For all Joy wants Eternity
Two sibilants pierced the dense, thick wall that seemed to surround him, burned through it like red-hot searing needles.
And somewhere in the floating haze that was his consciousness, a small spark came to life, grew bolder, and slowly began to light the dark hole his spirit had resorted to.
Gradually, more and more of his mind woke, carefully groping its way back to life. He became aware of his heart which was still beating faithfully, and of those lungs that obviously had not failed him yet. There were limbs that still seemed to belong to this body. And senses that were reporting back, trying to lure him into doing the next step of recapturing his existence. Which all of his being categorically denied. He didn't dare to go further than that yet. Insistently, all of his regained consciousness recoiled from extending the careful examination of his situation to any aspects outside his body. He was more than content only to be able to hear the blood rushing through his veins again, to feel the muscles of his arms and legs, to know that his brain was back to working.
It had *not* been that way right before he had fallen into this pitch black, silent mental cave...
No mercy in this insistent voice, this name that continued probing his consciousness, that called him back to existence, that gave him no chance at all to rest a little longer in the comfortable apathy in which his mind was drifting. Those three syllables sank their alluring claws into his brain, dragging it forward, towards the boundary of reality, and he knew that fighting them would be doomed to failure. He had not yet really begun to struggle against the journey back to awareness, when he already gave up doing so again. Giving in to the inevitable instead, he slowly, carefully opened his eyes.
There wasn't much light, but it wasn't dark either. The flickering of the soft brightness told him that some candles must be illuminating the room, this room he was in, sitting in a corner on the floor with his back leaned against the two walls that met behind him for support. It wasn't exactly a comfortable position, and the sharp pain that shot through one of his legs when he experimentally tried to move it gave more than clear evidence of that, provoking a small but sharp hiss from the spy's dry and cracked lips.
Immediately, a shadow slid before him with incredible speed and blocked almost all of the flickering light from Severus's eyes.
"I don't believe it - are you truly awake, Severus?"
The spy blinked desperately against the dark form in front of him that was silhouetted against the dim glow from the candles, while it took him some moments to recover his ability to speak. He was absolutely positive that he knew this man. That voice was unmistakable, there was an eerily shining, bright halo that surrounded the figure's head, the quick and graceful way this person moved...and just as Severus opened his mouth to answer, his reawakening mind had finished the puzzle.
"Obviously, yes...I am awake...Lucius."
He was shocked at the horribly hollow sound of his voice.
The other Death Eater who knelt on the floor with him gave an audible sigh of relief. His slowly adapting eyes now allowed Severus to finally make out Malfoy's face from the still slightly wavering, dark shadow that was the other Slytherin, while a strong, icy wave of disquiet washed over him. Severus wasn't able to really define this sense of alarm that was growing with every moment he faced his former colleague. Maybe he felt that way because he still had not fully recovered yet, because most of his body still was disturbingly weak, because he still was not able to really recall what had brought him here, into this room, in this situation, with nobody but Lucius Malfoy as company.
But some whispering voice told him that there was more to the overwhelming urge to escape that he felt than that. For this lashing need to get away from this other body *far* too close to his own as fast as possible. He wanted to retreat into the corner behind him, he yearned to glide up the wall until he reached the low ceiling, he craved to disappear into the gaps between the stones at his back, he needed to...
"You really managed to *worry* me, Severus." From the slightly shaken tone in Lucius's voice, one could almost get the impression that Malfoy meant what he said. For once.
"I've been waiting for you to regain consciousness for three hours now, my friend, and rest assured that the way you looked now and then during that time was *scary*..."
The blond Slytherin broke off, and the scrutinizing gaze with which he had observed Severus grew even more intense. Concerned.
"...but apparently, the worst is not behind us yet!" Severus knew that the sight he presented must have been the reason for the shock he could see creeping into the other's eyes - even though he had no idea of the extensive marks his growing panic were leaving upon him. He was not able to detect how his breathing was growing heavier and more ragged with every second, or how his mouth had fallen slightly open. Severus could not see the shivering of his chin, or how the heavily tensed muscles of his neck and jaw tried to keep the shaking from expanding to his entire head. He was unaware of the tears gathering in his widely opened, burning eyes and of the sweat that covered all of his face. All Severus realized was the unrestrained dread of the other man's physical nearness. To merely *think* of the possibility of Lucius's touch scared the petrified spy out of his mind. He had to get out of here, he had to stop this, somehow. This was not right, not at all. That person must not touch him, never, he must not, must not, must not...
"Severus..." Lucius's voice, which was loaded with apprehension, came closer. "Severus, what in the name of Seth's Eye is wrong with you?"
And the blond Slytherin bent forward even further.
Severus's brain jump-started. Ignoring his still limb and aching legs, he jerked backwards violently, pushed himself up the rough walls of the corner behind him and, supporting his swaying body with one hand against the stone, drew his wand. The spy's crazed, menacing gaze froze Lucius in place immediately.
Panting made it hard to speak.
"Don't you...come...closer...Do you hear me? Get...away... from me. Now!"
Slowly raising his hands, Lucius carefully got to his feet as well. The blond Death Eater never took his eyes from the wand that pointed at him, steadily and unerringly, a strange contrast to the shivering rest of Severus's body. He didn't know what exactly he had done to upset and disturb his former housemate like *that*, but Malfoy had seen this piece of wood in action much too often. He clearly remembered all of the occasions on which he had been able to witness the flash-like infallibility of this particular wand and the wizard it had chosen. He could recall all too well how he had always prayed not to find himself on its receiving end one day, not to taste the threat more than seriously that he was now confronted with.
"All right, Severus, relax, will you?" Lucius took one cautious step back, still spreading his hands, still fixing the other man's wand with a more than anxious gaze. "I'm not threatening you in any way, see? I won't come near you, I swear. Do you hear me? I won't touch you again, I promise, Severus. I. Won't. Touch. You. Again."
Severus stared unbelievingly at the still retreating man in front of him.
/There had been a hand./
The spy's eyes wandered to Lucius's right shoulder and followed its arm to its end. To five slightly trembling fingers.
/It had been *this* hand. This very hand. Moving. Approaching him. Inexorably coming closer./
For a split second, he was sure that his head would explode with the frantic attempt to refuse memory admittance, but then all of this evening's events flooded his mind with merciless vehemence and easily crushed the pathetic defences his instincts had erected.
When Severus fixed his gaze on Lucius's face again, awareness burned in his black eyes.
Malfoy's calm voice cut through the silence between them that was dense with recollection.
"It wasn't my fault, Severus."
The spy's small, sardonic laugh quivered in the air. To the frightening sound of his own voice he became aware of the wand he still held in his hand. Still pointing at the blond man before him, who wasn't as calm as his last words had indicated. No, not at all. A frantic edge had crept into Malfoy's voice.
"Will you please believe me that I had no idea what this would do to you...?"
Severus's fingers tightened around the warm wood in his hand, and he slowly, deliberately took one step forward. It was an unbelievably satisfying feeling to see fear creep across Lucius's features, to sense the other's growing panic, to smell the building despair Malfoy was radiating. The indisputable fact that it was him, Severus Snape, who was in control right now, right here, sent him into an elation he hadn't felt for a time that seemed like forever.
"For Slytherin's Snake, Severus, he just ordered me to take and hold your hand! How was I supposed to know what my simple touch would produce?"
If anything, those words that were meant to explain and to justify only increased the boiling rage Severus felt. He wasn't even sure who or what this fury was directed at, or what it was exactly he actually wanted to do about it. All he knew was that he was shivering with the urge to finally let *someone* pay for this unbearable situation he was in, to break free from this overwhelming sense of helplessness, of being left in the hands of the black caprices of the world's Darkest Wizard. He needed nothing more but to fool himself into thinking that he was still able to react. That he had regained control of his life, be it only for one second.
Taking another step in Lucius's direction, Severus decided that it was time to speak.
"And of course you didn't realize the effects of your affectionate touch at all--right, my *friend*?"
His rasping voice still felt and sounded alien to him, but it seemed to have the desired effect on the blond Death Eater anyway. Moving further away from Severus, Malfoy was not able to keep the fear out of his answer.
"Hell, what do you think? You went pale as if there wasn't a single drop of blood left in your face and your entire body started shaking almost immediately - rest assured that I couldn't help but realize that obviously I *did* harm you in some way..."
"Then why, in Merlin's name, didn't you let go of me?"
"And why didn't *you* jerk back or snatch away your hand?"
Breathing hard, Severus stopped dead in his tracks. The echo of the last shouted sentences still danced from one wall to the other, laughing at him and his futile attempt to escape from the truth. Looking at Lucius who was standing with his back against the opposite wall now, he realized once more that he, no, both of them, had been reduced to pawns in this horribly perverted game the Dark Lord had been playing tonight.
"I wanted to let go of your hand. Believe me, I really did." The other's voice was coloured with defensiveness and fatigue. "Just as I could feel you striving to get away from me. But he didn't let us, Severus. It must have been some spell he connected us with, I don't know, I didn't pay attention. All I remember is you arriving more or less in the middle of the meeting, and that I expected him to punish you for your late arrival, so I thought a Cruciatus would be next...But then, when he magically removed both our right gloves...how could I have known what was to come when he ordered me to take you by the hand and lead you to your position in the circle?"
Severus's wand sank down with his slowly descending arm. Eyes closed tightly and hands clenched to fists, he let the words wash over him that now bubbled from the other Death Eater's mouth. Just as if the blond Slytherin, who usually was so very proud of using only a few, but extremely eloquently chosen words, had only been waiting for the opportunity to get rid of what he had seen and of what his simple touch had provoked...when? Some hours ago? The spy didn't know and he didn't care. The all-embracing rage he had felt only moments ago had blown over completely, had been replaced by a strange mixture of despair and resignation. With growing apathy, he listened to Lucius's torrent. Low, precise and well articulated evidence of his, Severus's, total and final defeat.
"It was so...so unreal. I swear that I've never experienced anything like that. Severus, you should have seen your eyes, how agony was flashing from them, you should have witnessed how every part of you started to shake with spasms, how your hand cramped and twitched in mine, how your entire body broke down gradually. It only took some moments before you couldn't breathe anymore, and I swear I will *never* forget your desperate gasping for air...and the worst thing was that through all that, you didn't scream *once*! Not once! No sound, not the slightest moan, I mean you fell apart completely, and you did so absolutely silently. Believe me, it would have been easier to see and *hear* you under Cruciatus! To have *something* to connect to the torment you were obviously going through, something beside your body that was soundlessly smashed into pieces, and your screaming eyes that never left mine, not until you finally lost consciousness..."
The flood of sound stopped.
Silence spread and crept into every corner of the small room. Severus had sunken down to the floor where he now sat, holding his head in one hand, unmoving, except for the rhythmical rise and fall of his crooked shoulders. The black cloak was pooling around his bent form, his long, black hair covered his face completely. His hand had not been able to hold on to his wand, which now lay uselessly beside him.
For some moments, Lucius simply regarded the bent figure of his wrecked former housemate. From the way the muscles worked in his face one could tell that he was tempted to say more. To maybe even ask. But all he did in the end was let his body slip down at the wall at his back until he found himself on the ground as well.
He had not expected Lucius to speak again, so when the other man's voice dared to interrupt the silence that had fallen between them, Severus snapped back to reality with a start.
The small sound that came from the black bundle in the middle of the room could have been anything. A sarcastic laugh. A rather unbelieving snort. A suppressed sob. Severus didn't know himself what exactly had just escaped his mouth. He was quite positive, though, that this was definitely the first time ever that his former housemate had voiced something like regret for what he had done to others. He felt the beginnings of the almost familiar hysteria that had already attacked him several times during the last months rising inside on that thought. What a concept! One of the outcomes of all this being Lucius Malfoy discovering his soft side...this was simply hilarious...completely absurd... not to say grotesque...
...No! He had to do something in order not to fall to the threatening wave of uncontrollability that was building within him with every moment that he sat there, exposing his mind to the whims of his unsound subconscious. He had to give his brain something to do, had to keep it occupied, had to make his rationality work again. He was still a Slytherin, after all! Broken, defeated and destroyed, yes, but never would he betray his house by losing his mind, not here, and not now, and most certainly *not* because of *this*! Bringing all of his determination and ambition to bear, Severus racked his brain for some rational thread to cling to, for something to shield him from his subconscious going berserk.
So he asked the first question that came to his mind, that had lingered there ever since he had regained consciousness, to be exact.
"Why where you here when I woke up?"
To the spy, the few seconds it took the answer to make its way from one point on the floor to the other seemed like eternity.
"Because he told me to be."
Severus strictly forbade his mind to ponder on those words at all. Determined to keep talking, he heard how his voice, still sounding a little strangely, went on.
"And what, in Slytherin's name, could be the sense in that?"
He knew already before he had finished the sentence. He knew before he met Lucius's sympathetic glance, though the other man could not possibly know what he was surrendering his fellow Slytherin to with his next words.
"I'm supposed to tell you that he's waiting for you upstairs. You're ordered to report there as soon as you're able to. He... he said something about not being finished with you yet."
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