Title: A Kiss Worth Waiting For.
Other Characters: Minerva McGonagall, Mr. Surch.
Word count: 5241
Summary: Sometimes coming out to friends and family isn't the most difficult hurdle of them all. Sometimes an insecure man's lack of belief in his own right to be loved becomes the suffocating prison keeping him captive of his own crippling fears. When that particular man happens to be Severus Snape, though, he might be lucky enough to have found himself a hero willing to go through Hell itself to set him free...
A/N: Unbeta'd. Written for the "Pride" Challenge at Snape_Potter.
Disclaimer: Don't own these characters. No money is being made out of this work.
A Kiss Worth Waiting For.
Severus blinks into his coffee cup, utterly puzzled by the fact that there's a strange sort of... drawing... on it's surface. He peers at it suspiciously, unable to comprehend why on Salazar's blessed Earth the idiotic new barista of his favorite coffee shop has decided that he looks like the sort of man who enjoys this kind of... nonsense.
"Is there something the matter with your drink, Sir?" The waiter, who has just placed the offending cup of coffee in front of him, asks him at once, obviously worried by his clearly displeased reaction.
"There are... lips... on my coffee." Severus hisses, raising thunderous dark eyes to pin the nitwit to the spot.
"Those aren't just any old lips, Sir. They are pursued in readiness to place a kiss on the mouth of whoever drinks from this cup. It's a rather fine drawing, if I may say so myself."
Severus frowns once more, uncertain if the young man is taking the mickey out of him or if he is genuinely this... odd.
"Why is there a kiss on my coffee, Mr..."
"Surch. The name's Surch, Sir, and the kiss is there because Harry Potter himself just paid me ten Galleons to put it in your order. -I want a kiss that speaks volumes...- That's what the bloke said to me, so I gave it my best shot. It's not every day one gets to aid The Savior Of The Wizarding World woo his difficult man, you know?"
Severus chokes on thin air. His eyes bulge out of their sockets and he turns around on the spot, raking the few tables in the establishment with disbelieving irritation.
"Potter isn't even here, Mr Surch. You shouldn't pay such close attention to every single lie you read in The Prophet, by the way. I'm no closer to being our Savior's 'difficult man' than I am to sainthood itself. In any case, do take note of the fact that I most certainly don't appreciate being harassed in this..."
"I'm right behind you, Severus. I realized that I'll have to come around and rescue our friendly barista as soon as you failed to drink your coffee, sweetheart."
The moment that irritatingly familiar voice brushes against his senses Severus sags against the backrest of his chair with an air of clear frustration. His fingers push the cup of coffee away and his lips become a thin line that betrays the worrying presence of steadily souring temper.
"Ah... I should have known that you'd be behind this childish joke, Mr. Potter. Don't you have anything to do that doesn't include irritating the devil out of me, every single time I venture into Hogsmeade?"
The Gryffindor laughs with a forced sort of mirth, signaling to the waiter for another cup of whatever swill he is drinking nowadays before seating himself across from him.
Severus hasn't been particularly impressed with Potter's taste in beverages since the disastrous evening when the man dared to invite him out to Rosmerta's only to order Butterbeer. He drinks like a child and he's genuinely into tea. As far as Severus is concerned the Savior Of The Wizarding World, turned baker extraordinaire, is a total Philistine.
"Since you very rarely venture into Hogsmeade, I must take my chances whenever you do, Headmaster."
"I'd come into the village more often if you stopped chasing me away with your ridiculous shenanigans every time I do. Do you realize that you've just given our waiter the erroneous impression that we are actually... an item?"
Potter's head turns slightly to the left, examining his pale features with the kind of intense scrutiny that never fails to make Severus deeply uncomfortable.
"We are an item, as far as he is concerned. I'm unavailable to others because I'm in love with you and everyone knows that. There's no reason to deny the truth, Severus, and as for the rest... I'd have thought that a man of your courage wouldn't let a... little pest... like me chase him away from anywhere he wants to be."
Severus squirms awkwardly in his chair. Looking around the mostly empty coffee-shop and wondering why the waiter is taking so damned long to return with Potter's drink.
"Are you still sore about that? I'm sorry that I called you a little pest the last time we saw one another. I wanted to be left alone in my dark corner and you just... wouldn't let go!"
"I wanted to dance with you. One miserable dance, Severus. Such small request shouldn't have ended in an afternoon-long game of cat and mouse."
Severus stiffens at the reminder. He isn't enjoying this awful conversation and it shows rather clearly in the closed-off lines of his pinched expression. In the posture of the arms that he suddenly crosses in front of his narrow chest. In the fact that his dark eyes start flashing with annoyed frustration only a second before he answers tightly.
"I do not care for dancing."
"Don't lie to me, OK? I saw you taking Narcissa Malfoy out for a spin that day."
"She was the mother of the groom, Potter. One should never say no to a woman like Narcissa... Particularly not when she gets it into her head that she wants to dance with you."
"And yet you had no trouble at all sending me packing..."
"Oh, for Merlin's sake! The entire world doesn't revolve around you and your damned 'feelings', you know? I'm going back to Hogwarts. It's too early in the morning to ruin a perfectly pleasant Saturday with this kind of nonsense."
He is on the verge of pushing his chair backwards when the boy has the audacity to grab him by the wrist, freezing him in place through the sheer shock of finding himself restrained thus in such a public venue.
"Why won't you drink your coffee, Headmaster? You must have wanted it when you first came in, since you bothered to order it and all that."
Severus blinks in the suddenly tense silence. His black eyes clash with challenging green and he feels utterly suffocated as he attempts to come up with a good lie to throw the damned brat off his case. His mind is too blank for that, though, and in the end he is forced to own up to the unpalatable, but rather simple truth.
"I can't accept it, Potter, and you should be man enough to take no for an answer when you keep hearing it this constantly."
"Why should I be the one to give up when you haven't been man enough to tell me to my face that you don't want me? And why the hell can't you accept your own goddamned cup of coffee? It's not as if I paid for it, you know? It's your own bloody order, Severus."
Rather than answering Harry's incensed accusation Severus looks down into the fading foam that still covers the untouched surface of his rapidly cooling drink. The unsolicited drawing that adorns it has begun to elongate out of shape, turning those once perfectly delineated lips into a pretty heartbreaking mockery of their former beauty.
"It is not, is it? I ordered a coffee. A plain and simple cup of morning coffee, but what was delivered to me turned out to be another one of your clever little tricks. You sent me a kiss within a cup. Not just any old kiss, either, but a crystal-clear and openly acknowledged pretty romantic gesture. You tried to give me a kiss meant to speak volumes, I believe..."
Potter smiles rather bashfully, but doesn't let go of his wrist. The brat searches his dark gaze thoughtfully in the small silence that follows, clearly weighing whatever it is that he plans to say next with uncharacteristic caution.
"Can a small kiss really frighten you that much, Severus? It's only a touch between one mouth and another. A tiny sign of the affection that you haven't yet denied. It shouldn't have enough power to harm you, you know?"
Severus gasps, shocked to his very bones by the boy's lack of decorum in begging him for a kiss so brazenly. He pulls his wrist free of the burning touch that restrains it before offering a frosty answer:
"All kisses have power, Mr. Potter. Specially the ones meant to speak volumes..."
Minerva storms into his office, without so much as a by-your-leave, just after dinner. She's so clearly incensed that she doesn't seem to care that she's failed to close the door after her rather impressive entrance, and Severus waves his wand towards the ancient oak, pronouncing a softly whispered Colloportus, before turning his attention back to her.
"Minerva... to what do I owe this thoroughly unexpected visit?"
She glares at him with the kind of barely disguised outrage that usually coincides with Potter's monthly visits and Severus realizes that the brat's unscheduled appearance half-way through the afternoon hasn't been a product of simple coincidence. Potter must have come all the way to cry on his former Head of House's shoulder after their earlier encounter in Hogsmeade...
"I know that you must have been aware of Harry's presence within the grounds, Severus, that's why I'm so shocked at your dismissive behavior even after he told me how rude you were to him this morning. I can scarcely believe that you'll skip dinner altogether for the sole purpose of delivering another pointed slap to that poor boy's face!"
Severus sighs wearily under his breath, raising up from his chair in order to walk quietly in the direction of the window. He looks down towards the shadowy grounds, allowing his dark gaze to sweep over the heads of the students gathered in the far corner of the Quidditch Pitch for the purpose of enjoying what appears to be a friendly match between Fifth year Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs.
A small smile graces his thin lips as he looks on, trying to identify who will play the key positions in what he already knows will end up becoming a rowdy Gryffindor victory. The children are all noisy, far too energetic for his taste and a constant challenge to manage, but he does love his current job with a fierce passion. He doesn't have to teach the untalented masses anymore and he gets to terrorize not only the student population, but also his newest professors and the majority of the timid Ministry liaison workers that Shacklebolt keeps throwing his way.
"It might not look like all that much to you, but I have found peace at last. I don't want my life to change, Minerva, and entering into a romantic relationship with Harry Potter must be the fastest one-way ticket to madness there is." He explains quietly in a carefully modulated whisper that sounds far too flat to be taken for anything other than strained, even to his own ears.
She startles at his uncharacteristic action. Holding an attacking bull by the horns, so to speak, has never been his style. Slytherins prefer to wait for harm to find them before reacting to it in any way. They like to claim self-defense to explain away their actions in front of both their own conscience and the Wizengamot. Having Severus address the huge elephant standing right between them so directly has managed to catch her by surprise.
"It may also be the only one-way ticket to happiness for either of you."
Severus doesn't even turn to look at her. He has no wish to betray the true nature of his emotions any further and so he continues looking out, towards the now flying children, as if their rather clumsy antics are enough to hold his riveted attention.
"Potter is young, attractive, famous... It's preposterous to imply that his current infatuation with me will end up being his one and only romantic dream, Minerva."
He startles away from the window-pane when she grabs his shoulder unexpectedly. He hasn't heard her approach him and the fact the she's managed to position herself this close to him undetected makes the paranoid ex-spy still hiding within him instantly wary. His widened dark eyes focus on her intently, since he's uneasily aware that this quiet woman, whom he's known since he was eleven, doesn't normally initiate physical contact of any kind.
"This is Harry we are talking about, Severus. I'd be shocked if it turns out that he actually knows how to be infatuated. He's kept the same friends all his life, for Merlin's sake... That boy is as guarded with his heart as you are with yours."
"That doesn't change anything. He's latched onto these supposed... feelings... for me because they are safe."
"Safe?" Minerva snorts inelegantly, hovering for a brief second between shock and amusement "How can you say that? You are breaking Harry's heart one rejection at a time, Severus!"
"I'm trying to make him see sense."
"By pushing him constantly away? By avoiding him like the plague and refusing to receive him when you are perfectly aware that he came to the castle specifically to see you? He was trying to fix that little tiff you had down at the village, but you behaved like a coward and decided to avoid him instead, as usual. How can you look me in the eye and claim that you are doing this for his benefit?"
"Because I am! I'm trying to do the decent thing for him here, yet the only thing everyone seems capable of understanding is how very miserable my despicable actions are making the bloody brat.
How do you think I feel, Minerva? I'm the stupid sucker who is forcing himself to let go of the one person to see past his pitiful exterior in twenty fucking years! I'm condemning myself to certain loneliness for Harry's own good and not a single one of you has the actual compassion to see that..."
Minerva has the decency to flush a bright shade of crimson. Her brown eyes soften with the kind of understanding that hasn't been directed his way since Potter first announced the nature of his own feelings in a damned interview with The Prophet, of all places. The old feminine fingers that are still curled around his painfully thin shoulder become a gently soothing contact meant to offer him silent support.
"Harry doesn't need you to make this particular sacrifice, Severus. He can take care of himself, you know? We want nothing more than to see the both of you as happy as you can possibly be and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the only way for either of you to achieve joy is to try reaching out for it together."
"Harry is twenty-two years old. The entire world is willing to kneel at his feet, for Goodness sake! He should be going out to clubs and having the time of his life. He should be traveling far and wide, exploring his sexuality and making the kind of memories that he'll hide from his grandchildren when the time finally comes...
"He shouldn't have been allowed to give up his dream of becoming an Auror, Minerva. He's turned himself into a baker when I don't remember hearing him ever say that he cared for that craft. You shouldn't be supporting his brainless decision of hiding himself away in Hogsmeade, of all places. He belongs in London, smack-bang in the center of a city that can offer him far more exciting things to do than baking frosted cupcakes and warming his slipper-shod feet before his own fire. He definitely shouldn't be shunning the company of men who are his own age in order to pursue the worst possible homosexual of his acquaintance!"
Minerva's shocked gasp vibrates with a heavy and deep pity. Her lovely brown eyes have darkened with the kind of bone-deep sorrow that he can not actually bear to see filling them and her voice, when she finally speaks, sounds shattered with softly-toned heartbreak.
"Your words alone give away the lie to your own claims, Severus. If there is a man alive who deserves the beauty of Harry's heart then that man has to be you..."
He laughs bitterly under his breath, refusing to look her in the eye as the unbearable heaviness that has been crushing his slender shoulders since Potter's goddamned interview came to light finally spills it's poisonous seeds into the eerie silence.
"I bet there are plenty of people out there who'd gladly throw you in Azkaban for saying such a thing, even after Potter's grand confession. I'm skating on the very edge of public acceptance as it is. I'll remain this side of respectable for as long as my existence doesn't bring me into direct collision with anyone who really matters, Minerva. And Harry Potter matters a hell of a lot to a dizzying number of folks. He might say what he wishes about me and everyone will coo at his lack of happily-ever-after with soft-eyed understanding for as long as I don't dare to actually accept him..."
"You can't give up on your feelings on the mistaken assumption that public opinion won't favor them, Severus. All of that has already been taken care of and, even if it wasn't, Harry doesn't care for such things. Everyone has known for months now that he loves you very deeply and, if there is actual bad blood towards you in the eyes of the public, it's because we are all convinced that you do love him too, but are unable to commit to him out of... cowardice. No one will judge you if you give him a chance, Severus. Everyone will rejoice, in fact."
"I'm giving him a chance already. He's just too stubborn to save his pride and run."
"That's not the kind of chance he wants."
"It's the best I can do, Minerva. Next time he comes to see you tell him to give up on me already and find himself someone worthier."
"There's no one worthier than you, Severus."
Severus stiffens as soon as he hears that wobbly and choked statement. He has barely managed to hold himself together trough that draining conversation with Minerva and the very last thing he needs is to have the brat himself materializing right in front of his eyes, as if conjured out of thin air, the moment she closes his office door on her way out.
Severus stills halfway to his own chair. His dark eyes close for a single, pained, heartbeat and he feels utterly betrayed. He'd forgotten all about Harry's Invisibility cloak and now he wonders why it has taken the Gryffindor so long to use these kind of tactics...
"Congratulations, Mr Potter. I'd like to take comfort in the belief that my usually loyal deputy wouldn't sell my precious privacy to just any old ex-student."
Harry has the grace to look crestfallen. He throws that blasted cloak away and steps out of the shadows, coming to a nervous standstill not three feet away from Severus' own boot-tips.
"Please, don't blame her for her actions. I was at the end of my tether and she wanted to help."
Severus crosses his arms in front of his thin chest, even though he has already realized that the damage has been well and truly done. Harry is far too stubborn to give up now that he's finally heard such unequivocal admission of Severus' tender regard. But he still has to try to instill sound sense in the brat's pigheaded brain. He knows himself well enough to understand that he won't be able to live with himself if he doesn't at least... try.
"How does her betrayal of my trust help either of us, Harry? Everything remains exactly as it was this morning."
"That's just... bollocks. Now I know for sure that you love me, too. Don't try to deny it. I heard you say it with my own ears, Severus."
"Fine! I love you. So what? Being able to feel the emotion still doesn't make me the right choice for you, Harry. You need to keep your freedom, no matter how deeply the idea hurts you right now."
"Shouldn't that be my own decision to make?"
"It should. But you won't make it, will you? You are far too young to accept the idea that one of these days you'll look at me and realize that you can no longer see the alluringly courageous ex-spy who first caught your imagination. I've never been either courageous or alluring to start with, Harry. I'm just a bitter old bastard..."
"You keep throwing my age in my face as if that has the actual power to make me blind to your faults. You don't get to accuse me of wearing rose-tinted spectacles just because I happen to be able to 'see' you better than most, Severus. I know that feeling this exposed scares the life out of you, but... Doesn't it fill you with warmth, too?
"I actually like to spend entire nights awake just thinking about you. I'm always damned glad to be able to feel the wild fluttering of a thousand butterflies inside my tummy whenever I hear your voice. They make me realize that I'm alive and I have hope. The fact that my hope happens to wear your face, speaks your thoughts out loud and likes to embrace your impossible principles as fiercely as it can manage is just an added bonus. I'll rather be with you for whatever short time we might have together than give up before experiencing the utter joy of having you in my arms, Severus."
"No. Listen to me, please. Even if you turn out to be right and I happen to wake up one day and feel, somehow, disappointed in you... How is that any different from the disappointment I feel now? You are forcing us both to go through that very same heartbreak without giving us the chance to reach out for the rewards. You could be wrong about it, you know? Isn't that small hope worth fighting for?"
Severus' breath hitches as those roughly-toned words dig deep burrows under his pale skin, poisoning his formerly unshakable resolve and making the very foundations of his precious convictions shake unpleasantly. He can feel the desolate heartbreak that Harry is so eloquently describing wound the very depths of his being, making him break out into a cold sweat. What if the Gryffindor is right? What if there is a chance, no matter how infinitesimal it might be, that Harry won't grow to resent him one day? What if he is having too little faith in their attachment to one another? What if he is giving up too early, failing the very owner of his heart in the worst possible way out of sheer cowardice?
"I'm not sure, Harry. I..."
"Come on, Severus... Take a chance. You might be disappointed if things don't work out between us, but you are already doomed anyway if you don't try."
"Becoming your partner will destroy my current peaceful existence. I won't just be risking my own heart, Harry. I'll risk my reputation, too. My peace of mind and the kind of stress-free life where the press doesn't yet care about what I do, how much more awful than usual I look like, or to whom I spoke for just a second too long during my last trip to Hogsmeade... I'll be hounded. Hated and reviled once again. I'll be back to where I was before the war ended."
"You were alone then, Severus. This time around I'll be fighting in your corner from the start. My family will support us, as will our friends and colleagues. Those who really matter to either of us will be more relieved than outraged at our being together. We've been out as a couple in everyone's mind for a while now, so no one should bat an eyelash when they finally see us openly together. We'll carry on with life as if nothing at all has changed and they'll continue to assume what they have been assuming all along. We belong together. It's really as simple as that. Nothing and no one really believes us to be anything other than committed to one another, anyway."
Severus nods in unconscious agreement, thoughts awhirl with a hundred and one memories of his recent fights with Minerva and Hagrid. His last spat with Arthur Weasley and the thoroughly uncomfortable visit of Minister Shacklebolt himself, not three weeks ago, that ended with the man's not so subtle dig about Harry's preposterous lack of luck in the romantic department.
"That's true, but..."
Hopeful emerald eyes flash with the kind of eager determination that has helped the stubborn brat win every single battle he's ever fought.
"Please, Severus, please... Don't give up on me, I'm begging you!"
Harry dares to close the very small distance that still separates them. Loving hands curl around the tops of Severus' spindly arms, holding him fast to the spot. To the crushingly intense moment. To this oppressively critical instant when the one man who means the world to him has just issued the very plea that he can't possibly turn his back on.
Terrified black eyes clash with earnest green and Severus' already agitated breath freezes in his lungs. He can feel the very chains that Harry has started coiling around his heart settling gently against his pale skin as he stands in utter stillness. He can feel his self-sacrificing willingness to walk away crumble like a flimsy pack of cards around his booted feet.
He can sense his very future changing as he stands in dazed inaction, wavering like a lost child between the most terrible fear that he's ever experienced and the bewitching beauty of the idea that, if only he were to find enough strength to allow himself to dream of a future where Harry will still be gazing at him this fondly a hundred years from now, he might just be tempting whatever Gods rule human destiny to grant him the small favor.
"You'd tie yourself to me, then? Can't you see that you can do much better? You could have anyone you wanted, Harry."
His lion smiles a very small, utterly lackluster smile that doesn't reach his distinctive emerald gaze. He stands up on tiptoes and presses a delicate, dry-lipped kiss on Severus' pale forehead before looking at him levelly for a nerve-rackingly long period of time.
"This is the root of all our problems. Isn't it, Severus? I always assumed that your refusal to accept me as a romantic partner was based on pride. I believed that you thought me too unsophisticated for you. I convinced myself that you wanted someone cleverer, someone who could read at least a foreign language and understand your obscure books on old potions. Someone who had gone on to study a high-flying career, instead of settling for a hands-on trade. I thought you wanted a man like Malfoy or Zabini... but that's not it. Is it?
"You were never ashamed of being with me because you found me wanting. You actually believe yourself to be the one who isn't good enough. Don't you? That's why you kept pushing me away, despite the fact that my public acknowledgment of my feelings for you should have made everything easier between us. You've made us walk through Hell these past few months out of baseless insecurity, my love..."
"Harry, please, don't do this..." Severus squirms uncomfortably, sincerely unable to cope with the shame of having his very real lack of confidence in the existence of his own charms brought out into the open and analyzed ad-nauseam, like some sort of odd and flawed freak of nature.
Gentle green eyes soften at once and the lips that were so brokenly begging him for a chance only a minute ago curve into the kind of devoted smile that makes his old heart pound.
"I really wish you could see yourself through my eyes, Severus. It might show you a side of yourself that you've never dared to imagine..."
"I'll rather see you instead, if it's all the same to you, Harry. I've watched my own mug too many times to count already and it has never given me half the pleasure that watching yours usually inspires."
Harry laughs easily, carding trembling fingertips through long locks of his dark hair.
"You are just saying that to distract me, you, cunning slytherin fiend..."
"That doesn't make it a lie, though."
"We'll agree to disagree, then. Just promise me that you won't let that kind of thoughts hurt what we feel for one another any longer, Severus. We are in love. We can be deliriously happy together... Swear to me that you'll face your damaging fears and fight for us, even if you happen to forget for a second or two exactly why you are bothering with me."
Severus smiles valiantly, making a huge effort to speak past the giant lump lodged right in the middle of his throat.
"I won't ever forget why I'm fighting. I might get tired of doing it, but... I won't manage to forget you without forgetting myself first, Harry Potter.
A soft, relieved sigh puffs against the side of his neck when his Gryffindor exhales the breath that he's been holding. Huge emerald eyes begin to shine like bright jewels, looking softer and gentler as they gaze right into his own ebony stare.
"I think this is the right time for you to give me that kiss, Severus." Harry whispers with the kind of dazed tone that makes the Slytherin's skin break out in aroused goosebumps and groaning quietly under his breath becomes all Severus can do to stop himself from jumping his young man right where they stand.
"What kiss?" He asks distractedly, drinking in the unfettered joy that has begun to flash across Harry's beloved face like a ray of Summer sunshine.
His lion's lovely smile unfurls like a wild orchid across softly parted lips, making his owner look even more exultant. He's the very image of blissful hope. Of love finally fulfilled. Of tender, heartfelt adoration.
"The kind of kiss that speaks volumes, Headmaster. I believe you owe me one of those, so... come on, pay up already."
Severus laughs with a freeing sense of exhilaration. He feels lighthearted and happy as he gathers his precious world in the fold of his arms, before proceeding to shamelessly fake an air of thoughtful sobriety.
"Ah, that kind of kiss. Yes. I suppose I do owe you one. Now, if only I could lay my hands on a cup of foamy coffee..."
Harry's shocked giggle coils around Severus' pounding heart like golden twine.
"You are a horrible tease, Headmaster Snape."
The whispered accusation floats in the air around them long after the gentle kiss that renders it a foul lie has been finally delivered. Young lips yield under mature ones in a long-awaited caress that somehow manages to match the impossibly high expectations of the two men who've been feverishly dreaming about this one touch for months on end.
A soft sigh blooms between them as their mouths tremble and part. Green eyes meet black in this new and wonderful present where they are finally together at long last.
"You were right, as usual, my love" Harry whispers quietly into the peaceful silence
"Kisses do have power. Specially the ones that speak volumes..."