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Map of the Problematique (D.M.L.E. Evidentiary File 142-3b.)

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Rules 1 & 2 | Rules 3 & 4 | Rules 5 & 6 | Rules 7 & 8 | Rules 9 & 10 | Rules 11, 12 & 13 | Rules 14 & 15 | Rules 16, 17 & 18 | Full Graphic



Map of the Problematique (D.M.L.E. Evidentiary File 142-3b.)


"You're gonna tear someone apart.
I wanna know how it all works out.
I had a feeling we were fading out.
I didn't know that people faded out,
that people faded out so fast.
I wanna show you what I got inside.
But you know those parts of me died.
Just like that, they faded out, they faded out so fast.
And there was love enough left to fix it,
but there it is."
-- Ryan Adams, "The Sun Also Sets"

1. The Rules Appeared That Afternoon.
"The stove's over there, and the fridge is muggle, but there's no electric so it's charmed cold, but it works," Sirius explained, pulling it open to reveal shelves bare of almost everything save a half-finished box of biscuits, two bottles of firewhiskey, and some mustard.

Remus, however, failed to notice the contents – or lack thereof. "Sirius-"

"I have a telly, but it only works on Wednesdays at two in the ruddy morning, and then it only plays in Spanish," Sirius continued, swinging around to the other counter.

Remus looked fixedly at the ceiling. "You-"

"I've got an obscuring charm on the window, so the neighbors won't notice Owls, and I get the Prophet every day. And there's a library like two blocks away," Sirius finished, pulling down a can of some sort of dubious corn product from the cabinet behind him. "And Longbottom has a sofa he's bringing by. And Potter has that extra mattress. . ."

"It's fine, Sirius." Remus paused, deliberately, eyes still on the ceiling. "Do you know you don't have any pants on?"

Sirius grinned, wide and smug. Remus could see it reflected on the shiny metal hood above the stove. "The second best bit about not sharing a dorm is walking about starkers, Moony."

Remus opened his mouth to ask what the first best thing was, but then he heard the distinctive pop of apparition. He looked back toward the doorway in time to see James, sopping wet with fogged glasses burst through the door. "I got take- COR! WHERE ARE YOUR BLOODY TROUSERS AT?"

Remus winced at the volume of his voice. "That's what I asked," he observed mildly. He turned, picking up his meager belongings and heading for the back bedroom that was to be his, listening as James railed against nudity in his presence, and how Lily could be by soon and subjected to it. Remus rather thought Lily would likely be less put out about it than James was. After years as Gryffindor Prefect, she took Sirius-nudity in stride.

The flat was dingy and gray, scantily furnished and smelling vaguely of old cheese. There was nothing to recommend it, really. Peter lingered in the hallway, eyes narrowed as he stared toward the kitchen. "I don't want to go in there, do I?" he asked, wise from years of exposure to Sirius and James.

"Oh MERLIN. STOP WRIGGLING OR I'LL HEX YOU! This is a rule. There is a KNICKERS RULE!" James' dulcet tones carried the entire length of the flat, the sound of crinkling parchment following a moment later. Peter winced and Remus laughed, leaving that as answer enough as he ducked into the small room that was to be his. He couldn't afford the rent he should pay for a room here, he knew. And Sirius hadn't had to get a flat for the four of them. Soon enough James would be with Lily, and Peter would find a place of his own. But for now. . . it was nice, having them nearby and not going back to stay in the quiet gray of his home with his mother.

Remus tucked away his socks to the sound of Sirius laughing, and smiled to himself.

It sounded like home.
************

2. Written Upon Finding it Still There.
"What is that?" Sirius poked a finger at a box in the back of the refrigerator. It jiggled ominously, green and viscous. The edges had long since gone from green to black. "It looks like Snape's hair," Sirius observed, eyeing the edges thoughtfully. "We ought to have turned it green."

"You did. Second year." Remus peered over his shoulder, and Sirius felt a flush rise in his neck at the way Moony breathed across his skin. "I think it was Thai."

"I think it was liquid plague," Sirius countered.

"The plague was viral, actually, and-" Remus began.

Sirius snorted, cutting him off. "Shut up. I was being clever. Just laugh when I'm clever."

Remus paused and then smiled, rare and impish. It wasn't the first time Sirius noticed the shape of Moony's lips, and the way his smile changed his face into something warm and welcoming. "You'll have to tell me then – so I know when you are."

"Wanker."

"Git."

"Werewolf."

"Blood traitor."

The barbs could have stung, and would have from some, but Remus just smiled at him. "Throw that out."

"You know you want it." Sirius waved the box toward Remus, half turning toward him. The sludge wiggled threateningly. "Take a bite, Moooooony." Remus backed away, but a speck managed to escape its cardboard confines, landing against his shirt.

Remus grimaced, turning to walk out of the kitchen. "Toss it, Padfoot," he called over his shoulder, pulling his shirt off. Scars laced across the pale skin of his back, reaching beneath the hem of his trousers, blades and bones of his shoulders sharp and protruding.

Sirius had seen him shirtless a thousand times. He wondered when he'd started to want to lick every scar.

The carton in his hand gave a precarious wobble, and Sirius flushed, shoving it back into the fridge and slamming it shut.
*************

3. He Feels Pretty, oh so Pretty.
"Even you are not THIS bent. You can't possibly be. You shag too many birds." James was staring forlornly at his cereal, the milk in it gone chunky and unappealing. But it was a much better sight than the one currently prancing about the living room. "Why are you in Lily's skirt? Where did you GET Lily's skirt?"

"She left it here?" Remus hazarded, looking up from the paper in time to see Sirius swing Peter into some sort of modified, shuffling boxstep. It was difficult to tell who was leading.

James scowled. "She did not, she didn't have it off. He NICKED it from her flat when we stopped by."

"Hah! I knew you hadn't gotten into her knickers yet. Your bits are going to fall off from you pawing at them while you pine for Evans-love, you know," Sirius informed him.

James' scowl darkened and Peter piped up, interceding, "I'm more worried about where he got the shoes."

"Our neighbor three doors down," Sirius explained.

"The pouf who wears the wig?" Peter asked, wriggling out of Sirius' reach. "WHY did you borrow his shoes?"

"Because the boots didn't go with the skirt," Sirius explained, mincing daintily over to plop into a seat beside James.

"Why did you PUT the skirt on?" James demanded. Sirius leaned in to bat his eyes, and James snagged Remus' paper, swatting him firmly on the head. "Bad dog!"

Remus hid a smile behind his tea cup and then set it down. "That is the question at hand."

"Because Moony didn't wash my trousers, and Potter said I wouldn't be a pretty woman," Sirius answered, managing to sound petulant and smug at the same time. "Or maybe because now I can say I've been under Evans' skirt when he hasn't."

"I hate you." James' tone was the sort of glum that only came from too much cross-dressing and not enough food. Or so Remus assumed, since he'd never seen the cross-dressing bit before. "You ate the last of that stew, too, didn't you? You're a rotten friend."

Sirius rolled his eyes and got up, attempting to sashay on his way to the fridge, but managing to look more like a dog on stilts. He returned a moment later with a slice of leftover pie.

James' face lit up, and he grabbed greedily at it. "I take it all back. I love you like a brother, even if you are an ugly bloody woman and a bigger ponce than Lockhart."

"No one is a bigger ponce than Lockhart," Peter observed, and Sirius looked at him, throwing his head back and laughing, flashing a wide, amused grin – surprised, as he always was, when Peter got a good one in.

Remus' breath caught and he was very glad, for that moment, that the smile wasn't directed at him, and that he didn't have to respond in any way. Sirius' beauty had nothing to do with the ridiculous skirt, and lately when Sirius smiled like that, he couldn't breathe.
**********

4. Ground Zero was Forever Scarred.
"Now see, if you put this like that-"

"But what about the fuse? Won't you?"

"No. I mean if you use a long one, and stick it just so in the center of the pudding . . ."

"Right, but won't it go out, once the pudding goes? And then the second won't ignite-"

"What about two? You know. Dual fuses?" Peter's contributions were fewer, but the wide grin he received for the suggestion made him smile.

"Dual fuses! Brilliant. Link them, set them off with the same charm. Right. There. I think it's set," James stuck his tongue out as he perfected his arrangement.

"Right! Ready? . . . Go!" Sirius set the charm off, and then dove behind the couch next to James, Peter scurrying behind the easy chair as the pudding made a soft, strange sound, shuddered, turned a rainbow of colors - and abruptly exploded, flinging itself everywhere - on floors, furniture, ceilings. EVERYWHERE.

Including one werewolf, who surveyed the damage stoically, lifting a finger to his mouth to suck pudding off as Sirius flushed and looked away. "Well. I think you killed our only bowl," he lamented, looking at the scattered pieces that now littered the coffee table.

James stuck his head over the back of the sofa. "It was Sirius' idea." He started to laugh as Sirius flung a couch cushion at his face.

The pop of apparition heralded Lily's near-daily visit. And a long moment later, she was sighing. "I'm not cleaning this up."

Sirius watched as she and Remus decided to go and have lunch, leaving him, Peter, and James - well Peter, to clean up.

The purple bit next to the light fixture refused to come off. Peter named it Edward.
***********

5. Before the Rule, There was the Theft.
"She looks like a bloody doily." Sirius wrinkled his nose, watching his cousin standing in a corner of the vast reception room, a house elf hovering nearby, occasionally adjusting the creamy white train of Narcissa's wedding robes. She looked exquisitely, coldly, untouchably beautiful, actually. But Sirius didn't want to admit that.

"Uh huh – have you tried these pastry things? They're fantastic!" James had a smear of custard across his chin. Sirius would have pointed it out, but it was funny.

"You know this is Malfoy's place – those could be poisoned," Sirius pointed out.

James paused, pastry mid-way to his mouth. "Do I look like I'm dying?"

"No more than usual."

"All right then. If I start to, take me to Mungo's." Another pastry joined its friends in death as James stuffed it into his cheek, making his face bulge like a chipmunk with ill-gotten gains. "How come we got in again?" he asked, speaking around the mouthful in a way that made a nearby distant relative grimace.

"Because I nicked an invitation from Rosier," Sirius answered.

"And we're here because?" James prompted, swallowing finally.

Sirius shrugged, and in truth he didn't know. Except that he hadn't been invited, and he hadn't been wanted. The days were rapidly approaching when, if he saw any of these people in the street, he'd have to hex them. But mostly, he'd wanted to be here just because he shouldn't be.

"Not that I'm complaining mate – but has anyone even noticed we're here?" James reached up to straighten his spectacles, managing to rub part of the custard onto his sleeve in the process.

Sirius started to answer when Narcissa's gaze fell on him. Her winter blue eyes stayed on his for a long moment, and then she looked away, chin lifting.

He'd been dismissed.

"They know." No scenes at her wedding, she'd decreed, Sirius guessed. Narcissa was softer than Bellatrix, but she knew how to get her way. So their invasion was ignored.

Sirius was oddly disappointed.

"Come on," he ordered, catching James by the elbow and turning to lead him back toward the table.

James was only too happy to go – food being a somewhat haphazard presence in a flat currently occupied by four males, none of whom had any skill with cooking charms. Sirius didn't miss the look James gave him though. Potter hadn't wanted to come, and he'd thought Sirius was daft for suggesting it. But he hadn't been about to let him come alone, either. Sirius thought that might be what being a real brother was all about, but it was hard to dwell on that. After all - his actual brother was probably around here, somewhere, being a dark-arts loving git, like the rest of them. (He hadn't always been like that, but the days when Sirius could try to make excuses for his brother were long since gone, and Regulus had chosen his place, and his allegiance. It wasn't to Sirius, and Sirius' wasn't with him. It was easier to think of him in simple terms than to remember the boy he'd been.)

Beside the buffet table, a young house elf was carefully stacking plates. Sirius watched as one slipped its fingers, shattering on the floor. The elf made a short, wailing sound and bashed his head hard against the table before casting a Reparo. Beside them, a crone Sirius vaguely recognized sniffed, murmuring to the man beside her. "Wretched elves – no sense of worth. Have they any idea what those place settings cost?"

Sirius blinked, and a slow grin spread across his face. "Prongs . . . didn't Remus say something about needing dishes?"

James blinked, and for a moment his expression wavered toward what Sirius had come, since their 7th year, to recognize as James' Responsible Face. But then it broke over, and a grin spread across his lips instead. "I think he did. Some nonsense about how civilized people don't eat out of cans."

"Right. Have a drink. Eat up. It's all on Malfoy's bill, mate." Sirius reached for a plate and a glass, filling both to brimming.

James clinked a glass with him. "Cheers."

A moment and a whispered Unbreakable charm later, it was under his suddenly much more roomy jacket.

Sirius wondered if he could get away with getting their coats back, loads of storage. "Prongs?"

"Padfoot?"

"Did you bring the-"

"In my pocket."

Sirius' eyes gleamed. "There's a very fancy pudding at the end of the table. I think they're saving it for later."

James considered. "Well. Their fault for letting it sit unattended." He grinned. "DUAL FUSES."

++++++++++++++

"Shhhh!" James wobbled uncertainly, and there was a disturbing clatter to it. "You'll wake REMUS."

"It's the night after a moon. We could burn the flat down and roast Wormtail on a spit and he wouldn't wake up," Sirius countered. James was disturbingly drunk and considering what he was carrying, Sirius thought it his duty to make sure that his best mate stayed entirely upright. It would have been a lot easier if he hadn't had a half a bottle of champagne to go with James' ENTIRE bottle.

"Spit." James giggled like a girl; Sirius didn't care how much he insisted otherwise. James teetered and Sirius stuck an arm out to catch him. "Ratatouille!" he added, giggle tuning to a cackle.

"You're brilliant when you're soused," Sirius told him. James fixed a baleful gaze on someone who was, it seemed, standing just to Sirius' left. "Right, come on then old son, to the kitchen we go."

"They were BRASSED," James informed him, toddling obediently toward the kitchen, coat clattering with every step.

Sirius followed, his robes making more of a metallic clang. "They weren't, actually. Too busy crying over their ruined robes. They will be later."

"Moony should have come. He would have wagged a finger. And then licked pudding off of it." James seemed sorrowful about that. Sirius was frankly surprised that he remembered that Remus hadn't been there. He'd spent five minutes talking to a plant and calling it Moony, or maybe Moody. It had been a baleful looking plant.

"Right, he would have." Which was probably why it was for the best that Moony hadn't been there.

In the kitchen, there was a divesting of garments and the booty they hid. Sirius, feeling highly accomplished, stacked it all out on the counters. A stack of plates, a half-dozen bowls, a shiteload of expensive silverware, and some glasses gleamed expensively when he was finished.

There was a thumping sound of footsteps and James hushed Sirius, loudly. Which was funny, since James was the only one making noise, having begun warbling the chorus of Jingle Bells for no reason that Sirius was aware of.

Peter stood in the doorway, blinking and squinting against the light, looking between the two of them. "Wha?"

"Go back to bed, Wormtail," Sirius told him.

Peter peered at the dishes on the counter. "Where'd those come from?"

"Lucius Malfoy sends his love."

James started to giggle at that, and Peter just looked deeply confused as Sirius grinned and started finding room for it all.
************

6. Lily Later Realized Things Were More Complicated Than She'd Thought, and That Boys Were Stupid.
"You hungry? We could go get takeaway, or make Wormtail fetch pizza?"

"Fetch your own," Peter called, from where he was sprawled across the floor, his nose buried in a new Mad Muggle comic.

Sirius seemed to ignore the interruption. "Or we could go to the market. Get those sausages you like."

"I'm fine," Remus answered, sounding wooden even to his own ears. He didn't look up from his book, but he could sense Sirius hovering. When no answer came, he started counting seconds in the back of his mind. When he got to ten, he couldn't help it. He looked up. And met gray eyes that were unmistakably confused, somewhat angry, and perhaps a little hurt.

"What the hell is WRONG with you?" Sirius demanded, frustrated. "You haven't spoken to me for a WEEK."

Peter, who'd developed a highly evolved sense of self-preservation over the years, chose that moment to get up. He was fidgeting as he reached for his comic and then slunk away to his room, muttering something about nutters and Blacks.

Sirius' eyes narrowed, gaze following the shorter boy as he fled. Remus could almost SEE the second he decided on some form of retaliation he'd follow through on later.

All too soon he was looking back at Remus though, and Remus ducked his head. "Nothing," he answered. Because it was easier than the truth.

"Nothing," Sirius echoed mockingly. "Because you usually go without talking to me for days on end. That happens all the time."

"Only when you've almost made me murder someone." Sirius stumbled a step backward, flinching visibly, and Remus wanted to bite down on his own tongue. "I'm sorry - I didn't mean that."

Sirius shook his head, short and frustrated. "You always mean it, Moony. You just don't mean to say it." He looked away, and Remus thought, not for the first time, that it was wrong, them being friends - him staying here. They were too good at this - cutting each other into ribbons when reasons, no matter how thin, presented themselves. They knew just how to make each other bleed. Sirius struck when he was thoughtless and angry. Remus. . . well he was fairly sure that he was the crueler of them. His barbs were deliberate, after all, in some way, at least. "Haven't tried to make you kill anyone lately, Moony."

Give it time. The words rose up in the back of his throat, but Remus bit them back, shaking his head. "No. I know."

"So what then? What did I DO?"

"It doesn't matter."

Sirius growled, and flung himself across the sofa, but he didn't stay there - annoyance always lent him energy, and he just got right back up again. Started to pace. Remus was part beast. By rights, he should have some kind of primal grace, a hint of beauty to compensate for the pain and terror once a month. But he didn't. When he moved, it was just to get from place to place. When Sirius moved it was like a hurricane trapped inside of skin, all frantic power and whirling winds of energy waiting to slip free and blow down everything in his path.

Remus hated, sometimes, that just watching Sirius could make him want so fiercely that he ached with it.

Sirius didn't say anything, but he paced, and he waited, and Remus gave in. As he always did. "You went to the Malfoy's wedding."

Sirius stopped, blinking, surprise registering across his features. "That's it? You're brassed why? Because I didn't take you? It was after the moon - you were exhausted."

Sirius didn't get it, and Remus found himself standing, hands fisted at his sides. "You went to MALFOY MANOR, with James! You knew who would be there, what could have happened. . ."

Sirius snorted dismissively. "No one was going to try to kill us at 'Cissa's bloody wedding. She'd have their eyeballs."

"You don't know that. You didn't know that. You NEVER know that, but you ran in. For what - to steal bloody PLACESETTINGS?" Remus had thought he was over being angry at this. But he was vibrating with it now, thinking about it. About Sirius and James, deep in the lion's den, no one even knowing they were there.

"It was a SOCIETY WEDDING. There are rules-" Sirius began.

"And how often does BELLATRIX obey rules? The Lestranges? You're all the same! You all do whatever you want and think you can get away with it because it's your right!"

Remus wasn't even really aware of what he'd said until Sirius took a step toward him, eyes stormy and jaw tensed. He never did that, never spoke without thinking. Sirius was the only exception; he'd never understood why. "I'm not." Sirius answered, fierce and childlike.

"You are." Remus' throat was dry, and he didn't want to, but he said it anyway. Because it would hurt. Because it was honest. Because maybe if he SAID it, Sirius would realize, and Remus could spend less time wondering how deep Black blood went, and whether Sirius would push too far, one day. "You could have gotten killed. You could have gotten JAMES killed, just because you're a bloody reckless BERK who-" a hard fist to Remus' jaw cut him off.

Sirius had never hit him. James and Sirius were forever getting into small scuffles that ended with one or another taking a punch. Black eyes and bruises were a way of life as a boy, or so Remus had been assured. But it'd never been him. But there was some line in the sand that Remus had crossed. He'd claim he didn't know what it was, if he could, but it was too apparent. James. Sirius he could accuse of being reckless and he wouldn't care. But he'd accused him of almost hurting James - and Sirius would never do that - at least never knowingly.

The punch sent a shock of pain through his jaw, vibrating up through his teeth and along the side of his face. Sirius froze, staring at him, and Remus saw the second when the anger almost slipped away and turned into apologies and sorrow. And he and Sirius had been there before. Once. Twice. A dozen times.

Remus suddenly wanted something different. Instead of being the rational mind, he flung himself forward, throwing a wild punch that landed on Sirius' jaw, rocking him back. Sirius reacted on instinct - as Remus had known he would, following with a hard uppercut, and Remus punched him in the stomach, causing a huffed expulsion of air, shoving him backward at the same moment.

Sirius went down, but he twisted - years of brawling overcoming the surge of werewolf strength that always came with Remus' anger, twisting him so he was on top, landing another punch to Remus' eye.

Remus rewarded him with a blow to the mouth, watching full lips split, blood trickling from the corner of Sirius' mouth. He could feel his eye starting to swell, his jaw aching. And he could feel Sirius, half straddling him, weight heavy on top of him.

Remus wasn't sure which of them froze first. He wasn't even sure how long they were there, staring at each other. Neither heard the crack of Apparation, or the stunning spell that sent Sirius flying back off of him - a weak spell, designed to break them apart, not hurt him, some dazed part of Remus' mind noted.

Remus scrambled to his feet, wand out, and came face to face with an angry - and protective looking - Lily Evans, her face almost the same color as her hair. Her green eyes narrowed in fury as she glared at a still-disoriented Sirius. "What the SODDING FUCKING HELL are you thinking, Black?"

Remus opened his mouth to say he'd started it, but no one really wanted to bring the wrath of Lily Evans down on their head. (Excepting James, who used to delight in it.) The words froze in his mouth and he watched Sirius climb slowly to his feet, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. He threw a slow, confused look toward Remus and then looked back at Lily. "Where did YOU come from?" he asked, more belligerent than angry.

Lily still had her wand pointed at him, which might have something to do with his lack of fury. "FIRST you drag James off to some. . . bloody near-suicide, going to a MALFOY wedding, and now you pick a fight with Remus? Honestly, I KNOW you're upset about your brother, but that doesn't give you the right to act like-"

Lily was a wonderful girl. She was smart and kind and caring, and a brilliant witch besides. But she, like Sirius, sometimes didn't know when to shut up. There were things you didn't bring up with Sirius, unless you were James. And even then they tended to have a secret language - a way of speaking around things without really talking about them. Remus winced inwardly as Sirius' expression darkened again. It was only because it was Lily, whom James loved, that Sirius didn't lash out at her, bring up things Lily wouldn't want to hear. Instead he grabbed his coat off the back of the sofa, and then he vanished in a crack of apparition that, somehow, sounded angry.

Lily stood, dazed and belatedly apologetic. She looked back at Remus and then offered quietly. "Let me Heal your eye?"

Remus sank down onto a chair. He didn't bother to argue.
**********

7. Upon Realization, the Rule was Revised.
Sirius' mouth still stung, and his stomach ached, and he wore new bruises that were probably worse, but he didn't feel them as much, because he didn't care about the man they'd come from. He'd gone to a pub, had two pints and picked a fight with someone big and unpleasant looking, just to make the strange heat of anger and want in his veins have somewhere to go. He hadn't exactly won, but he hadn't lost, either, and that was good enough. It had served its purpose.

Afterward a pretty girl with cow-wide brown eyes and long brown hair that smelled of oranges had looked at him. Her lips had smiled an invitation Sirius usually wouldn't have passed up. She was there, and she was pretty, and Sirius liked sex when it was easy. But he'd come back.

Remus' back was to him as he entered, shoulders slouched as he sat on the sofa. The flat was silent with the strange, empty fullness that Sirius usually found a lull of comfort - there but asleep, his friends all where he could find them. Now it almost irritated him, because they were never alone, and he could never tell if it was because they wanted it that way, or because that was the way it was.

Sirius' room was down the hall. He could just go in. Ignore the slumped shoulders and the gleam of a half-empty bottle on the table in front of him. But he didn't. He walked in, slow and deliberate. He could tell the second that Remus knew he was there, read it in the tightened shoulders. Moony thought he was oblivious, most of the time - selfish and self-aware. He was wrong. Not about the selfishness - but Sirius could read him better than anyone, most of the time. He wasn't deluded enough to think that meant he knew everything. Remus lied better than any of them, and he hid even better.

"I didn't mean it," Remus said, soft and hollow.

"You did." They'd had this conversation. Sirius was tired of crossing the same roads over and over to see the same signs and pause at the same places before moving on again. He was tired of waiting. Sirius never waited for anything. But there were things he couldn't take. He'd made too many mistakes in the past. It couldn't be him, and he didn't know if Moony got that.

Remus stood, and it was a little too fast, the faintest sway as he turned. Not drunk, but close, and it took a lot to get him there. Lily had laughed herself into a fit the first time she'd seen firsthand that she could drink Sirius, Peter, and James under the table - and that Remus could send her down to join them without batting an eye.

"I did. And I didn't." Remus' eyes lingered on the new bruises, the dried blood beside his lip. Sirius watched him catalogue injuries; add up which were his to claim and which weren't. "I never say things like that to anyone but you."

Sirius smiled, could feel the wry tug of it stretching his split lip. "No one else gives you reason, Moony. It's okay. Relax. If Prongs went wooly every time he punched me, he'd be mental by now."

"I'm not James."

He wasn't. And that was and wasn't the problem. Because if James had wanted Sirius, and Sirius had wanted him, it would have been easy. Simple. Like minds. Remus and he were all sharp angles and things that went unsaid, or mouths that said too much. They clashed and bled and nothing made Sirius FEEL more like his cousins, his mother, his father than when he hurt Moony. And somehow, Moony was always the first he hurt. "You're not supposed to be."

"Who am I supposed to be?"

Sirius didn't understand what ifs. They were a waste of time and energy. He didn't live in the past and the future. Everything he was, he was right now. Maybe that's why this didn't work. Because every time he fucked up, Remus looked at him, and he had past mistakes written across his face. Sirius didn't know how to be sorry enough, and Remus didn't know how to forgive enough to forget, or how to forget enough to forgive. Sirius wasn't sure which. "Moony . . ."

"I hurt you." Remus stepped up, and Sirius went quiet. Watched him. Long, thin fingers touched the corner of Sirius' mouth, came away with a faint spot of dried blood against the tip of an index finger. "I didn't want to." Remus paused, and then amended. "I wanted to. I didn't mean to."

"I know." Sirius didn't know what to say. He could smell liquor and chocolate - so bloody predictable - and Remus, right bloody there, and his skin felt too small and too hot. "I wanted to too." It wasn't unusual for Sirius. Sirius lashed out at everyone, eventually. Remus thought it was the monster in him rising to the surface whenever he got angry. Sirius knew his own anger was just part of what he was.

"It's just. You could have gotten hurt. You could have gotten . . . You could have not come back. You don't take anything seriously - shut up, I know it's your name. It's not really you know. But you just do whatever you please, and you don't get it. People are dying. People are dying and you could have NOT COME HOME." Remus looked at him, and there was something urgent and fierce in his voice.

You could have not come home. Remus meant that he could have been left alone. And sometimes Sirius wondered if the only reason Remus was still here, after Snape and the Shack, was because he was a monster, once a month, and didn't believe he'd ever have anyone else to go to. "We'll always come home."

Remus looked at him, and the fierceness in his voice bled over into his voice, in the hand that curled too-tight at Sirius' neck. "You don't know that. You git." Sirius opened his mouth to answer, but then his mouth was busy - because Remus' was against it.

He'd thought about kissing Remus. Thought about shy, fumbling kisses and Moony leaning across a book because there was ALWAYS a bloody book in his lap. Sirius had thought about Moony - dry lipped and careful, afraid of biting or doing something wrong or a million other things, because Remus worried and Sirius didn't and that was who they were.

Except Sirius had been dancing in circles, fretting over words gone wrong and arguments turned cutting for the last two years, and Remus kissed like he was going to swallow him whole, so Sirius had had everything wrong. Sirius hadn't realized how far his world could teeter until Remus' mouth sent it tumbling down.

It was all lips and teeth, a press of a lean, too-thin body against him and a hard thigh between his legs. Sirius had methods - ways he did this. How he'd kiss and touch and move and speak to move whoever he was with toward what he wanted, but Remus kissed him, and he tasted like Moony, and it felt like home and danger at the same time. Sirius just sank back into the wall and let Remus take him over. It was Remus who kept them both upright - Remus' strong hands sliding under his shirt, fingertips finding a nipple, pinching almost too hard. Sirius heard himself gasp, felt himself scrabbling for purchase against the wall, reaching to cling to Remus' shoulders.

Remus led, and Sirius just followed, mindless and willing, letting Remus pull him forward, back him toward his room, push him down onto the bed. Sirius wasn't even aware of Moony undressing him until he felt cool air on his skin, and Remus moved out of reach. He looked down at Sirius, eyes dark with want and skin flushed, his pants open but still on, and Sirius felt bloody DEPRIVED because Remus wasn't naked too. "Moony. . ." Sirius winced inwardly at the whine that escaped his throat along with the word. They both sounded like a plea.

Remus stood there, trembling slightly, and Sirius knew him. Sirius knew how he thought. Knew how Remus talked himself out of what he wanted because he thought he shouldn't have it. "Don't think," Sirius murmured, pushing himself up to reach for Remus - pull him down. He nerved himself, shut his eyes and managed to pull Remus' mouth to his, murmuring against Moony's lips. "Please."

Blacks didn't beg. They didn't ask - they were entitled. And Moony was right, because Sirius never had learned to really ask for anything. He didn't beg. He didn't apologize, except to Remus. Neither of them knew why. "Please." Sirius asked anyway, louder and more emphatic, and Remus shuddered hard. And then he was kissing again, and everything melted away but that.

Sirius' world narrowed to Remus. Remus' hands and mouth and body on his, against his - inside his. And he hadn't been ready for the fingers that finally breached him, slick with something Sirius had the wild urge to demand where it came from because he'd never seen Remus have a bloke over. Except that was a lie, because somehow his legs were open and inviting it, and it felt like he'd been begging for that, too, so he had to have been ready. He couldn't remember and he couldn't care. Just gritted his teeth through the discomfort until it faded into something else, and fingers became something else - Remus inside him, moving with him, hands brusingly strong on his hips, and mouth almost violent against his, before it faded, violence shifting and softening without losing intensity. And Sirius had no idea what that meant, but he couldn't think. Couldn't do anything except buck and twist and writhe, and when he came, it was sudden and crushing, body bowing up and toes curling into the mattress beneath him, Remus still moving - taking him. Sirius was shuddery and strange in aftershock, feeling him and whimpering, moving with him until Remus finally slumped, still and heavy and panting atop him.

This hadn't been how Sirius had planned it. It hadn't even been what he wanted, when he'd let himself dwell on wanting it.

It was better.

When Remus rolled off of him, Sirius heard that same, soft whimper. It was hard to believe that was him making that naked, needy sound. Remus' hand curled at his hip - comforting - and Sirius shut his eyes, drowning in all the words floating through his head that he couldn't say. "Why didn't we do that instead of pounding the shit out of each other?" He paused and then clarified. "With fists."

Remus paused, and then he started to laugh, light and breathless. Something that had still been tense and waiting in Sirius' stomach loosened. He twisted onto his side, throwing an arm across Remus and kissing his neck, watching the way Remus' lashes trembled against his cheek as he shut his eyes. "Next time, we'll do this instead." It was teasing, but Sirius heard the question lurking behind the softness in Remus' voice.

"Yeah. And in between. And . . . on days that end in Y. . ." Remus laughed again and then he was kissing Sirius. It was the soft sort of kiss he'd expected to begin with, and Sirius shut his eyes too, kissing back. Falling into it, world narrowing again -

A loud pounding on the wall brought him back to earth, and Prongs' voice, sleep thick and annoyed. "Oi! Moony! Good show on pulling. Now whoever you've got in there, shut up, or put up a bloody charm!"

Sirius opened his eyes, meeting Remus'. The way Moony's mouth curved up into a smile made him want to snog him breathless. Again. "He's going to make it a RULE," Remus whispered.

Sirius just grinned.
**************

8. In the End, it Stayed Empty.
Sirius sat on one side of the sofa, James on the other, Remus sitting on the coffee table between them, Lily on a chair. Peter sat on the floor on James' other side, confusion lurking somewhere in his expression.

James and Sirius had matching postures, arms crossed tight and angry across their chests, matching scowls making their very different faces seem similar, somehow. Remus traded a hapless gaze with Lily, who looked a good deal less used to the mediator position than Remus was, and not terribly happy about being put in it with him.

He cleared his throat, still blushing faintly. "Ermm. James. We hadn't meant-"

"On my BED. I don't CARE if you're poufs. I don't care if you play FOOTSIE under the table at breakfast and think we don't notice-"

"We do NOT PLAY FOOTSIE YOU GIGANTIC USELESS BERK-" Sirius roared, interrupting.

James ignored him, going doggedly on. "But I haven't even moved out all the way yet, and you're already shagging on my bed!"

"We weren't, Prongs, honest," Remus tried, but honesty was apparently not going to work, because James just gave him a squint-eyed look of irritation. "We wouldn't have," he amended. "Sirius just went in . . . looking for something, and I found him, and we got carried away."

He shot a look at Sirius, who avoided his eyes. It was true, in a way. Sirius had gone in, seen half-packed boxes and solid evidence that James was leaving, and Remus had seen something in the set of his shoulders, and the frozen stoicism of his face that made him go in, wrap arms around Sirius and kiss him. Sirius was always just a little too willing to distract himself instead of facing the reality of what he didn't want to see. And Remus was bad at telling him no.

"James, it's not that big of a deal, honestly," Lily answered, and her voice was soft, but clipped in a way that Remus recognized as running out of patience. "It's not as if we haven't-"

"That's beside the point!" James interrupted.

"Because we're queer?" Sirius asked, rough-voiced and angry.

"No! And you're not, anyway. You're just a bloody slag, since you shag everything. But it's MY BED!"

Remus felt like he was watching two things, what they were saying, and what they weren't. James, angry because he felt like them invading his room was pushing him out the door. Sirius, angry and hurt because James was leaving at all. Both of them afraid that everything was changing in ways that would never let them go back to the way they had been. Because yesterday Sirius came home pale and shaken from his first in-training brush with Crucio, and Lily was memorizing healing charms while a small ring sparkled on her pale finger; and when no one was watching, James' voice said things like "love" and "us" and "we'll be okay" into Lily's ear.

Remus recognized it. The same things made him want to crawl into bed beside Sirius and never come out.

"They won't do it again, James. And Sirius, you know James loves you and doesn't care who you shag. And of course he's happy if two of his best friends are happy together. I know it's hard for you to leave, James, and that you think I'm taking him away Si-"

"It's not. I want to live with you. Can't wait," James interrupted, and Remus couldn't tell if it was an angry, stubborn reaction from the boy James had been, or the man he'd become trying to save Sirius' pride by staying angry before Lily went on.

Sirius scowled, not catching the difference, if there was one. "Get bent, Potter."

He got up, stalking out the door, and James stood, giving Lily a quick, obligatory peck, and then heading into his room, throwing things around in the guise of packing. A moment later the sheets from his bed were dumped unceremoniously outside the door.

Lily and Remus sat in silence, listening to the receding sound of Sirius' footsteps, and to the hurling of objects in James' room. "We could always leave them to each other and run off together," Lily offered lightly, trying to sound teasing.

Remus smiled. "Maybe."

Lily was quiet, and then her slim hand found his, winding their fingers together. "It's all changing too fast, for them, isn't it?" she asked, soft and young-sounding.

Remus didn't know why she thought he could be grown up. He didn't understand why she thought the way their world was changing didn't leave him shaking and frantic that tomorrow the people he cared about would melt away like spring-thawed snow, leaving him frozen and alone. But he tried. He squeezed her hand. "It's changing too fast for all of us. But change can be a good thing. He's just afraid of being left. And James is afraid of growing up." He smiled softly. "I'm afraid you're marring Peter Pan, Wendy."

"No. I think you have Pan. James is already grown up. He just forgets. And they'll always have each other. They'll realize that. It's just the leaving that scares them." And just that quickly, Lily was the adult, and Remus was the child, hanging on her words for shreds of hope. "And Pan will always have his Lost Boy, won't he?" Remus had always been too old to be a boy, he thought. But he was lost, too, so maybe that was enough.

"Does that make me Tinker Bell?" Peter's presence had been all but forgotten, and Remus looked at him, blinking and starting to apologize when Peter went on, a rare note of bitterness in his tone. "I'm staying too, you know, that might count for something."

"Of course it does," Lily and Remus said, almost in unison. Remus quieted but Lily gestured, letting go of Remus' hand. "You know how they are, Peter. Sirius will be glad to have you here though."

"I know how you are," Peter agreed, that strange note still in his voice, and he looked down for a moment before sighing, pushing himself to his feet and flashing a quick smile. "I'll go help James." He disappeared into a room where the thudding was gradually easing. Sirius would come back. James would calm down. They'd make up and be right as rain soon enough. It was how they worked. It was what they'd always done. Everything came that easily to them - even anger.

Remus just wondered if it would stay that way.
*********