Summary: He looks at Severus and raises a teabag. “Vanilla?”
Word Count: 1849
Author's Note: Disclaimer: They belong to JKR.
It seems as though every time Severus and Remus meet, it's because of Sirius Black. When they were eleven, Remus watched as Sirius tried out new curses, both verbal and magical, on Severus. They stumbled their way through seven years of dealing with each other through the mad and maddening wall of Sirius, with only one honest interaction during their entire time at Hogwarts. Severus still has goddamn dreams about that night, dreams about teeth and fur and running, dreams that are not quite nightmares.
Aside from that one marking incident, however, their interactions were unmemorable compared to the rest of their lives until they were forced to meet again during the war. To be quite fair, Severus's memories of that time are muddied, and he is slow to make claims of any of the events that took place over the several years during which Voldemort was at the height of his power. He does know, however, that the few times he saw Remus, Sirius was always in between, mouthing off and throwing curses, just as he always had. Severus's wondered, then, if Remus would even have been involved if not for Sirius.
Then there was the day that Sirius decided to fucking blow up an entire street. Severus and Remus met then, and Severus saw Remus cry for the first time, and they had two days together that Severus has nearly forced himself to forget as well. They were two days of disaster, of frantic touching and crying and short sharp emotions. When the strange, upsetting fire in Remus's eyes went out, Severus knew it was time to go, because both of them were too close to the edge to be safe with each other. They might have had something in common, as they always had, but they didn't have time to explore it. Their every interaction was a long series of wrong place, wrong time. But that was then.
Now, Severus has just bought a newspaper with Sirius Black's face all over the front page and headlines proclaiming that the impossible has happened: Black has escaped from Azkaban. Severus is temporarily shocked, but he's not surprised when he actually thinks about it. If anyone could manage something so absurd and new, it's Black, a fact that does not make Severus feel better about life. He crumples the paper and goes to buy himself breakfast.
While he's eating some sort of unhealthy fried sandwich and trying to decide if it's possible for this situation to get any worse, it occurs to him that there's probably someone who's more miserable about this than he is.
Understand: his reaction has nothing to do with sympathy, or even pity. He simply knows his life well enough by now to know that this is the right thing to do. He's damn good at doing the right thing, even if he's an ass about it the entire time.
When he knocks on Remus's door, he's still half-hoping that he won't get an answer. However, his life being what it is, Remus opens the door after a few seconds, looking exhausted and old. The pale light of morning streaks his face, making the lines by his eyes and the gray in his hair more prominent. “Severus,” he says, sounding pleased. “Oh, come in.”
Severus sighs sharply. “Lupin. I take it you've heard the news.” He hesitates before moving inside the shabby little house.
Remus nods. “Yes, of course. You're not much for small talk, are you? You have to cut right to the difficult bits.”
Severus pulls out a chair, feeling as though he's moving in short, jerky motions. If he doesn't focus on the issue at hand, this could become horribly awkward. “What can I say? I'm not as sensitive as you.” He puts a somewhat sneering emphasize on sensitive, partly to cover up for the fact that he's nervous and partly because he means it.
Remus drops into the chair across from him. “I suppose not,” he says, sounding slightly dazed. He probably hasn't slept.
“Do you know what this means?” Severus says. “Other than that you’ll be a mess again?”
That actually coaxes a smile out of Remus, something Severus was not intending. “Thank you, Severus. Yes, I think I'm aware of all the implications. In fact, I've been up most of the night considering them.” He stands up and moves to the small counter, fiddling with what looks like the beginnings of a pot of tea. A small ginger cat appears from somewhere and winds its way around Remus's leg.
Severus watches Remus's hands, because he really has nothing else to say. This is one of those difficult situations when it's slightly too serious (ha) for him to taunt Remus, but he still wishes he could be as vicious as he feels.
Remus sighs. “I've been offered a job,” he says. He tears the packet the teabag is in and spin the bag's string around his finger.
Severus knows what's coming before it does, but that doesn't help one damn bit. “Oh?”
“Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts,” Remus says, and when he turns, his eyes flick up to meet Severus's. “I'm sorry. I'd refuse it, but I can't exactly do that at the moment. Work is scarce enough for, well—”
“For a werewolf,” Severus finishes harshly. “Which the Headmaster seems to have forgotten that you are. God damn it, Lupin, are you trying to destroy my life?”
Remus frowns, the permanent crease between his eyes deepening. “No more than I was when we were kids, Severus, no.”
Severus is suddenly sick of this age-old argument, and his attention is drawn back to the cat, anyway. He shrugs. “I never would have pegged you for the type to have cats.”
“Neither would I,” Remus says, turning back to the tea. “I’m certainly not a cat person.”
Severus sneers. “Of course not, what with your rather canine nature.”
“No,” says Remus, clearly close to irritation, something rare with him. “I’m just allergic. But she showed up one day, and I couldn't just turn her out.”
“You can't deny that you have a love of strays,” Severus says. “You probably empathize.”
Remus makes a small noise in the back of his throat, and Severus can't identify what it means, so he leaves it be. He just watches Remus's tense shoulders as he takes the kettle off the stove and pours two cups. He looks at Severus and raises a teabag. “Vanilla?”
“Hardly,” Severus says, somewhat unfairly.
Thankfully, Remus smiles. “Maybe something a little darker.” He opens another packet of tea and slips the bag into the cup. “Enjoy.”
Severus takes the tea and watches as Remus seats himself across from him again. This is becoming uncomfortably friendly. Severus decides that voicing what's on his mind might be the best policy. “Lupin,” he says, “What if Black manages it? What if the Dark Lord does come back?”
Remus glances up at Severus, and he looks old and tired and maybe even desperate. “We'll know if that happens. There'll be warning signs.”
“Maybe. It could take us by surprise.”
Remus shakes his head, making his graying hair fall into his eyes. “No. You’d be able to feel it. The mark.”
Severus doesn’t flinch. “You know about that.”
Remus nods. “Yes. You can't image that the entire Order was oblivious to the signs the Death Eaters used, just because some of them were.”
In Severus's opinion, the less the Order ever knew about him, the better, but he also feels as though Remus has been let in on a secret, something intimate and thus far unexposed. “All right,” he says. “Let's not discuss that, then. Not now.”
“Right,” Remus agrees. “No sense to panic yet.”
Severus is tempted to say something about Remus's eyes telling a different story, but if they're going to be working together, he has an entire year to be unfair to Remus, and he can spare a few hours of forced civility. After all, he's the one who knocked on Remus's door. “We could talk about Black,” he says, because he's still a bastard, even in the face of tea and kindly smiles.
Remus doesn't argue, but he does go noticeably still. Like a wolf scenting danger, Severus thinks, but he's probably forcing the metaphor.
“It still doesn't make sense,” Severus offers. “Not even after all these years. Black’s not a joiner. He never was. I mean, I’m fully capable of believing that he’s insane . . .”
“Don't,” Remus almost snaps. His whole body has gone taut.
Severus frowns. Maybe this is the wrong time to push something he shouldn't really be pushing at any time. The nagging question of motivation is a genuine one, though, and he's always going to wonder. “I apologize,” he says, putting as much malice as he can into the words.
“Do you think this is easy for me?” Remus says in a low voice.
Severus shoves his chair back abruptly. He didn't sign on for this. “Damn it, Lupin, I don't care about your pain. I would have thought I'd made that clear.”
He expects Remus to snap, and he's just getting ready for a really good fight, but instead, Remus just sighs and rubs his temples. “Oh, you have. One of these days I may even believe you.” He stands and reaches across the table to put a hand on Severus's arm.
Severus recognizes far too late the same bizarre dance that got them into a mess after Black first went mad, but he can't pull away now. Maybe he was thinking about this all along. “Lupin,” he says stiffly. “Take your hand off me.”
Remus laughs, an oddly out-of-place sound in the bare room. “Severus, did you really think you could come here now of all times and just ignore everything that happened the last time we were together?”
Severus hates his life. “I had hoped so, yes.”
Remus tugs Severus sharply forward, wrapped his arms around Severus. “I'm having a bloody miserable day, Severus, and I imagine you are, too. You wouldn't have come here if you'd wanted to be alone.”
Of all the things Severus hates about Remus (and there are a lot of things), the one that irks him most is the fact that Remus is always, always right. First, though, there are some things he has to clear up. He makes himself ask the inevitable question. “This is about Black, isn't it?” He tries to ask as though he doesn't care, but he does, deeply and furiously and bitterly. There are so few things he can call his own, and he's not about to settle for being second best again.
“I could slap you,” Remus says, frowning and pulling back a little. “Severus, don't ruin this.”
It isn't really an answer, but it'll do for the moment. Severus takes a deep breath and makes himself lean his forehead against Remus's. “I fully intend to make your life a living hell this coming year.”
Remus laughs a little, tugging Severus closer into the hug. “I'm ready.”