Title: The Bad Year
Summary: Severus wants Remus to come home. In the R&D series. Readers familiar with the story: er, sorry…. Readers unfamiliar with the story need to know that Remus is blind. For the Lupin/Snape Challenge: Not Love.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, JKR owns all.
Remus opened the door and let Severus in. "You can sit on the sofa, I'll just go make tea."
"If I can find the sofa," Severus said: the room was packed high with boxes. The sofa had obviously been used as a table for quite a while. Dishes and cups were piled haphazardly on it in a jumble with takeout packs, and one cushion and half the back of the sofa were charred black. Severus decided that he did not want to know how the sofa had been incinerated; or rather, that he would not be able to cope with that information. Someone had nailed a sheet–one of Remus' monogrammed ones, Severus saw with a pang–over the window, and the room was in half-light. There were no lamps. There were no books out, and Severus couldn't see Remus' stereo. Perhaps he had simply never connected the electric.
The kitchen was just as bad. Remus rinsed out two mismatched cups over a sink full of burnt pots. He boiled water in the kettle with a tap of his wand, and dropped in two cheap Muggle teabags. He filled the mugs carefully and carried them out, walking with a cautious shuffle, nearly stumbling twice over the clobber on the floor.
"I'll take that," Severus said, and Remus started, sloshing tea over his hands.
Severus deftly took both mugs and set them down on a carton as Remus wiped his hands on his shirt. "You all right?" he asked, and Remus nodded jerkily, feeling his way to a carton marked books and sitting down. He held out his hand, and Severus handed him the cup, trying not to look at the reddening scald mark.
"The flat looks like hell, doesn't it? I've been working late, and somehow–well."
"Come home," Severus said. "Come home. Please."
Remus shut his eyes. "There are better people than me out there," he said finally. "There are normal people who don't have panic attacks in elevators or neckties, who don't turn into wolves, who can cook you a fucking dinner without burning it. I know that… what happened, that it was at least half due to me being an idiot and you being drunk. I know that. But I have to wonder if–if you looked, if there wouldn't be someone better for you out there."
"And logically, someone better for yourself, I suppose," Severus said. "I want my watch back."
Remus blinked. "Ah."
"Did you lose it in this mess?"
Remus shook his head. "It's pegged to the wall in the kitchen. Along with the keys."
Severus got up. He set his half-empty cup in the sink and took the watch down. He slipped it into his pocket as he went into the sitting room. Remus was staring down at the floor, looking beaten.
"I won't look at it–I promise you that–not until you tell me I may. I'm going now. I'll be back at seven Friday night to take you to dinner." He let himself out. Walking away, from that dreadful flat, from Remus, was one of the hardest things he had ever done.
Severus made a succession of fire-calls to Percy, whom they had adopted much in the manner of a stray cat, and finally concluded that the boy's social skills might surpass his own, but not by much. Their combined knowledge of dating wouldn't have filled a thimble. "Bring flowers," Percy suggested, which reminded Severus that Percy had a rose tattooed on his bicep that had gone black and thorny when his last relationship… devolved. Hardly the expert on relationships, Percy.
Severus knocked on Remus' door feeling ridiculous and awkward. There was a muffled crash, a noise like a crate of crockery falling over, and then the door opened just enough for Remus to peer out.
"What if I were a burglar?" Severus asked.
Remus raised one eyebrow. "I knew it was you. Do I need to dress up?"
"You look fine to me," Severus said, and as Remus locked the door Severus thought he was blushing.
All the customary intimacies, from Severus guiding Remus as they walked to side-along Apparation, were awkward. It would have been easier to either avoid touching altogether or to duck into an alley and have mad, desperate sex. It was a relief to arrive at the restaurant and be shown to the room Severus had reserved.
"What are we doing?" Remus asked, after the tiny waitress had explained to him where the water and chopsticks and condiments were and left them with their menus.
"I'm courting you," Severus said, and Remus choked on his water. "Granted, it's not something I'm good at, but with practise, who knows?" Severus looked straight at Remus. "I hurt you. I broke the trust between us. I can't undo that. But I want to show you that I'm sorry. I want you back."
Remus picked uneasily at the tablecloth. The waitress reappeared, and Remus grabbed the opportunity to have a long, convoluted discussion about vegetables and spices and different kinds of rice. She had brought him a spoon and fork, and after she left he fingered them in amusement.
"Now I'll have to use the damned chopsticks just to spite her," he said, smiling, and then the smile melted, breaking Severus' heart. I am going to make you laugh, he thought viciously. If it kills me.
Severus had written a letter every day since he had returned from that disastrous trip to find the house half-empty. Their owl managed to find Remus when no one else could. Severus had wondered for a while if the man had made himself unplottable. Remus continued to come and go at his Ministry job: Severus refused to pursue Remus there and risk driving him out. Remus' job was inviolate, as were the confidences of his friends (many of whom he had considered their friends, but apparently when there were sides to be taken, the side to take was Remus').
Some of the letters were so long that they needed to be shrunk; some were so short that they held just the small, important words. There had never been a reply. The first full moon Severus had written additionally to every person who might possibly know where Remus was. Please take care of him, please make sure he is safe. He'd dared to send the Wolfsbane to Remus at work. That night, he hadn't slept at all.
The next day, while attempting to resuscitate himself with strong coffee, Percy Apparated into the yard and invited himself in for breakfast.
"My sister said to tell you he's fine," he said, and Severus nodded once, sharply. Percy spooned jam onto his toast, then set it down, staring at Severus owlishly through his glasses. "What the hell happened?"
Like the pebble that triggers the avalanche, the words started coming, falling over each other: the fights, the accusations, the mistrust and the hurting sadness underneath it all. "He already suspected me," Severus said, taking deliberate, small sips of his coffee. "And I was, famously, drunk."
Who hadn't seen the pictures, lurid colour on page three of every Wizarding paper in Europe? Ah–that would be Remus Lupin, who would have had to have someone describe what it looked like when his lover was well and passionately snogged by the assistant comptroller of the EWU Potions Standards Commission. Dutch, former Beater at Beauxbatons, blond. Oh, and not cursed with lycanthropy, sighted, and (as it turned out) a gourmet chef.
Severus could picture what happened–cinematic, he thought, recalling the films he'd snuck out to see as a child (mostly, he recalled screaming at the actresses, "Don't go in the cellar!" An unfortunately apt metaphor). Remus would have folded the newspaper, neatly, and given Severus the benefit of the doubt: after all, a drunken kiss, no matter how unfortunately captured by the press, need not lead to anything. Necessarily. He would have called the PSC and very politely asked for the comptroller's office. Within the hour he would be in possession of hotel receipts, signed affidavits, and the vest Severus had left in the bathtub. He would have pleaded sudden illness, called someone (Severus suspected either Ginny Moody or Stan Shunpike), and moved all his possessions out by the time Severus returned home, with a suitcase, a raging headache, and a nauseous sense of guilt.
Percy had finished his toast and two cups of coffee and had begun looking pointedly at the clock by the time Severus finished speaking.
"You know what you have to do," he said, leaning the chair back on two legs. "You have to go to him. He won't come back on his own."
"Get me an address," Severus snarled.
It took Percy nearly four days, and apparently the mortgaging of a percentage of his soul, but Wednesday morning an owl appeared with an address. That evening Severus knocked on Remus' door with the feeling of crossing the Rubicon.
Severus wondered whether the comparison to taming a wild creature was insulting. It was all a matter of building trust, and it involved copious amounts of food and time. Like the birds Shacklebolt went into raptures about, Remus also shied from contact and sudden moves.
Friday nights had become his, as had most Saturdays. He'd have asked for Sundays as well, but he had needled Remus about quitting the cycling club until the man had resumed practising. Severus wouldn't begrudge him his friends, Muggle or not. He made it a point to avoid the village Sundays, easy enough, for fear of running into Remus. He hated having lines drawn like this, but so long as the game progressed apace, it was useful to have as many things as possible delineated in black and white.
Severus spent his free time attempting to mend his friendships. It did not get any easier to look people in the eye and admit that he had fucked up, nor to have to sit still and take their anger without responding in kind. He usually found himself, after they left, with a pounding headache and the feeling that he'd been caught bludgeoning puppies.
But it seemed to be working. It just took much longer than Severus would have thought.
"Where are you going to go? Where have you been going?"
Remus slipped the flask of Wolfsbane into his pocket and looked at Severus with far less wariness than he had had. Progress, Severus thought.
"The first month I spent at my flat. The bedroom–" which you've never seen, said the slight pause there–"I fixed it up. But." Remus tilted his head slightly, as if jarring loose the grip of the memory. "I had to go to St Mungo's anyway, in the end. So it's been easier, since, to just go there in the first place."
"They put you in chains."
Remus shrugged. "They keep me from gnawing off any major limbs. I must be grateful."
"You must be completely round the twist. At least come home for the full moons."
"I'll think about it."
You do that, Severus thought. The moonlight was beautiful, playing on the ripples of the pond. There were flowers on the trees, and there was a chill in the air: it would have been nice to share body heat. He looked at Remus, sitting next to him on the bench with just enough space between them that they wouldn't accidentally touch. Remus was fingering his watch absently.
"I need to get home," Remus said, sounding nearly regretful. "I've an early day tomorrow." Severus felt little regret: he now owned Remus' Tuesday nights as well.
"Kiss me goodnight."
Remus sighed, stretching out his legs and crossing his ankles. "I'm afraid to. I don't trust myself around you. I'm not–you know, I hope you know, this isn't about punishing you for sleeping with that… man. In the beginning, when I was so angry, I did feel like that. Vindictive. The first rational thought I remember having was that I should go out and find myself someone to fuck."
"Did you?" Severus asked, before he thought better of it.
Remus' look was calculating. "How would that make you feel, Severus?" Severus was not fond of the turns of phrase Remus was picking up from the Muggle he had engaged for counselling.
"Like shaking all your teeth loose," Severus said, trying to strain the jealousy from the words, and Remus snorted laughter.
"I wanted to," he said finally, sobering. "Gods, how I wanted to. But it's not very practical, is it? I've no idea how I'd pick someone up in a bar, even without this–" he made a gesture in the air. "It's like a bad joke. A blind wizard walks into a gay bar…." Severus made a disapproving noise, and Remus stopped. "I realised that I had created a climate in which breach of trust was practically inevitable," Remus said, slowly, and the words, the apology in them, were heavy and slow. "I'd been holding so tight to you that I was pushing you away. And I was losing myself in the process."
"Have you found yourself?"
"Nearly. I think I need a new job. What I do now… has gotten rather mindless."
"Do what makes you happy," Severus said dismissively. "Dance topless in bars, write cloying books about anthropomorphic animals, whatever."
"Two options I hadn't considered," Remus muttered, but he was smiling. "A new branch of the University will be opening in the autumn. I don't want to teach again, but there are some intriguing administrative positions."
"You'd be brilliant at it."
"Yes," Remus said. "I know. I wouldn't have to take the accursed Underground, either. If I never have to mind the gap again, I'll be in ecstasy."
"If I'd known you were so easy to please–" Severus started, and Remus pushed his shoulder, teasing. He caught Remus' hand and brought it to his mouth to press a kiss to the centre of his palm. Remus cupped his cheek and leant over to brush his mouth over Severus'.
"I hate knowing that you've kissed someone else."
"I'm ashamed of it myself." There was really nothing that could be said to that, so Remus kissed him again. Severus let him lead, let Remus set the pace. Slow and lingering, tantalising, and then hard desire. Remus' tongue claimed him, and Severus let himself be claimed.
"Gods, gods," Remus said, head resting on Severus' shoulder. Severus' arm had somehow gone around Remus, pulling him closer. He wondered if Remus could hear his heartbeat: it seemed so very loud right now.
"Are we all right?" Remus asked, muffled, vulnerable, possibly smiling.
"Yes," Severus said. "I really think we are now. I really do."
"I'm Ashamed of It Myself" by almost_clara (comment on the art here)