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Dress up in You

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I'm the singer, I'm the singer in the band

You're the loser. I won't dismiss you out of hand

Cos you've got a beautiful face,

It will take you places.

 

WhatsApp between Padfoot and Prongs:

Prongs: Mate r u coming tonite or wot?

Padfoot: Obvs. Wouldn’t miss it.

Prongs: noiiiice.

Padfoot: Do they have a name yet?

Prongs: *Drumroll*

Padfoot:

Prongs: ...The Flu Fighters!

Padfoot : omg.

Prongs: It’s funny! They’re all nurses!

Padfoot: It was your idea, wasn’t it?

Prongs: ...maybe

Padfoot:

Prongs: what?????? not funny????

Padfoot: I preferred ‘The MediSinners’.

Prongs:

Prongs: Fuck. That is better.

Padfoot: dw, we can’t all be as witty as me. See you at yours, then? 7?

Prongs: Sounds good. Bring Marls?

Padfoot: I’ll try. Gtg.

Prongs: ttyl x

 

Sirius pressed the button on the side of his phone and slid it quickly into his back pocket. The kettle had boiled, and Mrs Figg came tottering out of the kitchen, carrying a tea tray in her shaking arthritic hands. He started forward quickly,

“Let me,” he carefully took the tray from her and settled it down on the little coffee table.

“Such a lovely young man,” she smiled at him through her cataracts, “So helpful. Did I tell you about my grandson? I’m sure you’d like him, let me find a picture…”

Sirius tried to hide a smirk. She did this every time. He felt very sorry for her grandson, who was probably very nice, but at least a decade older than Sirius, and not his type at all. Anyway - he wasn’t looking for anything like that. Right now, for the first time in his life, Sirius felt like he was actually going somewhere with his career. A relationship would only muck it all up - it had taken a good few years and a lot of heartbreak, but he knew that now.

“We’d better be getting on with your ‘do, Arabella,” he said, gently, “didn’t you say you’ve got bingo at four?”

“Ooh yes,” the old lady nodded, getting up again, “Oh, you are good to remind me. I’d forget my head, if it weren’t screwed on. Come on through, love.”

He followed her into her little bathroom, dodging one of her ten cats as it wove between his legs. Bloody cats, he’d never been a fan; horrible scratchy yowly things.

Everything in Mrs Figg’s bathroom was a revolting avocado green, from the ancient porcelain fixtures to the knitted bog roll cover sitting on the tiny windowsill. Sirius loved it. So kitsch. He settled her into the kitchen chair that he had placed there when he arrived, and began to run the taps.

“Just you relax,” he said, kindly, as he held her head in his hands and guided her to lean back.

“I feel like a film star!” She babbled cheerily, closing her eyes as he began to wet her hair.

“I’ll have you looking like Helen Mirren in no time,” he replied, “Temperature ok?”

“Lovely!” She sighed, happily.

Sirius smiled. If only his mother could see him now.

He was aware that it wasn’t exactly glamorous , being a part time mobile hairdresser for old ladies and toddlers, but it was only a stop gap, and believe it or not, it really made him happy. Mrs Figg was a regular, and he would miss sorting out her trim and set every third friday of the month. He would be onto much bigger and better things, soon enough. They had the premises, and the staff, just waiting for the final month of the refurb now. And the name. They needed a good name.  

He finished with Mrs Figg by three, and had another cup of tea with her, because he didn’t have anywhere else to be, and she liked having someone there. Old ladies were good company, in Sirius’s opinion. Usually happy to carry the conversation, and full of stories about the 1960s, or whenever they were teenagers. Anyway, it came with the territory, he thought. Hairdressers are part beauty, part talking therapy.

Not hairdressers! Marlene would scold him, we’re Stylists .

That’s what their business cards said, anyway. Marls had printed them up the very day they’d had the idea to go into business together. Black & McKinnon, Professional Hair Stylists: Newham, Hackney & Tower Hamlets .

Sirius wasn’t a fan of the name - he didn’t want his family’s name on anything to do with him - but Marlene promised they would come up with something better once the shop was ready. He left that up to her; she was the business end.

On his way out of Mrs Figg’s flat, she pressed a pound into his hand, grinning and telling him not to spend it all at once. He smiled back and gave her a peck on the cheek, slyly placing the coin back into the little dish on the telephone table in the hall. It was a paltry tip, but he knew she only had a state pension to live on, and couldn’t bear to take any more from her than the twenty quid he charged for the whole job.

“Come back soon, handsome!” She cackled, waving from her front door. He smiled bashfully, weighed down by his heavy kit bag.

“See you on the twenty first, love!”

The lift was broken, but he didn’t mind the stairs, even in his skinny jeans. He was in a good mood; it had been an easy afternoon’s work, and how he was free to do as he pleased until Lily’s gig tonight. Anyway; the sun was shining, which was always a plus for London. Brightened up the graffiti.

At the bus stop, Sirius checked his phone again. Twelve messages. One from Marlene, one from Lily, and ten from James. That sounded about right.

James first, of course:

  • OMG im so bored. What u up to.
  • U working? U still owe me a tenner from the Chinese last week.
  • U can get the first round in ;D
  • Nah only joking. It’s for charity innit.
  • Wot u gonna wear? U think rugby shirt’s ok?
  • Gid & Fab are coming tonite. R u ok with Gid now?
  • I can tell him to piss off if not.
  • Sooooo boooooored
  • When r u home?
  • Call me plz.

Sirius tutted indulgently at his best friend’s atrocious grammar before replying.

  • Omg you are so clingy. Yes I was working. On my way back now. To my home. Have you forgotten we don’t live together any more???

He sighed a bit as he pressed send. He still forgot they didn’t live together anymore, even though it had to be at least six months now. Maybe because he still spent most of his time at Lily and James’s. He started typing again.

  • Can come over yours though, if you’re in? Probably just wear what I’m wearing. Rugby shirt is a terrible idea, I’ll help you pick something less overtly heterosexual. Fine with Gid, dw about it.

The bus pulled up and Sirius hopped on, tapping his oyster and shuffling to the back seat. It was the middle of the day on a Thursday, so pretty much empty, and he didn’t feel bad about putting his huge hairdressing case on the seat next to him. He read the message from Marlene,

  • Got a wedding booking for June, hair and makeup, five hours, can you do it? I’ll do makeup.

That was lucky - they’d only recently decided to take events bookings, and had been struggling to garner interest, as they didn’t have the experience. As nice as it was to trawl round council estates giving old ladies blue rinses, weddings were really where the big money was. He replied ‘Yes, definitely!”, then opened Lily’s message.

  • Oi oi sexy, do my hair tonight? Will love you forever! xxx

He grinned at that. If he had to lose his best mate in the world to somebody else, then it may as well be ‘Lily Fucking Evans’, as she liked to introduce herself. He fired off another response.

  • No probs babe ;) x

The rest of the journey he settled back and watched the view. He’d broken his headphones that morning, which was a bit of a bummer, but the bus window provided a satisfactory distraction. Mothers dragged wailing toddlers along the pavement, groups of old men stood smoking outside the turkish kebab shop, stalls selling exotic fruit added splashes of colour to the grimy pavement, posters for gigs and pub nights were plastered on every spare bit of wall.

Sirius wondered if he would ever get used to the complete technicolour mayhem of East London. It was a world away from quiet, leafy Kensington, where he’d grown up.

His phone buzzed again.

  • Yesss come over! Kettle’s on.

* * *

Fortunately for Sirius, this meant getting off at his usual stop. Because yes, he had finally moved away from his childhood best friend, but only one street over. Baby steps.

The Potter-Evans’s lived in a gorgeous penthouse flat in a new development in Dalston, only five minutes walk from the overground. From the balcony (yes, a bloody balcony, in London) you could see the spire of the Holy Trinity Church. Sirius personally did not go in for church-y stuff, but he was particularly fond of this one, ever since he’d found out it was the Clowns’ Church, and home to an actual museum of clowning.

The lift was always working in their building, and Sirius had his own fob for the doors, so he let himself in. He dumped his heavy bag in the hallway and wandered into the kitchen. The kettle was steaming and two mugs were set out, a bag of Yorkshire Tea in each.

“I’m here,” Sirius called, pouring hot water and searching the drawers for a teaspoon.

“Two ticks!” James called from somewhere else in the flat. “Ready to rock ?!”

“Oh good lord,” Sirius smirked, squeezing each tea bag against the side of its respective mug and tossing them in the compost bin sitting on the windowsill over the sink.

It was a lovely, bright kitchen, airy and painted white, like the rest of the flat. The walls were taken up with huge modern art prints (Lily’s) and vintage sci-fi film posters (James’s). As he opened the fridge to dig out the milk, he couldn’t help but notice that it was packed to bursting with beer, wine and big bottles of fizzy drinks.

“Cheers pal,” James finally appeared, hair wet and glasses askew, pulling his shirt on. He grabbed the second mug and slurped it like a builder. “How’s this?” He gestured at the top he was wearing. It was an old HMV Led Zeppelin t-shirt.

“It’s perfect,” Sirius raised an eyebrow, “It’s mine.”

“Is it?” James looked down at his chest, frowning, “I’ve had it ages…”

“Keep it,” Sirius shrugged, “Don’t think I’ve worn it since school. How’s our rock star doing? Nervous?”

“Have you ever seen her nervous?”

“Fair point.” Sirius nodded. “Excited, then? Who else is in this band, are they all nurses?”

“Think so. All the ones who can play instruments.”

“Wait, what does Evans play?”

“Nothing, she’s frontwoman.”

“Ah.” Of course. “So… has my absence turned you both to drink?”

“You what, mate?” James frowned.

“All the booze,” Sirius gestured at the fridge, “Stocking up for a long winter?”

“Oh! Didn’t I say? Lily’s invited everyone back here for an after party. Assumed you’d be coming.”

“Er… when you say ‘everyone’, does that include the Prewetts?”

“Probably. Oh, right. So… you’re not ok about the whole Gid thing, then?” James raised a dark eyebrow. It skewed his glasses and made him look comically judgemental, but Sirius wasn’t in a comical mood.

“I didn’t say that.” He snapped.

“All right, all right,” James held up both hands, as he often did when he thought Sirius was being too touchy. Sirius sipped his tea to stop himself saying something he’d regret. James changed tact. “Call of Duty?”

“Thought you’d never ask.” Sirius smiled, ready to pretend nothing had happened at all.

It wasn’t James’s fault, of course. Sirius hadn’t really talked about Gideon since the breakup, unless you included drunken rambling when he’d been in the very depths of it. The relationship hadn’t been that serious - or at least, Gid clearly hadn’t thought so - but they’d been together on and off since school. The main problem was that Gideon had been on and off with a lot of other people too. The last time it happened was the final straw for Sirius; if he took any more blows to his pride he’d never forgive himself.

He and James spent the next few hours plugged into the xbox, sitting on the big turquoise velvet sofa in James’s living room - another of Lily’s improvements, somehow when the flat had been Sirius and James’s batchelor pad they had never got around to furnishing it properly. Sirius still had his moth bitten old beanbag at the flat he shared with Marlene, but he had a sneaking suspicion Lily had thrown James’s out.

At about six thirty the front door went, and Lily’s voice echoed through the flat,

“Anyone fancy a cuppa?”

James hit pause and they both jumped up to see her. She was already in the kitchen, setting down some very heavy looking shopping bags. Five foot nothing with a mane of flame red hair and striking green eyes, Lily Evans was a force of nature. The most driven of the three of them; Lily had earned a first class degree in Psychology two years ago, then dived straight into an NHS nursing course before James and Sirius had even recovered from the graduation party.

She kissed her boyfriend, hugged Sirius, then stood back to appraise them both. “What are you wearing?” She laughed at James’s t-shirt. “Black! I’m just gonna wash my hair, then I’m all yours, ok?”

Sirius nodded, making another round of tea. She dropped her keys on the kitchen counter, then started unpacking the shopping bags she’d carried in. James quickly took this task over, pulling out stacks of hummus, breadsticks, bags of crisps and frozen pizzas. Party food. “Staying over, love?” Lily asked Sirius, accepting her tea and leaning against the kitchen counter. Lily rarely sat down.

“Yeah, probably,” Sirius shrugged. He slept over every other week, still - but to be honest, that was their own fault - Lily and James had a reputation for throwing a party at the drop of a hat.

“I’ll make up the spare bed then,” Lily nodded, draining her tea and rinsing the mug in the sink.

“Already done,” James said, wrestling to fit the pizzas in the over packed freezer. “You just go and get ready for your big debut!”

“Legend, cheers Potter!” She grinned breezily, kissing him one more time before disappearing off to the bathroom. Sirius shook his head in wonder. His tea had barely cooled.

“You two.” He said.

“What?” James grinned back, though he knew exactly what.

James Potter had been fortunate in many areas of his life - wealthy parents, (and, more importantly, loving parents) an excellent education, a sense of humour, and, of course, the ultimate best friend in Sirius Black. But perhaps the only thing James was actually smug about was having met his soulmate at fourteen years old. Of course, at the time, she hadn’t exactly seen things the same way, and it had taken him four years to convince Lily Evans that he wasn’t just another arrogant public school toff, but all that was forgotten now, and it was quite clear that they were a perfect match.

Not that Sirius was jealous .

“Cheer up, Black,” James slapped him on the shoulder, reading his mind, “Might see someone you fancy tonight!”

“I’m not looking for--” Sirius started,

“--a relationship,” James finished, “I know, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a shag every now and then, does it?”

“Why are you so obsessed with my sex life?” Sirius tutted.

“How can I be? You don’t have one.”

“Oi!” Sirius lunged at James, and they wrestled in the middle of the kitchen for a bit, socks sliding on the laminate floor.

It was pointless play-fighting James, who was adept at pretty much every contact sport there was, but that had never stopped Sirius.

“I’m ready!” Lily yelled from the bathroom, “Come and style me, Mr Sassoon!”

Sirius struggled out of the headlock James had him in, grinning,

“To be continued, wanker.”

“That’s rich!” James retorted as Sirius hurried down the hall.

“What’s he shouting about now?” Lily raised an eyebrow, drying her hair in the mirror. She was wearing a big fluffy purple dressing gown and her dressing table was a mess of hair products and accessories.

“Nothing exciting,” Sirius replied, standing behind her and formulating a plan of action. He picked up a comb. “Right, what are we thinking? Shirley Manson? Florence Welch?”

“Stevie Nicks.” Lily said, firmly, winking at him. “Or just do you best in half an hour - I need to be there for sound check.”

“Wow, fame has really gone to your head, Evans.” Sirius began to work. “So who else is in this band? Prongs was vague.”

“God, you’ve no idea how hard it was to scrounge up interest!” She exclaimed, as if anybody would be thrilled to join a rock covers band at short notice on top of their day job. “I mean, it’s for charity !”

“Shocking.” Sirius smiled, warming up the straighteners.

“But luckily Alice owed me a favour,”

“Alice plays an instrument?”

“No, but the guy she’s started seeing in the children’s ward has a drum kit. Frank something. Alice said she’d pick up a tambourine if she really had to. Then Dr Shacklebolt - Kingsley, I think you’ve met him? He was at our last party. Anyway, he’s always going on about how he played guitar in a garage band as a teenager, so I wrangled him.”

“Nice.” Sirius could imagine exactly what ‘wrangling’ meant. Lily was the most persuasive person he’d ever met. Somehow you ended up feeling as if she’d done you a favour, when it was completely the other way around. “Bassist?”

“Yeah, I was really stuck there for a while - I thought we might have to do without, but it turns out one of the chaps down in admin plays in a band, so we got lucky. He was the hardest to win round; I thought he’d be too shy at first, but to be honest I think he’s the only one of us with any talent. Anyway, he taught Frank practically all the songs. Is Marlene coming? I asked James to remind you…”

“Oh shit, yeah!” Sirius pulled out his phone quickly and sent a message. “I’m sure she will, she never misses a party.”

“And get her to bring Dorcas!” Lily commanded, lining up her makeup on the dresser as Sirius primped her hair, “The more the merrier!”

* * *

The Shacklewell Arms was a standard east end pub, complete with Victorian etched glass windows and brassy light fixtures. Sirius had popped in for a drink more than once, but he’d never seen a band playing there before. It turned out they had a room reserved especially for live music in the back, with its own tiny bar selling only beer and jack daniels. This suited Sirius, who had never been fussy about his poisons.

They arrived early-ish and were met at the door by Alice, who was sitting on a small table and holding the collection tin.

“Here you go!” She held the bright green box out to James, “Lily says you volunteered to take donations. She told me to tell you to be charming and try not to make any of your jokes.”

“People love my jokes!” James protested, taking the tin from her. “Where is she, anyway?”

“Going over the setlist with Frank and Remus,” Alice shrugged. “Things were getting heated, so I thought I’d better leave them to it.”

That was Alice all over - Sirius had only met her a handful of times, but already he had the impression of someone who was almost completely opposite to Lily. Where Evans was dynamic and candid, often to the point of bluntness, Alice was altogether more quiet and compliant; preferring that everyone just get along. Still, ever since Lily had started her nursing course she and Alice had become fast friends, and seemed to get on like a house on fire.   

“What are they arguing about?” Sirius asked, interested. He hadn’t met Remus or Frank yet, and wondered what on earth they considered worth going up against Lily.

“The venue gave us a longer time slot than expected, I think. We haven’t rehearsed enough songs and Lily wants to just blag it, but Frank reckons we’re not good enough. We’re not, to be fair, we sounded like shit yesterday.”

Sirius and James both objected gallantly to this, assuring Alice that everything would sound fantastic. Privately, Sirius couldn’t wait - if it was shit then at least they’d all have a good laugh about it later. Alice finally disappeared to the green room, Sirius went to grab drinks for James and himself, and by the time he returned with two pints the room was starting to fill up.

Marlene arrived shortly before the band were due to go on, with her girlfriend Dorcas in tow. This week Marlene’s hair was turquoise, but that was wont to change. She’d woken Sirius at 2am the previous Friday saying she was feeling ‘mermaid vibes’ and needed his help at once. Two weeks before she’d wanted it silver. Dorcas had very short hair, undercut at the back, and the most glorious natural golden blonde Sirius had ever seen.   

“Thanks for coming!” He got up to hug them both,

“Anything for a good cause.” Marlene grinned.

“Anything for Lily Evans,” Dorcas stuck out her silver studded tongue. Marlene elbowed her,

“Oi!”

“What can I say?” Dorcas laughed, “I love bossy women.”

“Donations in the tin, please!” James tapped his green box. “Show starts in ten!”

“Sirius, have you got some business cards with you?” Marlene said, shrewd as ever, “This is exactly the sort of crowd we need to be courting…”

“Yeah, I think so..” he rooted through his pockets, but turned up nothing. She tutted and pulled out a neat little box from her bag.

“Don’t lose them!” she said sternly, before leaving to get a drink and find a good place to watch the gig from.

Sirius was three beers in by the time Lily appeared on stage, gorgeous in a fantastic emerald green dress and lots of eyeliner. He could hear Dorcas wolf-whistling from a dark corner of the room.

“Hello,” Lily spoke into the microphone coyly as the rest of the band took up their instruments behind her. “Thank you for coming, we are The Flu Fighters!”

Cheers erupted from the crowd, and Sirius strained up on his tiptoes to get a better look. There was Kingsley - Sirius vaguely remembered having met him at a party, he was a tall, broadly built black man with striking features and a gold earring. Alice looked green with nerves and was clutching a tambourine, and the drummer (who must be her boyfriend, Frank) was smiling and saying something reassuring to her. Finally, a third young man loped onto the stage, eyes down, but hands up in an apologetic gesture.

He was very tall and very slim, and sort of looked as though he had wandered onstage by accident. He nimbly navigated the mess of wires and picked up a large bass guitar, slipping the strap over one shoulder. Ah, the chap from the admin office at the hospital, Sirius remembered. Lily had said he was good, but the name had already left Sirius’s mind.

He had a mess of shaggy dirty-blond curls - mousy in the shadows, but startlingly chestnut when the spotlight hit him. He was wearing drainpipe corduroy trousers in a deeply unpleasant shade of green, and a plain grey t-shirt. Not very rock ‘n’ roll, in Sirius’s opinion. But he had big hands and long, bony fingers which seemed to have a life of their own as he fiddled with the frets on his bass. Sirius had a thing for hands. They could be very telling. Gideon’s hands had been smooth and freckled, with perfect pink nails like the inside of a seashell. Sirius drained his drink, and decided to get another.

‘The Flu Fighters’ weren’t terrible. They weren’t earth shattering, but even Sirius had to admit they knew their stuff. Lily had a surprisingly husky voice, capable of belting out every one of the rock classics they’d chosen. A healthy dose of Britpop - Oasis, Blur, Travis - some old school Clash tunes, and a startlingly heavy version of ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child. Lily’s choice, no doubt.

There wasn’t a lot of room on stage, but Lily made the most of it, bopping about to the livelier songs. Kingsley was just as showy, playing to the crowd and flirting with a gang of swooning girls in the front row. Shame, Sirius thought, Kingsley was quite fit.

As ‘Survivor’ came to a slightly awkward close (the drumming went on a bit longer then everything else, and Lily had to glance back at Frank before he even realised), the audience cheered politely, but then fell quiet.

Sirius and James glanced at each other, both wondering whether or not the earlier dispute over the length of the set list had been resolved.

There was some conferring amongst the band, and after a minute or so, Alice handed her tambourine to the bassist, who still had his guitar strapped on. Frank, Alice and Kingsley then left the stage, and the tall lanky kid took a seat at the drum stool, dropping the tambourine at his feet.

“What are they doing?” James whispered loudly. Sirius shrugged at him, as they watched Lily pulling the microphone over to the drum kit and lowering it to Remus’s level. Now he was sitting down, Sirius could only make out the top of his curly head over the crowd.

“I’m going to get a better look,” he said to James, before heading off, pushing through to get to the front.

“Ladies and gentlemen, that’s it from The Flu Fighters!” Lily was saying, bent over the mic, “But our multi-talented bassist has offered to do one more song!”

There was a spatter of applause and a bit of confused murmuring as Lily exited the stage quickly, leaving Remus alone. The young man looked down at his guitar for a moment, then up at the audience, squinting a bit against the bright lights.

He wasn’t conventionally attractive, exactly, but he had a square jaw, and a long, narrow nose, which Sirius liked a lot. Then he smiled, and Sirius felt a flush of heat rising up his neck. It was a really great smile.

“Hi,” Remus said into the mic, his voice soft but clear, “I’m Remus, and this is a Belle & Sebastian song.”

He began to strum his bass slowly, and tap both his feet - one on the bass drum pedal, the other on the tambourine, alternating rhythmically, creating a warm steady sound. Then he looked up again, craning his neck a bit to reach the mic.

Sirius saw his adam’s apple bob as he took a breath, and his stomach flipped again. Maybe he was drunk, or maybe it really had been too long since his last shag, but Remus and his long fingers and his quiet voice were getting more appealing by the minute.

Then Remus closed his eyes and began to sing in a gentle, softly accented lilt, and Sirius’s felt his heart begin to beat faster.

I’m the singer, I’m the singer in the band,

You’re a loser, I won’t dismiss you outta hand...

And at this point, Remus opened his eyes, and happened to catch Sirius’s stare. His mouth formed a coy smile as he continued singing,

You’ve got a beautiful face, it will take you places…

Fucking hell , Sirius thought, his mouth suddenly very dry.

Chapter Text

He had to talk to him. He had to win him over with his natural born charm, flirt him into submission and then shag him senseless.

It was a good plan, Sirius thought as he washed his hands in the tiny porcelain sink in the Shacklewell Arms loos. A solid plan. Foolproof. Fail safe. It had worked on Gideon enough times. And plenty of lads at Art College - not to mention a few ill-fated one-offs from nights out he’d rather forget. Sirius Black , Gid had said once, after the third time they had vowed never to sleep together again, you’re too irresistible for your own good.

Irresistible. Sirius glanced at his reflection in the mirror. He looked good - but he always looked good. His eyes were a bit unfocused from the beer, but it was a brisk night, and he’d sober up on the journey home.

He held his hands under the pitiful dryer for a few moments before giving up and wiping them on his jeans.

Outside, everyone was finishing their drinks and Lily was darting about trying to organise ubers back to the flat. No sign of Remus.

“Black!” She caught his arm, “Find McKinnon, will you?!”

“Yeah, she’s probably outside somewhere…”

“Well you can check, can’t you? Leaving in ten, I want you all out front.”

“Will do. Hey, is the whole band coming back to the flat?” He asked, trying to sound casual. Luckily, Lily was too distracted trying to herd everyone to noticed.

“Hm? Yeah, I think so. Kingsley’s on call, but he said he’ll come and not drink.”

“Great.”

“Once you’ve found Marlene and Dorcas, can you come back and do a bit of heavy lifting? We need to get all the gear back.”

“Yes ma’am,” he gave her a goofy salute. She flicked his earlobe sharply.

“Outside in ten, remember!”

His drunk brain thought that helping the band pack up was probably an ideal way to:

  1. Casually bump into Remus
  2. Demonstrate his heavy lifting abilities, and thereby;
  3. Flirt Remus into submission.

But alas, by the time he found Marlene and Dorcas (snogging in a corner of the smoking area outside), Lily’s allotted ten minutes had passed, and everything had been done. Remus had eluded him again.

“Come on you lot!” Lily was shouting from the backseat of a Toyota Prius, “We’re the last ones!”

“Has the rest of the band gone, then?” Sirius asked, over the tops of Dorcas and Marlene’s heads. They were both very drunk and very loud by this point. Dorcas had spawled her pale, fishnet-clad legs over his lap, and Marlene was singing Don’t Stop me Now at the top of her lungs.

“Yep,” Lily nodded, as the car pulled away from the curb, “Sent James on ahead.”

“All of them? Um, Alice and Frank, and…”

“Sorry, love,” the cab driver asked, “Was it E8 you wanted? Dalston?”

Lily climbed into the front seat to start giving directions, and Sirius gave up. He’d just have to wait and see.

They couldn’t possibly have been that far behind everyone else; but somehow the party was in full swing by the time they arrived back at the flat. James had assumed his usual role as host, DJ and barman - something he always pulled off exceptionally well. The music was booming and the drinks were flowing - not to mention three pizzas already in the oven, bowls of crisps dotted everywhere, and popcorn in the microwave.

The flat was a good deal smaller than The Shacklewell Arms, and with a good thirty people in it - and plenty more arriving - the place was packed. This made it easy for Sirius to lose the girls, but harder for him to find Remus. He might have felt a bit foolish, trailing around looking for some lanky bass player who’d given him a look - but he was still feeling pretty full of it from all that beer, and it wasn’t as if he’d ever needed much encouragement to lower his inhibitions.

Ah ha! He’d just seen Remus - sitting on the arm of the sofa in the living room, having a very intense looking discussion with Frank, Kingsley and a young man with a bright pink mohawk and lots of piercings. Right , Sirius told himself, Remus Lupin, you are mine.

He moseyed over, making sure his hair wasn’t behind his ears with a quick glance in the living room mirror, before grinning,

“Hey, Kingsley, good gig!” He leaned over to shake hands with the doctor. Kingsley smiled back, warmly,

“Cheers, been years since I’ve played a song all the way through.”

“Well it didn’t show.” Sirius replied, “Lily was obviously cracking that whip, eh?”

They all laughed, which Sirius thought was a pretty good start. He didn’t check for Remus’s reaction, but privately he was thinking; see how funny and handsome and friendly I am?

“Sirius, have you met Frank?” Kingsley was saying, gesturing at the man next to him, “And this is Remus, and - sorry mate, I didn’t catch your name?”

“Rod.” The punk with the pink hair replied, reaching over to shake Sirius’s hand.

“Hi,” Sirius nodded back, shaking. He turned to Frank next, beaming a smile (a bit over the top, but hey; it had been a while), “You must be Alice’s new chap! Heard lots.”

“All good I hope.” Frank chuckled.

“I’m saying nothing,” Sirius poked his tongue out. Finally, he turned to Remus, offering a hand, “Sirius Black, nice to meet you.”

“Remus Lupin.” Remus’s hands were long and slender - but not boney. His grip was firm, which Sirius thought was very promising. Still, he didn’t quite make eye contact, which was less of a good sign. Sirius tried again,

“Loved your last song, you were amazing!”

“Um. Thanks.” Remus nodded, only glancing at Sirius, as if he’d interrupted. Still, Sirius was not to be daunted;

“Fancy a drink?” He asked, coquettishly.

Remus looked at him then, straight on, making clear eye contact. Nothing. No spark of recognition; no flush of pleasure. Just calm, honest acknowledgement.

“No, thank you,” he replied, with brutal politeness. “I don't drink.” He raised his can of coke, as if to demonstrate.

“Oh, ok…” Sirius felt foolish. He’d never had the offer of a drink turned down before, and it threw him for a loop.

“Kind of you to ask, though.” Remus flashed him a smile - and by god, it was just as dazzling as it had been on stage. Heartened, Sirius was about to try once more, when Remus looked at Rod - the punk - and began to speak as if nothing had happened at all.

“Anyway, as I was saying - you could call Fugazi punk - they’re certainly punk influenced, but it’d be more accurate to call them post-hardcore, they’ve just got a much more melodic sound, if you know what I mean?”

Kingsley and Rod nodded sagely. Sirius scratched his head, then backed away, quietly. He had no idea what a fugazi was, or post hardcore - in fact, the little Sirius Black knew about music was really restricted to chart toppers and a bit of classic rock which James’s dad was into. Maybe he’d made a mistake, after all.

Finding himself the only person at the party without someone to chat to, he went to the kitchen and made himself another drink. Lily had made a bowl of her patented ‘fuck me up’ punch, and he swallowed at least two full cups, which would have been fatal if he hadn’t spent the past three years building up an immunity to it. After that he nipped to the loo; he didn’t feel like being around too many people, just then.

There was a queue for the main bathroom, but Sirius sneaked into Lily and James’s master bedroom to use their en suite. In the overbright, over-quiet little loo, Sirius felt even worse. First bloke he’d showed any interest in for months, and he got a casual ’no, thank you’!? He tried to comfort himself - maybe Remus was straight. Sirius had never been wrong about that kind of thing before - actually, he was pretty proud of that particular talent - but there was a first time for everything.

He looked at himself in the mirror again. Maybe Remus didn’t like long hair, or preferred blonds? Or liked Rod the Punk with his stupid metal-studded face. Sirius had often toyed with the idea of getting piercings, but had always been too vain about marring his face. Tattoos were a different story - maybe he ought to go and change into a vest, to show them off a bit?

He snorted at his reflection. Was he that desperate for a shag that he was going to parade himself about like a baboon in heat? No. A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. He turned off the tap and dried his hands on the towel.

“Sorry mate,” he called, assuming it was either James or Lily, “Just a sec.”

It was Gideon. Sirius jumped as he opened the door, startled by the tall red haired man before him. He was grinning. Of course he bloody was; Gideon was always grinning. Smug bastard.

“Thought I saw you sneak in here,” he said.

“There was a queue for the big loo,” Sirius shook his head. He turned off the bathroom light and closed the door behind him. “You shouldn’t be in here, you lost your VIP privileges.”

“No need to get your knickers in a twist, I was just saying hello.”

“What are you doing here, anyway?” Sirius led him out of the bedroom. It was never a good idea for him to get stuck in a room alone with Gid. Especially not one with a bed in it, and especially not after he’d just been rejected by a devastating musician. “You didn’t even come to the gig.”

“I was out in Hackney. I’ll bung Evans a few quid to keep her sweet.” Gideon followed him down the hall and caught his arm, “Oi!” He said, turning Sirius around, “What’s wrong? Not talking to me?”

“Just want to get back to the party.” Sirius shrugged, looking away. He didn’t have the strength for this, right now. He needed James or Lily or even Marlene to protect him, or else he was going to make the same mistake he always did.

“Look, you seeing anyone?” His hand was still on Sirius’s arm. Sirius looked at it, then up again, mischievous and grinning,

“Wouldn’t you like to know…”

“Tease.”

Sirius winked at him managing to free himself and saunter off, calling,

“No more chances, Gid, I told you.”

He went straight for the living room, hoping to find his friends and to lose himself a bit. Fuck Gideon, fuck Remus, fuck all men ever, he was over it.

He ended up bouncing between a few groups - being loud and flamboyant with Marlene and Dorcas, jumping around like yobs with James and Lily, and eventually settling on the couch with a very chatty blonde girl in a short skirt, who’d got the train in from Essex. Remus had migrated to where the snacks were, and was still talking earnestly with Kingsley and Frank. Alice appeared to have joined them, kept giggling at things Remus said, then touching his arm. Sirius wanted to know what could be so funny about someone that uptight. They weren’t too far away, if he leaned over a bit further he might be able to hear them.

“So where’s this salon you’re opening?” The Essex blonde was asking Sirius.

“Eh? Oh!” He returned his attention to the group he was with. They were boring and too excitable, only talking about ordinary, mundane things. “It’s on Lampeter street, if you know it?”

“Oh, that’s only up the road from my boyfriend’s work!” The drunk girl squealed with excitement, “He can be your first customer, I’ve been on at him to get a haircut for ages, haven’t I, Fletch?”

“Yeah,” Fletch nodded. He eyed Sirius, “Normally just go to the barber though… never had my hair done by a gay fella before…”

There was an awkward quiet, and Sirius could feel everyone’s eyes on him. Clunk. A nasty, sickly prickle crept up his spine - the same feeling he got when someone mentioned his mother. Still, there was a party going on, and he collected himself quickly,

“Well,” he purred, smiling widely at Fletch, “In that case, I’m going to have to insist that we take off our shirts and cuddle, first. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.”

Everyone around them laughed, and the atmosphere relaxed noticeably. Even Fletch saw the funny side, after he realised Sirius was just teasing.

Still, it left a bad taste, so Sirius got up to look for another drink. As he did, he noticed that Remus was finally looking at him. Not staring with any kind of discernible attitude or emotion. Just watching, evenly, eyes clear and sort of friendly. Then he smiled, and Sirius didn’t think he needed a drink any more. Emboldened, he finally walked over. Remus moved away from his own group, discreetly towards Sirius, and nodded by way of greeting.

“Nicely done.” He said.

Sirius shrugged,

“Happens a lot.”

“I can imagine.”

They looked at each other for a bit, and Sirius felt awkward, but Remus looked calm. “So,” the curly haired man said, finally, “I’m still working on my coke, but I’ll treat you to a drink, if you fancy?”

Sirius smiled,

“What a gentleman.”

“After you,” Remus extended a long arm in an elaborate pantomime gesture of chivalry. “Good sir.”

They entered the kitchen, where they were alone, and Remus grabbed a nearby kitchen towel and tossed it over one shoulder, like a bartender. He placed his hands on the kitchen island and grinned at Sirius, “What’ll it be?”

Sirius laughed. Maybe he had been too harsh on Remus.

“Just a beer.”

“Just a beer? Oh well, if you must be boring…” Remus turned around and opened the fridge, pulling out a bottle of San Miguel. He cracked it  open on one of the fridge magnet bottle openers stuck to the door of the fridge (James had hundreds of them, from relatives who never knew what to get him for Christmas) and then slid the bottle across the counter for Sirius to catch.

“Cheers,” Sirius smiled, raising the bottle. Remus raised his cup of coke in return, and they both drank.

“Do you live here?” The tall boy asked, “With Lily and her boyfriend?”

“No. Used to. Moved up the street six months ago.”

“Ah. Moved in with someone?”

“Just Marls - Marlene, my business partner.”

“The girl with the turquoise hair who keeps trying to give me a haircut?”

“That’ll be her. We’re opening a shop in a few months. Book now and you can have one of us half price!”

“As tempting as that sounds, I cut my own hair, thanks.”

Sirius consciously didn’t react to this statement, but privately thought ‘that’s pretty obvious’. Part of Remus’s charm was his adorably terrible haircut. Long and shaggy in all the wrong places; completely wrong for his face. Plus he was absolutely not using conditioner, judging by the frizz.

“Congratulations on the new business venture, though,” Remus was saying. He sounded sincere. “I think that’s amazing, for someone our age.”

“Well,” Sirius fingered the label of his beer bottle, “I was left a bit of an inheritance, actually… and Marls is the business minded one. I just go along with it and write the cheques. Err, I mean…” Oh god, that sounded like boasting, better temper it with something, “It’s not like a huge amount of money or anything, just enough to get started, really… actually, I was supposed to get a lot more cash, but my family sort of disinherited me a while ago, so… anyway, we’re both - me and Marls - doing mobile hairdressing to make a bit of income in the meantime, so it’s not like I’m rich, or… er…”

He wasn’t sure exactly why he was telling Remus so much, other than the fact that Remus didn’t seem to want to interject at any point, and Sirius always did this; just kept talking to fill up space. Don’t get too personal! He told himself, this isn’t how you get a one off shag with a hot musician! “Er… Lily says you work in the admin office, at the hospital?” He said, desperate to stop talking about himself.

“Part time,” Remus nodded, finally, “Maintaining patient records. It’s data entry mostly.”

“What do you do with the rest of your time?”

“Music, when I can. I do sessions work for a couple of bands in the area. Bit of sound engineering; whatever.”

“Wow that’s so cool!” Sirius groaned inwardly. He sounded like a complete idiot. Remus had that amused look back on his face.

“Thanks,” he said, politely. “Keeps me busy.”

Sirius didn’t really trust himself to keep talking, but struggled valiantly on,

“So what made you want to start talking to me?”

“You make it sound like I didn’t want to talk to you earlier,” Remus replied smoothly, leaning back on the counter. He was wearing olive green corduroy trousers , for god’s sake. That wasn’t supposed to be attractive! Sirius swallowed and drank more beer.

“No, I just mean--”

“I s’pose watching you put homophobes back in their box piqued my interest,” Remus said, casually, as if they were having a perfectly ordinary conversation. His eyes were glittering with mischief as he said it, and Sirius couldn’t tell if he was just teasing.

“Ah, I see,” he smirked, hoping to flirt Remus into submission. “Lily said you were shy.”

“Oh, I am,” Remus replied, nodding very soberly, “Terminally. Why d’you think I’m hiding in the kitchen?”

“Thought it was so you could have me all to yourself.” Sirius quirked an eyebrow. This was infuriating; he couldn’t tell whether any of his usual tricks were working; either Remus was an oblivious heterosexual, or he had the most incredible poker face Sirius had ever seen.

“Maybe, that too,” Remus shrugged.

“You like keeping people guessing, don’t you?”

“Every party needs a mysterious stranger.” He winked. “What’s wrong, don’t like mixed signals?”

“Christ!” Sirius ran his fingers through his hair, exasperated, and took a step back. Remus sipped his coke again, watching with amusement,

“You know,” he said, pleasantly, “You don’t have to keep guessing. You could try just asking, like a normal person.”

Sirius blinked at him, then shook his head in disbelief. This was much more of a challenge than he’d really prepared himself for. Still, he wasn’t going to let this corduroy clad (and a cardigan, a knitted cardigan, for fuck’s sake!) beanpole get the better of him. He set down his beer and looked at Remus head on.

“Ok, then.” He nodded, confidently, “Are you gay?”

“Very good,” Remus grinned, “That was nice and direct.”

“Well?! Are you??”

“No.” He answered, a smile still playing on his lips.

“Oh,” Sirius knew his face showed his disappointment. He squared his shoulders a bit, leaning away. Remus, conversely, took a step closer and touched his arm.

“But you could ask another question and probably still get the answer you’re looking for.”

“Er…” Sirius scratched his head at that. Remus was so weird, and also the most attractive person Sirius had ever met. Then it clicked, “Oh!” He said, eagerly, “Do you sleep with men?”

Remus quirked an eyebrow, finished his drink.

“Yes.”

Sirius didn’t know what to say to that, and he was very rarely on the back foot in this sort of situation.

“Now you,” Remus said, “Got a boyfriend?”

“Er. No,”

“Looking for one?”

“No…”

“There we are.” Remus smiled, “Isn’t that much easier than trying to impress each other?”

“I…” He was struck dumb. Who the hell did Remus Lupin think he was?! And why the hell was he getting more attractive by the second?

Remus was just watching him. Not staring. Watching. Sirius had never been the sort of person to shy away from a bit of attention, but Remus’s measured scrutiny was intense. It felt as though he could see something else, something other people didn’t usually see.

“What are you looking at?” He asked.

“I’m thinking deep thoughts.” Remus replied, putting down his can of coke, the ghost of a smile crossing his face. Sirius chuckled and looked down.

“Ok… well--”

Remus kissed him. He leaned forward, tilting his head and gripping Sirius’s arms with his big, lovely hands, he pressed his lips against Sirius’s and it was… it was just everything . Sirius was no stranger to a bit of cheeky snogging at a party, but this. He closed his eyes and slid his own fingers through the belt loops on Remus’s ridiculous corduroys, and leaned into him and they kissed and they kissed and they kissed.

If he hadn’t already felt thoroughly shaken up by this infuriating, bass-playing, cardigan wearing enigma, then a kiss like that would have done the job.

They pulled apart naturally, Remus’s lips were shining and his eyes were gleaming, and Sirius could have jumped him right then and there on the kitchen counter. Oh fuck.

“Right.” Remus glanced down at his watch. “Reckon it’s about time for me to make a move.”

“You’re leaving?!” He spluttered.

“Such is the prerogative of mysterious strangers,” Remus shrugged on his coat, “If I disappear into the night, just imagine the kind of credentials that gives me.”

“Right…” Sirius hardly knew what to do. He thought they’d been getting along really well.

“Come on, then.” Remus jerked his head as he headed for the hallway.

“You what?!” Sirius followed him out. Remus was hoisting his bass up onto his shoulders and lifting his huge box amp.

“I only live around the corner,” Remus said, matter of factly. “You might want a coat, though, it’s chilly out.”

“You’re asking me to come home with you?”

“Well. Only if you want to.” Remus raised an eyebrow again, turning to face him. “I’m not looking for anything serious, either - just so we’re on the same page. To be perfectly honest, I’ve got too much life shit to sort out before I can even think about a relationship... But I think we could still have fun together, you and me. If you want to. Yeah.”

Sirius looked at Remus, taking him all in. He was wrapped up against the cold, in a thick, orange woollen scarf and matching hat. A faded battered denim jacket that was too big for him, with old band patches sewn neatly up and down the arms. His dark eyes were full of wickedness and promise, and Sirius thought he had never had such a wonderful invitation.

Chapter Text

“Well?” Remus was still looking at him, expectantly. His eyes were not a remarkable colour. Muddy brown-green. But it was the way he looked.

Sirius nodded.

“Yes!” He stopped himself, be cool, idiot! “I mean… sure, ok. Just gimme a sec.”

Sirius hurried back to the living room to find James, who was drunkenly flicking through the playlist on his phone, “Oi, mate,” Sirius murmured, trying to be inconspicuous,

“Maaaaate!” James grinned and pulled him into a bone crushing bear hug. “Are you having fun?!”

“Yeah, ‘course,” Sirius wheezed, pulling himself free. He tried whispering, “Look, I’m going to go…”

“Noooo!” James boomed, so that heads turned and people started staring, “Don’t go! Party’s just getting started, ‘ave another drink…”

“Are you leaving, Sirius?” Lily came to his rescue. She was drunk too, but drunk Lily was still more sensible than even a sober version of James.

“Yeah,” Sirius turned to her and whispered, “With your bassist.”

“Oh! Lovely!” She smiled brightly. “Ok, I’ll distract this one, you go!” She kissed his cheek, then flung herself into her boyfriend’s arms. James caught her, beaming as she wrapped her legs around his waist and began to kiss him passionately, to riotous applause from the rest of the revellers.

Sirius took his opportunity to escape, dodging out of the room, grabbing his jacket from the back of the sofa as he did so. He could see Gideon (or it might have been Fabian, to be fair) out of the corner of his eye, near the balcony door, smoking. Sirius didn’t look, just kept going. I watched you leave enough times .

Remus was waiting for him by the door holding his bass amp.

“I can carry that, if you want?” Sirius nodded to it,

“It’s not heavy.” Remus replied.

“Didn’t say it was, just offered to carry it.”

“If you’re careful.” Remus consented. Their fingers bumped against each other as they awkwardly passed the amp between them, and Sirius felt a shiver of anticipation.

He followed Remus out of the front door and into the lift. It was blissfully quiet after all that chatter and noise. Sirius was about to comment on this, but just as he turned his head, Remus met him with another kiss, harder this time; keener.

Still gripping the amp with one hand, Sirius was powerless to resist Remus, who pushed him back against the cold chrome wall, his long fingers tracing the line of Sirius’s jaw, snaking up into his hair, gripping the back of his head. Remus’s hips rolled forward into Sirius and he used his knee to jerk Sirius’s legs apart, so that there was no space at all between their two eager bodies and Sirius was practically panting with desire right there in the lift, before they’d even hit the ground floor.

And then with a metallic *bing* the doors sprang open and bright artificial light flooded in, and Remus was off again, striding through the lobby and out into the brisk night air, while Sirius was still pulling himself together.

“Keep up,” Remus grinned, as they made their way out onto the street.

“Is that just your thing?!” Sirius teased back, “Sneak attacks?”

“How much warning do you want next time? Come on, I’m only about fifteen minutes away.”

They walked quickly, Remus’s long legs setting the pace, so that Sirius had to hurry, lugging the big amp along at his hip. “Sure you’re ok with that?” Remus eyed him.

“Yeah! You’re right, not heavy at all!” Sirius puffed. He was starting to regret all of the beer he’d drunk. Remus was completely sober, too; what if he embarrassed himself?!

The other boy slowed down, obviously taking pity on him.

“So have you always wanted to be a hairdresser?” He asked, politely.

“Stylist, please,” Sirius corrected, smiling, “And… I dunno, it was maybe more of an organic thing? My family wanted me to go into finance, but that was never going to happen.”

“Bad at maths?”

“I happen to be excellent at maths, I just hate it.”

“Fair enough. Continue.”

“Er… I always liked arty stuff. Drama, painting, sculpting, that sort of thing. I actually started an art degree, but… I dunno, life got in the way and I gave it up. I was staying with James’s parents at the time, and his family have a bit of a background in the hair industry…”

He knew that sounded weird, but he preferred not to tell this almost total stranger about the Potter’s cosmetics fortune.

“...So I just ended up learning a lot.” He explained. “James’s mum made me get a job in the local hairdressers - I started off sweeping up and answering the phones, and just kept going from there.”

“That’s really amazing,” Remus said, his voice truly sincere for the first time Sirius had heard it. “Honestly, you should be proud.”

Sirius shrugged bashfully, careful not to jog the amp too much as he did.

“What about you, with the music? How did you--”

“Oh, that’s all so boring.” Remus said, breezily. He started to slow down, and pointed ahead, “We’re just up here.”

They had reached a small parade of shops - a Londis, a phone shop, a Chicken Cottage and a greengrocers, which looked closed. Sirius followed Remus to the end of the row, where the taller boy fished in his pockets for his keys, unlocked the door, then forced it open with his shoulder. It juddered and groaned, opening with an unsettling suddenness.

“Gets stuck,” Remus explained. “Been on at the landlord about it but he’s pretending it’s fine. C’mon.”

Inside it smelt of stale cigarettes, cat shit and mildew. The staircase was directly ahead; carpeted, but filthy with stains and burn holes. There was a door to their left, which had a silver plaque reading ‘1a’. The door to their right had ‘1b’ in what looked like permanent black marker. Remus started up the stairs.

His flat was 2a, and once they were inside Sirius was relieved to discover that it was spotlessly clean, and Remus did not smoke or seem to own a cat. It was much too small a space, anyway; a studio with a double bed pushed into one corner, the foot of which butted up against the kitchen counter, where there was a sink, a microwave, and a small hob built into the worktop. No oven, though. There was one window above the bed, and a wooden concertina door which Sirius could only assume led to the bathroom.

Sirius could easily have walked the length of Remus’s flat in three large strides - that is, if the rest of the space hadn’t been taken up by musical instruments. There was a keyboard, balancing precariously on top of an electric drum kit, and two guitars hanging from brackets on the walls. Remus shrugged off his bass, and hung it on the third bracket.

“Just put the amp anywhere” He said, lifting a laptop off the bed and sliding it underneath, where it looked like he also stored his clothes.

Sirius glanced around gingerly, looking for somewhere convenient to put down the amp, but there was so little floor space he just set it down at his feet and stood there awkwardly. He watched Remus kick his trainers off, and followed suit, placing them neatly next to the amp.

“Water?” Remus asked, squeezing around Sirius and the amp to get into the tiny patch of tile which constituted the kitchen. He opened the mini fridge under the counter, “Or… squash? Huh, that’s weird, I thought I’d run out…”

“Water’s fine.” Sirius nodded. Remus flashed him a smile, surfacing with two glasses and filling them from the tap.

“Sorry it’s a bit small.” Remus said, squeezing past him again, handing him the water as he did so. “It’s not cheap, renting in London, and I prefer not to share.”

“It’s great!” Sirius said, maybe a bit too eagerly. He couldn’t help wishing he’d suggested they go back to his and Marlene’s flat. Their living room was bigger than this.

Remus was sitting on the bed now, glass of water on the windowsill over the headboard. He looked up at Sirius, his face full of concentration, as if he was trying to solve a problem,

“Fancy coming over here?” He asked.

“Yeah, sorry!” Sirius came over, quickly, almost tripping over his own shoes in the process. Remus laughed lightly, without any malice, as Sirius reached the bed. Remus took the glass of water off him, placing it beside his own,

“Relax!” He grinned, “I don’t bite.”

“I just don’t do this much…” Sirius looked down, awkwardly. That wasn’t strictly true - he’d had one or two one-night-stands, whenever he and Gid had been on the outs. But he’d almost always been drunk, and so had the other person, and he hadn’t fancied any of them as much as he fancied Remus.

“We don’t have to do anything,” Remus said, gently, “If this isn’t what you had in mind--”

Fuck it . Sirius leaned over and kissed him. That was something he knew how to do. Remus wasn’t too bad at it, either, and he slackened, relaxing back, allowing Sirius to push him down onto the pillows. Sirius could feel Remus’s lips curl into a smile against his own, and there it was - talking was crap; talking was bullshit; talking just got in the bloody way .

Kissing, though; kissing was excellent. He knew where he was with kissing. They could do it all night long, for all he cared. The tiny room didn’t matter, or the draught coming in under the single-glazing, or the sinister wail of police sirens outside. There was just his body, and Remus’s body, and that was plenty.

Half on top of Remus, Sirius shifted position slightly to get a better angle, supporting himself with one arm. Remus responded by moving beneath him, raising his hips, one hand sliding up Sirius’s neck into his hair, the other slipping underneath his t-shirt. Sirius moaned into Remus’s mouth, and Remus continued exploring, his long, slightly calloused fingers drawing lazy strokes across Sirius’s ribs and chest.

Needing more contact, Sirius hastily nudged Remus’s knees apart with his own, sliding his leg down so they were flush against each other. Remus’s wandering hand found the small of Sirius’s back, and he pressed them together, gripping him tight and bucking his hips up again to create more pressure, relieving some of the ache they were both starting to feel. Sirius could feel Remus’s hard-on through their clothes, and their kisses grew more urgent, Remus’s fingers tightening in his hair as they pressed against each other in hot silence.  

Emboldened, Sirius allowed his own hands to wander, settling at Remus’s hip, fingers hooking into the waist of his trousers, tugging playfully and stroking the tender skin of Remus’s hipbone with his thumb.

“Mm,” Remus hummed, moving again, this time to roll Sirius over, his hands pushing on his shoulders to switch their positions.

All this movement broke their kiss, and Sirius finally opened his eyes, blinking, slightly dazed by the brightness of the room. Remus’s face came into focus, he was grinning down at him , straddling Sirius’s body and biting his lip. His eyes fluttered downwards, and he took the hem of Sirius’s t-shirt and began to pull. Sirius raised his arms and sat up slightly, allowing Remus to yank the shirt over his head and toss it aside.

Exposed and pinned down, Sirius felt vulnerable for a split second, before that lustful, concentrated look returned to Remus’s eyes, as he brushed a stray hair from Sirius’s face, trailing a finger down his bare chest, tracing his tattoos with awe,

“Look at you...” Remus murmured, before leaning forward to kiss him again, catching his bottom lip between his teeth and nipping very slightly.

A hot, tight bubble of anticipation began to build in Sirius’s belly, and he moaned in assent as Remus now began to remove his own clothes - knitted cardigan and all.

Sirius watched him, hands gripping Remus’s slim hips as he wriggled out of his t-shirt, hair fluffing up like a dandelion with the static, falling softly back into place.

Remus’s body was unlike any body Sirius had ever seen. He was very thin; the bones in his shoulders and ribs moved smoothly beneath pale, lightly freckled skin. He had a network of darker moles across his chest and belly, and strange silvery-pink marks on one side, puckering the skin.

“Not much to look at,” Remus said, bashfully, leaning down again, now working the button on Sirius’s jeans.

“Shut up,” Sirius breathed, pulling him in for a deep kiss. Remus’s warm bare skin moved deliciously against his own chest, and Remus’s hands continued their exploration, now pushing beneath the waistband of Sirius’s jeans, over his hips to grip his arse firmly.

His excitement mounting, Sirius mirrored Remus, grabbing him with both hands and pulling him as close as he could, thrusting upwards as he did to rub himself harder against the other body. Remus made a sound, deep in his throat, which Sirius took for satisfaction, and they stayed like that for a time, tongues sliding against each other, bodies rocking slowly.

The heat blooming between them felt so strong; so intense that Sirius could not tell where his own pleasure ended and Remus’s began.

It might have gone on longer, much longer, but the beer had started to wear off, and Sirius was realising how much he had missed this; being physical with another person. It made him impatient for more. He moved to reach for Remus’s belt, fumbling in his eagerness. Remus chuckled and pulled away again, straightening up to help. He rolled off of Sirius, bowing his head to work the buttons himself. Sirius followed suit, keen to get his socks off too (‘nothing worse than a naked man still in his socks’, Lily always said).

As he kicked off his jeans, Remus reached over his head, grabbing his phone from the windowsill. He tapped a few icons, and suddenly noise burst from the stereo on the shelf opposite them.

“Sorry,” Remus said, flushed and grinning as he chose a song and turned the sound up, “I’ve got nosey neighbours…”

“S’fine,” Sirius said, surprised to find his voice hoarse as he stared at Remus in his boxers, casually propped up on one elbow, scrolling for music.

“This ok?” Remus settled on something Sirius had never heard before. It had a good strong rhythm, but it was soft too, not aggressive.

“Yeah,” Sirius nodded, stupidly.

He couldn’t care less, he just wanted Remus to touch him again. He reached over, rolling onto his side, tilting his head upwards to kiss him. He let his hand run down the side of Remus’s body, eager to feel every inch of him.

Remus recoiled slightly as Sirius’s fingers brushed over the long thin scars there.

“Sorry,” he murmured, pulling away from the kiss, “Damaged goods.”

“Do you want me to stop?” Sirius asked, tentatively.

Remus shook his head, and Sirius kissed him again, “I think you’re gorgeous,” he said, moving down to kiss the soft skin of Remus’s neck, then his collarbone, his chest, keen to prove it.

Remus stretched out beneath him as Sirius continued working downwards, letting his tongue flick over Remus’s puckered nipples, fingers still trailing lightly down his sides so that he squirmed and gasped delightfully. Sirius glanced up to see Remus’s face; his chin was tilted back, his long throat exposed, glowing in the light of the halogen street lamp outside. He was so beautiful; Sirius was filled with the desire to please him; to do nothing but make him sigh like that.

He reached down and squeezed Remus’s hard cock firmly through his thin boxers eliciting another shudder and groan. Finally, he grinned to himself. Remus Lupin was at his mercy. He licked his lips, pulling down the elastic waistband and lowering his head.

“Oh fuck,” Remus groaned.   

Sirius was inclined to agree.

* * *

Some time later...

“Y’ok?” Remus asked, his breathing settling down.

“Mm.” Sirius replied, his eyes closed, he lay very still.

“Just a sec.” Remus got up and climbed over him, surprisingly nimble, and hopped towards the wooden concertina door to Sirius’s right. He went inside and Sirius heard water running.

He sat up and reached for his glass on the windowsill, taking big gulps. He didn’t feel drunk anymore. He felt restful and sleepy, but clear headed, somehow more alert. There was still a draught coming in under the gap in the window and he shivered a bit, rubbing his bare arms. Would it be rude to get dressed? What he’d really like to do is crawl under the duvet, surrounded by the smell of Remus, and fall asleep right there.

The bathroom door opened again. Remus appeared, still fully naked and unconcerned. He was so gorgeous. Every movement he made, every turn of his head, with that stupid floppy hair and gangly limbs - Sirius couldn’t take his eyes off him. Oh jesus , he thought, what am I getting into here .

“Brr.” Remus grinned at him, practically leaping at the bed, and getting straight under the duvet. “Aren’t you freezing? Get in!”

“Ok,” Sirius smiled, shuffling up, tucking in his legs and climbing underneath the warm heavy sheets. They smelled of Remus. He never wanted to leave. “Er… can I stay the night, then?”

“I was sort of hoping so,” Remus said, pulling him closer, breathing lightly against Sirius’s neck, “I’m nowhere near finished with you…”

Chapter Text

Prongs: M8

Prongs: M8??

Prongs: M8888888888???

Padfoot: Mate.

Prongs: Where tf are you???

Padfoot: Where do you think?

Prongs: OMG I was just about to send a search party!

Padfoot: It’s been less than 12 hours you lunatic.

Prongs: Anything could have happened to you!

Padfoot: ;)

Prongs: The bassist???

Padfoot: Yep

Prongs: Nice 1!!! Come over?

Padfoot: Maybe later...

Prongs: OMDZ are you still there???

Padfoot: ;)

 

“Who’re you talking to?” Remus said, making Sirius jump with a start, guiltily clutching his phone.

“Er. My mate - James.”

“Lily’s boyfriend?”

“Yeah. Sorry, he just wanted to know where I am.”

“Ha. Worried I’d left you languishing in a dark cellar?”

“Something like that.”

Remus grinned, rolling onto his back and stretching out. Sirius reached up to drop his phone on the windowsill, now that he wasn’t the only one awake. Remus’s little studio flat looked even smaller in the light of day. Natural light made everything somehow gloomier; highlighting the scuffed corners and cracked surfaces.

“Sleep well?” Remus asked, yawning. “Didn’t hog the covers, did I?”

“No, you were perfect.”

Remus gave him a sideways look that made Sirius blush. He sat up, picked up his own phone and read the time.

“I’ve got a rehearsal in a couple of hours,” he said, “Just going to hop in the shower.”

“Oh, ok,” Sirius drew his legs up so that Remus could climb around him to get out of the bed. He was still naked, and Sirius couldn’t help staring as he straightened up and walked across the room. At the bathroom door, Remus glanced back,

“Coming, then?”

Sirius grinned.

* * *

“Do you have to get to your rehearsal right away?” Sirius asked, pulling on his t-shirt after their shower.

“Erm, quite soon, yeah,” Remus said from under the bed, where he appeared to be looking for a clean pair of underwear. “Why?”

“Just fancied breakfast.”

“I haven’t got anything in - I usually get some toast from the cafe on the corner.”

“No,” Sirius laughed, looking for his socks now, “I meant I’ll buy you breakfast.”

“Eh?” Remus stood up straight, looking confused. “Why?”

His hair was still a bit wet from the shower, but already starting to frizz. Sirius wasn’t surprised - he’d checked out the shampoo while Remus’s back was turned, and it was one of those 2 in 1 budget bottles from Poundland. He tried not to be too much of a snob, but really .

“Just hungry,” Sirius said, “Thought you might be too.”

“You don’t owe me anything…”

“No, I just… it was just breakfast.” Sirius was getting a bit flustered now; he couldn’t see why Remus was being so weird about it. Had he done something wrong?

Remus finished dressing and started gathering together various wires and pedals and little mechanical boxes with dials on them, shoving them all into a battered hold-all. He went to pick up his bass, next.

“Want a hand?” Sirius asked, hoping to be helpful.

Remus turned and fixed him with a stare. His forehead creased slightly, as if he was thinking, “We did say this was just for fun, didn’t we? Neither of us is looking for anything serious, right?”

“Of course!” Sirius said at once, the hair on the back of his neck prickling with embarrassment. “Sorry, I’m not trying to be… I was only being nice.”

Remus looked at him for a long time, assessing. Then he nodded.

“If you wanna buy me toast and a cuppa I won’t say no. But it’ll have to be takeaway, I need to head.”

“Great,” Sirius nodded, trying to look casual, “Yeah, cool.”

They left the flat and walked out onto the street which was already thumping with Saturday morning foot traffic. They had to flatten themselves against the door almost at once as a gang of ancient white haired ladies in saris went past, their walking sticks clacking against the pavement. A double-decker hissed, pulling up at a bus stop, and a group of teenagers disembarked, all playing loud music and screeching with laughter.

Sirius followed Remus to the end of the road, near the tube station, and they stopped outside a tiny cafe with barely room for both of them to stand inside. Remus ordered his toast and a cup of tea, Sirius ordered a black coffee with three sugars and paid for it all. The awkward bit came once all that was done. They stood on the pavement cupping their hot drinks (Remus’s toast, wrapped in brown paper, went straight in his jacket pocket).

Remus smiled politely and gently bumped the rim of his cup against Sirius’s, “Cheers for breakfast, then.”

“No problem, thanks for… um. Thanks for letting me crash.”

“Anytime.” Remus winked.

“Really?” Sirius hoped he didn’t look too eager.

“Yeah, if you're at a loose end one night, why not. Lily has my number. Look, I need to go, see ya mate!”

Remus was already backing away, bass slung over one shoulder, hand fumbling in his jacket pocket for his oyster card, he quickly made for the station and had disappeared into the dark ticket hall before Sirius could even say a proper goodbye.

Damn. How did he do that?!

Sirius sighed, sipped his coffee - which was crap - and decided he needed some outside input. It was a good thing James and Lily lived so close by. Sirius binned the coffee, shoved his hands in his pockets, and walked back to their flat.

He’d done a few walks of shame over the course of his colourful and varied love life, but none had ever been so confusing. He tried a bit of introspection - how exactly did he feel ? - but that had never been his strong suit. Maybe after a few hours of Call of Duty with James.

He let himself in the building, went up in the lift and unlocked the front door. The kitchen had already been thoroughly cleaned - Lily and James were early risers. Every surface sparkled and gleamed, and it barely looked like the same place Sirius had been kissed by Remus.

“That you, sweetie-pie?” James called from the living room.

“Sure is, honey-buns,” Sirius called back. “Coffee?”

“I'll do it.” James came through. He had that annoying smirk on his face, like he had done something he felt smug about. “Good party last night.”

“Yeah, not bad.” Sirius nodded casually.

“We were up til five.” James said, clicking on the coffee machine.

“Oh yeah?”

“How about you? Late one?”

Sirius looked up at him, unable to hide his grin now. “Dunno. Didn’t pay much attention to the time.”

“Get in there!” James pumped his fist as if Sirius had just scored a try.

Sirius laughed, “Honestly, your obsession with my sex life is starting to get weird, does Evans know about it?”

“She’s a psychologist,” James shrugged, as if that explained everything. “So? Lily said it was the bassist? Tall guy?”

“Yeah. Remus.”

“Remus.” James said, thoughtfully, scratching his head as the coffee began to splutter from the machine. “He a nurse too?”

“Nah, he does admin. He’s a musician.”

“Nice.”

“Yeah, well it was just a casual thing. I’m not looking for a relationship, remember?”

James handed him a coffee, dark eyes still twinkling.  “Your hair’s wet.” He said.

“So? I used his shower.”

“So. You never leave the house with your hair wet. You’re Sirius Black , Hair Stylist and Egomaniac.”

“Well he only lives round the corner. Thought I could clean up properly here.” Sirius said coolly, sipping his coffee. Ah, that was better. He could think straight now he’d had some high-quality caffeine. “Is er… Lily about?”

“Gone for a jog.”

“Christ, you two are ridiculous. Don’t you ever get hangovers?”

“Best cure for a hangover is fluid and exercise,” James replied, “She’ll be back soon. Why?”

“Er… she has his number. Remus’s.”

“Ah HA!”

“Oh shut up.”

They went through to the living room and settled in for a game. Everything had been scrubbed from top to bottom - when Sirius had lived there they’d wallowed in party-mess for days after even the smallest gathering. Everything was so different, now.

“Gid was asking for you,” James said, as they grabbed their controllers from the coffee table, “Gave Lily the utmost pleasure to tell him you’d pulled.”

“Jesus, she told him?”

“Well he wouldn’t stop asking. Should’ve seen his face.”

Sirius pictured it. It felt good. He didn’t kid himself - if Remus hadn’t come along and swept him off his feet then he probably would have given into Gideon’s charms. If Sirius knew anything about himself, it was that he always fell back into bad habits. And he got too attached to people. Which could be a good thing - take James, for example. They had been as close as brothers since their very first week of boarding school, where they’d shared a dorm.

But then, James was a special case - he was inclined to get a bit over-attached, too. When Sirius came out to James, some time in fifth year, James had even expressed feeling guilty that he wasn’t gay too, to make it easier for Sirius.

But it wasn't always the best thing, getting attached so fast. It led to a lot of heartbreak. At least it had with Gideon.

“So are you gonna take him out?” James asked,

“Eh?” Sirius blinked, snapping out of his thoughts, “Who?”

“The bloke you’ve been shagging all night. Must’ve been good, that’s the third time you’ve died.” James nodded at the screen, as Sirius’s soldier fell to the ground.

“Sod off. No, I don’t think he does dates. He just said I could call him, if I ever found myself at a loose end…”

“Oh my god! You’ve got a fuck buddy!”

“Christ, Potter, calm down. I have not .”

“Well, what would you call it?”

“Er… a friendship of mutual respect which happens to include reciprocal pleasure.”

“Oh, very modern.”

“Indeed.”

Fortunately, Lily arrived back at that moment. She shouted out a hello and went straight for the shower, and Sirius tried not to fidget while he waited for her. Obviously he wanted Remus’s number, but he didn’t want to look too interested - not in front of Lily and James, who were of the opinion that everybody needed to find their soulmate and settle down as soon as humanly possible. Anyway, Remus wasn’t Sirius’s soulmate. He didn’t use conditioner.

“Hello you,” Lily grinned upon seeing Sirius, and climbed over the back of the couch to plonk herself between him and James, “And how was your evening?”

“They had hot animal sex all night long, and Sirius is desperate for you to give him Remus’s number.” James supplied. Sirius reached around the couch to hit him, but James ducked, laughing.

Lily laughed too, “Well that’s good to hear - what was he like?! He doesn’t give much away, that boy…”

“It was nothing,” Sirius said, still glaring at James, “We just… anyway, he said you have his number, so--”

“I don’t.” Lily said.

“What?!”

“I don’t, sorry darling. Kingsley was the one who told him all the rehearsal times, I hardly ever go down to the admin department, it’s grim. So I never got his number.”

“Can you ask Kingsley, then?”

“Yeah, sure, but you know how busy he is - and he’s working today, so it might take a while.”

“Oh, right. Er. Actually, don’t worry.” He realised that Remus might not necessarily want Kingsley to know that he’d slept with Sirius. Adding an extra person made things a bit complicated, when it came to casual hookups. Or at least, Sirius assumed so.

“Oh no, what a shame.” Lily bit her lip, “I could always pop down to see him, next time I’m working?”

“Don’t be silly,” Sirius shook his head, “He’ll think I’m stalking him. It’s fine. It was just for fun, anyway, that’s what we said.”

“Ok… if you’re sure?”

“Positive.”

* * *

For the next couple of weeks, Sirius tried to forget about Remus. It was clearly a no go. The sex had been good - better than good, actually, bloody amazing, at least Sirius thought so - but if Remus had really wanted him to get in touch then wouldn’t he have given Sirius his number directly? Maybe telling him to ask Lily for it had been him dropping a hint. Though that was a bit odd, given how direct Remus had been at the party.

Fortunately for Sirius, there was plenty of work to keep him busy. Marlene was a genius at social media, and had them both booked solid for the month. And when they weren’t cutting and styling hair, she expected Sirius to be attending expos with her, or beauty lectures, or training courses - Marlene had decided that they ought to learn a few other beauty basics, which meant Sirius was now going to the local vocational college on Friday evenings to learn how to do nails.

He quite enjoyed manicures - during his emo phase at school he’d nicked some black nail polish from Superdrug and splodged it over his chewed up fingernails and felt like the most punk rock kid in the world. Fortunately, he’d progressed since then. He had shaping and buffing down, and he could do shellac and false nails, and he was about to find out what on earth IBX was. Lily was happy about his new skill too, because he really needed to practice. James less so, though he relented in the end, and allowed Sirius to paint his toenails in his team colours.

Sirius had just arrived at East London Beauty College for a lecture on highlights when he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He waited to get seated before checking it - assuming it was Marlene asking him if he was free for a house call. He technically was free later than evening, but it would be his first free evening in two weeks, and he really wanted to keep it that way.

He put down his bag, pulling a notebook and pen out. Other students bought laptops and tablets, but he preferred scribbling by hand - it helped him remember things better. He took a long gulp of coffee before checking his phone - if it was Marls, then he really needed the energy.

But it wasn’t her - it was a text from an unknown number. Curious, thinking maybe it was a client, he tapped to open it.

 

Hello, is this Sirius Black’s number?

 

Well, whoever it was knew his name. Probably a client, then. Most of their customers were technophobic old ladies, but they got the occasional busy mum on their books, so it wasn’t completely outside of the realms of possibility. Still vaguely intrigued, he typed out a response.

 

Yes, who’s this?

Thank god for that. It’s Remus :)

 

Sirius’s heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t believe it. Ok, he told himself, be cool . He put down his coffee, using both hands to hold his phone.

 

Hi! :) Didn’t expect to hear from you - how did you get my number?

You left a pack of business cards at mine. They fell under the bed, I only just found them.

Oh! Sorry about that.

Not at all :) it means I could get in touch with you to say sorry.

Sorry??

For telling you Lily had my number - I thought I’d given it to her, but I must not have. Hope you didn’t think I was trying to tell you something :P

Lol, obvs not. How are you?

Good thanks. You?

Good too.

Good.

 

Sirius groaned quietly to himself. He’d been fantasising about magically bumping into Remus for two weeks, but now he had no idea what to say. He chewed his lip, and tried to come up with something witty and devastating. He sipped his coffee again. His mind was blank. How did you casually ask someone you had a one-off shag with two weeks ago whether they fancied another one-off shag? The phone buzzed again -

 

Fancy meeting up tonight? ;)

 

Sirius almost choked on his coffee. So that was how you did it, then.

 

Sure! I’m in Hackney atm, be free at 6.

Perfect. Your place?

Great. I’ll send the address. 6.30?

See you then.

 

As soon as he’d sent his postcode, Sirius slapped his hand to his forehead. Idiot! He’d given himself exactly thirty minutes to rush home, tidy his room, potentially change the bedsheets, see if there was any food in -- sod the food, did he have condoms?! Maybe Remus would bring those - he’d certainly had plenty last time. What sort of impression did that give off, though, if he expected Remus sort that stuff out?

Bugger it. He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was almost 5pm. He considered pulling a sickie - suddenly becoming overwhelmed by a migraine or something, but if Marlene ever found out she’d never forgive him.

Sirius sat through the hour long lecture, jiggling his leg and glancing up at the clock every two minutes. He did take some notes, but his mind was elsewhere.

Once the class was dismissed, Sirius leapt out of his chair and fled the room as if his arse was on fire. He legged it to the bus, and just about made it on time, panting and sweating. He really needed to get more exercise, like Prongs was always telling him.

Home with twenty minutes to spare, Sirius flew about the house tidying up and rearranging the living room, kitchen, and his bedroom. Luckily Marlene and Dorcas were pretty tidy housemates - and luckier still neither of them were in.

He had just enough time for a very quick shower, hair scraped up in a bun which he only just remembered to yank back down as the doorbell went. It took all of Sirius’s willpower to walk at a normal pace to answer the door, but he did it.

And there he was: Remus Lupin, every bit as scruffy and lanky and too bloody cool as he had been two weeks ago.

“Hi!” He smiled. He had his denim jacket on, with all the patches, over a t-shirt emblazoned with  the words ‘Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters’, which Sirius sincerely hoped was the name of a band.

“Hi! Come in…”

“Wow, nice place!” Remus strolled casually into the living room, looking about. Sirius smiled, trying not to look too much like an over proud housewife. It was quite nice - Marlene had brought most of the furniture with her, and she had good taste.

“Something to drink?” Sirius asked, “We’ve got tea - about a hundred different kinds - coffee, squash, orange juice, coke…”

“Glass of water would be brill, cheers,” Remus nodded, “Oh, before I forget, here--” He plunged his hand into his back pocket and pulled out Sirius’s little stack of business cards. “I’m so glad you left them at mine - I was kicking myself for not giving you my number.”

“Thanks,” Sirius took the cards, heart rate picking up as their fingers touched. “Er, come through…”

He led Remus into their pokey little kitchen and went to get two glasses for the water. Remus wasn’t nervous or shy at all.

“Then I thought maybe I ought to ask Lily for your number, but I’ve been off work, and of course I didn’t even have her number - then I remembered you knew Kingsley, but I wasn’t sure if you’d want him to know about you and I, so…”

“Oh my god, I thought the exact same thing!” Sirius laughed, somewhat relieved to hear that he had been on Remus’s mind. He handed him the glass of water.

Remus smiled politely, and took it, then drank the entire thing in one go, his adam’s apple bobbing. “Sorry,” he chuckled, wiping his lips and looking down bashfully, “Got thirsty on the walk over.”

“How come you haven’t been at work?”

“Oh, just off sick. Anyway, give me the tour!”

“Well there’s really not much to see…” Sirius gestured at the kitchen, “That’s the fridge. Those cupboards are mine, those are the girls’... er… this is the oven…”

“Gas or electric?”

“Electric,”

“Excellent choice.” Remus nodded wisely, furrowing his brow. Sirius was thrown for a loop, until he realised Remus was teasing him.

“Prick,” Sirius laughed, “You asked for a tour, I’m trying to be thorough!”

“It was my extremely suave and subtle way of trying to see your bedroom.” Remus replied, dryly.

“Well why didn’t you say so,” Sirius rolled his eyes sarcastically, “Come on, then,” he tugged Remus’s thick-knit jumper at the hem, leading him back through the living room and through the hall to his room.

Sirius’s bedroom was his happy place - it always had been, no matter where he was living. At home, it had been a refuge from his suffocating nightmare of a family, at school, the dorm room he’d shared with James, where he’d finally felt happy and safe for the first time. Then, when the nightmare got too real, the Potters had given him a room of his own, for as long as he needed it.

So when he’d moved in with Marlene, the bedroom had been the most important thing. He was pretty pleased with it; nice big window, lots of natural light in the mornings, white walls with a few framed posters he’d kept from school, photographs of James and Lily on his bookcase. He’d put his best bedsheets on for Remus, too, though he was a bit embarrassed about that, now. James bought them for him last Christmas - they were printed to look like the night sky; black and silver galaxies, purple and blue nebulas.

Remus let out a low whistle as he stepped inside, “Blimey, I feel terrible about taking you back to mine last time.”

“Your place is nice!” Sirius said, quickly.

Remus snorted, “No, it isn’t.”

“At least you live alone…”

“Mm, for now… anyway, let’s do this here, from now on, eh?”

“This?” Sirius raised an eyebrow coyly, meeting Remus’s murky green eyes.

Remus gazed back, and stepped towards him, hands on Sirius’s hips, pulling him closer. He leaned forward and kissed Sirius deeply, one hand moving up to his neck, then under his hair, fingers fanning out, cradling his head. Sirius practically purred with satisfaction, leaning into Remus, revelling in the way they fit together so beautifully.

“This.” Remus whispered, as they pulled apart. He took advantage of Sirius’s momentary lapse, and gave him a soft shove, so that Sirius fell back on the bed. Remus climbed on top of him, overwhelming him, his wicked tongue sliding into Sirius’s mouth, curling and caressing promisingly.

Jerking his body upwards anxiously, Sirius whispered between kisses, “God, I want you…”

The ferocity of Remus’s kissing increased, and he reached down to grasp Sirius’s hard cock through his jeans, pressing and squeezing. Sirius took the hint and began to fumbled with the fastenings of his trousers until Remus took over, impatient, and pulled them away.

“Off,” Remus grunted, tugging his t-shirt next. He pulled back so that Sirius could sit up to remove the last of his clothes, while Remus pulled off his own shirt quickly, flinging it aside.

Sirius lay beneath him, propped up on his elbows, expectant and obedient as Remus looked him over. A quiet moment passed. “Bloody hell,” Remus breathed, “You’re so fucking gorgeous.”

Sirius grabbed the back of his neck to pull him back down, rubbing himself against Remus, needily, “Want you...” Sirius moaned again.

As amazing as all the kissing was, he was desperate now to touch and be touched. Remus’s hands smoothed and stroked, but never lingered anywhere Sirius wanted them to. It felt like some cruel game Sirius didn’t know the rules to.

He pressed his palm against Remus’s scarred chest – his body was so different to Gid’s - to anyone elses Sirius had ever known. He was thin, and seemed frail, but he was holding Sirius down with surprising strength, keeping him firmly where he wanted him, while at the same time kissing Sirius’s neck, so, so softly, then his collar bone, then his nipples...

He was moving down his body, Sirius realised, and he wanted to cry with anticipation. Remus’s mouth was so hot and when it finally closed around him he almost lost it completely.

As Remus worked his tongue slowly around and around, lips tightening, Sirius felt as though he was being drawn apart, as if fire was coursing in his veins. He knew already he wouldn’t last long – Gid had always teased him for it, no control – but he didn’t care , it was too good. Remus held a steady hand on his hip, holding him still but also giving Sirius something to brace against. His fingers twisted the bedsheets and he clenched his teeth, groaning.

“Christ!” He exclaimed, his eyes slamming shut as he came like a ton of bricks.

He lay there, panting, for what felt like whole minutes. Remus sat up, smirking a satisfied smirk and lay back down beside him.

“Wow.” He sighed, “Er… sorry. Bit quick off the mark.”

“All part of my evil plan,” Remus replied. He stroked Sirius’s belly with the back of his hand. Sirius shuddered, creasing up, too sensitive for such a soft sensation.

“I can go again…”

“I’m counting on it.”

“Just give me a few minutes…”

“I believe in you.”

Sirius rolled onto his side, blushing at Remus. He’d removed his shirt, but while Sirius hadn’t a stitch on him, Remus had managed to keep his jeans on. Sirius bit his lip and reached for the fly. “While we wait…”

Remus was biting his lip too, lying back to let Sirius take control now, and just the sight of that was enough for Sirius’s arousal to return, hot and wanting deep in his belly. He moved closer, leaning over Remus and dipping his head to kiss him. He slipped a hand inside Remus’s jeans to feel the warm hardness of him. He carefully rested his palm against the length, then began to stroke. Remus hummed with pleasure, back arching slightly.

Pleasing him had never felt so important. He unbuttoned Remus’s jeans, yanking them off as fast as he could.

He tried to mimic the motions Remus had used on him only moments before. It certainly seemed to be working; Remus wasn’t as vocal as Sirius, but his muscles tensed and he pushed back all the same.

As Remus struggled and strained beneath him, he reached down to stroke Sirius’s hair, fondly. Sirius was fully hard again now, and unbelievably turned on. He raised his head, leaning back a bit to look up at Remus.

“Do you want to… we could…” He twisted his mouth, suddenly shy – he never knew how to ask for it. Remus looked at him, the corners of his mouth curling as he stroked Sirius’s cheek,

“You want me to fuck you?”

Sirius bit his lip again, nodding.

Remus grinned.

* * *

“These are really nice sheets.” Remus commented, plucking at the fabric lazily.

“Thanks.” Sirius breathed, dazed, staring up at the ceiling.

“Well,” Remus said, getting up, “Cheers for having me, mate - I needed that.” he threw Sirius a wink before bending to pick up his clothes.

Sirius watched him dress, not sure what to say. He didn't want Remus to go, it felt too soon, too abrupt, too much like… like this is just about shagging.

He scolded himself. It was all about shagging. They'd agreed that. Remus had even reiterated the point more than once. Still. Sirius would have liked longer. “You can hang out here for a bit, if you want?” He asked, hopefully. “Stick on Netflix.”

Remus looked up, meeting Sirius's eye in the full-length mirror opposite the bed. “No, it's fine. I need to practice for a gig, and my neighbours make me stop playing at eleven. It’s almost nine, now.”

“Oh, ok, no worries.” Sirius sat up and pulled the duvet across himself. “Er… fancy doing this again?”

Remus smiled to himself, looking down to put on his socks, “I'm free Tuesday? Same time?”

“Sounds good.”

“Can I use your loo before I go?”

“Of course! Just across the hall.”

Remus laced his shoes, then got up and left the room. Sirius lay back again. He felt so calm and peaceful, tender all over. He'd really like a cuddle, but he knew that was definitely too far. Marlene would be home soon, maybe she would oblige.

As if by magic, the front door opened, and Marlene shouted into the flat, “You home, Dickhead?”

She didn't wait for a response. As usual. She marched right into his room, doc martens echoing on the laminate floor. To be fair, his bedroom door was wide open. “What are you in bed for? Sick or something?”

“Err…” Sirius blinked, pulling the duvet up to his neck. The bathroom door clicked open and Remus emerged, still cool as a cucumber.

“Hi,” he nodded at Marlene, who stood agog. “Nice to see you again, sorry I can't stay. Sirius, see you next week?”

Sirius nodded, unable to speak, and Remus gave him a wink before heading out the door. As soon as he was gone Marlene shrieked and jumped into the bed.

“Tell me everything!”

Chapter Text

*bzz* *bzzz-bzzz* *bzz*

“Hello?”

“Oh my god, you’re alive! Lily, call off the search party!”

“Hiya, Prongs, how’s it going?”

“Don’t you ‘how’s it going’ me, Mr Padfoot! Where the hell have you been?! It’s been months!”

“It’s been a week and a half, babe, calm down…”

“Where have you been ?”

“Working! You know how important our bookings are.”

“Every evening? Every weekend?!”

“Working and studying. And I try to sleep every once in a while.”

“How’s the nail stuff coming?”

“Yeah, good. Moved on to aromatherapy now.”

“You’re going to be a one man spa.”

“That’s the plan.”

“Come over tonight? Pleeeeease? We haven’t had a game night in ages!”

“Sorry, can’t - working.”

“All evening?”

“Yeah, pretty much. It’s a bridal trial, four bridesmaids and the mother of the groom.”

“Christ, rather you than me. Ok, how about friday? We’re going for drinks at the Duck - come on, don’t make me beg…”

“Er… I’ll have to check my diary…”

“That’s a yes! Any time after six, usual table - see you then!”

“Prongs, I said I’ll check . Look, I have to go, I’m at college.”

“See you friday!”

“Bye - love to Lily!”

Sirius sighed as he hung up, entering his classroom. He smiled politely at his tutor and took his seat. He felt guilty about lying to James, of course, even though it wasn’t fully a lie - he really was busy with work, and beauty college, and setting up a new business. He did have free evenings, but those were taken up with-- *bzz**bzz* Sirius whipped out his phone again to check the message.

Looking forward to later ;)

Hot and cold tingles washed over Sirius; a delicious shiver from the roots of his hair all the way down to his toenails.

James wouldn’t be able to understand that the rest of Sirius’s time for the past two weeks had been occupied by a certain lanky bassist with bad hair and the filthiest mouth.

Well. James probably would understand, because he was the most understanding person Sirius knew. He’d get the sex part, anyway. He wouldn’t get the ‘no strings’ part. In Prongs-land, no one could be truly happy unless they were settled down with their soulmate, on track for marriage, kids, and a nice house in the suburbs.

It was one of the reasons Sirius had been feeling a bit low, he realised. He and James had always been on the same level - neck and neck for exam results, similar family backgrounds (if you pretended that the Blacks weren’t evil incarnate), same school - but now as they entered their mid-twenties, they seemed to have less and less in common. James lived with his girlfriend, they both had permanent full time jobs - he would probably propose to Lily at Christmas. Meanwhile, Sirius was still a student, working freelance and living with two very tidy, but quite loud lesbians. He was nowhere near being financially solvent, or buying his own flat, or getting married - and why should he be? Marlene wasn’t. Remus wasn’t.

His casual relationship with Remus suited him right now. They saw each other when they had time, they had great sex, and neither of them demanded anything from the other. Sirius could barely get Remus to accept a cup of tea, most days.

It was good. Ideal. Convenient. Life was so mad at the moment, what with liaising with contractors working on the salon, learning how invoicing worked and building up a client database - it was all very stressful. Remus relieved his stress, and never added to it, as Gideon used to.

Still, he did miss James, so he resolved to tell Remus he’d be busy on Friday night.

Remus came over to his - he always did, Sirius had the distinct impression that Remus was embarrassed about where he lived. It made no odds to Sirius; only added to the convenience. They’d fallen into a satisfying rhythm - Remus was always very punctual, which Sirius liked a lot - he would arrive, and Sirius would get him a drink in the kitchen - usually a glass of water, but occasionally orange squash, if it was sugar-free - then they’d retreat to Sirius’s room (sometimes under the watchful and amused eye of Marlene, if she was in the living room), make some small talk, and then it was down to business; no muss no fuss.

This Wednesday afternoon was no different. Afterwards, they lay on their backs in Sirius’s bed, catching their breath. Remus wasn’t always as quick to leave as he’d been the first time, unless he really did have somewhere to be. Sirius was learning not to push for information - if Remus was comfortable, then he’d stay for a bit of pillow talk, as long as it was nothing too personal. And they didn’t exactly cuddle, but they stayed tangled up for a while, all hot limbs and heavy breaths, and that was fantastic.

“You free Friday?” Sirius asked, throwing an arm over his face,

“Nah, sorry,” Remus replied, “Got plans.”

“Rehearsing?”

“Worse. Socialising .” Remus mock-shuddered.

“You’re a performer, how can you be shy?”

“I don’t see what one has to do with the other.” Remus sat up and stretched. Sirius let his arm fall, to sneak a peek at Remus. He yawned like a cat, it was lovely. “Sorry,” Remus murmured, covering his mouth, “Slept badly last night. God, hope I’m not getting ill, that’s the last bloody thing I need…”

“Have a nap here, if you like.” Sirius said, “Marlene wants to go over colour schemes for the salon, so you can have the room to yourself.”

“Ha, don’t tempt me,” Remus smiled back at him. “Nah, better be off back to my own dingy flat.”

“Stay for dinner? We’ll get takeaway, d’you like Indian?”

“Remember what we said, Sirius…”

“Friends can have dinner! Marls is here, it’s hardly romantic.”

“Well...”

Sirius could see that Remus was weakening. He grinned, “I promise I have absolutely no regard for your feelings. This is purely about animal lust. And poppadoms.”

“Prick.” Remus laughed, “Oh, go on then, I’ve got sweet FA at home anyway.”

Much to Sirius’s amazement, Remus actually did take a nap in his bed. He just curled up right there and went to sleep as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Eyes closed, off his guard, Remus looked younger, and really quite tired. Maybe he was getting ill, he had heavy dark bags under his eyes, and the whorls of his ears were red. He looked pretty cute, though, wrapped up in Sirius’s duvet (a deep maroon one, today). Sirius almost wanted to stay and watch him, but he really did need to look at paint samples.

Marlene and Sirius ended up at a stalemate between cool, calming cream and mint, or a bold and vibrant colour palette.

“The thing is,” Marlene sighed, twisting her long hair up and securing it with her pencil, “Whatever we do I’ll change my mind by next month.”

“Leave it til the last minute, then,” Sirius yawned. “Or we could just paint it whenever we’re bored.”

“What about hot pink?” She said, suddenly, throwing the whole system out of whack, “Or is that too 2007?”

“Only if you pair it with black.” Remus came through, yawning and rubbing the back of his head.

“Oh, hiya doll,” Marlene nodded at him, “Didn’t know you were still here. Is it dinner time?”

“Definitely.” Sirius said, clearing the paint samples off the coffee table. “Curry?”

“Ooh, sounds good,” Marlene smiled, then turned and knocked on the wall behind the settee, shouting, “Oi, Dor?! Curry?!”

“Be there now!” Dorcas yelled back from the next room.

They ordered from the local, and Sirius paid attention to Remus’s selection, because he realised he’d never seen him eat anything before, and had no idea of his likes or dislikes. He ordered chilli paneer and saag aloo.

“Are you a vegetarian, then?” Sirius asked, surprised.

“Yeah,” Remus nodded, “Why?”

“No reason.”

It got a little bit awkward after that - for Sirius, anyway. He wasn’t sure what to talk about with Remus outside of the bedroom. Having Marlene around turned out to be a blessing in disguise. She did the interrogating so Sirius didn’t have to.

So , Remus,” she smirked at him like a cat who’d caught a mouse, “Tell us about yourself.”

“What do you want to know?” Remus asked, unflinching. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, the girls on the couch and Sirius in an armchair. He’d tried to offer Remus a seat, but the stubborn bastard refused.

“Well,” Marlene mused, tearing up naan bread delicately, “Anything at all - Sirius tells us absolutely nothing, which is really not like him…”

Remus threw an amused glance at Sirius, who looked down, embarrassed.

“My name’s Remus Lupin,” Remus said, “I’m from Glasgow, originally, but I’ve lived in England since I was a kid. I work in hospital administration. I play bass. I’m a pisces…”

“Are you in a proper band, or do you exclusively play for hospital-themed charity groups?” Marlene asked, cheekily. Remus chuckled,

“Depends how you define a ‘proper band’. We’re not signed or anything, but yeah, I’m in a band. EP coming out in a month, if it all goes smoothly.”

“Ooh, what are you called? Any gigs coming up?”

“Yeah, Friday after next at The Barfly. We’re called Full Moon, you can find us on facebook and all that social media crap.”

Sirius looked up at this, amazed. This was the most Remus had ever said about himself. About anything.

“Cool!” Marlene nodded, mopping up her tikka masala with the last of the naan, “Maybe me and Dor will come to see you. Are you good?”

“I think so.” Remus shrugged, “Frontman’s a bit of a knob, but that’s rock n roll for you.”

Marlene laughed.

After they’d eaten, Remus got up to leave, promising to message Sirius the next time he was free. Sirius felt a sorry tug in his chest as he realised it might be a whole week, but as Remus was halfway out the door he called goodbye to Marlene and Dorcas, and said, “I’ll send you all an invite to the gig, be great if you can make it!”

It was a very general, very casual invitation, but it was something.

“I approve.” Dorcas said, tidying up all of the takeaway containers, piling them up onto a tray. “He’s a nice bloke.”

“Me too.” Marlene nodded, sagely. “A bit sarky, but I think I like it. Sirius, you may proceed.”

“Thanks for the assessment, ladies,” Sirius rolled his eyes, “But it’s just casual, we’re not looking for a relationship.”

“He’s here every day!”

“No he isn’t…”

“Every day you have free,” Marlene folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. “You’re hardly ever out of bed, these days.”

“A man has needs, Marls.”

“Eurgh, I don’t need details, thanks. Seriously, though, he’s really nice. Why not see where it goes? Why do you need to have rules?”

“They’re not rules exactly, we just decided early on that we’re too busy for boyfriends. Or girlfriends, I suppose, in his case. So it’s just a bit of fun.”

“Hmm.” Dorcas said, loudly from the kitchen, where she was sorting out the recycling.

“Hmm indeed.” Marlene nodded.

* * *

By Friday evening, Sirius was knackered. His hands were cold and chapped from washing hair all week, his back ached from bending over old ladies’ sinks, and he barely had enough clean underwear to make it through the weekend. He wanted a quiet night in, but he’d promised James, and he had no proper excuses.

When they were at uni, and after they all first moved to Dalston, Friday night pub nights had been a no brainer. The whole crowd would go - James and Sirius, Lily, Marlene, Gid and Fab, Benjy… every Friday at six o’clock they’d be in the same booth without fail. They’d order in rounds, and the last man standing paid for taxis. It had been great; some of the best nights of Sirius’s life. But as they’d all started getting jobs and partners and new lives it just seemed harder to coordinate. They were growing up, and Sirius supposed that was natural.

James was so excited to see him.

“He’s alive!” He yelled at the top of his lungs, standing up, arms outstretched. Everyone in the pub turned to look, and Sirius grinned, raising his own arms as he entered the bar,

“JAMES!”

“SIRIUS!”

“BEST BELOVED!”

“LIGHT OF MY LIFE!”

“SONG OF MY HEART!”

“I’VE MISSED YOU!”

“IT’S BEEN AGONY!”

Sirius reached the booth and they embraced over the table, Lily wheezing with laughter between them. “You two are ridiculous.” She said.

“It’s a point of pride.” Sirius replied, bending to kiss her cheek. “Who needs a drink, then?”

“Me.” James drained his glass in two gulps, and Lily and Marlene raised theirs.

“Better hurry,” Lily said, checking her watch, “Expecting some more people soon, so unless you want to get the whole round in…”

Sirius moved to the bar quickly, James following him. “So good to see you, mate,” he said earnestly, “What’s been going on?! Regale me with tales of your life, oh mysterious one.”

“Wake up, wash hair, cut hair, go to college, wash hair, cut hair, drink coffee, wash hair, cut hair…” Sirius shrugged, flagging down the barmaid. “Rinse and repeat. Literally.”

“Poor love,” James tutted, sympathetically. “Still, business is good, eh?”

“Oh yeah, I’m not complaining. How about you and Lils?”

“Not bad, same as ever. Oi, you should come over tonight, after - stay the night. We’ll do a full English for breakfast like the old days.”

“Yeah, go on then,” Sirius smiled, “Sounds really good.”

“Oh, er… Gideon and Fabian are probably going to pop in, later…”

“Great,” Sirius said, “Haven’t had a proper catch up with Fab in ages.”

He genuinely didn’t care that he’d be seeing Gideon. He hadn’t even thought about Gideon for ages. Remus Lupin seemed able to cure all ills. Life was good.

They returned to the table with their drinks and settled into the familiar old banter from school. After a pint, Sirius was feeling much less tired and much more enthusiastic about being out with his mates. James had been coaching a kids rugby team in his spare time, and Lily was looking into becoming a union rep at her hospital. They were considering repainting Sirius’s old bedroom and turning it into an office.

“We’ll keep the bed, obviously,” Lily said fast, “You’re still welcome to stay whenever you like.”

“If we ever see you again!” James said, dramatically, spilling a bit of his drink, “Oi, Marls, can we have Padfoot back for at least one weekend?”

“Eh?” Marlene frowned, “Have him whenever you like, I'm not his keeper.”

“You're his boss,” James said. “You have to admit he's been working a lot lately.”

“She's not my boss …” Sirius protested.

“He's been working as much as I have!” Marlene insisted.

“No free evenings in two weeks!” James said.

Marlene looked at Sirius and raised an eyebrow.  He ducked his head, bashfully, hoping she’d get the message, and said quickly, “I’m here now, aren’t I? Said I’d stay over tonight…”

Luckily, Dorcas arrived at that moment, followed quickly by Benjy and Fabian. “Gid’s in an Uber,” they explained, “He’ll be here in ten.”

Sirius steeled himself. In the commotion, while he waited for his next drink (courtesy of Fabian), he checked his phone. There was a message from Remus, which made his insides flutter. He really needed to get that under control.

Busy tonight? It read. I’ve got this social thing, but I might be able to get away early.

Sirius smiled to himself, and quickly tapped out a response, Don’t use me as an excuse for not having fun! Anyway, I’m busy tonight, sorry.

For a split second he very seriously considered trying to get out of going to James and Lily’s - say he was tired, or something had come up last minute. He really wanted to see Remus. But that was the problem. He was getting too attached already; if he started blowing off his friends for a casual shag, then where was all this going to end up? It was a slippery slope.

“Oi oi, sailor,” a voice purred in his ear, setting his hair on end, “What’s got you grinning like that?”

Sirius squirmed away from Gideon, who slid into the seat beside him. “Hi.” He replied, trying to sound cool, but probably coming off a bit rude. He slid his phone quickly into his pocket. It buzzed again - Remus had replied, but Sirius didn’t want to check it with his ex breathing down his neck.

“Been a while,” Gideon said, “Haven’t seen you since you pulled your irish goodbye at that party.”

“Been busy.” Sirius shrugged. “How’ve you been?”

“Oh, y’know, same old same old.” Gid smiled. He had a great smile - he was incredibly friendly and disarming, it was the most attractive thing about him. That and the freckles on his shoulders. And the tuft of ginger hair just above his--

No. That slope was even more slippery. Christ, Sirius thought as he took a gulp from the pint Fabian handed him , what was going on with him these days?! Sex on the brain. He focussed on his drink - not that it had helped in the past, when it came to Gideon.

“How’s the hairdresser thing going?” Gid asked, still lavishing all his attention on Sirius. Marlene, overhearing this, leaned over Sirius to say,

“We are stylists , Prewett, don’t forget it!”

“Apologies,” Gideon smirked, “Still opening a place, then?”

“By the end of the summer.” Marlene smiled widely. “Want an appointment? You've been rocking the same haircut since year 9.”

“Up yours, McKinnon.” Gideon laughed, good naturedly. Sirius began to relax. They could all be friends, just like school - they were all mature adults, weren't they?

His phone buzzed in his pocket again and he couldn’t resist. Two messages from Remus, now! He turned his body away from Gideon to shield the screen, tapping the notification eagerly.

That's a shame. Remus had said, replying to Sirius's last message. Could have done with a quickie after the week I've had

Sirius hoped he wasn't blushing as he read the next message,

And I'm not using you to get out of having fun! Are you saying we don't have fun? ;)

Sirius bit his lip and typed a response.

Flatterer. Sorry you've had a bad week. Free tomorrow eve?

He hit send, and felt his stomach flip over as the two ticks turned blue at once, and ‘Remus Lupin is typing…’ appeared. The reply arrived in seconds.

Yeah, should be. I'll come to yours at 6?

Perfect

Perfect :) ok, I've been standing outside for 10 minutes now, I'd better go in and ‘have fun’. Wish me luck!

Good luck!

“Oi, stop being anti-social!” James flicked a beer mat at Sirius, “This is our big night out!”

“Sorry, sorry…” Sirius put his phone away and took a gulp of his pint. Marlene was still teasing Gideon, who was leaning back laughing, his eyes scrunched up. Fab and James were chatting with Dorcas about something sporty. Suddenly Lily stood up to wave at the door,

“Over here boys!” She called, beaming.

Sirius turned to look, and saw Kingsley emerging from the crowd, followed by somebody very tall in a denim jacket with terrible hair.

“Look who I found lurking outside,” Kingsley laughed, clapping Remus on the shoulder. Remus raised a hand in greeting, his eyes sweeping around the group. When he saw Sirius he blinked, surprised, but otherwise smiled politely.

“You lot don’t mind, do you?” Lily addressed the gathering, “I invited Kingsley and Remus from work - I thought the more the merrier!

Everyone agreed, and there was a bit of shuffling as they made room around the table for the new arrivals. Sirius didn't know where to look. James had never said anything about inviting Remus - had he known? Was this Lily trying to play matchmaker?

“All right, there?” Marlene whispered under her breath, raising an eyebrow at him. He nodded and drank some more.

Remus and Kingsley were being introduced around by Lily, who pointed to everyone in turn;

“...and that’s Gid and Fab, they went to school with James and Sirius - oh, and Marlene, sorry love… you both met Marlene and Dorcas at the gig, didn’t you? And of course, Sirius.” Her green eyes gleamed as she caught Sirius’s eye across the table. He tried to smile back. Ah. She was matchmaking. He was trapped between fond gratitude and mortified shock. It wasn’t her fault, of course - she had no idea that sirius and Remus had been seeing each other - every other day, almost - for two weeks.

Now that he thought about it, Sirius really wasn’t sure why she didn’t know. Lily and James were his best friends in the world, so why would he hide something like that? It wasn’t a big deal - just casual sex. It was 2019, for god’s sake.

The thing was; James and Lily had been entirely devoted to each other since they were sixteen, practically an old married couple before they’d even started uni. Sirius had never minded that; he loved seeing James so happy, but it did mean that they had a very particular perspective on dating. They didn’t always get how complicated relationships could be.

Besides all this, it wasn’t fair on Remus, who was a private person - Sirius instinctively knew that Remus would hate the idea of his co-worker meddling in his love life. He’d made himself perfectly clear. Sirius shifted in his seat and tried to catch James’s eye. They needed to talk, now .

“I’ll get the next round in,” James said, standing up, as if by magic. “Kingsley, Remus - pint?”

“Yeah cheers mate,” Kingsley nodded, “IPA.”

“Just a coke, please.” Remus said, politely.

“Aw, go on, have a drink!” James cajoled. “Let your hair down!”

“It’s nothing personal,” Remus laughed, “I just don’t drink.”

“Oh no? How come?” James asked, interested. He didn’t mean to be rude, he was just used to blurting out whatever popped into his head.

Remus took no offence, just shrugged lightly. “Never have. I was sick a lot as a child, and I’ve still got pretty poor immunity, I catch stuff like that,” he snapped the boney fingers on his left hand, “So it’s just safer to avoid anything poisonous. Except coke. Couldn’t live without coke.”

“Fair enough, mate,” James patted his shoulder, “Coke it is!”

“I’ll come with you,” Sirius said, leaping up, climbing over Gideon and Kingsley to get out and join James at the bar.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Sirius hissed, “You never told me Lily invited him !”

“I thought you liked Kingsley,” James smirked. Sirius kicked him in the shin,

“You know who I’m talking about! Remus!”

“Ah, yes,” James laughed, kicking him back playfully, “Well she wasn’t a hundred percent sure he’d come - he’s a bit of an introvert, apparently. I think she got Kingsley to bully him into it. Anyway, we were doing you a favour! Now you can get his number!”

“I s’pose…” Sirius glanced back at the table, wistfully. Remus was watching him, with that cool freshwater stare he had that made Sirius shiver. Gideon was watching him too, a look that Sirius well remembered. Christ. Talk about awkward.

“Don’t tell me you’ve gone off him.” James said, nodding and smiling at the barmaid as she set down the drinks.

“No, it’s just… you know, we were keeping it casual, that’s all.”

“Just give it a chance!” James encouraged. He turned to Sirius and followed his eyeline, then grimaced, “Bit of a bugger to have Gid here, eh? Stay well clear of him, right? Here, how about you and I swap seats, then you can be next to --”

“Stop telling me what to do, Prongs!” Sirius snapped.

“I’m not! I’m just trying to help!”

“I don’t need any help!” He pushed away from the bar, huffing, and went to the gent’s. He didn’t need the loo, but he wanted a few minutes alone to collect himself. He was sure he must be bright red in the face.

Fancy having a go at James. They never fought - not even when they were teens, and Sirius knew he’d been a right pain in the neck back then. He washed his face in the sink, then stared at himself in the mirror, the irritating buzz of strip lighting overhead making it hard to focus. His phone went off again, and he pulled it out. It was Remus.

Everything ok? Shall I go?

No! Sorry, I’m being a drama queen.

Wait there.

Sirius did. Luckily there was no one at the urinals, or in any of the stalls, for now. In two seconds, Remus appeared through the swing doors, an amused half-smile on his face.

“So.” He said.

“Yeah.” Sirius smiled back, feeling less annoyed at once. “This is you socialising, eh?”

“I can’t believe I didn’t work it out, to be honest,” remus laughed, leaning casually against the hand dryer, arms folded, “When Kingsley mentioned Lily I thought it would be all work people.”

“Yeah, fair enough.”

“If this is awkward, I really don’t mind leaving…”

“I told you not to use me as an excuse!

“Touche,” Remus nodded, chuckling. He gave Sirius an appraising look. “So I’m guessing James and Lily don’t know that we…” he gestured vaguely between them with his hand.

“Er. Well they knew about the first time - I asked Lily for your number, remember? But I’ve not seen them much since, and er… look, the thing with Lily and James is that they want everyone paired up. If they knew we were seeing each other I’d never hear the end of it until we were engaged.”

Remus’s eyebrows shot up, alarmed, and Sirius cringed. What had he said that for?! “I just mean… er… not that we… um. Look…”

Remus shook his head, smirking again, “Calm down, I know what you meant. So you want to keep it quiet, then? I’m fine with that. You know how much I love being the mysterious stranger.”

“Ha,” Sirius said.

“So here’s what we do,” Remus said, straightening up, business like. “We’ll go back out there and pretend we’ve exchanged numbers. Then that’s Lily’s job done, right? Then, whenever you feel ready, you can just tell them the truth - that we’ve decided we’re better off as friends, because neither of us is looking for a relationship. Up to you if you want to tell them about the shagging, too.”

Sirius gaped. It would still invite questions, but he supposed it was better to be honest.

“In the meantime,” Remus raised an eyebrow suggestively, “We can put on a convincing show for them. I’m not averse to a bit of flirting. If it won’t interfere with whatever’s going on between you and that ginger bloke?”

“Ugh,” Sirius pulled a face, “Ignore him. Gid’s just a mistake I keep making.”

“Well, we’ve all got those,” Remus laughed breezily. “Come on, let’s face the music.” He pushed the door open and jerked his head. Sirius followed him.

Chapter Text

“Well, I usually cut my own hair,” Remus purred, squeezing Sirius's knee, leaning in, “But I could be persuaded.”

Sirius blinked, trying not to laugh. Remus was far too good at this fake flirting charade. He could practically feel Lily and James’s eyes on them, listening to every exaggerated word.

Remus leaned in closer, and whispered very low, just for Sirius, “No way are you ever touching my hair, so don't get any ideas.”

Sirius burst out laughing. Lily and James exchanged excited grins.

The rest of the evening went a lot smoother after their tactical discussion in the gent’s. Sirius did sit next to Remus, but only as an act of contrition towards James, who he felt bad about snapping at. All that had been swiftly forgotten, though, and Sirius had finally relaxed enough to have a good time. He stopped drinking, because Remus wasn’t, but after an hour or two of everyone else steadily growing louder and siller, he couldn’t help picking up a bit of a contact-high.

Despite all of Remus’s reservations about socialising, Sirius was pleased to see that he slotted seamlessly into their group. Perhaps because he already knew Kingsley and Lily - or perhaps because he was just enjoying the game of very theatrically seducing Sirius all over again. He wasn’t shy at all, his razor-sharp wit kept everyone laughing, and in fact Sirius found himself getting a little jealous. After having Remus all to himself for so many weeks, it felt weird to see James and Lily - and even the Prewetts - enjoying his company too.

“Bloody starving!” Kingsley said around ten-thirty. “Pork scratchings, anyone?”

“Fancy some chips.” Dorcas said, and Marlene nodded enthusiastically.

“Kitchen’s closed,” Fab informed them, mournfully. “Another pint then a kebab?”

“Yeah, come back to ours!” Lily slurred, “We’ll get food on the way. Go on, we’ve still got a shit-tonne of beer in the fridge from the party.”

“Nice!” Gid grinned, never one to pass up a free drink.

“Yeah, go on,” Marlene nodded, “I need to get up early tomorrow though, so we won’t stay late.”

“Kingsley? Remus?” Lily turned to them eagerly.

Kingsley agreed - he wasn’t on call tonight. Remus looked at Sirius and raised an eyebrow, questioning.

“Er,” Sirius said, “I was planning to stay at theirs anyway, so…”

“Great. I’m in.” Remus grinned. Lily cheered heartily, and Sirius tried not to look too thrilled. He knew Remus was still just playing along, but he couldn’t help enjoying it a little bit too.

They stayed for another drink before leaving. James, Gid and Fab wanted to do shots, and Sirius went in with them. On top of the beers he’d had earlier it gave him a nice buzz, and the courage to see the rest of the night through.

“Seems like it’s going pretty well, eh?” James nudged him as they gathered at the bar. “He likes you!”

“You’re suddenly very confident in your understanding of queer courtship rituals.” Sirius returned dryly.

“After spending eight years at school with you, Gid and Marls I should bloody well think so.” James chortled.

“Talking about me?” Gideon appeared between them, eyeing Sirius keenly.

“Not really.” Sirius said, tossing his hair and handing his card to the barmaid to pay for the shots.

“We were talking about Remus,” James said, oblivious as always to the tension, “Reckon he fancies Sirius.”

“Who?” Gideon said, his smile turning sour, “That scruffy scottish bloke? Looks straight.”

“He’s not.” Sirius snapped.

“Ooh, I say,” Gideon teased, “Have another drink, darling, you’re getting moody. I’m only calling it as I see it; he is scruffy. And scottish.”

“He’s a funny fucker, though,” James put in, downing a shot of Jager. “And he plays a mean guitar.”

“Bass.” Sirius said, necking his own shot.

“I stand corrected,” James laughed. “So you are getting to know each other…”

“I’m bored.” Gideon said, abruptly. “Come on, Potter, take me home - I’m gagging for a chicken donner.”

James laughed, drunk, and went to gather up everyone else. Sirius slipped past Gideon quickly, back to Remus, who was tapping away on his phone, frowning.

“Everything ok?” Sirius said, quietly - though the others were being too rowdy to notice. Remus looked up startled, and smoothed his brow, quickly putting his phone away.

“Yeah! Sorry, just getting hassle from our frontman. Told him to piss off.”

“Hassle about what?”

“Oh, boring stuff. Are we heading off?”

The group walked back to Lily and James’s flat - which was only two streets away - very slowly, mostly because Marlene and Dorcas kept slowing everyone down by performing their usual song and dance routines. They stopped at the turkish kebab place on the corner, and Remus didn’t order anything, but Sirius bought a portion of chips and insisted they would share it.

At the apartment block they all piled into the lift like sardines, and Sirius ended up pressed against the cold chrome wall by Remus, who smiled at him apologetically. It was a strong reminder of the night they’d met, when Remus had blindsided him with that amazing snog, and now, with all of his friends crammed in beside them Sirius had to will his body not to respond the way it wanted to.

“Drinks, drinks, drinks!” Marlene and Fabian chanted as they tumbled into the flat, finally, making a beeline for the fridge.

“Oooh, I’m dying for a wee!” Dorcas hurried past to get to the bathroom, while Gideon, Benjy and James all tramped into the living room with their food.

“Call of Duty?” James shouted to the general flat.

“No!” Lily, Marlene and Dorcas shouted back.

“Stick some music on!”

“Not too loud!”

“Oi, get YouTube up on the telly, I wanna show you something--”

“Not after the last thing you showed me!”

“I swear this one’s PG!”

“Lil? Can you bring in the ketchup?”

“On it!”

“Want a drink?” Sirius turned to Remus, bashfully. His friends were a nightmare when they got drunk, and being almost sober himself Sirius felt it more than usual.

“Whatever there is,” Remus shrugged, easy going. “Water’s fine.”

“Bloody martyr. They’ll have coke, but probably just diet.”

“That’ll do me.” Remus grinned. He watched Sirius go to the fridge and withdraw two cans. “Don’t let me stop you drinking.”

“It’s fine.” Sirius cracked one open and handed it to Remus. Remus accepted it, sipped, then nodded at the living room.

“In we go, then.”

“Right,” Sirius grabbed the chips from the counter.

There was nowhere to sit, so they settled down on the floor, styrofoam box of limp, pasty kebab shop chips between them. Benjy was forcing everyone to watch a ‘bad lip-reading’ video that Sirius had seen before.

“Put some tunes on,” Dorcas whinged, guzzling her beer, legs in Marlene’s lap. They were taking up the whole couch.

“We’ve been here before,” Lily laughed, “No one can ever agree.”

“Oi, Remus, help us out,” Kingsley spoke up, “I swear, this kid knows more about obscure music genres than anyone I ever met - he’s a walking encyclopedia.”

“God,” Gideon drawled from an armchair, “I hate music snobs. What’s wrong with pop, eh?”

“Nothing at all,” Remus replied, looking Gideon directly in the eye and smiling pleasantly. “I love pop. I just like a lot of other stuff too,”

“Like that lovely song you played at the gig,” Marlene said - “Where you there, Gid? He was amazing, like a one-man band.”

“Yeah, how many instruments do you play, Remus?” James leaned in, interested.

“Um… well mostly bass. But also guitar, and a bit of drums. And I did cello for a while as a kid, and piano, but I wasn’t great. Er… castanets?! Harmonica…”

“Harmonica!” Gideon snorted, “Anyone can do that, don’t you just blow into them?”

“You’d think so,” Remus replied, sweetly, “But it’s actually all in the tongue.” He licked his lips lasciviously, and everybody burst out laughing - except Gid.

“Ignore him!” Fabian cackled at Remus, “Gid’s just cocky after a few pints, aren’t you bruv?”

They ended up sticking on some random playlist and mostly chatting over it. Kingsley and Remus started talking music, which lost Sirius a bit, but James and Lily were keen to catch up with him and hear all about how the business was going.

All the while, Remus’s phone kept buzzing away in his pocket - he seemed to get a message almost every three minutes. When he finally checked it, his face darkened and something seemed to change in him. He retreated back, biting his lip, rubbing his temple,

“You ok?” Sirius asked, concerned.

“Yeah, um…” Remus kept rubbing his forehead, still staring at the screen, scrolling through his messages, “Actually, I’m getting a bit of a headache… I’m going to take a tablet, I just need some water.” He stood up, abruptly and left the room.

Sirius chewed on a cold chip, wondering if he ought to do something. Then he caught Gideon watching him across the room, and he got up too.

In the kitchen, Remus was downing an entire pint glass of water in one go - his party trick, apparently. He saw Sirius and smiled weakly, stuffing a blister pack of pills into his back pocket.

“Sorry.” He said. “Too much excitement.”

“Is it your frontman sending you all those messages?” Sirius asked.

“Er… yeah, he can be a bit demanding. Big ego, you know.”

“Do you need to go? I can walk you home?”

“No, I’ll be fine in a minute, just needed a bit of quiet. Clear my head.”

“Ok.” Sirius felt a bit awkward. This was potentially the most personal conversation they had ever had. “Want to see my room?”

“Yeah.” Remus grinned, the mischief returning to his face.

Sirius’s room at Lily and James’s house was an odd mix of personalities. On the one hand it still contained lots of his school stuff - his old tie hanging on the doorknob, old textbooks and notebooks, photos of their class - on the other, there were a few signs of his life after school; a clothes rail with some of his more outrageous outfits from shortly after he came out, including - embarrassingly - a pink feather boa and a shocking amount of leopard print. All of his painting stuff from his aborted art degree, and some posters he’d thought were highly sophisticated at the time.

Plus Lily’s exercise bike and James’s ancient desktop PC, because after all, it was no longer really Sirius's room.

“Ah ha,” Remus said, peering at the nearest class picture blu-tac’d to the wall, “You went to a boys school - this explains so much…”

“Does it?”

“‘Fraid so, posh boy.” Remus poked his tongue out, still looking at the photos, “Hang on, I thought you went to school with Marlene?”

“I did.”

“Oh, I see!” Remus’s eyes widened, “Wow, I had no idea… ah, look at you in this one! So small!” He pointed to a photo from year seven. He and James grinning at the camera, arms around each other, all shaggy black hair and big eyes.

Sirius sat on the bed and watched Remus rifle through his memories. “...and Gideon. Or is this Fabian?” He pointed to another.

“Gid.”

That was a photo from uni, when they’d all gone on a cheap boys holiday to Magaluf. He and Gideon in the pool, holding plastic looking cocktails and beaming. Probably pissed.

“How long were you two together?”

“Hard to say,” Sirius sighed. “Messy first relationship stuff. Never really started or ended.”

“Ah, yes. Familiar with that.” Remus turned around finally and went to sit on the bed next to him. “I like your rooms.”

“This one’s a bit of a jumble.”

“It’s very you.”

“Oh, cheers very much. How’s your head?”

“Much better.”

“Want to go back to the others?”

Remus raised an eyebrow, “No, not really.”

Sirius bit his lip. “Are you still pretending?”

“No,” Remus huffed a laugh, “I'm not pretending.”

“Thank god for that,” Sirius breathed, leaning in, finally. He felt like they’d been holding back for hours.

It was worth not drinking, and fake flirting all night, and even Gideon being a tosser, to have Remus Lupin crawling on top of him, pulling his shirt off and biting his neck. What can I do to keep you , Sirius found himself thinking as he closed his eyes, don’t you want this forever too?

“Oi, Black, have you still got that trick-lighter we had at schoo-- oops, sorry…”

Sirius’s eyes snapped open and he turned his head to see Gideon smirking in the doorway.

“Fuck’s sake, Gid!” Sirius growled, flinging his shirt at the door.

“What? Didn’t know you were busy, did I?”

“Now you do.” Remus said, his voice surprisingly cold as he straddled Sirius and glared at Gideon. “So if you don’t mind…”

Something started vibrating against Sirius’s thigh which made him yelp. “Bugger…” Remus huffed, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He looked at the screen, and his face darkened again. “Fuck.” he muttered, as the phone kept buzzing, “I’m going to have to take this. Be right back.”

He hopped off Sirius and pushed past Gideon, out into the hallway. Sirius could hear him hissing angrily to the caller; “Look, I told you I’m busy, I can’t come running every time you…”

Sirius sat up. Gideon was still smirking at him.

“Slag.” He said.

“Up yours.” Sirius replied. “Trick lighter from school? Could you be a bit more obvious?”

“What’s the attraction?” Gideon folded his arms, leaning in the doorway. “Is it like a Lady Chatterley thing, is he your Mellors? Or does he just have a massive--”

“Fuck off , Gideon.” Sirius groaned. “I was having a lovely time until you showed up. Why does that always happen, eh?”

“We’ve had some lovely times. Thought we were still mates?”

Sirius got up to pick up his shirt from where he’d thrown it. He pulled it back on. “We are mates. But mates knock before entering.”

“Force of habit,” Gideon chuckled. “Look, I’m sorry, ok? I knew I’d been a bit of a dick and I wanted to apologise to him. Rrrreeemus.” He pronounced it in a silly comedy scottish accent, rolling the ‘r’ and elongating the ‘e’. Sirius tutted.

“Well, that’s big of you.”

“I know. So? Does he have a massive dick?”

“Enormous.” Remus said, appearing behind Gideon, “Just huge. It’s actually sort of difficult to walk sometimes.”

Sirius sniggered as Remus squeezed his way back into the room while Gideon gaped at him, crimson. If anything ever gave Sirius Black cause to fall madly in love with Remus Lupin - there it was.

“Sirius,” Remus said, looking him in the eye, as if Gideon wasn’t even there. “Can I ask a favour?” Behind the deadpan sarcasm, Sirius saw that he looked a little shaken, and his cheeks were pinker than usual.

“Of course, anything,” Sirius said at once, “What’s up?”

“I know it’s really cheeky, but do you think Lily and James would mind if I crashed here? Or if I stayed at your flat tonight? Just… something’s come up and I can’t go home right now.”

“Blimey, what happened?!”

“I’d rather not say.” Remus’s eyes flickered to Gideon subtly. “I can stay with a mate if it’s not convenient…”

“No! Don’t be stupid, of course you can stay, plenty of room…”

Remus smiled at him, looking relieved. “Thanks. I really owe you one.” His smile turned wicked, “In fact, I think I was about to give you one, wasn't I?” he turned to Gideon. “You can go, now.” And closed the door right in his face.

* * *

They stayed locked away all night, and never returned to the party. It was brilliant. Lily had whacked the heating up because she was always too cold, and the room felt almost tropical by the time they'd exhausted each other. When Sirius went to crack the window it was steamed up, which he found so incredibly sexy that he flung it open and went right back for more.

He ran out to the kitchen for water shortly after three in the morning and bumped into James making tea for Lily.

“You should have seen Kingsley's face when he realised where you'd gone!” He laughed, trying to keep to a whisper.

“I didn’t mean it to happen!” Sirius whispered back, unable to stop grinning, “One thing just led to another…”

“Mm, yes, Marlene did mention something…” James raised an eyebrow, his eyes twinkling, “One thing seems to be leading to another pretty regularly, from what she says…”

“Ah,” Sirius faltered, scratching his head, “I meant to tell you…”

“What's with the secrecy, Padfoot?” James cocked his head. Typical - not annoyed, just concerned .

“I dunno.” Sirius sighed, deciding to be honest. “It’s just… It’s just him . There's something about him, something… something I feel like I need to protect? I know how weird that sounds.”

James said nothing, only waited for him to elaborate. James was so safe, Sirius felt a swell of brotherly love for him.

“He wants to keep things simple and casual, and we do - but like… It's so good.”

“I know, I heard.” James winked. Sirius hit him with the dishcloth.

“Not just that. I mean, yeah, that, but also… just everything else. Just sitting with him. Just talking about nothing.”

“Sounds nice.”

“Mm. But he's hung up on keeping it strictly no strings. Even though I know he feels it too. I just know.”

“Oh Padfoot.” James put his hand on Sirius's shoulder. “Be careful, eh?”

“I will… look, I have to get back.”

“Bloody hell, you're insatiable!”

Sirius flicked water at him. “Go back to your girlfriend, Prongs.”

“Ok. Night. Love you!”

“You too.”

He half expected Remus to be asleep when he came back, but he wasn't. He was lying on the bed, naked, the cool night air from the window pouring over him, moonlight glowing on the fine silver scars that striped his torso. He turned and smiled at Sirius, reaching for the water.

“You've killed me.” He said, his voice slightly hoarse, “I’m going to be knackered for the rest of my life.”

“Somehow I find that hard to believe.” Sirius replied, handing him the glass. They both gulped down cold water in silence, then Sirius got back into bed.

“Were you talking to someone out there?”

“James.”

“Right. You've been friends forever, haven't you?”

“Since we were eleven. I don't know who I'd be if it wasn't for James, he's the most amazing person I know. Except for his folks too, maybe. They let me live with them after my parents kicked me out.”

“They kicked out out?!” Remus looked at him sharply, “Christ, I’m sorry, I didn't know that.”

This was a new sensation for Sirius. Everyone he knew already knew about his parents - most of them had been around when it all happened. There was something special about it, telling Remus. He could tell it the way he wanted to; without any of the embarrassment or shame attached.

“Yeah, when I was sixteen. Over the gay thing, obviously. But other stuff too - I was never exactly what they'd expected. And expectations were pretty high in my family.”

“I'm sorry. That’s awful.”

“It was a while ago, now. I'm doing ok without them. I've got the Potters.”

“I never had a friend like that.” Remus said, quite out of the blue. Sirius’s heartbeat picked up - was this it? Was Remus about to actually open up?! He lay very still, barely daring to breathe incase it broke whatever spell had been cast.

“I didn't have many friends, really, I didn't go to school. I was in hospital a lot.”

“You mentioned something about that earlier…”

“Yeah, it's probably why I'm so weird. I was only ever around adults most of the time, so I s'pose I just didn't relate well to kids my own age. That's why I got so into music.”

“A way to relate.” Sirius said softly.

“Yeah,” Remus smiled at him.

“Do you mind me asking…?”

“What was wrong? Nah. It was a brain tumour in the end. But they weren't sure for a long time - they just knew I was sick. I used to throw up if I bent my neck forward, because the tumour was right at the base of my skull, right? Just here.”

Remus slipped his hand gently under Sirius's head, long fingers fanning through his hair. He tapped the nape of his neck, just where his hairline started.

“And if I bent my neck forward, it pressed on it. And I'd be sick, and faint or get really dizzy.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Yeah, but the worst part was that everyone assumed it was a gastric thing. So there were loads if pointless procedures. And voila,” he gestured wryly at his scarred torso, “They made me the Adonis I am today.”

Sirius reached out instinctively, laying his hand on Remus's body, “I think you're gorgeous.”

“Aw, cheers mate.” Remus poked his tongue out. “I wasn't fishing. Anyway, the tumour came out in the end, and I got one more massive ugly scar and the least rock n roll lifestyle ever. My immunity is shit, so no booze, no drugs. Sex is fine, thank god, or I might as well just top myself.”

“Don't say that.”

“You're really sweet, Sirius.” Remus laughed.

“You sound surprised!”

“I don't know why you're always so nice to me, that's all.”

“What do you mean?” Sirius frowned, “I really like you - I mean… I enjoy the time we spend together.”

“It has been fun.” Remus agreed. “But… look, you ought to know. It’s not always fun. I've been doing really well lately, haven't got ill in a while, or had any migraines or anything. But I will get ill. I always do, and it's pretty miserable. No one would want to put up with it, least of all you with your business and your college… So we'll just enjoy it while it lasts, eh?”

“Remus…”

“I'm really tired, mate. Mind if we call it a night?”

“Yeah, of course. Goodnight,”

“Night.” Remus kissed his cheek sleepily and rolled over, pulling the duvet up over himself.

Sirius lay awake for some time afterwards, thinking and staring at the pale moon through the open window.

Chapter Text

Remus's alarm woke them both far too early the next morning.

“Uuurgh,” Sirius groaned, hiding under the duvet.

“Sorry!” Remus fumbled on the bedside table to turn it off. “Shit, I'd better go.”

“It's Saturday!”

“Rehearsal. It’s important.”

“Oh yeah, you've got that gig coming up…” Sirius crawled from out of the covers, squinting in the daylight, “Breakfast?”

“I don't have long, I need to go back to mine and get all my band stuff, take a shower, get changed…” Remus was already out of bed, pulling on his jeans and stooping to find his socks.

“Shower here,” Sirius suggested. “I can make you something to eat on your way.”

“I dunno.” Remus straightened up, “I'm acutely aware that neither of us actually lives here…”

“Lily and James won't mind, I swear! Look, I'll go and ask, ok?”

“Ok… hey, Sirius?”

“Yeah?” Sirius was already halfway out of bed, grabbing a pair of jogging bottoms off the clothes dryer by the desk. Probably James's.

“Sorry about last night, I was really tired, I think I probably rambled a bit.”

“No, you didn't.” Sirius paused. “It was nice, hearing you talk.”

Remus gave him a quizzical look, then shook his head, grinning, “You’re a funny one, Sirius Black.”

Sirius didn’t know how to answer that, so he ducked out of the room bashfully. He still couldn't quite tell if Remus was making fun of him, sometimes, or just being his odd self.

Lily was in the kitchen, hair up in a high ponytail, pouring out a bowl of muesli. “Good morning, Casanova,” she poked her tongue out at him. “Didn’t expect to see you this early.”

“Remus’s alarm,” Sirius explained, “He has a rehearsal - ok if he hops in the shower?”

“I think he’d better,” Lily laughed. “If the racket going on last night was anything to go by then you could both use a thorough hosing down.”

“You’re filthier than Marlene sometimes, you know that Evans?”

“Flatterer. Muesli?”

“Dying for a coffee. Let me just tell him it’s safe to come out…”

Remus came over a bit shy when he saw Lily in the kitchen, apologising profusely for any disturbance and thanking her at least ten times for her hospitality before locking himself in the bathroom. She was smiling by the end of it and nudged Sirius with her toe,

“Be gentle with him, eh? He’s a sensitive soul.”

“And I’m not?” Sirius laughed, making coffee. “Where’s Prongs, anyway, got him tied to the bed?”

“Rugby,” Lily answered. “I’m going to pick him up around nine - do you two want a lift anywhere?”

“Remus might appreciate being dropped home - he’s worried he’ll be late for his practice.”

“I can take him there, if it’s not too far.” Lily smiled. “Then you can come with me to get James - he misses you, you know.”

“I miss him too.” Sirius poured out a cup of black coffee. “I take it he told you that Remus and I have been…”

“At it like rabbits? No, Marlene and Dorcas told us all last night. Christ, they were pissed, I thought we’d never get them off the couch.”

“Oh god, what did they say?!”

“Nothing too exciting, calm down Black. Gideon left pretty quickly, though.” Her eyes twinkled mischievously, “Hopefully he’s finally got the message, eh?”

“I thought you liked Gid.”

“I do. But he was a dick to you, and I like you more.”

“Aww, Evans, will you go out with me?”

“Finally, after all these years,” Lily laughed, kissing his cheek. “Ok, let me get changed and I’ll fire up Mavis.”

(‘Mavis’ was the name of Lily’s trusty and ancient Skoda she’d inherited from her grandmother. James and Sirius had been trying to get her to upgrade since uni, but Lily was adamant that the rust-bucket was perfectly serviceable).

Sirius returned to the bedroom to find something decent to wear and to wait for Remus. He fingered through some of his old clothes, but it was all a bit cringey; he’d never wear this stuff now. James’s shirts were all massive, so in the end he just put on his t-shirt from the night before. As he dressed, he was aware of Remus’s phone buzzing sporadically on the pillow.

It was rude to read other people’s messages. Nosey and invasive. But the phone was just sitting there, and Sirius couldn’t help seeing the screen as it flashed, each buzz prompting a new bubble of text. The first one took him by surprise:

WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU YOU PIECE OF SHIT???!!!

The next few were even more furious:

THIS IS THE LAST TIME YOU FUCK WITH MY HEAD LIKE THIS YOU----

YOU’RE OUT OF THE BAND!

FINE, GO FUCK YOURSELF YOU FILTHY LITTLE PRICK

WHY AREN’T YOU HOME???!!

Sirius leaned over the pillow, staring in horror as the stream of vitriolic messages popped up one after another. Whoever was on the other end - ‘FG’ was all the ID said - was clearly losing their shit. No wonder Remus got an instant headache whenever he checked his phone. It was enough to make Sirius feel faintly sick.

“Oi.” Remus entered the room, wet hair, pink skin, damp shirt. “Oh,” he said, seeing what Sirius was looking at. “Still going, is he?”

“I didn’t mean to read it!” Sirius blabbered, “It just kept buzzing, so…”

“It’s fine.” Remus said, snatching his phone up and scrolling through the messages before shoving it deep into his pocket. “Really I’m just embarrassed for him. He’s being a dick.”

“That’s one word for it…” Sirius murmured, still feeling shaky. How dare anyone speak to Remus like that! “That’s your lead singer?”

“Yup. Like I said - big ego.”

“ Is he always like this? Is this why you didn’t want to go home last night?”

“He just lets his temper get away with him, that’s all. He has a lot going on, it’s not all his fault,” Remus sighed. He reached in his pockets again and withdrew his packet of pills. He popped two in his mouth and swallowed them dry without wincing. “It’s fine - not as bad as it sounds, I’ve known him forever.”

Sirius wasn’t convinced, but he didn’t know Remus well enough yet to argue about it. Remus seemed to sense his apprehension and smiled widely,

“Honestly, it’s fine ! He’ll get over it. I really ought to go, though, I’m so late…”

“Lily said she’d drive you, if you want? We’re going to get James from the Rugby Club anyway.”

“Oh cheers! I’ll love you both forever.”

It was a flippant remark, and typically dry, but Sirius couldn’t help flushing with pleasure. As they prepared to leave, Remus glanced at the clothes rack in the corner, reached out and stroked a few of the garments, “What do I have to do to see you in a pvc mini-skirt?”

“How do you know it's mine?!” Sirius felt his cheeks go hot.

Remus raised a wry eyebrow. “Come on. It's hardly Lily's. Screams Sirius Black, to me. So?”

“I was a bit wild at uni,” Sirius laughed, “You'd have to buy me a very expensive dinner to get me back in that.”

“Ah well, lucky for you I'm skint.”

The three of them headed down the the car park in the lift, Lily standing between Remus and Sirius, grinning smugly. When they got to the car Remus climbed into the front passenger seat, and Sirius realised that if he’d wanted a proper goodbye snog then he’d missed his chance back in the bedroom.

“Right, Lupin m’love,” Lily sat, flicking on the radio and adjusting her wing-mirror, “I am your chauffeur. Where to first?”

“Oh, just drop me home and I’ll get the tube…”

“Nonsense! Not having you lugging your instruments all over London after the night you’ve had…”

“Evans!” Sirius groaned, hot with embarrassment. She winked at him in the rear-view. Fortunately, Remus seemed unfazed and began to direct Lily to his flat. It was only a five-or-so minute drive, and once there Remus bolted out the door and ran up to his tiny room to grab everything he needed.

“He’s so quiet at work,” Lily commented as she and Sirius waited, “Never comes to any of our evenings out or anything.”

“Well, he doesn’t drink. And he’s busy with his band.”

“He seriously needs a haircut.”

“I know. Don’t say anything, though.” Sirius had the idea that Remus didn’t like haircuts because of his scar. He’d pointed it out last night, but by touching the back of Sirius’s neck, rather than showing it on himself.

Remus was such a strange mix of personalities - he loved getting up on stage and playing music - even singing - but he cringed at the idea of sitting in a quiet pub with a group of people. He was unflinchingly casual about his sexuality and his conquests, and yet he kept other personal relationships at arms length. He was incredibly stubborn when it came to Sirius, but apparently allowed this ‘FG’ person treat him like an emotional punching bag.

“What’s up, chicken?” Lily looked over her shoulder at him.

“Oh, nothing. Just tired.” Sirius smiled brightly.

“Ahh, bless. We’ll stop at a Starbucks on the way.”

Remus came clattering out of the door at that moment, bass under one arm, enormous rucksack on his shoulder, amp in hand, and a pile of multicoloured cables and cords hanging off him like jungle vines. Sirius scrambled out of the car to offer him a hand and together they wrangled everything into the back seat. Remus ended up in the back seat too, squashed up against Sirius because there wasn’t much room. That was just fine.

“Next stop?” Lily called out,

“Bow Road, please!”

And away they went, Mavis the Skoda hiccupping and choking the entire journey. In Bow, Remus directed Lily down a series of winding streets to the back of an industrial estate beneath the railway arches. Vans and lorries unloaded exotic food from garages, and some teenagers hung about on bikes smoking and trying to look menacing.

“This is where you rehearse?” Sirius asked, uncertainly.

“Four times a week,” Remus grinned as they pulled up. “It’s cheap!” As he got out of the car, he squeezed Sirius’s hand, “I’ll text you.” He winked, before hoisting everything back onto his back and ambling towards an anonymous looking garage door.

Sirius wanted to watch him go in, see if anyone came out to meet him, but Lily was already pulling away, “Right then, Black,” she sang out, “Let’s get some coffee in you…”

* * *

Sirius knew that awaiting a text from Remus would be too much temptation, so he very deliberately turned off his phone for the rest of the morning. He also wanted to give James the attention he deserved - it wasn’t like them to spend so much time apart. Even when James and Lily had started properly going out, back in sixth form, Sirius had been invited on nearly every date.

“You need a haircut.” Sirius affectionately ruffled Potter’s mess of black hair, sticking up at all angles.

“I know,” James grinned, “I’m saving it up.”

“Eh?”

“Well I heard this new hipster place is opening at the end of the summer and I’m planning to be their first customer.”

“Shucks.” Sirius laughed, though he was secretly very pleased.

They went for brunch at one of their old hangouts, and James paid thank god. Sirius couldn’t remember the last time he’d spent money on such a luxury. Things were very tight while they sorted out the salon. He felt a pang of guilt when he remembered that Remus had a lot less than he did. That awful tiny bedsit.

“So.” James said, after his third glass of prosecco, “Remus Lupin. Soulmate material?”

“You know I don’t believe in all that--”

“He has potential.” Lily cut in, “They’re opposites. Opposites attract, don’t they darling,” she gave James a wink.

“I dunno about opposites, but he’s pretty different, yeah. I mean. I’ve never met anyone like him before.”

“Ahhh!” James cooed, fluttering his eyelashes and clasping his hands. Lily kicked him,

“Shut it, you. So what’s the problem, Sirius?”

“No problem,” Sirius shook his head, toying with his omelette.

“Yeah there is,” James said, rubbing his shin where Lily had kicked him, “He’s playing hard to get.”

“Didn’t seem too hard to get last night…”

“What Prongs means is that Remus isn’t looking for a relationship. And nor am I. Nor was I…”

“Hmm.” Lily regarded him, her green eyes sharply focussed. She was thinking, which was always a concern to Sirius.

“What?” He asked, self-conscious.

“You need to tell him, babe.”

“Tell him what?”

“That’s you’re falling for him.”

“I’m not, I just like him!”

“Trust me.” Lily reached over and touched his hand, “You’re falling. Hard.”

“If I say anything it’ll scare him off.”

“That’s the risk,” she shrugged, “But what else are you going to do? Keep mooning over him like this?”

“No. Maybe.”

“Sometimes patience pays off,” James put in.

That was a jab at Lily - James had been obsessed with her since he was thirteen. She went to the local girl’s secondary, and the two schools often shared social evenings to encourage the students to mix. James had seen Lily across the dining hall at a crowded school disco, and had been smitten ever since. Lily had taken a bit longer to catch up.

This wasn’t exactly the same situation. For one thing, at least Sirius was secure in the knowledge that Remus actually did fancy him back. Or else he was a bloody good actor. So that wasn’t their problem. Suddenly Sirius had a terrible thought. Perhaps Remus just fancied him? Perhaps the ‘liking’ part was only on Sirius’s side?! Remus had said Sirius was ‘sweet’, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything - maybe Remus didn’t like sweet things?!

“Fuck.” Sirius dropped his head into his hands, groaning.

Lily laughed and patted his shoulder, “There, there. Just talk to him!”

So that’s what he resolved to do. He would talk to Remus next time he saw him. He would say ‘Oi, Remus, I like you, let’s go out.’ and that would be it. Perfect. Easy. Simple.

Except, of course, Remus didn’t message him all day. Sirius eagerly switched his phone back on after brunch as they drove back to the flat, but there was nothing except a message from Marlene asking if he was free for a cut and dry the following Wednesday. Remus was probably still rehearsing, Sirius decided.

He spent the rest of the morning gaming with James, then went home in the early afternoon to finally shower and change. No messages, not one. I'll text you Remus had said, Sirius was sure of it. Did that mean Sirius ought to wait for Remus to get in touch with him? Or was Sirius free to message him first?

He groaned to himself as he stared at his screen. Lily was right; he had to do something about this. He opened the chat. Their last messages had been in the pub. Sirius smiled as he remember what a pleasant surprise that had been - the joy he felt every time he saw Remus, like a puzzle piece being slotted into place. He liked that feeling a lot.

Hey! He typed, Can't wait to see you again, how's tomorrow?

He hit send. He smiled and flopped back on his bed. Next time he saw Remus, he would tell him everything.

Two minutes later, the message was marked read.

Five days later, Remus had not replied.

Chapter Text

“Knock knock!” Marlene sang out as she barged into Sirius’s bedroom, not waiting to be invited. “Bloody hell, you’re not still in bed? Come on, lazy bones, I’ve done three cuts and an eyebrow tint already.”

“It’s my day off,” Sirius grumbled, wriggling further under his duvet, the one with the stars.

“Yes, and you hardly get any of those, so why waste it?” Marlene jumped on his bed, clambering over to get in with him.

“Oi!” He tutted, “I’m not decent.”

“And I’m not interested,” she tutted, glancing down. “Nice pants, though.”

“What do you want?” He pulled the duvet up further.

“Just saying hello! You’ve been hiding in here all week, what’s up?”

“Nothing, I’m studying.” He fished down the side of the bed between the matress and the wall, and pulled out a factsheet on highlights.

“Where’s Remus?”

“I dunno.”

“Ah ha.”

“Marlene…”

“Do we hate him now? I can tell Dorcas, and we can start hating him.”

He laughed, despite his bad mood. He was really very grateful for his friends. “No, you don’t have to hate him. I think he’s just busy this week. We’re casual, remember.”

“Didn’t feel casual last week. Dor had to get earplugs.” She chuckled, then rested her head on his shoulder and gave him a little hug, “Poor Sirius. He really seemed to like you, maybe he is really busy. Doesn’t he have that gig coming up?”

“Yeah, on Friday.”

“Well, there you go then. He’s a massive music nerd, he’s probably just been too focussed on that. He sent us the invite on facebook, he wouldn’t do that if he didn’t want us there.”

“That’s true…” Sirius chewed his lip, “Are you still going, then?”

“If you want to, I’m free.”

“You’re the best, Marls.”

“I know,” she jabbed him in the ribs, “Now get up, you lazy sod!”

He did get up, feeling slightly better about the whole thing. He hated not knowing what was going on with Remus, or whether or not he was even allowed to ask. They’d felt like such a unit the last time they’d seen each other, Sirius couldn’t imagine what had made Remus suddenly run cold.

He wondered if Remus had got sick. Sirius didn’t really know the details of Remus’s health problems, but he understood that they were grave enough to put Remus out of action for a while, maybe even hospitalise him. That was the worst possible scenario, Sirius decided. He would rather Remus had dumped him than got sick.

Anyway, it didn’t seem like anything bad had happened - Lily called Sirius on Wednesday to ask if he was going to the gig, “I saw Remus in the canteen at work today and he asked if you were coming,” she said, “Why didn’t he just ask you?”

“My phone’s been weird.” Sirius said. “You saw him today?”

“Yeah, what’s going on with his face?”

“His face?”

“Yeah he had a--- oh shit, sorry love! Getting another call, it’s a patient. See you Friday!”

So Sirius never found out what was different about Remus’s face, but at least he knew he was working, and therefore not too sick to just fucking text Sirius back .

He would go to the gig, then, if that was the only way.

He didn’t really use facebook much - too many people from school on it - but over the next couple of days Sirius was glued to the events page for Full Moon’s gig at the Aldgate Arms.

There were a few comments and notifications on the page. Mostly advertising Happy Hour in the pub, or cheap tickets if you arrived before 7pm. Nothing from Remus, which wasn’t really a surprise. A few messages from people who obviously followed the band;

“YES LADS! CANNOT FUCKING WAIT”

“GONNA GET MESSY!!!”

“Love you all! Hope you play Love Bite, my fav song!”

There was a series of fancy black and white publicity photos of the whole band on there too - the lead singer was older than Remus by quite a long way, at least in his late thirties. He was big, too, and had a menacing face. Though that might have been just an image thing, they all looked a bit aggressive. The drummer was pudgy and fair haired, balding a bit but young, and the guitarist was a young woman with a shaved head, angular cheekbones and wicked eyes.

Remus lurked in the back of most of the images, and wasn’t staring directly at the camera in any of them, instead looking down at his bass, or - in its absence - looking out of frame. Typically evasive.

With each day, Sirius’s agitation grew.

Sirius did not like being ignored. He’d had enough of it growing up, and he didn’t stand for it as an adult. The thing to do, he decided, was to make himself seen. That was something he’d tried as a child and found effective - granted, the attention he received was rarely positive and often painful, but it was better than feeling invisible.

“I ought to show up in the PVC mini skirt.” He said to James, in a moment of frustration. “Stand in the front row.”

He’d gone over to get ready before the gig.

“Mm,” James replied, watching him warily from the couch. He would not be getting changed until the very last minute. “You could do that, mate, yeah…”

“But?” Sirius snapped, pacing the carpet.

“Well,” James swallowed, reasoning diplomatically, “It’s all about visualising your goals. What do you want to get out of tonight, and how will a PVC mini skirt help you achieve it?”

“Fine, point taken.”

“Anyway,” James said, “You don't have time to shave your legs.”

“You’re probably against the feather boa idea too, eh?”

“Well. It’s hardly subtle.”

“I don’t want to be subtle! I want to be noticed!”

James removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, sighing. “Padfoot, you are my very best friend, and it really, really pains me to say this to you…” James’s mouth twisted mischievously, “But  people notice you. You’re… quite good looking..”

Prongs ,” Sirius grinned, throwing himself onto the couch and leaning over James, “You flirt! What if Lily heard you? Go on then, one snog, while we’re alone...”

“Gerroff!” James spluttered with laughter, pushing Sirius off as he pursed his lips in a ridiculous kissy face.

“But you think I’m good looking!” Sirius teased, climbing on top of him, battling James’s kicks,

“I’m not snogging you!”

“You did beforrrrre…”

“Spin the bottle and birthdays, those are the rules.”

“But I’m saaaaad…” Sirius wailed, clinging on to him, “Go on, cheer me up.”

“You’re like a dog sometimes,”

“How rude, I haven’t humped your leg in years.”

“What on earth is going on in here?” Lily came through grinning, finding James and Sirius tangled up on the couch, still half-wrestling.

“James says he fancies me.” Sirius answered promptly.

“Oh, what else is new?” she blew upwards, making her fringe flutter, “Can one of you help me choose a dress?”

“How about a PVC mini skirt?” James grinned.

* * *

In the end Sirius went with ripped black jeans (the very tightest he owned, because he was being subtle , not boring ) and a grey-blue vest top that showed off his tattoos. He wondered if Remus put as much thought into planning his outfits. Probably not, probably just threw on whatever beige, brown and green combo he had to hand, and somehow managed to look utterly perfect.

He couldn’t wait to leave, but also didn’t want to arrive too early. Full Moon’s set wasn’t until 10pm. They went to the pub up the road first to meet Marlene and Dorcas, and for some dutch courage.

“What sort of music do they play?” Dorcas asked.

Everyone looked at each other, blankly.

“Er… rock… music…?” James tried, scratching his head. “Sirius? Do you know?”

“He never actually mentioned…” Sirius looked down at his drink, embarrassed.

“Well,” Lily said, briskly, “It’ll be a nice surprise.”

Sirius felt strange. He knocked back his drink fast. He ought to have asked Remus that. He ought to have clicked on one of the links on the facebook page instead of spending hours staring at pictures of Remus’s long white neck and nimble fingers. No wonder Remus had stopped talking to him - probably sick of Sirius never thinking about anyone but himself.

“Calm down, mate,” James murmured privately, seeing Sirius leg jiggling, “If it all goes wrong just give me the signal and we’ll leave.”

“It’s fine,” Sirius shook his head.

He had a few more drinks after that, confident the buzz would wear off once he finally saw Remus. He didn’t want to get drunk , anyway, just confident enough to be charming. He still wasn’t sure how Remus would receive him - what if the radio silence had actually just been a message to back off?

By nine-thirty Sirius couldn’t take it any more and they made their way up the road to the Aldgate Arms, where loud music was already blaring out of the open doors and windows and smokers were standing out on the hot pavement with their pints, chatting and laughing.

And Remus Lupin, alone, separate, sitting perched on the windowsill, skinny frame bent over a piece of paper he was scribbling on.

“Remus!” Lily bounced over to him, tipsy and excitable. Remus looked up, alarmed by the intrusion, but smiled when he saw her. He looked tired, the rings under his eyes were even darker than usual, and he had a pale, pinched look about his face. There was a huge bruise on his cheek, deep purple and golden yellow.

“Hello, you lot,” he said, eyes brushing lightly over all of them, “I can’t believe you're all here.”

“Of course, wouldn't miss it!” Marlene said.

“After everything I put you through with the Flu Fighters!” Lily laughed. He laughed politely.

“Thank you for coming,”  He said it to all of them, but he was looking at Sirius.

“Right!” James said suddenly, “Shall we go in and find a good spot, girls? My round!”

Sirius had never been so grateful to know James Potter as he herded the gaggle of merry and noisy young women inside, away from Remus.

They looked at each other for a minute. Remus folded up the paper he’d been writing on - a set list, maybe - into tiny squares. Was he nervous?

“Hi.” Sirius said, just to break the ice.

“Hello,” Remus replied, a small smile playing on his lips, “You came.”

“Yeah I said I would.”

“You look incredible,” Remus’s eyes glowed for a moment, and Sirius really felt he was being genuine. “Sit down, eh?” Remus patted the window ledge, “I’m just having a breather - it’s baking in there. Too loud to think.”

Sirius sat down beside him, not too close. “Really nice of you to come.” Remus reiterated.

“Yeah… I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t message you, like I said I would. I meant to. I did mean to. Things got… on top of me.”

“I would have understood if you were busy rehearsing,” Sirius said. “When you didn’t text back I thought maybe you were sick - but then Lily said she saw you at work…”

“Mm, I’ve not been sick. Been going pretty hard though, probably due for something to breakdown.”

“What happened to your face?”

“Oh, this?” Remus raised his fingers to the bruise, touching the skin very lightly, as if it was still tender, he laughed humourlessly, “Would you believe I walked right into a bloody lamp post?”

Sirius frowned. He didn’t believe it.

“Look, Sirius, I wanted to say something to you,” Remus started. He was looking down, his soft blond lashes brushing his cheeks, “I need to tell you--”

“Oi, Lupin.” A gruff voice from behind them. They both turned. A large man with long dark shaggy hair and a mean face was standing in the doorway, “Green room. Now.”

It was the lead singer.

“Gotta go,” Remus gave Sirius an apologetic smile and hopped off the window ledge, “See you after?”

The larger man had his arm up on the doorframe, and Remus had to duck underneath it to get by. The man sneered at him as he did, then gave Sirius the same dirty look before withdrawing himself.

It felt wrong, all of it. Sirius didn't know what to do. Or what to think. Clearly he needed to hear what Remus had to say, and clearly he couldn’t leave Remus there with that awful man. He resolved not to drink anymore, he wanted to sober up. He went inside quickly, just as the previous band were finishing up.

“All right?” James found him and handed him a beer.

“I think I'll get something soft,” Sirius raised his palm to refuse it.

James didn't mind being double parked, and waited for Sirius to get back from the bar. When he did, they watched Full Moon's frontman stalk onto the stage and mutter something menacing to the other band, clearly telling them to get a move on. They all went at double time, and Sirius didn't blame them; he was totally unnerving.

Shortly, the rest of the members of Full Moon came on, and the crowd began to cheer. Remus didn't look up, he just went to stand in his place, fiddling with the frets on his instrument. The room had really filled up, there were obviously a lot of people who had come specifically to see them, not the other acts. The lights changed, the stage flooded icy blue and silver, and the dominating frontman good centre stage.

The drums began almost at once, and then the bass and the guitar and the lead singer roared into the mic. They were loud , Sirius thought he could practically feel the sound, like a wall of noise - of rage. He thought it was good. He was no real judge, but anything that slammed you in your gut like that had to be good art.

“That fucking bassist, man,” someone shouted to his friend behind Sirius, “Fucking legendary!”

“I know!” The friend yelled back, “Insane!”

Sirius wished he knew anything at all about playing bass, or listening to bass, because he wanted to hear it too, how good Remus was. He would learn, he told himself, he would put in the effort.

As the set played on, he relaxed into it a bit more, and actually began to enjoy himself. The audience were loving it, people flung themself about and raised their arms and even yelled along to the choruses. And despite his earlier reservedness, Remus was clearly having a fantastic time - he wasn't throwing himself about the stage or anything, nothing so extroverted. But his whole posture had changed, loose and comfortable. He moved subtly in time with the beat, head bobbing, and when his curls fell out of his face Sirius could see him smiling secretively to himself.

It was no good. He was still hopelessly and deeply attracted to Remus Lupin.

When the last song crashed to a close, the crowd screamed out for an encore, stamping their feet and chanting.

“That's your lot!” the frontman laughed, a resounding growl.

“Blimey,” James slapped Sirius on the shoulder, “Who'd have thought Remus had all that in him?”

“It was great, wasn't it?”

James grinned and squeezed his shoulder, “I'm gonna go and find Lily, you ok here?”

“Yeah, you go, I'll catch up with you.” Sirius was already watching the stage again, trying to keep track of Remus, who was gathering up his pedals and his cables.

Sirius approached the stage edge, and just stood there watching for a bit. Remus's face was flushed pink, and he still had a small smile behind the look of intense concentration as he neatly coiled cables up into perfect loops. Soon, he looked up and saw Sirius. His smile widened and he came over. Sweat dripped from the dark ends of his curls, and Sirius tried not to swoon.

“What did you think?” Remus asked, his voice almost shy.

“Brilliant,” Sirius replied, “Never heard anything like that.”

Remus laughed, “We really need to broaden your music taste, if that's true. Will you hang about a bit? I still want to talk to you, if I can?”

“Yeah, of course!”

They agreed to meet at the bar, so Sirius went to find James. They were there for a while, waiting. They were all having a good time, the others were drinking and Sirius sipping a lime soda, but after half an hour, he started to get a bit worried. He looked around the pub and couldn't see anyone from Full Moon - had they left? Surely not!

He left his friends, pretending to be heading for the loos, going instead to look for the green room. He entered a door behind the stage, no one tried to stop him. He found himself in a grimy corridor that smelled of sweat, stale beer and old carpet. At the end, under flickering strip lighting, was Remus, pleading with a very annoyed looking man with a greasy ponytail.

“Please, I swear we'll come back first thing tomorrow, just lock it in your office, please ?”

“For the last time, no.” The man said, “Now get it all out of here or I'll get the bouncer to do it.” He turned and went into a little office, slamming the door shut.

Remus kicked the door and swore. Sirius walked towards him quickly,

“Remus? What's going on, are you ok?”

“Sirius?! What are you doing here?” Remus stared at him, desperation shining in his eyes.

“I came looking when you didn't… what's wrong?”

“They fucking left me here with all the gear,” Remus muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets and kicking the wall now.

“Hey, stop it!” Sirius touched his arm, “How can I help? What do you need?”

“I can't leave it all here or it'll get nicked, and I can't lug it all home by myself, it's two stops away and I couldn't carry it all, there’s guitars and amps and cymbals…” Remus kicked the door one last time. “And this PRICK, ” (he shouted that at the top of his voice) “Won't let me lock it in his office for one stupid night! After we sold out his grotty little pub for him!”

“Ok, come on,” Sirius pulled him away from the office door before the bouncers really did show up, “Come on, we'll sort this out, what about a taxi?”

“I haven't got any money.” Remus snapped. “Fucking Fenrir took the band cash.”

“Your singer? Where did he go?” Sirius asked nervously, worried the burley frontman might suddenly appear out of the shadows.

“Off somewhere, a club or something. I don't drink, so…”

“They just left you?!”

“It's fine, I don't think they realised what the situation was.”

“I'm going to get a taxi.” Sirius said, pulling out his phone, “Where do we need to take it?”

“Sirius, I can't pay you back until at least next month.”

“So you'll owe me. Whatever, it's fine. Come on, where?”

“My place, I suppose.” He heaved a sigh. “I reckon they can pick it up before the next rehearsal.”

“Ok, let's get started.”

It took three trips from the green room to the pavement outside, because someone had to wait in the street with all the stuff. Luckily James caught them on the first trip, and offered to help with the rest while Remus waited for the taxi. Prongs even helped load it all in, and wanted to come with them to unload on the other side,

“All right, muscles, at ease,” Sirius said, “We can take it from here - go and explain to the girls?”

“Call me so I know you're ok.” James said, as he watched them get into the car.

“I will!” Sirius promised.

Once the door shut, it was very quiet. Remus was still in a dreadful mood, and Sirius supposed he didn't blame him. He hated the band. How could they do that?

“You didn't have to do all this.” Remus said, finally. “But thank you.”

“I'm just helping a friend,” Sirius smiled over the guitar propped up between them.

“James is so nice. You all are.”

Sirius didn’t know how to reply to that. In the yellow flashes from the passing streetlights he kept glimpsing Remus’s bruise. He wondered again what had happened, and hoped it wasn’t exactly what it looked like. He realised how little he really knew about him, and how desperately he wanted to know more.

It didn't take long to get to Remus's, but it took ages to get everything upstairs, and once they did it was like a 3D game of Tetris trying to slot all of it into his tiny space. That done, Remus offered him a glass of water.

“Sorry I don’t have anything else in… I might have some tea bags but no milk. Er. I haven’t been home much.” Remus rubbed the back of his head as he peered inside his fridge.

“That’s fine,” Sirius said.

Remus poured out two glasses of water while Sirius fired off a text to James, then they stood awkwardly in the middle of the room - mostly because that was the only floor space left not taken up by musical equipment.

“You don’t have to stay,” Remus said, apologetically, climbing over the bed to crack open the window, letting some air in, “It’s all a bit grim here.”

“Do you want me to go? I thought we were going to, um. Talk?”

“Shit, yeah, sorry,” Remus blinked at him, sitting cross legged on his pillow. He rubbed his temples and fished inside his trouser pocket for his packet of pills. He took two.

“We can leave it,” Sirius said, quickly, “If you’re not feeling…”

“I’m fine!” Remus said, “Sorry, it all just got a bit mad, there. I told you I can be difficult.”

“You aren’t difficult.” Sirius said, automatically. He went to sit on the bed too, at the end, in case Remus asked him to leave after all,

“I am,” Remus sighed, still rubbing his head, “I get myself in these situations… anyway. You don’t want to hear about that. So, this week - I lost my phone, right--”

“You did?” Sirius said, surprised. Ah! That made so much more sense! He was relieved; this meant Remus hadn’t been deliberately ignoring him.

“Yeah, so sorry if I missed anything from you… er. Probably best not to use that number again, ok?”

“Ok, sure.”

Silence again. Remus wasn’t looking at him, his eyes kept darting around. He looked tired, jittery and wound up. Sirius finally spoke,

“Is that all?”

“I just wanted to explain why I hadn’t been in touch.” Remus said.

He took another gulp of water, and stretched out his long skinny legs on the bed, so that his toes touched Sirius’s thigh, “Between losing my phone and rehearsals running late every night, plus work, I probably wouldn’t have been able to see you anyway, but I didn’t want you to think I’d gone off you, or anything.”

“You sound like you’ve had a rough week,” Sirius said, sympathetically. He couldn’t help looking at Remus’s bruise again, but he didn’t say anything about it. He tentatively touched Remus’s leg - just his calf, in a soothing gesture, which could mean anything Remus wanted it to.

“Yeah, I s’pose,” Remus sighed, rubbing his face again, scratching his head. He was so fidgety, he wouldn’t stay still. Sirius wanted to hug him.

“Are you having a break this weekend, at least?”

“Yeah, they’ll all be too hungover tomorrow to practice,” Remus said ruefully, now scratching behind his ear agitatedly. “I ought to put in an hour or so, though, I almost mucked up the chords tonight, missed the beat.”

“You sounded great to me.” Sirius rubbed his knee now, vaguely aware that his hand was travelling upwards.

Remus stilled, glancing down at it. He finally smiled - or rather smirked, “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” Sirius nodded, lowering his voice and leaning over conspiratorially, “It was like the first time I saw you performing. You’re really… um… engaging.”

Engaging ,” Remus repeated, amused, “That’s one I haven’t heard before. Come here,”

Sirius crawled forward, into Remus’s lap. They kissed, Remus’s hands creeping up under Sirius’s hair again, lithe fingers stroking small circles in his scalp which made Sirius whimper,

“How are you feeling?” Sirius whispered as they pulled apart, conscious that Remus had been taking painkillers only moments before.

“Getting there,” Remus whispered back, moving down to kiss Sirius’s neck, nipping lightly at the skin, “Stay here?”

“Mmm…” Sirius agreed, and gave up on thinking for the next few hours.

The sex was as good as ever - maybe with a bit more of an edge because it had been a week since the last time, and because Remus was so wound up from his gig and the fight with the pub owner. He was rougher than he’d been before, more eager to take control, more demanding. Sirius found he didn’t mind - in fact he rather liked it. He obeyed every order and basked in every groan of satisfaction.

In the euphoric haze that followed Sirius thought he could see stars as he stared dazed up at the cracked and stained ceiling, feeling the hot July air ooze in through the open window. He closed his eyes, allowing his breathing to slow down, his heart to stop pounding.

“You ok?” Remus’s soft voice broke in, no longer severe and instructive, but kind and concerned.

“Mm.” Sirius nodded, smiling. He opened his eyes. Remus was smiling back, propped up on an elbow watching him. He ran his finger from Sirius’s throat down to his belly, following a trail of sweat cross his skin. Sirius shivered, delighted.

“That’s my good boy,” Remus murmured, lying back and closing his eyes too.

The room grew calm around them, despite the friday night drunks yelling outside, and the smell of fried chicken from the shop below. Sirius finished the rest of his water, and turned into Remus’s body. He slung an arm across him, and Remus didn’t seem to object, so Sirius rested his head on his shoulder too. Bliss.

“I missed you, this week.” Sirius said, sleepily.

Remus stroked his hair fondly, “Stop being such a sweetheart, I'll get used to it.”

“No, I mean I really did,” Sirius insisted, “It was awful not knowing what you were up to, not talking to you. I thought about you a lot.”

“Sirius…” Remus stiffened.

“Did you… did you think about me?”

Remus pushed his arm off and moved to sit up, swinging his legs off the bed.

Sirius sat up too, and put a hand on his arm to try and keep him there. It was now or never; he had to know - he couldn’t bear to get in any deeper without being sure.

“What are we doing? What am I, to you?”

“Sirius, it's one in the morning, what the fuck?” Remus sighed heavily, rubbing his face, looking harassed.

“Please, I don't mean to be dramatic about it or anything, I just want to know... We have such a good time together - I do, at least.”

“Yeah,” Remus said, still tight lipped. “We did say, though, didn’t we? We agreed to keep it casual.”

“We did,” Sirius said, “I know we did, and I’m sorry, but… I can’t help liking you.” Sirius muttered, looking down. He felt silly and childish, like he was in the playground begging for another kid to be his friend.

“I know.” Remus sighed. “Look, you don’t have to be sorry, I know it’s… I like you too, all right? More than I thought I would, in the beginning.”

Sirius looked up at him, hopeful. “You do?”

“Yes, I’m not going to pretend.” Remus nodded, “But I have rules about relationships, and I have them for a reason. Things are so mad for me right now - especially with the band taking off, and bloody Fenrir, and my health. I can’t add a boyfriend into the mix, it’s just too many things to juggle. And - this isn’t personal, ok? But I’ve been let down before.” Remus’s eyes dropped, and his voice faltered a moment. He continued quietly, “It nearly ruined me, I can’t afford to have that happen again.”

“So you’re never going to have a relationship, ever?”

“Not never. Just not now. Not until I know I can do it without everything else falling apart.”

“It wouldn’t all be on you, you know.” Sirius said, thinking of Lily and James, “It’s not about holding everything together, it’s about being a team.”

Remus looked up at him, sadly and smiled, “That’s really lovely. And I really want that one day. Right now I don’t know how.”

“But you can’t just… avoid pain forever. No one can.”

“Yes, I’m very well aware of that!” Remus snapped, his tone changing so suddenly and so completely it shocked Sirius.

Remus tutted and got up, quickly, “Be right back.”

He went into the bathroom. Sirius drew up his knees and wrapped his arms around them. Had he made a mistake? Was it all over? He heard the toilet flush and the taps running. He wondered if he ought to get up and start to leave. Everything had been so simple a few minutes ago; they’d felt so connected. Now Remus was back to being a prickly stranger.

Sirius wanted to call James, ask him what to do. He was no good at working this stuff out for himself, he needed his friends to help him. Remus would hate that, he knew it for certain.

The rickety little wooden door opened, and Remus came out. He was still naked, and returned to the bed, sitting down. He was’t angry any more.

“I’m sorry.” He said, steadily, staring ahead. “That was rude of me, when you’ve been nothing but kind. I wish I could repay everything you’ve done for me tonight.”

“I didn’t expect anything,” Sirius said, “I hope you don’t think…”

“No, no I don’t,” Remus shook his head quickly, laying a hand on Sirius’s arm to reassure him, “I think you’re just a lovely person. You just see the best in people, don’t you?”

Sirius had no reply. He wasn’t sure it was true, he’d always thought he was a selfish, annoying kind of person. Gid had forever been telling him to ‘calm down’, or ‘chill out’ and ‘get over it’.

“You’re quite a lucky person, too,” Remus said, his voice measured, as if he had rehearsed this. “I would never tell anyone they’ve had an easy life, and everyone has struggles, of course… but you have had quite a lot of good fortune.”

Sirius was about to protest - he’d been kicked out at sixteen! His family were almost entirely psychopaths and sycophants! Gid had cheated on him all the time!

Then he took another look at the room they were in. At Remus’s threadbare clothes strewn on the floor, his surgical scars, the bruise on his cheek.

“Right.” Sirius nodded, quietly, biting his tongue.

“I’m not having a go at you,” Remus said, anxiously, twisting his hands in his lap, “I’m just trying to explain why we might see things a bit differently. You’ve got all those amazing friends, and your nice flat and your business… I’ve just got the band and my shitty job. And a bunch of other crap I don’t feel like talking about, right now.  It’s hard for me to see the best in people.”

“I understand,” Sirius said. He didn’t, but he wanted to, he wanted to so badly.

“So…” Remus heaved a deep breath, as if preparing to say something enormous. He turned and looked Sirius in the eye. “Will you be a bit patient with me?”

Sirius’s eyes widened. “Patient?” He asked.

“I do like the time we have together. I want to be more to you, I really do. I want you to be more to me.” He took Sirius’s hand, a tender gesture. “But I need time. I need to go slowly.”

Sirius closed his eyes, feeling that Remus had blessed him, somehow.

“Of course,” he replied, softly, “Anything.”

Chapter Text

Sirius woke up with a dry mouth and a headache. The room was so hot and stuffy, even with the window open, he practically had to peel the sheets off his skin. He blinked, peering around, remembering all the instruments and gear they'd squeezed in. Remus wasn't in the bed, but Sirius could hear water running in the tiny bathroom.

He sat up and opened the slats on the venetian blinds, letting a bit more air in. It reeked of petrol fumes and yesterday’s rubbish slowly putrefying on the hot pavement. Delightful , Sirius wrinkled his nose, London was truly the most glamorous city on earth.

He found his boxers on the floor, pulled them on and hopped out of the bed to reach the kitchen tap. It was no easy feat, he had to contort and stretch and twist his way across the room.

The kitchen was completely bare. Maybe Remus would let Sirius take him out for breakfast, he thought as he sipped his lukewarm water. Or Sirius could go and grab something from the cornershop - just not that awful cafe they'd used last time.

There was a sudden loud noise in the bathroom, a weird short bang which made Sirius spin around, followed by a choking, retching sound.

“Remus?” He called out, trying to climb over everything and get to the wooden door.

Remus groaned and threw up again. Sirius bit his lip. “Are you ok?”

He heard Remus spit into the toilet bowl. “...no.”

Sirius could practically feel the sarcasm dripping off that response, which was something of a relief.

“Can I get you anything?”

“Mmmph. Can you make sure it's dark?”

“Eh?!”

“Migraine.” Remus barked through gritted teeth, “No light.”

“Oh right, got you!” Sirius scurried over to the window, stubbing his toe on a heavy pedal board as he did, swearing harshly. He twisted the blinds shut, throwing the room into darkness. “Ok,” he called, “It's dark!”

He crossed the room again, limping slightly from the pain. The bathroom door shuddered open, and Remus stepped out. He had a hand pressed over his eyes, and his face was contorted into an ugly grimace.

“Here,” Sirius took his arm carefully and led his across the floor to the bed. His skin was clammy with sweat, and Sirius wished he could do something about the swampy temperature of the room.

“Thanks.” Remus murmured as he lay down. He curled up on his side and pulled the bedsheets over his head, groaning.

“What can I get you?” Sirius asked, keeping his voice low because he wasn’t really sure if he ought to talk to Remus at all, “Painkillers?”

“Mmm… I finished them last night… ugh… got a repeat… mmmph. Repeat prescription but I… shit. Left it somewhere.”

“Where?” Sirius said, “I’ll go and get it.”

“No.” Remus said, pulling down the sheets, still pressing a hand to the side of his head, hard, “It’s at the band’s flat. I was staying… ahhh … I was staying there. To be close, for rehearsals… ahhh, Jesus Christ .” He winced, the hand at his temple turning into a fist.

“I’ll get them,” Sirius said, “Just give me the address.”

“No. Trust me. Just leave me. Sleep it off.”

“Remus, I’m not leaving you in this state.”

“Please, I … urgh… ” Remus hunched forward and threw up all over himself. “Shit.” He said, weakly, tears in his eyes. “Sorry. Not sexy.”

“You poor thing,” Sirius said, already pulling the sopping wet sheets off him. Luckily he didn’t seem to have eaten much for a while, and it was mostly water.

He took the sheets into the bathroom and threw them in the shower. He’d deal with them later. In the meantime he found a hand towel and soaked it under the warm tap, returning to clean Remus up. It was pretty embarrassing for both of them, but Sirius could hardly leave him lying in his own sick just for the sake of pride.

That done, he sourced a clean dishcloth from the kitchen drawer and wet that under the cold tap, returning to lay it on Remus’s forehead. “Thanks.” Remus murmured, face relaxing slightly, “That’s nice.”

“Ok, I need this address.”

Remus stayed still and silent for a moment. “Fine.”

He gave Sirius the post code and Sirius tapped it into Google Maps. It wasn’t far, he could get there and back within the hour,

“If he gives you any trouble,” Remus gripped his arm surprisingly hard, “Ask for Liv. Explain to her.”

“Ok,” Sirius said, feeling a terrible sinking feeling. He really didn’t want to face off against that awful man. But Remus was in so much pain - he had to try .

He dressed quickly, grabbed Remus’s keys. Before leaving the flat, he caught sight of a blanket hanging off the back of the kitchen stool. He put it near Remus, in case he wanted to cover his head again.

Outside on the baking hot street, he pulled out his phone,

“If it isn’t lover boy,” James chirped, answering after half a ring, “Thought you’d be much too busy to--”

“Prongs,” Sirius interrupted, in no mood for fun, “I need your help. Have you got the car?”

“Yeah,” James’s voice changed at once, serious and alert, “What do you need? Shall I pick you up?”

“That would be amazing. Oh, and do you guys still have that electric fan? The really fancy Dyson one?”

“Yeah I think so.”

“Bring it.”

Sirius gave James Remus’s building number and waited. He glanced up at Remus’s open window, the blinds shut over. It was so hot in that room, which couldn’t help at all. Horrible with all that equipment clogging up the place, too, but nothing Sirius could do about it yet. He’d have loved to just pick Remus up and carry him out of there take him back to Sirius’s flat where it was clean and comfortable. But it didn’t seem much like Remus could be moved in that state. Suddenly Sirius worried that he might throw up again - ought he to have left a bucket, or something?

A car horn honked, interrupting his thoughts, and Sirius gratefully jumped into James’s car.

“Thanks so much,” he gasped, relishing the cool breeze of the air conditioning.

“What’s going on?”

“Remus isn’t well. He needs his medication, but he left it at his band’s flat. Do you mind driving me to pick it up?”

“Yeah, of course, anything.”

“Er… and would it be ok if you came to the door with me?”

“Well I’m not letting you square off alone against that hench fucker we saw last night.”

Sirius could have kissed him. He felt much better confronting Fenrir with his rugby-player best friend in tow.

Remus’s band had a flat in Stratford, not too far from the big shopping centre and the Olympic Park. They ended up diverted because there was a West Ham game on, but James knew the roads better than a black cab driver, and they soon found the place.

“What are we expecting?” James asked, looking up at the tower block as Sirius pressed the buzzer for number 39.

“No idea.” Sirius replied.

“Yeah?” A woman’s voice echoed through the speaker. Sirius looked into the camera, hoping he didn’t look as nervous as he felt,

“Hi. Er. I’m a friend of Remus’s, and--”

“He’s not here.”

“No, I know! I can to pick up his pills? He left them here and he needs them…”

There was a long, drawn out sigh. “Oh, go on then.” She buzzed them in.

“Charming,” James raised an eyebrow as they entered the lobby.

It was a really nice building, all newly built with clean white lines and tall glass windows. A million miles away from Remus’s miserable little bolt hole, Sirius thought to himself bitterly. How come they were all living so comfortably?

It turned out that it wasn’t just the band who lived at number 39. When Sirius knocked on the door it was opened by a young man he hadn’t seen before, shirtless and bleary eyed, as if he’d just woken up. Peering behind him into the living room Sirius could see various other bodies sprawled on the sofa and the floor. It smelt like they had just ordered McDonald's.

The man who had answered the door blinked at them slowly, before scratching his head and yelling into the flat, “Liv!”

Full Moon’s guitarist came to the door. She was quite a small woman, but her size did not diminish her presence. She slinked to the doorway like a cat, wearing an overlarge Metallica t-shirt that just about skimmed the tops of her thighs. Her shaved head lent a sharp angularity to her features, and her golden brown eyes narrowed at them, smouldering dangerously.

“What do you want?”

“Remus’s pills, he’s got a migraine, and--”

“Fenrir looks after Remus’s stuff, and he’s not here. Come back later.” She went to shut the door, but Sirius darted a hand out to hold it open,

“This can’t wait.”

She cocked her head, looking him up and down, “You were at the gig last night, weren't you? Pretty boy. Are you the reason Remus has been all moon-faced lately?”

Sirius didn’t have time to think about how that revelation made him feel. He held firm on the door, “The pills, please.”

“Oh, whatever,” she rolled her large eyes, “Through there,” she pointed, looking bored with the whole conversation, “Bedroom.”

Sirius glanced back at James before entering the flat, following Liv’s finger through the nearest closed door. It was a double bedroom, pretty spartan, without so much as a mirror on the wall, just a dresser and a laundry basket and a big double bed, which was messy and unmade.

On top of the dresser was Remus’s packet of pills - Sirius checked they had his name and address printed on. Next to those were a set of keys, a packet of condoms and some lubricant. Sirius ignored those, trying not to think about it. He was about to go, when he saw something else sticking out from under an old copy of the Metro. It was Remus’s phone, Sirius was sure of it.

Without thinking, Sirius glanced around to check he wasn’t being watched, then slipped it into his pocket.

“Find them?” Liv appeared in the doorway, leaning against it and filing her nails into sharp points.

Sirius waved the box to show her.

She grinned, showing every pearly tooth, “Fen’s going to be soooo pissed off you were in his room,” she purred as if it excited her.

“Remus sleeps here, then? When he stays over?”

“Mmm, well we all do, from time to time,” she shrugged, returning to her nails. “Tell Remus we're having a band meeting tomorrow afternoon, will you dearest?”

“If he's feeling better.” Sirius raised his chin.

She chuckled, “Poor darling. You're wasting your time bothering with him. You don't know him like we do. I know he likes to act like he's better than us… but he's just the same deep down. And we know how to look after him.”

“Oh right, is that how he ended up with the black eye, then?” Sirius shot back. He didn’t want to hear this, he just wanted to get out now.

Liv tossed her head back and laughed throatily, “You think Fenrir did that? To his precious boy?! He treats that kid like he’s made of glass. You have no idea what you're talking about.”

“Padfoot?” James called from the hall, “You ok?”

“Yeah, coming,” Sirius shouted back, gratefully.

He edged past Liv and hurried out of the flat.

He leaned against the lift wall on the way down, relieved. James shook his head, “Bloody creepy mate, the lot of them. How did Remus end up mixed up with that lot? He seems such a sweet guy.”

“Yeah,” Sirius shook his head, clutching the box of pills tightly, thinking about the phone in his back pocket. “He said he doesn't know many people in London. I think that’s what he said. Only knows the band.”

“Well. He’s got us, now.” James said casually as the lift hit the ground floor and the doors pinged open.

That was just like James, the loveliest man in the world. He just wanted to be everyone’s big brother.

“Right!” He said, getting back in the car, “Back to Remus’s, then? Want to pick up anything on the way? Food?”

“Maybe later,” Sirius said, “I just want to get these to him first, he was really sick. Oh, did you bring the…”

“Yep,” James jerked his thumb over his shoulder, pointing at the fan in a box sitting on the back seat, strapped into a seatbelt.

“Legend,” Sirius sighed, “Mind if Remus borrows it for a few days? His flat’s an oven.”

“Sure, we were going to try and flog it anyway,” James nodded, pulling away from the kerb, “He can keep it.”

They avoided the road blocks this time, and got to Remus’s in fifteen minutes or so. Sirius glanced at the clock on the dashboard as James parked. He’s only been gone forty minutes or so.

“Thanks a million,” he said, unbuckling quickly, “Sorry I can’t invite you up - he’s not well and it’s a bad idea.”

“I understand,” James replied, “Are you staying long, shall I wait for you?”

“I’m not sure. You go, I can pop by later maybe.”

“Want me to have Lily call you? She might know what’s best to do?”

“Yeah, actually, that would be great,” Sirius opened the back door and reached in to retrieve the fan. “Thanks again, Prongs, I owe you!”

“Nah,” James waved a hand, “Just look after yourself, all right?”

“Love you,” Sirius said at the last minute, because he needed to hear someone say it to him.

“Love you, Padfoot. Speak later!”

Sirius unlocked the flat and navigated the stairs slowly, peering over the top of the cumbersome cardboard box. He set it down outside Remus’s door, and let himself in, careful to keep the light out as much as possible, dragging the fan inside. He set it on top of an amp, because there was hardly anywhere else to put it.

The room was stifling hot. Remus still lay curled up on the bed under the blanket. That in itself was disconcerting, because the few times Sirius had spent the night with Remus he had always stretched to fill the space, legs and arms flung out like a great dog.

Silently Sirius poured some water, then carefully crossed the room, feeling his way, to reach the bed again. He sat lightly on the side of the mattress,

“Hey,” he whispered, fiddling with the pill packet, trying to get them out, “I got them, how many do you need?”

Remus stirred and pulled down the blanket over his head. His hair was sticking to his forehead with the sweat, his face red and sticky. He didn’t open his eyes or say anything, just raised two fingers. Sirius popped two tablets out of the blister pack and handed them to Remus, who stuffed them in his mouth at once, swallowing hard without any water.

“Have a drink,” Sirius said softly, pressing the cool glass against Remus’s knuckles.

Remus sipped it, spilling quite a lot, then retreated back under the blanket.

Satisfied enough, Sirius got up and went to sort out the fan. It was nice and simple; just unbox and plug in. He had to disconnect Remus’s stereo, but he didn’t think that would matter too much. He set it up on the kitchen countertop, so that the cool air washed directly over Remus’s bed.

Remus sighed softly when it hit him, and pushed the blanket off his torso. His poor scars were all raised with heat rash. Sirius ached.

He didn’t want to leave. He couldn’t leave. He had a hair appointment, but not until late afternoon, and he wondered if Marlene might be able to do it instead. He’d see how things went. In the meantime, he poured himself a fresh glass of water and sat on Remus’s drum stool. He had some online reading to do for his beauty course, so he pulled out his phone to log into the student portal.

He withdrew Remus’s phone too. It was off, or the battery was dead. Not wanting to assume anything, Sirius simply set it down on the kitchen counter. Let Remus decide.

Did he know Fenrir had had it? Had it been taken by force? The condoms on the bedroom dresser flashed in Sirius’s mind again, and he fought to ignore it. That was none of his business, he told himself. Until last night he and Remus had never said they were exclusive. Actually, they still hadn’t made that decision.

He did a bit of reading and made a few notes, but he kept getting distracted, watching Remus sleep. How often was he ill like this? Would it get too much, or would Sirius just get used to it? He’d never really looked after anyone before - in fact, people usually looked after him . James and Lily, after a heartbreak, or Mr and Mrs Potter, after his parents kicked him out.

Who usually looked after REmus, then? Did he have parents somewhere in Scotland? He hadn’t mentioned them. Fenrir Greyback, then. The bedroom dresser flashed up again.

At about half eleven he went to take a shower, realising he hadn’t washed properly yet. He didn’t know what to do with the dirty bed sheets, Remus must use a laundrette, there wasn’t a washing machine in the flat. He balled the sheets up in the corner and took a quick shower. He didn’t wash his hair, but luckily he almost always carried a hairband and tied it up in a bun.

Lily text him while he was in the bathroom:

 

Hiya babe, heard you’re playing nurse?

Yeah, he’s just sleeping now.

That’s the best thing if it’s a migraine. Dark room?

Yep. He took pills but I don’t know what they do

Probably a triptan if it was prescription. Nothing else you can do, love.

He was sick a few times.

Normal, don’t worry. If you can get him to eat at some point, that might help. Don’t force him though.

Ok. What sort of food?

Something plain, if he’s been sick. Toast?

Thanks Lils.

Let me know if you need anything! Poor love, migraines suck balls. xxx

 

Lily bringing up food reminded Sirius that he hadn’t eaten for ages. His stomach growled as if on cue. His back hurt from sitting on the short stool all morning, and Remus was sleeping peacefully under the cool breeze. He could pop out for a minute.

He took the keys again, closing the door very quietly, and headed back outside. It was after midday and the sun was at its highest, beating down in his dark hair, making him shiver a bit. He walked up and down the high street a few times before coming to the conclusion that the grubby little cafe by the tube stop was the only real option. He grudgingly went in and ordered a coffee and a cheese toastie.

“Sorry,” he said to the woman behind the counter, “But do you know the tall guy with the blond curly hair who comes in here? Usually has a guitar case?”

“Oh yes, I know him, quiet bloke,” she nodded, her round face shining in the heat.

“That’s him! You don't happen to know his favourite order? Like if he's pushing the boat out a bit, for a treat?”

“He mostly just orders toast and a cup of tea,” she shrugged. “That's his usual, he's barely ever in here longer than a minute, always in a rush.”

“Oh, right,” Sirius sighed, disappointed. “Just that then, I suppose.”

She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, “He has a sweet tooth,” she said, “Takes three packets of sugar, usually. And some Fridays he asks for honey on his toast.”

“Really?” Sirius smiled, “I'll have that then, please.”

She smiled back and went to sort it for him. He drank all of the coffee this time, disgusting as it was. He was still trying not to think about the flat Full Moon lived in. The flat Remus apparently lived in too, sometimes. The condoms could have been anyone's. And Sirius and James had shared a bed before, it meant nothing. And the things Liv had said were just…

Sirius shook his head to clear his thoughts as he shoved the door to Remus's building open with his shoulder. He climbed the stairs slowly, because of the hot tea, and very quietly opened the door to the flat. All was as he had left it. It was still quite dark, but the sun was peeking out from behind the shutters, highlighting dustmotes in thin beams across the bed. Remus had rolled onto his back, and the breeze from the fan was blowing his hair softly away from his face. Sirius smiled and stopped worrying.

He set down the food in the little kitchen and looked for a plate.

“You're still here,” a small, hoarse voice.

“I am,” Sirius whispered, “I got you some food. How's the head?”

Remus stirred a little, turning his head as if testing to see. “Tender,” he said, “But better. This one wasn’t so bad.”

“Oh great,” Sirius tried to smile. Inwardly he was freaking out. This wasn’t that bad?! Bloody hell.

“What food?”

“Tea and toast. With honey.”

“Wow that sounds perfect,” Remus sighed, closing his eyes again and sighing heavily. He rolled to get up, and Sirius lurched forward anxiously,

“What do you need? I can get it!”

“I need to pee.” Remus laughed softly, “Honestly, calm down Black, I’m not going to break.”

Sirius found that hard to believe as Remus hauled himself to his feet and took small, unsteady steps across the room to the loo.

While he waited he put the toast on a plate and added three sugars to the tea. That was a completely mad amount of sugar in his opinion - he could imagine what Mrs Potter might say about it, she was a traditionalist and would never countenance sweetening tea.

Remus came out of the bathroom, “Mind if we keep it dark? Sorry, I know it’s a pain…”

“Not at all!” Sirius said. His eyes had pretty much adjusted to it now, and at least it wasn’t sweltering any more.

“Where’d the fan come from?” Remus asked, returning to the bed, sitting up against the wall. He’d put a t-shirt on over his boxers.

“James brought it round,” Sirius said, handing him his tea, then the toast. “He and Lily got a new one last month, so I knew they had it going spare.”

“He didn’t come up?!” Remus stared at him, alarmed, setting the plate down on the mattress and cupping the tea in both hands.

“Oh, no! I brought it in, he stayed in the car. I had to call him to take me out to Stratford.”

“Shit,” Remus breathed, blowing on his tea to cool it, “I forgot you went there… was it… was…”

“Fenrir wasn’t there,” Sirius said quickly, “Just Liv, and a few other people.”

“Yeah, it gets crowded over there.”

“I found your phone, too.” Sirius pointed to it on the counter.

Remus looked at it, then looked down at his drink, and sipped it. “Thank you for that,” he said quietly, “Um… we can talk about it later.”

“Ok.”

They ate in silence, Sirius standing at the kitchen counter. He wondered if he ought to go; Remus seemed ok now, just a bit vague and unfocussed, which he supposed was probably normal. He wolfed down the toast in three seconds flat, and licked the honey from his fingers like a child. Sirius watched, transfixed. Fenrir’s precious boy, Liv had called him. ‘He treats that kid like he’s made of glass’.

Who are you? Sirius couldn’t help thinking. And what on earth have I got myself into?

Remus ran his sticky finger around the plate to pick up the crumbs, then, when there was not one morsel left, he set it aside. Sirius went to grab it off the bed and give it a rinse in the sink, while Remus wiped his hands on the damp towel from earlier. He lay down again, watching Sirius from beneath his lashes,

“I had no idea you were so domestic,” he croaked.

“I had a fussy mother.” Sirius said, casually, hoping Remus wouldn’t ask for more information. He dried the plate and turned back to the bed, “Shall I go?”

“Only if you want to,” Remus replied, sounding a bit uncertain.

“I don’t want to if you’re still feeling bad.” Sirius said.

“I’m probably going to sleep a bit more, now. Um. Are you angry with me? For lying about the phone?”

Sirius looked at the phone, as if that would give him an answer. “Confused, maybe.” He said, “Not angry.”

"I told you I wasn't worth it. It's all such a mess."

"Don't say that." Sirius frowned. He checked his phone, “I don't need to be anywhere for an hour or so. I can stay here while you sleep, I don't mind.”

“I'd like that... Will you lie with me for a bit?” Remus’s voice was thick with sleep, and he was already half dozing. Sirius couldn’t refuse that, he’d never seen Remus so soft and pliant.

He kicked off his shoes and climbed over the assault course to the bed, laying down to spoon Remus on top of the sheets. “Is this ok?” He whispered, tentatively laying an arm across him.

“Mm.” Remus nodded against the pillow. “How come you’re so nice…?”

“I care about you.” Sirius replied.

Remus laughed, as if that was funny. Sirius wanted to ask why, but he’d already fallen asleep.

Chapter Text

Weekends were always busy for Sirius and Marlene, even for house calls, so Sirius barely had time to change his clothes after leaving Remus’s bedsit for the last time that Saturday afternoon.

He went home very quickly to grab his kit, but then headed straight back out again. Four old ladies, two toddlers and one manicure for a business woman who had a posh flat in Canary Wharf. She asked him if he did massages too, and though he had a feeling she was flirting, he made a mental note to suggest it to Marlene as another service to add once the shop finally opened.

Speaking of the shop, on Sunday he and Marlene went to visit it for the first time in six weeks. The renovations were coming along really well, the water was running, and most if the interior fixtures had arrived ready for fitting. They'd be ready to open in late August, if things went on at the same page. That was exciting, he and Marlene went for a quick drink before going home, to celebrate just the two of them.

“We really need to nail down a colour scheme this week!” she said, all business, “And the bloody name! What are we going to call it?!”

“Leaving that up to you, it’s your salon, really.”

“Shut up, you’ve done just as much work as I have,” she kicked him gently under the table, “Honestly, Black. I’m proud of you.”

“Marls,” Sirius blushed, looking into his drink, “Stop it. You know I only do what you tell me.”

“What happened to that arrogant prick i went to school with?” Marlene laughed. She leaned over and pulled a strand of his hair, “Could do with a trim.”

“Nah, I like it this length.”

“You don’t want split ends.”

“How dare you, I’ve never had a split end in my life .”

“Well, you know where to come when you want those layers fixed. Hey, any luck getting Remus in? I’m dying to sort out that mop he’s walking around with.”

“No, can’t see it happening.” Sirius sipped his drink thoughtfully. He hadn’t told Marlene - or anyone - the full details of his weekend. James knew some of it, of course, but Sirius was still trying to get his head around the rest.

“Will we be seeing him any time soon?” Marlene mused, “We need new music recommendations, Dorcas is driving me up the wall with Belle & Sebastian.”

“Eh?”

“You know, the song he did at Lily’s gig? Dor was really into it, so he sent her a list of albums to listen to. Only I quite fancy a change, she’s been playing them non-stop for a week.”

“Dorcus has been talking to Remus?”

“Just over facebook I think, yeah. It was a few weeks ago now.”

“Right. Er… I think he’s coming over this evening.”

“Oh no, I won’t be in! Ask him for me, will you?”

As soon as he got home, Sirius locked himself in his room and searched ‘Belle & Sebastian’ on Spotify. He didn’t know why he hadn’t thought of it before. Obviously the key to understanding Remus must be in the music he listened to. Obviously.

There were a lot of songs, so Sirius just hit ‘play all’ while he pottered about his room, tidying up before Remus arrived. He changed the sheets, even though they were fairly clean already, stuck a load of laundry in the washing machine and dusted his shelves. Marlene made fun of him for being ‘fussy’, but growing up cleanliness had been drilled into him and it was hardwired now.

He was just about to unload his clothes from the washer in the kitchen when the door went, and he tripped over his laundry basket rushing to answer it,

“Fuck,” he grunted, landing hard on his face on the living room rug. “Ow...” he sighed, getting up, limping to the door. He was never flustered. Never. Except when Remus was nearby.

“Hello,” Remus smiled as Sirius opened the front door. His bruise had gone down a bit, and he was carrying two enormous shopping bags.

“Hi,” Sirius breathed, taken aback once again by Remus’s presence.

“You ok?” Remus cocked his head, looking Sirius up and down.

“Fine! Come in!” Sirius stood back, overly gregarious, “What’s in the bags?”

“Dinner,” Remus smiled, “I thought I’d cook for you, as a thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me!” Sirius said, leading Remus through the living room, into the kitchen, kicking the stupid laundry basket out of the way.

“Ok then,” Remus said calmly, setting down his bags on the counter, “I thought I’d cook for you as a boyfriend. That’s a boyfriend-y thing to do, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Sirius agreed, trying not to smile too widely, “I s’pose it is.”

“See, I’m already getting the hang of it,” Remus winked at him.

The washing machine beeped angrily at Sirius, making him blink, “Sorry,” he said bashfully, “It wants hanging up.”

“I’ll put this stuff in the fridge,” Remus said, already unpacking, “You hang your clothes - unless you’re hungry right now?”

“No, no,” Sirius shook his head, bending down to unload the machine. The drying rack was wedged down the back of the living room couch, and Sirius wrangled it open, then began to hang his damp clothes. Usually he would take each item, smooth it out and lie it on the back of a chair before hanging it, to ensure maximum drying area and wrinkle-free hanging. But it had been pointed out to him that this method was slightly bonkers and a bit anal, so he just flung things on like Marlene and Dorcas did.

“How are you feeling?” He called into the kitchen.

“Much better, cheers,” Remus sang back, “Even managed to get to the band meeting this morning.”

“Oh good,” Sirius replied, though he pulled a face. He had decided to hate Remus’s band, and nothing would change his mind.

“Yeah, we’ve had a bit of luck - there was a guy at Friday’s gig who reckoned he might know someone in the industry. Could get us a tour this summer - as a support act, you know.”

“Really? That’s fantastic,”

“Yeah, we’ll see. If Fenrir keeps his cool.” Remus appeared in the doorway empty handed, “All done - want a hand?”

“Um…”

“Here,” Remus came over and picked up a t-shirt from the basket. He held it up by the shoulders, shook the wrinkles out in one fluid movement and then hung it perfectly on exactly the rung Sirius would have chosen.

“You’re good at that,” Sirius commented.

“I’m worryingly domestic sometimes,” Remus laughed, “Mum used to be a cleaner, she’d take me on her jobs sometimes and obviously I had to help…”

“Cute.” Sirius smiled. They moved the drier under the window so it could get the sun, and then headed for Sirius’s bedroom. He’d left the music playing - another embarrassment.

“Belle & Sebastian!” Remus said, sounding surprised, “Are you branching out, Black?”

“Marlene just mentioned it earlier,” Sirius said, “I’d forgotten what they were called.”

“You wound me,” Remus said dryly, reaching out to stop Sirius from turning it off.

They sat on the bed listening for a bit, Remus tapping out the drum beat on his thigh. He seemed a little more rigid than usual, quicker with his jokes, less focussed.

“How was work?” He asked, looking at the photo frames on Sirius’s shelves, rather than at Sirius himself.

“Fine,” Sirius nodded, “We went to see the salon this morning - it’s almost there, on track to open at the end of August.”

“Brilliant!”

“Yeah, it feels real now.”

“...and James? Did you thank him for the fan? They can have it back now, if they need it.”

“Don’t be silly. They said you could keep it, they were happy to help.”

“Well. I’ll thank them somehow.” Remus cast around again, apparently searching for more smalltalk, “So… how’s college going?”

“Fine - Remus, are you ok?!”

“Fine!” Remus looked at him, frowning, “What?”

“You’re being weird…”

His face cracked into a wide grin, which put Sirius somewhat at ease, “Aren’t I always weird?”

“Ok then,” Sirius smirked back, “You’re being normal .”

“How dreadful,” Remus laughed. He shook his head, “I’m sorry! It’s just that I know we need to talk, but I don’t know how to start… I’ve never really done this kind of thing before.”

“You’ve never talked?”

“No, I mean I’ve never… you know. Had this kind of talk. A relationship talk.”

Sirius realised what he meant, and he was surprised, “Wait, have you never…?”

“Been a boyfriend? Nope.”

Sirius blinked, “Oh! Right, I hadn’t realised.”

“D’you think I’m…” Remus looked down, “I mean, does it make a difference to you? On top of everything else…”

“Of course not,” Sirius said, fast, “I wouldn’t judge you for something like that.”

“I feel like I’m going to make a lot of mistakes.”

“Well. I’m hardly perfect.” Sirius shrugged. Remus looked at at him, and held his gaze for a long time. Sirius wasn’t sure exactly what Remus was thinking, but he could feel the weight of importance in those grave green eyes.

“So,” Remus said, finally, “How do relationships start?”

“Er,” Sirius felt a bit put on the spot. He wasn’t used to analysing things like that, and he couldn’t tell if Remus was joking or not. “Well, in the movies it always starts with dinner.”

“Right, well I’ve got that in hand,” Remus laughed, “Risotto - veggie, if that’s ok?”

“Sounds perfect.”

“And, er… you can ask me stuff, if you want. I’ll try to be honest.” Remus looked shifty and nervous again.

“If you’re not comfortable…” Sirius started, but Remus shook his head, determined,

“No, don’t make excuses for me,” he said, “I want to do this right. Come on, are you hungry now?”

He got up and left the room, heading for the kitchen. Sirius went after, not sure whether or not to feel thrilled that Remus was trying so hard, or concerned that it seemed to be so much effort for him.

“Where are the girls?” Remus asked, as he oriented himself in the kitchen, pulling out pots and pans and packets of rice and mushrooms.

“Marlene’s working, I don’t think Dorcas is staying tonight.”

“Oh, I thought Dorcas lived here?”

“She practically does,” Sirius nodded, “But not officially - she’s got parents up in Enfield.”

“Ah,” Remus began cooking, and Sirius watched him, leaning against the wall. He moved about the kitchen the way he moved about on stage; unconsciously deliberate, with a loping grace. He hummed to himself, completely absorbed in the task. In time, he looked up at Sirius and gave him a smile, “It’s nice to be cooking in a proper kitchen for once.”

“Oh right, I s’pose you don’t get much of a chance,” Sirius said, “I ought to cook more, but I’m lazy. When I lived with Prongs he did all the cooking.”

“Prongs?”

“James - just a stupid nickname from school.”

“Oh yeah, he calls you something too, doesn’t he?”

“Padfoot,” Sirius nodded.

“Padfoot.” Remus said softly, chopping onions carefully and quickly. He was quiet for a while, thinking, and then-, “Oh! I get it - black dog, right? Like the black shuck. It’s a play on your name.”

“Yeah,” Sirius said, surprised. No one had ever figured it out before; he and James had thought they were so clever when they were thirteen. “Blimey.”

“I have a bit of a thing for folklore,” Remus smiled, tipping the diced onion into a frying pan he’d been heating up, “I was a bit of a morbid kid - ghost stories and stuff. In the hospital all there was to do was read.”

The onion began to sizzle and a delicious smell rose up. Remus began breaking up a bulb of garlic.

“Is that why your band’s called Full Moon?” Sirius asked, thinking it was a pretty easy question to get started with.

“Erm… not exactly.” Remus frowned, laying the flat of his knife on top of a garlic clove, then crushing it with the heel of his hand, “That’s um… it’s a bit of an unpleasant joke. Fenrir’s idea.”

“Right… if you don’t want to tell me--”

“You may as well know”, Remus said, quickly, as if he had to get it out fast, “It wasn’t just the tumor that had me in hospital, I spent some time in a psychiatric unit too. When I was fourteen… and off and on, until I was sixteen.”

“Oh, ok,” Sirius didn’t really know how to respond to that.

“Mm, it’s a messy story. Maybe another time. Anyway, that’s how I met Fenrir. We weren’t on the same ward, obviously, I was in the kids unit, but there was a shared common area and a garden. He had a guitar with him and he taught me to play my first chords. When we started the band he wanted the name to reflect the fact that we both met in the loony bin, so - Full Moon. In the olden days people thought full moons made you go mad, that’s why it’s called lunacy.”

“Clever,” Sirius said. He felt a bit stupid, he didn’t know what else to say; it was a lot of information.

“And, y’know, ‘Remus’ is a moon, so…” Remus looked up, smiling.

Remus is a moon ,” Sirius echoed, like it was a prayer, or an incantation, “Suits you.”

“Not as cool as a star, I’ll grant you,” Remus winked. He turned back to pour rice into the pan, followed by some stock.

“Much cooler.” Sirius breathed.

Remus glanced back at him and smirked, “If you keep looking at me like that I’m going to have to do something about it.”

“Oh yeah?” Sirius replied, heart quickening.

“Yeah and I’ll burn your dinner.”

“I’m not doing anything,” Sirius said, hooking his thumbs in his belt loops and shrugging innocently, biting his bottom lip. Remus made a strained noise in his throat, and raised an eyebrow,

“Watch yourself, Padfoot .”

“Rather watch you, Moony ,” Sirius teased.

Remus chuckled, and shook his head, curls bouncing. Sirius couldn’t take it, and came up behind Remus, placing his hands lightly on his hips, pressing into his body and kissing his neck. Remus sighed, relaxing a little, “I’m trying to cook you a romantic dinner…”

“And I’m grateful,” Sirius grinned, sliding a hand down, under Remus’s waistband.

“Mmm, I really will burn this…” Remus whispered, tilting his head back to give Sirius better access to his neck and half-heartedly stirring the rice again.

“Oh no,” Sirius cooed, his fingers closing around Remus’s erection, “Am I making it hard for you?”

Remus swallowed, adam’s apple bobbing delightfully as Sirius squeezed him firmly.

“I’m trying to be a good boyfriend here!” Remus gasped,

“So am I!”

Remus twisted around, grabbing Sirius’s wrist to still his movements, and kissing him full on the mouth as compensation, “Patience is a virtue, Black,” Remus tapped him on the head with the clean end of his wooden spoon. “Now go and lay the table for me.”

“Fine,” Sirius sighed, withdrawing his hand, pretending to be put out, though he rather liked being told what to do by Remus.

He went to wash his hands in the sink before collecting the cutlery, “You can call me Padfoot, if you want,” he said. “I like it.”

Remus smiled at him again, the blush was slowly leaving his cheeks, but the wicked glint lingered in his eyes, a promise of what might come later. Sirius had to avert his own eyes just to hold it together. He half wanted to suggest that they just forget about dinner and eat it cold later - but Remus had gone to so much trouble for him, and it really did smell good.

Remus dished up, and they ate it at the little fold out table in the living room.

“Luxury,” Remus commented, setting down a plate in front of Sirius, “I normally eat on my bed with my laptop open next to me.”

The thought of eating anywhere near bedsheets was anxiety inducing for Sirius, he hated spilled food. He didn’t say anything though, just took a mouthful,

“This is delicious!” He said, honestly, as he wolfed down the risotto, “You’re welcome to use the kitchen whenever the mood strikes you,”

“Noted,” Remus grinned, “Does my cooking stack up next to James’s, then?”

“Absolutely. He would never have used this much cheese, too much fat.”

“Life is nothing without cheese,” Remus replied. He played with his food thoughtfully, spearing a mushroom with his fork, “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Have you and James ever… I mean, I know he’s with Lily now, but you’re very close, aren’t you?”

“We are,” Sirius nodded - this wasn’t the first time someone had brought up his relationship with James, “Have been ever since our first year of school. But no, James is pretty decidedly straight, so nothing like that. He was my first kiss, though.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Sirius felt warm with the memory, “On my fifteenth birthday. I’d just come out to him and it was a really shit time - mostly stuff with my family, you know - anyway we were both moping about, complaining how we’d never been kissed, and he just suggested it. It was probably the kindest thing anyone had ever done for me.”

“That’s really sweet,” Remus said.

“What about you?” Sirius asked, “When was your first kiss?”

“Well I don’t want to boast, but I was thirteen,” Remus said wryly, “Moira MacIntosh. They had a disco at the children’s hospital, so we wouldn’t feel like we were missing out on normal growing up stuff. She followed me into the loos during the macarena.”

Sirius laughed, “Amazing,”

“It was, a bit,” Remus mused, “She was fourteen, so I was thrilled, of course; an older woman.”

“Are you still in touch?”

“Ah… no. She died, two years later.”

“Shit. Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Remus shook his head, “Sorry, a lot of my stories end like that. Anyway, it’s a happy memory - she wanted something and she went for it.”

“Like you,” Sirius said. Remus laughed,

Nothing like me!”

“I seem to remember you being pretty direct…”

“Oh, that,” Remus shrugged, “That’s just sex, that’s nothing to do with actual confidence. Anyway, I only went after you because you’d been ogling me all night. Had to throw you a bone eventually.”

“Cheeky git,” Sirius barked, “I get plenty of offers, I’ll have you know.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Remus replied, giving Sirius that grave, intense look again. Sirius had to grip is fork to stop himself trembling. Remus finally released him, returning to his food, and continued, conversationally, “I just pretend to be a confident person, but it’s not hard to shatter the facade. Whereas you -” he gestured at Sirius with his fork, “You’ve got confidence on tap. The real thing.”

“Have I?” Sirius snorted, thinking about the bruise on his shin from falling over the laundry basket earlier.

“Of course; you’ve got that rich-boy, good looking, well-bred thing going on.”

“Oof,” Sirius said, flinching a bit, “Why do those feel like insults coming from you?”

“I don’t mean it like that,” Remus said quickly, his face suddenly earnest, “I just mean… I dunno, maybe I’m jealous. You and all your mates, you all make it look easy. If I could have a second skin, I’d probably dress up in you…

“Blimey,” Sirius blinked, “You should write that down, that’s deep.”

“It’s from the song you plonker!” Remus laughed, shaking his head, “Belle & Sebastian - the one I did at the charity gig.”

“Oh!” Sirius felt himself blushing, “I forgot…”

“Here I was thinking that night meant something to you…” Remus sighed dramatically, raising his wrist to his forehead in a parody of despair. Sirius laughed and gave him a shove,

“It did ! I’m just terrible at remembering lyrics.”

“Ah ha, I knew it!” Remus’s eyes gleamed with triumph, “You were only listening to them to try and impress me!”

Sirius’s cheeks grew even hotter and he covered his face with his fingers, “Ok, fine!” He groaned,, “You got me. Still think I’m confident?!”

“I think you’re adorable.” Remus said, pulling his hands down from his face, leaning forward and kissing him.

Once they’d both finished, Remus collected up the plates and tried to do the washing up, but Sirius stopped him, “No way, you cooked, I’ll clean!”

“Are you sure? I don’t mind,”

“You’ve done your ‘good boyfriend’ duty, now let me do mine,” Sirius insisted.

“Well, you’re the authority…”

“Hardly,” Sirius laughed, “Only boyfriend I ever had was Gid, and I don’t think either of us did a very good job.”

He washed up, and they went back to the bedroom.

Remus checked the time, “I’m ok to stay the night, aren’t I? Otherwise I’d better be going soon…”

“No of course, please stay!”

“Good, I was worried you only wanted me for my risotto.”

“Of course not,” Sirius pulled him in for a kiss, which became a snog, which became a very long over-the-clothes groping session on the bed.

“Well, there’s always that too,” Remus purred, as he began to undo Sirius’s jeans.

* * *

“Next time I’ll bring dessert, too.” Remus said, returning from the bathroom wearing nothing but his boxers and a flushed smile. Sirius was lounging naked on the bed, happy and relaxed, Bell & Sebastian playing on, their back catalogue seemingly endless.

“You can’t still be hungry.”

“I’m always hungry,” Remus answered, glancing at himself in the mirror, tugging self consciously at his hair, “Anyway, dessert doesn’t count as food.”

“I think Marls has some ice cream hidden in the back of the freezer,” Sirius mused, watching Remus move about his room as if he belonged there.

“I couldn’t steal from Marlene, she’s always got a pair of scissors on her person.”

“I could nip to the Tesco on the corner and get--”

“You’re not going anywhere.” Remus threw him a commanding glance, and Sirius closed his mouth. Remus smirked, returning to the mirror, now inspecting his bruise, almost gone now, “Do you have anything on tomorrow?” He asked, “I’ve got a practice, but not ‘til the evening.”

“College at nine,” Sirius sighed, disappointed, “But I could bunk off…”

“No, don’t be silly. I ought to go home and get to grips with the new bassline for -- hey, this is the song!” Remus tapped at Sirius’s laptop to turn the sound up, “You need some decent speakers, this is butchering the bass…”

The slow rhythm started up, and Sirius vaguely remembered it from that night - truth be told, it wasn’t really the song he’d been interested in at the time so much as Remus’s hands, and the flash of his long white throat and the coy smile as he tossed his curls from his eyes. Hearing the tune again, with the same beautiful young man standing only a metre away, humming along and tapping those long fingers against his desk, Sirius found himself entranced once more.

“This bit, this bit’s my favourite bit…” Remus said eagerly, pointing at the laptop and singing along very quietly, almost at a murmur, so that he harmonised with the singer, “... always loved you… you always had a lot of style… ” at that, the bass lowered and seemed to shudder, like a heartbeat, and Remus - for lack of a guitar, perhaps - wiggled his narrow hips in time with it, grinning.

“Oh yeah,” Sirius grinned back, “Clearly genius, that.”

“Philistine.” Remus tutted, crawling back onto the bed, towards Sirius, “Caught your breath?” He asked, his voice very low and deep.

“Just about…” Sirius said, rolling onto his back, propped up on his elbows, “Why, what are you going to--- oh!”

Remus had grabbed his ankles and pulled him down, horizontal, and was already climbing over him, lips working their way up the inside of his thigh,

“Again?” Sirius whimpered.

Remus met his eye and grinned, “Again.”

* * *

Sirius was thrilled to discover that their newfound emotional intimacy had not dampened any other kind of intimacy. In fact, he was starting to wonder how he’d ever keep up with Remus; he needed to start exercising or drinking more water or something. By the time they were finished, darkness had fallen outside, and Sirius needed a full two minutes to return to earth.

Remus went to draw the curtains over, “Your place is so much cooler than mine,” he said, “‘Til I got that fan I was barely sleeping at night, when’s this heatwave going to end?!”

“Hmmm.” Sirius sighed, unable to verbalise just yet.

Remus chuckled, laying back down beside him, propped up on an elbow. He trailed a finger along the line of sweat gathered on Sirius’s collar bone. “Have I made it up to you?”

“Hmm?”

“Have I made it up to you? For the ghosting, and the migraine?”

Sirius turned his head to meet Remus’s eyes, “You explained it, you don’t need to make it up to me. And the migraine wasn’t your fault.”

“Ok, just checking.” Remus lay down properly.

“You’ve really never been in a relationship?” Sirius asked, finally. “Not ever?”

“Not exactly,” Remus replied, a bit uncomfortably, “Not properly. But… well, I suppose you’ve guessed. Fenrir.”

“I couldn’t help wondering…” Sirius felt as though he was intruding, but that packet of condoms on Fenrir’s bedroom dresser kept blinking in his mind.

“Well I don’t want to go into detail,” Remus sighed, “But yeah. He was my first. For a long time my only. Except I’m not sure I’d call it a relationship, it wasn’t exactly...” he cast around, seemingly unable to find the right words. In the end he just gestured at Sirius, “Well, it was never like this, let’s just say that.”

“You said you met him when you were fourteen…”

“Nothing happened until I was sixteen.” Remus said quickly.

“That's so young!”

“That's the lawful age of consent. And I did consent.” He said this very firmly. The hard tone was unexpected, and made Sirius want to withdraw.

Remus shook his head, “It’s hard to explain, all right? That’s why I don’t. Anyway, it’s all over now. He’s just the singer, and I’m just the bassist.”

Sirius didn’t say anything more, worried about pushing Remus too far. He had the sense that if Remus hit his limit then he’d shut down, and that would be it for the rest of the night. And they’d had such a nice afternoon. He rolled towards him, wrapping his arms around Remus’s waist and laying his head on his chest. Remus stiffened for a moment - they hadn’t really cuddled much so far - but he did his best. Hands that had been pulling on Sirius’s hair only minutes before now awkwardly patted and stroked his shoulder.

“Are you comfortable?” Sirius asked, not letting go.

“Fine,” Remus replied, almost convincingly. “Shall I turn off the music?”

“Oh, yeah, better do,” Sirius sighed, freeing Remus and getting up himself to do it. Well, it was a small step, anyway. Remus had already moved away, stretched out on his own side of the double bed, pulling the sheets up over his scarred torso.

“I quite like Belle & Sebastian,” Sirius said, not wanting to sleep just yet.

“You shouldn’t listen to them like that, all in one go.” Remus murmured, closing his eyes, “They’re meant to be heard as albums.”

“Music snob,” Sirius teased.

“Maybe,” Remus raised an eyebrow, eyes still closed, “But I’m right. Try Tigermilk, you’d like that one, I think. Listening to Belle & Sebastian on shuffle is like reading the chapters of a book in the wrong order.”

“Hm,” was all Sirius said, though he couldn’t help but think that that was exactly what it was like getting to know Remus Lupin.

Chapter Text

Prongs: Cinema tonight? Lily’s out and there’s a film I want to see.

Padfoot: Is it a horror film?

Prongs: ...more like a thriller.

Padfoot: You’ve tricked me with that before.

Prongs: You’ll like it!

Padfoot: I hate horror films!

Prongs: No you don’t, you loved The Exorcist in first year!

Padfoot: I cried for three nights.

Prongs: I don’t remember that…

Padfoot: I couldn’t sleep in my own bed!

Prongs: Sure that wasn’t Marlene?

Padfoot: I still have nightmares!

Prongs: Fine, we can see a chick flick if you prefer.

Padfoot: Dickhead. Can’t, anyway, Remus is over - tomorrow?

Prongs: Bring Remus!

 

Sirius paused before responding to that suggestion.

Remus definitely wouldn’t have money for a movie, though Sirius could probably convince him to let him pay. And Sirius wanted to see James - maybe he even wanted to show off Remus a little bit - but a larger part of Sirius wanted to keep Remus all for himself. That was natural, surely. They were in the early stages, he just wanted to protect the balance. Remus didn’t like socialising, anyway, he’d said that.

 

Padfoot: I’ll have to check with him. It might not be a good night. Tomorrow, definitely!

Prongs: Ok xxx

Padfoot: Gaaaaaay.

 

Satisfied, Sirius slid his phone into his back pocket and waited for his bus to arrive. It had been a really good couple of weeks. He saw Remus every other day, and then James and Lily on the days between. And of course he saw Marlene all the time anyway, so everything was working perfectly.

The bus arrived and he hopped on, whistling a Belle & Sebastian tune to himself. He wasn’t sure which song it was; they all blended into one in his brain, he’d never had much of an ear for music - as long as it had a beat you could dance to Sirius was happy. He’d said as much to Remus, who had pretended to faint with shock. He was only teasing, but Sirius sometimes wished he cared about anything as much as Remus cared about music. Like James and rugby, or Lily and just about anything she ever attempted. Sirius had never had that sort of focus - his life story read as a litany of lazy attempts and crushing failures. His Economics A-Level, for example. He’d been getting full marks in it, but dropped the second his parents kicked him out. Then there was Art college, which he’d tried for a year, but never really fit in. Even Gideon; Sirius hadn’t been able to hold his attention long enough, no matter what he’d tried.

Everyone Sirius knew had a passion. Everyone he knew seemed to know exactly what they were supposed to be doing. And what was he doing? He’d gone from copying James to copying Marlene, cutting old ladies hair, and watching all of his friends achieve more and more.  

He got off the bus in a gloomier mood than he’d got on it, and didn’t cheer up until he reached the seventh floor of the tower block he’d arrived at.

“Hello?” He knocked on the door, pushing it open - Mrs Figg always left her door open.

“Is that my boyfriend?” She called from the kitchen.

“One of them, anyway,” he called back, grinning to himself as he closed the door behind him. “You really ought to lock your door, Arabella.”

“Oh pshh,” she shook her head impatiently, coming into the hall to greet him, “What have I got worth nicking?”

“It’s still dangerous,” he said, remembering the stabbing he’d read about in the Metro. It had only been a street away.

“I s’pose you’re right. Kids today, honestly,” she tutted, “I tell you what, when I was a girl we all left our doors unlocked, you could trust your neighbours back then…”

“Mm hmm...” he guided her through to the bathroom, “The usual, then?”

“Please, dear,” she nodded, taking her seat in front of the sink, “Of course, that was back when the Krays ran everything. Better times.”

“The Krays?!” Sirius spluttered, trying not to laugh as he ran the warm tap, “It was better when they were in charge?”

“Oh yes,” she said, dreamily, “They were rough lads, all right, but they were local . Trusted them more than we trusted the Old Bill. My sister got taken out by Reggie once, you know.”

“Really?!”

“Perfect gentleman, she said. Ronnie was a bit of a liability, of course…”

Sirius began to wash her hair as he listened to her talking about ‘the good old days’ of the East End, the outdoor toilets and kids playing in the streets, criminal gangs and women scrubbing their front doorsteps. He supposed everyone thought their own teenage years were the best.

“...and I was being courted by three young men, at the time, Father liked to joke I had one for Friday night, one for Saturday night, and one for church on Sundays,”

“Get in there, Arabella,” Sirius laughed, “You dark horse.”

“That’s how it was in them days,” she chuckled, “You could have three boys on the go, if you wanted, as long as everything was decent. You young people today, you take it all so seriously.”

Sirius couldn’t argue with her there.

“And how many beaus have you got, lovie?” She eyed him as he towelled her damp hair.

“Oh, just the one.”

“Well! This is news!” she beamed, “What’s he like, then?”

“Er…” describing Remus was something Sirius found himself constantly trying to do, but he hadn’t yet come up with anything satisfactory. “He’s Scottish.”

“Very nice,” she said, knowingly, “I stepped out with a Scot once. Name was Jock - or that was his nickname, maybe. We drank each other under the table. Couldn’t understand a word he said after a few pints, but my god we had fun. Handsome - so handsome! Black hair, six foot two… ahh. Yours is good looking, is he?

“Very,” Sirius nodded.

“Treats you well?”

“Oh, yeah, of course.”

“Lovely,” she leaned back and closed her eyes, “You enjoy yourself, eh? Don’t take everything so seriously.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“I wonder what ever happened to Jock,” she mused, “You know what I’d do, if I could go back and meet him again?”

“Tell him you loved him?”

“Heavens, no!” she cackled, “I’d shag the arse off him!”

Sirius burst out laughing, and could barely catch his breath for at least ten minutes after that.

* * *

After he’d finished at Mrs Figg’s Sirius checked his phone in the lift - he couldn’t wait to tell Remus about their conversation, he knew he'd find it hilarious too. Much to his surprise, Remus had already messaged him,

 

Hiya - James called to let me know about the change of plans. Shall I just meet you at his?

 

Sirius frowned. What change of plans?! As soon as he was out of the lift and had signal he opened his chat with James and hit the call button,

“Alright Pads? You’re finished early!”

“Just had a message from Remus - something about a change of plans?”

“Yeah!” James replied brightly, “I rang him to check, like you said - he seemed up for it,”

“I said I’d check,” Sirius said, trying not to sound too angry, even though he was, “Where did you even get his number?”

“Lily had it. You ok, mate?”

“Fine. What’s the plan, then? Since nobody's told me…”

“Movie night - Lupin said he couldn’t afford the cinema, so I suggested we just do Netflix and… well, not chill , but you know. Netflix and hanging out. Netflix and manly bonding.”

“Right.”

“Seriously, are you ok? You sound weird.”

“Just having a long day, that’s all. I’ll see you later then - six?”

“Perfect. See you!”

Sirius hung up. He was agitated now. James meant well - James always meant well, but sometimes his good-natured inclusiveness bordered on intrusion. Sirius had been looking forward to an evening alone with Remus. They were still new; they were getting to know each other. How were they supposed to do that with Prongs hanging around?

He replied to Remus’s message quickly while waiting for his next bus.

 

Sounds good - I’ll bring the popcorn.

 

He had one more appointment to get to, out in Leyton this time. On the bus on his way there he passed through Stratford and thought about Full Moon’s shared flat. Remus hadn’t spent any more nights there, but he’d been going to band practice three nights a week. It was important, he said - they really had a chance at touring - the holy grail for any band - and they needed to be tighter than ever. Sirius had no idea what ‘tight’ meant, really, but he nodded along and looked serious whenever Remus talked about it.

His phone buzzed.

 

What sort of popcorn?

 

Cheering up a bit, he smirked and responded, Salted, obviously. Don’t tell me you like sweet?!

 

Would it surprise you to learn that I like both?

Mixed up together??

Obviously.

Pervert.

:P Sometimes I sprinkle cinnamon on it too.

Outrageous!

Once I had it with cinnamon and parmesan. I don’t believe in the popcorn binary. Popcorn is a glorious spectrum.

I’m not sure I’m ready for this level of debauchery

I’ll be gentle with you.

Are we still talking about popcorn?

Minx. Gtg, boss is watching - see you later!

Later!

 

Somewhat mollified, Sirius carried on with his afternoon and began to look forward to the evening. On his way to James and Lily’s he went to the Little Waitrose to buy posh popcorn, as well as some parmesan and cinnamon. He also picked up a box of Cadbury’s miniature heroes, because last week he had watched Remus eat an entire bar of fruit and nut in under a minute, and the way he blushed when Sirius teased him about it was utterly delightful.

Remus was already waiting outside the building when Sirius arrived, fiddling on his phone. He gave Sirius such a brilliant smile when he saw him that Sirius nearly dropped the bags he was carrying and collapsed into his arms. Remembering they were on a busy street in broad daylight, he maintained his composure and smiled back,

“Hiya,”

“Hi - ooh, Waitrose!” Remus nodded at the shopping bags, “Did you win the lottery?”

“Just thought I’d splash out for a treat…” Sirius looked down, embarrassed. Remus always made such a big thing about money. “You’ll thank me when James whips out the carrots and hummus.”

Remus pulled a face, “Ah yes, the healthy eater…”

“Is he not answering?” Sirius said, gesturing at the closed door.

“Er… I was waiting for you.” Remus said. Now it was his turn to look bashful. Sometimes Sirius forgot how shy Remus could be, especially when he was so forward most of the time.

“C’mon, then,” Sirius pulled out his fob.

They entered the building and walked through the quiet lobby to the lift. As soon as the doors pinged shut Remus went in for one of his sneak attacks, snogging Sirius within an inch of his life, his cool hands sliding under Sirius’s t-shirt, featherlight fingertips stroking his waist. Then he really did drop his bags.

They finally pulled apart just as the doors opened again. Remus was pink and grinning,

“Hi,” he said again.

“Hi.” Sirius breathed back.

Remus bent down to help him with the bags and they left the lift, making their way down the hall.

“Sorry James called you like that,” Sirius said quickly, before they entered the flat, “He’s a liability, honestly.”

“I thought it was nice,” Remus shrugged, “You’ve told me so many stories about James, be cool to spend some time with him.”

“You’re nice to humour him,”

“I’m not! I mean it!” Remus insisted.

The door suddenly opened, and James stood there, grinning widely, “I thought I heard your dulcet tones! Come in!”

They did, and Sirius made a beeline for the kitchen to set his bags down on the counter and begin unpacking all of his popcorn.

“Blimey,” James commented, as Sirius pulled out packet after packet, “How many films were you planning to get through?”

“Go big or go home,” Sirius replied blithely.

“Parmesan?! Are you cooking for me?”

“That’s for Remus, you don’t do dairy.”

“You didn’t?!” Remus laughed, coming over to look. He picked up the block of cheese, “You nutter. I never knew it came like this, I usually get the ready-grated stuff.”

“Only the best,” Sirius winked.

They made three massive bowls of popcorn - one sweet, one salted and one mix of both, then carried those plus all the various accoutrements through to the living room, settling onto the couch. Sirius sat in the middle, James to his right and Remus on his left. It was pretty weird having both of them in the same room.

“So,” James said, lifting the remote, “What are we watching? Remus?”

“Oh, I’m easy,” Remus shrugged noncommittally, “I’ll watch anything. Er - nothing with superheroes in it though, I beg you,”

“And no horror!” Sirius said firmly.

“Wuss,” James tutted.

“Don’t like scary movies, then?” Remus tilted his head curiously.

“Hate them,” Sirius shuddered.

“What do you like?”

“Superhero movies,” Sirius poked his tongue out, making Remus laugh, “Comedy, I s’pose. Action. What about you, not a horror fiend like Potter, are you?”

“Don’t you two watch films together?” James asked, “That’s all you used to -- er --- I mean. It’s all me and Lily did, when we started going out.”

Sirius shot him a look. He knew what James had been about to say - that when Sirius was going out with Gideon they’d spent all their time watching films in bed together. Awful college comedies, mostly, or whatever blockbusters had been out the year before. Sirius’s taste in cinema was about as discerning as his taste in music - only he didn’t want Remus to know that.

“We haven’t, really,” Remus said, not really noticing James’s almost-slip, “I s’pose we’re busy doing other things.”

Sirius felt a hot blush rising up the back of his neck, and grabbed the remote from James to change the subject, “Let’s just see what’s on, shall we?”

He flicked on the TV. They had everything - Netflix, Amazon, Now TV (with Sky Sports, of course), iPlayer, ITV player… there was almost too much choice. They settled on a new movie which looked shiny and futuristic, but started to bore Sirius twenty minutes in.

He kept stealing glances at Remus, and then at James, trying to look like he wasn’t. Did he act differently around either of them? Should he act differently? It had been simple enough when he was seeing Gid - they all knew each other from school; there was a precedent for how to behave.

The couch was big, with plenty of room for a fourth person, and Remus sat with his knee bent, one foot tucked under the other, so that his toe nudged Sirius’s thigh through pink and blue polka dot socks. Sirius wasn’t especially into feet, but that was very distracting nonetheless.

“He’s gonna fire,” James said, suddenly, and Sirius realised he was talking about the character on screen. Some kind of shoot out seemed to be taking place in a warehouse,

“Nah,” Remus replied, reaching for some more popcorn, “He’s a double-agent.”

“How do you know?!”

“Just watch, he’s going to turn on them any minute.”

“No way!”

A few moments later, the character they were talking about opened fire on the main character, who collapsed to the ground.

“See,” Remus said, sounding rather smug. He drew up both his feet now, and sat sideways, wriggling his toes under Sirius’s thigh.

“Have you seen this before?” James asked, agape.

“Nope,” Remus shrugged, “Just a good guess.”

James shook his head in disbelief, still engrossed in the film. He was leaning away from Sirius, on the arm rest of the chair, his eyebrows furrowed as he focused on the various explosions now destroying the warehouse.

“Are you bored?” Remus whispered to Sirius, who blinked and turned to him,

“No!”

“You’re not watching,”

“Action’s just not my thing.”

“Padfoot likes chick-flicks,” James crowed, and Sirius hit him across his legs, blushing,

“Shut up! I like loads of films.”

“What’s your favourite?” Remus asked, interested.

“Umm… couldn’t possibly pick one.” Sirius chewed his lip nervously.

“You liar!” James said, sitting up, “You don’t have a favourite film? So that movie you made me watch at least once a week at school was just--”

“Shut it, Prongs!”

“--and you learnt all the words, and the dance steps, and you have the costume for--”

“Just because I liked it at school doesn’t mean--”

“We went to a live performance last year!”]

“Ok, I really need to know, now,” Remus laughed, looking at James and then Sirius, who was sure he had turned completely crimson with embarrassment now.

“It’s stupid, it’s not my favourite …” he muttered.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show! He had the limited edition DVD in year eight and everything!” James was explaining eagerly, eyes twinkling, “Every time there’s a showing at the Prince Charles we all have to go.”

“Of course!” Remus said, “I should have guessed!”

“What do you mean?” Sirius looked up, shocked - was he really that predictable?

“Well, you do own a PVC mini skirt,” Remus nudged him, “I bet you’re always Frank, right?”

“Obviously,” James answered on Sirius’s behalf, “And I’m Brad, Lily’s Janet, Marls is Magenta - oi, Pads, we ought to take Remus next time! Who could he be…”

“Please,” Remus snorted, “Not Columbia, I don’t have the legs for it!”

“I think Dorcas got Columbia, last time we went,” James sad, thoughtfully, rubbing his chin, “RiffRaff?”

“Fab’s RiffRaff,” Sirius sighed. It sounded as though this was happening whether he liked it or not. At least Remus didn’t seem too horrified by how tragically uncool Sirius was, and was playing along with James,

“Well I’m not being Rocky!” Remus burst out laughing, creasing up.

“Nah, Gideon’s always Rocky,” James said, “He’s the only one with the muscles for it.”

“Oh yeah?” Remus said, neutrally.

“Yeah, don’t let the ginger hair fool you, he’s got the body of a greek god. Hasn’t he Pad - ? ..Er… oh…” James suddenly realised what he was saying and fell apart, “I mean, he’s always at the gym, he fancies himself, that’s all.”

Remus looked down, and pulled his knees up tighter, so that he wasn’t touching Sirius any more. James noticed too, and tried to backtrack,

“I didn’t mean anything like…”

“It’s fine!” Remus looked up, smiling - though his eyes weren’t quite as cheerful, “I’ve hardly got the physique for gold knickers.”

“Who has?” James laughed, running his fingers through his hair. “Anyway, I’m amazed Padfoot hasn’t made you watch it already, it’s all he ever talked about when he was fifteen.”

“Ten years ago!” Sirius said through gritted teeth, “And you were exactly the same with Top Gun, so--”

“Oi, you liked Top Gun too!”

“Only with the sound off,” Sirius stuck out his tongue, making Remus laugh again.

“What about you, Lupin?” James asked, “What’s your guilty pleasure film?”

“Pretty Woman,” Remus said, without skipping a beat,

“What?!” Sirius barked, surprised, “You’re joking?!”

“No?” Remus raised an eyebrow, “I like the happy ending. And Julia Roberts’ boots.”

“I love that film,” Sirius said, still amazed - he’d expected Remus to name some indie film, or something with subtitles he’d never even heard of.

“Well, you’re not the only one who likes chick-flicks,” Remus relaxed a little, letting his feet slide snugly under Sirius’s legs once more.

“Yeah but did you ever wear thigh-high boots like Julia Roberts?” James asked, still not finished teasing Sirius apparently, “Because Padfoot here…”

“Enough!” Sirius laughed, burying his face in his hands, “I’m begging you!”

“I’ve got pictures, y’know, Remus,” James said, talking over the top of Sirius’s head, “If you’d like to see…”

“Oh my god, yes!” Remus said, sitting up straighter.

“Let me see…” James flicked off the film and brought up the TV menu.

“They’re on your telly , Prongs?!” Sirius shaking his head, “Dear god, why?!”

“Mum and Dad wanted to see our holiday snaps from Majorca,” James explained, searching through folders, “So we just chucked everything in the cloud… a ha!” He clicked triumphantly, and the screen flashed up an image of them all standing outside Lily’s uni halls, all dressed up for Rocky Horror.

“Incredible,” Remus said, leaning forward to stare.

“Here we go…” Sirius grumbled.

Remus slapped his leg lightly, “Shut up, as if you don’t know how fit you are.”

Sirius blushed once more, and resolved to be quiet and let this happen.

Once upon a time, Sirius had known these photos intimately. He had flicked through them on his phone or on his laptop whenever he was down, or whenever he lonely - and that had been almost every day, once. He had carefully curated each album, tagged every person who appeared, captioned them with witty (or so he thought) comments and quotes. The albums were proof that he had friends, that he had fun, that his life was amazing.

“Christ,” Remus murmured, watching the slideshow tick past, “Gideon really does have an amazing body, eh?”

“Yeah,” James laughed, “Only bloke I know who’s as vain as Padfoot.”

Sirius snorted, “Rude.”

Remus turned his head, and caught Sirius’s eye. He wore a tiny frown, “I don’t think you’re vain,” he said, matter-of-factly.

Sirius ducked his head bashfully, caught off-guard. James looked over, curiously, and smiled, but didn’t comment.

They looked at a few more of the pictures - the first year of uni flashed by quickly in a blur of drunk loo selfies, fancy dress parties, hangover breakfasts in the local greasy spoon; trips to the beach or into London. Sirius remembered spending most of his time at Royal Holloway, where Lily, James and Gideon were studying, rather than at his art college at UCL. Probably why he’d failed the first year so badly, he hadn’t even really made friends, he’d spent all his time on trains or sleeping on James’s floor.

For second year, he’d dropped out of UCL and got a part time job at Royal Holloway, in the student shop. That was great, because it was only a few shifts a week and no responsibility at all. He, Gid, Fab and James shared a shitty little student house together, and that meant even more time for drinking, dancing, and generally doing very little work.

Photos from that year were of summer barbecues in their scrubby back garden, the time they’d bought a paddling pool and set it up in the living room, ruining the carpets. Loads of parties, more fancy dress, and that was also the year Marlene had come out. She’s been studying at Durham, and came down for a weekend visit in a denim dress, hair grown out long and painted nails. She didn’t want any fuss, she said, just remember that she’s Marlene now, not Martin, and they’d all carry on as usual. Sirius had been fascinated, as someone who had always longed for transformation. He was jealous of the way she’d blossomed, taken charge of her life.

By their third year at uni, Sirius and Gideon’s on and off relationship had become unbearable. They didn’t officially share a room, but Sirius had deliberately taken the smallest bedroom in their shared house with the assumption that they would be sleeping in the same bed every night anyway.

Sometimes they did, but more and more Sirius found himself alone in that tiny box room, fretting and worrying about where Gideon was and who he was with. The pictures from that year didn’t really show those changes, but Sirius could tell that something was off. You could see it in the clothes Sirius had started wearing - more and more outrageous with each month, desperate for attention from anybody.

They’d broken up officially by the end of third year, but still slept together on occasion. Actually, that had been going on for years. Sirius felt a bit pathetic about it, but it had been a comfort, too, having Gideon to return to. At least he always knew what to expect.

Of course, James mentioned none of this as he whizzed through the pictures. He narrated the story of his pursual of Lily, and their early relationship, and pointed out a few familiar faces to Remus, but besides that, Sirius supposed James had a completely different view of their university years. For one thing, James had actually been at university, not piggybacking on someone else's experience like Sirius. This was never clearer than in the last few photos, from graduation day. James, Gid, Fab and Lily all had their robes and hats on, clutching their degrees in crisp white envelopes embossed with the University crest. And in the background, Sirius, laughing, making some idiotic joke, wearing a plain suit and holding a beer.

“Looks like you all had such a great time,” Remus said, when it was over. He sounded a bit tired, and Sirius wished they’d just get off the subject now,

“Yeah, it was brill,” James grinned, “Where did you study, Remus?”

“Officially it was The University of Manchester,” Remus said, “But I only ever went for the graduation ceremony. I did most of my degree from the hospital, so...”

That did put an end to it. James decided he was hungry, next, and wandered into the kitchen to look for food.

“You ok?” Remus turned to look at Sirius, “You’re very quiet.”

“Fine!” Sirius laughed, “Just mourning my wasted life, you know.”

“Wasted?” Remus raised an eyebrow, “All that fun you had! All your friends!”

“Yeah,” Sirius nodded. He knew that was how he ought to look at it. “Come on, are you hungry? We’d better get involved or Prong’s’ll serve us something healthy.”

“I heard that!” James yelled.

Sirius made an effort to cheer up a bit as they entered the kitchen. James and Remus seemed to be getting on really well, throwing banter back and forth like old friends. They began trading vegetarian recipe ideas, though Remus gave James a look of abject horror when he suggested cutting down on carbohydrates.

“You’ll notice the difference, I swear!” James said, chopping up some bell peppers for an elaborate salad, “More alert, quicker reflexes - I bet your playing will improve.”

“My playing is impeccable,” Remus retorted, archly, “Sugar gives me an edge.”

“When's your next gig? We loved the last one, me and Lily,”

“Thanks. Won’t be for a while, we need to focus on practicing at the moment for this tour.”

“You’re going on tour? Brilliant!”

“Well, it’s not set in stone yet, but hopefully,” Remus said modestly, “That reminds me, I need to see if work will give me the leave or I have to quit…”

“Quit?” Sirius blinked, “How long is the tour?”

“Depends,” Remus shrugged, “Could be as much as six weeks, if they want to take us on the European leg.”

“Oh, right,” Sirius nodded, panicking on the inside. Six weeks?! Remus could be leaving him for six weeks ?!

“Like I said,” Remus eyed him, choosing his words carefully, “Nothing’s set in stone.”

“Will you be around for Dorcas’s birthday, do you reckon?” James asked, now tearing lettuce,

“I don’t know, when is it?”

“Two weeks - oi, Pads, why didn’t you invite him? Been booked in for months!”

“Just forgot,” Sirius muttered, opening the freezer in search of something to bulk up the salad. He found some garlic bread and threw it in the oven.

* * *

James wanted them to stay over, but Sirius wanted Remus to himself, finally, and they managed to get out of it. They thanked him for the dinner and Sirius promised he would be over as soon as possible for a proper gaming session.

Remus was quiet for the first five minutes of the walk home. It was high summer, and though it was late it wasn’t fully dark out yet. The streets were hot and dirty, pavements littered with people smoking, chatting, drinking.

“Do you not want me to come to Dorcas’s birthday?” Remus asked, finally, “I don’t mind if it’s friends only.”

“What?” Sirius frowned, “No, of course I want you to come! I just… I didn’t think you liked social stuff.”

“I do when it’s with you,” Remus said.

“Ok, I hadn’t realised,” Sirius returned. He knew he was being a bit snappy. He’d been out of sorts all day.

“You seemed a bit off about me coming this evening, too,” Remus pushed, “Did you want to be alone with James?”

“No!” Sirius stopped walking, surprised, “The opposite! I wanted to spend time with you!”

“Right,” Remus said, “So do you want to keep me away from your friends, or are you trying to keep your friends away from me?”

“Remus, it’s nothing like that! It’s just… you know, we’re just getting to know each other,”

“Yeah, and part of that is me getting to know James and Lily and all the others - they’re such a huge part of your life, you talk about them all the time,”

“I understand,” Sirius bit his lip. He had a horrible churning sensation in his chest and stomach - an all too familiar feeling, like a rug being pulled out from under him. “I’m really sorry, I was just trying to… I dunno, keep you to myself,” he said, desperately, “Please don’t be angry!”

“I’m not angry,” Remus shook his head, surprised, “I just wasn’t sure what was going on. It’s fine, ok?”

“Ok,” Sirius nodded.

They kept walking, not speaking. Sirius’s anxiety did not diminish. His mind raced, trying to come up with ways to make it better, to make Remus like him again. When they reached the turning for Sirius’s place, Remus stopped again,

“I have a rehearsal really early tomorrow,” he said, “I was going to go back to mine…”

“Oh... “ Sirius felt as if all of the air was being sucked out of him. He was losing Remus! He’d been an idiot and wrecked everything, just like always.

“Do you mind staying over?” Remus asked, “I know it’s not as nice as your place.”

“I don’t mind!” Sirius jumped on it, heart still beating like a rabbit's.

“Good,” Remus gave him a smile, and they kept on towards his little bedsit above the chicken shop.

The door opened easier now, all the hot weather had dried out the wood, so instead of being swollen it was now in danger of cracking and splintering instead.

“If you have to quit your job,” Sirius said, as they climbed the stairs in the dingy hallway, “How will you pay the rent here?”

“Oh, I’ll have to move out, I expect,” Remus replied, letting them into his room and flicking on the light. “I can store a lot of my stuff at the rehearsal room, and the rest will just come on tour with me.”

“But when you get back, where will you…?”

“In Stratford, with the rest of the band, probably.” Remus began shifting things aside so that they had a clear path to the bed. Sirius felt the thrum of dread start up in his belly again. Greyback’s double bed and the condoms on the dresser.

“Really, you’d want to stay with them?” He asked, mouth dry,

“Don’t see why not, done it plenty of times before. Anyway, not much of a choice, I imagine I’ll be skint.”

“What about my place?”

“What?” Remus stopped his tidying and turned to meet Sirius’s eye, “You don’t mean that.”

“Of course I do! I’ve got loads of room, more than you’ve got here, anyway - you like it better there, don’t you?”

“Sirius, if I could afford a place like that, then--”

“Oh, that’s not a problem! I can help you out with the rent until you get another job, it’s honestly not a big deal.”

“It is to me.” Remus frowned, “Don’t you think it’s a bit early to be talking about moving in? And this could be two months away, we don’t know where we’ll be by then.”

“I know I’ll still want to be with you,” Sirius said, folding his arms.

Why was Remus resisting? Was there something else going on? Was this Gideon all over again, with the vague promises and the lies and the sneaking around?!

Remus’s face softened, and he reached out to touch Sirius’s arm, “That’s incredibly sweet, honestly. Of course I hope that’s what we’ll both want, but--”

“But what? You think you might still prefer Fenrir?!”

“Oi,” Remus recoiled sharply, “It’s not about who I prefer, I’m being practical, I’m being… look, me and Fen, it’s a work relationship, and an old friendship. You know that. I’ve known him since I was sixteen,”

“Yeah, but that doesn't mean you're bound to him forever, Remus!”

“It's not like that, you don't get it.”

“What about the next time you end up with a black eye?”

“Oh my god, it wasn’t a black eye you drama queen, it was a small bruise.”

“That’s better, is it?!”

“I told you, that wasn’t Fenrir.”

“Well I don’t believe you walked into a lamp post.” Sirius spat.

“No, ok, that was a lie.” Remus agreed, “But it wasn’t Fenrir!”

“Who was it, then?”

Remus sighed, heavily, “Some dickhead trying to start a fight, I got in the way, that’s all. He said Fen owed him money, and he got violent. You’d have to be an idiot to try and punch Fen, so he just hit the next best thing, which happened to be me. And if you must know, Fenrir hospitalised the guy who did it. Put his teeth through.” Remus’s eyes glinted as he said this, his cheeks flushing, as if the thought excited him.

“Jesus Christ.” Sirius shook his head, “You’d rather spend time with someone like that.”

“It’s not a bloody competition!” Remus said, fiercely, almost raising his voice.

Sirius didn’t know what to say. They hadn’t fought before, it was awful.

Remus stared at him for a while, his eyes still burning, before he exhaled and stepped back, “Look, I need a breather,” he said, his voice nearly calm, “Maybe you ought to go back to your own place, tonight. I’ll text you tomorrow.”

Sirius wanted to yell, to scream, to keep the fight going just so he didn’t have to leave yet. But he could see that Remus was done.

“Fine.” Sirius said, coldly. “If you like.”

He slammed the door behind himself.

Chapter Text

Moony: Hi

Sirius: Hello

Moony: How are you?

Sirius: Good thanks - you?

Moony: I’m ok

...

Moony: Sorry it’s taken me so long to text, been a bit of a day.

Sirius: That’s ok, I know you’re busy.

 

Sirius stared at his phone keyboard. He had a million things he wanted to say, but none of them seemed to be springing forth.

Sorry , first of all, he knew ought to say sorry. Then he should explain himself. I get scared when I think I’m losing someone. Blame my parents.

But he couldn’t bring himself to confess anything so personal. He didn’t want Remus to think he still cared about getting kicked out as a kid, because he didn’t. He didn’t give a shit about the Blacks, or the expectations they’d had, or how deeply he had failed them.

He had to say something, though. Otherwise he really would lose Remus. He rolled onto his front. He’d been lying on his bed all afternoon, waiting for Marlene to get home. She’d gone out for dinner with Dorcas and her parents, and Sirius supposed she might stay at the Meadowes’ and not come home at all. Maybe he ought to ring James, but then he didn’t want James to know anything was up. He’d have to admit what a prat he’d been, and James would be kind about it.

His phone buzzed again. He opened the message.

 

Moony: You’re really sexy when you’re angry ;)

 

Sirius almost fainted with relief. After taking a moment to catch up, he quickly typed back,

 

Sirius: Oh yeah? I’ll have to remember that, next time.

Sirius: Sorry I was a twat.

Moony: Sorry if I upset you about Fenrir.

Sirius: It’s ok. I miss you.

Moony: Oh yeah? How much?

 

Sirius bit his lip. Was it a test? He was just about to tap out a response when the doorbell rang, and Sirius practically leapt three feet in the air. Surely not?!

He flew to the door, and pulled it open to find Remus clutching his bass amp, guitar strapped to his back, shaggy hair sticking to his forehead in the heat.

“Hi,” Sirius breathed,

“Hi,” Remus grinned, stepping inside, closing the door behind himself, “I came straight from practice.”

“I see that,” Sirius bit his lip.

Remus set down his gear and gave Sirius one of those long, appraising looks he was so good at, the kind of look that turned Sirius’s blood hot. “Marlene in?”

“No,” Sirius shook his head.

“And we’re good?” He raised a stern eyebrow. Sweet jesus .

“Yes,” Sirius nodded emphatically, “I’m so sorry, really I’m so--”

“Sh.” Remus pressed a finger to his lips. “You’ve told me already. Now I want you to show me.” He glanced down and licked his lips.

The instruction was clear, and Sirius obeyed, dropping to his knees at once.

* * *

“You really don’t need to worry, you know,” Remus said, hours later, “About Fenrir, or the band. There’s nothing going on, it’s all in the past.”

“I know, I trust you,” Sirius replied, sighing and laying back against him.

They were on the couch. They’d done it in the hall, the kitchen, the bathroom (that had been a surprise, Sirius had thought they were finished, and they were cooling off, but Remus pulled him in the shower with him and off they went), and then again on the living room carpet. That might have been a bit much, Sirius felt like he needed another shower.

“You ok?” Remus murmured, lips against the back of Sirius’s neck, “Was that too much?”

“Of course not,”

“Sorry if I get a bit… bossy.”

Sirius snorted. ‘Bossy’ was hardly the word he would use for whatever seemed to possess Remus whenever he took his clothes off. Domineering, maybe. Commanding. Controlling. Sirius licked his lips deliciously, “I like it.”

“Good. Know what time it is?”

“Nope,” Sirius sat up, stretching, “Why, got somewhere else to be?”

“Nah, if I rehearse any more my calluses will have calluses.”

“You can get some cream for that, you know, just a basic moisturiser,”

“Expensive...”

“Not really. I get a tonne of samples at college, you can have them free if you want,”

“I knew it would come to this,” Remus sighed dramatically, “Start going out with a beautician and soon enough he’ll try to make you over.”

"Obviously you're gorgeous the way you are," Sirius grinned, “But if you’d prefer your hands not to hurt…”

“Ha, don’t try to win me over, it’s a slippery slope. First you’ll soften my hands, then you’ll want to give me a haircut…”

“Well since you mentioned it,” Sirius turned around to tug on Remus’s unruly locks. Remus laughed, pulling away,

“Nope. I like it how it is.”

“I don’t believe you!” Sirius teased. He combed his fingers carefully through Remus’s hair, pushing it back from his face, “You’ve got such a gorgeous jawline, I don’t know why you’d want to hide it.”

“It’s not my jawline I want to hide,” Remus sighed. He got up from the couch and stooped to pick up his jeans, “Anyway, I’m hungry, are you?”

“Yeah I could eat. Not sure what I’ve got in…”

There was nothing in the fridge, but Sirius managed to uncover a bag of oven chips in the bottom of the freezer, so they made do with that. He poured them all onto a big plate and they sat on the couch picking at it, half watching the News on BBC.

“So what’s the plan for Dorcas’s birthday?” Remus asked, “If I’m invited?”

“Of course! Dinner in town, the whole lot of us, then back here for a party. It’s next Saturday,”

“Great. Should I get her something?”

“Nah,” Sirius shook his head, “I’ll get her a card or something but she won’t expect a present.”

“That’s lucky,” Remus commented, “I need to start saving up for this tour,”

“It’s definitely happening, then?” Sirius tried to keep his tone even, though his nerves were already jangling at the thought of Remus disappearing with the band for an undetermined period.

“It’s looking good,” Remus shrugged, “We’re just waiting for sign-off from the headline act - Stupid Roar. It’s ok if you haven’t heard of them,” he laughed at the blank look on Sirius’s face.

“Are they… er.. Good?”

“Yeah, they’re brilliant. Bassist is a bit middle-of-the-road, but they were nominated for a Brit last year - that almost never happens with punk bands.”

“Cool,” Sirius nodded.

“If it all goes through,” Remus said, “I’ll miss the salon opening. Sorry,”

“Oh, that’s ok,” Sirius shrugged, “It’s not like you planned it. And you’re going to be touring !”

“Yeah,” Remus smiled, and it wasn’t his usual wry, sarcastic smirk; it was a broad beaming grin which lit up his eyes and crinkled the corners of his mouth, “I can’t believe it.”

They would make it work, Sirius decided. After all, this wasn’t the bloody nineteenth century, going abroad didn’t mean they’d never see eachother again. There were phones and planes and WiFi - half of Sirius’s relationships were maintained over WhatsApp anyway. Plus, he reasoned, he and Marlene were going to be so busy with the salon, it would fly by.

“When will you hear from this band, then?” He asked, hoping it would be a long time away.

“By Friday, hopefully. If we get it, might only be another week before the German leg - I’ve never even left the UK before, I can’t really believe it.”

“Amazing,” Sirius said, struggling to keep smiling. That meant they had just over a week left! Remus obviously caught his tone and glanced at him. He reached over and squeezed Sirius’s hand,

“Sorry this had to happen so soon. I’ll really miss you,”

“I’ll miss you too,” Sirius squeezed back. He didn’t know what else to say, and he was starting to get upset, so he changed the subject, “If it’s going to be that quick, will you even be able to make it to Dorcas’s birthday? I’ll understand if not…”

“No, I’d like to come,” Remus said brightly, “I really like your friends, they’re great.”

As if by magic, the front door opened at just that moment, and in tumbled Marlene and Dorcas giggling about something and chattering happily,

“Well well well,” Marlene said, hands on her hips as she caught sight of Remus and Sirius holding hands on the couch, “Isn’t this a cosy little scene?”

“Aww, leave them alone,” Dorcas chided her, “Remember our honeymoon phase?”

“I thought we were still in it!” Marlene gasped, affronted.

“How was dinner?” Sirius asked,

“Fine,” Dorcas sighed, plonking herself down next to Remus, kicking off her trainers, “Bit dull, went to the local carvery. My parents are painfully boring people,” she explained to Remus, “They think pizza is exotic.”

“Your parents are lovely,” Marlene countered, sitting next to Sirius.

“Mm, I suppose,” Dorcas mused, “They’re got awful taste in food, but they’re surprisingly cool about their lesbian daughter and her green-haired girlfriend.”

“That’s nice,” Remus said politely.

“Wish my parents were like yours,” Marlene sighed.

“Oh love, they’ll come around.” Dorcas said softly. Marlene rolled her eyes.

“Well, they did say they might come to the salon, when it opens, so that’s something,”

“That’s great,” Sirius nudged her, “I can’t imagine Walburga and Orion will ever be making an appearance - not that I’d want them to.”

“Oi,” Marlene said, “You don’t get to play ‘bad parent Olympics’, you’ve got the Potters, you lucky git.”

“They’re James’s parents,”

“As if you aren’t their little prince!”

“What about you, Remus?” Dorcas asked, “Get on with your folks?”

“No, not really,” Remus replied, very stiffly. He didn’t elaborate, and everyone fell quiet.

Sirius had wondered about Remus’s family - he hardly ever talked about them, but he never really talked about anything from the past. He’d mentioned his mum being a cleaner once, but that was all. And anyway, it wasn’t as if Sirius had volunteered much information about his own family.

“Hey,” Sirius spoke up, aiming to diffuse the tension, “Did I tell you what Mrs Figg said to me the other day?”

And he launched into the story of Arabella Figg and her Scotsman, which soon had everyone shaking with laughter. Remus offered Sirius the last chip with a grateful smile, and all was right with the world.

* * *

Gideon: Oi oi, stranger x

Sirius: What’s up?

Gideon: just checking in. Been a while.

SIrius: Been busy

Gideon: Fancy coming over?

Sirius: No

Gideon: Seeing the grunger with the bad hair?

Sirius: He’s not a grunger. I don’t think there have been ‘grungers’ since the early 00s.

Gideon: touched a nerve I see. Go on, come over? Miss you.

Sirius: No. I’m seeing Remus. Exclusively.

Gideon: Suit yourself. See you at the pub later?

 

Sirius didn't reply. He was planning to be at the pub - everyone was going - but he wasn’t going to tell Gid that, in case it was taken as an invitation. He ought to have expected a text like that, his relationship with Gideon was predictably cyclical. They would get together for a weekend, or maybe even a fortnight, spend all their time in bed watching films and shagging, then Gid would get bored and his eye would wander, or else Sirius would get too clingy, and either way it would end in a massive fight and they’d stop speaking for a while. So it had been since they were teenagers.

“You’ve broken the cycle now, though,” Lily said, when he told her, “Haven’t you?”

“Definitely,” he nodded, peeling the protective plastic off an enormous mirror at one of the hair stations with a satisfying rrrrip . The salon was finally finished, as far as building work went, and now all the fun stuff had started to arrive. Lily and James had very kindly taken the afternoon off to help Sirius set a few things up while Marlene was away at their wholesaler buying product.

Lily was sitting on the floor with a laptop setting up the internet while James constructed the flatpack reception desk. Any chance to flash his muscles.

“Good,” he said, waving a screwdriver, “Because we like Remus, we want to keep Remus,”

“Thanks for the input, Prongs,” Sirius laughed, “I’m pretty keen on him myself.”

He balled up the plastic from the mirror and tossed it in the recycling, then moved on to the next one. The place - McKinnon & Black’s - was starting to look like a real salon. The floors were warm polished wood, the walls painted cool cream (Marlene hadn’t been able to settle on a colour yet) and the chrome fixtures were gleaming. There was a little kitchen in the back, ready for a coffee machine, and upstairs had space for a massage room, if they decided to go through with that. For now they were using it as an office and dumping ground for equipment that didn’t have a home yet.

“Obviously we all love Gid,” Lily said diplomatically, “But you’re dreadful together,”

“I know,” Sirius said.

“And he treated you horribly,”

“Mm hmm.”

“I know we all said we forgave him last time, but how many times does someone have to cheat on you before--”

“Lil, give it a rest,” James said, quietly. She looked up at him, surprised, then glanced up at Sirius guiltily,

“Sorry, babe.”

Sirius shrugged, “Like you said, I’m over it.”

“Gush to us about Remus, go on,” she grinned, green eyes sparkling, “Make us sick,”

“Prongs is the one who gushes about Remus, not me!”

“I can’t help it,” James said, underneath the desk now, “He’s perfect - have you heard him tell a joke? Fucking poetry. And he likes horror films. And he liked my quinoa salad,”

“He gave me some brilliant recommendations for my jogging playlist,” Lily put in, “And he reads! We’re talking about forming a book club at work, if we can find the time between us.”

Sirius wasn’t sure how they would find the time - Lily and Remus were the two busiest people he knew.  

“I’m glad you both like him so much,” Sirius smiled. He finished pulling the plastic off the last mirror and decided he would start unboxing the hair dryers next. Just then, his phone buzzed. Expecting Gideon again, he pulled it out of his pocket with some reluctance, which turned to joy when he saw ‘Moony’ flashing up instead. (He’d changed it from ‘Remus’ in his phone the week before, it felt like such a precious nickname, better than ‘baby’ or ‘sweetie’ or whatever everyone else called the object of their affection).

 

Moony : Ring me when you’re free? x

 

Sirius hit ‘Call’ immediately, and Remus answered after only half a ring,

“We got it!” He gasped, breathless and excited, “We’re going on tour! Stupid Roar want us!”

“Oh my god!” Sirius said, his mind racing, “That’s brilliant! Moony, that’s fantastic, that’s… Wow! Where are you, shall I come over?!”

“I’m just finishing work, I need to go and tell my manager - jesus christ, I can’t wait to quit! No more fucking data entry -- oops, sorry --” he lowered his voice, apparently still at the hospital, “Then I need to ring my landlord and give my notice and… oh shit, I’ve got so much packing to do…”

“It’ll be fine, don’t worry,” Sirius soothed, “Just… ok, get all that stuff done, then I’ll see you at the Duck later?”

“Yeah, sounds good!”

“Great, see you then,”

“See you then… Padfoot?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks. For being so excited for me.”

“Of course I’m excited! This is fantastic! See you later,”

“Bye!”

Sirius hung up and sat down in the nearest chair. Lily and James looked at each other, then James got up and came over, patting Sirius’s shoulder,

“He’s going, then?”

“Yep,”

“Sorry, mate. Hey, it won’t be too long, eh?”

“You can write each other long pining emails,” Lily said, “It’ll be romantic - then when he gets back imagine how great it’ll be?”

“Yeah, when I get back from rugby camp Lils can’t keep her hands off me,” James said. Lily threw the packing tape at him, just missing his head.

“Thanks, guys,” Sirius sniffed. “It’s fine, though! I’m really happy for him. Anyway, Marls is going to be running me ragged with this place, it’s actually good timing to have some time apart…”

“That’s the spirit!”

Sirius grinned widely, but his heart wasn’t in it. It was silly, but he hadn’t prepared himself at all for this moment; he’d been trying to bury it altogether. Things had been going so well, and the thought of Remus leaving so soon was unbearable.

It had been less than a week since their argument, and they’d barely spent any time apart, unless they were working or Remus was rehearsing. Remus had practically lived at Sirius’s place, eating all his meals there and sleeping there every night. He’d had a migraine on Wednesday afternoon and Sirius had been so much better prepared this time; he knew to dim the lights and let him sleep, checking on him and making sure he was drinking water, feeding him once he started feeling better.  He found he quite liked looking after Remus, as he had never really looked after anyone before.

When Remus was well they’d talked about growing up, and school, and tv they both liked and celebrities they fancied. They’d watched Pretty Woman and Rocky Horror, and Remus knew all the words. Sometimes Remus practiced his guitar sitting at the end of Sirius’s bed, and Sirius just lay there pretending to do his Beauty College coursework, listening to Remus strum and murmur softly.

None of that stuff was possible over email or WhatsApp. And what about the sex?! Remus’s considerable libido had not waned, and now Sirius was used to getting shagged regularly and thoroughly he wasn’t sure what he’d do without it.

Six weeks. He sighed, heavily, eyeing a pile of empty cardboard boxes stacked in the corner.

“Want me to chuck those in the recycling?” James asked, following his eyeline. There was a skip in the alley at the back of the shop.

“No,” Sirius said, “See if Remus wants them to pack up his flat.”

* * *

“Which countries?” Dorcas asked eagerly over the top of her pint.

“Germany first, three cities I think,” Remus said, nursing a diet coke, “Then Austria, France, The Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland.... Er… where’s Antwerp?”

“Belgium,” Sirius said, monotone,

“Belgium,” Remus nodded, eyes gleaming,  “I’m going to have to get better at geography…”

“I’m so jealous,” Dorcas sighed, “I’d love to do some proper travelling.”

“Once the salon’s up and running Black and I will be millionaires ,” Marlene said. She’d showed up late and downed three shots of vodka to catch everyone up, only now she seemed to have overtaken them and was slurring quite a bit, “I’ll take you anywhere you like!”

“Charmer,” Dorcas snorted, patting Marlene’s arm.

“I think I heard Stupid Roar on the radio last week,” Fabian said. Remus nodded,

“Yeah, they’re huge,”

“Well, we’ll be sorry to lose you, mate,” Kingsley said, raising his glass to clink against Remus’s. Remus looked down, a bit bashful from all the attention,

“Well I’ll be back by the end of September,”

“Oooh, you should have a farewell party!” Lily said, always eager to host a celebration.

“No no!” Remus said hurriedly, a note of panic in his voice, “Hardly any time, and I’ll be at Dorcas’s birthday next Saturday anyway, I’ll see you all then.”

“Can’t wait,” Gideon muttered from the opposite corner of the table. Sirius shot him a look, but he didn’t think anyone else had heard.

Remus squeezed Sirius’s knee under the table as he chattered happily to the others about the tour. He’d slotted into their friendship group so seamlessly, Sirius was proud of him. Even if all he really wanted to do was lock Remus up in his room until he had to leave, hoarding all of Remus’s attention for himself.

Soon enough, Marlene was drunk enough to want a cigarette, so she, Dorcas and Fabian vanished outside in search of an off-licence. James and Benji got very involved with the quiz machine near the door, and Lily, Kingsley and Remus were talking about something that had happened at the hospital last week to do with performance reviews.

Sirius got up and wandered over to where James was, looking over his shoulders at the screen.

“Oh god, here we go,” Benji murmured, operating the buttons, “Any ideas? Name two American states consisting of only four letters…”

“Utah!” James yelled, overexcited, “And… er…”

“I’m too pissed for this,” Benji laughed, “Let’s have a go on the fruities,”

“Another drink, lads? My round,” Gideon appeared as if from out of nowhere. James and Benji nodded their assent, waving their nearly empty pint glasses. Sirius was about to refuse when Gid grabbed his arm and steered him towards the bar, “Help me carry them, eh Black?”

Put out, but with no reason to be rude, Sirius allowed himself to be directed to the bar. Gideon ordered four pints, then looked at Sirius, who shook his head, raising his glass of lime soda which was still half full.

“Not drinking?” Gid raised an eyebrow, “Unlike you.”

“Don’t feel like it,” Sirius replied, drawling deliberately to sound bored.

"Changed in a lot of ways, I reckon."

"Not really," Sirius replied.

"I'm trying to give you a compliment , Black, for god's sake. It's good, you seem settled. Happy."

"Well," Sirius shifted, "I s'pose I am."

It was true enough, his anxiety over Remus leaving notwithstanding.

"Marlene was telling me how hard you've been working on the salon. It's really great, Sirius, I'm proud of you."

"Oh, right… well, thanks."

"When can I see it?"

"Opening in two weeks, didn't you get an invite?"

"Yeah," Gideon smiled slyly, "But don't I deserve a private tour?"

"Gid…" Sirius sighed as the drinks arrived.

Gideon laughed, "Like I said, just take the compliment,"

"Need a hand with those?" Remus appeared at Gideon's shoulder. Gideon turned, the look of disappointment and annoyance clear on his face,

"No thanks, me and Black can manage."

"Indulge me," Remus shrugged, reaching over to take two of the pints from the bar, "James and Benji's, I'm guessing?"

Sirius nodded, unable to hide his smile as Remus gave him a wink carrying the drinks over to the boys playing the fruit machines.

"What's his problem?" Gid tutted,

"You are," Sirius replied, irritated, "You know you are.”

“What? You and me and James and Marls - we’ve all been mates since we were kids! He’s the one who’s suddenly popping up everywhere, getting his claws in,”

“He’s my boyfriend,”

“Right, but it hasn’t been that long. I just don’t want to see you hurt, babe.”

Sirius was too stunned by this to argue the hypocrisy of Gideon trying to protect him from heartache. He just shook his head, “Look, give it a rest, ok?"

They rejoined the others by the window, and watched James try his luck a few more times. Eventually Sirius did finish his drink, and once he had, he felt Remus close in behind him and whisper in his ear, "Wanna leave?"

Sirius smiled to himself, turning around, “Had enough?” he asked, voice low, catching Gideon’s glare over Remus’s shoulder.

“Mm, well we can stay if you want,” Remus replied, his fingers playfully hooking in the waistband of Sirius’s jeans, “But it just occurred to me how little time we’ve got left, and I had a few ideas how we could spend it…”

“I’ve had some ideas myself,” Sirius replied, “Let’s go.”

They said their goodbyes, Remus promising he would see them all at Dorcas’s party the following Saturday, and then they left, rushing out onto the hot street, pushing past crowds of smokers and drinkers enjoying the sunshine. Sirius couldn’t help revelling in the parting scowl Gideon gave them both. He cared about Gid, obviously, they were mates, but Sirius rather liked the idea of Gideon being the jealous one, for once. It made him feel good - about himself, but most of all about Remus.

They were in East London, and in a busy enough area that they held hands for a bit, walking back to Sirius’s house, which made it all the better.

“So,” Remus side-eyed him, “What did Gideon want?”

“Oh, the usual,” Sirius replied, casually, trying not to make a big thing of it, “Angling for a private viewing of the salon,”

“Subtle,”

“Yeah. I told him where to go, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Remus said. They had reached the top of Sirius’s road, which was very quiet, and Remus stopped short, pulling Sirius to him quickly and delivering an extremely possessive kiss, full on the lips, “He knows you’re mine.”

That set off something very peculiar in Sirius - something which was unmistakably arousal, but of a kind he had never felt before. He was overcome with the desire to do anything Remus asked; anything at all. He felt that if Remus had bent him over right there in the street, he would have done it and not cared.

Fortunately Remus was not quite so reckless, and instead led Sirius back to the house as if it was his own home, even taking the keys when Sirius fumbled with them.

“Please,” Sirius begged, clinging to Remus and kissing his neck as they stumbled into the hall together, “Please, please please…” he didn’t even know what he was asking for, really, he just knew he’d die if he didn’t get it.

“Shut up,” Remus growled, taking him by the wrists, squeezing them, “Bed, now. No talking. You’ll know when I want you to open your mouth.”

Sirius practically melted right there and almost had to be carried.

* * *

“What about me,” Remus whispered, at four o’clock in the morning, running a long finger down the sweat trails on Sirius’s back, “Do I get to see the salon before it opens?”

“If you can behave yourself,” Sirius smirked, head resting on his folded arms. The duvet had gone, tossed on the floor at some point, the sheets had come away from one corner of the mattress, and his pillow was damp with saliva and more. He didn’t care. He was so happy.

“What are you insinuating?” Remus chuckled, sitting up, smacking Sirius’s backside as he did. He bent to pick up his underpants,

“Where are you going?” Sirius twisted around,

“To the loo!”

“Oh, ok,” he settled back down.

Remus crept quietly out into the hall, closing the door behind himself. Sirius rolled onto his back, stretching. His thighs were sore, in the best possible way. The window was open, and it was getting cooler, he thought about getting dressed, or getting up and making the bed - but what if Remus came back ready to go again? Sirius grinned to himself. He was turning into a nymphomaniac.

It had never been this way with Gid. Never, never with anyone. Maybe it was just the honeymoon phase, maybe it would wear off eventually. But if it was this good this early, then Sirius couldn’t wait for whatever came next.

“Miss me?” Remus returned, closed the door softly and leapt at the bed, leaning over Sirius on all fours to kiss him. Sirius had to sit up on his elbows to reach, and did so eagerly, the muscles in his back sighing and groaning with a sweet ache.

“I don’t want you to go,” he sighed, when Remus released him, flopping down beside him and stroking his hip sleepily.

“I know, Padfoot,” he hummed, “It’ll fly by.”

“Moony?”

“Mm?”

“Will you miss me?”

Remus opened his eyes, green and gold and blazing, and so, so serious, “Every minute.”

Chapter Text

You kept running

You've got money, you've got fame

Every morning

I see your picture from the train

Now you're an actress!

So says your resume,

You're made of card, you couldn't act your way out of a paper bag.

 

“Ok, let’s go over the list,” Sirius said, picking up his notebook from Remus’s bed.

Remus was standing in the kitchen of his tiny bedsit, looking frazzled. As usual, he was surrounded by clutter, but this time they were boxes and suitcases; his entire life packed up.

Sirius skimmed the neatly penned checklist he had written, “Stuff that’s going on tour should be in suitcases and backpacks, over there,” he gestured to the piles on the left, “Stuff staying in London is here - Prongs is coming over in twenty minutes to drive it over to the Self Storage place. Now, which bag do you want for the plane?”

“You’re enjoying this far too much,” Remus grumbled.

“I just don’t want you to be without anything!”

“Was the label maker really necessary?”

“I had it leftover from when we were moving into the salon,” Sirius blushed. That was a lie, he’d had his trusty label maker for years.

“Do you think I could fit one of my pedals in the suitcase if I got rid of some clothes?”

“You’re already taking five pedals!”

“So? I’ll only wear the same clothes over and over anyway; I like variety in my pedals,”

Sirius shook his head, fondly. “If you absolutely have to, but I think you’ll regret not having the extra t-shirts.”

“Ah, I’ll text Liv and see what she’s taking, maybe we can share. I don’t want to hog all the space on the bus…” Remus pulled out his phone and started tapping away. Sirius chewed his lip, not sure how to phrase the question that had only just occurred to him,

“Do you know…” he trailed off,

“Hmm?” Remus didn’t look up from his message.

“Er… what are the sleeping arrangements?”

“Oh,” Remus looked up, meeting his eye across the room, “I’m not sure. I think bunk beds.”

“You’ll all be on the same bus, though?”

“Yes, probably,” Remus raised an eyebrow, which Sirius recognised now as his ‘go on, try me’ look, “That ok with you?”

“Of course,” Sirius smiled, “I just hadn’t really thought about it. I want to be able to picture you there.”

“I don’t imagine I’ll be on the bus that much,” Remus replied, putting his phone away, backing down from the fighting stance, “I’m going to be too busy nerding-out with the sound engineer.”

“Make sure you get enough rest, too,” Sirius said, thinking of Remus’s migraines, and his tendency to ignore his health in favour of music.

“Yes, mother,” Remus rolled his eyes, laughing, “Anyway, I don’t think sleep will be a problem - the others will be out all night boozing while little sober me is tucked up in bed.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Sirius grinned, “As long as Fenrir stays out of trouble, I s’pose,”

“Ha, not likely,” Remus started rummaging through one of the boxes Sirius had just packed, “He’s a bloody nightmare after a gig, god knows what he’ll be like on tour. Liv can put up with it, though, I’m steering clear.”

“Oh, is he seeing Liv, then?”

“Er… sort of, yeah,” Remus didn’t meet his eyes and pretending to be busy staring at the instructions for his dyson fan.

Sirius’s stomach tightened. He remembered Liv saying something like that, when he met her, something about them all sharing Fenrir, maybe. It creeped him out,

“So is Fenrir bisexual, then?”

Remus winced and looked up at him, “I mean, I’ve never asked , but yeah, I suppose. Why?”

He was getting defensive, and Sirius knew he ought to back down again, but he didn't see why they couldn’t be clear about it,

“Just curious. Just trying to work it all out, you know all about my friends…”

“Yeah but Full Moon aren’t really my friends, they’re my band mates.”

“Who sometimes sleep together…”

“Yes, ok, fine. Livia sleeps with Fenrir, I used to sleep to Fenrir - I’ve done it with Liv too, if you must know.”

“Really?” Sirius’s stomach sank.

“Once or twice,” Remus folded the box closed, “A while ago.” He was clearly agitated, shoulders tense and wound up.

Sirius knew by now that the best way to end this was to suggest sex, but James was due any minute and they’d already packed up the bedsheets. Besides, he didn’t know what he ought to feel so guilty about, Remus was the one being cagey.

“I was only asking,” Sirius said, “No need to get angry,”

Remus looked at him, eyes narrowed. He breathed in, then out. His shoulders relaxed and he said calmly, “I’m not angry.”

Then he bent down and picked up a box, “I’m going to start taking these down,” and carried it out of the flat.

Sirius blinked, left alone in the room. It was stress, he told himself. He couldn’t blame Remus for that, it had been such a mad week of packing and sorting out visas and planning itineraries - something had to give. So let him get a bit grumpy. It was Dorcas's party tomorrow, and by then everything would have blown over. He shook himself and picked up a box, heading out to follow Remus downstairs.

As awful as it was going to be saying goodbye to Remus, Sirius had no such feelings about the flat above the chicken shop. No matter where Remus ended up once he returned, it couldn't possibly be more grim.

Sirius was still harbouring a secret hope that the time apart might soften Remus up a bit, and when he returned he might be so happy to see Sirius that he'd agree to move in anyway. Or maybe they'd get their own place - he might be able to swing that, once the salon was up and running properly.

Downstairs he found Remus standing on the pavement, box at his feet, arms folded, squinting up and down the road for a sign of James’s car. Sirius stood beside him, setting his own box down,

“You’re sexy when you’re angry,” he said, trying his luck.

Remus side-eyed him, but remained aloof, “No I’m not.”

“Yep, you are. I don’t make the rules.”

“Must be why you like winding me up,”

“Must be.”

Remus looked at him fully and laughed, shaking his head, “What am I supposed to do with you, eh?”

Sirius raised a coy eyebrow, “Whatever you like,”

Remus licked his lips, and James chose that moment to pull up on the kerb, honking his horn and yelling at them out of the window,

“Taxi, young sirs?”

“I ordered a limousine,” Remus replied dryly, bending down to pick up his box again, “But you’ll do,”

“When you’re on the cover of Rolling Stone I’ll quit rugby coaching and become your full time chauffeur,” James grinned, getting out to help them load the boot, “Padfoot,” he winked,

“Prongs,” Sirius nodded back, smiling.

James made short work of loading the car - heavy lifting was one of his favourite hobbies, tragically.

“You’d make an excellent roadie, Pron-- sorry, I mean, James,” Remus said, watching him carry the last suitcase down.

“No, go on, call me Prongs!” James beamed at him, looking utterly thrilled to be so familiar with Remus. Sirius felt his jealousy flare up again - it had been out of control this past week, knowing Remus was leaving soon.

He scolded himself. It was ridiculous to be jealous of James, of all people - Sirius’s best friend in all the world, who he trusted beyond anyone and anything. Sirius remembered what Remus had said earlier about the band - ‘they’re not really my friends’. If that was the case, then he must have no friends at all - he never talked about anyone else. That was a sobering thought, and Sirius decided to share James as much as he could.

“Prongs,” Remus said shyly, still looking a bit embarrassed about the slip of the tongue.

“Right,” James slammed the boot, then clapped his hand together, “Let’s get this show on the road!”

They piled into the car, Sirius in the middle backseat, Remusin the front passenger. It was a long drive to the storage facility, and they passed it by letting Remus take over James’s spotify, where he roundly criticised almost everything James listened to and began setting up various new playlists for different activities - jogging, housework, cooking, even sex,

“Moony!” Sirius barked from the backseat, stunned by Remus’s front, “You can’t create sex playlists for other people!”

“Why not?” Remus grinned, “It’s always good to try something new in the bedroom,”

“Thanks for the tip,” James laughed, “I’ll let Lily know.”

The unloading at the other end took about half an hour, and Remus spent the last of his paycheck from the hospital on the rent.

“I’ve got exactly £3.50 left in the entire world,” he said to Sirius with a manic grin, “Plus the shrapnel in my back pocket, I s’pose,”

“You’ve got two days before you go!” Sirius fretted, “What if you need something?”

“Like what?” Remus shrugged, “My prescriptions are free, I already bought a spare set of strings for my bass, and I’ve got you to feed me.”

“Yeah, but still…”

“Loosen up, Padfoot,” Remus elbowed him, “Should get a weekly pay packet from the tour, I’ll survive until then.”

They climbed back into the car and headed back to Dalston, where they’d been invited for dinner with Lily and James.

“Is that your last big job done then, Moony?” James asked, eyes on the road.

Remus looked a bit surprised by the casual ‘Moony’, but didn’t say anything about it, “Yep, pretty much,” he said, “Just Dorcas’s party tomorrow, then getting on the plane Sunday morning,”

“And the salon, tomorrow!” Sirius put in.

Remus looked back and smiled, “And the salon tomorrow. My VIP visit.”

“Lucky git,” James teased. “Got your passport and all the paperwork done?”

“Yeah. It was a bit touch-and-go with Fen’s visa, but we sorted it in the end.”

“What happened?”

“Oh, boring admin shit. He has a bit of a record, that’s all.”

“A record?” Sirius sat up straight, leaning forward between the gap in the seats, “Like a police record?”

“Yeah, but he’s never done time. Mostly arrests for affray. And, ok, GBH, once , but they let him off with community service.”

“Jesus. So that guy who punched you wasn’t a one off?”

Remus gave him an annoyed look, but kept his voice steady, “He’s just got a lot of issues, he can’t help it. He’s working on it,”

“It doesn’t sound like he is…”

“Well. You don’t know much about it.”

“No.” Sirius bit his lip.

“Blimey,” James shook his head, “No offence, but I just can’t picture you hanging out with someone violent, mate,”

“I never really thought of him as violent, exactly,” Remus mused, “Just… unpredictable? Erratic? I dunno, in the right circumstances he’s pretty fun to be around.”

James glanced up into the rear view mirror, catching Sirius’s eye. Every now and then they had a telepathic moment, and this was one of them; Sirius knew exactly what James was thinking, What the fuck?! Sirius gave a helpless shrug back. There wasn’t anything to be done about it now, Remus was completely immovable on the topic.

* * *

Not wanting anything to spoil their last 48 hours together, Sirius didn’t bring up Fenrir again for the rest of the afternoon. They had a very pleasant meal at Lily and James’s place - James had cooked an impressive ratatouille in Remus’s honour, and Lily had baked chocolate tarts (when Remus saw them Sirius thought he might kiss her).

Sirius had eaten a thousand meals with Lily and James before, but none had been so satisfying. Even when he was dating Gideon, they were rarely social with other couples. Remus’s dry humour and nihilism complimented their own irreverent banter so well that by the end of the night they were all in stitches wiping tears of laughter from their eyes.

Lily showed Sirius the progress they’d made with his old bedroom - it was newly painted, and they’d taken up the carpet to lay down wood, which made it look much brighter. Sirius found he didn’t even mind that so much - he no longer seemed to have the desperate urge to cling onto his adolescence, not when the future was looking so bright.

Then Remus and Sirius walked home, talking softly, still bursting into hysterical giggles every now and then from something someone had said over dinner. Back in Sirius’s bedroom, Remus flopped down on the bed, shutting his eyes, and sighed deeply,

“Oh my god, it’s so nice to be lying down. I’m never moving again.”

“Fine by me,” Sirius grinned, climbing on top of him.

Bliss.

The next morning was spent lazing in bed. Marlene was taking Dorcas out for her birthday treat, so they had the house to themselves. Sirius cooked Remus breakfast - only fried eggs on toast and a milky tea, but Remus acted as though he was being spoilt rotten.

“I can’t remember the last time someone cooked for me,” he said, awed, as Sirius entered with a tea tray.

“Last night, Lily and James!”

“You know what I mean,” Remus said sincerely, “Someone special .”

Sirius felt joy pour over him, drenching him head to toe.

He tried to use the morning to fix Remus in his memory. His voice, his laugh, the way he moved. How when his skin was flushed the scars on his torso stood out, brighter, like they were lit up from the inside.

They left for the salon after lunch. It was a pleasant walk from the house and Sirius listened to Remus chatter away happily about the things he was looking forward to about playing on different stages, with new equipment in other countries. It was hard not to be excited for him, he was so uncharacteristically garrulous.

They were still waiting for the sign for the front of the shop, so for now there was just a blank black panel above the window. Of course Remus thought that was cool and was disappointed they weren't planning to keep it that way. He stopped whinging when Sirius unlocked the door and let them in.

Remus walked across the polished floor silently, staring about in apparent awe and fascination. Amazingly he didn't seem to have anything wry or sarcastic to say at all, as he gazed at the rows of mirrors, the charcoal faux-leather upholstered chairs, the gleaming porcelain basins.

"Well?" Sirius asked, after minutes of silence.

"It's lovely," Remus said, still looking, "It's so peaceful, everything's so… shiny,"

"Shiny?!"

"Ok, look, I've never been in one of these places before. But it's beautiful, honestly."

"It's not too bad," Sirius smiled, looking around for himself,  “It's something."

He showed him everything he could think to, from the appointment booking system to the cupboards in the staff room, then upstairs to the office currently being used for storage.

"This is bigger than my old flat," Remus laughed when he saw it, "Love the skylight too, you could easily get a bed in here, rent it out for a grand a month,"

"We'll I'll know what to do if the hairdressing doesn't pan out," Sirius laughed.

They went back downstairs and Sirius made them tea, and they stood in the middle if the shop floor just looking.

"Well done," Remus smiled at him warmly, sipping his tea, “It’s incredible, Padfoot,”

“It’s all right,”

“No,” Remus put a hand on his shoulder, his grip surprisingly firm. He peered into his eyes, so serious, “It’s amazing. You’re incredible, and you should be so proud.”

Sirius shrugged him off, suddenly very shy, and muttered, “Thanks,” bobbing his head.

“It’s a shame I won’t get to see you in action,”

“You’ve seen me in action plenty of times,” Sirius poked his tongue out, trying to use crude humour to detract from how hot his cheeks felt.

“Tart,” Remus clucked his tongue, “I mean cutting hair. I’d love to see you working,”

“Well, maybe when you get back.”

“Mm, maybe…” Remus turned distrant, gazing into one of the mirrors, as if searching. He ran his hands through his shaggy mop of hair, then straightened his shoulders, bracing for something, “Or… if you’re free now?”

“Eh?” Sirius blinked at him, momentarily confused. Remus just stood before him, waiting for the penny to drop. “Oh!” Sirius gasped, “You want to to cut your hair? You’ll let me cut your hair?!”

“Probably time for a new look,” Remus laughed, nervously, eyes darting to the mirror, clearly out of his comfort zone, “If you fancy it, then… yeah, I’m all yours.”

Sirius wasted no time, “Sit!” He instructed, pulling out the nearest chair, pumping the lever to get it the right height.

Remus sat, hands twisting in his lap. Sirius went to get his bag, and one of the aprons from the cupboard behind reception. He couldn't believe it, he was thrilled. He had been wanting to get his hands on Remus's hair since the moment he saw him on stage.

He stood behind him, looking intently at his face in the mirror, tugging his long locks gently to see how they felt and fell. "Do you know what you want?"

"Christ," Remus laughed, "If you're going to start asking existential questions,"

"For your hair ," Sirius said, "Is there a style you like?"

"I dunno, do whatever you want," Remus shrugged, his shoulders a bit robotic. He was very tense.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I trust you."

"Want me to leave it long at the back?" Sirius gently brushed his fingers over the nape of Remus's neck, where his long hair hid the long pink surgical scar beneath. He hadn't really seen it properly, yet, Remus was careful about it.

Their eyes met now, and Remus looked unsure, but then resolute, "No," he said, "You can cut it."

"Ok then," Sirius smiled at him, then leaned forward and kissed the top of his head, "Come on, let's wash it first."

"I washed it this morning!"

"I know, it's decadent, but if this is your first professional haircut then you're getting the works ."

To his credit, Remus didn't complain. He did everything he was told to do, Sirius led him over to the sinks and sat him down, he tilted his head back and he waited, fidgeting, staring up at the ceiling and blinking a lot.

"Relax," Sirius said softly, running the water, "I promise it won't hurt,"

"Don't know why I'm nervous,"

"I'll look after you."

He cradled Remus's head in his hands and moved the showerhead over it, wetting his hair until it turned dark and heavy and the curls stretched out longer. Remus closed his eyes, and Sirius saw his face completely clearly, with nothing obstructing it. His freckles stood out more, and the delicate lines around his eyes and mouth. The tender skin of his eyelids was dark pink and his lips were slightly chapped. He was perfect, and he was all Sirius's.

He took time selecting the perfect shampoo, one without sulfates to protect Remus's curls, then he worked it in slowly and firmly, rubbing his fingers in circles against Remus's scalp. Remus's eyes flew open, he made a small noise of surprise.

"That ok?" Sirius asked, anxious.

"Yeah," Remus said, looking up at him, forehead wrinkling, "It's nice,"

"Good," Sirius kept going, a bit firmer, and Remus closed his eyes again, the muscles in his neck and shoulders finally relaxing.

He carried on with the massage a bit longer than usual, simply for the novelty of having Remus at his mercy - and the miracle of Remus allowing himself to be treated gently.

Once he'd rinsed out the last of the conditioner and wrapped it in a small black towel, Remus looked dazed and a bit sleepy - if Sirius hadn't known him better he's say he looked stoned. Sirius led him back to the mirror and sat him down and began to comb. Wet, Remus's hair was so long it fell to his chest. Sirius played with it for a while, trying various things before finally picking up his scissors.

"Ready?" He asked, raising them so that they flashed silver. Remus bit his lip, but nodded,

"Yep."

And away he went. They were quiet for most of it, which was unusual for them - usually they couldn't stop talking. But it was nice; comfortable. Peaceful. Sirius was concentrating hard, like he'd never concentrated before, even for his exams. He had to get this right, it had to be perfect.

He couldn't bear to chop off all of Remus's curls, so kept the top long, going for a short back and sides so that it wouldn't crowd his face but could still fall into his eyes when he ducked his head.

In the end, the scissors weren't enough and he tentatively reached for the electric razor. He caught Remus's eye to check it was still ok. Remus touched the back of his neck, laying his whole hand over it as if to cover it up one last time. Then he nodded again, and Sirius went for it.

The scar was not ugly. It was just another part of him, like the mole on his chest or the calluses on his fingers. It was long, it came up from under his collar and disappeared under his hairline, just a little visible through the fine fuzz of hair Sirius had left behind. Sirius stroked it, just once with his thumb. Then he put down his tools and moved back.

"Well?"

Remus stood up, pulling off the apron and raising his hand to touch his head. Sirius had put just a tiny bit of product on top where it was long, and it made all the difference, the curls bouncy and thick. Remus pulled one and watched it spring instantly back. He patted the sides, which were like soft chestnut velvet. He smiled, "Hey, I look like I'm in a band."

"Do you like it?"

"I do… I do, but…" he twisted his neck, craning to see the back. Sirius grabbed a hand mirror, quickly stepping forward to hold it up for Remus to see.

He looked for a while, his fingers dancing across his scalp tentatively, "Oh," he said, squinting, "It's… I thought it would be worse than that."

"You look incredible," Sirius said. Remus stopped looking in the mirror, and looked at Sirius instead. His eyes looked so much bigger, now, with the clean lines of his cheekbones exposed, the elegant turn of his neck.

"Thank you," he said, and leaned in to kiss Sirius.

They kissed for a long time, and it was more meaningful than any other goodbye they could have said.

In time, they realised it was getting late, and Sirius swept up the floor quickly as they prepared to leave for Dorcas's birthday meal. Remus stared in amazement at all of his hair being brushed away, and kept looking up to catch glimpses of himself in the mirror, entranced by the transformation.

"Wow, I wish I could pay you," he chuckled, "If you want my last three quid…"

"Ha, you keep that," Sirius shook his head. He should have left it there. He should have just packed up and left the shop with Remus, happy and friendly and both falling in love faster than they really knew.

But it just irked him, Remus's flippant remark. Having no money in the world, being completely vulnerable and acting like it didn't matter. The way Remus always acted like he didn't matter - his health, or his happiness; the way Fenrir treated him, and the way he treated himself. He was about to leave the country, he would be beyond Sirius's reach so completely it scared him. What if something awful happened? What if he fell ill, or got hurt? A brand new flood of anxieties filled Sirius's head, and he gave into it,

"I don't know how you can be so calm about having no money," he marvelled, "I'd be freaking out,"

"I've been here plenty of times," Remus shrugged, "When I first moved to London, I used to go weeks eating nothing but plain noodles, before I got the hospital job. It's hard but you work it out. Anyway, this time I've got my rich beauty mogul boyfriend," he nudged Sirius, teasing, "You make everything almost too easy, it’s like cheating,"

Sirius bristled, his heart pounding in his ears. He was out of his depth. He hated when Remus talked like that, when he called attention to the differences between them in such a rueful way.

"There's nothing wrong with making living a bit easier," he replied.

"No," Remus said, "But it's important to me that I work hard for the things I have."

"Does working hard have to mean suffering?"

"Oh now you're just being dramatic. Struggle is part of life."

"Is that what Fenrir says?" Sirius muttered, half sulking. He regretted it instantly the atmosphere changed entirely, Remus's eyes flashed,

"Maybe he does. And maybe he's right, because he understands it better. No one ever gave him anything, he's had to fight every step of the way, like me."

"Right, so that's better, is it? Fighting against everything all the time, rather than accepting help from people who care about you?"

"That's not what I'm saying,"

"Sounds like it. I mean, you already said you'd rather live with him than with me, so…"

Remus pressed his fingers against his eyes, exhaling, “Not this again, Sirius, I’m begging you,”

“What?!” Sirius stepped back, surprised.

“I can’t cope with you getting jealous all the time.”

“I’m not… that’s not what I meant...”

“I’ve told you a million times you have nothing to worry about,”

“I just want to help ,”

“You can't help me with everything! And you can’t know everything about me, at least not all at once. I told you, didn’t I? Didn’t I ask you to be patient? To go slowly?”

“Yeah, but…”

“It’s too much pressure!"

“What is?”

“You! This! Look, maybe it’s my own fault for carrying on with you… I knew I wasn’t ready for a relationship, I need time, I need space. If you can’t... I mean it’s only going to get worse while I’m gone, isn’t it? Maybe we ought to end it here.”

Sirius felt the blood drain from his face - he felt dizzy, sick, “No, I don’t want to do that…”

“Me neither, but you’re making it so difficult.”

“Remus…”

“I need to go, anyway, still got some stuff to sort out. Thanks for the haircut.” He rubbed the back of his head self consciously, and picked up his bag.

“Wait, are you coming to the party tonight?”

“I don’t know. I need some time.”

“How long?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, I don’t know !”

“No, please don’t go without at least telling me…”

“I don’t know what to tell you, I just know I can’t carry on like this. Goodbye.” Remus got up out of the chair and headed for the door,

“Goodbye?!” Sirius said, distraught, chasing after him, “What do you mean, ‘goodbye’?! Remus?”

But he’d gone, out the door and up the street at a surprisingly quick pace.

* * *

He closed the shop and went to the restaurant. He didn't know what else to do, he felt all twisted up inside, choked, as if he couldn't process anything. He needed James, he needed to talk to him, he needed a bloody hug. So he went, catching two tubes in a weird, half seeing daze. He didn't remember the journey afterwards.

James was waiting outside the restaurant, which was weird, but Sirius didn't notice at the time. The knot inside him kept winching tighter and tighter, until he felt like he might gasp with the pain of it.

"Alright! You're late!" James grinned, waving.

"Sorry," Sirius mumbled. His throat felt dry, his words came out too quiet.

"No Remus? Not another migraine I hope?"

Sirius blinked and looked down, he shook his head. James touched his shoulder, "You ok, Pads?"

Sirius looked at him. He couldn't do it. He didn't know what to say.

"Fine,' he rasped, "Yeah."

"Are you sure? I have something I really want to tell you, but you seem a bit...?"

"Hot from the tube," he said, and maybe that was a bit true, "Crowded down there."

"Ok…"

"What do you want to tell me?"

"I bought a ring!"

"You… what?"

"For Lily!" James was practically bouncing, " The ring. I want to ask her in a few weeks, after she gets this promotion at work."

"Wow, mate that's… wow," Sirius leapt at him desperately, hugging him so tight until James squeezed him back,

"Thanks!" He patted him, but didn't pull away, "You'll be my best man?"

Sirius felt tears prick in his eyes and he wasn't sure what he was crying over, but at least James would believe it was for him and Lily.

“Of course I bloody will!”

They both took a few moments to compose themselves, and James swore Sirius to secrecy. Sirius hoped he was smiling back, but his cheeks felt oddly numb.

Inside, everyone was there, laughing and red faced and wearing party hats and surrounded by balloons. Sirius ordered himself a double and prepared to get through the next few hours.

It had happened again. He'd pushed someone away, he'd wrecked it all. How could he be so stupid? What was it that he had inside him that made everyone want him gone, eventually? Fucking Gideon and his fucking mother. His poor dead brother. And now Remus. He'd really thought he could keep him. He'd thought he had earned it.

Now James and Lily were going to get married! Sirius knew he'd never truly lose James, but it still hurt in that moment. It would change things. What if they wanted kids next? They wouldn't want to spend every weekend nursing his hangovers and broken hearts.

Sirius couldn't face any of that right now. He had to drown it, first; the terrible crushing knot in his gut, he had to burn it out. Luckily it was a birthday, and there was money on the tab. He did every shot anyone suggested, he ordered himself a whole bottle of the dirtiest white wine on the menu, and ate hardly anything. During dessert he snuck out with Fab and Marlene for a cheeky ciggie, which he hadn't done in ages so it made his head swim.

By the time the bill was being paid and they were ready to move the party back to the house, Sirius could hardly stand, and had to be half carried into a taxi by James and Gideon.

"Oi, where's that gorgeous green eyed bassist?" Dorcas burbled from the front seat,

"Fucked if I know!" Sirius laughed, swigging from the bottle he'd snuck out of the restaurant, "Probably packing or something."

"Aww, well I hope he comes later," she grinned at him, eyes glassy from the prosecco.

Back at the house, Sirius decided he still wasn't drunk enough. He switched off his phone - he couldn't bear checking it every five minutes to find no messages - and went to his bedroom to change into the most ridiculous outfit he owned. Fine, if Remus is done with me, that's FINE he told himself as he tripped and staggered around his room, pulling on a pair of black pvc trousers which were so tight he had to lie down on his bed to zip them up. Fuck him then, I can still have a bloody good time . He struggled into a fishnet top and smeared some black pencil around his eyes. He hadn't worn makeup for months, not since the last time Gideon dumped him.

He checked himself in the mirror on his way back to the party, just to make sure he looked the perfect hot mess.

Gideon was waiting for him, another glass of wine in his hand. He held it out and looked Sirius up and down,

"Alright, gorgeous? Trying to get someone's attention?"

Sirius downed the glass and went to where the music was playing, and after that things got very, very confusing.

He was aware of some things happening - dancing with Lily, and singing at the top of his voice with Marlene. Being sick once, washing his face. Smoking a bit more. And tripping over the front step, and Gideon helping him up, and supporting him back to his bedroom.

His room was quiet, and things got a bit clearer. Gideon was rubbing his knee, where he'd fallen, and Sirius was half lying down, his head lolling back as the room spun,

"Everything ok?" Gideon asked, "You haven't been this trashed since you came out."

"I've been plenty more wasted," Sirius slurred, "This is fine,"

"Ok then. Where's Jock the Scot?"

"Gone."

"I thought his flight wasn't until Sunday?"

"Doesn't matter," Sirius mumbled, leaning quite heavily on Gideon now. "He said goodbye, that's it, done."

"Oh babe, I'm sorry,"

He hadn't expected him to be kind, and it made him want to cry. The knot returned and he creased up. Gideon wrapped an arm around him, and kissed his head.

"I feel so awful," Sirius sobbed.

"I know," Gideon soothed, "It hurts now, but it will get better, I promise," he was being so nice. Sirius rocked into him, relieved to have someone hold him. Gideon kept talking, "And maybe this was good timing, you know, with him leaving the country. It's like a clean break, eh? And he would have been away a lot, after this, if he's that good of a bassist. He'd leave you all the time. You don't want that, eh Black? You want someone who'll always be around. Who's always been around."

Sirius pulled away slightly, confused. He looked up at Gideon, his cool blue eyes that Sirius knew so well. "What are you talking about?"

"I think you know, babe," Gideon kissed him, and Sirius let it happen. He could have pushed him off, he could have pulled away, but he didn't.

"Gid, I.." he started, when they finally stopped.

"Shh, it's ok," Gideon said, pushing him back on the bed. He began unzipping Sirius's ridiculous plastic pants,

"We shouldn't…"

"You're so fucking sexy…"

"Really?" It felt nice. He was so drunk, and everything was messing with his head. But he knew Gideon, and he knew it would feel familiar, and safe. And he hurt so much, he just wanted that to go away. He lay back, and raised his hips so that Gideon could pull his trousers further down.

It hadn’t been going on very long, when he heard someone knocking on the door. It was a hollow rapping over the music, but he didn't connect it fast enough, his brain was too slow and loose. And then the door swung open, and there was Remus and oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck

Sirius sat up fast, seeing stars as the wine sloshed around inside him, and pushed Gideon away, so that he almost fell off the bed. Remus just stood there, emotionless. Then he shook his head,

“Wow.”

He turned and began to walk away, leaving the door open.

“Remus! Wait, stop--” Sirius hopped up, yanking up his trousers and chasing him through the party. He followed him all the way out to the pavement, and grabbed his arm, "Please stop!"

Remus stopped and glared at him, shaking him off furiously,

"No, I'm going. I came to say sorry for being such a dick, but I s'pose it's a bit late now."

"Moony, I--"

“I mean, I’m impressed. I thought you’d at least wait until I was on the fucking plane.”

“Please, let me explain!”

“Go on, then,” Remus spun around, “Explain.”

“I… um…” Sirius stammered, hot and drunk and desperate, “I just… we were…”

“Goodbye, Sirius.”

“Remus, please!”

“Don’t contact me.”

Chapter Text

You got lucky, you ain't talking to me now.

Little Miss Plucky;

Pluck your eyebrows for the crowd.

Get on the airplane,

You give me stomach pain,

I wish that you were here

We would have had a lot to talk about.

 

"So he said it was over, before the party?"

"He said goodbye."

"Right… But was it a 'goodbye forever' or a 'goodbye for now while I go and cool off'?"

"I thought it was forever."

"And then… you and Gid… I thought that was over?"

"It was. I dunno, he was just there, "

"So do you still have feelings for him?"

"No. Yes. I don't know! I was drunk!"

James looked at him for a long time, and Sirius knew what he was thinking. It wasn't any kind of excuse. There was no excuse . He could tell James how he'd panicked, how it had seemed that he'd lost Remus, really truly. How it could have been anyone, it wasn't even about Gideon, he just needed somebody to cling to in that moment. No, there was no excuse.

"I fucked up," Sirius said, shoulders sagging, defeated.

“Well… I mean, Gid shouldn’t have done what he did. We were all pissed, but you were absolutely wankered, mate, you were in no fit state.”

“I wanted to, though. At least… I wanted to do something, I dunno, I just felt so lonely.”

“Even so. It wasn’t cool of him.” James frowned. “Do you think you could explain it to Moony?”

“I don’t think he’ll listen,”

Sirius began to cry again, and James pulled him in for a hug. They were at James and Lily's flat, the morning after. Once Remus had stormed off, Sirius sat in the front garden for a while until James came to find him. He'd burst into tears and James ordered a taxi home.

Sober, in the daylight, Sirius felt like yesterday had been a terrible nightmare. He had woken up with Remus, only twenty four hours before. He'd cooked him breakfast, they'd kissed for hours.

"I didn't even see Remus at the party," James said.

"No I s'pose he came straight to find me. And I cut his hair, he looked different."

"Right," James nodded. "When's his flight?"

"Twelve."

They both looked at the clock. It was eleven thirty. He'd be waiting at the gate, already, if not boarding. Was he all alone, with his bass and his rucksack? Was he with the band? Did he hate Sirius?

"Are you going to try and talk to him?" James asked.

"I tried calling last night, his phone was off. Sent some messages, but nothing."

"Maybe give him a bit of time."

"Yeah," he regretted sending the messages last night, when he was still drunk. They were sloppy, ugly, desperate. And Remus had said don't contact me .

"He's probably just angry, but maybe if he has some time to think. You'll both have some time to think."

Sirius nodded, glumly. He looked up at James, "Prongs?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you think I'm an awful person?"

"Oh Padfoot," James sighed, shaking his head, "No, ok? You're an idiot, you're an impulsive dickhead, but you're a good person. I know you are."

"I hate myself,"

"Well, that's not going to solve anything, so you can stop that. I'm giving you permission, right?"

"Right," Sirius sniffed. James did that sometimes, had done since they were kids. If something was bringing Sirius down - usually his family - James would appoint himself arbiter of all the emotional shit. It worked, most of the time.

"I wish you'd told me earlier in the evening. Before dinner, before you decided to drink so much."

"Me too," Sirius replied. Perhaps none of it would have happened. Perhaps James would have calmed him down.

"What was the fight about?"

"Stupid stuff. I was just worried about him going away… I got a bit too much for him, I think."

"Of course," James leaned back, palm to his forehead, as if he had realised something which should have occurred to him before, "Christ, I'm sorry mate, I didn't even think. I know what you're like about people leaving,"

"You do?" Sirius looked up in surprise. He hadn't realised it was so obvious.

"Well, I never wanted to make a big thing about it," James said, diplomatically, "You just need a bit of extra reassurance, sometimes. I s'pose someone like Remus wasn't exactly… er, well I mean he can be a bit of a closed book, can't he? Likes his independence."

"Mm," Sirius looked around the kitchen, wanting to talk about something else, "Where's Lily?"

"Gone to the gym, then lunch with her mum and her sister."

"She hates her sister."

"Yeah, I think she just wanted to give you a bit of breathing space."

"Oh god, does she hate me?" Sirius dropped his head in his hands.

"Of course not," James said, patting his shoulder, "No one hates you, Padfoot. Look, what's done is done, ok? Come on, let's get some food in you. I'll do omelette, you can even have cheese. Want a shower first? Wash all that off?"

He gestured vaguely at Sirius's face, and Sirius remembered the eyeliner.

God, what a fucking twat he was.

* * *

It was times like this Sirius felt completely humbled by James Potter. How had he, Sirius Black, ever been so lucky as to end up with such a sensitive, ridiculous, kind best friend? Sirius stayed at James and Lily’s for the rest of the week, too ashamed to return to his own home - the scene of the crime. James told Marlene what was up, so she didn’t bother him, and he even went round to pick up Sirius’s hair styling kit.

Sirius shuffled between his bed and the couch at various intervals, wearing the same oversized rugby shirt (James’s) and wrapped in the same purple single duvet (Lily’s). He watched awful daytime TV and listened to sad songs from his early teens, and he drank tea and cried. Lily and James manoeuvred around him, taking it in turns to feed him or tell him to shower. Luckily they had practice; they’d done this a few times before.

Remus didn’t respond to any of his messages, and when Sirius whipped up the courage to try ringing, he found that the number had been disconnected. Maybe Remus was being dramatic. Maybe Sirius deserved it.

Gideon messaged him, almost every day. He felt bad about Remus (he said) but he wasn’t sorry for doing it. ‘We belong together, Black’.

Sirius ignored him. A year ago, a message like that would have sent Sirius running right into Gideon’s arms. But not now.

Eventually he had to get up and do something , so he threw himself into the salon. He worked extra hard at everything; he designed a fool-proof booking system, wrote marketing copy, even sorted out their finances. Marlene had been struggling on with the accountancy side of the business - Sirius had sworn up and down he wouldn’t touch it, having deliberately failed his Economics A-level in an attempt to upset his father. But now he was grateful for the distraction, and found that he actually didn’t hate it as much as he thought he did.

“Thank god!” Marlene said, when he showed her the balanced ledger, “I was tearing my hair out trying to get that sorted,”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Sirius asked, “You know I’m good at this stuff.”

“Yeah, and I know what it’s like trying to get you to do something your parents might approve of,” she poked her tongue out at him, “Not worth all the sulking, love.”

That surprised him. He hadn’t realised how many allowances everyone had been making for him. He vowed to try harder, to be more useful. After all, this was his business too - and it was his money they’d sunk into the whole venture.

On top of keeping the books, Sirius interviewed new staff, hired a receptionist and kept up with his studies at Beauty College. He made sure he never went to bed unless he was so exhausted he could hardly keep his eyes open, and found that was very easy - there was always something to do, especially with the big opening so soon.

He roamed the streets putting up posters and inviting local businesses to come and see them. He got to grips with social media, and started an instagram account, becoming obsessive about the follower numbers, likes and views. He learnt how to do false nails, how to buff feet and how to shave afro hair. In short, Sirius Black was a denial machine.

After the third week at Lily and James’s, with the salon opening only days away, he and James sat on the living room floor untangling strings of multi-coloured fairy lights that Marlene had got cheap on gumtree, which they planned to decorate the shop with for the party.

“Fucking hell,” James pushed his glasses up his nose, grappling with a particularly difficult knot, “How did it come to this, eh? Feels like only last week we were at school planning our next prank, now you and Marls are planning a business .”

“Life’s weird, I s’pose,” Sirius agreed.

“Got everything else sorted?”

“Yeah, pretty much, just need people to show up.”

“They will, mate,”

“Fingers crossed. Otherwise we’re going to have a hell of a party with all that champagne.”

“Or you could let me have it cheap for the wedding.”

“Shit, yeah,” Sirius stopped untangling for a moment and looked up at his friend, “When are you gonna propose? Have you planned it?”

“Only since I was fifteen,” James laughed, “Obviously. Just waiting for the right time, y’know,” he shrugged, casually.

“Don’t tell me you’re getting cold feet!”

“No way,”

“Well then, what’s all this waiting business?”

James put down the string of lights and looked up at Sirius, his mouth twisting oddly. He ran his fingers through his hair - in his awkward way, as opposed to his ‘look how ruggedly handsome I am’ way. “Well.. y’know, we’ve not had a lot of time together lately, me and Lils,”

“What are you talking about, we were all here yesterday evening watching--oh.” Sirius’s heart sank, realising what James meant, “You mean because I’ve been here,”

“I don’t want you to feel guilty, mate!” James leaned forward to squeeze Sirius’s knee, his face honest and sincere, “You’ve had a shit time of it lately, and you know how much we love having you over.”

Sirius did feel guilty. He felt utterly stupid, too, and selfish. The whole world had to stop every time he made a mistake.

“I’ll move back home,” he said, firmly, “Tonight.”

“Only if you’re ready,” James replied, kindly.

“I’m ready. Just bloody marry Evans, ok?”

“Done,” he laughed.

“...only for god’s sake, let me sort out your hair, first.”

* * *

He thought about Remus, obviously. Every day he thought about him. He didn’t miss the things he thought he would - the sense of humour or the sex or even the early morning cuddles (though that would have been nice). He missed just being in a room with him. He missed having someone he could talk to about anything; who maybe didn’t know everything about him, but who understood him, and was willing to learn. The relief of knowing that there was someone in the world who Sirius could truly relax around; no banter, no front, no silly outfits.

How could he have thrown that away so recklessly? And so completely. When Sirius fucked up, he really fucked up.

He often wondered what Remus was doing, and where, and who with. He didn’t dare look up Stupid Roar’s tour - if he knew where they were, he might lose it and just buy a plane ticket. And then what? Track down the band? Track down Remus, who’d changed his number? Face Fenrir?

No, it was completely absurd - not to mention yet another act of impulsive selfishness. Marlene was depending on him, he couldn’t run off to Milan, or Lisbon, or Krakow, or wherever on earth Remus was.

So he worked even harder, ramping up his efforts as the big day approached.

On the day itself, he woke up at six. He'd only had about three hours sleep, the evening before he had found something Remus left behind while hoovering under his bed. It was a weird metal object on a keyring, silver coloured and weighty. He had no idea what it was, and spent most of the night googling terrible descriptions of it in the hopes of finding out. In the end he'd given up, and left the thing on his desk. He spent the rest of the night staring at it glinting in the beam of moonlight that slid through his curtain, striking across his duvet like one of Remus's scars.

So he woke early, eyes itchy, skin pale, but ready to be distracted. And there was plenty to do. He went straight to the shop and cleaned, first. It wasn't particularly dirty, but he wanted it to be the best It possibly could be. He even did the windows, inside and out. The drinks order came and he signed for that, then put everything in the fridge that could fit. There were the fairy lights to hang up, and the music to set up. Remus had started making him a playlist, and Marlene had finished it. Sirius already knew he would be able to tell who had picked which song.

He'd have forgotten to have lunch, if Lily and James hadn't come by to take him out to celebrate the big day. After that, he had to meet Marlene in a coffee shop to talk to a reporter for the local paper about the opening, and then back to the shop for some photos. By then it was getting close, so he rushed back home to shower and change before the guests started arriving.

Just before leaving for the party, Sirius picked up the metal object one more time. It was cool, but warmed quickly in his hand. He didn't know what it was, he just knew he liked it. He put it on his keyring and left.

The party was kicked off with the salon's first official haircut - James's. It remained perpetually messy, but at least it didn't fall in his eyes all the time now. There were toasts and there were speeches - more and more as the night drew on and the drink depleted. All of their friends were there, plus lots of people Sirius had never met, but had to shake hands with and make small talk with and smile at. By eleven o'clock he was exhausted and sick of champagne, getting a headache.

He found a bottle of beer chilling in the kitchen sink and left the party for a breather. He went out onto the street and sat on the kerb, yawning and enjoying the relative quiet. He wasn't intending to stay out long, just long enough to fortify him for another two hours or so of mingling. He wondered what Remus was doing. Performing, maybe. Sirius hoped so, because that was the thing that made Remus happiest.

The shop door opened, light and noise spilled onto the pavement and someone came out. Sirius turned to greet them, ready to plaster a fake smile on, but there was no need. It was Gideon.

“Hi,” he said, walking over.

“Hi.” Sirius replied, turning away.

“Can I sit here?”

Sirius shrugged, “Can’t stop you,”

Gideon tutted, and sat down beside him on the kerb. "Place looks amazing," Gid said, "you should be so proud, Black."

"Yeah, thanks."

They were silent for a few moments, before Gideon finally spoke, “Look, I'm really sorry about the other night. Potter’s just laid into me over it. I was really pissed, got carried away. Thought I was cheering you up.”

“Right.”

“I didn’t realise how far gone you were. I should have. I’m a dick, I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok, Gid,” Sirius heaved a sigh, “We’ve done it pissed loads of times. Probably just muscle memory or something.”

“No, it was awful of me,”

“Well. Thanks for saying so,”

“... did Remus--”

“Can we not?!”

“Ok, ok, sorry. I get it.”

They were silent for an even longer stretch. Sirius sighed, heavily. He might as well talk to someone. At least Gid was as much of a dickhead as he was.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“No, I really want to to tell me the truth. Brutally honest,”

Gideon shifted, cleared his throat, “Ok, brutally honest.”

“When we were together, was I a good boyfriend?”

“Christ, Black, I dunno!"

“Please, tell me. Did I make you cheat, with the way I acted? Was I too clingy? Too much drama?”

"I mean… Yeah, you were clingy, a bit. I dunno about drama, but… everything sort of fell apart if you got in a mood. Like a tiny thing would bother you, and there was nothing I could do to help. I never knew how to sort you out, I wasn't like James,"

"James?"

"I dunno how he does it, but Potter can read your wacky little mind. Fab used to say it was a crying shame Potter wasn't queer, because then you two would be perfect."

"Eurgh, James?! Prongs?! I love him, but no thanks."

Gideon laughed, "Yeah, that's what I thought. Anyway, you were a good boyfriend, Sirius. You were clingy and a bit of a drama queen, but you were kind and fun and generous too."

"Thanks," Sirius smiled.

"What about me, was I a good boyfriend?" Gideon nudged him. Sirius gave him a look and he laughed, "All right, I wasn't always… a hundred percent faithful. But we were both as bad as each other."

"I never cheated!" Sirius exclaimed.

"No but you started plenty of fights."

"Hm."

"I'm sorry for hurting you back then, I never wanted that. I was just… well, you weren't the only one who came out y'know," his voice turned surprisingly serious, "You weren't the only one having a difficult time."

Sirius opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. He swigged from his beer bottle, "What a mess we both are, eh?"

"I dunno. We're both here, aren't we? Maybe that's a sign from the universe."

"You don't believe in that kind of thing."

"But you do."

“Maybe, maybe not,” he wanted to think he’d matured. He reached into his picked to find his keys and the mysterious metal object that belonged to Remus. He squeezed it. "I'd better go back in. It's my party."

He climbed to his feet, then extended a hand to help Gideon up.

* * *

He started to think he might get over Remus. He thought about him all the time, but at least he couldn't see him, or bump into him anywhere. He didn't have to wonder if that guy with the curly hair getting off the bus was him, or the tall man carrying a bass guitar up the stairs at Dalston Kingsland.

The key was to just keep working, and that was easy with new staff to train and a business to get started. Sirius spent so much of his time at the shop that he thought about actually putting a bed in the office, as Remus had suggested.

One evening, Sirius had finally finished sweeping the floor and wiping down the counters while Marlene and Dorcas were upstairs in the office closing the safe. He was just about to call up and tell them he was finished when he heard them whispering in the stairwell.

"Tell him!"

“No, you tell him, it’ll sound better coming from you.”

“I don’t know if I should. He’s doing much better, this will only…”

“Of course he needs to know!”

“What if he already knows?”

“Who knows what?” Sirius said, loudly, climbing the stairs and making his presence known.

He entered the office, Marlene and Dorcas looked up from desk, guilty, but said nothing.

He frowned, “Come on, I know you were talking about me. What is it?”

“Sirius, er…” Marlene sat up, chewing her lip, “So you know how me and Dor were following Full Moon on facebook?”

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, but he stayed calm, “Yeah…?”

“Well… um… ok, so they’re back in the UK. I got a notification, they’re doing a gig next week.”

“What?” He blinked, his mind racing, “But the tour was at least six weeks! How…?!”

Remus was back in the country! Sirius suddenly realised how helpful it had been knowing that Remus was a long, long way away all this time - like they’d needed the English Channel as a buffer. If he was in the UK, then he was most likely in London, and maybe staying with the band, which meant he was in Stratford, barely half a mile away… he sat down, abruptly, head spinning.

“Sirius, I don’t think Remus is with them,” Marlene said, watching him carefully.

“What do you mean? Of course he is, that’s his band, that’s all he cares about in the world .”

“Maybe, but… well look at this,” she handed over her phone.

Sirius took it - the screen displayed Full Moon’s facebook page, and the most recent status:

Fresh from our European tour, Full Moon is looking for a new bassist - MUST BE LOYAL, DEDICATED AND HONEST. No time wasters, auditions on 23rd August.

“What the fuck,” he murmured, scrolling.

“All of his pictures are gone, too,” Marlene said, biting her nails now.

Sirius went to ‘Photos’ quickly, and saw it was true - all of the pictures of the band had been cropped to remove Remus. Sirius felt strange all over - sick and prickly.

It was if Remus Lupin had vanished - or never even existed at all.

Chapter Text

We had a deal there

We nearly signed it with our blood,

An understanding,

I thought that you would keep your word.

I'm disappointed.

I'm aggravated, it's a fault I have, I know;

When things don't go my way I have to

Blow up in the face of my rivals.

I swear and I rant, I make quite an arrival.

The men are surprised by the language,

They act so discreet, they are hypocrites so fuck them too!

 

Remus didn’t cry over Sirius. Not through choice - Remus never cried, ever. Hadn’t since he was tiny. As a child it unnerved people. He used to wonder if he’d lost the ability after some operation or another. Like they’d cut it out of him; his ability to feel things like normal people felt them.

Sirius had been a complete fluke, anyway.

The night Remus Lupin met Sirius Black, he had just had the biggest row of his life with Fenrir. It had been loud and hideous and frustrating, and not physical, but that somehow made it worse. Sometimes Remus thought that was all Fen needed, like exercise. 'Fighting and fucking' he would snarl in his better moods, 'that's all I'm good for.' It was a line from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (the book, not the film) and Remus wasn't sure if it was a sly joke meant for his benefit, or whether Fenrir genuinely thought he'd made it up himself.

Fighting and fucking . Remus had only ever permitted one of the two, and for months now he had refused to indulge Fenrir in either.

So he didn't really begrudge Fenrir a bit of yelling. Remus liked shouting too, sometimes. He'd always been told to stay quiet as a child, as if making too much noise would tire him out and make him even sicker. "Shh, Remus," his mother would say, kissing his forehead, her cheeks wet. And he would lie there mute for days.

Fenrir loved noise. Fenrir was noise, and maybe that was why Remus had fallen for him hook, line and sinker.

The argument they had the night Remus met Sirius was complicated - sort of. Fenrir said it was because he didn't want Remus to play in another band, even after Remus had explained it was a just stupid charity act, a one off - they weren't even any good . Remus had thought that getting his own place to live would make it easier to keep things from the band, but they always found out.

Anyway, Greyback shouted, and Remus shouted right back, and in the end he'd stormed out and gone to the damn gig, because it was his life and he was too old to be bossed around anymore. He wasn't still some wide-eyed kid who needed looking after, and anyway that had never been Fenrir's job, no matter what he liked to think.

So Remus had been pretty wound up, that night, the night he met Sirius, and maybe he was looking for a bit of relief. Sirius wasn't his usual type - too good looking by far, much too polite - but he was persistent and in the end Remus was too intrigued to ignore it. So he flirted back, and he kissed him, just to see. And then - fireworks. Really took Remus by surprise. He hadn't had chemistry that good with anyone, and Remus was very thorough in his search for chemistry.

Everything that happened after that night was his own fault, Remus was willing to admit. He'd let things go too far, knowing that he'd never be able to keep up the ‘boyfriend thing’ forever. He just wasn't made that way. It wasn't in his nature, like Fenrir said.

He'd only meant it to be one night, a bit of fun and a taste of someone posher than him. But while Sirius was in the bathroom, Remus pulled his deck of business cards out of his jeans pocket and hid them under his pillow. Maybe as a trophy. Very Fenrir of him. But then he couldn't stop thinking about Sirius. It was bizarre, he even dreamt about the tosser. It became distracting, he had to see him again, get it all out of his system. And he tried to distance himself, but the more time he spent with Sirius, the more he craved him.

It even affected his playing, Remus was almost constantly daydreaming about Sirius Black. It got him punched - he wasn't paying attention enough to notice that Fenrir had started yet another fight with the guy who rented then the rehearsal space, and hadn't the presence of mind to duck in time. Fenrir had really gone wild after that, like he hadn't in a long time. It took five people to pull him off the man who had dared lay a finger on Remus.

That would have been a turn on for Remus, once. Now he was trying to do better. Anyway, Fenrir confiscated his phone after that, tried to keep him close - they had the gig, and potentially the tour coming up, he had to focus. Remus went along with it, because that's what he always did, he didn't know how to do anything else. Let Sirius forget him, let him think Remus had lost interest.

But Sirius had come to the gig, and the moment Remus saw him he thought he'd burst with joy. He was falling in love already, he knew it then. And Sirius had been kind and forgiving, and looked after him through the migraine and brought him a bloody fan and for the first time in a long time Remus could see a life outside of Fenrir and Liv and the band.

Sirius made Remus behave in ways he had never behaved before. The long conversations, lounging around in bed for hours doing nothing productive at all. Talking about feelings . Talking about anything besides music, actually. He got comfortable, he started to like it - a lot. It snowballed, and he got too dependent on that feeling.

But Remus had thrown it away now. Quite literally; he tossed his phone right out of the taxi window on his way to the airport, in a fit of rage. Because Remus could not be forgiving and kind, because Fenrir was right; the doctors cut those parts of him out a long time ago. You can't fight who you are.

Remus was often grateful that his health meant he mustn't ever drink, because if he could then he probably would have taken that too far by now. He could be like that about a lot of stuff; it had to be all or nothing. He'd been that way with school work, studying and reading and working every waking hour, even from his various hospital beds. Mum used to beg him to rest. Then he’d met Fenrir and discovered music, and it had blown his life wide open, he had given himself to it completely and utterly, forsaking all others. You had to have a focus, you had to give it everything, because otherwise what was the point?

And now he was alone, in an unfamiliar country. So that’s where perseverance got you.

He’d thought things would be ok with Fenrir. He’d been good as gold at the airport, generally leaving Remus alone, even though he knew about the breakup. Remus hadn't said anything to him, but he definitely knew. On the plane to Germany Remus barely spoke, and wore a thick black beanie to cover his new haircut and exposed scar. Liv made a snide comment,but Fen shut her up, so maybe he was being kind for once.

When Full Moon arrived in Berlin and met the rest of the roadcrew, Remus was so shy and awkward, but that was never much of a problem when Fenrir was around. They were shown their bus, and Remus headed straight for bed, exhausted. Fenrir actually came and sat beside him for a bit, and watched him take his hat off,

“All right, kid?” he asked, in the softest tone he was capable of. He put his big hand on the back of Remus’s neck and stroked his thumb just behind his ear. Remus closed his eyes, leaning into it, and nodded,

“Fine, yeah.”

“Like the haircut,”

Remus shrugged, “S’ok. Fancied a change.”

“Get some sleep.” Fenrir said, squeezing Remus’s neck one last time, then releasing him and standing up. Remus obeyed without a word, lying down on the bed still in his clothes. Fenrir hung about a moment longer, obviously wanting to say something more. Finally he settled for, “You’ll be alright. It don’t hurt forever. You’re back with us now, eh?”

“Yeah,” Remus sighed, eyes shut, “Yeah, I’m back with you now.”

Fenrir seemed satisfied by this, and didn’t push for anything else. He seemed to be sleeping with Livia most nights, anyway, which Remus thought was probably a good sign. While she was hardly a calming influence, at least having regular shag kept Fenrir out of trouble.

As for Sirius, Remus hadn’t told the band the details. Once upon a time, when they’d all moved down to London together, and Remus was too young to know any better, he told them everything. He’d been the baby of the group, naive and deferential, so unused to having friends that he trusted them wholeheartedly. He’d trusted them enough to run away from home at sixteen. He’d trusted them to replace his family - Remus hadn’t spoken to his real family in ten years.

He used to open up to anyone who was kind to him. He'd learnt his lesson since - or at least he thought he had. Perhaps Sirius was an apt reminder. Ugh, fuck Sirius . He had bigger things to worry about right now.

Like how was he going to do this alone? When the tour ended, what was he going to do?

It had started off so well. They played their first night in Germany and it was incredible , beyond Remus’s wildest dreams. The adrenaline of performing in front of a crowd of thousands was beyond anything he had ever experienced, a pure high - better than sex. He even forgot about Sirius for half an hour.

Full Moon was on top form; they were tight and fierce and aggressive and all together. On stage, Remus still felt like he loved them. Even Fenrir.

Watching Stupid Roar every night was amazing too, for the ballads they had a huge band, with strings and a brass section and four sexy girls with dark glass voices singing back-up. Remus stared on with envy and admiration every night, his fingers itching to play along, add his own twist to the bass.

But only a week and a half in, it all went wrong, as things always go wrong.

First, Fenrir got friendly with Stupid Roar's bassist, who was a bit of a dickhead and always up for a night out. A few nights Remus slept entirely alone on Full Moon’s bus, none of the band appeared until well after sunrise.

Remus had been keeping to himself, mostly. He was polite to Stupid Roar, if a bit star struck, and hung around the sound engineers a lot, because he knew how to talk to them. He was learning loads, too, he couldn't believe how lucky he was.

Maybe if he'd stuck closer to Full Moon he'd have noticed Fenrir going off the rails. Remus didn't know what he'd have done, but he'd have tried to talk to him, at least.

In the end it took the tour manager collecting Fenrir from a jail cell in Rome for the news to reach Remus. One of the backup singers came to find him. She was a stunningly attractive young woman, who always wore high heels and had her face perfectly made up, even if they weren't playing that day.

"Remus!" She breathed, cracking over to him in the back of the hall to where he sat at the sound desk.

"Er hi," he said awkwardly, a bit intimidated by her, "Sorry was it… Martha?"

"Mary," she shook her head, black corkscrew curls bouncing, "I was sent to get you,"

“Who wants me?”

“Look, you’d just better come, I don’t know all the details, but it’s about your lead singer. ”

That got Remus’s attention, and he followed her without another word, outside to the bus which Remus knew was the nerve centre of the whole operation - all the team leaders and department chiefs met there every day, but Remus had never been in; he wasn’t important enough.

He stood outside and looked at Mary anxiously, “Should I knock, first?”

“No idea,” she shrugged, “Never been summoned, myself.”

“Do you… do you know what this is about?” He had an awful feeling of dread deep in his stomach, and felt rooted to the spot.

“I know there was a lot of racket at three in the morning,” she said, “You weren’t out with them, then?”

“No, I got an early night,” he said. He was trying to get at least seven hours a night in the hopes that it would ward off migraines and keep him well enough to keep performing. He’d only had one so far since being on tour, and it had been minor enough to push through, though it did leave him a bit dozy afterwards.

“Well then I don’t think you can be in trouble,” Mary smiled at him. She had a very friendly face, and seemed to intuitively grasp how nervous he was. She reached over and touched his bare forearm, stroking it a little, “Want me to come in with you?”

He shook his head, straightening his back, “No, it’s fine. Thank you,”

“No probs, babe,” she shrugged again, her eyes glittering, “good luck!”

He nodded, and pushed the door open.

Inside there seemed to be wires and screens everywhere - and not the kind Remus liked. There were spreadsheets and schedules tacked up on every wall, and the whole place smelled of stale coffee. Five or six young people in headsets sat at tables or on beds tapping away on laptops. Three of them looked up when he walked in.

“What?” the man nearest the door snapped at him.

“Um…” Remus blinked, shocked by the rudeness, “I was told to come here…”

“By who?” the main raised a bushy brown eyebrow. Remus cringed. Had Mary been playing a trick on him? Why?

“Er…”

“Back off, Mick, he’s the bassist,” a middle aged woman with a ponytail and a Stupid Roar t-shirt came over from the back of the bus - Remus recognised her, she was the band’s manager, “You’re the bassist, aren’t you? New Moon?”

“Full Moon,” Remus said, “Yeah, I am.”

“Right, so here’s the situation, sweetheart, Full Moon are out. Off the tour, done. Stupid Roar will never work with them again, understand?”

Remus felt dizzy, lights flashing in his eyes like the beginning of a migraine, “What… why?!”

“Too much trouble, darling, I can’t be doing with it,” she breezed, waving a biro, “I mean, we all love rock ‘n’ roll, it’s why we’re here, but I’m not shelling out any more bail money for that big bully,”

Fucking Fenrir! Remus’s queasiness turned to rage, “What did he do?”

“What didn’t he bloody do! He’s ruined my reputation in this town, and he’s fucked up my bassist. Eight months clean, he was, and now we’re flying him home for rehab.”

Shit. That sounded really bad. Remus had no idea the bassist was an addict, but it made more sense now. Fenrir always knew how to exploit a person’s weakness.

“What’s going to happen?” Remus said, weakly, feeling horribly ashamed of himself. He always felt shame wherever Fenritr was concerned.

“Well, we’re still booked for tomorrow night, and I can swap in another support act - how’s that going, Mick?” she glanced down at the man who had interrogated Remus, who had resumed tapping away on his iPad. He gave her a thumbs up, “Excellent,” she said, then looked back at Remus, “I need to know if you’re up to it, though? We’ll renegotiate the contract, of course,”

“I’m sorry, what?” he frowned, a dull throb starting in the back of his skull as he tried to work out what was happening,

“The rest of the tour, sweetie, come on,” she tapped her biro against the nearest poster on the wall - a map of all the destinations, “Twelve more cities to go, I need a bassist.”

“You want… me?!”

“I’ve heard you rehearsing, you’re the only half decent musician in that band,” she replied, without any irony or sarcasm at all, “Fancy stepping up for me?”

“Um… I mean… yes! Of course!”

“Laaaahvly,” she purred, leaning over and kissing his cheek, “I need you in soundcheck at 9am sharp tomorrow, got it?”

“No problem!”

“All right, good. Now fuck off, sweetheart, I’m busy,”

She turned back into the depths of the bus and Remus gratefully jumped out, completely stunned. Jesus Christ, what had he done?!

* * *

He went back to Full Moon’s bus and found the rest of them there. Fenrir was storming about the place, making it rock on its wheels as he ranted and raved, throwing objects around. Livia was sitting up on her bunk-bed watching him, her eyes glowing, a mad grin of her face, and the drummer, Guy, was alternating between a bottle of vodka and a massive spliff.

“There you are!” Fen snarled as Remus entered, “Where have you been?”

“I was just--”

“Doesn’t matter, come on, we’re off,”

“No, I--”

“Packed your things already,” Fenrir gestured at Remus’s bunk, where his clothes and books had been tossed haphazardly into his suitcase,

“I’m not going anywhere,” Remus said. His temperature was rising, but he tried to stay calm.

“Yes you bloody are,” Fenrir returned, “Cunts’ve kicked us off the tour,”

“They’ve kicked you off,” Remus replied, backing away, keeping by the door in case he needed to run, “But I’m staying. They’ve asked me to.”

“What?” Greyback stopped pacing. He looked Remus dead in the eye, and Remus tried not to cower. Fen had never hit him - never hurt him deliberately - but Remus was always waiting for it, it felt inevitable.

“What do they want you for?” Livia piped up, “Sound tech?”

“They need a stand in bassist,” Remus raised his chin, feeling sick.

“Ha!” Fenrir growled, “And you think you can do that, do you Lupin? Think you’re onto bigger and better things? Think you can do anything without me looking out for you?”

“Yes,” Remus said, his voice hoarse and low, “I can. They asked me, they want me. It’s not my fault you blew your chance.”

“Oh, listen to this!” Fenrir laughed maniacally, “I made you, you little shit! You’d never have even heard a guitar if I hadn’t bloody saved you!”

“And I’m grateful,” Remus nodded, hand on the door handle now, “But it’s over. I’ll say goodbye,” he turned the handle, but Fenrir crossed the floor and loomed over Remus, so close that Remus could feel his hot breath in his hair,

“You little traitor, ” he growled, low and menacing, eyes blazing, “You walk out that door. And you’re dead to us, you hear me? You’ll have nobody left in the world who gives two shits about you, Remus Lupin.”

That hurt; that really, really hurt. Remus thought he’d have rather been punched. At least Fenrir let him leave without any further fuss.

Mary was waiting outside, and Remus was glad he couldn’t cry, because she’d have seen him.

“I heard a lot of shouting,” she said, tilting her head, “You ok?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, “Um. I need to keep out of their way for a bit, though.”

“My trailer?” She jerked her head across the carpark, “I’ll make you a cuppa,”

He followed her, grateful and a bit amazed. She hadn’t spoken to him before today - but then, he supposed he hadn’t talked to anyone much. The bus she shared with the other backing singers was overwhelmingly feminine. There was makeup on every flat surface, a collection of every kind of tea, clothes in bright soft fabrics strewn on the floor and beds, and a strong odor of perfume and hairspray.

“It’s a bit of a tip,” she laughed.

“No worse than my bus will be once Fen’s done with it,” Remus replied dryly, sitting down in a space she made for him at the table. They could hear shouting and crashing outside. He was so glad that his guitar was already at the venue. Remus’s hands began to tremble, so he sat on them.

“They kick you all off the tour?” Mary asked, flicking on the kettle,

“Sort of,” Remus nodded, still a bit dazed by the whole thing, “They um. They asked me to be the bassist. For Stupid Roar.”

“No way!” She turned to face him, wide eyed, “That’s amazing! Congratulations, babe!”

She reminded him so much of Sirius, he realised. He didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing, and he tried not to hold it against her either way.

“Thanks,” he said, suddenly shy.

“Gawd, I wish I had something here to celebrate with, but Flo - that’s one of the other girls - she’s had the last of the prosecco,”

“Oh, it’s fine,” he shook his head, “I don’t drink,”

“Just as well, then,” she picked up the gigantic tea caddy and set it down on the table next to a makeup palette someone had left open, “You have your choice of tea, we’ve goooot... “ she thumbed through them at breakneck speed, “Strawberry, peppermint, earl grey, darjeeling, english breakfast, jasmine, green, lapsang souchong - no idea what that is - oolong, chrysanthemum, chamomile, licorice - eugh! Lemon and ginger, lemon and honey, rooibos…”

“Just english breakfast, thanks,”

“A simple man with simple tastes,” she nodded, as though he had made a very wise choice,

“Well,” he shrugged, “I’m a bassist,”

She barked with laughter, cute wrinkles in the corners of her eyes, “And he’s funny, too!”

By the time Mary had made his tea, Remus’s hands had stopped shaking, and he was starting to feel much better about the whole thing. He was going to play bass for Stupid Roar! Brit nominated, critically acclaimed Stupid Roar!

“To a fresh start!” Mary trilled, clinking her mug against his. Hers was bright pink, and had red letting which read ‘Queen of the Fucking Universe’, and he had just realised that his own mug said TWAT in big black letters. He snorted,

“Trying to tell me something?”

“Flo’s idea of a joke,” Mary poked out her pointy pink tongue. “So, Mystery Bassist, tell me about yourself,”

“Er…”

“Oh, go on!” she nudged him under the table with her toe, “I’m desperate for some gossip that’s not about whoever Izzy’s shagging - Izzy’s--”

“The other backup singer?”

“Fast learner, Remus. It is Remus, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, figuring that was as good a place to start as any.

“I’m so glad! Izzy told me that was your name, and if you must know, she’s a bit dippy, so I thought maybe she’d misheard or just made it up. Such a cool name!”

“I’ve never much liked it,” he sipped his tea, “I once knew someone called Sirius, I thought that was cooler.”

She smiled at him, “So how did you end up with that big mean bastard? No offence, but you’re absolutely nothing like him.”

“None taken,” he laughed, “Um. It’s a long story. Not a nice one. He wasn’t always that bad, he was… when I met him he was…”

He was big and strong and remorseless and he had said to Remus ‘fuck your parents! You don’t have to listen to them!’ and no one had ever said anything like that before, and it was so delicious.

“He was charismatic.” Remus ended, lamely.

“Fair enough,” Mary said - it was really that easy.

After that, Mary and Remus became fast friends. She even helped him tidy up his bus after Fenrir trashed it. He needed to wash all his clothes, they had muddy boot prints and spit, and even worse smeared all over them. Fenrir had even kicked in the slats on Remus’s bunk bed - on all of them, so he had to sleep on the couch for the rest of the tour.

It was touching, in a way. He knew it was Fenrir’s way of showing Remus how hurt he was. Remus even felt a pang of regret, that first night he was by himself. He’d been trying to get free for a long time - he’d moved out, got a job, he’d started seeing other people. But even then he had slunk back to the band. He was Fenrir's familiar.

Now there was definitely no going back. And Remus was alone. Really, truly alone. His father had told him this would happen. Or he'd yelled it at him, anyway, when Remus announced he was giving up in his degree and running away to London to be in a band.

But he had a job. He had plenty of work to do to get up to speed with all the songs, and was even brave enough to try a few of his own ideas, which the rest of the band seemed to really like. He got a new contract and his wages tripled - he had nothing to spend them on, so he saved up, remembering he’d need a new flat when he got back to London.

He didn’t hear from Fenrir, but he saw the ad for auditions on Full Moon’s Facebook page. It was painful, but tolerable.

Then he headlined that first night in Rome and any lingering attachment he'd had to his ex-band mates was obliterated by the riotous applause. He had never felt so alive, so open and so visible. He pulled his beanie off after the first song, he didn't care who saw his scars, and Greyback was finally gone, and his hair was so fucking cool now, so what did it matter.

Afterwards Mary hugged him and the whole band shook his hand and said it had been the best performance of the tour so far, and they loved what he'd done, and they thought his changes were genius. In the end he had to hide in the loo from all the attention, just sitting inside a locked cubicle with his hand on his heart, feeling it racing and smiling so hard.

Later that night everyone went off to the nearest clubs to celebrate, but Remus begged off, knowing he ought to get as much sleep as possible. He wished he'd gone, though, he understood why they had, the adrenaline didn't wear off for hours, he felt electrified from top to toe.

He lay in his bed, tossing and turning, mind racing and energy vibrating every nerve ending. He had to do something. Restless, he considered masturbating, not having felt the urge to in a few weeks. That was unusual for him, but he thought it was probably to do with Sirius. Like his own body had gone into mourning for that particular loss. Shame, because it was usually his only outlet, besides music.

He’d never said so to anyone, for fear of being called a freak or a pervert - or probably just getting laughed at - but Remus remembered his first wank as being one of the most important moments in his young life. He was at home, hiding under the covers, bored and tired of being sick, too ill to get up or go anywhere or do anything. It was all very ordinary, he imagined, the usual sort of self-exploration. But oh my god , what a feeling! The first nice thing his body had ever done for him. He was hooked - it was just about the only addiction he could have that wasn’t likely to kill him.

Remus rolled over on the uncomfortable bus couch. Now he’d thought about it a bit, his body was starting to respond to the idea. He reached under the blanket to squeeze himself, and sighed at the familiar warm pleasure. He could get it over with fast, if he wanted. But he was lonely, and it was always better with two. He twitched a little, at the thought of it - skin on skin. It had been so long.

Yes, he decided, a shag was what he needed.

Who would do? Not the band - they were all straight, as far as he could tell, and you don’t shit where you eat, Fenrir taught him that. Maybe not a man. That might remind him too much of Sirius. He needed a change.

He got up and dressed quickly, stealing out of the bus and creeping across the carpark. He knew that the other singers were out tonight - Mary had told him earlier. One of them had started something with the keyboardist from the new support act, and the other two were hitting the local cocktail bars. Mary hadn’t decided whether or not to go with them when he spoke to her earlier, but the curtains were backlit by the soft warm glow of a bedside lamp, so it looked good.

Remus knocked lightly on the door, and listened for her footsteps. The door swung open, and she gave him a brilliant smile. Her hair was wrapped up in a bright scarf, and she was in a pair of tiny shorts and a tight vest - no bra. Remus felt a rush of desire for her.

“Hiya,” she folded her arms and leaned coyly against the doorframe, “Can’t sleep?”

“No,” he replied, climbing onto the first step, which put them eye to eye,

“Do you want to come in for a cuppa--”

He leaned forward and kissed her, cutting her off. She tasted like toothpaste, and her lips were gorgeously full and soft. He felt her smile as she kissed him back, her hands coming up to cradle his face. His hands were on her hips, gentle, but insistently thumbing the soft skin of her waist.

“Wait, I thought you were gay?” She said, pulling back a moment.

“Err… only a bit,” Remus answered, panting.

“Well,” Mary grinned, taking his hand and pulling him onto the bus, “you’ll have to do.”

It had been a while since he’d done it with a girl, but once he got into it everything fell into place nicely. And where it didn’t, Mary was happy to advise, being as generous about sex as she was with everything else.

It was just what he'd needed, either way.

“So, not gay,” she laughed, laying down beside him once she’d returned from the loo.

“Nope,” he breathed, staring at the fog on the windows. It reminded him of that time with Sirius in James and Lily’s boiling hot spare room.

“Lucky me,” she purred, moving the hairs on his chest about with her long red fingernail. “Bisexual, then?”

“Urgh, hate that word.” He winced.

“Really?”

“It just makes me cringe to say, you know? It's the ‘sexual’ part. Why does that have to be there?! So intrusive. Gay people are lucky.”

Mary raised a skeptical eyebrow at him, which made him laugh,

“Ok, stupid thing to say, but you know what I mean. They get a nice short cheerful word.”

“You could say ‘bi’?”

“God no, even worse. Then people complete the word for you, you can practically see it in their faces. The silent ‘sexual’.”

Mary giggled, “Good band name.”

Mary was so easy to talk too, so light and bubbly.

“I’ll have that cup of tea now,” Remus sat up, “Want one?”

“Mm, please,” she nodded, sitting up herself, drawing her legs up to let him past. She started doodling hearts in the condensation on the window.

He pulled on his boxers and set about finding the kettle in amongst all of the girly debris. “How do you lot find anything?” He said.

“It’s a constant struggle,” Mary grinned from the bed, “Hey if it’s that bad maybe next time we’ll do this at yours?”

Remus turned back with a raised eyebrow and a smirk, “Next time?”

* * *

If he could have just held onto that moment, crystallised the tour and lived inside it forever, Remus thought he might have been perfectly content for the rest of his life.

He felt free; free of Fenrir, free from expectations and worry. He didn’t even need to think about money. He played music all day long, performed every evening, and spent the rest of his time with Mary. Everyone thought they were going out, but Mary had the same pragmatic attitude as Remus when it came to carnal relations, “I came on tour to have fun, not for a boyfriend,” she said that first night. He agreed.

Still, it made Remus more acceptable to the band, and some of the roadcrew, who’d been having trouble pinning him down. Suddenly everyone was calling him ‘mate’ and involving him in their banter, as if he was one of the lads. Shagging Mary had made him relatable.

It wasn’t just shagging, they went on day trips together, too. Remus had never travelled, but Mary was pretty seasoned on the tour circuit, and took him to see the sights on their days off. They did the Colosseum together, and the Paris catacombs, and the Sex Museum in Amsterdam. She thought it was cute, how sheltered he was, how he stared in awe at almost everything, even the different money.

In the back of his mind he thought about Sirius, and wondered if he had ever been to these places. Probably - he was rich, all his friends were rich, he’d been to a private boarding school and everything. Places like that thought nothing of casually sending you to Norway for a study trip. Whenever Remus saw something beautiful - art in the Louvre, or the clocktower in Krakow - he wondered what Sirius would say about them. He had a way of talking about beautiful things.

Remus was free from most of his previous burdens, but his poor health was ever present. He lost a few days in Barcelona to a migraine, locked inside his bus alone, in the dark. Everyone was very understanding, he didn’t miss any gigs, only a few press interviews (which he was pretty happy to be left out of).

When he was finally feeling halfway normal again he let Mary in to visit. She plonked herself down on the seat opposite him and set down a stack of blank postcards.

“I’ve been buying a few at each place we’ve visited,” she explained, “Now you’re feeling better I thought you might want to write to someone?”

“Nah,” Remus shook his head - his brain felt like it was rattling in his skull as he did, and his neck was so stiff.

“Are you sure?” She cocked her head, “I know you haven’t got a phone… isn’t there anyone at home you want to check in with?”

“Not really, no.”

Her eyes widened, as if she couldn’t comprehend such a thing, “Oh Remus,” she said, sadly, “So Full Moon leaving was a seriously bad breakup?”

“Pretty much,” he chuckled hoarsely, blanket wrapped tight over his shoulders, “My second of the year, actually,”

“Poor love,” she tutted, “What happened to the first one?”

“Oh… nothing exciting.” His eyes suddenly felt funny - too watery, stinging a bit. He rubbed at them, confused. The migraine must have really messed him up this time, he ought to see his doctor when he got back to London.

“Doesn't seem like nothing,” Mary said. She got up and put on the kettle, “Come on, Mr Mystery, spill your guts.”

He was helpless, when it came to Mary.

“We weren’t together long, maybe six weeks,” he said, “Fenrir was jealous, obviously. I… we went to fast, I think. Rushed everything. We just spent all our time together, and I even hung out with his friends - they all just sort of absorbed me into their group.”

“Sounds nice,” Mary said, dropping teabags into mugs, “So what went wrong?”

“Well, like I say, we went too fast, it just got too much. He was - Sirius - was jealous too. Of Fenrir.”

“Hmph,” Mary nodded, “I can see why, and I only knew the prick for a week.”

“Er… yeah I s’pose… anyway, it wasn’t just his jealousy, he was weird about me coming on the tour,”

“With Fenrir?”

“Um. I don’t know, probably, yeah.”

“Did he try to stop you leaving?” she asked.

“No… no, he was encouraging, but I could just tell he was uncomfortable with it, you know, like he kept asking about sleeping arrangements, and--”

“I mean, it makes sense, if he cared about you,” Mary shrugged, stirring the tea now, squeezing the bags against the rim of each mug with the back of her spoon, “ I was worried about you, and I didn’t even know you. You barely spoke to anyone while Fenrir was around,”

“That’s not true…”

“Yes it is,” she insisted, handing him his tea, “Look how much you’ve come out of your shell since he’s been gone! You’re practically a different person. He was a bully, he was hurting you.”

“No, Fenrir never--”

Mary raised a hand to shut him up, “Maybe not physically. But he hurt you, Remus.”

He didn’t like her saying that, like she could see some mark on him that he didn’t know he had. Remus had plenty of scars, he didn’t need them on the inside too. His eyes started watering again, and he wiped at them angrily. Stupid body, always letting him down.

“Do you miss him?” Mary asked gently, “Sirius? You can say yes, I won’t mind.”

“I miss some things,” Remus admitted, “But he let me down.”

After I yelled at him , Remus thought, guiltily, after I told him it was over. After I let him down.

“People do, sometimes,” Mary sighed heavily, “It’s human nature to make mistakes. But giving up on people - that’s a choice.”

This was at odds with Remus’s philosophy - or rather, Fenrir Greyback’s philosophy. People only ever got one chance, and if they cocked it up, then that was their problem.

“What about your family?” Mary picked up a postcard encouragingly, “Wouldn’t they like to hear from you? My mum goes spare if I don’t ring her every other day.”

“I don’t really have any family.”

“Oh love! God, I’m so sorry…”

“No,” Remus said hurriedly, “They’re not dead, we just… don’t speak. I s’pose I gave up on them, too.”

“Ah,” she pressed her lips together.

They were quiet for a long time, sipping their tea. Remus lay back down on hs sofa bed, feeling a bit dizzy. Maybe from the migraine, or maybe because Mary had managed to draw so much out of him that he felt weaker now. She got up and came over to curl up beside him, cradling his head against her soft chest and stroking his hair,

“Remus darling,” she whispered, “You’re much too nice a person to be so lonely.”

* * *

Remus kept the postcards, and he wrote on every one, but he didn’t send them. He bundled them up and kept them hidden in the bottom of his rucksack.

Six weeks on tour came to an end so quickly his head spun. He worked harder than ever, and Stupid Roar asked him if he wanted to get in touch once they were all back in London - they were going to start working on a new album, and wanted to see what he thought. Two of the sound guys approached him too, offering session work, and he didn’t know what he was going to do.

He borrowed a laptop from someone and started searching for flats. He didn’t really know where to look, he was nervous about returning to East London, where Fenrir and Sirius lay in wait. Remus had enough saved up now to afford six months rent on a proper flat - not even a bedsit. Even longer, if he took some of session work.

In truth, he’d never really had to make these kinds of decisions before. As much as Remus prided himself in being a struggling artist, the fact was that Fenrir had owned his life to such an extent that Remus had never had to get his own shit together before. Fenrir managed his running away, got him his jobs, got Full Moon all their gigs - when Remus had enough of living with them, it was Fenrir who found him his horrible little bedsit.

At twenty-six, Remus did not know how to be on his own.

“What are you doing, when you’re back in London?” He asked Mary on their penultimate night.

“Seeing my family, meeting with my agent - finding out what’s next,” Mary replied, doing her makeup, “I’ve got a few things lined up, back-up stuff, mainly.”

She was getting ready to go out. Their final night was in Dublin, and the whole road crew was going out to celebrate after the show, even Remus.

“That’s good,” Remus said, his voice croaking a bit. It itched, and he tried to clear his throat, but that turned into a coughing fit.

“Blimey,” Mary frowned at him in the mirror, “Haven’t shaken that cold yet?”

Remus shook his head, spluttering as he sipped some water. Everyone had caught a bug somewhere in Madrid, and for days the entire tour personnel were grumpy and feverish, coughing and sneezing in their buses all night long. Most of the others were over it by now, but of course Remus still felt like crap.

“You sure you ought to go out?” Mary came over and touched his forehead, “You’re very hot,”

“Thanks,” he winked at her, hoping she couldn’t tell how his vision was swimming.

She tutted at him, “Slut.”

“I’m fine, I’ll just have some Lemsip.”

“Well, go easy, ok? Let’s get you back to London in one piece.”

He did feel hot, and kept sweating, but that could just be the gig they’d played - it was always too hot on stage, under the lights. The giddiness he attributed to his nerves over returning home. The cough was just annoying, more than anything, but he was bringing up phlegm now, so it had to be nearing the end.

He’d made it through the whole tour, hadn’t he? He hadn’t even sat out one gig; he could do it. He watched Mary brush gold powder across her eyelids, the contrast gorgeous against her mahogany skin. Drowsy and feeling soppy, he sighed,

“I wish it wasn’t ending,”

“Aww, babe,” she smiled at him, “There’ll be other tours, you’re an amazing musician.”

“I’ll miss you,”

“I live in Tower Hamlets, hardly another country.”

“Yeah, but…” maybe it was his temperature, but he felt an urge to say it, anyway, “Mary?”

“Hmm?”

“I think I’m falling for you,”

She stopped what she was doing, setting down her false eyelashes, and turned to look at him,

“Remus, love, no you’re not,” She smiled at him kindly.

“Yes I am,” he retorted, “You’re amazing,”

She shook her head, “What’s my favourite food?”

“Eh?”

“Where do I come from? What’s my relationship with my family like? Which church do I belong to?”

Remus blinked. He didn't know any of those things. He didn’t even know she was religious.

“Er…”

“Babe,” she leaned across the table and stroked his cheek, “It’s not me you’re in love with. You just needed someone to talk to. And that’s ok, I love listening. Look, you’re a lovely boy, a bloody good shag, and funny when you’re in a good mood, but you and me? Never going to work.”

“But…” Remus tried to protest, but he realised she was right. He loved her - or at least, he felt very strongly for her. But that was largely because he could say whatever he liked around her. He felt dreadful as he realised that it had all been so one-sided.

“Shit,” he said, “I’m sorry, you must think I’m such a selfish prat.”

“Remus Lupin, you are anything but selfish,” she laughed lightly. She reached over and squeezed his hands, “But you’ve got a lot going on in that head of yours. Want my advice? See a professional.”

“Like a therapist?” He shook his head, leaning away, “Been there, done that. Trust me, I’m nowhere near as bad as I used to be.”

“It’s not about good or bad. You just need to talk. Ideally to someone you’re not having sex with. Trust me, it helps.”

“Sex helps,” Remus smirked, trying to avoid the subject.

“Mm, I’m sure it does,” she poked her tongue out, “And you’re very good at it. But it’s the stuff that comes after. Don’t you want to be good at that, too?”

He didn’t say any more, and she got up and returned to the mirror. It was really hot, he thought about getting up and opening a window, but his arms and legs were heavy, and if he moved too fast his vision got foggy. He was starting to wonder if he really was quite ill.

“I’m going for a lie down,” he said, woozily, trying to get up. Blood rushed to his head.

“Ok, good idea,” Mary replied, applying her eyelashes/

He stood and swayed, so light-headed he wasn’t even sure if he was on solid ground. Oh dear. That wasn’t good. Then gravity kicked in, much too fast, and the floor rushed up to meet him.

Mary still had her back turned, “I’ll come and check on you later when -- Remus? Oh my god, Remus?!”

He heard a loud THUNK as his head caught the corner of the table, but didn’t remember anything more.

Chapter Text

You're a star now, I am fixing people's nails

I'm knitting jumpers, I'm working after hours,

I've got a boyfriend, I've got a feeling that he's seeing someone else

He always had a thing for you as well.

 

Blow up in the face of my rivals

I swear and I rant, I make quite an arrival

The men are surprised by the language

They act so discreet, they are hypocrites, forget them...

So fuck them too!

 

James was acting weird. Sirius couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was definitely off . When you’ve known someone for fifteen years, lived with them for most of that and seen literally every one of their moods, it was really easy to tell when they were lying.

The trouble was, Sirius had no idea what James was lying about . And it was hard to figure out, because Sirius was finding himself increasingly short of free time. He saw James almost every day - Prongs had insisted on bringing lunch to the salon on its first official day of business, and he’d now been doing at least twice a week it for a solid two months.

“What’s the point in having an inheritance if I can’t buy my mates lunch?” he’d shrug. Beautiful bastard.

But twenty minutes a day chatting over a sandwich in a busy salon was not exactly conducive to soul-searching conversation. They were very much limited to the basics: How the rugby was going, how the business was going, how Lily was, how Gideon was…

Come to think of it, Sirius hadn’t actually seen Lily in a couple of weeks. Actually, not since James had started acting strangely.

Dread settled in the pit of Sirius’s stomach. Surely not? Lily and James were forever . He sat up in bed, and grabbed his phone, tapping out a message to Marlene,

 

Have u seen Lily lately? Is she ok?

 

Less than a minute later came the response:

 

Did her roots two days ago. She’s fine. It’s 5am, Black, fuck off.

 

5am. Probably time to get up. He swung his legs out of bed and stretched. The bed was a second hand single, dragged in at the last minute when Sirius realised he really would need to sleep at the Salon some nights, as Remus had predicted.

Not just some nights, actually - every night for the past two weeks.

He didn’t mind it, really - there was a fridge in the kitchen, and he showered at the gym - which was the only time he really saw Gideon too, though they’d talked about trying to spend more time together. Sirius had spent a night or two at his, and vice versa, but they were struggling to do anything regularly, with Sirius’s energy almost entirely poured into McKinnon & Black’s. Maybe they were both kidding themselves, there were hardly sparks flying between them, but Sirius needed the comfort every now and then, and Gideon was willing enough to provide. It was better than being alone.

Sirius got up, dressed and went to rummage in the staff fridge for breakfast. He found a yoghurt Marlene had left. He took that and a banana from the fruit bowl back upstairs to his office/bedroom, and got started on the stock inventory numbers.

They needed more disinfectant and more of that fancy environmentally friendly shampoo Lily had made them stock. Loads more cotton swabs, too. He had some emails to reply to and a few updates to make to the website. Maybe he ought to learn code. Sirius remembered having enjoyed doing it at school - but Reg had been keen on that sort of thing, so Sirius had made an early decision to hate it.

These tasks completed, it was still quite early, so he made himself a coffee and flicked through the news on his phone. He couldn’t concentrate on it though, his mind kept wandering back to James, and the weirdness.

Ok, so it probably wasn’t anything to do with Lily. That was good. What was it, then? Sirius tried to think back to the first time he’d noticed the change. Maybe two or three weeks ago - yes, there had been a day James hadn’t answered his phone.

James always had his phone on him, and he always replied to Sirius within at least 90 minutes - even during rugby games. But this one day he didn’t respond too anything at all - or send Sirius any terrible jokes he’d heard, or any pictures of dogs he’d passed on his way to work ( doggo, lol ). It was very odd. Then he didn’t come by with lunch, and Sirius got a bit worried.

In the end, Sirius even left a voicemail for him, and James didn’t reply until the next morning. He said his battery had died, but Sirius knew that wasn’t true, Prongs always carried extra chargers and a portable battery with him, he was that addicted to his phone. Besides, why wouldn’t he come in for lunch?

Since then, he’d just been acting… shifty . That would never have been a word Sirius would use to describe James Fleamont Potter, who was about as straightforward and honest as you could get, but that was the only word for it. He hardly ever said anything about himself any more, only asked Sirius questions about the business, or even Gideon, which meant something was definitely off.

James clearly wasn’t thrilled about Sirius and Gideon’s half-hearted attempt to reignite their relationship, but after his initial disapproval James hadn’t pushed Sirius on it. Maybe he felt sorry for him after the Remus fiasco. Sirius winced a bit, thinking of Remus. He’d been trying hard not to, even since the revelation that he was apparently no longer the bassist in Full Moon.

He couldn't worry about someone who didn't want to be worried about. He couldn’t be there for someone who did not want to be found. All Sirius could do was move on, which he was doing - slowly.

Sirius washed his coffee mug, brushed his teeth, then set about getting the shop floor ready for the day. They were almost fully booked, and it was only a Thursday, so he was feeling quietly pleased with himself.

Marlene arrived shortly after eight.

"Please tell me you haven't been up since five," she tutted at him.

"Got the order in," he shrugged, "Nice and quiet in the morning, I can get loads done."

"What was all that about Lily?" She yawned, slipping out of her trainers and into her posh black patent work shoes.

"Oh, nothing…" he said, not sure whether or not to bring up his suspicions, "Just haven't seen her in a while."

"Well, she's the busiest woman on the planet and you never leave this shop." Marlene returned dryly.

"Mm… do you think James has been acting a bit…?"

"Sirius," Marlene sighed, "Please go outside. You're starting to get paranoid and weird."

"Sorry, I just thought… I mean… Yeah. maybe it's me."

"James is James, he is unchanging and constant, it's why we love him."

"You're right."

"Why don't you go and see him? Have the day off tomorrow, go over and spend all day shooting aliens in your pants or whatever it is you two do."

"I couldn't take a day off, not now!" Sirius shook his head.

"Yes, you can," she said, firmly, "You've been working sixteen hours a day for two months solid, you're going to burn out. I'm ordering you."

"I'm just trying to pull my weight for once."

"And you have been!" She said this sincerely, softening her voice and reaching out to squeeze his arm, "I couldn't ask for a better partner. It's only one day, ok?"

"Fine," he sighed. It would be nice not to think about hair or invoices for a few hours. "I'll check in with James, see if I can work out what's up."

"There's nothing up," Marlene shook her head, picking up the vase of flowers at the reception desk, taking them through to the kitchen, "Honestly, Black, are you sure this is about James?"

"Obviously, what else would it be about?" He followed her through and watched her refresh the water in the vase.

"Well…" she looked a bit uncomfortable, "Are you sure it's not about someone else who was a bit mysterious?"

Sirius huffed. He hated the way his friends kept tiptoeing around his break up with Remus.

"Marls, it was ages ago."

"Not that long. Two months."

"I'm seeing Gid again."

"Yes, so you keep saying. I don't see a lot of him around, though."

"Well, we already know each other pretty well, don't we? We just slot in where we can, it's nice."

"Sounds boring."

"Oh, thanks very much."

"You're welcome," she grinned sweetly, passing back through to reception with the flowers, "Come on, let's open up."

The day went very smoothly. The junior stylists arrived on time and eager, and Sirius took three hair appointments and five manicures. Manicures were great - quick cash and satisfying to do, though his back ached after a while from sitting hunched over the nail bar.

James didn’t materialise at lunch, strengthening Sirius’s resolve to go and see him later. He send a quick message to Gideon, realising they hadn’t really spoken properly since the weekend.

 

    Sirius: Going to see Prongs this eve, that ok?

    Gideon : Yeah of course - have fun x

    Sirius: What are you up to tonight?

    Gideon: This and that ;)

 

Sirius frowned, but didn’t want to spend too long worrying over it. It would all come to a head sooner or later, in typical Gideon and Sirius fashion. He didn’t have the energy for it just yet.

He had to stop himself re-opening the chat with Remus (or ‘Moony’ as his phone still had it). As if he hadn’t memorised their final electronic exchange off by heart.

 

    Moony: Ok if I come over a bit early?

    Padfoot: Yes!!!

    Moony: Clingy bastard

    Padfoot: You love it really

    Moony: … yeah maybe. See you soon xxx

 

The next messages were from two days later, after everything had fallen apart and Sirius was pleading for a response. Nothing since then, nothing for almost two months. That was maybe the hardest part - Sirius missed the casual messaging, Remus’s dark humour and flirty nature. He didn’t have that with Gideon, really. Maybe because they’d known each other so long - there wasn’t much left to say, no surprises left.

Marlene shooed him out of the shop at six and told him not to come back for at least twenty four hours. He walked to James and Lily's through the late summer sunshine, amazed at how long it had been since he had spent real time outdoors. Maybe McKinnon was right, maybe it was just cabin fever, or overwork making him paranoid about James.

By the time he reached the Dalston flat, he was in a much better mood, feeling lighter than he had in weeks. He let himself into the building with his key fob and jogged up the stairs, whistling as he went.

“All right, mate?” James called from the kitchen as Sirius shut the front door.

“All right?” He called back, entering the flat.

James was at the sink, and turned suddenly at the sound of Sirius’s voice, “Oh! It’s you!”

“Who did you think it was?” Sirius arched an eyebrow.

“Er - Lily.” James looked flustered, colour was rising in his cheeks, and he couldn't leave his hair alone.

“You call Lily ‘mate’, now?”

“Yeah, sometimes… anyway! What are you doing here?”

“Just hadn’t been over for a while - but if I’m not welcome…” his good mood was rapidly deflating - this just seemed to prove that something had changed with James - Sirius always dropped by without notice.

James must have seen his face,

“Of course you're welcome! Sorry, it’s just… y’know, like you said, been ages since you’ve popped by. Tell you what, we should have a proper catch up. Pub?”

“Well… ok, I thought we could just have a few games of CoD, like at uni, remember?”

“Ah, yeah… um… " James's brown eyes widened, his eyebrows shooting up. The hair touching was off the scale, "Yeah, the thing with that is… er… sorry mate, TV’s broken! Yeah, been meaning to look at that…” James scratched the back of his head.

“Oh,” Sirius said, not buying a word of it. Why did James want him out of the flat? Sirius wasn't going to let him get out of it that easily. He changed tack, “Well, the least you can do is make me a cuppa, eh? Been on my feet all day,” and walked purposefully through to the living room, sitting on the couch.

“Er…” James stalled for time in the kitchen, obviously panicking now.

The living room felt different, but Sirius couldn’t work out how. He considered switching on the TV, feeling sure it was working fine, but he couldn’t bring himself to be so cruel. Then he laid eyes on the coffee table, which had an open shoebox on it. Leaning forward to peer inside, Sirius recognised the pile of his own photographs - ones from school and uni, which had been tacked to the wall on his bedroom.

Then he caught sight of a larger cardboard box on the floor, sitting just behind the armchair. Unable to suppress his curiosity, Sirius got up to look - it had all of his clothes in it, or at least the ones he’d left at Lily and James’s; the miniskirt and the feather boas and dayglo mesh tops from his wilder days.

James came through with the tea and cleared his throat, “Oh yeah! Been meaning to bring those round for you! We, er… we’ve been redecorating the spare room, and didn’t want to get paint all over your stuff, um… so… yeah.”

“What colour did you paint it?” Sirius asked, quick as a flash.

James looked like a deer caught in headlights, “...green.”

“You hate green!”

“Well, it’s not my room, it’s Lily’s office, so--”

“Can I see it?”

“What?” James was practically sweating now.

“I want to see what you’ve done with it,” Sirius began heading for the bedroom, James wringing his hands behind him,

“Padfoot, no, er… it’s not ready! Argh, ok, ok, but I can explain! Please don’t be angry...”

Sirius yanked open the door.

It had not been repainted. Nor did it look anything like an office, it was very clearly still a bedroom. The sheets were clean and neatly tucked in, there was a half-full glass of water and a well thumbed Terry Pratchett book on the bedside table. The clothes rail was full of someone else's garments - brown, grey, dark green, plaid shirts and corduroy jeans. There were wires and pedalboards littering the floor, a large amplifier at the foot of the bed, and a very familiar looking dyson fan. Sirius would know this room anywhere. This was Remus’s bedroom.

“I can explain,” James repeated.

Sirius backed out and closed the door. He felt weirdly guilty, like he had broken in. Confused and distressed, he turned on James, “What the fuck?”

James began to babble at a hundred miles an hour,

“Look, I wanted to tell you, I swear, but it’s so complicated, and he made us promise not to say anything - I didn’t want to, I told him you’re my best mate and I can’t ever lie to you, but Lily said it wasn’t really a lie, and it was the only way to get him to agree to stay here - the hospital said he shouldn’t be alone and he needed to rest, and you know what a stubborn git he is, so we didn’t really have a choice, and Jesus Christ, Pads, it’s been killing me not telling you, I’m so, so sorry--”

“All right, all right--” Sirius raised his hands in surrender, “Start again - what hospital? Is he ok?!”

“Yeah, he’s ok now, but… er, look, would you mind if we went to the pub? I’ll tell you everything there.” James did that shifty eye thing again, glancing through the kitchen in the direction of the front door.

It clicked, “Oh,” Sirius said, heart skipping a beat, “He’s… he’s going to show up any minute, isn’t he?”

“Well he was due back around now,” James nodded at the kitchen clock.

“Ok, fine,” Sirius sighed, defeated, “Let’s go to the pub.”

Once the initial flutter of excitement inside him had died down, he wasn’t exactly desperate to see Remus. He wasn’t sure what he’d say, or how he’d act. One shock was enough to deal with, today. I’m over it, he told himself. I’m over it, I’m over it, I’m over it...

They went to the Duck, of course, and sat in their usual big booth, even though it was just the two of them. Sirius wanted to order a shot to absorb the news, but he knew that probably wasn’t a great idea. He got two lagers and sat opposite James, looking him directly in the eye.

"Tell me." He said.

James held his gaze, glugged his beer, and began. "Ok, so it all started when this girl Mary rang Lily at work…"

Full Moon had finished the tour early, but Remus had stayed on. He'd done it - he'd cut ties with Fenrir somehow. Sirius couldn't help feeling a bit proud, especially when he heard that Remus was now unofficially the new bassist for Stupid Roar. But then he'd fallen ill in Ireland, and that's when this Mary person called Lily.

"They thought it was just a bad case of the flu, but it turned out to be pneumonia," James explained, "And no one knew who to contact for him - apparently he put a fake number for his next of kin on all the forms they gave him for the tour. I don't know how he ended up giving them Lily's name, but this Mary girl is pretty hard to say no to, so I s’pose she got it out of him."

"Pneumonia?!" Sirius's hands were shaking, he felt sick. He kicked himself for all the times he had told himself everything was fine, that it wasn't his job to worry about Remus any more. Because who else was doing it?!

"He's better now," James said, hurriedly, "he's been up and about for a week already, going to rehearsals and stuff. Lily's making sure he keeps taking his antibiotics and gets all the rest he's supposed to."

"Good, ok… so how did he end up at yours?"

"He didn't have anywhere else to go, did he? Sounds like his old band don’t want to know, and he wouldn’t get in touch with his parents - anyway, they’re somewhere in Scotland, aren’t they? He was talking about looking for a place to rent by himself, but he was so sick it was just silly. Mary was all set to take him in, but she lives in a one bed, and Lily and I had the room - and he's our friend. Obviously we wanted to be the ones to make sure he was ok. He took some convincing, made us agree to all these conditions. He's paying us rent, and… and we had to keep it from you." James looked down, clearly ashamed.

"I understand," Sirius said, wanting to make Prongs feel better. He definitely wasn't lying, it all added up now.

"I wanted to tell you," James reiterated, "But I had to respect what he wanted."

"Yeah, of course," Sirius nodded. "So… has he… said anything about me?"

James looked up at him, the light of curiosity now flickering in his features, mischief returning, "Why? I thought you were over him?"

"I am , I just--"

"You wanted to start fresh with Gideon, you said," James teased him, “‘ Remus is the least of my concerns, Prongs ’ - you said that three days ago!”

"Oh just tell me, James!" Sirius snapped,

"Yes, he's asked about you," James said with a smug grin, "He wanted to know how the business was going, and if you were seeing anyone."

"Really?"

"Really. I mean, it took him a few days, he's been pretty quiet overall. But he wanted to know. I told him the truth."

"Right, good," Sirius nodded. That was for the best really, everyone knew where they stood. "And is he…?"

"He's either at the flat practicing or in the studio with the band, I don't think he's seeing anyone."

"What about this Mary bird?"

"I dunno. I don't think so. She’s pretty fit, but I think they’re just friends.”

Sirius didn't know what else to ask. He still felt deeply confused and frustrated, but there was nothing James could do about that. Only one person could truly satisfy his need to know how Remus really was.

"What do you want me to do?" James was asking, "Can I tell him you know?"

"Yeah, yeah, of course."

"...are you ok?"

Sirius nodded again, as enthusiastically as he could muster, "Yep. Over it."

James cocked his head, leaning back a bit, "Really? You're sure?"

"Yes."

“One hundred percent certain?”

Yes , Prongs!”

James raised his eyebrows, his tone deepening, "You’re sure you haven't been putting on a brave face for two months, spending all your time holed up at the salon, pretending to be interested in Gid again even though you have a gigantic aching hole deep in your heart that's crying out for Moony?"

Sirius laughed, but it came out more of a choking gasp, "Fuck, Prongs."

James waggled his eyebrows so that they bobbed over the time of his glasses, "Come on ."

"Yes, ok, fine. I miss him." He sighed, deeply, giving up, "It's obvious, then?"

"Not in the way you think," James folded his arms, leaning forward on the table with his elbows, "But it's pretty hard not to notice the change in you lately. You're all driven and focussed, I've never seen you work so hard on anything as you have on the shop."

“I’ve worked hard before!”

“Mate, you showed up to your GCSE Maths exam stoned.”

“Still got an A*.” Sirius muttered. "Anyway, so what?" He straightened up defensively, “Should I slack off and let Marlene do everything?”

"No, of course not you petulant sod,” James tutted, “It's been amazing! We're all proud of you, mate. I'm just saying it's a bit of a coincidence that this big personality shift happened right after Remus left."

Sirius kept watching James. He couldn't see what he was getting at; what did his working hard have to do with Remus?

James continued, "D'you know what I think it was you liked about Remus?"

"Oh, please enlighten me," Sirius rolled his eyes.

James's grin widened, his eyes twinkling, "He didn't go easy on you."

"What?"

"He was hard to get, he made you work for it. And he called you out on your bullshit. None of us ever do that with you. Maybe that's on us."

Sirius looked down. This had been something of a concern of his for a while now, and it shamed him. “I know what you mean,” he said, very low, “You lot all have to tread on eggshells around me, in case I go off. I feel bad about it, and I’m trying to do better, honestly.”

“We’re your friends,” James said forcefully, reaching across the table and holding Sirius’s hand, “We haven’t been ‘on eggshells’, you big drama queen, we’re just a bit gentle with you sometimes, because we love you, and we know what you’ve been through.”

“And I’ve used it as an excuse to do whatever the fuck I like,” Sirius sighed, still guilty.

“But that’s what I’m saying,” James shook his head, “You’ve stopped doing that - you’ve grown up.”

Sirius raised a sarcastic eyebrow at James, who laughed, “Yeah, I know, shocking,” he poked his tongue out. “I mean it, though,” his brown eyes turned sincere once more. “Oi, remember at school, before I got with Lily? How I used to ask her out basically every weekend?”

“God, how could I forget…”

“And remember how she always said no?”

“Yeah, it’s the only thing I liked about her.” Sirius had been jealous of Lily for years.

“Ha,” James rolled his eyes, “Well, do you remember why she kept saying no?”

“Because you were an arrogant prick who picked on her friend.”

“Exactly!” James grinned, unoffended, “But then remember how we did that inter-school leadership programme together?”

“You mean the head boy and girl’s swot club?”

“--and I finally got to spend time with her, and I finally saw where I’d been going wrong - I realised that if I wanted to be the kind of man who deserved Lily Evans, I’d have to make some changes. I dunno if I even fully knew I was doing it at the time, but I did do it, because she was worth it. I didn’t become a different person, just…”

“A better person.” Sirius said.

“A better version of myself,” James conceded, “And that’s love, Padfoot.”

“Eurgh, gay.” Sirius laughed awkwardly, dodging James’s gaze.

James allowed it, laughing too, “Another drink?”

“Yeah, go on,” Sirius nodded. While James was at the bar he checked his phone for the time. It was almost seven. Was Remus at the flat now? Only a street or two away? The dull ache he had been feeling for months suddenly sharpened. Christ . Prongs was right. About everything.

“So,” James returned with their drinks, “What are you going to do?”

“I dunno,” Sirius drank deeply, nearly draining half his pint on one, wiping the foam from his top lip, “What should I do? Tell me what to do.”

“I think you should go for it, mate.”

Sirius snorted, ”Go for it?”

“I think he’d take you back in a second.”

“You weren’t there the last time I saw him,” Sirius cringed, remembering the cold look Remus had levelled at him; how damned he had felt.

“No,” James tilted his head diplomatically, “But I’ve spent a fair bit of time with him lately. You’re not the only one who’s changed.”

That shut Sirius up. He sipped more beer and thought about it. He checked his phone again. No messages, nothing from Marlene and of course nothing from Gideon.

“I think Gid’s cheating on me,” he said conversationally.

“Yeah, reckon he probably is,” James agreed, “Do you care?”

“No, not really.”

“Well, that’s all right then.” James watched him over the rim of his glass, eyes full of laughter. Sirius couldn’t help grinning back,

“Ok, fine,” he said, shaking his head, “Tell him I miss him? Tell him I’d like to see him?”

“That’s my boy,” James beamed.

Chapter Text

It was half an hour until closing and Sirius couldn’t wait for the day to end; he was exhausted. Marlene had already left, as had most of their junior staff and the receptionist. It was a Friday, and as Saturday mornings tended to be their busiest time of the week, Sirius had let everyone head off early.

Em, a young woman they’d taken on as an apprentice was just finishing up her manicure, and Sirius was frowning at a spreadsheet on the reception desk PC. The doorbell rang, and Sirius didn’t even glance up.

“Sorry,” Em said, “We’re closing soon,”

“Oh, that’s all right, I can come back,” came the reply in a soft scottish lilt.

Sirius almost jumped out of his chair. Before he had time to think he had crossed the newly swept floor to where Remus stood in the doorway, half in, half out. He looked just the same. His hair was atrocious, his skin a bit pailer, his nose slightly pink, but he was still tall and disarming, with long fingers and an elegant neck and devastating green eyes,

“Hello.” Sirius said, dumbly.

“Hi,” Remus gave him a cautious smile. Sirius just blinked, not knowing what to say. Remus chuckled nervously and touched his hair, “Needed a trim, and just thought…”

“I said we’re closing soon,” Em piped up, looking at Sirius now.

“No, it’s fine,” Sirius shook himself, “Er. Come in. Sit.” He backed away to give Remus room to enter.

“Sorry,” Remus said, keeping his voice low as Sirius led him to a chair furthest from the window and the nail bar, “Maybe I should have made an appointment…”

“Don’t be silly,” Sirius shook his head stiffly, trying to collect himself. His heart was racing, he felt light-headed. He didn’t know how to react, so he just pretended everything was normal.

“I’m sorry if this is an unpleasant surprise,” Remus continued, talking into the mirror as Sirius fiddled with his kit, unpacking everything very slowly, “But I’d have felt like a dick just texting you, after all this time.”

An unfamiliar feeling bubbled up inside Sirius - irritation. He had waited for this. He had dreamed about it, fantasised about how things might go if he saw Remus again. Most of those fantasies ended with both their clothes off, and they always started with a kiss. But now Remus was actually here - and not distraught, not brokenhearted, but affable, smiling, friendly - it rubbed Sirius the wrong way entirely. And because they had not started with a kiss - as almost every meeting of theirs had before - it was now utterly unthinkable.

“What would you have said?” Sirius asked, quietly, “If you’d text me?”

“Um… maybe that’s the other reason I didn’t.” he said sheepishly.

At that, Sirius felt a dark cloud settle over him and irritation blossomed into fury. The prick! Why had he come at all? More punishment? Hadn’t Sirius suffered enough? He’d followed every rule Remus had ever laid down, and what good had it ever done?

“Right.” He said brusquely, “Do you want your hair washing?”

“Only if it’s no bother - I can come back, honestly.”

“Don’t be silly, you’re here now,” he went to get a towel. While he did that, Em finished up with her customer and went home. He flipped the sign on the door and slid the deadbolt.

“Locking me in?” Remus asked, half joking,

“Just so we’re not bothered,” Sirius replied, humourlessly, “Sometimes people still try to get in even when they know we’re closed.”

“Wow, sounds like you’re doing well, then?”

“Yeah, not bad. Busy most days.”

“I’m so pleased.”

“And you,” Sirius said, coming back over to where Remus now stood by the sinks, “I’ve heard you’re doing really well too. Playing in a famous band, now,”

“Not famous famous,” Remus shrugged modestly, lying back against the sink.

He arched back to give Sirius him a real, genuine smile, and it was Remus, his Remus, soft eyes, soft hair, soft voice, and the only thing Sirius wanted to do in all the world was lean forward and kiss him . He looked away, quickly, turning on the taps, reminding himself just how much heartache this beautiful man had caused.

“I heard them on Radio 1 the other day,” Sirius offered. “I thought of you. Obviously I didn’t know then that you’d joined them, so.”

Yes, that was better, get a barb in about that. It surprised him how satisfying that felt.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you when I got back,” Remus said, a slightly anxious edge trimming his voice, “It’s a bit of a long story, actually.”

“I think I got most of it from James.” Sirius said, sharply, building steam.

Remus looked up at him again, wounded. He licked  his lips, “Some of it,” he said, “Not all of it.”

“Is the temperature ok?” Sirius ran the showerhead over Remus’s scalp.

“Fine, thank you.”

Silence. Sirius wet Remus’s hair, began to lather in shampoo. He didn’t do the massage this time, he didn’t think Remus deserved it.

“I hope you’re not too angry with James,” Remus said, behind closed eyes, frowning as his neck was jerked this way and that, “He didn’t tell you because I asked him not to, I know that was unfair.”

“Not angry with James.” Sirius replied pointedly. Why was Remus being so calm? So reasonable?!

“Well, good.” Remus said, twisting slightly in the seat, one eye peeking open, maybe trying to gauge Sirius’s temper.

Sirius grasped his head - not roughly, but firmly, to hold him in place, “Stay still, please.”

“Sorry.”

Sirius hadn’t been sure how he would react to Remus’s return, but he hadn’t expected this. He was furious, and hadn’t realised it until now. Perhaps he should have just turned him away, but it was too late now.

“You know, James and Lily are my friends.” He said, rinsing away the shampoo. And that’s my room you’re sleeping in, he wanted to add.

“Yes, I know,” Remus bit his lip, “I wish there had been an alternative, but the hospital wouldn’t let me go unless I had somewhere - I should have gone for a hostel or something, but Lily wouldn’t take no for an answer. They’ve been so kind, better than I deserve.”

“It’s not about what you deserve,” Sirius sniffed, “Lily and James are good people, they’d do anything for anyone.”

“Yes, you’re right.”

“You didn’t have to get them to lie to me. If you didn’t want to see me you could have just been a fucking man about it and said so, I’d have respected that.”

“You’re right.”

“Stop agreeing with me!”

“Sorry.”

Sirius gave up and focussed on finishing Remus’s hair. Why had he suggested washing it? It would only prolong things. Should have just offered to tidy up the sides then packed him on his way, this was ridiculous. He remembered with a wrenching pain the last time he and Remus had been in this position. They’d been on the edge of falling in love, ready to jump.

But that was two months ago. Remus had pulled back and left Sirius alone, staring down into the abyss. Everything was different now.

Sirius wrung out the last of the water from Remus’s hair, and then led him over to the mirror. Remus sat, compliant and penitent. He had a slight tan, which was maybe why his eyes looked so much greener than usual. He didn’t look as tired as he used to, like some great oppressive weight had been lifted from him. Maybe Fenrir. Maybe Sirius.

“You look well,” Sirius murmured, as he combed out Remus’s hair, “James said you’ve been ill.”

“Yeah, shocker, right?” Remus smirked, “It was nothing though, I’m fine.”

“Pneumonia, he said,” Sirius prompted, taking out his scissors.

“Sounds scarier than it really is,” Remus shrugged, watching him, “Just like a bad flu.”

“That’s a lie,” Sirius tutted, remembering what he had read on the NHS website about pneumonia only last night, “Takes six months to fully recover. And symptoms of fatigue can continue up to three months. And most people don’t get hospitalised at all, unless it’s a bad case.”

Remus looked up at him curiously, “That’s right… did you look it up?”

“I’m more than just a pretty face, you know,” Sirius tossed his head, trying to avoid that smile.

“I know,” Remus said, softly.

They were quiet for a while. The black clouds still hung over Sirius, but he was settling on the inside. At least he was in control; he was the one with the scissors.

“Hey, guess what? I can pay you this time,” Remus said, finally, “I can even pay you back for last time, if you like, I’ve got loads of money, now. Still owe you for that taxi from ages ago, don’t I?”

“Keep it,” Sirius shook his head, “Save up, so you can get a place.”

“Oh, ok,” Remus looked down. Sirius took his head again, moving it back in place. “Sorry,” Remus murmured.

“It’s fine, just keep looking ahead or you’ll have a wonky back.”

“How’s Marlene?”

“Good, yeah. She’s blonde, this week.”

“Nice. And… what have you been up to?”

“Working. There’s been lots to do.”

“I can imagine.”

“And you?”

“Me?” Remus looked up.

“What have you been up to?” Sirius clarified, “Since you’ve been back.”

“Working too, I s’pose. Writing, a bit - songwriting.”

“Oh? I didn’t know you did that.”

“No, I never tried it before. Fen-- Greyback. He told me to just stick to what I was good at. But my… um. My therapist said I might find it helpful.”

Sirius stopped cutting and looked at him. Remus had turned pink. “Therapist?”

“Yeah. A friend suggested it. It’s been… well, I really hate it. But it’s been useful. I’m er. I’m more of a mess than I thought I was. Turns out pneumonia was the least of my problems.”

“Is that why you came here?” Sirius asked, suspicious, “Some therapy thing?”

“No,” Remus shook his head. Sirius held it again, “No, I just… when James said you knew I was staying here, I just had to. I felt awful I… I wanted to make it right,”

“By asking me to cut your hair,”

“Well. You’re doing it, aren’t you?” The smirk returned. Sirius sighed, shaking his head. Remus kept watching him closely, “James said you wanted to see me. He said you missed me.”

“I…” Sirius stepped back for a moment. He was nearly finished with the hair, just needed to buzz the sides. He put down his scissors, “Yes, I missed you. You left so quickly my head spun. And I couldn’t get in touch with you, and you wouldn’t speak to me, and then you hid from me, and… fucking hell, Remus. I just needed to know you were ok.”

“I’m sorry--”

“I’m trying to move on. I’m trying to move on from your decision .”

“I regretted it right away,” Remus said, suddenly, “I did, I regretted the fight, and I regretted chucking away my phone and… jesus , I’ve got so many regrets when it comes to you.”

Their eyes met, and Sirius felt the dark cloud dispersing, only to be replaced by the terrible ache of longing in the pit of his stomach, creeping upwards, tightening his chest and filling his throat, threatening to choke him.

“You know I’m seeing Gid.” He said, flatly, looking down, focussing on his task.

“Yes, I heard,” Remus said, the corner of his mouth twitching. “I wouldn’t want to come between you, of course. I was… I was hoping maybe we could be friends?”

“Friends!?” Sirius scoffed.

Remus looked down, fidgeting with his hands underneath the black sheet Sirius had covered him with, “Yeah, friends,” he said, quietly, “I’ve never really had any before. I know I’m a bit late to the game, but I have to start somewhere. You did say you missed me.”

“I don’t know,” Sirius said. “You keep so many secrets. My friends tell me everything. That matters to me.”

“I understand,” Remus said quietly.

Sirius switched on the electric shaver and began to neaten up the sides of Remus’s head. The noise meant they couldn’t speak, which was good. It was soothing, clearing the fluffy scrubland of hair away from his ears, smoothing out the lines of his skull where it curved towards his neck. There was the scar, the same as before, pink and slightly pearlescent. He didn’t stroke it, this time, he just finished up and whipped away the sheet, barely giving Remus time to look.

“I need to lock up,” Sirius said. “If you don’t mind.”

“Let me pay you, please,” Remus begged.

“Ok, fine,” Sirius went over to the computer to ring him up. He had to switch it on again, it had been off for the night before Remus showed up.

“Thank you,” Remus said, touching the back of his head, peering in the nearest mirror,  “I really love it.”

“Good,” Sirius nodded curtly. He nodded at the computer, “Won’t be a minute, then you can go.”

“Ok,” Remus nodded earnestly. He kept trying to catch Sirius’s eye, but Sirius wouldn’t let him, because he knew his resolve was weakening, he knew how powerful Remus’s ‘looks’ could be.

There was an awkward silence. Sirius fiddled with his keys, lying on the desk by the keyboard. Remus watched him playing, then blinked, as if he had seen something that surprised him.

He looked up, and his whole posture changed, lips curling. It was like he’d switched something on, inside,  “So…” Remus said, leaning forward on the desk, voice low, “Seeing Gid tonight?”

“Maybe,” Sirius snapped. He wasn’t, they hadn’t made plans at all this week.

“Fair enough. If not, I was going to suggest… I’m cooking James and Lily dinner, to say thank you. I know they’d love to see you.”

Sirius looked up at him. BAM, there is was, Remus Lupin at full power, hitting him with one of those casual, coy glances from under his golden eyelashes, curls falling into his face so that he had to toss them back. Sirius’s mouth turned dry. The computer screen was flashing, but he didn’t care,

“As friends?” He asked, hoarsely,

“Of course,” Remus nodded, earnestly, “I mean, obviously I’d love to win you back with my recipe for vegetarian moussaka, but I’ve a feeling that won’t quite cut it, so… yeah. As friends?”

Sirius desperately wanted to ask, what would cut it? How would you try to win me back? But he had to keep the moral high ground here.

“Well, like I said, my friends don’t lie to me. Or keep secrets.”

“Understood,” Remus stood back, taking his hands off the desk. “Maybe we ought to start from the beginning, then?”

“Eh?”

Remus extended his hand across the reception desk, “Remus Lupin,” he said, “Pleased to meet you.”

Vaguely stunned, Sirius shook his hand, “Er. Sirius Black.”

Remus smiled broadly, then fished in his pocket and pulled out some cash. He put it on the desk, “Keep the change, if there is any. And come for dinner? If you’re free, of course. Sitting down at eight.”

He started to leave, heading for the door, pulling out the deadbolt easily.

“I’ll have to see…” Sirius scratched his head - what on earth had just happened?

“Oh, before I forget!” Remus spun around, half in, half out, “I wrote you some postcards.”

“You did?” Sirius stood back, surprised.

“Yeah… actually, a friend on tour bought a bunch and told me to write to someone back home. I couldn’t think of anyone else I wanted to talk to.”

“Did you send them?” Sirius asked, trying to remember if he’d received any personal post.

“No,” Remus chuckled softly, looking a bit embarrassed, “Too much of a wuss. I will, though. I want you to read them.”

“Ok,” Sirius nodded. “I can wait.”

Remus flashed him one more smile, then closed the door behind himself and set off down the street, hands in his pockets.

Sirius sat down, abruptly. He felt hot and tingly all over.

Shit.

Chapter Text

Shit.

Remus sped up once he was out of sight of the salon, practically jogging to get to the nearest Sainsbury's for supplies. He had a lot to do. 

Why had he lied about dinner? He didn't even know how to make vegetarian moussaka, it just sounded cool in the moment. For fuck’s sake, why did he have to care so much about being cool? He caught sight of his reflection in a pub window and couldn't help raking his fingers through his hair. He didn't feel himself. He felt amazing.

He pulled out his shiny new phone and searched for a recipe. There was a good one on the BBC food website, and Remus figured he could skip the bay leaves (what even were they?!) and substitute the posh porcini mushrooms for plain old button mushrooms, and use cheddar instead of pecorino cheese. Mind you, Sirius was pretty posh, may be he would expect those sorts of ingredients? Should he get wine, too? Shit.

With a semi-clear plan of action, he searched his contacts for Lily as he entered the brightly lit supermarket.

"Remus? Everything ok?" She answered, slightly breathless. Lily always sounded a bit breathless, she was always running from one place to another.

"Yeah fine," Remus replied, grabbing a basket and heading for the veg aisle, "Just wanted to ask a favour,"

"Sure, what's up?"

"I want to cook you and James dinner tonight, to say thank you. Will you both be in?"

"Yeah, of course! Sounds lovely."

"Erm… and I invited Sirius too," Remus chewed his lip awkwardly, holding his phone between his ear and shoulder to reach for an aubergine.

"Oh, I see," Lily said, her voice rising suggestively, "Are you sure you want me and James there?"

"It's a thank you dinner," Remus insisted, tossing ingredients into his basket, "Nothing romantic."

"Mm, ok, well we don't mind double dating if you two don't."

"It's really not…" Remus began to panic. Oh god, would it feel like a double date? Would that be too obvious? "I'm inviting Marlene and Dorcas too. And Mary."

"Blimey, ok," Lily said, still sounding pretty smug, "Better check if they're all free at short notice…"

"Just ringing them now, actually," Remus replied, trying to sound aloof, but knowing he sounded ridiculous. 

“Ok then, do you need me to bring anything home?”

“No, no, I’ll get everything in - I really do want to say thank you for everything you and James have done, you know.”

“That’s really sweet love, but you don’t have to - it was nothing, you’re the quietest housemate ever.”

“Still,” Remus said.

“Well, I never say no to a free meal.”

“Thanks. I said to Sirius eight o’clock, does that work for you?”

“Yep, plenty of time - leaving work soon anyway.”

“Great, see you soon!”

“See you soon - and Remus, love?”

“Yeah?”

“You will get him back, ok? I know him.”

“Um. Thanks. Ok, bye!”

“Bye!”

He hung up, feeling even less sure of himself than before. He grabbed two more aubergines and put them in his basket, seeing as he was now feeding twice as many people. They gleamed dark purple, almost black, nothing like the emoji. Mary was going to laugh when she saw them, why had he picked such a suggestive vegetable?! Wait, were aubergines vegetables? Or fruit? Remus shook himself - focus ! He had to call Marlene, now, see if she was free.

He realised he didn’t have her number. They’d been facebook friends, but Remus had to deactivate his account - Fenrir knew the password and Remus dreaded to think what he might do with it, so slash and burn felt like the safest response. 

He could call Lily back and ask for Marlene’s number. Except that would be admitting that he hadn’t planned any of this. Also, Remus hadn’t seen Marlene since he got back from the tour - she was too close to Sirius. What if she and Dorcas hated Remus now? Was it worth the confrontation?

No, he decided. Baby steps. 

Continuing up the next aisle, he called Mary next.

"Hi babe," she trilled, and he couldn't help smiling.

"Hiya - Are you busy?"

"Just leaving the gym, what's up?"

Remus took a deep breath, "Ok so, I did what you said, and I went to see Sirius at his salon and I got a haircut and he was a bit off, and he's got a boyfriend, but we talked and I said sorry and I think it was ok and I think I might be able to sort it all out, but I told him I was having this big dinner party at James and Lily’s, just to like, casually invite him, so now I need to work out how to cook vegetarian moussaka for five people in the next two hours, and probably also get wine in, but I don't know anything about wine, and I’ve got three aubergines, but I think they might be too phallic, and you have to come, I'm begging you!"

"Fucking hell, Remus," Mary was laughing, "It's like you've only got two modes; stoic and hot mess."

“Ha,” Remus replied, dumping potatoes into his basket and going in search of lentils, “Can you come?”

“Yeah, go on then, you sound pretty desperate. Anyway, I want to meet Sirius, I need to see if he’s as gorgeous as you keep telling me.”

“He is,” Remus confirmed. 

“Did you give him the postcards?”

“Er. No.” He thought about the bundle on his bedside table, wrapped up with elastic bands. It was a pretty intense series of correspondence. He didn’t want to freak Sirius out too quickly.

“All right, well clearly you need me. I’ll just pop home and change, then I’ll be over, ok?"

"Thank you!"

He started to relax. He knew he'd feel a lot better with Mary there. Since Dublin, Remus didn't know what he'd have done without her. 

After passing out on the last night of the tour (and hitting his stupid head, honestly, how embarrassing) Remus had woken up with a blazing fever in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Mary sobbing and clutching his hand.

“I’m fine!” He’d tried to get up, but the Irish paramedic and Mary had both pushed him back down.

“Remus you need to give us a phone number,” Mary had sniffed, “You wrote a fake one down on your agreement, you silly sod.”

“I’m fine,” he insisted, and promptly passed out again.

Pneumonia. He’d had it once before, as a kid, so he wasn’t too worried when he woke up in the Dublin hospital. But they all kept on at him for a phone number. He was glad then that he’d chucked his mobile at the beginning of the tour, because at least no one had been able to rifle through his contacts while he was out.

The rest of the band had to leave, they had a press conference in London, but Mary had stayed with Remus, which was the kindest thing in the world. He lied to the doctors about his medical history. He knew that was stupid, and reckless, but Fenrir had made him lie about it on his insurance forms for the tour, and he didn’t feel like he could drop the act at such a late stage - what if the tour manager found out?

After twenty four hours he was no longer dehydrated and seemed to be responding to antibiotics, so the hospital said he could go home as long as he saw his GP as soon as he was back.

Remus wanted to avoid flying or too much public transport in case he was still contagious, so they got the ferry, and Mary rented a car from Holyhead. It was a five hour drive to London, and Remus slept for most of it in the back seat, wrapped up in a blanket, his bass guitar in the footwell, banging against his legs. 

“Please let me call somebody?” Mary begged as they crossed the border into England.

“There’s nobody,” he coughed, his lungs burning. 

“What about Sirius?”

“No.”

He’d really thought he was feeling better when they left Dublin, but the closer they got to London the worse he got. He had no appetite, and his temperature soared once more. 

“I’m taking you straight to hospital!” Mary declared, once they broke through the M25. Remus thought that was probably fair enough - and he had nowhere else to go.

“Homerton,” he croaked.

“St George’s is closer,” she shook her head.

“No, I worked at Homerton. I know people there.”

“Really?” She looked up at him hopefully in the rear-view mirror, “Give me a name.”

“Lily Evans. She’s not a doctor, she’s just my friend, but--”

“Number?”

“I don’t have it.”

“Remus Lupin, you’ll be the end of me.” Mary grumbled, setting the SATNAV for East London.

He didn’t remember much after that, but Mary must have had him admitted at Homerton in the Urgent Care Centre, and of course they had all of his records in the NHS system. His usual doctor came to scold him for lying in Ireland, and Mary managed to track down Lily. 

Remus had let everyone make decisions for him, and he knew that was bad. He was just so tired, so relieved to be somewhere familiar, and too fuzzy-headed to argue very much. If Fenrir had showed up at that moment and ordered Remus to come back with him to Stratford, Remus was pretty sure he’d have done it, just so that he didn’t have to think too hard.

His therapist said that was normal, and to be expected. Remus thought he ought to know better by now.

Therapy was agony. He preferred pneumonia. The first session he’d sat in stony silence for at least fifteen minutes, clenched up as tight as an oyster. He was supposed to tell her about his childhood ( honestly, what a fucking cliche ). Had be been happy? Had he got on with his parents?

“Dunno.” He shrugged. He found it very hard to measure happiness against just not being ill. 

She got it out of him in the end - the tumour, the confusion, the endless operations and examinations and infections and medication. It made him feel sick just talking about it. Then they got to Greyback, and he could talk about that a bit easier, because maybe that was where the happiness had come in - the guitar, the music, the noise. 

Only she wasn’t interested in that stuff - she kept asking about Greyback himself, and what had he been like? And how did he make Remus feel?

That had really annoyed Remus, because Greyback wasn’t the problem, he was just a symptom of it. Sure, it hadn’t been the world’s healthiest relationship, Remus was perfectly willing to admit. That was to be expected; Remus had fallen in with Fenrir because he’d been broken in the first place - but the therapist seemed insistent on seeing it the other way around - that Fenrir had been the one who did the breaking.

“That’s ridiculous,” he’d tutted halfway through the third session. “If anything I should be grateful to Fen for putting up with me for so many years.”

“Where does that thought come from, Remus?” His therapist asked in her low, silken voice. “Remember how we talked about negative thoughts?”

He sighed, exasperated, “ Yes .” 

Most of his thoughts were negative - what did she want him to do, stop thinking?!

“And how we need to be critical of them?” She pressed gently. Always so bloody gentle. 

“Yes.”

“So, this thought that you weren’t good enough for Fenrir--”

“I didn’t say that…”

“This thought that it was him ‘putting up’ with you,” she clarified, “What’s the evidence behind that thinking? Can you back it up?”

Remus fell silent again. It felt stupid at first, trying to think about your own thoughts. What a waste of time. But he’d promised Mary, so he tried. He tried to remember how he’d felt, years ago, when he first moved to London to be with the band. How he’d felt worthless, but so fortunate to be liked by anyone, especially when… when.. You stick with me, Greyback whispered one dark night, I don’t mind the scars, I don’t care how you look. They might - them out there, but I’m going to keep you safe.

Oh, fuck. Remus felt as though the air had been sucked out of the room. 

He told me,” Remus said, under his breath, so quietly he was amazed his therapist even heard him, “Fenrir did.” 

“You see, Remus?” She said, softly, “Do you see how that affected you?”

It was too much, that, because he did see - he saw everything, all of a sudden, and couldn’t believe he had been so blind to it before. His mind began to race. Remus had always seen himself as somebody who was pretty much in control; who was bolted down tight because he had to be, he had to have a grip on himself for the sake of his health and his sanity. He was strict about relationships, friendships, sex, jobs, music - because he knew himself

Except now… now he was realising that everything he had believed, every action he had ever taken, every person he had ever pursued and then pushed away, everything came back to Fenrir. 

“When we are young,” the therapist kept talking, her smooth voice filling the room, washing through his panic, “Our sense of self-worth comes from people we love - people who we may think love us back. But other people’s opinions are just that, Remus - opinions.”

“But…” Remus gaped, feeling he was drowning, choking, “If… if none of that’s real, then…” then he didn’t know who he was, or what. Without his trauma he was just a blank space, an empty vessel - he was nothing

That afternoon, for the first time since he was five, Remus cried.

It had been an extremely painful process since then, but even Remus recognised it as a breakthrough. He kept going to his sessions - twice a week - and sometimes they bruised him, but other times they empowered him. He could change. He knew he could. He still didn’t know quite who he was, or what he would become, but he was learning.

And no matter what was going to happen next, he knew now more than ever that he needed to try again with Sirius. He wanted Sirius to see him now, he wanted to show him

Remus hadn’t been sure Sirius would want him back, when he arrived at the salon earlier that day. He wouldn’t have blamed him if he kicked Remus out right away, and even during the haircut Remus wasn’t quite sure.

But then he’d seen it, on the keyring. His drum key - an ancient thing he’d had forever. He barely used it, Remus was a competent drummer but didn’t play regularly. Too much hassle getting a kit into his tiny bedsit. He only kept it because Full Moon’s drummer always forgot his. It must have fallen out of his bag or something, while he was staying at Sirius’s. Sirius must know it belonged to Remus, surely? And he’d kept it. More than that, he was carrying it around with him.

In that moment, Remus’s plan became clear. 

But first, mastering the moussaka. 

* * *

The BBC Food recipe wasn’t too difficult to follow, and Remus always calmed down a bit when he had a task to complete. Anyway, he liked cooking; it made him feel independent and clever, like playing bass did. 

He’d just taken the potatoes off the boil and was frying the onions when the doorbell went. In a panic he rushed to the intercom to let them in - only to find it was Mary. Of course it was - Sirius had his own key. He buzzed her in and returned to the stove.

“Ahh, I love to see a man in a kitchen,” she laughed as she came through the front door, “Smells delish!”

“Thanks,” he smiled shyly.

“You should put an apron on,” Mary said, dropping her handbag on the breakfast bar.

“Nah, I’m going to change anyway.”

“Trust me,” she shook her head, taking the navy blue pinstripe apron from the hook by the fridge. She folded it down and then reached around his waist to tie it while he focussed on the onions. She stood back to appreciate her work, “So fit,” she said, “You have to make sure he sees you cooking.”

“He’s seen me cook before,” Remus rolled his eyes.

“Trust me,” she repeated. “You’re getting laid.”

“Nope,” he laughed, crushing a clove of garlic under the flat of his knife, “I’m off sex, remember.”

That was his decision, not his therapist’s. He relied on sex too much to get himself out of awkward conversations, and if he was going to make it work with Sirius then he needed to stop that. It was hard, though. Quite literally.

Mary was just as skeptical, “Mm, well, we’ll see. So, how did it go? Nice hair, by the way.”

“Thanks,” he touched the back of his neck self-consciously. “Yeah, it went ok. I mean, he’s pissed off, understandably--”

“What?” She interrupted him, frowning, “Did you explain how ill you were?”

“He already knew from James - I think he actually googled pneumonia.”

“Right, so he understood how serious it was, and like, how you had literally no where else to go?”

“Yeah,” Remus replied, adding garlic and the other herbs he’d bought to the pan. 

Mary raised an eyebrow, “I’m just saying, I don’t know why he should be that pissed off if he understands everything you’ve been through.”

“Well, I handled things badly, when I left, so--”

“You mean when he cheated on you?”

Remus felt his cheeks flush hot, and he didn’t turn around to look at Mary, “That’s not… I mean, I’m sure there’s an explanation for that, and we’d had a huge fight, I lost my temper, so…”

“I’m not being mean, Remus, I just want you to keep perspective,” Mary said, her voice softening, “Don’t do what you did with Fenrir, everything isn’t your fault.”

“Ok, thank you.” Remus replied, coldly. 

“Trust goes both ways,” she continued, “just… make sure he’s all in, yeah? Before you go bearing your heart.”

“I said thank you.” He wanted a subject change, and luckily Mary was pretty sensitive.

“I brought wine,” she said cheerfully, pulling two bottles out of her bag, “One red, one white, everyone’s happy,”

“Ah, thank you!” Remus grinned, dumping the tomatoes in the pan now, relishing the sizzle. 

The front door opened again, and Lily entered, huge rucksack, keys jangling. 

“Hiya Mary,” she grinned widely as she came in, “Lovely to see you again -- ooh, Remus, you look so sexy cooking!”

“Told you,” Mary poked her tongue out, “it’s the apron!” 

“Shut up,” Remus blushed, turning away again. Socialising was ok if you had something else to focus on too.

He listened contentedly to Lily and Mary chattering away for a while. The two of them got on like a house on fire, Remus was amazed by it. Mind you, he was always amazed by interpersonal relationships, they seemed so alien to him. He’d told his therapist that, but she’d just said it was normal. 

“All right if I stick some music on?” Mary asked, pulling out her phone.

“Go for it,” Lily nodded, “Only don’t start singing when James is here, or he’ll challenge you to a karaoke contest, and I promise you, you do not want that.”

“I love karaoke,” Mary replied gleefully. 

“Then you should meet Marlene - hey Remus, any luck getting hold of her?”

“Um… no…” he searched around for an excuse, coming up with nothing. Fortunately, James chose that moment to make his entrance.

“Oi oi!” He bellowed, striding into the flat, “Look who I found loitering outside - oh, hello, Mary, are we having a party?”

“Just dinner,” Lily reached up to kiss him, “Remus is cooking.”

Remus turned to greet James properly, and froze when he saw Sirius coming in behind him, head down, hands in his pockets. Remus blinked a few times, stunned, brandishing his wooden spoon, dripping tomato juice on the floor.

“Oops, I’ll get that,” James dived in with a tea towel. 

“Sorry!” Remus said, snapping back to reality, twisting back to stir the tomato and lentil mixture quickly.

“No problem,” James grinned, straightening up, flipping the towel over his shoulder, “Smells incredible whatever it is. And may I say, Moony, you look particularly fetching in that apron.”

Remus blushed even harder, and ducked to avoid Mary’s grin as she mouthed I told you so! across the counter. 

* * *

Sirius

James had found him standing outside the flat. He’d been there for fifteen minutes or so, trying to make his mind up about whether to go in. 

On the one hand, was going out with Gideon, and Remus was his ex, so even if it wasn’t cheating it was still a bit of a grey area, and Sirius had solemnly sworn to avoid grey areas from now on. 

On the other hand, Gideon was almost definitely cheating on him , and he really, really wanted to see Remus again. 

Obviously he wasn’t going to say any of that to James. Because James already knew - that was one of the best things about having him as a best friend.

“Come on,” was all James said, pushing the door open, “let’s do this, Padfoot,” and Sirius followed, glad he’d been given no choice.

There was a girl there, with Moony. A girl who knew him, who laughed at his jokes and had sexy eyes and wide round hips, and a wicked sense of humour. 

“Sirius,” Remus said, softly, after turning down the heat on whatever he was stirring on the hob ( god , he looked sexy cooking), “This is my friend Mary. We met on tour, she’s a singer,”

“Hi!” She jumped up and hugged him, her soft chest pressing against his, her sweet-spicy scent curling in his nostrils, “I’ve heard so much about you,” she beamed.

“Have you?” He frowned. 

She stepped back and glanced at Remus nervously. He’d turned his back, apparently deeply involved in chopping up an enormous aubergine. Trust Moony to pick the most suggestive vegetable possible (or was it a fruit? He was sure he’d seen an episode of QI about that). 

Sirius hoped that they would all go through to the living room, but everybody seemed quite happy to stand around in the kitchen chatting and laughing and generally having a lovely time. Lily and James obviously knew Mary quite well, they were all talking like old friends. Remus carried on cooking, only turning every now and then to smile shyly at a joke, or make some witty interjection of his own.

“Oh, before I forget - I brought wine,” Mary got up out of her stool, heading for the fridge, “Anyone fancy? Red’s on the side, but I’m having white.”

“Got my squash,” Remus raised his glass, and Sirius felt a tug of fondness. He thought he remembered everything about Remus, but little gestures and quirks kept surfacing which sent Sirius spiralling back to the beginning of the summer, when things had been so simple and so wonderful between them.

“I’ll have a glass of red,” Lily said.

“Me too,” James opened the cupboard for glasses, “Padfoot? Wine? Beer?”

“No, nothing for me,” Sirius shook his head, “Early start tomorrow.”

“Nothing but early starts for you these days, mate,” James said with a note of concern, “You have been home this week, right?”

“Yeah,” Sirius lied. 

“Have you been staying at Gideon’s, then?” Remus asked, evenly, stepping back from the hob and wiping his hands on a dishcloth. He leaned back against the sink, hands on the counter, hips slouched forward, dishcloth tucked into his apron, and Sirius was momentarily lost.

“Er…”

“Nah, he’s got a bed in the office over the salon,” James laughed, “Absolute madman - he literally lives at work.”

“It’s just easier,” Sirius shrugged, “I can put in more hours if I’m onsite.”

“You’re burning the candle at both ends, though,” Lily said, pouring wine into the glasses James put out.

“Well,” Sirius sniffed, “You have to work hard for the things you want.”

Remus looked up at him, sharply. Their eyes met with the same electric charge as back in the salon, “Struggle is part of life,” he murmured.

Sirius nodded, “That’s right.”

Remus looked away, returning to his cooking. It was so hard to tell if Remus was ever flustered, or if he felt the same way Sirius did, he played everything so cool. Until you got him angry, anyway. 

“Remus told me you’ve recently opened a beauty salon,” Mary cut in. Remus kept his back turned, slicing up potatoes. Disappointed, Sirius looked at Mary,

“Yeah, that’s right. Open two months now.”

“Amazing, do you do gel nails?”

“Yep,”

“I’ll have to come by this week,” she smiled.

“Well, make sure you book first,” Sirius replied, “We’re really busy.”

He knew he was being rude to her, but he couldn’t help it. Why was she even there? Was this Remus’s idea of a joke? Was he showing her off?

“Oh go on, you could squeeze Mary in,” Lily nudged him, “She’s the back up singer for Stupid Roar! That’s basically a rock star, you could be beautician to the rich and famous!”

“Oh, I’m just a sessions girl, I’m not officially in the band,” Mary laughed good naturedly.

“Yeah, but you were on tour,” James said, “You must have loads of rock n roll stories - have you ever thrown a TV out of a hotel window?”

Mary squawked with laughter, “Chuck my TV? And miss Love Island? No chance!”

Everyone laughed except Sirius, who tried to look bored, glancing at the clock.

“Anyway,” Mary shook her head, ringlets bouncing - she did have incredible hair, Sirius would give her that - “It’s a circle of trust. What goes on tour stays on tour, right Lupin?”

“Ha, right,” he smirked back at her, tossing his own curls out of his eyes.

Sirius folded his arms and barely said another word for the next two hours. 

* * *

Once the complicated looking dish Remus was preparing was safely bubbling away in the oven, the group headed for the living room to chat. Despite what Mary had said, she was happy to regale them with stories of her varied and colourful career. Sirius, who had never had a musical bone in his body, started to feel a bit jealous of her. She’d been everywhere, met all sorts of weird and wonderful people, and she was the same age as them.

He felt that old monster rising up in himself again - that awful burning ache he got in his chest when he thought about how much everyone else was achieving, and how little he was by comparison. Sleeping on a single bed in an office. Never straying further from his comfort zone than the pub. Crap boyfriend. Meanwhile Mary had been to more countries than he’d even heard of. 

He watched Remus, watching her. He looked enthralled, and Sirius didn’t blame him. That was the sort of life Remus wanted - adventurous and full of excitement. Not manicures and spreadsheets.

The oven started beeping and Remus climbed up from the living room floor to answer it. 

“Five minutes!” He called from the kitchen. 

Lily sat up, her wine sloshing in the glass, “Better set the table - Potter, help me with the tablecloth, Black - plates and cutlery.”

Sirius wanted to refuse, he didn’t want to go into the kitchen where Remus was alone. But you couldn’t very well turn down an order from Lily Evans, so reluctantly he got up and headed in.

Remus was standing in front of the open oven with his hands on his hips, frowning. 

“Everything ok?” Sirius asked. Remus turned to him, blinking,

“Er, yeah.”

“Did you burn it or something?”

“No,” Remus shook his head, chuckling, “It’s just stuck. I can’t find the oven gloves.”

“Oh, right!” Sirius reached for the drawer by the sink and pulled it out. Inside were neat rows of freshly laundered and folded dishcloths, as well as two sets of oven gloves.

“Blimey,” Remus shook his head, whipping out the red pair, “Lily and James are tidy, eh?”

“Yeah, it’s a compulsion.” Sirius murmured, feeling awkward again. 

He watched Remus crouch down and slowly remove the casserole dish from the hot oven, then straighten up and nudge the door shut with his toe, turning to set the dish down on the counter.

It smelled really good, and he said so.

“Thanks,” Remus smiled at him, going to the cabinet for plates while Sirius looked for knives and forks. “And thank you for coming. I’m glad you’re here.”

“Well. Free meal…”

“There were a few things I didn’t get to say, earlier,” Remus pressed on, not quite making eye contact, “It’d be good to talk after dinner.”

“Um. Maybe. If it’s not too late.” Sirius replied. 

He meant ‘not too late in the evening, so I can get home at a reasonable hour’, but Remus clearly misunderstood and looked shocked, almost hurt.

Unable to bear it, Sirius took the plates and carried them through to the living room, where the air was more breathable. Lily and James had set up the dining table and covered it with a bright turquoise cloth, and Mary was laying out placemats. “I’ll help,” she smiled, reaching for the plates and cutlery. 

He wanted to snatch them out of her reach like a petulant toddler, No! Mine! But he managed to force a polite smile back and they did it together. 

Once everyone was sat down to eat - Mary and Remus opposite James and Lily, Sirius at the end - James toasted Remus’s return, then Remus toasted Lily and James to say thank you, and then Mary for helping him ‘escape Ireland’ (whatever that meant, probably some stupid in-joke). Next, Mary toasted to ‘new friends’ and James and Lily joined in, cheering tipsily. Sirius raised his glass each time, but felt very left out.

The moussaka - Sirius had never had it before, vegetarian or otherwise - was amazing, so at least there was that. He had forgotten about Remus’s cooking, Gideon’s idea of a meal was baked beans on toast. 

“Remus, how’s the songwriting going?” Lily asked between mouthfuls. She glanced at Mary and Sirius to include them, “You should hear him practising in there,” nodding her head in the direction of the bedroom, “It’s the soundtrack to my mornings.”

“Sorry,” Remus said, “I’ll try to keep it down.”

“No, it’s lovely!”

“What have you been writing?” Mary asked, interested. 

“Oh, this and that,” Remus shrugged. “Some folksy stuff. For a change, you know. Bit of blues.”

“Ooh, well you know how much I love blues,” she grinned, “If you need a singer…”

“Actually, that would be amazing,” Remus smiled back. Sirius’s stomach clenched. 

“If you’ve got anything ready by the end of the month, my mate runs this talent night in Angel - new unsigned artists only. If you fancy I could get you on the bill?”

“Really?” Remus blinked.

“Of course,” she nodded, “What are friends for? Interested?”

“Yeah! If you’ll sing with me.”

“Sure, just let me know when you’ve got some music ready to rehearse.”

He beamed at her. Remus was so different, Sirius realised. Maybe it was the therapy, like he’d said. Maybe it was Mary, but the change was undeniable.  He seemed so… relaxed. Hardly one sarcastic comment all evening. By comparison, Sirius felt tense and wound as tight as a spring-loaded trap.

By the time they had finished dinner, both bottles of wine were drunk, and James was on his fourth beer, which was never a good sign. Sirius was completely sober, and pretty glad about it, because the singing had already begun. 

“Mary,” James said, standing up, proffering his hand, “Am I correct in thinking that you are partial to a bit of karaoke?”

“Karaoke is life,” she said, deadpan, taking his hand. 

“Excellent!” He led her into the living room, 

“Oh no,” Lily laughed, “Not SingStar James, please!”

“Worried if I start singing I’ll become irresistible to you?”

“Yes, my love,” she sighed, getting up too, “That’s exactly it - oh, Remus, you don’t have to!”

Remus had stood and started clearing plates, “Let me,” he whispered to Lily, “Get me out of singing for a bit.”

“Ha, well go on then,” she shook her head and went to join James and Mary. “Sirius?”

“I’m going to help with the washing up.”

“Ok,” she winked at him on her way past, and he ignored her. He grabbed the almost empty casserole dish and followed Remus into the kitchen, where he began to help scraping the plates and loading the dishwasher.

“Thanks,” Remus smiled at him. In the quiet late evening light of the kitchen he looked a bit tired around the eyes, though still happy and at ease. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the familiar packet of pills, popping two, swallowing them dry.

“Feeling ok?” Sirius asked, unable to help himself.

“Fine,” Remus nodded, bending to keep stacking plates, “Just… lots of socialising, y’know. Getting used to it.”

Tinny music started playing in the next room - Oasis. James was so predictable. 

Slip inside the eeeeeeye of your miiiiiind… ” he began to holler,

Don’t you know you might find, ” a gorgeous, sultry feminine voice sang back, “ A better place to play... ” 

Remus smiled, closing his eyes gently, “Doesn’t she have the most incredible voice?”

“S’pose.”

“S’pose?”

“I’m tone deaf,” Sirius shrugged. He tipped the last of the moussaka into some tupperware and put it in the fridge. 

“I’m glad you got to meet Mary,” Remus said, “The whole time we were on tour I was thinking ‘Sirius would like this girl’. She’s funny, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, I s’pose.” Sirius grunted. “If you like that sort of thing.”

“What sort of thing?” Remus gave him a confused look, “Are you ok? You’re being--”

"Have you slept with Mary?" Sirius snapped. Damn. So much for rising above it. 

Remus watched him, his face clear and honest, "Yes," he said, simply. "On tour we did. But not since we’ve been back. Now we're just good mates."

"So why did you invite her?!" Sirius hissed. 

"Because…” Remus straightened up, closing the dishwasher. He sighed, “because she's the first friend I ever made by myself." He chewed his lip, "I wanted you to meet her because… I dunno, I just wanted to show you."

SOOOOO SALLY CAN WAIT! SHE KNOWS IT’S TOO LATE CUZ SHE’S WALKING ON BYYYYYYY… ” James and Mary bellowed from the living room. 

Remus shook his head, “Look, will you come in my room for a second, so I can hear myself think?”

“Fine.” Sirius replied, arms folded again. My room, he wanted to say. James would call him a brat, the way he was acting, but he didn’t know how to stop.

The spare bedroom was just off the kitchen, so at least they could sneak in without everyone in the living room seeing. It was much the same as last week, when Sirius had discovered Remus was living there. He felt a bit guilty about that now, bursting in when Remus was out. 

The walls looked bare without Sirius’s photos on them. He could still see the greasy little spots on the paintwork where the blu-tac had been.

“Did James give you your things back?” Remus asked, seeing him looking.

“Yeah,” Sirius nodded. They were in his bedroom at home, but he hadn’t been back to look at them yet.

“Are you really sleeping in the office over the salon?”

“Just some nights.”

Remus raised an eyebrow at him. Sirius sighed, “Ok, yeah, every night. It’s just easier. And I want to let Marlene and Dorcas have their space, been a third wheel long enough.”

“I’m sure that’s not how they see it.”

Sirius shrugged. They could still hear James and Mary singing in the next room. To distract himself, he wandered over to the desk. James’s PC had been moved, and Remus’s laptop sat on it now, closed, covered in scraps of paper and ring bound notebooks. He recognised Remus’s spindly, chicken scratch writing.

“Your songs?”

“Some of them.”

“You’ve got ten albums here,” Sirius marvelled.

“Well, they’re not all good,” Remus snorted, “But it’s been helping. Writing them.”

“Are you really going to play them with Mary?”

“Yes, I hope so,” Remus paused, sitting down on the bed, “You don’t need to be jealous of her.”

“I’m not.” Sirius said, sharply.

“She’s my friend. When I got ill in Dublin she stayed with me. She even drove me all the way back to London, I could barely walk without keeling over.”

“Sounds like you weren’t supposed to travel,” Sirius sniffed.

“No, I wasn’t. I told a few lies…” Remus was biting his lip again. It was unusual, he rarely exhibited nervousness - or really any emotion other than wry stoicism. “But I’m trying to get better at asking for help, I swear.”

“That’s good, Remus,” Sirius said, honestly. 

“You know I left Full Moon?”

“I assumed - Marlene showed me their ad for a new bassist.”

Remus flinched, mouth twisting, as if he was in pain. “Oh, of course. I hadn’t… I haven’t seen that. I haven’t been in contact with them.”

“Not at all?” Sirius raised his eyebrows surprised.

“Not at all.” Remus said, quietly. He looked up, finally, patting the bed next to him, “Will you sit down? Please?”

Sirius relented, and went over to join him. They sat side by side, not touching, but close enough, both turned slightly inwards to look at each other face to face. Another moment of quietness passed, less awkward now. Up close the warm familiarity of Remus’s face made Sirius want to cry. They both had their hands on the duvet, and if Sirius just stretched out his smallest finger it would be touching Remus’s.

“We’re not going to have sex.” Remus said, suddenly, his eyes big.

“Excuse me?” Sirius frowned. 

“Sorry,” Remus looked down, red faced, “I just, er… I just wanted to be clear up front. I’m um. I’m trying something new where I get to know someone before I jump them.”

“Oh, right,” Sirius put his hands in his pockets. “But we already know each other.”

“We’re starting from the beginning, remember?” Remus quirked an eyebrow.

“Ah, ok.” 

Sirius could feel himself growing hot too, though he had no idea why. It was Remus who’d brought up sex, as usual, Sirius hadn’t even been thinking about it. And now he’d been told it wasn’t going to happen it was all he could think about. Sitting on the bed made it worse - they’d shared an incredible night here together, back in the hot dark throat of summer. Sirius fought off a shiver of delight at the memory.

Remus turned and pulled open the bedside drawer, withdrawing a bundle of postcards, a bit dog-eared and all bound together with elastic bands. 

“I started writing these when I came down with the flu,” he said, holding them in his hands, “I had so much I wanted to say to you,”

“Can you say any of it now?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Remus said, shoulders quivering with a noiseless laugh, “I think I’d prefer if you read them. Is that ok?”

“Of course.” 

Remus pulled out the one from the top. It had a photograph of the Brandenburg Gate on it, Sirius recognised it from a school history trip to Berlin. Remus didn’t flip it over, or hand it to him, he held onto it and looked up to meet Sirius’s eye,

“Before I do…” he was biting his lip again. It had turned dark red and slightly swollen. Sirius fought the urge to lean in and kiss him right then and there. “I don’t want you to read these unless… unless there’s a chance.”

“A chance?”

“You really hurt me, that night we broke up.” Remus said, turning away, looking down at the postcard in his hands, “I was starting to trust you, and… I know you weren’t the only one to blame, but that really, really hurt, Sirius. And if you’re still with him, then--”

“I’m not,” Sirius said, defenses falling apart, “Not really. He cheats on me all the time, we barely see each other. I’m only with him because it’s easy.”

“Easy,” Remus said with an intake of breath, “I don’t think I was ever very easy, was I?”

“Not exactly,” Sirius said, “You were… unfamiliar, and unpredictable sometimes, but all the important stuff was easy. Talking to you. Being with you.”

“That’s nice of you to say,” Remus sniffed, still looking down. Sirius wished he would look at him. He wanted to hold his hand, kiss him, wrap his arms around him, anything. “But… you need to know that while I’m trying to change, I might still be unpredictable. I might still fuck up.”

I might fuck up,” Sirius said. “Remus, I’m sorry about what happened, I really am--”

“Here,” Remus handed him the postcard. “Read it. Let’s not say anything else until you’ve read them all, ok?”

“Ok…” Sirius looked down at it, reaching across.

“Not here!” Remus said, quickly, “Please don’t read it here, can you wait until you’re home?”

Sirius took it. He didn’t turn it over, though he badly wanted to. “Ok, I promise.”

“Padfoot?!” James yelled from the living room, “Come on mate! You and me, Hounds of Love!”

“Ok, I really need to see that,” Remus grinned, standing up, “Come on, let’s go.”

Sirius got up too, the postcard in his back pocket. As they closed the bedroom door behind them and stepped into the kitchen, Sirius stopped,

“Buy me some time, will you?” he asked Remus, “I just need to make a call.”

“Sure.” 

Out of nowhere, Remus held Sirius’s hand, squeezing his fingers lightly. Then as quickly as he’d done it, he pulled away, and walked into the living room, leaving Sirius trembling.

He regulated his breathing, then pulled out his phone, leaning against the sink and looking out of the kitchen window as he listened to the ringing. It was growing dark, and the moon was already out, hanging bright and friendly in the twilight, as silver as the mysterious metal object on his keyring.

“All right?” Gideon finally answered, “What’s up?” 

Sirius could hear the chatter of a bar behind him. “Where are you?”

“Just out for a few drinks. Did we have plans?”

“No, I’m at James and Lily’s.”

“Fancy coming over later? I can be alone…”

“No. Um, Gideon?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s over.”

Chapter Text

Dear Sirius. 

When I got to Berlin all I wanted to do was forget you. It’s not the first time I’ve turned my back on a problem. I think I’m just a selfish person, my first instinct is always to escape. That’s why I ran away from home when I was 16. I haven’t seen or spoken to my parents for 10 years and I feel bad about it every day. I didn’t feel bad about it then - Fenrir asked me to come to London, so I did. Mum and dad tried to stop me, and I hated them for it. So I just left, I didn’t even leave a note.

Sometimes I pick up the phone to ring them, but so far I haven’t been brave enough. I’ve never told anyone that, but I wanted to tell you . I think maybe I have too many secrets to fit on a postcard, or even a hundred postcards, but it’s a start.

Remus.

 

Remus’s writing was tiny, and crawled up around the edges of the address box, so that Sirius had to rotate the card to read all of it. Still, he read it three times, lying on his little single bed in the office. The desktop computer bathed the room in an eerie blue light, and outside a fox was barking at a cat. 

He read it a fourth time, not quite sure what to make of it. Sirius tried to remember what Remus had said about his parents while they were going out. He couldn't think of anything, other than the implication that they didn't really get on. Sirius hadn't found it strange, because after all he never talked about his family either. He hadn't even told Remus about Regulus.

He rolled over and pulled out his phone, he didn't want to think about that.

It was one in the morning, and Sirius had only been back for half an hour. The rest of the evening had been ok - more comfortable, anyway. Sirius had sung along with James and laughed and played his part. Remus had done the same, though he refused to sing, saying he was saving his voice. Eventually Mary got an uber home but Sirius chose to walk. The nights were cooler now, it was almost autumn. He had wanted to stay. Not for sex, not even to talk. He just would have liked to lie down next to Remus again.

But Remus wanted to go slowly, and apparently he had a lot to tell Sirius before they could be really close again.

He didn't say anything about texting, though.

 

Padfoot : Hey, I just read the postcard - you don’t need to worry, I promise. Knowing about your past doesn't change how I feel about you.

Moony : oh ok

 

Sirius cringed. He hadn't expected a reply, he had hoped Remus would be sleeping.

 

Padfoot : I'm glad you told me. I don't think you're a selfish person. 

Moony : ...wait til you read the others. Until then, please don't say anything you might want to take back.

Padfoot : Ok. But I don't think it will change anything.

Moony : I'm going to sleep now. It was nice seeing you tonight.

Padfoot : It was nice seeing you too! Are you free next week?

 

Remus didn't reply, which was probably fair enough, it was very late. Sirius knew he ought to sleep too, but he was too restless. There was always some work he could get on with, but for the first time since opening the salon he didn't feel like doing that either. 

He thought about Gideon. Their conversation had been brief, Sirius supposed they’d already broken up so many times there wasn’t much left to say. Gid had been flippant at first,

“Gawd, what have I done this time?”

“Nothing,” Sirius swallowed, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Gideon laughed, “That old chestnut. Is it because we haven’t seen each other much? I was giving you some space, with the salon and everything.”

“Yes I know. That’s not the problem though, it’s… you’re one of my best friends, right? You always will be, I love you. But I’m not in love with you.”

“Right. And this revelation just suddenly struck you?”

“Sort of,” Sirius felt very guilty, then, because he knew he had to be honest. “Remus is back.”

“Remus.” The laughter left Gid’s voice. “And I don’t stack up, next to him, is that it?”

“...Pretty much.”

“Fucking hell, Black.”

“I’m sorry.”

Sirius wondered where Gid was now. Probably in bed, probably with someone new. Then he thought about Marlene and Dorcas lying in bed together at home, and James and Lily, cuddled up in their flat. And Remus, alone in Sirius’s old bedroom, with a bundle of secrets in his bedside drawer.

He wished he could go back, insist on staying the night, reading every post card and then saying whatever needed to be said to have Remus back. But then, Sirius thought, if he could go back that far, why not go back to the beginning altogether, why not make sure none of it ever happened at all - no fights, no drunken mistakes, no break up. 

Fuck it, go all the way back to school and leave home earlier, come out sooner and be less of a twat about it, start university well-adjusted and fully prepared, stay in touch with Reggie and make sure he knew that Sirius loved him, that Sirius will always be his big brother, no matter what, and…

Sirius kicked his bedsheets spasmodically. He didn’t want to think about that. And anyway, you couldn’t go back, it was stupid to think you could. Who knew which tiny quirk of history had led him to Remus in the first place. And when he thought back to the past two months, though they had been miserable and lonely at times, they had been necessary too. Sirius had changed - he had grown . Maybe for the first time since school. 

He thought about Remus, and the change in him. How he looked younger now, how his body language was less tense and smiles came easier. Sirius lay back, exhaling long and slow. Perhaps he was being selfish. Perhaps Remus needed the mistakes as much as Sirius did. 

* * *

He slept poorly, and stumbled downstairs later than usual. Bleary and yawning he clattered around the kitchen making coffee, then went to open the blinds on the shop front to let a bit of sunshine in. He collected up the post from the doormat and sat at the reception desk flipping through. 

There was a letter about the building next door - the vape shop was packing up and selling, and they were trying to flog the building. Marlene had joked about them buying it and knocking through - Sirius thought it wasn’t a bad idea, they could use it for spray tanning and massage, like they’d planned to. Maybe knock through upstairs so he had a bigger office, or room for a double-bed. He put the letter aside making a note to discuss it with Marlene again. 

The rest of the post was mostly junk mail - three takeaway menus, a company flogging hyperoptic broadband and a few flyers for grime nights in the area. He wondered briefly whether Remus liked grime. Probably; he liked everything else. 

Just as he was getting up to dump it all in the recycling, a postcard fell out of the bottom. Sirius held his breath and grabbed it from the floor. It had a picture of Milan Cathedral on the front, and Remus’s familiar runic penmanship on the back.

He took a big gulp of coffee, sat up straight and began to read. 

 

Dear Sirius,

Remember I told you about Moira MacIntosh, my first kiss, and how she died young? A lot of my friends died young, and for a few years my doctors and parents thought I would too. 

By the time I was in my teens, it became clear I wouldn’t, and that I would be able to live ‘a normal life’. The problem was that neither me or my parents knew how to do that. I tried going to school for a few months, but I struggled, and I didn’t understand why, and when I was fourteen I tried to kill myself. I took all my painkillers in one go. And that’s how I ended up in hospital again. And that’s where I met Fenrir Greyback. 

Remus.

 

Sirius reeled, feeling like he’d just peaked on a rollercoaster and was facing the drop. Well, shit.  

Maybe he ought to have expected that. But should you ever expect to hear something like that? A lump formed in his throat, and he swallowed some more coffee to clear it, but it just made the burn worse. His eyes watered and he choked, heart thudding he ran to the kitchen to drink from the tap. He gulped down water, bending his head into the sink, getting his hair wet. 

He heard the front door jingle open while he was still trying to compose himself. His t-shirt was soaked and he didn’t have a clean one spare.

“All right, love?” Marlene called, coming through the shop,

“Hi,” he called back, his voice weirdly gruff and raspy. He was trembling, shaking all over.

“You ok?” She came into the kitchen and he spun around, blinking at her startled.

“Fine!”

“Sirius, are you crying?” She came over, concerned, reaching out. 

He backed away, shaking his head, wiping at his face, “No, no, I just, I was… coffee went down the wrong tube.”

“Black,” she frowned, folding her arms, “what’s wrong?”

“I… nothing.”

She tilted her head skeptically. She looked him up and down, wet shirt, straggly hair, red eyes, and shook her head, tutting, “Right. Go home, please.”

“What?”

“You heard me, out. You don’t have any appointments that I can’t give someone else. Go home and sort yourself out.”

“No, I--”

“I’ll call Potter,” she threatened, “I’ll have him carry you out of here over his shoulder. You know he’ll do it.”

Sirius paused. That was true, James could lift him with no bother at all, and he would if Marlene told him she’d found Sirius sobbing in the kitchen like some oppressed fifties housewife. He was trying not to depend on James for every tiny thing, so he really didn’t want that to happen. 

“I’ll go home,” he relented, “but just to shower and do a bit of laundry.”

“Fine, as long as you get out of here,” she waved her hand, “come on, off you go,” she began shooing him out.

“Wait, there are some emails I want to reply to first, I just need to--”

“No. Out.”

Marlene was an inch or so taller than him, and was now using this advantage to edge him out of the kitchen, through to the shop floor. 

He sighed, “Ok, ok, I’m going…” 

He snatched Remus’s postcard off the desk on his way out. 

It was a cool morning out, and he wished he had a hoodie or something; his wet shirt clung to him, goosebumps springing on his skin. He tucked his hair behind his ears and walked quickly home, glad it wasn’t far. 

He was a bit embarrassed he’d reacted the way he had. It was awful and selfish of Sirius to get upset over something that had happened to Remus , not to him, just because… because... his chest tightened, and he had to stop and sit at a bus stop, dizzy and sick. He was just ready to get up and continue walking home when his phone buzzed.

He was going to ignore it, wait until he was home and not in danger of throwing up, but it kept buzzing, so he pulled it out, annoyed. It was James.

“Hello?”

“All right, mate?” James’s reassuringly sunny voice made him feel a little better, a little warmer and less giddy.

Sirius stretched his mouth into a smile, hoping James would hear it, “Yeah fine, what’s up?”

“Marls sent me a cryptic message, saying I better check on you?”

Bloody Marlene! This was none of her business! He clenched his teeth. 

“Pads?” James spoke again, sounding a bit worried.

“She’s - she shouldn’t have -”

“Mate. What’s up?”

“I just… I… something reminded me of Reg.”

James was quiet for a moment, and then, “You home?”

“Nearly.”

“Be over in ten.”

“You don’t have t--”

“In ten minutes, Padfoot. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

He hung up and Sirius took a long, deep breath. He knew he was being a drama queen, but he was immeasurably relieved that James was on his way. He hurried home even faster, so he could at least change out of his damp shirt first.

James let himself in while Sirius was in the shower. He came out with wet hair to find a cup of tea waiting for him.

“Cheers,” he smiled, sitting down on the couch next to his best friend. “You weren’t busy, were you?”

“It’s a Saturday,” James shrugged. He looked at Sirius, “Want to talk about it?”

Sirius sighed, “I dunno.”

“What made you… what brought it up?”

“Remus.”

“Ah.”

“He… Christ, I’m probably not even supposed to tell you, I don’t know if it’s ok, or if it’s… it’s just that he was... and I ... and it all just…” he was short of breath again. 

“Ok, ok,” James took Sirius’s tea from him and threw an arm around his shoulders, giving him a protective squeeze, “Look, just tell me, I’m not going to tell anyone else, am I?”

“Remus and I… we’re trying to work things out. He wants to go slowly,” Sirius started, choosing his words with care, “He wanted to tell me some things he didn’t tell me last time, and he wrote them down in the postcards and… and I thought that was great, you know, get it all out and then we can move forward, right?”

“Sounds… healthy, I s’pose?” James said, clearly out of his depth - his relationship with Lily had been pretty smooth-sailing once she’d stopped hating him. 

“That’s what I thought,” Sirius nodded, then corrected himself, “that’s what I think .”

“So… he told you something that reminded you…” James thought aloud, “Oh! Ah, shit, is that why he was in the hospital so much as a kid?”

“Among other things,” Sirius said, glumly. “I’m being stupid, I just didn’t expect it, you know?”

“You’re not being stupid,” James tutted. “There’s not… I mean, it’s not like you’re ever going to be over what happened to Reg. He was your brother.”

“Yeah.”

They sat quietly for a while. Sirius sipped his tea and thought about Remus, and Reg, and what became of boys whose parents didn’t understand them. 

“Can’t believe he just sprung that on you, though,” James said, “shouldn’t he know better?”

“I never told him about Reg.”

“Oh.”

“I just don’t like thinking about it.” Sirius explained quickly. 

“Right, I get it,” (there was a ‘but’ coming, Sirius could feel it) “...you probably ought to tell him, though.”

"I know. I just don't like thinking about it," he repeated.

"Do you want me to tell him?" James asked. It wasn't presumptuous; Sirius had often relied on James to say the difficult things for him. He had come out on Sirius's behalf to most of their friends. For a moment Sirius seriously considered it. Just let James take care of the ugly stuff. But then he thought about the ugly stuff in Remus's postcard.

"No," he sighed, "I'd better."

“Good,” James beamed at him, as if he had made the right choice. Sirius half-smiled back and reached for his cup of tea.

"Telly?" James grabbed the remote.

"Perfect," Sirius nodded, relieved. He settled back on the couch and they watched the end of some Bond movie on ITV. One of the Roger Moore ones. 

"We're away next weekend, me and Lily," James said during a car chase scene, "Edinburgh."

"Nice," Sirius said.

"Two nights," James added, "back Sunday."

"Have fun."

"So, y'know, Remus will be alone."

"Ok Prongs, I get it." He didn't know what on earth he would have learnt about Remus by next weekend, how on earth could he plan ahead that far?

* * *

Padfoot : Hi, how are you?

Moony : Good, thanks - you?

Padfoot : Good. I got your second postcard this morning.

Moony : OMG, I was worried someone else picked it up. I dropped it round really early.

Padfoot : Yeah, I got it though.

Moony : ...So does it change things?

Padfoot : No, of course not.

Moony : Good. But you had to think?

Padfoot : I did, but not because of you. There’s something I haven’t told you, and I need to now.

Moony : Shit, ok, shall I call?

Padfoot : Can we do it face to face? Please? I’m at home this evening.

 

Remus promised to come over as soon as he was finished with his rehearsal, which luckily ended at five. He was having the time of his life - playing with Stupid Roar was nothing like playing with Full Moon. There were still creative differences of course, still egos and high emotions. But no one got aggressive - Remus never got that tight clenched up feeling in his stomach like he did when Greyback was in a foul mood. 

He did get a bit tense after Sirius messaged him. 

Remus had been dreading sending that second postcard, it was one of his most shameful secrets. But he’d set out to be honest, and he knew Sirius deserved the truth, so he’d hurried past the salon at six in the morning to slip it through the letterbox. Maybe he’d been too hasty - maybe Sirius had been fibbing about being ok with the first postcard. After all, Sirius’s parents were really bad, they’d actually kicked him out. Remus’s mum and dad had been perfectly good parents, if a little bit overprotective, and he’d treated them like… well, like they were nothing. So maybe Sirius was having second thoughts after all, now that he knew how cruel Remus could be. Maybe he thought that bringing up the suicide attempt was just a way to get sympathy. 

His therapist would say that was a negative thought. She’d tell him he couldn’t make assumptions about what other people were thinking, and that unless Sirius said those things outright, then it was just Remus’s brain misbehaving.  

“Lupin! Come for a beer, fella?” The lead singer, Si, asked him as they were packing up their kit.

“Sorry, can’t,” Remus shook his head. “Seeing someone. Next time, though.”

“Hot date with Mary McDonald?” Jeff the drummer grinned. 

Remus grinned back. He could have left it there, he could have nodded and confirmed it, but now that he’d started being honest all the time it was sort of hard to stop.

“Actually I’m seeing my ex. His name’s Sirius.” He said it fast, looking down at his bag, pretending to struggle with the zip, “I‘m sort of trying to win him back.”

He finally looked up, and the other band members were watching him curiously.

“Fairplay, mate,” Si half shrugged.

“Yeah, fairplay,” the others agreed.

“So you’re…” Gaz started,

“Bi,” Remus said, hurriedly, “honestly, it’s no big deal, er…”

“Used to call it AM and FM,” a voice came through from the control room, where one of the sound engineers had been listening in, “you kids probably got no idea what that means, eh?”

That started  a debate about radio, and whether or not the internet had killed it, and whether or not that was actually a good thing or the end of civilisation as they knew it. Either way, Remus was fairly happy with his unexpectedly blokey coming out.

“Good luck with yer man!” The engineer called as he left the studio.

“Um - thanks!” Remus nodded.

He caught a bus to Sirius’s. He’d been getting a lot of taxis lately, now that he had the cash, but he was trying to be a bit more frugal. Lily and James would be away that weekend, and he wanted to start putting out feelers for a new place to live. Lily had confided in him that she was going to propose to James while they were in Edinburgh, and while Remus was thrilled for them, he knew he ought to give them their space. 

Besides, listening to them go at it every other night was bad enough, he couldn’t imagine what it would be like once they were all loved up and newly engaged. Remus’s vow of temporary celibacy was going quite well, except that sex was pretty much all he could think about. And the vibrations on the bus weren’t helping - serve him right for sitting on the seat over the engine.

He got off the bus and walked to Sirius and Marlene’s house. He’d worried that it might feel weird, considering that this street had been the site of his and Sirius’s explosive breakup, but it was daylight, and a new season, and Remus felt so different now.

James’s car was pulled up on the corner, and as Remus approached James came out of the front door. They reached the gate at the same time.

“Oh,” Remus said awkwardly, “hello.”

“Hiya,” James nodded, amiable as always, “he’s all yours.”

“Right, er, we’re just--”

“I know.” James smiled, though his eyes didn’t brighten quite as much as usual. He stood behind the gate, with Remus on the pavement outside. He didn’t move to let Remus in. 

“Everything ok, Prongs?” Remus asked, feeling weirdly intimidated by the rugby player in his way.

“Fine, yeah,” James nodded, still serious, “just… be careful with him, will you?

“What?”

“I’m not getting involved,” James held up both hands, “what’s between you two is between you two, I’m just saying. He’s my best friend, and he’s more fragile than he looks.”

“Did I do something…?”

“None of my business,” James shook his head, finally moving to open the gate, “in you go, Moony, see you at home.”

Well, that didn’t exactly fill Remus with confidence. His ‘negative thoughts’ ran rampant as he squeezed past James and walked up the garden path to knock on the door. He held his breath until Sirius answered.

“Hi,” Sirius did look a bit fragile - weirdly smaller than usual, he was wearing a pair of soft flannel pyjama bottoms and a plain baggy t-shirt, rather than his usual skin tight black denim and vest combo. He looked sort of sleepy, his eyes pink.

“Are you ok?” Remus asked, before he even got inside, "Are you ill?"

"No, I'm ok, just having a lazy day. James was here."

"Yeah, I saw him," Remus didn't feel any less concerned as he followed Sirius unto the living room. The tv was on low and there were blankets strewn all over the couch.

"Can I get you a drink?"

"No thank you."

"Don't be silly," Sirius gave him a soft smile and turned into the kitchen, waving a hand over his shoulder, "sit down."

Remus sat, growing more anxious by the moment. Why did he feel so guilty?  Sirius returned with a glass of ribena, which was probably Remus's favourite drink in the world, even though it felt a bit childish now. 

"Thanks," he accepted the tall glass and swallowed almost half in one go. His mouth got dry when he was nervous. 

Sirius seemed to find it funny, and grinned at him, sitting down on the couch sideways, facing Remus, cross-legged like a child.

"Is it about the postcard?" Remus blurted out.

Sirius's eyelashes fluttered delicately downwards, he bit his lip, "Yes, but let me--"

"I knew I shouldn't have started with that, I knew it was too much, that you'd--"

"Remus." Sirius looked up at him, catching his eye. "I need to tell you something."

“Sorry.” Remus gulped down the rest of his ribena to shut himself up.

“Ok, so I haven’t really told you much about my family,” Sirius said, looking down again, fidgeting with the cuff of his trouser leg. “I told you I left home when I was sixteen and went to live with James’s family.” He glanced up, as if to confirm.

“Yes,” Remus nodded. “You told me that.”

Sirius looked down again, and spoke quickly.

“Right, so I didn’t mention… Ok, so my younger brother was… he got on with our parents better than I did, but he wasn’t… like, no matter how good you were, it didn’t matter to them, right? They had impossible expectations. Impossible .” He seemed to be shrinking on the couch, curling inwards, scratching at the skin on his wrist. “When I was in my first year of Uni, Regulus took an overdose. He died.”

Remus breathed in sharply. Fuck . He reached out and touched Sirius’s hand, partly because he wanted to comfort him, partly to stop the scratching. 

“Sirius, I’m so sorry,” he said earnestly. He racked his brain to remember if Sirius had ever mentioned a brother before.

“No, it’s fine,” Sirius shook his head, smiling weakly, “it was a long time ago.”

“And then I went and sent you that stupid postcard!” Remus could have kicked himself. “I’m such a prat.”

“No,” Sirius shook his head again, squeezing his hand, “I’m really glad you told me, it was just a surprise, that’s all. It brought up… a lot of memories.”

“Of course,” Remus nodded, “of course it did. Shit, I really am sorry, that’s awful.”

“I try not to think about it. But you know - as we’re being honest,” he chuckled grimly. 

Remus felt dreadful. How could he have been so careless? As if his own problems existed in a vacuum, and he could dump his crap on anyone without any consequences.

“I don’t want you to stop telling me things,” Sirius said, reading his mind, “I think maybe… maybe I just didn’t realise that I had some stuff of my own. I s’pose I’m as new to this as you are - everyone I know already knows about the… ”

“Painful stuff?” Remus offered.

“Yeah,” Sirius agreed, “the painful stuff.”

“Greyback knew everything about me,” Remus said. “That’s probably why I stayed so long. Kind of like he kept my secrets safe, so I didn’t have to worry about them. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” Sirius nodded, “James does that for me.”

“I think I’d rather James than Fenrir,” Remus laughed. He squeezed Sirius’s hand again, “but I’d like to do that for you, too. Look after the painful stuff.”

Sirius looked up at him, and they didn’t need words. Remus had never had a moment like that, not with anyone. 

Maybe they would never fully understand each other, maybe they would never truly know it all, but they would always want to , they would always try as hard as they could. Each new puzzle piece might feel different, might change the picture altogether - but it would be worth it. Remus felt this as surely as he had ever felt anything. Because that’s what it was like, being in love - not one moment of connection, but thousands.

Remus glanced away first, suddenly shy, and overwhelmed by the depth of his own feelings. He looked down at their hands, still grasping, warm and safe. He wanted to say it. He really, really wanted to, it was like a hot bubble rising from his chest into his throat. 

But he doesn’t know it all yet, the negative voice growled, he won’t love you when he knows. 

He licked his lips, he was going to say it, he was, he was, he was…

“Do you want to stay for dinner?” Sirius asked.

“Um,” Remus inhaled, shaking himself, “I’m not… er…”

“I know you want to go slowly, but even just as friends?” Sirius looked at him hopefully. 

“I don’t think…” Remus was so torn. “I’ll want to stay longer, if I do.”

“That’s ok, though...” Sirius bit his lip, lowering his head and looking up at Remus in that way, which only made things worse, it was taking every ounce of Remus’s self control not to give in to temptation and shag him right then and there.

“There are still things,” Remus said, his voice a bit hoarse, “I can’t risk it, if you find out something worse about me, if you find out…”

“Remus,” Sirius sat up straighter, his voice flat. “Stop fucking me about.”

“What?” He blinked.

“This is exactly what you did before. Only then you were using sex to keep me at arm’s legnth, now you’re using these… these postcard confessions. Look, I don’t care , ok? There is no ‘worse’, there’s only you, and it’s you I want!”

Remus didn’t know what to say. He let go of Sirius hand and stood up, needing to pace.

“I’m not trying to fuck you about, I’m trying to…”

“What? Test me?” Sirius stayed on the couch, looking up at him.

“No! Nothing like that.”

“That’s what it’s starting to feel like. You said we could start from the beginning again, but that’s not what this is.”

“I’m doing it for you,” Remus murmured. “So that you can make an informed decision before--”

“I’m already in love with you, Moony.” Sirius said simply, “So whatever you’re trying to protect me from, you’re too late.”

“You…”

“I love you.”

“Ok,” fuck fuck fuck fuck fuuuuuck. He sat down again, “...ok, right…. Um…”

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go! He was trying to be careful, he was trying to make sure they built something that would last, they couldn’t just go around making declarations like that! This was supposed to be a process… 

“Moony?”

“I don’t want you to rush into this…”

“I don’t think anyone could accuse us of rushing this,” Sirius laughed, creating enough of a break in tension that Remus felt safe looking at him again.

“You mean it?”

“Of course I do. You can still tell me everything you need to, we can do all the painful stuff, I swear, but… let’s do it together, yeah? Not like this, not like we’re still in different countries.”

Remus sighed, dropped his head into his hands. It made sense.

“I told you I’d fuck up,” he groaned, “I’ve got this all wrong, haven’t I?”

“No,” Sirius said, “I think we’re just figuring it out. It doesn’t have to be perfect, does it?”

Remus didn’t know. He really had no idea how normal people did this. Maybe this wasn’t about what normal people would do. “Padfoot?” he said, head still in his hands.

“Yeah?”

“Love you too.”

“Good to know.”

Remus uncovered his face and squinted at him, “git,” he nudged his knee. 

“Prick,” Sirius kneed him back, grinning.

“Posh knob,” Remus twisted, placing his hands on Sirius’s hips,

“Scruffy punk,” Sirius’s hands sliding up his neck, fingers curling at the base of his skull.

“English wanker,”

“Scottish twat.”

Remus didn’t know who crossed the breach first, and for once he didn’t care, because they were kissing - they were kissing and suddenly Remus couldn’t think why he had ever wanted to put this off. Sirius clearly felt the same way, he had practically leapt into Remus’s lap and now sat astride him, hands creeping up under Remus’s shirt, tongue probing his lips, making delicious little ‘hmm’ sounds as Remus stroked the small of his back.

“Stay for dinner?” Sirius whispered urgently, squirming against Remus’s body, making him shudder and squeeze his eyes shut to hang on a bit longer. 

“Not hungry.” Remus breathed.