With a weary sigh, Remus sat down in one of Severus' kitchen chairs and took a sip from his teacup. It had taken a long time to settle Severus comfortably in bed and heal his injuries. He didn't have a huge amount of faith that their healing had been completely successful, but hopefully time and some good restful sleep would help a lot.
Oh, the man's nose was no longer broken, his ribs were mended, and all his wounds were closed, but neither of them was a true expert in the use of healing spells, and Remus was pretty sure that Severus had some deep, internal bruising that would take a fairly long time to properly heal. He knew enough healing magic to determine that although those injuries weren't life threatening, that didn't mean they wouldn't remain painful and somewhat debilitating for far longer than they would if they'd been treated by someone who really knew what he was doing.
He'd feel a lot better if Severus had consented to see a real Healer, but the man was eternally stubborn. He'd never enjoyed being poked and prodded, even when he trusted the person doing the prodding, as he did Poppy Pomfrey, and he'd been adamant that there was no one here he felt comfortable allowing to treat him. So Remus had no choice but to agree. He didn't like it much though.
A sudden noise caused Remus to raise his head from his cup to see Severus standing in the kitchen doorway looking a bit unsteady on his feet and staring intently at him. His bathrobe hung open, revealing a tantalizing line of dark hair that marched down his naked chest to disappear into the waistband of his pajamas. Remus' eyes instinctively followed after it until the crisp tone of Severus' voice brought him back to reality. "I see you're making yourself at home…"
Snapping back to attentiveness, Remus jumped to his feet and came forward to grasp Severus' slightly trembling arm in a firm supportive grip. "Severus, what do you think you're doing out of bed? You should be sleeping. Your body needs to recover from all the abuse that was heaped on it this morning. Spells and potions alone, no matter how well made, aren't enough; you need to rest. Come on, back to bed with you."
"No. Don't fuss," said Severus testily. "We need to talk."
"We can talk later, once you've had a chance to recover. I'm not going anywhere," said Remus firmly.
Severus clutched Remus' arm and looked into his eyes for a long moment before responding. "I'll heal just as well sitting up as lying down. I can't sleep. Not now. And there's no reason why we can't talk while I rest."
Remus hesitated for a moment before nodding his agreement. Severus was right, they did need to talk, yet somehow, now that the time had finally come, Remus found he was a bit nervous about it. "All right, but you still need to get back into bed."
"The sofa will do. It's perfectly comfortable," said Severus, as he pulled away from Remus, wrapped his robe more tightly around himself and walked carefully into the sitting room.
With a sigh of resignation, Remus followed. "All right, the sofa then, just as long as you get off your feet and rest."
Remus settled Severus comfortably on the sofa with a pillow at his back, a blanket over his knees, and his bare feet up on a padded footstool then he sat down beside him, not quite knowing how to begin their talk and was grateful when Severus did it for him.
"How did you find me?"
Remus smiled and reached into an inner pocket of his robe for the photograph and postcard that he found at Severus' house. His fingers brushed against the tattered potions book he'd taken from Severus' possessions at Hogwarts, so he took that out as well. Handing the card and photograph over to their rightful owner, he said, "I followed the clues you set down."
Severus took the items Remus offered and turned them over in his hands while an expression of satisfaction crossed his face. "I hoped these clues would be sufficient; I didn't want to make my whereabouts too obvious. Not that my caution did me any good." He scowled as he recalled how annoyed he'd been to discover that his supposedly safe and secure hiding place was really anything but.
"How did Greene and Ackland find you anyway? Any idea?" asked Remus curiously.
"Yes, apparently Greene either grew up here or has family here. They came for the same reason I did, to hide out, and must have recognized me sometime when we passed in town, despite my attempts to alter my appearance. Unfortunately, though they obviously saw me, I never saw them. My usual turn of luck."
Remus nodded toward Severus' hair. "I'm a bit surprised they recognized you so easily. This is definitely a different look than I've ever seen on you. Do you plan to leave it this way?"
Severus lifted a hand and ran it through his closely cropped thatch of dark hair. "I haven't thought about it. I suppose I don't need to." His scowl deepened. "The reasons for altering my appearance no longer apply. There's certainly no point in hiding any longer. By tomorrow everyone will know that I'm still alive and exactly where to find me."
"Are you worried that you'll be attacked again? You always did have a knack for making enemies." Remus smiled sympathetically.
Severus shot him a sharp glance. "It's definitely a possibility, but hopefully a small one. Surely there can't be too many others who escaped the net and would be so reckless as to put themselves at risk by openly attacking me. However, I'll be much more on my guard now. I'm more concerned at losing my privacy. Who knows how many will come to gawk at the "spy" now that everyone knows I survived. And what if the Ministry decides to press charges against me for something after all? It's easy to pardon a dead man, there'd be little point in doing anything else, but now that they know I'm alive, who knows what they'll do."
"I really don't think you have anything to worry about, Severus. They awarded you an Order of Merlin, first class, you know. Harry laid the praise on pretty thick when he discussed the memories you gave him and what you really did to bring down Voldemort. I think you're more likely to be mobbed by adoring fans than detractors."
Severus found he couldn't decide whether to feel smug or disgruntled at that thought so he settled on a little of both. "Either way, my peaceful life will be ruined."
"Not for long. Even Harry doesn't get as much attention as he used to. People will be interested to learn you're alive, of course. The press will probably want to interview you, but I'll bet any furor that results won't last very long. Voldemort's been dead for months now. People are trying to move on with their lives."
"I hope you're right," said Severus.
Silence awkwardly filled the space between them. Then Severus nodded at the book Remus still held in his hand. "What else have you got there? I didn't leave a third clue."
Remus gave him the book. "It's not really a clue. I found it when I went to Hogwarts. Minerva let me look through your belongings for anything that might tell me where you'd gone. When I came across the book in a pocket, I decided to keep it and return it to you if I was successful in my search. It was just an impulse really." He paused and added, "Minerva was very glad to know that you're still alive. She told me to tell you she wishes you well. She's sorry for how she treated you last year."
Severus nodded, keeping his eyes on the worn little book as he turned it over and over in his hands. "Minerva shouldn't feel bad. She did exactly what I needed her to do. If she hadn't treated me just as she did, I wouldn't be sitting here with you now."
He held up the book and raised his eyes to Remus, a faint smile on his lips. "It's interesting you should choose to return this to me. This book was another thing that allowed me to keep on living. The information it contains enabled me to formulate a potion to counteract Nagini's venom. Of course, I wasn't absolutely sure I'd need it, but it seemed a prudent thing to do. As things turned out, I was very glad I did. Your gift saved my life. Just as you saved it again today. It seems I owe you my life twice over."
"I'm just glad I got to you in time," said Remus. "And I didn't do it alone. Your young employee made all the difference. He kept his head, showed me where you were being held, went for the Aurors. Really, without his help, I seriously doubt I would have found you in time."
Severus agreed. "Mr. Copter is a resourceful young man, both ambitious and bright. If he goes off to Hogwarts as he hopes, I wouldn't be surprised to see him sorted into Slytherin."
Remus grinned. "Well, if saving the life of the longtime Head of that House counts for anything, I wouldn't be surprised if you were right." His eyes sparkled mischievously as he watched Severus. "Of course, the boy displayed real bravery, too. Perhaps he'd do better in Gryffindor."
Severus snorted shortly but refused to rise to the bait and silence fell between them again.
Now that Remus was finally face to face with Severus once more, he suddenly felt like an awkward teenager again, a bit tongue-tied and far too slow-witted. He wondered if Severus was feeling the same way. He didn't seem any more comfortable with their conversation than Remus was.
"So, now that you've found me, what do you want?" asked Severus.
Remus stared at Severus and tried to come up with a coherent answer. What did he want? He wanted to know why Severus had been there when he'd awakened and if he had anything to do with his still being alive. He wanted to know the real reason that Severus broke things off between them. He also wanted to know what Severus' life had been like since he left Britain. What he was thinking and feeling right now. He wanted to know him again, to touch him again, to find the ineffable something that was missing in his own life when Severus wasn't a part of it. He'd looked for it in so many other places, in so many other eyes, but now, gazing once more into Severus' dark eyes, he knew there was only one answer to that question.
"You," he said simply. "I…just needed to see you again. To know that you were really alive and well, that I hadn't imagined seeing you after the battle at Hogwarts."
Relief flooded through Severus at Remus' answer, and his body relaxed into the sofa cushions. Perhaps things really were going to be all right after all. "I'm not surprised you wondered if I was real or not. You definitely weren't yourself."
"That's putting it mildly. I was distraught, half out of my mind with grief, still so groggy that I could hardly stand." He shook his head and gazed earnestly at Severus. "But that's no excuse for my behavior. I shouldn't have blamed you for any of it. I need to apologize for that."
"Nonsense. You still thought of me as the enemy. Logically, I shouldn't have expected you to respond any other way," said Severus, remembering how irrationally disappointed he'd been when all Remus seemed to be able to think about was his dead wife. It might have made perfect sense under the circumstances, but it still hurt.
"But you were hoping I might?" asked Remus, reading something of Severus' thoughts in his eyes.
Severus looked away and hesitated, allowing silence to stretch out and fill the space between them.
"Did you really mean it?" Remus asked quietly, finally breaking the silence.
"Mean what?" Severus frowned in puzzlement.
"The last time we were together before the battle, when you called me a mangy, worthless monster. When you told me I'd never meant anything to you. When you told me you never wanted to lay eyes on me again."
Severus mentally winced to hear those hated words repeated to him. Those words he'd had to force himself to say. "No…I didn't."
"Then why did you say it?" asked Remus.
Severus shrugged slightly and began to speak in a soft tone. "Think back to what was happening then. You were off to persuade the werewolves to forsake the Dark Lord's siren call. A fruitless task if ever there was one, may I add."
Remus grimaced but didn't disagree.
"I was ever more in the Dark Lord's company, constantly having to allay his suspicions. Then Albus, in his hubris, did something monumentally stupid and got himself injured. An injury that he wasn't going to be able to survive. I was forced into a position where I had to make a vow that I knew could only end badly. It was a time when I finally had to cross a line that I knew in my heart I couldn't return from. The path I had to take to see things through was dark and narrow and full of pitfalls, and there was no place in my life for anyone else to walk it with me. My focus had to be totally on the attaining of a single goal. It could no longer be split.
"Circumstances were forcing actions on me that I felt you'd never understand or forgive, and keeping you in my heart, in my thoughts, would only be a danger for both of us. To keep you safe, I had to be alone. To get you to believe me, I had to be brutal. There didn't seem to be any other choice. I'm sorry."
As he listened to Severus' words, Remus felt warmth begin to spread through him as if this was the moment when he truly returned to life, not months ago on that table at Hogwarts.
"Severus, when I woke up at Hogwarts, you were standing there watching me, almost as if you expected me to be alive. Everyone else was sure I was dead, why would you think differently? Harry even said he remembered speaking to me along with his dead parents and Sirius. It seems as if I was almost dead. I vaguely remember trying to follow the others on to wherever they were going, but something pulled me back. Was that something you?"
"You don't remember anything except waking up and seeing me there?" asked Severus.
Remus got to his feet and crossed the small room to stare blindly out the window towards the sea, thinking hard. He'd been over and over that time in his mind, but very little of it made real sense even after all this time. It was like trying to recall the details of a dream. It felt as if they were lurking in the back of his mind just beyond his grasp, but when he tried to focus on them, they faded away into slightly uncomfortable feelings, nothing more. "Nothing I can be sure of."
"You haven't figured it out?"
Remus shook his head and turned away from the window to look back at Severus. "No, I truly don't understand what happened to me. Do you?"
Severus sighed. For some reason, this was harder than he thought it would be. "Before I answer your question, answer one for me. Why did you marry Nymphadora Tonks?"
Remus fought a sudden wave of sadness, and he dropped his eyes to study the floor. His voice went very soft. "I did love Dora, Severus. I wouldn't have married her if I didn't."
Severus closed his eyes for a brief moment. He'd come to realize that, to accept it, though it hurt more than he thought it would to hear Remus actually say it, but it wasn't the whole answer, so he simply remained quiet and waited, knowing that Remus would keep on talking to fill the silence if nothing else.
Now it was Remus' turn to sigh. "And…I was lonely. I missed having someone in my life. Someone to love and be with. When you broke it off with me, I was devastated. You'd been the focus of my heart for what felt like forever. Alone, I was lost and adrift for a long time.
"I didn't want to feel that way anymore. Dora was there; she loved me so much, and I could see how much my continuing rejection was hurting her. I didn't want to hurt her. I'd always cared about her, and she made it so easy to turn that affection into something deeper. When someone loves you that passionately, it's hard not to love them back. So since I couldn't ha…" He paused and gasped faintly as he realized what he was about to say. Then he looked up, staring straight into Severus' eyes.
"Since I couldn't have you, I took the love that was offered to me and tried my best to honor it. It was a mistake. I know that now, but at the time, it seemed possible that I could make it work."
Severus nodded. He realized that he'd always known that was the answer, but he needed to hear it from Remus himself. "It seems we both did what we felt we had to do."
"I suppose so."
Remus returned to the sofa and sat down again, his eyes still fixed on Severus. "You still haven't answered my question. Do I have you to thank for my life?"
Severus expelled a sharp breath and nodded. "During the battle, I overheard a conversation between a couple of Death Eaters that made me suspect that you hadn't been hit with the killing curse after all, but instead, had been brought down by the much rarer Sleeping Beauty curse."
Remus' eyebrows climbed his forehead in surprise. "The Sleeping Beauty curse?"
Severus raised an eyebrow of his own. "Surely so esteemed a former Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher as yourself has heard of it?"
The playfully sarcastic tone in Severus' voice made Remus laugh. "Yes, of course, I've heard of it, but I've never known it to actually be used before. What made you suspect…I mean…how?"
Severus shrugged, he didn't want to bring Remus more pain by bringing up Tonks' death once more. "It really doesn't matter what they said, suffice it to say that they caught my attention and made me wonder. Once they'd aroused my suspicions, I couldn't just forget about it. If I was right, then you weren't really dead, and I couldn't just leave you like that, caught in some twilight state, neither alive nor truly dead. Granted, if your wife was indeed your true love then nothing I could do would save you, but if there was even the slightest chance that she wasn't…then I had to try."
The Sleeping Beauty curse! Just the thought of what that meant brought warmth to Remus' smile. "So that means you're my true love."
Severus grimaced slightly. He'd accepted that fact in his private heart, but discussing it openly with Remus this way still felt a bit embarrassing. Sentiment wasn't something he was comfortable expressing. It never had been and likely never would be. "Apparently so, though I realize that I don't exactly fit the classic image of Prince Charming."
"I don't know about that. You always have to me," Remus murmured as he leaned closer and his leg brushed against Severus' thigh. The contact was electric, sending a jolt of sudden desire through his entire body. Gently he reached out and slipped his fingers beneath the edge of Severus' robe, sliding his hand upward, caressing the pale skin ever so lightly, before resting his palm flat against Severus' breast where he could feel the man's heart pounding madly.
As the very air surrounding them suddenly shivered with tension, Severus raised his hand and slowly stroked it along the sharp curve of Remus' cheek and down over the slightly bristled side of his jaw, then as one they reached for each other, melting together into a kiss that was all the sweeter for having been so long delayed.
Remus slid nearer, wrapping his arms more tightly around Severus' slender body, pressing them together so close that it felt as if they were two halves of the same being, deepening their kiss.
Severus slid his hands through Remus' hair and lost himself in the intoxicating sensations of once more being in the arms of the man he loved. He'd dreamed of it, longed for it, spent months telling himself that he could live without it only to have the reality of it prove to him just how much of a lie that really was.
Desire flared brighter and Remus tore Severus' robe open, pressing him more firmly down into the cushions of the couch; Severus stiffened abruptly, wincing as a sudden sharp pain stabbed through his ribcage in response to his lover's weight.
Suddenly filled with self-reproach, Remus pulled back instantly. "Damn it! Severus, I'm so sorry! Here I am letting my lust run away with me, and you aren't even properly healed yet! What was I thinking?"
As Remus pulled away, Severus reached out and grabbed his hand. He'd waited so long for this moment he wasn't about to let a little temporary physical weakness get in his way. "No," Severus groaned, "It's all right."
"No, it isn't!" exclaimed Remus firmly. "I don't want to hurt you. We'll have plenty of time for this later, after you've recovered."
Severus frowned and pulled Remus' hand across his lap, pressing it against his aching groin so that Remus could feel the hardness of his erection beneath the light material of his pajamas. Then he stared deeply into those clear amber eyes and spoke in a strained voice.
"Listen to me. I don't want to wait any longer. We've already waited for years. That's time we'll never get back. I've wasted too much of my life putting off what I really want so I could pay off debts, meet obligations, and do the bidding of others. I refuse to continue to put off what's really important. Another day, another hour, another minute is too long."
Remus froze; crouching over Severus' body, the man's cock pulsing against the palm of his hand reignited a similar thrum in his own groin. "All right," he whispered, licking suddenly dry lips. "But I won't do anything to further injure you. Just lie back. Leave everything to me this time."
Severus opened his mouth to argue further, gauged the fierce look of determination on Remus' face and subsided, leaning back against the cushions without another word. With a satisfied smile at Severus' compliance, Remus slipped off the sofa and knelt in front of his love. Gently he reached out and pushed the two halves of the man's robe further apart, caressing the smooth skin beneath ever so gently. Then he leaned down and pressed his face against Severus' chest, lightly kissing the newly healed slash marks still faintly visible on the pale, taut flesh. Ever so slowly, he ran his tongue down that always tempting line of soft, dark hair, pausing to run it firmly around the rim of Severus' navel before plunging inside and out in a quicksilver move that caused Severus' stomach to turn over.
Severus groaned and closed his eyes, slipping his fingers into Remus' hair and fondling it lightly, as his lover's lips and tongue continued their downward journey. Remus slid slightly trembling fingers into the waistband of Severus' pajama bottoms and with one quick jerk, pulled the trousers down over well-shaped legs and slightly knobby knees, letting the silky fabric pool up on the floor over Severus' feet.
Then Remus turned his attention to Severus' cock. Purple and swollen with need, it trembled and twitched temptingly in front of his face. With a smile, he stuck out his tongue and licked it. At that one small contact, Severus gasped and moaned, turning his head against the pillows of the sofa and grasping more tightly at Remus' hair.
"Don't torture me, Lupin! Suck it! Now!" he groaned.
He didn't have to ask again. Remus opened his mouth and took him in all the way. As Severus let out a hissing sigh and his hands clenched convulsively, Remus began to slide his mouth slowly up and down the length of the long shaft, swirling his moist, flexible tongue around it, using its tip to trace every vein, tease every bump. Reveling in the familiar smell and taste of his lover's body, he gradually increased his rhythm, moving up and down, pausing at the top of his arc to suck at the soft spongy tip before plunging back to the bottom once more.
As he used his mouth to good effect, he massaged Severus' balls in their sac with his left hand, squeezing lightly in time to his movement and running a finger back along the firm skin at their base.
"Oh, gods, Remus…yes! That's what I want! Yesssss!" gasped Severus as he writhed against the cushions, bucking up to meet Remus' every downward thrust.
As Severus' excitement mounted, Remus could feel his own need increasing, and he slid his free hand inside his trousers to pump his own pulsing cock. As Severus cried out his exultation to the ceiling above, coming in Remus' eager mouth, Remus barely managed to swallow the flood of warm milky fluid before his own orgasm forced him to add his voice to Severus' and he came all over his hand, soaking his clothing with a sudden, satisfying release of wet warmth.
Remus collapsed against Severus, his head pillowed on Severus' stomach, and the two of them lay together, caressing each other gently while their breathing slowed and reason gradually returned. Finally, Remus lifted his head and smiled a lazy, satisfied smile at Severus, who raised an eyebrow and remarked, "I do like it when you follow directions."
Chuckling softly, Remus pulled his wand from the pocket of his trousers and cast a cleaning spell on himself, Severus' knees and the front of the sofa before pulling himself up onto the couch as Severus pulled his pajama bottoms back up into place. Then the two of them cuddled together, pleasantly tired and content.
"So what now?" asked Remus softly.
"Now? Now I suggest you plan to move in here permanently, and we can create a new life together, something I think we both deserve after all we've gone through for others, don't you?"
Remus nodded, but he didn't say anything and Severus felt a sudden twinge of apprehension. "That is what you want, isn't it? To be together?"
"Yes, Severus, that's what I want more than anything," Remus said reassuringly, "But…"
"But?" Severus held his breath as a trickle of uneasiness crept down his spine.
"I can't stay away from England forever. I have a tie there I can't just abandon," explained Remus.
Severus released his breath and relaxed again. Of course, how foolish of him to have forgotten. "Your son," Severus murmured in understanding, relief evident in his voice.
Pulling himself up a bit straighter, he looked thoughtfully at Remus. "Well, if we make our relationship official, and if, as you suggest, the authorities are more ready to praise me than throw me in prison, then perhaps you could make another appeal to the court. A permanent home, a stable relationship, and reliable access to the Wolfsbane potion should help to settle some of the professed doubts of the Ministry."
Remus nodded, seeming a bit less sure. "Perhaps you're right. Maybe it would make a difference."
"Oh, I think it would, especially if we handle the publicity better this time around. Your real problem the last time wasn't so much your personal circumstances, which were no more precarious than those of many other successful petitioners, as it was the way your case was presented. You allowed Andromeda and the fear-mongers to set the tone. Your custody battle was presented to the court and the public as 'caring grandmother takes child away from werewolf'.Naturally you lost. It played straight to everyone's fears instead of their sympathies."
Severus shook his head. "No, we need to present it differently this time. 'Heartless woman takes child away from his father'would be much more accurate and have great emotional appeal at the same time."
"Perhaps…" said Remus, still slightly doubtful that any amount of sympathy for his situation would make people forget he was a werewolf.
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Lupin, I know a lot about manipulating people. Trust me on this. We might even be able to turn the expected onslaught of publicity over my being alive to your advantage."
"How so?" asked Remus.
"You were the one who discovered that I was still alive and then pursued the matter with diligence until you found me. Something no one else has been able to do."
Remus smiled. "Well, no one else had the advantage of being left specific clues that pointed to your whereabouts, either."
Severus waved that detail away. "Irrelevant. No one needs to know that I left any clues for you to find. As far as the public knows, you alone possessed the wit and resourcefulness to realize I was alive and track me down. Which isn't far from the truth anyway, it's not as if I left great flaming signs that anyone could read.
"Then once you found me, you showed the same bravery you exhibited during the war in rescuing me from certain death at the hands of Death Eaters. The public will eat it up. You'll be front page news, the brave but tragic hero who so recently had his son taken from him by his heartless former mother-in-law and the unfeeling courts."
Remus laughed. "Don't you think that's a bit much?"
Severus shrugged. "Not at all. You know what the press is like. No matter how sensational or salacious a situation is, they can always be counted on to exaggerate things. It will put you back in the public eye in a favorable light, and we can use that to our advantage."
Remus nodded, touched that Severus seemed to view his loss of Teddy as their problem rather than simply his problem.
"Oh, one other thing…" Severus raised an eyebrow. "This time, instead of allowing the court to frown dubiously at the help you received from your supportive, but unnamed friends, name them. Surely the names Potter, Weasley and Granger count for something at the moment. Make use of their status as heroes before people learn what they're really like and stop being impressed. Why on earth didn't you do that before? Surely you're aware it could only have helped you."
Remus shrugged. "I didn't want to exploit my friends. Dragging them through a nasty court battle seemed a bleak reward for all they'd done for me, and I foolishly thought that the fact that I'm Teddy's father would be all I'd really need to secure custody. A part of me kept hoping that Andromeda would change her mind, too, and come to realize that taking my child away from me wouldn't bring her own child back."
"Hmmm." Severus shook his head but his voice was soft with understanding. "Your typical, naïve nobility, of course. I thought as much." After a brief pause, he continued more briskly, "Well, we won't make that mistake again. This time things will go differently. I guarantee it."
Remus smiled at Severus, pleased to see color flooding his cheeks and the light of battle in his eyes. The man thrived on challenge, which was one of the reasons that being in his company was always so…stimulating. "That sounds like an excellent plan."
"Of course it does. Together, I'm certain we'll succeed." Severus' eyes glittered. "Also, I must confess that I find a fair amount of satisfaction in the idea of defeating the Noble House of Black on yet another field of battle."
"Thank you, Severus. This means a lot to me," said Remus sincerely.
The gleam in Severus' eyes became more pronounced. "Well, if you'd like to thank me some more, I suggest we move to the bedroom. I'm sure that you can find a few other things you can do that will please me and won't cause any damage to my rather ill-timed injuries."
Remus smiled and leaned forward to kiss his lover. "I'll do my best."
Severus returned the smile. "Of that, I have no doubt at all."