He opens the door to rain, and the smell of vomit and sour whiskey. "Sirius?"
The bedraggled figure pitches forward. Remus catches him with the ease of long practice. "It's been a while," he mutters under his breath. "Sirius?"
Sirius only mumbles indistinctly, eyes moving restlessly beneath his eyelids. Remus sighs and sets about stripping the wet clothing from his body. Not how I wanted to be doing this, he thinks, before he can stop himself.
Sirius twitches in his sleep. Remus looks at him expressionlessly, then gathers up the lax limbs and deposits them gently in his bed. "Sleep well," he murmurs, before closing the door gently behind him.
For once, when Remus dreams, it is not of Sirius.
The light through the window is tinged Gryffindor red, as if filtered through stained glass. Remus, sleepless and watching the sunrise, feels the sharp edges grind together somewhere inside his chest and thinks, with a certain cold clarity, that it is better to be wanted by someone who does not need him than it is to be needed by someone who does not want him.
"Remus? Are you all right?"
Remus turns at the hand on his shoulder, puzzled. "I'm fine. Why?"
Regulus lifts his fingers to touch his cheek. Remus blinks in confusion at his wet fingertips, mouth sharp with the metallic tang of salt. "You can tell me," Regulus says.
James' curtains rustle as Sirius wakes. Remus, lying still, breathing shallow and controlled, hears the brush of bare feet as Sirius pads softly past his bed to climb back into his own before Peter wakes.
He tries not to think about the slight pause, the scarcely-heard breath, before Sirius turns and passes him by.
"Moony?" Sirius' wary expression relaxes into one of comical relief, peeking out from behind the bathroom door.
"Expecting someone else, were you?" Remus grins wryly, shifting the pile of towels balanced against his hip.
"To be honest, I had no idea what I was expecting."
"It's no wonder. You were quite pissed out of your skull. Rather pathetic, really, but understandable under the circumstances. How do you feel?"
"Appropriate, considering you look like shite as well."
Sirius winces. "Always were astute with your observations."
"Yes, well," Remus says, wrinkling his nose, "you do reek a bit, too. More than a bit. Really, Pads, what did you get up to last night?"
"Whiskey, it seems. Muggle whiskey."
"Lovely. There's some headache potion in the cabinet if you’d like and a spare toothbrush. I thought you might like to have a bath or at least a shower as well," Remus says, handing over a towel and a clean but worn pair of tracksuit bottoms.
"How did I –?"
Remus presses a quick finger to his lips, silencing him. "Bathe first. Questions later."
Sirius smiles. "Yes, all right. Wouldn't want to upset your delicate sensibilities."
"Too bad you didn't feel that way earlier," Remus chuckles, and closes the bathroom door to lean against it with a soundless breath as the tap opens.
Usually, it's nothing more than a quick fuck- in clubs, alleys, public restrooms, movements masked by the night shadows or the flickering lights. Never anything more, never the same man for more than one night, because no matter how far Remus tries to pull away, he will always snap back to Sirius.
But Daniel's eyes are warm, his hands always soft against Remus' skin, as if Remus is something to be treasured, valued; and if sometimes Remus wants more- if sometimes he wants to be known, and not simply cherished like some pretty bauble- he pushes the feeling away.
He cannot afford to hate James, or Sirius, though some part of him chafes at always having to be satisfied with what others deign to give him. Daniel at least wants him, and it feels good to be wanted, even if it is only for a few weeks.
Regulus nudges him toward an empty classroom, checking the hallway twice before closing the door behind them. Remus sinks into the nearest chair and rests his head against his arms.
"Was it my brother?" Regulus says quietly, not quite a question.
Remus shudders, silent.
After a moment, Regulus sits down next to him. "He can be stupid, you know, but he never means to be unkind."
"It was James," Remus says.
"Potter?" Regulus sounds incredulous. Remus glares at him balefully, over the crook of his elbow. "No, I mean, of course you were talking about Potter, but I never thought-"
Remus shudders again, as if fly-stung. "I don't know why I was surprised. He'll always choose James over me." It comes out more bitterly than he meant it.
"He kissed me, and I thought- but he still went to James. And I just can't- I can't do it, I can't hate either of them. How do you turn your back on seven years? And they're such, such brothers, I thought, and then this."
"Remus," Regulus says gently, and Remus turns to find Regulus' arms closing awkwardly around his shoulders.
"Sorry I… Well, I'm not quite sure how I got here, to be honest, but I'm sorry for inconveniencing you. You didn't have to give up your bed," Sirius says, leaning awkwardly against the mantle as Remus sets down the Darjeeling.
"It's all right. I didn't mind."
"Do you know…? How did I get here?"
"I don't know. I have no idea how you managed to walk at all, much less how you got here. I wasn't even positive you remembered where I live," Remus says lightly, sipping his tea.
"I was that bad?" Sirius asks, wincing.
"Worse," Remus replies with a slight smile. "I was… reading. You must have tried to use your wand before you collapsed on the pavement by the door. You triggered the protection spells I had set."
Sirius raises an eyebrow. "Protection spells? But this is a Muggle building. A Muggle neighbourhood, isn't it?"
"Yes, but that's the point. I'm not concerned about Muggles burgling the place," Remus says, waving vaguely at the small flat. "There's nothing for them to steal, is there? The spells simply detect magic. Only a wizard can trigger them."
"Always so clever, Moony."
"Yes, well, I had one or two rather devious influences in my youth, you know." Remus counts it a small victory that Sirius laughs.
Daniel kisses him, and he smiles. If it is a false one, as if to a stranger, there is no one around who will call him on it.
It is that thought, more than anything, that decides him: it is time to let Daniel go.
The sharp crack of Apparation and his own finely-tuned sense of smell alerts him to Regulus' presence. Warily, he turns, wand at the ready despite their friendship: Regulus is a known Death Eater now, and Remus is a born survivor.
The fine features are creased and pale, a long-boned hand clutching at one arm. "Remus. I'm not here on... their business."
"I came to bring you a message, nothing more," Regulus replies in a thin voice. "I swear it."
"A message? Me?" Remus' tone reflects his skepticism, but he eyes Regulus' drawn face with concern nonetheless. But for his posture, which lacks Sirius' languid ease, he might have been his brother, had Sirius chosen an alternate path.
"Remus, please. I don't have much time."
"All right," Remus agrees, against his better judgment.
"I'm sorry. About Regulus. We were friends of a sort once, in school. I'd have gone with you, to pay my respects, but…" Remus shrugs.
"I didn't know you were friends with my brother," Sirius says, a little sharply.
"We were both prefects, Sirius, and he was kind to me despite the animosity between our houses. We spoke on occasion. He would ask after you sometimes. Anyway, despite… what happened later, I liked him very much."
"Oh. Right," Sirius mumbles. "I'd forgotten about the prefect thing. Err, thank you. And thanks for... minding me."
"I know things haven't been easy for you these past few days. I'm glad I could do something to help, small as it may be," Remus replies.
The door closes with a quiet snick as Daniel leaves the flat. Remus looks at it and tries very hard to feel guilty, to feel sad, but the only feeling he can summon is that of a curious space, of freedom.
It is a simple scrap of paper, nothing more, in Regulus' handwriting. Remus feels his blood turn to ice as he stares at the deceptively dull glint of metal in Regulus' hand. "You should have told us. We could have helped you, before it came to this."
"He won't hear me," Regulus replies. "He only ever listens to you."
"He hasn't spoken to me since we left. Before, even."
"He will." He needs you, Regulus does not say, but Remus has always been good at reading between the lines.
"You overestimate me," Remus says.
"I think you underestimate yourself," Regulus says gently. "The farther he runs away, the more he wants to be found."
"Not by me."
Regulus sighs, thrusts his hands into his pockets. "You can believe me, or not. Just remember what I've said, all right? And tell him-"
Sirius waves his hand absently. "You know, I've never been here before. Been inside, I mean. It's... cosy."
Remus shrugs. "It's cheap."
"That may well be, but I meant that it suits you."
"Cheap and shabby suits me," Remus says wryly. "At least the neighbourhood is decent. And it's close to my new job."
"I didn't mean – You got a new job?"
"You didn't tell me," Sirius says, a tinge of accusation in his voice.
"Nothing to tell. I need the money, the Muggles don't ask questions about why I need days off around the full moon."
"You still might have mentioned it."
"You could have asked," Remus counters.
"I have to ask? I never needed to ask before," Sirius says, and pauses. "It's not as if you invite me over – in fact, except for the moons and the Order, I hardly ever see you anymore. Not socially anyway. If I didn't know better, I'd almost think you've been hiding from me."
"With the way things are now, everyone is hiding. And I've never stopped you from visiting, Sirius. You can hardly blame me for that."
"You never hid like this at school. Well, at least then you were still in plain sight. I could always find you."
"Things were different at school," Remus says. "Our lives were different – we were different. And really, Sirius, how ironic of you to accuse me of something you've been doing for years yourself."
"What are you going on about? I don't hide."
Sirius is quiet, sipping his tea and studying his hands. "Fine. Tell me how I hide then."
Instead, it is Regulus who turns toward Remus' outstretched hand, his face shadowed and enigmatic.
"You're dead," Remus says.
"Sirius found me."
Regulus shrugs. "He came looking, and he found you. But he still wants to be found."
"What if I don't know how?" Remus says helplessly.
Regulus laughs. "Don't you remember? He always listens to you." Remus opens his mouth to deny this, but Regulus continues without a pause. "Tell him to stop running."
Remus wakes up, sitting bolt upright with the echo still ringing in his head.
Remus pauses and licks his lips nervously, Regulus' face flickering for a moment behind his eyelids. He thinks of the conversation they could not-have, Sirius' avoidance tactics, his own ingrained instinct against laying himself open to hurt. He thinks of first year, when there were too many secrets festering inside him, and of sixth year, when Sirius gave them away. He thinks of Padfoot, of James, of all the hidden promises to be found within one drunken kiss. Stop running, he thinks, and lifts his chin.
For the first time since seventh year, Sirius' eyes are wide open, and fixed.