Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
"Stop looking at me like that, Lupin. We both knew this was going to happen." Severus didn't look up from the books he was boxing up, but he knew without seeing him that Lupin was hovering close by, as he had been all morning.
"I'm going to miss you," Lupin said, handing a few books to him.
Their hands brushed as Severus took the books, and he looked up. He'd been avoiding eye-contact all morning because he knew that as soon as they made it, that something would pass between them and it would be all the harder to finish the task at hand.
It had been just over a month since they first stood in the kitchen of Severus' poor excuse for an ancestral home and had that first awkward conversation. Since that day, he'd gone through the gyrations of trying to pretend it was a lull in hostilities, trying to pretend it was a budding and awkward friendship, trying to pretend it was only a physical attraction, trying to pretend it was a mutual need to find stability in a time when the world seemed determined to fall apart around them.
It was none of those things, and it was all of them, and it was too complex to be described in words, and it was too simple to bother with trying.
As they stood in the sitting room, surrounded by the sheet-covered peaks of old furniture, connected by a stack of three books and locked in place by gazes that spoke volumes, Severus felt an unwelcome lump in his throat. He didn't know what to say. He knew what he wanted to say, but it was stupid to finally admit that he loved Lupin on the day that he was leaving. He'd been resisting it for over a week, and he was sure he could manage to keep resisting it for a few hours more.
"Maybe we can spend some time together during the term. I'm going to be in the area, you know..."
"You're going to be in the forest, undercover, with a pack of werewolves," Severus said, taking the books and dropping them into the box. "We both knew that this was going to happen," he repeated as he closed the flaps and ran three thick layers of spello tape over the seam. "If all goes well, we might have some time over the Christmas holidays, and even that is hardly a guarantee."
Lupin touched his face, and Severus very nearly jerked away; the last thing he needed was another reason to want to stay, though that was precisely what Lupin was giving him. The last thing he wanted, however, was to hurt Lupin's feelings, and he was afraid he would do just that if he ducked away from Lupin's touch. Severus placed his hand over Lupin's hand, telling himself that he was strong enough to walk away without a fuss, whatever passed between them in the next fifteen minutes.
"I'll be living in anticipation of December, then," Lupin murmured.
"Don't be silly," Severus said. "That's how you pine your life away, and I won't have it."
Severus placed his fingers over Lupin's lips. He'd managed to avoid those words all month, and he would be damned if he let them come now. "Don't."
Lupin kissed his fingertips and moved his hand away from his mouth. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm not letting you leave until I say it. I love you."
The lump returned to Severus' throat and he looked down. "It doesn't change anything."
"It has changed everything."
Severus shook his head. "No," he said. "I won't have it, Lupin. I-"
"You have it whether you want it or not. And you know something else? You're a fake, Severus Snape. You feel it too."
Severus did jerk away that time, and he scooped up his wand, pointing it towards the bookcases. Sheets appeared over them, and he levitated the box of books into the kitchen, letting them fall to the floor with a thud. "I am not a fake," he said. "I'm a realist. The world is full of lovers whose love didn't work, and you have two choices when that happens-you can spend the rest of your life mourning it, or you can move on."
"It works, Severus. It's been working for a month."
"Of course it works for a month at a time. And it would work for three weeks in December, and another week at Easter, and two months next summer, and three weeks the following December. But it will never work in November, on the first day that a fire isn't good enough to keep you warm. You deserve a love that will work on any day of the year."
"And do you not?"
Severus paused in his task of turning the glasses upside down in the cupboard. "Yes," he said at last. "I do."
"We'll make it work. Maybe not this week, maybe not even this year, but we'll find a way to make it work. We just have to give it a chance. This war won't last forever and-"
"And when it's over, I'm still going to be Potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the Board of Governors is still going to frown on teachers entertaining guests in their private rooms and the world in general is still going to look down it's collective nose at two wizards and make snide remarks about what they're doing together.
"I don't care what other people say."
Lupin swiped a damp rag across the countertop. "So that's it, then? Just throw it out because it's not perfect?"
Severus sighed and leaned his head against the cupboard door. He could do this. He could walk away, and he could do it in a way that would make Lupin glad to see him go. A broken heart was better than one that lingered on what couldn't be. "Go on and call me a bastard," he said. "I don't want to be trapped in a relationship that's doomed to failure. I've enjoyed it, and I hope that when December comes around, we'll still be on speaking terms. And, if the opportunity presents itself, perhaps we can rekindle old desires. But I do not want to spend the next three and a half months waiting for the holidays. And I don't want to think about you doing that either."
"Then the real issue is that you don't want to feel obligated?" Lupin asked.
That sounded bad, and Severus cursed himself for letting it bother him. "I suppose so," he replied.
"Then I release you from the obligation," Lupin said.
"Then what are we arguing about?"
"You have no obligation to me," Lupin said. "No obligation to be faithful, no obligation to be committed. If you find a fling, take advantage of it. If you fall in love, I hope you're happy. All I ask is that you be honest with me, and when December comes around, we go from there."
"Is that not what I said?"
"No, not really. You said to call it off until we were together again. I said to leave well enough alone unless something changes. I don't have a line of prospects wrapping around the block. Do you?"
Severus snorted. "No," he admitted.
"So why spoil a good thing on the possibility that something better might come along? If it does, then you're free to pursue it without guilt. If you want to test the waters and it comes out a wash, well... No harm done."
He had a feeling he was missing something, but he couldn't imagine what it might be. "Oh, very well," he said.
Lupin wrapped his arms around Severus' waist and pulled him closer. "In that case, it's all right for me to say that I love you." Severus didn't have the restraint he would have needed not to lean into Lupin's arms and kiss.
"You should go now," Severus said when their lips parted. "I have to finish packing and you're distracting me."
Lupin squeezed his hand. "I'll see you later, then."
"And, just so you know-I will wait for you, either to come back or to tell me you've moved on."
Before Severus could protest, Lupin Disapparated. As he stared at the spot where Lupin had been standing, Severus' lips curled into a rueful smile.