"Do you do coffee?"
Remus looks up from his battered copy of Kings Canyon and blinks. Currently he's perched behind the counter of Lily's Roundtable Cafe, sub-heading: 'Finest Coffee in Fairford'. Not only do they do coffee, they do the best damned coffee in the whole of the Cotswolds. At least, that's what Lily so oft proclaims.
Apparently, though, someone has missed that.
"We do," says Remus.
He sets down his feet and stands, flashing the customer an automatic smile. It melts into something more genuine when he looks properly at the person standing behind the battered oak counter he and Lily salvaged from a removals shop in Swindon three years ago.
The customer is tall and slender, with a lightly tanned face and fiercely sharp features Remus doesn't have to look twice at to be taken aback by. His jet black hair - pulled back into a loose ponytail - and ever-so-slightly strange accent make him suddenly seem very exotic. It's an image heightened by the bunch of long necklaces dangling across his t-shirt, among which are dog tags, a prayer cross and a dulled shark's tooth.
He has on a black leather biker jacket too. After tearing his eyes from the man for only a fleeting moment, Remus spots the hulking great motorcycle parked outside. So engrossed he'd been in Kings Canyon, he hadn't even heard the beast of a machine roll up.
The man is very good-looking. He is also definitely not from the Cotswolds.
"Great, I'm gagging," he smiles, exposing a brilliant flash of white teeth. "What's it like?"
"Oh, it's - it's the Fairford coffee in finest," Remus burbles. "I mean! The finest, the finest coffee in Fairford."
"That sounds alright," the man replies, eyes sparkling with what might be amusement. "I'll have that."
"Brilliant." Clumsily, Remus reaches to grab a clean mug. "Anything else?"
The man shakes his head no, flashing Remus another quick smile before ambling over to one of the six empty tables in the cafe and sitting down. Two o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon, no matter how beautiful the weather, always finds the Roundtable Cafe positively deserted, and in double time Remus is setting down a large mug in front of the strange new customer, just a couple of inches from a battered notebook he's begun scribbling in.
Remus doesn't hang around long enough to see what he's writing, but after returning to the counter he peeks over the top of Kings Canyon a couple of times to watch him. The man seems never to lift his dark head. He's there for a very long time, so long in fact that Remus begins to wonder if he's forgotten where he is.
He doesn't touch his coffee at all. It must be lukewarm, almost cold, before he finally sets his red pen down, lifts the cup and drains the contents in one go. Remus blinks in surprise. He's rather anxious, in fact. He's sure the coffee only holds the title of Finest when taken hot. Surely it tastes disgusting by now.
But when the man asks for the bill and the little tray is brought to him, he has nothing but smiles for Remus. He returns the tray to the counter with both his money and receipt, thanks Remus and leaves, just as quietly as he'd arrived.
This time Remus hears the low rumble of the bike as it starts up, followed by the harsh whine as it pulls away from the curb and the stranger zooms off to lands far and beyond, probably to the nearby airport in Kemble first to catch a plane to Cambodia or Taiwan or somewhere equally as exciting.
Meanwhile, Remus props his feet back up on the stool in the empty cafe and finishes another chapter in Kings Canyon. Then, with a sigh, he stands to swipe the money off the little black tray and into the till.
When he turns to chuck the returned receipt, a flash of crimson catches his eye, and he turns the paper over in his hands. At first he thinks it's a signature - a lot of customers do that - but then he notices it's longer than that, a message, and it takes a few moments for him to decipher the elaborate scrawl. When he does, he smiles stupidly.
Suitably Fairford, thanks it reads.
There's a long enough gap - five and a half days, to be precise - between the handsome man's visit and now for Remus to be convinced that he isn't coming back. Of course, he hasn't given it that much thought. The weekend has been busy, with dozens of people in town for the annual steam rally, and Remus has barely had time to think of anything besides broken drinks machines and impatient queues and hot, sticky weather.
That's why he finds himself, Monday lunch time, wringing out a damp cloth and pressing it to his forehead with a groan. Fairford has always been one of Gloucestershire's sunnier little towns, but it's something he's coming to appreciate less and less as he gets older. His skin burns, his hair curls, and his clothes stick to him like glue in heat like this. It's not pleasant, and it certainly isn't pretty.
"You look frazzled," Lily tells him, striding into the kitchen with a basketful of fresh oranges, bought from the greengrocer's next door. She herself flourishes in the sun. Then again, Lily flourishes in any weather, like a real year-round flower.
"I think the coffee machine's given me heat stroke," he mumbles, spreading the cloth over his whole face now.
"Sympathetic as I am - and believe me, I am - there are hungry, hungry customers waiting, Remus."
He groans again as Lily takes the tea towel from his face.
"Come on, shift," she says, hitting him on the thigh with the cloth. "There be oranges to be squishin'!"
Knowing that they do indeed have demands for freshly squeezed orange juice as high as the demands for their famous coffee this time of the year, Remus moves and lets her get on with it. He drifts reluctantly from the cool refuge of the kitchen with its open French doors to the stuffy cafe out front.
"What can I get you?" he asks the first customer tiredly, barely glancing up as he reaches for the notebook and pen. His thumb is so sweaty it slips as he tries to click the end of the biro.
"Definitely not whatever you've been having," comes an amused drawl.
Remus' head snaps up. Standing before him is the man, the handsome man with the slightly odd accent, who left a note on his receipt. There's a smile playing on his lips, and it blossoms into a grin when their eyes meet.
"You look more than a little hot and bothered," he explains gently.
Gathering himself, Remus huffs out a little laugh and replies, "It's a hot and bothersome day." He clicks the pen against the notepad. "So?"
"Your coffee was very good the other day. I'd like to see if you can pull it off again," the man replies easily. "Finest in Fairford's a rather hefty claim to make."
"Coffee? In this weather?"
Remus glances over the half of the man's body that he can see behind the counter. Even his good looks haven't remained untouched, and the hairs that hang in his eyes today are sticking slightly with sweat, a sheen of perspiration covering his olive forehead.
"Don't you know the best way to deal with heat is a hot drink?" he says. "Or are you just not up to the challenge?"
Remus huffs a small laugh. "No, I'm sure I can satisfy you."
"I'm sure you can."
He looks up from the notebook and blinks, surprised to find the man staring steadily back at him. His lips tug up, back into a smile, and he turns to wander off to the same table he chose last week. Remus sets to work.
To this coffee, he adds more hot water than last time, just to ensure it stays hotter for longer - so the customer enjoys it as much as possible, of course - and uses full-fat milk, adding a pinch of sugar and a dash of cinnamon. He rarely bothers with spices unless they're specifically requested, but this will be so subtle that he's sure the man will only notice the coffee tastes better, without actually being able to name the added ingredients.
Triumphantly, Remus sets the perfect coffee down in front of the man. He's writing again, but he looks up in time to offer Remus another of those smiles, sliding the cup towards himself.
Remus is eager to see his reaction, but he has to serve another lot of customers before he can sit down again and bury himself in Kings Canyon, subtly peeking over the top every now and then.
Sure enough, the cafe empties out again before the man finally lifts the mug to his lips and drains the coffee all in one go. Remus takes the bill to him when he asks for it, the man drops more than he owes on to the tray, and returns it to the counter with the receipt. He leaves, and Remus waits for the roar of the motorbike to sound before scrambling forward and snatching up the receipt. Green pen today.
Cinnamon was a nice touch.
"You've always got your head in that book," Lily tuts, coming into the kitchen during Remus's Thursday lunch break. Apples in her basket today. She's determined to make the best apple strudel in the village to go alongside the coffee, but it's particularly tough competition, especially since Lily has never been much of a baker.
"It's my favourite," Remus replies, not taking his eyes off his current page.
"How many times have you read it now?"
"Five. Well, this will be my fifth."
Lily looks at him, dumping the heavy basket of apples on the counter with an oof, then rubbing her back.
"What's it even about?" she asks, puffing hair out of her eyes.
Remus looks at her. What's it even about? How can he even begin to concisely explain what Sorin James' masterpiece Kings Canyon is about?
"It's sort of an epic," he begins, pausing for a long time and ignoring Lily's impatient look. "It's post-apocalyptic, set in the Australian outback -"
"- about this survivor - well, a man and his dog - finding the other people who've survived the pandemic. They set up a community in Kings Canyon. It's this incredible place in Australia."
"Sounds... well, a bit depressing really."
"It's really good!" Remus insists, sitting up properly. "They run into cannibals and rival tribes. It's a bit like Lord of the Flies actually. There's this part where they're starving and they find these rats -"
"Okay, time to make some strudel!" Lily trills, turning her back on him. "Austrian style!"
He helps her for a while, chopping apples and emptying raisins into a colander, but then it's time to return to the counter. Thursday, two o'clock, empty. Except for one lone customer, waiting patiently at the coffee bar.
Remus feels this great swooping sensation in his belly, and he grits his teeth to stop himself from smiling too stupidly. The man has returned, after a brief absence over the past few days, and he's looking, Remus has to admit, more delectable than ever. He's let his hair down, the silky black strands not quite reaching his shoulders, and he gives Remus a lazy smile when he spots him.
"Ah, there you are," he says. "I was beginning to think you'd abandoned me."
"Me? You haven't been here since Monday."
"Been counting the days off, have you?"
For once, Remus is glad his cheeks are already flushed red by the heat.
"I travel a lot," the man continues, leaning against the counter, "for work."
"But you always come back to Fairford?"
"I'm thinking of moving down here." He glances round behind himself, and then abruptly turns back to Remus, locking eyes with him. "Rather nice, isn't it?"
Remus smiles, suddenly rather shy under the penetrating gaze. "It's alright."
"So the coffee was pretty good last week, but I think you can up your game."
"I think I know the problem," Remus blurts out.
The man arches one perfect eyebrow and leans a little further over the counter. "Oh?"
"Your coffee, you..." He looks down, scuffing his toe against the terracotta tiles. "You let it cool down too much. It tastes better hot."
The man looks at him for a moment, and Remus finds it difficult to read his expression. He doesn't look annoyed, but he's not smiling. He looks rather calculating actually, and for a second Remus is worried he's offended him. But then those lips stretch into a slow grin, and the man ducks his head with a laugh.
"Sometimes I get so caught up in what I'm writing I forget I have a drink there," he says. "But then again, maybe it's up to you to concoct a coffee so wonderful it tastes as good warm as it does hot."
He sounds out every syllable perfectly in that odd drawl of his. It's a sort of warm and flat accent; South African maybe, Remus thinks. Whatever it is, he definitely likes the way it sounds the words tastes as good warm as it does hot and he grins foolishly, unable to help himself.
"Or you could just order an iced coffee," he suggests.
"Brilliant," the man says immediately. "I will." He pushes himself away from the counter and saunters over to his usual table, dropping down into his seat with a satisfied-sounding sigh. His eyes travel to meet Remus's once more before he pulls out his notebook and begins to write.
Remus deftly fills a tall glass with ice, chilled coffee, cream and sugar and places it down in front of his newest regular with a straw in the top. Most of the ice has melted by the time it gets round to being drunk. This time, the note on the receipt is blue.
Not bad, is the first line.
As the motorcycle sounds outside, Remus notices with a slight tug at his stomach a P.S scrawled across 1 COF ICE:
Sirius Black. Nice to meet you.
Remus has always liked routine. Soon, that's what he and Sirius Black slip into: a routine. At least, when Sirius is around anyway. After two more weeks, during which Remus supplies his own name and three more coffees, the shortest gap between Sirius's visits has been two days.
The routine part is not in the visits themselves, but in what happens when they occur: Sirius will roll up at around two in the afternoon, playful conversation will ensue, he'll order a drink - always coffee, though not always the same kind - and then leave a little message on the receipt when he's done.
Remus collects them all and keeps them, unashamedly, in his bedside drawer at home. Sometimes he even re-reads them before he goes to sleep, his favourites being the one stating Sirius's name, and the most recent: Did anyone ever tell you you look great in an apron?
He doesn't want to get too ahead of himself, but Remus is rather under the impression that Sirius Black is flirting with him. And he doesn't mind. At all.
The next time Sirius comes into the cafe, the sun isn't shining at all. The town has been hit with a sudden summer storm, and he bursts through the door looking like a drowned rat - albeit a nicely tanned, very well-dressed drowned rat.
"Bloody hell," he laughs, wet boots squeaking as he flicks rain from his eyes. "I may actually have to take your advice."
"What's that?" Remus asks, placing Kings Canyon aside with an eager smile. He's on his sixth re-read now.
"I'll be drinking my coffee hot today."
"Excellent decision. In fact..." Remus purses his lips, eyes already eagerly darting around the bar for ingredients. "I have this fantastic Moroccan recipe. Sort of spicy. It's nice when it's raining."
Sirius holds his hands up. "Sure. Lovely. You're the boss."
Remus hears him take a deep breath as he searches for a larger mug than the ones he usually uses.
"So I don't suppose you'd like to join me today?"
Remus looks up so abruptly he almost smacks his head on the underside of the counter. "Sorry?"
"Well you're always over here and I'm always over there. Seems silly really. Why don't you have a drink with me?"
Slowly, Remus brings himself back up to his full height, mug in hand forgotten. He looks at Sirius's face, searching for signs of mockery, but all he is faced is with an expectant, perhaps even hopeful, expression.
"Oh, well... Lily would kill me if I drank our supplies," he says, scratching the back of his head.
Sirius simply shrugs. "Let me buy you a drink then."
So that's how Remus finds himself, at half past two on a rainy Friday afternoon, drinking spiced coffee in the cafe he himself works in, opposite Sirius Black who, Remus finds, is even more enticing close up, with tiny sun kissed freckles across his nose and bright white flecks in the grey of his eyes. Remus is glad Lily attends the weekly village market every Friday afternoon - she'd have a fit if she saw him.
"So, Remus," Sirius says cheerfully once they're sat down. Remus likes the way Sirius says his name, almost like it's double-barrelled: Ray-mus. "Did you always want to make coffee?"
Remus isn't sure if he's being teased or not, but he sort of blushes anyway.
"I can't say it was an aspiration of mine, but I like it well enough. My friend Lily owns the place and, well, she offered me a job and it just seemed sensible to take it. It's perfectly fine for now."
"But not forever?"
He smiles and shrugs. "What about you, what do you do?"
"Oh, this and that," Sirius replies vaguely. "Not much at the moment really. I only just got back to England last month."
"Where were you?"
"Australia." He gives an almost apologetic smile. "Again."
Australian. That's the accent! Only, it's a bit muddled and not so thick like the Australians he's heard. There's still something inherently English about it at the same time, and Remus likes it a lot.
"Are you from there?"
"Me? Oh no, God no. I wish! No, I'm from London originally. I visit Australia a lot," Sirius says, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder as though Australia is just across the road.
"That must be amazing," Remus says enviously. He imagines going to Kings Canyon and seeing the vast red landscape for himself. He wonders how Sirius manages it, but then, judging by the clothes he wears and his choice in transport, he's not exactly hard up.
"I love it. Nothing like England, that's for sure."
"Why don't you live there?"
"I did, for a while," says Sirius, which explains the confused accent. "Did some work out there, but you know, England will always have a special place in my heart. Especially the Cotswolds. I lived here with my best friend as a teenager for a while, so I have a lot of amazing memories." He sips his coffee, then smiles. "I'm sorry, I'm doing all the talking."
"Your life is a lot more interesting than mine."
"Hey, that's not true. I want to know about you. You intrigue me."
Remus looks at him, unable to understand why he would intrigue anyone. But Sirius's smile seems genuine, and Remus feels the effects of it right down in the pit of his belly, all warm and bubbly - although that could just be the coffee.
"Well, what would you like to know?"
"I don't know. What do you like to do in your spare time?"
"I suppose I..." He pauses, trying to figure out what he does do. "I suppose I just read. I read a lot. I'm a pretty fast reader actually, so I always read books over and over again before I'm done with them. I'm reading Kings Canyon for the sixth time at the moment."
"Really?" Sirius's voice is rather flat.
"Have you read it?" Remus asks, thinking Sirius disapproves.
"I'm somewhat familiar with it," he replies, and he's back to smiling now and Remus relaxes again. "What else do you like to read?"
And so for a while, Sirius sits back and allows Remus to burble on and on about what he spends all of his free time doing which is soaking up literature, practically anything he can get his hands on. He's always loved books, ever since being a small child, and now that he has a job it's wonderful to be able to go into the Fairford book shop and buy almost anything that takes his fancy.
Another half an hour passes before Remus realises he's barely shut up once. Sirius has finished his drink, but Remus's is cold and untouched, and he blushes deeply when he realises.
"Don't apologise," Sirius says immediately, as though he was expecting it. "It was nice to know more about you. Really. It's wonderful that you love books so much." He glances at his watch and raises his eyebrows. "But I do have to dash now."
He starts to sit up and Remus nods, disappointed. He watches Sirius pat his pockets and, thinking he's looking for money, Remus opens his mouth to tell him not to worry about it, that Lily won't really notice if they're down a tiny bit on coffee and spices.
But then Sirius is pulling the receipt towards himself and making clicking motions with his thumb.
"Forgot my pen today. Could I borrow..?"
Realising what he's doing, Remus digs in his pocket and produces a biro with a little smile. He looks away as Sirius scrawls something in black across the grey print, before turning it over and sliding it towards Remus.
"See you, Remus," he says, dropping a fiver on to the table and leaving before Remus can protest.
He waits for the glass door to clang shut, then slowly turns the paper over in his hands.
I love how passionate you are.
The rest of the month passes by in a blend of coffee, conversation and beautiful weather. The worst of the heat has disappeared, replaced by a fresh, spring-like sunshine as they enter into August, and Remus is in decidedly higher spirits these days. The cafe is always brimming until around two o'clock when it empties out. But that's okay, because that's when Sirius arrives. They chat, they laugh, Remus collects a heart-warming, often dizzying note, and when he goes home at night he reads books and drinks good coffee.
He doesn't think things could get any better. Then they do.
"I've bought a house," Sirius announces one gorgeous Thursday afternoon. They're sat outside today, in the little patio chairs Lily has placed at the front for particularly fine days, clutching tall iced lattes.
It recently transpired that Sirius has been living mostly out of hotels, and more than once over the past few weeks Remus has wanted to invite Sirius to crash at his house for the odd night, just so he doesn't have to keep paying for rooms. But somehow Remus isn't sure if it's acceptable to step outside of the little routine they've built up, so he's left it and left it and now - well, now Sirius has bought a house.
"You're joking. Where?"
Remus can't see Sirius's eyes behind his dark Ray-bans, but Sirius cocks his head to the side and then sticks a thumb out.
"Up there, then right," he says, motioning with his hand.
Remus stares at him.
"What, just up the street?"
"Well, five-minute walk, yeah. It's lovely. Overlooks the lake in the park. You'll have to come and see some time." He reaches across to prod him gently in the side. "I'll make coffee for you."
"I didn't think you were actually serious about moving here."
"Course. Why else would I have been slumming it in hotels for the past couple of months?" says Sirius, but Remus is sure - is sure - he catches a wink from behind those sunglasses.
"I suppose the gaps between your visits won't be so frequent now then," Remus says shyly.
"Well, I've still got to travel actually." Sirius reaches a hand up to remove his sunglasses, slipping them into the front of his shirt. "I don't know why I never told you. I suppose I don't feel as though I've done enough for it to be impressive. Or maybe I don't really consider it a proper career." He pauses. "I'm a writer."
Remus blinks. "You are?"
It isn't something he's guessed from Sirius's visits. He looks more rock star than writer, but that thought does little to quell the excitement suddenly bubbling in Remus's belly.
"It seemed silly not to be. I've done all this travelling, seemed a waste not to write about it." He looks off again, down the quaint street, and lifts a hand to rub at his jaw thoughtfully. "I'm here to work on my next novel and I wanted it to sort of be about my, I don't know, childhood. So I'm back here where I spent the best summers of my life to remember it all." He turns and looks at Remus warmly. "And to drink some really amazing coffee."
Remus mirrors the grin, feeling giddy. "Anything I'd know?"
"Have you written anything I'd know?"
Sirius pauses and scrunches his nose up for a moment, as though hesitating. "You've become very familiar with one of them, as of late," he says finally.
Remus freezes. He stares at Sirius for a lot longer than it actually takes for the realisation to sink in; the penny drops almost immediately, but he doesn't stop gawping.
"You're joking," he says again, slowly this time.
Sirius simply shrugs, but there's no arrogance in the gesture. In fact, for someone so normally self-assured, he seems almost bashful.
"You - ?" Remus shakes his head uselessly. Kings Canyon. Australian outback. Very familiar with, as of late. He almost laughs. "But... wait. No. You couldn't have written Kings Canyon. Sorin James wrote Kings Canyon."
"He did," Sirius agrees, and another penny follows.
"Sorin," Remus breathes, awed, "that's so clever! That's - oh my God. I can't believe I've been sat opposite you for weeks saying all this rubbish and not knowing..."
He trails off, desperately trying to remember if he's ever badmouthed any of Sirius's work in front of him. He's read other Sorin James books too - Kingdom of Casablanca and Road to Java immediately come to mind - but has he said a word against them to Sirius? He doesn't think so. He doesn't see why he would have done; he loves them. Road to Java he read eight times before finally putting it to bed.
"You didn't say rubbish. You're one of the most interesting people I've ever spoken to," Sirius tells him. "Like I said... you're passionate. It's inspiring."
"I'm inspiring? You must have been to Morocco, Cambodia -"
"And none have been so captivating as you," Sirius interrupts, but he seems to realise how much of a cliché it sounds, because he raises his glass and adds, "and your coffee."
Remus blushes and shakes his head again. "I can't believe you never said."
"It just seemed a bit weird to announce. And Kings isn't my best, so - "
"It's brilliant!" Remus blurts out, his heart fluttering when Sirius gives him a warm smile.
When it's time for Sirius to leave, Remus leads him back into the cafe feeling jittery. He can feel Sirius's eyes on his back, and he resists the urge to turn and look at him. He rings him up, tears off the receipt with a slightly shaky hand, and slides it across the counter. Sirius looks at it for a moment before producing a purple pen, clicking it and swiftly scrawling two words across it.
Fantastic arse, it reads, and Remus coughs in surprise. Sorin James, master of prose, has just written that he has a great arse on a receipt for an iced latte, and he isn't entirely sure how to react.
"Git," he mumbles, blushing and shoving the paper into his pocket.
"No good? Alright," Sirius says cheerfully. He glances around, spotting Remus's copy of Kings Canyon by the till and pulling it towards himself. "How about I sign your copy?"
Remus looks away as he hears Sirius writing, and lovely as compliments on his arse from attractive men are, he hopes it's something of more sentimental value this time. It had better be anyway - that book cost a fortune.
Upon hearing the snap of the hardback cover he grins, turning back to Sirius. He expects him to take off then, in his usual fashion of not being there when Remus sees the latest message. But for once he stays, drumming his long fingers on the counter with an expectant look and nodding towards the novel, pulling his bottom lip between his teeth like a giddy child waiting for Christmas.
Slowly, Remus turns back the cover of Sirius's book and fumbles for the first blank page, eagerly drinking in the words scrawled in bright, inky violet. His smile widens, and he has to quickly look away.
How about a kiss?
"Alright?" comes Sirius's voice. His hands are in his pockets, and he's still biting his lip to conceal one of those grins.
Without giving himself time to think about it, Remus leans across the counter, his favourite writer's book between them, and presses his lips to Sirius's soft ones. It's cold from the ice, sweet like coffee and altogether wonderful, he thinks.
"Not bad," Sirius tells him when they gently break apart, "but I know you can do better."
This time Remus does roll his eyes before leaning in to kiss him again.