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"Snape has a lover?" The red-haired child couldn't have sounded more stunned if he tried. "That's Snape's lover?"

It was a sentiment apparently echoed by half the school. More than half, really. In the two days since he'd arrived, Methos had heard just about every possible variation on the theme. It seemed as far as these people were concerned, the only possible reaction to the prospect was rampant disbelief.

Not that he could blame them, precisely. Severus had crafted his persona so very well, had honed and shaped his bitterness and sarcasm to simply stunning effect, and to see Methos' own persona against that, the young, fresh-faced Adam Pierson ... well, he could hardly begrudge the children a little cognitive dissonance at the effect. It was so wonderfully warped, after all. Perfectly appalling. The shy, gentle researcher, chained to that horrible ogre of a Potions Master.

He snickered softly, flashing a smile and an apologetic shrug to Madame Pince for the noise, waving a hand in askance at the students for making such a ruckus in the Library. The old battleaxe smiled back, sympathetically. A kindred soul, that woman. There were books in this library that all but leapt to her touch, knowing genuine caring when they felt it. Methos did love those with a proper appreciation for the written word, and Irma ... well. Lets just say that if the Great Library at Alexandria had known her touch, it would never have been lost, and Methos was not shy about his appreciation for the fact.

Unfortunately, battleaxe though she may be, sanctity of the Library notwithstanding, not even Irma Pince could stem the mutterings that surrounded him, the ripple of shock and confusion and pity. And, amusing though it may be, Methos was beginning to find it annoying. Severus deserved better than this, from people he worked so hard to protect ...

As if summoned by the thought, the Library doors slammed open, and the man himself strode into the hall, cutting off the murmurs as if they'd never been. Pausing for a moment to rake the room with a quelling sneer, ignoring Irma's glare, ignoring the stunned, guilty expressions of the students, Severus Snape stalked towards Methos, his already grim features twisted into a scowl of truly epic proportions. Methos stared, swallowing, very carefully allowing only Adam's apprehension, his concern, and maybe a glimmer of shy appreciation, and ruthlessly shoving down his own flash of sheer hunger. Oh, but Severus did know how to put on a show, didn't he?

"Mister Pierson." Snape's lip curled into a contemptuous little sneer, dark eyes flashing dangerously as he shoved his hands down on the desk between them, on either side of Methos', leaning in until his prominent nose rested an inch from Methos' own. The Immortal hurriedly swallowed the urge to laugh, and pulled up every scrap of meek confusion Adam Pierson possessed.

"Severus. Can ... can I help you?" A little bit of a quaver, there, an acknowledgement of how truly intimidating Severus Snape could contrive to be. For a second, a smirk flickered over his lover's face.

"I would like a word with you, darling, if you don't mind," Severus purred smoothly, rich threat in his voice, anger and hunger and note-perfect demand. Oh, but these fools hadn't a clue what they held, did they? The perfect spy, the perfect double agent, deception given voice in their midst. Such a gem, and not a one of them appreciated it.

"Of course, Severus," he smiled, disarmingly, coming to his feet with a sheepish glance at Madame Pince, the very picture of shamed innocence in the face of his lover's wrath. Behind Severus, he caught more than one student glaring daggers at the Potions Master's back on his behalf, and hid a grin. Oh, children. You've not the first clue who you're dealing with, do you? If only you knew. It's Severus that needs protecting, little ones. So very much. But they didn't know, and it wasn't his place to tell them, even if Severus had wanted it. Which he didn't.

"Any day now, Adam," the taller man bit out, standing back, pale face smoothed into a ruthlessly controlled sneer, black eyes glittering in challenge and annoyance. Methos hid the hungry twitch of his hands with the clumsy gathering of his books, and moved into Severus' shadow with cowed eagerness. The Potions Master laid a firm hand in the small of his back, as if to propel him out of the room, and Methos pressed back into it a little, just a faint reminder, a secret delight, as he gifted Irma back her treasures and allowed himself to be swept away.

Severus' restraint, incredible as it was, lasted about five seconds once they were out of sight of prying eyes, and Methos found himself caught up in large, stained hands, pinned against a wall with brutal efficiency, and then Severus' eyes were an inch from his own, some laughing, desperate thing shining out at him from their depths, and Severus' voice was a silken purr in his ear.

"You!" the spy breathed, narrow body pressing Methos into the wall. "Do you have any idea what you've done to my reputation, Methos? Do you have any idea?"

"Something good, I hope," he murmured back, shimmying a bit, grinning at the little gasp that Severus mastered with vicious control. "That was why I came, after all." He grinned hopefully. Severus had asked for his help, and he'd hate to think he'd disappointed ... But the expression on his lover's face as he pulled back, just a touch, to stare down at Methos, the dark, hesitant emotion, rich and stormy and pained ... that silenced him, suddenly. Methos stared, mute, at the leashed desperation in those eyes, at the hope and hunger and resignation.

"He called me last night, Methos," Severus whispered, his hands curling a little where they pressed against Methos' stomach, tension singing in their strong grasp. "Letters from Slytherins, home to their parents. He thinks you're some Muggle slave I've smuggled past the Headmaster under the guise of a lover. He took the time to actually congratulate me on my ingenuity, in between punishing me for risking my position as a spy." A harsh laugh. "Half my House apparently thinks the same. Quite possibly half the school, and the other half ... Dumbledore thinks you're my last grasp at something happy, you know. The old bastard even gave me his blessing, despite thinking I should maybe not be so harsh on you in public. He thinks you're my last attempt at happiness given ... given what's coming." A bitter quirk of those lips. "Amusing, don't you think?"

Methos shook his head, reaching out to wrap his arms around the younger man's waist, tugging him gently forward into an embrace. "They don't understand, Severus. We never expected them to. In fact, we very deliberately set out to make sure they didn't understand, remember?"

A snort of rough laughter, and Severus tucked his head into the side of Methos' neck, chuckling darkly. "I remember. I just ... didn't expect it to work quite so well, perhaps." Softer, tired. "It never stops amazing me, just how much they're willing to believe, and just how little of the truth they're willing to see." A sad smile. "Just how little of me. Anything that might contradict the picture of me they have in their heads, they ignore, or bend to fit. If it weren't so likely to get me killed, I'd be almost tempted to laugh at them." He raised his head a bit, a flicker of a smile, a faint hint of teasing. "Are all of us poor mortals so easy to fool, oh Ancient One?" Methos bit his lip.

"No," he said, shaking his head. "Not really. Not ones like you, certainly. But those two ... they're paranoid, Severus, and caught up in a war, a vendetta, that neither of them are willing to let go. They're desperate to see anything that might indicate their own superiority, anything that might hint at future victory. And you ... you, my love, are a linchpin held between them, and as long as both can let themselves believe they hold your loyalty, they can let themselves believe in that victory. And they want to believe in it, Severus. So very desperately."

Severus looked at him for a long minute, so young and yet so old, aged long, long before his time, by hate, by suspicion, by a life lived caught at the cutting edges of two very desperate powers. Mortal he may be, young he may be, but Severus Snape had lost what innocence he'd had a long time ago, and hope not long after. But war did that to people, didn't it? No-one knew that better than Methos.

"Yes," said the spy. "They want to believe it. And when the time comes, when I finally prove one way or another which side I'm on ... That betrayal will kill me, won't it." Not even a question, not anymore. "It doesn't even matter who wins. Whichever side falls in the end ... I'm going to fall with it."

Methos lowered his head, face twisting, hands knotting into fists at Severus' back, and for once, there was nothing, nothing at all, of Adam Pierson in his demeanor. This was pure Methos, old and sad and tired in so many ways, and fiercely, desperately determined despite it. He couldn't lie. Not to this boy, not to this man who'd never been offered honest comfort in his life, but he couldn't confirm what they both knew, either. He couldn't open his mouth and blithely agree to Severus' death. He couldn't.

Severus was silent too, for a minute. Watching him, studying him, studying the bitter knowledge in his face, the defiant caring despite it. Looking for a lie, in this face that had lied to the world since the day it was born, looking for a deception in the oldest deceiver in existence. Looking for it, and failing to find it. It wasn't much to offer, never enough to offer, but it was all Methos had, and in many ways more than anyone else had ever given.

"When they come for me," Severus said at last, quietly, almost gently. "Whichever of them it is ... when the war spills out, Methos ... you can't be here. You can't be near me. Neither of them would hesitate to use you against me, against each other, and if either of them ever found out what you are ..." They both shuddered instinctively at that thought. "You can't be here. I'm sorry, Methos. You've done all you can."

"I know," Methos whispered, harshly. "I know, Severus." A bitter laugh, but there was a certain dark humour to the situation, despite it all. If only in the nature of their mutual deceptions. "And heaven forfend that the oldest, most self-absorbed survivor in existence should risk himself now! Think of the damage it would do to my reputation!" And that got him a smile, a bitter little twist of one thin lip, but there was something light in black eyes despite it all.

"No," Severus murmured, reaching up to trace Methos' mouth with stained, scarred fingers, a master's touch. "We can't have that, can we? Reputation, after all, is everything." Yes. Reputations that kept them alive, reputations that every day threatened to get them killed, reputations that simultaneously belied and uplifted the truth of who they were. Reputations they swapped between them with equal deception and equal truth. The innocent and the monster. The spy and the scholar. The survivor and the sacrifice. The youth and the ancient. The living man and the walking corpse. And oh, if only Severus knew. If only he dared tell him ...

Methos strangled a cry, and reached up to tangle a hand in Severus' lank hair, tugging his lover's head down with a ruthlessness no-one would ever suspect in Adam Pierson, and a youthful desperation no-one would ever suspect in the oldest of the old. "Promise me," he hissed, fiercely, watching the mortal eyes an inch from his own. "Promise me, Severus. When this is over. When your part in this is done. Promise me you'll find me again. If luck is with you, if you manage ... Promise me. Promise me!"

Severus stared at him, nonplussed, with eyes full of age and sad knowledge and almost tender pity. "I promise," he said, softly, and never in all his years of deception had the lie been so obvious in his voice. "I promise, Methos. I promise I'll come." And he leaned in that last inch, and kissed Methos, something bloody and bitter and impossibly sweet, the seal on one last lie, the promise of one last moment before death. Methos clung to him, and tried desperately not to laugh, tried harder not to cry.

"I'll show you the world," he promised, a promise he'd made before, and as earnestly. "I'll show you all the world, Severus, when you come back to me. Show you how to run, how to hide, how to get lost in the freedom and beauty of it all. I'll show you that."

"I know you will," Severus said, biting Methos' lip gently, tasting the age of him, the spark of magic that gave life to death, tasting the magic he knew he'd never have. "I know that."

And Methos smiled Adam Pierson's smile, and pulled what comfort he could from the fact that, though Severus would have to die, and they both knew it, between two of the best deceivers the world had ever seen, between two promises equally and obviously false ... the only one of them was actually a lie. And that, only because the liar knew no better.

*Severus, beloved child ... do you think I'll let you go so easily as that? Cunning serpent, you don't know half of what you think you do! And love, remember, I promised I'd never lie to you.

I do always try to keep my promises, Severus.*