Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
A bowl of porridge. A lousy, miserable bowl of porridge and a side of bacon because his stomach was growling and that was offending Severus Snape's ears. For the space of a heartbeat, Remus could have almost pretended that Snape was being civilized towards him, and even if they'd been bickering, the morning had been more relaxed than any of their time together had been to that point.
Well, any of it except the evening of that Death Eater gathering. Funny how the evenings of relaxation never seemed to go very well.
And odd how Snape could get under Remus' skin so with such ease. It had been years since anyone had pissed him off as thoroughly as Snape had done this morning, and that dubious accomplishment had led to Remus losing his temper for the first time in more than a year. The last time he'd lost it, it had been with Snape.
"Fucking bastard," Remus muttered, staring up at the ceiling, his arm draped over his eyes. Remus was still miffed, even two hours after their shift had ended.
It hadn't been the arguing. Remus had thought the bickering was rather amusing, in all honesty. It hadn't been the slurs or the barbs, nor even the blunt orders and commands. Remus had taken all of that into stride, accepting it as part of the package and part of the game. Avoiding the stings was becoming a challenge, and one Remus thought he was rising to admirably.
No, it hadn't been anything Severus had done. At least, nothing he'd done with the intent of inflicting pain. It was almost laughable that of their entire exchange, it had been Snape's buying of his breakfast that had bothered Remus to such an extent that he was still thinking about it, five hours after the fact. How he hated not being able to find paid work.
And Snape had been so bloody… Indifferent. Remus thought he could have handled sneers and jeers, and he could have contended with sympathy, but it was the brisk indifference that had wounded him deeper. There was nothing to rail against, nothing to protest. He had been accepting the mercy of one Severus Snape, and it grated at his pride that he'd been in that position.
"Remus? Remus, are you up?"
Remus stifled a groan. Sirius was hammering on his door, his voice carrying a certain muffled enthusiasm. Just go away, he thought, staring listlessly at the door. He didn't want to talk to Sirius. He didn't want to talk to anyone. He wanted to lie there and feel sorry for himself and mull over what a pathetic excuse for a wizard he was and replay a thousand witty responses he should have made to Snape's comments.
Sirius didn't go away.
"Remus? Are you awake in there? Get up!" There was another pounding at the door, and then the handle turned. Remus snapped his eyes shut, pretending to be sleeping.
His pretense didn't last long as he found his pillow jerked out from under his head and brought down onto his face with enough force to make him wince. His eyes flew open again as he wrestled the pillow away from Sirius. "What?" he asked, stuffing the pillow under his head again.
"Get out of bed! The day's wasting!"
Remus sighed. "It's Saturday," he protested, squeezing his eyes closed as Sirius flung open the curtains to let sunlight stream in. "Saturdays are made for wasting."
There was a sudden, palpable silence, and Remus opened one eye, squinting in the bright light. The exuberance was gone from Sirius' expression, replaced by the listless vacancy that had haunted him for the last year. Remus struggled to sit up, fighting a losing battle against a yawn.
"Sorry I bothered you," Sirius muttered, sounding petulant and disappointed.
"What's wrong?" Remus asked, scrubbing a hand over his face. Even if he had been lying there awake, he was exhausted. It had been a bloody long night.
"Nothing," Sirius replied. "Go back to sleep."
"No," Remus said, shaking his head. "I'm up. What's going on?"
There was silence again, and when Sirius spoke, it was in a low voice. "You said we'd do something today."
Shit. Remus remembered that as soon as Sirius said it. He glanced at the bed again; the pillow was beckoning to him. He glanced at Sirius, whose face reminded him of a small, heartbroken child. He glanced at the bed again, then shoved himself away from it. The bed would still be there that night.
"We are going to do something," Remus said, more successful in stifling a yawn this time than he'd been a moment ago. "I don't know what yet, but we're going to do something. Do you have any ideas?"
"Yeah." Sirius sounded like his old self again, and when Remus looked at him, he was grinning a grin that took twenty years off his appearance. "We'll go to Surrey, get Harry, and spend the day with him."
Remus blinked. Surrey? Harry? That sounded like the kind of harebrained idea Sirius would have had when they were kids. He opened his mouth to say something more, but changed his mind. God, we're going to be in trouble if anyone catches us, he thought, scrubbing a hand over his face again. It was bad enough that they were going to be outside the house when Dumbledore had specifically told Sirius to stay inside, but Remus was willing to take that chance. Involving Harry, though? Shit.
"But what are we going to do?" Remus asked around the sinking feeling in his gut.
"I dunno. Thought maybe we'd go to Diagon Alley, or… or maybe take him somewhere he can fly. He'd like that."
Remus opened his mouth again. God, this was a bad idea. He could just imagine the look on Dumbledore's face when he found out that instead of leaving Harry to be guarded on a nice, safe street in Surrey, they were taking him into the middle of nowhere so he could fly. With luck, Dumbledore wouldn't find out until after it happened. "You don't think Harry would be in danger, do you?" he asked. On second thought, it might be luckier if Dumbledore found out before it happened and put a stop to it.
"With two wizards protecting him?" Sirius asked. "Nah. 'Course not. That's what he's got in Surrey, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Remus said, feeling weak. He bent and picked up his shoes, and as he straightened his left sock, he found himself wondering why he hadn't learned how to tell Sirius 'no'. It was a very basic word, 'no'. Should have been easy to protest this blatant stupidity.
A few minutes later they were creeping downstairs and Remus was still trying to come up with a way to talk Sirius out of this lunacy. Time was running out, though, as they descended into the kitchen.
"Want one of Molly's muffins first?" Sirius asked, opening a cupboard and rummaging.
"Sirius! Remus! What are you two doing up already?"
Sirius and Remus both spun around, Sirius hiding his muffin behind his back and looking more like a misbehaving schoolboy than he ever had when he was a misbehaving schoolboy. Remus, for his part, was relieved that Molly Weasley had interrupted them.
"Nothing!" Sirius answered with a bright smile. "Just… erm… having some breakfast."
"Do you want eggs?" Molly asked, bustling over to the stove. "Or bacon? I thought I'd fix a nice, big breakfast this morning. Lots to do today. What do you two have planned?"
The two of them looked at each other, and Remus reflected that he was out of practice at being caught not doing anything yet but planning something. "Nothing, really," Sirius answered at last, and Remus looked away before he started laughing.
"Wonderful! You two can help with the upstairs sitting room then!"
A curious mixture of relief and irritation swept over Remus. This was not how he had intended to spend the day.
"The sitting room?" Sirius repeated, sounding deflated.
"Yes. I think there's a boggart in the china cabinet, and a case full of odd things that I don't want the children to run afoul of, and I'm not convinced that the carpet isn't cursed." She stopped rattling her pots and pans and half turned to look at them. "You two are sure you didn't have anything planned? If you did, just say so and we can work on the sitting room another time."
"No, not at all," Remus said when it became clear that Sirius wasn't going to answer. He'd settled into a brooding silence again, his eyes losing the glimmer they'd had for a few minutes.
Thus, they found themselves standing in the middle of the sitting room on the second floor, wands in hand, handkerchiefs tied around their noses, a bucket of Mrs. Scower's Magical Mess Remover, dust cloths and a spray bottle of doxycide.
"Well," Remus said, his voice muffled a bit by the handkerchief, "this isn't quite the adventure I had in mind, but I suppose it will do."
Sirius snorted. "Maybe you think cleaning is an adventure."
Remus shot him a sideways look, then glanced around the room. Against one wall was a sofa draped with a dingy sheet, and a writing desk layered with a good inch of dust faced the window, which was hung with tattered and frayed remnants of curtains. Waist-high bookshelves lined another wall, and a chess table lay on the floor beside the fireplace. Everything that wasn't covered in a sheet was covered with a thick layer of dust, often with thick layers of cobwebs connecting them.
"Where do you want to start?" Remus asked, ignoring the bitterness in Sirius' tone.
"I suppose if there are doxies, they'll either be in the curtains or one of the sheets."
"The curtains are dead anyway," Remus said, edging closer to the window and moving one of the scraps of rotting velvet aside with the end of his wand. "What do you think? Gather all the loose fabric and…"
"Toss it in the fireplace," Sirius suggested.
"Molly will probably want the sheets ripped into rags." Remus picked up a bottle of doxycide and held it in front of him as he gave the curtains a solid poke with his wand. Nothing but clouds of dust rose from the folds. Once satisfied that they were not going to attack him, he set about removing them from the tarnished brass rings that held them up. Levitating them in front of him, he guided them into the hall and deposited them into an unceremonious heap on the floor.
With the heavy drapes gone from the window, the room looked brighter and more cheerful already. He made his way back to the desk and opened the top drawer to peer inside. It seemed to contain nothing more than parchment, quills and ink, so he stashed his wand in his pocket and picked up a leather folder embossed with the Black family crest.
"I'd be careful of that if I were you," Sirius warned. "My dearest grandmother used that desk when she came to stay, and she had a great love of poisonous ink. One of my cousins nearly lost a finger to a paper cut."
Remus raised an eyebrow, but nodded, withdrawing another handkerchief from his pocket. He flipped through the pages, peering at the elegant script that swirled and swooped across the page. A letter of complaint, it would seem. He rifled through the pages, half-interested. "Do you want any of this?" he asked, looking at Sirius.
"No," Sirius answered without even looking up. He was pulling trinkets off the bookcases and dumping them into the rubbish bin. The sound of clanking metal and shattering glass echoed through the room. Remus watched for a moment, then added the folder, quills and ink to the bin. As much as it went against his nature to throw out perfectly good writing utensils, he decided he could respect Sirius' lack of desire to see anything that reminded him of his family. Besides, Sirius could afford quills and parchment without it cutting into his budget elsewhere.
They worked in silence for a few minutes, until Sirius jumped back from the shelf he was cleaning, a muffled curse escaping his lips. Remus spun around, wand out, but Sirius had already drawn his wand and sent a shower of sparks at a trinket box that was snapping irritably at him. It clamped onto the end of his wand and held tight, and Remus cringed to think what it would have done to a finger had it caught one.
"And you wonder why I hated my mother," Sirius muttered, banging his wand on the edge of the rubbish bin in an attempt to dislodge the trinket box. After several frustrated attempts, he growled, "Eructium!" The box shot into the rubbish bin where it snapped furiously until Sirius dropped a book on top of it. He sighed and leaned against the bookcase, his hands braced along the top shelf.
Remus pocketed his wand again with a frown on his face. "Are you all right?"
"Are you sure?" He crossed the room, peeling the handkerchief from his mouth, and leaned against the bookcase as well, his arms folded across his chest.
For a long moment, Remus just watched Sirius, trying to decide whether or not to press the issue. It was obvious that he was not fine. At length, he took a deep breath and bent, snatching up the rubbish bin. "I'm just going to go empty this, then," he said, and Sirius nodded.
Remus hesitated a moment more, then took the rubbish bin out into the hall and headed downstairs, lost in thought. He was so busy contemplating the way Sirius had been acting that he did not realize he wasn't alone on the stairs until he quite ran into someone.
"Watch where you're going!" Snape barked, and Remus jumped back, dropping the box he was carrying. The contents spilled down the stairs, including the trinket box that had attacked Sirius. Remus danced away from it as it began snapping again.
Snape jerked out of the way of the box as well, colliding with Remus again and almost knocking Remus off balance. Remus grabbed the railing for support, stumbling forward as he attempted to avoid both Snape and the snapping box.
"Watch it, you arse! That was my—ow!" Snape kicked at the box as it nipped at his foot, and overbalanced, reaching out to grab Remus' robe. Remus clutched his hand, shoving him against the wall as the trinket box launched another attack, this time latching onto the hem of Remus' robe.
"Bloody fucking hell!" Remus hissed, banging the box against the wall in an effort to dislodge it; in the mean time, the grandfather clock at the bottom of the stairs started spitting bolts across the hall, sending bits of metal pinging against the opposite wall. The commotion woke the portrait of Mrs. Black, who added her screeching voice to the cacophony.
Remus bolted forward to close the curtains over the portrait, but the stairs seemed to have taken the idea from the snapping box, and they revolted against the use. The third step from the bottom sprang upward just as Remus stepped on it, sending him tumbling to the floor in a sprawling heap at the bottom of the stairs, and just as he was scrambling to his feet, he was knocked over again by Snape landing on top of him, the stairs seeming to take offense at his presence as well.
Another bolt went pinging off the wall just above their heads, and Remus covered his head with his hands, attempting to wriggle away from the increasingly rebellious front hall.
"Immobulus!" Snape yelled, and another bolt stopped mid-air. The snapping box stopped struggling and hung from Remus' robe as a deadweight, and the stairs settled back into place as though nothing had happened.
Remus darted for the portrait again, wrestling the curtains closed over her and looked down, surprised to see Snape wrenching the trinket box from his robe. Snape straightened, dropping the box into Remus' hand.
"Is there anything in this damned house that doesn't bite, scratch or otherwise attack?" Snape asked, shoving a hand through his hair as though he could restore some sort of order that hadn't existed in the first place.
"Not much," Remus muttered in reply. He looked around at the mess littering the floor and the stairs and sighed, leaning against the wall, closing his eyes. The box in his hand twitched, and he hurled it into the capsized rubbish bin, then bent to pick up the folder of parchments. As he dropped the paper into the bin, he drew a sharp breath as the edge of one of the pages sliced cleanly across his thumb. He was about to put the incensed digit in his mouth when Sirius' warning from earlier came back to him: One of my cousins nearly lost a finger to a paper cut. A jolt of fear stabbed at him, but he shoved it aside.
"Now what?" Snape asked, looking irritated now that he'd regained his composure.
"Nothing," Remus replied, trying to force his voice light. "Just a paper cut. Don't suppose you know how to tell by looking if the ink on these pages was poisonous?"
"Poison—" Snape stalked over to him, holding out a hand. "Let me see."
Remus offered him the letters, which Snape tossed into the rubbish bin. "Your hand," he growled, not waiting for Remus to comply. Remus was suddenly very aware that he was pressed against the wall, nowhere to retreat, and Severus Snape was so close he could smell him. It was a pleasant scent—fresh and herbal, laced with something that was harder to define. Remus felt his breath catch in his throat.
"Does it hurt?" Snape asked, turning Remus' hand one way and then another. His manner was brusque, but it lacked open hostility. His hands were firm and warm as he bent Remus' thumb and pressed at the pad.
Remus' tongue felt like it was made of cotton, and he shook his head.
"Into the kitchen," Severus said, pointing with his wand. "Go." Remus obeyed, attempting to regulate his breathing. Being so near Severus was wreaking havoc on his senses.
"Sit," Severus commanded, pointing at the table, and Remus sank into one of the chairs, attempting to gather his wits again. Severus sat in front of him, and Remus swallowed hard as Severus touched his cheek, tilting his face upward. "Follow my finger," he ordered, hold a finger up in front of Remus' nose and moving it o the left. Remus followed it with his eyes, then followed it to the right.
"What are you doing?" he asked after several minutes of it.
"There are two deadly poisonous inks," Severus replied, his thumb tugging Remus' right eyelid open wider. "One of them causes hemorrhaging, and it is easiest to see in the eyes first. If it is caught quickly enough, and the antidote administered, only your vision would be permanently affected."
"And the other one?"
"Undetectable until you actually die from it, and acts quickly enough that you wouldn't survive my going to my office and getting the antidote, even if I had some on hand." Severus replied, letting go of Remus' face. "Give me your hand again."
Remus offered his hand, which shook slightly. He suspected that the shaking had little to do with fear of poison though, and much to do with the close proximity of the other wizard.
"Is your vision blurred?" Severus asked, examining the thumb again.
Remus shook his head. "No," he replied.
Severus dropped his hand once more and reached for Remus' head, tilting his face upward. "Look at my nose," he said, and Remus did as he was told. Severus' nose was barely an inch from his own. He could feel Severus' breath against his cheek.
"It could just be a paper cut," Remus whispered.
"Yes," Severus murmured, "it could." He was peering into Remus' eyes again, his thumbs on Remus' eyelids.
After a long moment of the air irritating his eyes, Remus couldn't help blinking, his eyes beginning to water. "How long would it take you to see something?"
"Another moment," Severus replied, and the seconds ticked by. Remus placed his hands on Severus' wrists and drew his hands down slowly.
"I think it's just a paper cut," he whispered.
"You're probably right," Severus whispered in return, not pulling away. Remus felt his heart quickening again. Was it just his imagination, or was Severus moving closer?
He certainly isn't moving away.
Slowly, almost afraid that a sudden movement might frighten Severus back to his senses, Remus leaned closer to Severus as well, his lips parted. He closed his eyes as they touched, a faint brushing of sensitive flesh against sensitive flesh.
"Remus? Are you down here?" Sirius' voice came echoing down the stairs and Remus jerked away from Severus. "What the hell happ— Oh. It's you." Sirius had apparently seen Severus, and Severus' eyes were narrowing at Sirius.
"Come on," Remus said, trying to ignore his weak knees and hoping that he wasn't trembling as hard as he felt he was. Sirius and Severus were still squaring off, and Remus grabbed Sirius' shoulder, turning him towards the door. "Come on," he repeated. "Help me pick this crap up."
"What happened?" Sirius asked, casting one last accusatory glare in Severus' direction.
"Tripped," Remus muttered, shoving Sirius along ahead of him. "Fell down the stairs."
As they reached the top of the stairs, Sirius turned around and looked at him, frowning. "Are you sure you're all right?" he asked. "You look pale."
"I'm fine," Remus insisted. "Just a little shaken."
"And what's Snape got to do with it?"
Remus exhaled slowly. "Nothing," he replied, his voice carrying a tone of finality. "Absolutely nothing."
It was perhaps the first time in his life when Severus had nothing to say to Black. Nothing on the end of his tongue, no string of swear words garbled together with curses or hexes, no insults and no acerbic comments. He'd had nothing to say to Sirius Black, barely even noticed he was in the room except for the way Lupin had bolted away as though on a spring.
He could almost feel Lupin's face beneath his fingertips—hard planes, the faint roughness of a shadow of a beard covering otherwise smooth and pliant skin. He could almost feel Lupin's hands on his, warm and gentle, yet firm. He could have lost himself in Lupin's eyes, could have inhaled the faint, heady, smell until he suffocated from it. His lips still tingled with the unfulfilled promise that had passed between them.
Perhaps when he regained his wits, he would be angry with Black for interrupting them. Perhaps he'd even be angry with Lupin for breaking away so quickly, even if he did think it was for the best.
"Shit," he swore, sinking his head into his hands and staring at the table. Damn Remus Lupin for doing this to him.
It had been twenty years since the last time he'd even looked at another person with longing in his eyes. A string of humiliations at the hands of his peers had driven him into a self-imposed seclusion when he was still a teenager, and even as an adult he'd never once considered letting go of that protective shell he'd built around himself. Now, for the first time in two decades, he was tempted to let his defenses weaken.
You're just tired, he told himself. You're not thinking straight. Go back home and go to bed. You can think all of this through after you've slept a few hours.
He didn't move. He did close his eyes, but he didn't move a muscle until a hand on his back startled him and he almost fell out of the chair in his attempt to draw his wand.
"Shh. It's just me."
Severus blinked up at the source of the voice. Even as he stifled a groan, his heart leapt a little; Lupin was standing beside him.
"Have you been here all this time?" Lupin asked.
All this time? Severus glanced around, looking for a clock and trying to formulate an answer.
"Nearly two hours," Lupin supplied, sitting in the chair next to him. "Don't you think a bed would be more comfortable?"
"I'm not going to bed with you," Severus said bluntly, and Lupin snorted.
"I wasn't suggesting it," he replied, and Severus felt foolish. "There are several unused rooms in this house, and a few of them are even fit for occupation."
Severus stood, a new wave of fatigue washing over him again. "No," he said. "I will be returning home and—"
"Are you sure?" Lupin asked. "You don't look like you're up to Apparating."
"I said I'm fine." Severus scowled, then glanced at the door. He did not move towards it right away.
"If I touch you, are you going to snap my head off?"
"It's a distinct possibility."
Lupin chuckled. "I'll take my chances," he said, and Severus stiffened. The dreaded touch turned out to be nothing more than a straightening of his collar, and Lupin was quiet again. "I was hoping we'd find a chance to talk," he said.
The last thing Severus wanted to do was talk. He wasn't sure what he did want to do—finding a way to never have to face Lupin again and trapping him in a corner to claim the unfulfilled promise of a kiss warred for position as his first choice, but talking to the damn werewolf held no appeal at all.
"We'll have four hours when we go on duty again," Severus said at last. "Anything you wish to say to me can wait until then." Without waiting for Lupin to protest, Severus beat a hasty retreat towards the stairs and all but ran up them. He shoved his way past Black without sparing him so much as a scowl.
"What the hell are you still doing here?" Black hissed, but Severus didn't slow his pace. "Do not slam the goddamn—"
Severus slammed the door, and his lip curled into a self-satisfied sneer as the screams of Mrs. Black followed him to the edge of the protective charms. At least he could still count on enjoying the process of pissing off Sirius Black. That was almost enough to pave over the frustrated confusion that lingered in his mind with the memory of a kiss that didn't quite happen.
He walked to the end of the block and turned on his heel, Disapparating with the practiced finesse of a wizard who had made it a point to learn to navigate along Muggle streets without drawing attention to himself. He emerged behind an old warehouse in West Yorkshire, something east of Keighley and north of Halifax, where the River Aire dipped south of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. A freight train was barreling past, on its way to Shipley, rattling the long-broken windows of factories that had lain silent for decades. He walked along a sidewalk that the weeds had been trying to reclaim for years, sidestepping broken bottles with sure-footed familiarity.
The sidewalk ended as the road crossed under the rail tracks, and Severus grimaced at the deafening roar overhead as he stepped onto the street and picked his way through the rubble that littered the underpass. He hopped back onto the sidewalk on the other side of the tracks and ducked his head against a fowl-smelling breeze that rolled off the river. When the sidewalk intersected Rivercross Road, he cut back to the west for half a block, then north for a block, then east a block before he reached his destination.
He pulled an ordinary-looking Muggle key from his pocket and stuck it in the door, muttering the incantation that turned it from an ordinary brass key into the charm that stripped away the defenses to his home. Inside, it was too dark to be midday, but an east-facing window caught none of the midday sun, even if it was clean enough to let the light through, which his was not. He reset the spells with a casual wave of his wand, then trudged through the cramped sitting room without bothering to turn on a light.
Through a door at the back of the room, then a sharp turn to his left, and up the stairs and to the left again, he dropped his wand on the dresser and kicked off his shoes as he stumbled towards the bed and collapsed face-first onto the mattress, closing his eyes. He didn't give a damn if he was still fully dressed and not on the bed properly.
After a few minutes of lying there, he decided he did care that he wasn't on the bed properly—it was uncomfortable lying on his face. Summoning his energy, he pushed himself up and decided that as long as he was standing, he might as well undress.
He slid between the sheets, sighing as his head hit the pillow, and he closed his eyes again, surrendering to the comforting arms of sleep. The comforting arms of sleep, contrary things that they were, rejected his willing submission, and after a few minutes of frustrated effort, he sighed.
"Just clear your mind," he told himself. "If you can fall asleep at the table in Sirius fucking Black's house, you can fall asleep in your own bed."
He cleared his mind, which promptly refilled itself with unbidden memories of eyes as blue as a summer sky looking up at him without a hint of malice, trusting him completely even as he lied through his teeth. Poisonous ink. If Lupin had touched poisonous ink, he wouldn't have needed to ask if he'd done it—the stinging would have started immediately. Surely he knew that. Severus had intended a snide comment after successfully pulling off his joke, but when it came time to deliver the punch-line, his mouth had been dry and his words had deserted him. All he could think about was a pair of full, pink-tinged, soft-looking lips hovering so close to his own that he could feel them.
Damn Black for interrupting. Damn him to hell.
Severus forced that memory from his mind, only to have it replaced by another, just as disquieting. He could only imagine how foolish he must have looked, fumbling for his wand through the fog of interrupted sleep. How desperate he must have looked, stiffening and holding his breath as Lupin reached for him. He could only hope that the disappointment hadn't shown on his face.
As if he didn't have enough on his hands with his thoughts refusing to cooperate, he suddenly became very aware of the light weight of the sheet over his cock. With a groan, he flipped onto his stomach and buried his face in his pillow, his hands clenched. He would be damned before he jerked off to the thought of Remus sodding Lupin.
Will power won out over desire, but sleep was the casualty of the battle, and when he Apparated to Surrey, he hadn't gotten another wink. As he leaned against the fence that surrounded the park to the north of Magnolia Crescent, he scowled at the thought that he'd wasted an entire day in his vain attempt to sleep.
When Lupin arrived, he looked at Severus as though he expected him to say something. If he was expecting anything, he was disappointed—Severus had no intention of bringing up what had happened that morning. In fact, he had little intention of allowing Lupin to bring it up.
Their shift passed without incident. They walked past number four several times, a few times together and twice as many times separately. Nothing had changed about the house, except that the grass looked a little more parched than it had a week ago and the windows were open wider to let in what coolness there was to be found in the stifling night air.
After an abbreviated discussion, they decided that the café at the corner of Juniper and Hibiscus was as neutral a place as any to pass an hour in the wee hours of morning.
"After all," Lupin rationalized, "that waitress already knows our faces, and she'd probably be more suspicious if we didn't show up again after she admitted that she'd recognized us than she would be if we had breakfast there once or twice more."
As they settled at the table they'd twice occupied, Severus came to the conclusion that there was a certain benefit to being recognized; Pam brought their coffee when she came to the table, and she even dropped a handful of little plastic cups that proved to contain something more closely resembling cream onto the table in front of Severus.
"I talked the manager into keeping a box on hand for the customers who requested them," she explained as she pulled a notepad out of her pocket and held it in one hand, her pen in the other. "Are we having porridge again today or do you want me to give you a minute to look at the menu?"
"Porridge is fine," Severus said as he dumped the contents of one of the little plastic cups into his coffee.
"And for you, love?" Pam asked, looking at Lupin.
Lupin didn't say anything right away, and Severus glanced up at Pam. "I guess we do need a few minutes."
She nodded, a bright smile on her face. "I'll be right over there at the bar. Just wave me back over when you decide."
As soon as she was gone, Severus took a menu from the end of the table and opened it, looking over the scant selection under the breakfast heading. "Waffles?" he suggested. "Or seasonal fruit. Almost everything's in season right now."
Lupin still said nothing.
"This is a problem, isn't it?" Severus asked, turning the menu around and placing it on the table in front of Lupin. "Are you going to put me through this every morning?"
"I don't want you buying my breakfast."
"And I don't want to sit here and eat alone while your stomach growls at me," Severus replied. Remus said nothing, but a closed expression covered his features. "Fine," Severus said. "Starve. I'm not forcing you into anything, least of all breakfast." He twisted around in the booth and waved Pam back over to their table.
"Did we decide?" she asked, looking from one of them to the other.
"Porridge," Severus said. "And whatever he wants." Lupin still didn't say anything, and Severus slammed the menu onto the table. "Just tell the nice lady what you want or tell her you don't want anything," he snapped.
"Porridge is fine," Lupin said, not meeting her eyes.
When Pam was gone, Lupin cleared his throat. "About yesterday—"
"This isn't the time or place to discuss it," Severus interrupted him, putting a halt to whatever Lupin was going to say. And it wasn't, as far as he was concerned. It never would be, in fact.
Breakfast passed in awkward silence, and their tentative truce evaporated in the strain. If anything, their attitudes towards each other were worse than they'd ever been; at least Lupin had been trying to be amicable in the past. Now, there was nothing but tense silence between them. When he had finished his meal, Severus left money for their coffee and porridge on the table, along with money for the tip, and stalked out of the café without waiting for Lupin. Lupin caught up with him in a few strides.
"You know, I liked you better when you were calling me a depraved sodomite," Lupin muttered.
"And I liked you better when you thought you were going to die of poisonous ink," Severus replied.
"Is that an invitation to talk about—"
"There's nothing to talk about. Nothing happened, and nothing is going to happen. I don't know what you've tricked your mind into thinking was going on, but—"
"You felt it to," Lupin said. "Don't try to lie a about that one. I know you felt it too."
"And how do you know that?" Severus asked, belatedly thinking he should have just denied the allegation.
Lupin said nothing, which was more infuriating than an argument would have been. In fact, Severus wasn't at all sure that an argument wouldn't have been a refreshing outlet to some of his frustrations.
"You want to talk about it?" Severus asked. "Fine. If you ever come near me again, I'm going to tie your fucking balls around your throat and shove your head up your arse, and if you're lucky, I'll use a charm so that a good Samaritan can reverse it. Conversation over."
They had no choice but to slow their pace as they entered the neighborhood again, and by mutual, unspoken agreement, they split up, and they spent the remainder of their shift avoiding each other.
Minerva was ten minutes early, and Severus thought those ten minutes might have been the saving of his sanity. With a terse assurance that he'd speak with her later, he stormed off towards an alleyway. Before he could Disapparate, though, he heard footsteps behind him and he turned around, wand half drawn. It was only Lupin. His grip tightened on the handle of his wand, and he followed the other wizard with a wary eye.
Lupin came to a halt a few feet in front of him and leaned against the wall, blocking the way back out of the alley with his arm. "Is this what it's going to be like now?" he asked. "You were more civilized when you were ousting me to the whole school!"
Severus folded his arms and scowled. "Don't look at me like this is my fault," he said. "I'm not the one tossing a snit because I don't have money in my pocket for breakfast."
"No, you're tossing a snit because you don't know any other way to deal with a foreign emotion. Have you ever even looked outside yourself long enough to want another person?"
"Whether I have or not is none of your business," Severus replied. "But I don't want you."
"Rather have your own hand?" Lupin asked. "Let me guess—your hand doesn't expect anything in return."
For the first time in years, Severus had no witty retort, and the accusation was like a punch in the gut that caught him off-guard. It was too close to the truth for comfort.
"I'm sorry," Lupin said after a moment. "I'm sorry I ever said anything at all to you."
That would have been the perfect time for Lupin to walk away. It would have been the perfect time for Severus to Disapparate. It was the perfect opening to put an end to their farce—there was nothing between them except twenty-five years of animosity.
Twenty-five years of animosity, and the lingering memory of a kiss that still set his heart to thumping a little faster.
It was the perfect opportunity to leave, but Severus was more interested in staying. "I'm tired," he said at last. "I still haven't slept and I'm sure that the lack of sleep isn't complimentary set against my sweet disposition."
Lupin frowned, and Severus averted his eyes, his head bobbing a bit as he searched for the right words that he wouldn't regret twelve hours later. "What time are you on duty again?"
"Midnight," Lupin said.
"My house is... more private than that zoo in London. Around four?"
Lupin nodded. "Where do you live?"
Severus hesitated again. There weren't many people who knew where he spent his summers. It wasn't information he gave out lightly. Lupin's expression changed again, and Severus had the impression that he was losing patience. "Leedenaire," he said. "North of Shipley. Do you have anything to write on?" A little rummaging produced a scrap of parchment, and Severus conjured a quill. He sketched a quick map and wrote his address on the back, and handed the parchment to Lupin.
Their hands touched, and Severus didn't pull away. Their eyes met, and neither of them looked away, and it was the same as it had been in the kitchen the day before. The entire world seemed to be standing still, except the two of them, leaning closer until Severus could smell the coffee lingering on Lupin's breath.
"I want to kiss you," Lupin whispered. "I'm going to kiss you if you don't stop me."
His head was coming closer and closer, and a surge of panic welled in Severus' stomach, clawing its way to his throat. Stop! His mind was screaming at him even as his body ignored the conscious efforts and leaned forward. The voice of protest was silenced as lips touched lips.
Lupin caught Severus' lower lip between his, his hands on Severus' face, pulling him forward. He suckled and teased until Severus wasn't sure if he was enjoying the experience or if it was excruciating and unsatisfying. He felt Lupin's tongue flicking against lips, and of their own accord, his lips parted. For the space of a heartbeat, Lupin's tongue was in Severus' mouth, probing with a gentle hesitation.
Severus lifted his hands to Lupin's face, his caress soft, and then, as slowly and gently as the kiss had begun, it ended, Lupin pulling away and taking a step back. Severus' breathing had quickened, his heart was still pounding in the general vicinity of his ears, his lips were tingling, his knees were weak.
He wanted more.
He took a halting step towards Lupin, reaching to twine the fingers of one hand through the soft, gray-streaked hair, and pulled him nearer. Without words, Severus brought his lips into contact with Lupin's again, but there was no gentle teasing, no hesitant questioning. He gave Lupin no choice but to accept his advances or have them thrust upon him; Lupin accepted the challenge, his lips parting to offer Severus the entrance that he had every intention of gaining.
Closing his eyes, Severus set his mind to the task of forgetting the rather unfortunate detail that this was Remus Lupin—a man, a werewolf and an enemy, any of the three constituting an excellent reason for this exchange not to happen. For the moment, Severus managed to reduce his companion to nothing more than a mouth in his mind. A mouth and a body, and as the kiss deepened, Severus slipped his free hand around to Lupin's back, urging him closer. A mouth, a body and hands; Lupin's arms were circling Severus' waist, his hands coursing up his back. A mouth, a body, hands and a throat; Severus drew back enough to draw his tongue along Lupin's jaw, eliciting a shudder for his efforts. A mouth, a body, hands, a throat and…
Severus stopped short, his eyes still closed as he felt an unmistakable hardness against his hip. Lupin stepped back again, not meeting Severus' eyes, and the desire faded, leaving nothing but confusion in its wake. After a long, awkward silence that couldn't have stretched as endlessly as it seemed to, Severus found his ability to form incoherent sounds into meaningful words.
"Four o'clock," he said. "And don't expect me to wait for you if you're late."