Title: Almost Too Late
Author: Sorceress (sorceress@aol.com)
Rating: R
Disclaimer: Not mine. Wish they were.
Pairing: SS/RL
Warnings: Slash. M/M intimacy. Don't like, don't read, don't flame.
Summary: When Severus finds out Remus is near death, he is driven to do something about it.

Master and the Wolf Fuh-Q-Fest Challenge #163: Snape hadn't realized his true feelings until Remus was dying.

For QueenC.

-----

Severus Snape swept into Grimmauld Place, tired, dirty, and decidedly out of sorts from the strain of the long, hazardous mission he had just completed for the Order. Unfortunately he had a report which must be made, and it was important enough that it had to be done before he could see to any of his own needs.

The old house was oddly quiet, and not even the unbearable portrait of Mrs. Black roused when he entered. It was the dinner hour, and normally the hoards of Weasleys and Potter's assorted babysitters would be about, laughing, chattering, and generally raising an unholy racket... but oddly enough the only sound he could make out was the steady tick-tick-tick of the cursed grandfather clock in the parlor. It was... unsettling.

Making his way to the kitchen, the Potions Master pushed open the door. Low voices had been speaking from within, but they ceased when he entered, and Bill and Charlie Weasley looked up from where the were seated at the scarred wooden table.

The two redheads blinked eyes of identical blue at him, before their gazes slid silently back to each other.

"Where is Albus?" the Potions Master asked, eyes narrowing in suspicion. The air of tension and stress the two men were radiating was palpable enough to make the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Bill sighed, and glanced back at the dark-haired wizard. "St. Mungo's. He's been there two days, and Mum took the kids back to the Burrow. We're here to mind the fort."

"St. Mungo's?" Severus asked, voice grim. "What happened to him?"

"Nothing, nothing to Albus, Snape," Charlie said quickly, catching the dangerous note in the Slytherin's dark voice. "He's fine, just very worried. We've... we've had rather a blow, you see. You've been away, so you've probably not heard about the new Ministry edict."

"No, I haven't," Severus snapped, although he felt a bit of relief to know that Dumbledore - the closest thing he had to a family - was not in danger. "Pray enlighten me... and quickly, if you please. I shall have to go to St. Mungo's in order report to Albus, and I'd rather not go in unprepared."

Bill scowled, and muttered something about 'bloody heartless bastard' under his breath, but Charlie laid a hand on his brother's arm. Despite his efforts at calming the other man, Charlie's own eyes hardened as they looked up at the former Death Eater. "The Ministry has decided that, in order to help rid society of some undesirable elements, that placing a bounty on certain people - Death Eaters, wanted criminals and the like - was a splendid idea. Unfortunately one of our own got caught up in it, and probably won't survive. Albus has done everything he can, but quite frankly, there isn't much hope."

"An Order member?" the Potions Master asked, frowning. "We don't have any wanted criminals. At least, not since Black got himself killed." His voice was flat and cold, and both Weasleys bristled.

Bill surged to his feet. "Yeah, you're right," he spat. "Sirius is dead, and now thanks to you..." He shook his head, fists clenching as he tried to control his temper.

"Black's death was hardly my fault, if that is what you are implying Weasley," Severus snarled. "Regardless of your opinion of me - or mine of him - I am hardly an idiot. I recognize that we are far too few in number to be able to afford to lose anyone at all, even Black."

"Well, we're going to lose someone, and this time, it IS your fault," Bill snapped back. "You betrayed him, you put him in danger, so you're the one to blame! They put a price on his head and now he's going to die because of it, and..." He stopped, glaring at the Potions Master, who was startled to see tears in the blue eyes of the man facing him. He wasn't certain if they were from grief or fury, but they brought him up rather short. This was apparently quite serious afterall.

"Who. Is. Dying?" he asked, in a voice which cut like cold steel, one that had made more than one student come close to fainting from fright.

"Remus is," Charlie replied, rising and moving to stand next to his brother. "The Ministry decided to include werewolves in the bounty, and a former student - one of your Slytherins, name of Flint - decided Remus was an easy target. And he was right. Poor, trusting Remus, more than happy to meet up with a former student who owled him for help. So now Remus is in St. Mungo's, dying from multiple stab wounds inflicted with a poisoned silver dagger - and Marcus Flint is dead because, ironically, Bill here has more of a killer instinct than our supposedly dangerous werewolf does. I trust that answers your question. Now, if you will excuse us..." Placing a firm hand on his brother's shoulder, Charlie spared one last glance at the former Death Eater, before pushing the distraught Bill out of the kitchen.

Left alone, Severus scowled at the closed door for a brief moment. He still needed to get to St. Mungo's and report to Albus... and he told himself that any haste on his part as he left Grimmauld Place was only for that reason.

-----

In his time, Severus had seen death written on dozens of faces. Had seen it scrawled in bold streaks of blood from a slit throat, and marked like fading script in the glassy eyes of terminal illness. He had often seen it in the surprised shock of Avada Kedavra, resembling bold type terminating in dozens of exclamation points, and even, though rarely, in the pale, spidery, almost tranquilly flowing lines of extreme old age. It was written on Remus Lupin's face now, in a language that he knew all too well. One that was, as it were, his mother tongue - the cold and sweating delirium of a fatal poison.

The werewolf's face was pale and glisteningly damp, his brow drawn into a frown of pain even in unconsciousness. His features were pinched and sunken, and muscles spasmed in random patterns over his body, giving almost an illusion of some spectre inflicting violent pinches upon his skin. His breathing was shallow and labored, and his skin was so clear it was nearly translucent.

"They have tried everything," Albus Dumbledore said quietly from his seat next to the bed. Severus had barely spared the Headmaster a glance when he had entered, his sole attention focussed on the dying werewolf - but he finally turned his head to gaze at the elderly wizard.

Ancient might perhaps be a better word, Severus thought, seeing lines on the familiar face of his friend and employer that he had never noticed before. The blue eyes did not twinkle for once, and that, more than anything, truly reflected the gravity of the situation. Severus had seen Dumbledore concerned, had seen him worried, had even seen him, on rare occasions, angry. He had never before, however, seen him utterly and completely without hope.

"Surely they must know what poison it is," Severus heard himself saying. He realized, then, that a certain numbness of sorts had fallen over him, a cloak of disbelief insulating him from the profound shock of his one-time enemy's appearance.

"Yes, they have," the Headmaster responded, his voice tired. The elderly wizard reached out, and grasped one of the unconscious werewolf's hands in his. "Ergotosia."

The Potions Master felt an icy chill go down his spine at the name. Based on a relatively common fungus, the poison was a well known one to practitioners of the Dark Arts. The chemical effects of the fungus derivative were enhanced by Dark Magic to specifically cause convulsions, visions, and madness when used in small doses, useful when one wished to incite an entire Muggle village to turn on each other and start killing themselves. In large doses, however, it caused coma and death... a death supposedly accompanied by visions of one's worst nightmares.

"There are antidotes for that," Severus said sharply, but his stomach sank even as Albus voiced the words he knew were coming.

"Not for a werewolf, and not when the method of delivery was contaminated with silver." The Headmaster's voice was smaller and far more tired than the Potions Master had ever heard it before.

"How long?" Severus asked, barely recognizing his own voice.

"Hours. Twelve, perhaps twenty-four at most. They are frankly surprised he has held on this long," Albus replied quietly. "And so am I. So am I." The elderly wizard reached out, touching the thin, long-fingered hand of the unconscious man, where it lay on the coverlet. If the werewolf knew that someone was worrying out him, that someone was hovering nearby, heartbroken, he gave no sign at all.

Severus looked once more at the man upon the bed, feeling a strange heaviness in his chest, a sense of loss that surprised him greatly even as his throat tightened in pain. A sense of injustice, of outrage that this was happening, that Albus was sitting there by the bed while there was still life in the depleted body of Severus' former rival. Severus himself was a man of action... and a sudden, implacable purpose was born and hardened within the Potions Master. Severus didn't question the source, he couldn't spare the time. Later, much later there would be ample opportunity to wonder why he suddenly felt that he had to save the werewolf's life.

This is not happening. James Potter could die. Sirius Black could die. Pettigrew, by all that is holy, deserves to die. But Remus Lupin... he cannot. He survived being bitten by a fully grown werewolf at the age of six. He has survived decades of transformations. He lived through the bumbling experimentation of supposed healers who caused more harm that good in trying to 'cure' his affliction. He survived the first war, and so far through this second one. He has even survived me for Merlin's sake. Survived and even forgave my costing him his livelihood and revealing his secret out of petty spite. He cannot die.

The Potions Master scowled darkly, turning on his heel, robes swirling around him as he stalked towards the door without a backwards glance.

He will not die. I simply refuse allow it to happen.

-----

Damiana for the mental effects, Angelica for the convulsions; Borage to force the poison to be sweated out; Schiandra to drive away the visions.

St. John's Wort, Severus thought, reaching into a rack and adding the vial to the ones collected near his favorite cauldron, its bottom blackened from repeated use. It will help break the coma.

He had been working for hours, trying to decoct a potion that would counteract the poison that was rapidly destroying the werewolf. As he was well aware of from his work on the Wolfsbane potion, there were many herbs whose effect was quite different on the lycanthrope metabolism than on a normal human. That could be a blessing, or a curse, depending on the effect one was attempting to achieve.

An unaccustomed feeling of urgency hastened his actions, although he was still meticulous with his measurements and with the precise rhythm with which he stirred the cauldron's simmering contents. His mind, however, was not finding the calmness that brewing normally brought him, the tranquility of spirit born of familiar motions and the satisfaction of creation. In fact, if forced to put a name to it, he might have grudgingly admitted to a feeling of anxiety. Anxiety which was, oddly enough, close to mind-numbing panic.

Not that it was apparent by his motions, which were sharp, practiced, fluid as they always were. Severus' control was hard won and iron clad after so many years at the beck and call of a ruthless, evil, and unpredictable Lord. He had long ago learned to force his body to function, to go through the motions which were necessary no matter what he felt. It had often saved his own life; now, it would hopefully save Lupin's as well.

The mixture in the cauldron bubbled and steamed as Severus chopped more ingredients, stirred them in, and waited for the changes in color and scent that would tell his trained senses if the effect he desired had been achieved. His keen mind analyzed and rejected virtually every magical and normal plant and animal ingredient, running over their interactions with each other and the Ergotosia and the body chemistry of a lycanthrope. A chosen few were accepted, prepared and added in quantities dictated by instinct. Slowly, very slowly, the potion took form.

There was not much time, not much at all. Severus worked like a demon, calling forth every bit of his long experience and incredible skill, pushing himself to his own limits, perhaps even beyond. His hands were a blur as he continued to work doggedly, determinedly.

And if the blurring was caused by tears welling in his eyes rather than the speed of his movements, well, at least there was no one there to see.

-----

Dawn had come and gone, and it was fast approaching noon when Severus entered St. Mungo's once again. His steps were rapid, but he lacked his normal flourish of robes and disdainful curl of lip. He was far too intent upon reaching his goal to care about making an entrance.

In his pocket was a vial, a small, crystal vessel which contained the product of his frantic labors. He had poured every ounce of his ability, every bit of his instinct into the potion, had called upon every resource at his disposal to create it. It seemed so small, so ethereal, those precious few ounces of pearlescent gold liquid. It was his one chance. More importantly, it was Lupin's one chance.

Severus just hoped that it would be good enough.

Entering the room, he felt a sudden flare of apprehension as he saw the number of people gathered within, ranged around the bed, some sitting, some standing. Everyone turned as he closed the door, faces drawn tired, and, in more than one case, tear-streaked. Albus was still there, sitting in the same chair, his face even older and more tired than it had been fourteen hours before, and it was on he that the Potions Master focussed.

"Is he..." he began, throat suddenly tightening as he wondered wildly if he was too late, if Remus had died only minutes before, slipping away even as Severus was practically running through the corridors of the hospital. He relaxed minutely when the elderly wizard shook his head slightly.

"Not yet, Severus," Dumbledore said wearily, beckoning the Potions Master closer. "But it won't be long. Everyone... well, everyone wanted to say goodbye."

Crossing the room in a few long strides, Severus made peripheral note of the people clustered around the bed. Most of the Weasley family, of course, standing together on one side of the room. Molly was openly crying, dabbing her face with a handkerchief even as Arthur patted her shoulder. Ginny stood between the twins, her face white and pinched, while the irrepressible Fred and George looked odd without the ever-present smiles they normally wore. Ron Weasley stood next to Hermione Granger, with Harry Potter on her other side. The three had their arms around each other, seeming to huddle together for comfort.

Charlie and Bill Weasley stood like sentinels at the head of the bed, one on either side. There was no mistaking the hostile look the eldest of the red-haired offspring threw at him, but Severus paid it no heed whatsoever. He focussed his attention on the werewolf, and on the hope he clutched to him like a talisman that his potion could stop the poison in time.

Were it not for the fact that Albus had said the werewolf lived, Severus would have taken him for dead. He was still now, the muscle spasms have subsided as his body started to shutdown in poison-induced paralysis. The pale face was a mask, and he had stopped sweating - not a good sign at all. The movement of his chest was barely discernible, the breaths which sustained his life so minute and infrequent that they would have been easy to miss.

He became aware that Albus had risen to his feet, and was watching him watch the dying man. There must have been something in his face, something to indicate his hopes, because Dumbledore drew in a gasping breath.

"Severus... my dear boy... could you have possibly..." The quavering voice almost broke, and the Potions Master moved his gaze to look at the elderly Headmaster. Tears stood in the blue eyes, but there was desperate hope on his lined face.

"I have done my best, Albus," he replied, one hand extracting the vial, holding it up to catch the light. More than one gasp greeted the sight of it, but he took no pleasure in it, not yet. They would pin their hopes with his that this would work... but he would bear the blame if it failed.

It will not fail, he told himself firmly, moving towards the bed. It cannot fail... because I could not bear it if it did.

Pushing that thought from his mind, Severus moved past Albus, standing next to the bed and gazing down at the werewolf. Bill Weasley was beside him, his face the only one that held doubt instead of hope, and suspicion instead of gratitude.

"This had better work, Snape," Bill muttered, voice low and harsh.

The Potions Master heard the in-drawn breaths of the others in the room, and Molly Weasley's pained exhalation of her son's name. He ignored them all, however, in favor of turning to Bill, raising on brow in challenge, grateful for the slight rush of anger which added strength to his purpose, and to his belief in himself.

"It will, Weasley," he retorted, voice containing an almost normal level of sarcasm. "Fortunately your inability to do anything but stand around watching Lupin die does not extend to me."

Paying no attention to Bill's hiss of displeasure, Severus returned his gaze to the occupant of the bed. Removing the stopper from the vial, the leaned down, sliding one arm behind Remus' shoulders, intending to lift him up to administer the draught. The angle was a bit awkward, given his height - but suddenly Remus' weight was being supported from the other side, and Severus spared a glance upwards to look into Charlie Weasley's brown eyes, as the Dragonkeeper helped bear the werewolf's weight.

With slight nod to acknowledge the other man's help, Severus raised the vial to Remus' colorless lips, tilting the comatose wizard's head backwards so that his mouth fell open slightly. Slowly, carefully, Severus administered the potion, letting a few drops at a time trickle into Remus' mouth, then pausing to stroke the werewolf's throat until he swallowed instinctively in reaction.

It took over fifteen minutes of this painstaking effort before the entire contents were gone, fifteen minutes during which the only sounds in the room were the muted breathing of its occupants and the rustle of Severus' robes as he moved his arm between Remus' mouth and his throat. Finally, however, it was done, and Severus glanced up at Charlie once more, nodding, and together they lowered Remus slowly back down.

Severus straightened up, moving too quickly, and felt dizziness wash over him even as his back muscles spasmed in protest. He had not slept and had eaten almost nothing for nearly thirty-six hours, and now that his task as accomplished - for good or ill - his body suddenly began clamoring for the attention he had denied it.

A supportive arm was around his shoulders, and he glanced over to see Dumbledore close beside him, felt the Headmaster guiding him to sit in the vacated chair. He sank into it wearily, grateful for the help, but his eyes were drawn back to the bed, watching to see what, if anything, his efforts had wrought.

"Well done, dear boy," Albus said quietly, and the Potions Master felt his shoulder being patted fondly. He was so weary he couldn't even summon up the scowl the gesture should have evoked, and he merely shrugged in response.

"It will be an hour, possibly more, before we know..." Severus began, then stopped, sighing. "Unless, of course, it is already too late."

Bill Weasley snorted, but someone shushed him. Severus heard the voices of some of the others begin to speak, but it became very difficult to focus. Blackness began to swim before his eyes, and no amounting of blinking could force it away. Then even blinking became too much of an effort, as exhaustion finally overcame him. His head lolled against the back of the chair, and his last conscious thought was something as close to an appeal to a higher power as Severus Snape had ever made in his life.

Please, let it have worked. Please, let him live... Just... Please.

-----

Waking was a process of moving from disturbing dreams to an awareness of intense physical discomfort. Severus moved restlessly, hissing at the pain in his neck, the product of sleeping in an awkward position for too long.

Abruptly he sat up, attention focussed on the bed where Remus lay... sleeping. Quite obviously sleeping, in fact, for he could see the werewolf's chest rising and falling in shallow but regular breaths. The pale skin was no longer completely bloodless, but showed evidence of a very light flush, and, most telling of all, it was once again damp with sweat.

The Borage is working, he thought numbly, not consciously aware than he had leaned towards the bed and reached out, until he became aware that he was touching Remus' hand... his warm hand, the skin soft and moist beneath his sensitive fingers.

"He's still alive," a voice said softly. For a brief moment Severus thought he had spoken his own observation aloud, but then he blinked, turning his head to look behind him. Albus Dumbledore sat in another chair, further back from the bed, watching with a quiet, approving air. The Headmaster seemed to be the only other person in the room, and the dark-haired wizard raised an enquiring brow.

"They've all gone," Albus continued, a twinkle once again evident in the pale blue eyes behind his spectacles. "Almost two hours ago, in fact, when the Healer came in and expressed her astonishment that Remus seemed to be recovering." Humor was evident in the Headmaster's voice once more, and his face no longer looked as drawn and aged. "They are much relieved, I must say, Severus - as am I. You're quite the hero, you know - even Bill Weasley had to grudgingly admit that you were correct, much as it seemed to pain him."

"He is not recovered yet, Albus, as you are well aware," the Potions Master sighed, dark eyes still shadowed and haunted. He was afraid to believe, afraid that it was all a horrible joke, or a nightmare just waiting to turn ugly the moment he began to hope. He clung to the safety-line of his doubts, instead, a lifetime of pessimism telling him that he should prepare for the worst, since it invariably happened. "You know the mental effects of that particular poison, and what it can do. The visions... there is a chance, small but not negligible, that he may have been driven mad by them."

"Remus is a very strong man, Severus, despite his quiet ways and the pain of his transformations. I have no doubt, now that you have given him a fighting chance, that he will make a full recovery," the Headmaster responded serenely, but with authority, reminding Severus abruptly that his long-time friend had, at one time, been one of his own professors. "It may take a little time, but it will happen. Relax, Severus. You have done it. You saved him, just as you were so determined to do. Well done, my boy... well done indeed."

Severus turned away, looking back at the sleeping man, finally beginning to accept the reality of it, starting to allow himself believe that he had succeeded. That Remus was going to live, that he would be whole and sane and safe once more.

He gazed at the werewolf's face, imagining the amber eyes opening, sparkling with good humor, the familiar wry smile curving mobile lips. Hearing the soft, even voice speaking with gentle humor and quiet sympathy. Strange, Severus thought, that it was only now that he was realizing how keenly he would have missed those eyes and that smile, missed the werewolf's calm and unassuming ways; and how intense and overwhelming his feeling of relief was, now that he could believe that he would see them once again.

The source of his purpose in saving Remus became suddenly and intensely clear to him, now that the urgency of the moment had passed and the relief had weakened his normally iron control over his emotions. Severus had masked his true feelings about so many things, had done it for so long and so well that he had even begun to mask them from himself, protecting his vulnerability behind the safety of an uncaring attitude and an ancient grudge. Only now that he had come to the brink of losing him did he finally see how important Remus was to him. Only now that he knew that Remus would live could he admit to himself the depth of the feelings he had spent so long denying.

His hand was still lying upon the other man's, the tactile contact reassuring him that he was indeed awake. But it was all suddenly too much for him, too overwhelming, too naked and raw and unexpected. Severus' head sank forward, coming to rest on the bed next to Remus' hip, as his breathing became ragged. Hot tears flowed from his eyes to fall unheeded to the coverlet. Tears of relief, tears of release, tears of realization of how close he had come to losing something he hadn't even known that he wanted.

Severus Snape had only cried one other time in his adult life. Sitting in the Headmaster's office over fifteen years before, he had wept for what he had done, cried bitter tears of regret and remorse for the mistakes he had made and the lives he had taken. It was those tears which had convinced Albus Dumbledore to take a risk on a young man who had sold himself into the service of evil, for they had proven to the elderly wizard that he truly wished to be redeemed. This time was different, although no less bitter in many ways, as the Potions Master wept not for what he had done, but for what could never be.

Albus stood, looking at both of them with understanding and sympathy, before turning and leaving the room silently... but Severus never heard him at all.

-----

A firm knock on the door of his quarters brought Severus' head up abruptly, and he frowned slightly before setting his book aside with a sigh. It was rather late, nearly ten PM, and he wasn't expecting any visitors; which indicated that it must be a crisis of some kind, and frankly he wasn't certain that he felt up to dealing with a crisis. In fact, he had felt decidedly off kilter for some time - ever since his realization of his feelings two weeks previously. Now that they had been acknowledged, thoughts of Remus had begun to plague him with annoying frequency, leaving him feeling uncomfortably vulnerable - and vulnerability was not a state he was used to, nor one he enjoyed. It was only made worse by his unquestioning acceptance of the hopelessness of them ever being reciprocated.

Standing slowly, Severus walked to the door, waving down his wards with a practiced hand. As he pulled it open, he had a dismissal ready on his lips to turn away whoever was on the other side; a dismissal which died on his lips as he stared in surprise into the calm golden gaze of Remus Lupin.

"Hello, Severus," the sandy-haired wizard greeted him, the familiar slight smile that had haunted Severus' dreams for days curving his lips.

The Potions Master's dark eyes drank in the other man's face, paler than usual but appearing orders of magnitude better than he had the last time Severus had seen him, still unconscious and ill in St. Mungo's. Severus had not dared to go back to visit after hearing from Albus that the werewolf was conscious, and, fortunately, still quite in his right mind. He had been too afraid of what he might give away by a look or a touch, or by saying all the words which were bottled up inside of him, words which could never, ever be said.

Yet here the werewolf was, catching Severus completely off guard and unprepared. He knew he had to say something, anything... either that, or slam the door in Remus' face. Since the second option would be suspiciously rude, even for Severus Snape, he swallowed and spoke the first words that came to his mind. "Lupin... you are looking better."

"I'm feeling better, as well... thanks to you," came the quiet response. Then Remus inclined his head slightly, his gaze sharpening. "I've come to thank you for saving my life, Severus - do you think that might merit an invitation inside?"

Let Remus in... Or send him away? Those seemed to be his only choices, since for the life of him Severus wasn't capable of managing to summon up a suitably sarcastic comment, one that might have any hope of driving the man away voluntarily. He hesitated for a moment, uncharacteristically torn - then he made his decision.

Stepping back, Severus held the door open, allowing Remus to enter. It was, he found, a physical effort to keep from reaching out and touching the werewolf as he brushed by, and the Potions Master clenched his fingers into his palms as he held himself in check. After he closed the door and replaced the wards, Severus turned, regarding the other wizard with his mask of indifference once again firmly in place.

Remus was looking around the room, curiosity evident on his face and in his posture. Amber eyes took in the massive, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves which covered almost all available wall space in the room, full to overflowing with tomes of every description. The furnishings were leather and dark woods, with green-toned oriental carpets scattered over the stone floor. One glass-fronted case held mortar-and-pestles made of various materials, some plain and serviceable, others ornately decorated with magical and alchemical symbols. Severus knew that the room reflected much of his personality, because it was, above all, his sanctuary - and a slight feeling of warmth touched him as the werewolf turned back towards him with approval in his eyes.

Severus did not let it show, of course. Remus' opinion of his quarters shouldn't matter to him. It was tempting to cross his arms across his chest, but the move would appear to be too obviously what it was - a defensive reaction to the werewolf's presence. Instead, he moved across the room, picking up his book from the arm of his chair was though to indicate that he hoped the visit would be brief. "Very well, Lupin. You wish to thank me for saving your life. I will consider myself thanked, if that is what you desire. Although I will point out that I only did what was necessary, what any Order member would have done for another." Perhaps if I make it seem that I did it only from duty, he will not read anything further into it than that... nor ask any questions which I have no desire to answer.

"I have no doubt you would have done anything to save Albus," the werewolf replied softly. "Or Harry. Or even most of the Order, Severus. But... me? I know how you feel about me, you don't have to pretend. You have always loathed me, and so... I do thank you, for putting that aside and saving me, as though..." He paused, then ran a hand through his hair, giving the Potions Master a haunted, troubled look that caused the dark-haired wizard's hands to clutch tightly on his book. "Thank you for saving me as though I were as important as anyone else, Severus. It means more to me than you could possibly realize."

The pain in those simple words, and the defeated acceptance of the werewolf's tone, would, at one point in his life, have given Severus no end of satisfaction. To have seen Remus brought low, humbled in gratitude for being treated merely as any human being would expect to be treated, would have caused him to smirk in unholy delight, to make some further, wounding comment to crush the werewolf utterly. That fact, however, only made him even more uncomfortable now that his perceptions of the other man were changed, added a component of guilt and self-loathing to his own tortured feelings. It was a dangerous combination, causing Severus to simultaneously want to snarl in self defense, driving the other man away, and to sweep Remus into his arms and pour out his regret and... he couldn't even think the word, not even to himself.

Standing in conflict, torn between two diametrically opposed desires, Severus said nothing at all.

After a long moment, Remus gave a heartfelt sigh, eyes dropping to examine the floor. "Well, I suppose that is all I wanted to say, Severus. I'll... I'll let you get back to your book, then."

The werewolf turned, and began to walk slowly towards the door. Every step he took away was like a knife in Severus' chest, a stabbing, gaping, bloody wound. The pain was intolerable, and Severus called out suddenly, not even aware he was going to speak until the words had been said. "Lupin! Wait..."

Remus stopped, turning around quickly, with a slight, almost desperate edge of hope on his face, his gaze open and completely unguarded. Remus acted with such seemingly open friendliness most of the time, spoke with such candor, that the Potions Master often forgot that the man had his own masks, his own walls which covered secrets that he had also spent a lifetime hiding, doing so for his own self protection. Those barriers were, for once, totally gone from the golden eyes, and Severus saw reflected in them a longing, a hunger, a hopelessness which matched his own.

Severus nearly gasped, wondering if it were possible, just barely possible, that he was not the only one whose feelings had changed... well, perhaps they had not changed, but he had finally been forced to acknowledge them. Something there in Remus' face struck a chord within him, called out to him with a silent yearning. Suddenly he had to know, desperately needed to know if it were true, or just a product of his hopeless want.

"What did you dream?" the Potions Master asked, voice low, his black eyes burningly intense as they stared into Remus'. "Ergotosia brings forth your worst nightmares, forces you to live through your deepest fears, over and over, helpless to escape. What did you see, Lupin? Why are you really here?"

Remus gasped, but he didn't speak. He didn't need to, for Severus could read it all in his eyes.

Voldemort raised his wand, pointing it at a dark-robed figure who lay huddled and quivering on the ground. Remus was in motion, moving with inhuman speed towards the Dark Lord and his victim, a snarl of fury and denial bursting from his lips. Just before he reached the Dark Lord, a flash of green light burst from Voldemort's wand, striking the victim at his feet.

The figure convulsed once, then went horrifyingly still. Remus bypassed Voldemort, knocking him roughly away as though he were of no consequence, before throwing himself on the ground and pulling the figure into his arms. "No, no, no, no," he chanted, a litany of horrified disbelief. Rocking back and forth on the cold earth, he cradled the still, cold body against his chest, sobbing, blind to everything else around him. Slowly, pulling back, he turned the body in his arms over, brushing the long black hair away from the pale face.

"I never told you, Severus," he gasped, tears falling from his eyes, landing uselessly on the Potions Master's lifeless skin. "No, you can't die - because I never told you that I loved you..."

With a jolt Severus was pulled out of the vision, blinking in shock as he faced Remus. The werewolf seemed dazed, gazing back at him pale with shock, before the expression on his face suddenly fell into lines of horrified realization. Remus' mouth worked silently for a moment, as though he were trying desperately to utter a denial of what Severus had seen; then he gave a strangled sound that resembled nothing so much as that of an animal in pain. Spinning on his heel, Remus almost bolted towards the door - only to pound against it in vain as Severus' wards prevented him from opening it.

It took him a moment longer than the other man to recover from the knowledge of what he had seen, but as he did so, Severus realized it would only be a moment before Remus began thinking again and would pull his wand and deal with the spells impeding his escape. So Severus did the only thing that he could do, given what he had learned. The only thing that made sense now that hope was rising in him like a warm tide.

Crossing to the door in several long strides, he put a hand on Remus' shoulder, spinning the werewolf back around to face him. He saw the other man's mouth open in protest, saw his hands come up defensively, as though he thought Severus was attacking him. But the Potions Master ignored that, pushing Remus up against the door, then swiftly pinning his own body against him. Raising his hands, he framed Remus' face, seeing a flash of shock in the amber eyes. Then he saw nothing, only felt... as he closed his eyes and pressed his lips firmly against those of the very surprised werewolf.

A distant part of his mind realized the move was dangerous. He was an intelligent man, after all. He knew that werewolves had strength far greater than that of a normal human, when they chose to call upon it. It was also a fact that trapping a person could cause them to fight back, or even lash out in panic. Certainly, Severus knew all that... but the forefront of his mind, the part that swiftly became lost in the warmth and softness of Remus' mouth, that part didn't care one bit. Let Remus hurt him, strike him, tear him apart; none of it mattered, as long as Severus had this one blissful moment, this one taste of what things could have been like between them, if the world had been a different place.

Remus himself had gone rigid in disbelief. Taking ruthless advantage of it - might as well be damned for the galleon as for the sickle - Severus swept his tongue between Remus' lips, allowing himself to revel the feeling. Then, to his own surprise, the werewolf suddenly softened against him, his body seeming to melt against Severus like warm clay, his mouth pressing back, his tongue stroking along Severus' own as Remus began to return the kiss.

Long, breathless moments followed, as Severus explored Remus' mouth, learning his taste and texture and committing it to memory like the ingredients of a favorite potion. His hands moved, sensitive thumbs stroking the hollows beneath Remus' ears, fingers combing upwards to tangle in thick, soft hair.

Finally the need to draw breath forced them apart with a gasp, and they stared at each other. Severus saw that Remus' face was flushed, his pupils wide with surprise and desire, his lips moist and reddened. He almost groaned in reaction, the sight being one he had imagined in his dreams these last two weeks, finding it even better in reality than in the throes of his slumbering imagination. And to know that he was the one who had caused it, that the slumbrous look in the amber eyes was for him... it was almost enough to bring him to his knees.

"Why..." Remus asked, suddenly, catching Severus' passion-hazed mind off guard.

The werewolf licked his bottom lip, a quick flick of his tongue over the full, pink skin that caused Severus to draw in a hissing breath, his eyes narrowing. Forcing his attention back upwards, he looked directly into Remus' eyes, his tone perhaps not as steady as he would have liked.

"You are not the only one to have come to a realization lately. You are not the only one who very nearly waited too long, because he was too stubborn to see what has been right before his eyes, Lu... Remus," he replied, the syllables of the man's given name seeming almost too intimate on his lips.

Swallowing, Remus searched the Potions Master's face. He was not a Legilimens as Severus was, not able to probe past defenses or read inner thoughts. But his gaze flicked over Severus' features, eyes and nose and lips, forehead and chin, almost as tangible as a touch. What he saw written there must have reassured him, for he drew in a slight breath... and then a soft smile curved his lips.

"That is the first time you have ever called me by my name," the werewolf said huskily. His hands moved from where they had been pressed between their bodies, sliding down Severus' chest, brushing across his stomach. Beneath Severus' robes they moved, to the Potions Master's slender waist, before splaying over his hips. Golden eyes held black, warm and intense, as Remus pulled Severus firmly against him, drawing in a sharp breath as the evidence of Severus' desire brushed against his own.

"It will not be the last, however... Remus," the dark-haired wizard purred in his black velvet voice, before leaning back towards the werewolf and brushing his lips over Remus' check, at a spot right in front of his ear.

"Remus," he murmured softly, as his mouth slid down to the other man's jaw. "Remus." A slight nip at the point, before moving again, back to the werewolf's mouth. His tongue brushed lightly over the fullness of the lower lip, teasingly, causing the sandy-haired wizard's breath to catch.

"Remus," Severus said again, before sealing their mouths together.

It was only much later, as they lay entwined on Severus' bed, heartbeats gradually slowing, hands caressing passion-dampened skin, that the Potions Master was again capable of thought. He opened his eyes as he felt his lover stroking sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead, and he met the amber gaze with a raised brow of inquiry.

"You did it for me, didn't you?" the werewolf asked softly. "The cure, I mean. Not because I was an Order member, or because you felt obligated, or because Albus asked you... you did it because it was me."

"Yes, of course," the Severus responded, feeling unaccustomedly benign in the aftermath of their lovemaking. Well, perhaps not too benign. "Which I accomplished, in spite of Bill Weasley's efforts to keep me from administering it."

Remus gave a rueful smile, leaning down to brush his lips lightly over the other man's. Then his face turned very serious. "Don't mind Bill. He feels protective, I think, because he saved me and killed Marcus Flint. I owe him a debt for that."

The Potions Master stiffened slightly, eyes narrowing as something occurred to him. "Why do I suddenly believe I know how he would like for you to repay him?" Severus was startled at the strength of the jealousy that flashed through him, and his hand on Remus' hip tightened unconsciously.

The werewolf drew in a breath at seeing the possessiveness on the dark-haired wizard's face, and his own eyes flashed with pleasure. Leaning closer once again, he growled low in his throat before nipping Severus lightly on the throat. "It doesn't matter what he might want, you know... all that he will receive his my gratitude. Anything else..." he paused, drawing back to look into Severus' eyes, a slightly pensive look on his face. "Anything else is yours, Severus... if you want it."

Severus couldn't help his shiver of reaction at the sensual sound and the feel of Remus' teeth on his skin. The words, however, caused an even greater tingle of pleasure to flow through him. Not that he would ever admit it.

Rolling over to pin Remus beneath him, he gave a satisfied smirk instead. "Considering how much work I put into that potion, Lupin... I suppose I can consider exclusive and unrestricted access to your person for the foreseeable future to be adequate payment. Barely. If you work at it... hard." His voice was silky, and the heat in his eyes emphasized the seduction in his tone.

The smile that lit Remus' face was positively beatific. "I shall endeavor to be more than adequate, Severus," he said, hands sliding up the other wizard's back caressingly. He pressed his hips upwards, leering suggestively as he emphasized his point. "And I will work very, very, very... hard."

The Potions Master drew in a hissing breath. "So it would appear. However, it will still take quite some time to pay me back, Lupin," Severus responded, with a wolfish smile of his own. He pressed a hard kiss to Remus' mouth, then drew back and raised a challenging brow.

"I suggest that you get started at once."

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