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Let Nothing You Dismay

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The trouble with poets is that they’re liars, all of them, every last Darjeeling-drinking, Parliament-smoking twat scribbling down their rose-colored witticisms in Parisian cafés, drenching entire stanzas purple with deception and dishonesty for innocent young eyeballs like Sirius Black’s to read and get the impression that life works anything at all the way Auden tells you it will. They ought to be locked up, quills snapped, publicly denounced on the steps of the Ministry.

Innocent. See, he can do it too.

It’s in the middle of one of these scathing internal monologues at the Hog’s Head on a November night when the rain can’t decide whether it wants to be snow and Peter can’t decide whether he wants to be companionably drunk or lit as a firecracker at New Year’s when James catches his eyes from across the table, the same eyes that have strayed, as they so often do, to the source of at least sixty-five of his current frustrations: Remus Lupin and the curl of his long fingers, the wry twist of his lips, the scar smoothed into the cut of his jaw, tapering off beneath his chin. James smiles, slow and self-satisfied; Sirius’ small intestine heaves sharply to the left.

And this—this is how he knows that every single poet Remus has ever left dog-eared and tattered on the coffee table is a miserable con, because the world never ends with a bang or a whimper or even an awkward, embarrassed stutter. That would be too dignified.

The world ends with James Potter leaning across the table as Remus helps Peter totter to the fireplace, elbows pressing into the table and that smug glint of mischief flashing deep in the backs of his dark eyes, as if he’s finally caught what he’s been fishing for all this time and wants to fillet it right here on the table.

“Hey,” says The End, low, unsubtle as anything, “can I ask you something?”

In a certain corner of Sirius’ broad and spacious closet, kept pristine among entire encyclopedias stacked chaotically from floor to ceiling and bulging with the gory details of every stupid thing he’s ever done and how much he still loves his arsehole brother, there is a thick, musty-smelling volume with notes stuffed into the margins and a spine creased with the weight of years, its edges tea-stained, time-soft. It slides in neatly between the tattered old Fuck You, Mum and Extreme Sexual Confusion, Vol. 12, and its name is Remus Lupin.

If you could sift through those rumpled pages, you’d find expert analysis on the state of Remus Lupin’s hair sticking up at impossible angles when he wakes up in the mornings contrasted with how it floofs up mightily in the humidity, and the way those things correlate to the twinging of Sirius’ insides. There are charts dedicated to which mismatched socks make him look like a plonker and which ones make Sirius want to kiss him, or both. Lengthy, furious diatribes on all the fights they’ve had. Graphic descriptions of the exact manner Remus’ smiles unfurl dusty-warm across his face, which ones crinkle his eyes, which ones are full of teeth, which ones Sirius put there. Paragraphs about his eyes flecked with gold in the muzzy yellow of the morning sun with the moon finally on the wane, falling always on Sirius. Various attempts to capture his many, many different laughs—dignified, undignified, thrilled and secret, surprised and sweet. The turbulence caused above and below the belt when Remus smokes. The sheer, undiluted joy on his face when he’s shoveling shepherd’s pie into it.

Only a few hearts, tucked away near the binding.

And it’s not as if any of this is Remus’ doing; if Sirius is honest with himself—and he mostly is, except where it concerns his seventh-year Potions exam and certain heaps of human-shaped ooze whose names rhyme with Schmivellus Grape—there hasn’t been a single moment in the last five years when he thought he was A Straight Man for more than eight seconds. Girls are lovely and fun and he knows, mostly, what to do with them, though his few bumbling, adolescent gropes with Mary Macdonald in a third-floor broom cupboard left him feeling sticky and vaguely dissatisfied. Boys, though—beyond a few drunken and not-so-drunken snogs with James all throughout school and thinking, Yeah, I’d be down if you asked every time he’s near Kingsley Shacklebolt, he’s not quite sure how it works. If he likes them as much as girls, or more, or entirely more.

Thinking about it too hard tends to give him stomachaches. For as much as Wizarding society has always been adamant about making no distinction between who is sticking whose bits where and how often or who is marrying who, the fact is, distinctions are made; it’s still not something people are enormously open about even now in the dregs of 1979 with old wossface yowling Let’s spend the night together!, uncensored, and on puritan Muggle radio at that. And then there’s the literature on the stuff, which—when it’s not being shoved to the side in favor of Oatmeal-Flavored Heterosexual Romance #59271—ends in tragedy roughly half the time, which is incredibly morbid and uncomfortable for a nineeen-year-old young man who really wants to snog another nineteen-year-old young man stupid. It’s almost like they’re trying to tell you something.

And then there’s Ye Olde Pureblood Society, who really, really don’t care how you’re getting your jollies, but know this: You are still expected to enter into a heterosexual (incestuous) marriage, and you are still expected to have heterosexual (incestuous) sex, and you are still expected to produce heterosexual (incestuous) heirs. If he tries hard enough and really applies himself, he can probably blame this one on his parents, too.

Unfair as it is, he supposes he ought to feel lucky, especially compared to Muggles; but the thing is, the more he thinks about it, the more confused and upset he gets, and it really is hard to keep feeling grateful for scraps you’re not given so much as you’ve got to rip from someone else’s feast with your own hands, nails and all.

Mostly, Sirius Black is a confused nineteen-year-old hormone cocktail with an injustice- and Remus-induced stomachache and no one to talk to. The strain is not doing flattering things to his complexion.

But the real corker here is that, logically, Remus is exactly who he should be talking to, because Remus likes boys—everyone knows Remus likes boys, not that he’s ever done anything about it. It’s Remus, after all.

For a whole week after James leaned over the table in the Hog’s Head and asked, “So why aren’t you shagging yet,” and swore sideways he wouldn’t say anything even if one of the Prewett brothers caressed his face and asked him nicely, Sirius tries to bring it up. He tries valiantly, gets as far as, “Moony, how did you—how’d you, uh, how’d you like the way I folded your underwear last night, I really feel like I deserve a ‘thank you, Mr. Black’ and a week of dinner over here,” and gives up completely.

He can’t very well talk about Remus with Remus, which is the whole problem. Most of his thoughts and his hopes and his squirmy insides are all bound up in Remus Lupin, inextricably, ceaselessly; no matter how he tries to get it out, everything comes back to Remus in constant frantic orbit. The moon fills up and empties, fans out into the sky; the days get shorter, the snow comes softer, and everything, everything rhymes with Remus Lupin.

So, in the tumult of confusion and stomachaches and Remus and all the things that wither and turn to clay on his tongue, Sirius says a whole lot of stupid half-things. Things like, “This is weird. I mean, it’s kind of weird, isn’t it?”

Remus, ballpoint tapping against his cheek, turns from the Muggle newspaper he picked up on the way home and frowns Sirius’ favorite frown, the one with the tiny, lopsided crease between his eyebrows Sirius wants to reach over and smooth out with his thumb. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you, it says, but I’m awfully fond of you anyway.

“No,” says Remus, drawing it out for the eighth time since breakfast, “it’s not. We do this all the time. Why would you think it’s weird?”

Probably, he thinks, it’s because most blokes would keep a sofa cushion between them while they do a crossword together—if most blokes actually do things like sit down after dinner and work on crosswords together, which he doubts. He’s sitting so close to Remus he can see the tiny smattering of freckles trailing across his nose; he’s never really thought about it before, this closeness, the spindly shapes gravity has made of them.

“Just, you know. This,” says Sirius, gesturing vaguely around the sitting room of their rented cottage, a birdhouse of a thing with two cozy bedrooms and a big kitchen window and a few starbursts of flowers Remus keeps in cans on the bookshelf. It’s his—theirs—and he loves it like he’s loved little else, every squeaky tile and warped floorboard, the way they fill up every corner, but everything feels so off-footed and strange now, like his whole equilibrium has slipped out of place and he can’t quite fit it back the way it was. Maybe getting a Christmas tree will help. “Anyway. What do you want for Christmas, and don’t say it’s a book or you’re getting a pony.”

“Socks and shortbread,” says Remus, still eyeing him with quiet suspicion in the sideways tilt of his head, “and it isn’t even December yet, do we really have to talk about this?”

“Yes, we bloody well do! Now ask me what I want, where’s your propriety gone, man?”

“What do you want for Christmas, Sirius?”

“You know what you can give me,” he answers, grinning like a knife when Remus flushes, finishing mentally with the same thing he’s done for who-knows-how-many years now: You can shag me into the floorboards on Christmas Eve. You can take the rest of my debatable virginity, right under the tree. “I’ll just put a big bow down my trousers, like. You can unwrap me and mount me like a prize swordfish in the sitting room, first thing in the morning.”

“I thought this was your gift?” Remus’ cheeks are very pink; Sirius wants to kiss them.

“Please, Moony. I am the best and biggest gift you’re ever going to get.”

“Shut up,” mutters Remus, pulling his jumper sleeves across his knuckles the way he does when he doesn’t know what else to do with his hands, and Sirius wonders if maybe Remus is sometimes just as confused as he is, even if he’s not standing on the same volatile battleground right now. He’d probably retreat into that same faded red wool jumper like a turtle, head and all, if he could fit; Sirius leans into him, and Remus, like ballast, like always, leans back. “Ten-letter word for ‘lovely’ or ‘charming,’” he says.

R-E-M-U-S-L-U-P-I-N, supplies the filthy little man who lives in Sirius’ head. “Enchanting,” he says instead, perching his chin on Remus’ shoulder as he fills it in, and then, “this is weird.”

He can feel Remus’ chest expanding, taking in as much oxygen as humanly possible to expel the loudest, weariest sigh ever pushed from nineteen-year-old lungs; there are whole chapters dedicated to that sigh in Sirius Black’s Metaphorical Closet, incoherent, mystified ramblings on its origins followed by thousands of question marks and pages full of both indignation and pride at having evoked it, but he saves himself the trouble of wondering this time and points to the sports section of the Muggle newspaper, where an oiled-looking rugby whatsit with arms like sheer granite is doing something manly and severe with what appears to be a large egg. The women’s team gets a byline and two paragraphs near the bottom of the page, and no photo.

“That, there, that’s weird,” he lies, triumphantly. “Muggle women having to play on different teams. What happens if they mix, do the men get crushed between their steely thighs? Is that why it’s all separate?”

“Probably not weird to them,” says Remus, sounding mildly irritated at being robbed of his long-and-forever-suffering sigh. “But Muggle women never get the sort of recognition men do in sport. Actually, some people joke about them.”

“You know what else is weird?” asks Sirius, bravely, so very, very bravely. “That they won’t let men marry other men.”

This is subtlety. This is courage. This is the Gryffindor Way, for which medals are made and people get snogged into next Easter.

Remus cocks his head, bright and surprised and younger, somehow, in the willowy yellow light of their sitting room. “You know, there are loads of people—not just Death Eaters—who don’t think werewolves should be able to marry,” he says. “Loads of people who aren’t Death Eaters still don’t think much of Muggleborns.”

“And those people are shit and they need to be told so loudly and often,” says Sirius. “Here—want me to give them rabies? I can maul a few and bring you their bodies, that can be your Christmas present.”

“You don’t have rabies.”

“I’ll get it. I’ll go out and chew on a bat right now just for you, Moony, say the word and I’ll be foaming at the mouth by the solstice.”

“My bloody hero,” laughs Remus, pressing his knee against Sirius’. “Four-letter word for devotion?”

T-H-I-S, thinks Sirius, all of this, Remus’ shoes by his shoes at the door and his shoulder set against Remus’ shoulder, the sound of their breathing muffled by the sound of the flames in the grate. “Love,” he says, and watches Remus fill it in with that same careful grace he does everything. “Hey—that, that’s what we should get for Christmas.”

“We’ve got the Floo and your motorbike and we can both Apparate.” Remus, rubbing his nose, blinks at him in the slim space between them; the firelight gets in his eyes, turns them to gold. “Why do we need a car?”

“Travel is only their secondary purpose, you know,” he says, just for the way Remus scrunches up his nose like he can’t decide whether he wants to laugh at him or frown. He smiles.

“And what’s their primary purpose, O in Muggle Studies?”

“Sex,” says Sirius, sagely. “You were probably conceived in one.”

“Oh God,” Remus mutters. He’s gone red around the cheeks again, with a distinct undertone of disapprove-y amusement. “I’m not renewing the television license.”

Once, and not long ago, Sirius would have stuck his tongue in Remus’ ear and said something laced with enough innuendo to drop a convent; now, his cheeks dot with pink and something in the region of his liver squirms at the thought of putting his tongue on Remus, anywhere on Remus, so he settles for scrubbing at the blue stripe on Remus’ jaw where his pen-hand had a few spasms at the mentions of sex. Looking quickly over to Sirius and back, Remus seems to be expecting it, but it never comes, and whatever it is that splashes across Remus’ face—disappointment, hurt, concern—is folded tidily away into his belly and hidden, invisible, with the thousand other aches that claw just beneath his skin.

It makes him sad and it makes him sore, but mostly it makes Sirius hate himself for putting it there.

“I’ll do it myself,” he says, looking straight ahead. “I know exactly how Muggle money works.”

For as long as he can remember, he and Remus have operated as one cohesive unit, in a different sort of way than he does with James and can’t do with Peter, a lamentable fact Sirius has always blamed on the misfortune of both of them being left-handed. He tugs, and Remus flows; Remus drifts, and Sirius drifts with him, always, always. Remus is the conclusion to his melodrama, his last thought before bed at night, balm to every hurt and every fury that’s ever shivered through his body; it is a fact, like the cold white shift of the winter stars. North-and-South, toast-and-jam, cream-and-coffee. Sirius-and-Remus. Remus-and-Sirius.

They have breakfast together. They do the shopping together. They mix their laundry, wash dishes together the Muggle way, share drinks, wait up for each other, make tea and soup when one of them is sick or the moon’s hanging iron-heavy in the sky. Sometimes—but not recently—they knot themselves together on the sofa and nap all over each other after long days. Sirius feels like they’re tipping towards something, like maybe they always have been, but he’s got no idea if Remus wants to be there for the collision, or how to tactfully say, with all the certainty of muddled nineteen-year-old blood, I think you are where I’m going, but I need a few directions.

The whole thing is painfully stupid. He says as much when he’s brushing his teeth while Remus is showering, which is another thing they do that most mates probably just don’t do. “Tffith ith hhoofifff,” he tells Remus over the spray of the water. “Aadd eeeeerrrd.”

“It isn’t stupid, Padfoot,” says Remus, “and it isn’t weird.”

That Remus somehow knows what he’s saying while his mouth is full of toothpaste doesn’t register until he’s hurrying out of the bathroom at the same time the knowledge of Remus, three steps away and naked, slams explosively into his forebrain and he has to retreat before he ruptures anything important.

He’s trying very hard not to think about it and coming up mostly unsuccessful when he looks down the hallway to find Remus leaning against the wall on his way back from the kitchen, just watching him, and Sirius twitches uncertainly off to the side.

“Sirius, I’m—” Remus starts, and closes his mouth, and opens it again. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” he says, just as his brain screams, Yes! Everything! Everything is wrong with me. “I’m fine. I’m a peach. Why would anything be wrong?”

“Because you’ve been acting bizarre for a while now,” says Remus. He’s clutching at his elbow the way he only does if he’s upset or unexpectedly naked, chewing his lip between his teeth. “If you’re not complaining about everything being weird you’re acting like you’ve murdered someone every time I talk to you. Or you’re doing this,” he says, gesturing to where Sirius is standing with his hip against the wall, as far away from Remus as he can get. “Is it—did I do something?”

“No! Why—you’re—why the hell would you think that?”

“What am I supposed to think, you won’t even look at me half the time! You act like you’re going to, to vibrate out of your own skin or something every time I get too close, and I know I don’t smell and I don’t have any diseases,” he snaps, “besides the obvious, anyway. Are you going to throw me out? Are you, hell, I don’t know, are you sick of me? I’m sorry I’m boring and weird and un-fun, I just—”

“Jesus Christ, Remus, what is wrong in your head? I haven’t done anything!”

“You! You are what is wrong in my head,” Remus half-yells, flapping his arms about like an enormous bird. “I don’t know what’s happened and you’re acting like a berk and I’m tired of it.”

“Tired of what? Being there every time I turn around? Sorry, Remus, you’re fucking stuck with me! Unless you’d like to leave.”

“Is that what you want?”

“Oh my God, Remus no, this is so—I’m bloody tired of you seeing things that aren’t there,” he bites out, miserable, already, deep in the pit of his stomach. “Not everything is a slight against your superior sensibilities, believe it or not.”

Remus’ face crumples a little, like Sirius has just pulled the plug out of him, but then he’s glaring again, pulled back into the dark space of his bedroom where he pauses long enough to grind out a terse, stuffy-sounding “Right, then,” followed by something very close to “arsehole,” and creaks the door on its hinges until it sits open, just a sliver, the way he’s always kept it.

Sirius, unsure whether he’d rather slam his own door or cry in the hallway or, for the first time, take what he thinks might be Remus’ invitation, paces around his bed for a moment before shutting his door completely and pulling the cool quilt around his shoulders, heartsore and restless in his bones. At Hogwarts, he’d have writhed around theatrically for a bit under the blankets and then gone, penitent, to Remus’ bed, where they’d curl up and talk and share potato crisps and wake up all bedraggled, tangled and together with the morning.

He wonders if that’s why Remus leaves his door open every night. He wonders if it isn’t.

It’s easier when you’re young, he thinks, and no one’s going to look at you like you’ve got a few noodles loose for sleeping in your friend’s bed. But then, all of a sudden, the world churns forward on its tracks, and you’re churned with it: School’s over, you’ve turned nineteen—you’re an adult—and you’re supposed to know what to do with these things. You’re supposed to know your own blood. You’re not supposed to stumble around, half-blind, while your brain turns to marshmallow fluff and leaks out your ears.

Maybe that’s just part of it. Lying in the dark with the cold while your alarm clock tick-tick-ticks and the old fear creeps into your belly, wanting nothing more than to crawl into someone else’s bed for the solidity of their heartbeat to sink down into, and hoping, hoping this is worth all the sleep you’ve lost for it.

“McKinnon,” he sputters, clambering out of the fireplace as gracefully as he can with soot in his mouth and what is likely a spider in a very delicate place, “I need to talk to you for a minute.”

Marlene, still in her shoes with her hair falling from its low chignon, sits up from Dorcas’ lap and frowns—loudly. “I’m going to glue broken glass to the chimney if you don’t start announcing yourself,” she grinds out. “What the hell do you want? I’ve only just got home and I thought you were learning to use the front door, anyway.”

“Where’s Remus?” asks Dorcas, peering behind him into the grate.

Sirius waves his hand and thus both questions away from the important issue at hand: himself. “He’s not off till six and I didn’t take the tube, so I couldn’t use the door,” he says, and leaves out that the reason he didn’t take the tube is because he’s a little squirmy about doing it on his own and Remus won’t take it with him until he learns to stop laughing every time the tube-voice says “Cockfosters,” which is more difficult than he’d anticipated. “I’ve got a question.”

“So ask it.”

A deep breath; the air in the flat is all over cinnamon and spice and it makes him itch for Christmas. “How did you know?”

Marlene blinks. “How’d I know what, that you’re an enormous tosspot?” she asks, and then her eyes flash dagger-sharp, blue as cut glass in the last of the gritty London light. “You mean, how’d I know I’m a dyke.”

“Yes,” he says, mouth dry, “that.”

Her lips twist up on one side, just as Dorcas lets out a soft, knowing half-laugh. “For the record, I always knew this was coming,” says Marlene. “Ever since your fifth year, when you—”

“WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THAT,” he shouts, loud enough to halt the flush in his face.

“Maybe you don’t,” she leers, and then settles back against the sofa, one arm around Dorcas’ shoulders and her mouth easing into something thoughtful, patient. “It’s—Merlin, I’m hardly an expert,” she says. “Isn’t this a conversation you really ought to be having with Lupin?”

He startles. Twice. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

“Christ, nothing, you titchy little worm, only that—”

It starts in the eyebrows: A slow lifting of the arch that spreads downward to the eyes, brightening and widening at the same time the mouth falls open in a silent exclamation, heralding your imminent doom, or, failing that, your utter and irreversible humiliation, coinciding with the clenching of your entire digestive system. A-ha, Sirius Black, it says, I have found you out!

“Oh,” says Dorcas, brown eyes pinning him there, helpless, as he considers climbing up the chimney with his bare hands. Her earrings sway like an accusation when she tilts her head.

“Oh,” echoes Marlene, far more maliciously. “O-ho! I see what this is about, Black.”

“No you don’t,” he mutters, searching discreetly for the Floo powder, with no luck.

“But I do,” she snorts, merciless. “You want to nail Remus Lupin like a loose floorboard.”

Sirius says something, something he means to be I most certainly do not! or Who the hell is Remus Lupin? or, mostly, How dare you insinuate that I would be so rough with him, but what comes out is, “Eerrrrrggmph.”

All things considered, it’s a strangely accurate summation of his current thoughts.

“Look,” says Dorcas, watching him with sympathy and amusement quirked on her lips, “it’s probably best if you get that much out, and if you can’t tell him, tell us. You’ll feel better.”

Well.

He takes a breath, stares at the garland of stars hung above the sofa, and says, “I want to nail Remus like a loose floorboard and I spend half the night wanting to bury my face in his stupid hair so much it makes me want to dive off the fucking roof and I have for a long time now.” An exhale, an inhale. “But it’s not like it’s only him, I mean, it’s—he’s not the only one I’ve—I don’t fucking know anything,” he finishes, dragging his hand uselessly through his hair.

“You know you’re bent and that’s at least a start,” says Dorcas, nodding. “You don’t have to know everything immediately. I didn’t. She didn’t.”

“And I still didn’t know, even after a few trips behind the broomshed.” Marlene grins, and Dorcas pulls her closer by the hand draped across her back until Marlene kisses her, leaving a violently pink lipstick-stain on her mouth. “But we both figured it out. And knocked our heads together along the way.”

“We did a lot of knocking,” Dorcas agrees, stealing a drink of Marlene’s tea, squeezing her knee. This, Sirius thinks, is what he wants—this tight intimacy, this funny patchwork thing with another person. It occurs to him that he might have it already, minus the kissing, and the thought makes something warm and jangly bubble up inside him, pulsing all the way to his toes. “Sirius—you’re just fine,” Dorcas tells him. “The important thing is that you ask yourself questions, and you’re happy with your own answers.”

Marlene stands, dusting off her skirt and steering him back towards the fireplace with a hand on his shoulder; strangely gentle, for the thunderous bundle of lungs and legs that is Marlene McKinnon. “Black, if I know you, and God knows I do, you’re here because you’ve made a colossal arse of yourself and trod upon Lupin’s dainty heart,” she says, wrinkling her nose, “or else he’s doing that thing where he’s being a bit of a stuffy tit again. Either way, I think you really need to be honest with him instead of shutting him out, which is no doubt why you are here tracking soot on our carpeting at this very moment.”

“And then what? ‘By the way Remus, I’d really love to be naked with you, like, right now?’’” It’s just not on to say things like that to your friends. Bad enough to think them, bad enough to want them, guiltily, miserably; actually saying it results in nothing less than cataclysm and heartbreak 99.99% of the time. They’ve done studies. Sirius just can’t bother to cite them.

“Unless I’m mistaken, that’d knock him flat on his back,” says Dorcas. “And I’m not.”

Sirius chokes a little; Marlene squeezes him by the cheeks with one hand and turns his head back to her, grabbing a handful of powder from a chipped vase on the mantel with the other, her lips cutting a smile so soft across her face it would look unnatural were it not for the knifepoint of an incisor peering over her bottom lip. “Go talk to him. You’ll be surprised how much better it makes you feel.”

“If you’re wrong, I’m coming back and I want you to flush me down the toilet.”

“I’ll make sure it’s clean for you,” she says. “Now—out. Grovel. Cry. Get shagged. Bring him round for dinner. In the meantime, we’ll be here if you need anything.”

He supposes, stepping into the flames, it’s a little easier to move once you’ve uncorked yourself a bit and let some of your stuffing out; supposes, until he hears “Use protection!” bellowed after him just as the soot gets in his eyes, and—oh, there goes his stomach again, dropping down to his ankles somewhere around Rainham.

Long after dinner, long after he’s washed the soot from his hair and expertly avoided Remus’ eyes for the better part of the evening, Sirius sits down at the kitchen table just before midnight and throws himself a one-man pity-party with a jar of peanut butter and a box of gingerbread men, taking care not to use the same spoon twice lest Remus find out—and he always finds out. The whole thing, he thinks, would be a lot easier if he were more like Marlene and he could just say it the way she would: Remus, I’m bent backwards and I fancy you so much it’s a little disgusting. There it is. Bat’s in your hand now; do what you will with it.

A lot of things would be easier if he were more like Marlene, an ideal he’s aspired to occasionally with few actual results, possibly due to the lack of solid steel ovaries.

“I really hope you haven’t used that spoon more than once.”

Remus, sleepy-sweet and soft at the mouth in his flannel pyjamas and his fuzziest socks, smiles at him and pulls a mug from the cupboard, heating the water with the very tips of his fingers. “I’m using every bit of self-restraint in my body,” says Sirius. “And it’s fucking miraculous because bodies don’t have self-restraint, it’s a myth sold to the meek and cautious by our capitalist overlords to keep us from doing what we really want to do.”

“And I’m very proud of you, raging against the dying of the light as you are,” says Remus, stirring his cocoa as he sits. “Must be a bad one.”

“Why?”

“Because you only eat them head-first when you’re really upset,” he says, raising his eyebrows over his mug.

“I’m sorry,” says Sirius, decapitating one more. “I am. I don’t mean to—look, I’m pond scum, I’m crust around the milk carton. It’s not you, Remus.”

“Padfoot—please. You can tell me,” says Remus, both hands clutching his cocoa, eyes brighter than Sirius can ever remember seeing them. He thinks, wildly, that there’s probably nothing he could do that would ever make Remus hate him; he can snap the spines on all the books in the house, eat too much Christmas pudding and be sick on the floor, accidentally let the ex-aristocrat boil over once in a while, and Remus will still like him anyway. He could kill a man and Remus would probably offer to figure out the exact depth and length of the hole they’d need to hide the body and show him how to get the stains out of his clothes.

There’s nothing, truly nothing, that will disrupt this orbit, this cyclical rhythm they’ve stepped into together, right in time with their hearts.

“Moony, am I a prick?” he asks.

Remus blinks and sets his mug down, then picks it up again to hide his smirk at the bottom. “By what definition?”

“Yours.”

“No,” he says, and when he lowers his hands, Sirius can see the smile blooming on his lips, warm and easy and just for him. “Honestly, if that’s what you’ve been all twitchy and red in the face about, you could’ve just said you were growing a new feeling. I can still call you an immature tosser if you want and we’ll—”

“I’m bent,” says Sirius.

Sometimes, Remus’ face does this funny floppy thing where it can’t decide whether it wants to be shocked or thrilled or mystified, and so it settles for fast-forwarding through twenty different emotions until falling, shell-shocked, back into place. Sirius loves it.

“You know, you—you really could have talked to me about that instead of acting like a, a complete—”

“A prick?” he offers though the gingerbread carnage.

“No! Just—” Remus waves a hand about and takes a fortifying sip of cocoa. “I wish you’d said something,” he says. “I mean. I do have some idea what it’s like.”

“And when have you ever done anything about it? Hmm?” Sirius shoves one last cookie into his mouth and steals some of Remus’ cocoa. It always tastes better out of his mug. “Besides, I don’t—Christ, this is stupid, I don’t even know what I am.”

“Neither does anyone else, at first,” says Remus, reaching for his mug. “You know, I wondered. After fifth year, when you—”

“STOP—”

“When you snogged Frank Longbottom after Alice broke it off with him, because, oh yes, ‘It seemed like the gentlemanly thing to do,’” Remus finishes, utterly relentless, something wicked howling in his eyes. “You’re not—I mean, you’re not having some crisis, are you? Is that what Purebloods do?”

“Not like that.” Sirius, still glaring, flicks a few crumbs at Remus and pinches the bridge of his nose. “I took Muggle Studies, I know all about their sexual insecurity and they’re a sad, sad lot with so much to answer for, Moony, I mean, crew cuts and khaki trousers and weekend golf, whatever that is. It’s just—I don’t, God, I don’t know, y’know, if I’m—I’ve never even,” he makes a vague, fluttery gesture with his hands that Remus apparently understands, cocking his head in a way that makes Sirius want to kiss his big stupid nose.

“You don’t know whether you like boys more or girls. Or both, equally.”

“That. That, exactly,” he says, running a hand through his hair as his brain finishes with, I also spend most of the day wanting to put my mouth on your mouth, can you explain that one, too. “How did you know? Because let’s not pretend you’re out there having it off with anyone, ever, at all.”

“That’s really not all it’s about,” says Remus, choking a little and turning a really nice shade of strawberry. “I mean, yes, that’s important, but that’s not all there is, not at all. And you don’t have to—to go out and shag anyone to know.”

“So—?”

“So,” he continues, looking away, “I know I like both, but I like boys more. I didn’t know that immediately, Sirius. And there are times when I still wonder.”

“Maybe I’m gay.”

“Are you attracted to women, Sirius?”

This has got to be the most unbelievable conversation he’s ever had in his life, and yet, here he is, Remus Lupin looking at him, asking, in all earnestness, how much he likes to snog women. He thinks about Mary Macdonald, thinks about her laugh, the way she moved in his hands and his mouth; how happy it made him, to see her smile, to know he plucked it out of her. “Yeah. I am.”

“Then I don’t think you’re gay.”

“Bisexual,” he says, feeling the word out under his tongue. It’s like a new robe: fresh and crisp and a little starchy in its long vowels, maybe a little too big. He’s not sure it fits. “I don’t know. It’s been—what, at least three years now, shouldn’t I know?”

“You don’t have to have an answer right now,” says Remus, wiping at Sirius’ chin where he’s left crumbs. “And if you’re never comfortable giving it a name, that’s your business. I just don’t want you to think there’s something wrong with being confused or not knowing right away, because—I mean, maybe some people do know when they’re really young, or really quickly, but I just don’t think that’s how it works for most of us.”

At the corner of his mouth, sloping all the way down towards his chin, he can still feel Remus’ fingers, warm and quill-calloused like ghosts his skin wants to remember. “Is that how it was with you?”

Remus nods. “I never had some sort of, I don’t know, epiphany, or whatever. It was a while before I set myself straight—don’t laugh, that’s a bad joke—and it was a while after that before I knew I had a definite preference. It’s like—you know it’s a part of you, it’s there just sort of twinging in you all the time, but you’re never going to know what it is or how to let it spark if you don’t take it out and look at it and learn yourself.”

He watches Remus, his long fingers twined through the handle of his mug, his profile in sharp relief against the coolness of the kitchen shadows and a few frizzy hairs sticking out from the rest, sharpened to gold in the hush of the night. He’s lovely, Sirius thinks, his great honking nose, his mouth pressed into the shape of fond amusement, every scar split into his skin and every daft thing he’s ever said; all of him, all of him.

“For what it’s worth, I’m shocked you haven’t shagged your way through the library,” says Sirius, watching him flush, grinning. “What research are you really working on for Dumbledore, eh? Eh? You’re probably the subject of so many fantasies I don’t know how those ears haven’t burned right off your head.”

“God, no,” he sputters, pushing his chair in. “I’m not. I wouldn’t even know what to do.”

“People like you, Moony. The librarians probably want to take you home and stuff you—”

“Oh my God—”

“Full of cheesecake, what the hell did you think I was going to say?” he asks, swallowing one last cookie and tipping his chair back on its hind legs. “Least we know where your mind is. Dirty, dirty werewolf.”

“I hate you,” says Remus, entirely without rancor, “and anyway, I’ve read things. So.” He shrugs, rinses his cup out, and then turns to Sirius, teetering with expert danger in his chair, and says, “Come to bed, Pads.”

Something in Sirius’ head snaps; he can actually hear it. “Uh?”

“Bed,” says Remus, painting on his most exasperated face. “You’ve got work tomorrow and you know I can’t get anything done if I’m worried about you functioning on no sleep.”

“You do get all flappy and consumptive,” says Sirius, standing and feeling loose in his bones, like a knot unraveled, like he could see by the light of his own skin. “Moony—thanks.”

Remus smiles, moon-bright, and turns out the kitchen light.

At his door, exactly opposite Remus’ door, he hesitates, cold suddenly and wanting, wanting so many things he doesn’t know how to ask for when Remus turns to him and sighs. “Would you quit being a plonker and get in here.”

Sirius does, and Remus, for the first time since they moved into their drafty house and stuffed it to the seams with themselves, shuts the door.

He’s not had much cause to be in Remus’ room before, but now that he is, Sirius finds himself looking around at the tottering piles of books that won’t fit on the shelves and the camera and the rumpled parchment on the desk, the Muggle sticky notes he’s been hiding from Sirius, and decides he likes it better in here: the chaotic clamor of wet ink and socks sticking out of drawers, the scarves wrapped over the chair, the loamy-warm smell of the cloves he keeps in an empty wine bottle on his dresser. Between the curtains, he can see the snow falling in the honeyed flicker of Hogsmeade’s streetlights, washing everything out; the neighbors have already decorated the enormous spruce in their front yard, all gold and green. He would stay here, he thinks. He would stay here.

“Let’s get a tree this weekend,” he says. “We can make macaroni Christmas art for the front door and teach these heathens the real meaning of Christmas: ugly ornaments and gorging yourself on store-bought biscuits.”

“I’ll spike the eggnog,” says Remus, pulling the quilt back and reaching over to set the alarm. He doesn’t take his socks off. “Come to bed.”

It’s smaller than a Hogwarts four-poster, cotton-warm and fleecy, and Sirius is certain to his core that nothing in the world has ever been better. The sheets are thick, pilled-up blue flannel, smelling of laundry soap and bright, familiar things, Moony-things, all earthy and sun-soft. Across from him, Remus turns on his side and smiles, tugging the quilt closer around them. In all his life, in all his longing, Sirius has never wanted to kiss anyone more.

“Goodnight,” says Remus. He still puts one arm under his pillow, just like he used to. “I’ll make lunch if you want to come home for break tomorrow. I’m off.”

“You’re such a housewife,” he says. Beneath the quilt and the fluffy blanket Remus has put under it, Sirius’ knees touch Remus’ knees. “You know, this is w—”

Remus’ hand clamps over his mouth before he can get it out, cold fingers pressing into his cheek. Sirius shuts up. “This isn’t weird. If you think it’s weird, it’s probably because your mother said so once when you were seven and now it’s coming out to keep me awake twelve years later,” he says. “You’re all right, Sirius. All of you.”

He nods, pulls Remus’ hand down by the wrist, and, after a small sliver of hesitation, wraps it in his own, playing with his fingers. “I know what you want,” he says, smirking crookedly. “You want me to be your personal space heater. It’s a good thing for you I come cheap, apple stuffing.”

“Oh no,” Remus drawls lazily, “he’s seen through my ruse! How long before he realizes I only keep him around for decoration and sometimes dinner.”

“Bastard,” he says. “But it is a little weird—no, don’t give me that look. It is. What the hell are you going to do when I’m seventy years old and climbing into your bed, I’d like to know.”

“Let you in,” says Remus, eyes wide and no hesitation at all, as if it’s a fact like iron in the blood, like the grace of their fingers, intertwined. As if it’s the only answer there’s ever been.

Late, late in the blue lull of the night, as the minutes dissolve and Sirius drifts with them, he watches Remus in the dark, the rhythmic rise-and-fall of his chest, his eyelashes making long shadows on his cheeks, and he thinks this is all he wants: the two of them cloistered together on this bed, all the spaces they’ve filled between them. Remus’ hand is still, held under his and warmed by his skin when he bends his head and kisses his knuckles, so soft it might have been a dream but for the quickening of Remus’ heart against his fingers, the one part of him he could never train to quiet, measured obedience.

Touch is truth, language without tongues, confession without speech. There are words for the thrill of Sirius’ heartbeat thrumming in answer to Remus’, all of them dark, lavish, beautiful things clamoring for his mouth to give them shape and form, but for now, he lets his fingers say it, lets his blood speak them here where nothing else can, in the solid honesty of their bodies.

Dragging himself out of Remus’ bed to be sucked into the cold vortex of the morning, and therefore work, is the greatest misery he’s ever known in his young and occasionally explosive life; it’s so cold, in fact, that it’s probably going to kill him, which prompts Remus to lay an indulgent hand on his forehead and inform him that, no, he’s not actually dying and he should probably get to work if he doesn’t want to hear Moody twitch about the time it takes to hex some very important bits into oblivion while you’re whining about your frozen toes. He’s heard it at least six times before, concluding, always, with “If you’re not early, you’re late,” which Sirius just can’t reconcile with his whole outlook on life.

By the time he Apparates into Hogsmeade for lunch, he’s four times as miserable as he was when he left. His boots are soaked through, they’ve failed to make an arrest, James ate the last two muffins, Moody twitched at him anyway, and he can’t think a single bloody thing that doesn’t run right back to Remus Lupin like some endless one-track loop. Not that he minds that last one so much; Remus is what usually gets him through the nine o’clock tragedies, and, failing that, his bony ankles sticking out from underneath his pyjama bottoms every night will do it.

“I’m dying,” he calls from the entryway, fighting his way out of his coat and scarf and soggy boots. “Monday has squeezed me like a Christmas orange, I told you I—oh, you made cheese toasties.”

“I put tomatoes in yours,” says Remus. He’s wearing the obnoxious seasonal socks Sirius bought him last year; they make him look very festive. “How is it out there? Have any of your organs shut down yet?”

“Not yet but they’re trying, Moony, my liver will explode by the end of the day. Take good care of the motorbike for me,” he says, falling into the chair and shoving as much sandwich as he can fit into his mouth all at once. “Why are you drinking cider? Cider doesn’t go with cheese toasties. That’s just vulgar.”

“Cider goes with everything,” says Remus, “I’ll drink it while I’m changing the oil in your motorbike, or whatever. It’ll bring back painful memories, but I’ll remember your last moments with fondness, tomato skin hanging out of your mouth and all. No, really—close it. Close your damn mouth.”

“Think of me when you’re greasing those big thick cables,” he grins. “Just keep James away from my funeral, he’ll eat all the canapés and I know how you like them.”

“So selfless, even on your deathbed.”

“I’m only thinking of your stomach,” he says, and Remus smiles at him.

They eat quietly for a few minutes, Sirius thinking that his imminent undeath might provide a good excuse to tell Remus a few other things, when Remus catches him staring, mid-chew, and he has to plead with his face not to turn an unattractive puce; focusing on the grey sludge outside helps a little. He can feel Remus watching him, imagines him wondering, uncertainly, what he’s thinking.

Sometimes, usually in the crush of pale, brittle moments like these, Sirius thinks that maybe he knows, that maybe he’s always known. Remus Lupin is the least oblivious person he’s ever known in his life, fluent in the shift of shadows and the yearning of empty hands, reading always the things people grow in their margins like spilled ink; Sirius knows Remus can see his stained fingers, dripping a loud, incriminating red. But Remus is also an accomplished liar, and never more than where it concerns himself: If Sirius acted like this around anyone else, Remus would know exactly what to call it; when Sirius acts like this around him, Remus probably thinks he’s accidentally gotten treacle in bad places again.

He’s never been able to lie to his friends, though. He gets all shifty in the eyes and sad in the shoulders.

“So,” Remus says finally, “how’s being bent?”

“It’s all right. It’s—still a little confusing,” he says. “My head feels better, though.”

“It’s only temporary, you know.”

“Is it?”

“Well—that’s what my mum used to say. About the change,” says Remus, cocking his head. It’s terribly sweet. “It’s really not, but it works better if you apply it to how confused you are over which bits you like better.”

“Your mum is a beautiful woman,” he says, finishing off his pumpkin juice. “When are you going home this year? I’ll buy her something nice and spicy. You, too, if you’re a good boy.”

Remus pulls his jumper down over his hands, running his thumb over the chip in his mug. “Actually, I talked to her this morning,” he says. “I mean, she’ll just be going to her sister’s anyway, and you know how I can’t deal with the cats, or the cabbage, so—I’m going to stay here this year,” he finishes, looking up with summer in his eyes, warmer than a bit of August at the first of December.

Something bright shocks through Sirius, starting in his belly and spreading like a stain down to his toes, reaches into his throat and steals the breath right out of his lungs. “Moony! I’m getting you for Christmas. We’ve never had Christmas together. Not even once.”

“I know,” says Remus, smiling brightly. “D’you suppose we should send joint Christmas cards?”

“We should send joint proclamations.” Sirius takes their plates to the sink and waves them through the motions of a wandless wash. “This is momentous.”

“It’s an Occasion,” Remus agrees. Sirius hears the capital letter. “Here, give me those—we can eat a whole pie and no one’s going to care.”

“You act like I haven’t been doing that for the last three years.”

“But now you’ll have to share,” says Remus. “We can be sick on pie together, it’ll be like a trust exercise where we take turns with the toilet.”

By his own estimation, Sirius has eaten half his weight in Christmas pies since he left home, between Hogwarts and James’ mum and the Hogsmeade bakery; on his own, always, because for as much as he loves the Potters, he’s never felt right stomping around the place at Christmas the way he used to do over the summer, regardless of James’ protests. He doesn’t remember ever having a proper Christmas dinner with someone who wasn’t a professor or a family member sneering at him for using the wrong fork and refusing to let him put whipped cream on things while they droned about the Ministry and which wing of the house needed renovating this year.

And here Remus is, offering to get sick on pie with him. He feels like he might burst.

“I’m going to roast you a whole turkey,” he decides. “That’s fucking difficult, but that’s just how devoted I am to what’s really important in life.”

“Our gluttony.”

“Exactly,” he says. “I’ll make you shepherd’s pie with leftovers.”

Remus makes a noise, something halfway between a moan and a squeak that really shouldn’t be attractive coming from anyone, but here Sirius is, mouth dry, heart lurching in his chest. “God, that’s the best thing you’ve ever said to me,” he murmurs. And then, “Who knows, maybe you’ll find a boy to snog at New Year’s.”

Sirius swallows and goes quiet at once, still as an effigy. “I—why would you say that?”

“Well, why not? I thought you wanted to.”

“Yeah, but—it’s just,” he waves his hand, indicative of approximately nothing. “I’ve never. You know. What if I’m bad at it?”

“But Frank—”

“Remus, I will kill you.”

“Okay, fine. Prongs,” he says, lifting both accusing eyebrows. “I know you’ve kissed James, I’ve seen you do it.”

“That’s different!”

“How? Because he had his trousers on and Frank didn’t?”

“No, you absolute prick, it’s just—it’s different.”

“Have you got any idea how much sense that doesn’t make?”

“No, because it makes perfect sense,” he says, very slowly, waiting for his words to sink into Remus’ ears. “It was never like that—all right, maybe once or twice—but it was mostly, y’know, just because. For practice.”

This, he realizes as Remus chokes, sputters, and starts laughing so hard he grabs the kitchen counter, is an enormous mistake he is never going to be allowed to forget. Years from now, if he really is climbing into Remus’ bed at seventy on his sleepless midnights, he’ll startle sometimes, half-asleep, to hear Remus gasping breathlessly just the same as he is right now, “Practice! Oh my God, for practice!”

“Fuck you, Lupin. I’ll have you know I’ve never had a single complaint.”

“Oh, Padfoot, James wouldn’t know any better,” says Remus, all vengeful glee, laughing even harder when Sirius knocks his shoulder into his and sends him stumbling sideways.

“You know what I mean, you beast.” He glares halfheartedly at Remus, who is still having small, extremely convulsive fits at the sink. “I’ve never kissed another man, you know, seriously. I’ve never meant it. Just James. Fine—and Frank.”

“That doesn’t matter,” says Remus, quieting, finding his eyes and holding them until Sirius looks away.

“I know,” he says, “I’m just—I’m not sure how to go about the whole, the logistics, and I’m a little—nervous. It’s weird. Um.” He scrubs a hand through his hair, feeling too big and too heavy for his own skin, out of tune, like he’s moving through something orchestrated that just looks awkward and painful. “I do want to.”

Something about the shapes they make by the sink, he thinks. Something about the way their voices thread together in this house, because Remus is very close, his hand fumbling for Sirius’ hand; when he leans over and kisses him, Sirius can smell him, thick-knit jumper and Ivory soap, apple cider on his lips. He opens his eyes.

“First one out of the way, then,” Remus whispers, turning his head towards the window. Sirius can see the pulse beating in the thin skin of his neck.

He opens his mouth and closes it, groping blindly for a single word and finding none. Eventually, his brain slotting back into place slightly, the world slamming into focus, he says, “You kissed me.”

“I did.” Remus is looking wildly around the room, maybe hoping if he looks anywhere but Sirius all the awkward static crackling between them will evaporate and they’ll just step back into twelve seconds ago. “So. Now you know. What it’s like, I mean, in the event that—that you need to,” he mutters. “I don’t know what I’m saying, I’m, Christ, I’m sorry.”

“Please do that again,” he says.

“I—what?”

“Please kiss me,” says Sirius, trying very hard to hold all his pieces together at once.

Remus kisses him with the softness of uncertain things, his lips slightly chapped when they move against Sirius’, apple-sweet, honey-slow; their noses brush together when he tilts his head, Remus’ slight stubble scratching at his chin. It’s ticklish. It’s warm. It’s absolutely bloody amazing.

It’s also different from kissing a girl, in a way he definitely likes.

When Remus pulls away this time, Sirius catches him by the hips, his eyes on Remus’ eyes, his breathing conflating with Remus’ breathing, and the moment stretches out between them: silent and heavy here with all the things they’re not saying, pulled around them tightrope-taut until Sirius snaps it, wrenching them off their unfailing axis and into the bread cupboard, kissing Remus so hard the oak doors rattle and their teeth clack together. He pulls back a second time, a third, only for Remus to reach up and twine his fingers through his hair and slide their mouths together again, shivering and pressing up against Sirius when he flicks his tongue between his lips, heedless of the clock chiming on the mantel, heedless of any time but their own.

“Is this what you did with James,” he gasps, taking Sirius’ head between his palms, which are hot and slightly damp.

“Not even a little,” he answers. Remus’ throat bobs when he swallows, and his eyes, God, his eyes are brighter than Sirius can ever remember seeing them, shot through with gold and so beautifully, breathtakingly young.

“Good,” says Remus, and tugs him down again.

Deep in the rational part of his brain, in the single neuron that’s still functioning, he thinks he likes this better than kissing girls; it’s harder and softer at the same time, and easier, somehow, to know how to be both at once with another boy’s narrow hips and chest smashed into his own. Remus makes a small, pleased sound in the back of his throat and pulls away, running his hands wildly up Sirius’ biceps to his shoulders, making him lean even closer, not a fragment of space between them.

“You’re going to be late,” says Remus, even as he kisses along Sirius’ jaw, behind his ear.

“I know,” he whispers. He’s hard and fairly sure Remus is too and they’re both honor-bound to pretend they’re not; the cold air will just have to resolve things for him, for now. “I’m confused, Moony.”

“Are you, now,” Remus murmurs, oh, right against his lips.

“I’m a mess.”

“Well.” Remus squeezes his shoulders and looks up slowly, his lips red against his flushed skin; Sirius runs his teeth along the silvery scar on his chin, older than all their time together. “Maybe I can un-confuse you, you know. When you get home.”

“Oh God,” he groans, right over Remus’ pulse, “I’m—I’ve got to get through a whole goddamn afternoon, do you have any idea—you’ve—I can’t even talk,” he stammers, weak in the knees. “Jesus Christ, Moony, warn me next time!”

“Warn you!” he laughs, a tiny bubble of hysteria breaking out of his throat and making the blood surge up in Sirius’ ears like a brilliant blue cloudburst. “I’ve done nothing but warn you for—for three years now, you great berk, I can’t believe—”

“I have to go,” he murmurs, kissing Remus again, again, again, and then again, dragging himself away from him like one enormous human bandage and letting his hands fall down Remus’ waist to his hips until he finally peels away for the last time, everything in him straining still for Remus—his hands, his August eyes. “I have to go and we’re going to—we’re going to do a lot of things when I get home,” he finishes, eloquently.

“Things,” says Remus, nodding as Sirius forces his feet to the door. “Yes. Things.”

“So don’t you fucking dare leave this house,” he growls, one hand on the door. Remus still hasn’t moved from the bread cupboard; he watches Sirius, unblinking, as he half-trips over his untied bootlaces and steps outside.

He stumbles across the front yard in a daze, pressing his fingers to his lips as he hurries down the slippery cobbles of the street and the shrill yellow winterlight tears open the December sky, everything so fierce and rich and alive; he feels as if something inside him has galvanized, solidified—his blood, the marrow in his bones, like he’s holding all his disjointed parts together for the first time. When Sirius Apparates, he thinks of Remus, his hands clutching his shoulders, his heart under Sirius’ mouth as they stumbled, together, into a new shape. How easy it was, to hold onto him. How hard it was, to let go.

Back down at headquarters, waiting for Dumbledore to show up and say something Ageless and Mysterious, Sirius bounces his leg up and down and chews his nails to ragged, frazzled stumps, checking the clock automatically every twenty seconds and glaring acidly when it refuses to quicken its sluggish pulse. He’s going through his mental list of things he’d like to do with Remus for the fourth time and trying to figure out 1.) how to articulate them, and 2.) how to even go about half of them, when James Potter, half-human, half-Niffler, slides in beside him, sniffing his neck and cheek with unnatural and vaguely frightening interest.

“Yum,” says James. “Have you been eating apples?”

For some reason, probably the same reason Emmeline Vance’s cheese toasty makes him go wobbly in the legs, nothing has ever been more hilarious than this. After he recovers somewhat, still shaking with a few repressed laughs, he clears his throat and meets James’ judging eyes, drilling brown bullet holes into him, and promptly dissolves into another fit that leaves his stomach wonderfully, impossibly fluttery.

“I’ve been eating something,” he mutters, low and wild.

“Mate, if I didn’t know any better right now I’d swear you were high,” says James, sniffing his shirt again. “Where the hell did you go for lunch?”

“Home,” he grins.

“And what did you do, drink one of Moony’s potions?” James’ eyes narrow, traveling down Sirius’ well-bred nose to his lips, which are still rather red and a little puffy, and then down farther to his rumpled collar where a tiny bruise is blooming on the sensitive skin there; at that, they fly immediately fly back up to meet Sirius’, looking amazed and mildly scandalized. “Oh my God,” he says wonderingly, “oh my God, you deflowered Moony over your lunch break, I figured you’d wait till at least Christmas, you slag! How is he? How’s—oh my God, what was that like?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know, you little—would you stop sniffing me, I don’t have any food on me today, thanks for that! Honestly, you’d think you were the pregnant one,” he grumbles, leaning away. “Anyway, we didn’t—you know. That.” He runs a hand through his hair, checks the clock again; five minutes have counted themselves out while James sniffed his face. “And where’s this concern for me, I’d like to know? You never ask after me or Pete, you inconsiderate knob.”

“I’ve seen you almost every bloody day of my life since we were eleven and I still haven’t forgiven Wormtail for being sick in my hair,” says James, still watching him with something like happiness lighting up the shadows on his face. “I haven’t seen Moony in more than a week and you know I pine if he’s away from me for too long.”

“Remus is just fine, and I would know. Don’t you worry about it.”

“I don’t trust you. You’ve scrambled his poor brilliant mind, haven’t you? Haven’t you? I hope you at least made him some tea after your little afternoon hit-and-run.”

“Begging for details will get you absolutely nowhere,” says Sirius, throwing one more venomous glance at the clock. “You’re a sad, sad man, Potter, you’ll just have to get your vicarious little thrills elsewhere because I am not feeding you. Some of us,” he says, drawing himself up to full ramrod-backed, lazy-mouthed aristocratic splendor, “have a sense of honor.”

“I’ll remember that the next time Padfoot rolls on something dead,” James mutters, turning towards him again and smiling his widest smile, crooked, exultant. “I’m just—I’m really happy you’re getting there, you know,” he says. “I love you, mate.”

“Love you too. God knows why.”

“It’s because of my perfect, ripe, chiseled—”

“Flaccid—”

“Fuck you.” James grins at him. “And you better treat him like a damn princess or I’ll hurt you badly,” James says cheerfully, stretching an arm across Sirius’ shoulders. “You can tell him I said the same goes for him, too.”

“Jealousy makes you look bloated and hideous, Prongs,” he says, happier, by far, than he’s been for months, immune even to the ticking of the clock on the wall and the thousand different darknesses seeping into the creases of their floor-length maps with James’ arm around him. The impatient hurry-up hurry-up hurry-up of his heart knocking against his chest, the way he misses Remus like fire—even that is bearable, if only just.

Five o’clock and forty-seven seconds, right on the dot. The sun fallen below the inky horizon with the stars glimmering through a veil of clouds, the slush frozen over into ice on the streets, and Sirius bangs through the front door like a human hurricane, like lives and pumpkin pie are on the line. If Moody could see this, he’d start paying Remus to hide in various rooms of the Auror training headquarters every morning; Sirius would show up with half an hour at least to spare, and possibly breakfast for everyone.

“Hello,” says Remus, slightly breathless on the sofa. He’s got his knees folded beside him and a book in his lap he isn’t looking at; the only thing he seems to see at all is Sirius, his hand flexing slightly on his thigh, light catching the ends of his hair. “How was the rest of your day?”

“Disgusting,” he says. He still hasn’t managed to get his boots off, because that would mean looking away from Remus. “It felt like a month, Moony, I haven’t had food or drink or—or anything.”

“And last I heard, two-thirds of your organ systems were already failing,” says Remus, setting his book down absently and crossing the room, watching Sirius watching him on their worn-out shoe mat. “We’d better do something about that.”

“It’s getting pretty dire,” says Sirius, his belly trembling as Remus comes closer, and closer, taking the ends of his scarf between his fingertips. “In fact, I think the length of my recovery is directly proportional to the time I spend snogging you.”

“Is that so,” murmurs Remus, pulling gently on his scarf until his nose brushes Sirius’ ear. “This is me warning you,” he whispers, tight and frantic. Sirius kisses him before Remus can beat him to it this time, slower, softer than the first few, his heart swelling up against Remus’ hands sliding up his chest. It is, he thinks distantly, the best kiss he’s ever had in his life.

Remus pulls away after a few moments, and Sirius leans forward with him, clutching him around the ribs. He can feel him breathing, can feel the warm muted lines of his waist down to his hips, straight rather than curved inward like a woman’s. He likes both—the sloping curls, the flow of edges, soft bulges too—but there’s something about this, the feel of another man’s muscles and bones moving under his hands, that Sirius loves.

“There’s leftover soup,” says Remus, his voice gone a little rough. Sirius kisses him again, quickly, just for the thrill of it—just because he can. “Are you feeling better?”

“You saved my life, Doctor Professor Lupin. Saved it with your wanton slaggish ways,” he says. “Here, let me help you—”

“Get your shoes off. We can eat in the sitting room, it’s warmer in there anyway.”

“And there is a sofa,” says Sirius, not losing sight of what’s important.

Dinner is much the same as it always is, but brilliant somehow, tilted just right, like a crooked still life hanging over the mantel that he’s straightened and finally, finally fallen into. Sirius revels in every laugh and every smile Remus pulls out of him, loves even the angular stretch of tension that catches in their throats over vegetable soup, all of it so new and raw and beautiful; Remus gets pepper up his nose and sneezes violently, and Sirius starts laughing because it’s the funniest thing, ever, because nothing is more perfect than his knee next to Remus’ knee, his voice twining around Remus’ voice, their soup bowls stacked together. He wants to set himself against Remus; he wants to move with Remus, wants to feel both of them alive in their own skin, wants to learn all the different ways they fit together. He wants.

F-A-M-I-N-E. Twenty-three down on today’s crossword, two blood-dark, voracious syllables howling with an ancient hunger. Beside him, Remus swallows, runs a hand along his thigh; Sirius wants to touch him.

“Oh, those,” says Sirius, coming back from the washing up just as the Muggle news comes back on. “Muggles and their sky trollies,” he mutters when he sits back down, just for the way it makes Remus clench his teeth. “Look at them! It downright incredible, I mean, they can launch hundreds of tons of metal and human life into the sky and it’s fucking amazing and no one talks about it except to complain about the seats or whatever, but the second you mention flying broomsticks it’s off to therapy for the next two years.”

“Muggles are a bit obtuse about these things, but, y’know, not being magical, they’ve got their reasons.”

“I know all about that, too.”

“Oh?” Remus lifts one eyebrow. Sirius’ elbows tingle briefly for some reason, and he wonders if that’s another factor that comes with being attracted to boys or if it’s just Remus playing havoc with various parts of his body again.

“They’ve got to compensate,” he says, “for not having dishwashing spells and the like. They think Merlin is a myth, so they invent men who stomp down chimneys at Christmas in carriages drawn by flying centaurs instead. They think baby teeth are a delicacy for fairies and they don’t believe in mopping their movie theaters but no, oh no, straddling a broom for a living is weird. It’s right bizarre is what it is, Moony.”

Remus makes a sound halfway between a laugh and a sigh, leaning back against the couch. “I don’t really have it in me to explain everything that’s wrong with what you just said.”

“Because you can’t refute it, that’s why,” says Sirius, leaning back with him and turning his head sideways to meet his eyes. “You’re disqualified! I win.”

“And what do you think you ought to win for that shameful display, hmm?”

“How about,” he starts, licking his lips, his blood heating in his chest, “how about I kiss your face and we call it even, since you’re such a graceless loser?”

“Speaking of certain things,” says Remus, “there are people out there who think we’re going to hell for this, and worse. In case you spent that hour of Muggle Studies behind the greenhouses, too.”

Sirius, unconcerned with going to hell, leans in and drags his lips across the tiny scar on Remus’ cheek and down to the corner of his mouth, feeling Remus smile against him, warm as sunrise. “I actually find that extremely attractive,” he says, pushing off the couch to straddle Remus’ hips tentatively, or as tentatively as you can do this at all—it’s sort of an all-or-nothing kind of deal. He’s never done this before. He’s had girls do it to him and he’s liked it plenty, but he’s never tried it on anyone else; miraculously, he doesn’t feel anything like lumpy or awkward, and Remus is running his hands up his forearms to his elbows, eyes brighter than the flat-edged moon filling up in the sky, so he reckons he’s doing something right.

“Is this—” Remus curls his hands around Sirius’ elbows, shy and shaky, a sudden tensing of his shoulders like birdflight under Sirius’ fingers. “Is this all right?”

“Is this all right,” Sirius growls at his jaw, feeling his breath hitch. “This is fucking perfect, Remus,” he says, and kisses him breathless, wonderingly, thrillingly hard as Remus, fluid as tide beneath their crumpled winter stars.

The rest of the evening is a flood of kissing and touching and bad television-watching until bed, which makes Sirius’ stomach bottom out for entirely different reasons than it did this afternoon, his head swimming with threads of all the things they could do, and whether they should do them, and whether he even knows exactly how to do them. Flipping through Remus’ books to distract himself is only marginally helpful; he can’t find anything dirty, though he knows there must be some lying about, probably shoved inconspicuously between one of his huge history books. Maybe there are pictures. Maybe there are step-by-step guides.

Maybe there are diagrams.

In the end, though, all he can find is some exceedingly nasty French poetry that Remus would probably still try to argue has lots of inherent artistic value in its lurid, loving detail of male genitalia.

He’s sitting on the edge of Remus’ bed, feet slightly sweaty, debating whether or not to light a cigarette and lounge back on the pillows when Remus comes in and say something delicate and subtle like, Hey, Remus, want to have sex? when the door squeaks shut on its hinges, and there he is, all mismatched socks and damp, uncombed hair, shirt buttoned up all the way, rubbing lavender-smelling lotion into his dry knuckles and sneezing over it for the seventeenth time tonight.

This is the man you have chosen, Sirius Black, he thinks, a heavy, clear happiness suddenly fighting it out with the nervousness twinging in his belly. Remus smiles at him, surprised and exultant and trying so hard to fold it away in his mouth and keep it from showing too much, like Sirius isn’t going to pull him down and find it there, anyway.

“I seem to have an unreasonably attractive man on my bed,” says Remus, coming closer until Sirius wraps his hands around his hips, pulling him down. “Did—have you been going through my books?”

“What makes you think that?” he mumbles into the fabric of Remus’ shirt. His chest swells and deflates under Sirius’ mouth.

“You’re—oh Christ,” he says, looking down and finding the filthy, dog-eared evidence. “You know, that poem’s an allegory for—”

“The only thing that’s an allegory for is how much he wanted an illicit blowjob.”

“Yeah, okay,” Remus admits, leaning over to put it on the nightstand. When he turns back, delightfully pink, he bites his lip and runs his thumb over the bump of bone on Sirius’ wrist, pressing his forehead against Sirius’, their hair all tangled up. “We don’t—we don’t have to. You know.”

“Sex, Remus,” he says, hearing Remus’ hard swallow. “Sex! Sex sex SEX. Can you even say it?”

Yes,” he snaps. “I just don’t want you to feel like you have to.”

“What, like you have?”

“No, you stupid berk, it’s only—I want you to be—I want it to be right. Is all.”

Sirius kisses the tired places underneath his eyes and pulls him down on top of him, heavy and flannel-warm when he kisses him. “You’re fucking lovely,” he tells Remus, slipping his fingers beneath his shirt and feeling him shiver over him, mouth parted and wet, eyes on Sirius, only Sirius. It makes him feel wanted—makes him feel braver, reckless. When he shifts his thigh underneath Remus and presses it between his legs, Remus gasps into his mouth, drags their hips together slowly, both of them hissing at the electric friction surging through their skin.

“God, I’m—I’ve got no idea what I’m doing,” Remus breathes, gripping Sirius’ hip hard, his knuckles yellow-white in the shadows of the bed.

“Neither do I,” says Sirius. He bends his knees around Remus and thrusts upward against Remus’, his belly trembling hotly when groans into his neck and grazes his teeth along the pulse there, frantic-fast, beating for him. “So don’t stop, oh, don’t.”

Ragged-rough and slow, the rhythm they fall into, heat and pressure and the sweet, intimate push-and-pull of their bodies moving together until Sirius comes suddenly like a surprise: He gasps, kissing Remus irregularly and saying something stupid and possibly important, and then Remus follows, tensing, biting his mouth, groaning Sirius’ name like a charm—like a poem knitted from memory, long-held, reverent.

In the muzzy afterwards, once they’ve shut off the lights again and taken care of the mess that comes from not bothering to remove clothes, Remus presses close to him under the quilt just as Sirius reaches for him, burying his face in his hair, shaken loose with pleasure and newness and wide awake with the strange immense joy of themselves, unfurling.

“That was nice,” says Remus, smiling into his shoulder.

“My God, is that all you’ve got to say for yourself?” asks Sirius. “I’ll tell you what it was, since I obviously completely blew your mind: It was absolutely bloody amazing. Is what.”

“You liked it, then?”

He loved it. Whatever he was expecting—something similar to what he’d done with Mary Macdonald, which was soft and slick and enjoyable enough, if underwhelming—wasn’t quite this, the jumbled closeness and the heavy warmth of it. He never wants to get up from this bed.

Which is the sort of thing that’s probably important to say, so he does. “I loved it,” he says, and kisses Remus on the bridge of his nose; he figures he’s allowed to do that now. Remus smiles with all his teeth on the pillow they’re sharing, watching him happily, wonderingly.

“Me, too,” says Remus, an arm around his ribs, his ankles wedged under one of Sirius’ legs.

“You realize we could have been doing this for ages now, if you’d just said you wanted to be my—” he pauses, unsure.

“Boyfriend,” Remus finishes for him, looking surprised and thrilled, secretly, with how easily it comes to him. “Please, please don’t call me your partner, it makes me feel like I’m an eighty-year-old retired man herding sheep in Shropshire.”

“You want to be my boyfriend,” Sirius trills, kissing him again. “You and Lily will meet up for coffee and do whatever ponce-y things the two of you do and sigh over the horrible men in your lives, drinking the milk straight out of the carton and leaving the seat up.”

“I’ve been doing that for two years, I just wasn’t having sex with you,” says Remus. “You haven’t been drinking it straight from the carton, have you?”

“Believe me, cupcake, I learned my lesson with the peanut butter.” He closes his eyes, smoothing Remus’ hair out with his fingers, sleep finally beginning to sink into him; at his chest, Remus breathes, long and even. “I think I’m getting places,” he says quietly, shifting when Remus peers up at him from the frizzy fringe of his hair.

“Are you?”

“Yeah,” he answers. “I’m not sure, I mean, not yet, but—closer.”

“I think,” says Remus, brushing his fingers along Sirius’ collarbone, “it’s a matter of what you find yourself attracted to—what you question, and how often. The answer is a lot different for a lot of people.”

“Both,” says Sirius, “about equally. I think. But it’s different for—oh, bugger, I don’t fucking know,” he says, gliding his bare foot against Remus’ fuzzy sock-covered foot. “I just know I’ll always be here when you wake up.”

Remus’ lips are warm against his own, filling in their spaces. Outside, the moon claws against the frosted window with serrated fingers, violent-pale; Sirius holds his hand over Remus’ heart.

A whole week, then, of little but snow and settling in, both of them falling into their tiny house and into each other like a warm front. They kiss over breakfast, in the bathroom, in the doorway, pile on more blankets and sleep without their pyjamas, learn the art of tying themselves together. Sirius brings home dark chocolate truffles and takeout Remus warns him is too hot and endures both tears and Remus’ poorly disguised laughter as he eats; Remus reads him the best stories from the newspaper and leaves the bag in Sirius’ tea every time he makes it. They string up tacky garland and hang a juniper wreath on the door, and Sirius, never one to let the holiday go without, presses sprigs of mistletoe between the pages of the books Remus is reading, waits for him to find them. He’s repaid in full (and sometimes more) at the most inopportune times: brushing his teeth, his hands full of grocery bags, having a crisis while cleaning out the fireplace and up to his elbows in ashes.

They sink down into their own territory where only they know the footing. Outside this house, there’s work and the Order and the treacherous, bloodstained battleground of adulthood, but here, when it’s them and them alone, Sirius can be as young as he really is. He can be happy for newsprint miracles and teabags left in, for the way the two of them grow between the cracks in the concrete. He can breathe.

On Sunday, the air holding blue in the midafternoon chill, they go off in search of the biggest Christmas tree in the village, wandering between rows of pine needles and snow drifts in their boots while Remus makes quietly disapproving noises at the logistics of getting one through the front door. It’s when they cross paths with another couple, and then another, that Sirius realizes: Wow, there are a lot of straight people here.

He amends: Probably not all of them are straight. But it’s jarring, in a way, to know that no one would ever doubt for a moment that they’ve both got their names on the house title and they share the same bed, the same Gringotts account, the same history. They’ll never have to worry about a Pureblood telling them to stop screwing around; they’ll never have all the things they’ve grown and shaped and bled for and nourished with all the love there is inside them invalidated, diminished.

People will look at them and see True Love and The Spirit of the Season, or something. They’ll look at him and Remus and see two good friends or roommates until they’re told otherwise.

They don’t have to wonder where all their happy endings are.

“You’re awfully quiet,” says Remus. His nose is very red. “How about this one?”

“It’s missing half its stuffing in the middle, Moony.”

“I think it’s sweet,” he sniffs. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s just that—have you noticed,” he says, dropping his voice, “we are the only couple here who don’t look like we belong on the cover of Witch Weekly?”

“Does that bother you?”

“No. I just forget sometimes, I guess.” He reaches for Remus’ hand, only to find Remus already reaching for his; he wraps his fingers around the coarse mittens, pulls him close. “This one.”

A smile, a sigh. “Sirius, that’s bigger than our ceiling.” He falls gently into Sirius’ side like a bolster. “Could you see yourself doing that? Being all, y’know—married to a woman, babies, Christmas photos every year, matching bathroom towels?”

“No, because too much of that and you end up on a greeting card and then you’re an empty husk of a man before the age of thirty,” he says, steering Remus to the next row of trees. “But—yeah. Without the husky emptiness, and all. I could see that.” He thinks of Remus, thinks of Kingsley Shacklebolt’s slow smiles, his sculpted abdominals, his strong, capable, knee-weakening voice. “I could see it just as easily with a man. So—I guess that means bisexual, after all. I am four whole syllables, Moony.”

It surprises him, how fast the realization crashes into him. It’s like tripwire: snagged around the ankles, the snap, the fall, and then the click—detonation. He’s got no real preference, but he’s got Remus, and Sirius aims to keep him.

“I can see it with you,” he says. He leans over and kisses him, soft and sweet, their own happy conclusion. Remus doesn’t let go of his hand. “It was always going to happen,” he murmurs when he pulls back. “I’ve dipped my toes in the lake of Remus Lupin and there’s no going back now, honey muffin. We were on a collision course.”

“A three-year collision course with a lot of near-misses and a lot of debris smacking into us,” says Remus, running a mitten along his elbow. “There—this is a good one, look, it’ll fit right in front of the window and it won’t scrape the ceiling.”

“And it’s weak. Look at that flimsy trunk, it won’t even survive its first night of eggnog and pudding.”

“It will if you don’t get sloshed beyond all reason this year.”

“You’ve got no spirit,” he scoffs, “none at all. Honestly! Asking a man not to get sloshed at Christmas is like asking Jesus not to die or Muggles not to worship electricity.”

“It’s like asking Sirius Black not to forget he’s already spiked the eggnog.”

Halfway down another row, a young couple passes by them, two women with a small baby wrapped up in enough wintery cloaking to clothe a family of seven; Sirius smiles at them, and his thoughts, same as they’ve always done, circle around to Remus, and Remus with a baby, and Remus reading bedtime stories, the two of them taking turns rocking a crying bundle back to sleep during long December midnights. He’s a little distressed—pleasantly so—to find that it’s not an unappealing thought, and then gives himself a few firm mental slaps because who the hell is he, James? He hasn’t cultivated this crusty rebellious exterior just for Remus Lupin to crack it like a coconut and gush all over his shoes, and yet.

He imagines getting older with Remus, and older. Imagines coming back here every year, taking an inordinate amount of time to find a perfect Christmas tree, just like this. Imagines them in an old brick house with loads of ivy and a garden and maybe a pond full of overgrowth, room enough for all their cluttered dreams and their jagged parts and all the bright, beautiful things they can build between them. The sun washes Remus’ hair red and gold and copper, pools under his eyes; Sirius squeezes his hand.

“This,” he says suddenly, “this is it, Remus, this is my final answer and if you don’t like this one, you’ve got no soul and there’s no hope for you. I’m going to roll it up and take it home.”

“Hmm.” Remus drops his hand and walks around the tree, surveying the height, the quality of its deep pine-green. It’s tall and wide and full at the bottom, sturdy enough to endure a night of heinous overindulgence. “Oh, what, you’ve got that look about the mouth again. What are you thinking about?”

“You,” he says.

“Oh.” Then, “Am I naked yet?”

“You’re wearing those underwear with the holly right now. I’m working on it but you’re being a real tricky slag about the whole thing,” says Sirius.

“Ask me if I’d like some cocoa and biscuits. Don’t give up, old boy, you’re a Gryffindor.”

“Actually, I’m thinking about you washing nappies and heating bottles.”

Remus peeks out at him from behind the tree, eyes and mouth alike wide and shocked and, he thinks, touched for reasons that are obviously causing him some nasty stomach turmoil. “I can’t even deal with flobberworms,” he sputters, voice breaking slightly. Sirius takes the high road and doesn’t mention it.

“A baby is basically one enormous flobberworm, only they cry and they look nicer,” says Sirius. Remus grabs onto the tree; yes, definitely sturdy enough. “I mean, I just—I don’t know. Can you even imagine me with a baby? It’s probably like imagining me in tweed or something.”

Regaining some of his composure, Remus takes a deep breath to temper the hysteria and lets go of the tree, still watching him with his eyes full of something like wonder, and uncertainty, and a lot like yearning. “Actually, I can,” he says quietly after a moment, coming around the front of the tree again. “I think you’d be good with them. Dora never wants to leave when Andromeda brings her over and that’s even when we don’t have cheesecake.”

“That’s because Dora lives in Shropshire and Shropshire’s full of naught but dry grass and soggy toast.”

“But you’re good with her,” Remus presses, biting his lower lip. “Maybe—maybe we can get a goldfish and work our way up.”

“Or a toad, though that might be overachieving a bit,” says Sirius, pushing Remus’ hair out of his eyes with gloved fingers. “So. Are we taking it home? Pleeeease, Moony, please don’t crush my poor fragile heart under your heels.”

“Check for small animals, please.”

Sirius bends down to look up the tree branches and shakes it gently by the trunk to make sure there are no surprises hiding in the lower branches until Remus is satisfied, smiling at him when he comes out and winding his long fingers around his scarf, plucking pine needles off his coat. “Look at you, you damn lovely thing,” he says into Sirius’ ear, and then kisses him as the wind rumbles in through the trees, as he falls into Sirius’ arms.

How perfect it would be, he thinks, to always have this, just the way he wants—to be able to put his arms around Remus and feel him breathing here against him, to come home to him, wait up for him, fall asleep and wake up with him for the rest of his life. To have his whole head and his heart full, and all his mismatched parts fastened together as tightly as he knows how; to maybe someday be able to lie in bed and ask Remus if he remembers their first kiss, their first Christmas, their first New Year. To have everything that’s worth having—a gust of wind to push them into each other’s arms, their stars fixed in the sky.

Two days after the full moon, the sky cloudless and agony-emptied, he wakes from an early afternoon nap with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and the other half of the bed cold, Remus finally up and gone to shower without nudging him awake. Glancing at the clock on the nightstand and swearing fluently, he hurls himself out of the bed he’s starting to think of as theirs rather than just Remus’ and tries desperately to make his hair stop sticking up for all of eight seconds before he gives up, tugging on a pair of socks from the dresser that used to sit in his bedroom and now stands opposite Remus’, right where it belongs among the teetering piles of books and parchment and the disassembled components of Muggle electronics he likes to take apart and learn, sometimes charm back together again. He’s stripped his bed of the quilt and pillows, shoved his robes and Oxfords beside Remus’ in the closet; they’ve made a nest of it here, grown their own borders to protect.

At the bathroom door, he knocks loud enough that Remus can hear over the shower and walks in, searching the drawers for the single neglected hairbrush between them Sirius has had since roughly 1973. “I’m going to the pharmacy for more pain-reducing things no one trusts me to make, and also Weetabix because you need your fiber,” he says, immediately getting the brush snagged in his hair. “Bugger fuck. Do you want—”

The curtain rattles on the rod; when he turns around, Remus is staring out from behind one of the giraffes on the plastic, holding it strategically and very deliberately in front of half his body, looking daft and disheveled and absolutely fucking gorgeous. Sirius’ whole body goes still as summer heat.

“Well. Hello there,” he says, grinning smooth as a knife, messy hair and pharmacy trips and Wizarding wars pushed to the very back of his brain with all the other unimportant things in the face of the far more critical situation: Remus, naked. “Look at you, all… naked and wet.”

“I’m very damp,” says Remus. “Were you even going to disconnect the Floo before you left? Anyone could walk in here and see my bits.”

“Pete would just turn magenta and make fun of the curtain and come back later. Prongs would light a cigarette and ask to watch, and probably so would Lily. They’re sad, pitiful people but they’re harmless.”

“Sounds about right.” Remus bunches the curtain up lower, lower; Sirius can see the water dripping off his hair and onto his shoulders, rolling down his arms. “It’s a little cold in here, Padfoot, I think I’m still a bit shaky from the other night. It’s so… quiet.”

“Bet it’s lonely,” says Sirius, leaning against the wall, “all by yourself, all soapy around the thighs.”

“Horrible,” Remus nods, smiling shyly and lowering his eyes for a moment, making Sirius’ belly clench, his heart jolting into a new rhythm in his chest. “I’ve been reading the backs of the shampoo bottles.”

A single stray drop of water flies from the shower and onto Sirius’ shirt, darkening the fabric. He stares at it. “Oh no,” he says, his eyes locking onto Remus’ again, unblinking.

“Oh no.”

“Now I’ve got to burn it,” he says.

“You’re unclean,” Remus cautions, reaching a wet hand out to fist around his shoulder. “You’d better get in. Right now.”

Amazing, he thinks, how the thought of this would have ruptured something catastrophic just a year ago; how it would have frightened him as much as it pulled at his limbs even as he desperately, endlessly craved this sort of closeness with Remus, the solidity of his arms around him, his body with Remus’ body like it belongs there. Sirius slots their hips and shoulders together like puzzle pieces and kisses him, kisses him, kisses him.

Later—far, far later than he’d intended—he’s standing in line at the pharmacy with Weetabix and pain potions and some Muggle chocolate, sliding a London newspaper across the counter mostly for the crossword when he thinks, strangely, that it’s a little warmer than he remembers it being when he left. He breathes in, dittany and cinnamon and vanilla; everything is smoother, softer, like a bright watercolor blurring sweetly at the edges, connected with slim silver threads.

“Sick girlfriend?” the man at the counter asks him, smiling sympathetically over the potions.

And this is part of it too, part of the wrinkles in the equation Remus isn’t here to help him iron out. He’s bought potions and magazines and bandages and plastic Muggle trinkets he swears are for Dora from this same man for years now: He can’t gauge whether he’ll get a patented Pureblood eye-roll, and thus risk arrest for putting him through the wall, which Sirius really doesn’t want to do because he likes the guy; or, possibly he’ll ring him up and say nothing else, and Sirius will walk away with a small sting between the eyes, and go out of his way to the other pharmacy for a while.

The nervous mind is truly a marvel, its neurons firing chaotically in a split second to take you—in great detail—through all the different ways things can go wrong, and all the winding, thorny paths you sometimes tread to avoid confrontation.

“Boyfriend, actually,” says Sirius. It makes something well up inside him, velvet-dark and brilliant, just to say it.

There’s another smile then, blue eyes scrunched up cheerfully behind his glasses. “Lucky man,” says the cashier, “he gets the seventy percent dark. That’s devotion.”

On the way out, one hand on the doorknob and a paper bag for Remus in the other, he realizes just how often he’s done this, newspapers and chocolate and healing spells murmured in the shrill glass shards of countless dawns, how many times his feet have taken him, automatically, through these same streets, the same doors, led him, always, to Remus. Outside, in the yellow sweep of the sun, Sirius can feel his heart beating with something almost tangible, flooding him like knowledge: a word, a word, a word.

Oh, he thinks, a mouth like thunder. Oh. There are names for this.

There are names for this.

Possibly his favorite Christmas tradition—though he’s not sure it’s quite right to call two years a tradition just yet—is dinner with Marlene and Dorcas, where it’s not so much a proper Christmas dinner as it is an entire spread of appetizers and biscuits and foods that are absolutely horrible for you, where they don’t eat at the table like civilized human beings, but in the sitting room like a picnic, and where they all drink cheap champagne the whole night through like it’s a sin. It’s the antithesis of his childhood, a sort of perverse potluck featuring everything from Muggle crisps to treacle tart and Dorcas’ weird port-wine cheeseballs; they bring mashed potatoes and Honeydukes chocolate and eat in front of the fire, and Remus is just getting all flappy and overexcited the way Sirius loves as he explains Muggle literature to Dorcas when Marlene tugs him outside for a cigarette, lighting her own before she’s even out of the sitting room.

“You’re so soppy I don’t know how you’re not leaking all over the carpet,” she tells him, flicking ash and grinning. On anyone else, it would be insufferable; on Marlene, it makes him smile. “I told you, didn’t I? Let’s hear it, Black—out with it.”

“Fuck off,” he says brightly, taking a drag and watching the tip catch. The sun’s already gone down between the cramped houses, the stars flickering like candles; Sirius glances at Marlene and swallows. “How did you know?”

“You’ve been sleeping with him and mooning over him and probably crying into your pillow over him for God knows how long and you’re seriously—”

“How did you know you were in love with her?”

All the white-hot incredulity fades from her face, softened, quietly, into understanding, into happiness; Marlene McKinnon, she of the gale-force voice and solid steel ovaries, wraps an arm around his waist and hugs him tightly. “That’s really a much easier question,” she says. Her eyes are bluer and brighter than a summertime sea, gone midnight-rich with memory. “If you’re asking it, you’re already up to your eyeballs.”

Smoking his cigarette down to the filter while the stars glimmer gold, while he knows there’s someone waiting on him inside, someone who has been waiting on him for the better part of their lives now, he thinks she’s right; he thinks, probably, that the moment you let yourselves think it, the moment you let yourselves want it, you are probably just as truly and deeply in love as two people have ever been or will ever be.

And Sirius Black has always been at least a little in love with Remus Lupin.

Christmas Eve, the fire built up high in the hearth, and Sirius comes in from one last cigarette to the smell of cinnamon and thick, spicy-sweet pudding on the kitchen counter, assuming Remus has already gone to bed only to find him still sitting on the sofa, an enormous and doubtlessly boring book balanced on the arm, absorbed and oblivious.

This means, in the dialect of Remus Lupin, one of two things:

1. He is waiting for Sirius, or

2. He is actually interested in what he’s reading.

Sirius likes Option Number One.

Sliding in beside him, Sirius presses his nose—cold—into the crook of his neck and trails a hand—also cold—underneath his jumper, feeling him tense and jump at the touch as he spins around, yelping, to glare at him.

“What the hell have you been doing, sitting in the cold cupboard?” he stammers. “I’m trying to read. I think I was trying to read the last time you flopped all over me, too.”

“You were. It was the same book,” says Sirius, his hands warming with Remus’ skin, feeling him relax into it, just slightly. “Which ought to tell you it’s not that interesting and you’re just not as into Dumas as, y’know, me.”

“Or maybe it’s because I’ve been interrupted every time I’ve tried to get through it.”

In the fathomless, tangled cords of their shared history, Sirius has learned to play this game and he’s learned to play it like a professional sport: Remus will only really choose a book or work or other sundry responsibilities over his friends if the promises of uncharted territory or something horribly illegal or food or, recently, sex, are immediately presented as inherently superior options, and he as a soggy blanket for not jumping at the chance. They have to be dangled in front of him like bait, a glimpse of chocolate held in outstretched fingers, before he’ll leap—and galvanize. Over the years, Sirius has taught himself to read Remus like a weathervane, all his wavering, all his faltering, all his nail-chewing indecision.

Remus taps his index finger against the spine of the book; he is faltering.

“That’s a whole lot of pages,” says Sirius, leaning just a little closer; his hair brushes Remus’ cheek. “More than even the sturdiest of Prefects could reasonably expect to get through in a single night, determined though he may be.”

“It’s a very good book,” Remus answers. His heartbeat has stuttered and fallen into a new meter, just a tiny, silent misstep imperceptible to anyone but Sirius. “I can’t sleep until I know what happens.”

“Enthralling, is it,” mutters Sirius, grazing his knuckles along the waistband of his pyjamas and making him shiver. “Just makes your heart pound.”

Letting out a shaky breath, Remus tightens his grip on the arm of the sofa, staring determinedly down at the letters, unseeing. “There’s a lot of incredible symbolism in this one. I think you might like it.”

“You haven’t turned a page in three minutes,” says Sirius, dragging his lips across Remus’ ear, one hand splayed across his belly, fingers stroking up his ribs. It’s a head-rush, this shared breath, the way he’s learned to touch Remus, the way it feels to want and be wanted. To always want the world to be beautiful for someone.

“I’m savoring every word,” says Remus. Sirius can feel his iron resolve crumbling up like aluminum foil.

“No you’re not.”

“I’m going to read it all night.”

“I’m not wearing any underwear,” he hisses, and then the book slams shut like a benediction, shoved violently aside on the end table, and he’s being dragged down the hallway by his shirt, laughing and laughing.

His pyjamas are still on by the time they get to the bed, which trips Remus up; he falls hard, and Sirius pulls his trousers off and runs his palms up his thighs to his hips, pressing his mouth to his belly and feeling it flutter under his lips, soft and salty-warm like the rest of him. He kisses his ribs, grinning against his hip at the gasp that rips out of Remus’ throat when he wraps a hand around his cock and strokes slowly, teeth scraping across his hipbone.

“Are you sure you don’t want to finish your book?” he whispers, sitting back on his heels and kissing the inside of Remus’ knee. “I won’t mind too much, you know. We can just—put this off.”

“I’ve already finished it twice,” Remus laughs, naked yearning stark in the light of his eyes, breaking off the moment Sirius’ mouth slides over his cock, one hand scrabbling for his hair as Sirius moves up and down along the length of it. There’s something about this he loves, the way Remus watches him, how he grates out his name, breathless and dream-sharp, when he flattens his tongue underneath and curls it around the very tip; he’d thought about this a lot before he ever did it, but the fact of it—the soft taste of him, his breathing changing for Sirius, the intense thrill of it, sparking always between them both—is something his Highly Educational Reading Material didn’t mention.

In fact, his Highly Educational Reading Material didn’t cover a lot of things beyond the bare mechanics. Like how squishy and awkward and terrifying it can be at first; how it’s a language like any other with a syntax and structure, how much better it is if you’re doing it with someone who can make you laugh. How much better it’s going to get, in general.

Nothing tells you all the ways it will transform, all the ways you’ll learn to navigate yourself and someone else: Remus’ hands pulling him up, touching him as if he’s starved for his skin and his heart, wide-open, leaving heavy heat-strokes across the jut of his shoulders, his ribs, the curve of his spine. He drags Sirius between his legs and gasps, and Sirius, looking down at him with his eyes half-closed and his heart in his mouth, kisses him hard and hopes he can taste the things that are singing in his blood, all the things that begin and end with Remus, stacked like verse on his tongue.

“Take your fucking socks off,” he half-groans, teeth at Remus’ jaw.

“No,” laughs Remus, grinding their hips together, making him hiss, “my feet are cold.”

“You look like the world’s biggest plonker,” says Sirius. “I’ll warm you up.”

“Such confidence.”

“Says the man wearing whimsical snowman socks.”

“This man,” says Remus, sly and deliberate, “will have warm feet if the other man fails to deliver.”

Sirius presses his mouth over Remus’ pulse and sucks gently the way he’s learned he likes best, one hand clasped around his hip and the other at his shoulder, feeling him moan low in his throat. “Moony, Moony, you are about take the mood and back over it with an eighteen-wheeler.”

“Take them off,” he gasps, and Sirius, laughing, does.

He doesn’t think he’ll ever have enough of this, the way he falls so easily into Remus and moves with him, their bodies tangled tight, taking each other into a rhythm that’s becoming familiar, building hard-fast in their blood. Remus wraps his legs around his waist and takes him in deeper, pressing a hand to his cheek and turning his head to look at him, flushed and gasping suddenly when he meets his eyes.

“Sirius,” he chokes out hoarsely. His eyes tear open the dark. “Sirius.”

“Are you warm enough yet,” he murmurs, rubbing a hand up from the smooth dip in Remus’ hip to his chest and resting his forehead against Remus’, breathing with him, feeling the red swell of his pulse in his own skin; he can’t look away.

“Yes,” he moans, “God, yes.”

“I can get you some shoes.”

“Shut up,” he laughs, and kisses him—wonderingly, perfectly slow.

“Remus.” He smiles at the way his name feels on his tongue, half-gasped and low like a secret as their hips move, rhythm building faster, roughness and softness and heat; he presses it to Remus’ mouth and feels him swallow it, watches his face shifting when he wraps a hand around his cock, his mouth opening, his eyes brightening while says it again and again until Remus comes: fingers clutching his shoulders, a heel digging into the bed, Sirius’ name on the bare thread of his breath as if it’s the only thing that’s ever mattered.

All it takes to get him there is Remus’ smile pressed to the hollow of his throat and his hands running up his biceps, and he comes, gasping into his hair, the slick rush burning high and melting wildly through his body; Remus holds onto him through the aftershocks, lips pressed to his neck, every inch of them entwined as inextricably and irrevocably as anything could ever be.

Later, Remus’ feet tucked under his leg and the quilt that smells like both of them pulled up around their chests, Sirius kisses his cheek, his temple, the scar on his chin, the place where his jaw meets his ear, feeling out the newest shape they’ve shifted into, skin on skin and both of them wound around each other like a nautilus on the bed. “You know,” he says, “I am really glad you like shagging boys.”

“I’m really glad I do, too,” says Remus, brushing his hair out of his eyes. Sirius loves to hear his voice like this, as if it begins in his body instead of his throat, speaking through his blood and bones and into him, moving him in a way only Remus can. “I’m really glad you got all your marbles in order.”

“My marbles have a thing for you,” he says, stretching. He always feels so open and raw and beautiful after, tangled with Remus in the middle of the night.

“I’ve been told,” says Remus. There’s such an off-kilter beauty to him, Sirius thinks, his big nose, his slight overbite, the blunt sweetness of his jaw. His eyes are brighter than anything has ever been, even in the December dark. “It makes me happy. You make me happy.”

“How do you do that? Just—I need to say something,” he mutters, running a hand through his hair and holding Remus tighter, squeezing him around the ribs. “You’re trying to outdo me because you’re still hacked off about the socks, aren’t you.”

“Oh yes, exactly,” Remus says dreamily, yawning as he settles himself against Sirius. “It couldn’t have anything to do with you. Couldn’t be that I need you here. Couldn’t be that I don’t ever want to wake up without you. Not at all.”

His heart constricts with Remus’ voice, with all of it—Remus hands and his hands, all the spaces they’ve filled. “Moony,” he whispers, wonder clutching him by the throat, and closes his eyes.

The splash of light in the room illuminates the shadows of their presence, colors painted like rippling ink: the desk, the books piled high, the extra blankets, the clothes strung out on the floor. Sometimes, he feels like these echoes, all the things he is and all the different boys he’s been shimmering like torn silk, each one part of a whole he’s only just beginning to see; he imagines what he’ll look like in five years, what shape he and Remus will make on their bed, the man time will weave him. He imagines them like this room, like the scarves hung together on the back of the chair, the glass of water on the nightstand, the Muggle radio taken apart on his dresser. The ticking of a clock. Two hands, clasped together. A pack of cigarettes, half-empty. An open door.

In the morning, in the kitchen, he finds Remus at the stove, a cup of tea on the counter and an oven mitt on one hand, shoving a turkey into the oven and looking mildly dubious about the whole thing, though Sirius can hardly blame him; last time they tried something like this, they forgot to take out the bag of gooey turkey-insides before they put it in the oven. It ended in severe nausea.

“Happy Christmas,” Remus says when he sees him, smiling into his tea. “Where’s my pony?”

“Right here,” says Sirius, draping his arms over his shoulders and kissing his nose, grinning wicked-sharp. “Want to ride me?”

Remus, in spite of himself, laughs and drops his hands onto his chest, shaking his head fondly. “That’s, well, it’s not the worst thing you’ve ever said,” he says, “but it’s right up there.”

“I can say worse.”

He smiles and smiles. “I know.”

“Anyway,” says Sirius, stirring an obscene amount of cream into his own tea, bag still in, “happy Christmas. I love you.”

Remus very carefully puts his tea back on the counter and turns to him, eyes shot wide, and says, “Sirius, did you just. I—what. Did you say.”

“I said, happy Christmas. I love you.” He takes a drink and takes Remus by the wrist, tugging him over and into him again. “Figured that one out all on my own, too.”

“You love me,” Remus whispers, swallowing hard, pulling back to look at him, as if Sirius is the only thing he can see. “You just said—”

“I know what I said,” he says, tilting Remus head back up when he drops it. “I love you. I want to get old and grey and arthritic with you. I want to get sick on pie with you.”

Something settles into Remus’ skin, filling his scars, his eyes, his tired bones; Sirius has never actually seen him cry—he’s been close a few times—but he thinks for a moment he might have done it, until Remus clenches his jaw and takes a deep breath, folding himself up against Sirius, who catches him—just the same as he’s always done.

“I got you pyjamas,” he mumbles, slightly sniffly, into Sirius’ shirt.

He lets out a breath, bones gone unexpectedly to jelly. It fits his mouth so easily, like a charm, like the swift blossom of magic in his fingers, and he supposes that’s what love is all about, anyway. It’s insidious. It lurks, dark as burnt twilight, in the hollows of your own shadow and then springs on you, brilliant and transformative, while you’re holding chocolate and pain potions in the pharmacy, when you’ve found your body wrapped around someone else’s, just for them and them alone.

It’s the bravest thing he’s ever done, love.

“I love pyjamas,” he whispers to Remus, shaky and exultant as he finds his lips. “I’ll never fucking take them off.”

In the white light of morning, both of them so raw and together and in love, Remus presses his face into Sirius’ neck, right over his pulse. “I love you,” he says, right into his skin where Sirius can feel it, tangled in his blood.

No matter where they go, he thinks, no matter how he grows or how he fits his pieces into place in the end, his compass will always point him here—to the pulse in his ears, to the arms that hold him up. To all these places they keep themselves, and all the shapes they shift into, together.