For all Joy wants Eternity

Chapter Fouteen

By katzenhai

       

He knew the feeling all too well, had grown used to it over the years. The decades. He knew each and every facet of the numbness which had once again settled into his entire body some time during the past hours, and which now made him feel like a massive piece of useless flesh. He was so excruciatingly familiar with the dull, aching pain that had taken his limbs captive and that crept up and down through the stiff muscles that ran across his back. He had already spent countless hours trying to describe, to define the strange sensation inside his throat that felt as if it had been maltreated with some kind of rasp, a very rough one, but at the same time, it could have been the rasp itself; somehow being ripped open, but also tearing every breath he took to shreds as well, leaving him not enough air, not at all, making his lungs scream for more oxygen and moisture each time that he tried to inhale. As always, there was *something* weighing heavily on his still closed eye-lids, insistently keeping them shut, something that denied him a full return to humanity, that did not seem to want to grant him the soothing sight of the light that was now shimmering through his rooms, that he could feel dancing and swirling around him. As it always did, afterwards. A light not pale and treacherously soft as the moonlight was, but bright and crystalline, promising in its cutting clarity. Singing to him about the end of another full-moon night. About the beginning of another time during which he would almost belong to the human world again. Almost...

Successfully struggling through the familiar monthly fight one more time, Remus forced his eyes open. He needed to see the light. As always, it was this one desperate urge that made him finally break through the lethargy and exhaustion of his re-transformation. It was this first glance at the brightness of the morning after that he needed more than anything else, this one glimpse of the day that would assure him that, again, he had really made it back.

He wasn't surprised at all to realize he was the only one in the room. He knew he'd be alone when he'd return to his human form, though he also clearly remembered that he had not spent the entire night all by himself. With a small, bitter smile, Remus realized once again the double-edged gift the Wolfsbane Potion granted him, allowing him to lead his life as a werewolf as normally as he possibly could. Bliss and torture, not able to keep him from transforming into the animal, but preserving enough of his human intellect to allow him to recall. Visions. Sounds. Sensations. Emotions.

And sometimes it seemed to him as if his animal memories about what he *felt* while under the influence of the moon were much more accentuated than his human ones. More intense, more powerful. More *present*. More difficult to suppress.

This was one of those times.

He recalled the small moment of alarmed disorientation when the wolf had been waked in the middle of the night by a small, unexpected movement, by some touch - or rather the lack of it. With one quick, startled jump, the animal had gotten to its feet, just in time to somehow make the tall, dark shadow that had already been on its way to the door stop dead in its tracks. Remus remembered how helpless the wolf that he was had felt. Remembered the short, but violent jolt of hope that had been whipping through his consciousness when the shadow had suddenly turned around to face him, the pale, treacherously soft moonlight modelling its clear-cut face, just as white and distant as the silver disc that would always determine his fate. And then the shadow had been speaking, words, only a few of them, saying something Remus could not remember, but he knew he'd made some sound of his own in the silence that had accompanied the shadow's final turn and its few steps towards the door.

It had left without hesitating a second time. He was aware that the wolf that he was had sat down and watched the dark, wooden surface for quite some time after it had been closed again. After he had been left alone again. Not knowing for how long, he had hoped and waited for the shadow to return, Remus remembered the profound sadness that grew inside him all the better, the painful lack of understanding. And the deep sigh with which the animal had finally lain down again, resting its head between its two front paws. Preparing to face the rest of another full moon night. And another morning after. Alone.

Still captured in the confusing, disturbing memories of the night, Remus pushed himself into a half-sitting position with some difficulty and closed his aching eyes again for a second. The raw, torn feeling inside his throat had begun to gradually ease off, and so would the pain and weariness paralysing his body if he gave it some time. It always did. Automatically, he started to search his surroundings for his robes, only to find them ripped to shreds that spread across the floor in front of the fireplace, another reminder of the precipitous transformation of the evening before and of how its events, as well as those of the subsequent night, had made things even more painful than they already always were. Of how they had left him even weaker, feeling the strain even more than he usually did.

Still, somewhere among all the sadness and pain of this night, there had also been a hand. A shivering hand, touching the wolf that he was, the first in a long time, this hand he had felt buried in the fur of his neck when he had eventually fallen asleep. And he was not quite sure anymore whether he had only imagined it or if those fingers had actually, truly been moving slightly, almost imperceptibly, in a shy, insecure caress that had been the last thing that he had realized before his consciousness had finally drifted away for good...

With a totally unconscious movement, Remus's right hand came up to the bridge of his nose in a futile attempt to rub away the slowly awakening headache which always accompanied him during the first hours after the wolf. Hardly able to suppress another sigh, the Gryffindor ignored the protesting ache shooting through every single muscle of his legs and back when he slowly, carefully lifted his naked body from the floor. Holding on to the backs of chairs and sofas, the table top, to shelves and cupboards for support on the unbelievingly long way to his bedroom, he could feel the hammering pain between his eyes growing stronger with each swaying step of his weak, shivering legs. The questions echoing inside his skull, the need for answers that was screaming in his mind would have to wait. Now, it was time to look after himself.

There would be enough time to take care of Severus Snape later.

       

This, exactly, was the moment that he had been dreading all day, even though, or maybe because, he had known that he would by no means be able to avoid it. The past months of growing closeness between him and the werewolf had let him get to know the Gryffindor well enough. Very aware that Remus would not let him get away with what had happened the previous evening and night, Severus had been unconsciously waiting for the familiar knock at his door ever since he had retired to his rooms after dinner. But now that he faced the empty space on the corridor through the open entrance to his quarters, only *feeling* the presence of the man under the Invisibility Cloak in front of him, not being ready at all for the conversation that was ahead, the gnawing disquiet he felt since leaving Remus's rooms very, very early this morning reached a more than alarming level.

And so, before he finally started to retreat into his rooms, before he did the first step of their very own little dance of entering each other's quarters in such a way as to keep as much space between them as possible, Severus hesitated. Not very long. Not long at all. Only a very short moment. A split second, that had already been enough, though.

The Dark Lord's ritual had sharpened his perception of other persons' closeness enough to let him sense clearly how the invisible Gryffindor in front of his door retreated a little bit, back towards the torch that was burning at the opposite wall. Away from the rejection he momentarily must have represented. Away from him.

Severus felt his chest contracting. Hit by the realization that, once again, he had managed to violate the feelings of the other man who had come to mean more to him than he had ever been able to imagine, the Slytherin let a burning mixture of desperate resignation wash over him. His life had not exactly been one that had taught him to care about the impact of his actions on other people's emotions, not to mention how to deal properly with what he had caused afterwards. From his schooldays until his adult life, it had not been talking and apologizing that got him through critical situations, but quick and effective action that left no room for wasting any thoughts on others.

But now, there was this growing relationship with Remus. Now there was someone he actually *did* care about, and the fact that he obviously still was not able to keep himself from hurting the werewolf over and over again was something extremely painful to accept. Something that frightened and enraged him. Something that was still asking too much. And while Severus, mentally clenching his fists, furiously searched his suddenly totally numb mind for the right words, for *any* words that might ease the refusal that had lain in his spontaneous reaction to the Gryffindor's presence at his door, a hand emerged in midair. Right in front of him. Holding a mug the spy knew only too well.

"You could have spared yourself this rather awkward situation, Severus. All it would have taken was thinking of grabbing this before you left last night."

Remus's voice didn't hold any anger, pain or reproach. Its sound was light and totally natural, almost cheerful, and left the Slytherin totally speechless. At a total loss for words, he only watched how the hand moved downwards to the low rustling of the Cloak's fabric, how the mug was carefully set on the floor finally, how the Gryffindor's hand slowly disappeared into nowhere again. Just before Remus continued speaking, in the same carefree tones as before.

"Oh, and before you start to worry: coming down here was no effort at all. I felt the urge to somewhat stretch my legs anyway. I'm rather limited as far as my room to move is concerned, as you know, so I will continue my little walk now, if you don't mind. Have a nice evening, Severus."

Sensing how the other man's presence vanished more and more with each moment, the Slytherin knelt down slowly and picked up the empty mug, began to twist it in his hands, felt the cool, smooth and evenly worked material beneath his fingers. On one single, very deliberate breath, he closed his eyes, surrendered to the dizziness his wildly reeling mind had hurled him into, and finally accepted that there was only one thing to do. Opening his eyes again, exhaling very slowly and still kneeling on the floor, he heard his own voice that, low as it was, cut through this empty and silent part of the dungeons like a dagger.

"I would appreciate it very much should you decide to delay your walk a bit and perhaps join me for a few minutes, Remus. Please."

For a short moment, Severus fought the gnawing doubt and helpless frustration that groped for him when he got up from the floor, mug still in his hands, feeling even more emotionally exhausted than he already had at any time during the day. The spy had no idea how much time had passed since the werewolf had left. He didn't know whether the Gryffindor had still been able to hear him at all, much less whether Remus was thinking about complying with his request. He left the door open anyway when he returned into his rooms.

Severus had just let himself drop into the armchair in front of the fireplace, when he heard the door at his back gently being closed.

       

It wasn't easy. Frankly, it was one of the most difficult things he had done in his life, and he had done a lot of dangerous, terrible, and seemingly impossible things. Still, there wasn't much he had had as much trouble with as the two hours that he and Remus spent in the same room that very evening. It was not because the werewolf made it harder for him, quite the contrary; the calmness and patience the Gryffindor had literally radiated had been the only reason why, in the end, he had been able to deal with the entire situation at all. But in the beginning, there had only been rotating chaos, in his head and in his heart, and even if the right words had been coming to him then, which they hadn't, he wouldn't have known where to start in the swirling haze which were his thoughts and feelings.

He wasn't used to the clarity with which he remembered not only the fear and panic from the evening before, those powerful, overwhelming emotions that had accompanied him on his way to Remus's rooms, the liquid terror that had spread along his veins and pulsed through his body, that he had heard pounding in his ears and felt burning behind his eyes. Trying to ignore and repress his feelings as typically as he usually did, and even more so since the Dark Lord's ritual had been completed, the intensity with which the emotions of the past evening and night still had a grip on him was something he was not at all sure how to deal with.

So he didn't know which of them, the Gryffindor or he himself, had been more surprised when, eventually, he started to talk. Standing by the fire, turned half away from Remus who silently sat in his usual chair, concentrating on the licking flames and his own burning memories, he had begun to speak. Slowly and hesitantly at first, trying to feel his way through this totally unfamiliar area he had entered here, gradually his voice had become more secure, his sentences more fluent, until the words had fallen from Severus Snape's mouth almost naturally. For the first time ever he dared to voice the terror of the wolf that had lurked at the back of his mind ever since his school days. Had found the courage to admit that he had never been able to focus this horror on the animal only, that it had always spread to the person Remus Lupin as well - until some months ago, when the ritual and the werewolf's honest compassion had changed everything. Not at a momentís notice. But quickly and lastingly enough to dare him to make a difference. To make him able to tell the man that he had learned to value the way that he did from the beast that he still feared like only one other being in this world.

Severus forced himself to not look at the werewolf in his chair, to not check on Remus's reaction to his confession that he would not have been able to overcome this panic last evening, that he had more or less already been on his way back to his own rooms when the werewolf's sudden appearance had made him think again. Had made him force himself to defeat his fear and stick to the decision that he had made earlier that day: to join Remus Lupin through this full moon night as a way of giving something back for all he had already received from the Gryffindor.

He didn't know whether Remus understood what he told him next about the reason for his refusal to witness the werewolf's transformation. He wasn't sure whether the Gryffindor could realize what he had thought watching the man becoming the animal would have changed. How very afraid he had been to lose his ability to distinguish between person and beast again, to lose the friend he had found once more. He had been sure that actually*seeing* the thin line between the Gryffindor's wolfish and human aspect would have thrown him back into the wild, irrational horror of *all* the Gryffindor was. He had been sure it would have destroyed everything.

And once again, he had been wrong.

Because as unbelievable as it might seem, in his attempt to give something back to the werewolf he had been receiving another gift from Remus when he least expected it. In the desperate urge to clad his emotions in words, Severus had let himself drown in last night's memories once again. In the glorious feeling of the warmth of another being's flesh beneath his fingers. In his silent marvelling at the perfection of the animal's body he had found curled up beside him on the floor, deeply asleep, when he himself had woke up early in the morning, his fingers still tangled in the thick fur of the wolf's neck. The Slytherin remembered his hand moving, even though he couldn't recall having consciously decided to tell it to do so, and there was this tremendous joy exulting inside of him, the nameless bliss he had felt when he reached the wolf's ribcage where he was greeted by a heart, constantly, softly slamming against his fingers, where the regular movements of a slowly rising and falling chest had told him about the animal's calm breathing, and he could feel the smooth shifting of muscles when the wolf had stretched in his sleep with a content, drowsy sigh...there was peace and glory and perfection, and he was touching it, without his world being slammed into pieces, without his body and mind falling apart, and the overwhelming magnificence of that moment, the gratitude and salvation flooding his body brought a very rare, generous smile to his face.

Until the sound of the first birds' singing had knifed through the power of his joy.

It was so difficult to explain. Maybe even impossible. How was Remus supposed to see, after the Gryffindor had only just had to accept the effects of Severus's terror in the face of the wolf's appearance with the rising of the moon, that now the Slytherin had been just as afraid of the man's return with the dawning of the day? Was it enough to desperately try to describe how unbearable it had been to know that with the human, he would have had to face the ritual again as well? That all the bliss of being able to touch would have been replaced by the violent need to run, to escape, to get away as far as possible? That after Severus had been blessed to see how Voldemort had been defeated by the wolf that night, he would have been forced to helplessly watch and experience first-hand how the Dark Lord would have triumphantly prevailed again in the morning?

He had not been able to. Last night had been a treasure, and all he would be allowed to keep from it were his memories...so he had wanted them to remain as untouched, as pure as possible. Not end up being affected by the Dark Lord's ritual. Not be befouled by Voldemort's long arm. It had been so very important to leave without being relieved to have done so. To leave because he himself had decided to do so, without the slightest hint of fear of Remus's human presence. To leave with the most wonderful, glorious feeling of his body belonging to himself for the first time since the Dark Lord's return. With the same profound, magnificent gratitude and joy that had still been singing and echoing through his entire being. For the first time in decades.

So he had left. Before sunrise. Before Remus had made it back. Despite awakening the wolf. Despite the sadness even he had been able to see in the animal's eyes. Despite the small, pleading whimper that had followed him all the way down to the dungeons.

Despite the awareness that, again, he had hurt one of the very few persons he regarded as a friend. One of the very few he did not *want* to hurt. The only person he had ever entrusted with the truth about his being bound to the Dark Lord. The only one who would ever be able to allow him to escape this bondage, to laugh right into Voldemort's very face, even if it was only for one night.

One of the very few persons who might believe him if he said that he was truly sorry.

Had he not been a Slytherin as well, he might not have managed to finally, immediately after he had finished, face the one his long, extensive and honest confession had been intended for.

It was a good thing that he did so, or he would probably have missed how the soft, flickering light from the fire made the smile on Remus Lupin's face dance. It wasn't lenient, or merciful, there was no trace of either a patronizing benignity or a munificent forgiveness in it, nor the slightest hint of amusement. It was instead a telling smile, letting the Slytherin know that the werewolf did see. That he understood. And that he, most of all, did indeed believe him. It was an affirming smile, flashing the Gryffindor's acceptance of each of Severus's emotions and actions across the room, free of any reproach. It was a grateful smile, heavy with thankfulness for the other's trust, loaded with the knowledge that thoroughly revealing his emotions as Severus had done had been anything but natural or easy for the spy.

But above all this, it was a loving smile. One that directly burned its way right down to the Slytherin's heart. One that would leave its trace for the rest of Severus's life. One that completely enfolded him in the warmth and safety of the embrace that the two of them were not able to share physically.


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