Chapter 1 : green (eyes like your mother's)
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Form prayers to broken stone
When Severus Snape opened his eyes, he had to squint against the white, hot light of the sun. Using his hand as a shield, he struggled to sit up so he could look at his surroundings. Recognition tickled his senses, and his eyes darted back and forth, taking in the familiar field, the tree with its gnarled branches stretching skyward as if it could reach the heavens. There was warm earth beneath his hands and it smelled like spring; he inhaled greedily, his lungs starving for air not fouled by death and decay.
Here, he was assaulted by more memories – of a neglected boy who found hope in the embrace of a young girl bursting with life and magic.
“Lily,” he breathed, and if he tried hard enough, he could almost imagine her standing there before him, all womanly curves and a face full of a youthful eagerness that he lost long ago.
Then she knelt before him, her posture reverent, and when she caged his hands between hers, he felt warmth in the pit of his stomach that spread outward like a sunburst. A feeling so foreign he was sure he was dreaming.
“Is this real?” he whispered, afraid of the truth more than the bitter sting of disappointment that would surely follow once he realized it was nothing more than a hallucination.
Lily smiled at him tenderly and squeezed his hands. “This is as real as you make it.”
She looked young in that moment, not a day past twenty-one, and this made him feel old, as if he was no longer worthy of the look of adoration in her eyes. His gut twisted uncomfortably, and he felt guilt rising like bile up his throat.
“This is not possible. You’re dead.”
Lily’s fingertips traced the sharp angle of his cheekbone, feather-light, like a lover’s caress. “So are you.”
Severus was on the cusp of death. He felt it in the slowing tempo of his heart; the steady rhythm, once a reminder that he was still amongst the living, faltered as his life slipped away in the tears that trailed down his sallow face.
Familiar green eyes anchored him as he struggled for air, each gasp a measure of the distance he had fallen out of his beloved’s favor. Eyes the color of the emerald pendant nestled in the hollow of her throat as she laid against the spring grass, before it dried in the summer heat - the cool blades a sharp relief against his sweat-soaked skin, his clammy hand resting atop hers. She smiled at him, all bright, white teeth, a childlike innocence not yet tainted by his dirty words, and he felt his own lips curve upward as he flushed in delight at her affection.
He blinked, his vision clearing briefly to reveal the frantic face of a boy who had taken everything from him and left him with nothing more than a head full of anger, the awful taste of betrayal heavy on his tongue. He blinked again, and all he saw was greengreengreen (eyes like your mother’s). He remembered begging, pleading, desperate for one last chance at redemption. There were hot, trembling hands against his cheek, cool glass pressed into his skin, collecting memories he once held onto like they were his salvation. Now, those memories would be the boy’s lifeline, and Severus could only hope that it would be enough to save him.
“Is this Heaven?” he asked, suddenly overwhelmed by green and light. He felt out of place in his black robes and sallow skin, evidence of years hidden away in dark dungeons, while Lily looked every bit as radiant as she once did.
“Do you honestly believe in a Heaven or Hell?”
He wrapped his fingers around her thin wrist as she flattened her palm against his face, and he held her close to him, desperate to cling to this feeling of life that fluttered in his chest like a heartbeat. “I thought if anything existed for me after death, I would certainly find myself in Hell for all that I’ve done. But you are everything that is good in this world, so I know that Hell would never claim you as its own.”
Lily ducked her head and looked up at him through lowered lashes. “Thank you,” she murmured. “You’re right, though. There is no Heaven or Hell, but there is an afterlife, and this is it.”
“It looks like home.”
Lily gently extracted her hand from his grasp and settled down on the grass beside him, her eyes taking in the field that was once their childhood escape. “It is home.”
“Have you been here all this time? What about –” He paused, and swallowed the lump that had formed his throat. “What about your husband?”
Lily frowned while she picked petals from a flower she had pulled up from the ground only moments before. “James and I had been living together in an apartment in London. Sirius joined us when he died a few years ago.”
Severus knew that Lily was never his, but that didn’t stop the tightening in his chest. He thought perhaps things would be different here, that they could finally have in death what they never could have in life.
“Then why are you here?” he growled angrily. “To torture me? Didn’t you do that enough when we were teenagers?”
“Sev, no,” Lily said softly, placing a hand on his arm to try and placate him. “I am here with you now.”
“What about Potter?”
“James has Sirius now.” Her lips curled upward in a secret smile, one she had only ever shared with Severus. “The afterlife…I’m always learning new things about this place that we now live in, but it knew that I belonged with you. I’ve only ever belonged with you.”
“You sure had a funny way of showing it.”
Lily snorted, brushing his remarks aside as though they meant nothing to her. “You hurt me,” she admitted. “Those words were cruel. I wondered for years how I could ever forgive you for what you said to me.”
Severus released a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “I am sorry for that. I wish that I could take it all back, that things could have been different.”
“I don’t. I was happy with James; I loved him. It was only after spending so many years in the afterlife that I felt maybe my heart was never wholly his, that maybe I always loved you more. But I needed that time with him to realize who it was that I was meant to be with.”
“How can you still love me after I called you that filthy name?”
Lily paused for a moment before a look of determination crossed her face. One second she was sitting beside him, and the next she was on her knees again, leaning over him with her hands on either side of his face. Her emerald eyes searched his, and in that moment he knew nothing but truth and love as she pressed her lips to his.
“It’s simple. Because I forgive you, Severus,” she murmured, her mouth a hair’s width from his own.
He felt it then, in the span of a shared breath - a sharp snap as the tension in his body uncoiled like a tightly wound rope. He didn’t know that was what he was waiting for, but once she uttered those words of absolution, he felt totally and utterly free. For the first time in years, he laughed, a little breathlessly, and looked at Lily like she was a saint. He captured her lower lip between his in a bruising kiss, reveling in the feel of the curve of her hips in his hands.
“I have always loved you, Lily,” he said, and his voice was full of adoration and awe for this woman who had saved him when he thought no one else could.
Lily grinned at him, eyes crinkled in delight, as she pulled him to his feet. He embraced her, her body molding against his as if they were meant to be two connected puzzle pieces, and she sighed happily. Looking down at her, he smiled. After living a life of darkness and betrayal, Severus was finally at peace here in the light of the afterlife.
Lily stepped out of his embrace, and he felt her absence almost immediately, but she entwined her fingers with his as she tugged him forward. She turned to look at him over her shoulder when his feet refused to move.
“Come on, Sev,” she said gently, “let’s go home.”
Author's Note: The title and opening quote come from T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men. This was written for one of my dear friends, academica, for her birthday. This is a bit of an outtake from my A Cold Heaven/Lights Were Paling One by One afterlife 'verse, so the slash warning refers to the James/Sirius pairing that is briefly mentioned here. Thanks Violet Gryfindor and TenthWeasley for the banner and the editing - you guys are the best!