Sirius blinked in surprise when Tonks opened her front door: in the five hours since he last saw her at New Scotland Yard, her hair had gone from shoulder-length and mousy brown to short, spiky, and bubblegum pink. "My dear cousin. That hair cannot possibly be regulation." He wanted to steal the words from the air the moment he spoke them--it would be months, perhaps years, before he could joke or complain about MPS regulations without feeling like a Judas.
But Tonks only gave him a piercing look before she smirked and said, "This coming from a man obsessed with body art. Harry tells me you've a new one done? A butterfly on your arse?"
"I'll have you know it's a very butch butterfly," Sirius replied loftily, "and it's not on my arse." He jiggled the large battered cardboard box in his arms. "It's Regulus' antique train set. I gave it to Harry for Christmas years and years ago, but he returned it last week and told me that Teddy loves trains. That I should keep it in the family, so to speak." Sirius paused, suddenly anxious that Tonks might be insulted by the hand down.
"You don't want to hold onto it in case you have kids of your own?" she asked, frowning.
"Raising Harry was enough fatherhood for one lifetime." Sirius kicked at the front stoop, feeling awkward. "Sorry, I hadn't any gift wrap at home."
"It's a train set. Teddy wouldn't care if you brought it to him in a rubbish bin," Tonks assured him, finally letting him in the door.
Sirius breathed out a quiet sigh of relief. He didn't think she had meant to be rude, but everything in her body language, the way she'd stood squarely in the doorway even as she teased him about his tattoos, had spoken loudly of her discomfort at letting him into her home. As though subconsciously she saw him as a danger to her family.
It might take a long time for that wariness to fade.
The flat's narrow front hall opened up into a homey kitchen, with a sitting room beyond it. Tonks nodded at the drinks and snacks laid out on the kitchen counter. "Go on, help yourself," she said, taking the cardboard box from him. "I'll put this with the others."
"You'd leave me unsupervised in your kitchen? With the punchbowl?" asked Sirius, half-joking, half-serious, but she only rolled her eyes and disappeared around the corner.
Ah, well. Rome wasn't built in a day. He poured himself a fruit punch, then turned around--and found himself blinking in surprise for the second time in as many minutes, arrested by the sight of a small boy with bright turquoise hair seated at the kitchen table, quietly scribbling in a colouring book. "Nice hair, kid. Very eye-catching."
"Thanks," the boy said shyly, smoothing down his bangs. "My mum did it for me."
"Yeah, she's fun that way," Sirius agreed, going over to take a seat across the table from him. "I'm your cousin Sirius, did you know? First cousin twice removed on your mother's side, as a matter of fact. I'm pleased to finally meet you." He gave Teddy a high five in lieu of a handshake. "So, Teddy, I hear you're turning ninety years old--"
"No, I'm not!" Teddy protested, his russet brown eyes going wide. "I'm turning five!" He spreads out the fingers of one hand. "See?"
"Oh, right you are! My mistake."
The sound of a key turning in the front door jerked Sirius to his feet. Get a grip, he told himself, taking a deep breath. It was probably Andromeda coming to help set up for the party. Still, he moved to the kitchen doorway in time to see a stranger let himself into the flat, a man about Sirius' age with light brown hair flecked with grey, wearing a nubbly green jumper and brown trousers.
"Daddy!" cried Teddy, running up to his father and flinging his arms about the man's legs.
"How's my birthday boy!" he said cheerfully, kneeling down to give Teddy a warm hug and a kiss on the forehead. He began straightening up, but nearly unbalanced when the boy clung to his neck--Sirius quickly stepped forward and steadied him with one hand on his shoulder and another on Teddy's bottom. "Er, thanks," the man said, startled.
"Not at all," Sirius replied, stepping back as soon as the other man found his footing with Teddy's weight settled on his hip. "You must be Remus. I'm Andromeda's cousin, Sirius."
"Very happy to meet you at last," said Remus, offering the grown-up version of Teddy's shy smile. "Dora's told me so much about you. Although, I must admit you're not quite how I pictured you..." He trailed off, a little embarrassed.
"Ah, I see," said Sirius, nodding sombrely. "No, it's perfectly understandable. Of course you couldn't be expected to picture me in all my gorgeousness with only a second-hand account from Tonks. Who is, after all, a blood relation and therefore has some degree of natural immunity to my many, many charms."
Remus stared at him uncertainly. "I only meant that you had longer hair in the photos I've seen."
"Oh." Sirius reached up to scratch the bare and vulnerable nape of his neck, uncomfortably conscious of the missing weight of hair. "I was in hospital a couple of months ago. They, erm, shaved part of my head to put in stitches, so I had to chop it all off or risk an unfashionable mohawk."
"You, uh, you look good," said Remus, then flushed. "Your hair looks good, I mean." His eyes darted away.
Sirius' eyebrows shot up. "You're looking pretty good yourself, gorgeous," he murmured, flirting instinctively, his smile turning wicked.
"Oh, for Pete's sake," Tonks interrupted, coming up behind him and poking him in the ribs. She lifted Teddy from her husband's arms with a peck on the cheek for both of them. "Don't mind him, sweetheart. Sirius has yet to meet a fire hydrant he won't wag his tail at."
"Untrue," he protested, one hand laid over his heart. "Untrue and unkind!" But the opportunity to defend his reputation as a man of discerning taste was lost when the doorbell rang and in tumbled a half dozen of Teddy's ankle-biter friends and their minders.
Three hours and a truly superior birthday cake later, Sirius found a bit of wall to lean up against, out of the way of shrieking children and gossiping parents. Harry wandered over and leaned up next to him. "I'm glad you decided to come," he said, following Sirius' gaze to where Teddy and Remus had their heads bent together as they assembled the elaborate train set. "I know you've not wanted to see people lately..."
"Yes, well, it was past time I met my godson's godson," Sirius replied, leaving the rest unspoken between them. "I can hardly believe he's five. Clever child. Takes after Tonks, I think."
"In some things, yeah," Harry agreed. "He's got Remus' temperament, though. Quiet, watchful. Keeps to himself until he gets to know you."
There was something in Harry's tone that had Sirius giving him the fisheye. "And you... want me to get to know him," he said slowly.
"I think he'd like that," said Harry. "He's heard a lot about you, from Tonks and Andromeda and me."
"Right." He glanced over at Remus and Teddy again. "You are talking about Teddy, aren't you?"
"Who else would I be talking about?" asked Harry, those green eyes big and innocent.
Annoyed with the world in general and his godson in particular, Sirius slunk off to the kitchen for something with a bit more kick than fruit punch. When Remus came in a few minutes later and caught him adding a second splash of vodka to his drink, he flushed and hunched his shoulders defensively. "I'm not an alcoholic."
"I didn't say you were," said Remus, frowning.
"I'm not," Sirius said again. "I just needed a drink." He stopped and put down his glass, sighing. "That sounds worse, doesn't it."
"A bit, yeah." Remus shrugged, and tucked his hands in the back pockets of his trousers. It put his hips on display and Sirius wasn't strong enough to resist looking.
"It's complicated." But there was something about Remus that made Sirius want to talk, to explain so that Remus could understand where he was coming from. Perhaps it was because the man was still essentially a stranger, despite their familial connections, or perhaps it was simply that he had warm, sympathetic eyes.
"Harry mentioned that you've been on special assignment until a couple of months ago," Remus was saying. "That you've been undercover in your own command all this time, trying to expose corruption within the Met."
"Something like that, yeah." He slumped against the fridge, familiar exhaustion creeping up on him. "For six years. That's a bloody long time to live as a shadow of your real self. It messes with your head, makes you question what kind of man you are." He crossed his arms over his chest and clamped down on his own biceps to keep his hands from twitching towards the vodka on the counter. "Messes with your body too, drinking the way I did. Do."
"It sounds terribly lonely," said Remus, quietly. "I'm so sorry you had to do it, had to go through all of that, on your own." He hesitated, then took a half-step closer. "You couldn't even tell your own cousin that you were undercover. Dora thought it was the stress of the job getting to you."
"I couldn't tell her," Sirius replied, guilt colouring the tone of his voice. "No one knew except the assistant commissioner and her direct superiors. I had to walk the walk if I wanted Riddle to bring me in, trust me with his secrets. And now that it's done, warrants served and the command turned upside down and the press whipped into a frenzy, everyone's looking at me like I'm dirt. Like I'm something the dog sicked up."
"Sirius..." Remus laid cool fingers on his wrist, but Sirius shook him off and laughed, angry and bitter.
"Can't blame them. I dug around in people's dirty laundry, dragged out all the skeletons they had hidden in their closets. I might as well have shown their porn stashes to their mothers."
"You were doing your job," Remus argued, speaking as though with honest concern, as though he believed what he was saying. "You did what needed to be done. For James and Lily."
Sirius' head snapped up. "Did Harry...?"
"We had an appointment yesterday to discuss his thesis, but all he could talk about was Tom Riddle's arrest and how his godfather finally got justice for his parents." Again Remus touched his wrist. Sirius felt his pulse jump, thrilling at the connection of skin on skin.
"They were my friends," he whispered. "My family."
"Harry's never had a moment's doubt on that point." Remus gazed up at him, a wondering look in his eyes. "Sirius, you're his hero."
"I'm... That's not..." Shaken by the man's faith, Sirius fell back on good manners. "You're too kind," he murmured.
But to his surprise, Remus grimaced and dropped his hand. "Hardly. If I were kind, I wouldn't be trying to flirt while you were baring your soul to me."
Looking him right in the eye, Sirius said honestly, "I like your flirting." It was perhaps the most honest thing he has said to another person in years. "But Tonks is my cousin and I would never want to hurt her."
It was Remus' turn to look surprised. "You don't know about the divorce?" He tilted his head, frowning. "We've always tried to keep our private life private, but I'd assumed you had heard. Sirius, we signed the papers two months ago."
Sirius drew in a shocked breath. "You're divorced?"
"Are you saying you came on to me thinking I was still married?" asked Remus, bemused.
"I think with my dick sometimes, it's a failing," he shot back automatically, still reeling over the fact that Remus and Tonks had gotten a divorce without his knowing about it. Sirius had been forced to report on his cousin to the assistant commissioner, same as the other officers in their command--he should have recognised signs of marital distress long before lawyers were involved.
But no. That wasn't strictly true, if he was honest with himself. Blood was blood. He had never investigated Tonks very deeply, and she had certainly not been a priority six years into his assignment. Not when every waking moment of the past six months had been dedicated to taking down Riddle and his network.
"It's been a difficult adjustment for Teddy, but he seems to understand," Remus was saying, his voice soft, hopeful. "I miss having him all the time and I know it's the same for Dora, but we agreed that Teddy deserved to spend time with both of us."
"You have shared custody, then?" asked Sirius. "And you and Tonks are definitely not--" He cut himself off, but Remus understood what he meant to say all the same.
"We're definitely not," he promised. "We'd been unhappy for a while--miserable, really, though we tried to deny it. We decided on a trial separation, to see if some distance would help, and, well." Remus shrugged, a bit rueful.
"So what you're saying is..." Sirius risked a glance at the other man and found him looking back, waiting. Anticipating. "You're not married."
"Which means you're free to--"
"So does this mean you want to--"
"Yes," said Remus, emphatic. He licked his lips again. "Though perhaps we should wait until after the party."
If Harry had told him last week that attending a five-year-old's birthday party would get him laid by his cousin's ex-husband, Sirius would never have believed him. "I can wait." His gaze dropped to Remus' mouth, pink and damp and tempting. "Probably."
"Wait for what?" asked Tonks from the doorway, startling them. "What are you--?" She stared at them for a moment before realising what was going on. "Sirius, for the love of God," she snapped, throwing up her hands.
Sirius flushed, guilt swamping him. "Wait, Tonks, I wasn't trying to--"
But she ignored him and poked her head around the doorway. "Mum, you owe Harry ten quid!"
In the sitting room, Harry crowed, "Ha, I knew it!" and Andromeda shouted back, "Sirius Orion Black, you know how much I hate to lose a bet!"
"Oh, dear God," Remus muttered, covering his face with a hand.
Blinking, confused, Sirius turned to him. "What?"
But it was Tonks who replied, entirely too smug for his comfort. "Well, we had to make things interesting, didn't we?" she said, spreading her hands. "Don't misunderstand: seeing my ex-husband make time with a man in my kitchen is not exactly the highlight of my week. But I'm not about to stand in your way, either, so long as you don't..." She made a face.
"...start humping where Teddy can see?" Sirius flinched at the twin glares he received from Tonks and Remus. "Or, I know, we could be sensitive of your feelings and not flaunt our new relationship in front of you." He paused, then added, "If there is a relationship. Technically, the bet is still on."
"Haven't you made up your mind yet?" Tonks demanded, fists planted on her hips. "Isn't Remus good enough for you?"
"Dora," said Remus, his cheeks pink with embarrassment.
Sirius crossed his arms over his chest, feeling a little railroaded. "We haven't even kissed yet!"
But his protest was merely a stalling tactic and a feeble one at that: the moment he had laid eyes on Remus, something had quickened deep in the core of his being, a spark of life that he had thought was lost years ago when he'd lost James. Perhaps it was simply a matter of timing: he had spent six years trapped in a chrysalis, but now he was free, a new man. Justice had been served, vengeance and duty satisfied. The past was the past and there was only the future now, the next thing, whatever that might be. Sirius wanted Remus to come along for the ride.
Rolling her eyes, Tonks waved a hand at Remus. "Bloody hell, Cousin, have at it already!" She turned to go, calling back over her shoulder, "You have two minutes! That should be enough time for a decent first kiss. Any longer and you might start thinking my kitchen table is sturdy enough."
"My wife is completely mental," Remus said plaintively, massaging his temples. But there was a smile lurking in the corners of his mouth.
"Your ex-wife is a beautiful, beautiful woman who we both adore," Sirius corrected, laughing. "To give you fair warning, I'm not exactly the poster child for good mental health, either." He thought for a moment, head tipped to one side. "Also? I'm bollocks at doing laundry."
"Do shut up," grumbled Remus, hooking an arm behind Sirius' neck and pulling him down into a hungry kiss. Sirius clutched at Remus' hips, pulling him in tight. When they finally broke apart to gasp for air, their mouths were wet and swollen, and Sirius couldn't help nipping at the fleshy bow of Remus' bottom lip.
"God, the things I want to do to you," he breathed, rocking their hips together.
Remus stroked a hand down his spine and cupped his arse. "The things we'll do together." His licked at Sirius' mouth, sweet kitten licks that made Sirius want to pin him to the kitchen table, Tonks be damned. Sirius pushed him against the fridge and devoured his mouth instead.
"Sorry, boys, time's up," said Tonks, her voice coming from far away. "Boys. Don't make me call my mother in here."
The threat of Andromeda was a Pavlov's bell for Sirius. "Your kitchen table remains unscathed, Nymphadora," he sighed, backing off.
His cousin ignored him in favour of studying Remus, blushing and dishevelled and trying to discreetly adjust himself. "Oh, get out of here, you two," she sighed, a mixture of envy and amusement in her voice. "You're neither of you in a fit state to be seen by children." Her gaze dropped pointedly to below their belts.
Remus stopped fidgeting and looked her in the eye. "Thank you," he said quietly, and Tonks offered him a rueful smile.
"I'll get over it," she replied. "But sweetheart, do me a favour? Confirm a butterfly tattoo on his arse? Harry says yes, but I can't see butterflies as being his style."
Remus turned to face him, quirking an eyebrow. "A butterfly? Really?"
"Not on my arse," Sirius sang back. He'd had the butterfly done two months ago, after the hospital had shaved his head, and with his hair grown back it might as well have been invisible ink. But Sirius didn't mind: the butterfly was for him alone. "I do have quite a few tattoos, though. Some in strategic locations." He waggled his eyebrows. "You're welcome to search them out."
Tonks looked intrigued, but Remus shifted his weight uncomfortably, his cheeks flushing a deeper red. "We should go," he said abruptly, tugging his jumper down over his hips. "Now. Before anything happens to the table."
Sirius snorted and grabbed his hand. "As it so happens, the table in my kitchen is pretty sturdy," he said, and pulled Remus out the door.