Chapter 1: Introduction of the Problem
There were easily six hundred people living in the Paramount building in downtown San Francisco. That was a lot of neighbors to get to know, but it only took a single day of living there for Sirius to notice Remus.
He knew his name because he read it on one of the pieces of mail Remus was holding in the elevator. Remus held the door while Sirius struggled with a large potted plant, a housewarming present from James and Lily. Sirius thanked him and let him press the button for the fifth floor. He spent the regrettably short elevator ride trying not to stare.
Sirius was used to being around beautiful people. When you lived in a city of nearly a million people, statistics offered the certainty of bumping into at least one picture-perfect person a day, but Remus was unusual. He matched himself perfectly, as if someone had planned him that way. His hair and eyes were exactly the same shade of rich, warm brown. His freckles, which were spread all over his skin with remarkable randomness, were also that color. He was white, but his skin had gentle yellow and tan undertones instead of the harsh pinkness many white people suffered from. It was the perfect contrast for all of his lovely brownness.
Even his glasses were the same honey-brown. Sirius sighed with satisfaction when he looked down and discovered that Remus’ shoes and the leather band of his watch matched too. Those were conscious decisions. Remus had taken something most people would consider boring, a nondescript shade of brown, and embraced it.
"This is me," the gently rounded frames and simple leather loafers seemed to say, "and I don't mind it."
Sirius, whose Philippino parents had gifted him with skin in exactly that same shade, couldn't help but notice how well the two of them matched each other.
It was just a chance encounter. In such a large building, they might never have seen each other again, but it seemed they also shared a certain regularity of schedule.
Sirius worked an early shift, and he made a habit of alternating days swimming laps and time in the gym once he got home. He didn't do it to be fit, although that was a nice bonus. He liked the rhythms of exercise, the predictability and control. After the crazy stress of being at work, he needed something like that to bring him back down.
He became even more committed to his routine when he realized Remus swam nearly every day and afterwards spent hours on the sun deck, in the sauna, or in the hot tub. Remus would go to whichever spot was the warmest and lounge there like a smug, gorgeous cat. Even on the days he didn't swim he still showed up, relaxing in the sunshine in loose pants and comfy sweaters instead of a swimsuit. Sirius didn't usually sit around after working out, but, after noticing Remus’ example, he began to let himself enjoy the warmth of the sun.
He didn't have high expectations. That wasn't practical for a gay man in a world full of straight people. But he had long ago mastered the art of platonic aesthetic appreciation, it being a necessity if you wanted to survive a friendship with James Potter. He wouldn't have minded developing that kind of friendship with Remus, but how to go about it was a bit tricky. Straight men could be so fragile.
For example, he couldn't just plop himself down in an adjacent lounge chair and start chatting. There was a whole sun deck full of lounge chairs, and to sit directly next to each other when there were other options was a manly social taboo, like peeing next to each other in the bathroom when there were other stalls available. He might as well paint "Building Weirdo" on his forehead. It would be perfectly acceptable to sit next to Remus if the other chairs had been taken, but at that time of day the pool was usually deserted. Most people were still at work, and those old enough to be retired seemed to prefer the morning hours. Actually, hardly anyone seemed to use the pool or the sauna at all. It was amazing how collectively boring six-hundred-plus people could be.
So for a long time Sirius wasn't sure what to do. But then the season began to change, and he realized the sun was on his side. As fall progressed, the shadow of the building across the street put all but a couple of the lounge chairs in the shade.
"Do you mind?" Sirius asked with maximum casualness, gesturing to the chair next to Remus. "For a sun deck, there’s not a lot of sun, huh?"
"Go ahead." Remus shrugged and waved him on, but he pointedly turned right back to the notebook he was writing in, not inviting further conversation. Sirius didn't let that get to him, but he didn't say anything else either. He had already taken a risk. Remus would have to be the one to make the next move.
Unfortunately, Remus didn't, not that day, or the next, or the one after that, although Sirius continued to make himself available by sharing that small patch of sun. As the days of this highly convenient season passed, he almost got used to the sight of Remus lying shirtless in the sun, or soaking in the spa with his freckled arms held high to keep his book out of the water. Remus was always either reading or writing in a series of bound notebooks. Sirius liked to read too, and he saw a lot of familiar titles in Remus’ hands. It was very encouraging. So one day he brought his e-reader to the pool in a show of solidarity, hoping it would give them some excuse to start a conversation.
Remus did notice the reader, but he just put his own paperback in front of his face without commentary. Sirius realized his mistake. Remus always read paper books: crisp mass market paperbacks, large hardcover volumes, or vintage books that had been read so many times they were falling apart—but Sirius had never seen him with an e-reader.
Remus didn't seem to use devices much at all. Sirius had only ever seen him with his phone a couple times. It was an old fashioned flip phone like Sirius had had in high school. It didn't even have a touch screen. Maybe he was some sort of technophobe. That should have been a turn-off for someone who had what he considered to be important relationships with his many electronic devices, but this difference between them only made him more interested.
Even if Remus wasn't a technophobe, Sirius' plan had obvious flaws. Remus couldn't very well start a conversation about a book when he couldn't see its cover. Sirius tabbed out of his current scifi novel and ordered the corresponding paper book. He was pretty sure Remus would find this book interesting. He might even have read it already, and then he would naturally want to talk about it. It could work.
The next day he brought the only paper book he had in the house, which was The Sound and the Fury. That would have to do until the books he was actually reading were delivered.
"That's a terrible book."
"Yeah? I just started it." Sirius looked at Remus casually over the top of his sunglasses. He couldn't believe his insane, chickenshit plan was actually working. "How so?"
"It lacks a four part narrative structure. Without structure a book is just drivel."
"Drivel huh?" Sirius held the book up to examine it for signs of dribbling. "Well, that explains why my cousin gave it to me. She lacks structure too."
Remus huffed a laugh. It was just a single breath, but it was definitely laughter. Sirius’ heart soared with hope.
"What are you reading?" he asked. Then he winced, cursing his horrible observation skills, because Remus didn't have a book today. He had his notebook.
"I'm not reading, I'm writing."
"Are you..." Sirius paused. Comfy clothes, appeared to work from home, glasses, slightly messy hair, distinct bookishness—yes, all at the signs were present. He should have realized it before. "You're an author."
"Cool. What kind of stuff do you write?"
"Mostly fantasy. My pen name is Remus Lupin."
Sirius stared at him, this time through his glasses, to hide his boggled look. Thank God for mirror lenses. "You're that Remus? Who wrote the Depthfinder series?"
"Yes. Although I'm not done." He gestured to the notebook.
Sirius took a deep breath, and then four or five more. Now was not the time to explode into fanboy glee. He had to keep his cool. He waited until he was sure he was composed enough to do it, then he pushed his sunglasses up onto the top of his head, giving Remus an obvious once-over. Remus raised one exquisitely brown eyebrow.
"Huh," Sirius said.
"It's funny. You don't look evil."
"You think I'm evil?" Remus' other eyebrow went up.
"It takes a strong thread of evilness to end a book the way you did." Sirius pointed a finger at him accusingly. "Everyone thinks Emmi is dead! And you sit there waving the next book in my face. Evil."
He put his sunglasses back on and settled into his chair, as if everything was no big deal. Keeping it cool. He glanced over from behind the cover of his lenses. Remus was smiling, and it had to be said that there was definitely a hint of evilness in it.
"Cliffhangers sell books."
"Damn right they do. I already have mine on preorder. And now I find out you haven't even finished writing it yet. I've been swindled." He gave a long-suffering sigh.
Remus laughed, and Sirius felt the tingling echoes of it playing across his skin. "Don't worry, I'm very good at keeping deadlines."
"And what do you do?" Remus asked.
"I'm an investment analyst for a banking firm." Sirius kept talking, because he knew from experience that no one found that job title interesting unless it was tempered with some humor. He spread his hands wide. "Picture me, at 5:30 in the morning, glued to my computer screens—yes I have more than one—watching stock market numbers fly by like code from the Matrix. Then I analyze it and tell the firm where to invest. I make rich companies richer, basically."
"Sounds very glamorous," Remus said skeptically.
"It's more interesting than it sounds, I swear. And since I start so early I get to be home by three. Thus, you find me here." He gestured to the pool deck. Of course, he was also usually dead asleep by eight every night, but that fact was distinctly lacking in sexiness. He usually didn't let it slip until at least the third date. "Although I admit it's not nearly as interesting a conversation starter as being a top-selling author."
"Not quite top-selling. But the books do sell."
Obviously, Sirius thought. Apartments in their building weren't cheap. He could barely afford a studio, but he had gotten fed up with the gloomy one-bedroom in the basement of James’ remodeled Victorian in Alamo Square. He had gone out seeking living space with more than two square feet of window glass, and he had found The Paramount. Of course, he had had to settle for a tiny place on one of the lower floors, but—thanks to Remus—he was finding all the best places to catch the rare San Francisco sun.
Silence came then. Remus had made a move, against all expectations, and now the ball was back in Sirius’ court.
"So...tell me about four part narrative structure. Save me from the drivel. This is all I brought to read."
Remus closed his notebook—very promising!—and began to explain. “It’s simple. All stories worth reading follow a similar structure. First you set up the problem. Then the hero—or heroine—makes progress towards solving it. In the middle of the story there’s some dramatic turning point, and more progress is made. In the second half of the story, things start sliding downhill until the hero lands in their darkest hour, when all hope seems lost. Finally there’s a resolution, where the problem is solved against all odds. It’s the same structure pretty much every movie uses. It’s the essence of drama.”
"Hang on, resolution? You call the end of Depth's Revenge a resolution? She dies!" Sirius sat up in his chair despite himself, outraged all over again at that terrible ending.
"Oh, please." Remus waved his hand in a way that gave Sirius great hope for his sexuality. Straight men didn't tend to do that. It was a bit hard to tell in San Francisco nowadays with all the young metro techies around throwing off one’s gaydar, but Remus was not a young metro techie; he was a thirty-something works-from-home author. So there was hope.
"The epilogue makes it very clear that she will come back," Remus continued. "Besides, protagonists die all the time. As long as the problem is solved, it still fits the structure."
Remus was predictably adorable when talking about his craft. His eyes were lively and expressive behind his tinted sunglasses, and he leaned towards Sirius in his chair in enthusiasm. Sirius found himself imitating him without meaning to.
"Yeah, but no one knows how she will come back! Jannas thinks she's dead, and that scene with her sea-cat scratching at the door—that was just mean!"
"It's not mean, it's plot," Remus said with comedic superiority.
"Argh! There's no excuse for you. That's it. I'm going back to pretending I'm too cool to care." He lounged back in his chair with as much dramatic poise as he could summon, tilting his chin up into the sunlight. "There. Is it working?"
"Oh yes, you're the perfect picture of carefree indolence." Remus chuckled. Sirius glowed, and not just from the sun.
"Yep, that's me. Carefree. Indolent." He stretched, smugly aware that Remus was still watching him. Oh, Remus was definitely gay. It didn't matter how metro you were, nobody watched a half-naked man stretch unless they liked what they saw.
"Well, my sun is gone," Remus said, squinting up at the shadow of the building. He slung his towel over his shoulder. "I will retreat into my den like the cold-blooded creature I am, leaving you to contemplate Emmi's fate."
"Evil." Sirius shook his head.
"You may have a point. It was nice talking to you..."
"Oh." Remus’ slight blush threw off his usually flawless coloring. "That's quite a name. Like the star."
"Names are important. For stories, I mean…” Remus trailed off. "Right, I'm off. Enjoy what remains of your sun, Sirius."
As soon as he was out of sight, Sirius pulled up Remus' bio at the end of Depth's Revenge on his phone. He had glanced at the bio page briefly last month after reading that catastrophe of an ending, looking for a photo to glare at. The was no picture of course, or he would have recognized Remus right away, but he thought he remembered seeing one very important word near the beginning of the bio text. There it was: sweet, sweet confirmation.
Remus Lupin is a bookish queer living in solitude in a thoroughly-cushioned San Francisco home. He enjoys no color in particular, likes many foods without calling favorites, has no pets, and yet still possesses a roundness of character many sidekicks would envy.
That was the Remus he had just spoken to all right. Queer, snarky, uppity when it came to other people's books, and—the best news yet—single. Sirius scooted to the side of the lounge chair that still had some sunlight left and sighed in satisfaction.
Now that the Rules of Manly Engagement had been observed, Sirius was free to start up other casual conversations when their routines brought them together. Remus seemed equally interested. He didn't try to cut their chats short, even when he obviously had writing to do.
Sirius liked him more each day. Now that he knew Remus was queer, there was nothing to stop his pseudo-platonic appreciation from evolving into a more well-rounded crush. That didn't take long at all. His feelings intensified so quickly, in fact, that he had to hobble himself. It occurred to him that dating someone in your building would be a bit like an office romance: you had better be really fucking sure before you made a move, because if things went sour it would be horrifically awkward afterwards. That was Dating 101. Sirius was sure—immediately, foolishly so—which was all the more reason to wait and let things develop according to Remus’ pace.
After several weeks of nearly unbearable sexual frustration, he began to relax. Remus wasn't pushing the agenda, but it didn't seem to matter. They really did have a lot in common, and he enjoyed just being with him.
"You'll be happy to hear I've finished writing Depth's Child," Remus said. He stretched out his legs along the sauna bench with a satisfied smile. Sirius watched. How could he not? Remus had already showered after his swim, and Sirius was pretty sure he wasn't wearing anything under that towel. "It's off to the typist's."
"The typist's?" Sirius laughed. "You really must be a technophobe. How can you even edit a book when it's all just scribbled on paper?"
"I can't. The typist will send me the file, and then I'll start editing. On my tablet, I'll have you know. I'm not a technophobe. I have fibromyalgia. I'm not about to type a ninety thousand word novel myself. Writing with a pen is bad enough."
"Oh. My aunt has fibromyalgia. It's pretty miserable, isn't it?" He wondered if that's why Remus was always working in the heat. He tended to write in the sauna, on the sundeck, or even in the spa. Maybe the warmth helped with his pain.
Remus shrugged. "I'm used to it. It does limit some of my activities. I'm not a big fan of long walks. I get groceries delivered, hire a typist. That kind of thing."
"Aunt Andy uses a wheelchair. She says without it she'd never leave the house. Walking tires her out too much."
Remus shifted uncomfortably on the bench. "It's not bad enough for a wheelchair. Although...I guess I don't leave the building much."
Sirius watched him carefully. They had talked several times a week—nearly every day—over the last three months since that first conversation, but this was by far the most personal thing Remus had shared. It seemed to Sirius that being stuck at home was a lot more limiting than using a wheelchair, but it wouldn't be polite to say so. It took him a few minutes to think of what to say instead.
"Maybe you could try one of those hoverboard things. Significantly higher cool factor than a wheelchair, if that's your issue."
"A...did you say a hoverboard? You're fucking with me."
The word "fucking," uttered by a nearly naked Remus, traveled through the air of the tiny sauna and hit the side of Sirius that was closest like a palpable wave. He took a deep breath while he scrambled to remember what they were talking about.
"No, it's a real thing. Haven't you seen them? They don't actually hover though. Here." He pulled up a listing for one and handed over his phone.
"Huh." Remus tapped through the listing with no trouble, impressive for someone who used a Nokia flip phone. "This is actually not a bad idea."
He handed Sirius back his phone, and their fingers brushed. It was the first time they had touched, and it proved to be as much as Sirius could take.
"Well, I'm cooked," he said, making his exit. "Cya."
Sirius leaned against the wall of the elevator in utter despair. Remus said Ta, like he was in a British drama! It was unbearably attractive.
He was going to need a long shower.
"What about crackers, do you have crackers?" James pushed the stroller down the aisle of the corner store, frowning at the list on his phone. Ten month-old Harry was carefully examining the package of string cheese James had just tossed into the stroller seat with him. Harry was a charming child, having inherited the best of his parents’ features. His eyes were the same brilliant green as his mother’s, and they stood out against the dark skin he had inherited from James. His hair would probably be like James’ someday, but for now it was a three-inch tall baby fro composed of no more than ten hairs, as light and transparent as a wisp of cloud.
"Yeah, I think I have some saltines,” Sirius said.
"Saltines! He can't eat saltines! They have gluten."
"You can’t feed a baby gluten, Sirius!"
"Why not? Gluten is delicious."
"It-it messes with their stomach lining or something. Haven't you heard of the Paleolithic diet?"
"Sure, but I have a brain evolved enough to inspire me to indulge in life’s few joys. Like yeasty bread, sour cream, sharp cheddar...wait, how come he can eat string cheese then?"
"It’s complicated." James pushed his hand into his dreads in a way that perfectly exemplified the concept of Frazzled Parent About to Leave Child With Under-Qualified Gay Best Friend. "Just don't give him any wheat, ok? Or Lily will be on both our cases."
"All right, all right. No wheat." Sirius leaned down to Harry’s eye level and waved his finger with a joking smile. "No late night toast for you!"
Harry laughed and threw the string cheese out of the stroller. Sirius handed it back to him. They were occupied with repetitions of this game for several minutes while James pushed the stroller around, looking for crackers made from seeds.
"You're gonna need a big package," he muttered.
"Hey, Sirius." Sirius looked up from another round of Fetch The Cheese to the unexpected sound of Remus’ voice.
"Oh! Hi, Remus." Remus was taller than usual due to the fact that he was currently standing on a bright blue hoverboard just like the one Sirius had shown him three days ago. He was also wearing a helmet—a helmet! It was even buckled under his chin. He looked so adorable that it took Sirius a few seconds to realize Remus was looking between him and James and Harry, obviously jumping to a completely incorrect conclusion.
"James!" Sirius grabbed James’ shoulder and turned him around. "This is Remus, a friend from my building. Remus, this is James, my token breeder friend, and his spawn, Harry."
"Spawn!" Harry said, with eerie clarity.
"Good God, please watch what you say around him. He’s been picking up on everything lately." James rubbed his hand over his face.
"I thought they weren't supposed to talk until they're a year old!" Sirius protested.
"I know. The pediatrician says he’s a statistical anomaly. He’s precocious." James’ eyes lit up, and he turned to Harry with sudden inspiration. "Can you say precocious?"
"I’m babysitting tonight," Sirius said aside to Remus.
"Pre-co-she-us," James repeated with slow, annunciated care. Harry stared back at him solemnly, watching his father’s mouth move. He opened his mouth to speak. They all went quiet, waiting.
"Cra-kuh," Harry said, with equal dramatic slowness.
"I think he’s insulting you," Sirius offered in a helpful tone.
James glared at him and turned to Remus.
"Remus! It’s nice to meet you." He leaned in close and whispered, very audibly, "Sirius must really like you. He only calls me a breeder when he’s trying to get in a guy’s pants."
"You’re so funny." Sirius pushed James away with a hand over his face. "Why don't you get back to your cracker quest?"
James grabbed his hand and shoved playfully back. A brief tussle ensued. Sirius won by pointing out that James was setting a bad example for Harry, which was probably cheating, but when it came to James you had to play dirty. Once James was safely browsing crackers again, Sirius turned back to Remus, who had been watching them with an incredulous half-smile.
"So!" Sirius said with forced brightness. "Let’s pretend that never happened."
"Only if you want to." The half smile got a bit wider. Sirius’ heart skipped a hopeful beat. He gestured down to the hoverboard to distract from his excitement.
"You actually got one! How is it working out?"
"I’m getting the hang of it. Look." He shifted his balance, making the hoverboard zip back and forth, finishing with a quick circle. He was showing off. Sirius had to dampen his flattered smile. ”It’s more work to ride than I thought it would be, but still. Makes the trip to the MUNI station a lot more doable."
"Cool! Hey...do you maybe want to join me tonight, help with Harry?" That was a really weird first date idea, but he couldn't help it. Remus was just too cute, zooming around the grocery store on a hoverboard like a punk kid.
"Excuse me!" James was back, waving a much-debated package of crackers. "No dates while you're watching Harry!"
"It’s not a date, it’s backup!" Sirius protested, with at least a grain of truth. "This is a lot more work than it used to be, you know, now that he’s crawling and eating and talking. Whatever happened to bottle, Goodnight Moon, and bed?"
"Those days are gone," James said darkly.
"I was just telling Sirius the other day about how I used to watch my nieces when they were babies. Twins,” Remus told James soothingly. He smiled winningly at Harry. "I'd really like to help, but unfortunately I'm on my way to a meet-up." He gestured to the precut veg and hummus tray he was balancing on one hand like some sort of futuristic sweater-clad waiter.
"A meet up?" Sirius asked.
"Yeah, for writers...I'm trying to get out more. But maybe we could do something tomorrow night?”
“I’ll be in LA on business until Wednesday.” Sirius winced. It was the worst luck ever. He was finally asking Remus out—and Remus was saying yes!—but he was too busy to actually plan something. He bit his lip. It was his turn to offer a time, but now that they’d failed twice he was hesitant to try again for fear of striking out.
When he didn’t offer an alternative, Remus smiled ruefully and shrugged. “Well, I’ll see you around the pool then. We’ll figure something out.”
“Yeah!” Sirius smiled back, relieved. “I’ll be back by Thursday.”
“Good luck tonight.” Remus nodded significantly at Harry, who was trying to chew his way into the package of string cheese. "See ya."
When he was thoroughly gone, Sirius sighed and collapsed on James’ shoulder.
“I’m so screwed,” he whined. “Did you see him? It’s just like I told you, he’s too adorable to be real! He was wearing a helmet.”
“Ugh, you’re such a softie.” James rolled his eyes and shoved Sirius back upright. “He’s attractive, I’ll grant you. But you don’t have anything to whine about. He obviously likes you.”
“You think so?” Sirius’ insides lit up like a Christmas tree. Then he turned and swatted James’ head, hissing, “I can’t believe you said I wanted in his pants! I swear, I can hardly be seen in public with you, and I don’t know what’s the point of a token straight friend if I can’t be seen with you!”
“Pfft!” James scoffed. He tossed a squeeze pouch of pureed vegetables into the bottom basket of the stroller. “You should be thanking me. Now you two can stop fucking around and start fucking instead.”
“Fucking!” Harry repeated, loudly enough that several people turned to look.
“Yes, that’s right, ducking!” James said desperately. He mimed bird mouths with his hands. “Ducking! Ducks! Quack quack quack!”
“Quack quack, ducks,” Harry agreed with good cheer. James sighed in relief.
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Nice save.”
Sirius’ business trip only lasted three days, but it felt a lot longer. He would have liked to message Remus and arrange the star-crossed date, but even after months of hanging out and talking nearly every day, they still hadn’t exchanged numbers. Sirius blamed that on his own cowardice, but maybe it was a good thing. The last thing he needed right now was the temptation to text Remus with inappropriate frequency while out of town. It was better to wait.
Once he got back he went for a swim at the first opportunity. Remus wasn’t at the pool, but someone had been recently, judging by the puddles near the side Remus preferred for laps. Sirius made himself finish his own routine, despite the temptation to hurry into the sauna where Remus almost certainly was on a misty day like this. There was no logical reason to rush. They had already agreed to go out sometime, it was just a matter of deciding when. Thanks to James, there was no way Remus could think it wouldn’t be a date. Unfortunately, also thanks to James, Remus might misconstrue Sirius’ intentions.
He’d realized over a month ago that he didn’t just want to have sex with Remus. He liked him way too much for that now. He had never known someone so well before even going on a single official date. At this point, he was more worried about messing things up and getting his heart broken than he was about getting Remus into bed. Fucking was the easy part.
After a few laps, he was wishing James hadn’t said anything after all. James had sped everything up, putting them on a short path that might lead to a one-night stand, while Sirius’ way—simply hanging out, enjoying each other’s company, and letting things progress naturally—would have been safer. Fucking straight men! They didn’t understand anything about dating.
Finally, he allowed himself to call his workout done. He toweled off and headed to the sauna. Remus was there, as expected. Unfortunately, so was Mr. Huang, the elderly Chinese man from Sirius’ floor.
Remus didn’t greet him aloud. He just smiled wryly, giving him a look that said very clearly, “Welcome back. We have a visitor.”
Sirius raised one eyebrow and gave a tiny shrug that he hoped communicated something along the lines of, “What can you do? Don’t worry, he can’t stay forever. Those old guys overheat fast.”
He could have asked Remus to step out and chat in private, but Remus had his notebook open and was obviously in the middle of writing. Besides, that would be contrary to the spirit of Not Rushing Things.
Remus was in his favorite place, sitting in a corner with his legs stretched out along one side of the benches lining the tiny room. Mr. Huang, a strict follower of the Rules of Manly Engagement, was on the opposite side, eyes closed. That left the bench along the back of the room for Sirius, so he took it, arranging himself in his usual way, laying flat on the bench with his knees bent. He put his head near Remus’ toweled hip instead of in the opposite corner, in clear defiance of manly protocol. Remus smiled, but he kept his eyes focused resolutely on his writing, and his pen didn’t stop moving. Mr. Huang opened his eyes briefly to frown suspiciously at them, but Sirius just pulled out his book—always paper books since he had begun hanging out with Remus—and began reading.
Despite his nervousness, Sirius became completely engrossed in his book, which had just reached what Remus would call the turning point. He was so involved, he forgot about his ulterior motives. He didn’t even notice Mr. Huang leaving until he looked up to see that he and Remus were alone. Maybe Remus hadn’t noticed either, because he kept writing. Remus’ pen scratched swiftly over the pages of his notebook. He was writing much faster than usual, hardly pausing to think. Perhaps he was writing a turning point of his own.
Sirius had (mostly) gotten over his fannish glee about Remus being the Remus Lupin. He had come to appreciate Remus as an author in a different way. Writing fantastic books wasn’t just a sexy, creative quirk. For Remus it was a job with science behind it. He had to know what would appeal to his audience and what wouldn’t. He measured his progress in words, like a police officer measured the number of tickets he wrote a month, knowing he had to meet a quota. Writing stories had to be a lot more pleasant than writing tickets, but it was still work.
Writing was also Remus’ passion. That much was clear from the way his eyes lit up when he talked about it, but Sirius had too many artist friends to have any illusions about how hard it was to make one’s passion into one’s living.
So Sirius didn’t disturb him even after he realized they were alone. He kept reading his own book, although now he paused every couple pages to admire Remus’ intent look and the way his damp brown curls fell over his face.
A while later, the sounds of writing slowed and stopped. Remus put his pen down and pursed his lips, reading over what he had written. He stretched the fingers of his hand and shook it, obviously fatigued.
Sirius reached up and caught his hand, putting his book down without another thought. Remus looked at him in surprise, as if he had forgotten Sirius was there at all, but he didn’t pull his hand away. Sirius swung himself upright on the bench, so they were sitting side by side, legs nearly touching. He smoothed his thumbs over the spasming muscles in Remus’ palm.
“You’re writing so fast,” he observed. “Is that a particularly good bit?”
Remus smiled ruefully. “No, not exactly. I’m outlining. It’s a lot faster than actually writing. I always feel like my hand can’t keep up with my brain.”
“Ah, more writer woes.” Sirius gently massaged each of Remus’ fingers, paying special attention to the ones he used to hold his pen. “It was pretty cool to see you on that hoverboard the other day. I think you’re going to bring helmets back into style.”
“Thanks,” Remus laughed. “I decided to put up with it after the first hard fall. I drew the line at knee pads though.”
Sirius grinned at that mental image. Silence fell and he kept massaging Remus’ hand, seeking out remaining sore spots and gathering his courage.
“You know, I heard about something else the other day that might help you.” Sirius paused, biting his lip. This would be a bold move, but he didn’t know how else to even out the damage James might have done.
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Read this article about falling in love on the plane. Supposed to lengthen life span, increase immunity to disease, boost mental health. All sorts of positives." Sirius held his breath. He hadn’t used the word love when he’d rehearsed this in his head, and it had come out very sincere-sounding, a lot less joking and flirty than he had intended. Remus’ hand twitched, but he didn’t pull away.
“I see. And are you offering yourself up as the target of this affection?” Remus’ tone was light, perhaps teasing, but Sirius still couldn’t muster the bravery to look up at his face to be sure. He watched Remus’ fingers instead. This was much, much more terrifying than a simple seduction. Stupid James.
“Only…” he swallowed. “If the shoe fits.”
Remus pulled his legs down from the bench, turning so they were each sitting against one wall of the corner, almost facing, knees bumping. Remus let him keep hold of his hand, which was generous considering Sirius had become too nervous to do more than simply keep touching him.
“Why don’t you let me try it on first?” Sirius could hear him smiling. Remus leaned forward, touching their heads together. He brushed his jaw along the side of Sirius’ face, encouraging him to look up, to tilt his face just enough…Sirius obliged, heart pounding as he turned to put his open mouth against Remus’.
Remus kissed him like someone who had been wanting to, not for three days or even three weeks—more like three months, three years. The feeling was absolutely mutual.
Sirius let go of Remus' hand in favor of touching his bare shoulders and pushing his fingers into his damp hair. Remus pulled on his waist, trying to move him closer. Sirius slid over, folding his legs under himself so he could kneel next to Remus on the bench, facing him and pressing against him as much as he could manage.
When Remus leaned back slightly, smiled, and took off his glasses, all plans Sirius had about not rushing and playing it cool went flying out the window. Touching Remus, kissing him like this, Sirius realized everything he had been worried about was stupid, stupid, stupid. They hadn't called it dating, but they had basically been seeing each other for months. To worry that Remus would fuck him and dump him was insane. Obviously Remus truly liked him, or he wouldn't have spent countless afternoons in his company. And Sirius would have to be on another planet right now to think Remus didn't want him. He never should have let James’ antics tie him up in knots.
He couldn't remember ever wanting something this much, for this long. It really didn't matter what came next. After three months, no one could call this rushing. Everything about being with Remus felt absolutely right, so when Remus’ hands crept under the waist of Sirius’ slightly damp swimsuit and began feeling the contours of his hips with clear intent, he just moaned and pushed himself closer. He let his head drop down to Remus’ shoulder and sucked on the skin there, cherishing the resulting hitches in Remus’ breath. He bit a line up his neck and traced his ear with his tongue. They were both slippery with sweat from the heat of the sauna, and his hands slid easily over Remus’ chest. He wanted nothing more than to touch and learn every part of him, now that he was finally allowing himself to begin.
“Oh God," Remus groaned. "I absolutely take responsibility for starting this—” His hands, which were inching ever farther down Sirius' stomach, showed no signs of stopping it either. “But it occurs to me that the sauna is technically a public place, and maybe we shouldn’t have sex…right here.”
Sirius broke off his liplock with Remus’ neck. He had nearly forgotten where they were, and he had completely stopped caring. Anywhere other than right here, right now, was unacceptably far away.
"Hang on." He pushed himself away with a heroic effort, found the wooden wedge the cleaning staff used to prop open the door, and shoved it through the looped handle, effectively locking it.
“There,” he said. “As good as a sign. Says ‘Sauna closed. Go the fuck away.’”
“That works.” Remus laughed and tugged on Sirius’ hand, pulling him out of view of the small window in the door. “C’mere, and take that off.”
Sirius pulled off his suit, nearly dizzy with desire and the heat. He followed Remus’ guiding hands and knelt straddling him, trying to keep most of his weight on his knees. He didn't want to put too much pressure on Remus’ hips, although that was a hard resolution to keep with Remus' hands urging him down and forward. Sirius caved and ground down against him, feeling the clearly delineated hardness of Remus’ cock through his towel. His own slid against the soft skin of Remus’ stomach. Remus worked a hand between them and pressed it against himself more firmly. Sirius bucked his hips and slid into the warm pocket created by Remus’ palm and stomach.
"Oh, fuck, Remus," he groaned through a messy, uncoordinated kiss.
"Sorry." Remus gasped as Sirius ground down against him again. "We lack the proper accessories."
Sirius drew back slightly, reminded of something. "I got tested, last week. It’s all fine—"
"Last week, huh?"
"I’m an optimist."
"I'm clean too, although it was a lot longer ago than that. But I haven't been with anyone since. Is it all right? Or I have some condoms in my swimsuit pocket."
"You have condoms in your swimsuit?" Sirius asked, impressed. "Talk about optimism."
"I had a hunch." Remus grinned slyly. "It's in the other room though. And there's no lube, just so you don't have false expectations."
"Then forget it. This is fine."
"Ok then." Remus increased the pressure against Sirius cock with one hand and pulled his head down to resume their kiss with the other.
Freed of this last reason to hesitate, Sirius reached beneath them and unwrapped the towel from around Remus’ hips as eagerly as a kid on Christmas too impatient to save the wrapping paper. Remus released Sirius’ lip from his teeth long enough to lick his own palm and fingers in a way that was very enjoyable to watch and wrapped his hand around them both. Sirius could feel each one of his fingers, pressing and rubbing, and the added sensation of a cock sliding along the underside of his own was so overwhelming it nearly sent him over the edge. He clutched the horizontal slats of the back of the bench—Remus’ shoulders were already too slippery with sweat to hang on to—and sent his free hand to join Remus’, increasing the pressure and speed enough to bring this past teasing. When Sirius brushed his thumb over the heads of their cocks, Remus pressed his mouth against the side of his neck, blocking some divine sound. Sirius could see how their current situation called for quietness, but he wished Remus hadn't thought of it. Sirius wanted to make him moan. He wanted to make him scream.
Any specific plans to put that desire into action were put on hold, though, because Sirius was already too close himself to try any more tricks. Remus must have been aware of this, because he used a hand threaded through Sirius’ hair to guide their mouths back together and kissed him deeply.
Sirius let Remus capture his noises as the steaming air of the sauna continued to soak into him, warming him to his core. Every place they touched was a localized fire of overheated skin. Their hands moved in perfect synchrony at the center of this inferno, pushing him closer with every moment. Just when he thought he wouldn't be able to stand it any longer, the rising sensation crackled through him, consuming him. He thrust hard into their heat and came over their overlapping fingers.
Remus groaned into his mouth and pushed his hips desperately, obviously close himself, but Sirius was already backing away. He unclenched his cramping fingers from the bench and batted Remus’ hand away, sliding backwards off his lap and pushing his legs apart in one smooth motion. Remus whimpered in protest at the sudden lack of contact. Perhaps he would have begged for it a moment later—a possibility that was definitely worth investigating next time—but Sirius didn't give him a chance. He simply slid his lips over the head of Remus’ cock.
The weight of it on his tongue was the perfect accompaniment to the sparks still shooting through his own body. He relished the solid resilience of it after the slickness of Remus’ lips, the sharpness of his teeth. He tasted like sweat and chlorine and come. Sirius was instantly addicted.
He didn't tease. If there was ever a time for a zero-to-sixty blowjob, it was now. He sucked, using his tongue to nudge the loose skin at the base of the head. He stroked the shaft with one hand and used his other hand on Remus’ balls and anywhere else that it seemed might like to be touched.
"Oh—fuck," Remus gasped, with no regard for volume. His knuckles were white around the slats of the bench, and his other hand grasped Sirius’ damp hair just as tightly. It hurt, but Sirius just smiled—as well as he could with his mouth full. As he had suspected, making Remus lose control was more satisfying than any orgasm. He increased the pace and pressure even further, and Remus came with another loud cry. Sirius pinned him still and sucked until he slumped backwards on the bench. He rested his forehead against Remus’ sticky thigh, gasping for breath. He was pretty sure they’d just used up all the oxygen in the little room, but that didn't stop the sated glow beating through him. Remus’ fingers on the back of his neck trembled in a very gratifying way.
“Fucking hell,” Remus panted. "I can’t believe I agreed to have sex in a sauna. It’s so hot. I think I’m going to die.”
Sirius laughed breathlessly. He flicked the towel back around Remus’ hips, pulled his own swimsuit back on, and leaned over to unbar the door, using the wedge for its intended purpose to prop it open. He was rewarded by a blast of chill, fresh air. He collapsed on the bench next to but not touching Remus, suddenly shy about presuming too much. Remus wasn't having that, apparently, because he scooted right over and pulled Sirius close under his arm, with no regard for propriety or the heat.
"I feel like I’m getting messages from the universe," Remus said. "Something about how we should date."
"I like the way you think." Sirius grinned and leaned over to nuzzle against his ear, surveying the marks he had left on his neck with great satisfaction.
“I’ve got something on tonight," Remus continued. "Tomorrow? Lunch? You work over on second street, right? Could meet you at that Thai place.”
“That sounds perfect. I go to lunch at eleven.” He kissed Remus’ jaw, and Remus returned the kiss with a languidness that made him dizzy. “Mmmm—can I get your number?”
Remus smiled, and Sirius reached for his phone. He plugged in the number (finally) while Remus ran his fingers distractingly through his hair.
“I don’t have my phone on me,” Remus said. “Just text me, I’ll get it. Oh! I almost forgot. I have something for you.”
He fumbled around until he found his glasses. Sirius smiled to see them back on his face, which had looked strangely empty without them. Remus led him out of the sauna to where his canvas swim bag hung on a hook. A few seconds later, Sirius was staring, dumbfounded, at a copy-center bound packet of paper with a simple title visible through the clear cover:
by Remus Lupin
“Whoa,” was all he could say at first.
Remus laughed. “Don’t get too excited. If you want to read it, you’ll have to edit too, and I’m sure it’s riddled with typos and bad decisions.”
“I can do that! I used to edit for the paper in school…” He fanned briefly through the pages. Yes, there really were words on all of them. The whole story was right here at his fingertips.
“I do the first round of edits, then I give it out to a small circle of volunteer editors, then it goes to the professional editor. I get more feedback that way.”
“Oh, so I’m in the inner circle now, huh?” Sirius recovered enough to give him a grin that was hopefully coy instead of just goofily excited.
“I think you’re drawing your own circle.” Remus smiled back. Sirius took a deep breath.
“This? Is so awesome.” He felt like the paper would burn his fingers if he didn’t start reading immediately. He made himself let go and toss it into his gym bag. “Just to be clear though. As cool as it is to help edit your book, it’s by no means the best thing to happen to me today.”
“Oh, and what would that be?”
“You. Asking me out.” Sirius stepped up to him, pressing their bodies together and noticing the warmth that still radiated between them. Remus’ arms went around his waist. Sirius leaned closer to confide into his ear, “Oh, and the sex was pretty fantastic too.”
He felt the flutter in Remus’ chest when he laughed, and turned his head until he could taste his smile.
For the record, I don't personally have anything against Faulkner. Remus is just a snob.
Sirius, 11:12: you meant Osha Thai on 3rd and Folsom, right? not the one on Embarcadero?
Sirius, 11:20: I’m gonna go ahead and order. I'll be the one at the back reading my exclusive early release of Depth’s Child. see you soon I hope!
Sirius, 12:17: I got to go back up to work. I'm sorry we missed each other somehow. Give me a ring...
Sirius, 10:46: So I know things went kinda fast yesterday...not exactly my typical approach...I don't want you to feel pressured or anything. I’m happy to take things slow if that's better, or go back to just hanging out. Or leave you alone if that's what you want. I won't pester you. Just let me know. I hope everything's OK.
"So, what you're saying is, he stood you up."
Sirius sighed and slumped back on his couch like a deflated balloon. He put the call with James on speakerphone so he wouldn't have to work to hold the phone up. Everything felt like work these days.
"I dunno, James, I don't get it. I really thought he was interested. I still think that!"
"I hate to break it to you, but interested people don't stand you up and then never respond to your messages for a week."
"I thought maybe I got the number wrong, so I called his voicemail. It doesn't say his name but it's definitely his voice."
"Did he read your texts?"
"It doesn't say he did, but he has this ancient flip phone, maybe it doesn't do read receipts?"
"Well, I get that you want reassurance, but it sounds like he’s just not as interested in getting in your pants as we thought."
“Oh. He might have...already done that."
"You already slept with him?"
"Um. ‘Slept with him’ implies things like a bed, or even a bedroom, which were definitely not involved."
"So you had sex, but not in a bedroom. Okaaaay..."
"It was in the sauna." Sirius blurted.
"You had sex in the sauna? Are you kidding me? Do you have a STI now?"
"What? You said he was sick!"
"He has fibromyalgia, it's not contagious!"
"Yeah, but don't try to tell me you used barriers in the sauna, and isn’t this kinda exactly the behavior of someone who secretly has an STI?"
"What? James, what kind of Lifetime drama do you live in? No! No, I do not have an STI," Sirius concluded, while privately making a plan to get tested again. Just in case.
"Ok fine, but, really, what do you expect me to say after you have unprotected sex in a bathhouse—"
"—like a walking gay stereotype?"
"It wasn't my idea!" Sirius protested, although he wasn't sure that defense would hold up under close examination. It hadn't been solely his idea anyways... "He kinda jumped me."
"Right." There was a pause that almost certainly contained James rolling his eyes. "Ok, ok, I'll update my earlier assessment. He was interested—although I can't imagine why, you are obviously severely lacking in style—the sauna, really??—but he’s not interested anymore. Have you considered that you're terrible at sex and the effect that might have had?"
Sirius gasped indignantly. "I am not terrible at sex!”
"I'm just saying, you know that one time? I wasn't impressed."
"I was drunk, and you were drunker, and I've learned a thing or two since I was fifteen thank you very much, and can we please focus here? I mean it, I think something's actually wrong!"
"Just cause a guy doesn't call you back doesn't mean he’s dead. Now who's living in a Lifetime drama?"
"Come on, James, will you just listen? We didn't just have sex, ok? I told him—well, basically I told him I really cared about him, and then we had sex, and it was definitely not terrible, and then he asked me out. Lunch was his idea, so obviously he was still interested at that point. Then he gave me a copy of his book to edit—"
"Wait, the new one? That comes out in January?"
"Yeah, its right here. See where I’m going with this? Who does that and then bails? Nobody! And I haven't seen him at the pool or sun deck or sauna since, and he’s usually there every day. That's where he writes mostly. So whatever happened, he’s not even working, or not at the same time anyways. I dunno, I guess it's possible that I somehow screwed everything up so bad that he doesn't even want to risk bumping into me, but fuck if I can see how." Sirius rubbed his hands over his eyes. "Oh God, James, I was just so sure about him..."
There was a long silence while he tried to gather himself enough that his voice wouldn't sound like he was about to cry, because he definitely wasn't. James was quiet for once and waited for him.
"Maybe he moved out just to be away from me." Sirius sighed, now thoroughly entrenched in a dark pit of despair.
"Actually, I'd like to change my vote to ’something terrible happened’," James said. "He really gave you Depth’s Child?"
"Yeah. I finished it two days ago. It’s amazing," Sirius said gloomily.
"Can’t you, like, go knock on his door?"
"Uuuugh." Sirius flopped his head back against the couch. "I never asked which unit he’s in. I didn't want to seem like a stalker."
"Well. Fuck." James was obviously at a loss.
"Yeah," Sirius agreed. "Fuck."
"Hey, Maaike, you gotta do something about 3804. Box’s full."
Sirius was disconsolately sorting junk mail and catalogs from his mail box into the recycle bin. He had just gotten home from an early morning flight from Dallas, and it had been a long flight. It had been a long week, actually, and it had been a very long ten days since he had seen or heard from Remus. Not that he was counting.
"I don't know what up with that one," Maaike, at the front desk, was telling the mail carrier. "Used to come down every morning, always."
"People need to put on vacation holds. It's not hard." The mail carrier grumbled as she shoved a few more letters into their boxes. "Put it in the back room with the packages, or I’ll have to take it all back to the office."
"Oh, he’s here." Maaike shook her head. "But nothing go in or out that door except food and the maid for ten days. Put it in a bin. I will tell Maurice to take it up."
The mention of ten days made Sirius look up, suddenly listening with full attention.
"Excuse me," he said. "You're talking about Remus, right? Um, I can take it up, if you want."
"Go ahead." Maaike shrugged, tossing her head and making her shell earrings rattle under her fluffy black cloud of hair.
"Hey!" the mail carrier protested. "You can’t give mail to just anybody!"
"I’m not just anybody," Sirius said confidently. He still didn't know Remus’ unit number, but it would be all over the letters the postwoman was loading into a white mail bucket. "I know him. I can take it."
"Let him take it. He know him, trust me." Maaike glanced at the monitor that showed the feed from the building’s security cameras in a way that made Sirius really want to go double check if there was a camera in the sauna. He was pretty sure there wasn't...but there might be one in the hallway right outside. Perhaps more relevantly, there was definitely one pointed at the sun deck where they had spent countless afternoons together.
"Thanks!" He waved breezily to them, picking up the bin before more protests could be made.
The carefree smile dropped off his face as soon as the elevator door closed. Something was absolutely wrong. It was possible, although unlikely—or so he liked to think—that Remus had changed his whole routine to avoid seeing him. But that didn't explain him not getting his mail each morning as was apparently his habit. He had assumed Remus was still using the pool and sauna, and that he had just switched to going during the morning when Sirius was at work. If Maaike was right, then he hadn't left his unit this whole time. That was scary behavior even after a hard breakup, and they hadn't been together enough to warrant that kind of reaction at all.
Late-night googling had made him quite informed about fibromyalgia. It was not, as James had helpfully suggested via text, the kind of thing that might make someone spontaneously drop dead. There were no scary complications that could develop on the spur of the moment or under stress, just a lot of pain that didn't go away. It did, however, fuck with your brain, like any chronic pain. The wiki page and forums were full of talk about depression, and that's what Sirius was most afraid of.
When he was sixteen, his younger brother, Regulus, had tried to kill himself. Sirius had been the one to find him and call an ambulance. He had also been the one to insist Regulus see professionals afterwards, against the wishes of his mother, who preferred to ignore problems like this. Regulus was doing better now, but some part of Sirius had never let go of that fear.
Remus seemed remarkably well adjusted, considering. Consciously, Sirius knew it was a leap to think he had suddenly decided to commit suicide, but now that it had occurred to him, he couldn't stop thinking about it. He hadn't known what Regulus was planning either, until it was almost too late.
He gripped the mail basket with sweaty hands as the elevator went up into the sky, much higher than he usually traveled. 3804 was all the way at the end of the hallway. He balanced the mail bin against the wall long enough for a tentative knock.
No one answered. He bit his lip and looked down at the mail. He shouldn't just leave it, but if he took it back downstairs he would have to explain to Maaike. She probably assumed he had a key. He should have a key. He should have invited Remus over a long time ago, should have asked for his number, should have asked him out, should have tried harder to gain his trust so that he could be on the other side of that door right now, helping with whatever was going on. Instead he was stuck in the hallway like a stranger.
He looked up at the ceiling, trying to compose himself. He should knock one more time. Maybe Remus hadn't heard him. Maybe he wasn't home. Maybe he had looked through the peephole and decided to ignore Sirius in person like he had ignored him digitally.
He had just gotten up the courage to knock a second time when suddenly everything went dark. Completely, thoroughly, literally, dark.
Sirius jumped in the sudden blackness and unnatural quiet. The auditory space usually filled by a thousand refrigerators, ventilation systems, and other devices was horrifically empty. He was completely surrounded by a level of darkness that simply didn't exist in a modern city, where a million lights reflected off the fog overhead even in the middle of the night, but it wasn't the end of the world or the onset of insanity. It was just the power in the building going out.
That was not actually very reassuring. The elevators wouldn't be working either, and there were ten thousand pitch black steps between him and the daylight of the first floor. In the meantime, Remus was even more trapped. Sirius didn't really think he was out. He was in there, like he had been for a week and a half.
In the absence of any other stimulation, Sirius’ brain was only too ready to supply the most unhelpful image possible: Regulus, lying the way he had found him in the back corner of his bedroom. Lying the way Remus might be right now.
"This is crazy," he told himself aloud. He had to get a grip. He was just shoveling through the mess of bad memories his brain had become, trying to remember how to how to go about that, when there was a roar of distant rooftop generators and the emergency lights came on.
I just wanted to say that in reality the emergency lights would come on instantly so people can exit the building safely. Just so I'm not feeding anyone's phobias...
Sirius was still gasping gratefully in the pale, ghostly glow of the emergency lights when a tall, thin, rectangle of light appeared in front of him. It was Remus’ door, cracked open and spilling out natural light from the windows within.
Sirius blinked as his eyes adjusted. He looked up, then looked back down at Remus, who was definitely alive, although his head was about two feet lower than usual. He had finally gotten a wheelchair. Sirius could hardly see it through the two-inch crack in the door, but it looked like one of the nice powered ones, like Aunt Andy had.
Remus was staring at him with his mouth open with surprise. He looked like he hadn't expected anyone to be at the door at all, let alone Sirius. Maybe he hadn't actually heard the knock and had simply been checking to see if the power was out in the whole building or just his unit. He kept the door the way it was, barely open.
"Sorry...I brought your mail." Sirius held up the mail bin, suddenly very conscious of the boundary he had crossed by bringing it up at all. "Are you all right? I mean, I wasn't sure—if you got my messages...?"
Remus looked down and away. Sirius couldn't quite read his expression.
"I got them," he said quietly.
"Oh." Sirius’ heart sank down into his stomach and even lower, falling like an elevator off its cable. Remus had been ignoring him on purpose after all, and Sirius—too stupid to take the most obvious hint in dating history—had come calling like an oblivious, lovesick puppy. He swallowed. "Ok. I guess...I’ll just leave this inside the door?"
Remus still didn't open the door any farther. Sirius was considering dropping the mail and running when Remus took a deep breath.
"No, you’d better come in." Remus hesitated a moment longer, and then he swung the door wide open, using the control pad on his armrest to move out of the way behind it.
Sirius stepped inside nervously, glancing around briefly at the living room within. He looked back at Remus, who was no longer hidden by the door and took an abrupt step backwards in shock. Remus’ right lower leg was in a black fabric cast, which rested in a footrest attachment on his chair.
"Oh my god! What happened?"
Remus winced. "I might have gotten hit by a car."
"Jesus! That's awful! How bad is it?"
"It’ll get better. Eventually. I've got some steel holding me together in the meantime...It happened when I was on my way to see you."
"You’re kidding!" Sirius fought an inappropriate surge of hope. Getting hit by a car was exactly the kind of something terrible that would make Remus stand him up, but it didn't explain why he had never called. He shook his head. "That's some classic romance movie bullshit."
"I know." Remus bit his lip. "Look, I'm sorry I didn't message you, I just...my phone got smashed up. By the time I came around enough to get a new one…they had put me in this." He said those last words with miserable finality, but Sirius was just confused.
"What? The cast?"
Remus stared at him incredulously. "The wheelchair."
"Is that what this is about? A wheelchair?" Sirius frowned and looked Remus over. Was it worse than he had said? But surely if he had injured his spine he would still be in the hospital, or at least have a brace of some sort. "I thought you said your leg was going to heal?"
"It will, but...that scooter was more work than I had counted on, and my doctor and several nurses voiced strong disapproval." He sighed and looked down at his hands. "I don't know what I'm going to do after this heals. The chair is a lot easier, but I don't want to be...I don't want to use it. So I don't know."
"Hang on." Sirius plopped the mail bin down on the coffee table. "So, what are you saying? The reason you didn't return any of my messages after getting hit by a car is you were too...what? Ashamed? Afraid? to be seen in a wheelchair some of the time?"
Remus groaned and leaned his head back against the headrest of his chair. "It sounds stupid when you say it."
"Because it is!" Sirius cried.
Remus didn't answer. Sirius sat down on the couch next to him and leaned over the armrest so they would be on level ground. Aunt Andy was always scolding him for looming when there was a seat available.
"Come on, Remus. You can't think I care if you use that thing."
"I care," Remus said miserably. "I just want to be normal. For once."
"Of course you care. Your life's no picnic, I get that, and now you're all busted up." He paused, noticing several scrapes and mostly-healed bruises on the side of Remus' head, on his arms, and on the parts of his legs that were not covered by his gym shorts. "The last thing you need is more pain. I would care too, if I were you. But I'm not you, so I'm going to keep on not caring whether you like it or not."
"It's not like I'm actually disabled." Remus pushed up his glasses with the back of his hand. "People don't get this kind of thing. Once my leg's healed, if I keep using the chair...the second I stand up or show I'm not totally paralyzed they'll be calling me a fraud."
"So run them down!" Sirius said. Remus smiled for just a second, briefly pulled out of his misery. Sirius pushed his advantage.
"I mean it, Aunt Andy has spikes on her chair for that express purpose."
The smile returned, this time with more durability. "Does she really?"
"Yep. And a Hell on Wheels bumper sticker on the back. You'd love her. I could introduce you sometime."
"I'd like that." Remus sighed and rubbed his leg under the edge of the cast. "I feel like I'm getting weaker every day. I'm scared that I won't be able to stop using it."
"You've got physical therapy right?" Remus nodded. "So you'll get stronger again. You can use the chair just when you need it. Or get rid of it if you'd rather! Just don't fall off the face of the planet, ok? Shit, Remus, I was scared you'd killed yourself." Sirius took a shaky breath. He hadn't meant to say that.
“Sorry, that’s—totally an overreaction.” He looked away, out the large living room windows, trying wash out the darkness that was obviously still lingering in his mind. From this angle, he could hardly see the city below, just the blue sky. He looked back when he heard the soft whir of Remus moving his chair up against the arm of the sofa, so they were as close as they could be. Remus reached out and picked up his hand.
“I don’t want to die. I’ve never been suicidal.” He said it calmly, and with no tone of judging Sirius for being afraid of it. Sirius knew his fear was illogical, but he still felt a huge wave of relief. Someday, he thought, he would tell him about Regulus, but he didn’t want to go there now, not when it felt so immediate. Instead he contented himself with holding Remus’ hand tightly in both his own. A bit more tension had gone out of Remus' shoulders too. Sirius leaned forward conspiratorially and changed the subject.
“Talking about things I can't accept…James was trying to convince me I'd turned you off with my terrible skills at giving head."
Remus grinned. "No, it definitely wasn't that. Although I'm not sure I've had a large enough sampling to really judge your skills.”
"I'm happy to expand your sample size anyt—" He broke off when Remus hooked his fingers through the opening of his dress shirt, between the buttons, and pulled him close enough to kiss.
Sirius sighed in contentment against Remus' mouth. He let himself relax, feeling every slow slide of lips, every resulting firework. Things had gone so quickly last time he hadn't had much chance to appreciate simply kissing Remus, so he did it now. He had kissed a lot of people, and enjoyed it pretty much every time, but there was something about the way Remus did it that felt particularly good. Or maybe it wasn't anything he did, just the fact that it was him. Sirius hadn't felt this way about someone in a long, long time.
"I missed you," Remus said, in a brief moment between kisses.
"'s dumb. Next time just go downstairs. Unit 509."
"I don't need to go anywhere. You came here." Remus' fingers twitched, and as he resumed the kiss, more of his hand slid through the shirt opening. He must have undone some of the buttons. Sirius reached over the arm of the couch and put his hand on Remus' knee, stroking in slow, light circles up the inside of his thigh. Remus groaned and Sirius leaned over farther, letting his fingertips slip under the bottom of his running shorts.
Suddenly Remus' whole body jerked to the left, pulling him away from the kiss and ripping his hand out of Sirius' shirt. Sirius pulled back his arm in horrified embarrassment. He had put his elbow in the buttons that controlled Remus' chair.
"Oh, god, I'm so sorry!"
"It—it's ok," Remus said, but he looked flustered. "I'm still getting used to this thing too."
Sirius felt even more guilty about his slip-up when Remus didn't immediately come back. Instead, he rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously and glanced around the room like he was looking for an out. He looked even more embarrassed than Sirius felt. Sirius desperately tried to think of something to say that would reassure him.
"I finished Depth's Child," he settled on at last.
"Oh? What did you think?"
"It's awesome." Sirius smiled, trying to show Remus it could be all right. "Great ending for the series. But you were right, it's full of errors and bad decisions. I fixed 'em though. Filled it up with red pen."
Remus laughed and the uncomfortable redness faded from his face. "That's good. You should show me later."
"Sure. Sounds like fun." Sirius sat back and looked around at Remus' place. It was indeed, as his bio had bragged, well-cushioned. The couch was soft leather with several shaggy white pillows, and it faced a pretty sweet entertainment system. And of course there were lots of bookshelves. Sirius smiled to see all the familiar titles. “Nice place, by the way."
"Thanks. Sorry, it's a bit messier than usual."
"Your leg's a bit more broken than usual. And if you think this is messy, maybe you’d better not come down to my place after all—Hang on, is that a record player?" It was absolutely a record player, with a sizable collection of records stashed on the shelves around it. Sirius stood and went to look up close. "Your not-a-technophobe argument grows thin."
"It’s not a technophobe thing," Remus insisted. He came to join Sirius in front of the player. "It just sounds better. Here, let me show you." Remus reached out to the shelf for support and pulled himself up to standing. He opened the top of the player and reset the needle, then pushed a few buttons. Nothing happened. "Oh, right, the power’s out."
"Yep. So, you’re not a technophobe, you’re just an audiophile. How do you explain the flip phone?"
"I used to have a smartphone. I wrote most of Depth’s Nearest Reaches on it. But it was always distracting me. Too much else to do on it."
Sirius nodded, listening but also distracted himself, by their closeness. From this distance he could see that even Remus’ eyelashes matched his honey-brown hair. Remus trailed off when he saw Sirius looking.
"Right." He sat down in his chair and turned around, headed down the hallway. "Come on then."
Sirius followed him to what must be the only bedroom. Surely even Remus couldn't afford a two bedroom in San Francisco on one income, especially not on this might-as-well-be-the-penthouse upper floor. The bedroom was small, but it was on the side of the building with the largest windows, huge floor-to-ceiling ones that showed a long view of the city. Rare winter sunlight sparkled on the bay beyond.
"Damn," Sirius whistled. "You've got an awesome view. All I can see from mine is the traffic on third street."
"Yeah, you can see all the way to Mt. Diablo on a clear day," Remus said. His voice was oddly strained. Sirius turned to look at him. He had parked his chair in a corner of the room and was settling himself on the unmade bed. He winced as he levered his leg into a more comfortable position.
Sirius stepped back from the window uncertainly. "You must be getting tired. I'll go."
"You're completely missing the point." Remus patted the the bed next to him with a look that was difficult to misinterpret.
"Oh!" Sirius kicked off his shoes and climbed into bed, grinning. "You said 'Come on then,’ but I thought you were just showing me your place, not coming onto me."
Remus tugged him closer and undid the top button of Sirius' shirt. As he had already undone most of the rest of them, this gave him quite a lot of access. He leaned in close to Sirius’ ear and whispered, "I'm definitely coming onto you."
"Sweet." Sirius shivered at the feel of Remus’ fingers trailing through his chest hair.
Remus laughed and kissed him. His hands wandered both inside and outside Sirius' clothing. Sirius didn't push the agenda himself too much, as it occurred to him that Remus might just want to make out, which would be very reasonable in his current state. That theory was put to rest when Remus undid the last of his shirt buttons and began to undo his belt. Still, he waited until Remus had pushed his pants down around his hips and was making moves to do the same with his boxers before he let himself pull off Remus' shirt. He scooted away to remove what remained of his own clothing, while Remus awkwardly maneuvered his shorts and underwear over the bulky black cast, hindered by the cast's velcro straps. Sirius itched to help, but he had a feeling that doing anything Remus could interpret as pity would be a death sentence for the interesting things that were about to happen.
Finally, the task was accomplished. Sirius celebrated by pushing Remus back down flat, draping himself next to him and reveling in the sheer hedonistic pleasure of skin against skin as they kissed. He skated his hands over Remus' sides, murmuring with satisfaction when that made Remus arch his back off the bed in a beautiful curve. Remus reached down and hooked Sirius’ knee with his hand, pulling Sirius' leg over his own unbroken one. Sirius took this cue willingly and pushed his thigh between Remus' legs, letting him thrust against him.
The marks he had made on Remus' neck last time had disappeared, so he put them back, biting the soft skin just hard enough to make him whimper. They had total privacy this time, and he was glad to hear Remus taking advantage of it. He was already throbbing himself, and he twitched against Remus' hips, eager for the friction.
"I want to fuck you," Remus groaned. He scraped his teeth along Sirius' earlobe.
"Well, yeah," Sirius agreed, because that was obvious. "But I get the impression fucking’s off the menu. Don’t worry, I’m not a picky eater."
"I could do it standing up. At the edge of the bed." Remus insisted.
Sirius glanced at the edge of the bed, gauging the height. He was surprised Remus thought he could stand up that long, even with a bunch of steel holding him together. Fucking was a fair amount of work even when your leg wasn't all busted up, but...
"Remus, if you want someone that's going to talk you out of this—" he broke off as Remus rolled his hips in a particularly mind-blowing way, "—you've got the wrong guy."
Remus smiled with satisfaction, case won. "Top drawer."
Sirius rolled off of him and retrieved the tube of lube. With this essential equipment in hand, he positioned himself on all fours over Remus, supporting his weight on his elbows and knees. He let his head hang down, biting his lip and whimpering into Remus' ear when he felt the first slippery finger sliding in. He spread his knees further apart, pushing down around it. Remus' other hand wrapped slickly around his cock. Remus writhed under him, clearly searching for contact himself, but this time Sirius didn't cooperate. Once the time came, he wanted Remus to be able to fuck him for a good long while.
He let the fingering go on far longer than was necessary, just for the feel of it. His arms and legs trembled with impatience, but still he let Remus' fingers—three of them now—continue fucking in and out of him, making himself want it more and more, until he was damp with sweat, until he just couldn't stand it any longer.
"Come on," he panted at last. "Let's do this. Sure you want to stand? Could ride you." He ground his hips down on Remus' hand in demonstration, but Remus shook his head.
"No, I want to really fuck you."
Sirius shivered. He couldn't argue with that.
There was a moment of shifting around. Sirius was tempted to help again, but Remus pulled himself upright more easily than expected.
"Oh, your bed's the perfect height," Sirius observed.
Remus raised his eyebrows. "It's not an accident."
"Ergonomic fucking." Sirius grinned, imagining Remus in a furniture store, surreptitiously sidling up to beds to evaluate their suitability. "I love it. Come on."
Sirius scooted up to the edge. He was occupied for a moment with his side of the ergonomics, trying to figure out where to put his legs. Usually he would utilize other guy's hips or shoulders, but he didn't want to make this any more challenging for Remus than it was already going to be. There was a nightstand to his left, but he had a feeling he would put the lamp there at risk if he rested his foot on it. In the end he took responsibility and held his legs up himself, although he spared a hand to help pace Remus as he pushed in.
It was a little more difficult than it should have been. Sirius had undone some of the preparatory work by wiggling around and changing positions, but fortunately Remus seemed aware of that. He went slow and kept the lube in easy reach. Sirius gradually unfolded beneath him, taking in more with each panting breath, until Remus was pressed close against him, and there was nothing left to take.
Knowing he would need a minute, he rested one foot on the frame of the bed at the base of the mattress so he could use his hand to push himself partially upright. Remus matched his movement and leaned forward to kiss him, pulling him closer with a hand in his hair. Sirius slowly rolled his hips, letting himself settle and relax.
"Ok," he whispered against Remus' lips at last. "Fuck me."
Remus kissed him harder and twitched his hips back a fraction of an inch and then forward, making Sirius gasp. Sitting up like this, his cock brushed against Remus' stomach with each tiny movement. Remus repeated the motion several times, not moving far, but each thrust came in quick, unrelenting succession. Sirius whimpered into his mouth, holding himself up as long as he could, but his arm went rubbery, and he had to give up and flop back down onto the bed.
Remus pulled back farther then, and Sirius arched at the first full thrust. He fumbled desperately to one side until he found the pillows and pushed one under himself, changing the angle. The next thrust had him crying out as Remus' cock pushed right up against his prostate.
"Oh, fuck," he said, breath hitching with each following drive of Remus’ hips. "Feels so—fucking good."
Remus moaned agreement. Sirius let his leg hover long enough to reach down to stroke his own cock, at first in time with Remus’ movements, and then faster, until he came with a long, drawn out groan. Remus reeled in surprise and reached out to steady himself on the headboard, his other hand gripping tight to Sirius' hip. He wasn't that close yet, and Sirius knew it.
"Don't stop," he moaned. He shuddered in satisfaction as Remus resumed his pace.
When Sirius was a child, his parents had taken him to the Philippines once every few years to visit their families. There was a particular part of the bay near where they lived where the waves crashed predictably against a pair of standing rocks. The local kids had shown him a game of hanging onto two handholds carved into the rocks and letting the waves crash over him, and they would dare each other to see who could hang on the longest before being swept away into the lagoon beyond.
This was like that. Searingly intense, seemingly out of his control, threatening to steal his breath away at any moment...he only ever felt it quite like this after he had come, when his whole body was over-sensitized and susceptible to the slightest touch, the smallest vibration. Remus's movements weren't slight or small at all, and Sirius pushed back against him with each thrust, completely overwhelmed and reveling in it. When he arched his back, the bright light from the window burned against his closed eyes, mirroring the white, pulsing intensity rushing through him as Remus hit his prostate again and again. Coming was good, but this was better.
Remus fucked him for as long as he had hoped, longer. Sirius felt him shaking as he got closer and closer to the edge, ready to crash in one way or another. He wanted to reach up and touch him, but he was too far gone to figure out how to do it and still keep his legs out of the way. He touched him with his voice instead, groaning, cursing, encouraging him on, "Yeah, just like that, fuck..."
Remus cried out one last time, and Sirius felt his cock pulsing inside of him. His hand lost its grip on the headboard and he tipped forward. He tried to steady himself with a palm in the center of Sirius' chest, but it slipped in a combination of sweat and come. Sirius reached up to catch his shoulder in a firm grip. His hand landed in a spray of freckles, which did indeed match his own brown skin perfectly, blending the line between them. Sirius braced his arm straight, steadying them, and watched Remus' face breathlessly as he came.
"So fucking beautiful," he murmured, dizzy with pleasure both immediate and shared. Remus shuddered and collapsed over him. Sirius let his legs fall and buried both hands in honey-brown hair, feeling Remus’ panting breaths skimming over his chest. Remus' knees were threatening to give out, so Sirius wrapped his arms and legs securely around him and rolled them over, helping him maneuver onto the bed so he could rest properly. Remus smiled and kissed him in the loose, lazy way that came so naturally right after sex.
"You came early on purpose, didn't you?" Remus asked.
"I like it that way." Sirius sighed contentedly. "So intense."
"Yeah," Remus agreed.
"You're ok, right?"
Remus nodded. Sirius turned his head to kiss the smooth skin of his shoulder.
"I have a confession," Sirius spoke up after a few more drowsy kisses.
"I adore you." Sirius sighed. "I know it's too soon, but it's true, and at this point, I'd rather you know. If you feel the need to avoid me again, it would be really nice to have some warning."
Remus' shoulder twitched beneath him and his eyes squeezed shut.
"Damn, Sirius, I'm so sorry."
"I'm not trying to guilt trip you, just making sure you're informed."
"It took me days to understand what happened," Remus said. "I didn't even know I’d been on the way to see you until I got a new phone and saw your messages. I don't remember any part of that day."
"That's wild." Sirius pushed himself up on his elbow so he could see Remus more clearly.
Remus shrugged. "The nurses said it happens a lot. Anyways, it was days later by the time I saw your texts. I felt like I'd already ruined everything. Then I realized I would need to use the chair and...I didn't know how you’d react. I didn't want you to treat me differently."
"I would never." Sirius shook his head.
"Yeah," Remus gave him a shy smile. "I guess I know that now."
Sirius kissed his cheek and then leaned over the edge of the bed to retrieve his phone from his pants pocket.
"What are you doing?”
“Calling out of work. I dunno about you, but I feel the need to spend the day in bed. Plus I’m like an hour late already." Sirius opened up his email and began tapping out an excuse.
“You saying you’re sick?”
“Nope, I’m telling them the truth. My almost-boyfriend broke his leg and he needs my tender loving care.”
“Mmm." Remus rolled towards him, running his fingers over Sirius’ chest and stomach with distinct possessiveness. "You can say ‘boyfriend.’”
“Yeah? Perfect. Adds legitimacy to my excuse.” Sirius pushed himself a little father into Remus’ warm embrace and tried to get to the Send button as quickly as possible. He dropped his phone onto the mattress at last and turned to press Remus into the pillows with an enthusiastic kiss.
"I have another confession," he said, before things could slide too far down the delectable slippery slope in front of them. "I do want to spend most of the day in bed, but I just got off a plane, and I’m starving. Can we have lunch?"
After they ate—Remus had indeed been getting groceries delivered, so there was no shortage—Sirius drifted into the kitchen and began washing the dishes. There were already quite a few in the sink, but he didn't mind.
"You don't have to do that," Remus protested.
"And yet, here I go."
"No, I mean it. I’m not helpless, you know." Remus rolled his chair into the kitchen with an irritated look.
Sirius raised his eyebrows at this. "You think I only wash dishes for people in wheelchairs? Ouch. I'll have you know this is standard after-sex behavior. If it bothers you so much, you can dry."
This was obviously not the reaction Remus was expecting, because he stared at the offered towel for a moment before accepting it. He dried the plates Sirius had stacked at the edge of the counter in silence and then stood up to reach the ones at the back.
"Sorry," Remus said grudgingly after a few minutes. "I overreacted."
"It’s fine," Sirius said breezily. "I’m hard to ruffle."
"You sure that’s something to brag about? Those who never fight, never have make-up sex."
"Never thought about it that way." Sirius paused, focusing on scrubbing egg off a frying pan. "You know, I loved The Sound and the Fury."
"You did?" Remus gave him a horrified look, as if Sirius had just bragged about littering on the beach.
"Sure! So unique. Interesting literary techniques. You should take some pointers from it."
"I don't think so." Remus’ lips compressed into a disapproving line.
“You—” Sirius pointed an accusing finger, "are a literary snob. It must be a writer thing."
Remus shook his head indignantly. "Real stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That book is just—a series of incoherent nightmares!”
"Incoherent nightmares? What about the end, when Benjy digs up all that gold and gives it to Caddy without even realizing it’s her?"
Remus offended look turned bewildered. "That...doesn't happen in The Sound and the Fury."
"Oops." Sirius put his hand to his mouth in mock embarrassment. "You caught me. I was just making things up to get a rise out of you."
Remus gaped at him. "You—you’re such a troll! You never even read it did you!"
"You were worried we’d never fight." Sirius held up his hands defensively. "I didn't want you to lose all hope!" He put on his best puppy-dog look. "Can you ever forgive me?"
Remus swatted him with the dish towel, but he was trying to hide a smile.
"I don’t know...you did say I should take tips from Faulkner. I think a bit more groveling is in order."
"Oh, I'm very good at groveling." Sirius winked.
Remus snorted. "I’ve heard mixed reviews. But your point is made. I'm plenty crotchety enough for the both of us. It's only our first day dating, and you’ve got me all figured out."
"If you don't count seducing me in the sauna as dating then I would love to meet some of your other friends."
Remus laughed and poked his side. "No way can you blame me for that! I tried to relocate us!"
"Is that how it went? Damn. I told James it was your idea."
"Of course you did." Remus rolled his eyes. "You didn't really read The Sound and the Fury did you?"
"Nope. I only ever brought it to the pool to show you I was bookish enough to be worthy of your notice. Didn't know you hated it. I must have hurt my chances there."
"Did you know who I was?"
"Oh, no. No idea. Just saw you reading all the time."
"Well, for the record, your ending is significantly better than Faulkner’s."
"I’m well on my way to my own Nobel Prize."
"As for your chances...those were never in much doubt. You have a way with words yourself, you know?"
"Mmmhmm. I thought you were a just a sneaky fan at first. But you proved yourself worthy of further study. Although it wouldn't have hurt your chances to drop me a hint that you’re gay."
Sirius fumbled the cup he was washing. "I didn't do that?"
"Damn." He groaned, mortified, and handed the cup to Remus. "I don't believe it. That's Dating 101!"
"You owe James a great debt."
"Oh, God. Never tell him. That man needs no encouragement whatsoever."
"If you insist." Remus put the last cup in the cupboard. He laced his dry fingers between Sirius’ damp ones. There was a long, quiet series of moments where they were both too busy to talk. The sun was nearly overhead now, but Remus’ apartment was still bright and surrounded by open sky. The floor under Sirius’ bare feet was warm, a reminder of where the sun had shone earlier that morning.
Sirius broke off the kiss when the sound of a jazzy saxophone filled the room, accompanied by the more prosaic hum of Remus’ fridge.
"Power’s back on," Remus observed.
"Yeah." Sirius smiled. "And you’re right, the record player sounds pretty great.”
"Of course it does," Remus said. "Now. Let’s go back into the bedroom. I believe you have some groveling skills to show off."
"So, what did you think?"
"Hmm. Your turning point needs work. And I don't know if I mentioned this, but the 'darkest hour' isn't a literal expression."
"But that's how it happened! It's not my fault the local power grid has a flare for the dramatic."
"True. Do you really think about crashing ocean waves when we fuck?"
"Interesting. Well, I did like that part."
"I know you did, I was there."
"I do try. What about the ending, did you like the ending?"
"Yeah. I did."