It was June, and the sky was clear. Sirius lay back, his head resting against Buckbeak's flank, looking up at the endless blue and wondering whether he was frightened. The Dementors had taken so much from him, he didn't know if he'd ever get it back, didn't know if he'd be able to feel again. Everything was so bright, so sharp and clear, but he felt removed from it. He was what was dull, grey and distant from everything.
He didn't have a purpose. His innocence was lost, stolen by Peter long ago and beyond retrieval. Revenge was further beyond him than it had been in Azkaban; he had no faith in being able to find whatever deep hole Peter would be cowering in, let alone being able to do it without getting caught. He couldn't do that, not to Harry. Not to Remus, who had managed to smuggle him a message once, when he was on trial, telling him he didn't deserve to kill himself and leave Remus as the last Marauder.
For them, he had to live. He just didn't know how.
It was July when he laughed, watching the birds and the tourists watching each other. It was a rough sound, unfamiliar, and it made the people around him look up curiously. He finished tying his letter to the owl he'd borrowed from the tiny local post office and sent it flying, pretending nothing was wrong, that he laughed so often that there was nothing strange about it, nothing strange about him. He bought something from a vendor and ate it, just another random man at the seaside, strolling along without a care in the world.
He apparated four times before going to the woods where he'd left Buckbeak, happily hunting for small animals. The hippogriff had saved him a stoat, or something that looked very like one, and Sirius gave him an affectionate pat before putting it in one of the game bags he'd acquired. They were in the air minutes later, fleeing the scene before anyone connected that strange man with the one in the wanted posters. It was unlikely, but he couldn't take chances.
August brought a letter from Remus, a shock of pleasure that was almost painful. It didn't say much, exactly what a nodding acquaintance would send to someone on holiday, but it was in his handwriting and so Sirius read it over and over again, memorizing the loops and whorls and carefully crossed Ts. He slept with it in his breast pocket, waiting for morning, when he could look at it again without starting a fire that would let anyone know who cared to look that there was someone in the woods who shouldn't be.
"I solemnly swear that I'm up to no good," he said, when he couldn't make himself wait any longer, when he had to know.
The letters shifted and swirled, black and dizzying against the dingy brown of the cheap parchment, pausing to spell out, "We've got to get a new password. We're grownups now, and somehow ended up being the good guys."
He laughed until he cried, giddy with the moment of remembering what it was like, knowing that it was possible that he'd once been someone else, someone with a home and friends and love and enough faith in the world to be irreverent, because it never crossed his mind that it couldn't last forever.
The paper reverted to the letter, and he had to say the password again, smiling despite the ache inside. This time he saw the real message, much shorter, just a place and a time and a date. He had three weeks to get back to England. Three weeks until he saw Remus again, without Harry or Peter or Snivelus or the full moon to interfere. He thought the clenching in his stomach was terror, but it might have been hope.
He thinks the sky is blue, but it might be grey; it would be more typical of an English autumn. Sirius is sitting on a bench somewhere in Devonshire, and Remus is late. Remus is never late.
Remus was never late. Maybe punctuality was something he'd shed over the years, maybe he was someone that Sirius didn't know anymore. Maybe it's a trap, and the day will end in Azkaban, the leaves falling from the trees without anyone noticing how bright they were, how golden and vivid. Remus was always the responsible one, the one most likely to notice and care when they were casually ignoring the right thing to do.
Except that Remus would never betray a friend and that's not what he fears. Sirius stands up, his thoughts wild as he refuses to think about what scares him, all of the contradictory and horrifying boogeymen that haunt his sleep. He is not fit company for any decent person.
The voice is calm, familiar, welcome as the sunrise after a night full of bad dreams. He turns around, the response automatic as he says, "Moony!"
He says it again, in a whisper, because this is his friend but it is not his friend, and he needs to ground himself in the reality of the moment. He remembers the last happy Christmas, when Lily laughed at her own efforts and Remus gallantly swore to always treasure the jumper she'd managed to knit, the cables uneven and the sleeves just a bit too long. It had been thick then, but the years had worn away at it.
They'd worn away at Remus as well, his face a network of scars, most old and pale, his cheekbones gaunt and his eyes sunken. They'd reached for each other automatically, and he knew that Remus could feel the way his ribs stood out from too few hot meals. It shocked him that he could feel the knobs on Remus's spine, because somehow he had thought that Moony had gotten at least a little of what he deserved from life, a home and hearth and someone to make sure he remembered to eat.
It's cold. Sirius notices now, and he looks up to check whether the sky is blue, because he can't be sure of anything. Maybe he should have ignored Moony's warning all those years ago, because he feels like this is his fault, like Remus would have been better off as the last Marauder than as one half of a broken set.
"It's good to see you," Remus says, quietly, carefully, the way you would speak to a skittish pet gone feral after too long out in the wilderness.
His lips move and Sirius hears himself say, "How are you?" As if they really were strangers, as if they'd met the day before and would see each other again tomorrow.
"I'm fine." A smile plays around the corners of Moony's mouth, and he looks like himself for a moment, the sad-eyed boy who followed his vibrant friends around, the youth who could come up with a prank and then list every school rule they'd be breaking by doing it.
Sirius smiles back, the gesture difficult because he isn't himself. He doesn't know who he is.
For the first time, it is not Sirius who does the kissing.