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The Skull Beneath the Skin

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Lupin was talking about him as though he wasn't there. Again. The werewolf turned to address Dumbledore, and his hair and his collar fell away from his pale throat. Snape pressed his lips together and listened.

"The risks outweigh the benefits. If Voldemort tires of the trickle of intelligence Severus has been feeding him and decides to interrogate him in earnest, the Order will be seriously compromised. Severus knows our plans in far greater detail than he knows Voldemort's."

"Which is precisely why it is so important that I go." Heads turned all down the table. Yes, do remember whose fate we're discussing here, he thought. "Or is learning the Dark Lord's plans so unimportant you won't chance some small risk?"

"Of course not, Severus," said Lupin reasonably, before turning away again. "But Headmaster, I do think--"

"Or rather, that I shouldn't chance it? Seeing as I'm the one who will or will not answer this summons." He threw the scroll down onto the table, where it landed with the Malfoy crest staring straight up.

Lupin turned back to him. "I don't doubt that you can take care of yourself, Severus. To a point. A point," he went on, as Snape opened his mouth, "beyond which I think none of us here could hold our own against Voldemort's powers. I'd just like to make it clear--" and he turned back to Dumbledore-- "that I question the wisdom of sharing our counsels with a spy who might be made to reveal all of them, under torture, at any time."

"Very well, then. If I'm such a risk to the security of this Order, I'll leave. Do let me know what I should attempt to learn, once I'm back in Voldemort's good graces, Albus-- if that's not too great a risk, that is."

"Sit down, Severus." Dumbledore was calm. "I assure you I do not intend to deprive the Order of your experience." Snape sat. Dumbledore looked down the table at the assembled wizards and witches of the Order of the Phoenix. "And our chances of coopting a Death Eater who is deeper in Voldemort's confidences seem rather slim at the moment. But nevertheless, Remus has raised an excellent point. Severus, I know you have consented to undergo certain memory charms prior to answering Mr. Malfoy's invitation, but I believe it would be wise to see what we can do to strengthen your resistance to various means of persuasion."

Dumbledore turned to Black, who knew a distressing amount about torture. "Your opinion, Sirius?" Black went on at length, and Snape listened, but he was aware of Lupin's eyes on him for the rest of the meeting.

-+@+-

The day passed. After classes let out Black wandered down into the dungeons to give him a few pointers on resisting tortures of various kinds, physical and psychological. He seemed quite gleeful at the thought of Snape being subjected to any of them. He followed Snape around his workroom, spinning gruesome stories, while Snape mixed a potion to bolster his resistance to pain. He was tempted to take it then and there. Instead, when the potion had been bottled and set aside, Snape took down a bunch of dried _A. vulparia_ from its ceiling hook; Black, recognizing the flowers, paused.

"Wolfsbane?"

"Yes. You'll excuse me, Black, but this is a rather tricky potion to brew. I'm sure you wouldn't want to distract me; the consequences of even a small mistake could be rather unpleasant for the drinker."

Black took the hint and left, scowling. Snape closed his eyes for a moment, listening to the silence, before turning to the matter at hand.

He would never have admitted it to Lupin, but Snape enjoyed brewing the Wolfsbane potion. It had been fiendishly difficult the first time he had attempted it, and even now 'rather tricky' was something of an understatement-- and Snape relished the challenge. It demanded a diffuse focus that pushed away all awareness of himself; once the cauldrons began to simmer, there was no moment beyond the present. No Dark gathering at Malfoy Manor. No memory charms to undergo. No bright-eyed werewolf, turning to show the hollow of his long white neck.

And above all, no Severus Snape.

-+@+-

Lupin's rooms were open, but the werewolf was gone; Snape left a goblet of the potion on his desk and returned to the dungeons, to his own chambers. When he arrived, firelight from no fire Snape had lit was spilling under the door. It was almost insulting-- no, strike the almost, it was damned insulting, to suggest that he wouldn't notice the faint traces of other magics as he unspelled the lock, that he had to be told that his private space had been invaded-- and in its combination of Gryffindor brass and almost-Slytherin subtlety, as good as a signature.

"Lupin. Get out of my rooms."

The werewolf looked up from Snape's armchair by the fire. "Severus, do come in. We need to talk."

"I have an office. I have an office hour. Whatever you need to say can be said there and then."

Lupin shook his head. "Not this." He smiled, briefly and inexplicably. "Severus, you've made peace of a sort with Sirius, enough to satisfy Dumbledore that you two can work together. I don't know if Dumbledore thinks the same of us but I'm afraid I don't. You won't listen to me, you won't be alone with me, and in front of others you cut me down whenever you get the chance." Lupin rose and went to the door, but only to close and spell-lock it.

"Now if one of us has a legitimate reason to hold a grudge, I think it's me, Severus." Lupin's voice was soft, and his manner still perfectly amiable. "And when I came back to Hogwarts I had very nearly forgiven you for getting me sacked. I admit to the occasional second thought since then, but I am still willing to put it behind us. But you aren't. In fact you have treated my very presence here as a personal affront."

Snape let his lip curl into a familiar sneer. "Is it such a shock that I resent allowing a werewolf back into the school, and into the Order? Or that I prefer to keep my distance from a creature that nearly killed me once?"

For the first time, Lupin's eyes narrowed. "Don't lie to me, Severus; we're one day from the full moon and my senses are as keen as they'll be all month." He stalked across the room, stopping with their faces inches apart. "I can smell a lie. And I can smell the desire on you." He leaned in, nose almost touching Snape's neck, and inhaled deeply. "I feel it too, Severus." Snape stood, rigid, his blood racing. Lupin looked up at him with eyes gone suddenly dark. "You made it clear enough two years ago that you didn't want to pursue this... whatever this is, between us. And I've tried to respect that. But ignoring this has not made it go away. I still want you, Severus, and you can't tell me you don't still want me." Lupin lay his palms flat against the front of Snape's robe. "So I think we ought to just get this out of our systems." Lupin's hands traced his collarbone through the robes, smoothed over his shoulders... at the first touch to the bare skin of his neck, Snape remembered how to move.

"No." He backed away.

"Why not?"

"Aren't werewolves supposed to be strictly monogamous?"

"So are many humans, once they've settled on a partner. That doesn't stop them from knowing a wide range of pleasures while they search. I don't have a mate, Severus; I don't have any commitment that would stand in my way, so stop trying to distract me, unless you can give me one good reason why I shouldn't throw you down on the hearthrug and ravish you right now."

Snape felt himself twitch, knew Lupin saw it. "The fact that I'd rather you didn't being, I suppose, not reason enough?"

Lupin studied him, keeping his distance. "You're not lying, are you Severus? Not..." He sniffed the air, lips falling open: a bestial gesture, and one that Snape hated himself for finding so compelling. But the look of contemplation on Lupin's face was entirely human.

"I knew you feared me; that's the most distinctive smell of all. I thought the fear was part and parcel of the desire..." A look halfway between disgust and exasperation crossed his face, and was gone. "But that's not it, is it? You don't desire me because you fear me. You fear me because you desire me."

Snape didn't answer; to react in any way would be to give away too much.

And Lupin surely knew he was right. His face and voice softened. "Who hurt you so badly, Severus? Who made you this fearful?"

His sympathy was galling. "No one," Snape spat.

And then held his breath and prayed to gods he didn't believe in that Lupin wouldn't make the connection, wouldn't hear all that he'd just said...

"No one, Severus?" It would have been easier if he'd gloated, if he'd replied with anything but that quiet calm. "Ever?"

Damn him. Snape assumed his trademark sneer, hoping it was enough to hide whatever his face might be revealing to Lupin's inhuman senses. "Tell the school at breakfast tomorrow, and we'll be even."

Lupin smiled wanly. "Somehow I think the board of governors would be less than horrified to learn that there's a virgin on the staff." Lupin met his eyes; the sneer was no armor at all. "Severus, I'm sorry. Maybe this wasn't the best idea after all--"

Snape snorted. "A rare admission. I should feel honored."

"--but the offer stands."

Snape froze. "What?"

"You heard me. You are an intriguing and compelling man, and I do want you, Severus Snape." Lupin took a step toward the door, stopped, turned and crossed the space between them. "So bear it in mind." He stretched up to brush his lips against Snape's, only the faintest of kisses. "Till tomorrow, Severus." The door had shut behind him before Snape had fully registered that he was leaving.

Snape sat down heavily in his armchair. The fire Lupin had kindled still crackled upon the hearth.

Lupin knew.

Snape laughed, mirthlessly, for phrasing it so dramatically, even in his own thoughts. Some dark secret that was... or had been, until Lupin had sniffed him out. Better than a unicorn...

Dark secrets. Snape's record at hiding them was less than stellar. He'd bared his arm to Cornelius Fudge in front of Potter and company with little thought for their discretion. Not to mention Minerva and Poppy, assorted Weasleys, and-- though he hadn't known it and would have thought twice if he had-- Black and that Skeeter woman in animal form. Surely, there was far more shame in being a former Death Eater and spy than in being a virgin at thirty-six.

Except that being a spy-- even being a Death Eater-- was something he had done. A choice he had made. Not something that had just... happened. Or rather failed to happen.

Snape had always been very much a creature of the mind. And for most of his life, most of the time, happy to be so. His peers at school had found him repellant, he had known it. He had thought no better of most of them; even at fifteen he had had no patience with intellects less than his, no understanding of ambition less driving. When the students of his year-- older than he, almost all of them, by a full year at least-- had begun to pair off, Snape had learned to touch himself with a grim efficiency that knew neither shame nor any great pleasure and had resigned himself to solitude.

Snape's conscious thought, when the Death Eaters' invitation had come, unlooked-for but not unexpected, was that he had at last drawn the attention of the people with the discrimination to truly appreciate him. In the years since, he had realized that this had been truer than he had known-- his intellect alone might have been welcomed anywhere, but it was less of a gift to the Death Eaters than the desperate, inarticulate loneliness that had made him such a perfect recruit.

At his initiation, Snape had offered up his arm to the brand with a perfect trust that he now shuddered to remember, had leaned into the iron as to a caress.

Outwardly, his life changed very little, at first. Days were spent, and all the passion of his sharp mind, in the laboratory and the library; nights were spent alone. He still knew no touch but his own and little enough pleasure even in that. But he was needed and appreciated, and though he knew well that he was not loved or even liked, that was of little import.

There could have been other outlets for his appetites, had he cared to claim what, by virtue of his rising rank in the hierarchy, was his right. Some he did not care for-- women, he had known by the time he was sixteen, would never interest him-- and others he was tempted by, but refused. He had learned by this time that his ingrained reserve and sublimation were an asset, that a reputation for great self-control made it all the easier to control others.

And, though his potions had made him a murderer many times over, he scrupled still to make himself a rapist.

He knew by this time that he was in over his head, had started to know the desperate wrongness of everything he did in Voldemort's service; and he relied on the remove of the cauldron, the alembic, and the stoppered flask to keep that wrongness from touching him. His body, his senses, and his feelings were all conduits for that evil, and he took refuge in the remove that had always come so easily to him, in the life of the intellect alone.

But the greater an asset his self-abnegation became, the greater a thorn and a threat it was to those disciples-- and they were fewer and fewer-- above him. Lucius Malfoy set himself to find Snape's weakness, to find a hold over him. And perhaps in the end he had, Snape thought, for it had been Malfoy's long parade of temptations, each less tempting and more appalling, that had finally driven Snape's conscience from its long dormancy, had driven him down into his workroom to trace the line of the brand over and over, and feel no hint of yield or trust or acceptance in his flesh.

He still remembered little between his workroom and Dumbledore's office. And he was still ashamed, even now, that he had remained so willfully blind for so long; that he had been able to insulate himself so entirely within his own mind that could feel no horror, no revulsion, for the work of his own hands. But after his return to Voldemort, as a spy, he had had no choice but sink back into that isolation, for having once seen and felt and known that horror, he had known that it would quickly betray him if he let himself feel it again.

And after Voldemort's fall-- after one night spent in dry-eyed sobbing on the carpet of the Headmaster's office, a night which Dumbledore had never once spoken of, to Snape's gratitude-- after that had come the strange calm of being back at Hogwarts. A teacher, as hard as he sometimes-- still-- found that to believe. And as calm and normalcy returned, his senses had slowly reawakened.

Snape tried to live in his body, as much as he could. He considered it part of his penance, when he thought of it all. Mostly, he thought of the numb detachment of his last days in Voldemort's service with horror, and vowed never to need or want or crave it again. He feared to be the creature of pure mind he had once fancied himself, feared what that creature had done. He treasured still the innocent things which could take him away-- research, reading, the slow and careful brewing of a complex potion-- but at the door of the library or the laboratory, he forced himself to step back into his own skin.

It was not easy. Not since childhood had he thought of his flesh as himself, rather than some husk he could shed at will. Now he had awakened in a man's body, and he spent months going through the awkwardness of adolescence for a second time, finding himself suddenly, intensely aware of the length of his stride or the strength of his grip, or the simple fact of his body, existing, taking up space in the world, giving off heat, breathing.

And of other bodies as well. His students lived in a cloud of hormones, almost palpable around them-- were they all as blind to it as he had been at their age?-- and he couldn't shake off its influence at the classroom door. For the first time in years-- perhaps the first time ever, he could not remember-- he began to have erotic dreams, phantom lovers touching and kissing and sucking him, writhing under him, spreading him open and taking him. For a few desperately frightening weeks, he became preternaturally aware of one of his students, a Gryffindor sixth-year with dark red curls and an easy smile, and at the end of each day he would retreat to his dungeon quarters and stand for long minutes in the coldest shower he could tolerate, willing himself not to notice the boy's grace or his pale, freckled skin, wondering if his senses would make him as great a monster as their denial had.

But this too, Snape had survived. He had never once touched a student, not even the Gryffindor boy's seemingly endless train of equally fetching brothers. He had learned the subtle detachment that allowed him to notice beauty without touching it, to note his desires before shunting them aside to take up later. He was still neither liked nor desired, but he was again needed and appreciated, by his peers if not by his students, and that was enough, most of the time. He had learned to use his hands with some skill; though he had still known no touch but his own, he had found that his flesh was capable of much finer gradations of want and sensation than he had known. And if he sometimes suspected that the greatest joy in such pleasures might be in sharing them-- he was resigned to solitude, as he always had been, and the thought would always pass quickly. Only in the early hours of the morning, sometimes, he would wake from a dream of a pale-bodied lover opening his arms and tipping back his head, giving himself entirely to Snape's touch. But not since Bill Weasley's seventh year had Snape's dream-lovers worn a face he could identify.

Not until Remus Lupin had walked into the Great Hall, two years before. Snape's mouth hadn't gone dry then, he hadn't felt the blood leave his hands and pool in his loins at the scent of the man, felt a tug behind his navel watching the curve of his white throat-- those reactions had waited until Lupin's return, the summer past-- but his eyes had followed the werewolf with what, Snape had told himself, was purely justified watchfulness of a known Dark creature.

He had been lying to himself, of course, had spent most of that year lying to himself, trying to hide from his growing desire for Lupin, and his fear of it. The desire he had tried to cut himself off from, as much as he could; the fear he had not become consciously aware of until a shouting match with Dumbledore after the night at the Shrieking Shack-- another moment he would always be grateful to Dumbledore for never mentioning. But by then, Lupin had been gone. And it had been easier to accept the desire then, knowing nothing would ever come of it. Easy to imagine Lupin's hands and mouth and body, here in the sanctum of his dungeons...

And now Lupin had invaded that sanctum and offered to make those imaginings real.

And what kind of Slytherin are you, said a voice in his head, a voice Snape thought of privately as his Inner Salazar, though it sounded very like the Sorting Hat. He offers you your deepest desires on a platter and you freeze in terror.

Terror has a place, Snape told the voice. It keeps us from making foolish decisions without thinking. I'm used to being alone. I'm content with my life. I don't want to lose the balance I've tried so hard to achieve.

You mean that once he's got you out of his system, he'll leave and you'll be alone again.

Maybe that is what I mean, Snape thought. And why shouldn't it be? Is it anything besides common sense to turn down a one-night stand with a werewolf who has every reason to despise me?

But to that, his Inner Salazar was silent.

-+@+-

Breakfast was mercifully peaceful; Black had gone off on another errand for Dumbledore, and Lupin did not put in an appearance. At lunch, Snape received an owl from Lucius Malfoy; he was expected at the Manor the following night. He looked up from the parchment to see Lupin, teacup in hand, looking over his shoulder. "Does he suspect anything, do you think?"

"Of course; Lucius suspects everyone of everything. What are you doing out of your rooms?"

Lupin sighed. "Severus, the moon won't be rising for hours. I know how long I can function. Are Malfoy's suspicions anything we need to worry about?"

Snape caught the question that hadn't been asked. "He'll suspect me a great deal more if I don't go tomorrow."

"Good luck then, Severus. I assume you'll bring the potion by tonight?" He smiled. "I promise I won't break into your rooms again."

"You'd do well not to, unless you've lined up an alternate source for your Wolfsbane," Snape grumbled.

The smile vanished. "I hope I don't have to." Lupin touched his shoulder briefly, and left the Hall.

-+@+-

The moon had risen by the time Snape made it to Lupin's rooms halfway up Gryffindor Tower. Lupin sat at his desk, face drawn, a vein jumping at his temple; the windows were hidden behind heavy drapes. "Put down the cup and leave, Severus."

Snape set the goblet on a small table but did not move.

"Severus--"

"Let me stay."

Lupin turned and stared at him for several heartbeats. "Why?"

"I need to know what happens."

"You need to know that your potion works?" Lupin stood and crossed the room, picked up the goblet. "It does, Severus. I cannot begin to tell you what a difference this--" he hefted the cup-- "makes." He brought it to his lips and drank the potion at a draft. "Nonetheless, it's a grisly transformation, and I would think twice about witnessing it."

"I have. I need to see this, Lupin." He wasn't sure he could have explained why, but Lupin, after regarding him for another long moment-- and smelling him, Snape was sure-- didn't ask.

Lupin set down the cup. "If you're sure."

He went to the window, unselfconsciously stripping his robe over his head. He was naked beneath it, and Snape had a brief glimpse of the planes of his back before he threw back the curtains and the moonlight hit him.

Snape was grateful to the silver hairs that began to cover Lupin's body; they helped to hide the grotesque stretching and twisting of his skin. Under the growl that rose from the werewolf's throat, he could hear the horrible grinding of bone on bone. The creature's limbs moved through impossible angles before settling under him, claws screeching on the stone floor, and the thick pelt twitched, settling into place on the wolf's back.

The wolf put its paws on the windowsill and pressed its snout to the glass. It whimpered, nosing around the window frame, searching for a way out into the moonlight.

"You'd still go out if you could, wouldn't you?"

The wolf turned and regarded him with brown eyes very like Lupin's. Human eyes. It whimpered again, like a dog, but it dropped its paws to the floor.

"How much can you understand, I wonder? I know you're not just Lupin in a new skin."

There was no sign of understanding in the wolf's eyes, but still it stared at Snape. It took a few steps forward, stepping as it did into shadow and out of the patch of moonlight on the floor. It growled and retreated, turning its head up to the window and the full moon.

"You feel the moon's call so strongly, then." The wolf pricked up its ears. "What is it like? Is it just that you wish you were outside, running in the night air?" The wolf turned to Snape again. "Or is it more than that? A compulsion? A call that you cannot ignore, no matter how much you fear to answer?" Snape took a tentative step forward, and when the wolf made no move, sat down in one of Lupin's armchairs, just outside the patch of moonlight. "I know something about how that feels." Snape pushed up the left sleeve of his robe, baring the faint outline of the Dark Mark. The wolf moved to the edge of its cage of moonlight. It leaned in and sniffed the air above Snape's arm.

Snape was struck suddenly and deeply by the knowledge of what creature's maw hovered not three inches from his flesh, but he remained still, knowing that sudden moves would do more to incite an attack than the smell of his fear.

Attack, said his Inner Salazar. Do you have so little confidence in your own handiwork? He won't be looking for prey tonight, not with a flagon of Wolfsbane in him.

Knowing that he's kept some human awareness isn't all that comforting, thought Snape. Lupin has enough purely human reasons to wish me ill.

But the wolf seemed to be as wary of Snape as he was of it; it sat on its haunches, ears slightly flattened, eyes and nose focused on the brand on Snape's arm. "This wasn't visible again until last year, but it was never entirely gone," Snape said, in a quieter voice than he'd ever used with Lupin in human form. "I could feel it burning, at times. Whenever a large group of his old followers would gather, sometimes when there were disturbances at Azkaban... other times, too; I didn't always know why.

"We were all linked, though this. To him, of course, but to each other as well. Even in those years when I thought I was free of him, I was never quite free of them. They would meet, by threes and fours, for a bit of their old-- sport-- and I would feel this Mark burn under my skin, in my blood and in my bones. I knew I wanted no part of whatever they were up to-- the very thought made me feel ill-- but part of me still wanted to be there. The urge to Disapparate and join my old-- comrades-- never became any easier to resist."

The wolf took a step out of the moonlight and into the shadow. It sat at Snape's feet, close enough that Snape could see his reflection in the deep brown eyes. "So you understand something, do you, wolf?" Snape let his sleeve fall over the Mark. "I think we understand each other well enough. It can be resisted. But it's not easy, is it?"

The wolf lay its head on Snape's knee. Hesitantly, Snape reached out, stroked the soft fur behind its ears, let his hand rest between its shoulder blades and tangle in the thick coat.

-+@+-

Snape wakened with a start. The room was filled with the pale red light of dawn, and Lupin lay huddled on the floor at his feet. The silver coat was gone, and Snape could see Lupin's skin shifting and stretching, his body moving in ways that should have been impossible. He suddenly threw back his head, lips pulled far back, long fangs retreating further into small human mandibles than they should have had room to go. A terrible strangled sound issued from his throat. The light grew brighter, the first ray of sunlight found its way through the window, and at its touch Lupin shuddered and fell against the floor, fully human again in form. In the daylight, he could see the faintly silver scars grooved across Lupin's shoulder.

Unused to offering comfort, and unsure what he should do for the shivering and gasping man, Snape rose and fetched Lupin's robe from where it had fallen at moonrise. He found Lupin looking up him. "Here."

"Thank you." Lupin reached for the robe with a shaking hand; Snape knelt beside him and draped it over his shoulders. Lupin grasped the heavy black cloth and held it close around him.

Snape stayed there, kneeling beside him, while Lupin caught his breath. After a few minutes Lupin turned to give him a wan smile. "More than you bargained for?"

"In a way." Snape stood, gave Lupin his hand and helped him to his feet. "Do you remember...?"

"Yes and no. It's all filtered through the wolf's senses; I know you spoke to me, but I have a hard time understanding human speech, when I'm in that form. But I remember--" he looked down at Snape's left forearm. "I hadn't known it had a scent. But it smelled like the moon."

"I hadn't known the moon had a scent," Snape said. "But I believe you."

-+@+-

Lupin stayed in his rooms all morning, but Snape saw him at lunch in the Great Hall. "What are you doing up?"

"Fine, thanks." Snape snorted. Lupin sat down beside him, his expression serious. "I'm up because there are two things I wanted to say to you, Severus. Firstly, to wish you luck tonight. I still think we're all being fools to let you take this chance, but that doesn't mean I don't think you know what you're doing. You know better than any of us what we're up against, and that you're still willing to play this part makes you the bravest among us, I think."

Snape, unaccustomed to compliments or to expressions of goodwill, nodded stiffly. It took him a moment to remember to add, "Thank you."

"It's the truth. And secondly, Severus, I wanted to thank you. For staying with me last night."

Snape looked up, surprised. "You didn't seem at all eager to have me there."

"I didn't want to frighten you too badly. I know it's not pleasant to watch."

"I have seen worse," Snape murmured.

"I know. But I am glad you were there last night, to speak to me, call me away from the moon. When I'm alone it's so easy to forget what I am, who I am. Your being there helped to remind me. I'm grateful for that." He lay a hand on Snape's arm for a moment. "So thank you, Severus."

-+@+-

They had used only the subtlest memory charms; he still had all his wits about him. That only made it worse, to be so aware of what he couldn't reach. He worried the hollow in his mind like a loose tooth.

It had been a choice, in the end, between the charm and the potion against pain; either would have made the other less effective. Snape would have chosen the potion, would have bolstered his body's defenses, but trusted in the strength of his mind. But the choice had been Dumbledore's, and Snape had abided by it.

The sun had set, and the moon had risen: round, the true full moon, and the second night of Lupin's transformation. In Gryffindor Tower, he would be pacing before the window now, alone. Perhaps he could see Snape, a tiny figure in a dark hooded cloak, trudging across the grounds. Snape pushed the thought from his mind. He had more pressing matters to consider.

The Mark had not been touched, but it burned nonetheless, faintly. The Death Eaters were assembling. By the time Snape crossed the wards around the school, the urge to Disapparate and join them had become almost tangible, a yearning in his veins, as though all his blood cells had turned towards Malfoy Manor as a lodestone to the Pole. As always, Snape stood for a moment outside the wards, denying the yearning for a few more seconds, just to prove to himself that he could.

Malfoy Manor was also hedged with wards, except for the small drawing room where Snape Apparated. Lucius entered, bearing two glasses of wine. "Punctual as always, Severus." The door closed behind him by a charm, cutting off the sound of conversation from down the hall.

Snape took a sip of the wine-- excellent, though far from the best of Malfoy's cellar. "A necessary habit in my current career."

"I'm sure it is." Lucius took a drink from his own glass. "Well, we shan't keep you too long tonight. Wouldn't want Dumbledore to have to wait up too late." Malfoy's face gave away nothing.

Snape gave his friendliest sneer. "Keeping your invitation a secret would have been somewhat easier if you hadn't owled me in the Great Hall, Lucius. As it is, I--"

"Severus, Severus." Malfoy shook his head. "It's just the two of us here; there's no need for pretense. Of course, the old man is waiting for your report on the evening's events. I'd have expected nothing else."

Snape wiped the sneer, and all expression, from his face. "When he asked me to spy for him, it would have been rather awkward for me to refuse."

"So naturally, you agreed to pass on what information you could glean." Malfoy swirled the wine in his glass. He looked up with a genial smile. "Just as you did fifteen years ago."

Snape's fingers tightened on the glass. He set it down before Malfoy could see his knuckles whiten. "Malfoy, if you are insinuating that I have returned to our master's service with a less than eager heart--"

"Certainly not."

Snape made no outward show of his relief.

"The condition of your heart is of no concern to me, Severus." Malfoy was still smiling. "So long as you serve our master's purposes, it matters nothing to me whether you do it eagerly or willingly or under the Imperius. I am a pragmatist."

Beneath Snape's skin, the brand had begun to burn.

"It is our Lord you must convince of your loyalty, Severus."

He felt a draft from the door, but all conversation outside it had ceased. Without looking behind him, Snape prostrated himself.

-+@+-

The potion would have done no good either. He kept the thought close to him as he knelt, retching, just inside the wards, and all through the long walk back across the grounds and through the castle: the potion would have been just as worthless. It wouldn't be reasonable to blame Albus for overruling him.

And in any case Dumbledore did it for him, as soon as he saw Snape's face. "Severus. I am so sorry. I should never have insisted upon the charm." Snape let himself be settled in a chair by the fire, mechanically accepted the tea the Headmaster offered him.

Snape laughed, once. "It doesn't matter. As it happened, none of our precautions were needed." He held the china cup between his palms, letting it warm him.

"Severus. I can recognize the aftereffects--"

"Crucio, yes." He bit the words off short, looked into his teacup to avoid the concerned gaze that he knew from experience Dumbledore would be turning on him.

"And yet the potion would have been of no use?"

"No, because it would only have lengthened the ordeal."

He looked up to see Dumbledore digest that, his brow clouding. "You were asked no questions?"

"Is the old man so foolish as to believe you loyal to him?" The Dark Lord's shadow had fallen across the floor, across his outstretched arm where the Mark glowed green. "And perhaps you even believe it yourself?" The shape of a hand appeared, the slender shadow of a wand. "I know better."

"None pertaining to our plans here." A long pause. "I had to-- convince him of my loyalty."

He'd kept the pain bearable, at first-- enough that Snape could hear and understand his murmured words. "I know better, Severus. I knew your measure when I gave you this." And the Mark had burned.

Sorrow, and perhaps a look of contrition, passed over Dumbledore's face, but he said only, "And do you believe he is convinced?"

"I am still allowed to serve him, though I think I am on probation, as it were. And Lucius knows I'm passing information to you."

Dumbledore, damn him, gave no sign of surprise. "And?"

"He doesn't expect me to stop. It seems I'm playing the spy for both sides now." He laughed again, though the bitter noise came out higher and more breathless than he'd intended. "What does that make me, I wonder? A triple agent?"

"Severus." Dumbledore looked at him over the rim of his spectacles for a long moment. "Even given tonight's events, you are the only one of us who has any reasonable hope of entering Voldemort's inner circle. But even so, Severus-- if it is not too late for you to relinquish your role, without risk to your safety-- the choice is still yours."

The Mark had flared with a pain that bit into Snape's marrow. The shadow had loomed lower, and the voice had spoken into his ear: "You may run from me, Severus, but I am in your blood and your bone, and sooner or later you will return. Pray that I will be merciful enough to take you back when you do."

"Mine?" Snape shook his head. "It's your game, Albus. And your move." Snape set down the teacup and stood up, feeling the movement in every muscle and joint. "Now it's very late, and since I have no new information to pass along, I think I'll say good night."

-+@+-

Lupin's door was locked, of course, but only by a deadbolt, and it opened easily to Snape's Alohomora. The wolf turned from the window, hackles raised and teeth bared. Snape kept his wand out, noticed that the hand holding it was trembling slightly. "Lupin." The wolf sniffed the air. It took one slow step forward, then another, though it closed its lips over its teeth. What the devil are you playing at, demanded the Inner Salazar. The wolf looked at him as if asking the same question. "Remus. It's Severus. You know me."

The wolf sat back on its haunches a few feet from Snape and regarded him with unreadable eyes. "I came... Black's still away, I thought you might appreciate company." Better hope the wolf can't tell how inane you're sounding, said the Inner Salazar. Nothing changed in the wolf's glassy stare. Snape lowered his wand. "I know that I would."

The wolf came up and butted Snape's hand, like a cat demanding attention. Snape knelt and stroked its head. "You told me that I helped you remember who you are, last night." He took a deep breath, inhaling the warm loamy smell of fur, and a forest smell that somehow clung to the wolf, even in Gryffindor Tower. "I had hoped you might be able to return the favor."

He rolled up his left sleeve. The Mark had faded, but under the skin it still thrilled-- the Death Eaters would likely not leave Malfoy Manor until sunrise. In the aftermath of the Cruciatus, the yearning to join them had become a physical pain, his sensitized nerves feeling every mile of the distance separating him from the Dark Lord. Apparating had been like scraping his skin raw over rough stones. "I repudiated them, years ago. I gave it all up. I never want to go back. And I know that as surely as I know anything. But the thing under my skin doesn't. Nights like these, especially." He looked up from the brand into the wolf's brown eyes. "I expect this must sound somewhat familiar to you."

The wolf bent its shaggy head and licked Severus's forearm. The sandpaper rub of its tongue on the tender flesh was a new pain, magnified by his weary nerves. But it felt like benediction.

"Thank you." The wolf looked up at him. There's one theory shot down, said the Inner Salazar; thanking a werewolf in his bestial form had once been considered a cure for lycanthropy, among medieval Muggles. But something did seem to shift in the wolf's eyes, some glimmer of understanding surfacing that hadn't been there before. At least you hope not, said the Inner Salazar; we both know you'd never have said any of that if you thought he might understand you.

Maybe I would have, thought Snape. Maybe I would. Aloud, he asked the wolf, "May I stay with you tonight?" The wolf nuzzled his palm briefly and thumped its tail once on the floor. "I'll take that as a yes." Snape stood and made for the armchair he'd occupied the previous night, but the wolf stopped him with a paw on the hem of his robe. "What?" The wolf crossed the room in a bound and stood at the open door to Lupin's bedchamber. Snape followed, hesitantly. The wolf jumped onto the foot of the bed, turned three times to make itself a nest. It looked up expectantly at Snape. Snape hesitated in the doorway. "If you're sure?" The wolf tossed its head with what might have been exasperation. "All right." Snape took off his shoes and his robe and stretched out in Lupin's bed. The wolf curled up against him, a heavy warm presence, and a comforting one. A being who trusted him. A werewolf's trust, he thought-- but then, said the Inner Salazar, what being needs to be more careful with its trust?

And with that thought, Snape slept.

-+@+-

He woke at dawn to the shaking of the bed as Lupin writhed in his transformation. He raised his head from the pillow to see a fully human Lupin, naked and shuddering and not really awake, roll up in a fold of the coverlet and nestle against Snape. Even through the layers of bedclothes, he could feel Lupin's warmth, as solid and as comforting a presence as the wolf's had been.

Comfort. When had he become weak enough to need it? He'd been cruciated before-- for longer than he'd endured last night-- and had never felt the need to crawl into bed with the first warm body he found. The first warm body, scoffed the Inner Salazar. You make it sound like they've been lining up, all your dear friends, just waiting for the chance to comfort you.

And when have I needed a gaggle of friends? I've got through one war on my own, Snape thought. I can manage it this time, too. I could leave Lupin and his bloody kindness right now.

Then why haven't you, demanded the Inner Salazar. You could have got rid of Lupin when he came to your chambers three nights ago. A few well-chosen words, and he never would have bothered you again with his interest; a few more and he might never have spoken to you again. You let him in, Snape. You accepted his forgiveness and his trust and you're ready to accept whatever else he offers when he wakes. Don't tell me you could leave; of course you could. You could do it now, slip out of bed and back to the dungeons. He won't wake.

It's Saturday, thought Snape. There's no need to chance it.

Then stop second-guessing yourself, said the Inner Salazar. It's unSlytherin.

When he woke again, it was mid-morning, and Lupin was watching him. "Severus."

"Lupin. I hope I'm not imposing."

"Far from it. I told you before, Severus, I am grateful for your company during my transformations." One corner of Lupin's mouth turned up. "And besides, you must know I've been wanting to wake up and find you in my bed for quite some time now."

Snape was suddenly very much aware that Lupin was still naked.

"I've been watching you sleep." Lupin reached out and lifted a lock of hair away from Snape's face. His fingers trailed along Snape's cheek. "I--" Lupin broke off, folding his hands in his blanket-covered lap. "Maybe I ought to go put some clothes on."

"Really." Snape sat up, very slowly. "I was beginning to think that I was overdressed." Lupin's face showed surprise, but nothing more; he looked at him for a long moment but said nothing. "That is," Snape said, looking away, "if your offer still stands."

Lupin caught his chin, searched his face with a stare very like the wolf's. "It does." His expression softened. "It's just that I don't know what happened to you last night, Severus. You don't have to tell me, of course, but--" he smiled, somewhat tentatively-- "I know you're not going to accuse me of taking advantage of you at a vulnerable moment, but for my own peace of mind, please tell me I'm not doing just that."

Snape wished that he could have set this thing in motion with one word, could have thrown himself to Lupin's mercy, and the mercy of the strange welter of his feelings. But it was with a frightening deliberation, an almost painful awareness of his movements, that he took Lupin's face between his hands, and leaned down, and kissed him.

Was it the last lingering aftereffects of the Cruciatus that let him feel every contour of the other man's mouth against his own, feel Lupin's warm breath and racing pulse? Snape didn't know; could no longer even wonder once Lupin opened his mouth and coaxed Snape's lips apart, licked at his palate with a slick tongue.

They parted; Snape took in a rather gasping breath. "Or did you mean verbally?"

Lupin laughed, threadily; Snape noted with some satisfaction that Lupin's breath was as quick and shallow as his own. "In that voice, you can say anything you want and I will listen. Raptly." He rested his forehead against Snape's shoulder.

"Pity I haven't the faintest idea what to say in this sort of situation," Snape muttered.

Lupin looked at him with a not-at-all-tentative smile. "Words tend to lose their usefulness about now." He ran one hand up through Snape's hair, traced the line of his throat with the other, in a motion that made Snape's breath catch and his eyelids fall shut. "I suppose if I want to hear your voice in my ear again, I'll just have to find out what makes you moan, won't I?" And without waiting for an answer, he began to undo Snape's collar, leaning in to anoint each inch of skin he bared with a whisper-light kiss.

Snape let his head fall back, let his hands rest on Lupin's shoulders, as the kisses trailed down his throat and over his collarbone. Lupin's hands worked at his shirt buttons, his hot mouth kissing a line down his torso as they were undone. In another moment the shirt was gone, and he was shivering.

"Cold, Severus?" Lupin pulled Snape close, stroking his back, pressing skin against bare skin-- the heat of him, the solid warmth, seemed to go straight to Snape's bones. Lupin buried his face in Snape's neck, licking and nuzzling his way up. A tug of lips on his earlobe made Snape gasp. Lupin laughed, a low chuckle that Snape felt more than heard, and did it again. A swirl of Lupin's tongue around the shell of his ear went straight to Snape's groin; he wrenched away, and taking Lupin's head in his hands leaned in for another kiss. This time, he began mapping Lupin's mouth with his own tongue-- the smoothness of teeth, the long arch of the palate, the firm vital tongue that wrestled with his. Lupin's hand, trapped between their bodies, made slow circles against his chest. It brushed a suddenly hard nipple, and Snape gasped into Lupin's mouth.

Lupin released his mouth, but only to rain kisses down Snape's neck; fierce kisses, as hungry as the others had been light. At the juncture of neck and shoulder, he bit down; Snape cried out.

"Severus?" Lupin looked up with concern.

It took a moment to register in Snape's brain that Lupin was worried he'd hurt him. "I liked that." He could hear disbelief in his own voice.

Lupin licked at the marks he'd left, whether in smugness or contrition Snape couldn't tell, though it felt wonderful. Lupin pulled away. "Before this gets too interesting, I need to fetch something." He stood up and vanished through a door hidden in the paneling before Snape's eyes had a chance to register more than pale skin and smooth motion. Snape tried to untangle the bedclothes, but after a few vain attempts settled for sweeping them off the bed and into a jumbled heap on the floor.

"I was going to ask if you were still sure about this, but from your impatience..." Lupin stood in the bathroom door, holding a small glass jar and his wand. Naked, and gloriously aroused. He stood there for a moment, favoring Snape with a maddeningly calm, steady gaze. I did that to him, thought Snape, at the same time that Lupin said, "I think I can assume that you are."

Lupin set the jar and wand on the night table, and crawled across the bed to where Snape sat. He knelt behind him, leaned in to kiss his shoulder and brush his thumbs gently over his nipples. "Though you're still overdressed." He skimmed his hands down Snape's sides, to the waist of his trousers. Snape went to unfasten the fly, but Lupin knocked his hands away. "Let me." With agonizing slowness, he undid the buttons; by the time he finally had the trousers open they had become almost unbearably tight. In Snape's ears, his blood roared, swift and loud. "It seems I misspoke," Lupin murmured. He stroked Snape through the fabric of his boxers, and Snape shuddered and let his head fall onto Lupin's shoulder. "You are rather imposing, Severus." Snape bucked his hips into Lupin's caress, felt Lupin pull the trousers down and off. He fell back against the mattress, panting, as Lupin pounced, straddling him and capturing his mouth in the most demanding kiss yet.

Skin against skin. The contact was overwhelming, and it took him long moments to sort out all the sensations, the heat of Lupin's body, and the weight of him, the hardness of muscle and the surprising softness of chest hair, the warm there-ness of his erection nudging at Snape's abdomen. Snape arched his back, clutching at Lupin's shoulders as his own arousal scraped against the other man's, only a thin layer of cotton between them. Lupin moaned into his mouth, then broke the kiss.

"Severus." He bent his head to take a nipple in his mouth; it made Snape's breath catch. Lupin responded with a swipe of his tongue, and a broken sound rose in his throat. Lupin's hands stroked his sides, returning again and again to the places that made him gasp. The sensual assault continued, Lupin's mouth travelling first to the other nipple, and then slowly down his stomach.

By the time Lupin reached the waistband of his boxers and pulled them down, all Snape's deliberation had long since left him. His breath was ragged and stuttering, pulling scraps of sound out of him, half-formed cries that fell like stones from his tongue. The first touch of Lupin's tongue to his shaft drew a hoarse, wordless moan. After that, Snape could not tell how much of the roaring in his ears was his own voice, could no longer even separate the sensations Lupin's mouth and hands were wringing from him: all the feeling in his body was collapsed into one jumble of hot and wet and slick and hot and good, so good, so--

He was coming, hard, his hips thrashing, his whole body seized and shaken. As the last spasms shook him he became aware that Lupin's mouth still held him, was still coaxing the last drops of his pleasure from him. He collapsed against the bed as Lupin released him, felt rather than saw Lupin crawl up the bed and lean over him. "Severus?"

He opened his eyes. "Remus. My god."

Lupin twined a finger in his sparse chest hair. "Do you want to know what you taste like?" He leaned in for a kiss, this one tentative. His mouth was salty and smoky and musky. His own taste on Lupin's tongue seemed more shockingly intimate even than Lupin's mouth on his cock. Snape pulled away, still panting. "Remus. That was..." he shook his head. Tendrils of hair, curling with sweat, fell over his eyes. "I don't know what to say."

Lupin brushed the hair back from his face. "A rare admission. I should feel honored."

"You're smirking, Lupin." Snape lay a hand on Lupin's shoulder and sat up, slowly, pushing the unresisting Lupin down onto his back. "Perhaps I should do something about that."

Lupin's smirk widened to a grin, though his eyes were hooded and dark. He settled back into the pillows. "Do your worst."

Snape said nothing, merely fixed him with a stare. Lupin swallowed. He let himself drink in the sight of Lupin's body. No less than Snape, Lupin looked older than his years-- there were thin lines around the glistening eyes, gray in the hair that fell over his forehead. More gray in the fine hair that covered his chest, in the curls that grew, thicker and coarser, around his erection. Gray, and silver-- drops of dewy moisture glistened in the thatch of hair, and as he watched another bead welled up from the tip of his cock, to fall and shatter in the dusting of curls below his navel. A visible shudder ran across the skin of Lupin's belly. His brown nipples were drawn in, straining up from his pectorals; on his shoulder, the contrast between white scar and flushed skin made Snape's heart pound. And the shape of that shoulder, the lines of the wiry muscle, the perfect, fragile line of his throat, taut and corded and gleaming with sweat--

"God, Severus, the way you look at me. I can feel your eyes on me." Lupin's lips were parted, his eyes almost black. "You could make me come without even touching me."

Snape let his lip twist into what might have been a smile. "I do hope you don't expect me to."

Lupin's skin was warm and moist with sweat; the scars were cool and solid as Snape slowly traced them with his fingertips. He scattered light touches across Lupin's chest, down his arms, up and down his neck, mapping his body, committing the feel of him to memory-- the spot inside his arm where a caress made him gasp, the slow circling of a nipple that made him moan, the line down his throat where a fingernail brought out a whimper, a thready, needy sound that recalled the wolf at the window. The quick pulse of the vein in his cock, and the light touch all along it that made him hiss. I did this, Snape thought, taking the warm weight of Lupin's cock into his hand. I made him sweat and pant and writhe and moan. I made him hard. The sense of power was dizzying, but it was a wild and uncontrolled power, like some new magic he had only begun to manifest. "Remus?"

"Anything." Lupin lifted his head, meeting Snape's gaze with slitted eyes. "Anything you want, Severus."

Snape shut his own eyes and drew in a breath. "I believe you once said something about throwing me down on the hearthrug and ravishing me."

Lupin's cock twitched in his hand. "Yes. God, yes." Snape opened his eyes; Lupin's parted lips had curved into a smile. "But can we leave out the hearthrug part? I really don't want to leave this bed." He reached up to card a hand through Snape's hair and pulled his head down for a rather breathless kiss; his other hand settled against Snape's back and slowly drew him down into an embrace.

Skin on skin again. Warm, naked skin, and Lupin's erection pressing against his stomach, and shallow, open-mouthed kisses, hardly more than an exchange of heated breaths, but they enflamed him nonetheless; he felt his own cock stirring again. Lupin's hands against his chest and shoulders, and the world spinning around him-- suddenly Snape was flat on his stomach, face stifling among the pillows, and lifting his head found a shadow falling over him, across his outflung arm--

"Severus. Severus, what's the matter?"

Lupin's voice. Ergo, Lupin's shadow. Snape realized he was clutching the sheets in rigid fingers, breathing in what must look like abject terror. Looks like, muttered the Inner Salazar, try is.

With some effort, Snape unclenched his fingers and rolled onto his back. His incipient erection had vanished. "It's all right."

"The hell it is. I've never seen anything spook you like that." Lupin touched his hand, hesitantly. "If you don't want to do this--"

"No." Severus clasped his hand around Lupin's. "I do. I just--" I just mistook your shadow for the Dark Lord's, that's all. I just can't even lie prone without remembering the Cruciatus with every nerve and fiber and pore. I'm just feeling my flesh spinning away out of my control for the second time since sundown, and it's hard not to make comparisons. "I just need to be able to see your face."

It was no explanation, but Lupin did not press him. "All right. If you're sure." He raised Snape's hand and kissed it, then untangled their fingers and kissed his palm. The kiss seemed to draw out some of Snape's lingering fear. Lupin licked his palm, delicately, following the lines as closely as any chiromancer. He suckled Snape's fingers into his mouth one by one, nibbled at the webbing of his thumb, mouthed the pulse point of his wrist. Snape tensed, remembering which hand Lupin held, but Lupin continued his progress, following the veins up his forearm. The Mark was quiescent, no brighter than a Muggle tattoo. It felt no different from the surrounding flesh, under Lupin's tongue. Felt no different when Lupin dropped a kiss onto the jaws of the gaping skull. Felt like nothing except Snape's own skin. Snape realized he was trembling.

Lupin met his eyes. "Did you really think I would turn away from this? After last night?"

Snape reached out and traced the scars on Lupin's shoulder. "No."

Lupin bent his head and pressed a kiss into Snape's elbow. By the time he had reached his shoulder, Lupin was lying atop him, their legs tangled together, Lupin's erection pressing against Snape's thigh. Snape's nudging Lupin's belly. He kissed Lupin's temple, nibbled his ear, nuzzled his gray-shot hair, while Lupin's lips slowly worked across his shoulder, up his neck, lit here and there on his jaw, his chin, finally came to rest against his mouth. The kiss began lightly, just a graze of lips before one or the other would retreat, but by its end, Lupin's fingers were clutching his shoulders hard enough to bruise, while Snape's own hands had fallen to Lupin's buttocks, were pressing their groins hard together.

Lupin pulled back, panting, and sat on his heels between Snape's knees. He raised his face and let out a short laugh. "I could get used to seeing you this way, Severus. 'Kissed to within an inch of your life' is a good look for you."

Severus couldn't stop his hips from thrusting toward the lost warmth of Lupin's body. "I think I'd rather try for 'thoroughly debauched,' if you don't mind."

"Not in the slightest." Lupin took the glass jar from the night table and opened it; Snape could smell aloe, helianthus-- his nostrils twitched-- eucalyptus-- "Before you ask, yes this is one of yours." With a one-sided smile, Lupin took some of the thick liquid-- the base for Poppy's burn salve and sundry other healing ointments-- onto his fingers. "Honestly, Severus, I do hope you're not thinking about potions right now." He traced one slick finger down Snape's shaft. And kept going, between his balls, and back, and farther back.

"Not-- anymore." Snape felt rather proud for forming coherent words, when Lupin's finger was stroking him there, a maddeningly light touch, not yet moving to penetrate, but enough to make him writhe.

"Good." He pressed, very gently, and slid inside. "Because if you were--" a circling touch, slow-moving-- how could Lupin's slender finger feel so immense inside him? "--I'd have to give you something else to think about." And he pressed upward, into--

"Mmmm. I knew I'd find out what made you moan."

Was he moaning? Probably. Anyone would moan, feeling-- Oh, yes. Lupin pressed in again-- he seemed to have worked another finger in-- and Snape arched his back, his head falling to the pillow. It had to be the-- oh god yes-- the what-do-you-call-it. Prostate gland. He'd read that it could be a source of-- oh god--

"--pleasure." Lupin was saying something. Had been saying something. It didn't seem important that he answer. Lupin's fingers were moving faster now, in and out, hitting that sensitive spot with every stroke, and driving rational thought far away. Lupin had said something else, Snape realized, was looking at him as though he expected an answer. Though there was really nothing to say, except--

"More." Was that what his voice sounded like, Snape thought? So hoarse and deep and pleading?

Lupin's fingers abruptly withdrew. "You're certain, Severus?" As he spoke he was already stroking himself with a slickened hand in anticipation of Snape's answer.

Snape tried to put all of his emptiness and frustration into his sneer. "No, damn it, I've just changed my mind. For Merlin's sake, Lupin--" and Lupin was there, between his knees, settling Snape's legs over his shoulders, looking down into his eyes. "Remus." Pressing against him with the blunt head of his cock. "Fuck me."

Lupin bit his lip and closed his eyes, and began to slowly, ever so slowly, press inside. I must be splitting into pieces, Snape thought. He remembered the werewolf's teeth retreating into human jaws. This should be impossible. Lupin slid another inch forward and hit his prostate; he gasped in pleasure. A look of concern crossed Lupin's face, but before could stop Snape thrust his hips down, impaling himself in one swift stroke, until he felt the scratch of coarse hair against his skin.

Lupin held very still, catching his breath. Sweat was beading on his forehead. "Severus?"

"I was getting tired of assuring you I'm all right."

"Then I won't ask again." And didn't, simply withdrew and slowly thrust in again.

The jolt to his prostate sent pleasure racing along Snape's spine, and the friction-- another thrust, a little faster this time-- birthed an entirely different pleasure, a warmth, igniting and-- another thrust; he met it with a motion of his own hips-- building to a slow burn in his belly and groin. Lupin shifted, leaning down on his elbows, close enough to kiss Snape's parted lips. Under his hands Snape could feel the play of muscles in Lupin's back. He leaned up into the kiss, meeting Lupin thrust for thrust. His cock was pressed against Lupin's abdomen, teased by the line of curls below his navel. "More," he mouthed against Lupin's chin.

He thought Lupin growled, deep in his throat. It was the last thing he was at all sure of, before all his senses but touch were drowned in the flood of sensations that followed-- the friction and the warmth, the weight of Lupin's body and the heat of his breath, and the rhythm that subsumed his pulse and his breathing, his entire being, in the swell and ebb and thrust and retreat and there, right there, on each stroke, right--

The climax that took him was intense, and the aftershocks seemed to go on and on, some new reservoir of pleasure tapped with each thrust. He opened his eyes and saw Lupin's, wide and dark.

"Your face when you come, Severus, I wish you could see it--" He was breathing in ragged gasps. "So incredible." It was still hot and full and good, and Lupin's body in his arms was still warm and solid, and trembling with need.

"Then let me see you." He reached up and traced the line of Lupin's jaw. "Come for me, Remus."

Another thrust, and another, and Lupin did. His eyes stayed open, stayed fixed on Snape's, even as he shuddered and spilled himself in Snape's body. He pulled back just enough to let Snape drop his legs before collapsing against Snape's chest. Snape folded his arms over Lupin's back, idly stroking his shoulder. He realized he'd petted the wolf in the same way, but Lupin didn't seem to mind.

He didn't know how long they stayed like that before Lupin reached for his wand and muttered an incantation to remove the half-dried seed from their bodies and the sheets. He lay back down, resting his head on Snape's shoulder. "We could try this on the hearthrug next time, if you really want to."

It took Snape a moment to remember what the devil he was talking about. Lupin, seeming to misinterpret his pause, looked up with a carefully neutral expression. "That's assuming, of course, that you want there to be a next time."

Snape tightened his arm around Lupin's waist. "Yes."

Lupin nestled in closer, twining his legs with Snape's. There was another lengthy pause. "Good. I could get used to this."

They lay together, not speaking, Lupin seeming to drift in and out of sleep, Snape languidly stroking Lupin's back. He wasn't sure how long they had lain there, or whether he'd been asleep or awake, when the pricking of the Mark startled him. Milder than the night before-- only a small group, then, three or four-- but still there, pulling at him. He could feel the Death Eaters, like hidden eyes watching him. That way-- at an angle to the sun. North. Azkaban, perhaps...

"Severus?" Lupin was leaning on his elbows, studying him.

"It's nothing," Snape said-- snapped, rather, he realized. Lupin looked skeptical. Old habits, Snape thought. All those habits I've cultivated to keep people out. I'm going to have reconsider all of them, if I want to let one person in. "This is going to take some getting used to."

"What is?"

"Not telling you to mind your own bloody business." Lupin blinked in evident surprise. "Assuming, of course, that--"

"Yes." Lupin pressed his palm against Snape's chest. "I'm not in the habit of sleeping with people I don't want to talk to, Severus. Actually, I'm not in the habit of throwing myself at people the way I did with you, but-- well, I tried the 'let's put our differences behind us and see if we can't be friends' approach without any success. Twice. Three times, if you count our sixth year."

"I see. So you're only feigning interest in my body to get at my mind."

"Git." He ran his hand up Snape's neck, brushed a lock of hair away from his face. "There is nothing the least bit insincere about my interest in your body." He let his hand rest along Snape's cheek for a moment. "Or your mind."

Lupin reclined against Snape's pillow, let his fingers tangle in Snape's hair. "Anything you want to tell me, Severus, I'll listen to."

It's not a matter of wanting to, Snape thought. Can he think I want to risk myself this way, after all this time? Even all this morning's pleasures wouldn't be enough to make me take down the walls I've built, if Voldemort were only gone. If I didn't need a new penance, after fifteen years of working to deserve Albus's trust. If I didn't need to know that my death would matter to anyone but the old man whose willing pawn I am.

It's a matter of needing an anchor against the dark undertow in my blood. Of needing a voice to call me back. To remind me of who I am. Of needing something else to yearn for, when the Mark awakens and threatens to pull me away. Of needing to prove that my body answers to me, even though the brand cuts bone-deep. Needing a touch that isn't a torment. When has my life ever been about so simple a thing as want?

Aloud, he only said. "It was hard enough to talk to the wolf. And I'm not accustomed to volunteering information, least of all about myself." Lupin stiffened beside him. He reached up and caught his hand, though he couldn't look at him. He held it, tightly, and felt Lupin relax, curling up against him. "You'll have to ask the questions, Remus. But I promise I'll try to answer."