Epilogue to As Simple As That: The Fire Thief (approx. 3,500 words)
Summary: The missing five or so hours….
Betas: mechaieh, aunty marion, and schemingreader
A/N: For bethbethbeth, who thought Severus might want to be touched, but who insisted graphic sex wasn't necessary, bless her heart!
"Whatever idiocy we got up to in our youth doesn't matter," Severus said as soon as Remus uncurled himself from the chair by the window. Remus had been sitting with his knees drawn up to his chin and his arms wrapped around himself, much like a small child. The flat, Severus thought fleetingly, was too damn big — anyone would seem small in its echoing spaces. But when Remus stood his posture made it clear that this was his territory, and Severus an unknown factor. Possibly a madman, standing on his hearth with a record album in one hand and a teapot, still steaming, in the other. "I am not what I was," Severus said, astringent as persimmons.
Remus raised an eyebrow, which was perhaps as close to a smile as he could manage under the circumstances. Severus was glad he hadn't been hexed the moment he'd stepped from the Floo — glad for the fact that Remus was reaching out from whatever place of pain he had been sent. Reaching out to soothe >me, Severus thought, his stomach knotting. I know I am not the sort of person who has earned these things. If the world was well-ordered, I would have been eviscerated long before. I suppose I must be grateful for that mercy as well.
"It matters to me," Remus said. He seemed to take some courage from the fact that they were talking like civilised people; he took two steps towards Severus, visibly controlling himself. He did have excellent manners. Severus feared that Remus would allow the guest-in-my-house routine to cover up his emotions. If I give him another moment, he will pour the bloody tea. Severus set the record and the teapot down on the floor — there were no convenient tables; the flat was barren as a monk's cell — and took two steps of his own to stand close enough to brush Remus. He wrapped his fingers around Remus' wrist.
Remus had always been very careful about keeping his touch casual: frequent, yes, he was a very physical person, prone to embraces and hands clapped on shoulders, but Severus had never read any of the touching as more than friendly. To his regret. It was a shock now to feel how slight Remus was. Wiry, and undoubtedly strong, but Severus' fingertips met easily, overlapping as they circled his wrist. Severus could feel the race of Remus' pulse and thought, ah, he is scared..
"I do not want to hurt you," Severus said; he would have been scornful of Remus' fear, except that he was certain that he had earned it — that he had been quite adept at the alchemy of turning the gold of love into leaden terror. "May the gods help me, I don't want to hurt you ever again. I would like," he added, though his voice was failing him, "to say that I am sorry. Terribly, terribly sorry, for all that I did. For what I was. I would like us to be friends." The last words were barely more than a whisper. He brought Remus' hand up and placed it over his heart, and then let go.
"I forgave you," Remus said, almost too softly to be heard. "I let it all go, finally, when you were in hospital. There seemed no point in holding onto old grudges." He stood a moment as if lost in thought, and then he moved his hand, putting his arm around Severus' waist in a loose half-embrace. "I never wanted the past to burden you. Once you are forgiven, you know, you have to face forward and let the past go."
"Also to learn from the past," Severus said. "Not make the same mistakes again." He put his own hand on the side of Remus' face, lifting his chin so that they looked eye-to-eye (and ignoring the moment of bumped noses; it had been bound to happen).
"This would be a mistake," Remus said.
"Why?" Severus asked; reasonably, he thought.
Remus tensed, as if bracing himself for a blow. Severus felt a flash of anger, that Remus thought so little of him; then he recalled the destruction Remus had seen, and he felt ashamed. Remus squared his shoulders. "Because I never knew then, and no one knows now, whether the bonding spell we cast affected you as well, or whether it only affects werewolves."
"Seeing as I abused you for ten years," Severus said, his voice tinder-dry, "I would say not."
"Or was it a case of methinks the man doth protest too much?" Remus asked. "If you weren't affected, there would have been no reason to keep coming back to me. But if you were likewise trapped — you would have reacted much as you did react. Thinking about it," he added, with weary, dark amusement, "was quite a hobby of mine, at one time. I'd hoped that all the mucking about in your head the Ministry did had erased any hold I had over you. Now I am not sure, and in all good conscience I cannot recommend you seeking that kind of bond again with me."
Remus reached up and traced a finger along Severus' cheekbone. "Don't think I am not honoured — and greatly tempted — by the sentiment."
"I think I love you," Severus said, and Remus caught his breath. "I think I have for several months now. The way you believe in absolutes of right and wrong but also in compassion. Your patience. Your sense of humour. The very graceful way you assert your will."
Remus snorted. "Asserting my will where you are concerned is like swimming against a current, just so you know. It took years to develop the skill."
"Your strength," Severus said. "I admire your strength. And you're good-looking."
"That's a sign your vision's going," Remus said, laughing, and Severus felt himself smiling in response.
"If I can't win you with sweet words, what about logic?" Remus raised an eyebrow in challenge. "There is either a one-way or a two-way bond between us. If it affects only you — and that is all we know for certain — then I have absolute free will. I'm free to choose anyone. Even you." Remus' eyes narrowed, but Severus didn't give him a chance to argue back. "If it affects us both, as you seem to think, that does not negate free will, either, although it would give us a bias."
"More like an addiction," Remus murmured. Severus ignored him.
"So I would still be free to choose you, or not. In either case, you are free to choose me, or not. Which is the hardest part for me. I don't know how to persuade you that I am a good risk to take — I am not sure of that myself, still. So, logically, we could both take other lovers. We have, in fact, done so — whatever bias the spell created, it does not force exclusivity. But we could likewise — I am loath to say try again — "
"Choose each other?" Remus suggested, after a pause.
"Please." Severus brushed the hair back from Remus' forehead and kissed the wrinkle that showed when Remus was incredulous, or amused. "It would give me the greatest pleasure." Remus' stillness was that of a top vibrating on its axis, and Severus took advantage of Remus' mental occupation to attempt again what he had tried in his bedroom in his mother's house. He leant forward and covered Remus' mouth with his own.
Remus didn't shove him away violently this time. His eyes widened in shock and then shut, and Severus resigned himself to loss and failure.
But then he felt a change run through Remus, as if he were passing from a solid to a liquid state. Remus flowed against him, kissing back with desperate abandon. It was dizzying; it was breath-taking; it was far more exhilarating than any of the masturbatory fantasies Severus had entertained. They wound up with Remus' teeth closed over Severus' throat, Severus' head thrown back, and both his hands in Remus' hair (partly for balance, as his knees were giving out).
"Oh, Circe," Remus said, his mouth against Severus' artery and his voice ragged. Severus paused, and then tugged him up.
"It's supposed to be persuasion, not compulsion," he said, touching Remus' cheek.
"You are very persuasive," Remus agreed, with a smile. "I want very much to take you to bed right now."
"All right," Severus said, and looked around, wondering which was the bedroom door.
"I didn't mean — " Remus started, and Severus put his finger over Remus' lips.
"Please," Severus said, and Remus took his hand and led him down a short corridor to a room aglow in the light from the rising sun.
Severus pulled off his robe and dropped it on the floor, followed by his bulky jumper. He stopped there, in trousers and vest, the skin of his arms prickling in futile defence against the cold. Remus wore only loose flannel trousers and a shirt thinning at the elbows; he paused, and then removed his belt before tucking himself under the duvet. He turned the other corner back in invitation.
Severus slid in, self-consciously aware of all his deficiencies. There was a very nice bookshop in the neighbourhood of the university with a back room where he browsed and occasionally purchased magazines with glossy colour photos. These had been good company before he met Remus, but afterwards he felt keenly his lack of what the magazines implied was essential: well-oiled muscles, youth, and a full set of even white teeth.
Remus turned on his side and slid one arm across Severus' chest. He was very warm; Severus frowned and put the back of his hand to Remus' forehead, checking for fever. Remus laughed and pulled his hand down, placing a kiss in the centre of his palm and folding his fingers around it.
"Werewolf metabolism," Remus said. "Higher body temperature. Be thankful it's winter."
Severus slid his hand under Remus' untucked shirt, resting it against the firmness of his stomach. "You are warm."
"Your hands are like ice," Remus said, grabbing the other and chafing it with his own. While Remus was thus occupied, Severus let his hand slide upwards, ruching up the shirt as he went, amused by the plentiful hair that nearly hid Remus' nipples from him but didn't.
Remus shifted restlessly under his touch, and Severus began undoing the buttons to Remus' shirt. Remus sat up and yanked it over his head impatiently. Severus had a good view of lean muscles moving; more so when Remus leant over him, with a teasing smile, and suggested that fair was fair as he pulled up Severus' vest. Severus sat up and let himself be undressed, and kissed Remus again. Halfway through the kiss. Remus' hand undid Severus' zip and stayed; Severus felt Remus' unnatural heat through the thin fabric of his underwear. He was quite unable to figure out what he ought to do: reciprocate, or hang on to Remus while the world around him unravelled?
Remus pushed Severus back onto the mattress, covering him in warmth. He pulled back with a grin that was teasing, except for the electric intensity of his eyes.
"Be gentle with me," Severus said, trying — the gods alone knew why — to tease back. "I've never done this before." Remus' eyes widened, and he stiffened as if about to pull back. Severus grabbed onto him, afraid that he would leave, and then realised that he'd grabbed Remus' arse in his haste. "Don't — I think about you," he said, catching and holding Remus' gaze. "I think about what it would be like to have sex with you. I think about how you'd look naked. I think about how you'd look when you came. I am probably, right now, the world's foremost authority on lustful thoughts about Remus Lupin." He paused, wondering how far he could go. "I think about having you in me," he said, hoping he didn't sound like one of the badly-edited stories in his magazines (I want you to fuck me here — yes! right over the office Xerox — I want all ten inches of your gorgeous cock buried in my arse, make me cum, Mr Copier Repairman — ).
"Why?" Remus said, blinking and looking honestly confused, and Severus felt the sinking, cringing feeling of utter mortification.
"Never mind," Severus said, with as much dignity as possible with someone else's hand down his underwear.
Remus kissed him, kissed him until Severus unfroze enough to kiss back. Minutes later, breathless, Remus finally pulled back. "I never have before," Remus said, his words tinged with a sort of urgency, as if willing Severus to understand. He butterflied kisses along Severus' jaw line that somehow made Severus' cock jump back up into Remus' hand. "So of course I assumed — and of course, you don't know…. I used to wonder," he added, the words spoken against Severus' skin, "what it would be like, to be in you."
"It's what I imagine," Severus said, his cock hardening again under Remus' patient attention. "At nights."
"Merlin," Remus groaned into Severus' shoulder, nipping at the skin where it was stretched thin over bone — it hurt, but it also sent shocks of pleasure shooting through Severus. How does he know to do that? Severus thought, and then thought, Idiot — he probably knows more about what I like in bed than I do. It was an odd thought: not quite a comfort.
"I think of you filling me," Severus said, trying to make Remus loosen his control. He dared to run his hand down under Remus' arse and felt the muscle there tense — Merlin in paisley, but Lupin was nothing but lean, hard muscle. He recalled that Remus had said his body weight was tied to that of the wolf; perhaps that affected body mass as well. Or perhaps Remus simply belonged to a sports gym — ah, the things he didn't know. He didn't know how to do this. "I think of wrapping my legs around your waist," he said, and Remus shivered against him with a moan.
It took Remus four tries before he finally managed to summon the lube; he grinned down at Severus' self-satisfied smirk, acknowledging that the joke was on him. It gave Severus some of his control back, and he was glad of it, because if it had been bad telling Remus what his fantasy was, it was nothing to the way he felt as Remus stripped him and prepared his arse for the buggering he'd asked for. His wanton body betrayed him, eagerly shedding inhibition for spastic twitches and raw, animal noises that he could not keep from escaping. Remus didn't seem to mind, however, and Severus found himself both thoroughly relaxed and painfully aroused.
"Ready?" Remus asked quietly, positioned between Severus' legs, and Severus felt the impossible heat of Remus' cock nudging the sensitive flesh there.
When did Remus undress? Severus wondered inanely; he'd wanted to see Remus naked. Next time, he decided, and with that for courage, and with his legs up and spread wide to the world, he looked up at Remus and said, "Please" (it was getting to be a habit, he feared).
Remus was gentle; Remus waited for Severus' body to adjust, without showing impatience except in the way his arms tightened until they shook and sweat pooled in the hollow of his throat. Remus leant forward to kiss Severus as they were finally joined completely, and Severus' hands let go of their death grip on the mattress and explored Remus' back, from the wet tendrils of hair plastered to his neck down to the downy hair along his thighs. And when the actual fucking started, it was like nothing he had imagined — his whole body came undone. When he came he would have cried, except that he had just enough sense left to know that Remus would take that the wrong way; so he screamed instead, his fingernails scoring Remus' back as his vision went entirely white.
"All right?" Remus asked drowsily from where he'd fallen, half-on and half-off Severus.
"Brilliant," Severus said, toying with Remus' hair, trying to get the tangles out. "Would it ruin the mood if I asked why — " He paused, and Remus filled in the blanks himself.
"Why we never did that? You preferred me on hands and knees. Or just knees. Mn," he muttered, moulding bonelessly to Severus' side, head nuzzling Severus' shoulder. "It does rather kill the mood. Just keep touching me like that."
"One last — " Severus said. "The spell we did involved me taking your virginity, didn't it?"
"Me giving you my virginity," Remus corrected sleepily, settling one hand over Severus' stomach. "Let it go." Severus chose to read from that that it had probably been horrible, painful, and frightening — what had he known about sex back then? Remus poked him in the ribs, raising his head just enough to look Severus in the eyes; he had a warning look on his face. "Let it go."
"It's gone," Severus said. "I love you." Remus' expression changed; Severus felt as if he were finally being given a look at what was behind the mask, and what he saw was a gossamer-fragile hope, mixed with fear and pain and tenderness. It would have been easy to despise that need; far harder to recognise it in himself. He pulled Remus up into a lazy kiss, his hands roaming, claiming all this naked flesh as his own.
"I have always loved you," Remus said. "Casting the spell didn't make me love you — I agreed to it because I loved you." He paused, biting his own lip in thought. "You should know — I don't think you ever loved me. I appalled you. For the longest time I tried to make you care for me, but that's impossible, isn't it? When I finally realised that, I grew up, in a way. That was when I told you we were finished."
"What did I do to you?" Severus asked, and he could tell by Remus' expression that Remus was going to refuse to answer. "Bear in mind that I can imagine myself capable of some very dreadful things — worse even than ten years of bad sex and adultery. Did I beat you? Degrade you?"
"We had very good sex," Remus said softly. "You learnt not to hit me — I hit back. You did enjoy humiliating me in front of people — it was very, very hard for me to face your mother again, for instance. You arranged for her to walk in on me going down on you, once, and there was a dinner which is still the stuff of my nightmares…. It is nice that she's stopped trying to kill me now, though — my knowledge of antidotes has got rusty over the years. She might just succeed this time," Remus said, with an amused smile; and then froze, opening his mouth for some words to cover the gaffe, but nothing came.
"It's all right," Severus said. "I did figure out that she probably killed my father. I don't think she does that kind of thing anymore. I'm still here."
"Thank the gods," Remus murmured, and snuggled protectively around Severus. "Enough with the morbid pillow talk. When do you need to be back? I really don't want Eileen coming at me with a juicy red apple."
"Noon?" Severus asked, looking for a clock. Remus fished his out from under the bed — Severus was surprised to see that it wasn't even nine yet — and set the alarm.
"I'm going to take a nap," Remus announced, only the way he avoided looking at Severus indicating that this was anything more than a simple statement.
"Good idea," Severus said, and felt Remus relax. "Don't hog the duvet," he added, but Remus was already dozing off.
Severus watched Remus for a minute, watched his face slacken and soften with sleep, his mouth open slightly. It was strange: he was lying here with the person he ought to know best in all the world, but yet Remus was a mystery to him, a puzzle that would not allow itself to ever be solved.
They would have to start everything over again. There would be terrible misunderstandings; there would be times when, for all the patience and well-meaning that Remus possessed, he would be angry. Severus did not doubt this. Remus was helpful and kind, but he resisted asking for help or giving any indication that he was not sufficient unto himself. Severus thought it might be years yet before Remus would be able to do that. Severus knew Remus paid for this independence and iron control; he knew what sorry was now, the futile desire to undo what was done, to make things as they ought to be and not what they were. But the past couldn't be erased, not perfectly: the same rivers did cut the same channels, sometimes. But not this time, he wanted to say, but it couldn't be said, only proven, if granted the grace of time.
Severus sighed, placed one hand over Remus' heart to warm, and slept.