A man in a long billowing cloak lurked in the shadows near a small cozy home in a quiet village. He'd been standing there for quite some time, staring through the partially open curtain. He despised the man who had inherited the house, but that was not his purpose here on that night. No, not him for tonight. His purpose was the red-haired woman he'd seen through the curtains, who'd obviously not seen him, due to her lack of reaction. For all they'd been through, he knew she was never unaffected by his presence.
And that was the thought that kept him company as he strode purposefully towards the door. He knocked briskly, tensely. He was not comfortable asking for admittance to this place, not with the man whom it belonged to. All thoughts of James Potter were wiped from the door when the door swung open.
"Severus," said Lily, quietly, but her voice held as much shock as if she'd shouted it. Her eyes darted towards something behind her, and she stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind her. She crossed her arms. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I came to see you," he whispered, for his voice could go no higher without breaking. "I-I heard something, and I had to know if it was true. I knew I'd find you here," Severus added, not bothering to hide the contempt in his voice. Both pairs of eyes flashed to the door, and then met.
Lily looked away from him. "Well. What is it? What is so important that you would disregard everything I've told you about our friendship and come and find me?" She too, spoke in a soft tone, but he was unsure it was due to emotion, or to prevent the man inside from hearing their conversation.
Severus knew he must say it quickly, or he might not be able to say it at all. "I was in a pub, and I overheard Black and Lupin. They said- Lily, they said you're marrying him. That he's asked, and you've said yes. I have to know- I must hear it from you. Please, tell me you're not marrying him, Lily." he begged unashamedly. It was the plea of a man who'd thought he lost everything, asking for a last thread of hope to tie him to life.
Lily did not answer immediately. Her arms uncrossed, and then her gaze drifted towards her hands. Severus saw something glint, and his heart thudded slowly. She looked at him then, and a fierce defiance was apparent. "They were telling the truth, Severus." she told him. "I'd be lying if I said I weren't marrying him, because I am."
"Why?" he protested, raising his voice. A look from her quelled him. Reluctantly, he lowered his tone. "Please, Lily. Don't do this. It's a mistake, trust me, I know all about those." Severus muttered, thinking of everything he had ever done concerning the woman before him.
"I know all about mistakes too, Sev, and this isn't one of them." Lily replied, softening. He was uncertain whether she even intended to let the childhood nickname slip out.
Behind her, the door opened, and so emerged the man they conversed about. "Lily, is everything alright? You've been out here for a while- You." Potter cut himself off, seeing Severus on his porch. "What are you doing? You're not welcome here." he hissed, not concealing his anger. "Leave. Now."
Severus sneered at him. "I've not come here to fight with you, Potter. I'm here to see Lily."
Potter looked at Lily. She reached out a hand -her left, the one which bore his ring- to touch his shoulder. She looked at him with what Severus knew was love, because he knew that very look was in his eyes every time he saw her. "It's fine, James. It's best I speak with him now. Severus and I need to sort some things out. I'll be in soon enough."
Unhappily and with obvious reluctant, Potter nodded his assent. He leaned in towards and kissed her forehead. "I'll be right inside," he said, both as an assurance to Lily and a warning to Severus. He shot Severus one last dark look before re-entering the house.
Severus felt his insides burn with envy as Potter kissed Lily, Potter assured Lily, Potter 'protected' Lily. It was not his right. She had hated him. She was supposed to hate him! He was supposed to be Potter, the big-headed git. It was Severus who was to kiss her, to assure her, to protect her, not him. It was he who had been there for her since she was but a slip of a girl, nothing like the woman she was today. He who had loved her, longer and more than Potter ever could. What right had that cockroach to be with her?
"I love him, Sev." Lily said, cutting through the silence that had fallen upon them. "It's not a mistake." she repeated determinedly.
His face crumpled. "Can I change your mind?" he asked, swallowing thickly. "If there's anything I can do, I'll do it, I swear it. I'll leave the Dark Lord. Just tell me what I need to do- Whatever it is. Anything to stop you from doing this." he promised, meaning every word. He did not care if it meant his death, if he could change her mind, it would be worth it. He would not allow her to make this mistake while he had anything to say about it.
"You can't change my mind, Sev." she said, her eyes welling up. "I've made my decision. I love him, and much as I know it hurts you to hear it, I'll stand by him." She took a shaky breath and continued, not letting her gaze waver. "What good would it do you to leave Voldemort? -Don't make that face, Severus, I'm not afraid to say his name- How would that help you in any way now? For one, you obviously still stand by your beliefs, if the only reason you'd be leaving is for me. And for two, as much as I want you on our side, you've committed yourself, and I don't have any power over that."
"I haven't committed myself." Severus lied.
Her lips quivered and she shook her head. "Show me your arm." commanded Lily, her voice hoarse.
He stiffened, but raised the sleeve of his right arm. He showed her his unmarked skin and tugged down the shirt sleeve once more.
Lily let out a mirthless laugh. "Not that arm, Severus. Your left arm."
Severus shifted his stance. He did not respond with words, but he believed his face was enough to tell her she would not be seeing the skin of the appendage she requested. He would not. Of all the things he had done to ruin her opinion of him, he would not let her see what he had on his skin everyday as a mark of his heartlessness. He did have a heart though, the problem was that it belonged to one who'd already given hers away, and he was left empty-chested.
She knew he would not let her see it of his own accord. She moved forward, and though he struggled with her, she managed to yank up his sleeve before he could push her away. "Do you see now? You wear his mark! The Death Eaters is not the type of employment you can resign from. You made your choice a long time ago, and now it's too late. If you leave now, you'll be killed. I would not wish it on my greatest enemy, and in the name of Merlin, I would never wish it on you." Lily let out a strangled cry of pain, and a pang shot through his chest.
"Lily..." Severus tried to say, but she would not let him speak.
"Sev, you should know. There was a time-" Her voice cracked, and so she tried again. "There was a time, where it could've been you. Where it could have been at your house I stood, could have been you whom I stood by, you whom I loved. You know we thought that was where we were heading in fifth year. But you left. No, do not interrupt, I need to get this out. You left me for your Death Eater friends, for the people who attacked me and my friends in the hallways, who degraded me publicly and planned to eliminate my kind as soon as they were out of Hogwarts. You left, and James stayed. He may have been immature and loathsome and arrogant at the time, but he stayed. And because we got to know each other, because we didn't have to hide whenever his friends passed by, because he was James and he is a better man that almost everyone I know, I fell in love with him. But if you hadn't left, I might have not given James the chance he deserved, and it might have been you. Though it's James who has my heart, you will always be in it, Severus. And I will not let you get yourself killed."
"You- You have my heart, Lily." he declared brokenly. "You always have, from the time we were kids. There was never anyone else, always you. I was too proud to let you know, to let anyone know, but it has and always will be you. I love you, and I don't care if I die if you'll just listen to me when I tell you not to marry him. It shouldn't be him. It should've been me."
Her shoulders were slumped and it appeared he could literally see the grief weighing on her. He wished there were a way he could relieve her of it, but he knew he could not. "Don't make into a choice of you or James, Severus, because you don't want to hear my answer. If you love me, you'll keep yourself alive. It is James, and it never won't be him, but that is no excuse to die. I want you to be alive, and if you have to stay in the Death Eaters to do it, then so be it. He'll kill without a second thought if he thinks your loyalty is wavering."
"That's not fair," he said, anger reaching him. "You and Potter live happily ever after and I stay a complacent Death Eater for your sake? Why should I? If there is no way I can change your mind, why do you get a say in whether I live or die? You can't have it both ways, Lily. Either you're mine and you can tell me what to do, or you're his and you can't. Make your choice, it's as they say: do or die," snarled Severus ironically.
For the second time in the ten years Severus had known her, he witnessed her cry. "I'm not telling you what to do, Sev." she whispered finally. "I'm asking you to stay living, for me. I've already made my choices. It's time for you to make yours."
He hated the way she phrased it. For her, she'd said. There was nothing he was unwilling to do for Lily, and she must have known it. "Fine," he spat. "I know I've made choices that aren't things to be proud of, and I am not proud what I have done." His mind flashed to the initiation of sorts he'd had to face before being considered by the Dark Lord; torturing that Muggle-born girl.
Severus had done worse things since then, very much worse, but the first time he'd caused someone to scream like that... sometimes he awoke in the night, thinking she was still there, writhing in pain and begging for mercy. He supressed a shudder as he continued onward. "I am not proud, and I wish I had not done so many things, and if I had the option to take it all back, I would. If I had the option to really choose, I would choose you."
"Then choose me, Severus." Lily said, breaking his heart in new ways. "Choose to live, and not be a coward by throwing yourself to the dogs for no purpose. Choose... choose to go to Dumbledore." she ordered, as if struck by a sudden inspiration. It was a complete turnaround from just minutes ago, telling him that he could not leave the dark side. "Choose to break ranks from the Death Eaters in secret, instead of openly opposing Voldemort. Join the fight for our side, you can spy on the Death Eaters, even. Sev, Dumbledore- he can help you! He's always believed in second chances, and if you go to him he can help you leave."
"It's too late for me, Lily, you said it yourself." he responded sadly, rage ebbing away. "Going to Dumbledore won't help me now, Voldemort is a skilled Legillimens, he'd know in seconds. And who's to say I'm not a coward? I was too much of a coward to tell you how I felt for ten bloody years, too much of a coward to talk of our friendship outside of closed doors, and now I'm the worst kind of man one can find: a hypocritical, worthless, Muggle-born loving Death Eater."
She was shaking her head fervently. "I was wrong, Severus. I hadn't even thought of Dumbledore, I just imagined you denouncing Voldemort to his followers and signing your own death warrant. Maybe you are a coward, but if you do this, you'll be braver than any Gryffindor I know. Choose it, and choose me." pleaded Lily.
"I won't be choosing you, not really! You'll still be Potter's anyway, his choice. And he will still be yours! How can you ask me to choose a woman I know I can never have? How can you expect that of me?" he demanded.
"Because you are a better man than you think, Severus Snape, and I think it's time you showed everyone else."
Severus felt the urge to hit something, a feeling he had not had since he was a boy and lived with his violent and ill-tempered father. "Damn it, Lily, don't say things like that. You don't know the things I've done, you wouldn't defend me so vehemently if you heard of them." His mood was forever altering with her around. Suddenly, he was struck with his own inspiration. "If I choose you, Lily, I want you to choose me. No 'I'll always be in your heart', no 'What about Potter?' Just consider me for a moment, and whether I could make you happy, and if the answer is yes, choose me."
Lily froze where she stood. She had not been expecting this. "Sev..." she said, startled. "Please don't make me answer that."
"Answer me, or I shall take my leave," Severus said, willing himself to give off a cold demeanour.
She sighed as if she'd know his response. "Severus, I don't doubt that I could be happy with you under different circumstances, but I cannot ignore James in the equation, because there is absolutely no question that James makes me happier than any other man could. Show me a better man, a smarter man, a braver man, a more loyal man. Show me a man who I don't argue with so often, a man who is less loud, less impulsive, less dangerous, less temperamental, less of an idiot sometimes. Show me any man like that, and it won't make a difference because no matter how much better he is, I'll love James more."
His face darkened as her announcement ripped at him. Everything about them, her tone, her words, the reverent look in her eyes as she spoke, should have been reserved for him. "Then you've made your choice, and you know what mine is. I'll stay alive as you wish, but I will still belong in the Death Eaters, just as you belong in Potter's house, under the so-called protection of Dumbledore."
"That's not fair," she said, echoing his earlier words. "You asked me to reply to a question I knew you didn't really want to hear the answer of, and now you're just writing everything off? What about taking it all back? What about not being proud of what you've done?"
"Those words still hold true, but I am not so selfless a man as Potter to give without receiving." Severus said scornfully, practically shaking as he decided he ought to get away.
Unexpectedly, Lily reached out and hugged him. Wrapping her arms around him tightly, stilling his shaking body, she murmured, "Be the man I know you are, Sev. Even if it's not today, or anytime soon, you'll be him and you'll discover just how selfless you are."
"I'm sorry I'll have to prove you wrong," he told her quietly, holding her against him.
"I'm sorry you think you will, but glad I'm right." she retorted, pulling away with a slight smile on her face. Frowning just a little, Lily said, "I don't suppose you'd come to the wedding if I asked you?"
Severus shook his head. "I wouldn't go to any wedding of Potter's if you paid me." was his response.
"I thought as much." Lily concluded with a sigh. She touched his face lightly and said, "Remember, Severus, you will always be a better man than you give yourself credit for."
And years later, as he stared into a pair of the same green eyes, breathing his last, and using almost his full strength to whisper, "Take it," he finally understood why.
A/N: Disclaim. Hm, had this idea a while back, and it sort of just decided to write itself. Never written in limited omniscient for Severus Snape before. Possibly listen to "Snape vs. Snape" or "Bravest Man I Ever Knew" by Ministry of Magic while reading. Thoughts?