Sirius has always been able to tell when someone wants him. Well, perhaps not "always," as the first time Remus heard him make the claim was during their fourth year at Hogwarts. But for practical purposes, that's "always," since it pre-dates the origins of Remus's own hopeless interest in Sirius.
So, then, say instead that Sirius has been able to tell when someone wants him for as long as it's mattered to Remus. And it certainly matters to Remus right now, as Sirius makes his way to where Remus is leaning against the bar and slides his arm around his shoulder, leaning forward.
"Bet I know who here fancies me." Sirius's breath ghosts over Remus's ear.
This is their routine, and it always feels like Sirius on the pull is deliberately taunting Remus, even when his actions are easily explained by practical factors: the pub is noisy and crowded, so Sirius has to speak right into Remus's ear; James and Peter are far and away more drunk than Remus or even Sirius, so Sirius doesn't seek their opinions.
Not that Remus has a lot of opinions to express about whomever Sirius intends to take home, not when it isn't going to be him. "Who?" he asks, just wanting to get the whole thing over with, and Sirius replies, "Her. Blonde, big tits," and pulls away, leaving Remus behind again.
Another Friday night, another demonstration of Sirius's infallible talent, Remus thinks as he turns away from where Sirius is approaching the blonde. He catches the barkeep's eye and orders another pint.
Eyes on his pint as he makes his way back to the table, where James and Peter are no doubt reliving James's greatest moments on the Quidditch pitch (another Friday night routine), Remus can't keep from castigating himself over exactly how pathetic he's being about Sirius. It feels like it's been years of wanting and watching and not doing a damn thing about it. He's never even given Sirius so much as a hint, unless Sirius's acclaimed talent has been working on him, in which case he's a constant hint, one Sirius is ruthlessly ignoring. Either way, Remus's feelings should just learn to take the hint and stop mooning after Sirius.
Remus and Peter's lunches together can be traced back to their Hogwarts days, when they were not always inclined to follow James and Sirius's hare-brained plans right over a cliff. They were Marauders, of course, so most of the time they were right there on the edge with Padfoot and Prongs, but if a prank was minor, or if the pile of homework was just too high, Messrs. Moony and Wormtail would willingly recede into the background, take the chance to catch their breaths, and quite possibly have a friendly, quiet meal or two before chaos inevitably reentered their lives.
Now that Peter works for the Ministry, Remus meets him on Wednesdays for lunch in Diagon Alley. There's a little more conversation these days, probably because they're no longer growing boys, fully committed to putting away as much food as they can. Usually Peter talks about his work in the Department of Magical Games and Sports, and Remus contributes anecdotes from his own job or job search, depending.
Last night, though, Peter had a date, and so today all he wants to talk about is how it went.
"But I dunno if I'd go out with another half-blood again, anyway," Peter is saying.
"Why's that?" Remus asks.
"They always seem to be into one crazy Muggle thing or another. This one was studying some Cycle-olology or some such, all about why people think and act the way they do, only her explanations were mostly tosh, if you ask me. Seems a bit mad."
Remus hums sympathetically, which Peter seems to take as a request for examples.
"Like, I was telling her about you all, well, mostly about James and Sirius, since, you know, they're so successful with the ladies; you understand."
Remus nods, because he does understand, and also to keep himself from wincing. It's typical Peter, trying to woo with the reflected glory of others, and someday the right woman will see past it, but he can't imagine, from what else Peter's told him of this date, that last night's woman was the one.
"Anyway, she's wasn't at all impressed with Sirius's talent! Said that much casual sex was a sign of fundamental insecurity and, I dunno, something about a need to be loved. Which is just so much bollocks. I don't know anyone more confident than Padfoot."
Remus starts to nod reflexively in agreement, but even as he's nodding, something's changing in his mind. It's beyond bizarre that it'd take a secondhand, dismissive account of the words of a woman he'll likely never meet to do it, but they do say an outside perspective can do that, don't they?
Anyway, it all seems perfectly clear now. Sirius always knows when someone wants him, or so he claims. But isn't it entirely possible he's just claiming this "talent" because he's never been turned down?
And beyond that, knowing who wants you is in no way the same thing as believing that other people love you. Remus thinks of Sirius's relationships with his family, the way he avoided Regulus when he could and always, always rejected him (first, Remus thinks, he rejected him first) when he couldn't. He thinks of how long it took him to trust the other Marauders, almost as long as it took Remus himself, with his secret holding him back, and yes, he thinks, Sirius needs to be loved, and he might not have a clue, might be subsisting on want, but I know who loves him.
Sirius doesn't usually have breakfast with James because Sirius doesn't usually have breakfast. Even at Hogwarts, with the prospect of the best breakfasts of his life waiting for him down in the Great Hall, he only woke up on time for classes about one day out of twelve.
Today, though, he's having breakfast with James, because James came by and woke him up and made him have breakfast with him. This is just another worrying sign of James's increasing domestication, and Sirius tells him so.
James laughs. "It's really not so bad, you know. You and Remus ought to give it a try."
It's clear to Sirius that nothing makes much sense in the early morning, which is why sane people (like himself) avoid it. "I think Moony's already about as domesticated as a man can get," he notes. "Or have you forgot which of us actually had socks in his sock drawer at school?"
James looks at him like he's the one not making sense. "I'm not talking about that," he says. "I'm talking about you and Moony settling down. You know. Together."
"Excuse me?" Sirius's hand shakes as he reaches for more tea. "I … what … excuse me?"
"You and Moony aren't dating?" James looks abashed. "It's just, you two have always been different with each other, and I thought – and Lily agreed with me! She said she was sure! Aren't women supposed to know about this sort of thing?"
"I wouldn't know," Sirius mutters in reply, leaving James to rant lazily about the perfidy of women, knowing his heart isn't really in it. There's a more important thing for Sirius to pay attention to: his feelings for Remus.
Sirius claims he can always tell when someone wants him. Except that doesn't matter. Not like Remus matters. He'd give anything to know if Remus feels anything for him beyond friendship, and yet week after week he finds himself shying away from even the first steps to finding out, turning instead to the security of an easy pull.
Can he trust James's (and Lily's) instinct? If they thought he and Remus were already together—
"Wait a minute!" Sirius interrupts a digression on the time Lily convinced Prongs he looked especially fit in Muggle overalls – James's favorite example of why she is not to be trusted. "If you thought Moony and I were together, what exactly did you think I was doing with all the birds I pulled on pub nights? Playing Exploding Snap?"
James colours slightly. "I thought they were just cover and you ditched them later, maybe, or…"
"Or I thought maybe you and Remus…"
"Remus and I what?"
James is now roughly as red as Arthur Weasley's hair. "Maybe you, um, shared?"
Shared. Just that one word conjures forth a cascade of images, leaving Sirius longing, but as uncertain as ever about whether he should do anything about it. He half-heartedly toys with a kipper. James, he decides, is not much help at all.
It's another Friday night, this time at Lily's local, and Sirius feels out of place. He leans against the bar and though his eyes flick over the crowd, as is his usual habit, he's not really seeing anything.
Meeting Remus here brought the whole conversation with James over breakfast back to him, including the "sharing", and now Sirius doesn't know what to do, other than sip his pint and try not to do anything rash, like chat up a woman he doesn't know, or suggest a threesome to Moony, or even just confess his love to him in embarrassing adolescent fashion.
"'Lo," Remus says, suddenly close, arm going around him and his lips nearly touching Sirius's ear.
"Hey," Sirius replies. He tries not to lean in toward Remus.
"You're in an odd mood."
"I suppose. It's James's fault, really."
"What'd he do? Care to share?"
Sirius is sure he's blushing now. "Not important, really. What about you? You seem cheerful."
"That's down to Peter. Or Peter's hopeless half-blood last date, I suppose."
"I don't want to know, do I?"
"On the contrary, I think you do. But I won't explain now."
Sirius looks at Remus with more than his usual interest. "You're being mysterious, Moony. I'm intrigued."
Remus smiles back confidently, meeting and holding Sirius's gaze. "Indulge me?"
Sirius nods. "I may live to regret this."
"Never." Remus is back to whispering right in his ear, and Sirius suppresses a shiver. "Bet I know who here fancies you." Remus's tone is teasing, full of promise.
"Oh do you," Sirius replies, one eyebrow quirking and his pulse beginning to race. Is Remus flirting with him? That has to be it. Sweet Merlin, please let Remus have the confidence Sirius himself never found.
But if it's not, then where does that leave Sirius? Bugger all this, he thinks, what kind of a Gryffindor am I?
"It's you, isn't it?" he blurts, before he can think better of it. 'Gryffindor Gryffindor Gryffindor' his pulse is beating, and he has to remind himself to breathe.
"Yeah, it's me," Remus answers, and his voice in Sirius's ear sounds as relieved as Sirius himself feels.