Chapter 19

Oh. She'd wanted his lips upon hers, craved it, wondered if his taste would be as intoxicating in real life as it was in his mind.

And it was.

Drugging.

Delicious.

Dark and elemental.

She surrendered herself into the pleasure of his mouth on hers.

This. Yes. This.

Then, unexpectedly, he released her. She was suddenly alone and unsteady, cold without the furnace of his body, and groping for explanation. He was standing a foot away from her, frozen and pale.

"Oh, gods." He said, his voice rising in an inarticulate sound, like an animal keening. His eyes were wide and sightless as he sank to the floor. He's having a stroke was her momentary thought as she called in her wand.

But a quick diagnostic revealed it wasn't a stroke. Physically, he was fine. Those sightless eyes had closed, and he was now wailing. Crying out with deep, racking sobs. Sobbing uncontrollably, his head tipped back, his Adams apple convulsing in his long throat, streams of tears coursing down his pale face.

He was weeping like an abandoned child.

She did not remember closing the gap between them, and yet, she must have. For now she was holding him, his long muscular body tucked up into hers, his tears soaking her chest. She rocked him back and forth, holding him like she'd held Harry in the forest when he'd had awoken screaming. She didn't understand what, exactly, was happening. Didn't know what it meant, only knew that what comfort she had to give was his. So she held him, stroked his back, and waited for the storm to pass.

After a while, it did. But once he wasn't sobbing anymore, he was laughing. It was hard to tell, but she was fairly certain it was laughter. Ongoing catharsis, then. Her brain, released from its shock, was suddenly returned to duty. Whatever had happened in that white room, it appeared that Snape was remembering. Maybe the content of the memory was overwhelming. Or perhaps the simple fact of processing twenty years of experience at once was too much. But, she assured herself, running another non-verbal, he did not appear to be in any physical danger. His heartbeat, while elevated, was steady and sure. Not that she needed the charm to tell her that when she could feel it throbbing through the wall of his chest.

The charm assured her he was neither hyperventilating, nor hypoxic. Nor was he entirely insensate, for at some point during the sobbing portion of the catharsis, his arms had come around her. He was, in point of fact, holding on to her quite tightly now. So he knew she was there, and was actively taking comfort in her presence. Whatever was happening was neither hysteria nor acute illness. Best, then to let him purge his emotion.

The laughter shifted back into tears, but they were quieter now, and far less wretched. And yet, still, he still clutched her to him.

She settled in. Other people, she knew, were made uncomfortable by tears. Particularly when the person manufacturing them was typically so reserved and controlled. She would not let herself be one of those people. She would let these tears fall without judgment, and she would hold him for as long as he wanted her to.

They were breathing together, she realized. Such a human thing. To adjust to match the rhythm of the body next to yours, to want company in your breath. It was…soothing. Still, the pace was too shallow and rapid for her to maintain indefinitely. Perhaps, if she adjusted slowly enough, she could take him with her. Willfully, she deepened her inhalation, slowing and calming the pounding of her heart.

Instinctively, he followed.

As he calmed, he quieted. She prepared herself for him to pull away from their embrace. He'd feel embarrassed now, wouldn't he? Ashamed that he'd allowed her to witness such vulnerability. Use his acerbic wit to create distance, to reduce the magnitude of what they'd shared.

But he did not. Instead, he sighed and unapologetically lay his face down on her shoulder. Something within her exhaled and opened like a flower.

SSSS

At length, he spoke.

"Thank you," He said, pulling gently away from her. "For tolerating…this." He gestured vaguely to the two of them on the floor. His rusty voice sounded strangely amused. "It actually never occurred to me that my experiment might work, you know. I was simply using the entire situation as a ploy to get my lips on to yours. Hoisted on my own petard, as the case may be."

Hermione chuckled, sat up and stretched. "Ironic, that, given that no ploys were necessary. I've been wanting your lips on mine ever since that last kiss."

A glimmer of frustrated delight flashed in his eyes. "A sentiment I would have known, and shared, had I remembered the bloody thing."

"But you remember it now."

"I do."

"And the rest?"

"All of it. I was kissing your mouth, and then it was as if I'd slipped into an electric current. There was a bright flash in my head, and each and every day of my wretched life returned to me in one swoop. The past twenty years, and the nearly four decades before then."

"You remembered every single day of your life?"

"The curse of eidetic memory. Yes. Every day. Simultaneously, and in its entirety."

Hermione realized her mouth had gaped open, and purposefully closed her bottom jaw. She couldn't begin to fathom the implications of that level of recall. From what she knew of him, her life had been tame in comparison to his, and still there were many days that she had done her absolute best to relegate to obscurity. To have those traumas instantly restored to her? Along with every other day of her life? It was astounding. No wonder he'd been overwhelmed. "Sweet Merlin. That must have been awful."

His smile was rueful. "Awful. Yes. And wonderful. And everything in between. All at once. I am not sure that there are words to describe it."

"And how do you feel now?"

He shrugged. "Physically? Rather like my head recently hosted a rampaging hippogriff."

"Here," she said, moving close once more. "Let me do this for you." With one cool fingertip, she traced a shape on his forehead. The line she'd drawn momentarily glowed golden on his forehead, then quickly faded to nothing.

He sighed in relief.

"Better?"

"Much. Handy bit of magic, that. Greek?"

She nodded. "From Crete, we think. Couple of mystigenesis scholars discovered a set of three glyphs five years ago. Don't last long, but they're quite handy for short term relief."

"You'll teach them to me?"

"Of course."

They sat there in silence for a moment, each in their own world. It was Hermione who finally spoke.

"Would you like to tell me any of it?"

He paused. Considered. "Is the healer asking, or my… friend?"

She paused. Considered. "Not sure that I can entirely separate the two at this point. But friendship comes first; I'll not publish anything without your explicit permission."

He nodded, then took a deep breath. "Then, yes. I think I would."

SSSS

"Let us start at the beginning, I think. Once upon a time there was a lonely, bitter little boy…"

He talked. And he talked. And he talked. He told the story of his life from beginning to end. He told it baldly, without softening the edges. He talked between sips of the tea she made them and between bites of the stew she had warmed them for dinner. He talked through his own tears, his own laughter. He told her every bit of it. Tragic. Comic. Mundane. Violent.

He spoke as day fell to dusk and dusk fell to darkness.

He shaped every experience he'd had and every moment in the great white into words. He explained how the watching, the watching, the watching over and over and over again had somehow purified it all, washed those memories clean.

He offered his life to her like a gift.

And the thing that opened within her hours ago bloomed and took it all.

SSSS

They stood at the floo, preparing for her departure.

"There are…no words of gratitude to thank you for any of what you have done for me. And in that I include today… and all the rest as well."

She considered stepping in, kissing him. Wanted to. But thought it best that she not. Instead, she kept her distance, and made her voice purposefully brisk. "Good. Then let's declare ourselves even. You saved my life and saved my world. I woke you up and healed your body and held you when you cried. No debts between us from here on out."

He paused, his face serious and still. When he spoke, he did so slowly, as if tasting the individual words. "Agreed. No debts from here on out. A clean slate. And when you return, Hermione Granger," his eyes grew darker, more intense, "we will explore this thing between us. At great length."

She took a shuddering breath. "I could stay," she said, "and we could explore it now."

He paused. "That offer is…tempting. But can not allow that. I am too raw. If you remained nearby, I would not be able to resist the comfort of your body."

She smiled slowly and stepped closer to him. "Then don't resist."

He shook his head. "I do not wish our first time together to be…compromised by this." His eyes, dark and steady, drilled into hers. "When I sink into your body, as I will, that is now inevitable…has been, perhaps, since I first tasted you in my mind…when I do, it will not be out of some misguided need to comfort my own ills. It will be because I want you, and you want me, and what we want is not to be denied. I will accept no pale substitute."

Hermione blinked. Never in her life had she been turned down in a way that made her feel more desired that she had before. He had not moved. He had not changed expression. And yet, somehow, he'd managed to make the last sentence so blindingly seductive that her legs were suddenly unsteady. "Okay." She whispered.

His serious expression gave way to a slowly blooming smirk. He was patently aware of the impact he'd had on her. "Travel safely Hermione Granger."

"Gods. You are a sexy bastard, aren't you?"

He smirked. "Precision, please, Miss Granger. As you now know, my lamentable parents were indeed bound by wedlock. The rest… well, it remains for you to discover."

Taking a handful of powder from the mantle, she managed to articulate "Merlin help me." She threw the powder down, and barked, "Dover Station."

And she was gone.

AN: Sometimes, you write a scene and you fall in love with it. And you love it love it love it. And then you re-read it in the context of the story, and you discover that it doesn't work. So you try to fix it. You try and try. And you agonize. And you re-write. And bit by bit, you cut away the elements that you loved, because they just don't serve the larger arc of the story.

Anyway, it's a long, painful process. The original version of the scene where Severus tells her everything was way more detailed, and way more dreamy and poetic and flowery, and utterly and completely sabotaged the entire rest of the story. So it's gone now, back into the creative ether that spawned it. And that's why, dear friends, this post took so long to get to you. I have no idea if the new version is any good or not; I've spent too much time reading and rewriting it to have any perspective on the matter. But I know it doesn't destroy the rest of the story, and that will have to be good enough, I think. I need to be done with this before it makes me insane. Please forgive me for the delay.

My next chapter, I believe, will be correspondence based. I'm still taking requests…

Theolyn