- Story Summary:
- Nothing will blossom in the City of Light or the Kingdom of Heaven, but in darker, quieter places. Sequel to "Undergrowth."
- Author's Note:
- Sequel to "Escapism" and "Undergrowth."
Whatever is to blossom between them, it cannot begin in Paris, though Paris is the city of light and lovers. The weight of expectation is too great, and everyone else along the Seine seems young or elegant or carefree and sometimes all at once. Snape wears his robes like armor and Lupin feels the stares of strangers on his scars as if he were an exotic animal prowling the riverbank. They are tense and formal with one another, not meeting each other's eyes as they drink excellent wine and walk without touching through the once-upon-a-time world of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
Nor can anything grow in Venice, where the bright aching glare of the sky on the canals makes their heads grow heavy. Though they are staying in a beautiful 16th century villa on the river from which they ride the waterways to reach Saint Mark's Square, the crowded mazes of tourists and the stench of the city at low tide make them restless. They move on without visiting the maggazini of the ancient fruit market where wizards slip among the Muggles hawking rare potions and herbs, without studying the secret magical messages carved innocuously into the arched bridges connecting the islands.
Their resistance unravels layer by slow layer like the heavy winter clothes they shed as they travel south. The final pieces are the hardest to peel away from the skin. Each knows that the other will have scars, ugly marks of age and reminders of unnatural pasts which might draw the revulsion of strangers as well as potential intimates, yet the knowledge that neither is unblemished does not make it easier to share their truths. It is not until they leave Europe for lands where the languages and local costumes become less familiar that they stop sleeping in full nightclothes, tossing and sweating in the warmer weather.
Only after they reach the ruins of Egypt does recent history begin to fade. Here, where the sun and sand burn their skin and sear their throats, they follow a route taken for centuries by Muggles and wizards alike. Sorcerers whose names have been forgotten led ancient kings to leave their marks on a land that eluded them, for the monuments are still here but the civilizations have crumbled. Their own lives seem miniscule, specks of sand among millions, though Lupin wonders why it should be any different than in England where wizards have risen against the dark since before the Dark Ages, even before the time of legend. It is easy in the desert to imagine a time when the name of Voldemort will be spoken as a curiosity if it is remembered at all.
They sit together on the divan near the window at twilight, with the wavering music of a flute drifting in on the breeze. Their teacups lie forgotten on the table and Snape's book slides to the floor. "Leave it," he murmurs when Lupin, turning his head at the sound, reaches to pick it up. By then Snape's fingers have found his own and it is obvious from the plea in his voice that leave it means no distractions this time, just kiss me, so Lupin does, wondering how many times before he has missed the invitation because Severus asks for such things so subtly.
At his age it is a thrill to discover that one kiss -- even the thought of one kiss -- can still leave him breathless, and he feels a shiver move through Severus that surely can't be from the warm wind. Their lips are so dry that they scrape against each other, yet Lupin thinks it is right that this should be the moment -- not in a romantic niche behind a pillar at the Piazza dei Signori, not in a quiet corner of the gardens of the Generalife, but in an unremarkable inn after an uneventful day of travel. Slow, tentative movements guide their embrace, for the sun and sand have left their skin so tender that caution is necessary. There are potions that could remedy this but it would seem that Snape has forgotten his skills in that regard, for he does not stop to fetch one.
They are awkward and clumsy, not yet comfortable enough to laugh about it, and still the kissing is hypnotic. Severus' lips speak eloquently of want without any words, only the lightest of touches. Even when he hisses from friction against his chafed flesh, he does not let go.
"Hand me my wand," whispers Lupin, keeping his arms around Snape rather than risking the possibility that he will believe he is being pushed away. When the wood is pressed into Lupin's fingers he summons a bottle, drops the wand and begins to rub sweet healing oil into Severus' reddened skin. Gleaming dark eyes watch him in the fading dusk, and Lupin sees that although he has been afraid of rushing, there are risks as well in waiting too long.
In this country, among Muggles, it is a crime for two men to touch the way he wants to touch Severus. Attraction and fear must surge together until one overwhelms the other. How often does love evaporate in such a climate? Too frequently, Lupin guesses, and kisses the peeling forehead and flushed cheeks. The night wind cools their limbs while their fingers share the oil like rain in the desert, mouths coming together, tongues seeking one another in silent communication.
Neither speaks again until the music begins again, high and sad. "We should go back to the sea," Severus says softly, eyes shut, lips parted and glistening.
"The Red Sea? Or the Mediterranean?"
"The North Sea. The air will be cooler, the wild orchid will be in bloom and the sun in this season sets late and rises early." Without opening his eyes, Severus smiles. Bending to him, Lupin tastes the newly revealed curve of his inner lip, his jaw, the throat that Severus tilts his head slightly to expose, though their hands seem to have reached an agreement to move no lower than their shoulders and arms. Arousal struggles with fatigue and soreness until it becomes clear that they are pushing, that this is not the moment for anything more.
They have time; they are turning for home. Hours later, Lupin wakes with the thin material of Severus' nightclothes damp against his belly and kisses him good morning.
Thus far they have avoided shortcuts, traveling by train and coach and eventually horses, which has given them long stretches of the journey for conversation and for sitting together watching the horizon. Lupin had believed that Snape would be a quiet companion, perhaps even a dull one, keeping his thoughts to himself as has been his habit, but he seems determined to share this experience, and he notices far more about the people and things around them than Lupin would have suspected. He is also knowledgeable about plants and animals, and if he tends toward pessimism -- the natural world can be a violent place -- he is not argumentative when Lupin chooses to be whimsical, attributing human characteristics to animals and animal aspects to humans.
Now they travel by magical means, sweeping across Europe by night and sleeping during afternoons in towns chosen specifically for their isolation. In Greece, nestled in the mountains, they visit the Oracle at Delphi, where Severus summons snakes from the stones and follows them to the source of the sacred spring, though neither of them is moved to prophesy. In France they visit Cordes sur Ciel and Montsegur, where Muggles believe the knowledge of the Cathars was wiped out when in fact it was hidden, with clues in Tarot cards and popular astrology. This is where they belong, the dark, still places in the earth where the Muggle and wizarding worlds both open to ancient magic. Lupin expects Snape to object when he tells him that he wants to spend his mid-month in a cave, drunk on Wolfsbane and the cool damp air deep in the ground, but Snape agrees, setting up a tent outside the entrance and reading all night in the light of the full moon.
Their bodies are impatient for contact and the scant clothing they have worn in Africa and Asia has left little to the imagination. As they move north it grows cool enough at night for them to crave body heat as well. Oils and potions to treat sunburned skin give them plenty of excuses to touch one another, and the parts of their anatomy most urgent for attention have been well-protected from the weather; they surrender to desire helplessly at first, an inevitable consequence of so much stimulation, but quickly pleasure and gratitude lead to trust and curiosity. They do not join completely, still learning one another's responses, but Severus proves to be so inventive with his hands and tongue that Lupin realizes how often he has settled for what's quick and thoughtless, with strangers, even with Sirius in the end.
Severus can be selfish but he is never thoughtless. When they reach Calais he arranges for a Portkey so that they can bypass London, Hogsmeade, all the places they have already seen together. They go directly to Robin Hood's Bay, a village clinging to a cliff side where secret tunnels and passages connect houses that once hid contraband and criminals -- raiders, smugglers, and suspected witches and wizards. Even now Muggles ask no questions when two men return from a stroll to Ravenscar with their pockets full of wildflowers, nor when the scent of a simmering healing potion drifts from the window of an inn.
The sweet liquid helps Lupin shake off the effects of both lycanthropy and Wolfsbane, and they walk along the cliff top the next day all the way to Whitby. The young visitors there emulating Dracula cannot match Snape's ferocious aura of secretiveness, and Lupin is amused by the glances he attracts as they sweep through the famous churchyard by the ruins of the great abbey. Though Whitby's megaliths have been moved to its museum, there are stone circles older than the Great Pyramid only a few kilometers away.
"How many times," Lupin asks, looking out at the churning waves, "have human beings believed that the world was about to end?"
"At times they have been right," notes Snape. The wind from the sea blows his hair and cloak behind him. He looks fearsome and anachronistic at the same time, a troubled romantic archetype in billowing black; it is only when he cocks an eyebrow that Lupin realizes he is smiling fondly at him. "Is something amusing about that?"
"It's us. It's laughable really. The world didn't end, and we don't seem to remember how not to be afraid."
Severus glances at him sharply, making Lupin think that he has triggered the old defensiveness. He expects to be told that Snape is not afraid. Instead he hears only the surf and the piercing cries of gulls while his companion's expression twists, and Snape reaches into a pocket, drawing out a handful of protective amulets. "I was accustomed to expecting the world to end," he admits in a voice quieter than the sea, turning his hand to let the small charms fall to the ground. "I knew what I wanted to preserve and how to fight for it."
Lupin waits for him to admit what those things were and what he did, but Severus does not continue, looking out over the cliff, closing his eyes when the wind makes them water. He is not speaking of the war. Picking up one of the amulets, Lupin steps toward him, close enough to press the carving into his palm. He wants to say things he knows he cannot voice aloud to such a proud man -- that he is sorry for everything Severus has lost, and for believing himself to be the only one who thought he was alone. "I shouldn't have left," he tells him finally.
"Then don't do it again," says Snape in his professorial voice, but his fingernails bite into the back of Lupin's hand as they close over the amulet. Lupin nods agreement, moving his fingers over Severus' and squeezing until they relax and part, letting Lupin's slide between them.
They are quiet on the trip back to the inn, walking so close together that their sleeves keep brushing. When they sit across from each other at a quiet table in the pub for a late meal, there is again a certain formality between them. It is not like the tension when they first set out, for they are at ease looking at one another, talking about vampires and the ghost of the Abbess Hild, not attempting to hide; yet when Snape pours the wine and offers Lupin a glass, it has the solemn air of ritual. They watch each other drink until Snape drops his eyes, flushing slightly, reminding Lupin of the night in Vauxhall when he could not believe that Severus had come to bring him home.
"I want to take you to bed," Lupin tells him. He had not planned to speak aloud and certainly not in such a throaty, urgent tone, but the moment the words are between them, they begin to operate like a spell. Severus puts down his glass very carefully, reaches into his pocket and places far too much money on the table while Lupin dabs at his newly burning face with his napkin and swallows another gulp of wine, hoping that his legs will agree to carry him upstairs before lunging at Severus like a wild animal.
Only afterward can he explain to himself why he waited so long. It isn't that he couldn't have spoken weeks ago, for he suspects that Severus would have offered sex that first night in London if he had thought it was a condition of Lupin's return. But if he had asked too soon, they would never have reached this inn with the sea breeze blowing through the upper floor windows where Severus moans hurry and inside me and please, eyes bright and beseeching but body relaxed in its response, offering everything. Sirius had never trusted him this much, during the war; there had always been that flicker of fear and uncertainty. Here nothing is withheld, not even when the armor of Occlumency slips and they are both flooded with memories and dreams not their own.
They sleep only to wake and do it again, wrapped under the covers against the misty night air. Lying drowsily together, Lupin thinks that Paris would look entirely different if they returned now. They could regard the Swiss clifftops and look on the Eternal City with new eyes, too, but when he asks Severus where they will go next, Severus murmurs, "I want to go home with you."
It has been a rainy summer in southern England: their garden is a maze of color with wildflowers and herbs climbing over one another, and a ceiling leak has flooded Snape's parents' bedroom. It would take only a few spells to reverse the damage, but Severus begins to move the furniture, discarding the rug that has lain at the foot of the bed since before Lupin met him, sweeping his mother's bottles and brushes from the dresser top.
"Not yet," Lupin says when Severus suggests that they should move their things into the larger space. Instead he takes Severus to the room where they have both slept but never together and asks him to share everything he ever imagined doing with him when he lay alone there. As it happens, Severus has a long-suffering, elaborate, sometimes naughty imagination, so is days before they leave the house again, living temporarily on stale food from the pantry and wine from the cellar. Lupin thinks that the wooden bed built for one will never recover no matter how many charms they use to repair it, yet he is certain that even Snape prefers it with its new dents and creaks.
He spends the night of the next full moon asleep in the cellar and emerges to find Severus uprooting the garden. The potions master is replanting his most important herbs, with the others already spread to dry along the fence. "Can I help?" Lupin asks, and after making certain that he is not tired or in pain and should not be inside resting, Severus leads him to the bench and puts a pitcher of water beside him.
"I can't water the garden from here."
"That is for you to drink," Severus nods shortly. "You can sit there and tell me which of these plants can safely grow in the same plot without this uncultivated disaster arising."
Contrarily Lupin follows him into the dirt and sits beside him, spilling water onto newly planted seedlings while his lover hacks at tangled vines and leaves with an expression of grim satisfaction on his face. "We can grow anything," he promises, turning his face to the sun, "with enough effort, and enough time, and the right ground."