A/N: I don't own these characters, but I've had a lot of fun with them! I hope you have too.

23. Love

Remus awoke in the weak light of dawn, scratched, naked, and lying in a patch of brambles. It had been a long time since he had woken up unaware of where he was or what he had done the night before. As he slowly stood up, his head began to clear and he remembered the events from the night before. The last thing he remembered was leaving the Shrieking Shack after telling Harry the story of how James and Sirius had been his best friends in school. He remembered that Harry had believed them and Peter had been captured.

He remembered Snape bursting into the room with them and how he eyed Remus, as if his recent trust had been betrayed. Remus wondered what happened to them all after he transformed and if Harry and his friends had been able to convince everyone of Sirius' innocence.

Under the cover of the morning's half-light, Remus walked towards the Shrieking Shack. When he got there he was happy to find his clothes had been mended and placed in a pile at the foot of the Whomping Willow. He took them and went into the Shack to dress before heading back to Hogwarts to learn what had befallen in his absence.

When he got there Minerva McGonagall was waiting for him at the castle entrance. "I'm sorry, Professor Lupin," she said to him, looking regretful. "I'm afraid I have bad news." Together they went into her office and she explained to him what Snape had done. While Remus knew it meant that he would need to resign from the position he loved, he understood why Snape had done it. Snape believed that Remus had deceived him, causing Snape to drop his guard and welcome Remus' friendship. Thirteen years ago Remus had felt the same way when he had dropped his guard and was prepared to tell Sirius he loved him. That feeling of betrayal by someone you have just begun to trust cuts very deep.

The important thing, Remus realized as he went up to his rooms, was that Sirius was safe. He had escaped the Dementor's kiss and was far away from Hogwarts. Perhaps someday it would be safe for him to return to Remus and Remus would be able to tell him what he needed to hear. Remus hoped that day would be sooner rather than later.

Because he had so few possessions, packing was as easy as a quick wave us his wand. He sent the trunk downstairs to wait for him by the front door. Remus then walked to his office. The Marauders' Map was still open on his desk and he watched the dots as students met one another, most likely, he realized, to gossip about him. He left the map open while he packed his belongings, the Grindylow cage, and set his grades aside for Professor McGonagall to collect. Soon he saw Harry's name heading towards his office.

"I saw you coming," he said to Harry when he arrived, pointing at the map. Someday he would tell Harry everything, how much James had meant to him and the special, unique bonds that Sirius had shared with both of them. But that could wait until Harry was older. Harry had learned so much in the last day and Remus did not expect to leave Harry's life now that he had so recently become a part of it again.

On his way out of the building he ran into Snape, who looked at Remus with an expression that was part shame and part distain.

"Does it feel good, Severus?" Remus asked without sarcasm. He put down is trunk and the cage. "Does it make you feel good to scratch at my weakness until it is raw and bleeding for everyone to see? Do you realize that this is what James and Sirius did to you all those years ago when we were young, cruel, and foolish? And now you have done it to me, taking the job that I truly enjoyed from me as a punishment for a presumed betrayal. I didn't betray our friendship, Severus. I could have been your friend and ensured that the injustice done to Sirius was corrected at the same time. I hope that you can someday see that those two aims are not mutually exclusive."

Gradually Remus saw understanding dawn on Snape's face. After scanning the corridor to make sure they were alone, Snape said, "It does not feel good." He hung his head low and did not look at Remus. "I was angry about so many things and I lashed out at you because I thought you had tricked me. I…" for a moment it seemed he wanted to go on and apologize for what he had done, but he did not continue.

Remus sighed. "We all do things we aren't proud of, me especially. The best we can do is to try not to make those mistakes again." Remus held out his hand to Snape. "It was an honor to work with someone so talented. Thank you for making the Wolfsbane potion for me during all of those full moons."

Surprised, Snape took Remus' outstretched hand and shook it. "Good bye, Lupin. I wish you…" once again Snape was at a loss for what to say as if pleasantries had long since left his vocabulary. Remus nodded and headed for the door.

"Alohomora," Remus muttered when he approached the door of his flat. He had kept it just in case things had not worked out at Hogwarts and for once his pessimism served him well. He waved his wand and the kitchen was immediately illuminated. For a second Remus wanted to send the room back into darkness. After his lavish living quarters at Hogwarts, his kitchen was smaller and shabbier than he remembered. The dust that covered everything was almost an improvement. "My old life," Remus said to himself.

But it wasn't his old life, Remus realized as he set down his trunk. Whereas his old life had been full of pain and uncertainty, he was going forward having resolved the ills of his past. He had been a good teacher and a good lover and a good friend, and those were things that he would never lose. He could now believe he was the person that James and Sirius and Dumbledore saw when they looked at him, rather than the potentially dangerous werewolf he always considered himself.

"Moony," James had called to him as he entered their room with Sirius. It was the spring of their seventh year and Remus was lying on his bed, preparing for his NEWTs.

"What are you planning to do after Hogwarts?" Sirius asked him as he and James dropped themselves next to Remus on the bed. The bed shook, causing Remus to lose his page.

Remus closed the book and looked at his two friends. "Um, well, no plans yet, but after exams I'm sure something…" Remus tried to sound positive, as if, like a normal Hogwarts graduate, he would have lots of options. He knew his options were limited because of what he was; however, he did not want to share his fears with his friends, thus eliciting their sympathies.

"Yeah, we don't have proper jobs lined up either," James shrugged. His tone was excited and Remus thought that he was about to propose that they all travel or go on the type of adventure that rich wizards did when they didn't need to earn an income. Like Sirius, James came from a wealthy, established family and seemed to take wealth for granted, although neither boy ever flaunted it in front of Remus or Peter, both of whom came from more modest backgrounds.

"But we've found something more…interesting. Something which could benefit from your unique ….skills," Sirius eyes twinkled as he said this. Remus was a little surprised by Sirius' obvious comfort in being so physically close to Remus. Because of the unplanned interludes that had taken place between them, they both made an effort to stay within a safe distance from each other, especially when they were around James.

Remus laughed, displaying his own comfort. For some reason James always brought out the best in everyone. "And what 'unique skills' are those?" he asked.

"Are there so many that you need to ask?" James joked, shoving Remus' shoulder. "But, seriously," James' voice became more earnest, "I have a proposal for you. Dumbledore has asked me to find a few interested individuals to join a group called The Order of the Phoenix. The purpose of this group would be to work against the wizard who calls himself Lord Voldemort. You've heard of him, right?" Remus nodded and James went on to explain what they planned to do.

"Look, Moony," Sirius said when James was finished. "I know things are different for you. I mean, your parents didn't leave you that much and you are probably worried about how you're going to support yourself because of your furry alter ego; however, when you think about it, that's the reason that you should join. To fight the prejudice that pure blood dominance will bring to you and to Muggle-borns. You'll be ensuring a better future for yourself and others with your affliction."

"And besides us, you're probably the bravest, cleverest person we know. Even if you are a little too preoccupied by rules," James smiled at Remus as he praised and teased him at the same time.

"There's nothing wrong with strength of commitment," Remus smiled back, "even if it is a prefect's commitment to rules."

"That's why we love you," Sirius said. He turned away, but not before Remus looked deep into his eyes.

As he stood in his dusty kitchen, Remus smiled at the memory. His friends had loved him for what he was and he had loved them for their belief in him.

Remus spent the rest of his day using cleaning spells and shopping for food and supplies. As he restocked his cabinets and put away his books, he was starting to feel at home once again. It was very late when he heard the sound of large paws climbing the stairs to his landing and the soft sound of rapping on his door. Remus opened the door, unsurprised to see him standing there.

"Moony," Sirius said as Remus ushered him quickly into the kitchen. He shut his eyes as if the sight of Remus was too much for him. Remus wondered if he was trying to block out tears. Remus moved closer to him, his breaths becoming deeper and heavier as he realized he had been waiting for this moment for thirteen years. He didn't know what to say.

"Moony," Sirius whispered again, opening his eyes. "Remus, I just need to know if…" but before he could finish Remus placed his hands on Sirius' shoulders, slipping his fingers under the grey robe to touch his warm skin. Sirius sighed as if melting into his touch.

"Always," Remus replied to his unasked question. "Always." He pulled Sirius towards him and kissed him. Sirius' lips parted and they kissed again with a thirteen year hunger. And then Sirius started to cry. Remus held him as he wept and wept with him when they both collapsed, still clinging together, kneeling on the floor.

"Grieve for them," Remus whispered into Sirius' hair. "It's time."

When Sirius' sobs abated, Remus kissed the wet streaks from his cheeks and moved slowly back towards his mouth. He tasted as Remus remembered: masculine, exotic, spicy, yet slightly bitter.

"I can't stay," Sirius whispered as Remus helped him out of his robe. "It's too dangerous for you."

"I know," Remus replied and Sirius pulled off his shirt, tearing the buttons in his urgency. "But I've waited too long not to show you how I feel."

"Show me now," Sirius said, as he lowered Remus onto the floor, kissing every space of exposed skin.

The bed was only steps away but neither wanted to let go of the other so they stayed there on the floor. There was no teasing, no games, just the soft tenderness of skin on skin.

"Let me make love to you," Remus whispered with a sexual confidence he hadn't possessed the last time they were together.

In a sound that was more like a breath than a word, Sirius whispered "Yes," and moved to grant access.

Remus moved his lips down from Sirius' neck to his chest, kissing each of the ribs that stood out from his emaciated body like rafters in an old house. He moved downward into the cavern of Sirius' stomach, licking his naval and moving his hands onto Sirius' hips. Remus took in the musky scent of the pleasures that were so close now, separated only by the fortress of the sharp, protruding bones of his pelvis and the loose prison trousers Sirius wore.

He wondered, after so much time and so many women, if it would now feel unnatural to share this intimacy with a man. He felt Sirius' stomach muscles tighten as if he too was wondering if they could recapture what they once had. Remus looked up towards Sirius. He saw trepidation in Sirius' grey eyes, but he also saw something else. He saw the depth of love that lay deep within Sirius' soul. He saw the Sirius he had fallen in love with and loved still. "All love is natural," Remus said quietly as he pulled the drawstring and removed the constraints of clothing and fear.

It was like a song from long ago, familiar yet new. Mouth and tongue, breath and voice all played together composing the beautiful sounds of love. The quick intakes and languid exhales, sang to Remus as they began their journey back. Sirius' body was warm and inviting and Remus took his time, letting it envelope him slowly until he couldn't wait any longer. His initiative was quickly rewarded as Sirius then began to say Remus' name in the sensual rhythm of his movements, increasing in urgency until the sound was swallowed by Sirius' breathless rapture. And when Remus also succumbed, he experienced once again the sensation of the S and R sounds that rolled luxuriously from his tongue as he called out for Sirius in that moment of ultimate passion.

Time passed too quickly and Sirius needed to leave under the cover of darkness to begin his journey away from England. Remus gave him all of the food he had just purchased and the gold he had on hand. "I can't take that," Sirius protested.

"Yes you can," Remus laughed, pressing the bag of gold into his lover's hand. "For once I am wealthier than you. Let me enjoy being generous!"

"It's probably not safe for you to owl me," Sirius said and Remus nodded sadly. As a werewolf and a known friend of Sirius, he expected to be the subject of some suspicion for awhile. It was even risky for Sirius to be in his flat, but the risk had been worth it. "But let me know if you hear anything about Harry that you think I should know."

"Of course," Remus agreed. They stood in the doorway looking at each other, trying to prolong the good bye.

Finally they embraced, sharing a last, long kiss. "I'm coming back this time," Sirius whispered into Remus' ear as they continued to hold one another, "you can be sure of that."

"I love you," Remus whispered. Sirius pulled back to look at Remus. For the first time his eyes did not look mysterious. Remus knew exactly what Sirius felt and he placed his two fingers on Sirius' lips, hushing him. "Don't say it. I don't want you to say it and leave. Say it when you return. That way you have something else to look forward to when you return besides looking after Harry." Sirius' eyes darkened as if foreseeing danger. "And if you're worried," Remus continued, "that something bad could happen before you tell me, then believe that I know. In truth, I have always known, but I just refused to acknowledge it. After everything that has happened, I am no longer afraid. I love you and I know you will come back to me."

Thank you everyone who took the time to read and review this story. Special thanks to the faithful who reviewed every chapter: remuslives23, shinyobjects, LadyAnalyn, MissFreddy, SomeoneAKAme. Obrigado Ignea. Kiitos . Merci NouvelleVie. Thank you SeraphineBlack, Rekahneko, Jogger, Lainen, Malianani, JulzPadfootMoony, MinervaEvenstar, Blahblot, LittleBoyonherBike, DancinginDaydreams, Prfm, LucieorLux. Thank you to everyone who listed this story as their favorite and those who requested story alerts. Every way in which you have told me that you like this has kept me going and really thank you enough!

I also want to thank anyone who has read and reviewed "The Secret Keepers" since I ended that story. I'm so happy that it has not been lost and people are continuing to enjoy it.

I'll be back in September with Sirius-centric story entitled "A Goblet of Blood" which will deal with the Black family, hopefully giving them more dimension than the one-sided version we see in the books. And yes, Sirius' pain from their damage will be soothed by Remus.