he reached out and stroked her arm. She sighed in her sleep.
He scratched at his jaw, feeling several days' worth of stubble, and wondered how long he'd been under. He poked and prodded at his belly, feeling only a slight soreness, and lifted up his hand to see his normal pale skin. So. He hadn't been too late. They'd managed to save his liver after all. Again.
He turned his head and saw a pile of envelopes and presents on the table next to the bed, along with a large bouquet of flowers and a stack of Daily Prophets.
He let his love sleep on and set to opening the cards. There was one from each Weasley. His stomach clenched from the knowledge that they all knew of his shame now. Molly sent a knitted pair of slippers, worried that his feet would get cold. Ron sent a box of chocolates, with a note saying 'a bloke had told him he needed to switch his addiction.' Apparently, Ron had decided he needed to take up chocolate instead. Potter sent him a long letter expressing his admiration for Snape's courage and his best wishes. George Weasley offered 'to lend an ear, whenever needed,' earning a snort. The flowers were from Arcane Alchemy, and the note simple read, 'Sorry to hear of your illness, best wishes for a quick recovery. Signed, Your Employees.'
He grimaced and picked up the stack of newspapers, judging from the dates that he'd been asleep for the last five days. He'd assumed the fact that he was a useless drunk would be all over the front pages, but as he flipped through them there was no mention of it.
He did notice a couple of articles on Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy's latest charity work. That must have made them happy. They'd had no more success than he'd had in clearing their reputations in the press.
As for his latest debacle, there was simply nothing. It wasn't until he carefully scanned through the entire second day's paper that he understood why. There was a minor mention on page ten that he'd been hospitalized with organ failure, 'due to the war.' That explained the flowers from Arcane.
The rest of the explanation came in a lengthier article on page four.
He grinned and had to stop himself from laughing outright, as he read how Snape Enterprises, Ltd. had bought The Daily Prophet. Draco Malfoy was now in charge of publishing, and Luna Lovegood was the new Managing Editor.
He looked over at his little lioness and felt his heart swell with pride and humility. He glanced over at her ubiquitous satchel and saw the rolls of parchment sticking out. She would surely have him sign them as soon as she woke up.
She'd finally done it. She'd finally bought the entire paper just to shut them the fuck up. Not because of any lies they might tell about her, but because of the truth they might print about him.
He wondered if she'd had enough money to eat for the last week.
He searched around until he found his wand and then shifted over in the bed before levitating her out of the chair and tucking her in next to him. She woke up slightly, but he shushed her with a kiss and wrapped himself around her under the blankets. They both drifted back to sleep.
Hermione swiped at the kitchen table with her wand to clean it and stared out the window at the decrepit clotheslines hanging above the alley in the harsh light of the streetlights. It occurred to her for the first time to wonder why they were even there. No one used them. Surely everyone had a washer and dryer now. It struck her how sad the sight was. No one even saw the decayed misery that was such an emblem of this area anymore.
Perhaps Severus truly did hate this house. Just because she'd come to see it as a refuge, didn't mean it wasn't his prison. If he didn't want to be trapped here anymore, she'd buy him all of Britain to roam around in.
Hercules chirruped on his perch and Crooks jumped down off her lap, a sure sign that he was home. She hurried to the front door to greet him, as she always did when he came home from one of his A.A. meetings.
He slid his arm around her and smiled her favorite smile. He fished in his pocket and dropped a coin in her hand. She knew its significance, she'd read about them in a book, but she'd never actually seen one before. It was rather pretty. She hugged him tight and kissed his cheek.
"Thirty days. I'm proud of you," she said.
"I've gone thirty days before," he replied.
"Yes, but you didn't have a nearly illegal amount of happiness to look forward to before, did you?"
"That's true." He pulled back and looked at her. "I couldn't have done it without you."
"That's not true, love. You did it yourself. I just facilitated the process."
He chuckled and leaned his head down until it touched her forehead.
"It's early days yet," he said in a more serious voice.
"You give me strength, woman. I'm so glad you saved me."
"Fair is fair. You saved me first," she replied.
She tilted her head up and kissed him, a slow, lingering kiss, and then pulled away, as she remembered her earlier thought.
"Severus, do you still want to move?"
"I do. I want a home that only has memories of us, and none of the blackness of my past. A place a new beginnings, that you can fill with your laughter, rather than a tomb your laughter has to fight against."
"Then let's start looking tomorrow. I think we should get up early and get a head start on finding a new place to call home."
He squeezed her tight and let out a contented sigh.
"An excellent plan, as always. And while you're looking for us, I want you to contact Molly and set a date. I'd like to be married by Christmas, and living in a new home when we do would be a bonus. If you're still willing to be married to me, that is."
"Don't be daft. Of course I am."
He smiled and she felt her heart flutter at the sight. He stepped backwards and took her hand, leading her toward the stairs, turning lights off with a flick of his wand on the way.
"If we're going to be looking at houses tomorrow," she said, trailing after him, "then I need an idea of what kind of house you would like, so we can make an informed decision."
He chuckled again. "You tell me, what kind of house do I want?"
"Well, you want room for a lab, of course."
"And it needs to be large enough for children someday."
"I had assumed as much, but I expect more discussion when the appropriate time comes."
"And you want a better view out the kitchen window."
"And plenty of room for parking."
"Why do I want that?"
"Because you want a car."
"I do? How interesting, I had no idea."
"You have lots of hidden interests."
"So I must."
"And you want new furniture," she said, as they entered their bedroom.
"What we have is serviceable."
"True, but you will have more room, so you need more furniture."
"That makes sense."
"You want a bigger bed, for instance."
"That seems wasteful. I will only end up sleeping against you anyway."
"True, but you want one with sturdy posts, so I can tie you down on it."
"And you would also like a bigger refrigerator so—"
"We're still talking about beds. Get back to the part about beds."
She burst into a giggle as he scooped her up and deposited her on their narrow bed, diving down on top of her.
"Did I cover everything?" she asked. "If there is anything else you want to make sure I take into account, you better tell me now. I want you to be happy with my decision."
"Hermione, all I care about is that it is not here, that you are there, and that it has whatever car you desire and sturdy bedposts. The rest I leave up to you. I know I will like it, because you picked it, you spared me having to, and I love everything you do."
She reached up and placed her hands on either side of his face. "I love you, Severus. You're my everything. I never saw how unhappy this place was because you were always here to make it feel like home to me."
"This place was never a home until you walked in the door carrying those half-dead plants and hung that wretched clock on the wall, Hermione. You are my home."
He kissed her and she felt her toes curl.
She thrilled at the future that awaited them. It had been thirty days since his last drink, and he already seemed so much happier. Certainly, there would be more dark days ahead, but after everything they had faced these last few years alone, and what they had already overcome together, she had no doubts they would triumph.
She squealed when he bit down on her earlobe.
"Mind on your task, Granger. Daydreaming while I'm trying to make love to you is bad form."
She laughed and pulled him tighter against him. "I'm sorry, I was just thinking about how much I love you, and got carried away."
"I'm so glad you love me, Hermione. I love you very much, as well." He nuzzled his nose along her neck, making her shiver. "Now, shall I continue? Or would you rather lay here and dream about me?"
"Oh, by all means, carry on."
Thank you all, I do hope you enjoyed it! My word yard sale is over, but I do have a one-shot gift fic that I will post in a fly-by sometime in the beginning of November. That will tide you over until I return!