Chapter 1 : chapter 1
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Sirius Black and Remus Lupin were always at their most vulnerable, though sometimes at their most beautiful, in the quiet moments.
At first Remus thought he was imagining the soft noises that found his ears in the darkness and silence of the boys’ dormitory. Sirius didn’t cry, ever- it was just one of those things they all took for granted- he was their strength, their protector, their immovable leader. Even James was more likely to show such a weakness, a vulnerability which sometimes sat at odds with his bravado. But Remus’ ears weren’t playing tricks on him. He lay on his back in the dark, staring up at the canopy of the four-poster whose red velvet curtains were black and shadowed; their corners seemed to hide as many secrets as Sirius himself did, that night.
He was certainly crying, there was no doubt about that. Every so often Remus would tilt his head to one side, the muscles in his neck tensed, as he strained to hear the wet sniffling sounds that floated across the room from the direction of Sirius’ bed. They would be followed by harsh, breathy exhalations of grief as the boy struggled, pitifully, to keep his sobs silent. The sound of it caused Remus’ heartbeat to speed up until it thumped sickeningly in his mouth, drowning him in a wave of pity and illogical fear.
Sirius simply never, ever, cried.
Remus listened for a long time. The sobs rose and fell in irregular, almost silent bursts -- certainly Peter and James wouldn’t have heard unless they were already awake, and Remus didn’t think they were. He could hear their slow, even inhalations from the beds on either side of his own. Eventually he propped himself up on his arms, wincing at the stiffness and cracking joints in his neck, and waited again. The air in the room was heavy and thick, and he could feel his skin growing hot. Even the sound of Sirius’ crying embarrassed him. On the other hand, he had a desperate urge to cross the room and comfort Sirius, to stop his tears. Anything to make them stop.
He sat up carefully, trying not to make the wooden slats on his bed creak, and lowered his bare feet to the floor, batting aside the bed hangings which were no more than faintly translucent shadows.
Sirius must have heard him coming, because there was only heavy silence as Remus padded across the dormitory floor to Sirius’ bed. It was a tall, dark monolith in the faint moonlight; the velvet hangings swayed gently in an invisible breeze or some movement from the bed within. Remus’ breath caught in his throat as he reached the bed, suddenly afraid. He raised his bare arm, which was prickled with coldness despite the humid air, gathered a handful of the curtain, and dragged it aside.
Sirius was a pale shape in the dark, hunched against the headboard, his legs drawn up in front of him in a strangely protective way. The flash of anger in his eyes as he met Remus’, however, was completely genuine. He swallowed convulsively, glaring at Remus through his tears, and said, “Sod off, Moony.” As he did, a tear escaped and left a glistening trail on his cheek.
Remus’ heart was pounding now, filling him with defensive strength, and his compassion overrode his timidity. “Sirius,” he croaked. “What’s wrong?”
“I said sod off.” Sirius turned his head away, as if ashamed of his tears, and draped his arms around his knees, clenching his hands into fists. He was breathing heavily, and Remus was aware that his upper chest was bare- glinting palely in the moonlight.
He took an obstinate step forward, until his knee connected with the side of the bed. “I’m not going away until you tell me.”
Sirius laughed, but there was no humour in the sound. He didn’t turn to look at Remus as he said, “I don’t want to tell you.”
“Because you’ll tell me I’m an idiot.”
He still hadn’t turned around, but Remus sensed that his resolve was weakening, so he slowly sat down on the edge of Sirius’ bed, the moonlight falling across his lap and his folded hands. His face was solemn. “How am I supposed to get any sleep then?”
“Try counting sheep,” came Sirius’ hoarse and bitter reply. His head was still turned away, into the shadows. Remus followed the curve of his bare shoulder to his neck, where the muscles were pulled taut, to his cheek and the dark hair obscuring it. Remus studied him, frowning, and a vague connection arose in the back of his mind.
“Did something happen when you spoke to Regulus after dinner?”
Sirius’ head dipped slightly, and Remus knew he had hit the nerve of the problem; several moments later, Sirius reluctantly turned back to look at Remus. The moisture was drying on his cheeks, in the corners of his mouth, and on his upper lip. His eyes were swollen and he looked exhausted, as if the mere mention of Regulus’ name had sapped all of his strength- even the strength to argue. Remus felt the moment of crisis pass, and he slid a hand along the bed sheets, lightly folding it over one of Sirius’ bare feet.
“Did you have an argument?”
Sirius tried to smile, but it only gave his face a sardonic cast when one corner of his mouth crinkled inward. “That would be putting it lightly.” His voice was ragged. When his eyes slid to the shadows at the foot of the bed and he made no sound for a long time, Remus thought he was refusing to speak again. He jumped slightly when Sirius’ voice cut the air, sharp and cold. “I hit him. I hit the little bastard.”
Remus felt the cold wash over him again, as if there was a draft somewhere, but managed to suppress the shocked expression that wanted to creep onto his features. He kept his voice low, thinking of the two boys sleeping nearby. “Sirius, why?”
“Because he said stuff. About you.” He avoided Remus’ gaze, instead staring coldly at the foot of the bed, where the shadows couldn’t accuse him.
Remus’ frown deepened, and his hand felt stuck to Sirius’ foot- as if it was frozen there. “What stuff?” he asked slowly.
“It doesn’t matter.”
There was coldness, and silence. Somewhere, in the darkness beyond the bed, Remus could still hear James and Peter breathing softly. He didn’t think their argument had woken them, yet. Remus watched Sirius guardedly. His friend’s mouth was drawn in a stubborn line, and his eyebrows were stormily set. One half of his face was in shadow.
“You could have ignored him.” Remus’ voice was soft and careful, and his hand still rested passively on Sirius’ foot.
Sirius didn’t reply for a long time, and when he did, it wasn’t in response to Remus’ words. “I warned him not make enemies here, he doesn’t know what it’s like. He doesn’t know what he’s getting into. People will remember him for what he does. And they’ll…” he paused, and closed his eyes briefly before continuing. “They’ll use him. And he doesn’t even realise it. He thinks he’s fucking untouchable.”
Remus winced at Sirius’ words- not at his language, but at the vehemence with which he spoke. Sirius’ fists were clenched so tightly that his knuckles stood out, bonily, against the white skin of his knees. He started to laugh as he spoke, causing his words to shake. “I thought I could turn him against that pure-blood crap our parents poisoned his mind with- but I screwed up somewhere. He’s talking like them now.” He wasn’t laughing any more but shaking, the tears welling up and fighting free again, and Remus’ throat constricted with sympathy as he slid his hand up Sirius’ foot and curled it around his ankle. Sirius let out an uneven breath and said, “I thought the way I acted, what I said to him, what I did would make a difference. How stupid is that?”
Remus could feel his own eyes stinging, but he knew he wouldn’t cry- it was not his place or time to cry. Sirius was the only one who deserved that comfort now. He pressed his fingers into the hollow above Sirius’ ankle. “If there’s one thing you’re not, Sirius Black,” he whispered, smiling tenderly at the other boy who was almost a man now- who would be a man if not for the tears running down his face, and the childish fear behind his grey eyes, “…it’s stupid.”
Sirius only swallowed and dragged his wrists over his eyes, trying to stop the tears, and sniffed deeply and noisily as Remus sat on the edge of his bed, watching him with a soft expression. The moon had shifted, and Remus’ lap was no longer illuminated with light. The darkness around Sirius’ bed had deepened.
Several long minutes passed in which neither of them spoke a word, and Sirius’ crying and sniffling subsided. They both found themselves staring at each other –Sirius, with swollen and red-rimmed eyes, and Remus, with an attentive adoration that made the other boy’s skin prickle with heat. An embarrassed but infectious smile spread over Sirius’ face and he laughed, causing Remus to do the same.
“Why don’t you just move into my bed if you love me so much, Moony?” he asked jokingly, and Remus realised he hadn’t moved his hand, it was still wrapped around Sirius’ leg. He pulled it away with a shy smile.
“Are you going to be all right?” The question was serious and genuine; softly spoken. Remus’ slate-coloured eyes arrested him with their unspoken, penetrating love.
The grin softened on Sirius’ face, and after only a small pause, he nodded.
The door to Sirius’ flat swung inward in a slow arc, and hit the wall with such an impact that it began to close itself before Sirius had even managed to stagger through it. He was followed by a wave of laughter and chatter from the corridor outside as he stepped across the threshold.
“Shh, you’ll wake the neighbours,” James said through his giggles, and standing behind Remus, his hands on Remus’ shoulders, he followed him through the door after Sirius.
Sirius held the door open as Remus and James stepped into the flat from the dark corridor. Their laughter was loud, clear and vibrant in the dark, punctuated by the shuffle of their shoes on the carpet and the small skidding sounds’ of Sirius’ hand as it felt its way along the wall through the dark for the light switch. Eventually his hand met the crack of a door, and from there he found his bearings; blindly he felt his way over to the light and flicked it on.
Brightness flooded the small hallway, making them all squint. They were damp- not with rain but sweat- and at least in Remus’ case, half a bottle of whiskey that had been tipped over his head by someone in a bar: the smell of it heavily pungent in the small space. He was smiling even though the whiskey had soaked through his hair and plastered it over his forehead in messy, crisscrossed strands.
Sirius looked at him and, making a tortured expression, covered his nose with one hand. “God, you reek,” he said, and then started laughing again, setting James and Remus into stitches.
“I’m getting drunk on the smell,” Remus said weakly, pressing one hand against the wall, his fingers splayed against the striped brown wallpaper to steady himself. His hand slipped, and he fell back against the wall, laughing helplessly.
“You need a shower, mate,” James said, walking past him and slapping him on the shoulder, his hand connecting with Remus’ sticky, wet collar. “And I need some sleep.”
Sirius, who had made his way out to the kitchen and ducked out of sight behind the bar, stood up. One strand of his damp, dark hair was stuck across his cheek. “What about a few more drinks?”
James paused at the end of the corridor, glancing between Sirius and Remus, who had pushed himself off the wall and was inspecting the state of his jumper.
“No thanks, Padfoot. Not for me. Lily will murder me if I get home tomorrow with a hangover.”
“You’re no fun,” Sirius said, smiling, and rested both of his hands on the bench, leaning on it. “You can have a shower first, if you want.”
“No offence, but I think Moony needs one more than I do. See you in the morning.” He offered them both a grin, his hazel eyes sparkling, and disappeared into the shadows that had fallen across the corridor.
Remus walked into the living room, wiping his damp face with a long finger, just beneath his eyes.
“Sorry about that,” Sirius said, though his amused expression didn’t falter; he went to the fridge and brought out two bottles of Firewhiskey.
“It was my idea to take the bike out, I suppose” Remus said in a dry, resigned voice.
“Yeah, but it was my idea to go into that Muggle bar.”
“Was it yours or James’ idea,” Remus asked as he peeled his soaking, sticky collar away from the base of his neck where the drying whiskey had glued it, “to insinuate that I’d slept with the bartender’s mother?”
“It was James’,” Sirius said, his face straight. “The whiskey was bloody awful… I think he was just trying to get a rise out of you.”
“Well, he got a rise out of someone. Just not me.”
The solemnity on Remus’ face was, a few seconds later, broken by a grin which immediately caused them both to erupt into more laughter; subsiding only when their breath had grown short and their eyes began to water.
Remus straightened up with an effort, and wiped his mouth again: his hand came away damp and he winced, though the creases of his smile remained on his face.
“Going to join me in another drink, Moony?” Sirius asked companionably, raising one of the bottles in the other man’s direction, and sloshing the liquid inside. “It’s better than that Muggle stuff.”
Remus laughed shortly and wearily. “I won’t- but thanks anyway. I think I’ve had more than enough already.” In demonstration, he tugged at his soaking collar. Sirius lowered the bottle and nodded, his eyes sparkling in the light from the kitchen, and Remus suddenly felt awkward under his amused gaze, so he glanced instead at the couch in the living room. A guilty expression crept onto his face and he raised his eyebrows tentatively at Sirius.
“You know… you don’t have to sleep on the couch. You gave James your bed. You could take the spare one, if you want- I don’t mind sleeping out here.”
“Don’t be stupid, Moony, I’ve slept in worse places,” Sirius said with a smile, and his eyes glittered again, darkly, but he didn’t clarify this rather odd statement; he tilted his head to one side and flicked the stuck strand of hair off his face in a distracted way. “I said you could have the spare bed. I meant it. I won’t have my mate sleeping on the couch.” His expression softened slightly, in a subtle way that only Remus could have noticed, acquiring a look of deep compassion and awkwardness; a defencelessness that was highly unlike him.
It was only there for an instant, but it tightened Remus’ throat and made him smile in a lovely, lopsided way as he tried to stop it from spreading into a grin. It would have seemed strange for him to grin at Padfoot’s words, so innocently and welcomingly spoken, and he sensed-- in a way that only close friends can-- the other man’s sudden state of vulnerability.
“All right then,” he said, after swallowing the lump which had mysteriously formed in his throat. “I think I’ll take you up on that shower, though, if you don’t mind.”
“Be my guest. You can leave your wet clothes in the bathroom.” He smiled again, and then they both stood there awkwardly for a few moments as if not knowing what else to say, or wanting to say something but not knowing quite how to.
Sirius’ hand was still clutching the neck of one of the bottles. The light in the kitchen had washed the top of his head with bright yellow light that caught the strands of his damp-slickened hair; watching Remus from behind the bar, his grey eyes sparkled with words that he didn’t know how to say, that neither of them knew how to say, and somewhere among Padfoot’s things, a clock was ticking on a shelf.
Remus’ skin was shining faintly from the whiskey coating his face and the amber cast it was given by the light spilling out of the kitchen. His eyes darted up to Sirius’ and held them as he opened his mouth to speak.
“Goodnight Moony,” Sirius said abruptly, in a faint and gentle voice. Remus closed his mouth and swallowed. Whatever spell there had been, it was broken at that moment, and the two of them stared at each other with a muted longing that was almost desperation.
Remus turned, quickly- perhaps too quickly- and went up the passage toward the bathroom. The last of the light caught his back, spilling across the back of his jumper, until he had turned the corner.
Sirius slowly prised his hand from the neck of the bottle. His fingers were damp, the skin of his palms was hot and sticky with sweat, and he slid his hand down the cold bottle until it rested on the bench. His heart was thudding, heavily and persistently, in his chest, and suddenly he didn’t want the drink anymore.
I wonder what he looks like when he sleeps.
Almost fifteen minutes after the sound of the shower had been shut off with a metallic squeak, and the door to the spare room had clicked shut, Sirius Black lay on the couch in the dark and silent living room staring up at the ceiling, and he couldn’t get the thought of Remus out of his head.
Spidery shadows had traced their way across the flaking plaster. The pale moonlight filtered through the leaves of a tree outside the living room window. Sirius’ neck was crooked at an uncomfortable angle, propped up by a pillow tucked against the arm of the couch, and his back was aching where it rested over the cracks between the cushions. He had no need of blankets; the night was warm and sweaty and humid. He had removed his leather jacket but still wore his t-shirt and jeans, which had plastered themselves stickily to his lower back. His belt was coiled on the coffee table like a snake, the buckle glinting in the half-light.
He breathed softly through his nose, his mouth a flat line, as one restless hand flopped onto his stomach and slowly rose and fell with each breath. He wasn’t tired. In contrast, his senses seemed honed to an almost unbearable clarity. He was distinctly aware of the fact that, only a few metres away, Remus was in bed. Probably asleep.
He let his breath out in a huff. The heavy sigh punctuated the darkness and silence, and in the absence of any other sound, it seemed very loud. He scratched his stomach and arched his back restlessly, trying to work out the ache that was crawling up his spine.
Finally he sat up and kneaded at the crick in his back with his knuckles, gasping slightly, and stared out across the shadowed living room.
I need a drink.
The thought pushed him to his feet, and he made his way through the dark to the kitchen, and tugged open the fridge. Soft light washed over his face and flooded the small kitchen area, reaching back to part the darkness of the living room with its clinical glow. The cold of the glass stung his hand, racing up his arm, as he pulled out the bottle of Firewhiskey.
He set the bottle on the bar and wrapped his hand around the cap, preparing to twist it off, and as he did his eyes wandered to the dark corridor leading to the bathroom and the two bedrooms where James and Remus slept.
(How long’s it been Padfoot, a year and a half? Still counting the days since you last touched him? Well, you don’t forget a thing like that. It stays with you. I know he hasn’t been the same since, neither have I, we’ve been… distant, somehow… like we’re both trying to be careful around one another, afraid to get close. But Jesus, it’s hard sometimes. The way he looks at me. Don’t tell me I’m imagining that. I’m not. But I’ve been careful.)
Sirius cocked his head slightly to one side and bit his lip, frowning and thoughtful, his grey eyes trying to pierce the shadows. He was too aware of the beating of his own heart- something that one took for granted, not something one wanted to be reminded of in situations like these. He chewed his lip and thought, oh, fuck it- and walked around the bar, across the living room, and into the darkened corridor.
(… It’s been a long time. God, if I could… taste his skin again. I wonder if he still tastes the same.)
His bare feet made no sound on the carpet, but the floorboards creaked minutely as he treaded his way carefully through the almost pitch-black corridor, feeling strangely unnerved- like an intruder, a thief in his own flat. He paused outside the door to the spare room.
(… Jesus, I don’t know if I can do this.)
He considered knocking, and then realised how absurd that was. What am I going to say? Hi Moony, I’ve just come to stare at you in your sleep. Don’t mind me. He let out a breathy giggle which escaped through his nose, and placed his hand on the door, the fingertips arched against the wood, listening attentively.
(… I think I love you, Moony. Not that I’d ever say that to your face. You’d laugh.)
The smile removed itself from his face as he curled his hand around the doorknob and pushed on it, just a crack, and paused. No sound. He swung it inward, silently, and tensed as it finished its arc, at the full length his arm would allow.
Moonlight fell in a bright, clear shaft over the bed. Remus was lying on it- but not, to Sirius’ surprise, underneath the covers; he was propped against the pillows and the headboard, one arm tucked lazily behind his neck in a careless, unselfconscious way that was completely unlike him. Sirius drew in a breath and held it, forgetting to let it go.
The other man’s chest was bare. He was unclothed except for a pair of cotton pyjama pants, and one leg was slightly bent at the knee. His other hand was draped across his stomach, angled downward, the fingertips lightly tucked into the waistband of his pyjamas.
Sirius breathed in too loudly. Remus’ eyes flew open immediately, and his head turned towards the doorway in shock; the arm wrenched itself from behind his neck and flattened on the bedcovers where he pushed himself straighter against the headboard.
They stared at each other breathlessly, and Sirius finally remembered to close his mouth, because it had fallen open. He wiped it with the back of his wrist.
“I changed my mind,” he said in a flat, constricted voice, before the other man could speak. His hand was still curled around the doorknob.
“What?” Remus said, not in reply to his question, but in general disorientation. His chest moved slowly with each heavy, nervous breath, and the moonlight glinted off the moisture there. The heat in the room was stifling. Sirius had an alarming vision of himself running his tongue across the skin there, tasting that sweat, and he swallowed deeply, swaying a little.
“About the bed.”
Remus stared at him, unblinking, but there was not surprise on his face or confusion at Sirius’ words- Sirius thought he saw sharp hunger there, underneath the wariness.
“Do you want me to sleep on the couch,” Remus said carefully and slowly, enunciating each word with precision, but not lifting his voice in question on the last word. His lips were moist and shining; his hair still tantalizingly damp from the shower.
Sirius drew a slow breath, and let his hand fall away from the doorknob. “No,” he said softly but firmly, and felt his heart race again when Remus’ head tilted back, just a little, and his mouth parted in recognition… or yearning. The motion of his chest increased as his breath quickened in his throat.
Holy Christ, he’s beautiful, Sirius thought, and a slow, lovely smile crept over his face, as he leaned his head back and grasped the edge of the door with his fingers. He pushed it closed behind him.
“Do you trust me, Remus?” he asked thinly, and, grasping his t-shirt by the hem, he began to tug it over his shoulders. His vision was obscured for a hot, suffocating instant as he pulled it over his head.
“No,” Remus replied in a voice that was cracked.
Sirius laughed almost soundlessly, too aware that James was sleeping in the next room. He held his bunched t-shirt in his hands for a few moments before letting it fall silently to the floor. “You’re not supposed to say that,” he said, the tortured grin never leaving his face, and the moonlight cast shadows over his bare chest. Remus could see the ribs under his skin every time he breathed in.
They held each other’s gaze. The square of moonlight that fell across the bed, across Moony’s crumpled pyjamas, and his face and chest shifted with the movement of a cloud outside, and the room darkened.
Sirius didn’t flinch at Remus’ words, but his heart stammered, and it took them a few moments to register in his brain. Remus wasn’t smiling, but there was a kindness in his eyes now- a kindness that almost overwhelmed his desire, and his eyes were sparkling, as if with tears.
Without a word, Sirius obeyed.
He was careful not to let their skin touch as he lowered himself onto the bed beside Moony. He turned his head toward the other man so that their faces were only inches away from each other, the moonlight playing on their skin. Moony’s upper lip was prickled with sweat.
“You feel it too, don’t you?” Remus asked softly.
Sirius could only reply in a croak. “Feel what?”
“Like the world is slipping away from under our feet. Like we’re trying to hold on but everything’s falling away. James. Pete. Us.”
He was crying, and his breath was coming in little gasps. Sirius felt a wrench of love for the man, and closed the gap between their bodies, wrapping one arm around Remus’ neck and the other over his chest and shoulders. He kissed his forehead, and Remus sunk his lips into the curve of Sirius’ neck, making his mouth fall open in a silent exhalation of pleasure.
He didn’t know what Remus meant- not exactly- but the same fear lay in his own heart; he simply had no way to express it with words. Instead, he closed his mouth over Remus’ and kissed him until their breath was trapped in their throats.
Pulling away, he gasped, “Think you can hold on for a bit longer?”
Remus smiled, and they both laughed, breathlessly and silently as they held each other in the dark.
Sirius was sitting alone at a table at the back of the bar, where the shadows were deepest, and the red and orange lights above the bar didn’t quite reach, only washing the table with their gentle amber glow. His hair was hanging over his face, obscuring his features, and it was only when he leaned back and flicked it casually out of his eyes that Remus smiled in recognition and began to navigate his way through the crowded bar toward the table. The other man’s features, darkly handsome, had a bored set as he toyed with the cardboard drink coaster, tapping it against the edge of the table rhythmically; only when Remus was standing a few metres away did he glance up. A warm grin broke immediately over his face, and the familiarity of it caused a knot in Remus’ throat, as bottled-up feelings of love and a curious sense of homesickness overwhelmed him.
“Moony… I thought you weren’t coming!”
It wasn’t until much later that he would realise it, but Sirius had always been his home- wherever Sirius was, he made Remus belong there, too.
Sirius didn’t stand up to greet him but leaned forward in his seat, stretching a hand over the table to gesture Remus to sit. “Park your arse, mate,” he said amicably, letting go of the coaster and smiling up at his friend.
“Why did you think I wasn’t coming?” Remus asked as he pulled the chair out and sat down opposite Sirius. The table was very small; Sirius’ proximity was strangely unnerving after so much time spent apart. With one finger he nudged aside an empty glass with a slice of lemon in it. It made a dry scraping noise on the surface of the table.
“Thought you might have better things to do,” Sirius said with a shrug, still smiling calmly, and he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, making the wood squeak.
Remus smiled lopsidedly. “Don’t be stupid. You’re the one that’s impossible to get hold of these days.”
“Yeah, well. Order business and all that. You know what it’s like. They’ve got us running all over London.” He scratched his lower lip with a blunt thumbnail. “How’ve you been keeping?”
“All right,” Remus said, and looked awkwardly at his arms, folded on the edge of the table.
“Are you still a free man?” Sirius asked with a half-smile, and draped one of his arms over the back edge of his chair.
The question took Remus off-guard, and he frowned slightly. “’Ay?”
“Well, am I depriving some lucky girl of your time?” His eyes glittered with dark good humour, but within them, hidden, Remus’ suspected a deeper seriousness behind the question.
He was surprised to find himself blushing, and laughed Sirius’ question off, shifting his weight uncomfortably in his chair. “No.”
“You’re blushing,” Sirius observed.
“No I’m not,” Remus lied hastily, and stared at the glass on the table: there were tiny drops of liquid still beaded on the inner rim of the glass. Some of them had pooled on the bottom, around the lemon.
There’ll never be anyone to replace you, Sirius, he thought desperately, and then immediately smothered the thought, his face burning under the other man’s scrutiny. He covered up the panic that was rising in his throat by laughing again, and said, “I’m too busy for that.”
Sirius’ curious little smile didn’t fade, but he didn’t reply, and a companionable silence fell, the type that usually only occurs when two friends meet after a long time, and who have forgotten what to say to one another. Remus listened to the faint strands of music drifting from a jukebox somewhere, and the clink of glasses from the bar. Every so often Sirius would throw a glance at him, and Remus would return it, silently and furtively.
His throat had gone dry by the time he spoke again. “It’s all pretty serious now, isn’t it?” he asked after a long time, and shot a cautious glance at a woman who walked past their table. The sound of the other bar patrons’ voices and laughter was a steady chorus in the background. “With You-Know-Who-”
“I’d rather not talk about it.” Sirius offered him an apologetic smile. “That sort of stuff’s best left at work, if you know what I mean.”
Remus nodded remorsefully, and bit his lip. “Sorry I brought it up.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Their eyes met again, and Sirius’ expression was reassuring. “I just don’t like to think about some stupid war at times likes these, when we’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves. You could almost believe everything was all right with the world.”
Remus swallowed hard, because there was something blocking his throat, and he suddenly found it difficult to look at Sirius. There was a deep, aching grief hidden beneath his smile, as though he was being drowned by it from within, and Remus felt his love for the other man swell to an almost unbearable point. He felt his eyes sting and covered his expression by laughing and glancing over his shoulder at the bar. “You haven’t even bought me a drink yet.”
“Get it yourself!” Sirius said indignantly, and to Remus’ relief, joined him in laughing. The dark knowledge that Sirius knew that something terrible was happening around them, and the clawing fear that accompanied it, was for a brief moment forgotten, and Remus pushed himself up from his chair and headed over to the bar.
When he returned to the table with two glasses, he noticed a packet of cigarettes poking out of Sirius’ coat pocket. He deposited the glasses on the table, sliding one onto Sirius’ coaster, and said, “I thought you gave those up.”
“I did, for a while,” Sirius replied, following the direction of his eyes, and self-consciously tucking the packet deeper into his pocket, out of sight. “Until I started working for the Order. And then, you know… things got bad.” He smiled, his eyes not resting on Remus’ but flicking between the table, where his hand restlessly played with the coaster, and the other man’s face. “Besides, they make me look handsome.”
Remus smiled but did not laugh, and stared down at the bubbles floating to the surface of his glass. They made the liquid shiver as they popped on the surface. The drink was like Sirius, he thought- it looked calm on the surface, but there were always moments when the calmness broke. He, Remus Lupin, had witnessed many of them. They flashed through his head like slides; old images projected onto the back of his mind, and when they vanished they left a ghostly after-image of themselves. Eventually the memories would fade forever, leaving only the afterglow.
Dimly, in the background, the song wore on. It was no longer cheerful but lonely, somehow. It was the sound of days that had been lost, that were nothing more than memories gathering cobwebs. In a moonlight-drenched room in Remus’ mind, two men were lying in one another’s arms, tangled in each other and the bed sheets, one of them was crying, and one of them was stroking the other’s hair, some of which was sticking to his dampened lips, as he told him to “stop, don’t, it’s all right, Moony.”
In a blink they were gone.
In another blink, they were sitting side-by-side on a four-poster bed, pressed together at hip and shoulder and neck. Their faces were pale in the dark, and Sirius’ head was lolling on Remus’ shoulder, his knees folded up in front of him. All around them was darkness, but there was a subtle radiance about them that defied the darkness, in spite of the unnameable fear that shadowed their young faces.
In a third blink, the darkness dragged a veil over his memories, he was staring at an empty glass on the table, and Sirius was watching him.
He was still radiant, his Padfoot- they both were; perhaps a little less than before… but only a little.
Does he fade a little bit every day? Lose a bit more of himself every time he goes home at night?
The terrible thought came to him that Sirius might someday be nothing more than a ghostly afterglow, that his brightness might one day be extinguished, leaving only a faded image of itself imprinted upon the back of his mind. It was enough to fill him with irrational fear, but also stubborn courage and defiance.
They had fought off the darkness before. They were Marauders.
Sirius was observing him closely, and there was now a sense of recognition in his expression, as if he had seen something in Remus’ face as the other man had been thinking, and suspected the cause of it. But he said nothing at first, simply letting the silence lengthen, as Remus’ heart thudded loudly in his ears.
“I think I might need one of your cigarettes,” Remus said in a hoarse voice, and finally raised his head.
Sirius stared at him in mild incredulity, and slowly lowered the glass he had been holding, ready to take another sip. “Pardon the pun, Moony, but are you serious?”
The brick wall of the alleyway was rose-coloured, painted pink by the last rays of the sun. The air was blessedly cool after the noisy, warm interior of the pub, and Remus’ shoes made crunching sounds as he stepped outside.
Several peeling posters were tacked up on the walls. They were unreadable now, covered with graffiti, but ostensibly they made him feel saner, as if their presence was a reminder of the lastingness of things. You could put up a poster in an alleyway and it would still be there in fifty years- albeit despoiled by time and browned with age- but still there.
Remus drew in a breath of the sharp air and grinned, widely and unashamedly, at Sirius. “I think we’ll be all right, you know,” he said, standing in the middle of the alley with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his coat. Sirius was leaning on the wall beside the door, and had removed his packet of cigarettes.
He took one out and handed it to Remus, who stuck it in his mouth. “We will be, if we live long enough. Other end, Moony.” He pinched the cigarette between two fingers and flipped it around as Sirius held the lighter up to his mouth.
“What’s that?” Remus said with a hint of alarm, and flinched as a bright orange flame sparked up from the small, metallic box.
“It’s a lighter. Muggles use them.”
“Couldn’t you use your wand?”
Sirius laughed and lit his own smoke before replacing the lighter in his pocket. “Do you have any idea how ridiculous that would look?”
“All right. I’m new to this,” Remus said defensively, took a slow drag on the cigarette, and coughed convulsively, sending out a puff of smoke which quickly dispersed in the air.
Sirius laughed again, and his voice echoed around the narrow space, bouncing off the brick walls and floating up into the darkening sky. A flock of birds took off from a rooftop high above them, rippling the air with the beating motion of their wings. Remus straightened up with his cigarette held between his index finger and thumb, examining it, as the fog of his breath mingled with the smoke rising from its tip.
He realised that Sirius was still smiling at him.
“It’s getting late,” the dark-haired man said, his voice muffled around his cigarette, which poked from the corner of his lips at a lazy angle. His cheeks were dimpled with shadow at the corners, and his eyes sparkled with hidden humour. “Be a gentleman and walk me home.”
Remus stared at him, the cigarette forgotten, and felt his heart quicken. There was more in Sirius’ smile than amusement, he realised- but desire… and, beneath it all, love and immeasurable, immutable reverence.
You won’t ever fade, Sirius. The thought was almost intangible, just a soft whisper on the fringes of his subconscious, but he felt its echo in his heart, a burning trail that left scars in his soul. You’ll never be an afterglow.
Smiling coyly, Remus moved toward Sirius and into the warmth of his body, and Sirius, welcoming, wrapped an arm around his shoulders. They leaned into one another as they walked down the alleyway, their shadows stretching longer and longer as they moved toward the dying light, and the wind scattered litter like fallen leaves around their feet.
They could almost believe, as the encroaching twilight swallowed the last rays of dusk and painted the city, the streets a vibrant and unearthly shade, making beautiful the empty and wasted places, that they would live forever, unfading.
And for a moment everything was all right with the world.
“And all it was to know you
ten seconds that I owe you
will it be coming round again?
Just time to share a cigarette
I promised I would not forget
I’d like to see your face again
-Alex Lloyd, My Friend
A/n: This story owes a lot to two wonderful people- forsakenphoenix and Rebekka, my beta readers, for all their help, and for being so gracious with their advice and comments :) Thank you both for everything. The title is from Robert Frost’s ‘A Boy’s Will.’
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