Disclaimer: The characters here and the world they inhabit are the creation and property of JK Rowling and her assigns.
Severus stood under the spray of water in his shower and ached. During the fight in the Shrieking Shack, he'd been in and out of consciousness, but he was dimly aware of having seen a trussed-up Pettigrew just before the moon hit Lupin and everything had gone to hell.
He knew the Weasley family rat. He could have snuffed its life out dozens of times over the years. In another reality, he could have worked with Lupin and Black to find Lily's killer. Damn Black and his foolishness! Why did he have to search for Pettigrew by himself when Severus and any number of other people would have searched with him?
He slung a towel around himself and thought of the lies he'd believed all these years. He stalked into the bedroom and looked with surprise at Septima. He'd almost forgotten that she was there.
She looked worried when he walked in. She was still holding the ointment jar, awkwardly. “I thought I could help you, but maybe you want to be alone. I should go upstairs to my own rooms, instead.”
“No,” he said, suddenly terrified of being alone. He grabbed her wrist. It was too reminiscent of their early days, so he slid down to her hand and grasped it. “I said you're going to be with me from now on. I think I need you.”
“If it's what you want.”
Septima held the jar up. “Shall I put it on for you?”
“Please.” He groaned as he lay down on his bed.
After setting the candles in the room to full luminosity, she sat down and bit her lip as she looked over his back. She traced a scar he received during a scuffle when he worked for the Dark Lord. “Did all of this happen after we parted at the university?”
“I was a Death Eater, love, with all the rights and privileges implied thereby.”
She applied the ointment to several bruises and then a scrape or two. The last made him jump a bit. “I'm sorry, I guess it stings, then?”
He rolled over, exposing the worst of the night's damage. Black had let him bump into the ceiling of the cave as he led him through it. Perhaps it was intentional, or perhaps Black didn't have very good control over Severus's wand. Septima gasped and went to work.
She put ointment on his face and traced a tear she found. “You're mourning her all over again, aren't you?”
How could she have such compassion for him? He reached up and touched her hair. “You're too easy on me. Far, far too easy.”
“How am I supposed to be? I love you. I want you to have what you need.”
“I love that you accept me and don't try to change me. She could never just take me as I came.”
“She was beautiful, wasn't she?” Septima stopped what she was doing to pull the robe more closely around herself.
“I'd never seen anything like her the first time I saw her. I'd never seen a person so alive.”
Septima tipped her head down and looked at his legs. She was very careful as she worked, and she was very careful as she asked her next question. “Surely you made love to her.”
He answered without thinking. “Once. It was a dream come true when she came around and offered herself. It was a nightmare when I realized it was all a lie. She used me to spite the boy who eventually became her husband, because they'd had some spat. She was the love of my life, but she didn't want me. I swore there was no other woman for me.” He realized that what he was saying hurt Septima deeply. He couldn't see her face, but he saw the set of her shoulders. “Yet I couldn't stop wanting you, Septima. You gave me a pleasure I never found with her. There were days I hated you for it.”
He reached for her and pulled her up to lie close to him. “You have no reason to be sorry. It was my own inability to reason through my various conflicts that caused the damage. Then there were the Death Eaters. They were so kind to me, so eager to have me join. I blame myself for what happened to Renée and everything that's happened to you since then.”
“I don't blame you. If I had been stronger, more capable in my own right...”
“I saw her that day, right after I saw you at St. Mungos. She was vicious, goading me about you and the baby. I sent her away, and you wouldn't take me back. All I had was that grainy ultrasound picture and the thought that maybe there might still be a chance to be with her. Then she was killed.”
“Oh.” Septima raised her hand and caressed his cheek. “I figured out that's why you came to me... that night.”
“You put me back together, Septima. I don't think she could have done so under similar circumstances. I don't think she would have bothered. Still, one thing that's kept me going all these years was the thought of somehow getting revenge upon the people responsible. When I got the chance, I was going to blast the traitor, Sirius Black. Now I know that I had the opportunity to capture—or kill—the real traitor so many times, and I failed her.”
She got up and went into the bathroom. Had he gone too far? Had he upset her just when he needed her? She was so skittish earlier; was she going to leave him?
He was almost embarrassed at how relieved he felt when she came back. She held a flannel in her hand, which she used to wipe his tears. “I'm so sorry,” she said.
There were so many things he should do, including apologize to her for being an ungrateful git. Instead, he felt something give way inside him. He clung to her and wept for his losses as she held him, stroking his hair and his back. It felt good to let it out, and Septima made him feel comfortable and safe. She would keep his secrets, and she wouldn't think less of him. She would simply be there whenever he needed her.
The clock was starting to chime a morning hour when he lifted his head and said, “I need you, Septima... please?”
She slid down next to him and kissed him hard. “You never need to ask.”
A/N: Thank you to Kyria of Delphi and Owlbait for the beta reading!