Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
Remus slept all morning and through most of the afternoon, so that when he finally rolled over, the sun was lingering low in the sky. He pushed himself off the ground, grimacing at the stiffness in his joints and muscles, and shook his head, running his fingers through his hair to dislodge stray bits of leaf and moss.
He wanted a hot bath, a cup of tea, a plate of spaghetti, and his own bed, in that order, more than anything in the world. As he picked his way through the forest, hissing and swearing at pebbles under his bare feet, he tried to distract himself with thoughts of what he'd learned so far, but his stomach was growling loudly at him and he itched all over.
Wouldn't it be just my luck if that was a patch of poison oak? he thought as he absently scratched his arm. The suggestion just made him itch worse, and by the time he'd reached the clearing, he felt like his skin was crawling. A few of the others looked up as he paused at the edge of the tree line, but most of them went about what they were doing in groups of three and four. Whatever they were doing, it didn't seem overly important.
"I was wondering when you'd wake," said a voice behind him. Remus turned and found himself face to face with Greyback. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes," Remus lied.
Greyback laughed. "No you didn't," he said. "Here. Put this on." He dropped a filthy, tattered robe into Remus' hands and Remus didn't think twice about pulling it over his head. "So, did Andrew tell you the rules?"
"Very sensible rules," Remus replied. "Nothing common sense wouldn't dictate already."
"Ah, yes. You are a sensible man who knows something other than this forest," Greyback said, leaning against a nearby tree. "Not everyone here is."
"The children..." Remus began, looking towards a group of them playing in the brush.
"The children bother you," Greyback said, his voice neither accusatory nor apologetic. "Let me guess. You think they ought to be in school, correct?"
"In a perfect world, yes," Remus said. "But where would they go?"
"Yes, where? And what would they learn?"
"To count," Remus answered without thinking.
Greyback laughed. "And why do they need to know how to count? Or to read? Or about goblin uprisings?"
Remus didn't have any answer at all. Not even one he couldn't give. There was no reason that children needed to learn any of those things except that they needed to learn them.
"They've already got something on the wizard kids their age. These kids know how to survive. They take care of themselves, they find their own food, their own water, they keep themselves out of danger."
Remus must have been looking skeptically at one of the younger ones, because Greyback nodded. "The youngest ones need a bit of looking after," he conceded. "But Andrew, there—he was the one giving you the grand tour. How old do you reckon he is?"
Andrew was a robust boy whose head didn’t quite reach Remus' shoulder. "Thirteen? Fourteen?"
"Ten," Greyback said. "Not that it makes much difference. He's got as much sense as the boys half his age again, and he's going to be a strong one in a few more years. He's a quiet one, and several of the older boys follow his lead already. That makes him one of the important ones, you know? Everyone here is a leader and a follower—you lead some, you follow others. If you lead very many, it's important that we know that you're leading them in the right direction, understand."
Remus had a feeling that the conversation wasn't about Andrew.
"The kids took to you this morning," Greyback continued. "Maybe that's because you didn't act like they was beneath you. Kids notice that, you know, and most of us don't know enough about kids to know how to treat them. But they went straight to you, and they accepted you real fast. That means you're either very important, or very dangerous. Now, me, I'm a trusting fellow, as I told you earlier. I think you could be very important. The others ain't all so trusting, though. Take Ralph, for instance. He don't trust you at all."
"Why not?" Remus asked, his mouth dry. He wasn't at all sure he believed Greyback, despite what he was saying.
"Ralph don't trust nobody," Greyback replied. "That's what makes him important. Since he don't trust nobody, he watches them all, and he tells me what he sees. That gives me the luxury of trusting everybody unless Ralph tells me different."
"I haven't been here long enough to do anything to make Ralph not trust me," Remus pointed out.
Greyback laughed. "I like you," he said. "You got a lot more sense than most of these blokes. That's one thing they lose in the forest—learning that kind of sense. No, Remus, you ain't been here long enough for Ralph to have a reason not to trust you. He don't trust you because he don't trust anybody, remember?"
"Ah, yes, of course."
"Now, he hears you talking about how these kids need to learn to read and count and stuff they don't need to be learning, then you're going to give him a reason not to trust you, you see."
Remus looked down. "You asked why they need to learn to read and count."
"Yeah. You got a reason now?"
"Because that's what kids learn to do," Remus replied. "That's the way it's done, at least in the world I came from."
"It ain't the way it's done here."
"All right," Remus said.
"All right? That it?"
"That's it. I walked away from that world, remember? And if kids don't learn to count and read here, I guess I can either get used to it or go back to the other world, and I don't think it matters enough to make me go back to the other world."
Greyback grinned. "See?" he said. "You got good sense."
For the remainder of the evening, Remus felt like he was being tested. A string of big, muscular men with matted hair and a wild look to their eyes found reasons to talk to him. One of them leaned against a tree and watched him as he tried to coax a fire from wood that was too damp for such purposes and smirked when he finally gave up. Three of them suggested that he eat something when his stomach began to grumble, and one went so far as to tell him that if he wasn't going to put his stomach out of its misery, he ought to at least get the hell away so the rest of them wouldn't have to listen to it. Remus found the apple tree again and ate a few more apples, to the extreme amusement of a number of the werewolves. The entire time, Ralph watched him from a distance. Remus slept in the moss again that night.
The next morning passed largely the same way the previous day had—intermittent conversations with a stream of werewolves whose names began to blend together, underscored by a growing, nagging hunger that apples had stopped helping. He was badly sunburned, despite the canopy of trees and the threadbare robe, and he itched all over until he wanted to go running through brambles just so they could scratch him from all sides. He had a headache, there was a cut on his foot that he thought was getting infected, and he was bruised and scratched until he hardly looked human. And it had only been one day.
Sometime in the afternoon, Greyback appeared and beckoned him to walk with him. They took a meandering path through the forest, Greyback telling him about the werewolves. "Easily half of the kids don't survive," he said. "It's a tough world. Of the ones that do, half of them leave us when they're older. Think they can do better with the Ministry. Some of them try to come back, but we don't take them back—once they leave, they're gone for good. Every now and then, we put one out because he won't do his part. Always a tough call, that one."
"So, what about you? You got any wolf cubs floating around anywhere?"
For a moment, Remus was confused, and it must have shown, because Greyback explained, "Bites. You bit anyone?"
Greyback nodded this time, and grinned an open-mouthed grin. "Ministry ain't looking for you then."
"Good. We don't need no one leading the Ministry to us."
The overgrowth was getting sparser, and it disappeared suddenly. For a moment, Remus blinked against the sunlight, looking around to try to get his bearings. His eyes fell on a valley, with a railroad curving through it, and he looked back and forth. Finally, he found a crumbling castle in the distance. He looked at Greyback again.
"Know where you are now, don't you?" he asked.
Remus looked at Hogsmeade again and nodded. "Yes."
"Well, next month, at the full moon, if you still think you want to be part of our little family, you come back into the forest. I reckon you'll find us again. Right now, though, you go back wherever you came from."
Remus snorted. "Let me stay just long enough to realize everything I'd be walking away from, then return me to what I'm missing to see if I really want to stay?"
Greyback winked at him. "See? Good sense."
"I'll see you next month, then."
"You seem awful sure of that."
"You want to see what I'm going back to?" Remus asked. He pointed to the west, to a dilapidated old shack that looked as though it were held up by a prayer.
"That's where you live?"
"When I can't find anywhere else to go, yes."
Greyback looked at the shack with a considering look on his face. "You might prove me right yet, Remus."
"I'm a trusting fellow, remember?" Greyback turned back into the forest, but Remus didn't fool himself to think that he'd left. Aware that there were eyes on his back, Remus glanced around and ducked into the trees again, winding his way towards the shack. When he reached it, he ducked under a board across the front door and made it a point to light a lamp, which he took with him as he went upstairs. Several minutes later, he opened the trapdoor to the tunnel and sent a Patronus in the direction of Hogwarts.
"Here," Minerva said, handing Severus a package wrapped in brown paper. He looked at it, and raised a querulent eyebrow at her. "Fresh change of clothes and a few toiletries," she said. "He'll need them."
Severus tucked the bundle under his arm, along with the basket of food, Lupin's wand, and a glass jar. "He's not staying there indefinitely," Severus said.
"I know, but he'll probably be there another day or two at least, don't you think?"
Severus rolled his eyes and swung a black cloak around his shoulders. "I'm not carrying anything else with me," he informed her bluntly. He already had his hands full.
"Be careful," she said.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Minerva! I'm just walking across the grounds! It's further to walk to Hagrid's. It's fine." Before she could say anything else, he stalked out of her office and down the broad main stairs and out the door. With the hood of his cloak pulled up, he blended into the night well enough to evade the notice of anyone who might be watching from a distance, though he doubted anyone was. He walked straight to the Whomping Willow, poked the knot with a stick that was lying on the ground, and was in the tunnel within five minutes of stepping out of the door. Really, it was senseless to worry so much. This was the least dangerous thing he'd ever done on Dumbledore's request.
Earlier that day, when Lupin's Patronus had come wisping into the castle, Severus had breathed a sigh of relief, and had not given anyone a reason to believe that he gave a damn what happened to Remus Lupin since. Dumbledore hadn't seemed to be fooled, and neither had Minerva, but everyone else appeared to accept his disinterest. And, when Dumbledore had asked him to make a journey to the Shrieking Shack with a bundle of food and Lupin's wand, Severus had put up a token resistance until he thought the headmaster might change his mind and ask someone else to do the task instead. He hadn't needed to worry about that; Dumbledore had another task for him as well, hence the jar.
Severus walked briskly through the tunnel, lost in his own thoughts, so that when he reached the end and the trapdoor opened of its own accord, he nearly fell down the narrow staircase.
"Put your light out," hissed Lupin's voice.
Severus gave him a wilting look, but whispered, "Nox," and they were in darkness except for the meager light of a lamp.
"The house is being watched," Lupin said softly as Severus handed him the bundles he'd been carrying. "What's this?"
"Food, courtesy of the house-elves," Severus said, pointing to one, "clothing and toiletries, courtesy of Minerva. Your wand, as a general courtesy." He shrugged, halfway apologetically. "I'd have brought you something as well, but I didn't know what you needed."
Lupin smiled. "You came," he replied. "That's good enough."
"You look like shit."
"Any time." Severus flicked his wand and set a Silencing Charm around them, then lit the lights in the kitchen with another wave of his wand. The kitchen was an abomination, and he hoped that the food he'd brought was nothing that needed preparation. "You need a shower," he said, leaning against the wall opposite the window, taking care to keep the light in front of him.
"Well, a bath's going to have to suffice for the moment," Lupin said. "There's no proper plumbing here."
"Why didn't you come back to the school?"
"I told you, I'm being watched. They're going to want to see signs that someone is living here. So, I make it a point to move around and light lamps and extinguish them and go outside every so often so they know I'm still here."
"So are you going to stay here indefinitely? If you are, we need to let Molly attack these rooms. This place is disgusting."
"I don't know how long I'm going to stay," Lupin said. "Depends on how long they keep watching."
"And how will you know when they've stopped?" Lupin didn't answer immediately, which was as good as admitting that he hadn't thought that far. "Tomorrow, I'll send Minerva to snoop around a bit. No one will make note of a cat prowling in the bushes."
Lupin nodded. "What kind of food did you bring?"
"I don't know. It was already bundled when I picked it up. Where's this bathtub of yours?"
"Then let's go upstairs and I'll see what's in the bundle while you take a bath."
Lupin started up the stairs, but Severus caught his hand and pulled him back down and into his arms. For a moment, Lupin leaned against him, but he finally straightened, though Severus didn't let go. "I'm filthy, remember?"
"Mmm. And your breath is rank. I think you need to brush your teeth before you do anything else."
"Then let go of me so I can."
Severus tightened his arms one more time, then let go. "Lead on."
The bedroom was almost clean compared to the lower rooms—a bucket of murky water sat in one corner, and it looked as though Lupin had been putting old linens to good use. Lupin directed his wand at an old claw-footed tub, pulling it away from the corner and cleaning it out with a spell. It needed a good dousing with Mrs. Scower's, or, barring that, a liberal application of rag and bleach. Trying not to think about how dirty and dingy the tub still was as Lupin filled it with water from his wand and heated the water, Severus began unwrapping the bundle of food.
Just as he was peeling a cloth back from a loaf of bread, he heard a loud growling and turned around, cringing at the sight of Lupin's naked body. "What the hell have you been doing?" he asked, dropping the bread on the desk. Scratches and cuts criss-crossed Lupin's chest and arms, his foot was swollen and red, and small red bumps covered his back and stomach.
"Are you really going to make me bathe before I can eat?" Lupin asked.
Severus looked at the bread again, and lifted the corner of a cloth covering a wedge of cheese. "Just rinse off the worst of it, brush your teeth, then you can have a cheese sandwich while we go back to the school."
"I can't leave."
"They'll never know the difference. You have to sleep sometime, you know. Just put out the lamp upstairs, then go back to Hogwarts, get a real meal, let someone look at that foot, get something for that rash, have a real shower, and sleep in a real bed, and tomorrow you can come back here if you feel the need."
"I'm fine here," Lupin protested. Severus reached for the bundle Minerva had sent and pulled out the toothbrush. He squeezed toothpaste onto it as Lupin continued. "I've spent many a week here since I left Hogwarts. Especially since I have my wand back, I'll have it fit to live in within a few days, and I'll go into Hogsmeade tomorrow and—"
Severus shoved the toothbrush into his mouth. "Brush," he said, retrieving the bucket of filthy water from the corner and placing it beside the tub. Lupin sighed, but began brushing his teeth, and Severus poured some clean water from the jug he'd brought into a cup, which he handed to Lupin as well. While Lupin brushed his teeth, Severus transferred the bread and cheese to the same cloth and shook the crumbs off the cloth the bread had been wrapped in, then plunged it into the bath water and began squeezing some of the warm water over Lupin's shoulders. Lupin hissed and winced as the water connected with the tiny cuts and welts.
"What did you do? Find an ant bed to roll around in?"
"Ish that whu i' ish?"
Severus brushed his fingers across one of the welts. "Looks like it." Lupin's stomach growled again, and Severus sighed as Lupin rinsed his mouth out and reached for the cloth with a resigned look on his face.
"Give me that."
Severus handed him the cloth and returned to the desk, where he sliced off a thick piece of cheese and two pieces of bread. He took the cloth from Lupin's hand again and replaced it with the sandwich. "Are you going to come back to the school?"
"Not tonight," Lupin said between bites.
"Don't eat so fast. You'll make yourself ill." Severus rolled up his sleeves and dipped the cloth into the water again, ignoring the sounds Lupin made as he splashed water over sunburned legs and bruised hips. "Where did these bruises come from?"
"Probably from sleeping on the ground. Will you hand me another piece of bread?"
"Did you already eat that entire sandwich?" Severus asked, dropping the cloth into the water. "I told you not to wolf it down. You're going to make yourself sick." Even as he scolded, he was fixing two more sandwiches. He left one on the cloth and handed the other to Lupin.
"You're full of shit, Severus."
Severus ignored that as he swirled his hand around in the water, looking for the cloth. He found it and dragged it up over Lupin's back. They fell into silence as Severus squeezed water over Lupin's body, grimacing as the bath water turned dingy and Lupin continued eating. Three sandwiches later, he reached to take the cloth from Severus' hand, but Severus pointed at the floor outside of the tub. "Out," he said.
"I'm not done with that bath."
"You're done with that particular one, yes. Out."
Lupin sighed and stepped out, and Severus vanished the water. He filled it with a shallow layer and conjured a stiff-bristled brush and knelt at the edge of the tub, buffing irritably.
"What are you doing?"
"Cleaning this thing out so it's fit to sit in properly," Severus replied.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Lupin standing there. "You don't have to do this."
Severus paused. "I know," he said after a moment, then set to scrubbing again. "There's an apple over there. Go eat it." Lupin gave him a dirty look that Severus didn't quite understand but ignored. A few minutes later, he was satisfied that the tub was clean enough that it wouldn't do more harm than good, and he stepped back, pointing his wand at it again. When it was full of steaming water, he waved his hand at it.
Lupin climbed in and sank into it, closing his eyes as he leaned back. "You've no idea how good this feels."
"Comfortable?" Severus asked, pulling up a chair beside the tub.
"For the first time in two days."
"Good. Dumbledore wants your memories of the last two days."
"He can have them as soon as I sort them out."
"He wants them now," Severus said, reaching for the jar.
Lupin opened one eye and looked at it, then closed his eye again. "I don't have the energy," he whispered. "Tomorrow."
"Look at me, Remus," Severus said, reaching for his wand. "Look at me."
Remus sighed and looked at him.
"Just keep your eyes open and relax," Severus said softly, uncapping the jar. "Focus on one scene from the last two days. Anything at all will do. Legilimens."
The scene in Lupin's mind was of him eating an apple. Severus eased into the related scenes, finding more and more apples until he snorted. "Had a few apples?" he asked.
"Enough for a lifetime," Remus muttered, his eyes beginning to drift shut.
"Keep your eyes open," Severus murmured, touching the tip of his wand to Lupin's head. Slowly, the memories began to form a thick coil of glowing silver, and Severus directed the coil to the jar. It was difficult to tell which memories were part of the last two days and which were other, similar events in Lupin's life, but Severus collected everything that looked as though it might be related. At last, he capped the jar and put his wand aside. "There."
"You know, I must trust you an awful lot," Remus whispered. "You're holding everything you need to see me killed."
Severus touched Lupin's face. "Come back to the school with me and deliver it to Dumbledore yourself," he suggested.
"I do trust you."
With a sigh, Severus set the jar aside. "Very well. You're sunburned and covered with ant bites, and that foot is infected. What else?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'm going to go back to Hogwarts and bring you back the things you need. More food." He rolled his eyes in the direction of the cloth that had held the bread; there was one slice and a few crumbs left. "What else?"
"You don't have to—"
"Don't tell me I don't have to. What else do you need? Want?"
Remus was quiet for a minute, then said, "Clean sheets?"
Severus nodded. "A book?"
"Some cleaning supplies?"
"How about a house-elf?" Severus suggested. "I'll take care of what you need to make this place livable. What else?"
Remus started to sit up, but grimaced. "Something to help me sleep."
"Do you think you'll need help going to sleep?" Severus asked.
Remus was quiet for a moment before he nodded. "Some of what I saw, Severus... They were children..."
Severus nodded. "Anything else of immediate need?"
"That should be sufficient," Remus whispered.
Severus braced his hands on either side of the tub and leaned down, brushing his lips against Lupin's mouth. "I'll be back in a couple of hours, then."
It took him nearly three hours to return to the school, deliver the memories to Dumbledore, tell Dumbledore what he thought of Lupin's condition, argue with Dumbledore that Remus needed to come back to the school for the night, finally concede the victory to Dumbledore and procure the necessary items. He left orders for a house-elf to come to the shack the next day to see to some of the cleaning, then returned to the tunnel.
When he emerged into the house again, there was no one there to greet him, and he picked his way upstairs carefully, cursing and stumbling in the dark. Remus was still in the tub, his head leaned back and his mouth open, eyes closed.
"Need a sleeping potion, I see," Severus muttered. He left Remus where he was and dropped the bundle of food and linen on a sheet-draped chair. After a few minutes of flicking his wand about, he'd stripped the bed and remade it with clean linens, sent charms skittering under all the furniture to root out any live animals that might be hiding in dark corners, and sealed the door and windows against anything else that might decide the ramshackle old house would make a good home. Had Remus been awake, Severus would have muttered and grumbled the entire time, but he saw little point in complaint since Remus was asleep, and without the distraction of grousing about the tasks, he accomplished them quickly and turned to consider his final obstacle.
He stared at Remus for a few minutes, watching him sleep and considering his options. Though not an overly romantic man by nature, and not sure if he had any desire to be romantic with another man even if he was, Severus wished for the moment that he had the strength necessary to just scoop Remus out of the bathtub and carry him to the bed. Might as well wish for an Order of Merlin while he was at it; the one was as likely as the other. Though a number of options presented themselves to him, they all came down to two viable solutions—wake Remus and tell him to go to bed, or levitate his sleep-limp body across the room. He finally decided that if he were in Lupin's position, he'd prefer the dignity of walking to a few extra minutes of sleep.
Kneeling at the side of the tub, he touched Lupin's cheek. Remus turned his face into Severus' palm, and Severus' lips twitched upward for a moment.
"Come on, Remus. Don't you think the bed will be more comfortable?"
Lupin muttered something incoherent in response, but at a bit of urging, he climbed out of the tub and stumbled to the bed. Severus sighed and shook his head, casting a drying charm to take care of the drips that resulted from Remus not bothering to towel off before tumbling onto the mattress. By the time Severus had retrieved the jar of cream for Lupin's sunburns and bites, Remus was asleep again, so Severus massaged the salve into his skin with a gentle touch, nudging him onto his stomach so he could reach his back. He dabbed disinfectant onto the cut on Lupin's foot, applied a clean bandage, and spent a few minutes emptying the tub and straightening the room. He left a cloth-covered loaf of bread on the table beside the bed, along with a glass of water, the unused sleeping draught, and more of the salve, then finally put out the light and crawled into the bed with Remus.
"What are you doing?" Remus murmured, his voice thick with sleep.
Severus wrapped his arms around Remus and pulled him against him, nestling his head against the back of Lupin's shoulder. "Staying for the night. If that's all right with you?"
A few minutes of squirming and twisting later, Remus was facing Severus, looking at him through heavy eyelids. "You don't have to stay," he said, a yawn swallowing half his words.
"I'm well aware of what I have to do and what I do not have to do," Severus replied. "Now go back to sleep. Or do you need that potion after all?"
"Maybe not," Remus murmured, his eyes closing again. "Thank you."
Severus leaned his head against Lupin's head. "Don't mention it."
Some time the next morning, Remus woke to the steady rhythm of Severus breathing and the weight of his arm across his chest. He drifted between sleep and wakefulness, listening to the sound of Severus' heartbeat and the buzz of a fly. He didn't know how long he lay there before it occurred to him that he wasn't in his own bed, and it wasn't Severus' house, either.
He rolled over carefully, twisting around in Severus' arms until he was staring into Severus' open eyes. "How long have you been awake?" he asked.
"Longer than you have," Severus replied.
They lay in silence for a while, and at first, Remus was stiff and wary under Severus' intense gaze, but he relaxed after a bit and accepted it as silent attention. "What are you thinking?" he asked finally.
"That I really ought to get up and return to the school," Severus said, though he didn't give any indication that he was going to move any time soon.
"Is it necessary?"
Remus reached for Severus' hand, and they wound their fingers together. Severus squeezed softly, and Remus squeezed back. "I was prepared to stay there as long as they'd let me," Remus whispered. "I'd convinced myself that I could sleep on the ground, and that I'd figure out how to start a fire without a wand so I could cook my meat. I told myself I wasn't going to die from not having a proper bath every day, and that there were plenty of people whose teeth hadn't fallen out yet after years of not brushing them." He closed his eyes. "I'd justified not finding ways to get those children out of there, and I was sure that it would get easier to walk around barefoot all the time. But you know what I hadn't convinced myself of yet?" Remus opened his eyes again, studying Severus' face intently.
Severus shook his head slightly.
"I hadn't convinced myself that I could walk away from all the people I care about. Not even two days in, and I wanted to talk to Dumbledore, and I wanted to laugh with Tonks, and I wanted to share a beer with Sirius." He lifted his hand to Severus' face. "I wanted to feel your arms."
Severus tightened his arms around Remus. "Typical Gryffindor," he murmured after a moment. "Couldn't just say you missed me, could you?"
"I missed you," Remus said, looking up at Severus.
If Remus was expecting Severus to return the sentiment, he was disappointed, though not for long. "You're lucky you came out with no more than a few scratches and some ant bites. You know that, don't you?" Severus asked.
Remus grinned at him. "Am I?"
"There are any number of hazards in the forest. Poisonous plants, wild animals. Probably dark wizards, if I were to make a guess. Not to mention the company you were with. And of course there was the possibility that you'd seriously injure yourself and none of us would have known where to come looking for you and—"
"You were worried."
Severus didn't grace that with a response, but Remus thought it was worthy of note that he didn't deny it either. "Did you sleep well?" Severus asked instead.
"Yes. Did you?"
"Yes. And, as much as I would like to stay here, I'm afraid I can't." Severus tightened his arms around Remus and nuzzled his neck for a moment before he rolled away. "There's bread on the table, there," Severus said, waving at a loaf wrapped in a white cloth. "A house-elf should be coming soon to tend to a bit of the cleaning. The green jar is for the sunburn and ant bites, the white is for your foot—apply the salve every four hours and keep your foot elevated as much as you can. If the redness doesn't go away by sunset—"
Remus caught Severus' hand and pulled him back to the bed. "You're still worried about me."
"Walking around in the forest barefoot for two days isn't a good idea for most of us. You see, unlike wild animals, which are used to sharp stones and sticks, humans have tender skin that is prone to tearing, and the forest floor is full of filth that is prone to helping along infections."
"I'll be fine," Remus assured him. "If it gets any worse, I know how to get back to Hogwarts."
"If it doesn't start getting better, you might put that knowledge to use," Severus muttered. "I have to go."
Remus squeezed his hand. "Thank you."
"Not at all."
"No, not 'not at all'," Remus said, still holding Severus' hand. "You didn't have to do any of this and... I did miss you, Severus. I've had a lot of time to think over the last few days and I—"
Severus brushed his lips against Remus' mouth, interrupting him. "I'll see you soon," he said. "Sleeping Draught in the clear bottle if you need it. Stay off that foot." He was gone too quickly for it to be coincidence.