Everything's gone to the dogs round here. I'm gone for 2 weeks, and what do I continue when I return? My long-running, partially neglected fics? No. I write the sequel to Things to Prove. But I like this pairing, and it was just what came into my head. So, sorry to all waiting on updates for other fics, but here you go, and enjoy it anyway.

Disclaimer: JK and I have yet to switch identities. A couple more sessions with the hypnotist, and I'm sure we can work that little point out. But until then, no, I don't own.

Trying to Understand

Severus dragged himself out of unconsciousness to the sound of raised voices. Not exactly a rare occurence around him, but it was always wise to see who was arguing, and why, in case you had to run and hide for a while. His subconscious was so used to it by this stage that it automatically tripped his internal alarmclock at the first signs of disturbance, a handy little trait for scaring warring students, but bloody annoying in a house currently populated by Weasleys. He'd been getting precious little sleep recently, and with everything else he had to deal with, that was not a good thing. Needless to say, he'd been in a foul mood for the last few weeks.

"Albus! Did you see him? Did you listen to me at all! You can't let him go back, not when Malfoy and who knows who else are after his blood! For crying out loud, he was trying to walk with smashed ribs! Are you listening, old man!" It seemed Black was in fine voice, though why he'd be screaming at the Headmaster eluded Severus for a moment. Who'd gotten injured this time? He wasn't aware of anyone in the field at the moment. Ribs ... Malfoy? Wait. Hold the phone ...

"Severus is not going back, Albus. End of bloody story. Cappiche?"

That ... that bloody, arrogant, idiotic, brainless, loudmouthed bastard of a Gryffindor! Severus was out of the bed they'd dumped him into in two seconds flat, and the slam of the door as he burst out into the hallway earned him deathglares from a number of Black family portraits. He couldn't have cared less, striding furiously towards the voices, face frozen into a rictus of rage.

"BLACK!" he roared, appearing in the kitchen doorway like a Nemesis, tattered robes billowing out around him like the wings of a fallen angel. The Order leapt to their feet, staring in shock at this apparition of rage, but Severus' gaze gravitated to the pair in the centre. Albus glanced nervously from him to Black and back again, but it was the animagus himseslf that drew all of the spy's enraged attention. Before Sirius had time to react, Severus was in front of him, fist wrapped in his robes and face thrust aggresively forward. Sirius stared back impassively, something suspiciously like amusement floating near the surface of the warm grey gaze.

"Hello, Severus," he murmured, a shadow of a smile on his lips. "I see you're in fine form."

"What the hell do you think you're doing, you shit-for-brains Gryffindor!" Severus snarled. "I told you not to do this! I told you not to tell them! Does everything halfway intelligent you hear pass through that seive you call a brain without making a stop? WELL! Answer!"

Sirius grinned at him, and nothing could have restrained the tired growl that burst out of Severus. The animagus' grin only widened as he looked down at his impassioned challenger, before slipping away as something approaching anger glimmered in his stormy gaze.

"I know exactly what you told me, Severus, and I would hardly call it intelligent. But you seem to have forgotten what I told you. I'm not risking you for however much dubious information you manage to get from people who need only a whisper of a suspicion to throw you to the wolves. Literally. A few hours ago you saw sense. Guess it was too much to hope it would last."

Confusion flitted through Severus, and his grip faltered. For a moment, anger hadn't been his first reaction to that blatant insult to his abilities and intelligence. For a moment, he'd felt relief, and even a little gratitude. Why? Why was he glad to hear that drivel, from Black no less? Because he said he loved you. You thought it was a dream. But he seems to care. Maybe ... Maybe it wasn't a dream? Oh Merlin. Merlin. He ...that ... had been real? But it couldn't have been. No. Black would never ...

A pair of hands reached up and cupped his face gently. He jerked back, stunned, but the hands followed the movement and didn't relinquish their grip. He looked up into Sirius' worried, caring stare, and everything in him froze. His breath hitched. He reached up to clasp the arms that held him as a wave of unsteadiness ripped through him. When ... When had anyone touched him like that? When had anyone demonstrated that kind of casual intimacy towards him? In public. A frisson of fear rippled through at that thought, but stronger was the wonder, that someone wouldn't be afraid to be seen to be ... like this ... with something as repulsive as him, as Snivillus.

"Si ... Sirius?" He swallowed hard. "Sirius, I ... What ... What do you want, Sirius? What the hell are you after?"

Sirius sighed heavily, and Severus felt a familiar fear. A fear so familiar he absorbed it and dealt with it without a second thought. The fear of rejection. But Sirius didn't let go. Then, the animagus leaned gently forward and laid his forehead on Severus', and suddenly there seemed to be no air in the room. There seemed to be no-one else there, and all he felt was pure panic.

"You are an idiot, Severus," Sirius sighed. "A pure, bred-in-the-bone idiot. I want you, you utter dummy. I told you. Guess you forgot that, too. Now, listen here, and don't forget it this time. I am perfectly willing to stand up here and fight this lot to keep you safe. When we're through here, I'll get back to pounding Albus into a pulp to achieve that. The question I want you to answer is: Are you going to make me fight everyone else, including yourself, on top of that? Because I will if I have to, but I'm going to be a bit put out with you when it's over."

Severus shook silently. Was this ... real? Oh Merlin, could it be real? Sirius had said that he loved him. There was nothing wrong with the spy's memory. But it couldn't be true. It was some joke. Some sick, twisted joke so the Marauders could get their kicks. It had to be. Nothing else made sense. Severus had had it beaten into him over the years that he was utterly unlovable, completely unattractive, and generally downright repulsive. He was useful, he was talented, he bordered on genius sometimes, but all he was good for was being a tool. Not a person. Even Lucius, the only person who'd shown any physical interest in him before the Dark Lord, didn't care about him, about how he felt. He was just useful.

He couldn't stand that anymore. He couldn't bear another Lucius. And not ... not Black. Not Sirius. Not when Severus might actually care for the stupid mutt. He couldn't be hurt like that by someone he actually ... loved, in his own lost little way. But why in Merlin's name was Black trying to get him retired from spying? It made no tactical sense. They needed a spy. Not even Black would endanger the Order for the sake of this prank. So what was his game?

"Black, what are you trying to accomplish?" he tried to growl, but with his face still pressed against Sirius', it was difficult to put any real vehemence into it. In response, Sirius smiled gently, and placed a soft kiss on the tip of his hooked nose. Severus snapped, pulling back in a flurried rush of movement, and moving towards the door even before he'd fully disentangled himself. Turning, he caught sight of shocked faces, some with sly humour lurking beneath the confusion, and the meaning of Black's ploy was made clear. So. A simple humiliation. He supposed he should be glad that at least the Order would not be threatened, because surely everyone would realise that Black's move to see him removed as spy was nothing more than a typical Marauder prank. All Black had wanted was to get him riled up enough to come here for this little scene.

He should keep his mouth shut and leave, but he could never resist trying to get a shot in at his tormentors. And this time Black had handed him the perfect ammunition. There really was absolutely nothing wrong with his memory.

"Oh, Lupin?" he sneered. "I heard you and Black had a little ... disagreement ... recently. You'll be happy to know you've been vindicated. When we crossed paths, he was in the process of seeking companionship in one of London's premier establishments for ... less than straight men. Now that that's been cleared up, feel free to jump him the next time you're alone." And he strode haughtily outside, through the house, and out onto the London streets.

Two hours later, and he slipped into a muggle coffee house to hunch over at a table and gasp. His ribs were healed, along with the surface injuries on his back, but his chest still felt full of molten cement after the exertion. He hunched protectively over his coffee, trying to ignore the burn in his chest, fearful that maybe not all of it was from his ribs. Why did it have to be Black? Why Sirius? Why did Sirius have to be the one to declare love as a prank?

"Is that what you think it was?" Severus jerked up. Remus Lupin stood over him, looking down curiously, with a strangely sad expression. "Do you really think he would do that as a trick? Sirius hasn't that level of cruelty in him! Not even close! Who do you think he is, Malfoy? Dammit, Severus, why do you refuse to believe him? What does he have to do to prove himself?"

Severus stared. "What do you mean by that, Lupin?"

"Are you really that dim?" the werewolf snapped, pushing a chair back roughly and plonking himself down to glare angrily at Severus, who couldn't help raising an eyebrow at this unusual behaviour. "You really think he'd put his feelings on the line for a game! You idiot, Severus! He loves you."

"Oh, don't pull that one, Lupin," Severus sneered, looking away in affected exasperation in order to hide his pain. "It's unlike you to take part in these ... games, let alone continue it on your own. How did you find me, anyway?"

"I'm a werewolf," Lupin snapped back, drawing a number of shocked looks from the muggles. "You figure it out. And did you stop to think that if it's so unusual for me, that it's because that's not what I'm doing? For Merlin's sake, don't you think I've better things to be doing than playing cruel tricks on you? Don't you think Sirius does? There's a bloody war on! Do you really think Sirius would attack Albus like that for the sake of a prank, when we're in the middle of a fight for our lives? Do you think Albus would have allowed him to? He was trying to help you, you self-centered, harebrained idiot! He was trying to convince Moody and Albus to stop you spying! And then you went in and attacked him!"

"Don't try to pull a guilt trip on me, Lupin," Severus snarled, furious. "If you'd listened to Albus, you'd know I've come back with worse injuries than that before, and it's never stopped me. What Sirius was doing was pandering to his own ego, not helping me!"

"His ego!" There was shock as well as anger on the werewolf's face. "His! What about yours? Or is it not ego to think you can keep spying after what Lucius nearly did to you, you id..." He stopped as Severus stood suddenly. He seemed intimidated by the blank mask that flooded over the spy's face, but Severus didn't care. The blanking of his features was automatic, a reaction to the horror and pain that filled him. He shook. To the werewolf, it must have looked like anger, but it wasn't. Merlin help him, it wasn't.

"He told you about Lucius!" Lupin seemed to realise his mistake, but too late. Severus was already moving, leaving. His ears were full of loud buzzing, and black threatened the edges of his vision, but he moved towards the door anyway. They knew. They knew about Lucius. No wonder there had been amusement in their eyes. What a joke I must be to them now. What a fine laugh they must have had. Oh gods. He felt sick. He felt more than sick. He felt bile rising, acid from his empty stomach, and he swallowed it, feeling it sear his throat on the way down. He caught the doorframe, sagging, and felt hands on him in support. He couldn't stand them. Wrenching free, he pitched out into the street.

And into someone's arms. He struggled, but they just gathered him gently in, against a thin chest that was nevertheless strong, stronger than him. He could still have fought, still have won, even now, but he caught his captor's scent. Wet dog and firewhiskey, must and Molly's cooking. Sirius Black. Merlin help me, not now. Please.

"Severus? Severus, what happened? Hell, what's wrong? Remus, what happened? What happened to him? Remus!"

"Shut ... up, Black," Severus rasped. "Just ... shut up."

"Severus?" Sirius looked down at him, raw concern the only emotion visible. "Tell me what's wrong."

Severus shrugged free, staggering two steps. Sirius went after him, but he whirled, braced himself against the wall, arms locked against shudders as he rasped out his problem. "You told him." The words struck Sirius like blows, and he stopped. "Just him, Black? Or all of them? All? What a laugh. What a fine joke, eh, Padfoot?" A wretched, hysterical laugh bubbled up inside him, but he choked it back. He was humiliated enough as it was. As it was ever likely to be.

"Severus ..." Sirius started. Severus squeezed his eyes shut, as if not seeing Black would block out his words as well. Sirius didn't relent. "It was just Remus. Just him. He's my friend. I wanted ... I wanted someone to ... Well, to understand why I ... Oh, bloody hell, Severus! I just wanted someone to get why I bloody well love you, that's all! I had a hard enough time trying to convince him I wasn't gay while at the same time professing love for you!" Sirius tried a little chuckle, but gave up when Severus didn't react. "Look. I know that we were never exactly friends. More like deadly enemies, I know. But ... I guess ... I always felt strongly about you. I thought it was hate. Was sure of it. But it wasn't. I just figured it out late. But ... Not ... Not too late? Please."

Severus bowed his head, swallowing. He tasted salt on his lips, and realised he was crying. Him. Spy, ex-Death Eater, terror of Hogwarts halls. He was crying. Why does he have to sound so bloody sincere? Why can't I doubt him? Why the hell can't I doubt him? It's not real. I'm going to be hurt again. So badly. This time, it's going to be so bad. Because I want it to be real. I want it so much. But nothing is ever real for me. Nothing that matters.

"That's not true," Sirius said softly. Severus cringed. Great. Just great. Now he'd made a bloody fool of himself whining on top of everything else. Arms wrapped themselves around his waist from behind, and Sirius rested his shaggy head against the back of Severus' neck. He grabbed at the encircling hands, meaning to throw them off, and ended up clinging desperately to them. "It's not true, Severus. Or if it was, it isn't now. Not now. Not me. Ah, Severus. You bloody, soppy, proud, impossible, idiot of a man. I'll take care of you. I promise. Even if you don't want me to. Even if I have to fight you every step of the way to do it. Even if I have to stand up to Voldemort, and Albus, and the Ministry, and bloody Fate itself! I promise you! I promise you."

Severus closed his eyes against the tears, fought to hold them back. And had to give up. He couldn't. He just couldn't hold them. A sob escaped. An another. Sirius squeezed him gently, then turned him, slowly but firmly. Severus ducked his head, trying to hide, but Sirius would have none of it. He bent down, put his forehead against Severus' and gently nudged his head up while wrapping his arms tighter around him. Severus looked at him through blurred eyes, and was startled by what looked tears in the animagus' stormy gaze. His brows lowered in confusion.

"What ... What are you weeping about, Black? Something ... in your eye?" He gave a watery smile, and Sirius kissed him. Soft and gentle and indescribably tender. No-one had ever ... Severus had never been treated like this ever before. He'd never known a kiss could be gentle. With Lucius it had always been rough and possessive, and with the Dark Lord ... Well, Voldemort never bothered with sideshows, prefering to go straight to the main attraction. Sirius ... just kissed him. Let him kiss back. Let him enjoy it. Actually ... let him enjoy it. Let him taste the salt as their tears mingled. Let him ... be. Just be.

It stopped. All good things do. But Sirius still held him. Severus dipped his head, letting it rest against Sirius' collarbone. He sighed.

"Severus? You alright?" Sirius sounded concerned, and nervous. "I'm sorry. I ... I didn't mean to push ... I ..." Severus wriggled an arm free, and laid a shushing finger on his lips.

"Hush up, mutt. Do I look upset to you?" he whispered.

"Frankly?" Sirius grinned. "Yes. You look like shit. Just my luck. I fall in love with a guy who looks like shit on a regular basis, and all I can think is how much it makes me want to fix you up. Why do you have to be so awkward, Severus? How am I supposed to stay sane looking after you?"

Severus looked to one side. "You ... could always not bother." His mouth twitched slightly in a wry smile, but it slipped away like mist. He stared at the ground.

Sirius lifted his chin firmly, but not roughly. Severus found himself looking up into a gaze as serious as any he'd ever seen, and more loving and compassionate than anything that had ever been directed at him. "That," Sirius said, calmly and clearly, "would be no fun at all. Severus."

Severus tried to smile again, and partially managed it. "It seems," he started. "It seems I'm destined to be a source of amusement to you. Hmm?"

Sirius smiled ruefully, doing a much better job of it than his frankly terrified companion. "Yeah. And annoyance. And panic. And outright terror. Which is why you're not going back. Don't you argue with me, Severus Snape! It wouldn't do any good, anyway. Dumbledore agrees with me. I got that much before I had to hare off out here after you and Remus. So you'll be staying with me for a while." Severus couldn't restrain a shudder. That sounded like things he'd heard before. Not from anyone with his best interests in mind. Sirius noticed. "But only if you want to. Only if you want to, Severus. But I'd like it if ... If you'd consider it."

Severus looked from him, to an uncomfortable but sincerely supportive Remus, and back. Sirius looked a little desperate, a little sad, and a lot like he meant what he said. He looked ... like he might actually mean it when he said he loved him. Severus shook his head, smiling wonderingly, and looked up into Sirius' worried face.

"Well, if I'm not going back spying, then I've precious few other placesto go, haven't I?" He smiled. It was watery, and a little shy, but it was real, and very sincere. "You're a stupid mutt, Sirius Black, and you need someone to knock a little sense into you. Seeing as how a war and Remus Lupin combined haven't yet managed. Guess I'm nominated, huh?"

Sirius stared at him, biting his lip. Then he leaned forward and engulfed a shocked Severus in a bearhug that would have done Hagrid justice. Severus heard a snuffling sound, and realised with awe that Sirius was crying. Sirius Black was crying ... over him. Over him. Merlin. Maybe something could be real for him. And maybe it could be as important as this. As Sirius. Wonders, it seemed, would really never cease.

"Yeah," Sirius murmured thickly. "Yeah you're bloody nominated. You idiot. You bloody stubborn, proud, hardheaded idiot. And damn me, 'cause I bloody love you for it. Idiot. Bloody idiot."

Severus reached up around him to hug him back. "Careful there, Black. You might hurt my feelings. Idiot."

They both turned at a muffled snort, and found Remus laughing up his sleeve, trying desperately to disguise it. Severus frowned at him, which admittedly didn't have quite the impact it would have had if he hadn't been currently wrapped around the man's best friend. Sirius looked askance at the werewolf too.

"What's up with you, Moony?"

Remus shook his head, still laughing. Breath hitching, he tried to explain. "It's just ... It's just beautiful, watching the two of you. Such ... Such heartfelt endearments you hand each other. Anyone would think ... That the pair of you were an item. Really. It's so obvious you love each other. And Sirius?"

Sirius raised his eyebrows. "Yeah?"

"I take it back," Remus said, with all seriousness. "You're not gay. You're just insane."

And, Severus reflected as he followed in the wake of a laughing Remus as he fled a howling Sirius, wasn't that just the truth of it? Weren't they all just bloody insane. He sighed, shaking his head as he went to separate his love from his best friend.

Weren't they all just bloody insane?

Well, people? You asked for the sequel, and here she is. How'd it go? R&R, and feel free to yell at me.