Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
When Remus woke, the room was dark except for the faint glow of lamplight. It took him a moment to ascertain where he was, but as he looked around, taking in the bookshelves and the worn and stained sofa he was lying on, he worked it out. It took him another moment to work out what was wrong with the situation, but it finally occurred to him that Severus was not on the sofa with him.
He turned his head to look around again, and he felt a heat creeping into his cheeks as he saw his clothes folded on the coffee table. He glanced across the room, hoping to see Severus sitting in the lone chair, reading by the lamplight, but the chair was empty. With a sigh, he pushed the blanket off himself and started to sit up, then paused, his fingers curling around the blanket's edge. There hadn't been a blanket when he'd fallen asleep.
He stood slowly and stretched, flexing stiff muscles, and frowned at the unpleasant, sticky film that seemed to coat every inch of his body. He felt filthy, and as he worked the kinks out of his muscles, he tried to assess how much of that feeling could be attributed to sweat, how much to sex and how much to the general discomfort of what had happened. It would have been easier to wake in Severus' arms, he thought.
As he reached for his clothes, he heard footsteps and he looked to the door from the sitting room to the hall. Severus was standing there with damp hair and bare feet, a glass in his hand.
"You're awake," Severus said, leaning against the door frame.
Remus looked down, and turned his back as he remembered that he was naked. "What time is it? It's getting dark."
"It's always dark in here," Severus replied. "It isn't late. A little after seven."
"If you want a shower, the bathroom is the door at the top of the stairs."
Remus nodded. "Thank you." He hesitated, torn between dressing before he went upstairs or parading past Severus in his skin. Severus saved him the trouble of making the decision as he turned back into the kitchen.
"Do you want dinner?"
"Uh. Sure." Remus gathered his clothes and scaled the stairs before Severus had the chance to return.
The bathroom was as small and cramped as every room Remus had seen so far, but he was beginning to associate small, cramped spaces with Severus. The old pedestal sink had a stain in the basin where the faucet dripped one drop of water at a time. Above the sink was a mirrored medicine cabinet, and Remus opened it, grimacing at the squeak of the hinges. A razor, a comb, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a bottle of cologne, several bottles and jars of potions and pills, a box of condoms—Severus' personal belongings weren't worth lingering over, but Remus did linger, until it occurred to him that Severus could probably hear whether the water was running or not.
He shut the cabinet door and flushed the toilet in case Severus was listening, and felt guilty for the deliberate deception. Not guilty enough to go downstairs and confess that he'd been snooping, but guilty enough to feel a twitch of his conscience.
The shower was an old claw-foot tub with a brass pipe running almost to the ceiling and a curtain that circled the perimeter of it. He cut the water on, holding a hand in the spray until it was hot, then stepped inside and tilted his face up towards the rush of steaming water. The water felt good streaming over his body, and he scrubbed his hands over his skin, rubbing the heat into his muscles. A good shower had always gone a long way towards making him feel better, and this one was no exception. Still, as he helped himself to Severus' shampoo, he couldn't convince his thoughts to stop screaming at him, and there were many of them vying for his attention.
For one thing, it was uncomfortable to realize that he had crossed a line. There was no more pretending that this was a passing fancy, a result of being in close quarters for far too long. He had surrendered to the overwhelming desire and enjoyed every second of it, but now he had his doubts. A bit too late for them, but now that they'd arrived, they refused to be ignored.
Perhaps if he'd woken from that impromptu nap to find himself in Severus' arms, or Severus in his arms, or if they'd been in a bed together instead of crawling around on the kitchen table and a battered old sofa, it might have been different. He tried to remind himself that it had been coincidence, that Severus had reappeared within seconds of his waking, but he'd worked out what had happened by that time. He'd needed Severus to be there during that groggy moment of disorientation when he first woke.
He'd never anticipated going down this road, and he'd certainly never anticipated doing it alone. If he was going to question his sexuality, he wanted someone else there to either share the uncomfortable journey or to provide answers to his questions.
"Shit," he muttered, summing up his feelings in a single word. He felt like shit, and he thought that this might be the first time in his life that he had ever done something he regretted. He'd regretted the consequences of many a thing he'd done, but just now, he actually regretted his actions. If he could turn back time, he would not have kissed Severus in an alleyway in Surrey.
After several minutes, he gave up his attempts to steam disquieting thoughts from his mind and cut off the water. He stepped out of the shower again, and after a brief hesitation during which he considered whether or not to look for a towel, he picked up his wand and used a drying charm to wring the water from his hair and strip it off his body.
"You know, there are towels on the shelf there," came a voice behind him, and Remus spun around, his eyes wide as he groped ineffectually to cover himself.
"Don't you knock?" he growled as Severus pulled a towel from the indicated shelf and offered it to him.
"Not generally," Severus replied, leaning against the doorframe, his eyes never wavering as Remus wrapped the towel around his waist, his face burning. "At least, not usually in my own house. Besides, wouldn't you say that we're a bit past modesty now?"
Remus was quiet as he knelt to pick up his robe from where he'd dropped it on the floor. He kept his eyes trained warily on Severus.
"Really," Severus said, folding his arms. "Are you afraid I'm going to bend you over the toilet?"
Remus straightened, looking for his composure. "Did you want something?" he asked.
A closed expression came over Severus' features and he straightened, the scowl reappearing on his face. Remus hadn't noticed it was missing until it returned.
"And what precisely would I want from you?" Severus asked.
"Then what are you doing here?"
"This happens to be my house," Severus replied. "I have every right to be anywhere I want in it."
Taking a deep breath, Remus clutched the edge of his towel more tightly. "I think we got off to a bad start on this conversation…"
"A keen observation."
"…and it's only getting worse. Will you please let me get dressed? Then I'll come downstairs and we can try that again?"
Severus stared at him for a moment longer, then turned on his heel and shut the door behind him as he left. Remus sighed gratefully and spent a few moments regaining his composure as he dressed and cleaned up the water he'd dripped on the floor. When he made his way downstairs five minutes later, Severus was sitting at the kitchen table, a quill in hand. The table was set with two places, a pot in the middle of it.
"There's water on the stove if you want tea," Severus said without looking at him.
Remus busied himself with a teacup before he joined Severus at the table. For several minutes, Severus scribbled, his tea and the dinner seemingly forgotten, and Remus sipped, studying him. At last, the silence became unbearable and Remus cleared his throat.
"Did you—er—want to talk about something?" he asked.
Severus looked up, studied him for a moment before he blinked and returned his attention to the parchment. "I was going to tell you dinner is ready."
Remus lifted the lid from the pot in the middle of the table and the savory aroma of a pot roast tickled his nostrils. He looked at Severus again, but Severus didn't look up. It was awkward to spoon carrots and potatoes and onions onto his plate when his host didn't appear to be joining him. "Do you want me to put some on your plate?" Remus asked.
Severus' quill paused for a second. "I'll eat later."
The silence stretched on to impossible lengths as Remus picked at his food and watched the end of Severus' quill dipping and swooping as he wrote. Except for the scratch of the quill and the occasional clink of cup against saucer, there was no sound in the kitchen. The longer they sat in silence, the more awkward that silence grew.
"Are you all right?" Remus asked.
Severus glanced up, one eyebrow raised. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Remus shrugged, a bit uncomfortable. "Doubts?" he suggested. "I mean, what we did… It was a big step. I thought you might be having some reservations about it."
A bit of the scowl had slipped from Severus' face. "It was a fuck, Lupin," he said bluntly. "No, not even a fuck. It was a dalliance. A release. Don't make it into more than it was."
Remus stared at him for a minute, unable to speak around the tightness in his throat. Just a blow job, then. He felt nauseated, and the bitter taste that lingered in his mouth was almost sickening. Fool, he thought. Why would you ever think it was anything else? He told you that was how it was going to be. A physical need fulfilled. Nothing more, nothing less.
Severus put his quill down and leaned back in his chair, arms folded, a discerning look on his face. "You had already made it into more than it was," he observed.
Remus looked away and stood abruptly, taking his cup to the sink. "I should go." He should have gone hours ago, before any of this ever happened. Fool. Stupid, gullible, presumptuous fool. Remus' face burned as he berated himself, and he tried to ignore the burgeoning sense of horror over what had happened between them. He'd crossed a line in the hopes that he'd found someone to make him happy, and now he was faced with the bitter knowledge that he'd abandoned himself for nothing.
He jerked as he felt a feather-soft touch on his shoulder, almost like the caress of a sunbeam. Whipping around, he found himself face to face with Severus.
"Why do I feel that if you leave now, you will never come back?" Severus asked, his hand hovering near Remus.
Remus frowned. "Do you want me to come back?" he asked.
Severus dropped his hand again. "Not if you don't want to," he replied.
"But what just happened…"
"Changes nothing," Severus finished for him. "I told you what the rules were. No commitments, no expectations, no games and no nonsense. I take it you didn't believe me when I said it."
"I thought that was what you were unsure of," Remus said.
For a moment, Severus was quiet, then he snorted and turned away. Returning to the table, he settled again and picked up his quill. "I suppose that makes me the fool then, doesn't it?" he asked. "I was under the impression that you were offering freely." His voice wasn't quite as smooth as it normally was, but it was richer, as though heavy with an emotional battle.
Remus moved the other chair next to Severus and sank into it, placing a hand over his and stopping the quill. Severus glanced at him, not lifting his head. Remus removed the quill from his hand and placed it on the table and lifted his face. "You do want it, then," he said.
Severus tried to look away, but Remus held his face still, and after a moment, Severus gave up his half-hearted attempt.
"Severus," Remus whispered. "Look at me. Talk to me. We're about to throw away something we both want because we're not talking to each other."
After a terrifying hesitation, Severus nodded once.
"You do want it, don't you?"
"I told you what I want."
"No, you didn't. You gave me a list of things you don't want." Remus moved the sheath of hair from Severus' face, trying to ignore the way the damp strands clung to his hand. "Look at me and tell me what you do want."
Severus snorted and jerked away. "I'm a very a good liar," he said. "You would believe precisely what you want to believe."
"Then lie," Remus challenged.
Severus stared at him for a long moment before he looked away.
"Why won't you admit it?" Remus asked, pulling his chair closer.
Severus was silent for another long moment.
"You're afraid of me," Remus said quietly. "Why?"
"I am not afraid of you."
"For someone who is such a fantastic liar, you're not being very convincing on that point." Severus looked away. "Is it because I'm a werewolf?" Remus asked. To his annoyance, he was holding his breath; it felt like his fate hung from Severus' response.
"No," Severus replied. "At least, not today."
"What does it matter?" Severus snapped, standing. "Make up the answer you like best and believe it. That's what you're going to do anyway."
"Fine. Then I want to know what you want. And don't give me that shit about not knowing. You don't have to think it through—you either want something or you don't."
Severus snorted, but said nothing. After a moment, he cleared his throat and leaned against the counter again, folding his arms across his chest. "It's been an unusual day," he said.
Remus settled into a chair again, regarding Severus. "Very," he agreed.
"A lot has happened."
"Yes." Severus seemed to be making an excellent job of stating the obvious, and it was beginning to worry Remus.
"You'll forgive me, then, if I need some time to think things through. You were right earlier—that was not expected. I…" He looked down, taking a sudden interest in a scuff on the floor, which he worked at with the toe of his shoe. "I don't know what I want, from you or anyone else."
Remus felt his stomach sinking, dread rising like a thick bile. He could only nod, not trusting his voice.
"I hadn't intended… things… to move so… quickly. Between us."
Had Remus not been holding his breath in anticipation of what he feared was coming from this conversation, he might have noticed that Severus was more hesitant than usual. Those were not dramatic pauses that studded his little monologue.
"Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?"
Remus nodded, folding his arms and taking an interest in the fraying edge of his cuff. "That just because we traded blow jobs and spent a few hours without snapping at each other very much doesn't mean I should get my hopes up." He held up a hand before Severus could say anything in response. "And yes, I know I just broke one of your damn rules. No expectations."
"Do you have any idea how difficult it is for me to say these things?" Severus asked, and Remus looked at him. "I am making a very real effort not to slam a door here. Is it doing any good at all?"
"Look," Remus said, standing. "I'm not dimwitted. I understand quite well. You're telling me that in no uncertain terms that the only thing between us is the possibility of an occasional tumble."
"Damn it, Remus, that's the problem. There are twenty-five years between us, and even if you can forget all of that on cue, I can't."
"Do you want to?" Remus asked.
Silence answered him as plainly as any words could have.
"You're a fool," Remus said. "If you're going to allow an old grudge to stand in the way of happiness, then you deserve to be alone."
For a long moment, Severus was quiet. When he spoke, it wasn't what Remus wanted to hear at all. "I don't wish to discuss this."
And that was that. That was the block that Severus tossed up to end a conversation, and it was a very effective one. How does one argue with such a blunt statement? It was an admission that there was something worth discussing, and he was very simply informing Remus that he wasn't going to have that conversation. Remus nodded, his eyes closed.
"I'm sure I'll see you again soon enough," he said. "Enjoy what's left of your day."
"Yes," Remus replied. "I can't pretend that nothing has happened between us in the last twenty-four hours. I haven't your notable skill for ignoring what is in favor of what I want to be. The best I can do is go nurse my pride. If you decide you want more than the occasional meaningless fuck, be sure to let me know. Pathetic though it is, I'm certain that it will take me a few days to find my resolve, and until I do, I'm sure I'll be easy prey."
He Disapparated with a crack!
Severus spent the better part of the rest of the day in the sitting room, trying to find even the false sense of comfort that the chair normally awarded him. He had always liked wingback chairs. He liked the way the back wrapped around him, giving him a corner to nestle into. It had always been comforting, knowing what was behind him, and a wingback chair gave him a certain sense of false security.
As he stared at the book he held open on his lap, his tea forgotten on the table beside him, his mind swirled around everything that happened in the past day and a half. Despite the heat, a battered afghan was draped over his thighs—an afghan that was one of his few concessions to sentimental absurdity. He still could not convince himself that he was safe, and he wondered if he would ever feel sure of his world again.
Probably, he conceded to himself. And that will be the day you die of your own foolishness.
It served his purposes well to be alert and suspicious, not to settle into a comfortable chair and read away the afternoon without thought for what might be going on around him. There was a reason he watched others warily—only another spy could have rivaled his understanding of how precarious loyalty was. He stayed alive by making others believe he would never betray them, and he knew from first hand experience just how easy it was to fool someone who wanted to believe.
He had trusted perhaps three people in his entire life. Lucius Malfoy had been the first, and Severus still trusted him, so long as Lucius didn't know that every dinner was followed by a report to Dumbledore and every conversation an invitation to read between the lines and below the words in search of anything that might be of use. That wasn't to say that Severus believed that Lucius would forgive him the betrayal—if his duplicity were ever revealed, Severus knew that his fate would be resting in Malfoy's hands. If Severus feared any of his contemporaries, Lucius Malfoy was one of the few.
Severus trusted Dumbledore, without question and without caveat. The headmaster had been a kind old man when Severus was in school, a grandfather figure who twinkled and chuckled and turned a blind eye and a deaf ear when it was most convenient. Even as a child, Severus had wanted to please the old coot, and no detention was ever comparable to those dreaded words, "I am very disappointed in you." The Dumbledore who had been so kind to him as a child had been just as kind and firm when he was an adult, had reached out to him when Severus had been lashing out at the world by throwing himself into the Dark Lord's camp.
Funny how teenagers think. As an adult, he could appreciate how illogical it was for him to have put himself in such danger in an attempt to get even with the world at large—destroying his own life would have accomplished nothing. At sixteen, he had believed the world revolved around him, though. A common misconception among teenagers, and it was a quirk of nature that the time of greatest personal drama always coincided with the first opportunity a child ever had to make mistakes that could have lasting effects on other people as well. If Severus ever doubted that another hand guided the cosmos, all he had to do was remember that observation, one he had made when he was in his third year of teaching, and he knew that Someone or Something had a hand in the supposed chaos. And Whoever it was had a twisted sense of humor.
Minerva was the third person Severus had ever trusted, and that trust had developed in the last ten years. It had been a slow process, one that had begun his first day teaching at Hogwarts when he'd still looked at her as the stern teacher who had brooked no nonsense in any of her classes. It had taken him one morning to decide that he wanted to have as much control over his students as she had over hers. It had taken him almost four years to accept that her suggestions had merit and were not meant to undermine his authority or to suggest that he was incompetent. It had taken another two before he would accept her invitation to join her for a cup of tea or a glass of sherry. Despite the slowness with which this friendship had developed, she was the only woman he had ever trusted out of his eyesight.
And now Remus Lupin wanted to be the fourth. Severus knew that was what all the nonsense about 'not wanting just an occasional, meaningless fuck' was about. When a woman said something similar, she had her eye on a wedding ring, but no one would recognize a marriage between two men. Lupin wanted some sort of emotional gratification to go with the physical, and at the heart of any relationship was trust. That was why Severus had his conditions—he thought three people were enough to trust, and there was nothing he wanted that his stipulations precluded. He'd been deliberately crass in his choice of words with Lupin, encouraging the assumption that he was heartless, though he wasn't. A meaningless fuck, followed by an hour of lingering in the fading afterglow, a bit of meaningless conversation—he'd found the occasional woman who understood the rules and played the game within them, and those had been the closest he'd ever come to being in a relationship. A relationship when it was mutually convenient, one of them had joked.
That was all Severus had ever wanted from anyone, and it had seemed that he and Lupin were off to a good start, but, like many of the women whose hearts he knew he had broken, Lupin had thought that there would be more. It never ceased to amaze Severus that someone could hear his provisions, agree to them, and still be upset to realize that he meant exactly what he said. He'd thought that Lupin would be immune to such nonsense because he was a man, but it appeared that common sense did not originate from a gland in the penis, as Severus had long half-expected.
Quite aside from his amazement, though, Severus couldn't help but turn over the deeper question in his mind. Could he trust Remus Lupin? Severus thought he must be daft for even considering it, but he was. There was something appealing about Lupin, something comforting and calming. It was his mannerisms, the way he never seemed to lose his temper, that enduring patience. He was calm, he was compassionate, he had a gentle strength to his presence that Severus found attractive. Ten years ago, or even two years ago, Severus might have felt a certain amount of pride at having pushed Lupin to the point of snapping, but right now there was no joy in the knowledge. It was a bitter victory, with no sweet taste of revenge to temper the knowledge that he'd finally managed to hurt the werewolf.
Were his life a literary masterpiece, Severus might have snorted at the irony inherent in the situation. Only when he had begun to consider Lupin as something other than an enemy and rival had he finally found the key to turning him away.
Severus supposed that the odd tightness in his chest was evidence that he did feel something for Lupin, and that was not supposed to be part of the bargain. Why was another question altogether, of course. Why did he care at all about that bloody werewolf? Even as he'd begun to admit to himself that he didn't want to hurt Lupin—and that was the first step towards admitting that he cared about him—he had still been half expecting to find that this was all some elaborate prank. Right up to the instant he had released into Remus' mouth, he'd been expecting the worst. It had been at that moment that he'd decided that perhaps this wasn't a plan to make him the fool after all.
There was no way in hell he would have offered to be the first to do what Remus had done. Not now, perhaps not ever, but Remus had been the one to make that first move, Remus had been the one to go out on the limb and had fulfilled that unspoken promise. After all, if it had been a joke, that was where the punch line would have been. That greasy, desperate git. You should have seen the way he begged for it. That should teach him to believe he has a chance with anyone who's worth anything.
At least he'd been honest, though—since he'd set the rules, it was his prerogative to change them, but they were good boundaries for the moment, and maybe forever. Severus had spent most of his life avoiding commitments and expectations, and games and nonsense weren't his style.
Remus was right about not choosing what he did or did not want, but apparently unlike Remus, Severus did not consider that the beginning, middle and end of the question. So he had feelings for the other wizard. Feelings that he could assign names to—compassion, intimacy, lust, desire. He paused at those last two, turning them over in his mind. Yes, they were different. Lust was physical. He could feel lust when looking at a painting, he sometimes felt a jolt of it when settling a phial into its holster. If he ignored his own physical needs for too long, anything that was even suggestive of a hole could look appealing to him.
Desire was something else entirely. Desire was the way he longed for that embrace even as he shoved Lupin away. It was the force that prompted him to lay his head on Lupin's chest, to stroke and caress him. It was what had made it so imperative that he return the pleasure Lupin had given to him, and it was the jolt of awareness that had shot down his spine when he heard Lupin moaning. Two very similar concepts, but distinct ones.
Severus could not truthfully deny that he was drawn to the other man, nor that he ached for his touch and longed to touch him in return. He wouldn't bother lying to himself by saying that he had not enjoyed the intimacy they'd shared over the last few hours. That was not the question.
The question, the one which Lupin did not seem to grasp, was whether or not Severus was going to act on the desires. There were the practical concerns, of course, and those were the ones that were easiest to contend with. He was a busy man who worked in Scotland ten months out of the year. To involve himself with anyone who was unemployed and who lived with a sworn enemy would be a move of doubtful wisdom. Easier to stop now, before they ventured any further down that road.
When held up to the memory of Remus reaching for him, wrapping him in a caring embrace, that practical consideration crumpled. There are always weekends and holidays. He can come to Hogwarts, I can come to him in London. There is nothing to consider about that one.
A more pressing concern was that somehow, someone would find out and it would get back to the Dark Lord, who would not hesitate to use such leverage against him. Severus barely managed to thwart that probing gaze into his mind now; to give him additional weapons would be tantamount to signing his own death warrant. A very real fear, and one that his mind was not so quick to dismiss. But did the fear outweigh the desire?
At the moment, it seemed that they balanced each other.
Then there was the fact that he would be opening himself up to be hurt. He'd spent the last two decades teaching himself how to control his emotions. Gone was the easily provoked, angry teenager who could barely get a curse out between strings of swear words. In his place was a grown man who considered it a personal failure any time someone provoked him into raising his voice or widening his eyes in surprise. He had learned, however, that such control was all or nothing. He didn't want to let it go.
He wanted to select a handful of feelings about a single person and allow them to flourish while continuing to stamp all the others out. And he only wanted to do that if he could be assured that it wasn't going to bite him in the arse later. He was not interested in taking chances—he was no thrill seeker and he preferred to know what was in the pool before he jumped into it.
You could always have this conversation with Remus. The stray thought was rational and most unwelcome. Severus ignored it, leaning his head against the back of his chair. He'd figure something out. He just had to think about it for a while longer.
Monday, 2 August
"I don't know about you, but I'll be glad when this summer is over," Bill muttered, stretching his hands high above his head. He stifled a yawn as he settled to lean against the wall, his arms folded, eyes closed as his head rested against the brick.
Remus shifted his weight to his other foot. "Yeah," he replied. "I will be, too." He knew he hadn't been much of a conversationalist over the course of their four-hour shift, and he hadn't been much of a conversationalist with Sirius the previous evening. He couldn't quite shake the raw feeling that had settled over him since he'd left Severus' house.
His words had been bitter, but his feelings on the matter hadn't changed. He felt as though he'd been used, ridiculous as that was—he'd agreed to Severus' ridiculous stipulations and if anyone had been using him, he'd been enjoying it too much to complain about it.
"You all right?" Bill asked for maybe the fifth time since their shift had begun at midnight.
"Fine," Remus replied, parroting the same response he'd been offering since they had begun. It wasn't as though he was about to tell Bill what was on his mind. He wasn't going to tell anyone if he could help it. He was going to keep it to himself, and brood over it for a few days no doubt, and then get on with his life.
You knew what you were getting yourself into, he reminded himself. But damn Severus for making it seem as though there might be more than that list of things he 'didn't want'. He made a half-hearted attempt to ignore the way his cock stirred at the unbidden memory of the way he'd passed the afternoon, but ignoring the problem did not make it go away. He cast a surreptitious glance at Bill, who was staring down the vacant street, squinting into a pool of lamplight. Taking advantage of his companion's momentary distraction, he adjusted his trousers and tried to put his mind elsewhere.
"So how are things going with the goblins?"
Bill gave him an odd look and Remus made a conscious show of folding his arms across his chest, bracing one foot against the wall. Quit acting like a teenager caught wanking in the bathroom, he scolded himself, attempting to ease the self-consciousness that threatened to be his undoing.
"No different than they were last time I gave my report. They're not stupid, and they're not going to just drop everything they've been doing to ally themselves with a Ministry that has wasted no opportunity to chip away at their rights."
And there was nothing more to say to that, so Remus nodded and made a neutral noise of acknowledgement while his mind pursued more interesting lines of thought. Such as the electrical jolt of pleasure he'd felt when Severus' hand had first come into contact with his aching cock.
Fuck. He glanced down the street again, counting by sevens in another desperate attempt to distract himself.
"What time is it?"
Remus nodded. Fifty-six… sixty-three… seventy… seventy-seven… If his mind was going to drift towards Severus, why couldn't it drift towards something useful? Perhaps the way he sneered, or that talent he had for making a person feel half an inch tall and of similar intelligence to the scum that covered a stagnant pond. Or just the way stiffened under an innocent touch.
That line of thought went a slight distance towards easing the pressure in his trousers, but it went no distance at all towards easing his mind away from Severus. He had been honest earlier—he wanted to hold the other wizard and to shelter him, to smooth away the years of pain that it must have taken to build that shell he hid behind. It wasn't precisely pity, it was deeper than that. It was a longing to prove that life needn't be lived in fear of letting others see past the mask.
Such a mad, silly thing to want, but more than anything else, Remus wanted to make Severus smile. Watching him laugh, his defenses melting away as Remus tickled his ribs, had been one of the most exhilarating victories of his life, and he longed to do it again now. To find new ways to break through that seamless steel enclosure that Severus hid behind, and to see the hint of the man who lived behind it.
Both Remus' and Bill's heads whipped towards the source of the sound, and they squinted into the darkness. A moment later, Severus appeared, straightening his Muggle clothes. He looked uncomfortable and out of place, but he wasn't as conspicuous as most wizards who tried to pass as Muggles. Of the Order members, only Bill, Charlie and Tonks were comfortable passing themselves off as normal, non-magic folk. The rest of them did what they could to look as inconspicuous as possible.
"You're early," Bill said as Severus approached them.
"I prefer not to be late," Severus replied. "Go on."
Bill hesitated and looked at Remus, but Remus was barely aware of it. "Go on, Bill. You have to work in a couple of hours. Get another hour or two of sleep."
He didn't seem to need any further encouragement, and after a quick goodbye, he Disapparated, leaving Severus and Remus standing face to face.
As Remus stared at Severus, he realized with a jolt that he felt less empty than he had since leaving Severus' kitchen. He drew a ragged breath and looked down at the street. "I've been thinking, Severus."
"So have I."
Remus lifted his eyes, searching Severus' face for any sort of clue. There was none to be had. "Any conclusions?" he asked, scarcely daring to breath.
"A few," Severus replied. "Though none suitable for four in the morning when I'm expecting another Weasley to arrive any moment."
Remus nodded, wondering if he dared hope. He almost jumped when he felt fingers curling against his palm. He moved his hand, capturing Severus' fingers in a gentle squeeze, and he thought that something passed between them.
"Does this mean that you're going to tell me what you want?" Remus asked.
Severus let go of his hand. "No," he replied. "Not here, at least."
"Just put my mind to ease and tell me if you want it," Remus whispered, not caring that he was begging. "Please, just give me that much." Another crack! interrupted the stillness of the night in the distance.
"We'll discuss it later," Severus replied, taking three steps away from him to peer down the street. "This is neither the time nor the place."
"I don’t want this getting out, Remus," Severus whispered. "It might be embarrassing for you, but it could be devastating for me."
Remus nodded, though he didn't want to. Their world was far from stable, and their lives did not exist in a vacuum. Remus understood why Severus was not willing to chase a bit of lust and longing into the pits of hell, but it didn't mean he liked it.
"We'll talk later?"
Severus gave him a level look. "I thought we'd already established that."
Severus nodded curtly. "Nine."
"Your place or mine?"
Severus gave him a wry look. "Yours," he said. "We're less likely to be distracted because I am not doing anything in that house."
A blurry shadow was emerging in the light of the street lamps, and after a moment, it began to take the shape of Charlie Weasley.
"Enjoy your evening, then. I'll see you tonight."
Severus nodded, his expression of boredom already in place.
If Charlie hadn't been in such easy sight, Remus might have pulled Severus into his arms. As it was, he satisfied himself with brushing his fingers against Severus' arm as he left. When he looked over his shoulder, Severus had placed his hand over his arm where Remus had touched him, and that brought a smile to Remus' face. He rounded a corner and Disapparated.