“Jamie, bring the dessert in,” Peter insists.
James lights up.
“Padfoot, why don’t you bring it in? You’re the -” James twists his tongue around to find the right accent, and flourishes his arm out elegantly, palm up. “Patissier.”
Sirius swings up from his seat and bows slightly, grinning a bit too much, and saunters into the kitchen.
“Padfoot prepared dessert?” Remus says, incredulous, his bushy eyebrows arched.
“Chinese takeout for entree and Sirius’s handmade cake for dessert, eh?”
Remus and Peter turn to stare at each other. James leans back in his chair and clasps his hands at the back of his head, amusedly observing the scene. Meanwhile, the mouth-watering smell of baked chocolate wafts around the room and reaches the table, and Remus actually stands up from his seat a bit.
“Fucking hell." His eyes fix devilishly on the cake sitting innocently on Sirius’s tray.
Sirius sets it down on the table neatly, his pearly whites gleaming as he smirks at Remus. James tugs on his arm, getting him to sit down, and motions urgently for Remus to do the same.
“So, here’s the thing,” James says, once everyone’s settled, when he catches Peter greedily reaching across for the cake knife. “Oi, not yet, Wormtail.”
Peter slumps back in his seat.
“Can’t it wait until after dessert, whatever this is?” says Remus impatiently.
James glances sideways at Sirius, whose expression is suddenly stoney, introspective, as he gives James a nod.
James clears his throat. “Hey, you guys, I really appreciate your enthusiasm for dessert, so I’m just going to cut straight to the point, yeah? There’s someone in the Order who’s spying for Voldemort. We don’t know who, but they can’t find out where Sirius and I live. Voldemort will do anything to finish us both once he knows we’re here. At least that’s what Dumbledore reckons.”
A destabilizing, cold veil of air descends upon the table; the chocolate cake may as well freeze up.
Remus stares at James, and then at Sirius. Peter fidgets in his seat, a frown etched on his forehead.
“We need a Secret Keeper,” Sirius clarifies.
Remus blows out a long breath, whistling hollowly.
“Oh,” Peter squeaks out.
“Either one of you,” James says. “Well, we were rather thinking Remus, since…“
“Since Peter can be a bit of a chicken sometimes, no offense.” Sirius finishes.
“Oi!” Peter says half-heartedly.
“But also,” James adds quickly, “they likely won’t think we’d trust a werewolf.”
“Don’t be stupid, James, the whole world already knows by now that we don’t give a shit about who’s a werewolf and who’s not,” Sirius quips.
“But we wouldn’t trust a werewolf with a secret as big as this, would we? I mean, you never know when they’ll -“
“Slip up,” Remus says quietly.
Everything goes silent.
James licks his lips awkwardly. “Don’t be silly,” he says into the table, wincing at this entire conversation. “We’re not worried that you’ll give us away. It’s just a diversion -”
“Well, you should be.” Remus’s cuts in, flatly.
“Should be what?”
James looks up to see Remus’s dead gaze, so honest it comes off as cold.
“Werewolves do slip up. They’re not exactly human on the night of the full moon, are they? Secrets are for humans; no animal can keep a secret. I’d betray you in a heartbeat on the next full moon.”
James looks up.
“We trust you, Moony,” he says eagerly, not having registered a shred of what Remus just said, and catches Sirius nodding gravely out the corner of his eye.
Remus is unaffected. “And that’s exactly why you’ll take my word on this. I will betray you.”
He leans back on his chair and crosses his arms, coolly excusing himself from the discussion. James drops his gaze once again onto his dirty plate, the idea of chocolate cake infinitely unappetizing.
“I guess it’ll be you, then, Wormtail. Good lu - “
“Are you joking? No, it can’t be Wormtail -“ Sirius blurts out loudly.
“It can be him.” James locks his eyes determinedly with Peter’s big, scared-shitless ones. “Peter, you’ll do this for us, won’t you? Please?”
“I - uh - sure -“ Peter splutters.
“No,” Sirius says.
“Why not?” James rounds on Sirius. Why is he being so distrustful? They’ve been best friends - they’ve all been best friends - since fresh fucking first-year.
“Are you mental, James? Wormtail? Fucking Secret Keeper. Wormtail.”
“Yes, Wormtail—Peter, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and you shouldn’t be so goddamn revolted by the idea,” James says, watching Peter start to shake with nerves or rage or god-knows-what.
“Peter, did you say ‘sure?’ You’ll do this?” James asks, wincing slightly when it comes out more like a demand.
Peter licks his lips, hesitates, then opens his mouth emptily. Sirius leers silently beside James. Remus pretends not to listen.
“Sure,” Peter says finally, more firmly than James expected. It makes him happy.
He claps his hands together and forces a grin. “Great. That’s settled then. Thank you, by the way,” he booms, reaching across to ruffle Peter’s hair.
Peter shrugs him off, adamantly not looking at Sirius.
“Now can we start on the dessert?”
They finish the cake in silence - or near-silence, as James constantly tries and fails to start an amiable conversation - and if it weren’t for the sight of Remus’s and Peter’s plates being licked clean and speckless, James would have worried about them.
Who he is worried about, and angry more than worried about, is Sirius. He has no idea why he’s been especially stubborn not to let Peter be Secret Keeper, but dare he say he’s more offended than confused. Sirius and Peter are fucking Marauders; Sirius should know to trust him with anything. The thought that Sirius couldn’t bring himself to do just that tonight is so mind-boggling and disgusting that it’s shattered all his precious, affectionate Marauder memories into minuscule pieces, etching a thousand sharp cuts onto the inner walls of his mind.
This is what wartime feels like, James understands suddenly, and his eyes begin to sting.
Remus and Peter leave shortly after that, muttering “thank you”s, and pretending not to notice James’s sudden change in mood. Sirius shows them to the door, and James hears them talk softly but he doesn’t care to eavesdrop; most likely the usual stuff like “come back soon,” which used to be a real invitation but would now only sound like empty politeness, or it could be “take care of James,” which they know James would absolutely hate for them to say. James isn’t a kid; he can take care of his own mental breakdowns.
Then Sirius returns to the living room, flying the dishes to the sink in one sweep of his wand. He doesn’t follow them there, though - instead, he comes over to James and pats him on the shoulder.
“Hey.” He ruffles his hair.
James ducks away.
“Why did you say that, Sirius?” He says, keeping his head bent over the now-cleared table, squeezing his eyes to ease his tears and pounding headache. “Why did you say you couldn’t trust him?”
“I never said that,” Sirius says quickly.
“You implied it. Heavily.”
“Well, I can’t. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth - maybe in future, I’ll be able to. Just something about him - his behavior - his personality - he's never come off as much of a brave, loyal friend who’d do anything to keep a secret -“
“Well, why?” James’s shoulders start to shake and he feels Sirius kneading them with his palms.
“Why? Well, he hasn’t exactly proved to us that he can be trusted with something as big as this, has he?” Sirius drags out slowly, like he’s turning his brain inside out to voice his opinion as delicately as possible.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, for example - just an example, alright - the night of the Incident - “
James’s heart constricts. He looks up sharply at Sirius. How dare he brings up the Incident - if he remembers correctly, it had been Sirius who had betrayed them, who had betrayed Remus’s secret to fucking Severus on the night of the fucking Incident. He takes off from his seat.
“The incident, really? Really, Sirius?”
He jams a pointed finger into Sirius’s chest, seething, and settles his voice down low and quiet.
“Wow. I love how you just brought up the Incident here, right at this moment, blaming Peter and talking about loyalty; really, out of all things, the Incident, you’ve really gone out of your mind, Padfoot,”
His words sting Sirius: his eyes close half-way like the sight of an angry James is literally hurting him, his jaw tightening.
“I didn’t mean it like that -“ Sirius starts, but James is already making his way blindly up the stairs.
He stumbles on a step and bangs his knee, and it doesn’t hurt.
James is trapped inside a narrow, dark brick alleyway - rather, the space around him is filled up with black fog. It could be smoke, if not for the absence of smell.
He can’t rely on his smell, or his sight for that matter, and he can’t hear anything - except - no, that’s just the wind.
He calls out the first thing that comes to mind.
His voice comes out foreign, distant, like he’s shouting at himself from a mile away. Like he’s shouting into a pitch-dark void, which he is. He gulps down a panicked sob, yells again.
He stumbles around, arms stretched out in front of him, and he can’t even make out his hands it’s so dark. He feels pain in his eyes and realizes he’s been squinting them too hard. His thigh brushes against something sharp, forcing a gasp out of him.
He shoots up from his pillow, catches his head in his hands and hunches over. He brings his knees up and closer to himself, making sure that his thigh isn’t hurt. He’s breathing a bit too hard. His eyes are working again, and his sight adjusts its focus onto his navy-blue jeans, the hem of his khaki t-shirt, the white sheets beneath him.
“James?” Sirius’s voice is much closer now.
A pair of arms wrap firmly around his head. His face presses into the material of Sirius’s sweatshirt - James’s sweatshirt, since it was his in the first place - it smells like three-year-old-James’s teddy bear he used to sleep with on lonely nights. A little stale and on the brink of sour, but funnily enough, perfectly snug. It smells like himself and it slows down his breathing considerably.
“James,” Sirius mutters into his ear. As if sensing that James is being comforted by his sweatshirt, he locks his face in closer, which gets James’ nose crumpled up. Tears steadily wet the cotton, sniffles muffling against it.
Sirius gently pushes him back so that James is lying on his back again, and it’s then that he finally looks up at Sirius. His expression is one of concern and sadness and utter love, so much love that James struggles to remember what it was that they had been arguing over just a second before he fell dead asleep on the bed. After a few, sluggish moments of contemplation, he remembers that it had been on the matter of Peter’s being Secret Keeper, and it feels so totally insignificant that he just has to tell Sirius that. So he does.
Sirius smiles somewhat sadly. “People change in critical moments. Maybe Peter will, too, now that he's got the responsibility.”
James shakes his head.
“Uh-huh. But I don’t want to talk about Peter at this moment.”
“So, you want to talk about - what? How amazing I look in this sweatshirt?”
“Arsehole,” James says, swatting at him casually. His heart warms at how Sirius is not showing any signs whatsoever of bringing up the nightmare that James so evidently just had.
“On a scale of one to ten, one being the worst and ten being godly, how do you rate this look?”
Sirius cranes back a bit, unlocking his arms from around James to give him a better view, but James immediately makes a grab for his arms and promptly wraps them around himself again. Sirius laughs, obliges, and combs his fingers through James’s hair just to get them stuck, as always. It’s soothing, anyway.
“Zero, maybe. It’s not even your sweatshirt to begin with.”
“It’s as good as mine—finders, keepers.”
“And where exactly did you find it?”
“It was lying around neglected in the laundry room for days, Prongs, honestly.”
Sirius’s voice slurs drowsily, and his eyelids close all the way, and James begins his favorite private game of tracing each long, dark eye-lash with his fingertip. Even though Sirius is practically lying on top of him, he can't bother to wake him up. The smell of his shampoo is putting him to sleep himself.
At least, if he has another bad dream, he’ll wake up to Sirius’s entire weight literally stacked onto him. But then again, he doesn’t think he’ll dream this time around.
For the first time in weeks, James is gently guided into consciousness by natural sunlight and chirping birds and Sirius’s motionless form right beside him, mouth agape with a sloppy arm slung across James’s chest—not a blaring alarm.
Voldemort seems to be going through a little slump of his own, presently—a welcome slump, James must say, as the number of panicky emergency Order meetings has been gradually decreasing the past month.
James just sort of lies there and gazes dreamily at his boyfriend's face. He feels blessed just to be staying there, lost in time, knowing that when Sirius wakes up - and at his own comfortable timing, at that - the first thing he’ll see is James and the first thing that’ll come to his mind is James, and not the stupid Order.
Sirius is finally fully awake around midday. They proceed to have lazy sex in bed, after which they get out of bed together, take a lukewarm shower together, and make pancakes together.
It’s only way later when they’ve eaten stacks of pancakes and are already halfway into a trashy ‘superhero’ movie when James brings it up absent-mindedly.
“You know, if Peter decides to give us away anyway, we can always fight him off.”
Sirius turns his head toward him, looking mildly confused.
“You mean Voldemort? You mean we can always fight Voldemort off?”
“Sure, why not?”
“‘Why not’ - Why not. You’re ridiculous, you know, you really are, Prongs.”
“What’s so ridiculous about it?" James grins, shoves an elbow into his rib. “Come on, we’ve always excelled in Defense, Dumbledore’s always been keeping an eye on us - recruited us into the Order earlier than anyone else in the grade, remember? Not even Moony lined up to us.”
Sirius just sort of laughs, and shakes his head, like it’s the biggest joke of the year. James can kind of see it too; how absurd it must have sounded. Voldemort isn’t some old boggart or troll, and even James knows he’s far more dangerous than the random obstacle in Defense Against the Dark Arts NEWTs.
So they share in on the joke; they laugh and laugh, they roll around on the cramped couch, drowning out whatever silly shooting and bombing noises that blast out of the movie, and James decides it’s a good time to forget about the war for a moment.
The doorbell rings.
James’ eyes close automatically. Fuck, not another casualty.
Unlike everything else, casualty reports are not given out via owl or floo because of their “delicate nature” or some shit. They actually hand-pick an Order member each time who’s specifically suited for the job—James doesn’t know exactly what kind of person is qualified as specifically suited to go around everyone’s homes, pulling on a solemn face and announcing in a dark voice, sorry, someone-or-other just died. But it had been Barty Crouch for the Fabian brothers’ death, McGonagall for Marlene McKinnons'… he hasn’t been keeping track of the rest.
The next time he opens his eyes, Sirius is gone - he can hear a conversation going on, but only Sirius’s rather blunt voice drifts its way into the living room, almost like he’s talking on the floo.
“No, he’s fine…”
“Right, I’ll see you.”
Soon, Sirius walks back in and slumps back onto his spot on the couch.
“Who was it?” James prompts.
Sirius nods carelessly, fixing his stare on the TV. “Yes, Jamie, Lily.”
“Well, what did she want?”
“You,” Sirius says sourly.
James raises his eyebrows.
“She wanted to see you,” Sirius clarifies, sighing a bit. “Said she heard about us having a - ah, what was it - a ‘fight.’ She thought you’d be alone here, for whatever reason - in everyone’s imagination it’s always me who leaves you, not the other way around…”
“She thought you’d left me?”
“Yes, Prongs. Keep up.”
“But why would she want to see me?”
“God knows why, Jamie, but don’t you think it’s time we started paying attention to the movie again?” Sirius is keeps staring blankly at the TV, looking as if he’d find almost anything more interesting than what’s going on on-screen.
“So tell me - who’s that that just got shot?”