For all Joy wants Eternity

Chapter Thirteen

By katzenhai

       

He had been listening for four days and nights now. Had desperately waited for any advice, had prayed and begged to be shown a way out of this painful mess, for anything that could have told him how to go on from here. But ever since his last disastrous meeting with Severus, the wolf inside him had remained completely, unnervingly silent for once. After he had gotten Remus into this in the first place, the capricious creature had left him alone, alone to deal with his turbulent emotions and the ruins of what had become something more important to him than the Gryffindor would ever have thought possible.

How he had hated the beast for that!

It had not been easy afterwards.Each night since he had fled Severus's quarters had been a sleepless one for Remus. Struggling with violated feelings, gnawing guilt, genuine sadness and burning rage, directed as much at the Slytherin as at himself, he had undergone almost a week of insomnia which had been interrupted by only half an hour of restless sleep every now and then. Painfully short fragments of useless slumber that left him feeling even more exhausted as soon as he startled out of them, usually shaken awake by another unpleasant memory of that most unfortunate evening in the Slytherin's rooms.

With mocking clarity, his mind had repeated the scene before Remus's inner eye over and over again, had recalled the enthusiasm of his voice and the eagerness in those sentences he never should have spoken, had made him listen to the cold and cutting dagger of Severus's fierce answer, those poisoned, corrosive words he wished he never had heard. The tormenting memory had become his constant companion, those minutes that had brutally, suddenly ripped open the abyss between him and the spy once again, the gaping depth that had always divided them and apparently still did, no matter how carefully, how desperately they had tried and struggled to bridge the rift over the past months. All it had taken were a few moments to rip everything that had grown between them to pathetic pieces. That evening, they had lost their hopeless fight against the inconsistency their fragile relationship represented. And this was what hurt the most, what tore at his heart and soul with accusing, painful persistence. They had failed. Had surrendered to their past in the end. Both of them.

Or so the werewolf had thought. Until very late yesterday evening, when his sleepless musings in the arm chair in front of his fireplace had been interrupted by the last sound he had ever expected to hear again. Severus's owl, softly begging for entrance at his window, bearing a short message, a few words of bliss and pain. Words that told him that the Slytherin had left for another encounter with his dark fate - but words that also meant a hand, a hand that had reluctantly, shyly been extended across the black abyss dividing them now, across the painfully screaming silence that had fallen, a hand that had ignored pride and self-righteousness to lay a first foundation, to forge another shaky link over the yawning depth between Gryffindor and Slytherin.

Remus found himself under the invisibility cloak and on his hurried way down to the Whomping Willow only a few minutes later. He hadn't know yet what he would make of this unexpected offer of peace, he had no idea what his reaction to seeing Severus again would be, and he hadn't even thought of working out anything to say, any arguments, reproaches or even a welcome. As soon as he reached the Shack, he sank down onto the chair he always sat in when waiting for the spy's return; and after a very short while, now that he was once more filled with the calmness and certainty he had so bitterly missed for almost an entire week, the Gryffindor found the sleep he had been waiting for in vain for the past four days. Not knowing where the sudden soothing certainty returned from after all that had happened, and against his better judgement, Remus entrusted all that was to come to the guidance of the insistent, urgent whisper inside him.

To the wolf that had finally started speaking again.

       

The hot wave of gratitude that almost violently washed over him at the sight of the sleeping werewolf slowly ebbed away, allowing the Slytherin's rationality to gradually take control again. He had already begun to think about how to wake Remus, about the right words after what had happened, when Severus realized that along with his brains, something else had returned as well, almost unnoticed in its beginnings, but claiming more and more of his attention now. Something that sent icy shudders down his body and made cold sweat flood his skin, stinging like acid where the Dark Lord's nails had ripped open his flesh. Something that drove his muscles into twitching spasms, that made his mind scream and his head ring with the wild, urgent need to run. To run as fast and as far as he could. To run now. To escape the threatening presence of that being at the table across the room.

Taking two deep, shuddering breaths, Severus desperately struggled to calm down - and totally failed to do so. With an agonized moan, the spy closed his eyes, feeling the too familiar frustration creeping up inside again. By now, he knew from experience that his reaction of aversion to othersí physical proximity was much more distinct and severe shortly after he had been used by Voldemort, and therefore his returns to the Shack had always been difficult since Remus began waiting there for him. Still, the panic that attacked him now seemed to be different somehow, felt more intense, went deeper. Not knowing the reason for this, and not able to waste even the least amount of energy pondering on it, the Slytherin merely noticed his fingernails digging fiercely into the palms of the fists his hands were clenched into, while he silently, hopelessly fought the ritual's effects.

A sudden sound from the table in the corner made his head snap up, ripped his eyes open. Watching from inside the tight swirl of the physical effects his panic kept him caught in, the scene before him seemed to be hidden behind a transparent, shimmering curtain that made the image of Lupin dance and swim in front of Severus's eyes. Not able to look away from the slim figure that slowly rose from the chair it had sat in, the spy felt an overwhelmingly strong dizziness suddenly come upon him.

Reaching out for a steady, solid point in all the twisting chaos within and without, Severus let his gaze drill deeply into that of the werewolf, sank a visual anchor in those eyes to keep himself from collapsing while he took a few careful, swaying steps towards the wall behind him where his sweaty fingers searched for something to hold onto for support. Nestling into the stones at his back, he felt his resistance to the burning urge to flee growing rapidly weaker with each passing moment. With another surge of panic he realized how his hands had started to shake violently, how a searing, slowly contracting ring of liquid fire had formed around his chest, how breathing had become very difficult. Fiercely struggling to gather enough energy to speak, the spy desperately croaked the spell to loose his maskís magical fastenings, before he was finally able to violently rip it off his face with both hands...

"Do you want me to leave, Severus?"

The words cut into his over-sensitive perception like pieces of broken glass. Though he had seen Lupin's lips moving, it took a while before the Slytherin was able to make the connection between sound and vision, not to mention grasping the sense of what he heard. Only when the werewolf spoke again, more urgently this time and with genuine concern coloring his voice, did the spy understand.

"Severus, shall I leave?"

Merlin, he was tempted! It would be a blessing...the mere thought of how all this torture would vanish, would let go of him...the image of Lupin leaving the room, walking through that door, the promise of the relief and peace this would bring...He felt the "Yes!" dancing on his tongue, pressing against his lips from the inside of his mouth with pleading insistence, and he was so close to giving in. So very close. Had it not been for pure, fierce determination and will-power, he would have surrendered at that moment.

But Lupin had been able to disregard the emotional pain he, Severus, must have caused him that evening four days ago. He had been able to forgive as far as had been necessary to allow the werewolf to spend another night in the Shack, waiting for the spy. The Gryffindor had been generous enough to accept the Slytherin's unusual offer of reconciliation... Severus didn't dare to start thinking about the extent of the value Remus must attach to their strange friendship, about how important *he* seemed to be to Lupin to make the werewolf put his own hurt emotions and pride aside.

With a rattling breath, Severus forced some air into his struggling lungs and steeled himself one last time to fight the effects of the ritual which were so much worse than usual tonight. All the other times, the longer ago his encounter with the Dark Lord had been, the stronger he had become, the better he had been able to endure the presence of another body. There was no reason why that should be different tonight. All he had to do was wait, be patient, give it time. He simply *had* to withstand the urge to flee.

He would *not* disdain either Lupin's choice or the reasons that had led the werewolf to be there for him one more time by telling the Gryffindor to leave.

No way.

But Remus had to speak, to utter a single word that vibrated with fear, before the spy was able to summon enough energy to let the other man know that.

"Severus?!"

His head seemed so very heavy to him, it could as easily have been made of stone. Still, the spy managed to shake it weakly, feeling as if a massive sphere of iron was slamming against the inner walls of his skull with every movement. Deliberately closing his eyes for the first time since Remus awoke, Severus forced his larynx and tongue to work.

"Just stay...stay where you are...will you?"

Through his closed eyelids, Severus could not see the concerned and sceptical glance Remus cast his way; still, the werewolf nodded after only a brief moment of watching the Slytherin silently, intently, before allowing himself to sink down into the chair again.

       

Walking about four meters behind the spy's tall, slender body and breathing the dark humidity of the tunnel's air, Remus felt his still wildly beating heart slowly calm down. He didn't know what exactly had happened back there in the Shack, but Severus's condition had been alarming, more frightening than ever before, and Remus realized how badly shaken he was by what he had just witnessed. Never in his entire life had he seen agony consuming another person like that, never had he yearned that much to stand by someone. He was so very familiar with pain himself, was aware of what suffering meant, knew about the need for comfort. The urge to take the suffering man in front of him into his arms, to soothingly stroke his hair, to take those violently shaking hands into his own and caress that shivering away was overwhelming, surpassed only by the painful awareness that all his help, all his solace, all his care would only make things worse.

Having been condemned to passivity, knowing that this was the best he could do, having had to helplessly watch Severusís horrible, silent struggle against pain, panic and instinct that had taken place right in front of him was among the most terrifying, infuriating and frustrating situations Remus Lupin had ever experienced.

It had taken the Slytherin almost an hour to finally defeat the ritual and recover afterwards. They had set off from the Whomping Willow only a few minutes ago, and they had done so in complete silence. The distance Remus kept between Severus and himself was a little larger than usual, and the slow pace the spy set, as well as his slightly swaying walk, told a sad story about how weak the past hour had left him.

Not one word was spoken as they made their way up through the mighty roots of the momentarily tamed Whomping Willow, over the deserted grounds of Hogwarts and through the castle's empty halls. But when they finally reached the door to the Slytherin's quarters in the dungeons, the door through which Remus had fled agitated and distraught as he hadn't felt for a very long time only four days ago, the spy turned and started to look around, as if searching the empty space in front of him. With a little pang of guilt Remus became aware that he was still wearing Harry's invisibility cloak - and as soon as he had freed his head from the shimmering cloth, he found himself fixed by the Slytherin with a slightly insecure glance.

"Do you think you could let Albus know about...my return, and that I will inform him sometime tomorrow about further details..." Remus watched the Slytherin's eyes flicking to the floor for a split second. "...please?"

Again, the werewolf had to fight the urge to step forward and soothingly put his hand on Severus's shoulder. Instead, he tried to put the reassurance he longed to physically show into his voice.

"I'll send an owl as soon as I've reached my quarters, Severus."

He was answered by a small, short nod which was followed by a thick and quivering silence. Remus was itching to say something, searched for the right words which refused to come to him, wanted to express his understanding for the Slytherin's deep weariness, to affirm that anything else could wait until tomorrow, or even until later, that it was not the time to address the events of the evening four days ago. That there was nothing more important right now than making sure that the spy was finally able to get the rest he needed so very badly. His mind was overflowing with things he wanted to express.

He didn't say anything, though.

With a barely audible sigh, Remus watched Severus turn halfway around, saw how the spy's left hand lifted slowly to come to rest on the door handle, heard the exhaustion in the Slytherin's usually so very expressive voice.

"Good night then."

It was Remus's turn to nod.

"Sleep well, Severus."

If he was only able to show somehow that he meant every single word...

The Slytherin had turned his back on him completely by then, muttering the spells to lower the wards to his rooms, apparently totally oblivious to the werewolf's presence who was standing only a few meters behind him, wondering what had happened to his feet which seemed to be glued to the floor. Remus didn't have the slightest idea what exactly he was waiting for, why he was still standing here, now that the spy was already opening the door, ready to enter his quarters, obviously with nothing else on his mind but ending this night as soon as possible. Struggling with a strange kind of indefinable disappointment, the werewolf forced his focus away from the black back of the Death Eaterís cloak in front of him and reached for the soft cloth on his own shoulders instead. He had already pulled it over his head again, had more or less turned to make the first step towards the stairs, was just about to make a mental note not to forget to send an owl to Albus, when he heard Severus's voice for a last time.

"Remus..."

Stopping dead in his tracks, very aware that the Slytherin was not able to see him, Remus slowly turned around. Severus had remained in the open door, one hand laid on the frame with the mask dangling from it, the other still on the handle. He didn't move at all, he didn't even seem to breathe, and for a moment, Remus was sure he wouldn't speak again. But in the next second, he was proven wrong.

"Thanks for having been there tonight."

An amazingly warm sensation spread from the werewolf's solar plexus throughout his entire body. Knowing that Severus would not mind his bodiless voice at all, Remus didn't even bother to take off the cloak again before he answered.

"Not at all, Severus."

It looked like waiting *was* worth it from time to time.

       

Severus didn't know how long he had been standing In front of the door to Remus's rooms in the East Tower. And with every second he spent completely motionless in front of the dark, wooden surface, the heavy weight that had descended upon his chest grew more unbearable, and the crushing grip of fear around his heart became tighter the longer he thought about, the more clearly he realized what lay before him. What he was about to do. What he was about to surrender himself to

When he made his choice very early this morning, watching the slowly, gracefully rising sun, the terror and horrified turmoil his decision would wake in him seemed so very far away. So unreal. The peace of the morning and the indescribably glorious feeling of finally having decided, along with the pride that had begun to rise within him regarding the bravery this choice had demanded, had made him think he would be able to handle the past and the memories that bound him to the wolf. His early-day euphoria had fooled him into thinking he would be sovereign enough. Strong enough. Courageous enough.

Only now that nothing but this door and an hour at best stood between him and the creature he feared most did Severus realize that he had been so very wrong.

He was neither strong, nor sovereign, and certainly was *not* courageous at all. The bright, blazing fear that had frozen him into a paralysed, trembling piece of flesh in front of this door was proof enough of the simple fact that he had hopelessly overestimated himself. Following a powerful emotional impulse had blinded him to his mind's and soul's reaction to the wolf within the Gryffindor.

It had been the overwhelming need to make up for his verbal violence, for the wounds he had inflicted on Remus that other night. He had felt so very deeply shamed by the unquestioning, sensitive and unobtrusive care he had received from the werewolf after his return from the last Death Eater meeting. The knowledge that Remus had been able to push the hurt he, Severus, had caused him far enough away to wait for him in the Shack as usual deeply touched the spy - but the silent, reassuring understanding he had met in the Gryffindor afterwards had left him speechless.

Ever since, nothing had seemed to be more important to Severus than giving something back to the werewolf in return for that, to do something to truly earn the forgiveness Remus had so generously given, to offer a genuine, adequate and appropriate apology for what he and his fearful rage had done to the Gryffindor.

And only one means of doing so had come to his mind.

So in the end, he made his choice. Decided to accept the offer the werewolf made the other evening. To face the greatest horror of his past. To accompany Remus through the next full moon.

At least this was what he resolved to do at first light this morning. Now that he was standing in the gloomy hallway that had led him to Remus's quarters, now that the rising of the full moon was coming closer, was already much too close, he knew that entering that particular room was the very, very last thing he wanted, maybe even the last thing he was capable of doing.

And it was exactly when Severus was finally certain that he wouldn't, that he couldn't, that he had to turn around and leave, that the door in front of him opened, revealing the face of the werewolf upon which tension and concern had deeply chiselled their distinctive mark.

       

Remus had sensed the Slytherinís presence in the hallway for quite some time, along with the fear and trepidation that lingered with the spy outside the door. The werewolf knew that Severus was very aware of the moon's approach and of what it would create inside this very room in less than an hour, and he remembered the other's fierce reaction the last time he had mentioned the wolf as well. In view of that, the fact that the spy had chosen this particular time to show up at his quarters was more than a bit disturbing, and Remus felt his disquiet grow even greater with every moment he could feel Severus spending in front of his door, clad in fear and indecision, but still not making his presence known.

He knew he didnít have much time left to spend in his human form tonight. So when the Slytherinn let one precious minute after another pass, Remus finally decided to take action.

The werewolf was immediately confronted with another hot wave of disappointment washing over him when he caught sight of the shock flickering across Severus's face when the Gryffindor opened the door. Telling himself not to blame the spy for his unintentionally violating reaction to the approaching wolf, Remus swallowed down hurt and bitterness and forced himself into a wry smile, the best he could come up with given what he knew this night still had in store for him.

"I didn't mean to make you jump, Severus."

It was almost painful to watch the other man's tight, trembling fists, the sweat on his upper lip, the bright alarm in those dark eyes. To know that it was he himself who was the reason for all that left a dragging, lingering pain in Remus's chest.

Had he known about the profound inner struggle he had just pulled the Slytherin out of, about the dense, swelling dread that had been overwhelming, swallowing the spy ever since he reached the Gryffindor's rooms, the werewolf probably would have been able to realize the symptoms of panic Severus seemed to display as the signs of a determined fight instead, as the first harbingers of the slow and small victory the spy was about to wring from his subconscious and his past. Remus didn't know, though, and so he gave in to the stinging feeling of having been betrayed more and more, to the sense of having been let down again. The proximity of the full moon did one more thing: it permitted the first slight hints of irritability to creep into his voice.

"Severus, as you undoubtedly know, this is not really the right time for us to share a late evening visit. I'm sorry, but sensing your presence out here doesn't exactly make dealing with the transformation easier for me."

It didn't help him that the Slytherin still didn't say a thing. But something had changed about the other man. His breathing had become very deep, very deliberate. His fingers were still clenched into fists, but both of the spy's hands had stopped shaking, were totally steady now. Remus suddenly found himself caught in a glance that was almost frightening in its intensity and firmness, that sent one single, wild and indefinable shiver down his spine. Resisting the urge to swallow hard, the Gryffindor decided to put an end to this painful and confusing interlude as quickly as possible.

"Why don't you just tell me if there's something I can do for you, so we can both retire to our rooms for the night, which, considering what night it is, would certainly be a good idea. Especially in my case." Another twisted smile flitted over his features. "Would that be all right with you?"

When the only answer he received was a small, silent shake of Severus's head, with two glittering, black eyes never leaving his own, the werewolf's patience, which had been excessively tried not only by the Slytherin's unnerving behaviour but also by the lurking full moon, wore thin at last.

"Merlin, Severus, what is *that* supposed to mean?"

And finally, after having deeply inhaled one more time, the spy found the capability to speak again.

"It means that I beg to differ, Remus." The Slytherin paused again to swallow, his nostrils slightly dilating, gently trembling, but when he went on, not a trace of doubt was in his voice. "I'd like to come back to what you suggested the other evening instead, and I guess that would mean that both of us would retire to just one room tonight."

Remus felt breathless disbelief capture his features, could sense his heart contracting, refusing to keep on working, and something that had just been inflamed inside flooded him with the melting heat of an as-yet nameless, but all the more soul-shakingly forceful emotion. Too forceful to allow him to speak. Or to move. Leaving him room to do nothing but stare.

So he didn't miss the small trace of uncertainty that sneaked into Severus's eyes and coloured his voice.

"If you don't mind, that is..."

And how could he, how could he do anything else but gather all of the willpower that remained in the stunned bewilderment that had taken hold of him? What could he do but summon every last bit of self-control to finally be able to shake his head? To master his treacherous voice at last? How could he do anything else?

"No." No more than a shaky, throaty whisper. "No." What could be less relevant right now than the fact that the sounds leaving his mouth were nothing but a tremulous croak? "No. I don't mind at all. Not at all, Severus."

And reaching backwards with both hands, blindly searching for the door that had to be somewhere behind him, never taking his eyes from the man in front of him, Remus slowly retreated towards his rooms. Pushing wide open the entrance to the quarters the two of them would share tonight.

       

Somehow, after he finally pulled the door shut behind him, Severus felt surprisingly calm. It wasn't because he stopped pondering on what he would soon face, or because he managed to drive the wolf's image he remembered all too well from his inner eye. Actually, he was thinking of nothing else, and it would have been the biggest lie of his life had he claimed to be free of the mesmerizing fear he had been caught in only minutes ago.

He couldn't explain the strange contrast to the profound dread that lay in the tranquillity that now had taken hold of him. It was as if both feelings, equally strong in quality as well as in quantity, had brought him to a highly peculiar, strangely familiar emotional equilibrium...and with a violent inner shudder, Severus suddenly realized where he knew this powerful sensation from.

It had been another full moon night. Another desperate decision. Another time when he had managed to defeat his overwhelming fear in favor of what he knew was right to do. This choice a few months ago had earned him one of the most horrible nights of his life. He had been rewarded with the Dark Lord's boiling fury, with a little too much of Lucius's presence, with much too much of Voldemort's attention afterwards. For the first time, he had experienced the consequences of the ritual full force.

And it had all been preceded by the same, wonderfully soothing peace which had flooded him after his decision had been made, and that had only been interrupted by the pain of the Dark Mark's repeatedly beckoning fire. The same reassuring calmness he felt now had sounded the bell for a quality of pain he hadn't known until then...

Slowly lifting his head, Severus let his eyes settle on the slender form of Remus Lupin who stood at the fireplace, a little paler than usual and smiling, although a bit nervously.

"I'm sorry, Severus, I hadn't expected anyone tonight, so I'm afraid there's nothing I can offer you..."

...but had this other night of pain, this other serious decision not also given him this in the end? The fragile, but all the more precious friendship, the genuine compassion, selfless care and unquestioning help of that generous man over there? Had it not been the beginning of something he had never expected to find, something that had seemed so improbable to him that he hadn't even been searching for it?

Had it not all been worth it in the end?

So perhaps he could once more dare to trust this beautiful tranquillity that compensated for the fierce panic he felt, that eased him, made up for all the blazing fear in the same amazingly comforting way it had done then...

"...are you listening to me at all, Severus?"

The slight urgency in Remus's words dragged the Slytherin back to reality. To the questioning glance of the Gryffindor. To the waiting moon and the choice he had made.

"I'm sorry, I was a little...distracted, momentarily."

A small, sad smile played around the werewolf's mouth.

"That much I noticed." The smile slid from Remus's face and his lips pressed together tightly, forming a hard line for a second. "Severus, I can imagine that this...situation is anything but easy for you, so if you..."

Severus was grateful that merely shaking his head firmly, determinedly, silenced the other man at once. It had been difficult enough for him to voice his decision outside, in front of that door, a short while ago. He knew he would not be able to verbally confirm it now, even though he had by no means changed his mind in the meantime.

Quite the contrary.

In the mutual silence that had fallen between them, he was relieved to see Remus's features relaxing a little. Not quite sure how to proceed, Severus walked over to the nearest window, unable to resist the urge of glancing outside, searching the sky which had grown almost dark by now. Only a shadow of the Astronomy Tower's silhouette was still visible against the deep night blue which already coloured this part of the world.

"It won't be long now."

When Severus turned around to the sound of the Gryffindor's voice, he somehow was not at all surprised to be greeted by a calmness in the werewolf's eyes that mirrored what he himself felt. Again, a faint smile lifted the lips of the other man.

"What I meant to tell you before was that you're more than welcome to make yourself as comfortable as possible under these... circumstances. You know where I keep the tea and whatever else you feel like. I...I won't get in your way, so please feel free to help yourself. Usually, I...well, I tend to spend the night on the floor in front of the sofa, but if you want to retire on it and don't feel too comfortable with my presence there, I can swap and move over to the fireplace or wherever you..."

"Remus." This time, Severus didn't rely on gestures to interrupt the Gryffindor. The rising of the moon couldn't be too far away now, and they simply didn't have much time left. Most unfortunately, there was still something he needed to admit, to clarify, and even though he didn't feel comfortable with that at all, was aware that he'd risk hurting the werewolf once again, he knew he had to mention and explain this now. Before. Not after.

Inhaling very deeply, the Slytherin leaned back against the windowsill and met Remus's slightly confused gaze.

"I'm afraid there still is a small problem I need to tell you about."

The confusion in the other's eyes was replaced with alarm immediately. Severus cursed himself for not having even tried to search for a more careful way to phrase this last sentence.

"Let me assure you first that I don't mean to offend you in any way, Remus, even though I know that this might be difficult to believe. I'm also very aware that we -you- are running out of time, so I will make this as short as possible."

The Gryffindor was still staring at him, disturbance written all over his face, screaming from every inch of his body.

"Remus, as much as I'd like it to be otherwise, I..." With a frustrated sigh, Severus momentarily closed his eyes. He should not have waited so long, it was already difficult enough, and lack of time didn't make it any easier - only more urgent with every second he wasted..."As sad as this might be, I'm...I'm afraid I will not be able to actually witness your transformation. It would..."

It would be too much. Too much memory. Too much past. Too much intimacy. Too demanding. Too soon. It would simply be too soon.

"...make me feel extremely uncomfortable."

Steeling himself for the reaction his confession might provoke, the Slytherin opened his eyes, immediately searching for an answer in Remus's expression.

It was impossible to read anything, to interpret the look on the Gryffindor's face or the aspects of his body language. Not even blinking, the werewolf seemed to be made of silent, unapproachable stone for a few moments. Until he finally spoke. In a low voice resonant with suppressed pain.

"You don't have to witness it, Severus."

Remus turned away, slowly, gradually, until he was facing the fireplace. His voice barely audible.

"You don't even have to be here, you know."

At those words, a wild wave of rage washed over the spy, taking all of his regret, sense of guilt and concern for the other's emotional well-being with it in a violent, irresistible surge of indignation. Leaving Severus speechless for one of the very few times in his life.

But only for a very few moments.

"I wasn't aware that you consider yourself an all-or-nothing issue. Had I known that in time, I could have saved myself a lot of precious energy I obviously wasted on fighting only *aspects* of the reasons that spoke against joint nights like this."

He *did* perceive the freezing coldness of his voice, realized the stinging, acid sarcasm that dripped from every word. And he didn't care about defusing even one of the verbal daggers he was flinging at the other man's back, every single one meant to bury itself deep in whatever part of the werewolf's body or soul it could reach.

"Rest assured, I am *very* aware of the fact that I don't have to be here! Actually, until some moments ago, I was foolish enough to think that all this was about the most amazing fact that I *wanted* to be here. But well, of course you're right when you think that my pathetic inability to completely overcome the emotional results of a certain event all at once apparently makes me *unworthy* of..."

A low, hoarse sound coming from the fireplace penetrated his consciousness, got through to him as if the werewolf had screamed and silenced Severus at once. He knew what he had just heard, and the knowledge was confirmed when the Gryffindor finally moved again, desperately shaking his head and turning his contorted face which was wet with tears towards him.

Severus barely had time to realize somewhere in the back of his mind that he had never seen Remus cry before, when all of a sudden, it began.

He knew that he'd never be able to forget about the horrifying images that assailed him, about the strange, haunting sounds or the shades of pain and torture that spread across the room like a translucent fog. Never again. He would always remember the air that was dense with moonlight and despair, quivered with inevitability. He could smell the question that lingered everywhere, that had been asked so many times and would be so until the last time, no matter how pointless it was, no matter that the answer had already been given - as far as there could be one.

Maybe it was because he knew. About immutable fates, about futile struggles, about infinite helplessness. Maybe it was because he had silently screamed the same question so many times that he could hear Remus's ďWhy?Ē echoing from the walls of his rooms with merciless clarity. Maybe it was because Severus was painfully familiar with not having any real choice that he did not turn away. That in the end he managed to deliberately accompany Remus through his transformation after all. Until the end.

Until the wolf stood before him.

All of his understanding and compassion was gone within a split second, and the spy's heartbeat had accelerated just as rapidly. He didn't know whether he did not dare to move or breathe, or if this sudden, cold grip of fear had simply paralysed him. Feeling the first beginnings of the teenager's panic rising, he could sense how he got caught by the animal's gleaming stare. Severus searched for a human trace in those eyes, he hopelessly longed to find *something* of the Gryffindor there, despite the alarmingly strong dread that conquered more and more of his being. But his efforts were in vain. All of them.

There was only the wolf.

And now the wolf began to move.

Breathlessly, the Slytherin watched the animal take a few, cautious steps backwards, still fixing the spy with his gaze and cocking his head slightly. Seeing the dangerous creature display that particular gesture which seemed so very playful almost forced an involuntary smile onto Severus's face. The wolf must have sensed the slight change in his human companionís aura; the creature became a bit more obviously bold now, carefully approaching the spy again until it reached the same position where he had stood in the beginning and patiently waited. Still watching the man by the window with those keenly gleaming eyes.

Only a few minutes later, Severus totally lost track of time. Holding the animalís gaze, not daring to let the wolf out of his sight lest he miss a single one of the beast's movements, and struggling to regain control over the immense emotional turmoil inside at the same time was not exactly an easy task, and the spy became completely absorbed in it. So he had no idea how long the animal and he had already been facing each other when his wolfish opponent apparently decided that he had waited long enough. With his head lowered deep down to the floor, but never breaking eye-contact, the werewolf carefully put one paw before the other.

Retreating as far as the window at his back allowed him to, Severus desperately realized that the panic he had just successfully dampened to a bearable degree had started to boil up again.

The animal stopped.

And this was, exactly, when Severus suddenly became aware that it *was* Remus in front of him.

He didn't care whether it was the fact that the wolf had partly dictated Remus's human behaviour or whether it was the human inside the animal that had acted just now. All he knew was that this was something he recognized. This was the carefulness, the respect for his feelings, the sensitive attention to his needs the Gryffindor had always shown him during the past months. Never had he forced any of his help and sympathy upon the spy; all of his actions had been offers instead, and he had left it up to the Slytherin whether he was willing to make use of them or not...

Pushing the wild protests ringing in his head and heart away, Severus slowly got down on the floor, first on one bended knee, then on the other. Sitting back on his heels, eyes closed, he waited for the next attack of fear to ebb away, before he was finally ready to face the animal again. Silently asking it to make the next move.

It was a very prolonged process the two of them underwent that night. They did not know it, but they spent more than an hour covering the few meters still left between them, Severus cautiously sliding forward on his knees, the wolf approaching him just as slowly, just as carefully. But when they made it at last, when there were only inches still to be bridged, when Severus's shaking fingers had accepted the final one of the wolf's offers this night by touching the animalís neck, very lightly at first, jerking them back as if they were burned, but burying them deeply in the thick, slightly rough fur soon after, when the spy gradually became aware that the two of them actually, unbelievably had defeated the Dark Lord's ritual, the profound bliss that overwhelmed the Slytherin at the first touch of another body than that of his former Master Ė of Remus's body, in a way - made Severus realize that, again, it had all been worth it.


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