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Teach Me Gently How To Breathe

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The knock on the door startles Remus, even though he's been waiting for it all day. His nerves are worn raw by this time from anticipation and stress and a bit of fear, if he's honest with himself. He's been expecting Sirius, not sure what time he'd arrive, so each time there's been the least noise, he's jumped like a scalded cat, more often than not throwing his book halfway across the room. This time it lands near the couch and he can only hope the pages fell open near the place he'd been reading.

He takes a deep breath, then another, smoothes his clothes, fiddles with his hair. Remus has always fidgeted when he's nervous, something Sirius had once loved calling him out on.

The knocking's grown insistent by this time, punctuated by random grunts and finally a shouted, "Open the damn door, Remus, it's freezing out here!"

Swinging the door open, Remus is ill prepared for what he finds. Sirius stands there, naked as the day he was born, pulling a face that's somewhere between a sardonic smirk and a mocking smile. "It's about bloody time. Getting deaf in your old age?"

Remus's brain freezes, his voice catching in his throat, strangling him and depriving him of the oxygen needed to think. He tries to speak several times, but the words come out in this embarrassingly odd mixture of a snort and a squeak.

"Nice outfit," he says when he finally catches his breath. It's been years since he's seen Sirius naked and this body is almost unrecognizable, more angular, ribs poking out, skin an ashen sort of gray. The cocky tilt of the shoulders is still precisely the same, though, and it's that innate arrogance that sends Remus's mind into a whirlwind of memories. Sirius above him, inside him, strong hands fisted in his hair. It takes Remus several minutes to realize he's missed most of what Sirius has been saying, only catching the bit about Sirius's clothes having fallen apart the last time he was human. "I'm sorry. What were you saying?"

"Clothes. Food. You used to be better mannered than this."

"I used to be a lot of things."

The silence that falls then burns, grating against his skin like a tangible thing. It's the same silence that one quick embrace the night of their reunion with Sirius's hands gripping his arms, both fierce with the need to kill Peter more than anything and the few letters, more business than personal, that have flown since Sirius's escape have done nothing to relieve. Remus can count the number of times they've met since the reunion in the Shrieking Shack on one hand. Not enough time to talk about anything but revenge on that night. No time at all since then. There would never be enough time for Remus to apologize for doubting him.

He gathers what little food he has and his spare change of clothes, placing them near where Sirius has decided to perch, half-standing, half-leaning on the broken-down kitchen counter. Sirius wrinkles his nose at the threadbare garments. "Oh, how the mighty have fallen. We dressed Kreacher better than this."

Remus tries to smile, but it's a poor attempt at a joke and makes him feel even worse about his own situation. It would have been nice to welcome Sirius to a fancy flat, something with a comfy fire and a warm bed where they might put the past behind them. But, Remus has been wearing these clothes for three days and the food he's just given Sirius is the last he has. Small repayment for twelve years of blaming your best friend for something you should have known he'd never do.

The silence moves from burning to awkward and uncomfortable. It had never been so between them before and Remus's heart lurches for that lost intimacy. They'd fallen together with little effort in their youth, but regaining that seemed impossible now.

"Dumbledore sends his regards," Sirius says; he's never been one to let something like discomfort keep him silent. "And hopes I won't be too much trouble for you."

"Not likely, that. You're always trouble."

"More than I'm worth, most would say."

"I never would." Their eyes meet and Remus's heart speeds up in that same way it always does before he turns, only this time it's laced with want and need and a desperate sort of yearning. He clears his throat, gone thick with unsaid words, "There's not much to do here, I'm afraid. I've managed to nick a few books from a Muggle library, but by the end of a week you're going to be desperately bored."

"I spent twelve years in Azkaban, Remus, a bit of boredom seems like a nice change of pace. If James were here, though, he'd burn this place down around our ears before the end of the night." He stops, what little color he has draining from his face as he realizes what he's said. "Sorry, I shouldn't--"

"We should talk about him, Sirius. He deserves that. They both do."

"Right. Of course." Sirius shakes himself. The move is all-too familiar to Remus, it's the same sort of shake Sirius does so often as Padfoot and he smiles as one more piece fits itself back into the ruined jumble of his heart.

The more he watches Sirius the more years drop away until, if he squints just right, it's like he's seeing him again for the first time. Remus had fallen hopelessly in love from that first moment, but it had taken Sirius quite a while more to give up chasing girls long enough to notice the gangly friend who followed him around like a lovesick fool.

"So, I'll just go have a shower first, shall I? The hot water doesn't last long and it takes a while to heat back up, so best to get one of us out of the way." Anything, really, to get out of the living room and put some distance between him and temptation. Because, even now that Sirius is fully clothed, it's like the imprint of his naked body is burned into Remus's retinas.

Remus hastens from the room, scurrying like a deer caught in the high-beams of a Muggle car. They'd all been out together once, roaming the woods in their animal forms, when they'd come across a doe and her fawn. He'd gone after it in a mad rage and the elegant creature had darted in front of a car, eyes gone wide with fright. Sirius had barely managed to pull him away from her oh so tempting neck and she'd only just missed being run down by the car. That picture, that perfect moment of fright, has stayed with him all these years. He thinks it's just the right metaphor for his feelings at the moment.

The bathroom is small and not at all inviting. He spends little time there, only taking long showers after a full moon, when his muscles are particularly sore. Even then, the hot water barely lasts a few minutes.

Stripping off his clothes, he inspects them for new tears or worn places, things he'd need to stitch up with the meager sewing kit he's managed to put together. In spite of all Lily's coaching, he'd never mastered the more domestic spells. His clothes look fine, this time, but he's not sure how much longer they'll last. If he doesn't find employment soon, he's afraid he'll have to resort to stealing from Muggle families, like some common criminal. Maybe they could make a game out of it -- Sirius would enjoy that. He laughs, but the sound is harsh and bitter reverberating off the tiles.

He fiddles with the shower faucets for only a moment before deciding against using hot water. There's no way he can allow himself that luxury, not when he's had plenty of showers recently and Sirius has had maybe one since leaving Azkaban. It's a small sacrifice, but Remus hopes if he makes enough of them some of his guilt will go away.

The water is piercingly cold against his back and he shivers, but doesn't once reach for the tap that would dilute the spray. He soaps his body, rinses and exits the shower in barely five minutes.

Back in his clothes, he straightens up, leaving some extra soap and a couple of towels on the counter. Switching off the light, he's just about to head back for the living room when he hears what sounds like whimpers coming from that direction. He pauses at the door, carefully quiet, to see Sirius standing in front of the small fireplace, orange glow reflected in the tears streaming down his face. His too-thin shoulders are wracked by nearly silent sobs and Remus grips the molding of the doorframe hard, nails chipping the already scarred paint. He's never wanted to touch Sirius more in his life, not in all the times his hands have roamed that body.

Remus gives Sirius a moment to bring himself under control, his heart clenching as he watches Sirius bat at the tears in frustration, then clears his throat in an exaggerated sort of way and makes a big production of slamming the bathroom door. He's shivering and he's not sure if it's from the cold shower, or from seeing Sirius -- always strong, always irreverent Sirius -- break down like that. "Should only be a few minutes on the hot water. I don't think I used much."

The eyes Sirius turns to him are haunted, dark in the shadows cast by the fire. It's like Remus can feel the heat of that fire burning in his blood and it takes everything in him not to go to Sirius, sink to his knees in front of him and beg forgiveness. In the end, he does none of those things, simply moving towards the kitchen in the guise of making tea and the moment dissolves, like a dream of absolution; like the steam curls from a hot shower, wisping under the bathroom door.

Remus tries to focus on the simplicity of tea making, willing himself to ignore the fact that all of Sirius is once again being uncovered. He manages quite well until he hears Sirius groan just after the water comes on. His hands fumble with the kettle, splashing hot water on his fingers, the shock against his still-cold skin causing him to cry out in alarm.

Sirius is beside him quick as anything, water dripping from the long tendrils of his hair. He's naked, of course he is, and it's worse this time, so much worse, because Remus can barely stop himself from pressing his body against all that damp skin. "Here, let me see," Sirius says, voice gone soft and ragged.

Remus holds his fingers up for inspection, doesn't even hesitate and Sirius takes them, turning this way and that, looking for damage. "It's nothing," Remus says, clearing his throat. "Just a small burn. Go! Finish your shower before the hot water's gone."

Just as quickly as he appeared, Sirius is off again, padding back to the bathroom and Remus is left to admire Sirius's arse, which, in spite of his harsh living conditions, looks much the same as it always has. Remus can't help but smile, remembering the first time they'd seen each other naked when it meant more than just a bunch of boys thrown together for showers. A darkened, disused classroom, in a mostly deserted part of the castle, everyone asleep but them. Both scared to death of what they were doing, what they were feeling for each other, but none of that showed in their hands, bold and nimble. He'd dug his fingers into Sirius's arse as he came, flesh taut beneath his fingers. His fingertips tingle in memory and he closes his palm on the sensation.

He takes his tea to the couch, leaving the bed for Sirius. It's strange to think that soon they'll be sleeping in the same room, since the house is really little more than a kitchen/living room/bedroom and a bath. Sipping at his tea, he picks up his book again, trying but failing to find the place he'd left off. He's barely managed to read a page by the time Sirius comes out of the bathroom to stand stiffly by the couch. "Where should I sleep, then?"

"Take the bed. It's not very comfortable, but it's better than this couch. Or the floor."

"I'm not taking your bed."

"Oh, I think you are."

"Remus--"

"Padfoot, please," Remus says, and he's more than aware that his voice sounds like he's begging. "Just take the damn bed. You've been living in Hell, if I can offer you some comfort, I will. And you'll let me."

"Stubborn git," Sirius says, but moves toward the bed anyway, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth.

It's the first time Remus has seen a genuine smile on that face in so many years and he can feel the answering one curving his own lips. "I am. I learned from the best, after all."

Sirius strips his shirt off, and without it, the pants Remus lent him hang alarmingly low. Remus can't help but watch as Sirius settles himself in bed, pleased just to be able to see Sirius move again, just to see him again at all, really. He thinks Sirius has given up the thread of conversation, but once he's settled back against the pillows, he says, "Hmph. Think quite a bit of that is what you came with. I remember, vividly, several occasions in which you were quite adamant about getting your way."

Heat flashes in a rush through Remus's body because the only times he can remember ever demanding his way with Sirius were in bed. But, surely, Sirius can't be bringing that up. Not now, not all these years later, after all the pain and betrayal that has passed between them. To cover up his train of thought, Remus merely hums, noncommittally, around the rim of his teacup and turns back to his book.

"Read to me?" Sirius asks, long after Remus assumes he's fallen asleep.

Remus had often read to Sirius, who had little patience for reading himself. It gave Sirius a chance to do other things with his mind and his hands and it was a way for Remus to make sure Sirius passed his lessons. As he looks down at the book in his lap, the words glare back at him, bright black against the stark white paper. It's a book on Shakespeare, a Muggle-born playwright and this page contains quotes and sonnets, the first of which Remus finds entirely ironic. He's tempted to turn the page, find something bland and innocuous to read, but decides that maybe fate is trying to help them along. He coughs once, twice and begins, "Time is very slow for those who wait, very fast for those who are scared, very long for those who lament, very short for those who celebrate, but for those who love, time is eternal."

The words hang there in the air for several long, breathless minutes. Remus doesn't know whether to continue or to snap the book closed and throw it in the fire.

"I remember that fellow. Muggle-born bloke Lily introduced you to. James and I always wanted to pull our hair out when you'd both get to quoting him up for hours on end. What was that one again? Her favorite to quote to James? Something about loving someone, in spite of storms and old age--"

Remus doesn't need the book for this one. He and Lily'd pretty much memorized every one of their favorites, and this one had meant so much to them both.

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheek
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved."

Remus doesn't breathe after the last word's said, only because he can't for fear it will come out a broken sob. He'd once loved this sonnet for the simple fact that it summed up, so perfectly, the way he felt about Sirius. But, now, it was a harsh reminder of how he'd failed that love, tossed it by the wayside like so much rubbish. When the tempests had come, he'd left Sirius to die in them, alone and frightened and thinking those he loved believed him to be a murderer. How were they ever to get past that?

He doesn't have to say anything else, because Sirius only looks at him for several moments before turning onto his side and drawing the blankets over his shoulders. "Try to get some sleep, Remus. I don't want your constant fidgeting keeping me awake."

"Goodnight to you, too, Sirius. Pleasant dreams."

Sirius barks out a short, sharp laugh. "Oh, yes. I can only imagine they'll be quite pleasant. They always are."

It's hard to miss the irony in that tone and Remus wonders what sorts of dreams you have in a place like Azkaban, when you're alone, confused and afraid. Not pleasant seems to be a bit of an understatement and he could kick himself for saying something so utterly stupid.

He reads for a while, aimlessly turning pages, but soon the sonnets read like accusations with their steadfast picture of the way lovers should behave. They're glaring testaments to his failure and he closes the book in disgust, setting his teacup on top of it, as if it can hold all his guilt down, buried in the book.

Pulling the spare blanket over himself, he settles down on the couch, watching the steady rise and fall of Sirius's back. There are scars there, now, that weren't before. Just there, under the shoulder blade, a long-healed wound gone white and puckered with age. Another, longer, down the middle and a series of tiny, jagged rents all along his shoulder blades. Dementors are the only guards at Azkaban, so where had Sirius been to get these sorts of wounds? Had they happened in his capture?

So much of what happened then remains a mystery. How had Sirius ever come to the conclusion that he was the spy? How had he trusted Peter so completely? Yes, Remus had fought with Sirius then, several times. They were all sniping and snapping at each other from the constant stress and fear. But, surely Sirius had known he would have died right alongside him, protecting James and Lily and Harry. He would have died to protect any of them. How had Sirius doubted that after the years they'd been together? The nights they'd spent with their limbs tangled together, never content unless they were touching?

Remus decides it's no use to rehash the same, tired questions. He's gone over them so many times since that fateful night at Hogwarts and he's still clueless to the answers. Only the man in the bed holds the information and he's not exactly keen on talking about it with him. Sirius has a quick temper, which spending twelve years locked up with Dementors has probably made far worse. They'd only end up fighting and Remus wants more from their visit than that.

He clears his mind, or tries to. He'd never been very successful at it and having Sirius near again doesn't make it any easier. Concentrating on just inhaling and exhaling, he matches his breathing to Sirius's and that finally does the trick, causing the tension in his shoulders to relax. His eyelids grow heavy, fluttering closed; he's almost asleep when a sudden cry from the bed startles him back into wakefulness.

"Remus. No, Remus. You couldn't. You wouldn't!"

Remus blinks several times, trying to focus, but his eyes are more tired than he realized and he can barely see Sirius thrashing back and forth, limbs flailing madly in the air. He gets up quickly, stumbling towards the bed and lays a hand on Sirius's shoulder. Before he has a chance to think, Sirius has pulled him into the bed, covering his body, pressing him down into the mattress. His large, warm hands grip Remus's head, holding him immobile. "Sirius! Wake up, you great prat! You're trying to kill me in your sleep!"

But Sirius isn't asleep. His eyes are open, his breathing erratic, he's clearly awake, just not able to understand that he's no longer dreaming. He blinks several times, closing his eyes tight each time, until Remus can see something click in his brain and his hands relax their death grip on Remus's head. He doesn't move, though, just lays there, stretched out full length on top of Remus, fingers threading through the hair above his temples.

Remus can't catch his breath, feels like a wild animal trapped in a cage, but the kind of cage you might never want to leave. One that takes your freedom, yes, but gives you everything you could want all at the same time. He has to stop himself from leaning forward, from touching their lips together.

"Right. Sorry. I was dreaming," Sirius says.

"I gathered as much."

"You were telling me that you'd betrayed us all."

"I never did. I never would have."

"I know that now, of course. I should have known it then."

"And I should have known you were innocent, too. Care to call it even? Though, you've suffered more for my lack of faith than I have for yours."

"I was put in Azkaban because of my lack of faith, Remus. And my stupidity in trusting the wrong person. None of that had anything to do with you."

Remus coughs and the spell is broken. Sirius moves back to his own side of the bed and Remus tries to scramble out of the other. He's just managed to untangle his legs from the sheet, when Sirius wraps a hand around his wrist. "Stay, Moony?"

His stomach drops at the familiar nickname, at the pleading note in Sirius's voice. "I don't know if that's a good idea," he manages to say, when what he's really thinking is yes please don't send me away and how can I sleep next to you and not touch you.

"None of my ideas are ever good, but you've never minded before."

"We were different people then."

"And yet my feelings haven't changed," Sirius says, pulling Remus down into the circle of his arms. Remus doesn't even try to resist. There's no reason to, after all, it's where he's wanted to be for weeks. They settle together, Remus's back against Sirius's chest and they fit, just as they always have, like a broken thing newly repaired. "Just for tonight, let's have this and forget everything that's passed between the last moment I held you so and now."

"Can you even remember the last time?"

"I remember all the times. Even the Dementors couldn't take you from me."

Sirius's left hand traces the curve of Remus's spine and it's this as much as his words that sends gooseflesh racing across Remus's skin. His hand is warm, but it trembles slightly and there are rough patches on the fingers that catch at Remus's clothes. Sirius solves this problem by pushing Remus's shirt up and over his head, tossing it on the floor. Now, they're skin to skin for the first time in years and it's like being held against a furnace. He'd forgotten how bloody warm Sirius is, generating heat like the surface of the sun. "Sirius? What? Shouldn't we talk about--"

But Sirius cuts him off, nipping at Remus's shoulder. "Not tonight. There's time for talking, later. Tonight, I just want to touch you again."

"Oh, God, Padfoot."

Sirius turns his attention back to Remus's neck, biting and sucking at the skin there, marking him as is. It sends a thrill through Remus that has less to do with sex and much more to do with the fact that once again he's whole, because of course the thing his skin's been missing is the mark of Sirius's possession.

Remus tilts his arse back, feeling the long line of Sirius's dick through the fabric of their clothes and Sirius's breath comes out in a stuttering huff against his neck. Apparently that's the only encouragement Sirius needs because then he's shoving Remus's trousers down and shucking his own. Soon enough they're spooned again, only this time it's all their skin flush against each other and Sirius's cock is pressed tight between the cheeks of Remus's arse.

They find their rhythm together easily, a slow slick slide of flesh and Remus reaches for his own cock, but Sirius bats his hand away, wrapping his fingers around Remus. Sirius remembers exactly the way Remus likes to be touched, tight against the base, smooth long slides to the head.

Remus is lost in the moment. In the feel of Sirius's hands on him, his cock hard and demanding against his arse. He presses into Sirius, picking up the tempo, canting his hips in time with Sirius's thrusts, reveling in his grunts and sighs and the way Sirius keeps saying Moony, Moony, Moony against the back of his neck.

The whole night has taken on a dream-like quality, transporting Remus back to a time before betrayal and war and fear and anger. When it was just the two of them lost in each other.

Long years of denial have made his body desperate and his thrusts start faltering far too soon. "Sirius, I--"

"Me too. Been too fucking long."

"Right. Just. Oh, god, yes right there. Just like that."

"I remember."

No more words are needed as their bodies find release. Sirius first, warm against his arse and that feeling, combined with the swift tugs of Sirius's hand is like a dam breaking inside of him, flooding his body with sensations he'd long thought lost to him.

They lay there a moment, panting, groaning, riding the waves of their own pleasure. Sirius cleans them up with a pillowcase snatched hastily from one of the pillows and then they're back together, hands roaming, relearning, remembering.

"Sirius, I--" Remus begins, though he's not sure what he intends to say. Sirius, I love you. Sirius, I'm sorry. Sirius, I died every day that we were apart. But he doesn't have to say anything, because, as always, they're on the same page.

"Me too, Moony. All of that and more."

Remus falls asleep soon after, the sound of Sirius's breath comforting in his ear. There will be time enough tomorrow to mend the damage done; they have all the time in the world, now. But for tonight, this is enough.