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Severus doesn't say anything-- he never does-- but Remus knows he was cruciated again tonight. Lately, he's come back from almost every summons this way: white and chilled, sliding gingerly between the sheets as though the Egyptian cotton were burlap. He's shivering.

Remus takes one of his hands and chafes it, slowly, rubbing warmth back into the cold skin. The hand trembles, more and more as it slowly unclenches and warms. Severus isn't as badly affected as he has been-- there's no smell of vomit on him, which means that at some point he's had the strength to do a cleansing spell-- but it's still bad. Worse than the last time. He watches Severus's face, but he can't read it; his jaw is set, his eyes shuttered. He would have been unmasked, then.

Remus won't ask who else was summoned, what was discussed. He'll hear it all tomorrow; Snape will have gone to Dumbledore first. That he's here, with him, still so cold and shaking, means that he's brought back little news; his report can't have taken him long.

Remus takes Severus's other hand, rubs it between his until it's warm, then holds it and begins to massage the palm, working the base of each finger with slow, heavy circles of his thumb. He doesn't touch him anywhere else, yet; doesn't give in to the impulse to press close, tangle his legs with Severus's, warm him everywhere at once. He's tried that: he'd brought Severus to arousal quickly enough, but the rest of his body had stayed unresponsive, tense. Severus had flinched from his touch.

Slowly, then. He concentrates on Severus's hand: the long fingers, the square knuckles. The purple stains around the nails that never seemed to come out, from ink and bat spleen and newt's eyes; the spatter of tiny burns. He touches every inch of it, stretching each finger out and bending it back, feeling the muscles give up their tension, feeling the tremors slow and still under the pressure of his fingers.

When he looks up again, Severus has closed his eyes, though his face is still a mask. He takes up the other hand again, the left one, repeats his motions. It doesn't take quite as long this time; soon, Severus's hand lies warm and pliant in his own, and something has eased in his face. He can see the weariness, now, in the lines around his mouth, the pain in the furrow between his black brows.

He releases Severus's hand, and Severus opens his eyes. "Better?"

Severus stares for a moment. "What do you think?" It's almost his classroom look, his classroom voice, but the scorn rings hollow, affected; and after a moment, something softens around his eyes. It makes him look very vulnerable. "Yes. Very much so."

"Good." Remus reaches up to stroke his cheek, and Severus stiffens-- slightly, almost imperceptibly, which means he's still trying to control his responses. Remus doesn't move his hand until he feels Severus relax into his touch. "Here, let me do your neck and shoulders, too." He crawls up behind Severus, sitting against the headboard, and Severus rests his head on Remus's thigh. Or lets it touch, at any rate; his shoulders are hard and knotted with tension, like the thrawn pines in the hills above the castle, and as always, Remus can feel him grow tenser, at first, under his ministrations.

It wasn't lingering fear or pain that made him recoil, or not entirely. Rather, Remus thinks, it was that pleasure itself was a learned skill for Severus; that he was still training his body to give up its wariness, its distrust of another's touch.

Remus kneads Severus's shoulders, pressing hard with his thumbs at the base of his neck until the muscle finally begins to relax-- almost in spite of himself, Severus sinks deeper into the mattress, lets his head fall back. His throat is bare under Remus's hands, fragile. This is where he'll flinch, if he's going to: the tight-wound tension, the pain, are armor, of a sort-- they kept him from feeling anything else, kept him from feeling anything at all, except what he was prepared to endure-- and he always resists letting go of them. Remus understands that. He'd gnawed at his own limbs every month, before the Wolfsbane, gouged his flesh with his teeth, and it hadn't been the craving for blood, for prey, that had driven him so much as the need to control what he felt, to drown out the moon's call with the only sensation that could match its power.

Really, they were neither of them very used to pleasure.

But tonight, Severus seems to accept it more easily than he has before; his head rests heavily against Remus's thigh, and when Remus lets go his shoulders and starts rubbing his temples, his face freezes for only a moment before he lets out a breath, lets the mask fall. Remus continues, and the line between Severus's eyebrows deepens, and then slowly smoothes away. Finally Severus lets out a sigh, and with it a small sound of pleasure from the back of his throat. He raises his head and looks up at Remus. "Thank you."

Words Severus seldom says, and he's never said them in bed. His face is open, naked-- still giving away nothing, but ready to take anything. "I'm glad you're back in one piece," Remus says, through a mouth gone suddenly dry. Severus's face doesn't change. Remus slides down his body, and takes Severus's face in his hands. "Please don't get yourself killed."

It's what Severus was waiting to hear, or it's close enough; he leans into Remus's kiss and returns it thoroughly; again, Remus hears that low half-sigh catching in his throat. There's something wrong about this kiss, though, something missing. It takes Remus a moment to pin it down: there's no taste of tea. No tea means only the briefest audience with Dumbledore, and that means no news. Another summons with nothing to show for it. Another round of Cruciatus.

Some of his anger must have shown, because Severus pulls away. "What's wrong?"

What's wrong is that Severus is being knocked between Dumbledore and Voldemort like a Quaffle, that he'll be broken between them if this keeps up. What's wrong is that Dumbledore is risking a man they can ill afford to lose for a payoff that seems less likely with each summons. What's wrong is that Severus is letting him-- is complicit in this waste of his courage and his fortitude.

But they've had this argument before, and Remus knows how Severus will react if he starts it again-- tight-lipped defensiveness on his own behalf, and a fierce anger on Dumbledore's.

He's too weary to work his way around Severus's Dumbledore-shaped blind spot. But he can't just let it go either. "I just wonder sometimes whether you realize, you've done your penance."

Severus's hand on his shoulder goes rigid, and his eyes narrow to flint points. For a moment, he just stares. "Do you suppose this is easy for me?"


"This--" His eyes dart up and down, taking in Remus's body, the bed, the signs of Remus's presence-- his robes, his books-- scattered around the room. "All of this. Do you think it's easy for me?"

Remus knows he's touched a nerve, but he's still in the dark. "Being with me?"

Severus rolls away, stares up at the canopy. He doesn't answer until he's brought his breathing under control again, though Remus can see a vein still throbbing at the side of his jaw. "Needing you."

Ah. Remus still isn't sure how the conversation took this turn, but he's been waiting for this to come up. Severus hasn't said anything to him-- nothing he remembers, at least; he thinks he may have told the wolf-- but he knows how much Severus has invested in his self-reliance. "Severus. It's not a weakness. There's no shame in needing--" what? Not love; they've never spoken the word and bringing it up now could only make things worse-- "needing to turn to someone. Especially now, with the--"

"--with my penance?" Severus hisses the word. "You don't have any idea, do you, Lupin?" He sits up, fixes Remus with his eyes. "You still don't have any idea at all. This--" and he thrusts his bare left arm at Remus, the Mark still red and bright-- "--going back to Voldemort and crawling at his feet, playing the spy, playing the scapegoat-- I can do that without you and your bloody kindness. I don't need to turn to anyone, not for that." He looks down at the gaping Mark, and when he meets Remus's eyes again, some of the anger has left him. "Why do werewolves go feral, Remus?"

Remus has met feral werewolves-- men who had withdrawn into the forests, lived out their lives, even in day and moon-dark, as no better than beasts. His Defense teachers, and the wizards at the Werewolf Registry Office, had always claimed that they had had stopped struggling against the beast within, that they had given in to the moon.

Remus knows better. Moonrise is painful and terrifying, but it's at dawn that he most despairs. Taking back his human skin, and knowing that he'll only lose it again, that the reprieve is only temporary-- not a month goes by but that he thinks how much easier it would be to renounce humankind altogether; to force the beast to the surface and pretend that he was never anything else, never could be anything else. Remus will never go feral, but he does understand.

He reaches out and strokes Severus's palm, and trails his fingers up his arm, over the Mark, lets his hand come to rest on his shoulder. "This is your penance. Trying to live every day on the side of the Light."

Severus snorts; it's almost an affectionate sound. "The Light is seldom chief among my concerns, but-- essentially." He looks away. "I don't consider... what we have... to be a punishment. Far from it."

Remus gives him a small smile. "But it's not easy, either. I know. We're neither of us easy people to be with."

Severus meets his eyes again. He looks as though he's about to speak, but seems to change his mind. Instead, he leans in and kisses Remus again, lightly and tentatively.

Remus returns the kiss, and, with that confirmation that his attentions are welcome, Severus opens his mouth, biting Remus's lower lip and sucking at his tongue, and moaning low in his throat; his long fingers come up to twine and clutch in Remus's hair.

Too soon, he pulls away, but only to kiss Remus's jaw, his cheek, the spot behind his ear, the line of his neck. Remus pulls them back down into the pillows, throws his head back to give Severus full access to his throat. Severus can spend what feels like hours on his throat, licking and biting and sucking; Remus has teased him about his vampiric tendencies. Tonight, there's no teasing: Severus goes right for the spots that make him writhe: the left corner of his jaw, the right edge of his Adam's apple, the juncture of neck and left shoulder, right above his collarbone. He feels teeth; there will be bruises there tomorrow. Severus wears high collars every day, but Remus doesn't, and Severus is usually careful to leave no visible marks; his carelessness now inflames Remus as much as his teeth and tongue.

When Severus slides further down and licks at his nipple, Remus tries to pull him back up for a kiss; Severus lifts his head, but stays where he is, just looking at Remus. After a moment he leans in and kisses his lips, firmly but quickly. "Remus. Let me. I need to--" he breaks off, biting his lip in frustration.

He needed to say what they didn't yet trust to words. "I understand," Remus says. He settles back against the pillows, lets go of Severus's hair. "Whatever you need."

Again, Severus looks like he wants to say something, but instead he bends his head and takes one of Remus's nipples in his mouth, slowly worries it with lips and tiny scrapes of his teeth. Remus sighs, and presses up into his mouth, but Snape pulls back immediately and looks down at him sharply. With an apologetic smile, Remus lets himself relax visibly, sinking as far as he can into Severus's hard mattress. If Severus needs complete control, so be it. Remus has thought about suggesting that himself; he's not generally very submissive in bed, but Severus's voice and presence make the idea quite appealing.

But that doesn't seem to be what Severus is after, either. He moves between one nipple and the other, slowly, with diversions to his scars and the little hot spots that he always remembers, kissing, tasting, caressing. His touches are as often soothing as arousing, sometimes both. He's touching Remus the way that he likes to be touched himself, when he returns from a summons-- thoroughly and gently, as though every touch is a balm. A benediction.

Sensation, and arousal, are slow to build, but when they begin to mount, Remus feels it everywhere-- a broadening of his awareness, not the narrowing that usually follows arousal. Severus is moving almost at random over his body-- hands and lips meandering up and down his arms and across his chest, veering now and again over the hollows of his hipbones-- but there's nothing random in his attentions; every inch of skin he pauses over has his complete focus, as though he's trying to memorize taste and feel and smell and the hiss of blood through his veins. Benediction, Remus thinks again, and then, Voldemort still hasn't won.

They all know Voldemort hasn't been fooled by Snape's protestations of loyalty-- the Dark Lord must know that expedience alone would never have kept Snape at Hogwarts all these years, in a job he's unsuited for and unhappy in-- but, Remus realizes, he's misread the nature of Dumbledore's hold over Snape's conscience.

Voldemort thinks Snape craves punishment.

And there may well have been a time when he did, Remus thinks. But now, it's forgiveness that Severus most needs. Wants. Craves. Feels he will never deserve, and of course he's right, because forgiveness isn't ever deserved: it's granted, or it's not. Remus knows full well that if Severus loves him at all, it's for forgiving him.

And perhaps he does; Remus isn't about to ask, not yet. Certainly not now, when Severus is making love to him with a fearsome intensity. Severus strokes the arch of one hipbone now with a callused thumb, coaxes his legs apart and settles between them. He turns his head and presses a kiss against Remus's knee, and then slowly moves up his thigh, stroking and licking.

By the time Severus reaches his cock-- after he's kissed his way along both his thighs, nuzzled the line of hair below his navel, stroked his testicles with an almost unbearably light touch, and with his warm breath-- Remus is drifting, almost boneless. His skin feels awake as it never has been, every nerve thrumming, every touch seeming to resonate all through his body, but it's as though that wakefulness, that sensitivity, is taking all the energy he has; he's greedy for touch, but he can barely stir to follow Severus's hands or mouth, can't seem to arch and twist and writhe as he's used to. To thrust his hips seems a tremendous effort; he lies still, shuddering, and feeling the shudder magnified tenfold as it crosses his skin, while Severus slowly licks him from root to tip.

Severus still approaches fellatio somewhat tentatively-- it's not that he doesn't appear to enjoy it, but rather that he doesn't seem to trust his own skills, his own power to please. But this time his movements, though still slow, are sure. He keeps him just below the edge for the longest time, with quick arrhythmic sallies of his tongue along the shaft, and soft pressure of his lips over the head and off again, before he finally lets him have a pattern, a rhythm he can ride. When he does, it's the rhythm of Remus's own breathing, just ahead of his heartbeat, slowly speeding and pulling him along-- Severus's fingers tighten and ripple, just so, along the shaft, meeting his lips on every downstroke; there's suction and wet heat and the flicker of his tongue, and Remus can hear, faint and far away over the pounding of blood in his own ears, the same low throaty moans that Severus made when they kissed.

Their pace quickens, and though Remus is right on the edge for what seems like aeons, he doesn't want to come yet, doesn't want this to end; but his heart races and his breath comes faster and shallower, until he's gasping, almost choking-- and then his breath catches and everything just *stops*, the world and his bitten-off moan and the roaring in his ears, and he's coming as though his body was made for nothing else.

He's still shaking with the force of it when he feels a cold draft, where he's lost the warmth of Severus's mouth, and opens his eyes. Severus is kneeling between his legs, breathing hard, his purpled cock pressing tight against his belly. His lips are parted, swollen and glistening, his eyes are heavy-lidded, and the furrow is back between his brows.

Remus almost asks him to touch himself, to stroke himself to climax while he watches. He wants to; he's never seen Severus this naked, this needy. But tonight, it seems more important that he reciprocate, that it be his touch that brings Severus's release. He lifts his head from the pillows. "Come here."

Severus is there almost instantly, kneeling beside him. Remus lays his head on Severus's thigh, wraps an arm loosely around his waist; with his other hand, he traces languid circles and loops up Severus's leg. Above him, there's a choked-off moan, and the creak of the loose slat in the headboard where Severus must have grabbed it. "Mmm. You are so close, aren't you?"

Severus just hisses as Remus scratches his thigh, as lightly as he would a cat's ears. "So very close." He nuzzles at the base of Severus's cock; the headboard creaks again. "Remus, damn you, just touch me, please--"

He takes him in, swallows around him, and that's all it takes; Severus cries out and spills into his mouth, the muscles of his thigh taut and trembling under Remus's hand. Remus draws away with a final swipe of his tongue; Severus is clutching the headboard with both hands, panting and flushed. Remus flops onto his back and reaches for him with a hand that still isn't quite steady. "Severus."

Severus sprawls out, half-beside and half-on-top-of him, one arm and one leg thrown across his body. This is new-- Severus's appetite for contact, for simple touch, is nearly insatiable, though he only accepts it easily after sex, but before, Remus has always been the one to instigate it. Even after all that's been said tonight, Remus is surprised by this physical admission of need from Severus, but he says nothing; he curls up into the embrace, fitting their bodies close together, feeling Severus's breathing grow slow and even.

Need, being needed, is to him what forgiveness is to Severus; Remus knows this, knows himself this well. Knows that, faced with Severus's need for what he can give-- touch, forgiveness, affirmation of his humanity-- he's falling harder and falling faster than he ever expected to.

He doesn't know whether he loves Severus, yet, but he no longer doubts that he will, if they stay together.

The thought should frighten him, he thinks. And maybe it does, a little; but these are dark days, and there are so many worse things to fear. He tightens his arm around Severus.

Severus lifts his head from Remus's chest, leans in for a sleepy, salty kiss. "The Order is meeting before breakfast; we ought to sleep." Remus expects him to roll onto his back and fold his arms as he always does-- like a tomb effigy, Remus always thinks, though it seems bad luck to say it aloud-- but he stays where he is, curled around Remus's side, their limbs loosely tangled.

"Hardly seems worth it," Remus says-- he can't see the clock, but it has to be at least three-- but he tugs a corner of the duvet up to his chin. "Nox," he mutters, and the room goes dark.

Severus's breathing is steady and deep, but Remus can tell he's not asleep yet. "Severus? What I said before-- I meant it. Please don't get yourself killed, just to prove something to Dumbledore."

There's a moment of dead silence, stillness, before Severus lets out the breath he's caught. "I'll do my best. That's all I can do, Remus."

"I know. I just-- I would miss you."

Silence again, and a deeper rush of breath, a press of his hand against Remus's side. "I know."

Neither of them speaks again, but it's still a long time before Remus can sleep; he listens to Severus's breathing in the darkness, and though it's slow and soft and even, he's sure that Severus, too, is lying awake, listening.