"How was work?"
Sirius Black folded himself into the passenger seat of the red BMW, automatically turning down the loud music that blared from the car's sound system, and pulled the door shut behind him. "It was fine. Quiet for most of the day. Kind of boring."
"Quiet at the library? Imagine that!" James Potter laughed, pulling away from the curb and into the flow of city traffic.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "I meant quieter than usual, with everyone back at school now. Speaking of which, how was your day? Did you get all the classes you wanted?"
"Almost," said James. "Since I got the last of my core requirements out of the way last semester, it's all Engineering from here on out, but I still have a pretty heavy load. Not much time for fun this year."
"Then it's probably a good thing you don't have a girlfriend right now," Sirius smirked. "You can barely hang onto one when you're not spouting technical jargon 24/7. Then again, if you're not dating anyone, who's going to remind you to change your socks?"
"Hey!" cried James in mock outrage. "Is it too much to expect a little sympathy and support from my own dear brother during times of hardship? Anyway, I don't see you dating anyone."
Sirius shrugged. "I just haven't met anyone interesting lately."
James gave him an incredulous look as he turned the car onto Yesler Way. "You're telling me that out of the thousands of people who visit the Seattle Central Library every week - smart people, who like to read for fun - there's not a single one who seems interesting?"
"Even if there was someone I thought was interesting," said Sirius, "it's not like I could hit on him at work. There are rules about that, you know."
"'Him'?" James raised his eyebrows. "Is this a theoretical 'him', or an actual flesh-and-blood 'him' we're talking about?"
Sirius scowled. "It's no one. Just a guy I've seen around a couple of times."
"What's he like, this mystery man of yours?" James grinned.
Sirius shrugged again. "Kind of a hipster maybe. Skinny jeans, flannel shirt, knit cap. You know the type. Latino, I think. But I haven't talked to him or anything."
"Why not?" asked James. "Afraid your charm and sheer animal magnetism might make him swoon on the spot?"
Sirius rolled his eyes again. "What am I supposed to say to a guy who's just sitting there, reading? 'Need someone to turn the page for you?' Anyway, he's probably straight. And even if he isn't, he probably wouldn't be into someone like me."
James's teasing smile faded. "Hey, don't talk like that. You're a great guy. Why wouldn't he be into you?"
Sirius gazed moodily out the windshield at the slowly-moving lanes of traffic. "You know."
"Well, if he feels that way about it, fuck him," said James heartily. "Someone like that wouldn't deserve you. But don't count yourself out without even trying. Saying 'hi' isn't a marriage proposal. Next time you see him, try to catch his eye. Start a conversation."
"Yeah. Maybe," said Sirius. "So, are we going to look at apartments this weekend? I can do it on Sunday evening. Or if you're free on Tuesday or Wednesday, we could go then."
"Let's do Sunday. Then Pete can come, too," suggested James. "If he gets his act together, we can split rent three ways, and look for a bigger place."
Sirius frowned. "You don't think he'll flake out on us? Last week, he was talking about moving in with some girl he just met."
"I think he'll come through," James said confidently. "He likes the idea of us all living together."
"I hope you're right," sighed Sirius. "I'd like to move out before I'm old and gray."
James grinned. "You hate living with my folks that much?"
"Of course not!" said Sirius, punching him in the shoulder. "Your parents are great. I just - I don't want to be dependent on them forever, you know? I'm twenty-one. I should have my own place, not be living with anyone's parents."
"It may take a while to find somewhere good," James warned. "I won't have as much free time as I did over the summer."
"That's not my fault," grumbled Sirius. "I didn't have enough saved up for a deposit and everything until last month."
"You know my parents would be more than happy to cover the deposit for you."
Sirius scowled. "What part of 'I don't want to be dependent on them' is so hard for you to understand?"
James shook his head. "Just let them help out a little. They love it. They love you. You could've at least let them loan you the money for a car that wasn't a total piece of shit."
"It's my car, and it's fine," snapped Sirius. "It just needs a tuneup and a couple of parts replaced. It'll be ready next week. Anyway, your parents have helped out enough already."
"Fine," said James. "Just so long as you have your own transportation soon. I won't have time to chauffeur your ass around once classes start."
Sirius snorted. "I wouldn't want to inconvenience you, Your Greatness."
"See that you don't." James grinned. "I just hope for your sake that your hipster friend isn't a car guy. You are going to talk to him, aren't you?"
"No," said Sirius.
Sirius leaned on the circulation desk, a book in one hand. The library was quiet on weekday mornings. Only the Children's section, brimming with harried parents and children too young for school, buzzed with activity, but it was fairly well-contained, and fell outside Sirius's jurisdiction. Most of the patrons frequenting the library at this hour were older retired people who read quietly or worked on personal research projects. A row of self-checkout computers made the circulation desk practically obsolete, but it still needed to be staffed, and that morning it was Sirius's turn. Every now and then, someone would stop to ask him a question, or require manual checkout, but for the most part, he was left to his reading.
Sirius was not reading, however. Not really. The book was merely something to focus his eyes on, and keep them from wandering.
Don't look, he told himself for the dozenth time. If you keep looking over there, he'll notice you staring at him.
But inevitably, his gaze was drawn back to the table under the windows, and the young man who sat hunched over a spread of open books and lined paper, pencil in hand, dark hair falling forward into his eyes.
Hi, thought Sirius. Look, I've been staring at you all morning like a fucking creeper, and I think you're pretty hot. I was just wondering, are you into guys at all? He sighed and dragged his eyes back to his book, trying to find his place and remember what was happening.
A movement at the corner of his eye brought his head back up. The cute maybe-hipster was gathering up his books and papers, and shoving them into his faded backpack. Sirius's eyes followed him to the row of self-checkout computers and watched him go through his pockets once, twice, an expression of growing dismay on his face.
Sirius's heart leapt into his throat as the man turned and approached the circulation desk. Be cool, he told himself sternly.
"I forgot my library card," the man said apologetically. "Is there any way I can still check these out?"
"Sure," said Sirius, trying not to think about gorgeous dark brown eyes fringed with long lashes. "W-what's your name?"
"Remus Lupin. L-U-P-I-N."
Sirius tapped at the keyboard, backspacing several times when his nervous fingers missed their mark.
"Phone number?" Sirius asked, wishing he were typing it into his phone instead.
Remus gave him a string of digits.
Sirius took the stack of books from him and began scanning them into the computer. Several of the titles seemed to concern sex and sexuality. One was about pornography.
"They're for a class I'm taking," said Remus, blushing.
"I wasn't going to ask," Sirius assured him, biting back an involuntary smile. "Patrons' borrowing habits are none of my business."
"Thanks," Remus muttered, still looking embarrassed.
"It's no ple-problem," said Sirius, tripping over his words in the rush to get them out, but Remus was already hurrying away.
Sirius watched him go. When the door closed behind him, Sirius sighed and buried his face in his hands.
Remus. His name is Remus. And you have zero chill.
Sirius was not sure whether he hoped Remus would never return to the library again, or that he would see him soon.
A few days later, Sirius was shelving books in the 300s section, when he rounded the end of a row of stacks and almost ran headlong into Remus with his cart. Remus leapt out of the way, dropping an armload of books with a clatter.
"Sorry," gasped Sirius. He plucked at his shirt, trying to ease the constriction around his bounding heart.
"It's all right," said Remus, bending to gather up the fallen books.
When he stood up again, he moved to return one of the books to a gap on the shelf.
"Don't do that," said Sirius, before he could stop himself.
Remus froze, the book halfway onto the shelf. "It's all right. I know exactly where it came from."
"It's not that," explained Sirius. It's - library funding is based on numbers. And one of those numbers is how many books we re-shelve. So it doesn't actually help us when people put them back themselves."
"Oh," said Remus. "Sorry. I didn't know that."
He withdrew the book from the shelf, and looked at Sirius.
"Should I give it to you, or ...?"
"You can give it to me, if you want, or leave it on one of the carts at the end of the stacks."
Remus hesitated, then pulled three more books off the shelf. He handed them to Sirius, with a sweet smile that made Sirius's heart skip a beat. "Here. For the library funding."
Sirius noticed long, brown fingers, and that Remus was a few inches shorter than him.
"Thanks," he said quickly, hoping he had not been staring again. "Remus, right? I'm - my name is Sirius. I checked you out the other day. At the circulation desk, I mean," he added quickly, cheeks growing hot.
He belatedly remembered that he was wearing a name tag. Remus already knew his name, if he cared to look.
Remus looked startled to be remembered by name, but bobbed his head in greeting. "Nice to meet you."
"So, you're a student?" asked Sirius, deciding to ignore, for the moment, the library's policy against asking patrons personal questions about themselves. "At the University of Washington?"
"Seattle Central," said Remus, naming a nearby community college. "Part time. The library there isn't as good as U-Dub's, so I come here."
"What are you majoring in?" Sirius asked.
"Psych, with a focus on gender and sexuality," said Remus, indicating the rows of suggestively-titled books surrounding them with a wave.
"Oh," said Sirius. "That sounds pretty interesting."
"It is," Remus agreed.
There was an awkward pause. Now that they were talking, Sirius did not want to just walk away. Who knew when he would next get an opportunity to speak to Remus? What he really needed was a way to let Remus know he was queer, and to find out, if possible, whether that fact was of interest to him.
"So ... um ... what are you thinking of doing with your degree?" he asked, stalling.
"I want to be a counselor or a therapist," said Remus. "Try to do some good in the world, if I can."
Sirius nodded. "That sounds ... noble."
Remus shrugged. "I just like to help people."
Another pause. This time, it was Remus who broke it.
"Working in a library must be pretty interesting, too. Especially this one. Did you study Library Science?"
Sirius shook his head. "Nah. I haven't been to college yet. I'm not a real librarian; just an assistant. My mom's on the library board. She helped me get the job."
"Oh," said Remus. "Well, that was nice of her."
A sudden flash of inspiration struck Sirius. Quickly, he scanned the shelves. Perfect. Reaching up, he plucked a book from the top shelf, and handed it to Remus.
"If you're interested in Queer Studies, I recommend this one," he said. "It's one of my favorites."
Remus looked down at the cover. "The Full Spectrum. I haven't read it."
"It's great," enthused Sirius. "It's all essays written by LGBT people in their teens and twenties. The editor, David Levithan, writes really good queer young adult fiction, too, if that's your kind of thing at all."
Remus added the book to his stack. "Thanks. I'll check it out ... and check it out."
They both laughed awkwardly at the joke.
"Well," said Remus, "I guess I'll see you around."
"Yeah," said Sirius. "I hope so."
"I talked to him!"
James was barely through the front door. "Who?"
"The hot hipster guy!"
"Oh." James grinned, collapsing into an armchair and running a hand through his poofy, unkempt afro. "That's great. How did it go?"
"I dunno," Sirius admitted. "It was sort of awkward but mostly OK, I guess. His name is Remus and I think he might be queer. At least, he's studying gender and sexuality. That's not something a lot of straight guys do, is it?"
James shrugged. "Maybe not."
"Anyway, I recommended a super queer book to him, so he definitely knows I am, now. At least, I hope he does," said Sirius, suddenly worried that the gesture had not been as obvious has he had hoped. "If he comes back and says he liked it, I'll probably know for sure about him, too."
"Very clever," said James, sounding amused. "So if he is, are you going to ask him out?"
Sirius's shoulders sagged. "I dunno. I mean, I can't at work, can I? It'd be unprofessional. I'd have to find some way to see him outside work, and ask him then."
James laughed. "Catch-22. You can't see him outside work unless you see him outside work."
"Yeah," sighed Sirius, slumping back onto the sofa. "And even if he is queer, and I do ask him out, he still might not be into trans guys."
"Only one way to find out," said James.
Seattle Public Library, Downtown Branch - Virtual Tour (the video is kind of cheesy, but the building is really cool and you should check it out)
When Remus realizes Sirius might be hitting on him, he has some reservations, but Lily thinks he should go for it.
Art in this chapter by @finalsoul. Used with permission.
At the foot of the escalator, Remus froze, a stack of books in his arms. There was the assistant librarian he had met the week before. The absurdly good-looking one.
Sirius, Remus thought, and was annoyed with himself for even remembering the man's name.
He was working behind the circulation desk again, assisting a patron at the moment - a woman with two small children in tow. As he tapped at the computer keyboard with one hand, the other hand rose unconsciously to push back black hair that fell to his shoulders in casually elegant waves.
Why couldn't he just be straight? Remus grumbled to himself. It would have made things simpler. His thoughts never lingered long on straight men. No matter how attractive they were, Remus found it easy to shrug off such fantasies when he knew nothing could come of them.
He realized he was staring, but before he could tear his eyes away and hurry over to the self-checkout computers, Sirius looked up and caught sight of him, a wide grin lighting up his face. Remus approached the circulation desk like a moth to a flame.
"Hello again," said Sirius brightly.
Sirius fumbled the stubby library pencil he was holding, and it fell to the floor with a light clatter. He made a move as if to retrieve it, then seemed to change his mind. Instead, he leaned on the counter, favoring Remus with the full force of his broad smile. His eyes were gray.
"Find everything you n-need today?" Sirius asked, stumbling over the words in his rush to be helpful.
"Yeah. I think so."
Sirius practically lunged across the desk, reaching for the books still clasped protectively to Remus's chest. "Here - I can check those out for you. Do you have your card today?"
Remus handed over his library card and the books.
Sirius scanned the barcode on the back of the card. "Er - it looks like you have an overdue. LGBTQ Youth Issues. Do you want me to renew it for you?"
"Oh. Um - yeah. Thanks. That'd be great," said Remus, disconcerted. "So - er - I read that book you recommended. The Full Spectrum. It was good."
Sirius flashed him another heart-stopping grin. "I'm glad you liked it. Did you - um - which essay was your favorite?"
"I dunno," Remus lied. "There were a lot of good ones. I'd have to think about it."
Several of the essays had touched on topics deeply relevant to Remus's own life, but they were not topics Remus felt like sharing with a virtual stranger. Especially not an attractive stranger who smiled at him like that.
Sirius nodded and pushed the stack of books back toward Remus. He misjudged the distance, and the pile toppled off the edge of the desk and onto the floor, landing with a loud smack that drew several startled looks in their direction.
"Oops. Sorry," said Sirius, flustered.
"It's all right." Remus bent to pick up the fallen books and put them into his backpack as another library patron approached the desk.
He was about to turn away when Sirius said, "Hang on a second, Remus -"
Remus waited, leaning awkwardly against the counter as Sirius answered the patron's questions - an older, heavyset white man - smiling with easy charm, tapping out a quick catalogue search, and directing the patron to the elevators up to the reference section, all without dropping anything or tripping over his words.
"I'm impressed," said Remus drily, when the man left. "You managed to help someone without knocking them over."
"Oh. Um - yeah." Sirius blushed. "I'm not usually this clumsy, honestly."
"So -" said Remus hastily, "was there something you wanted?"
Sirius's eyes widened, and then he seemed to remember that he had asked Remus to stay. "Oh. Right. I was just wondering, do you like queer fiction?"
The obviousness of the question and its implications hung in the air between them, as Sirius turned even redder.
"Yeah," said Remus finally, deciding to stick to the truth - for the moment, at least.
"Oh, good." Sirius looked relieved.
He drew a book out from under the counter. The title described more or less exactly what was depicted on the glossy cover: Two Boys Kissing.
"It's by the same guy who edited th-that other book," Sirius explained quickly. "P-probably my favorite thing he's written. It's a little - intense, but it's really, really good. It has all kinds of characters. Gay and bi and - and trans. Anyway, it was in with the discards, and I thought maybe you'd like it. It's free, if you want it."
"Thanks," said Remus. He slid the book into his bag with the others. "I'll try to read it when I have some free time. Er - see you around."
"Yeah, see you."
Remus tried not to sprint for the exit.
Outside, standing on the sidewalk in the sunshine, Remus closed his eyes briefly and took a deep, calming breath, then began walking.
He had wanted to believe that Sirius was just a naturally nervous person, but the ease with which he dealt with other people dispelled that theory. Sirius was only awkward around him. It made no sense, as far as Remus was concerned. There was no way someone as attractive as Sirius could possibly be interested in someone like him, was there?
It doesn't matter if he likes you, or how hot he is, whispered a small, practical voice in the back of Remus's mind. It would never work, and you know it.
Remus sighed. Maybe once he got his life together, someone like Sirius could be a possibility for him. But not right now.
Turning the corner, he began the hike up toward Capitol Hill. His feet ached. He wondered how much longer his shoes would last. He would definitely need to replace them before the weather turned cold and wet. The thin canvas chucks offered little protection from the elements. He would need a waterproof winter coat, too. And gloves. And warm socks, if he could get them. He climbed the hill, calculating the mounting costs in his mind.
Remus's stomach growled. He had not eaten anything since the stale croissant and cup of black coffee that had been his breakfast that morning. Taking out his phone, he glanced at the display. Almost five o'clock. They would be serving dinner soon.
The door was still locked when Remus arrived. He sat on the steps, taking out the book Sirius had given him, and reading the first few pages. When he realized what it was about, a shiver ran down his spine. "Intense", Sirius had called it, but there was an element that was also deeply personal.
There's no way he could know, Remus told himself. Still, the weirdness of it was enough to make him close the book and stuff it hastily back into his bag, shaken. He would read the rest later. Maybe.
More people had appeared, hanging around the doorway, while Remus was reading. A few greeted him familiarly, or chatted and laughed amongst themselves, waiting to be let in.
At last, the lock clicked and the door was opened by a young woman whose red hair was bound up under a net. She held the door, smiling and nodding to everyone as they passed through. When she saw Remus, her smile widened.
"Hey. Haven't seen you in a few days."
"Hi, Lils," Remus grinned. "Anything good tonight?"
"All kinds of things," Lily Evans assured him. "Chili and cornbread. Mac and cheese. Chicken. Salad. Cookies."
Remus's stomach gurgled again in anticipation. He followed the others into a large room filled with cheap plastic tables and folding chairs. A few of his fellow diners turned toward the bathrooms to wash up. Remus had washed earlier in one of the more out-of-the-way restrooms on an upper floor of the library, where he could give himself more of a scrub with less chance of drawing unfriendly attention. He found a place at one of the tables and stowed his bag under a chair, then went straight to the long kitchen counter where the food was laid out.
Such places were sometimes still called "soup kitchens", and there usually was some kind of soup to be had, but there was often more than that. The meals were mix-and-match, doled out under the watchful eye of the volunteer servers, who made sure everyone got their fair share. There was usually enough to fill Remus's belly once a day, when he could get there in time for a meal.
He carried his tray back to the table and took out his reading for the next day's classes, bending over it as he ate. Other diners came and went from the seats around him, but for the most part, they left him to his reading.
The hall had grown quieter by the time someone sat down across from him and dropped two chocolate chip cookies on to the table beside his open book. He looked up to see Lily smiling at him.
"I saved you a couple extra. Want to help with cleanup?"
Remus put his book back into his bag, scooped up the cookies, shoving one into his mouth, and followed Lily into the kitchen. The large two-basin sink overflowed with soapy water and cheap, plastic dishes. Lily washed and Remus dried, while two other volunteers wiped down the tables and counters, swept the floors, and stowed everything away.
"I saw that guy at the library again," Remus said casually.
"Oh?" Lily smiled. "Did you talk to him this time?"
Remus nodded. "A bit. He gave me a book. I think he might have been hitting on me."
Lily's smile widened. "Did you get his phone number?"
"No," Remus scowled.
"Because he's about a million miles out of my league. Seriously, Lily, you should see how hot this guy is. It's not fair for someone to be that good-looking."
"Well, if he likes girls at all, could you get his number for me?" Lily chuckled.
Remus rolled his eyes. "Come to the library sometime and get it yourself."
"I might just do that. I want to see this epic hottie, if nothing else. Tell me about him." She plunged her hands into the murky water to fish for cutlery at the bottom of the sink.
"He's tall," said Remus. "At least three inches taller than me. Black hair. Ridiculously good hair. Gray eyes. He's mixed. Half Japanese, maybe? And he's got a first-rate ass."
Lily laughed. "So what are you waiting for? And engraved invitation? If you think he's into you, ask him for his number next time."
Remus shook his head. "You wouldn't say that if you saw how he dresses. The shirt he was wearing alone probably cost more than I spend on clothes in a year. Unless he's got a thing for homeless guys, I don't stand a chance."
"Don't sell yourself short, Remus," said Lily gently.
"Not exactly a catch, am I, all things considered?"
She gave him a fond smile. "I'd catch you, if I thought I was your type at all. We'd get moved up the housing list if we got married, you know."
Remus laughed. "You'd be wasted on me, Lily. Someday, you'll make someone very happy."
"So will you," said Lily. "Maybe even a sexy librarian with a great ass."
Remus shook his head again, chuckling. "I wish."
"Even if it's not meant to be 'happily ever after' with this guy, that doesn't mean you can't have a little fun," said Lily. "You deserve to have some fun in your life, Remus. You work too hard."
"Maybe. But there are only so many hours in the day. If I ever want my life to be anything other than what it is, I have to work hard, don't I?"
"All right," Lily relented. "Just don't burn yourself out."
"I'll try," said Remus. "So, how are things with you? Is your mom doing any better?"
Lily shook her head. "Some days, she hardly gets out of bed. I don't know if it's the fibro or depression or both. And this whole thing with Petunia isn't helping, either."
"Have you heard from Petunia at all?"
Lily pressed her lips together in a grim line. "No. I still can't believe she ran off and got married without saying anything. My own sister didn't tell me -" she broke off with a sigh. "Mom didn't get out of bed for almost a week after she heard."
"I'm sorry," said Remus. "That's rough."
"It's like she's ashamed of us," Lily went on, falling into a familiar rant. "She wants to pretend she's all WASPy and middle class. I wonder if this Vernon guy even knows she's Jewish?"
"How did you find out she got married?"
"Sev saw them out shopping together," said Lily. "He saw the rings, and happened to overhear them telling someone they were newlyweds."
I'll just bet he did, thought Remus grimly.
It was more likely that Severus Snape had followed them, spying and eavesdropping on the pair in hopes of obtaining valuable information with which to impress Lily - possibly into sleeping with him. But Remus knew Lily preferred to believe the best of Severus, so he kept his thoughts to himself.
"I miss my sister, too," he said instead.
Natalie would be eighteen now, he realized. She would have graduated from high school this year. In his head, she was still skinny and thirteen. Remus wondered if she missed him, too. He tried not to think about whether his parents might miss him. It was their fault he had left, after all. Their fault his life was the way it was. If they had not sent him to those people to try to change him ...
"It sucks, doesn't it?" said Lily sympathetically.
"Yeah." Remus stared down at the plate he was drying, forcing down the anger and sadness that always threatened to overwhelm him when he thought about his family. "At least you have your parents."
"Hey," said Lily, nudging him. "You have my parents, too, you know. And you have me. You'll always have me. I might not even be here if it weren't for you."
"I'm glad you're here." He did not say that, without Lily, he might not have been here either. He suspected she knew it.
She smiled, reaching over to squeeze his hand with her soapy fingers. "I'm glad you're here, too."
They put away the last few dishes, said good night to the other volunteers, and stepped back out onto the sidewalk, into the evening light.
"Do you have somewhere to stay tonight?" Lily asked with a frown of concern.
Remus shrugged. "I'll figure something out. Anyway, it's not that cold."
"Come home with me," she urged. "You know Mom and Dad don't mind you staying over."
"Not tonight," said Remus, smiling. Lily's parents were kind, and always tried to feed him, but he knew they had little enough to go around as it was. He tried to save the nights he crashed on their floor for when he really needed it. "Besides, I have to work. Can you hang onto my books and things overnight?"
Lily nodded, taking his heavy backpack and slipping it over her shoulders.
"Thanks. I'll come by for them in the morning. Would it be OK if I did some laundry and got a shower at your place tomorrow?"
"Of course," said Lily. "Anything else I can do in the meantime?"
Remus frowned, thinking. "You haven't seen a library book around with a rainbow flag on the cover, have you?"
Lily shook her head. "I'll keep an eye out for it, though."
"Thanks. I dunno where I could have left it."
Lily hugged him. "Stay safe, all right? And don't forget to take your meds."
Remus returned the hug, chuckling. "What are you, my mother?"
"If not me, then who?" she said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Sirius asks Remus on what may or may not be a date.
Art in this chapter by @finalsoul. Used with permission.
Remus leaned over an open book, chin propped up on one hand, gnawing absently on the end of his pencil. He was sitting at one of the study tables on the eighth floor of the library, near the 300s section, today. It was quieter there, far less busy than the library's main floor.
His belly gurgled.
Shut up, he told it.
The display on his phone told him it was only 12:15 PM. A long time until dinner. There was an energy bar in his backpack, but he wanted to save that for at least another hour. There was also a bottle of orange pills in his backpack. Remus thought about taking one. He was alert enough, for the moment, but they also worked as appetite suppressants, too.
No, he needed to ration those until he could afford to get more.
Ignoring his stomach's complaints, Remus re-focused his attention on the text in front of him. Techniques for gaining the trust of children suffering from abandonment issues. This was important. He needed to learn this.
"Hey," said a familiar voice.
Remus looked up. Sirius was leaning on a shelving cart, grinning at him self-consciously.
"Hi," Remus returned the smile. He leaned back in his chair and stretched, rolling his stiff shoulders.
"Listen," said Sirius hastily, as if he were trying to get the words out before he lost his nerve, "I'm just about to go on my lunch break. I was thinking m-maybe you could use a break, too. My treat. No pressure, or anything ..."
Remus hesitated. Was Sirius asking him for a date? He knew he should not encourage Sirius, but he also could not afford to turn down a free meal.
"Yeah, all right," he decided. He stood up and began to put his books and papers into his bag.
Sirius's grin widened. "Great!"
He moved to help Remus gather up his things, and Remus almost took a step back, his heart suddenly beating double time. Having Sirius so near, without a desk or a book cart between them, felt strange.
"Here." Sirius smiled uncertainly, holding out a handful of papers.
Remus swallowed. "Thanks."
In the elevator, Remus wondered whether this was a terrible idea. Lunch meant time spent together, and that meant talking. There was a list of topics a mile long that he did not want to discuss with Sirius.
Just stick to neutral things, Remus told himself. School, books, Sirius's job. Those were all safe enough, and should easily provide enough conversation to fill half an hour.
The library cafe on the third floor served nothing more complicated than soup and sandwiches.
"Get whatever you want," Sirius told him.
Remus ordered a bowl of soup, the most substantial-sounding sandwich on the menu, a cup of coffee, and a muffin.
Sirius found them a table near the wall of windows. They sat down, and Remus began to eat, trying not to wolf down his food, while Sirius dabbed at a drop of soup that had slopped onto his neatly-ironed shirt on the way to the table.
"So," said Sirius, "did you get a chance to read that book yet?"
Remus swallowed, shaking his head. "Been busy. School and things. You know."
Sirius nodded. "My friend James is the same. He's doing an Engineering degree at UW. He never has any time for outside reading anymore."
"I try," said Remus. "But it seems like I never have half the time I need for all the things I'd like to be able to do. Not if I want to sleep, anyway. Do you get much time for reading in this job?"
"Depends on what I'm doing. If I'm at the circulation desk, then yeah. Or if I'm in the back somewhere, processing library materials, I can listen to audiobooks. But not if I'm shelving or doing anything out in the aisles."
"It sounds like a relaxing job," said Remus.
"It can be." Sirius grinned. "But being surrounded by books all the time, I'm always finding more that I want to read. Probably more than I'd have time for in a lifetime. I always make time for David Levithan, though, when he has a new one out."
"Has he written a lot?" asked Remus, taking a bite of his sandwich.
Sirius nodded. "Tons. I really like that he doesn't just write white, cis gay guys, either. He has all kinds of queer characters."
"The Full Spectrum?" joked Remus.
Sirius chuckled. "More or less. I've been reading him since high school. His books made me feel a lot less weird about being bisexual ... and ... stuff. Sometimes it felt like his characters were my only friends, apart from James."
James again, eh? thought Remus. "So, you came out in high school?"
"Yeah." Sirius looked uncomfortable.
"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," Remus said quickly.
"No, it's OK," said Sirius. "It was just a-a weird time. My parents were pretty much the worst about ... everything. When I was sixteen, I moved in with James's family."
"Your parents threw you out for being bi?" said Remus, surprised.
Sirius lowered his eyes. "Not exactly. Anyway, it was my decision to leave. My relationship with them wasn't great to start with."
"Do you have any siblings?"
Sirius nodded. "I had a younger brother. Regulus. But I haven't seen him or spoken to him since high school. James is my only brother now."
"So, when you said your mom got you the library job ...?"
"James's mom," Sirius clarified. "But she's been my mom, too, for the last five years. I've been really lucky to have her and dad and James. They've been great about everything."
"Yeah, that is lucky," Remus agreed, sipping his coffee.
He would have given anything for such a soft landing when he left home. Remus had been alone. He had been barely sixteen, a sophomore in high school, when he was outed. His friends had turned their backs on him, either out of disgust, or fear that homophobic bullies would target them, too, if they stood by him.
"What about your family?" Sirius asked. "Are you out to them?"
Remus swallowed a mouthful of soup before answering, though the food had lost its flavor.
"Yeah. They weren't too thrilled when they found out I was gay. They tried to send me to conversion therapy."
Sirius looked horrified. "I'm sorry. That's awful."
"Yeah, it was," agreed Remus. "I never believed that sort of thing could work, but I went a couple of times because - well, I thought I could convince them of ... something. Or that if I showed I was willing to compromise, they might hear me out. But in the end, it was too horrible, and I refused to go back. My parents weren't happy about it. We're not exactly on speaking terms now."
"It sucks, doesn't it?" said Sirius with feeling. "They tell you your family are the ones who are supposed to love you unconditionally, but sometimes they can be the biggest, most judgmental dicks of all."
Remus nodded. "That's one of the main reasons why I want to work with queer youth. So many of them have no support network at all. They're at ridiculously high risk for mental illness, homelessness, drug abuse, and exploitation."
There was no one to help me, he thought, and I couldn't help myself. But maybe someday I'll be able to help others.
"I think it's really great, what you're doing," said Sirius sincerely.
His hand slid briefly towards Remus's across the table. Then he seemed to think better of it, and drew back, looking embarrassed.
"Yeah, well ..." mumbled Remus, cheeks growing warm. He busied his hands with his food. "I just want to help."
Sirius glanced at his phone. "I have to go in a minute," he said apologetically. "This was nice, though. Maybe we could do it again sometime?"
Remus bit his lip. Next time, Sirius might expect him to pay. "Yeah, maybe."
When Sirius had gone, Remus finished his lunch. Then he finished what was left of Sirius's, too.
"So was it a date or not?" asked James.
"I don't know," said Sirius. "There was no touching or anything. There wasn't even really any flirting. It could have been just friendly."
James rolled his eyes. "Who paid?"
"Then it was a date," said James firmly, opening the car door and getting out. "When it's 'just friendly', you split the check."
"Oh, so the last time you and I went to see a movie, that was a date, was it?"
"No," James frowned. "That's family. Sometimes we pay for each other."
Sirius gave him an exasperated look. "Well thank goodness I have you around to explain the rules to me. Maybe next time I take Remus to lunch, you should come along, so you can tell us whether it's a date or not."
James laughed. "So you think there'll be a next time?"
"I hope so," said Sirius.
Peter Pettigrew was waiting for them at the door. "Hi. You hope there'll be a next time for what?"
James clapped Peter on the shoulder in greeting. "Sirius had a date with his library guy."
Peter's blue eyes went round. "Really? Tell me all about it!"
"Maybe later," said Sirius, and knocked on the door. "I don't think I'm ready to be out to our potential new landlord just yet."
A short, middle-aged white woman wearing a paint-spattered jumpsuit answered the door. She looked from Peter to Sirius to James with an expression of mild dismay.
"Hi," said James, stepping forward and shaking her hand. "I'm James Potter. We spoke on the phone. This is Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew."
"Oh! Yes, of course ... um ... Mr. Potter," said the woman, trying to rearrange her face. "Maxine Reynolds."
"I know what you're thinking," said James conspiratorially. "I didn't 'sound black' on the phone. But I'm here with a white guy and an Asian guy, so it all kind of balances out, right?"
Sirius rolled his eyes, and Peter gave the woman an embarrassed smile.
"Not at all, Mr. Potter!" said Maxine, flustered. "We have a very firm non-discrimination policy in our housing contracts. Please, do come in."
"You really think that's the best technique for getting us an apartment?" Sirius whispered as they followed the woman inside.
James shrugged and shot him a grin. "I figure it can't hurt to poke their White Guilt a little every now and then. Let them prove to us how 'not racist' they are."
"Sorry for the mess," said Maxine. "The last tenants only moved out a week ago. A lovely Indonesian couple with two children. They were here for more than five years, so we wanted to freshen the place up before renting it again. It will have all new paint, carpets, and appliances by the first of October."
James nodded, looking around. "Nice big kitchen and living room. When was the wiring done?"
"The house was built in the mid-90s, and all the electrical and plumbing was done then," said Maxine. "Go ahead and take a look around. Take your time. I'll be painting in the laundry room, if you have any questions."
The three of them explored the main floor of the house for a few minutes, commenting to one another on its various features and potential drawbacks. Besides the kitchen, living room, and laundry room, there was a dining area and a bathroom with a shower. James took pictures of everything with his phone, so that he could ask his architect father's opinion of the place.
Upstairs were three bedrooms, another bathroom, and a linen cupboard. As soon as they reached the top of the stairs, Peter rounded on Sirius.
"So? I want to hear about your date."
"There's nothing to tell," shrugged Sirius, peering into one of the bedrooms and testing the light switch. "We ate lunch, talked about some things, and then I went back to work."
"Oh." Peter looked disappointed.
"Did you at least give him your phone number this time?" asked James.
"I told you," frowned Sirius. "I can't hit on people at work."
James laughed and shook his head. "But you can take them out for lunch?"
Sirius scowled. "Like I said, it was probably just friendly."
"Do you want it to be 'just friendly'?" asked Peter.
Sirius bit his lip. "No. I like him. I just don't know if he likes me."
"He likes you enough to have lunch with you," James pointed out. "That's a start. Have you told him about being trans yet?"
"Don't you kind of ... have to tell him, if you want to go out with him?" Peter asked tentatively.
Sirius shrugged. "Eventually. It's just - he always looks like he's about to run off, or like he's afraid someone is going to jump on him. Some gay guys can be sort of weird about dating trans men. I don't want to scare him off."
James frowned. "If that scares him off, then he's not the right guy for you."
"I know that," Sirius sighed. "Forgive me if I'm not super eager to find out if I'm going to be rejected by someone I really like. I just want to give him a chance to get to know me a little, and figure out if he likes me at all before we talk about - things."
"Fair enough," shrugged James. "I assume you know what you're doing better than I do. But if he breaks your heart, he'll have to deal with me."
"And me!" declared Peter, puffing out his chest.
Sirius laughed. "Thanks. I'll be sure to let him know the risks next time I see him. So, what do we think about this place?"
Sirius gives Remus his phone number, and Remus has to decide what to do about it.
Art in this chapter by @finalsoul. Used with permission.
Sirius guided the nearly-empty book trolly down the library's Dewey Decimal Spiral. As he rounded the corner towards the 300s section, his heart began to speed up. He had not seen Remus since their lunch date a week before. Remus only sometimes came to the library on weekends, and Sirius had Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, leaving only a few days each week when their paths might cross. Today was Friday, and it was nearly the end of Sirius's shift. If he did not see Remus this afternoon, he might not see him again until Monday.
Remus was there. He was sitting at the same table as last time, near a bank of rain-streaked windows at the end of the row of shelves. His head rested on his folded arms, across an open book and scattered notes. His eyes were closed, and his knit cap sat askew atop his dark brown hair.
Sirius gazed down at him fondly. In sleep, Remus looked vulnerable - almost childlike. His long lashes brushed the smooth brown skin of his cheek, and his soft lips were slightly parted. Smiling, Sirius laid a hand on his shoulder to wake him.
Remus sat up with a start and looked around, blinking. "Wha -?"
"You fell asleep," said Sirius, amused. "It's almost closing time."
Remus gave a cry of dismay, and hurriedly began shoving his books and papers into his backpack.
"Is everything OK?" Sirius asked.
"I have classes tonight. I'm going to be late if I don't run."
Sirius bit his lip. "I-I'm off in ten," he offered hesitantly. "I could drive you. It might be faster."
Remus glanced out the windows at the city, shrouded in gray curtains of rain, and then down at the time on his phone display. "Yeah. OK. Thanks."
"You know where the parking garage is?"
"I'll meet you there in ten minutes. I just have to get my jacket and clock out."
Sirius rushed through closing out his shift.
"Hot date?" teased the Children's librarian, as Sirius plunged his arms into his jacket sleeves, glancing nervously from his phone to the elevator.
"Not exactly," mumbled Sirius.
Before leaving the circulation desk, he grabbed a pencil and a piece of scrap paper, scribbling something and shoving it into his pocket.
Remus was waiting for him at the parking garage door, still looking a little groggy.
"What time is your class?" Sirius asked.
"We've got half an hour," Sirius assured him. "You'll make it."
Remus nodded. He looked somewhat relieved at the sight of Sirius's shabby blue sedan.
"I take it you're not a car guy," Sirius joked as he unlocked the doors.
"What?" said Remus, distracted.
Sirius shook his head. "Nothing."
He pulled out of the parking garage and onto the rain-drenched street, windshield wipers ticking like a metronome.
"Thanks for the ride," said Remus stiffly.
"It's nothing," Sirius assured him. "I'm glad to help."
Remus gave him a shrewd look. "You give library patrons rides all the time, do you? And buy them lunch?"
"Well, no ...," Sirius admitted.
Conversation lulled while Sirius negotiated the Seattle traffic. He was not at all certain that driving was much faster than walking under the current conditions, but at least Remus would be dry when he arrived, and Sirius would get to spend a few minutes in his company.
"I read a few chapters of that book the other night," said Remus, breaking the silence. "Two Boys Kissing. But I left it at my friend Lily's place, and now she won't give it back until she's finished it."
Sirius laughed. "Well, I hope you both like it, then."
"It seems good so far," said Remus. "Intense, like you said. Emotionally, I mean. It's not exactly action-packed."
"Well, no," agreed Sirius. "If you like that one, though, I'll keep an eye on the discards for any more Levithan books that come through."
"Look," said Remus uncomfortably, "you don't need to keep giving me stuff, or doing things for me. I'm starting to feel like I owe you, or something."
"You don't," Sirius said firmly. "I just - I like to do things for people I like, OK?"
"OK," said Remus. "Thanks."
Sirius pulled the car up to the curb at the corner of Pine and Broadway. Remus unbuckled his seatbelt and reached for the door handle to let himself out.
"Wait a second," said Sirius, twisting his hand to get into his jacket pocket under his own seatbelt.
Remus paused with his hand on the door handle.
Sirius handed him the scrap of paper. "My phone number. I-I don't want you to feel obligated or anything. I just - I'm not allowed to hit on people at work, you know? But I do like you. Which I'm sure you've figured out by now. So, if you ever feel like calling or - or texting, you can. No pressure."
Remus looked down at the string of hastily-scrawled numbers. "Yeah, maybe. Thanks."
He slipped it into his pocket and slid out of the car, dashing away through the rain.
Sirius sat for a moment, clutching the steering wheel, then let out a long breath, and pulled back out into traffic.
Remus stuffed his Apple Health card back into his wallet, moving away from the pharmacy counter. He knelt, trying to find a pocket of his backpack that was not already full to bursting, where he could stow away the paper bag filled with prescription pill bottles.
"I think I'm going to get you a new backpack for Christmas," mused Lily, eyeing the shabby, faded bag.
"You don't celebrate Christmas," said Remus as he shoved some things around and forced the straining zipper shut.
"But you do."
"Not especially." Remus stood up, shrugging the straps over his shoulders.
"Call it a Hanukkah present, then," said Lily, rolling her eyes. "I'm not going to pass up an excuse to get you something you really need. It's hard enough to get you to accept gifts the rest of the year."
"Thanks," Remus said grudgingly. "I could probably use one."
"In the meantime, you know you can always leave stuff at my place that you don't need every day," she reminded him as they left the store.
Remus shook his head. "I don't want to clutter up your parents' apartment with my junk."
Lily gave him an exasperated look. "Don't be absurd. Did they refill all your prescriptions?"
Remus nodded. "I'm low on Adderall, though. I still haven't found anyone to prescribe that to me. It would be great if it were covered by my insurance, but apparently I don't 'need' it, since I don't have ADHD. Did I tell you that I actually fell asleep at the library yesterday?"
"Your body needs rest, Remus," Lily said, giving him a concerned look. "Drugs are no substitute for a good night's sleep, you know. You can't keep going all the time, and just expect to be fine."
"My body needs to not be homeless," said Remus flatly. "It needs to keep itself fed and pass its classes and get its degree so it can get a fucking job that will pay all its bills and put a roof over its head and ensure it can keep getting the medication it needs to stay alive. I don't have time for sleep."
Lily laced her fingers through his. "I know. It just sucks. It worries me when you don't look after your health. A college degree will do you no good if you work yourself to death first."
Remus sighed and squeezed her fingers. "I'll try to get some extra sleep this weekend. I promise."
"That's all I ask," said Lily, smiling. "Come stay at mine. I'll read to you from that book your library hottie gave you."
Remus smiled. "That sounds nice. Did you finish it already?"
Lily nodded. "I cried about a million times, but it was so good. You'll love it."
Severus Snape was waiting for them at the door of the soup kitchen. He scowled at their linked hands, greeting Lily and pointedly ignoring Remus.
"Hi, Sev," said Lily, giving him a quick hug.
She sorted through her keys until she found the right one. When she opened the door, Sev moved to block Remus.
"You know you're not supposed to let them in until dinner is served."
Lily rolled her eyes. "I take full responsibility for Remus's behavior between now and dinner. C'mon. We have a lot to do."
Severus looked disgruntled, but stepped aside, allowing Remus to pass.
While Lily and Severus went into the kitchen and began setting up for the evening meal, Remus sat down at one of the dining tables and spread out his school work. He had an essay due in a week, and he needed to make sure he had all his sources in order.
Remus worked until dinner was served, and read while he ate. After the meal, he helped with cleanup in the kitchen again.
"So, are you going to call him?" Lily asked.
Remus squeezed a dollop of dish soap onto a sponge. "I don't know."
"You want to, though, don't you?" she said slyly. "I bet you've already put his number into your phone."
"Yeah," admitted Remus. "But there's just so much we can't talk about. I shouldn't lead him on, if it can never go anywhere."
"He's right," said Severus unexpectedly.
Remus stared at him in surprise. He could not remember Severus ever agreeing with him about anything.
"You shouldn't fuck with people's feelings, if you're not going to follow through," Severus continued.
Lily pursed her lips. "There's nothing wrong with having a little fun. Not every relationship needs to be a serious commitment."
"What if that's what the other person wants?" asked Severus.
"Then he should be honest about that," Lily frowned. "You said at the time that you understood we were just friends having fun together, and you were OK with that. I wouldn't have agreed to it otherwise."
Remus privately thought that was the point. Severus had lied to Lily to get her into bed. But Lily was a grown woman. Her friendship with Severus, and how she chose to conduct it, was none of Remus's business.
"I don't know what Sirius wants," Remus admitted. "Except my time, and I don't have enough of that to be giving it away."
"You make time for me," Lily pointed out. "I wouldn't mind you spending less time with me, if it meant you were doing something nice for yourself."
"Maybe," said Remus. He privately thought that Severus would not mind him spending less time with Lily, either.
Lily smiled. "I'd like to meet this guy sometime."
Severus snorted. "Better hurry, before he figures out how much of a loser your friend is. Dunno what he sees in you, dude. Do queers just have low standards, or what?"
"Do I have to remind you again that I'm queer, Sev?" Lily scowled.
Severus shrugged. "Yeah, but that's different. Bisexual girls are hot."
Lily looked disgusted. "Don't be a pig, Sev." She turned to Remus. "Do you want to come back to my place tonight and get that sleep we talked about?"
"I wish I could," said Remus. "It's Saturday. I have to work."
"'Work'," Severus snorted again, shaking his head. "If you want to call that work ..."
"Enough, Sev!" snapped Lily. "I appreciate that you come down here to help out, but if you can't be civil to my other friends, I'd almost rather you didn't bother."
"I was just joking," muttered Severus.
When they had finished cleaning up, Severus said goodbye to Lily quickly and hurried off down the sidewalk. Remus thought that was strange, since Severus usually tried to walk her home, but he shrugged it off.
"You can still come over tonight," Lily told him. "It doesn't matter how late it is."
"Maybe," said Remus, "but I don't want to wake you if you're sleeping. Don't you have to open at the restaurant on Sundays?"
"Yes, but I really don't mind, if you need a place to crash. You know that."
"Thanks. You'll hang onto my bag again tonight?"
"Sure." She grinned. "Then you'll have to come by tomorrow."
Remus smiled. "I will. And I'll stay over tomorrow night."
She hugged him fiercely. "Take care of yourself. I'll see you tomorrow."
Remus had barely walked two blocks when someone stepped out of a doorway right in front of him. He stopped short in surprise at the sight of Severus Snape's scowling face and cold black eyes.
"What do you want?"
Severus shrugged. "Just to talk."
"Where Lily can't hear you?"
"I dunno why she wastes her time with trash like you," Severus sneered.
"Funny," said Remus mildly. "I was just thinking the same thing about you. You're lucky I don't tell her what you're really like when she's not around."
"And you're lucky I don't report you to your school for those study aid drugs you take," smirked Severus. "They probably don't think much of cheaters."
Remus stilled. "You wouldn't."
Severus gave him a nasty grin. "Or maybe I should stop by the library. I bet that guy you've been talking to would be very interested to know a thing or two about you."
Remus clenched his jaw and gave Severus a long, measuring look. "It really bothers you, doesn't it?" he said at last.
"That you could do all of that - make my life harder than it already is in a hundred different ways - but tomorrow, Lily and I would still be best friends. She already knows everything about me, and she doesn't care. That must really eat you up inside."
"Don't try to Psych 101 me," Severus spat. "Fuck your soft sciences. You're always going to be a loser, but someday I'm going to work for a big pharmaceutical company, and I'm going to invent a new wonder drug or miracle cure. Not for the kind of disease only queer street trash gets. I wouldn't bother with anything like that. Then, when I'm making six or seven figures a year, I'll buy Lily's parents a house and ask her to marry me. We'll see who she likes best then."
Remus put his hands in his pockets and stared at Severus blandly. "Yeah, I guess we will."
Severus scowled at his lack of reaction. "She deserves better than you. She deserves someone who will treat her like a princess."
"Too bad all she's got is us: a guy who treats her like a friend and a person, and a guy who treats her like his own personal property, just because she let him stick his dick in her once."
"Fuck you," hissed Severus. "I'd break your nose for that, but I wouldn't want to risk getting your filthy blood on me."
"That's great," said Remus. "Now, if we're done here, I've got things to do."
He turned and walked away.
I was hoping you'd text
any chance I'll see you tomorrow?
but I promised Lily I'd hang out with her
should I be jealous?
she's pretty hot
if youre into girls
maybe I should meet her ;p
maybe you should
there's someone else I've got my eye on right now ;)
anyone I know?
just this cute guy I've seen around the library a few times
not sure if he's into me though
maybe if you tell me a little more about him I can help you figure it out
well he's smart and cute and he's going to school so he can help queer kids in trouble
seems really kind and dedicated
you make him sound pretty good
maybe I've seen him around
skinny as a stick? always looks tired?
;p sounds like him
think I might have a shot with a guy like that?
someone who looks like you could probably have a shot with a lot of people ;p
think if I invited him for a stroll down the spiral he'd say yes?
then I might do that
thx for the advice ;)
lmk how it goes ;)
Remus leaned against the bar and took a sip of his soda. Glancing down at his phone again, he smiled. Sirius seemed much less nervous and awkward via text than in person.
"Can I buy you a drink?"
Remus glanced up. A heavyset white man in his forties sat on the bar stool beside him. He wore a shirt and tie and had a tidy haircut.
"Sure," said Remus giving the man a friendly smile.
The stranger returned the smile, inclining he head toward the rows of bottles behind the bar. "Get whatever you like."
"Laphroaig, neat," Remus told the bartender, raising his voice to be heard above the music and chatter of the bar. "Make it a double."
The stranger's smile faded. "That's a pricy drink."
Remus turned his body towards the man, leaning an elbow on the bar and giving him a slow, sensual smile. "Oh, I'm worth it."
The man looked him over. "I hope so."
"Give me one minute, and I'm all yours," Remus told him.
I have to work now, he texted.
OK, came the quick reply. See you tomorrow?
"So," said the stranger casually, as Remus slipped his phone into his pocket, "are you a cop?"
"No," Remus grinned. "Are you?"
"Good." Remus put a hand on the man's knee, leaning closer. "So, are you in town on business?"
The man grinned. "Yeah."
They were always "in town on business". The sort of men who bought Remus drinks in bars did not want someone like him knowing where they really lived.
"What's your name?" the stranger asked.
Remus took a sip of his whisky, letting the smokey flavor wash over his tongue. It tasted heavenly. "John."
The man chuckled. "Isn't that supposed to be my name?"
Remus shrugged, still smiling. "It can be, if you like. You can call me whatever you want."
"Do we really need names for this?"
"Not especially." Remus's hand began to inch its way up the man's thigh.
"So, how much is this going to cost me?" asked the stranger.
Remus leaned in to nuzzle his ear. "Depends on what you want, and how long you want it for. But my rates are reasonable."
"You do kink?"
"Within reason," murmured Remus. "Nothing that breaks the skin, or will hurt past tomorrow. And no bearbacking. We use protection, or it's no deal."
"Works for me," said the stranger. "Know a place we can go?"
Remus swallowed the rest of his drink, regretting the waste of good whisky, and stood up, taking the man by the hand. "C'mon."
you still up?
hi again :)
sorry I had to rush off before
I know what that's like
so what do you do?
nothing you want to hear about or I feel like talking about
fun I bet
given any more thought to tomorrow?
I might drop by the library for a bit in the afternoon
think its worth my while?
it might brighten someone's day if that's worth it to you ;)
I'll see what I can do
I'm glad you texted again
I'm really tired tho
just wanted to say goodnight
I'm tired too
Remus and Sirius's library date is interrupted by bad news.
Warning: mentioned transphobic violence
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Remus closed the book he was looking at and set it on the shelving trolly.
Sirius grinned. "If you keep doing that, I'm never going to finish."
Remus returned the grin with a shrug. "I see what you mean about finding lots of interesting books in this job. I've already seen more than I could read in a year."
"Maybe I should leave you alone with the books, if they're more interesting."
"I didn't say that."
Sirius picked up the book Remus had been looking at, and leaned past him to return it to its gap on the shelf. His eyes rested for an moment on Remus's smiling mouth. Half a step closer, and he could almost ...
The book caught on the edge of the shelf, and Sirius nearly dropped it. He quickly shoved it into place and stepped back, blushing. Remus looked amused.
"That's everything from this aisle," mumbled Sirius, turning back to the trolly and pushing it around the end of the row.
He knew he should not try to kiss Remus at work, where other library patrons - or worse yet, one of his supervisors - might see, but he could not help wondering what would happen if he did. They had greeted each other shyly after the previous night's texted flirtation. Remus seemed more relaxed now, and Sirius had managed not to drop anything or trip over his own feet yet. The shelving trolly was Sirius's excuse for strolling through the library's famous spiraling levels with Remus, but it prevented him from doing anything as simple as attempting to hold Remus's hand while they wandered.
Sirius busied himself shelving the half dozen books on his cart which came from that aisle, as Remus pulled another off the shelf and began flipping through it.
"Anything good?" Sirius asked, bending to place a book on a lower shelf.
"Sons of the Profits," said Remus. "It looks like a history of Seattle."
Sirius straightened up. "I remember that one. It's the one the Underground tour is based on."
"I've never been on that," said Remus, leafing through the pages.
Sirius stepped closer behind him to look over his shoulder at the book. But with Remus so close, Sirius found he could not focus on the words. His hand came up to rest lightly on Remus's shoulder. Remus stilled. His eyes no longer seemed to be scanning the pages, either. For a moment, neither of them said anything. The only movement was Sirius's thumb, stroking the knit fabric of Remus's hoodie, and the only sound was their breathing. Sirius could feel the warmth of Remus's body, inches from his own. His chest felt tight under his binder.
"Hey," he said softly.
Remus closed the book and turned towards him. "Sirius -"
The sound of feet moving quickly up the spiral path startled them, and they jumped apart.
"Sirius?" called someone in a loud whisper from a few aisles away. "Sirius, are you here?"
Sirius frowned. "James?"
He went to the end of the row and peered out to see his best friend hurrying towards him, looking agitated.
"There you are!"
Much to Sirius's surprise, James flung his arms around him, hugging him hard. Then he seemed to notice Remus, and quickly let go, taking a step back.
"I've been texting you. I even tried calling, but I know you never have your ringer on at work."
"What's going on?" asked Sirius, cold fear suddenly clenching in his belly. "Are Mom and Dad all right?"
"Yeah, they're fine," James assured him. "It was just - something happened, and I wanted to make sure you were OK."
"What -" Sirius took his phone out of his pocket and scrolled through twenty or thirty increasingly frantic text messages from his best friend. The cold feeling settled in his belly and stayed there.
... attacked ... downtown Seattle ... bathroom ... 21yo Asian trans guy ... please text me back so I know you're ok ...
Sirius realized that his hands were shaking.
"What's going on?" asked Remus.
Sirius and James exchanged a look. James gave the tiniest shrug, and raised his eyebrows. Sirius had years of experience reading and interpreting James's expressions. How do you want to handle this? I know you haven't told him yet.
"It's - um -" Sirius began. "Someone was attacked. It - er - sounds like a homophobic hate crime. James just overreacted. You do know I'm not the only queer Asian guy in Seattle, right, James?" He pasted a teasing grin on his face that he hoped looked genuine.
"Hi. James Potter," said James, putting out his hand and giving Remus an appraising look. "You must be Remus."
"Hi. Yeah." Remus shook his hand. "Did they say if the guy is going to be OK, or -?"
"There weren't many details," said James, shaking his head. "They took him to Harborview, so it sounds like he's alive, at least."
Remus nodded, face grim. "Well, that's something."
Sirius opened the browser on his phone and went to the Stranger blog. It was one of the best alternative news sources for Seattle.
"They're - um - now saying it was a trans guy," he said, quickly scanning over the article at the top of the page. "He's in the ICU, but they think he'll make it. Oh, and there's going to be a vigil this evening at Cal Anderson Park."
"I'll go with you, if you want to go," said James.
Sirius nodded, quickly checking the time on his phone. "I'm off in half an hour, and the vigil starts at 6:30. We should be able to make it."
"OK," said James, squeezing Sirius's shoulder. "I'll wait for you downstairs. Good to finally meet you, Remus."
When James had gone, Sirius stood for a moment with his eyes closed, trying to breathe. His binder felt constrictingly tight. He could not seem to draw a full breath.
"Are you OK?" asked Remus.
Sirius nodded, opening his eyes. "Sorry. Just - these kinds of things get to me."
"Me, too," said Remus grimly. "Would you mind if I tagged along for the vigil? Unless you'd rather just be with your friend."
"I don't mind at all," Sirius assured him. "Sorry this is turning out to be kind of a weird date."
"It's OK," said Remus. "Sometimes things happen. It doesn't have to be a date anymore, if you're not feeling it."
"I didn't mean it like that," said Sirius quickly. "I still want it to be a date, if you still want it to be a date."
Remus nodded hesitantly.
"I need to get the rest of these books shelved." He looked around helplessly at the half full trollies parked at the end of every other row of shelves. "I guess the time got away from me."
"I'll help," said Remus. "We can get it done together."
"Thanks. You shouldn't have to do that."
Remus smiled. "I like doing things for people I like."
Sirius gave him a reluctant grin in return, recognizing his own words. "Yeah, OK."
They took James's car up to Capitol Hill. Remus eyed the red BMW before getting in.
"Nice car," he commented drily.
"Thanks," said James. "It was a high school graduation present from my parents."
By force of habit, Sirius took the front passenger seat, only belatedly realizing that meant Remus would have to ride alone in the back. They drove up to Capitol Hill in silence.
Sirius did not think he was going to have a panic attack, but his breathing still felt constricted, his hands were trembling and sweaty, and the icy feeling had not dissipated from the pit of his stomach. His anxiety medication was in his jacket pocket, but he had nothing to wash the pills down with, and his throat felt dry. You're fine, he told himself. There's nothing to worry about. You're safe.
James found parking in an overpriced paid lot a few blocks from the park. The three of them joined the stream of grim-faced people all headed in the same direction.
"I texted Lily to let her know what's going on," said Remus. "She'll meet us there."
Sirius nodded, throat too dry to speak.
Gender Justice League were handing out candles at the south end of the park. Sirius dropped $10 in their donation jar, and grabbed three candles, passing them to James and Remus. They threaded their way through the growing crowd towards a hastily-erected platform with a microphone stand on it.
While Remus texted his friend again to let her know where to find them, James put his arm around Sirius's shoulders. "Are you doing all right?" he asked in a low voice.
Sirius nodded again and leaned into James, grateful for the tall, solid comfort of him. He always felt safe with James.
A few minutes later, a pretty, plump young woman with dark red hair pushed her way through the crowd and flung her arms around Remus.
"Lily, this is Sirius and his friend James," Remus introduced them when she let go, raising his voice to be heard over the crowd.
Lily shook hands with them, giving both Sirius and James an appraising look. Sirius still did not feel able to offer more than a nod in greeting, but James's face lit up, and he favored Lily with a broad smile that told Sirius exactly what he thought of her.
When the first speaker, Washington State's first transgender congresswoman, took the stage, Lily took her place beside Remus, an arm wrapped around his waist. As the congresswoman spoke of the violence and spiritual anguish that afflicted the LGBT community, and especially the transgender members of the community, Sirius glanced sideways at Remus, trying to read his expression.
Remus held his chin high, jaw clenched, eyes fixed fiercely on the congresswoman. He looked angry and defiant. But he must have noticed Sirius watching him, for a moment later, Sirius felt a touch on his trembling hand. Remus's fingers laced through his, gripping tightly. Sirius squeezed back, and felt some of his fear and anxiety leave him, as if strength flowed from Remus into him through their linked hands.
When the light was passed from candle to candle through the crowd, Remus lit his from Lily's, then turned to Sirius. When Sirius tilted his own candle towards the flame of Remus's, he was relieved to find that his hand was no longer shaking. He lit James's candle, then turned back to face the front, standing a little taller.
The next speaker was Ed Murray, Seattle's gay mayor, who spoke of the city's commitment to LGBT rights, and especially the right of all people to live their lives in safety, and how the rise of legislation such as so-called "bathroom bills" infringed on the safety of transgender people who were only trying to go about their day in peace.
Sirius held on tightly to Remus's hand through three more speakers: a woman who shouted out the rage they all felt, leading them in chanted demands for justice; a poet who brought several members of the crowd - including Sirius - to tears; and finally the head of Gender Justice League, with a report on the condition of the man who had been attacked, and a reminder that the League was collecting money to help with the victim's medical expenses.
The vigil closed with a moment of silence. When it was over, Sirius blew out his candle, but he did not know how to let go of Remus's hand.
"Do you guys need a ride anywhere?" James asked hopefully, looking at Lily.
Lily shook her head. "I don't live too far away."
She and Remus exchanged a look.
"I'll - um - just be over here ..." she said, and wandered out of earshot.
James, too, sensed that Sirius and Remus needed a little space, and gave it to them.
"How are you doing?" Remus asked.
Sirius swallowed. "Better," he said hoarsely.
Remus raised his free hand and brushed back the hair that hung down beside Sirius's face. His dark eyes still shown with some fierce emotion. Slowly, but without hesitation, he leaned in and kissed Sirius softly on the mouth.
"You have my number, if you need to talk," he said, before pulling away.
He released Sirius's hand and turned to look for Lily. Sirius watched them go until they were lost in the crowd.
"Well, he seems all right," said James, standing beside him. "Seems like he likes you, anyway."
"Yeah," said Sirius, still a little dazed.
James clapped him on the shoulder, grinning, and together they made their way back through the park, depositing their used candles in a cardboard box on the way out.
"Sorry for crashing your date like that," said James. "How did it go, before I showed up?"
"Pretty well, considering I was at work, and had to act like it."
"So are you going to tell him now, or what?" asked James.
Sirius scowled. "Do you give full disclosure about your genitals every time you kiss someone?"
James winced. "No. Point taken. But you never know. He might be totally cool about it."
"He might," agreed Sirius. "I'm just not ready to find out yet, if he's not."
"Fair enough," said James, letting the subject drop. "So what's the story with his friend? Is she single, by any chance? And, y'know, not a lesbian?"
Sirius shrugged. "I dunno. She and Remus are really close. I can ask about her next time I talk to him, if you like. But aren't you sort of married to your degree program until June?"
James sighed. "Yeah, but a man can dream."
"You'll just have to live vicariously through my love life, in the meantime," teased Sirius, nudging him with an elbow.
"I guess so," sighed James.
When the reached the car, before unlocking the doors, James turned toward Sirius, folding him into a fierce embrace.
"What's up?" Sirius asked in surprise, returning the hug.
"Nothing," mumbled James. "I'm just really glad you're all right. I can't remember the last time I was that scared. I worry about you, you know."
"I know," said Sirius, touched. "But I figure I've got a brother who has my back, no matter what, so I'll probably be all right."
Remus is worried that he kissed Sirius for the wrong reasons. Lily suggests an alternative he had not considered.
"Are you hungry?"
"Usually," said Remus.
Lily gave him an exasperated look. "I mean, will you let me buy you dinner? I got paid on Friday."
"You don't have to. I got paid last night, too. I can afford to feed myself."
"C'mon," she urged. "Save your money. We'll go someplace cheap. There's that shawarma place I know you like. You can pay me back by letting me be nosey about your love life."
"All right," sighed Remus, rolling his eyes.
He wanted to talk, anyway. His thoughts were all in a tangle, and sometimes talking things over with Lily made things clearer. She had a practical way of looking at the world - even things as messy as human relationships.
The small Middle Eastern restaurant was only a few blocks from the park. They placed their orders at the counter and sat down at a table to wait for their food.
"So," said Lily. "There's kissing now, is there?"
"Just that one time," mumbled Remus, fiddling with his napkin.
"You don't sound very excited about this new development."
Remus sighed. "I dunno if I should have. I don't think I did it for the right reasons."
Lily looked skeptical. "There's a wrong reason to kiss someone you want to kiss, and who wants to kiss you?"
"You know what it's like, when these things happen," said Remus, gesturing back towards the park. "That kind of violence. What it feels like."
"Of course," said Lily. "It's awful."
"I just felt so helpless and - angry." He shook his head, clenching both his hands into fists. "I know most straight people don't actively wish us harm, but there are too many of them who think we're inconvenient. Who wish we would shut up, or change, or go away. Sometimes it feels like just existing while queer is a radical act. And Sirius was there, and he was upset, and I - I couldn't tell him everything would be all right, because it's not. The world sucks for people like us. But I wanted to do something to let him know he wasn't alone, and maybe give heteronormativity the finger at the same time. So I kissed him."
Lily nodded sympathetically. "I get that. But you can't unkiss him, so what are you going to do now? Tell him it was a mistake?"
"I dunno. Maybe."
"But you did want to kiss him, and you do want to kiss him again, don't you?"
"Well, yes, but I shouldn't, should I?"
Remus gave her an exasperated look. "Because there's so much about my life I can't tell him, if I don't want to freak him out and scare him off. You can't have a relationship with someone if you can't talk to them about your life."
Their food arrived on the counter, and Lily went to collect it. When she sat back down, pushing Remus's plate towards him, she said, "I've been thinking about that. The way I see it, you have three options."
"Which are?" said Remus, shoveling a forkful of spiced lamb into his mouth.
"One, which is the one you definitely shouldn't do, because it's the one where everyone ends up getting hurt, is that you can lie to him, and wait for everything to blow up in your face."
"Thanks," said Remus drily. "I think I'll pass on that one."
"Two," continued Lily, "you can tell him everything, and see how he takes it. Maybe you get lucky, or maybe that's the end of it, and you come back to my place, and we eat ice cream and watch sad movies, and then you get on with your life."
"I don't feel like the odds are in my favor on that one, either. What's the third option?"
"The third option is that you tell him there are some things about your life that you're not comfortable talking about yet. That way, you're not lying to him, or keeping secrets from him. It's more like - setting boundaries."
Remus frowned. "You think he'd go for that?"
Lily smiled and shrugged. "I saw the way he was looking at you at the park. I think there's a lot he'd do for you, if you asked him."
"Maybe," said Remus, unconvinced. "I guess I could try it. I mean, I have to say something to him after today."
"Well, think about it," said Lily. "In the meantime, what's the deal with that tall, good-looking friend of his?"
Remus shrugged. "Sirius has been living with James's family since he was sixteen, from what I gather. They're like brothers."
"They seemed pretty affectionate with each other. You sure there isn't anything ... going on there?" Lily waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
Remus frowned, remembering James's panic and the desperate way he had hugged Sirius at the library. Then there had been James's arm around Sirius throughout the entire vigil. Their relationship had an intensity to it that seemed to go beyond the usual reach of friendship or fraternal affection.
"I don't know," said Remus. "I mean, look at you and me. We're that close, and there isn't anything more going on between us."
Lily smiled in acknowledgment, and touched Remus's hand. "We've been through a lot together, you and me."
Remus nodded. "Maybe they have, too."
"When Dad lost his job, and we lost the house and ended up at the shelter, I thought my life was over," said Lily quietly.
"Me, too, when I left home," said Remus, taking her hand. "But it wasn't. We found each other, and we survived the worst of it. We figured it out together, and five years later, we're still here. Who would have thought?"
"Yeah." Lily smiled. "We've come a long way."
"'When you're going through hell ...'"
"'... keep going.'" Lily laughed. "Speaking of going, are we done here? Should we head back to mine?"
Remus hesitated. "I'd kind of like to go to St. Mark's tonight. You don't have to come, though. I can head over to yours after."
"I don't mind," she said. "The music's nice."
Night was falling. Remus and Lily walked hand in hand to the great unfinished concrete edifice at the edge of Capitol Hill. They were not the only ones arriving early. Remus saw several faces he recognized from the vigil earlier in the evening, still looking tense, anxious, sad, or angry. They, like him, had come seeking peace.
A hush fell over them as they entered the huge, dimly-lit, spartan interior of the cathedral. Silence was all that was required of those who gathered for the Compline service on Sunday evenings. Remus and Lily found seats on the wooden pews. He put an arm around her, and she leaned into him with a sigh.
Remus had been raised Catholic, but had abandoned his faith when his family abandoned him. He had only found St. Mark's years before by chance when a free meal was offered, but he had found the Episcopal cathedral comforting, and the Compline service undemanding. No one expected anything of him here, or expected him to be anything in particular. He did not come often; only when his spirit was disquieted, and he felt a particular need for its calming influence.
Slowly, the nave began to fill with silent people. A few sat in family groups, but a surprising number were in their teens and twenties, an traveled in packs. Some wore hooded cloaks, and others carried pillows and cushions, opting to lie down or huddle together with their arms around one another in the aisles, or even on the altar, instead of sitting in the pews. No one bothered them about it. No one seemed to mind at all. They were there, and that was all that mattered.
Their presence made Remus feel less lonely. He did not know them, and they did not know him, but he felt like a part of something greater, all the same. A sense of belonging, free from judgment, permeated the dark, hushed space.
At 9:30, the choir filed in, standing near the back. The officiant began to read out the office of Compline - the closing service of the church's day.
"The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end ..."
Remus sighed and closed his eyes, letting the words and the ancient melodies of the Psalms that followed wash over him senselessly. Here was quiet and darkness and peace. The tension that had gripped his body since he learned of the attack that afternoon began to fade.
He found himself thinking of Sirius. Did Sirius have anything like this? A way of finding calm again at the end of a difficult day? Remus did not know what Sirius's beliefs might be, or how he chose to express them. There was a great deal that Remus did not know about him. But he still felt drawn to the man.
Remus had thought when they met that he and Sirius were very different, and in some ways, they were. At first, all Remus had been able to see were the ways that Sirius was privileged, and he was not: his looks, his cushy job, the wealthy family he lived with, who loved him and treated him as one of their own. But the more time Remus spent with Sirius, the more he realized they had in common. Their queerness. The fear and wariness that came with it, that was never far away. A history of family-related trauma and rejection. A close friendship that was the saving grace of their life.
At the vigil, seeing Sirius so obviously vulnerable and in pain, Remus had seen a reflection of himself. Sirius might have money and security, but he was still damaged and hurting in ways that only someone who had suffered a similar ordeal could understand. Perhaps Remus had something of value to offer him after all. If Lily was right, and they did not have to talk about everything just yet, perhaps they could give each other a little of the companionship and understanding they both needed.
Remus drew Lily closer against his side, and she sighed softly, nuzzling his shoulder, eyes closed. He had one good friend, no matter what, and he was endlessly grateful for her. But perhaps, if he let himself, he could have more. He rested his cheek against the crown of Lily's head, breathing in the music.
When the final Amen was said, and the silent throng began to rise from their seats and shuffle towards the exits, Lily blinked up at him, smiling peacefully.
"I think I drifted off for a minute there," she whispered.
Remus grinned and stood up. "C'mon. Time to get you home to bed."
They walked arm in arm through the chilly early October night. A light drizzle was falling, and Remus was glad he had a warm place to sleep waiting for him.
The alarm on his phone beeped, and Remus took it out of his pocket. Take your meds! read the message on the display, and below that, a notification for one new text message. Remus shut off the alarm and slipped the phone back into his pocket.
The shabby block of apartments was not well lit. Lily squinted at her keys, feeling for the right one, then let them in.
"Lilyflower, is that you?" called a woman's voice.
"Yes, Mom. Remus is with me."
Remus followed Lily into the small apartment's only bedroom. Lily's mother, Rose Evans, was sitting up in bed. Her gray-streaked red hair hung lank about her tired face.
"Hello, Remus, dear," she said, smiling warmly. "Are you staying tonight?"
"Hi, Mrs. Evans," said Remus. He down beside the bed to give her a hug. She was thinner even than he was. "Lily said you wouldn't mind."
"Of course not, dear," said Rose. "You're always welcome in our home."
"Is Dad still at work?" Lily asked.
Rose nodded. "He's doing a double shift. He won't be back until morning."
Lily frowned. "Have you eaten anything, Mom?"
"I'm not hungry," said her mother. "I'm cold, though. Would you mind making me a cup of tea?"
"I'll have it for you in just a minute," Lily promised.
Remus followed her through to the kitchen. Lily filled the kettle and began readying the tea things, as well as slipping two slices of bread into the toaster. When Remus made a move to help, Lily shooed him out.
"I don't need any help. Go get ready for bed. And don't forget your meds!" she called after him.
"I know," said Remus, rolling his eyes.
He found his backpack next to the sofa, and took it into the bathroom. Fishing out his pill organizer, he flicked open the compartment labeled "Sunday". He dumped the jumble of pills into his hand and tossed them back, before filling a cup with water to swallow them down. Deciding he would take a shower in the morning, Remus changed into a clean teeshirt and pyjama bottoms, and brushed his teeth.
Lily met him in the living room with two steaming mugs of tea. Together, they made up the sofa bed, before climbing into it and huddling close beneath the blankets for warmth, sipping their tea.
Remus took out his phone again.
"Any messages?" Lily asked.
hey. feel like talking? It had arrived while they were at Compline.
"I can talk to him tomorrow," said Remus.
"I don't mind," grinned Lily. "But you have to tell me all about it."
"All right." He pressed the button for text messages.
sorry I was doing something
you still up?
there was a thing at st marks
music and stuff
that's the big church on cap hill right?
I have a friend who goes there
I don't go much
not really religious
just kind of needed it after today
I get that
Remus bit his lip.
I think maybe we should talk about things
O_O that sounds ominous
it doesn't have to be
I just want to make sure we're on the same page
so what page are you on? :p
the one where kissing happened and might happen again
I like that page ;)
so do I
but there's something I have to ask first
8| still ominous
sorry. not trying to freak you out
its just my life is kind of complicated
in ways I don't feel ready to talk about
would you be ok with kissing someone you didn't know everything about?
Almost a full minute passed before Sirius's reply appeared. Remus was not certain that he breathed at all during the interminable wait between one text and the next.
yeah I think I could do that
you don't have any violently jealous exes who are going to storm into the library one day and murder me tho do you? :/
nothing like that
I'd tell you if there was anything that might affect you
if it makes you feel any better there are some things I'd rather not talk about yet either
but if your thing is about James I'm cool with that
I'm not looking for anything exclusive
James is straight
just wanted to make sure I'm not stepping on any toes
you're not :)
what about your friend?
you remember I'm gay right? ;p
I feel like I mentioned that
I meant does she date guys?
James might have asked ...
Lily might have asked about him too ...
lol this could be interesting
assuming your friend is good enough for him ... :p
I'd worry more about him being good enough for her :p
she has pretty high standards
I'll tell James to brush up on his courtly manners :p
so will I see you tomorrow?
probably not :(
I have an essay I need to type up
I'll be at the SCC computer lab all day
I need to sleep now
it's been a long weekend
I'm tired too
good luck with your essay
Remus set his phone on the coffee table.
"You're smiling," said Lily. "I take it that went well?"
"Pretty well. I decided to try your suggestion about setting boundaries."
"He seems cool with it. He says there are things he'd rather not talk about yet either."
Lily beamed. "That's great. Perfect."
"Oh, and FYI, James is straight," grinned Remus. "He asked about you."
"Did he?" said Lily, delighted. "I don't usually go for cishet guys, but he was pretty cute. Maybe I'll wait and see how things go with you and Sirius first, though. I wouldn't want to make things awkward for you."
Remus chuckled, pulling the blankets up to his chin and snuggling down onto the pillow.
"Still want me to read to you?" Lily asked, holding up Two Boys Kissing.
"Sure," sighed Remus, closing his eyes. "Seems like a thematically appropriate way to end the day. I'll try to stay awake."
"I won't mind if you don't." She rested her head on his shoulder and opened the book to the first page. "'You can't know what it is like for us now - you will always be one step behind. Be thankful for that. You can't know what it was like for us then - you will always be one step ahead. Be thankful for that, too ...'"
Within two pages, Remus was asleep.
Remus says he wants to keep things light, but Sirius hopes that "light" still includes kissing.
Art for this chapter by @r-i-v-e-r used with permission.
On Thursday morning, Sirius volunteered to work behind circulation desk.
"What's the matter?" teased the Children's librarian, who was shift manager for the day. "You hung over or something?"
"No," said Sirius. "I just -"
"I know," she grinned. "You want to keep a lookout for your man. I think everyone knows."
"He's not my man," said Sirius, blushing. Not yet, anyway, whispered a hopeful voice in the back of his mind that sounded like James.
The Children's librarian laughed. "OK. Just don't let him distract you too much from your work, hmm?"
"I won't," mumbled Sirius, hurrying away.
The morning seemed to drag on forever. It felt like an eternity since he had last seen Remus. Since he kissed you, whispered the voice in the back of his mind, and a little thrill like a firecracker burst in his belly, as it did every time Sirius remembered the moment Remus's lips touched his.
He tried again to recall the sensation - what Remus's lips had felt like - but he had been so overwhelmed at the time that all he could remember was that it had happened.
It will happen again, Sirius reminded himself. Maybe soon. Maybe today.
His belly squirmed with excitement, and he glanced up hopefully at the library doors, but there was still no sign of Remus. Sirius looked down at his phone. No new messages. He briefly considered texting Remus to ask what time he might expect him, but decided there was no way to ask that would not sound desperate and needy. Remus would come, if not today, then tomorrow, and Sirius would be there when he did.
Sirius was in the middle of helping a library patron, a little before midday, when he glanced up and saw Remus leaning on the counter, a few feet away, backpack slung over one shoulder. Sirius immediately forgot what he had been doing, fingers stumbling on the keyboard.
"S-sorry," he apologized to the library patron, flustered. "What was that, again?"
When the woman left, Remus flashed him a smile. "Hey."
"Hey," beamed Sirius. "It's almost time for my lunch break, if you're hungry -?"
"I - er - already ate," said Remus vaguely. "Anyway, I really need to study. I've got a test coming up."
Sirius's shoulders sagged. "Oh. OK."
"You know where I'll be, if you want to come say hi later." Remus looked apologetic.
"Yeah," said Sirius. "See you in a bit."
He watched Remus climb the escalator to the upper floors, feeling deflated.
When his relief arrived to take over the circulation desk for the afternoon, Sirius went to eat his packed lunch in the break room, wondering how long he should wait to go find Remus, so as not to seem overeager. Knowing he was so close made it hard for Sirius to think about much else.
After lunch, he emptied the book drop, double checked to make sure everything had been checked in in the computer system, and informed the Children's librarian that he was going to go shelve the Spiral. He pushed a book trolly loaded with non-fiction to the elevator, and stabbed at the UP button impatiently, his heart beginning to beat faster. Without thinking, he pressed the button for the eighth level, where the 300s section was, rather than the top of the Spiral.
Be cool, he told himself sternly. He's not going anywhere.
Stepping out of the elevator, Sirius argued briefly with himself, then gave up. There were books that needed shelving in the 300s as much as anywhere else, and was it really so desperate-seeming to want to spend a few minutes with someone, when they had already acknowledged their mutual attraction?
Sirius pushed the trolly around the end of the rows of shelves, and there was Remus, seated at his usual study table, head bent over his books. He looked up when he heard the rattle of the trolly, and smiled.
"Hey," said Sirius, a foolish grin spreading across his face. "I was just shelving some books, and happened to be in the neighborhood."
"What a coincidence," said Remus, raising his eyebrows. "Look - I hope you didn't think I was blowing you off before. About lunch, I mean. I just - I'm trying to save money, and the cafe's a little pricey."
"It's fine," Sirius assured him. "I actually packed a lunch today. I get a little tired of eating cafe food all the time."
Remus nodded. "So ..."
The tip of his tongue flicked out to lick his chapped lips nervously. Sirius realized he was staring, and dragged his gaze away, blushing.
He cleared his throat. "Yeah. So ..."
"Seems like it's easier, when it's texting," said Remus, with a rueful smile.
"I get nervous around people I like," Sirius confessed. "I promise it goes away after a while. Then you'll have a hard time getting me to shut up."
"I'm a little nervous, too," admitted Remus. "I haven't done this in a while."
"Me either," said Sirius, somewhat relieved. "Um. I really do need to shelve books. But - if you wanted to, I wouldn't mind a little company."
Remus stood up and began putting his books and papers away in his backpack.
"You don't have to do that, you know," said Sirius. "No one will bother your stuff."
Remus hesitated. "Sorry, force of habit. I don't usually leave my stuff lying around. I've had too many things stolen."
"It would be different if you had a laptop," acknowledged Sirius.
It occurred to Sirius that Remus was one of the few students he had ever seen using the library who did not bring a laptop with them. He wondered whether it was a hipster anti-technology quirk.
"Yeah, you're probably right," said Remus.
He settled for stowing his bag under the chair on the far side of the table, where it would not be visible to anyone passing by, and followed Sirius into the stacks.
Sirius crouched down beside the book trolly, running his fingers along the spines to find the numbers that began with three, but it was hard for him to focus with Remus so close by. He was less nervous, though, when he had something to do with his eyes and hands. Finding a book that belonged in that row, he stood up, clearing his throat.
"I almost called you," he said, as he moved down the row to find the numbers that matched the book in his hand. "I was going to ask if you wanted to do something on one of my days off, but I chickened out."
"I was busy, anyway," said Remus, leaning against the shelves opposite, hands in his pockets. "I had that essay to do on Monday, and dinner with Lily's family on Tuesday for Rosh Hashanah. Last night I had classes, and then I had to work late."
"Oh." Sirius found the right spot on the shelf, and slid the book into place. "Well, maybe one of these days we could do something outside the library that's not a candlelight vigil?"
"Maybe." Remus sounded hesitant.
Sirius stood up and turned to look at him, giving him a lopsided smile. "Only maybe?"
Remus hunched his shoulders. "Look, what I said the other night, about not looking for anything exclusive - What I meant was that I'd kind of like to ... keep things light for now, if you don't mind."
Sirius frowned, crossing his arms and leaning back against the shelves. "What does that mean, exactly?"
"It means ... not having any expectations of each other, or of this." He waved a hand between the two of them, indicating their nebulous relationship. "It means not making a lot of plans, or promises, or expecting the other person to be super involved in our lives just yet."
"Oh." Sirius was not quite sure how disappointed he should feel.
Remus's expression softened. "I like you, Sirius." He reached across the aisle, taking Sirius's hand. His fingers were cool and callused. "I just think for now, we should maybe just see each other when we're here, and see how that goes."
Sirius stared down at their linked hands. "If we only see each other at the library, that means I'd always be working."
Remus inclined his head in the direction of his study table. "So will I. But we can find a few minutes here and there to say hi to each other, can't we?"
"So, just keep it friendly, you mean?" asked Sirius.
The tip of Remus's thumb grazed Sirius's palm in an unmistakeable caress. "That depends on what you mean by 'friendly'."
Sirius swallowed, looking up into warm brown eyes. "W-what do you mean by 'friendly'?"
Remus pushed away from the shelves and tugged at Sirius's hand, drawing him closer, until they were almost toe-to-toe. Glancing up and down the aisle to make sure no one was watching, Remus tilted his face up and pressed his chapped lips to Sirius's. The breath caught in Sirius's throat as time stopped. Everything fell away except for the ragged-soft feel of Remus's mouth against his own.
"Is that friendly enough for you?" asked Remus, breaking the kiss.
"That's - um - pretty friendly," said Sirius breathlessly. "I-I'm probably not supposed to be kissing library patrons at work, you know."
The corner of Remus's mouth curled up in a smile. "What if it's the library patron who's kissing you?"
"Oh. Well, that's different," said Sirius. "The customer is always right, and all that."
"Glad to hear it," grinned Remus, and kissed him again, swiftly. "Seems like I'm distracting you, though. Go shelve some books. I'll come find you again when I need a break."
Remus bent over his notes, trying to concentrate - to internalize as much information as possible before his test next week - but the words kept swimming out of focus, replaced by visions of Sirius and the dreamy-dazed expression his face had worn after being kissed.
Remus glanced at his phone. 1:36 PM. Barely half an hour since he had sent Sirius on his way. Much too soon for him to take another break.
Rummaging in an outside pocket of his backpack, he found a pill bottle, and tipped an orange pill out onto his palm. He had replenished his stash of study drugs that morning, tracking down his supplier at the college, and handing over most of the money he had made the night before. With any luck, he had enough to get him through at least a couple of weeks. He popped the pill into his mouth and swallowed, forcing it down without any water.
2:45, he told himself sternly, re-focusing his attention on his notes. You can go look for him then, and not a minute before.
As the drug dissolved into his system, Remus's mind grew clearer. All thoughts of Sirius, his lips, his soft gray eyes, and his fingers, warm in Remus's hand, receded into the background.
So focused was he on his studies, that it was 2:53 before Remus looked at his phone again. He blinked and shook himself, realizing he was thirsty.
He stowed his bag again, and went to the drinking fountains on level seven, slurping the cold water for a long moment. Straightening, Remus wiped his mouth on his sleeve and looked around, wondering where Sirius might be. He could walk up and down the Spiral looking for him, or -
He took out his phone and texted, where u at?
Sirius must have had his phone set to vibrate, because his reply came only a moment later. 870s :)
Remus took a shortcut up to the ninth level, and found the aisle containing call numbers in the 870s - Latin literature.
Sirius was reaching up to place a book on the top shelf when Remus found him, but there was another library patron in the aisle, browsing the shelves, so Remus turned and pretended to be looking at the books as well. The smack of a book falling to the floor, and the mutter of a mild oath, made Remus bite his lip to hide a smile at the row of Catullus in front of him. It was undeniably flattering to have someone as attractive as Sirius flustered by his mere presence.
When the other patron finally cleared out, Remus cast Sirius a sidelong glance.
"Can I help you find something, Sir?" grinned Sirius.
Remus raised his eyebrows. "I think I've found what I was looking for. But maybe you could help me find somewhere quiet I could take it?"
Sirius's grin widened. "I think I know just the place."
He led Remus around a corner to a spot where the angle of the shelves and the wall of the music practice rooms formed a little alcove where they would not be disturbed unless someone came looking for German poetry.
"Is this what you had in mind?" asked Sirius.
Remus stepped closer. "It'll do."
His hands rose to cup Sirius's face between his palms, and he leaned in to kiss him longer and more tenderly than before. Sirius responded eagerly, hands resting on Remus's shoulders, lips parted, tasting Remus's chapped lips. Remus's hand slid around the back of Sirius's neck, tangling in his hair, pulling him closer. His tongue flicked against Sirius's, and he felt Sirius shiver.
"You're going to get me into trouble," Sirius sighed, when Remus's lips wandered to explore the edge of his jaw.
Remus stilled. "How much trouble?"
"Hmm? Oh. Probably just a warning, at first."
"Should I leave you alone, then?"
"Don't you dare," said Sirius fiercely, capturing Remus's mouth again.
"Mmm, I just wouldn't want you getting into trouble on my account," teased Remus. "I seem to remember someone telling me there are rules about this sort of thing."
"Fuck the rules," mumbled Sirius. "You're worth a little trouble."
Remus managed two more hours of study time before he had to pack up, if he wanted to be sure of making it to his 6:30 class on time. Sirius came with him back down to the main level.
"I'll get you checked out," he volunteered.
"You don't have to do that," Remus told him.
Sirius flashed him a grin. "It's no problem. I like checking you out."
Remus chuckled and shook his head.
When Sirius typed in his name to bring up his library record, he hesitated. "You've got an overdue. LGBTQ Youth Issues."
"Oh, right," said Remus vaguely, not meeting his eyes.
"Isn't that the same one you had before?" asked Sirius, frowning.
Remus shrugged. "I'm not finished with it yet."
"I can renew it for you again, but you'll have to bring it back in three weeks. We can only do two renewals before it has to be processed through the system again."
"OK," said Remus. "Thanks."
When Sirius had finished checking out Remus's books, they both hesitated, unsure how to say goodbye in that open, public space.
"Will I see you tomorrow?" asked Sirius.
"I know," said Sirius with a lopsided smile. "We said no plans or promises. But today was nice."
"Yeah, it was."
"Then I'll just hope to see you soon, I guess."
"Oh. Just a sec," said Sirius, as Remus made to turn away.
He fished in his pocket for a crumpled scrap of paper, and handed it to Remus.
"James wanted me to pass his phone number on to your friend," he said apologetically. "She doesn't have to use it, but he said he wouldn't mind if she did."
Remus tucked the scrap of paper into his own pocket. "I'll make sure she gets it. But - no promises from her, either. Lily's pretty picky about the guys she dates, when she dates guys at all."
"Fair," agreed Sirius. "I'll see you soon, then."
"Yeah, definitely," said Remus, and turned away.
James rolled his eyes, stretching out on his bed. "Would you stop that? You look like a jack o' lantern."
Sirius shrugged, leaning on the back of James's desk chair, but did not stop grinning. He was not sure he could. He had felt halfway to Cloud 9 ever since kissing Remus at the library.
"Did you at least remember to pass on my phone number to that Lily girl?"
"Yes," said Sirius. "He said he'd give it to her, but you shouldn't hold your breath."
"I am a man who lives in hope," said James grandly. "So did you guys talk at all? Any clue what his deal is that he's not talking about?"
Sirius shrugged again. "We talked a little. It was mostly just kissing, though."
"Well, I take it that part was good, anyway."
"It was better than good. He's a way better kisser than you," Sirius teased.
"Hey!" James sat up, feigning offense. "I was fifteen then. I didn't know what the fuck I was doing, and neither did you. I'm lots better at it now."
"I hope that's true, for Lily's sake."
"I'll show you right now, if you want," threatened James.
"Nah," grinned Sirius. "I'll take your word for it. You keep on being straight."
"As if you could turn me," James scoffed.
Sirius laughed, shaking his head. "If not me, then who? I'm the best-looking guy you know."
"I see a hotter guy in the mirror every morning."
"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that."
"Seriously, though, did you guys talk at all?" asked James.
"A bit," shrugged Sirius, sobering.
"And he says he wants to keep things light, for now."
"What the fuck does that mean?"
"It means what it means," said Sirius grumpily. "He's not my boyfriend, our relationship isn't exclusive, and we don't make plans to meet up outside the library."
"So you're what? Library makeout buddies?"
"And you're OK with that?" frowned James.
Sirius shrugged. "I guess. He likes me and I like him, I get to make out with him, and maybe eventually it will be more than that. We're taking things slow, which is what I wanted anyway, so what's the problem?"
"No problem, I guess," said James, still frowning. "Have you tried Googling him?"
"Yeah. Didn't turn up much, though. No social media presence I guess. At least, not under his own name."
James shook his head. "Who doesn't have social media presence nowadays? Sounds sketchy, if you ask me."
Sirius grinned. "You're just disappointed because if I'm not seeing him outside the library, you can't ask for him to bring Lily along for double dates."
"Well, there is that," James allowed. "Just be careful. It sounds like this guy might have some skeletons in his closet. I don't want my best friend getting hurt."
When things go sour with Severus and Lily's friendship, Severus decides to take it out on Remus.
Remus wiped down the counter, humming to himself.
Over by the sink, where she was washing dishes with Severus, Lily looked up, grinning. "You're in a good mood today."
Remus hid a smile and shrugged.
"I'd say he got laid," quipped Severus, "but when doesn't he?"
Lily rolled her eyes, but chose to ignore the barb. "I take it things are still going well with Sirius?"
"Pretty well," admitted Remus.
Lily laughed. "I guessed as much. I've hardly seen you these last two weeks."
"OK, it's been awesome," gushed Remus, grinning. "I feel like I can't get enough of him, and it seems like he feels the same way."
"Have you talked about things any more?" Lily asked.
"Not really. It's mostly just been kissing, whenever we can find a minute where no one is looking."
"I don't see why someone who fucks all the time would think kissing is such a big deal," said Severus.
"Jealous?" asked Remus sarcastically. "If you're having a dry spell, we can talk prices."
He did not feel like explaining to Severus that the transactional sex that was his work held none of the intimacy Remus found in kissing and tender touches. The silken feel of Sirius's hair between his fingers, the closeness of Sirius's face cupped in his hands, the soft sighing sound Sirius made when they kissed, the eagerness of Sirius's mouth on his - Remus never looked for those things with his clients, and they only rarely requested such services.
Severus wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Not even if I were gay, and you were the last guy on Earth."
"Enough, you guys!" snapped Lily, exasperated. "Sev, you know Remus doesn't like talking about his work."
Severus scowled. "Sorry. I forgot."
Like hell you did, thought Remus.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, and he took it out.
thinking of you :x
There was a selfie attached of Sirius blowing a kiss.
Remus grinned, warmth blooming in his chest.
miss you, he texted back. see you tomorrow :x
"Aww," sighed Lily, looking over his shoulder. "He really likes you."
"Yeah, well, I like him."
He noticed Severus looking, too, and quickly put his phone away, turning back to swabbing down the counters.
"I'm happy for you," said Lily. "You deserve to have something good in your life."
Remus shrugged. "Yeah. I just have to keep reminding myself not to get too attached. Everything's great right now, but I know it can't last. Kissing is pretty much the only thing we can do safely. Every time we do talk, something comes up, and I have to change the subject. Like, the other day he was talking about him and his friends looking for an apartment together, and he asked about what my place is like."
"What did you tell him?" asked Lily.
"I told him I had a shitty apartment with shitty roommates, and he shouldn't expect to get invited over anytime soon. He asked about my job, too. I told him I work in the hospitality industry. Now he thinks I work at a hotel."
Severus snorted. "I bet you work at a lot of hotels."
Lily patted his arm sympathetically with a soapy hand, ignoring Severus. "It might still all work out all right. He really seems to like you."
Remus shook his head. "I can't let myself hope for that. I just have to be content that I get to have this much."
"You deserve to be happy, Remus," said Lily gently.
Remus looked down at the dingy rag in his hand. "It doesn't matter what I deserve, if I can't have it."
Remus cleared his throat and made himself smile. "I'm fine. So what about you? Have you talked to James at all?"
"We've texted a little," said Lily with a reluctant smile. "He seems like a decent guy. We've been keeping it friendly."
At the sink, Severus stilled, his hands in the dishwater. "Who's James?"
"Just a friend of Remus's friend," Lily told him.
Severus scowled. "So you can text some friend-of-a-friend guy, but you couldn't text me back yesterday?"
"I was busy yesterday," frowned Lily. "Your text didn't seem urgent."
"Seems like you're always busy these days. Seems like if I want to spend any time with you, I have to do it here. And all you seem to want to do is talk to your friend about his love life, and some guy you've been texting. Nice to know where I fall on your list of priorities."
Lily's jaw tightened. "If you want to talk about something else, then talk. Don't just make snide comments about other people's lives."
Remus kept his head down, busily polishing the countertops, but he could not help listening.
Severus leaned on the sink. "No, by all means, let's talk about your hot new boyfriend, or one of your other guy friends. Are all your friends guys these days?"
"I'm not your girlfriend, Sev," said Lily, folding her arms. "And even if I were, who I'm friends with is nothing to do with you."
"Yeah," said Severus, glaring back at her. "Because you'd rather date some guy you just met than someone who treats you well and takes time out of his busy life to come down here and feed people who can't even bother to get jobs."
Lily's face turned pale. "If that's how you feel about it, then you don't ever have to come down here again. And I don't care to hear any more of your opinions about who I'm friends with, or who I fuck. If I sleep with James Potter or Remus or the fucking Fremont troll, it's none of your goddamn business."
Severus looked from Lily to Remus in horror. "You haven't. Not with him."
"Still none of your business, Severus," said Lily from between clenched teeth.
Remus kept his face carefully blank, and did not meet Severus's eyes.
"Was it before or after me?" Severus demanded, fists clenched. "Did you get tested? Because if you've exposed me to HIV, that certainly is my fucking business!"
"If that's something you're worried about, then maybe you should go get tested," said Lily coolly. "I don't think we need any more of your 'help' here tonight."
"Are you telling me to fuck off?"
Lily gave him stare for stare. "Yeah, I am. I'll call you when I've cooled down. Don't expect it to be anytime soon, and don't try to see me again before that."
"Fine!" He grabbed his jacket and stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
When he had gone, Remus put a hand on Lily's shoulder. She was trembling.
"Are you OK?"
She took a shuddering breath, and blinked rapidly. "Yeah. Fine. Was I too hard on him?"
"I don't think so."
Lily shook her head. "He'll text me tomorrow and say he's sorry."
He's not sorry; he just wants to fuck you, Remus thought, but all he said was, "Probably."
Maybe if Severus thought he and Lily really had slept together, he would give up trying to sleep with her himself, out of fear of contracting HIV. Remus thought about tracking Severus down and telling him that they had - that they still did, from time to time - if it meant he might leave her alone. But Lily's friendship with Severus was hers to manage, not Remus's. He would not get in her way.
"You don't have to stay, Remus," said Lily, giving him a wavering smile. "I know you wanted to work tonight. I can finish up here on my own."
Remus gave her a one-armed hug. "I'll stay. You look like you could use a friend right now."
"Mmm, how's your day going?" murmured Sirius, nuzzling the angle of Remus's jaw.
"Pretty good so far," sighed Remus, leaning back against a shelf of books. "Not getting much studying done, though, am I?"
"Is that a problem? Do you want me to leave you alone?"
"Does this seem like I want you to leave me alone?" asked Remus, tangling his fingers in Sirius's hair, and pulling him close for a kiss.
Sirius chuckled and tilted his head, teasing Remus's tongue with his own. His fingers slid up under Remus's shirt to touch the bare skin of his back.
Someone cleared their throat, and Sirius jumped back, almost biting his tongue. A man of about his own age, with dark unwashed hair, was leaning against the shelves at the end of the aisle, grinning in a way that did not look at all friendly.
"C-can I help you?" Sirius asked in a strangled voice.
The stranger looked him up and down. "So this is him, huh? Pretty."
"Have you been spying on me?" Remus demanded. He looked scared.
Sirius looked back and forth between them. "Who's this, Remus?"
"Someone who's just leaving, if he knows what's good for him," said Remus, squaring his shoulders and giving the stranger a glare.
The man's grin turned sour. He looked at Sirius. "I'm just a friend with your best interests at heart."
"And you know what my best interests are, do you?" Sirius asked warily. He took a step forward, putting himself between Remus and the stranger.
"Go away, Severus," said Remus, voice shaking. "Unless you want me to tell Lily you were here."
"I'm not afraid of you," the man spat. "I've known her ten years longer than you have. You really think she'll believe you over me?"
"What do you want?" asked Sirius. "If you're just here to harass library patrons -"
"Oh, so it's OK to feel up patrons, but not talk to them?" Severus smirked. "But I guess maybe the rules are different when the patron is a filthy whore."
The breath caught in Sirius's throat. "Get out. Before I call security."
The man shrugged. "This is a public place. Libraries are all about the First Amendment, aren't they? I'm just exercising my First Amendment right to speak the truth. He's trash. If I were you, I'd check to make sure I still had my wallet."
Sirius turned and found Remus standing behind him, staring at the stranger, looking pale and shaky. His phone was in his hand, but he seemed to have forgotten about it.
"C'mon, let's get out of here," said Sirius, putting a hand on his arm.
Remus jumped and looked up, eyes wide with fear.
"There's an intra-library phone at the end of the row," Sirius said gently. "We'll call Mr. Filch to come up here and throw this clown out on his ass."
"Just make sure to use protection if he ever fucks you!" the stranger called after them. "You don't know where he's been."
Sirius froze, shoulders hunched. His heart was pounding, adrenaline coursing through his body.
He rounded on the man. "Listen, I don't know who the hell you think you are -"
A tall figure came around the end of the stacks and Sirius took a step back, straightening up, as the head librarian, Minerva McGonagall, strode towards them, looking grim.
"Is this a friend of yours, Mr. Black?" she asked, peering down at the stranger from behind her square glasses.
"No, Ma'am," said Sirius. "He was bothering the patrons. I asked him to leave."
The man gave McGonagall a sour look. "I have as much right to be here as anyone."
"That's true as long as you follow the rules, young man," frowned McGonagall. "Raised voices and foul language will not be tolerated."
"What about librarians dry-humping patrons?" the stranger sneered. "These two were all over each other when I found them."
McGonagall's mouth went very thin. "The situation is now under control. Thank you. If you have library business, and are prepared to attend to it quietly, please do so. Otherwise, be on your way."
"All right, all right," scowled the man, and slouched off.
McGonagall turned to Sirius and Remus, frowning. "You be on your way, too, young man," she told Remus. "I need to have a word with Mr. Black."
Sirius wanted badly to talk to Remus, to ask him what all that had been about. He tried to catch Remus's eye, but Remus would not meet his gaze. Cheeks flaming red, Remus turned and hurried away without a word.
"I believe you are familiar with library policy regarding public displays of affection, Mr. Black?" said McGonagall sternly.
Sirius felt very small. "Yes, Ma'am."
"It's all well and good for your boyfriend to visit during your shift, but not if he distracts you from your work. And it is not at all appropriate for you to be doing more than visiting anywhere in the library where you might be viewed by patrons."
"I know, Ma'am." Sirius hung his head.
"Very well," said McGonagall. "Consider this a warning. Don't let it happen again."
"I won't, Ma'am," Sirius promised.
As soon as she was gone, Sirius practically sprinted around the end of the stacks to the table where Remus usually worked.
The table was empty. Remus was gone.
Halfway up the stairs to her parents' apartment, Lily stopped.
Remus had his jacket wrapped tight around him against the chilly autumn night. He leaned against the bannister, feeling listless.
"Are you OK?" asked Lily, crouching down beside him.
"Yeah. No. I dunno."
She frowned. "Are you drunk?"
"Maybe a little."
"C'mon, let's go inside. It's freezing out here." She took him by the arm, pulling him upright.
"Sorry, Lils," Remus slurred, leaning heavily on her as she fumbled for the key. "I just needed to talk. I would've called, but I knew you were at work. And I didn't want to wake your mom. So I just thought I'd wait here."
Lily got him into the apartment and deposited him on the couch. She went to the kitchen and came back with a glass of water, which she pressed into his hands.
"What happened?" she asked, once he had drunk enough of it to satisfy her.
Remus looked down at his hands, which were slightly out of focus. "Severus came to the library."
"Oh." Lily sat down heavily beside him.
"I'm sorry. I really didn't think he'd do something like that."
"Well, he did."
"What did he do?"
Remus shrugged. "He called me a whore and told Sirius I was trash, and couldn't be trusted."
"Fuck," Lily muttered. "I'm sorry, Remus. I guess it was a bad idea, letting him think you and I slept together. What did Sirius say?"
"He told him to fuck off, but I ... kind of freaked and left before he could ask me anything." Remus raised his eyes to her face, beseeching. "You believe me, don't you? He said you wouldn't. Severus. Because you've known him for longer."
Lily raised a hand to stroke his cheek. Her green eyes were sad. "Of course I believe you, Remus. You're my best friend."
Remus caught her hand and held it. "You're my best friend, too, Lily."
"I know." Lily gave him a tremulous smile. "Sev - he and I used to be best friends, but a lot has changed in the last few years. I haven't really wanted to admit it, but I don't much like the person he's turned into."
"Yeah, me either."
Lily sighed. "I know. He's been such a dick to you, and I just let him, because - I don't know. I guess I hoped if I stuck around, I could be a good influence on him or something. I thought it was a good sign, him coming to work at the soup kitchen, but I guess not. I'm sorry. I should have been a better friend to you."
"It's not your fault, Lils," said Remus, leaning against her. "Your heart was in the right place."
"I know," she said, voice wavering. She tilted her head down so that a curtain of dark red hair swung forward to hide her face. "I just - I h-hate losing a friend, you know? Especially someone I've known that l-long."
"Yeah. I'm sorry."
"It's not your f-fault either, Remus," she sniffed. "I'm g-glad you told me."
"Hey," said Remus, putting an arm around her. "Don't cry, Lils. He's not worth it."
"I kn-now. But we used to h-have something that was." She leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder, and he gathered her into his arms, rocking her gently.
"I know, Lils. I know."
"And it's n-not like I haven't seen th-this coming. He's been acting w-weird ever since we slept together. I n-never should have done it. Maybe I r-ruined everything."
"It's not your fault he's a shithead," Remus told her. "You didn't do anything wrong."
Lily sniffed, wiping her eyes. "I just remembered, I'm supposed to be consoling you. You're the one who had a bad day."
"I don't mind," said Remus. "It's easier to comfort someone else than to think about my problems."
"Has he texted you?" Lily asked, sitting up. "Sirius, I mean?"
"I dunno," Remus admitted. "I've been too scared to check my phone. What if he asks a bunch of questions I can't answer? Or if he's too freaked out to want to keep doing ... whatever we're doing?"
"So, what?" said Lily. "You're just never going to look at your phone again?"
Remus shrugged. "I hadn't thought that far ahead yet."
Lily gave him a sympathetic look through red-rimmed eyes. "Look, I'm going to go in the kitchen now, and make probably the hardest phone call I've ever had to make. You're going to sit here and drink some more water and text Sirius, whether he's texted you or not. Then I'm going to come back and cry all over you again, and you're going to hold me until I fall asleep, because I don't really want to be alone tonight. Does that sound like a plan?"
Lily stood up and patted him on the head. "And don't forget to take your meds, boozehound."
When she had gone, Remus took his phone out of his jacket pocket, blinking at it several times to clear his vision. He pressed the button for messages. There were three new ones waiting for him: two with timestamps around when he had fled the library, and a third, from only half an hour ago. Remus took a deep breath and replied.
u ok? :/
who was that guy?
dunno if i can sleep without knowing your ok. plz text me back?
oh good :)
i was worried
didn't mean to worry you
and sorry if that guy freaked you out
he did a bit :/
but apparently not as much as he freaked you out
is he your boyfriend?
good because i was gonna say you could do way better than him
he's a friend of lily's
or soon to be ex friend
he doesn't like me much
yeah i got that
u sure your ok?
are we ok?
why wouldn't we be?
maybe because of the things he said
you think i'm gonna listen to what some asshole with a chip on his shoulder says about you?
you don't know me that well
i know you better than i know him
and i know which of you i want to get to know better ;p
i'm sorry if i got you in trouble
we just have to be more careful from now on ;)
i have to go in a minute
lily's having a bad night
maybe have james text her something nice tomorrow?
i wish you were here so i could make sure your really ok
i am now
i also wish you were here so i could kiss you
did not get to do enough of that today
i want to kiss you right now too
well for now :x
sweet dreams ;)
"Everything OK w-with your guy?"
Remus looked up to see Lily's tear-streaked face. "I think so."
"Oh, good." She collapsed onto the couch beside him. "I'm glad Sev didn't manage to ruin th-that, too."
Then she burst into tears.
Remus tugged a blanket off the back of the couch and wrapped it and his arms around her.
"Is it done?" he asked gently.
"S-sort of. I d-didn't have the heart to t-tell him to fuck off entirely, but I t-told him not to come down to the kitchen anymore, to leave you alone, and n-not to try to see me unt-til I say it's OK. D-do you th-think I'm a horribly weak person?"
"No." Remus rested his cheek against the crown of her head and hugged her tight. "I think you're a wonderful person with a very soft heart. And I think maybe you need some sleep."
She gave a wet chuckle. "I think maybe we both do. I love you, Remus."
"I love you, too, Lils."
Sirius finds out that "taking things slow" means something different to Remus than it does to him.
Art in this chapter by @automatedalbus. Used with permission.
Remus jumped and looked around.
"Sorry," said Sirius, keeping his voice low to avoid disturbing the other library patrons who were using the open reading area in the middle of Level Eight. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's OK." Remus looked embarrassed. "I was just really focused on my reading, I guess."
"I'm on my break," said Sirius. "I just wanted to come over and say hi. Er, if I'm not bothering you, that is."
"No, it's fine." Remus closed his book.
Sirius slid into the chair across from him. "You're not at your usual table."
Remus shrugged. "Yeah, well, I thought maybe if I was out in the open, no one would be able to ... sneak up on me."
Sirius hid a smile. "How's that working out for you?"
"Not very well," Remus admitted, with a reluctant grin.
"Maybe I'm just stealthy," said Sirius. His smile faded as he remembered why Remus might be concerned about people sneaking up on him. "Are you worried that guy might come back?"
"Not really," said Remus. "Not unless I do something else to piss him off. Sorry, again. He likes to cause trouble."
"Yeah, I could tell," said Sirius drily. "You don't have to apologize. Some people are just born jerks."
Remus still looked uncertain.
"It's really OK." Sirius leaned forward earnestly, and reached across the table to touch Remus's hand lightly. "We're cool."
Remus relaxed slightly. "OK. Good."
Sirius pulled his hand back and looked around to see if anyone was watching.
"Worried your boss might see us?" Remus asked.
"Nah. She said visiting was fine. Just no more PDAs in the library."
"Does that mean no more kissing?"
"Perish the thought!" said Sirius, feigning a shudder of horror. "No, it just means we have to be more creative."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "You have some ideas?"
Sirius nodded. "I've been thinking about it the past couple days. I could text you when I have a break coming up, and you could come meet me. Outside, maybe, if the weather's good, or if it's not, there's always my car ..." he trailed off hopefully.
Remus looked thoughtful. "That could work."
"It kind of depends on you coming running whenever I call," said Sirius with an apologetic half-smile. "I hate to ask it, but I'd hate not being able to kiss you more."
"So would I," grinned Remus. "OK, we can give it a try."
Sirius slipped a hand under the table and touched Remus's knee, lowering his voice to a murmur. "I wish I could kiss you right now."
Remus smiled and touched his fingers to his lips, then slid his hand under the table, fingertips brushing Sirius's. Mesmerized, Sirius drew back his hand and lifted it to his mouth, gazing into soft, dark brown eyes, as he transferred Remus's kiss to his own lips.
The new arrangement worked well in some ways, but not in others. Whenever Remus came to the library to study, Sirius would text him the time he planned to take his next break, and where to meet him.
Outside, though a fine place to sit and talk while Sirius ate his lunch (when the weather was cooperative), turned out not to be an ideal place for anything more intimate. There were too many people passing by, and they both felt too exposed. Seattle might be a more liberal city than most, but every now and then, someone would shout out homophobic abuse, which left them feeling unsafe, and not in the mood to continue their activity.
Sirius's car, in the parking garage under the library, provided more privacy. However, it always felt as if they were enclosed in a dark cave, and they had to twist their bodies into awkward positions in order to embrace. Worried that Remus might get ideas if they sat in the back seat, Sirius always sat in the front, and Remus never suggested otherwise.
Fewer opportunities for closeness and touch made them that much more eager for every moment they could get, that much more passionate when they kissed, and that much more regretful when Sirius's phone beeped, telling them their time was up.
Sitting on the edge of a raised flowerbed outside the library one day in late October, Sirius looked up at the sky, wondering how much longer the weather would hold. He had just finished his lunch, and was telling Remus about the progress of his apartment hunt.
"It's not looking like we'll find anything in time to sign a lease before November first," he said gloomily. "James is busy all the time with school, and it's hard to pry Peter away from his girlfriend - if they haven't broken up again that week. It might be December before we have something."
Realizing that Remus had not said anything in a few minutes, Sirius glanced over to find him staring at his mouth, a dreamy expression in his eyes.
"You still here?" Sirius grinned, waving a hand in front of his face.
Remus blinked. "Oh. Yeah. I was listening. I was just ... thinking about something else, too."
"Care to share?" teased Sirius.
"You know," said Remus with a rueful half-smile.
"Yeah, I do."
Sirius glanced around, but there were only a few people nearby, and the winter plants in the raised flowerbed provided some privacy. Leaning in swiftly, he pressed his lips to Remus's.
Remus smiled. "Thanks. Not quite the same, though, is it? I guess we probably don't have time to go to your car right now."
Sirius glanced at his phone and shook his head. "I have to get back to work in a couple minutes. I did have another idea, though."
Remus raised his eyebrows. "Which is?"
"You'll see." Sirius gave him a mysterious smile and another quick kiss. "Keep an eye on your phone this afternoon."
Sirius met Remus on the east side of Level Six at half past one.
"Still being mysterious, or do I get to know what this is about now?" Remus asked with a smile.
"It's about this," said Sirius, indicating the trolly he was pushing, laden with stacks of magazines. "I thought you might enjoy a tour of periodicals storage."
"Sounds fascinating," said Remus. "Lead the way."
Sirius took him to a door labeled "Periodicals". Opening it, he bowed. "After you."
"Such a gentleman," chuckled Remus.
The room was large and lined with floor-to-ceiling metal shelves, with more rows of shelves running down the middle. They were filled with narrow, upright boxes labeled with the names of magazines, and ranges of dates.
"The most recent issues of everything the library carries, going back twelve months, live on the shelves out there," Sirius explained, as he checked each row to make sure no one else was currently using the room. "Everything else lives in here."
"You have to put all these away?" asked Remus, eyeing the heavy-laden trolly.
Sirius nodded. "It's not a super popular part of the library, but every couple of days someone has to come in and re-shelve."
"Not super popular, huh?" grinned Remus, stepping closer. "I'll bet there's a lot of interesting magazines in here."
"Probably," said Sirius breathlessly, heart beginning to beat faster. "You can take a look around, if you want."
"I suppose I could." Remus's breath was warm on Sirius's cheek, making him shiver. "Maybe later."
The edges of the metal shelves pressed against Sirius's back as their mouths collided in a messy kiss. Sirius met Remus eagerly, arms sliding around his slender waist, pulling him closer.
"We should still be careful," he panted, as Remus's fingers twined themselves in his hair.
"Mmm ... yeah," muttered Remus. "Does the door lock from this side?"
"I-I think so."
Sirius disengaged himself from Remus and took out the ring of library keys he always carried when he did his rounds, searching for the one labeled "periodicals". Remus stepped behind him, wrapping his arms around his middle and kissing the back of his neck. Sirius shivered again.
Finding the right key at last, he jammed it into the lock, turning until it clicked.
"If anyone wants in here, they'll just have to find someone else with a key."
"How long before anyone misses you?" Remus asked.
His hands began to wander up Sirius's abdomen, and Sirius grabbed them, turning to kiss him again quickly, before Remus's explorations could reach his bound chest.
"Dunno," he murmured against Remus's lips. "Maybe an hour. But I do need to re-shelve those magazines while I'm here, too. And someone will probably want in here before then."
"I guess we better make the most of this," said Remus.
"C'mon. Let's go down to the far end," Sirius suggested. "That way, even if someone does have a key, we'll have some warning before they find us."
In the far corner of the room, Sirius took out his phone.
"Setting another timer for us?" Remus asked, grinning.
"No," said Sirius, returning the smile. "I just realized I don't have a picture of you."
He held up the phone and leaned in, pressing his lips to the soft brown skin just below Remus's ear, and tapped the button to take a picture. Looking at the screen, he grinned. Remus's eyes were half closed, looking sideways at Sirius, a tender smile curving his mouth.
"All right if I kiss you now, Ansel Adams?" asked Remus, looking amused.
Putting his phone away, Sirius took Remus's hands, settling them on his hips. He slipped his own arms around Remus's shoulders and bent his face to Remus's smiling mouth.
It felt good, being able to hold Remus close, knowing they were safe, and that no one could walk in on them unexpectedly. Remus's body was warm in his arms, his mouth hot and eager on Sirius's. His hands moved off Sirius's hips, curving around his waist. One caressed his back, while the other slid down, cupping his ass, pulling their hips closer together.
Sirius gasped at the feel of the hard shape pressing against his thigh. When Remus bit down on Sirius's lower lip, grinding against him, he moaned.
He felt warm all over, skin tingling wherever Remus touched him. The heat of arousal was starting to pool between his legs. He was glad he had worn a packer today, so that Remus would be able to feel something in his pants, even if Sirius could not simulate an erection.
"God, you're so hot," murmured Remus. "I've been thinking about getting you alone for weeks. Are you as turned on right now as I am?"
"Probably," panted Sirius.
Remus's tongue flicked out to taste the fevered skin of Sirius's throat, and Sirius whimpered with pleasure.
"Mmm," chuckled Remus. "Having fun?"
"Yeah," Sirius sighed, moving his hips to feel more of that exciting hardness.
Remus's hands moved back around Sirius's waist, and went to his belt buckle.
"Wha-what are you doing?" gasped Sirius.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" murmured Remus, rubbing a teasing smile along the edge of Sirius's jaw. "Unless you don't want me to give you head? I'm pretty good at it."
Sirius tensed, breath catching in his throat. "Um."
Remus drew back a little. "Or we can do something else, if you want. I have condoms, but we probably don't have enough time to fuck."
Sirius's eyes widened, and he made a choked sound.
Remus looked puzzled. "Are you OK?"
"I - um - I j-just thought we were taking things slow." The words came out high and fast, sounding so much like his old voice that Sirius shut his mouth with a snap and swallowed.
Remus took a step back, disconcerted. "Oh. Sorry. I didn't think -"
"I-it's OK," said Sirius, glancing down surreptitiously to make sure his clothes were all still in order.
"Hey," said Remus more softly.
Sirius looked up, still feeling hunted and wary. "What?"
"It's all right," said Remus gently. "Really. We don't have to do anything. If you're a virgin, or-or asexual or something, it's cool."
Sirius gave a strangled laugh. "No and no. I just - I'd rather wait on that stuff, for now."
"OK." Remus looked mildly relieved. "Good."
"Glad I'm not a virgin, or glad I'm not asexual?" asked Sirius, attempting a joke.
Remus shook his head, smiling. "Actually, more glad you're not a virgin. If sex was completely off the table, that would be one thing, but I'm not sure I'm the right sort of person to be someone's first, if it came to that."
"You'd be OK being with someone who never wanted to?" Sirius asked.
Remus shrugged. "Sure. I wouldn't try to talk someone into doing something they weren't comfortable with, and I wouldn't enjoy kissing them any less, knowing it wasn't going to lead to something more. I like kissing."
"So do I," said Sirius, some of the tension draining from his body.
"Speaking of kissing," said Remus, lips curving into a smile, "have I totally spoiled the mood, or ...?"
An answering smile crept across Sirius's face. "Maybe not totally."
Remus held out a hand, and Sirius took it, letting himself be drawn closer. When Remus kissed him, he took greater care about it than before, lips moving soft and tender on Sirius's, hands touching his face and carding through his hair. Sirius sighed, his body relaxing against Remus's once more.
"You know," he murmured after a few moments, nuzzling the sensitive spot just below Remus's ear, "if you wanted, I could ... do something for you." His hand slid suggestively over Remus's hip.
Remus caught his fingers and held them. "You don't have to do that."
"I know," said Sirius.
Remus raised Sirius's hand to his shoulder, and settled it there, kissing him again.
"No," he said. "I'd rather wait until you're ready."
"I don't get this guy at all," said James, shaking his head. "First he offers to blow you at work, and he carries condoms just in case, but he's totally cool with waiting, once you tell him you're not ready? He didn't act even a little bit sad about it?"
"Nope," said Sirius, reclining on James's bed, casually studying the college basketball schedule he had tacked to the wall. "He was really cool about it. He didn't even seem to mind if we never do it."
James sat cross-legged at the foot of the bed. "Well, that's sort of good, right? It takes the pressure off you, anyway."
"Yeah, I guess so," said Sirius. "I was just surprised, you know? I thought we were taking it slow. I didn't think I'd have to worry about sex being an issue, as long as we were only seeing each other at the library."
"So it came up and you dealt with it," James shrugged. "What happens now?"
"I dunno. I guess we just keep on kissing during my breaks."
"Well, that's better than anyone else you've been out with," said James. "It could've turned into another Dorian situation."
Sirius made a face. "Yeah. I mean, at least Dorian saw me as a guy."
"Only because you never came out to him," said James, rolling his eyes. "He must have thought it was a pretty sweet deal, getting unlimited blowjobs without ever being asked to reciprocate. It's easy to see why he stuck with you for eight months. Not so easy to see why you stayed with him."
Sirius shrugged. "He was still better than the closeted lesbian who wanted a boyfriend she could introduce to her parents, and a girlfriend to fool around with, or that guy senior year who constantly misgendered me, and then dumped me when I wouldn't put out. And then there was you, and we both know how that turned out ..."
James cleared his throat, looking mildly embarrassed, and changed the subject. "So, do you want to ... do stuff with this guy?"
"I don't know. Sort of. I mean, maybe eventually. I don't really know him that well yet, and it's complicated. I can't do stuff with him without telling him I'm trans, and if I do tell him, he might not want to do stuff with me, which at best would mean I'd be back to giving one-sided blowjobs."
"This is the part where I'd normally tell you that a guy like that doesn't deserve you," said James, "but I've been talking to Lily a bit, and she seems to think Remus is a pretty great guy. So, you know, maybe give him a chance?"
"Well, if a hot girl likes him, he must be cool with dating trans guys," said Sirius sarcastically. "How am I supposed to give him a chance if he won't even see me outside work, and we spend maybe 45 minutes together on a good day, most of that just making out?"
James leaned back, stretching his long legs. "So tell him you want to change the deal. He clearly likes you enough to care about what you want. Tell him you want to do something together outside work."
Sirius frowned. "He'll probably say no."
"Doesn't hurt to ask," said James.
A lost library book turns out to be a bigger crisis than Remus was expecting.
Following their tryst in the periodicals storage room, Sirius was more reserved than usual, and seemed hesitant to be alone with Remus. He still seemed eager to spend whatever free time he could manage with him, however, for which Remus was relieved. Remus knew he had crossed a line, even if he did not fully understand what the line meant, and that it might take Sirius a while to feel comfortable being alone with him again.
The weather was beginning to turn colder and wetter as the end of October approached, and it was no longer convenient nor pleasant to spend Sirius's breaks outside the library, so they began meeting at the tables near the cafe instead. Sirius would remove his name-tag to indicate to anyone who might see them together that he was not working during those moments, and he and Remus would hold hands across the table, sharing a brief kiss in greeting, and another before Sirius returned to work.
"So do you have any plans for Halloween?" Sirius asked.
He was working behind the circulation desk that afternoon. Remus was leaning across it, fingers resting lightly on top of Sirius's, thumb stroking the side of Sirius's hand. They often lingered there at the end of the day, before Remus left the library. If the book drop was not full, and no other patrons needed his immediate attention, Sirius could spare a few minutes to chat.
Remus shook his head. "Classes this evening, and then I need to study tonight."
"All work and no play again, huh?" Sirius chuckled.
Remus smiled. "I play sometimes."
Sirius's cheeks flushed. "Listen, about the other day ..."
"It's fine," said Remus quickly. "Really. I mean, I like spending time with you, but it doesn't have to mean ... that. I just sort of got carried away in the moment, you know?"
Sirius relaxed slightly, and gave Remus a heart-stopping smile. "Yeah. I like spending time with you, too." He cleared his throat. "In fact, I was thinking it might be nice if -"
He broke off as one of the other librarians - the Children's librarian, Remus thought - appeared behind the desk, pushing a bin full of books from the book drop.
"I don't mean to interrupt," she said, giving them a wink, "but you should probably start scanning these in ASAP. I just saw McGonagall making the rounds."
Sirius straightened up, glancing around, his hand slipping out from under Remus's. "Thanks," he muttered.
"Nice of her to give you a heads-up," commented Remus, as the other librarian disappeared into the back room.
"Yeah. She looks out for me. She says we queers have to stick together." He gave Remus an apologetic smile. "I guess I should get you checked out."
He typed Remus's name and phone number into the computer.
"So you know my phone number by heart now?" teased Remus.
Sirius blushed. "Well, I check you out more than anyone else who uses the library."
"Good to know," Remus grinned. "I check you out sometimes, too."
Sirius frowned at the computer screen. "Looks like you have an overdue. Oh, it's that same one again. LGBTQ Youth Issues."
Remus's smile faded. "Oh. Um. Can you renew it again for me?"
"You're still not done with it?" Sirius asked, surprised. "If it's that important for your classes, maybe you should just buy a copy."
"Yeah, maybe," said Remus, not meeting his eyes.
"I can't renew it again," said Sirius. "Sorry. Two renewals is the limit. You'll have to return it. But if no one else has a hold on it, you can check it right back out again."
Remus hesitated. "Um. What if I ... lost it?"
"Oh." Sirius blinked. "Well, um, in that case, you'd have to pay a fee to replace it."
"How much of a fee?"
"Let me just look up the replacement cost," said Sirius, tapping at the keyboard. "Here it is. Oh! Um ..."
"It - it's out of print. And the library doesn't have another copy."
Remus felt a sinking sensation in his stomach. "What does that mean?"
"It means it's ... expensive to replace." Sirius looked distressed.
Reluctantly, Sirius turned the computer monitor to show him the screen.
Remus's mouth dropped open in shock. "Nine hundred dollars?!" he gasped. "But - it was just an old paperback!"
"I'm really sorry," said Sirius.
Remus felt ill. Nine hundred dollars was more than he usually made in a month. It would take him a lot of extra nights when he should be sleeping or studying to make up that amount.
"W-what happens now?" he asked faintly. "Can I - not check out books anymore?"
Sirius bit his lip. "That depends on whether or not I report it lost. If I do, then yeah, you wouldn't be able to check anything out until you took care of it."
"And if you don't?"
"Then the library keeps treating it like an overdue. The fine is twenty-five cents per day. Your account gets frozen when it hits fifteen dollars. After twenty-five, the library sends it to a collections agency. You're at three dollars for previous overdue fees right now, just so you know."
"Are you allowed to do that?" asked Remus shakily. "Not report it? You wouldn't get in trouble?"
"I dunno about 'allowed'," said Sirius, "but since I'm the only one who knows it's lost, I can pretend you never told me."
"And can I just keep paying down my account a few dollars at a time, to keep it unfrozen?"
Sirius frowned. "I think so."
"OK." Remus took out his wallet, and passed Sirius three one dollar bills with a hand that shook. "It - um - if it did get reported lost, would the bill go to the address on my account?"
Sirius nodded. "Is it an old address? I can update it for you, if you have a piece of official mail showing your current address."
"It's my parents' address," Remus mumbled, looking down. "I-I'd rather not get them involved."
"Oh. Well, like I said ..."
"Yeah. I'll ... um ... try to remember to bring some mail in next time," said Remus, still not meeting his eyes. "I have to go now. Classes."
"I'm sorry," Sirius said again, looking it. "I hope the book turns up."
"Yeah, me too."
"OK, let's go over it again," said Lily. "Where have you checked, and where else could it be?"
"We've looked everywhere at your place," said Remus, counting off on his fingers. "It's not in the lost and found at the kitchen. I checked the library shelves all through the 300s, in case I left it there and it got re-shelved by accident. I asked Professor Vector and Professor Flitwick last night after classes, but neither of them had seen it. The only other places I can think of that it might be are the college library, which was closed last night, the tent city encampment up in the U district, or the men's shelter down by Pioneer Square. If it's not there, then I probably left it in a park or a cafe or something, or someone took it when I wasn't looking."
"The college is closest. Let's check there, next. Or would you rather split up to cover more ground?" Lily asked.
"Let's stick together for now," said Remus. "If it's there today, it will be there tomorrow, and in the meantime, the library will only charge me another quarter. Anyway, I'm less likely to freak out if I have someone to talk to."
"It's going to be OK, Remus," Lily assured him, taking his hand as they set out towards the college. "One way or another, we'll figure this out."
"It's not your problem, Lils," said Remus glumly. "Thanks for helping me look, though."
"I can give you some of the money," Lily said tentatively. "As my dad always says, 'a problem isn't a problem if you can throw money at it and make it go away'."
"Not having the money is the problem," Remus frowned, hunching his shoulders against the light drizzle. "And I'm not taking any of yours. You're supposed to be saving up for school."
"I can spare some. Helping my friends is important, too."
Remus shook his head, grimacing. "I can get the money, if I have to. It will just mean a lot of extra work, and maybe doing some things I usually wouldn't. There's plenty of kinky shit people will pay extra for."
They stopped at a stoplight, and Lily gave him a concerned look. "Don't burn yourself out over this. Didn't Sirius say you could pay it off a little at a time, and keep your account open?"
"Yeah." Remus shrugged uncomfortably. "But I really don't like having it hanging over me. One way or another, I'll have to pay it off eventually."
"Only if you don't find the book."
"True," said Remus, but he did not feel hopeful.
Lily squeezed his hand. "So, library fines aside, how are things?"
Remus sighed. "Great, I guess. I mean, everything was going really well, you know? The other day in the magazine room things got so hot, for a minute I thought we were going to do it right there."
"That sounds pretty great," grinned Lily.
"Yeah. It was, at the time. But I got so caught up in the moment that I wasn't thinking. Like, it never even occurred to me that he wouldn't want to. I forgot that most people aren't as casual about sex as you and me, and I guess I figured someone who looks like him would be used to getting all the sex he ever wanted."
"So he's not like the guys you're used to dealing with. Is that such a surprise?" asked Lily.
Remus shrugged. "I guess it was. I didn't really think about that, but I guess you're right. I'm used to guys who only want one thing from me. Why else would he be interested?"
"You're right," said Lily, with a deadpan expression. "Apart from your fine ass and reasonably nice face, you are a completely unlikeable and uninteresting person. That's what I look for in a best friend."
Remus smiled. "Well, you were friends with Severus ..."
Lily winced. "Don't. I'm not ready to joke about that yet."
"It's OK. I just meant that maybe Sirius can see your heart, like I can."
"Well, if that's the case, so far he just seems to want to make out with my heart," joked Remus grimly as they entered the Seattle Central College grounds. "I dunno how much longer we can keep this up without any awkward questions coming up. I've had the feeling the last couple of days that there's something he wants to ask me, but he hasn't quite gotten up the nerve."
Lily frowned. "You think he's guessed something?"
"Maybe. I mean, we both know there are things the other isn't talking about. It's natural to try to guess, isn't it?"
"I won't say James hasn't asked me what your deal is," Lily admitted.
"What have you told him?"
In the entryway of the college library, Lily stopped and turned towards him, smiling. "What do you think I've told him? That you're a great guy, and Sirius is lucky to have you."
Remus gave her a reluctant grin. "Thanks."
"So do you have any idea what it might be that he's not telling you?" Lily asked curiously.
"I dunno," shrugged Remus. "I'm guessing it's something to do with his parents. He said they didn't have a great relationship even before he came out, and that he was the one who decided to leave."
Lily's expression softened. "You think he was abused?"
"It fits," said Remus. "Lots of abuse victims experience feelings of guilt and shame that keep them from talking about it. And as jumpy as he is about sex, maybe -" he broke off, shaking his head. "I'll just have to tread carefully with him."
"Didn't you say he had a younger brother?" asked Lily. "If it was that kind of abuse, he wouldn't have left him behind, would he?"
"Yeah, he did say so." Remus frowned, puzzled. "But if that's not it, I dunno what else it could be."
"Well, whatever it is, I do think he's lucky to have you," said Lily fondly.
Remus looked down. "Dunno how lucky he'll feel when he actually finds out about me."
Stepping closer, Lily hugged him. "That's a problem for another day. C'mon. Let's go see if they have your book here."
The book was not at the college library, nor was it at the homeless encampment, nor at the men's shelter, nor anywhere else Remus could think to look for it in the week that followed. He had not expected to find it. Seattle was a large city, and he had covered a lot of ground since checking the book out in August. It might be sitting quietly on someone's shelf now, or mouldering in a landfill somewhere, or have been used for tinder in a fire that kept someone warm for a night. Wherever it was, Remus was not going to find it. He would have to pay the nine hundred dollar fine.
Remus knew he could not avoid the library forever, and that when he went back, Sirius would ask if he had had any luck finding the book. He had received a few text messages to that effect in the intervening days, but left them unanswered. It was bad enough that he had lost a valuable book, and that he would somehow have to come up with the money to replace it, without facing Sirius's anxious questions, too.
When at last Remus returned to the library, he was exhausted. He had spent the weekend studying in the college library during the day, and meeting as many clients as possible in the evenings. Sirius was working behind the circulation desk when Remus arrived, helping a patron. Remus ducked his head and hurried to the escalator, hoping he had not been seen.
He barely had time to look up the call number for the book he needed, and locate it on the shelf, when he heard quick footsteps hurrying along the spiral path.
"Hey," said Sirius hesitantly. "I saw you come in."
"You looked busy. I just needed to get a book." Remus kept his eyes fixed on the shelf in front of him.
"I haven't seen you in a week. You haven't answered any of my texts. Did I do something wrong?"
"It's not you."
"Is it about the book?" asked Sirius. "It's not that big a deal. People lose library materials all the time. I know that one was pricier than most, but if you pay it off a little at a time -"
"It is a big deal, Sirius," Remus snapped, looking up. "It's a very big deal to me. I can't afford it. I have student loans coming out my ass. I have to keep myself fed and clothed. I can only work so many hours a week. Don't you get it? I have no money."
Sirius blinked and took a step back. "I do get it. It's a lot. I get why that would freak you out. But you really don't have to pay it right away. And - if you needed, I could cover some of it. I don't mind."
"Then I'd just be in debt to you instead of the library," Remus scowled. "How would that help?"
"No, you wouldn't," said Sirius. "You wouldn't have to pay me back."
"Thanks but no thanks," said Remus. "I'd still feel like I owed you. This is embarrassing enough for me. I don't want that kind of unbalanced relationship."
He did not ask the question he was thinking: Why would you do that for me? If you don't want sex, what do you want?
Sirius was quiet for a moment, then he said, "I thought we weren't calling this a relationship."
"Whatever this is." Remus waved an impatient hand between them. "I don't want you paying my way, just because you have money and I don't."
"OK," said Sirius. "Then what are you going to do?"
Remus looked away. "I'll figure something out."
When Lily's mom's health takes a turn, Lily and Remus need some extra help.
Warning for sex shaming and anti-sex worker language.
"You should take a night off," said Lily, sitting on the edge of the bathtub. "You've already worked three nights in a row. You owe it to yourself to get some rest."
Remus checked his reflection in the mirror critically. The concealer he had applied hid the shadows under his eyes somewhat, and the hint of eyeliner and lipgloss would draw attention to his eyes and lips, without being too noticeable. He was wearing one of his two good outfits, which he saved for work nights: a slim-fitting shirt, and pants that showed off the shape of his ass.
"I can't," he said, shaking his head. "I want to get this library fine resolved sooner rather than later. I don't want it hanging over my head forever. Besides, I already asked for an extension on one essay. I don't want to ask for more."
"I'm worried about you, Remus," Lily frowned. "If you don't take some time off soon, you're going to make yourself sick."
"I'll take time off around the holidays in December," Remus promised her. "I have two weeks off from classes then."
Lily scowled. "That's more than a month away. You're telling me you're not planning to take even one day off between now and then?"
Remus gave her a tired smile. "We'll see. I'll try. How do I look?"
Lily returned the smile reluctantly. "You look great. Very sexy."
"Thanks." He grinned, wiggling his butt at her.
"You can come back here after to crash, if you want to."
"Maybe," said Remus. "I'll see where I am and how late it is. If I'm nearby, I'll text you to see if you're still awake. Now, get out of here so I can get the rest of me ready."
"OK," said Lily. "I'm going to see if Mom is done with her dinner. Don't forget to come say good night before you head out."
He was sitting on the toilet, checking his phone to confirm that the two dates he had made for that night on Grindr were still on, when a sharp, frantic knock came on the bathroom door.
"I'll be out in just a couple more minutes," Remus called.
"Remus?" Lily's voice was high with panic. "Mom's sick. I need to get her to the doctor right away!"
"I'll be right there!" Remus shouted, rushing to clean himself up.
Rose Evans was sitting up in bed, thin chest heaving with every panting breath. Lily sat beside her, a comforting arm around her shoulder.
"She's having heart palpitations again," Lily said urgently. "I've got to find her a ride to the clinic."
Remus nodded. He understood why Lily did not want to call an ambulance: the bill for the ride alone could cost hundreds of dollars that the Evans family could not spare.
"Have you called your dad?"
Lily shook her head. "He's working in Tacoma tonight. It would take him over an hour to find a replacement for his shift, and get home. I don't want to worry him. I've left messages for James and Sev. Neither of them picked up. Could you call Sirius?"
"He'll be working at the library for another hour at least," said Remus, feeling useless. "Can you think of anyone else who has a car?"
"I dunno. Maybe Alice? But I haven't talked to her in ages." Lily patted her mom's shoulder. "It's going to be OK, Mom. We'll find someone who can drive you. Just try to breathe normally."
"Peh-Petunia?" Mrs. Evans gasped.
Lily and Remus exchanged a look.
"I can send her a message on Facebook," Lily said uncertainly, "but I don't know how soon she'll see it. I dunno how else to contact her. Her old number isn't working anymore."
Lily's phone rang, and she and Remus both jumped. Lily fumbled to answer it.
"Hello? James! Oh, thank goodness. Yes ... no ... I mean, it's an emergency, but not like an emergency emergency. If you could come right away, though, that would be great. OK. Thanks. I'll text you the address. OK. OK. See you soon. Thanks. Bye."
She pressed the "end call" button and quickly typed the apartment's address into a text message.
"He says he can be here in fifteen or twenty minutes." She looked slightly less panicked than before.
"Will you be OK until then?" Remus asked Rose.
Lily's mother nodded, pressing her lips together, trying to hold her breath.
"She's had heart palpitations before," said Lily. "The doctor said it's not serious on its own, but with the meds she's on, she needs to get checked right away."
"I'll help you guys get ready to go," Remus offered. He began rummaging in the closet for a warm jacket and pants.
"You don't have to stay, Remus," said Lily. "James is on his way, and I know you have ... plans."
She cast her mother a sidelong look, but Rose's eyes were closed as she concentrated on her breathing. Lily's parents did not know about the work Remus did.
"It's OK," Remus assured her. "I can reschedule. I just want to make sure you guys are all right."
Remus had just finished apologizing to his two clients via text, and arranging different nights with them later in the week, when a knock came at the apartment door. Remus went to answer it so that Lily would not have to leave her mother's side.
"Oh. Hey." James blinked when he saw Remus.
"Hey," said Remus, standing aside to let him in. "Thanks for coming so fast."
James stared around the tiny, cluttered apartment with wide eyes, pushing a hand nervously through his poofy cloud of black hair. Remus wondered how much Lily had told him about where and how she lived.
Rose Evans was now warmly dressed and wearing slippers. Lily helped her stand, supporting her with an arm around her waist, as she performed grim-faced introductions between James and her mother.
"Hi," said James awkwardly. "Sorry to meet you like this, Mrs. Evans. I would have brought my mom - she's a doctor - but she's working at Harborview this evening. I'm sorry I can't remember what she says to do for heart palpitations."
"Just - let's go," said Lily anxiously.
She and James helped Rose to the shiny red BMW, while Remus hung back, making sure the apartment was locked behind them. Lily put Rose in the back seat, so she could sit with her on the way to the urgent care clinic, while Remus wordlessly took the passenger seat beside James. He glanced at James out of the corner of his eye, wondering what he was thinking, and what he would tell Sirius later about what he had seen of Lily's apartment.
When James asked for directions, Remus told him where to go, so that Lily would not have to think about anything but her mother. The clinic was a little over a mile away, but evening traffic complicated matters, stretching the tense drive to nearly fifteen minutes.
Arriving at the clinic, James parked as near to the entrance as he could. While Lily went to the desk to help her mother get checked in, Remus and James found uncomfortable seats in the waiting area. There was a deck of cards on the table between them. James picked it up and began to shuffle restlessly, as if having something to do with his hands helped cover the general awkwardness of the situation.
"She'll be OK," said Remus. "Mrs. Evans. She just needs to get checked out. Maybe take something for her heart."
"Lily says she's been sick for a while," said James, eyes still fixed on the two women at the check-in desk, the younger supporting the elder.
"Yeah," said Remus. "As long as I've known her."
"What does she have? Lily never said."
Remus shrugged. "A bunch of things that are all even less fun when you add them together."
"Did you have plans for tonight?" James asked, looking Remus's outfit up and down.
"Nothing important," Remus said evasively.
James looked skeptical, but continued shuffling.
"So ..." said Remus, searching for a safe topic to cover the awkward silence, "how's the apartment hunt going?"
James shrugged. "Slow. Pete and I have been busy with school, and Sirius is busy at the library. We're going to take a look at a couple of places next week."
"Well, I hope one of them looks all right."
Lily came over and subsided into a chair.
James sat up straighter. "How is she?"
"They won't let me go in with her, so I guess we just have to wait. If you don't mind?" She gave James a pleading look. "I've called my dad, and he can come get us when he's done with work, if you have somewhere else to be."
"I don't mind waiting," James told her. He held up the cards. "Do you guys know how to play Gin?"
The deck only had forty-nine cards, but they made it work, somehow. Remus was grateful to have someone else there to help keep Lily distracted from her worries about her mother, and James seemed genuinely solicitous towards her.
They were in the middle of their third hand when the clinic door opened. Remus glanced up, and froze. Lily and James noticed the direction of his gaze and looked up, too.
"There you are," said Severus Snape acerbically. He glanced back and forth between James and Remus, but decided to ignore them. "I got your message. I went to your apartment, but no one was home, so I came here."
"Oh." Lily looked flustered. "Thanks for coming by, Sev. You didn't have to do that."
"I can see that," Severus scowled. "You could've texted me back to let me know I wasn't needed, after all. I got off work early when I got your message. Told them I had a family emergency."
"I really appreciate it, Sev," said Lily earnestly. "You're right. I should've texted you that we had a ride. I wasn't thinking straight. I'm sorry."
Severus did not look as if "sorry" was good enough. Remus could guess why. He had probably hoped to come to Lily's rescue, like some sort of knight in shining armor, comforting and supporting her in her hour of need, all the past issues in their relationship swept away in one grand gesture. Instead of a distraught and grateful Lily, he had found a Lily calmly playing cards with two other men, in no need of his assistance.
"Who's this?" James asked, eyeing the sallow stranger with uncombed and unwashed hair.
Severus's scowl deepened. "Severus Snape. I'm Lily's oldest friend. Who are you?"
"James Potter. Pleased to meet you," said James. He did not sound as if meeting Severus gave him any particular pleasure.
Severus turned his black gaze back to Lily. "This your new boyfriend?"
Lily's jaw tightened. "Maybe we should talk outside."
Remus glanced around. Everyone else in the waiting room was watching them with expressions ranging from wariness to avid interest.
"Suits me," said Severus, turning on his heel and striding towards the door.
"I'll be back in a minute," Lily told Remus and James grimly.
Remus stayed where he was, reminding himself yet again that Lily's relationship with Severus was her own business, but James stood up, looking at Remus.
"That the guy who hassled you and Sirius at the library?" he asked.
Remus nodded. "Lily can handle him, though."
James frowned. "She shouldn't have to deal with his shit today, on top of everything."
It was nearly dark outside, but the light of the clinic and a nearby streetlamp illuminated the parking lot in a chilly glow.
Lily and Severus broke off their heated conversation when they saw James and Remus come out of the clinic. James went to lean on his car, arms folded, watching them. Remus stood by the clinic wall, hands in his pockets.
"That your car, is it?" sneered Severus.
"Well, that explains a lot," he said to Lily. "You dumped me for a rich pretty-boy. You know, I thought you were different from other girls, but you're not. God! Women are so fucking shallow."
"If that's what you think, then maybe you should leave right now," hissed Lily from between clenched teeth.
Severus gave her a pitying look. "I was so good to you. I was always there for you when you needed anything. I volunteered my valuable time at that fucking kitchen. I would have given you everything. And what do I get out of it? I'm supposed to be grateful that you fucked me once? I guess it's true what they say; females will always go for some asshole instead of a nice guy."
"Hey!" said James indignantly, standing up straight.
Lily's face went from scarlet to dead white. "You think you're a 'nice guy', Sev? You're not nearly as nice as you think you are. Niceness means actually caring about people and their happiness, not about getting what you want from them. Remus is nice. You're an asshole."
Severus's eyes blazed. "You think you're too good for me? Well, you're not. You may have fooled me for a while, but not anymore. I should've known that someone who spent her time hanging around with whores was probably a whore, too."
"That's enough," snapped James. He stepped in to loom over Severus menacingly. Severus cringed away. "I won't stand by an listen to you insult a lady like that. Go, or I'll make you go."
"James, this is not about you," said Lily, green eyes flashing.
"Yeah, James," Severus taunted. "Anyway, she's no lady. She's a fat, worthless slut. But you probably already knew that. How long did it take her to spread her legs for you? An hour? Less? Was it just her, or did you have both of them together?" He shot Remus a look of extreme dislike. "I hope for your sake that you used protection."
James put a hand on Severus's shoulder and squeezed until he squeaked.
"Leave. Now." James's voice was low, dangerous, and very precise. "And if I ever hear that you bothered anyone of my acquaintance again, I will come find you, and make you very, very sorry."
"Let go of me!" squealed Severus. "I'll have you arrested for assault!"
"Let him go, James," said Lily sharply.
James released him, and Severus staggered away, rubbing his shoulder.
"Are you going to call the police?" James asked evenly.
"I should," snarled Severus. "It might be funny. They don't usually give guys your color the benefit of the doubt."
James tensed, and so did Remus. Lily might be the kind of witness who would be listened to, but the police would not be inclined to friendliness towards someone like Remus, either. Especially not after they looked up his name and found multiple solicitation arrests.
"You're not going to call the police," said Lily coldly. "Not when there are half a dozen witnesses inside who saw you show up looking to start shit. You wouldn't want to risk your promising future over a fat, worthless slut like me, would you?"
Severus hunched his shoulders, and made a visible effort to compose himself. "I didn't mean it like that. I lost my temper. You know what I'm like when something sets me off. I'm - I'm sorry, Lily." He made a face, as if the word tasted bad.
Lily stared at him for a moment, jaw clenched. "'Sorry' isn't good enough this time, Sev," she said at last, struggling to keep her voice steady. "My mom is sick. I had a bad day. I needed support . And you showed up here acting like I owed you, insulting me and the people who were actually there for me when I needed them. You didn't even ask how my mom was doing. I'm done. I'm not going to let you treat me like this anymore. Goodbye, Sev."
Without another word, she turned around and walked back into the clinic. Remus and James exchanged a look, and followed, leaving Severus alone in the parking lot.
Lily was curled up in one of the uncomfortable chairs, tears streaming down her red cheeks. Remus went to her and sat down beside her, putting an arm around her.
"You OK, Lils?" he asked gently.
"I've n-never been so hum-miliated and a-angry in my life," gasped Lily.
"You have nothing to be embarrassed about," said James heartily. "That guy's a dick."
Lily swallowed and looked up at James through reddened eyes. "Look, I know you were t-trying to be a good guy or whatever out there, but I don't need someone to s-swoop in and play the hero or fight m-my fights for me. It wasn't anything to d-do with you."
James blinked. "I'm sorry. I just didn't think you needed that today."
"I get that," said Lily. "But n-next time maybe ask before deciding what someone else n-needs. Thanks for your h-help today, James, but you should go now. We'll w-wait here till my dad comes."
James opened his mouth, then closed it again and nodded. "OK. Sorry, again. I hope your mom is all right. I'll text you later."
Lily closed her eyes and nodded.
James glanced helplessly from Lily to Remus, then turned and walked out the door.
When he had gone, Lily leaned her face into Remus's shoulder and sobbed.
"Where've you been?" Sirius asked as James came in from the garage. "I thought you'd be up in your room, studying."
"Lily's mom was sick. I had to drive them to the clinic."
"Is she OK?" Sirius asked.
James shrugged. "Not really, but it sounds like she's not in great health at the best of times."
Sirius frowned, looking James over. "Are you OK?"
"Yeah. Just - a little shaken up. That guy showed up again. The one who came to the library."
"Oh. What did he do this time?"
James opened the refrigerator, taking out a beer. "He acted like an utter piece of shit. Want one?"
Sirius nodded. James passed him the beer and grabbed another for himself. They went into the large, high-ceilinged living room and sat down on the sofa. Sirius sipped his beer, but James tilted his head back, swigging deeply.
"That bad, huh?" joked Sirius.
"You ever have a first impression of someone that you later found out was completely different from reality?" James asked.
Sirius frowned. "So, he wasn't a complete piece of shit, after all?"
"No, he was. I meant Lily, though," James clarified.
"What?" asked Sirius. "Is she not as awesome as you thought for some reason?"
"No, she's great," said James hastily. "Well, she did kind of tell me to fuck off today, but she was having a shitty day."
"She did?" asked Sirius, surprised.
James nodded. "But what I mean is, I had these ideas about who she was and what her life was like, and then I saw where she lives, and it's - it wasn't what I was expecting."
"Where does she live?"
"In this crappy little one-bedroom apartment with her parents. There was a sofa bed folded out in the living room. It looks like that's where she sleeps. I thought she was - I don't know - middle class or something. I knew she worked as a waitress and lived with her parents, but I imagined something ... more."
"Does that make a difference?" asked Sirius.
"I dunno," said James. "I've never dated anyone who wasn't at least comfortably well-off before."
Sirius nodded. "Me either. Remus told me the other day that he's broke, too. That was why the fine freaked him out so much."
"He was there, too," said James abruptly.
"At Lily's today. He came with us to the clinic. He was all dressed up like he was going out clubbing or something."
Sirius frowned. "That's weird. He said he was working tonight when I texted him earlier. He's been trying to get extra hours at the hotel."
"Maybe his schedule got changed at the last minute," said James with a shrug.
"Yeah, maybe," said Sirius doubtfully.
"I'm trying to figure out how I feel," James continued, returning to the original topic. "Like, I feel bad for them. Lily's family. I want to help, and it seems like they need it. But I feel like Lily doesn't want my help."
"Remus is the same way," Sirius sighed. "It's frustrating. If he won't accept money, I dunno what else I can do for him."
"This is so weird," said James with a mirthless chuckle, taking another swig of beer. "People have always told me to watch out for 'gold diggers', but what am I supposed to do when I meet someone who's the opposite of that? Who's so bent on being independent that they won't accept any help from me?"
"I've clearly spoiled you by letting your family help me too much," teased Sirius.
James laughed and nudged him. "What are you talking about? You won't accept help either."
"Yeah, I just live under your roof and let your family feed and clothe me for five years," said Sirius, rolling his eyes. "I don't ask for much."
"You don't, though," said James. "Seems to me like you and Remus have that in common."
Sirius frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe so," he said.
When Remus comes into the library with a black eye, Sirius gets worried.
Sirius leaned on the circulation desk and sighed. The book he had brought to work with him lay on the counter at his elbow, but Sirius did not feel like reading. He had texted despondently with James for a while, but James was in class now, and so was Peter. It did not seem worth texting Remus. He had barely answered any of Sirius's messages in the last week.
Sirius did not understand why Remus was avoiding him. He had cajoled James into asking Lily, but Lily would only say that Remus was busy. James refused to press the matter. Things had been awkward between him and Lily since her mother's health scare, and James was trying to give her some space.
Sirius took out his phone and found his last conversation with Remus. Remus's replies had been monosyllabic, often coming after hours-long lags. He considered texting Remus to ask if they were through, but Sirius was not sure he was ready to know the answer yet.
Across the lobby, the glass door slid open, just as Sirius happened to glance up. Remus stood frozen in the doorway. When he realized he had been spotted, he dropped his eyes to the floor and reluctantly approached the circulation desk.
Sirius straightened up, heart beating faster.
"I didn't think you'd be here today," Remus mumbled.
"I had to cover someone else's shift at the last minute. Remus -"
Remus kept his head down, dark brown hair falling forward to hide his eyes - but not well enough for Sirius to miss the dark bruising around his right eye.
"Here." Remus dropped a handful of crumpled twenties and fifties onto the counter. "That's half of it. I can get the rest in a couple of weeks."
Sirius made no move to touch the money. "What happened? Are you OK?"
"I'll be fine," said Remus tersely. "Just - clear that off my account?"
Automatically, Sirius counted the money and stowed it in the register, then brought up Remus's library record and subtracted the amount from his fine.
"There. Now will you tell me what happened?"
"I have to go," said Remus, and turned away, hurrying towards the exit.
Reaching under the desk for the "back in 10 minutes" sign, Sirius slapped it on the counter and ran after him.
"Remus, wait -"
Remus heard the desperate plea in Sirius's voice, and the sound of his sneakers slapping on the sidewalk behind him, and kept walking fast, shoulders hunched, hands shoved deep in his pockets.
"Please, Remus! Just talk to me for a second!"
Sirius's hand closed on his wrist, and Remus yelped in pain, jerking away. Immediately, Sirius let go.
Remus stood with his head bowed, cradling his injured wrist against his chest. He was tired and sore and all he wanted to do was go back to Lily's place and curl up in a ball to sleep.
"Jesus, Remus! What happened to you?" gasped Sirius, panting from his headlong sprint.
"Nothing. I fell, OK?" Remus said grumpily.
"Like hell you did," Sirius scowled. "Is this why you've been avoiding me?"
"No. I'm not - I've been busy."
Remus silently cursed his bad luck. He had come to the library today specifically because it was supposed to be one of Sirius's days off. He had just wanted to pay down his fine without any fuss or questions. Carrying so much cash around made Remus nervous. He had been robbed before, more than once.
"Was it your parents?" Sirius asked more gently. "Did you have to go to them for the money?"
"I thought we didn't do personal questions," Remus grumbled.
"Fuck that," said Sirius. "If someone's hurting you -"
"It wasn't my parents, OK?"
"Was it that asshole with the greasy hair?"
"No. I don't want to talk about it."
It had not been the first time a john had gotten rough with him, or tried to take things too far. Remus could usually tell when a potential client was going to be trouble, but sometimes when he needed the money badly enough, he ignored his instincts and took the risk. He was paying for it now. Between his black eye, sprained wrist, and myriad other aches and pains, it would be two or three days at least before he was able to work again.
"You can't ask me to unsee this, Remus," said Sirius. "If you're in trouble, I want to help."
"Thanks for your concern, but I'll be fine," Remus repeated. "Shouldn't you be getting back to work?"
Sirius looked torn. "I guess. I just - I don't want you to feel like you have to hide from me, or avoid the library, just because things aren't great."
Remus shook his head. "This is why I wanted to keep things light. We don't need to be getting involved in each other's lives."
"I think it's a little late for that," said Sirius. "Look, I'm not asking you to tell me every detail of your life, Remus. Just trust me a little. I-I care about you, OK?"
Remus's eyes remained fixed on the toes of Sirius's sneakers. "It's not you. You're great," he mumbled. "It's - you shouldn't worry about me. I'm not worth it."
"Maybe you're not the one who gets to decide whether you're worth it," Sirius said softly.
Sirius's hand came up, fingers gently brushing Remus's cheek. Remus closed his eyes, relaxing into the caress.
"Think about it?" Sirius whispered.
Hesitantly, Remus nodded.
When he opened his eyes again, Sirius was gone.
Sirius sat on the sofa, staring into the fireplace without seeing the flickering flames, a cup of hot cocoa clutched, forgotten, between his hands. He heard soft footfalls on the hardwood floor behind him, but did not look up.
"I didn't hear you come up to bed," said James, sitting down beside him and stretching his long legs so that his brown feet were close to the fire's warmth. "You've been quiet all night. What's up?"
"Remus came in today. He looked like someone beat him up."
"Shit," muttered James. "Did he say what happened?"
Sirius shook his head. "He wouldn't tell me anything. Just tried to get away as fast as possible. I chased him down outside the library and - I told him I care about him."
James's dark eyebrows rose. "What did he say?"
"That he's not worth it. He is, though. And someone hurt him -" Sirius's voice cracked and he swallowed. "I don't know what to do."
James squeezed his shoulder. "I had a friend who went through a rough patch a while back. Sometimes there's not much you can do, except be there for them."
Sirius gave him a reluctant half-smile. "You did way more than that. I dunno what would have happened, if it hadn't been for you and your parents."
"Yeah, well, we cared about you," James said fondly. "If Remus cares, he'll be back, and you'll be there for him."
Remus avoided the library for another week while his wrist healed and his bruises faded. He studied at Lily's apartment, or at the college library, and went back to work as soon as he felt able - much sooner than Lily thought he should. He insisted on giving her a hundred dollars for groceries, to make up for all the meals he had shared with her and her family that month. He visited the soup kitchen when he had the time, and survived on energy bars when he did not.
He had been worried that Sirius would start checking up on him constantly, but aside from a short exchange asking him if he was OK, and letting him know that if he ever needed help, he could call Sirius anytime, day or night, and another a few days later telling him that Sirius and his friends had finally signed a lease, and would be moving into a new apartment on the first of December, Sirius had not pushed for conversation.
Remus missed him. He missed the fun, flirty texting exchanges they used to have, and the even more fun secret make-out sessions during Sirius's work breaks. Remus knew they could not go back to the way things had been. Real life had begun to intrude too much on their fragile happiness. At the very least, he owed it to Sirius not to break up with him via text message, but every time he imagined Sirius's face when he finally told him it was over, Remus's chest ached.
Finally, Remus could avoid the library no longer. There were books he needed, and a wad of cash burning a hole in his pocket. Steeling himself, he marched through the sliding glass door.
He was not sure whether he was more relieved or disappointed that the librarian behind the circulation desk was not Sirius. Remus gave his hard-earned money to the man behind the counter, and with a quick glance around, stepped onto the escalator to the upper levels.
He arrived in the 300s section without any sign of Sirius. Maybe his schedule had changed. Maybe he was not there at all. Maybe Remus could put off the inevitable for another day, or even a week.
He had barely sat down at one of the study tables at the end of the 300s when his phone buzzed.
Frank said he saw you come in. ok if I come say hi later?
Remus's heart sank.
yeah ok, he texted back. see you later.
Opening a book, Remus tried to focus on his reading, but his thoughts kept drifting back to Sirius and the painful task that lay ahead of him.
I care about you, Sirius had said. But that did not matter. Sirius did not know him. If Remus told him the truth about his life, that caring would probably vanish as quickly as misting breath on a cold day, replaced by horrified pity at best, and horrified disgust at worst. Remus wanted neither. Better to simply walk away, leaving his life a mystery to Sirius. If only walking away felt simple ...
Remus sighed and rummaged in his backpack for his precious bottle of Adderall. He would need to buy more soon, which meant he needed to work more and earn more money. Money for study drugs. Money to pay his fine. Money to pay for classes in the upcoming spring quarter. And somehow, also enough money to feed himself and sustain him through the winter.
His belly growled with hunger as he walked to the drinking fountain. Shut up, he told it silently. He tossed back the orange pills and took several swallows of cold water. Maybe he could trick his stomach into thinking it was full, at least until the drugs kicked in and he forgot about everything but his studies.
All right, he told himself firmly, sitting back down. Let's do this. Future psychologist Remus Lupin. Helping people. Having a roof over your head and a savings account. And maybe a boyfriend.
Maybe when he had his life figured out, Remus could come back and find Sirius again. But no, that was too much to hope for. Someone like Sirius would be snapped up long before then by someone far more deserving than Remus. Better to let him go, and not dwell on hopeless dreams.
Remus did not know how long he had been reading when Sirius slid into the chair across from him. He blinked, startled.
"Oh. I thought you'd text first."
"I did," said Sirius, nodding towards his phone.
Remus looked down and saw a notification for two new messages on the screen. He swiped across it and saw, breaking for lunch in 15, followed by, on my way up.
"Oh. Sorry. I guess the time got away from me."
"Sounds like you could use a break, too," said Sirius, giving him an uncertain half-smile. "Will you at least let me buy you a cup of coffee while I get my lunch?"
Remus hesitated, remembering his mission. Coffee meant talking, and talking meant breaking up.
"I have to study," he said. "I have finals coming up."
It was not a lie, even if it was cowardly. Remus told himself he would do what had to be done that afternoon, before he left the library.
Sirius sat back, frowning. "Are you blowing me off? You can't take twenty minutes to have coffee with me?"
Remus shook his head again. One wordless lie to cover both questions. His head felt woozy and he was desperately hungry. He hoped his stomach was not about to start growling again. When Sirius left, he would let himself have an energy bar.
"We've barely seen each other in weeks," said Sirius quietly. "Half the time, you don't answer my texts. Are we through?"
There. A perfect opening. All Remus needed to say was yes, and it was done. No more Sirius-related complications.
Instead, he said, "Can we not talk about this right now? Go eat your lunch. I'll come find you later."
He stood up and turned towards the shelves, as if he needed to get more books. Black spots swam before his eyes and the bottom dropped out of his stomach. His head felt strange and wobbly.
Remus blinked, surprised to find himself lying on the floor, his head and shoulders cradled in Sirius's arms, Sirius's alarmed face bent over him.
"Wha-?" he managed.
"You passed out for a second," said Sirius, looking relieved to see him conscious. "Are you sick? Do you need to see a doctor?"
"No," Remus said quickly, wincing as he tried to sit up. "Just - a little dizzy, I guess."
Sirius helped prop him into a sitting position. "When was the last time you ate?"
"Dunno," Remus mumbled, clutching his swimming head. "Yesterday?"
"Fuck," muttered Sirius. "I'm buying you lunch. No arguments. C'mon."
He helped Remus to his feet, and deposited him in a chair while he gathered up all of his books and notes, shoving them haphazardly into his bag. When Sirius took him by the arm, looking grim, Remus went meekly, not feeling up to refusing an offer of a free meal.
Sirius sat him down at a table at the library cafe.
"Dietary restrictions?" he asked tersely.
Remus shook his head.
He waited, staring vaguely around, still feeling woozy, while Sirius ordered their food and brought it back to the table.
Sirius watched him like a hawk while he ate. He waited until Remus had eaten half his soup and taken a few bites of his sandwich before saying anything or starting on his own lunch.
"Do you feel better now?"
"Good. Why haven't you been eating? You're too skinny to be skipping meals."
"You need to eat to keep your strength up and your brain working," Sirius continued, pointing a plastic soup spoon at him. "You want to pass your finals, don't you?"
"Who're you, my mom?" said Remus, not quite mustering the grumpy tone the comment called for.
Sirius winced. "I'm just worried about you, all right? You don't look well. You don't have an eating disorder, do you?"
Remus frowned, caught off-guard by the question. "No. I have an I-can't-afford-to-eat disorder."
Sirius stared at him. "You can't afford to eat?"
"Sometimes," mumbled Remus, concentrating on his soup to avoid Sirius's eyes.
"Are they withholding food from you because of this library debt thing?" Sirius asked more gently. "Is that what's going on?"
Remus blinked. "Who?"
"I've figured it out, all right?" said Sirius with a hint of impatience. "You're living with someone. That's why you only ever wanted to see me here. Why you only texted me back sometimes. Why you said you didn't want to be exclusive. And it's why you showed up the other day with a black eye and a hurt wrist. I'm the 'other man', aren't I? And they're an abusive asshole who doesn't deserve you."
Remus stared at him, biting his lip hard to keep from laughing. The picture Sirius had painted was so wide of the mark, but it was no funnier than the truth. Remus took a bite of his sandwich to buy some time and get control of his face, chewing and swallowing slowly.
"I'm not seeing anyone else," he said at last. "Not like that."
Sirius frowned. "Then what happened? Who beat you up?"
Remus knew that he did not need to explain himself. This was the part where he was supposed to tell Sirius that it was over. Dear, caring, distressed Sirius, who had just bought him lunch, and who looked like he wanted to hunt down the man who had hurt him and teach him a lesson he would not soon forget.
"It - was something that happened at work," Remus said carefully.
"At the hotel?" asked Sirius, surprised.
Remus shrugged, not meeting his eyes. "Where I work is kind of sketchy. A - er - customer wanted services we don't usually provide, and - um - he got a little rough, trying to force the issue."
"Jesus," Sirius winced. "I hope you called the police on his ass."
"I don't think I'll be seeing him again," said Remus vaguely.
"Good," said Sirius. "I've been worried about you."
"Thanks. You don't have to do that, though. I'm fine now."
Sirius eyed him. "I'll worry about you if I want to. Need I remind you that you fainted in my arms, not twenty minutes ago?"
Remus shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He had to do it now, before he lost his nerve.
"Sirius, I think we need to talk."
"So do I," said Sirius, surprising him.
"Yeah. I'm sick of this, Remus," he said heatedly. "Not knowing when I'm going to see or hear from you next. Never seeing you outside the library. Never talking about anything important until it gets too big to ignore. I can't do it anymore."
Remus nodded, but the tiny flicker of relief was smothered by the ache of sadness that filled his chest. "I know. It's not fair to you. I actually came here today to tell you I wanted to call it off."
Sirius looked as if Remus had punched him in the gut. "That's not what I meant at all. Shit, Remus! I don't want us to break up."
"I don't either," Remus admitted, before he could stop himself.
"Then let's not." Sirius leaned forward earnestly, his hand sliding across the table to cover Remus's. "Please, Remus?"
Remus bit his lip and looked down at the hand covering his. He did not pull away.
"We can't go back to how it was before," he pointed out. "We can't just pretend everything's fine. It won't work."
"We don't have to stop just because things aren't perfect," said Sirius, eyes pleading. "What if we - went forward instead?"
"What do you mean?" Remus asked warily.
"I mean - I want you in my life, Remus. I want us to be in each other's lives. Doing things together. Talking. Looking out for each other."
Remus shook his head sadly. "My life is messy. You wouldn't like it very much."
"I like you," said Sirius, giving Remus's fingers a squeeze.
"I like you, too," admitted Remus. "I'm just not sure that's enough."
"I think it's worth giving things a try," said Sirius. "I don't want to throw away some thing good, just because it might not work out. I won't pry into your life, Remus. It's still OK if you want to keep some things private, or - or don't want to be exclusive. I just ... I want to give this a chance."
Remus bit his lip. What if the chances of it working out are only about one percent? he thought. Is it worth the risk? Worth the inevitable pain?
He looked up into Sirius's beautiful gray eyes, and the answer he found there scared him.
"Don't you have to get back to work?" he asked hoarsely.
Sirius shrugged. "I'll stay later this evening. This is more important - you're more important, Remus."
Remus cleared his throat, heart beating faster, palms sweating. "W-what do you suggest?"
Sirius's face lit up as if Christmas had surprised him by arriving early. "We could ... go on a real date, maybe? Somewhere outside the library?"
Remus looked away. "I can't afford to go on dates. Anyway, I have to work, and there's finals -"
"You can't take one night off?" asked Sirius, disappointed. "I promise we wouldn't go anywhere fancy, and I'd pay for whatever needs paying."
"OK," said Remus, against his better judgement. "But can it wait until next week?"
A bright smile flashed across Sirius's face. "Of course!" Then the smile dimmed. "Oh. I can't. I'm moving into my new place next week."
"OK." Remus was surprised to feel more disappointed than relieved. "Some other time, then."
"No, we'll figure something out," Sirius promised, squeezing his hand again. "Even if it means I have to live out of boxes and sleep on the floor for a couple extra days."
Remus nodded, forcing himself not to hunch his shoulders defensively at the "hardship" Sirius described.
"I guess I should be getting back to work." Sirius looked regretful.
He stood up, then leaned in, brushing the hair out of Remus's eyes and studying his face. Remus stared back at him, wary.
Sirius's face broke into a self-conscious grin. "I just wanted to make sure your eye was healing OK."
Then he bent to kiss Remus swiftly and firmly on the mouth.
Something tight and fearful inside Remus's chest loosened. He suddenly realized how close he had come to never kissing or being kissed by Sirius again. He tilted his face up, lips parted, to let Sirius know how glad he was that this was still happening, and how much he wanted it to continue. He felt Sirius's mouth curve into a smile against his.
"See you later," Sirius whispered, when he pulled away at last.
He walked off, humming, leaving Remus with a tiny spark of hope that the future was perhaps not as bleak as he had imagined.
Remus finally lets Sirius take him on a date.
"You can't wear that," exclaimed James, snatching the beanie off Sirius's head and waving it in front of him. "He'll know what it means, won't he? Unless you were planning to tell him today?"
"Shit," muttered Sirius, taking the hat, which was striped in baby blue, pink, and white, back from James. "I wasn't thinking."
Not everyone would recognize the trans pride colors on sight, but there was a good chance that Remus would. Sirius looked quickly around his new room for any other telltale signs that might give him away. Most of his belongings were still in boxes, however. The room was spartan, but safe. All that needed hiding were his hormones, which he shoved to the back of a dresser drawer containing his binders and sports bras, along with the hat. It did not seem likely that Remus would snoop, but Sirius dropped a few crumpled teeshirts on top of everything for good measure, before closing the drawer.
Once Sirius decorated his new room, there would be no hiding his transness from anyone who visited. Not if he wanted to put up his trans pride flag, or the collage he had made in high school of magazine cutouts of trans celebrities. That was something Sirius needed to think about, if he and Remus were going to continue seeing each other. He did not want to hide from Remus anymore, but he was still afraid. There was so much riding on Remus's reaction.
"Are you going to tell him today?" James asked, sitting down on Sirius's unmade bed.
"I'll have to tell him soon," said Sirius. "But not today. At least, I wasn't planning on it. I just sort of wanted to see how things go for a while."
James's brow furrowed with concern. "Well, just be careful, all right? I don't want to see you get hurt. The deeper you let yourself get, the worse it will be, if he reacts badly."
"Might be past that point already," Sirius muttered as he dug around in a box for his bi pride beanie. It went less well with his outfit, but would at least keep his head warm.
He considered changing his clothes - he had tights in bi pride colors as well, and a cute knee-length skirt that went with them - but decided to stick with the shirt and jeans he was wearing. Sirius often enjoyed dressing more femme on his days off, but maybe that side of himself, too, could wait to be introduced to Remus.
James's dark face appeared over his shoulder in the mirror as Sirius checked his hair and considered whether or not a touch of lip gloss was in order.
"Hey," said James. "If you're going to tell him, I think you should do it here. That way, me and Pete will be around, in case it doesn't go well."
"I'll think about it," Sirius promised.
He was still deciding about the lip gloss when the doorbell rang. His stomach gave a lurch.
In the week and a half since Remus had agreed to give things a chance between them, they had texted several times, making and changing plans for their date. Sirius had seen him twice at the library, and Remus had kissed him both times. The excitement and eagerness of their early trysts had given way to something more hesitant and tender. Now, when Sirius held Remus close, he was overwhelmed by a desire to protect him and treat him gently. Even so, the prospect of several hours alone with Remus sent butterflies careening through his stomach.
Hurrying to the entryway, heart in his throat, Sirius threw open the door. Remus stood on the doorstep, dressed in his usual beanie, jacket, and skinny jeans. His hair and shoulders were speckled with raindrops. He gave Sirius an uncertain smile.
"Hey. You look nice."
"Hi," said Sirius, swallowing his nerves. "Thanks. Come in. I'm almost ready."
Remus stepped inside, looking around the entryway curiously, as Sirius grabbed his own jacket off a peg by the door and stepped into his boots.
"Is it raining a lot?" Sirius asked.
"A bit," admitted Remus.
Sirius hurried to his room, returning a moment later with a large rainbow umbrella. Remus could not help grinning.
"Are you sure you're from Seattle?"
"It's nice to have a bit of color on gray days," Sirius shrugged, returning the smile. "Besides, if I have this, maybe you'll snuggle up close to me to stay dry."
Remus laughed. "I might."
"So ... are we really doing this?" Sirius asked.
Remus's laughter faded to amusement. "Nervous?"
Remus stepped closer. Sirius suddenly found it harder to breathe.
"You're not at work right now. I could kiss you. Would that help?"
"W-worth a try," said Sirius, swallowing.
Remus put his hands on Sirius's shoulders, tilted his face up, and gave Sirius a very thorough kiss.
Sirius sighed, relaxing slightly as his arms circled Remus's waist, pulling him close.
"Changed your mind about going somewhere?" murmured Remus, amused.
"No," said Sirius. "I just like kissing you."
Remus smiled. "I'm not complaining."
They left the apartment hand in hand, under the bright shelter of Sirius's umbrella. The sky was dark gray and drizzly, and the temperature was distinctly chilly, but the cold was offset by the glow of happiness that Sirius felt at having Remus on his arm.
The plan was for a leisurely walk around Capitol Hill, and Sirius was not about to let a minor inconvenience like the weather stop them. The streets and businesses of the hill were alight with festive holiday decorations as Sirius and Remus made their way towards Broadway.
"So where do you want to go?" asked Remus.
"I was thinking you might let me buy you some ice cream," suggested Sirius.
Remus chuckled. "Isn't it a little cold for that?"
Sirius shrugged, not much caring what they did, as long as Remus was with him. "Hot chocolate, then?"
"No," said Remus. "Let's do ice cream."
As they made their way to Molly Moon's at the south end of Cal Anderson Park, Remus asked, "So what would you normally do on a first date with someone who let you spend money on them? Dinner and a show?"
Sirius laughed. "I don't go on that many dates. Anyway, I've been trying to save up money for - something, so this is perfect."
Remus gave him a curious look. "Why don't you date much? Have you seen you?"
Sirius was relieved when Remus did not ask what he was saving for. He was planning to have top surgery in the new year, and none of the potential surgeons on his shortlist were in his insurance provider network. Sirius wished he could talk to Remus about it. The thought of surgery terrified him, even if that fear did not make him it any less.
"Oh, you know ..." Sirius shrugged evasively. "It can be hard to meet the right kind of person."
Remus smiled wryly. "So what are you doing with me?"
Sirius gave Remus a sideways smile and squeezed his hand. "Hoping you're the right kind of person."
Molly Moon's was not busy. Few people wanted ice cream when the weather was chilly and damp. Remus ordered one of their seasonal flavors - Chocolate Ginger - while Sirius ordered his favorite, Earl Grey.
"Sit here, or walk in the park?" Sirius asked, once they had their ice cream.
Remus glanced out the window, where the rain had begun to come down in sheets. "We wouldn't want to miss all this lovely weather," he joked.
Sirius could not hold the umbrella, his ice cream, and Remus's hand all at the same time, but Remus put his free arm around Sirius's waist, so that was all right. The raindrops hammered on the rainbow umbrella, forcing them to raise their voices to carry on conversation.
"Do you have any plans for Christmas?" Sirius asked.
Remus shook his head. "Work, study. Same as always."
"That doesn't sound like much fun."
"Maybe not," Remus shrugged. "But I don't have any family that I want to see, and my best friend is Jewish. I usually try to work through the holidays. It's a good time to make some extra money, with everyone taking time off."
Sirius nodded and took another lick of his ice cream. Hotels did not close for the holidays like the library did. If Remus was willing to work, Sirius guessed he could pick up some extra shifts that no one else wanted, and probably get time-and-a-half holiday pay, to boot.
"What about you?" asked Remus. "Do you have holiday plans?"
"James's family always rent a cottage in Leavenworth, and go skiing over Christmas. Have you ever been there?"
"Leavenworth?" Remus frowned. "Is that the place up in the mountains that looks like a European village or something? I think maybe I went once when I was a kid."
Sirius nodded. "It's Bavarian. Every business in town has to conform to the aesthetic, even places like McDonalds and Starbucks. It's kind of surreal."
Remus chuckled. "Wild. Sounds like some kind of weird white-people fantasy land."
"Yeah. It's pretty at Christmastime, though," said Sirius nostalgically. "Like a gingerbread village. And it snows there, even when it doesn't snow here."
"I guess that could be nice," Remus conceded. "I hope it doesn't snow here this year, though."
"You don't like the snow?"
Remus hunched his shoulders. "I don't like the cold - and snow makes getting around harder."
They had finished their ice cream, and were standing under the bare branches of a large tree, facing each other, huddled beneath Sirius's umbrella.
"Are you cold?" Sirius asked.
Sirius stepped closer and wrapped his arms around Remus. Remus leaned into him, resting his head against Sirius's shoulder with a sigh. They stood like that for several minutes, listening to the sound of the rain on the thin canvas of the umbrella.
"Thank you," said Sirius softly.
"For this. For coming out with me today. For giving this a chance." His fingers caressed Remus's back.
"I'm glad I did," Remus admitted. "This is nice."
He raised his head from Sirius's shoulder and kissed him. Remus's lips tasted of chocolate and ginger, and for a moment, Sirius forgot the cold and the rain and his own fears about the future and everything except for the wonderful man in his arms, and the happiness Sirius felt when he was with him.
"You taste like tea," Remus smiled.
"Mmm, tea ..." sighed Sirius. "Let's go someplace warm, where there's tea."
"OK," said Remus. "Where to?"
"Back already?" James poked his head out of his bedroom.
"It was cold out," said Sirius. "And wet. We're going to order pizza and watch a movie. Want to join us?"
"Sure. Give me twenty minutes? I just have to finish some reading." He disappeared again.
"Want to put your pants and socks in the dryer?" Sirius asked Remus. "You can borrow some pyjamas."
Remus followed him into his bedroom, where they stripped off their wet clothes. Sirius was careful to turn his back to Remus, in case he should look anywhere. He had worn a packer today, but it never hurt to be careful. Now that he was alone in private with Remus once more, Sirius's anxiety returned. He glanced covertly around the room again to make sure he had not forgotten anything that might give him away.
"You know," said Remus, peeling off his wet socks, "when I imagined us taking our pants off together, this wasn't quite what I had in mind."
Sirius blushed. "Don't get any ideas. I didn't invite you here to seduce you - yet."
"What a pity," chuckled Remus. "But I guess I can settle for pizza - this time."
Sirius pulled out two sets of flannel pyjama bottoms from his dresser, and tossed one to Remus. Once he had pulled his on, Sirius felt safe facing Remus again.
Remus was sitting on his unmade bed, wearing his pyjamas and a teasing grin. Sirius swallowed, wondering whether he was the one who was about to be seduced. He took an involuntary step closer, and Remus reached out to take his hands, pulling him down for a lingering kiss.
"We could skip the movie," Remus suggested enticingly. "Just stay here and make out. Or ...?"
"Or whatever you like," shrugged Remus, grinning. "You already know I'm easy."
Sirius sat down on the bed beside him and raised an eyebrow. "On the first date?" he joked, to cover the pounding of his heart.
"Are you saying you wouldn't respect me in the morning?" Remus teased.
"I'm saying - I'm still not ready for that. Sorry," said Sirius quickly, blushing again. "I don't want you to think I'm a prude or anything. I just -"
"It's OK," Remus assured him. "Really. I just thought I'd check and see if anything had changed. We could still stay here and -"
He leaned in, kissing Sirius again. Sirius's eyes closed. His heart was still beating fast, and he felt warm all over. There was something both exciting and terrifying about knowing Remus wanted him "that way". Part of him wanted it - to throw caution to the wind and pull Remus down onto his bed - but the rest of him knew that there was a complicated conversation that needed to happen before anything else could.
Sirius pulled away before the voice of his libido could speak up any louder. "We - ah - pizza. I should order it, I mean," he panted.
"Are you hungry?" asked Remus, nuzzling his jaw.
"Yes, and so are you. You're not skipping any meals on my watch. And tea. I was going to make tea."
"OK," said Remus placidly. "If you like."
They went through to the kitchen. Sirius showed Remus where the laundry room was, so he could dry his clothes, then he put on the kettle before phoning the pizza place. He ordered two large pizzas with a variety of toppings.
By the time he hung up the phone, Sirius's nervousness had faded once more, and his heart rate had returned to normal. He liked this relaxed, flirtatious side of Remus, and he was eager to see more of it, especially since Remus seemed cool about respecting his boundaries.
Sirius set two mugs of smoky Lapsang Souchong to steep, and took down a flask from the cupboard.
"Whiskey?" he asked, tilting the flask over the tea.
Sirius poured a dollop of liquor into each mug. It was expensive stuff that James's father had given Sirius for his twenty-first birthday, but he did not think he should tell Remus that. Remus would probably just say that Sirius was "wasting" good whiskey on him.
Handing Remus one of the mugs, Sirius led the way into the living room, which he had made a special effort to unpack and make hospitable. In the doorway, Remus stopped short, staring.
"Do you like it?" Sirius beamed with pride.
"Um. Wow," said Remus.
"Right?" James emerged from his room, rolling his eyes. "Sirius insisted we get that thing. Hideous, isn't it?"
"My couch is not hideous!" said Sirius indignantly.
"Sure," said James. "And it goes with everything."
"It's a reference," Sirius explained to Remus. "In every one of his books, David Levithan mentions a lime green couch somewhere. Like an inside joke, or a signature. So when I saw one in real life, I just had to have it."
Remus looked amused. "I get that."
"There's a big difference between an ugly piece of furniture being mentioned in a book, and having to see it in my living room every day," complained James. "Imagine waking up with a hangover and having to look at that thing."
"You don't have to sit on it," Sirius informed him. "It's my special queer couch For Queers Only."
He took Remus by the hand, and led him over to the couch, pulling him down beside him. Remus sipped his tea, still looking amused.
"The pizza's on its way," said Sirius. "Is Pete around?"
"He should be home soon," said James.
"Good. I got enough for four."
James sat down in one of the chairs, and took out a metal pipe, a lighter, and a small glass jar of dried green buds from a drawer of the coffee table.
"I'm done studying for today," he announced, packing some of the green herb into the pipe and lighting it. "You guys want to smoke with me?"
Remus hesitated. "Thanks, but you don't have to -"
"It's all right," Sirius told him. "He likes to share. He says it's more sociable that way."
In demonstration, Sirius took the pipe and lighter from James, and lit it, inhaling deeply. He closed his eyes as the smoke filled his lungs. Exhaling, he passed the pipe to Remus, who took it, following suit. Remus's eyes widened, and he coughed.
"That's good stuff," he wheezed.
Sirius grinned. "Isn't it? James is a real snob about his weed."
James made a face at his friend. "So, how's Lily?" he asked.
Remus gave him a shrewd look, passing the pipe back to him. "So that's the plan? Get me stoned and interrogate me about what Lily's been saying about you? In that case, you might want to wait a few minutes for the high to kick in, and for me to let my guard down."
James grinned. "So she's been saying things about me?"
"Because she's barely spoken to me in weeks."
Remus took back the pipe, inhaling again and passing it on before answering. "She likes you. She's just embarrassed about what happened with Severus."
"That wasn't her fault," scowled James. "That guy was a royal dick. Her only mistake was being nice to someone who didn't deserve it."
Remus nodded. "Give her time. I can work on her a little."
"Thanks," James grinned. "I'd appreciate that."
Peter arrived shortly after the pizza did. He immediately agreed to join them for a movie, looking pleased that they had thought to wait for him.
Remus leaned cozily against Sirius's side, a slice of pizza in one hand. Sirius could not get over how good it was to see Remus relaxed and happy. He was feeling pleasantly buzzed himself, from a combination of smoke and whiskey.
"So what are we watching?" asked Remus.
"I just got The Force Awakens," suggested Peter hopefully.
"I've seen that," said Remus.
"Good," said Sirius. "So have I. We won't have to worry about missing anything when we're making out."
James rolled his eyes. "Are you two going to be sickening through the whole movie?"
"Just turn up the volume and face that way," said Sirius sternly, pointing at the large flatscreen TV on the wall. "What happens on the Couch of Queerness is nothing to do with you."
"Just so you know, I can't stay very late," said Remus. "I have things to do tomorrow."
Sirius squashed a tiny feeling of disappointment. "It's just past six-thirty now. The movie should be over by about nine."
Peter set up the movie and turned off the lights, while James went to the kitchen for beer. Sirius settled Remus more snugly against his side. Remus turned towards him. His mouth tasted smoky and as intoxicating as any drug.
"I'm so high right now," murmured Sirius. "I'm not sure how much of it is the weed, and how much is you."
"Same," Remus giggled.
"Hey," whispered Sirius, pulling Remus closer to him. "I really like you, you know that?"
"I really like you, too," said Remus. "And I like this." He kissed him again.
"Does that mean we can do this again sometime?" Sirius murmured.
"Mmm, maybe," Remus mumbled against Sirius's lips.
Sirius became aware that he was reclining on the arm rest, with Remus lying half on top of him, his mouth warm and eager. This did not seem like a bad thing. Apart from the discomfort of the binder that constricted his chest, Sirius felt perfectly at ease and cozy.
Remus nuzzled his neck, making Sirius giggle. Sirius held him close, one hand caressing the back of Remus's neck. Remus rested his head on Sirius's shoulder with a sigh of contentment.
Sirius's eyes drifted back to the screen, where Finn and Poe were rescuing each other from the clutches of the First Order. When he looked back at Remus again, his eyes were closed, lips parted, breathing slow and even. Sirius was momentarily disappointed, but then Remus made a soft murmuring sound in his sleep, and nestled closer to Sirius, one arm slung comfortably around his waist.
Smiling tenderly, Sirius pulled a blanket from the back of the couch to cover them both, being careful not to disturb Remus's slumber. With a warm glow of happiness shining in his chest, and Remus sleeping safe and warm in the circle of his arms, Sirius turned back to the movie.
When Remus needs to rush back to Lily's to take his meds, he has to decide how much to tell Sirius.
Warning: brief, non-graphic mention of rape.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When the movie ended, Peter went off to his room to call his girlfriend. James took the empty beer bottles and the remains of the pizza into the kitchen. Remus slept on, snoring lightly, his head resting on Sirius's shoulder. Sirius gazed at him fondly. He did not want to wake him, even though he needed to use the bathroom.
"I thought Pete and I were going to have to suffer through two and a half hours of gross, sloppy kissing noises," joked James quietly, coming back from the kitchen.
"I guess you guys lucked out," Sirius whispered, grinning.
James sat down on the sturdy coffee table. "How long did he last?"
"About ten minutes."
"Shouldn't you wake him? He said he couldn't stay very late."
"Yeah, but that's just because he needs to be up tomorrow morning. What does it matter if he sleeps here or at home?"
Sirius tucked the blanket more firmly around Remus, kissing the top of his tousled head.
"I changed my mind," said James, frowning. "You shouldn't tell him tonight."
James gave him a shrewd look. "Because of the way you're looking at him right now. Great weed might give you a high that feels like love, but it's not. It'll just make you make choices that you'll regret tomorrow."
Sirius scowled. "I'm not that high. Not anymore. I just - I really like him, all right? Anyway, I wasn't planning to - say anything tonight." He glanced at Remus to make sure he was still sound asleep.
Sirius made a face. "I promise. Not tonight. Happy now?"
"I'm just looking out for you," James told him, giving his unoccupied shoulder a fraternal pat. "If you want to tell him tomorrow, when you're both sober, I won't try to stop you."
Sirius relented. "I know that. I've been thinking about -"
A sudden loud beeping sound made all three of them jump. The screen of Remus's phone, sitting on the coffee table, lit up with the message, take meds!
"Jesus!" gasped James.
Remus threw himself across Sirius to grab his phone, shutting off the alarm and shoving it into his pocket.
"I have to go," he said looking panicked.
Sirius sat up, heart pounding from the sudden surge of adrenaline. "I'll get your clothes."
He dashed to the laundry room, and met Remus at the door of his bedroom, shoving his dry jeans and socks into his hands.
While Remus was changing, Sirius ducked into the bathroom. On his way out he bumped into James.
"Meds?" James whispered. "Is he sick or something?"
Sirius just shrugged.
Remus was waiting in the entryway, practically vibrating with urgency.
"I have to run," he told Sirius. "Sorry. I'll text you tomorrow."
"Do you need a ride?" Sirius asked.
Remus bit his lip. "You don't have to. You're in your pyjamas."
"It's fine," Sirius assured him. "Really."
"OK," said Remus, giving in. "Thanks."
Sirius's car was cold, and both of them were tense and jumpy. The cozy intimacy that they had woven between them during the afternoon and evening now hung in ragged shreds.
"Where am I taking you?" Sirius asked.
"Is that where your meds are?"
Remus gave him such a sharp, hunted look that Sirius almost bit his tongue.
"Yeah," muttered Remus, and turned away to stare out the window.
"I - um - I've never been to Lily's place," said Sirius hesitantly.
In a few terse words, Remus directed him through the streets towards the north end of Capitol Hill. Apart from that, and the ticking sweep of the wipers shunting the rain off the windshield, they spent the drive in silence.
"Here," said Remus, as they pulled up to a cluster of gray, rundown apartment buildings.
Sirius parked beside the curb.
"I-I had a nice time today," he said tentatively.
Remus hesitated, one hand on the door handle, looking tense and wary. "Aren't you going to ask what I need medication for?"
"No," said Sirius. "Whenever I ask you questions, you just run away. But I am going to wait here for thirty minutes, if you decide you want to come back out and talk. If you don't, that's OK, too," he added quickly. "You can text me and tell me to go."
"Trust me," said Remus grimly, "it's not something you want to hear about. And I don't want it changing the way you see me."
Sirius reached over and gave Remus's arm a squeeze. "I get that. Trust me, I know exactly what that's like. But - I feel like I saw you tonight, Remus. And I don't think there's anything you could tell me that would change that."
He leaned closer, and Remus tensed.
"In case this is 'good night'," said Sirius softly, and very gently kissed Remus on the mouth.
When he released him, Remus all but leapt out of the car, letting in a burst of damp night air.
"G'night," he said hurriedly, slamming the door shut behind him.
Sirius sat back in his seat and flicked on the dome light. He left the engine running for the heat, and fiddled with the radio, trying to find some decent music.
Since learning that he had been wrong about Remus living with an abusive partner, or having a partner at all, Sirius had been baffled about what Remus's secret might be. If it was an illness, Sirius could understand him not wanting to discuss it. Illness was a private, personal matter. Mental illness, especially, carried a weighty load of social stigma. But that did not seem to explain anything else about Remus's behavior towards Sirius to date, or why he would be keeping his medication at his best friend's apartment.
Sirius wondered whether even trying to guess Remus's secret might be considered an invasion of his privacy. He shoved aside the guilty thought, and reminded himself that it was not a vulgar desire to satisfy his own curiosity that drove him, but a desire to know and understand Remus better. Even more than that, Sirius wanted Remus to trust him - for them to be able to trust each other with all their secrets.
Sirius glanced down at his phone. Twenty-five minutes left, and no text from Remus yet, telling him to go. He waited, trying not to hope too hard for Remus to come back.
Lily was standing in the open door of the apartment, waiting for Remus. She must have been watching for him. She had texted him three times while he was sleeping to ask him when he would be back, and to remind him that he needed to take his meds. He had texted her from the car to let her know that he was on his way, and that yes, he knew; she knew as well as he did that he had an alarm for that. Not that that had done him much good tonight. For the dozenth time, Remus swore under his breath at his own carelessness.
"Cutting it a little close, aren't you?" Lily said anxiously, keeping her voice down and glancing at her parents' closed bedroom door as she followed him into the living room.
"I lost track of the time," muttered Remus, falling to his knees and digging through the outside pocket of his overstuffed backpack for his pills. "I'm only a few minutes late."
Lily's eyebrows went up. "Lost track of time? That good, huh?"
"Yeah. It was great," he admitted.
Remus closed his eyes briefly, remembering how warm and comfortable and happy he had felt, snuggling on the couch in Sirius's arms - and how panicked he had felt upon waking, all sense of wellbeing evaporating in a heartbeat, realizing his mistake instantly, and not being able to explain his distress to Sirius. A bad ending to what was so nearly a perfect date.
With a sigh, Remus stood up, pill organizer in hand, and stumbled to the bathroom. Lily followed him.
"So? Tell me about it," she said, as he filled a glass with water from the faucet.
Remus shrugged, dumping his pills for the day into his palm. "There's not much to tell. We went for a walk. Got some ice cream. Then went back to his place for pizza and a movie. I fell asleep."
He tossed back the pills and took several swallows of water.
"You fell asleep?" Lily's lips curved into an amused smile. "Sounds like an exciting date."
Remus leaned against the counter. "It was nice. Comfortable. I just felt really relaxed."
Lily gave him a delicate sniff, and grinned. "I can't imagine why."
"It wasn't just that we got high," said Remus, rolling his eyes. "It felt good, being with him - until my alarm went off."
"So was James there?" Lily asked, trying to sound casual.
"Yeah," said Remus. "And yes, he asked about you."
Lily sighed. "I just - every time I talk to him, I remember that stupid scene with Severus. I still can't believe he showed up like that. It was such an awful day, and then on top of everything else, I had to deal with his shitty attitude ... I didn't want James to see that. It was something I needed to deal with on my own. But he did see it, and now he probably thinks I'm some stupid girl with terrible taste in men who needs to be rescued -"
"I think he likes you," said Remus. "He said tonight that your only mistake was being nice to someone who didn't deserve it. But if you're really worried about him thinking that, maybe you should let him get to know you better. It wouldn't take much for him to see that you're the last person who needs rescuing."
He gave her a fond smile, which she returned.
"You're probably right. C'mon, I'll put on some tea."
While she was in the kitchen, putting the battered kettle on the stove, Remus went to the living room window and peeked between the blinds. Sirius's car still sat at the curb, interior light creating an inviting glow. Remus looked down at his phone. Twenty-two minutes left to decide whether or not he was going to take Sirius up on his offer.
"What are you looking at?" asked Lily.
"Nothing," said Remus quickly, letting the blinds snap shut.
Lily frowned and walked over to see for herself. Remus did not try to stop her.
"Is that Sirius? What's he still doing out there?"
"Waiting for me. He wants me to tell him what I need meds for."
Lily frowned. "That's none of his business. He shouldn't ask you about that."
"He didn't," said Remus. "He just said if I wanted to talk about it, he'd wait."
He glanced at his phone again. Twenty minutes.
Lily's coppery eyebrows rose. "Are you going to?"
Remus shrugged uncomfortably. "I dunno. Maybe."
He could count on one hand the number of people he had voluntarily told about his diagnosis, without even running out of fingers.
"You don't have to," said Lily, touching his arm. "And even if you do decide to, it doesn't have to be tonight."
"I know. I just feel like tonight - it was really nice, being with him. I want to spend more time with him. But I can't do that, and keep my whole life a secret, too, can I? If I tell him this part of it, at least I'll know how well he deals with heavy stuff."
Lily nodded. "That makes sense, I guess. It's not like HIV is a death sentence nowadays. He probably knows that already. And this isn't directly related to any of the other stuff you don't want to tell him yet. You can tell him about it without it bringing up any other awkward questions."
"You think I should tell him?" asked Remus anxiously.
Lily gave him an tentative smile. "I think you've already decided about that."
Remus took a deep breath and straightened up, pulse racing. In the kitchen, the kettle began to whistle, rising towards a piercing shriek which matched Remus's mood. Lily hurried into the kitchen to snatch it off the burner. Remus hovered in the doorway as she poured boiling water into two mugs.
"Keep mine warm for me?" he said.
"Of course." She came over to give him a quick hug. "Good luck, Remus. No matter what happens, you're a wonderful guy, and I love you. I'll be right here when you come back."
"I love you, too, Lils. Thanks."
Heart beating fast, Remus stepped out of the apartment and walked down the stairs, and to the parked car waiting on the street. Opening the door, he slid into the passenger seat, startling Sirius, who almost dropped his phone.
"I-I wasn't sure you were coming back," said Sirius.
"Neither was I."
"So ... do you want to talk?"
Remus took a deep breath, and let it out again, heart beating fast. "I leave my meds at Lily's sometimes because it's the only place where I can be sure they won't get stolen."
"I guess that makes sense," Sirius nodded. "If you have shitty roommates -"
"I'm HIV positive," said Remus abruptly, staring straight ahead at the rain-spattered windshield, forcing out the words around the tightness in his throat.
Sirius's eyes bulged. "Shit, Remus ..." he trailed off, at a loss for words.
It did not matter. As far as Remus was concerned, there was nothing he could say. Nothing would change the facts, or make his life any easier.
"I'm not dying," Remus went on flatly. "I don't want pity, or to be treated like I'm fragile or broken. I'm managing it. If I take my medications every day like I'm supposed to, I won't get sick, and I'll have a minimal chance of infecting anyone else, especially if I use protection, which I always do. So you have nothing to worry about, all right?"
Sirius nodded, still staring. "I-I'm not worried. I know it's not - not as big a deal as it used to be, if you ... er ... catch it in time."
"I got tested within a month of being exposed," said Remus.
"Oh. So you ... um ... know how you got it?"
Remus winced. "That's a really personal question, Sirius."
"Sorry." Sirius dropped his gaze, embarrassed. "You're right. Forget I asked."
Remus clenched his jaw and looked down at his hands, balled into fists in his lap. "I was raped. When I was sixteen."
Sirius made a choked sound.
"I've learned to live with it," said Remus, forcibly shrugging off the oppressive memory. He looked up at Sirius's distressed face. "So now you know that much about my life. Still think you want to get involved?"
Sirius's mouth opened and closed soundlessly a few times, before he finally got control of his face. He sat back in his seat and stared out the windshield, saying nothing for more than a minute.
"I-I'm so sorry, Remus," he said at last.
"Yeah," said Remus bleakly. "Me too."
"It's awful. I dunno what to say."
"It's OK," Remus told him. "You don't have to say anything. And I get it, if this changes things. We were having fun, and now it's not fun anymore."
"No!" said Sirius quickly. "It's not - this doesn't change anything."
Remus gave him a skeptical look. "Doesn't it?"
"No," Sirius said again, more firmly this time. Hesitantly, he reached over to touch one of Remus's clenched hands, stroking one bony knuckle with the tip of his finger. "I still want to do this. If you do."
Remus bit his lip, uncertain. Once Sirius had time to process this new information, he might still change his mind. And even if he did not, the knowledge might make things too awkward between them for their nascent relationship to survive.
"I still want to do this, too," Remus admitted. "So ... what happens now?"
Sirius cleared his throat. "Well - um - I know this is kind of short notice, but there's this thing I'm going to this weekend, if you want to come. It's a Christmas gala fundraiser at the library. Mom - James's mom - always gets tickets. James and Pete and I were planning to go stag, but then Pete invited his girlfriend, so ... if you wanted to ..."
Remus frowned. "That sounds ... fancy."
"It is. Black tie. Dancing. Finger foods. All that sort of thing."
"I don't have anything to wear to something like that."
"That's no problem," said Sirius. "I could find you something."
"I dunno ..."
Sirius's fingers curved around his, and Remus looked up into pleading gray eyes.
"You don't have to say yes, Remus," he said warmly. "But I'd like it if you were there with me. If you think you could get the night off on Saturday?"
"Maybe," said Remus uncertainly.
"I'll take that." Sirius gave him a tentative smile. "Would it be all right if I kissed you now?"
Hesitantly, Remus nodded.
Sirius leaned in and pressed his lips softly to Remus's. When he pulled away, Remus could not suppress a huff of laughter.
"What's funny?" Sirius asked him, brow furrowing.
"Nothing. I told you I'm damaged goods, and I think you just asked me to prom."
Sirius grinned. "Nah; prom sucked."
Remus shrugged. "I never went to mine."
"This should be better. At least, it will be if I'm there with someone I like." Sirius lifted Remus's fingers to his lips and kissed them. "Remus Lupin, will you do me the very great honor of going to prom with me?"
Remus laughed, feeling strangely light. "Well, when you put it like that ... I think maybe I will."
At the library's Christmas gala, everything seems like a beautiful fairytale. Sirius decides the time is right to tell Remus he's trans.
James ran the pick through his hair again and looked at himself critically in the mirror, turning his head from side to side.
"Do you think it's getting too big?" he asked. "Should I get a haircut?"
Sitting on the bed, Sirius shrugged. "It's only too big if you think it's too big. Or if birds start nesting in it."
James rolled his eyes. "You're no help."
"Sorry," said Sirius distractedly. "I think it looks fine."
They were at James's parents house, in James's old room, preparing for the library's Christmas gala. All of their formal wear was still there, and it made sense for them to get ready there, before driving over to the library together. James had his tuxedo shirt on, but he was still wearing jeans. Sirius still wore jeans and a sweater, but he had showered and washed his hair.
"I wonder if Lily likes it?" James mused. "Do you think she likes facial hair? I've been thinking of doing some sort of beard."
Sirius grinned. "You could ask her. Since the two of you are friendly again."
"Yeah." James sighed and put down the pick. "I wish she could come tonight."
He had invited Lily to the gala only two days before, but she had told him she had to work. Sirius privately wondered whether her refusal had anything to do with not owning anything fancy enough to wear to such an event. While Sirius could find something for Remus to wear, there was no chance of finding anything for Lily on such short notice. She and James's mother were not remotely the same size. Anything that might look striking on a tall, elegant, dark-skinned black woman was unlikely to have the same effect on a short, plump woman with red hair and a pale complexion. Not that Sirius thought James would have minded if Lily showed up in a sweatshirt and cargo pants, as long as he got to see her.
"I know we said we weren't bringing dates, but I just thought after Pete asked Maddy ..." Sirius trailed off.
"It's all right," said James, sitting down beside him. "I don't mind going stag. I think it's great that you're seeing Remus again. Seems like things are going really well between you guys lately."
James eyed him shrewdly. "You seem kind of quiet today. What's up?"
Sirius took a deep breath and looked down at his knees. "I think I'm going to tell him. Tonight. After the gala."
"Wow," said James. "That's huge. You sure you're ready?"
Hesitantly, Sirius nodded. "He - trusted me with some personal stuff the other night. I want to show him I trust him, too. And - I think maybe I have to tell him."
James rested a hand on his shoulder. "You don't have to tell him anything you don't want to."
"I know." Sirius looked up into James's concerned hazel eyes feeling scared but resolved. "I want to tell him. But also - I don't think I can put it off any longer. I need to know how he'll react, before it's too late."
"Too late for what?" James frowned, puzzled.
Sirius swallowed. "I-I think I'm falling in love with him," he said in a rush. "He can never feel the same way about me, if he doesn't really know me, can he? And if he can't handle it, it's better to know sooner than later, right?"
James gave a low whistle and squeezed Sirius's shoulder. "Wow," he said again. "But yeah; in that case, it's probably time. Do you want me to be there when you tell him?"
"No." Sirius bit his lip. "I think it's something I have to do on my own."
"OK," said James. "But I'll be close by, if you need backup. Mom and Dad will be here, too."
"Thanks. I just think -"
The doorbell rang downstairs.
Sirius's heart sped up. "He's here!"
In a second, he was on his feet, dashing down the stairs.
Remus stood at the edge of the long walk lined with carefully-maintained landscaping, which led up to a large, elegant house on the edge of Lake Washington, and wondered whether he was kidding himself. He stood out like a sore thumb in a place like this. Anyone who saw him there would know right away that he did not belong. He glanced over his shoulder. The other houses that sat back from the street seemed to be watching him, judging, wondering what business someone like Remus had in their neighborhood.
Lily had kissed him on the cheek when he left her apartment that afternoon, saying, "Have a good time, Cinderella."
Remus felt more like a fraud than a character from a fairytale. There were no fairytales about people like him. There was nothing remotely romantic about his life.
It was cold out, and already growing dark, though the afternoon was only half over. Someone on the bus had said it might snow next week. Remus shivered, shoving his hands deeper into the pockets of his jacket. He still needed to buy a proper winter coat, not to mention a hat, scarf, and gloves. At least he had managed to replace his failing shoes. Remus wondered what he would do when the temperature dropped and the snow began to fall. Shelters filled up in the winter. People living on the streets sometimes did not survive to see the spring.
Remus could stay with Lily sometimes, but the tiny apartment was already crowded enough with three adults. Lily had mentioned a few days before that she might know someone who had a room in their apartment opening up soon. She had been thinking about taking it herself, but with her mother's health as bad as it was, Lily decided she wanted to stay close by to help care for her. Remus wondered whether he could scrape together enough money for a month's rent by the time the room became available. It had been hard enough getting the money to pay off his library fine. But to have guaranteed shelter through the winter ... That is, if the people in question did not mind subletting to someone in Remus's line of work - and if they were not the kind of people who would expect someone like him to service them for free, or in exchange for room and board ...
Shaking off the grim thought, Remus took a deep breath of cold air, and stepped onto the path leading up to the house. When he reached the door, he hesitated only a moment before ringing the bell. There was a brief pause, and then the sound of running feet.
Sirius flung open the door, face alight with joy. "Hi! Come in!"
Remus was barely over the threshold when Sirius pulled him close for a long, exuberant kiss. Remus relaxed against him. It seemed that Sirius was not having second thoughts since learning about Remus's diagnosis. That, at least, was one less thing to worry about. He resolved not to let any more gloomy thoughts intrude upon his evening with Sirius.
Somewhere nearby, someone cleared their throat, and Sirius let go of him, looking sheepish.
"Either this is your date, or you've made a new friend," grinned a tall, light-skinned black man with close-cropped gray hair.
"Dad, this is Remus," Sirius introduced him, blushing. "Remus, James's dad, Joseph Potter."
"Pleased to meet you, Sir," said Remus, shaking the man's hand.
"Likewise," said Mr. Potter, smiling. "You can call me Joe."
"Dad's the architect who designed the library," said Sirius proudly.
Remus's eyebrows went up. "It's a really great library, Sir - Joe."
"Thank you, young man. I'm sorry my wife isn't here to greet you. She's upstairs, making herself even more beautiful than usual for this evening. But I thought one of us should be here to welcome you to our home. Sirius is quite taken with you." He grinned James's grin, hazel eyes twinkling.
"Dad!" said Sirius, blushing again.
"You boys better go get ready," said Mr. Potter. "Our rides will be here in less than an hour."
Sirius led Remus up a wide, curving staircase and down a long hallway to a bedroom that Remus thought might be bigger than Lily's entire apartment. He tried not to stare.
"If you want to get a shower, the bathroom is through there," said Sirius, waving at a door across the room.
To cover how out of place he felt, Remus summoned up a little of his professional bravado. "Alone, or ...?"
"Oh. I-I don't think we have time for that," said Sirius, caught off-guard by the innuendo.
"Probably not," said Remus. "Pity. I will grab a quick shower, though."
"There are towels in there," said Sirius, recovering his composure. "Use anything you need."
The bathroom was as palatial as the rest of the house. Remus stripped off his clothes and leaned into the shower to turn on the water. The pressure was perfect, and the water coming from the shower head was instantly hot - luxuries Remus had not experienced in quite some time. He wished he had the time for a proper bath. The bathtub was huge. Easily big enough for two people. Remus wondered whether Sirius had ever shared it with anyone.
He scrubbed himself quickly and thoroughly, and washed his hair twice, before reluctantly shutting off the delightful cascade of hot water. His feet sank into the bathmat as he stepped out into the steamy bathroom and reached for a thick, fluffy towel.
Finding a comb by the sink, he ran it through his shaggy hair, wishing he had had the time and the money for a haircut. He did the best he could with the comb and a jar of gel that sat on the counter. Then, wrapping the towel more firmly around his waist, he took a deep breath, and exited the bathroom.
Sirius looked up from laying out two tuxedos on the bed, and swallowed heavily, eyes traveling over Remus's bare torso, all the way down to his feet. Remus, who should have been used to men looking at him that way, felt oddly shy.
"Hey," he said.
Sirius's eyes snapped back up to his face, and his cheeks turned red as he realized he had been staring.
"I - ah - hope it will fit," Sirius said, gesturing at one of the tuxes.
Remus stepped closer to examine the ensemble. "It's nice."
"Yeah. It - um - it was mine. Dad got it for me, not long after I - I came to live here. First tux I ever owned." Sirius cleared his throat. "I was shorter and skinnier then, so I thought it might work for you."
Remus had never worn a tuxedo before in his life, let alone owned one, but he sensed that this was somehow important to Sirius. He moved closer, tilting his face up towards Sirius's.
"Thanks. I'm sure it will be perfect," he said softly, and kissed him.
Hesitantly, Sirius's arms went around him, hands sliding over the bare skin of his back, as his lips parted under the gentle pressure of Remus's. Forgetting about his own state of undress, Remus folded his arms around Sirius's shoulders, pulling him closer to deepen the kiss.
The towel hit the floor with a muffled whumph.
Sirius stilled. "Um ..."
"Sorry," murmured Remus. "I wasn't thinking."
Instead of letting go of Sirius, he kissed him again. Sirius made no move to stop him. In fact, one of his hands began sliding lower ...
A knock at the door made them both jump. Remus nearly bit his tongue.
"Are you two almost ready?" called James's voice.
"A-almost! We'll meet you downstairs!" Sirius shouted back, as Remus snatched the towel from the floor, hastily covering himself.
"I guess we better get dressed," said Remus, a little regretfully.
"Yeah," said Sirius, looking flustered. "Um, Remus, can I ask you something?"
Remus tensed. "What?"
"Did you - remember to bring your meds?" Sirius asked quickly. "It's just, this thing might go pretty late, and I wouldn't want you to have to rush off or anything."
"I've got them," said Remus. "I'm not going to turn into a pumpkin at midnight, or anything."
"Huh?" Sirius gave him a quizzical half-smile.
"Nothing. We should get dressed. Can I - um - borrow some socks? I don't think mine will go with this."
Remus gathered up the pieces of the tuxedo, draping them over his arm, and carried them gingerly into the bathroom. He dressed quickly, then waited a couple extra minutes, to give Sirius time to finish dressing.
"What size shoes do you wear?" Sirius asked through the bathroom door.
Remus opened it. "Ten."
"Oh, good," said Sirius, handing him a pair of highly polished black leather shoes.
His handsome face softened to an expression of fondness as he beheld Remus. Remus cleared his throat and tugged self-consciously at a sleeve. The tux was a little large, but worked well enough.
"How do I look?" he asked.
"Amazing," said Sirius, smiling.
Remus knew he could never hold a candle to how good Sirius looked in his own elegantly tailored tux, with his perfect hair tied back in a black satin ribbon.
Prince Charming, Remus thought ruefully.
"Come here." Sirius gestured him over to one of the room's tall windows.
A clear plastic box sat on the windowsill, containing two identical cream-coloured orchids, veined with dark pink.
"Can't take you to prom without a boutonnière, can I?" said Sirius softly.
Remus held perfectly still while Sirius pinned the delicate flower to his lapel, feeling some strong emotion that he could not name.
"There." Sirius's hands rose to straighten his bowtie. "Now you're perfect."
Remus's cheeks warmed. "No, I'm not. I'm not even the most perfect person in this room."
"Well," said Sirius, smiling, "I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree."
He held out his elbow to Remus.
They took two taxis to the library. At the last second, James opted to ride with his parents.
"See you there," he said, giving Sirius a wink.
Remus and Sirius spent the ride with their mouths eagerly locked together, trying not to muss their formal wear.
"It's not really prom until you've made out in the back seat of a car," said Sirius, grinning.
"Is that what you did at your prom?" Remus asked.
"No. I told you; my prom sucked. This is already about a thousand times better."
Sirius and James's friend Peter was waiting for them at the door of the library, with a curvy, dark-haired girl several inches taller than he was, wearing a sleek green dress. She looked annoyed at having been made to wait outside in the cold for her date's friends.
"Maddy, you know James and Sirius," said Peter, eyes alight with excitement. "And this is Sirius's boyfriend, Remus."
Caught up short by the description, Remus cast a quick glance at Sirius, who looked utterly dismayed. "Boyfriend" was not a label either of them had yet dared to apply to their nebulous relationship.
"Pleased to meet you," said Remus hastily, shaking the girl's limply-offered hand. "Er - Maddy, was it?"
"Madeleine Yaxley," she said, a touch imperiously. "Charmed."
She did not sound as if she were any such thing.
"Maddy, dear," said Mrs. Potter, coming forward to kiss Madeleine on both cheeks. "How good to see you again. Shall we go up?"
Peter hung back, letting his date go ahead with James's parents.
"How is everything?" James asked, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.
"Great!" said Peter. "Maddy's always saying how I never take her anywhere nice. I - er - got us a hotel room for after. I think maybe tonight's the night, if you know what I mean ..." his pale cheeks flamed bright red.
James laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Best of luck, my friend."
"He's going to need it," muttered Sirius, so quietly that only Remus could hear him.
Remus raised his eyebrows. "You don't think the odds are in his favor?"
Sirius shook his head. "This isn't the first time he's thought tonight was the night. Or the second. Or the third."
"Sometimes people just aren't ready yet," murmured Remus, giving his arm a squeeze. "Nothing wrong with that."
"Hmm, well, yes," said Sirius, blushing.
The third floor reading area of the library had been transformed into a magical holiday fairyland. Evergreen boughs hung on the walls and from the balcony, festooned with red ribbons. Tiny golden lights twinkled and glinted off delicate crystal icicles. Drifts of glittering white and iridescent "snow" lay piled in the corners. Near the reference desk, a jazz band dressed in matching maroon tuxedos were warming up. Along the far wall stood a long table, laden with trays of canapés and other finger foods, bottles of wine, and bowls of punch. And everywhere, there were people - hundreds of them, all in the most expensive-looking gowns and tuxes. Remus tried not to stare as an elderly woman swept past, shawl secured with a snowflake-shaped brooch that looked as if it were made of diamonds. He resolved to try to remember every detail. Lily would want to hear about it all later.
Remus was wondering how to ask Sirius if they could raid the food table first, when Sirius said, "I'm famished," and led him straight over to it.
They loaded up small plates with as many finger foods as they would bear, and took them, along with two glasses of wine, over to an unoccupied table.
"We're really supposed to mingle," said Sirius, rolling his eyes. "This is where the rich and the privileged of Seattle rub elbows, get themselves seen, and find ways to use each other to make themselves even more rich and privileged. All while raising money for a good cause, of course."
"Does that include James's parents?" Remus asked.
Sirius laughed. "Nah. I supposed there are some decent people here, but most of them are just so boring. I'd rather sit here with you."
"Me, too," said Remus.
Sirius held up his wine glass, grinning. "A toast: to the amazing people you meet at libraries, when you least expect it."
Remus laughed and clinked his glass against Sirius's. "I'll drink to that."
Under the table, Sirius took his hand.
"We're at the library, and I'm not working," he said. "It's weird."
"You're a little more dressed up than usual, too," Remus pointed out.
"I suppose it would be rude and tasteless of us to just sit here and make out all night," sighed Sirius.
"Probably." Remus grinned, fingertips caressing the pulse at Sirius's wrist. "Fun, though."
Laughing, Sirius leaned in to kiss him. If anyone stared at the two men kissing each other amidst the sea of sparkling lights, Remus did not notice or care.
The band finished their warm-up and segued into a slow jazz number.
"Dance with me?" said Sirius.
Remus hesitated. "I don't know how to do that kind of dancing."
"It's easy." Sirius stood up, pulling Remus with him. "I'll show you how."
Sirius led him to the dance floor, set up in front of the band. Only a few couples were dancing yet, turning and swaying to the slow, sensuous music. Still holding Remus's hand in his, he placed his other hand on Remus's waist. Remus hastily copied him.
"Now, just watch my feet, and follow them with yours."
There were a few missteps at first, and twice Remus stepped on Sirius's toes, but once he got the hang of it, Remus was surprised how easy it was. After only a few minutes, he was able to turn his eyes back up to Sirius's face.
Sirius drew him closer, smiling, until their bodies were almost touching. "That's it. See? Easy."
They moved so naturally together that they might have been doing this for years. Sirius's arms felt good around him, and he looked at Remus as if he were the only thing in the world that mattered. With a sigh of bliss, Remus rested his head on Sirius's shoulder and surrendered at last to the magic of the night, allowing himself to be swept away into his own fairytale.
"I can't remember the last time it really felt like Christmas," sighed Remus. "But I guess I don't usually do anything very Christmassy to mark the holidays."
They were in the middle of their fifth dance - a jazzy rendition of Winter Wonderland - and Sirius was on cloud nine.
He grinned. "Have you sent your list to Santa?"
Remus shook his head ruefully. "I don't think Santa could handle the list of things I'd want. What did you ask him for?"
"Nothing," said Sirius. "There's only one thing I really want for Christmas."
"To spend it with you."
Remus smiled at him fondly. "That would be nice."
"Come with us to Leavenworth," said Sirius impulsively. "We'll go skiing. Or if you don't like to ski, we can sit in the lodge and drink hot chocolate. Or just stay at the hotel and make out and snuggle and watch movies all day."
"That sounds even nicer." Remus's smile was regretful. "I wish I could, but I have to work."
"I know," sighed Sirius. "I'll miss you, though. It won't be the same without you."
"I'll miss you, too."
Sirius pulled him closer and kissed him. For a moment, they lost the rhythm of their dancing, but it did not matter, because Sirius felt as if they were totally in sync with each other.
He had not forgotten about the conversation he planned to have with Remus later that night, but when he thought about it, Sirius found that the prospect did not frighten him as much as he had thought it would. The night seemed too perfect and too magical for anything to go wrong. Sirius was still nervous, but it was an excited, optimistic kind of nervousness, like champagne bubbles fizzing in his belly. The way Remus was looking at him, and the kind of person he knew Remus to be, made him hopeful that everything would turn out all right.
They would go back to the Potters' house at the end of the night to change, and Sirius would tell Remus he wanted to talk to him about something. Maybe they would sit on the sofa in the living room, a cozy fire in the fireplace the only light to see each other's faces by. Sirius would hold Remus's hands in his and watch his face while he told him. Remus would be surprised at first, but in the end, he would say that it did not make any difference to him. Then they would kiss, and maybe Remus would stay the night, and they would fall asleep in each other's arms ...
The song ended and Sirius stepped back, grinning, to perform a sweeping bow over Remus's hand.
A movement caught the corner of Sirius's eye, and he looked up to see James, face tense with agitation, signaling frantically to him. Sirius straightened and looked around, gripped by sudden sense of foreboding. He still held Remus's hand, but he could no longer feel it. His own fingers had gone numb.
There, not fifteen feet away, and moving towards him with the inevitability of fate, were his parents.
Sirius's parents out him to Remus, but Remus learns something else that shocks him more.
Warning for transphobia, repeated misgendering, and deadnaming in this chapter.
Everything in the room seemed to stop. The only sound Sirius could here was the thundering of his heart, pounding in his ears. His binder suddenly felt like a snake coiled around his chest, and he struggled to draw breath. His body tensed for flight, but he could not move. He could only watch his family approach, like an animal trapped in the headlight beam of an oncoming truck.
The corners of his mother's mouth drew back in a falsely-bright smile as she stopped in front of him, tilting her head up to see his face. That felt strange. Sirius had not been taller than his mother the last time he had seen her.
"Estelle!" His mother's voice dripped with fake sweetness. "How ... unexpected. We almost didn't recognize you."
"That's not my name." He had to force his clenched teeth apart to get the words out.
His mother gave a cold, fake laugh, shaking her head. "Still pursuing this foolish fancy, I see. What have you done to yourself? You look ridiculous. You used to be such a pretty girl ..."
Standing behind their parents, his brother Regulus stared at him openly. He had only been fourteen the last time Sirius saw him. He had grown, too, though not as tall as Sirius.
Sirius straightened himself to his full height, equal now to his father's. "My name is Sirius." The words came out a little more strongly this time. "I'm not a girl."
"Enough of this nonsense," snapped his mother. "That's no way to talk to your parents -"
His father placed a conciliatory hand on his wife's arm. "Now, Burga, dear, let's not make a scene," he said in a low voice. "Estelle is just confused. We can all try to be a little more understanding. If she's not ready to come home and be our daughter again, antagonizing her is no way to convince her."
"Stop it," Sirius flared, hating how high and desperate his voice sounded. His shaking hands clenched into fists. "I'm not your daughter. My name. Is. Sirius."
"Indeed." His father made a small grimace of distaste. "And who is your ... friend?"
Sirius had forgotten all about Remus. His head snapped around, horrified. Remus had heard his parents call him by his dead name. He wondered desperately whether there was any possible way Remus could have misunderstood the implications of his parents' words. Remus was staring at him, eyes wide, face unreadable.
"Orion Black," said his father, holding out his hand. "My wife, Walburga, and my son, Regulus."
Remus seemed to realize he was being addressed. He looked up at Orion warily. "Remus Lupin. I'm his date."
When he did not move to shake the offered hand, Sirius's father withdrew it, frowning.
"His date?" Sirius's mother scoffed. "If you wanted to date boys, why bother with all this nonsense? The only men you're going to attract looking like that are perverts." She gave Remus a sour look.
His father, too, was still looking at Remus.
"Lupin?" he said, scrutinizing Remus with a deepening frown, as if trying to place him. "I don't think I know that name. Have we met before? What do your family do?"
Remus dropped his gaze to the floor, looking shaken, and mumbled, "I doubt you'd know them."
James appeared out of the throng, his mother beside him, wearing matching expressions of grim determination.
"Sorry I'm late," muttered James in a low voice, putting a steadying hand on Sirius's shoulder. "I wanted to bring reinforcements. I've sent Pete looking for Dad."
Sirius nodded his thanks, unable to speak. Relief flooded him, though the tension did not leave his body. He did not have to face his demons alone.
Ellie Potter, normally one of the warmest, most caring people Sirius had ever met, fixed Sirius's parents with a look that, by rights, should have frozen them where they stood.
"Mr. Black. Mrs. Black. I wish I had known you were attending the gala. I believe my husband and I have asked you before to leave Sirius alone."
His mother pursed her perfectly painted, thin lips. "It's not a crime for us to speak to our daughter in public."
"No," said Ellie grimly. "But if Sirius doesn't want to speak to you, or see you, I will do everything within my power to see that his wishes are respected." She turned her back firmly on the Blacks. "Come along, boys. There's an unpleasant draft in this part of the room."
James took Sirius gently by the arm. "C'mon."
Sirius let himself be led as James pushed past his parents, heading for a quieter, emptier part of the library.
As they moved past, his brother Regulus put out a hand, as if to stop him.
"Stell -" His voice was pleading.
"THAT'S. NOT. MY. NAME," bellowed Sirius.
A few bystanders turned to stare. Regulus took a step back, looking flustered and terrified.
"There's no need to take that tone," said Orion heartily. "Let's all just take a moment to remember that we're family."
Sirius looked him straight in the eye. "Fuck you, Father."
His mother looked as if she might strike him. "That is no way to speak to your father, you ungrateful little bitch!"
"If I'm a bitch, I got it from you," Sirius spat.
Ellie Potter stepped between them.
"My family has a very good lawyer," she said pleasantly, fixing cold black eyes on Sirius's mother. "Perhaps you recall Amelia Bones from Sirius's emancipation hearing? If I ever hear of you harassing my son again, we will take you to court and we will get a restraining order against you. Good night."
Remus stumbled along after Sirius, James, and Mrs. Potter, his mind whirling. The encounter with Sirius's family had shaken him, but the full horror of it was still dawning.
He followed the others to a quiet corner of the library, away from the music and sparkling lights of the gala.
James and Mrs. Potter guided Sirius to a chair, and knelt beside him, faces full of concern.
"It's OK," said James gently. "They're gone now. You're safe."
"I'm so sorry, Sweetheart." Mrs. Potter sounded close to tears. "I didn't know they were going to be here. I should have checked the guest list."
"It's OK," Sirius gasped, clearly the furthest thing from it. He sat, bent almost double, eyes closed, arms locked around his middle. "Not your fault."
"Do you have your anxiety meds with you?" James asked.
Sirius shook his head.
"Try to take slow, deep breaths," said Mrs. Potter, and Remus remembered that James's mother was a doctor. "Give me your wrist. I want to take your pulse."
Sirius complied, trying and failing to steady his panting breaths.
"It's fast, but not dangerous," James's mother concluded after a moment. "I'm going to go find Joe, and then we'll take you home."
"I think he's off giving one of his impromptu architect's tours of the library," said James. "I sent Pete to look for him, but this place is huge."
His mother nodded. "I'll go find my purse and see if I can get him on the phone. You boys wait here."
She hurried off back towards the glittering lights.
Remus perched awkwardly on the arm of a nearby chair, unsure what to do. James gave him no more than a glance before turning back to Sirius.
"I'm here," he said. "Talk to me."
"They said I was - confused." Sirius forced the words out between gritted teeth.
"They're the ones who are confused," said James. "You know exactly who you are, and so do I. You're my best friend and my brother. Nothing they say or think or do can ever change that."
Remus watched them, seeing the expression of focused tenderness on James's face, and wondering again about their relationship. He was still trying to shake his own looming sense of dread.
When the look of horror had appeared on Sirius's face on the dance floor, and Remus had looked up to see what was the matter, he had thought he understood immediately. The imperious-looking Japanese-American woman, and the tall, handsome white man with Sirius's eyes and jawline, could be no one but his estranged parents. The eighteen- or nineteen-year-old mixed-race boy who hung back behind them looked so much like Sirius that he could only be his brother.
The truth of Sirius's gender had taken Remus by surprise. He was still processing it. But that was not the thing that sat like a lump of ice in his stomach.
No, the thing that had sent Remus's heart racing, making him go hot and cold by turns, was the way Orion Black had looked at him. Like he recognized Remus from somewhere.
It's nothing, he tried to tell himself. You just remind him of someone. You look like someone who does his landscaping, or washes his car. It doesn't mean anything.
Because there was only one reason why a wealthy businessman who moved in the circles Orion Black did would ever have encountered someone like Remus, and that possibility did not bear thinking about. Sirius's father had not sparked any memory in Remus. That meant nothing, though; Remus had met hundreds of men like him over the years. The only ones Remus ever took care to remember were the violent ones, so he could avoid them the next time.
Not knowing what else to do, Remus took out his phone. There was a message from Lily.
hows it going? :)
With trembling hands, Remus texted back, sirius's parents showed up. everything is a big fucking mess. ttyl.
He looked up. James stood in front of him, looking ambivalent, as if he was not quite sure he could trust him.
"I'm going to get some water. Stay with him?"
Remus glanced over to where Sirius sat, still hunched and shaking. He nodded.
"I'll be back in a minute," James promised.
When he had gone, Remus moved hesitantly to the chair beside Sirius's. He knew he should say something, but with all the thoughts spinning around in his head, it was hard to know what.
"Um ... are you OK?" He knew right away that it was a stupid question.
"No," Sirius muttered. "I'm having a fucking panic attack."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Can you wave a magic wand and make tonight un-happen? Or make my parents not exist?"
"Then no, there's nothing you can do."
"I'm sorry," said Remus. "I know what it's like to have shitty parents."
Sirius nodded, but did not speak.
"So ... you're trans?"
Sirius did not look up. "Yeah."
"You could've told me," said Remus, without reproach.
"Yeah, well, gay guys aren't usually too hot on trans guys. I wanted you to like me."
"I do like you."
Sirius was quiet for a moment. "I was going to tell you. Tonight. You can ask James."
Before Remus could reply, James reappeared, with a plastic cup of water, his mother, and Peter. He pressed the water into Sirius's hands.
"Joe is making our excuses to people and calling for taxis," said Mrs. Potter. "Are you feeling any better, dear?"
"Not really," rasped Sirius, carefully sipping the water.
"Maddy's in the bathroom," said Peter. "I didn't tell her what was going on."
"Good," said James. "I don't think Sirius needs to be outed to your girlfriend tonight, too."
The phone in the pocket of Remus's jacket beeped loudly, reminding him it was time to take his meds. He hastily shut the alarm off.
"I, uh, I have to - I'll be right back," said Remus, standing up.
"It's all right," said James, waving him off. "We won't go anywhere without you."
Remus hurried off in search of water for himself. He found a cup on the drinks table, and went to take his pills in the relative privacy of the men's room. On his way out, he ran straight into someone waiting outside the door.
"Sorry," said Remus.
A hand closed on his arm, and Remus's head jerked up to see the handsome, agitated face of Orion Black.
"Let me go!"
"I want to talk to you. Privately."
Remus glanced over to the far side of the library lobby, where he could just make out Sirius, surrounded by his friends and family. He did not want to be seen talking to Sirius's father any more than he suspected Sirius's father wanted to be seen talking to him.
Orion let go of his arm, and the two of them moved farther down the hallway, out of the public view.
"How much do you want?" Orion asked sharply.
Remus hunched his shoulders, not meeting his eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"The hell you don't," snapped Orion. "I won't have you blackmailing me, or dragging my family's good name through the mud."
"I'm telling you, I have no idea what this is about," said Remus. "I'm not going to blackmail you for anything. We've never met before. Let's just forget any of this ever happened, OK?"
If Orion would accept a truce, sealed in mutual silence, then perhaps they could both walk away from tonight pretending nothing had ever happened. Orion would be secure, and Remus would never have to tell Sirius what he now knew to be true. But such a truce would require them to trust each other.
Orion was having none of it. He waved his phone under Remus's nose, the screen showing a familiar app and profile.
"Are you going to try to tell me you're not LatinoTwink310?" he said, voice bitter and mocking.
"Dunno what you're talking about," Remus muttered, knowing it was a lost cause.
"Now that I see the kind of trash my daughter spends her time with, it makes sense that she would be drawn into a life of deviancy," Orion sneered in distaste. "Is she paying you to indulge her little charade? Or is she a whore now, too?"
Remus stared at him. He could, and would, take anything Orion chose to dish out on his own account. But for him to heap more abuse on Sirius because of his association with Remus was too much. Remus had had more than enough for one lifetime of parents who prioritized adherence to social norms over their own children. He glared at Orion, fists clenched.
"Your son is a good man. He's one of the best, kindest, most thoughtful, most considerate, generous people I've ever met. If you cared about him at all, you wouldn't be treating him this way. But I guess you care more about your own reputation."
"How dare you presume to pass judgment on me?" Orion hissed. "What would you know about having a good reputation? You're gutter trash."
Remus gave him a sour smile. "I may be trash, but at least I'm not a shitty father. Anyway, you didn't seem to mind my being trash so much, once upon a time."
For an instant, Orion looked as if he was going to hit him. Remus braced himself for the blow.
Down the hallway, the door to the ladies' room opened. Both men looked up, taking an unconscious step away from each other, as Peter's girlfriend Madeleine glanced curiously in their direction, then turned back towards the gala.
Orion closed his eyes, visibly composing himself.
"What will it cost me?"
"Nothing," said Remus. "I don't want anything from you. I'm not going to tell anyone. Let's just forget about it."
Orion frowned. "No. Not good enough. I know your kind. Money is the only thing you respect. Well, I have money. How much will it cost me for you to never see my daughter again?"
Remus stared at him in disbelief. His silence was one thing, but asking him never to see Sirius again -
"You don't have a daughter," he said evasively.
Orion clenched his teeth. "How much for you to never speak to a member of my family again?"
"I don't want your money -"
Orion took out a leather billfold from the inside pocket of his jacket. He counted out ten crisp hundred dollar bills.
"I will give you a thousand dollars if you will promise never to speak to anyone in my family again," he said evenly.
Remus swallowed and tried to tear his eyes away from the money. A thousand dollars was more money than he had ever had at one time. With winter coming on, a thousand dollars could mean the difference between life and death. It could mean a warm place to sleep during the coldest months. Food in his belly. The ability to keep up with his studies. A small measure of security.
He thought about Sirius, quietly panicking in the far corner of the library. But Sirius had friends, and he had James's family who loved him. Did he really need someone like Remus in his life? Wouldn't he be better off without him? He had come to care for Sirius deeply over the last few months, but this was a matter of survival. Remus would have liked to be the kind of person who could turn down money for the sake of principle, but he simply did not live the kind of life that allowed for that.
Sirius might abandon him anyway, once Remus finally told him all his secrets, including this new and most horrifying one. Remus had always accepted that their relationship could not last. Even during the best part of tonight, Remus had seen how little he belonged in Sirius's world. He had been lucky to have as much time with Sirius as he had. Maybe this was better, ending it, quick and clean.
Silently, heart heavy, Remus let Sirius go.
"All right," he said, before he could change his mind. "All right. I'll take the money."
"You understand the deal?" Orion asked. "No contact with my family after this."
"Yes, I understand," said Remus impatiently. He would have to go, now, before anyone came looking for him.
Looking as if he did so against his better judgement, Orion handed over the money. Remus shoved it into his pocket.
He turned to go, then hesitated.
"I hope you can find it in your heart to be a real father one day, for Sirius's sake."
"I don't need advice on fatherhood from trash," Orion said contemptuously.
"Fuck you," said Remus, and walked away.
He hurried around the edge of the gala crowd, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, pausing only briefly at the table where he and Sirius had sat, talking and laughing, earlier that evening. He dared only one glance towards the corner where Sirius sat, surrounded by concerned friends. No one had missed him yet. No one was looking for him. No one would see him go.
Only once he was through the library doors, out in the cold of the night, did Remus stop to catch his breath. His chest felt tight. His eyes were burning.
He took his phone out of his pocket. There were three concerned texts from Lily, and one other that just said, where r u? Remus blinked rapidly as the screen went out of focus. He deleted the text. Then he went into his contacts and deleted Sirius's phone number.
He walked away from the library, wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his borrowed jacket.
Joe Potter looked at his watch. "The taxis are waiting. What do you want to do?"
Sirius looked at his phone again. Still no reply from Remus. His panic over his parents was beginning to turn into a different kind of fear.
"I don't want to leave without him. What if he's sick or something?"
Ellie Potter frowned. "It's your own health you should be thinking about. You should be home and resting."
"You go ahead," said Sirius. "When I find him, I can call a cab and meet you at home."
Ellie and Joe exchanged concerned looks.
"Are you sure?" asked Joe. "We don't want to leave you when you're upset."
"I'm better now," said Sirius. He held out his hand. "Look. Hardly shaking at all."
They looked unconvinced.
James returned from his search, followed by Peter and Madeleine, but not Remus. All three of them wore strange expressions that did nothing to loosen the knot in Sirius's belly. Sirius had not been allowed to take part in the search, on the grounds that he should rest, and should not risk running into his family again.
"I couldn't find him," said James. "But I found this."
He held out a paper cocktail napkin with a wilted orchid pinned to it - the twin of the crumpled flower pinned to Sirius's jacket. On the napkin were written two words: I'm sorry.
Sirius stared at it, feeling numb.
"I saw him," said Madeleine excitedly.
Sirius straightened up. "Where?"
"Quiet," said James impatiently "He doesn't want to hear your story."
"Yes I do," argued Sirius. "Tell me."
Madeleine gave James a smug look. She loved being the bearer of gossip. "He was talking to your dad outside the bathrooms."
"My dad?" said Sirius faintly.
"They stopped talking when they saw me, but I was curious, so I watched from around the corner at the end of the hall. Your dad gave him some money, and he left." She beamed.
Sirius gaped at her. "What?"
"She didn't see any such thing," said James, annoyed. "She saw it wrong. Or more likely, she made it up."
"I did not!" snapped Madeleine. "Peter believes me."
They all looked at Peter, who shrank under their combined scrutiny. "I - I don't know. I mean, it doesn't make any sense, does it?"
"No, it doesn't," said James firmly. He took out his phone. "Look, I'll text Lily to see if she's heard from him. We'll get to the bottom of this."
But Sirius already felt like he was at the bottom. Remus had left, after finding out he was trans. The simplest explanation was the Remus had left because he was trans. He could not imagine why Remus would have spoken with his father, or accepted money from him. James was right. That part made no sense. But even imagining it, Sirius felt the sting of betrayal.
He looked at his phone again. Nothing.
With fingers that shook, he typed, why? and pressed send, already knowing that there would be no response.
"C'mon," said James gently, putting an arm around his shoulders. "There's no point hanging around here. Let's go home."
Sirius's shoulders sagged. James was right. The numbness inside him was already beginning to dissolve into grief. Remus was gone. Sirius wanted to be somewhere private when the tears came.
"Fine," he said gruffly. "Prom sucked anyway. Let's go."
In the wake of the gala, Remus and Sirius are both having a pretty miserable time.
In spite of the chill in the air and the fine mist that fell through the pools of street lights, the tuxedo shirt Remus wore was soaked through with sweat by the time he reached Lily's door. His heart was pounding, and he was out of breath. He had half-run all the way from the library, looking over his shoulder every few paces, terrified that his evening wear would attract muggers, and the awful choice he had made would all have been for nothing.
He just barely checked himself before pounding on the Evans's front door. Lily's parents would both be asleep, if her father was not working tonight.
Remus need not have bothered knocking. Lily threw open the door immediately. She must have been watching for him from the kitchen window.
"What the hell happened?" she demanded in a heated whisper, waving her phone at him. "I've had three texts from James asking if I know where you are."
Remus opened his mouth, but no sound emerged. He closed it again, shook his head, and stumbled past her into the hallway.
Lily followed him into the living room, brow furrowed with concern.
"Remus? Are you OK?"
Remus rested a foot on the edge of the coffee table, bent down, and removed the wad of cash from his sock.
Lily was silent for a moment. "Where did you get that?"
Collapsing onto the sofa, Remus put his face in his hands, the money still clenched in one fist.
"From Sirius's dad," he said in a muffled voice.
Lily sat down beside him. "What?"
"He was one of my clients. I didn't remember him, but he recognized me. He thought I would remember and blackmail him, or tell Sirius. He g-gave me the money to -" his voice broke and he swallowed, clamping his eyes and mouth shut tight.
"Oh, Remus," breathed Lily. "How awful! I'm so sorry. What are you going to do?"
"I can't do anything," said Remus between gritted teeth, fighting to keep control. "I took the money, didn't I? I promised I wouldn't -" He took a shuddering breath. "And even if I wanted to, how can I tell a guy I care about that I fucked his abusive shitbag father?"
"So what are you going to tell him?"
Remus shook his head. "Nothing. Th-that was the deal. I c-can't ever s-speak to Sirius again -"
A sob broke through Remus's iron control, and he crumpled forwards against his knees as devastation washed over him. He had lost Sirius. He could never take back what he had done, and Sirius could never understand why he had done it. He would probably spend the rest of his life hating Remus, and Remus would not blame him if he did. Right now, he hated himself more than anyone he had ever known.
Stop it, he told himself angrily. You're being silly. Feeling sorry for himself was a pointless waste of energy. Worse things had happened to him in the course of his life that he had not cried over. But now that he had started, Remus could not hold back the tears.
Lily's hand slid across his shoulders and pulled him close against her chest, folding him into her arms. She held him tightly, murmuring soothing nonsense, as the sobs shook Remus's body and helpless tears soaked the shoulder of her shirt.
When the worst of the storm had passed, Lily murmured, "So, what do you want me to tell James?"
Remus sat up, sniffing and wiping his reddened eyes on the sleeve of the tuxedo jacket. "Nothing. I can't tell them the truth. But I don't want to lie to them either, and I don't want you to lie for me."
Lily pressed her lips together. "OK."
Belatedly, Remus realized what he was asking. "I'm sorry, Lils. I know you like him. I've made such a mess of everything."
Lily's expression softened. "I do like him, but you're my best friend. I love you, Remus."
"I love you, too, Lils." Remus sighed. "I'm not exactly feeling very worthy right now. I guess I did what I had to do, though."
"Did you really have to?"
Remus frowned. "What should I have done? Not taken the money? Told him to go fuck himself? Well, I guess I did do that ..."
"You've been happier these last few weeks than I've ever seen you," Lily said. "Isn't there any way you could still make things work?"
"You mean, go back on my word?" Remus shook his head. "I took the money. I agreed to the terms. I'm not a liar or a thief. At least, not when I don't have to be."
Lily scowled. "I know you've got your pride, but really, Remus. Who does this help? Just some rich, abusive asshole who uses his money to push people around. For that, you have to get your heart broken, and break Sirius's, too? How is that right? Why doesn't your happiness matter?"
"This is just how my life works right now." Remus hunched his shoulders. "It doesn't matter what I want. My priorities have to be survival and my education, and I need money for both. Even if I wanted to ignore my promise, it could never work with Sirius now. If I ever told him, he'd be devastated, and if I didn't, I'd feel like I was lying to him all the time, for as long as we were together. He's better off without me."
Lily tenderly brushed his hair back behind his ear. "I don't think that's true. Don't be so hard on yourself."
Remus shook his head. "I can't help it. I know I've probably hurt him. I don't deserve to have it easy."
"Well, I'm not going to help you punish yourself," said Lily, reaching for her phone. "You go get ready for bed. I'm going to tell James you're here, and say goodnight. I'll talk to him tomorrow about what this means for me and him."
Feeling exhausted and about a thousand years old, Remus nodded. He found his backpack at the end of the couch and took it into the bathroom to change out of the crumpled and wilted evening wear. After putting on his pyjamas, brushing his teeth, and splashing some cold water on his face, Remus stuffed the tuxedo and shoes into a paper shopping bag. He would worry about how to return them later.
Lily had pulled out the sofa bed by the time Remus came back into the living room. She gave him a searching look as he sat down beside her.
"Sirius is trans?"
Remus nodded. "James told you?"
"I think he thought you had told me," said Lily, raising her eyebrows.
Remus shrugged uncomfortably. "He didn't want to be outed to me. That was his parents' fault. It's not my place to out him to anyone else."
"That's not anything to do with why you left, is it?" she asked, frowning.
"No!" Remus belatedly remembered that Lily's parents were asleep in the next room and lowered his voice to a rough whisper. "No. You think that would make any difference to me at all?"
Lily's shoulders relaxed. "No. Of course not. But does he know that?"
Remus looked away. "I dunno. Probably not. We didn't really get a chance to talk about it. We were both kind of freaking out about his parents."
"I'll make sure James knows." She retrieved her phone from the coffee table and kissed Remus on the cheek. "You're a good man, Remus."
"I don't feel much like one right now," he grumbled, pulling back the covers.
Lily turned out the light and snuggled close beside him. "Well, you are. And I'm going to keep on thinking so no matter what you think. So there."
Remus put his arm around her, feeling unworthily grateful for Lily's friendship and her love.
Lily's fingers stroked his back tentatively. "Do you want to ... do anything? To take your mind off things?"
Remus considered for a moment. While women in general did not arouse any sexual interest in him, it would not be the first time he and Lily had taken comfort in each other's arms. The experience had been pleasant, if not passionate.
"Thanks, Lils," he sighed. "But it wouldn't be right. Not tonight. Let's just sleep."
He would not use his friend that way. Not when he was thinking about - and longing for - someone else.
He was in bed with Sirius. They had just finished making love. Remus lay on his back, looking up at the ceiling. The room was familiar. Remus had been in many like it before. Why had he thought it would be a good idea to bring Sirius to this cheap motel? Or had Sirius brought him here? Remus could not remember.
The figure beside him leaned up on one elbow, giving Remus a contemptuous look. It was Orion Black. He was naked.
"I'll pay you a thousand dollars for another hour," he said, "but this time, I want you to call me 'daddy'."
Remus awoke, drenched in sweat, heart pounding, feeling sick to his stomach. He dragged himself out of bed, and stumbled to the shower, where he scrubbed every inch of his body twice under scalding hot water. By the time he returned to the living room, he felt physically clean, at least, and had managed to shove the unsettling dream to the back of his mind.
Lily had put the couch back together and made tea and toast. A stack of DVDs sat on the coffee table next to the steaming mugs.
"Sad movies, as promised," she told him. "It's probably too early yet for ice cream - unless you want some, that is."
"Oh." Remus sat down beside her and took a bite of toast. "Thanks, Lils, but I really can't afford to slack off anymore this week. I need to study today, and I should definitely work tonight."
"I don't think anyone has ever accused you of slacking off," said Lily, shaking her head ruefully. "But you should go easy on yourself for a bit. You've had a rough time. Give yourself some time to recover. Anyway, it's not like you don't have money now."
"I'll live," said Remus drily. "And I need to save that money for things I really need."
Lily gave him a concerned frown. "And I think you really need to not push yourself so hard. It's not healthy, Remus."
A night's sleep and the disturbing dreams that came with it had done nothing to convince Remus that he deserved to go easy on himself.
"I'll be fine," he assured her. "I just need to get on with my life. It does me no good to dwell on things I can't change."
"You're not made of stone," Lily said gently, squeezing his hand. "Give your heart some time to heal."
Remus had no answer for that. He cleared his throat and looked down at his tea, avoiding her eyes. "Do you think your dad would mind if I borrowed a pair of shoes?"
Sirius made it as far as his bathroom at the Potters' house before he caught sight of the heap of Remus's clothes in the corner and burst into tears. James found him sitting on the floor, sniffling hopelessly, fifteen minutes later.
"C'mon," said James heartily, pulling Sirius to his feet and kicking the discarded clothes away. "You need to get changed."
He led Sirius back into the bedroom and found his jeans and sweater, shoving them into his unresisting hands. Sirius just stood there, feeling lost.
James gave him a sympathetic grimace. "I know. It sucks. Get dressed and we'll go home and get as high and as drunk as you like."
But Sirius did not want to get high or drunk. He wanted to talk to Remus. Not that that mattered, since Remus was not answering his increasingly desperate texts.
"I think I'll just stay here tonight," Sirius mumbled.
James frowned. "OK. Then I'll stay, too."
Sirius realized he was standing in the middle of the room with his shirt half unbuttoned, his arms full of clothes.
"I - um - I guess I should change."
"That sounds like a good idea." James gave him an anxious grin. "I'll leave you to it. Come find me if you want to talk."
When he was alone, Sirius tossed the clothes onto a chair, followed by the ones he was wearing. It was a relief to be out of his binder, but also a reminder of the events of the evening. He gritted his teeth, willing himself to relax. You're not going to panic again. You're safe now.
He went back into the bathroom, this time carefully avoiding looking at Remus's clothes, and opened the medicine cabinet. The pills he had left there were an older prescription that did not work as well as his current anti-anxiety meds, but they were better than nothing. One of their side effects was drowsiness. Maybe he would even sleep tonight.
Sirius wandered back into the bedroom and picked up his phone from the night stand. There was a new message. His heart skipped a beat, before he realized it was from James.
stop checking your phone. come talk to me or go to bed.
Feeling listless, Sirius lay down on the bed. He tried to remind himself that Remus had run away and avoided him before, but he could not find much hope in the thought. Something about Remus's absence and ominous silence this time had a ring of finality about it. Remus had left him, for good this time.
You weren't man enough for him, whispered a treacherous voice in the back of his mind. He turned over, shoving his face into the pillow, trying to ignore the thought.
He wanted to blame his parents. They had been the catalyst for the terrible events of the night, after all. It was easier to blame them than Remus. Sirius was used to them ruining his life. Perhaps all the negativity he was feeling was their fault, and what had happened with Remus was just a misunderstanding. He would text Sirius in the morning to apologize and explain ...
Exhausted from his panic attack, the heavy emotions of the night, and the medication slowly dissolving in his bloodstream, Sirius drifted off to sleep, his phone still clutched in his hand.
It was the middle of the afternoon, and Sirius was still in bed. He had not felt like getting up at all that day, or like doing much of anything else.
There had been no message from Remus on his phone when he woke in the morning. Sirius had called in sick to work, pulled the covers over his head, and tried to will himself back to sleep, with limited success.
Mrs. Potter had gone to work at the hospital before Sirius woke up, but there had been a brief visitation from Mr. Potter, trying to entice him with breakfast, and another from James, asking how he was feeling, and telling him he needed to go home to finish up a paper that was due tomorrow, and would Sirius like to come? Sirius said no.
James had left, promising to return soon, and in the meantime, to continue trying to get more information out of Lily, who had so far been vague and not forthcoming.
Sirius spent the morning compulsively checking his phone for new messages every few minutes, but as his feeling of hopelessness grew, the checks dwindled.
He cringed as he re-read the needy messages he had sent Remus the night before when he was still half in the grip of his panic. Maybe that was why Remus had not replied.
With trembling fingers, Sirius typed, sorry I freaked out last night. hope I didn't freak you out too. you left your clothes here btw.
He read it over three times before hitting send, to make sure the words carried no hint of the desperation and despair he felt.
Sirius spent most of the day staring at the ceiling with his saddest playlist in his ears, hoping that the heartbreak of others would somehow make his own pain easier to bear.
He almost did not hear James's knock at the door.
"Hey," said James, coming in. "Dad said you've been up here all day, and that you haven't eaten." He gave Sirius a look of extreme disapproval.
Sirius sat up, taking out his earbuds. "I wasn't hungry."
James scowled. "Could you not at least try? You know how Mom and Dad worry when you don't eat."
"And you don't?"
"You're more likely to take their feelings into consideration. I don't think worrying me bothers you that much. But yeah, I do worry about you."
"I know you do. Sorry. I'll try to eat something later. Promise."
"That's all I ask," said James, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
"Did you hear anything back from Lily?" Sirius asked.
James made a face. "Nothing informative. She did say he came to her place last night. Beyond that, all she would say was that he had his reasons, and they're personal. She made it pretty clear she's taking his side."
Sirius wilted. "Oh."
"Look - er ..." James looked apologetic. "I think I may have accidentally outed you to her. I'm sorry."
"He didn't tell her?" Sirius asked, puzzled.
James shrugged. "Apparently not."
Sirius frowned. "So the 'personal reasons' he told her weren't to do with me being trans?"
"She says not."
Sirius was baffled. "Then why did he leave? And why won't he text me back?"
"I dunno," said James. "I can keep asking her, but I don't think she's going to tell me anything."
It occurred to Sirius that this might be an awkward situation for James, too. "Are you going to try to keep seeing her?"
James shrugged again. "I like her. I mean, I thought I did. But I'm starting to wonder if she's actually the person I thought she was. Remember that other friend of hers who was a giant piece of shit? Maybe that's just the kind of people she spends her time with."
"Remus isn't a piece of shit," said Sirius, affronted.
"Isn't he?" James said skeptically. "He left you in the middle of a panic attack, and he isn't returning your texts. Not exactly knight-in-shining-armor stuff, if you ask me. If Lily can defend someone like that, maybe she's not as great as I thought, either."
"What if something important and personal did come up, and that's really why Remus left?" said Sirius, knowing he was grasping at straws.
"Like what?" said James dubiously. "What could possibly explain him running out like that, without any kind of apology or explanation?"
"What about what Maddy said?"
James frowned. "About your dad giving Remus money? How does that make any kind of sense? Maddy just likes to make shit up for attention and drama. You know that."
"I know." Sirius's shoulders slumped. "And even if my father did try to give Remus money to leave for some reason, Remus wouldn't take it. I know it."
Wouldn't he? asked the small, nasty voice in the back of Sirius's mind. He knew money was an issue for Remus. But James was right. There was no scenario wherein his father paying off Remus made any kind of sense.
"Look, I know you don't want to believe it," said James sympathetically, "but it's probably the obvious. In which case, he's a transphobic shitbag who doesn't deserve for you to feel sad about him or bad about yourself."
Sirius hugged his knees, feeling desolate. "Yeah. It's just ... I didn't think he was like that. I was all ready to tell him, and I was almost sure he was going to be OK about it."
"It stinks," agreed James. "But you're better off without him. I'm just sorry it had to happen like this."
"Yeah ..." Sirius could not help glancing at his phone.
"You haven't been texting him again, have you?" James frowned.
"Just to let him know he left his clothes here. I thought maybe he'd reply about that, at least."
"Don't text him anymore. If he's going to text back, he'll text back, and if he's not, you shouldn't be falling all over yourself to chase after him. He's not worth it."
"I know," Sirius sighed. "I just - I want to know."
"Here." James grabbed the phone out of his hand and tapped his way into Sirius's contacts.
"What are you doing?" cried Sirius, making a grab for the phone which James deftly evaded. "Don't delete him!"
"I'm not. I'm going to text him for you." He copied Remus's number into a message to himself and sent it. "If he won't reply to you, maybe he'll reply to me. I did say that if he broke your heart, he'd have to deal with me, didn't I? And if you and Lily aren't going to call him out on his bullshit, someone should."
Remus avoided looking at his phone for most of the day, but since it was his primary means of making arrangements with clients, he could not avoid it forever. He quickly deleted the new message thread from Sirius without reading it. That kind of temptation would lead nowhere good. But as he sat at the bar, waiting for the john he had made a date with, a message appeared, from an unfamiliar number.
Remus frowned. Maybe it was a wrong number.
the guy who was left to clean up your mess
Remus hesitated. But he had not promised not to talk to James. Technically, he was not breaking his word.
how is he?
he's had his fucking heart broken
how do you think he is?
:( tell him i'm sorry
tell him yourself
is it because he's trans?
no. it's nothing to do with that
it's really not
you don't deserve someone like him
you fucked up and i hope you feel like shit
i AM sorry
go fuck yourself
Remus sighed and put his phone away. At the other end of the bar, a balding Indian man in his sixties caught his eye. He looked older and had less hair than in his profile picture, but that did not matter. Remus held the man's gaze and pasted on an alluring smile, inclining his head towards the seat next to him in invitation.
This is who you are, he told himself firmly. This is what you do. This is why you can never be with someone like Sirius.
Sirius confronts Remus, and finally learns the truth.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" From the expression on James's face, he considered the idea dubious at best.
Sirius shook his head. "No. But not knowing what's going on is worse."
His thoughts had been running in circles since the night of the gala, leaving him unable to focus on anything else, and barely able to sleep without medication. It had not helped when he returned to work, only to find a paper shopping bag left for him behind the circulation desk, containing a neatly-folded tuxedo and a pair of highly polished black shoes. Sirius had searched the bag and the clothes three times, looking for a note - some clue to explain what had happened - but there was nothing.
If Remus would not see him or answer his texts, then there was only one other way Sirius could think of to find the answers he needed. Even if that way made him feel like snakes were writhing in his belly, he had to try.
"OK," said James grimly. He handed Sirius his phone. "I'll be right here the whole time."
Sirius took the phone with shaking fingers, opened the browser to look up the number, and hit "call". The phone rang three times while Sirius held his breath. Then there was a soft click at the other end of the line.
"Black Enterprises, Seattle. How may I direct your call?" said an impersonal voice.
It took a second for Sirius's terrified brain to remember that he needed to talk. "I w-want to speak to Orion Black."
"One moment, please."
Tinny hold music jangled Sirius's nerves for a minute that felt like an eternity, and then a woman's voice said, "Orion Black's office."
Sirius swallowed. "I n-need to speak with Mr. Black. Please."
"Mr. Black is not available right now. Would you like to leave a message?"
"Tell him - tell him his son is calling."
"I'm so sorry, Mr. Black," said the secretary a little more warmly. "I didn't recognize your voice. One moment, please."
There was another click. Another stomach-churning pause that seemed to last forever. And then there was his father's voice in his ear.
"I'm just about to do a teleconference with Japan," Orion said a little gruffly. "What do you need, Son?"
Sirius's mouth went dry. It was all he could do to stop himself flinging the phone away from him.
"You're all right," murmured James, putting a hand on his shoulder to steady him.
"Regulus?" said his father's voice, impatient. "Regulus, are you there?"
"It - it's not Regulus." Sirius had to force the words out. "It's Sirius."
"Si-? Oh." There was a brief silence. When Orion spoke again, his voice sounded less certain. "I, ah, this is - unexpected. What can I do for you?"
"I wanted to ask you something."
"Anything," said his father, voice warming. "I'm all ears - for the next five minutes, and then I'm afraid I'll have to call you back. Is this a good number for you?"
Sirius closed his eyes, grateful that James had had the foresight to offer his phone for this, rather than letting Sirius use his own.
"This will only take a minute," he said. "It's about Remus."
"Who? Oh." All warmth in Orion's voice evaporated instantly. "What about him? Did he - has he said something?"
"No. I haven't heard from him since the gala. I was wondering if you knew why."
"Why would I know anything about it?" Orion snapped. "I barely noticed the boy."
"So you weren't talking to him by the bathrooms?" Sirius pressed.
"What? This - this is absurd. If you're just calling to waste my time -"
He was lying. Sirius knew it. Anger flared in his chest, searing back some of his anxiety.
His voice shook. "Do you swear to me, on your honor as a Black, that you know nothing about why Remus left that night?"
"I assure you that I had nothing to do with it," Orion said stiffly. "But I'm frankly glad to hear that you're no longer involved with that ... person. You're better off without someone like that. He had a shifty look about him that I didn't like. In the business world, you have to learn to trust your instincts about people."
"A minute ago, you said you barely noticed him."
"Yes. Well," Orion blustered. "It doesn't take more than a moment to figure out someone like that -"
"Thank you, Father. That's all I needed to know. I won't waste anymore of your time."
Sirius hung up.
"What did he say?" asked James.
Sirius took several deep breaths, willing himself to stop shaking. "He denied knowing anything about it. But he knows something. I could tell. He made it pretty clear that he doesn't want me talking to Remus, or trusting anything he says. What the fuck is going on? It makes no sense."
James shook his head. "This is some conspiracy bullshit. What are you gonna do now?"
Sirius bit his lip. "I have to see him. Remus. I have to make him talk to me."
Remus collected his notes into the battered three-ring binder and stuffed it into his backpack. He gazed with satisfaction at the large red letter grade at the top of his essay one more time before stowing it, too, with a little more care, in his bag.
"Well done, Mr. Lupin," Professor Flitwick had said with a smile when he handed it back. "Very insightful."
The classroom was emptying. A few of Remus's fellow students hung back the wish the professor and each other happy holidays. Glancing at his phone, Remus saw a new message notification from Lily.
think I might have found you a room. friend of a coworker. small, unfurnished, $500/mo including utilities. not far from the college. want to check it out?
yes please, Remus texted back hurriedly.
With his nest egg of a thousand dollars, and his supplementary income, five hundred dollars a month for rent was just within the realm of possibility - assuming that whoever was renting the room did not care too much about where his money came from.
Remus slipped his phone into his pocket and shouldered his backpack, feeling cautiously optimistic for the first time in days. An A on his latest essay, the possibility of a roof over his head through the winter, and a two week break from classes ahead of him to catch up on sleep and his studies. Just maybe, things were starting to look up.
It was dark outside already, and a chilly mist was falling. Remus ducked his head as he hurried out the door, his mind on what his best option for dinner that night might be. He had gone no more than a few paces when he heard someone call his name.
He looked up, and froze. Sirius stood under a streetlight, mist swirling around him, a paper shopping bag clutched between his hands. They stared warily at one another.
"I-I brought your clothes," said Sirius, holding out the bag.
"Oh. Thanks," Remus mumbled.
He approached hesitantly, not meeting Sirius's eyes, and took the bag from him.
"I would've just dropped them off at your apartment, if you ever fucking told me where you live," said Sirius caustically.
You can't talk to him, Remus reminded himself. You gave your word.
He turned and walked quickly away, the paper bag clutched to his chest.
Footsteps hurried after him, and Remus picked up his pace, crossing the street to Cal Anderson Park, with its harshly lit paths and deep shadows.
"Remus, will you just fucking talk to me for one minute?"
Remus ducked his head and gritted his teeth, walking on.
"Is it because I'm trans?"
Remus slowed. It would be easy. All he had to do was say "yes". Sirius would be hurt, but he would accept it. If he thought Remus was transphobic, he might give up and leave him alone. But Remus did not want to lie to Sirius, or hurt him like that. He guessed that Sirius had had enough of that sort of pain for one lifetime.
No, you're just going to hurt him like this instead, whispered a mocking voice in the back of his mind.
"It's not that," said Remus.
"Say it to my face."
Steeling himself, Remus turned. Sirius stood no more than ten feet away, fists clenched, chin held high, eyes flashing fire. Remus realized with a guilty qualm that they were standing in almost the same spot where he had first kissed Sirius, only two months before, after the vigil - the vigil for a trans man that had so upset Sirius. How had Remus never realized -?
He forced himself to look Sirius in the eye. To face his pain head-on. You did this to him. This is part of your penance.
"It's not you. Really," he said evenly. "There's nothing wrong with you. It's me. I'm the problem. You're better off without me."
"So you just get to decide what's best for me? Is that it?" Sirius demanded. His voice shook.
"No," said Remus. "It's - it just won't work, all right?"
"It's not all right," snapped Sirius. "Why won't it work? Tell me. If it's really over, then what do you have to lose by being honest with me for once in your life?"
Remus fought the urge to look away. "I can't. I just - I can't talk about it. Please leave me alone."
He turned and began walking again, not certain where he was going, other than away from Sirius.
"Is it because of my father?" Sirius called after him.
Remus stopped dead. "W-what?"
"It is, isn't it?" said Sirius. "Peter's girlfriend was telling the truth, for once. My father paid you to dump me. They really hate me so much that they couldn't bear to see me happy with someone? And you went along with it? Unless you've just been playing me this whole time ..."
"I wasn't," Remus said quietly. "It wasn't like that. I'm sorry. Please don't ask me to explain."
"Are you?" Sirius demanded, his voice breaking. "Fuck, Remus! I thought my parents were done fucking up my life, but I guess I was wrong. I just want to understand why."
Remus looked up to see tears shining on Sirius's cheeks. He swallowed the lump in his own throat. His pain, your penance.
"I can't -"
"I get it," said Sirius. "He paid you not to talk to me. But I don't get why you took the money, or why you're doing what he wanted. I thought we were -" he broke off, shaking his head. Then he burst out, "Dammit, Remus! I was almost in love with you. I thought I mattered to you, at least a little."
Remus's breath caught in his throat, and he blinked rapidly, fighting back the prickle of tears. "You do. But you wouldn't feel that way if you actually knew anything about me."
"Wouldn't I?" Sirius flared. "Why don't you let me decide for myself?"
Forcing down his feelings, Remus squared his shoulders. "I took the money because I needed it. And I have to walk away now because I gave my word -"
"What did you promise him?"
Remus blinked. "What?"
"What, exactly, did he make you promise?" said Sirius between clenched teeth.
Remus's hands tightened around the brown paper bag, and he swallowed. "That I would never speak to a member of his family again. I'm breaking my word right now by talking to you."
"No, you aren't."
"What's my name?"
Remus frowned, puzzled. "Sirius."
"As far as he's concerned, he doesn't have a son named Sirius, does he?" Sirius reasoned. "For as long as I've gone by that name, I haven't lived with him, and he hasn't acted like a father to me. So how am I a member of his family? How does he have any claim to me, or any say in my life?"
Remus stared at him. "I-I don't - That's just semantics. You know what he meant."
"Is it? Is family just shared DNA? Or is it people who care about each other? Are your parents still your family, or is Lily your family now?"
Remus knew the truth of that as well as Sirius did.
"So will you talk to me?" Sirius pleaded. "Will you tell me what happened?"
"No," said Remus.
Sirius blinked. "Are you really going to stick to that stupid promise -?"
Remus shook his head. "It's not just that. If I told you - I'd have to tell you everything. And then you'd think even less of me than you do right now. I'd rather leave things as they are, if it's all the same to you."
"It's not," said Sirius. "I just want you to be honest with me, for once. Can't you trust me just a little bit, Remus?"
Remus sighed and sat down on a park bench, feeling the weight of his life pressing down on his sagging shoulders. What was there left for him to lose, except the last shred of Sirius's good opinion of him? He did not deserve it. This, too, was part of his penance, then.
"The gala wasn't the first time I met your father," Remus said reluctantly. "I met him once before, briefly. He - knew that I knew something about him. Something he didn't want anyone to know. When he recognized me the other night, he was afraid I would tell you, or try to blackmail him. So he paid me off."
Sirius stared at him in disbelief. "What?"
"He needn't have bothered," Remus continued, shaking his head. "I never would've told anyone. I didn't even remember him, until he confronted me. But he seemed sure I would remember him."
"What could you possibly know about him that would be that damaging?" asked Sirius, incredulous.
"I knew he had paid for sex," Remus said flatly.
Sirius's eyes widened. "You - saw him with a hooker? At the hotel?"
"No," said Remus, feeling suddenly very tired. "I don't work at a hotel."
"You don't? But -"
"I just let you think that, because I didn't want to tell you the truth."
"Which is?" Sirius demanded.
Remus took a deep breath. "I knew your father had paid for sex, because it was me he paid. I'm a sex worker. I fuck men for money."
Sirius stared at him. "That's not funny."
"No, it isn't," agreed Remus.
"But my dad - he's not - he'd never -" Sirius shook his head in abject denial.
"So now you understand why he didn't want me to tell anyone."
"You - you're really not kidding, are you?" Horrified revulsion dawned on Sirius's face.
"That's why I didn't want to tell you," Remus said sadly. "Because of the way you're looking at me right now."
"Oh my god," gasped Sirius, voice rising with every syllable. "Oh my god. You fucked my father?!"
"I fucked some white guy in a business suit," bristled Remus. "I didn't even remember your father. But he remembered me, apparently. Would you mind maybe keeping your voice down?"
"Keeping my voice down?" Sirius was pacing now, gesturing wildly as he spoke. "Jesus fucking Christ. My boyfriend fucked my father, and now he wants me to keep my voice down! God, I can't even look at you right now. I'm gonna be sick, just thinking about it."
"Don't take it personally," said Remus drily. "I've probably fucked a lot of people's fathers."
A denim-clad butch woman, out walking her dog in the evening mist, shot him a censorious look as she passed. "Not cool, dude."
"Right?" said Sirius in agreement. "Fuck, Remus! You're telling me you're a fucking prostitute? How could you do a thing like that?"
"The proper term is 'sex worker'," Remus informed him evenly. "There are a lot of reasons why people do sex work. I do it for survival - because I need the money - and because it's convenient."
"Convenient?" Sirius stopped pacing to goggle at him once more.
"I didn't get to finish high school," said Remus, bitterness sharpening the edge of his voice, "so my choice was between getting some soul-sucking minimum wage job, coming home exhausted every night, and living paycheck-to-paycheck for the rest of my life, or doing something a few hours a week that pays enough to survive, while I focus on my education, and maybe someday drag myself out of this hole I'm in."
Sirius was unconvinced. "So that's why you took his money? That's why you dumped me? Survival? You would've died if you hadn't?"
"Maybe not," Remus admitted, "but winter is a hard time, and a little extra money can make a big difference."
"Would you - do it with him again?" asked Sirius with an expression of disgust. "If he came to you now? Knowing who he is?"
"No," said Remus honestly. "I don't take clients I know outside work. It's too awkward." He had found that out once after meeting one of his former high school teachers in a bar. "Anyway, he wouldn't. His reputation and my silence are worth more to him than anything else he could get from me."
"And how much was your silence worth to him?" Sirius demanded. "How much did it take for you to drop me?"
"Does it matter?" asked Remus.
"Yeah, kind of."
Remus looked down at his feet. "A thousand dollars."
"Fuck," Sirius swore again. "I would've given you a thousand dollars, if I knew you needed it. You didn't have to sell me out for it."
"I didn't want that kind of relationship with you," said Remus uncomfortably.
"Yeah," Sirius said harshly. "You'd rather not have any kind of relationship with me at all, apparently."
"It's not that I don't want to," said Remus. "I can't -"
"You keep saying that like it means anything," Sirius sneered. "The bottom line is that you just didn't care enough to try, or to be honest with me."
"Like you were honest with me?" said Remus pointedly. "You were afraid to tell me you were trans. And I get that. I do. I know people can be shitty about it. But are you really saying you would have wanted to be with me if I had told you up front that I was an HIV positive sex worker?"
Sirius looked away. "I dunno."
"There's more, you know."
Sirius looked up again, wide-eyed. "More?"
"You complained earlier that I hadn't told you where I live."
"I didn't tell you because I don't live anywhere," said Remus frankly. "I'm homeless."
Sirius gaped at him. "Bullshit."
"It's the truth."
"But - you're going to school. You're not a drunk, or on drugs. You're not homeless homeless. Not, like, sleeping-on-the-sidewalk, panhandling-on-the-corner, eating-from-the-trash homeless."
"I've done all those things, when I had to," said Remus. "Lots of people have jobs and go to school, but also live in shelters, or in their cars, or crash on people's couches. As for drugs and alcohol, yeah, I use them. You watched me smoke weed and drink."
"But - that's different," sputtered Sirius.
"Is it?" said Remus pointedly. "What if I also use study drugs to help keep me awake and focused, so I don't need to sleep as much? I've used other recreational drugs now and then, too, and gotten blackout drunk, to escape from my shitty life for a little while. Will you judge me for that?"
Sirius was shaking his head again. He subsided onto to bench beside Remus. "I don't know. This is all so fucked up. It doesn't make any sense. You're not like that. You're - Remus."
"Everyone who ever slept on a sidewalk or begged for change on a street corner is a person with a name and a story," said Remus tartly. "Just because you never bothered to think about us that way doesn't make us any less human."
"I didn't mean it like that," said Sirius. "It's just - a lot to process."
"Try living it," said Remus. "You wanted honesty, and you got it. The guy you've been making out with is a homeless, diseased, drug-abusing sex worker who fucked your father." He stood up, spreading his arms. "Take a good look, because this is what happens to queer brown kids who leave abusive homes and don't have rich friends to give them a soft landing."
"It's not my fault I had friends who helped me," Sirius bristled.
"I'm not saying it is," said Remus. "I'm glad James's family were there for you. But maybe think about that a bit, and don't pass judgement on those of us who weren't so lucky. Who didn't have any good choices to make."
"There are always choices," Sirius mumbled, but he did not sound so sure anymore.
Remus shook his head. "Not always good ones. I was an honors student. I was going to go to college. But my life got derailed because I was queer, and my parents couldn't accept it. It was a choice between staying with the family who constantly punished me for something I couldn't change and told me what a filthy sinner I was, or take my chances on my own. I had to drop out of school. I had to sleep in the open. I had no one and nothing except what I could scrape together with my own hands, or buy with my body. There's nothing romantic or sexy about my life. I've given head to strangers for ten bucks in alleys that stank of piss, so that I could afford to eat that day. I've smelled so bad I couldn't stand myself. I've gone so long without washing that I broke out in a rash. I've been beaten and raped and spat on and treated like human garbage until it seemed like maybe death would have been the better option."
Sirius was staring at him, openmouthed, again. He seemed to have no response.
"I'm sorry if it horrifies you, but that's life," Remus said with a shrug. "My life, anyway. That's why I didn't want to tell you. I knew once you understood, you would want nothing to do with me, and who could blame you? How would you explain me to your friends when they asked about me? You might even start resenting me; thinking I tricked you or lied to you to get you to like me. And I guess in a way I did. Most people wouldn't give the time of day to someone like me."
"You never really gave me a chance," said Sirius in a small voice.
"I did what I had to do to protect myself," Remus said sadly. "It's what I've always done. I'm sorry, Sirius. I really am. I never meant to hurt you. I never should have let things go as far as I did. I just wanted -" He broke off, shaking his head. "I wanted something I couldn't have. I wish things could've been different. But they're not, and wishing won't change that."
He stood and bent to pick up his backpack and the brown paper bag containing his clothes. Then he turned and walked away into the swirling mist with a heavy heart.
Sirius did not try to stop him.
Sirius tries to forget about Remus and enjoy his skiing holiday with the Potters. He is not successful.
Sirius threw himself into his skiing holiday with the Potters, hoping that it would take his mind off everything that had happened with Remus. But while the exhilarating rush of speed and the feel of fresh, cold air on his face made him forget his troubles for a few minutes at a time, whenever he was not flying down a mountain slope, misery and confusion still dragged at him.
The second time he almost failed to dismount the ski lift in time, because his mind was elsewhere, James met him at the bottom of the slope with a frown.
"Are you planning to have any fun at all, or are you going to brood for the whole trip?"
"Sorry," mumbled Sirius. "Guess I don't feel much like skiing today."
"Anything you do feel like doing?"
James sighed, relenting. "You want to go to the lodge for a drink?"
They snapped off their skis and stowed them in the rental office, then climbed the stairs to the lodge. At the bar, James ordered them hot buttered rum, on his parents' tab.
"I can pay," Sirius objected.
"But you don't have to," said James. "Mom and Dad said the trip's on them. That includes everything. Anyway, it's not like we're going on a bender; it's just one drink."
They found a table by the bank of large windows that overlooked the mountain slope and the picturesque town of Leavenworth below.
"So," said James, "are you ever going to tell me what happened?"
Sirius hunched his shoulders. "I did tell you. It was fucked up."
James frowned. "That tells me nothing I couldn't've figured out for myself. How bad can it be? It can't possibly be as fucked up as the time you and I ..." He trailed off, looking uncomfortable.
Sirius winced, burying his nose in his beverage to avoid James's eyes. "About that fucked up, yeah," he mumbled.
"Jesus," whistled James. "You're not pregnant, are you?"
A few people seated at a nearby table glanced curiously in their direction.
"Of course not. Keep your voice down," Sirius hissed, shooting James a dirty look.
"Sorry." James lowered his voice and leaned closer over his steaming mug. "But if it's as bad as all that, why won't you talk to me?"
"Because I - I just can't, all right?" said Sirius, exasperated. "Can't we just forget about it?"
"No," scowled James. "And it's not all right. When has there ever been anything we couldn't talk about?"
"There are plenty of things we don't talk about."
"Sure, but I was there for those things. You didn't have to tell me about them. You know we can talk about that stuff if you ever want to, though, right?"
"Well, whatever the deal was with this guy," said James, "you shouldn't let him spoil your vacation."
Sirius raised his eyebrows. "Is it my vacation you're concerned about, or yours?"
"All of ours," said James, rolling his eyes. "But seriously, he was an asshole. He didn't deserve you. Any time spent feeling bad because of him is time wasted, in my opinion."
Sirius looked out the window at the winter landscape, and wondered where Remus was right now. Did he have somewhere to go when it got cold?
"You're thinking about him again," James accused. "You need to get over him."
"Oh, I never thought of that!" grumbled Sirius. "You want me to just smile and pretend like everything's cool?"
James put up his hands in a placating gesture. "That's not what I meant. I was just thinking, what if you found someone to hook up with here? Just take your mind off things for a bit."
"Use 'em and lose 'em?" Sirius frowned. "So it's all right when I do it, but not when someone does it to me?"
James shrugged. "There's probably plenty of people here who wouldn't mind a little holiday fling. As long as you're honest about it ..."
"You think there are plenty of people here who are into trans guys, if I'm honest about it?" asked Sirius pointedly.
"Whether you tell them or not is up to you. If it's just for a few days, and no one takes their pants off, it's not really anyone's business, is it?"
"I guess not," Sirius conceded grumpily.
"C'mon," cajoled James. "I'll be your wingman. It'll be fun. I saw a girl checking out your ass yesterday. Or we could find you a guy, if you'd rather."
"Thanks," sighed Sirius. "But I'm not really in the mood. I don't think I'm ready to be over it yet."
James frowned. "But you won't talk about it, either?"
James shook his head in frustration, pushing a hand through his wayward cloud of black hair. "You want to hit the slopes again?"
"Nah, not really," said Sirius. "But don't let me stop you. I'm not feeling very sociable right now, and I don't want to bring you down, too."
"Are you sure?" said James, looking torn. "Because we can go back to the chalet and watch a movie, if you want."
Sirius shook his head. "Thanks, but I don't think I could focus on a movie right now. I think I'm just gonna sit here for a bit."
"OK, if you're sure." James stood up and pulled his hat back on. "Just don't forget, we're meeting Mom and Dad for dinner in two hours."
James left. Sirius stared out the window at the cozy winter scene, not really seeing it, his half-finished drink growing cold in its mug.
Remus had been right, damn him. Sirius could see that now. There was no way to explain the situation to James which would not leave him utterly horrified, and with an even lower opinion of Remus than he already had. James would not feel conflicted; he did not have any lingering feelings for Remus that might counterbalance his disgust.
If it's over, why should it matter what James thinks of him? Or was he worried that James would be disgusted with him, for having the poor judgement to be with someone like Remus in the first place? It's not like I knew, Sirius argued with an imaginary James. He didn't seem like that kind of person. He seemed ... normal. But if Remus was normal, that meant Sirius's ideas about homeless people and sex workers were wrong. If he told James, he might end up defending Remus, using Remus's own arguments, and James would never understand ...
Irritably, Sirius pushed away the circular thoughts that had been chasing one another around his head for the past few days, and took out his phone.
There were no new messages. Since his arrival in Leavenworth, the only texts he had received were from Peter. His other friends and library co-workers were busy with their own holidays and families. The messages Sirius had exchanged with Remus were still on his phone. He had not been able to make himself delete them. The thread had been silent since the day of their last encounter. Neither of them had felt the need - or the courage - to add anything.
Tapping through to his photos, Sirius scrolled back until he found the one he had taken that day in periodicals storage: Remus, smiling and glancing sideways at Sirius, whose head was tilted to kiss him playfully just below the ear.
All right if I kiss you now, Ansel Adams? said an amused voice in Sirius's memory. He felt a tightness in his throat, and his eyes burned.
He had not been able to delete the picture, either. Even after the revelations in the park, when Sirius, overwhelmed by anger and disgust, had been unable to think of Remus without imagining him with his father. It had taken days for Sirius to begin sorting through the confused welter of emotions, and realize that much of the anger and disgust he felt was for his father, and not for Remus.
Orion Black, the smiling family man who had told Sirius as a child that he could be and do anything he wanted - but who, as Sirius grew up and began becoming himself, had cautioned him not to buck convention too much, and told him how much happier he would be if he did not try so hard to fight against the current. His father was a hypocrite. A queer like Sirius, but a lying, self-loathing one who used boys Sirius's own age for his private pleasure, even while hating them as violently as he hated that part of himself. A man who would rather ruin his son's happiness than risk anyone finding out his own shameful secret.
Sirius shoved away the poisonous thoughts, forcibly unclenching his jaw.
There was still a share of Sirius's anger that did not belong to his father. He was not certain how much of it was for Remus, and how much of it was for himself. Remus had lied to him, with words and with silence. But Remus had also been right; there had never been a good time for him to tell Sirius the truth. Not if he wanted them to be ... whatever they had been to each other. Too soon, and Sirius would have been scared away, unable to handle the truth. Too late, and Sirius would have felt lied to. That much would have been true even without the business with his father.
Didn't you do the same thing? whispered an insidious voice in the back of his mind. Didn't you hide your truth from him because you were afraid? Because you wanted him to like you?
"That was different," Sirius muttered. But he knew it wasn't. Not really.
Everything about Remus made sense now. His vagueness concerning where he lived and worked. His general reticence. Not having a laptop, in spite of being a student. His feverish devotion to his studies. His panic over the fine for the lost library book ...
Sirius clenched his jaw again as he remembered the day Remus had come to the library, face bruised, pockets full of crumpled cash. Someone hurt him at work, he had said. Queer youth were at a statistically greater risk of violence and exploitation, he had said.
Sirius felt ill. Had his father hurt Remus, too?
Remus's life was fraught with danger. Terrible things could be done to him, and he had no recourse for justice, because his life was lived outside the protection of the law, and beneath the contempt of society. Sirius had to admit, there were no easy answers.
It's not your problem, he told himself harshly. It's over. If he has it his way, you'll never see him again.
With a sigh, he slipped the phone back into his pocket. Downing the remainder of his now-cold drink, Sirius made a face at the bitter flavor of the nutmeg that had settled at the bottom. Leaving a dollar on the table, he left the lodge and trudged down the road towards town.
"Who's playing Santa this year?" Joe Potter held up a red hat with white fur trim.
James glanced at Sirius. There was usually hot competition between them to decide who would have the honor of passing around the family gifts on Christmas Eve.
"You can do it, if you want," said James generously.
"Nah, go ahead. I did it last year."
James bounced off the sofa and grabbed the hat from his father, removing the headband with reindeer antlers he had been wearing, and carefully replacing them once the hat was on his head.
Flames leapt merrily in the gas fireplace of the chalet's living room, and a plate of home-baked cookies in the shape of pine trees and reindeer sat on the coffee table. Christmas carols played softly from a small speaker plugged into Ellie Potter's laptop.
Ellie came in from the kitchen, a steaming mug of mulled wine in each hand. "Are we ready to do presents?"
"We're ready if you are, Love," said Joe, kissing her on the cheek and reaching for one of the mugs.
"You can get your own," she teased, stepping lightly away from him. "These are for my sons." She set one of the mugs on the coffee table in front of Sirius, and sat down beside him on the sofa.
My sons ...
Sirius always felt a glow of happiness when James's parents called him their son, or when James called him his brother. A tiny, one-word reminder of the belonging and acceptance he had found with the Potters.
A soft landing, whispered another voice, and Sirius shifted uncomfortably.
Sitting cross-legged beside the small, artificial Christmas tree which the family had decorated with home-made ornaments, James picked up a brightly-wrapped package and tossed it to his father.
"Be careful!" Joe warned. "Some of those are fragile."
Looking sheepish, James handed the rest of the presents around more gently.
They took turns opening and exclaiming over the gifts. A stylish framed art print for James's father, a sparkling pair of amethyst earrings for his mother, a new laptop for James.
"That's Christmas and graduation gift, you understand," said Joe, raising his eyebrows, "so no last minute slacking off on that degree, all right?"
From James, Sirius got a pair of new video games for the console at their apartment. The package from James's parents was also rectangular, but larger. When he tore off the paper, he found a first edition of one of his favorite books.
"It's autographed," said Ellie, eyes shining with delight.
When Sirius opened the cover to see, an envelope fell out onto his lap. Curious, he tore it open. Inside was a gift card for his favorite men's clothing store - and a check for $500. He stared at it.
"We know you're saving up for top surgery," said Ellie. "We wanted to help out a little. And I've arranged a consultation with a surgeon I know. She's very good."
The numbers on the check blurred and went out of focus as hot tears sprang to Sirius's eyes. He opened his mouth, but his throat squeezed tight, and no word of thanks could escape. Overwhelmed, he looked from James's lopsided grin, to Joe's pleased smile, to Ellie's kind expression. Wordlessly, James's mother put her arms around him, and drew him into a tender embrace, as the tears spilled over and Sirius's shoulders shook. He felt James's father sit down beside him, a soothing hand rubbing his back, and James come to kneel at his feet, patting his hand in fraternal reassurance.
When at last Sirius found his voice, he rasped, "It's too much. Y-you didn't have to -"
"We wanted to," said Joe. "Your happiness means a lot to us."
"Thanks," mumbled Sirius, wiping his eyes. "Thank you. For everything."
"It's our pleasure," beamed Ellie.
When James came back from the bathroom in his pyjamas, Sirius was sitting up in bed, gazing out the window at the twinkling lights of the snow-covered gingerbread town.
"You all right?" asked James, climbing into bed beside him.
Sirius nodded, embarrassed by his outburst of emotion earlier in the evening. "Just thinking about some things."
Sirius sighed and settled back against the pillows. "Like - what would've happened if your family hadn't taken me in."
James frowned. "Why wouldn't we?"
"I dunno." Sirius shrugged. "If I hadn't known you, or if your parents weren't the type to take in pitiful strays."
James snorted. "We'd've had to be pretty heartless to turn away your pathetic ass, after all the shit that went down."
"Maybe," said Sirius. "But I couldn't help thinking about it."
"What d'you think you would've done?" asked James sleepily.
"Dunno," said Sirius again. "If it was a choice between staying with my family and trying to make a go of it on my own ..."
"Neither of those options sound very good."
"No. There's a pretty good chance that I'd be dead right now."
James stilled. "Don't say that."
"You think it's not true?"
James was silent for a moment, then he said, "I think - we make the best choices we can at the time."
"And if there aren't any good choices?"
James shook his head. "Things worked out all right, didn't they? Why dwell on something that didn't happen?"
Sirius shrugged again. "I guess I'm dwelling on a lot of things these days."
"I don't suppose you want to talk about that?"
Sirius hesitated. "I do ... I just - I dunno if I can, or if you'll understand."
"You could try."
Sirius's hands clenched on the sheets, bunching the fabric in his fists. "He lied to me."
"No shit," said James drily. "What exactly did he lie about?"
"Everything. Who he was. I thought I was falling in love with him. Can you love someone if you don't really know them? Or do you just love the idea of them?"
"Wow. I dunno. Aren't trust and honesty pretty important to love?"
"I guess." Sirius shifted uncomfortably. "But the thing is, I kind of get it. I wasn't completely honest with him, either."
"Yeah, but that's different," said James. "If you come out to the wrong person at the wrong time, you could be in real danger."
"There are other dangerous secrets, besides being trans," said Sirius.
"Like - remember when you saw where Lily lived? How poor her family was?"
"Yeah," said James uncomfortably.
"Did that change your opinion of her?"
"No. I dunno. It changed the way I thought about her life."
"What if she had been even poorer than that? What if - if she had been homeless?"
James shook his head. "I can't picture that. She's not the type."
"What if there is no type?" Sirius asked softly. "What if there are just people with really shitty luck, or who got fucked over because of one bad choice? What would you do, if you suddenly had no money and no family?"
"What are you saying?" frowned James. "Are you saying Remus is homeless?"
"What if I am?"
"Shit. I wouldn't've thought he was the type either. What did that have to do with your dad?"
Sirius hesitated. He did not feel comfortable telling James about that part yet. He settled on a half-truth. "My father recognized him from - somewhere. He didn't want Remus anywhere near me, so he paid him off. Remus needed the money, so he took it."
"Fuck," James muttered. "You think he was trying to shake you down for money, too?"
"He never asked me for anything. Even when I offered, he seemed pretty adamant that he didn't want my help."
"Maybe it was some kind of long con," suggested James.
"I don't think so," said Sirius. "If it was, why cut off all contact with me? What does that get him?"
"And what about Lily?" Sirius went on.
"What about her?" asked James warily.
"If it were a con, wouldn't she have to be in on it? They're best friends. She knows everything about him. You don't think she would do something like that, do you?"
"I dunno," James said again. "I didn't really get to know her very well." He sounded wistful.
"But you liked her," Sirius pressed. "Even after you learned about her family and where they lived, you still thought she was a worthwhile person, didn't you?"
"Yeah. But ... maybe sometimes we see what we want to see. You know?"
"Maybe," Sirius conceded.
James shook his head. "I can't believe you had a thing for a homeless guy."
"I have a thing for a homeless guy," said Sirius acerbically. "As you may have noticed, I didn't just magically get over him after learning the truth."
"I might have noticed," said James drily. "D'you want to be over him?"
"I dunno. I keep thinking, all that time we spent together was good. I really liked being with him, and it seemed like he really liked being with me. Was that all a lie, too? How does that make sense? He never seemed to want anything more from me than I wanted from him."
James yawned. "Well, now it seems like he doesn't want anything to do with you at all."
"Maybe," said Sirius. "Or maybe he's just afraid."
"Either way, what can you do about it?" asked James sleepily.
"I dunno," sighed Sirius. "If I could just talk to him, then maybe ..." he shook his head.
James's only answer was a light snore.
Sirius gave him a fond look, then turned over, wrapping the covers tightly around him, and tried to go to sleep.
Photos in this chapter were taken by the author.
Remus moves into a rented room, and Lily convinces him to have at least one more conversation with Sirius.
"Will it fit lengthwise along the back wall?" asked Lily.
Remus adjusted his grip on the secondhand twin-size mattress they were carrying. "I dunno. Let's try it."
Swiveling the mattress ninety degrees, they maneuvered it into the space at the end of the cramped room. It fit. Barely.
"That'll give you more space," said Lily, looking around critically, "but it might make it harder for you to change the sheets, with it wedged in there like that."
"I don't have any sheets," Remus reminded her.
Lily grinned and reached into the shopping bag she had set against the wall, presenting Remus with a set of plastic-wrapped new maroon bed sheets.
"You do now."
Remus took them from her, touched. "You didn't have to get me anything, Lils. Today isn't even a holiday for you."
"Hush," said Lily. "Call them a housewarming gift."
She helped him make up the bed, stuffing the single lumpy pillow into the pillowcase that came with the sheets, and spreading Remus's tattered old blanket over the top. Stepping back to admire their work, she nodded with satisfaction.
"That'll do, for now."
The bed taken care of, Remus and Lily brought in and arranged the rest of his meager possessions: a cheap folding table and chair that would serve for his desk, a cardboard box for his clothes, and another for his books. The room itself was little more than a walk-in closet, with a single, tiny window high in the wall opposite the door, and only one electrical outlet.
"It's going to be sweltering in here in the summer," said Lily critically, eyeing the window. "Does that thing even open?"
Remus sat down on the mattress. "I think so. Anyway, who says I'm even still going to be here by summer?"
Lily sat down backwards in the chair, straddling it. "It would be nice for you to have a roof over your head that you could count on, long term."
"Yeah," said Remus. "We'll see. Depends on how things go with the roommates."
"Dorcas says they're all right, but she's never lived with them," Lily admitted.
"Well, it's certainly better than nothing. Thanks for sorting it out for me." He gave her what he hoped looked like a grateful smile.
She grinned. "Anytime. I'm glad everything worked out. What's next? Grocery run?"
Remus's new housemates had cleared out a whole cupboard and half a shelf in the fridge for his use.
"Yeah," said Remus. "Guess this means I'll have to remember how to cook."
Lily's grin widened. "I hope you can at least remember how to work a toaster and heat up a can of soup."
"I can probably manage that much," Remus said distractedly.
Lily frowned. "What's up? I thought you'd be more excited about moving into your own place, but it seems like you're only half here."
Remus hunched his shoulders. "I got a text last night. From Sirius."
Lily's coppery eyebrows rose. "Oh? What did he say?"
Wordless, Remus took out his phone, opened the message screen, and handed it to her. He had read and reread the message a dozen or more times since it had popped up on his phone late the night before - the first time he had heard from Sirius since their confrontation in the park.
sorry for being a judgmental dick. u dont have to text me back but i just wanted to let u know i dont hate u and im not mad anymore for whatever thats worth. hope ur doing ok.
Lily looked up. "Are you going to text him back?"
Remus shrugged. "I dunno. I should probably just leave him alone."
"It kind of sounds like he wouldn't mind talking to you."
"Nah. He shouldn't have to deal with any more of my shit," Remus mumbled.
"Is it him you're trying to protect, or you?" Lily asked pointedly.
"Does it matter?" said Remus. "It's better this way."
"I'm not so sure that it is," said Lily. "I think maybe you're afraid of being hurt. And I get that. But you're not doing yourself any favors by never letting anyone get close to you. It's not good for you to always be alone."
Remus gave her a wan smile. "I'm OK. I've got you, haven't I?"
Lily returned the smile with more warmth. "Yes. But I can't be everything to you. For one thing, that's too much responsibility to put on one person. For another, there are some things you know I can never be to you. But maybe someone like Sirius could."
Remus shook his head ruefully. "What do I have to offer someone like him?"
"The same things you have to offer me," said Lily. "Someone with a good heart and a ton of strength. Someone who cares about him, and will never judge him."
"It's different with you," said Remus. "You know about my life. You've always known."
"So does he, now."
Remus frowned. "He knows, but he doesn't really understand what it means. He can't. If he understood, he wouldn't want to be anywhere near me."
"That's fear talking," said Lily. "You're counting yourself out so that he never has a chance to reject you. But what if you're wrong? What if you could really have something with him? Sirius is a grownup. Why not let him make his own choices? He might surprise you."
"I thought you understood why I broke it off with him."
"I did, at the time," said Lily. "But I hate seeing you as miserable as you've been these last two weeks. The truth is out now, and he still wants to talk to you. Why not have one conversation, and see how it goes? Are you telling me you don't want to talk to him?"
Remus shook his head. "It's too much of a risk."
"Is it him you think isn't worth the risk, or you?"
Lily gave him a look filled with affection and concern. "Remus, someday in the not-too-distant future, you're going to be working with kids in the same situation you're in right now. Are you going to tell them that they're not worthy of love? That they're not allowed to take a chance at happiness? Or that it's not worth it, because they might get hurt?"
"No, but -"
"Your life's going to be different someday," Lily continued. "I believe that. But you need people in your corner who care about you, to help get you through."
Remus scowled. "I don't need anyone to pay my way, or fix my life for me."
"That's not what I'm talking about," said Lily. "I'm talking about having someone who thinks you're amazing, to cheer you on. Someone to hold you when you're having a rough day, and tell you that you're going to make it."
"And you think Sirius would do that?"
Lily shrugged. "I think you should give him a chance to try, at least. Let someone besides me love you, for once."
Remus looked down at his shoes. "I dunno if I can."
"Do you miss him?"
Reluctantly, Remus nodded.
"I think maybe he misses you, too," said Lily. She handed him back his phone. "Think about it?"
"All right," he promised reluctantly.
Lily smiled. "C'mon. Let's go get you some groceries before I have to go to work."
It was afternoon on Christmas Day, and Sirius and the Potters were playing cards in the living room of their rented chalet, when Sirius's phone buzzed in his pocket. He took it out, mind still half on his Gin strategy - and froze, heart skipping a beat. The message was from Remus.
ok if i call u?
"Everything all right, Love?" asked Ellie Potter, noticing his agitation.
"Um. Yeah. Sorry. I have to take a phone call."
He shot James a meaningful look across the table as he stood up, setting his hand of cards next to the discard pile.
Remus? mouthed James, eyebrows rising high above the frames of his glasses.
James moved to get up and come with him, but Sirius waved him away.
"It's OK. I'll be back ... in a bit."
He stumbled up the stairs to the bedroom, trembling knees folding as he collapsed onto the bed. With fingers that shook, he managed to text back, ok.
His heart hammered in his chest as he stared intently at the phone's screen. When it rang, he jumped, and only narrowly managed to avoid accidentally disconnecting the call. His throat was dry as he answered.
There was a brief, awkward silence.
"Look. Um," said Remus. "I got your text. I just wanted to say - I'm sorry, too."
"Oh," was the only thing Sirius could think to say.
"I wasn't fair to you," Remus continued. "I know I hurt you. I should never have let things go as far as they did."
Sirius squeezed a handful of the quilt in his fist. "Or maybe you should've been more honest with me, and let me decide how far I wanted things to go."
"Maybe," Remus conceded. "I just - I'm not very good at trusting people, you know? The way my life works, I'm sort of constantly in damage control and risk reduction mode. If something seems like it's going to cause problems or make things more complicated, my instinct is to get as far away from it as possible. I'm not trying to make excuses. It just sort of comes with the territory."
Sirius closed his eyes. Hearing Remus's voice made his insides feel strange - made him wish Remus was there, close enough to touch.
"I think I get that," he said. "Sometimes it's hard to know who to trust. Especially when you're ... different. But I still think you could've handled it better."
"Probably. My coping mechanisms aren't always great. It's something I need to work on." Remus took a deep breath. "I should never have taken off like I did, when you were having a panic attack. Especially not without letting you know it wasn't about you. I'm sorry about that, too. I'm not expecting anything, or asking for your forgiveness. I just wanted to tell you. I owed you that much."
"Oh. Thanks," said Sirius, then ventured, "So. Um ... how is everything?"
"Things are OK." On the other end of the line, Remus paused. "I moved into a place today. My own room. I'm subletting from a friend of a friend of Lily's."
"That's great!" said Sirius.
"Yeah, it's all right," Remus allowed. "We'll see how it goes. I don't really know them, so I'm not sure if I should leave anything valuable here when I'm not home. Like my meds."
Sirius nodded. "I get that. But at least you won't have to carry everything around with you, or leave it all at Lily's anymore."
"Yeah. So ... how's your ski trip going?"
"Good. It's nice here. Nice to get out of town for a bit."
There was another awkward pause. Sirius summoned up his courage.
"Look, I ... um ... I've missed you."
A brief silence, and then, "I've missed you, too."
"I don't want you to think you have to avoid the library, just because of me. I'll leave you alone when you're there, if you want me to."
"Thanks," said Remus. "You don't have to avoid me, though. If you don't want to."
"I have to go in a minute," said Remus.
"Oh. Are you ... um ... working tonight?"
"Can we maybe not talk about that?"
"OK," said Sirius. "But - if you ever want to, you can. Talk to me, I mean. About anything. I'd like it if we could be friends."
"What would that mean, exactly?" Remus asked warily.
"It would mean - that we can talk, if we need to," said Sirius. "That we'd be honest with each other. That we could trust each other. That we might do things together socially sometimes. That we'd be there for each other, if we needed anything." That I would know you were OK, or if you were in trouble, he did not say out loud.
"I don't need some knight in shining armor to save me," Remus warned.
Sirius swallowed. "I know. But ... I'm here. If you need anything. A friend. Whatever."
Remus was quiet for a moment, then he said, "OK. I guess we could try that, if you want."
Sirius bit his lip, a tiny spark of hope glowing in his chest. "Friends, then?"
"Friends," Remus agreed.
Remus returns to the library, and Sirius explains a little about his own complicated history.
Warning: discussion of eating disorder, dysphoria, unplanned pregnancy, abortion
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was the afternoon of Sirius's first day back at work after his skiing trip, when he looked up from the circulation desk and saw Remus hovering uncertainly nearby. Sirius's stomach clenched with nervousness - and the tiniest bit of hope.
"Hey," he said, attempting a friendly smile.
"Hey," said Remus, without expression.
"Studying today?" Sirius asked, hoping to start a conversation.
"Nah, just getting a couple of books." Remus held them up in demonstration.
"Oh." Sirius swallowed his disappointment and reached out a hand. "I can get those for you."
Remus approached the circulation desk and passed the books across, his library card on top. Sirius tried to calm his nerves and not rush the transaction, scanning first the card, and then each of the books deliberately, sure that when he was finished, Remus would vanish again.
But Remus lingered.
"How was the rest of your skiing trip?"
"It was good." Sirius brightened. After talking to Remus on the phone Christmas Day, he had found himself much more in the holiday spirit, and in the mood for skiing. "How're things with your new roommates?"
Remus shrugged. "OK. They're not very clean, but it's better than nothing."
"That sucks. I'm glad you found a place, though."
"Yeah, me too."
"Hey. Um. Are you in a hurry to get anywhere?" Sirius asked in a sudden flash of inspiration.
"Not especially," Remus said warily. "Why?"
"Wait here a sec."
Sirius ducked into the back room, where Frank Longbottom, one of the other assistant librarians, was working.
"Hey, Frank," said Sirius, keeping his voice low so Remus would not overhear. "Would you mind taking over the desk for a bit? I can cover the discards. Remus is here ..."
Frank raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Back, is he? Well, if it means you'll stop being such a Gloomy Gus, sure, I'll trade with you for a bit."
"Thanks," said Sirius. "I owe you."
Remus was still waiting at the desk.
"I have to process some discards," said Sirius. "There's a pretty big backlog of them. If you don't mind, and you're not in a hurry, it would be nice to have some company while I work."
"Great!" Sirius tried not to let his relief or his nerves show too much on his face.
Remus followed Sirius through to the back room. They passed Frank, who shot Sirius a conspiratorial wink that he hoped Remus did not see.
"You're sure it's OK for me to be back here?" Remus asked, looking around the cluttered room, full of desks, papers, filing cabinets, and stacks of books and other library materials marked with sticky-notes.
"It's fine as long as you don't distract me too much from my work," said Sirius, sitting down at a desk stacked with piles and boxes of books. "Normally, I'd listen to music or an audiobook."
He pulled the first stack of books toward himself, and began methodically to go over each one, scribbling over the barcode with a black permanent marker, cutting out the page with the card pocket in the older books that still had them, and stamping each title page with the DISCARD stamp, before packing it away in a box.
Sirius experienced a moment of panic at the lull in conversation, not feeling ready yet to raise the topics he had planned to share with Remus if he ever got the chance. He grasped for the first neutral topic to cross his mind.
"So. Um. How're your classes going?"
"Good," Remus said absently, picking up one of the books Sirius had already processed. "I'm off for winter break until January. It seems like a shame, getting rid of all these perfectly good books."
"We only have so much room on the shelves," said Sirius, relieved, "and there are new books coming in all the time. It's all right, though. We put these out on the sale shelf for a dollar or two, and we have our big Library Book Sale in the summer. The books go to good homes, and the library gets a little money back. Everybody wins."
Remus nodded in approval. "Sounds like a good system." He turned over the book in his hands. "This was one of my favorites in middle school."
The copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was tattered and much-read. The spine had been repaired with tape at least once.
"What were you?" Sirius teased. "Some kind of nerd?"
"It's not that nerdy," Remus objected. "Everyone's read them. Anyway, you're a librarian. You think you have any room to judge other people's nerdiness?"
"Fair enough," said Sirius, grinning. "James used to like those a lot. I've never read them, though."
"They're good," said Remus. "Really funny."
Sirius hesitated. "You could read some of it to me. If you wanted to."
Remus blinked. "You want me to read to you?"
"Sure," said Sirius. "I told you I like audiobooks, didn't I? I've never had anyone read to me in person before."
"That's too bad," said Remus. "It's nice, being read to."
He opened the book to the first page, and cleared his throat.
"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun ..."
Before long, they were both giggling. Remus read on through the worst day of Arthur Dent's life, from the unexpected demolition of his house, the discovery that his best friend was an alien from a distant planet, the unexpected demolition of Earth, and on to the introduction of the sadistic Vogons and their terrible poetry, which Remus read out with great relish.
As much as Sirius was enjoying the story, and being read to, his favorite part was when Remus laughed so hard he had to stop reading for a minute. He watched with pleasure as Remus bent forward, gasping for breath. After the past few fraught weeks, it was good to know that they could still relax and laugh together, and it was especially good to know that Remus did not find his own life so grim that he was incapable of enjoying a silly story, or the simple pleasure of reading to a friend.
As the laughter faded from Remus's lips, he straightened up, catching Sirius's eye on him. Sirius looked away quickly, embarrassed to be caught staring.
"Am I distracting you too much?" Remus asked.
"No," Sirius mumbled, refocusing his attention on the discarded book in front of him. "It's fine. You can keep reading, if you want to."
"Is that why you invited me back here?" Remus asked, eyebrows raised. "To read to you?"
Sirius's heart sped up. "No. I've been hoping for a chance to talk to you about - things."
"What sort of things?" Remus asked, closing the book.
Sirius's hands clenched into fists. He could not make himself meet Remus's eyes as he said, "I wrote to my father."
"I told him I knew everything," Sirius said hurriedly, "and I sent him a check for the money he gave you."
"You shouldn't have done that." There was an edge to Remus's voice.
"It's not about you," said Sirius. "Not entirely. I didn't want you feeling obligated to him, but that's only part of it. I'm pretty sure he won't cash the check, so you shouldn't worry about owing me, either. A thousand dollars is pocket change to him."
"What's the rest of it?" Remus asked, still tense.
Sirius looked up, pleading. "I've never had any power in my relationship with my parents. Never. And if they're going to keep popping up unexpectedly in my life, like they did at the gala, I don't want them thinking they can keep treating me like that. Not if there's something I can do about it."
Remus gave him a humorless half-smile. "You're blackmailing your father? I guess I wasn't the one he should've been worried about."
Sirius shrugged uncomfortably. "Sort of. It's not like I'm trying to get money out of him or anything like that. I told him that unless he wants the whole family to know about him, he can never try to contact me or approach me again, and he has to discourage my mother from doing so, too. If we ever meet by accident, he has to call me his son and use my real name, then leave me alone as quickly as possible."
"I guess that's fair," said Remus grudgingly. "If I'd had any leverage over my family, I probably would've used it, too."
"Even if it came to that, I'd never bring your name into it, I swear." Sirius leaned forward earnestly.
"Thanks," mumbled Remus. "So ... does that mean you're over it?"
Sirius bit his lip. "Yeah. It wasn't your fault. And I get why you didn't want to tell me. It's still weird if I let myself think about it too much, so I mostly just try not to."
"Yeah. I guess I'd be kind of freaked out, too, if I found out you slept with my dad."
Sirius gave a nervous giggle. "I can promise you with absolute certainty that I haven't."
"Well, that's a relief." Remus could not entirely hide a smile.
Sirius stamped the book in front of him, and slipped it into the box with the others, reaching for the next one. There was still more he wanted to say, and it might be easier if he kept his eyes and hands busy while he said it.
"You've told me your stuff," he said slowly. "It's only fair that I tell you mine."
"You don't have to if you don't want to," said Remus. "I got the highlights: you're trans, your parents were shitty about it, you got emancipated and moved in with James's family."
"It was a little more complicated than that. If we're going to be friends, there's a bit more you probably ought to know."
"OK," said Remus. "You can tell me whatever you want."
Sirius took a deep breath and made himself focus on the calming process of discarding books, as the words flowed out of him.
"I wasn't one of those kids who knew they were trans from the start," he began. "I was always uncomfortable with my looks and my body, but I never really understood why. For the longest time, I thought it had to do with being mixed race. Never really fitting in with one or the other, you know?"
"Then, when I was twelve, my body started changing, and I freaked out. I didn't want to get boobs and hips, and I really didn't want to have a period. So I stopped eating. I'd read somewhere that if you starved yourself, you could stop your menstrual cycle, and I figured boobs and hips were just fat, and if I didn't eat, I wouldn't get fat. I starved myself for almost three years."
Sirius closed his eyes briefly, clenching his jaw. "I hated my body so much, I tried to make myself disappear. And I almost succeeded. My mother was so proud. She bragged to her friends about how disciplined I was with my diet. I was dying, and James was the only one who even noticed."
"It wasn't your fault," said Remus gently. "Anorexia is a sickness. You just needed help."
"I didn't know that, though," said Sirius. "I didn't know how to ask for help, or where to get it, or even that I needed it. James tried, but he didn't really know what to do either, apart from trying to make me eat more, which I did sometimes, to please him. He probably kept me alive."
"I'm glad someone did."
Sirius nodded. "I was in love with him. When we were fourteen, fifteen."
Sirius looked up. "Don't tell me you haven't wondered about us. Everyone does."
Remus shrugged. "It was none of my business."
"He never thought of me as more than a friend. We were best friends, though, inseparable pretty much from the time we started middle school. And when we got older ... we were both curious about sex. Neither of us had someone else to experiment with, and we both thought it would be smart to try it with a friend, instead of finding someone to hook up with. And I would have done anything for him ..." Sirius trailed off, swallowing heavily.
"There's nothing wrong with friends having sex," said Remus. "But if one of them has feelings the other doesn't ... I'm guessing you ended up getting hurt?"
Sirius gave a huff of humorless laughter. "You could say that. I had a fucking panic attack in the middle of it."
Even the memory of that panic was enough to tie Sirius's belly in knots. He closed his eyes again, breathing deeply and forcing his body to relax.
"I was screaming at James to get off me, which he did, as fast as he could. He freaked out, thinking he'd done something wrong. It didn't help that I was bleeding pretty badly. James kept saying he was sorry." Sirius shook his head. "I think I traumatized both of us."
"That sucks," said Remus. "I'm sorry."
"Oh, don't worry; it gets worse," Sirius assured him. "James and I could barely look at each other for two months after that. Then I found out I was pregnant."
"Fuck," said Remus softly.
"Yeah. I didn't even think it was a possibility. James didn't ... finish, and I hadn't had my period in months. I wasn't much more than skin and bone at that point. I was so angry. I felt like my body had betrayed me again. I wanted to scream, but I was afraid if I started, I'd never be able to stop. There was this thing growing inside of me, and I imagined that it was a scream, getting bigger and bigger, until I couldn't hold it in anymore."
"I know what that feels like," said Remus. "It's awful. What did you do?"
Sirius shook his head. "Nothing, at first. I just wanted to pretend it wasn't happening. But then one day, my mother said something. I don't even remember what it was. I think maybe it was about James. And I just snapped. I started screaming and screaming. They thought I'd gone insane. They locked me in my room and called a doctor. He gave me some pills to make me calm down, but I wouldn't tell him anything. I texted James and begged him to come get me. He came over, and I told him everything."
He broke off, shaking his head again. "I've never seen anyone that sorry in my life, before or since. I was crying. He asked me if I wanted to get married. I told him no, and that I didn't want to be a girl anymore. I said I'd rather die. And he - he told me I could be whatever I wanted to be, and he would help me however he could." Sirius swallowed a sudden tightness in his throat. "I don't think he knew what he was promising then. But we made a plan, and he got me out and took me to his house. The next day, he helped me make an appointment, and he went with me when I had the - the termination."
He closed his eyes again and exhaled, feeling the echo of that relief.
"I'm glad you had a friend," Remus said softly. "That can make all the difference in the world sometimes."
"Yeah." Sirius opened his eyes. "James has been the best friend I could ask for. To this day, I don't know what he told his parents, but they never acted like there was any question about me staying with them. They've been nothing but supportive about my transition, ever since I first came out to them. And they were amazing at my emancipation hearing. You know my parents tried to argue that I wasn't in my right mind? That I should be put away quietly somewhere, under the care of a doctor?"
"Shit," breathed Remus.
"Maybe I wasn't in my right mind," Sirius continued, "but living with them wasn't helping. I've been better, since I've been with James's family. So you were right about me getting a soft landing. I know I was lucky."
"You know I don't begrudge you that," said Remus. "It sounds like you went through a lot. I wouldn't wish that on anyone."
"Thanks," said Sirius, embarrassed. "So now you know about me."
"Are you OK now?"
He shrugged. "Mostly. I still have panic attacks sometimes, but you knew that. I've got meds I can take for them, and other meds I can take if I'm feeling anxious. I have a lot of anxiety around anything to do with my family, but it's manageable if I don't have to deal with them directly."
"That makes sense. It seems like you and James are OK now, too."
Sirius nodded. "By the time I finished having my breakdown and started getting the help I needed, I was mostly over him. It was just too much of a mess."
"Do you guys ever talk about it?"
"Not really," Sirius admitted. "James is still a little awkward about the fact that we ever -" he broke off, shaking his head. "He's straight, and we're brothers now, so it's complicated for him. Or maybe he just still feels guilty about it. Either way, it's not much fun to talk about, and we both know what happened. We were there."
"It sounds like maybe you wanted someone to talk to about it," said Remus shrewdly. "You didn't have to tell me all that stuff."
Sirius shrugged again. "Maybe. I just didn't want you to feel self-conscious, like you were the only one who -"
Frank Longbottom stuck his head through the door, and Sirius broke off again.
"Are you two still back here?" he said, amused. "We're closing up."
Sirius's mouth dropped open and he looked up at the clock on the wall. It was fifteen minutes past the library's closing time.
"I guess we lost track of the time. Sorry." He glanced apologetically at Remus. "It'll be dark out. I can drive you home, if you like."
"Thanks," said Remus.
He moved to put The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy into the box with the other discarded books, but Sirius stopped him.
"I'll take that. I might want to finish reading it later."
Remus gave him a half-smile, handing over the book. "If you're sure it's not too nerdy for you."
Their fingers brushed as Sirius took it, and heat flooded his cheeks. He turned away quickly to hide his blush, tucking the worn paperback into the inside pocket of his jacket. He knew that if he did finished reading the book, he would not be able to help hearing the rest of the story in Remus's voice, and that was at least part of why he wanted to keep it.
Just friends, he reminded himself grumpily. If you try to make it more than that, he'll run again.
Remus invites Sirius to see his new place, and tells him the rest of his story.
Warning: discussion of rape, suicidal ideation.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was a cold evening, and it took a few minutes for the heat to start working in Sirius's car. Remus gave directions, and Sirius turned on the radio to cover the lull in their conversation. There was no snow or ice on the roads. In spite of the heavy fall in the mountains, very little had fallen in the city. All the holiday decorations were still up, but without any snow, and with Christmas now past, they seemed left over and forlorn.
Sirius pulled up in front of a house with faded and peeling blue paint, and an overgrown yard. Remus hesitated before getting out of the car.
"Do you want to come in for a minute? I can make us some tea."
"Tea sounds great," said Sirius, surprised. Somehow, he had not expected Remus to want him to see where he lived.
The kitchen was grimy, the floor sticky, the sink overflowing with unwashed dishes.
"Sorry about the mess," said Remus as he filled the kettle and hunted through a cupboard for two clean mugs.
Sirius leaned gingerly against the counter. "It's not that bad."
"Yeah, it is. But I guess it could be worse. The tea's just plain black, but I have milk and sugar, if you want it."
"Sugar, please," said Sirius quickly.
The kettle whistled, and Remus poured the hot water over the tea bags, then passed one of the mugs to Sirius.
"C'mon. I'll show you my room."
Sirius's eyebrows rose in surprise, and he followed Remus down a dimly-lit hallway in need of a good vacuuming and a replacement lightbulb.
The room was smaller than he had expected, and sparsely furnished, but cleaner than the rest of the house. Remus's few possessions were tidied away in boxes, and the mattress against the rear wall was neatly made. Remus sat down on the bed. After a moment's hesitation between the mattress and the folding chair, Sirius summoned up his courage and sat down beside Remus.
"Thanks for inviting me in," he said shyly.
"Yeah, well, I guess I wanted you to see," said Remus self-consciously.
Remus shrugged and leaned back against the wall, cradling the steaming mug between his hands. "This is what my life looks like, when things are pretty good. I wanted you to understand that. But I dunno how much of it you can really grasp without seeing it." He cocked his head, looking at Sirius. "The stuff I told you about before - it was just the highlights. To shock you. To scare you off."
"It didn't work very well," said Sirius, attempting a joke.
Remus gave him a reluctant half-smile. "I guess not."
"What else is there to tell?" asked Sirius, shifting to lean on one elbow so he could study Remus's face.
"What things were like before conversion therapy," Remus said into his mug. "And after, before I started ... working."
"You can tell me anything you want," said Sirius. "I'm completely ready to listen and try to understand. Friends, right?"
"Right," said Remus uncertainly.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, resting his head against the wall.
"My sister were I are adopted," he began. "Our parents never kept it from us. For one thing, they're white, so it would've been hard to miss. People commented on it all the time. They'd praise our parents for their compassion and generosity in taking us in. Mom and Dad were always telling us how lucky we were to have been adopted by a good Catholic family. How many opportunities we would have because of it." His voice grew quiet. "I thought they loved me. Loved us. They said they did."
He opened his eyes and looked at Sirius. "You were right. I was a nerd. Honors student. Straight A's. My parents were so proud of me. They talked about which colleges I would get into, and what a great job I would have someday, and how it just went to show that even someone who started out disadvantaged could succeed, given the right opportunities."
Sirius frowned. "That sounds a little ..."
"Yeah, it does, doesn't it?" said Remus.
"So things changed when you came out to them?"
Remus hunched his shoulders. "I didn't come out. I was outed. There was this boy at school - we liked each other. Neither of us was really sure what it meant yet. Someone saw us kissing behind the gym after school one day. By the next day, everyone at school knew about it, and by the time I got home from school, somehow my parents had heard."
"That's awful," said Sirius. "I'm so sorry."
Remus closed his eyes, swallowing heavily. "It was a shock. Overnight, my life went from pretty good to unbearable. I lost all my friends. Some who I knew from church thought I was an awful, disgusting sinner, and the rest didn't want to be associated with me for fear of getting harassed by bullies, too, like maybe 'gay' was contagious. But the worst part was feeling like I had let my family down. They were horrified and disappointed, trying to figure out where they had gone wrong with me. And part of me thought they were right."
"Well, they weren't," said Sirius hotly. "There's nothing wrong with being gay."
"I know that now," said Remus, "but they couldn't accept it. They met with our priest. He was the one who suggested conversion therapy. He guaranteed them that it would work, as long as we all prayed about it, and I kept my heart open to being changed by God. And I tried. I really did, because I didn't want to disappoint them. But it was awful. I was miserable all the time, and the people who I thought loved me unconditionally didn't seem to have any sympathy for me. They started talking about not wanting me to go away for college. They thought if I moved away from home, I would open myself up to temptation by the Devil. They talked about me going into the priesthood - living celibate and devoting my life to God. The bright future they had always encouraged me to imagine got smaller and smaller."
"So - you left?"
Remus nodded. "I realized that they didn't really love me. Maybe they thought they did, but really what they loved was the idea of me and my sister, and what we represented. By adopting a couple of poor, brown kids, they 'proved' what good Christians they were. It wasn't good enough for us to be just as good as any white kid; we always had to be the best at everything, to prove what good parents they were, and what great opportunities they had provided for us. We were their mission, and I was a failed experiment. Once I understood that, I couldn't bear to stay any longer."
"I get that," said Sirius, remembering his own desperation to escape his parents' house when his life had begun to unravel, and he knew he could never live up to his family's expectations. "Where did you go?"
"To church." Remus smiled bitterly, acknowledging the irony. "I know it doesn't make much sense, but I felt safe there. I still believed in God, and thought He could do anything, including change my life back to the way it had been before, if I just believed and trusted in Him hard enough. I still felt like somehow it was all my fault. I went to Confession, and then spent hours on my knees in the empty church, praying for a miracle."
"I'm surprised no one recognized you and called your parents," said Sirius.
Remus hesitated. "Someone did recognize me," he said at last, reluctantly. "A man who knew my parents. He sat down beside me, and said he'd heard I was having troubles at home. He asked me if I was OK. He - said he understood about being different, and that it was nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. He told me if I needed a place to stay until I figured things out, he had a guest room. I didn't have a plan, or anywhere else to go. I thought maybe he was the miracle I had prayed for ..." He trailed off.
A sense of cold foreboding washed over Sirius, making his belly clench. "I - um - it's OK if you don't ..."
Remus looked at him bleakly. "He took me home and made me dinner. He must have put something in my drink, because the next thing I remember was waking up with him on top of me."
"Jesus, Remus - " Sirius felt sick.
Remus lowered his eyes, keeping his voice steady and matter-of-fact. "The next day, he acted like everything was cool. He said I could stay for as long as I wanted. That he would look after me, and I could look after him, now that we understood each other. He knew I didn't have anywhere else to go, and that I would be too ashamed to go home after what he'd done. But as soon as he left for work, I ran."
"So -" Sirius said tentatively, "was that when ...?"
"Yeah. I knew I should get myself tested, but I was scared of what I would find out. When finally I tested positive, I wanted to die. During those first weeks, I saw a man dead on the sidewalk, with people hurrying past, not noticing or caring. I thought that was the only future left for me - that life would never get any better, and death was the only escape. I had nothing and no one, and no hope that that was ever going to change."
Sirius looked at Remus's hands, curved around the mug of tea gone cold, wishing he could reach out and take one of them in his, to comfort the frightened boy he had once been, and to remind him that he was not alone anymore.
"I lived on the street, and sometimes in shelters," Remus continued, "panhandling for spare change. People would shout things at me and spit on me. Some of them told me I should just kill myself. I wasn't sure they were wrong. I figured out pretty quickly that there were plenty of people, too, who were ready to prey on and exploit someone vulnerable like me. I had a lot of bad experiences in those first few months."
He shrugged his shoulders, as if shaking off the bad memories.
"But then something strange happened."
Remus cocked his head, as if the memory still puzzled him. "I got angry. I realized that the world wanted people like me to die and go away and not be an inconvenience to anyone. Instead of giving up and going along with the plan, I decided, fuck the world, I was going to survive."
"Good for you," said Sirius, with a tentative smile. "I'm glad."
"Thanks. Me too." Remus returned the smile briefly. "That was when I started hustling. I figured if there was something people wanted from me, they could at least pay for the privilege. It took me a while to figure out how the game worked, and how not to get taken advantage of. The trial and error period wasn't much fun, but at least I had money some of the time. That was about when I met Lily."
"She seems like she's been a good friend to you."
"She's been amazing," Remus agreed. "Her family were at one of the shelters where I stayed. Her mom was sick. Her dad had lost his job, and then they lost their house. Her older sister cut off all contact with them, instead of sticking around to help out. Lily was depressed. She felt helpless. She'd convinced herself she was a burden on her family and they'd be better off without her." His voice grew quiet. "I talked her out of - hurting herself. It was the first good thing I'd done since leaving home. We made a pact to look out for each other, and help each other however we could. That was when I realized maybe I could still do some good in the world, and I started thinking about the future again. About helping people like me and Lily."
"And now you're in college, and you've got a place to live, and friends," said Sirius. "That's pretty amazing, all things considered."
"Yeah," said Remus. "I mean, it's still not great, obviously, but I figure I can power through the bad stuff for a few years, until I get my degree. I can accept a shitty life, as long as I know it's temporary. So now you know the amazing true story of Remus Lupin."
"And I'm still here," Sirius pointed out.
Remus considered him for a moment. "So you are. You're not freaked out at all?"
Sirius shrugged. "Nah. From where I'm sitting, it seems like you've done the best you could. I'm not going to judge someone for finding ways to survive and cope with a shitty situation. We're both kind of a mess, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Yeah," agreed Remus with a wry smile, "but we're better than we were."
Sirius held out his mug and Remus clinked his against it, and they both downed the last of their cold tea.
"Thanks," Sirius said, a little shyly. "For telling me. For trusting me. Or for testing me. Whichever this is. I know what it's like to be scared of rejection. Thanks for giving me a chance."
"Yeah, well, I guess I could use another friend. Anyway, I missed seeing you at the library," Remus mumbled. His cheeks glowed red, and he looked away.
A treacherous warmth blossomed in Sirius's chest, and he cleared his throat, his own face growing warm.
"I ... uh ... I should get going. It's getting late, and I'm probably keeping you from your dinner."
"Yeah ..." said Remus, and Sirius wondered if he heard a tinge of disappointment in his voice.
Remus walked him to the door, and they both hesitated on the step, unsure how to take their leave of each other. It was not so very long ago that their goodbyes had been accompanied by kisses, soft touches, and lingering looks. Sirius could still vividly recall what it had felt like to kiss Remus. His lips tingled with the memory. They were entering new territory now; navigating this strange wilderness of friendship.
You'll get used to it, Sirius chided himself. It's better than losing him entirely. Just stop thinking about his lips.
"We're having a New Year's party," he said, rallying himself. "You should come."
Remus looked uncertain. "Who's going to be there?"
"James, Pete, a few people they know from college. Some people I know from work. That guy Frank who was there today."
"Are you sure you want me around your friends?" asked Remus.
Sirius blinked. "What d'you mean?"
"I mean, what have you told James about me?"
Sirius looked away, disconcerted. "Not everything," he admitted.
"I thought not," said Remus grimly.
I didn't mean - I'm not ashamed of you or anything like that," Sirius said hurriedly. "I just - I was still upset about things when I talked to him. I didn't want him thinking less of you when I wasn't in a mood to be defending you. But I'll tell him everything, if you want me to. I'll go home and do it right now, if it will make you feel better about things."
"You don't have to do that," Remus relented. "But what about your other friends? What are you going to tell them?"
Sirius frowned. "I'll tell them that you're my friend Remus. You're a college student I met at the library, and you're studying psychology. All of which is true. If you want to tell them any more than that, that's up to you."
Remus looked ambivalent. "I don't usually socialize with a lot of people. Getting to know people usually involves awkward questions sooner or later."
"So socialize with me in a corner, and ignore the rest of them," Sirius pressed, trying to keep the pleading note out of his voice. "I'd really like it if you were there."
"Maybe," said Remus reluctantly.
"OK," said Sirius. "Then I guess I'll hope to see you soon."
"Soon," Remus agreed. "Bye."
He stepped back inside and shut the door between them.
"Bye, Remus," said Sirius softly.
He walked back to his car, clinging tightly to the promise of "soon" and the hope of "maybe".
Sirius and Lily collude to get Remus to Sirius's New Year's party. Remus thinks about his resolutions.
I know I said this was going to be the last chapter, but then it ran long. So there is one more to go after this.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Remus closed his eyes and let the melodic, echoing chant of St. Mark's Compline Choir's evening prayers wash over him. After a few slow, deep breaths, the turmoil within him quieted a little. Compline was almost always a good place for Remus to find a moment's peace, and restore some of his equilibrium. It felt right to come here on this night in particular, as he prepared to face a new year and make his resolutions.
He had texted Lily to let her know to expect him after the service. They always spent New Year's together, usually watching movies in their pyjamas, stepping out barefoot into the cold at midnight to greet the new year and hear the fireworks. This year, Lily had mentioned being invited to a party, and asked Remus if he wanted to go. Lily's invitation reminded Remus that Sirius had also invited him to a party tonight.
Sirius. Remus had managed to make himself forget what it felt like to be near him, but the time they had spent together, talking at the library, and later in Remus's room, brought it all rushing back. It was not just Sirius's devastating good looks; he had a vibrancy and a vulnerability about him that made it all to easy for Remus to recall what it had felt like to kiss him, and to dance in his arms at the gala.
Let someone besides me love you, for once, Lily had said.
Remus was not sure about love, but he could not deny that a strong current of attraction still existed between himself and Sirius. That surprised him. He had been prepared to handle his own lingering feelings when he saw Sirius again, but somehow he had expected Sirius's interest in him to evaporate under the harsh glare of the truth of Remus's life. Remus had plenty of experience in reading signals of attraction, and Sirius was still giving them off like a fire alarm.
There was, too, the apparent sincerity of Sirius's desire to be friends with Remus. The way he had reached out, sharing the painful experiences of his past, open and vulnerable, touched Remus deeply. Their long talk had woven a web of intimacy between them that went deeper than the one they had previously shared, which had been based almost entirely on physical attraction. Remus could not deny the feelings of affection and fondness that Sirius inspired in him. He felt invested in Sirius's happiness.
Sirius now knew Remus's truth, but he had not lived in close proximity to it, so could he really understand what it meant to be Remus, and to live his life? Trusting in another person was always a risk, but did that mean it wasn't worth it? He was afraid of being hurt - of letting someone get close, and then reject him, once they truly understood his life. But if he never trusted in anyone, he was only hurting himself. Where would he be now, if he had never befriended Lily? It did not bear thinking about.
The pew creaked as someone sat down beside him. Remus felt a light touch on the back of his hand, and opened his eyes. Lily was grinning at him. At first, Remus did not understand. Then she inclined her head. He looked past her and saw Sirius perched on the pew beside her, smiling sheepishly. Remus realized with a shock that they must have colluded behind his back - that the party Lily had been invited to was the same one Sirius had invited him to - that his only choice now was to go along, or tell Sirius "no" to his face.
Minx, he mouthed silently at Lily.
She only shrugged, looking innocent.
Remus tried to focus on the last few minutes of the Compline service, without much luck. He kept casting sideways glances at Sirius, only to catch Lily's eye, and her expression of increasing smugness.
When the service ended, and the three of them made their way silently out of the vast, candlelit cavern of the cathedral, Remus was surprised to see a few snowflakes drifting down through the streetlights.
"So. That was nice," said Sirius awkwardly. "For a church thing."
He wore a fluffy skirt and rainbow-striped tights below his winter coat. The edge of a sparkly hair clip peeked out from under a beanie in trans pride colors.
"Yeah," said Remus, hands in his pockets.
"So," said Lily. "We've been invited to a party. Are you in?"
Remus bit his lip. "Yeah, I guess so."
Sirius looked disappointed by his less-than-enthusiastic acquiescence.
"Let's go, then," said Lily. "It's already past ten, and it's cold out."
After a minute's walk, Lily broke the silence again.
"I like your outfit, Sirius."
"Oh. Thanks." Sirius blushed.
"Do you wear skirts often?"
Sirius shrugged. "Sometimes. Er - James told you I'm trans?"
"Yeah," said Lily apologetically. "I'm sure he didn't mean to out you."
"It's fine," said Sirius, waving away the unspoken apology. "I mean, it's fine as long as you're fine with it. No harm done, and all that."
"Of course," said Lily. "I was just curious, because of the skirt, if you consider yourself nonbinary?"
Sirius shook his head. "Nah; I'm just a trans man with some femme tendencies. It's weird, because when I was younger, before I transitioned, and for a while after that, I totally rejected anything feminine. I would've died rather than put on a dress or do anything with my hair. Now I'm six years in, and I like to mix things up a bit. Clothes. Accessories. Makeup, sometimes."
"I don't think it's weird," said Remus, breaking his silence.
"Isn't it?" Sirius cocked his head.
"Not really," said Remus. "Before, I'm guessing you had to try really hard to be seen as anything other than female. Now that most of the world recognizes you as a man, it's probably easier to relax a bit and have fun with your presentation."
Sirius frowned, considering. "Yeah. Something like that."
They were walking down Broadway, brightly lit and full of New Year's revelers, when Remus's phone alarm went off. Sirius stopped in his tracks.
"Oh! I forgot. Your meds -"
"I've got them," said Remus. "I was planning to go to Lily's after Compline - before you two ganged up on me." He scowled at Lily, who giggled.
"I hope you don't mind too much," said Sirius, looking self-conscious.
"Nah. I did say 'maybe', didn't I?"
"'Maybe' isn't 'yes'," Sirius pointed out.
"Well, it is now."
The snow was falling more thickly by the time they reached Sirius's apartment. Peter threw the door open before Sirius could turn his key in the lock.
"Happy New Year!" he declared, pink-cheeked and a little tipsy.
"It's not midnight yet," said Sirius, rolling his eyes.
Peter stepped aside, waving them in. "It's past 10:30. James 'n' me weren't sure you were going to make it back in time. Hi, Remus."
"Hi," said Remus awkwardly, remembering that the last time he had seen Peter was when he had abandoned his close friend in the middle of a panic attack.
Peter appeared to be the forgiving type, however. "Glad you could make it," he grinned, and threw Sirius an obvious wink.
Sirius blushed and busied himself hanging up his coat and scarf on a peg near the door.
"You must be Lily," Peter greeted her warmly. "I'm Pete. I live here, too. Let me take your coat. JAMES!" he yelled down the hallway. "THEY'RE HERE!"
James skidded around the corner in his socks. His face lit up when he saw Lily. "Hi. Sorry about Pete. He's drunk. Come on in."
"Am not!" said Peter, offended.
James greeted Remus much less enthusiastically. "So. You two are back on friendly terms," he said, looking Remus up and down.
"Yeah. Looks like."
"OK," James nodded, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "That's fine. I'm glad. But just so you know, if you ever hurt him again, they will never find your body. Do we understand each other?"
"JAMES -" Sirius growled.
Before Remus could respond, Lily stepped between them, chin tilted up fiercely.
"Just so you know, James Potter: threatening my friends is no way to get on my good side. You hurt anyone I love, and there won't be anything left for anyone to find. Do we understand each other?"
James blinked, then broke into a sheepish grin. "I guess that's fair. Shall we all just shake hands and agree to do no harm, then?"
Lily hesitated, then nodded, and gave James's offered hand a brief shake.
Remus followed suit, as Sirius looked on ambivalently.
Satisfied, James led them into the living room, where Sirius's lime green couch, both chairs, and some of the floor, were occupied by a number of people in their twenties, drinking, talking, laughing, eating snacks, and half-watching the movie on the screen in the corner, its volume turned down low.
Remus recognized Peter's girlfriend, Maddy, now sitting on his lap, arms twined around his neck. She eyed Remus curiously. He also recognized a man named Frank, one of Sirius's co-workers, and also, to Remus's surprise, the woman whose hand Frank was holding.
"Alice!" Lily cried in delight, running over and throwing her arms around the woman.
"Lils!" cried Alice, returning her embrace. "I didn't expect to see you here!"
She kissed Lily soundly on the mouth. James and Sirius's eyes widened, but Frank looked only mildly embarrassed.
"So - you two know each other?" said James awkwardly.
Lily grinned, her arm still around the other woman's waist. "Oh, me and Alice go way back."
"We go more directions than that!" laughed Alice.
"That's not a problem, is it?" Lily challenged, raising her eyebrows at James.
"No," said James hastily. "As long as it's - uh - not a problem for anyone else?" He glanced at Frank.
Frank waved it away. "It's fine. Alice and I aren't exclusive. I just - ah - wasn't expecting ..."
"Sorry," said Lily, turning red. "I didn't realize she was here with someone. I can keep my hands to myself. No matter what the temptation." She winked at Alice.
Alice giggled and introduced Lily to Frank.
Sirius stepped away from the awkward introductions, and Remus followed.
"Did you know about this?" Sirius asked in a low voice.
Remus shrugged. "Yeah. But it's no big deal. Lily's like that with a lot of her close friends."
Sirius frowned, regarding him curiously. "Including you?"
"Not that it's any of your business, but yeah, sometimes."
"But you said you were gay," said Sirius, puzzled.
"That's right," said Remus mildly. "I'm not sexually attracted to women. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy it, or that I get nothing out of that kind of closeness with someone I care about."
"OK," said Sirius, nodding slowly, as if trying to wrap his head around it. "I - I guess that makes sense."
"It makes sense for me and Lily. Sometimes," Remus repeated.
"OK," said Sirius again. "So ... er ... can I get you something to drink?"
"I need to go take my meds," Remus reminded him.
"Oh, right!" said Sirius. "Sorry. You remember where the bathroom is?"
But the bathroom was occupied. After waiting a few minutes, Sirius volunteered to get Remus some water from the kitchen.
"You can take them in my room," he added. "If you want privacy."
Sirius brought him a glass of water, then hesitated on the threshold. "I can just - leave you to it."
"It's all right," said Remus. "You can stay."
He took the small plastic pill box from his pocket and counted out the different pills, even though he had checked them twice before heading out for the night. He scooped them up and tossed them back, washing them down with a long swallow of water, as Sirius looked on.
"You have to take that many every day?" Sirius asked.
Remus gave him a wry smile. "Only if I want to live."
"I hope you do," Sirius said quietly.
Remus's smile faded. "Yeah, I do."
"I'm glad," said Sirius.
There was a moment of awkward silence, then Sirius said, "Oh, while I've got you here, I have something for you."
He took two flat, rectangular packages, wrapped in Christmas paper and tied with ribbon, down from a shelf and set them on the bed.
Remus hesitated. "I thought we talked about you buying me things."
"I didn't," said Sirius, suppressing a grin of triumph. "Both of these were free. So quit complaining and open them." He pushed the larger one towards Remus.
Remus sat down on the edge of the bed and picked it up. It was heavy. Tearing off the paper, he found a laptop computer. Remus stared at it.
"James's parents got him a new one for Christmas," Sirius said proudly. "So I asked him if I could have this one. It's a few years old, and maybe not in peak condition, but it still works pretty well. I thought you could use it. For school, I mean."
"I can't take this," said Remus, still staring at the computer. "It would probably just get stolen. People are in and out of my place all the time. I don't even know half of them, and I'm not sure I trust any of them. James should sell it. Try to get some money back."
"It's not worth that much," said Sirius. "Call it a loan, if you like. You can use it for as long as you need it. And if you're worried about it getting stolen, I can find a safe place for it at the library, behind the desk. You could use it whenever you're there. Or ... you could keep it here," he suggested hesitantly.
"I ... thanks," Remus mumbled. "Having a laptop would help a lot."
He dragged his gaze away from the computer to eye the other package warily. Sirius picked it up and handed it to him. This one was smaller and lighter. Inside the wrapping paper was a discarded library book.
"Built On Our Backs," Remus read out the title, frowning. "What's this?"
"It's a history of Seattle," said Sirius shyly. "I wasn't sure if you knew - it was taxes and fines on sex workers that built a lot of the early city. This book is about that."
"No," said Remus, turning the book over to look at the back. "I never knew that."
"The author was a sex worker, too," added Sirius. "Anyway, I thought you might be interested in it - all things considered.
Remus was not entirely sure how he felt about this gift, but he appreciated the clumsy gesture Sirius was trying to make, and understood that he meant it as a sign of acceptance of that aspect of Remus's life.
"Thanks," he said again. "Really. I'll read it when I have some time."
Setting the laptop and book on the nightstand, Remus's eye fell on another book. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
"Are you still reading this?" he asked, picking it up.
"Yeah," said Sirius, "but it was nicer having you read it to me."
"I liked it, too," Remus admitted.
Sirius gave him a shy sidelong look. "You could read me a bit more. If you wanted to."
"I dunno." Remus glanced toward the door. "We should get back to the party. I don't want to leave Lily to fend for herself."
"I guess," said Sirius. "She seems to fend for herself just fine, though. James won't let her feel left out. And she's got Alice."
"Yeah. I suppose we could read one chapter," Remus conceded.
He kicked off his shoes, pulling his feet up onto the bed to sit crosslegged, facing Sirius, and opened the book to the bookmarked page. Sirius leaned back against the pillows, face turned toward Remus expectantly.
As Remus began to read, the various awkwardnesses of the night fell away. He remembered again how easy they had felt together when he read to Sirius at the library. Having something else to focus their attention on put them both at ease, and allowed them to relax and just exist for a while in the same space, without any pressure to engage with the uncomfortable aspects of their lives and their relationship. In a way, it reminded Remus of the time they had spent kissing, before all their secrets came spilling out.
If we could just keep reading forever, thought Remus, everything would be all right.
The chapter was only a short one, so when Remus finished it, he began another. After a time, one of his feet got pins and needles, and he shifted position, stretching out on his side on the bed, facing Sirius. A few times, he stumbled over the words when he caught sight of Sirius laughing, gray eyes fixed on him intently, just beyond the pages of the book.
When Remus stopped reading to take a sip of water, Sirius leaned up on an elbow, cocking his head so that his dark, silky hair fell to one side, spilling over his shoulder like a midnight waterfall.
"You have a really nice reading voice," he said. "You could do audiobooks."
"Thanks," said Remus, disconcerted. "It's nice to read to someone. Soothing."
Sirius gave him a smile that made Remus's insides feel funny. "It's nice to be read to. I wouldn't mind if -"
There was a loud knock at the door, and James entered, followed by Lily.
"There they are!" declared James, waving a beer bottle in their direction.
"I hope we're not interrupting anything?" Lily smirked, looking back and forth between them.
Sirius sat up, blushing. "We were just reading," he said quickly.
James rolled his eyes. "Someone's gonna call the cops if you two party animals don't settle down. You realize it's almost midnight?"
Remus glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand in surprise. It read 11:56.
"I guess we lost track of the time. Again."
"C'mon," Lily grinned. "Unless you two would rather ring in the new year in private?"
Remus hastily set aside the book and stood up, glancing back at Sirius covertly as they followed James and Lily out of the room, wondering whether Sirius would rather wish him a private happy new year.
Since their phone conversation a week before, Sirius had not tried to make a move, or touch him, or imply in any way that he wanted more than friendship from Remus. But his eyes and his body language told a different story - one that Remus was finding it increasingly difficult to ignore. He was no longer even certain that he wanted to ignore it.
New year, new Remus, he thought to himself nervously as he leaned against the doorframe in the living room, where every face but his was turned avidly toward the television, the countdown clock prominently displayed on the screen. His own eyes were fixed on Sirius.
He did not know if he could stick to it, but perhaps he could try resolving to trust others a little more, and take a chance on people who demonstrated genuine interest in - and care for - him.
Perhaps he would start with Sirius ...
Sorry, but Built On Our Backs is not a real book. It's just one that I think should exist, given the importance (and erasure) of sex workers' labor in the building of Seattle. Meanwhile, you can read about Lou Graham, Seattle's great 19th century entrepreneurial madam. (Though the article doesn't mention it, it is acknowledged by local historians that a number of the highly-prized sex workers in Graham's establishment were men -- or possibly trans women; the records from that period are unclear on the distinction.)
Sirius confesses his feelings to Remus, and tries to convince him that they're both worth the risk.
"Five! Four! Three! Two! One! HAPPY NEW YEAR!" Cheered the little group of people crowded around the television screen.
Frank gathered Alice close for a celebratory kiss. Maddy, too, kissed Peter ostentatiously. James eyed Lily hopefully. She laughed and gave him a quick hug, which he returned, beaming.
"Er - Happy New Year," said Sirius, flashing Remus an awkward smile.
"Happy New Year."
Sirius's eyes flickered to Remus's lips, and then quickly away. Remus took a half-step toward him, heart beating faster.
"We can if you want to," he offered. "For luck."
Sirius's eyes widened, and he took a step back. "Don't. Not if we're just going to be friends."
"OK. Sorry," said Remus, trying to push down the welling of disappointment in his chest. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
The revelers streamed past them into the hallway. Remus and Sirius followed. James pulled open the front door. A rush of cold air and the crackling sound of fireworks swirled in, accompanied by a flurry of snowflakes.
"Oh, wow!" breathed someone.
A thick blanket of snow covered the steps, the walkway, the street, and more was still coming down. The snow and the clouds glowed with the reflected light of the city.
Laughing, Lily and Alice ran down the steps to put their hands in the snow. Lily gathered up a handful and lobbed it at James, hitting him squarely in the chest. He looked surprised for and instant, then charged down the steps with a roar of mock outrage. Within seconds, nearly everyone was laughing and flinging snowballs at one another with their bare hands.
Remus hung back, watching. Sirius, too, lingered in the doorway. He shot Remus a sideways glance, looking as if he was trying to decide something.
"Look - do you want to go for a walk?" asked Remus.
Sirius hesitated, then nodded.
They retrieved their coats from the pegs by the door and bundled themselves up, pulling on their shoes, before hurrying through the no-man's-land between the two hastily-assembled factions in the yard, dodging a barrage of frozen projectiles from either direction.
Reaching the safety of the sidewalk, they slowed.
"Where d'you want to go?" Sirius asked.
Remus considered. "Gay City's not far from here, and I heard the coffee shop is staying open late tonight."
They trudged through the falling snow for a minute, breath clouding in the cold air, before Remus said. "It seemed like maybe you wanted to talk. What's up?"
"Um. Yeah." Sirius kept his eyes fixed on the ground, gloved hands stuffed into his pockets. "I - the thing is - look, this being friends thing is harder than I thought."
Remus's stomach lurched with the sudden sensation of falling, and he stopped short. "W-what d'you mean?" he asked, trying to keep his voice even.
Sirius halted, too. "I'm not saying I can't do it. I'm just saying it might take me a while to really get there." Catching sight of the stricken look on Remus's face, he explained in a rush, "Don't get me wrong! I'm glad we talked about everything and got past all the hard stuff and we're spending time together again. I like spending time with you and talking to you and having you read to me. But it's like - even though you're right here, I miss you. I know that doesn't make any sense, but that's how it feels." He gave Remus a pleading look, silently begging for understanding.
"I get that," said Remus. "But we can't go back in time."
"I know. I'm not saying I'd trade what we have now for what we had before. I'm saying -" he took a deep breath, "- why can't we have this, and that, too? Unless you really don't want to ..."
I do, Remus thought desperately. But I'm afraid. What if you disappoint me? What if you decide I'm too much trouble?
He turned away and started walking again. Sirius hurried to catch up.
"If I said I didn't?" Remus asked cautiously.
Sirius looked wounded, but hid it quickly, rallying himself. "Then we'd just be friends, and I'd adjust to that eventually, if it meant you wouldn't run away from me again. But for now, I can't make myself stop thinking about what it was like, before."
Remus was silent for a moment. "I think about it, too," he admitted finally. "I'm glad we decided to try being friends. But when I'm with you - sometimes I want things I know I can't have."
"Why not?" asked Sirius.
Remus shook his head. "Because I can't be a good boyfriend right now. I have so much else going on, I can barely take care of myself. I can't be there for someone else. Not in a meaningful way."
"What if ..." Sirius began slowly. "What if it was someone who understood that you have a lot going on, and didn't have any expectations? Who just wanted to be with you, when you have the time?"
"That doesn't seem very fair to - that person." Remus balled up his fists in his pockets and hunched his shoulders against the cold and the gloom that oppressed him.
"Maybe that person is a grownup who can make his own choices," said Sirius pointedly.
"Sirius -" he stopped again, giving Sirius an anguished look. "Look at you. You're hot and well-read and empathetic and kind. You can do so much better than someone like me. What do I have to offer? Just a big mess and a lot of problems. You deserve better than that. You deserve to be with someone who can be there for you, and be supportive when you need it. Ninety percent of the time, I'm too exhausted to take care of myself, let alone anyone else."
Sirius stared at him. "You think you don't deserve someone who's supportive of you?"
"That's beside the point," Remus mumbled, shrugging uncomfortably.
"Not to me it isn't," said Sirius. "Remus, I don't need you to take care of me. I do all right on my own most of the time, and I've got James and his family and Pete. You don't have to be everything to me in order to be anything."
Remus gazed up at Sirius in frustration - the softness of his mouth, the expression of concern in his gray eyes, the snowflakes glittering in his hair - then turned away and started walking again.
"You don't understand how complicated this is for me," he said, when Sirius fell into step beside him.
"So tell me."
Remus shook his head. "It's not just that I have nothing to offer; there are things I would need from you. Things I know you couldn't promise."
"Like - I'd still be a sex worker. That wouldn't just magically go away. I'd still be fucking other people on a regular basis. I would need you to not be weird or critical about it, or try to change me, or act like you know how to do my life better than I do. Your feelings about my choices can't take precedence over mine. I know you can't promise to feel a certain way, but I can't be with someone who is weird or gross about my life."
"I understand," said Sirius. "I wouldn't want to be with anyone who asked a lot of gory details about my transition, or tried to tell me I was doing my gender wrong. I know I can't promise to feel a certain way, but I'm willing to try. I know that stuff's none of my business. I wouldn't want you to feel like you have to pretend to be anyone other than who you are with me, though. I'd want you to feel like you could talk to me about anything."
"Thanks," said Remus awkwardly. "That's - I appreciate that. It's just hard to trust anyone that much, who hasn't been in my shoes."
They rounded a corner. The warm glow from the windows of Gay City spilled out onto the sidewalk ahead of them. The street around the coffee shop was filled with colorful Capitol Hill residents, half-sober or less, shouting New Year's greetings at one another. A few had found plastic saucer sleds, and were sliding around in the street, much to the merriment and consternation of people passing by.
It was warm inside the coffee shop, and every table was occupied, but the line at the counter was not long.
"You want something to drink?" asked Remus.
"I can get it," said Sirius quickly.
"Let me, this time," said Remus. "I can afford to spring for coffee every now and then."
"OK," said Sirius. "Make mine a hot cocoa, though."
Remus gave him a half-smile. "That sounds good. I think I'll make it two."
They got their drinks in paper to-go cups, but lingered for a moment in the warmth, leaning against the counter.
"Thanks," said Sirius, as Remus took a cautious sip of his own too-hot drink. "So ... where were we?"
Remus shook his head. "I don't know. I don't know if we're anywhere."
Sirius relented. "I'm sorry. Am I being pushy? I don't mean to pressure you. It just seems like you keep telling me all these reasons why you think this won't work, but none of those reasons have been that you don't want to. If you don't, just tell me. I can't say it won't hurt, but I'd rather you be honest with me than try to spare my feelings."
Remus looked at him, feeling miserable. How do you start trusting someone? he wondered.
"I just - I don't know," he said, frustrated. "I don't see how it wouldn't be a massively unbalanced dynamic. I saw at the gala - you live in this whole other world. You've got a rich adoptive family who love you. You own a spare fucking tuxedo. You can just give away a computer, like it's nothing. I only own one pair of shoes. My worldly possessions can fit in a couple of boxes."
Sirius frowned. "I know I've been lucky. I know I could have ended up where you are, or worse. I am so grateful to James's family for everything they've done for me. I could never repay everything I owe them. But - I can take that good fortune and pass a little of it on. I do get it, you know. I don't want to be reliant on the Potters forever. I want to prove that I can stand on my own two feet. But I don't want to cut myself off from them, either. Helping each other, and being able to admit when we need help - not cutting ourselves off from each other and try to go it alone - it makes the world a better, kinder place."
"I don't want charity," Remus mumbled. "Or pity."
"That's not what I'm offering," said Sirius. "I'm paying it forward. The Potters helped me, I can help you, and someday, you're going to help lots of people. I can't think of many things more worthwhile than that." He turned toward Remus, regarding him earnestly. "You're going to do great things someday, Remus. I really believe that. I've seen how hard you work. I've heard you talk about how much you want to help homeless kids. I want to see you succeed."
"I don't need a sugar daddy, either," said Remus uncomfortably.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Now you're just willfully misunderstanding me. This isn't about trading sex or companionship for -" He broke off, shaking his head. "Remus, I care about you. Whatever else happens between us, I'm offering a shoulder you can lean on when you need it, and a safe place to come in from the cold and rest, when it all gets to be too much. And yeah, maybe I do wish it could be more than that, but that part is up to you. You have my friendship and my support. That's not conditional on anything."
The bell rang behind the counter for last call.
"It's late," said Remus, grateful for the brief interruption to get his feelings back under control. "We should head back."
The snow was even deeper as they slogged back the way they had come, and still falling fast. The footprints of their outward trek had softened into little more than shallow, oblong depressions in a sea of white.
"Look," said Remus, trying to shore up his crumbling defences, "it's not that I don't want - or that I don't appreciate - I just - I have to make my own way, you know? I can't be dependent on someone else, no matter what their intentions."
Sirius shook his head. "How are you getting 'dependent' out of anything I said? Aren't friends supposed to help and support one another when things are tough?"
Remus looked down at his snow-covered shoes. "My parents were supposed to support me," he said quietly.
"Yeah, I know," said Sirius sympathetically. "Mine let me down, too. And nothing is ever going to make up for that. I know what it's like to have rejection issues. How hard it is to trust anyone after something like that."
"I ran out on you once," Remus pointed out. "What makes you think you can trust me?"
Sirius pressed his lips together. "I said there were no conditions on my friendship and support, and I meant that. But - if you ever wanted to be more than that, I do have a few conditions for that."
Remus glanced at him warily. "What would they be?"
Sirius stopped and turned toward him in a pool of lamplight, cheeks red with cold, snowflakes swirling around him. There was a touch of defiance in the angle of his chin.
"I would expect you to be honest with me. That you would respect me enough to tell me the truth, no matter what. That if you ever felt like running away again, you would at least talk to me about it first. That you would show me I matter to you."
"Of course you matter to me," said Remus, surprised. "You think I would have cared what you thought about me if you didn't?"
Sirius looked embarrassed but also slightly pleased. "Well, I guess that's something."
"I can be honest with you," Remus continued. "I have been, since - everything happened. But Sirius, I honestly don't know how this can work, or why you'd want it."
Sirius stepped closer, eyes fixed on Remus's. Remus held his breath. When Sirius's gloved fingers closed around his, Remus did not resist, or try to pull away.
"Remus, I want this," Sirius said softly. "I want to be with you. That's all that matters: what you want and what I want. So, what do you want?"
The tenderness in Sirius's expression was more than Remus could bear. He looked down at their linked hands instead.
"I want to be with you, too," he whispered. "But -"
"No 'buts'," said Sirius. "You've told me all the reasons why you think this can't work, and they all just sound like excuses not to try."
"I don't want to disappoint you," Remus admitted softly. "And I don't want you to disappoint me."
Sirius laced his fingers through Remus's and gave them a squeeze. "You think I'm not scared, too? But I'll be more disappointed if we don't try, than if we try and fail."
"You don't know that."
"I'm willing to take the risk, if you are. I promise I won't - I'll try not to hurt you. You've been hurt enough."
Remus could feel himself wavering, defences crumbling.
"Be with me," whispered Sirius. His other hand rose to cup Remus's cheek. "Just for the next sixty seconds. And if that goes all right, we can try for another minute after that."
Remus closed his eyes, tilting his head into the caress.
"I want to kiss you," Sirius murmured, close enough that Remus felt the warmth of his breath on his cold skin. "Not just as friends. Is that all right?"
Heart in his throat, feeling like he was standing at the edge of a precipice, Remus nodded.
Sirius's lips were soft and cool, hesitant at first, but when Remus tilted his face up, parting his own lips in response, Sirius's mouth was warm and eager.
The kiss lasted longer than sixty seconds, or even the minute after that. Remus was distantly aware of Sirius's arms around him, fingers slipping under his scarf to curve around the back of his neck, drawing him closer. Everything else fell away. Kissing Sirius felt good and right and Remus had missed it so, so much. How could he ever have denied himself this? And how could he even begin to deserve it?
When they broke apart, Remus had to remind himself to breathe.
"Everything OK?" Sirius murmured, sounding a little breathless himself.
Remus nodded, blinking his eyes open, trying to find his voice. "I-I think so."
Sirius's face split into a slow grin. "Glad to hear it. Happy New Year."
"Happy New Year," echoed Remus, still feeling dazed. The kiss had left him more than a little unsteady. "You're sure you want to do this?"
"Yes," Sirius declared firmly. He slipped their linked hands into his coat pocket. "Will you be with me as long as it takes for us to walk back to my place?"
Remus bit back a smile. "I think I can promise that much."
Sirius returned the smile. "And will you kiss me like that again before tonight is over?"
"Yes," said Remus recklessly.
By the time they made it back to Sirius's apartment, the snow was halfway to their knees, and still falling. Most of the other guests had departed. Someone whose name Remus could not remember had fallen asleep on the sofa, a fleece University of Washington blanket carelessly draped over him.
They found Lily and James seated at the kitchen table, heads bent cozily together over a pair of wine glasses, talking and laughing in low voices.
"There you are!" said Lily. Her smile widened when she saw that Remus was holding Sirius's hand. "We wondered where you'd gotten to."
James eyed Remus with open skepticism. "We thought we were going to have to call out a search party."
"We just went for a walk," said Sirius grumpily.
"I take it it was a happy New Year," Lily said with a wink and a yawn. "What time is it, anyway?"
"Oh, wow," said James, looking at his phone. "It's almost two. Do you need a ride home?"
"It's still snowing, and the roads haven't been cleared," said Sirius. "It's not safe to drive anywhere."
"You can stay here," James told Lily immediately. "You can have my bed."
"I don't want to kick you out of your own bed," Lily objected.
"It's fine. I'll sleep on Sirius's hideous sofa."
"My sofa is not hideous," Sirius scowled. "It's a literary reference. Anyway, one of your Engineering buddies is already crashed out on it."
James was not deterred. "Then I'll sleep on the floor, then. Or in a chair. It's really not a big deal."
While their friends worked out sleeping arrangements, Remus stepped away to the kitchen window to watch the snow, still falling thick and fast past the streetlights. Sirius followed.
"You'll stay?" he said earnestly. "It'd be a long walk home in the snow, and who knows what kind of maniacs are out on the road tonight. I wouldn't feel right sending you out there alone."
"I'll manage," said Remus.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Don't be stupid. Why make things any harder on yourself than you have to?"
"I don't want to impose."
"You're not," said Sirius firmly. "You think I'm in any hurry to get rid of you tonight? Not on your life."
He stepped closer, hesitantly slipping an arm around Remus's waist, resting his chin on his shoulder.
"Stay," he murmured into Remus's ear. "I want to know you're safe."
"All right. I guess there's plenty of floor space. If I won't be in the way."
"You don't have to sleep on the floor, you know. I have a queen size bed."
The breath caught in Remus's throat. "Are you sure you're OK with that?"
"With you being safe and comfortable? Pretty sure I am."
Behind them, James cleared his throat. "You're staying, too?"
Remus and Sirius turned toward him.
"Yeah, I guess so," said Remus.
"Yeah, he is." Sirius sounded a touch defiant.
"OK," said James, eyes fixed on Sirius as if he were trying to send him telepathic messages. "Just - be careful, OK?"
Lily nudged him. "They'll be fine. Find me something to wear to bed?"
"Right," said James, flustered. "OK. Good night. If you need anything, you know where to find me."
Remus glanced up at Sirius, who was staring after James, blushing.
"Everything all right?"
Sirius shook himself. "Yeah. C'mon. I'll find you some pyjamas, and see if there's a spare toothbrush."
Remus changed in the bathroom, and brushed his teeth, chiding himself for feeling nervous about spending the night with Sirius.
When he returned to the bedroom, Sirius was sitting on the bed wearing an oversized teeshirt and flannel trousers, knees drawn up under his chin.
"I ... um ... I had to take my binder off. I can't sleep in it. I hope that's not too weird."
He looked so endearingly vulnerable that Remus immediately climbed up onto the bed beside him and kissed him.
"It's fine. Really. You should be comfortable in your own room."
Sirius still seemed tense, uncertain.
"Are you sure you're all right with this?" Remus asked. "I can still sleep on the floor."
"It's fine," said Sirius. "It's just - Look, I hope you didn't think, when I asked you to stay, that we would - that anything was going to ... happen."
Remus sat back on his heels. "Nothing has to happen, if you don't want it to. I'm not expecting anything."
Sirius looked relieved. "OK. Good. Because what I told you that day in periodicals - about waiting - that wasn't just me not being ready to come out to you. And it's not because of anything to do with you," he added quickly. "The whole idea of sex just kind of - freaks me out. After what happened with me and James -"
"I get it," said Remus. "It's fine. Really."
"I mean," Sirius continued rapidly, "I'm not saying I don't want to ever. Just that I'd have to really trust someone before I'd be willing to try it again. Not that I don't trust you; I'm just - not ready yet."
"No expectations," Remus promised, kissing him on the forehead.
Sirius's shoulders drooped in relief. "No expectations."
"So, now that that's all cleared up, bed?" Remus cocked his head.
"Bed," agreed Sirius.
He pulled back the covers and they climbed under them, settling down on the pillows facing each other. The glow of the snow and the sky through the blinds gave just enough light for Remus to see Sirius's face, inches from his own. Sirius found Remus's hands under the covers.
"So, you'll be with me until morning, at least?" he ventured shyly.
"I think I can manage a little longer than that," said Remus.
Sirius's eyebrows rose. The corner of his mouth curled up. "Afternoon, then?"
"How about if we take it one day at a time?" suggested Remus, giving Sirius's hands a squeeze.
"We're really doing this?" Sirius asked, face alight with hope.
"I think so," said Remus, wondering whether the feeling in his belly was excitement or fear.
"You really don't mind having a trans boyfriend with weird hangups about sex?"
When Remus hesitated for half a second, searching for the right words, Sirius bit his lip. "Sorry, I didn't mean to say 'boyfriend'. We don't have to label this yet, if you don't want to."
"'Boyfriend' is fine," Remus assured him. He raised Sirius's fingers to his lips and kissed them. "And I wouldn't change a thing about you. Not for the world."
Sirius smiled self-consciously. "You know, if you wanted to make out right now, I'd be OK with that. You did promise to kiss me again."
Remus shifted closer, nuzzling Sirius, enjoying the soft feel of Sirius's lips against his. Sirius sighed contentedly, his arm sliding around Remus's waist, under his teeshirt. Pulling Sirius close, Remus abandoned himself completely to the joy of kissing him.
"I'm glad I got to start the new year with the person I want to spend it with," Sirius murmured a few minutes later.
"Yeah." Remus's thumb stroked the edge of Sirius's palm. "I spent so much time telling myself I couldn't have anything like this."
"Well, you were wrong," said Sirius happily, leaning closer to nuzzle his neck.
Remus shivered. "I hope so."
Sirius pulled away, frowning. "What does that mean?"
"It means ... my life is what it is right now," Remus shrugged. "If you're doing this out of pity, or because you think you can save me, you might end up resenting me."
"I'm not, and I won't," said Sirius hotly.
"I don't know that. And neither do you."
"I'm not expecting this to be some kind of fairy tale, you know," said Sirius. "If there are problems, we'll talk about them. Figure them out together."
"You think you can be cool about what I do for a living?" Remus pressed pointedly. "It doesn't bother you?"
Sirius pressed his lips together, considering. "No, I don't think so," he said slowly. "It might take some getting used to. Just promise me you'll be careful. I don't want you getting hurt or into trouble."
Remus frowned. "I can't promise that. Sometimes things happen, if I read someone wrong. I need you to promise that when that happens - and it will, eventually - you won't make it about your feelings."
Sirius's jaw tightened. He nodded. "OK. I promise. You know you can always come here, if you ever need a safe place. That's not charity; I'm being selfish. I don't want to have to worry about you - whether you're OK, or you need help. Even if - if this doesn't work out. You're always safe with me."
"Thanks," said Remus, self-consciously. "So ... Lily and James seemed pretty cozy in the kitchen tonight."
Sirius grinned. "Yeah. He really likes her."
"You think he'll treat her well?" Remus asked.
Sirius's grin widened. "Who's protective now?"
Remus chuckled. "I'd be more worried about him than her, if he doesn't treat her right."
"He will," said Sirius confidently. "Trust me."
Remus gazed at him fondly for a moment. "I think maybe I do."
Sirius's grin faded into an expression of tenderness. "Come here."
He pulled Remus close, kissing him again. Remus relaxed into his arms with a sigh of contentment. It was better to enjoy something good while you had it, he decided, than to become so preoccupied with losing a good thing that you could never enjoy having it. He resolved to appreciate every moment with Sirius, and never take anything for granted.
Sirius drew back, a dreamy, thoughtful look on his face.
"What are you thinking about?" Remus asked sleepily.
"Pancakes," said Sirius. "For breakfast tomorrow. I need to fatten you up a bit."
Remus chuckled. "I wouldn't say 'no' to that. God, I can't remember the last time I had pancakes ..."
"Mmm, that settles it," said Sirius, kissing him on the nose. "And I'm going to keep making them until you can't possibly eat another bite."
"Challenge accepted," said Remus, twining his fingers in Sirius's silky hair and pulling him close for another slow, sleepy kiss.
"Happy New Year," Sirius murmured against his lips.
"Happy New Year," Remus echoed.
Sirius fell asleep with his head on Remus's shoulder, one arm slung across his chest. Remus watched him for a while as he snored softly.
"When did I get so lucky?" Remus whispered.
He was warm and comfortable and the prospect of pancakes loomed large in his future. But better than all of that was the incredible man curled up at his side, who had seen into the wilderness of Remus's life, and had offered him his trust and his heart, without reservation.
Moving carefully, Remus bent his head, and kissed Sirius gently on the forehead. Sirius stirred in his sleep, making a sleepy murmuring sound of contentment, and nuzzled closer against Remus's shoulder.
Remus smiled and closed his eyes, feeling a glimmering in his chest of something that he thought might be happiness. Perhaps this would be a good year.
Gay City: Seattle's LGBTQ Center promotes wellness in LGBTQ communities by providing health services, connecting people to resources, fostering arts, and building community. Gay City is the leading provider of HIV and STI testing in King County.
(the coffee shop that shares a building with Gay City is actually a Kaladi Brothers)