AN: Here we are, Breathe is finally completed. I don't even know what to say, how to thank all of you who have read this, marked it as a favourite, followed or reviewed. It feels weird that it's over, I'm at the same time sad to let Breathe go and ready to move on to new projects. The epilogue took longer than I planned, but it's also twice the intended word count so maybe you'll forgive me.
Thanks again for your support, it has meant more to me than you can imagine. This final chapter is dedicated to all of you. Love /ThosePreciousWalls
Severus recognized that his choice of location might not be ideal considering the mood he was in. Death was no more than a breath away, a tumble towards the ground and then it would be over. The thought of taking the step was appealing but his self control prevented any such rash actions. He still had a duty to fulfil.
The grey not-quite-darkness of the clear July night dimmed the colours he knew to be around him, yet allowed him to see clearly enough. Hogwarts was spread out beneath him, only the astronomy tower reaching further from the ground then the steep roof he was seated on.
It was the summer holidays, and the castle was dark and desolate. Everyone who had anywhere decent to go had left, meaning there were only three souls around at this point; Hagrid, Severus and Remus. Even Filch had set out vacationing somewhere. Severus couldn't help but wonder if Remus had stayed only to keep an eye on him. He hadn't confronted the man about it, and wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer anyway.
On the other hand Remus might be at Hogwarts for the same reasons as Severus himself. Sure, the house at Spinner's End was his to use, but he preferred not to. It had too many ghosts from his childhood. Maybe Remus felt the same about the house he had inherited. Or maybe he just stuck around because he didn't think he would get Wolfsbane from Severus otherwise.
A steady wind tore at Severus and he was beginning to feel cold, but he couldn't bring himself to dig out his wand and do something about it. He didn't care enough. He didn't even care that he should have his wand ready in case he slipped, that right now he had no chance of saving himself should something happen.
In a way he hoped that the chilly fingers of the wind would make him sick. Double sided pneumonia preferably. Then no one could question that he had to take a few days to rest, and he should be sick enough to take his attention away from the hollow feeling residing in his chest.
Severus was more than tired; he was beat, exhausted, weary, hardly functioning anymore. He was beginning to feel afraid that his brain would soon be unable to sharpen up enough for meetings. If he wasn't completely aware in the presence of the Dark Lord jumping off this roof would be a dream scenario for his death. A slender hand found its way to the hairline and tangled itself in the dark strands, pulling them hard enough to sting. Merlin, he wanted to sleep.
It wasn't like Severus hadn't tried. No more than an hour ago he had been lying in bed, hoping for some rest, when it snuck up on him. Every breath had increased the dark, empty, twisting, hurting turmoil that Severus had yet to find a name for. Not long had passed like that before Severus had thrown on a robe, desperate to get away. He might not be able to escape his own company, but at least he could escape his rooms.
Nights like this one were becoming far too frequent for Severus' comfort. He'd never had an easy time sleeping but somehow it had become worse. Or maybe it had just been an issue for longer than ever before. In the last war he had only started spying about a year before it ended, this time he had been in the game for two full years and it didn't seem to be over anytime soon.
More than six months had passed since Christmas, and Remus had been with him after practically every meeting since then. When asked Remus had revealed that he had a charm set up that notified him when Severus left the school grounds. He never told the specifics but Severus guessed there was something more to it. Encasing all of the school in one monitoring charm was complicated and draining, but the charm wasn't aimed directly at Severus either. If it had been he would have been dead the moment he walked into a meeting with an active tracking spell on his person.
Whatever the specifics of the charm, it apparently had no way to detect nights like tonight. Providing of course that Remus would care enough to come if he knew, but somewhere deep inside Severus had begun to believe that maybe he did.
Earlier that night, when he had been restlessly turning in bed and trying to push the anguish away, Severus had stooped to a fantasy. It had turned up as Remus' invasion into his life had become something lasting, and by now the hallucination was beginning to look alarmingly like a habit. He couldn't help but wish Lupin was around, knowing that his mere presence would have helped calming him. That Remus would just show up, like he did after meetings, not taking no for an answer.
Often he even envisioned himself going to Lupin. He had a clear picture of how he knocked on the man's door. Remus would open, and it would only take a look for him to understand. Stepping aside he would let Severus into his (probably horrendously Gryffindorish) quarters. What would happen after that was always vague, but there would be company and hot chocolate and that was enough, more than he could wish for really.
A small sigh almost made its way out of Severus chest, but he managed to stop it before it reached the surface. Such mundane, easily read gestures were not fitting for someone in his position. He should not allow himself to get lax, not even in solitude. Bad habits had a way of sneaking up on you at the most inopportune times.
The wind had cooled Severus down considerably and he could feel his muscles tensing up. It was incredibly irresponsible staying this long. His motor skills should already be affected and he still had to climb back through the window. Putting his life at unnecessary danger like this was really unforgivable, he was still needed in the war. Who was he to put his own selfishness over the safety of others?
Carefully sliding down the rough stone roof tiles the robe clad man came to a stop next to the dormer window that would let him back inside. The next time he would go on stupid trips on rooftops he should really wear pants, they were far better for stunts like this. A mere three inches of roof stretched between his booted toes and the precipice in front of him. Any small mistake now could lead to certain death, but Severus was so used to those odds he couldn't even be bothered to bring out his wand for security.
Grabbing around the frame of the open window with his left hand Severus let his body swing down and around. For a second his centre of mass was far out over the abyss and Severus could see himself letting go, falling towards the ground and a quick end. Then he was inside, standing safely on the floor.
He was tired, that was all this was. Severus closed his eyes for a moment and took a few deep breaths as he cleared away the image of him letting go of that window-frame. If he just got a good night's sleep these impulses should go away, but he was just so tired right now. Decisively shaking the weak moment off Severus closed the window and started the walk back to his quarters, intent on giving sleep a second chance.
Sometimes the silence in the dungeons was the best thing Severus knew, but not always. Tonight it felt suffocating, like the air was pressing against him, making it hard to move and even harder to breath. He hadn't been back in his rooms for more than a couple of minutes before he had to leave again, or he would've gone into a full-blown panic attack. No rest would be offered there tonight.
For a fleeting second Severus thought about conjuring a sleeping bag and setting up camp outside for the night. Let the fresh air and the wind in the trees distract him enough to possibly fall asleep, but he knew it had no chance of actually working. Outside wasn't safe. Someone could sneak up on him if he let his guard down in a public place, and he had enough powerful enemies that he wasn't able to relax behind any wards that took less than a week to set up.
As he once again wandered through the hallways Severus almost missed the students. He was glad not to risk running into teenage couples being indecent in abandoned classrooms, but he could have gone with a mischiever or two to deduct points from. It would have been something to keep him occupied. Now the corridors lay abandoned but for the echoing of his own footsteps and the faint light coming through the tall windows. At least that made it feel slightly less silent and claustrophobic than in the pitch black dungeons.
Severus stopped in front of one of the tall windows, placed his hand on the windowsill and deflated just enough for a little weight to be placed on them. If he focused on the glass he knew he would see his own image staring back at him, so he didn't. Outside on the grounds Hagrid's hut was dark, indicating that the half-giant was asleep. Severus wished he could do the same. He even contemplated taking Dreamless Sleep but decided against it. It was a dangerous path to walk down. The potion wouldn't give him enough rest with just one dose but it would make him want it again. No, not even Severus Snape was sure enough of his own self control to take that risk.
Forcing himself back into movement Severus drifted aimlessly through the school. He had been at Hogwarts long enough now to know that he wouldn't get lost no matter where he found himself. The only place he stayed clear of was the dungeons.
Time slowed and sped up at the same time, leaving Snape with no sense of how long he had been walking. Yet he thought that the sky outside had stopped darkening and was now growing lighter. Then he found himself standing still, staring at a piece of wood.
It was at the same time startling and anticipated to realise that the piece of wood was in fact Remus' door. Severus was exhausted enough that it clouded his judgement, and how many times hadn't he dreamt about going to the werewolf in some obscure hope that the man wouldn't turn him away.
Some unknown spell must have rooted Severus to the floor because he knew he should walk away, but he didn't. Over and over he just kept seeing the picture of himself, knocking on this door. How Remus would open, and it would only take a look for him to understand. How he would be let inside, and it would be a safe place, almost as warded as his dungeons, but not as quiet, not as oppressing and lonely. How maybe he could rest there, or at least drink hot chocolate and hopefully chase some of the worst ghosts away.
On the other hand Remus might not open, it was late after all. Or, even worse, he might open and tell Severus to leave. He might want to sleep on undisturbed and untroubled by his hopelessly needy colleague. There was an evident risk that Severus reached out here tonight, asked for help and was denied it. He couldn't help but wonder what that would do to him, how he would be able to handle that humiliating disappointment.
In the end Severus felt like he had nothing left to lose, except his sanity if he didn't get to sleep soon. Coming to the conclusion that he valued his sanity higher than his dignity, at least when it was Lupin involved, he caved. And so he raised his hand and knocked on the door.
Severus had no clue whether the knocks had been strong enough to be heard inside, especially if Remus was asleep, but it had taken all he had to raise his hand once and he couldn't bring himself to do it again. The moments passed by unbearably slow. How long was it even prudent to stand around waiting? Merlin, why was he even doing this?
Just as Severus was about to turn tail and run it became too late to escape. The door swung open to reveal a sleepy looking Remus, wearing a pyjama under his open robes and still rubbing his eyes trying to wake up. Severus hastily looked away, wishing he could just sink through the floor.
"Severus?" The confusion was evident in Remus' voice. "Has something happened? Did Dumbledore send you?"
"No. I just..." Severus broke off, appalled to hear how weak and gravelly his voice sounded and not sure what to say anyway. This wasn't going like it was supposed to, he shouldn't have come. "I'm sorry I woke you, I'll just leave." He backpedalled and turned away to leave, hating himself for the new pit that was opening in his stomach.
"What? Wait!" Remus sounded much more awake now and Severus stopped hoping that the man might not remember his slip of judgement in the morning. Just before Severus was out of reach strong fingers closed around his wrist.
"Severus, stop!" He did, but turning around to face his colleague (friend?) still proved too much. Sure that the other man couldn't see his face Severus closed his eyes as he braced himself for what was to come.
"What's wrong?" The question wasn't at all what Severus had expected, and neither was the way that Remus' voice had softened.
"I don't know..." Severus didn't know what had compelled him to answer, but this felt like his last chance and he had to take it. "Nothing, everything..." He didn't even have the energy to feel ashamed about how his voice was no stronger than a whisper and how it cracked over the last word.
"Do you want to come in?" There was a definite note of worry in Remus tone now.
A part of Severus wanted to scream yes, and then ask what Remus thought he was doing here otherwise. Another part of him wanted to simply collapse in a heap on the floor and not have to think any more. The two men stood frozen for several long seconds before Severus finally managed to tilt his head in a small nod.
"You are always welcome. Come on."
Remus pulled his arm gently and Severus finally turned around. He could see Remus' bare feet moving to the side as the man left him room to step through the door. The hand around Severus wrist disappeared but he didn't want to run anymore. Instead he stepped over the threshold into Remus' living room, and for the first time that night he felt that things just might get - if not okay - at least a little bit better.