It hadn't been an easy recovery; one could not spend so many months beyond the Veil and come back the same. But Sirius was relearning himself. He seemed happy this Christmas afternoon, as he and Remus lay in each other's arms on the sofa by the fire, and shared a goblet of spiced wine. Outside, the snow fell thickly, hiding the encircling mountains and making Remus feel as though he and Sirius existed in a private universe. They were warm, and the air inside their cottage was fragrant with balsam, burning mesquite, cinnamon, and gingerbread.
Remus watched Sirius as he took a tentative sip from the goblet, frowned, and then took another sip. He said, "I used to like this stuff, didn't I?"
"You did," said Remus. "Before we left Hogwarts you made me learn the recipe from the house-elves so I could make it every Christmas. It never occurred to you to learn it."
Sirius tilted his head back and grinned a little guiltily. "Clever, that."
He passed the goblet to Remus, who touched his lips to the spot where Sirius' had been, and drank. The warm wine and the spices brought a flush to his cheeks. He closed his eyes, but everything still seemed to glow. He felt Sirius turn his head, felt the nose pushed against his neck, and hummed appreciatively.
"Moony," said Sirius, "this all feels so familiar, but I don't think we spent very many Christmases together."
"We didn't," Remus said, opening his eyes. He took another sip, then set the goblet down on the rug, and turned his full attention to Sirius. He slid his fingers into the other man's hair and stroked slowly, from his temples to the inexpertly cut ends. He did it again, loving the thickness and silkiness of the stuff. The silver strands gleamed in the firelight. "Not just the two of us, anyway. Never when we were at Hogwarts. James or Peter or both of them were always there. After that… There were three years before everything fell apart, and we were barely speaking to each other by the end of that third year. Then there was Azkaban. Then you were on the run. Then there was Grimmauld Place. Then I lost you." His fingers stilled in Sirius' hair. "Three, then. This is only the third Christmas we've spent together, just the two of us. You're right; it does feel like more."
"I like when it's just the two of us," Sirius said. "I miss Harry, but I'm sure he's having more fun with his friends than he would with us. Us old blokes. Merlin, that didn't sound like me at all, did it? When did I become so…sedate? Want to go to a pub, Moony? We could cause a lot of trouble at a pub."
"You won't find one open around here," Remus said.
"I know. I was joking. Ha ha. Ho ho," he added with a grin.
Yes, Remus thought. They were going to be all right.
Sirius had been a wasteland when they'd pulled him back from the Veil. For days he'd lain as still as death, barely breathing, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. "All you've gained for your pains is a body to be buried," Severus had sneered. But Remus and Harry had sat beside Sirius day and night, talking to him, touching him, and slowly, very slowly, he had regained some memory of himself. Even then Remus had had his doubts, though Harry had taken heart. For weeks afterward, Sirius had drifted. Nothing - no sights, sounds, tastes, or smells - had seemed to penetrate deeper than his skin. He had responded when questioned, and listened when spoken to. He had eaten, and washed his hair, and he had slept beside Remus each night. But he had not taken the slightest interest in anything, and there had been times when Remus feared he had done his lover a grave disservice in bringing him back.
It was Harry whose relentless spirit had first elicited a smile from Sirius. The moment had nearly broken Remus because it had been like rain falling on a parched land, and because he alone remembered that it had been Sirius who had elicited Harry's first smile, long ago.
After that, Sirius had improved steadily. Laughter had returned very recently, but with it had come Remus' utter conviction that they would be just fine. They were already fine, he thought, considering all they had faced, alone and together. He began to comb Sirius' hair again with his fingers.
"I like all my presents," Sirius mused. "Even the one from Luna. I think."
"It's a nice flea collar," said Remus.
"It's green tartan, Moony. And it's got a bell. Dogs don't need bells."
"She was being festive. And you do get fleas."
"Not anymore, I won't. I just wish I knew if she meant it as a joke or not. What about you, Moony? Did you like all your presents?"
"I do," Remus said. "Even if they are all books."
"People know you," said Sirius.
"I haven't had time to read the books people gave me last year! Here, what're you doing?"
It was fairly obvious. Sirius had turned around and unbuckled Remus' belt.
"Unwrapping my last present. Sit still," he was instructed.
Slightly heady from the wine, and with the blood already rushing to one part of him, Remus could only comply. He slumped against the sofa cushions and dropped his head back.
"Just relax." Sirius kissed the pulse at his throat.
"How can I?" Remus murmured. "When you're - ah!" Sirius had undone his flies and was cupping him through his Y-fronts. Remus stretched against the cushions and tilted his head all the way back, exposing his throat, which Sirius continued to kiss and nibble, even as he began to pull Remus' trousers and pants down over his hips. He could see the fire crackling in the stone fireplace. Little twigs flared and blackened, and sparks flew. The heat fanned his face. Remus closed his eyes. Sirius' libido had returned with his laughter, for which Remus gave thanks. Many, many thanks.
"Which do you want?" Sirius asked, as though he fancied Remus capable of answering questions now. "My hand, my mouth, or just me?"
"Don't care," Remus muttered. "Just--" One hand slid up his jumper and rested over his heart. The other wrapped itself around his cock and began to pump him slowly. "--Like that," he finished breathlessly. He had a particular fondness for Sirius' mouth, but hands were perfectly fine. His own fingers were so thoroughly tangled in Sirius' hair that he wondered if he would ever work them free. Not that he had any desire to, at the moment.
"I love you," said Sirius, mapping Remus' chest and belly with the pads of his fingers. He leaned forward, putting more pressure on Remus' groin. "Doesn't it seem like it's just us in the whole universe? Like there isn't anyone else? Merlin, it's a good thing I got your heart years ago. I'd never have gotten it spouting this tripe, would I?" He laughed. "Reckon my acid wit will return with time, like all that other stuff." Then he kissed his way up Remus' neck, bit his chin lightly, and then began to kiss his way back down.
Amused by the patter, and that Sirius was unwittingly echoing his earlier thought - and very aroused by the handling he was receiving - Remus smiled. "Later, I want you to wear the collar I gave you. Just the collar."
"That can be arranged." Sirius uncurled his fingers from Remus' cock.
"Later," Remus protested. "I said later."
"I know you said later. Later, the collar. For now, this." He cupped Remus' face with his free hand, and kissed his mouth. He tasted of gingerbread, peppermint, and spiced wine. Remus kissed him back hungrily and as he did, Sirius pushed against him. It wasn't denim that nudged his erection, but hard, hot flesh.
"When did you…?" Remus broke the kiss momentarily to mumble.
"All that other stuff," Sirius explained, "includes the ability to get my trousers down faster than any other man."
"How I missed that particular skill of yours," Remus said wryly, and kissed him again.
In the thrusting and tumbling that followed they lost a few sofa cushions, and they knocked over the goblet of wine. How they ended up on the floor by the fireplace, Remus was not quite sure. When next he was aware of his surroundings, Sirius lay atop him, his hands still framing Remus' face, their release still thrumming through both of them.
"The wine," Remus moaned hazily. "The rug."
Sirius held him down. "Later." His eyes were soft as smoke, and flecked with gold from the firelight. "Later," he said again, kissing Remus until he relaxed and began to kiss him back. "We've got time."
And they did.