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Highland Fling [+podfic]

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Oh, there's sober men in plenty, and drunkards barely twenty,
There are men of over ninety who have never yet kissed a girl.
But give me a ramblin' rover; from Orkney down to Dover
We will roam the country over and together we'll face the world!

Sirius Black beheld the village nestled in the valley below him with a sigh of relief. After four days of hiking through the Scottish Highlands, he could barely stand the smell of himself anymore, his shoulders ached from carrying his pack, and he was desperate for something to eat that was not dried or out of a can. Somewhere in the village below, a hot meal awaited him, and, according to his guidebook, a backpackers hostel with (he sighed in rapture at the thought) showers.

The decision to visit Scotland had been an act of rebellion. Sirius's family's idea of a proper vacation involved private beaches, exclusive mountain getaways, and other similarly ritzy destinations. Places like that bored the life out of Sirius. He was done with them. School was over, and he was an adult now. When his parents had asked him how he wanted to spend his summer vacation before starting at Harvard School of Business in September, he had immediately chosen the unassuming scruffiness of backpacking through Scotland. Alone.

That was the best part of the trip, as far as Sirius was concerned. He did not care where he was, as long as it was a very long way from his family and his girlfriend and all their endless expectations of him. No email. No cell phone. Just himself and whatever Fate might throw into his path.

So far, Fate had smiled on him. Scotland was beautiful, once he found his way out of Edinburgh. Not that Edinburgh had not been nice, but it was a city, and that was not what Sirius was looking for. Cities he could find anywhere in the world, but he had never seen countryside like this before.

Rolling green hills dotted with sheep and edged with low stone walls. A sky dramatic with gray and white clouds hurrying across the blue. Ancient cottages, some with their roofs fallen in and gnarled trees growing within their walls, others surrounded by colorful flower gardens and neatly-kept paths. Quaint villages with curious names, often difficult to pronounce, each with its own small pub.

Sirius had never felt so free. Not only was he of legal age to drink in this country, but Scottish law allowed him to wander and camp anywhere he pleased, as long as he did not get in anyone's way or damage any property. Even the air seemed freer here. For the first time in his life, Sirius felt as though he could breathe.

Upon arriving in Edinburgh, he had obtained a map, closed his eyes, spun in a circle, and begun walking roughly northwest. But Edinburgh was sprawling and had proved difficult to escape from on foot. Eventually he had decided to take a bus across the Firth of Forth to the Fife Peninsula, where the countryside began to open up.

He had spent the next week hiking to his heart's content. So far, the weather had been fine, and he had spent every night but one under the open sky, feeling alone in the universe, and glad of it. The only rules that governed his travels were his resolution never to stay two nights in the same place, his injunction against any unnecessary communication with home and family, and the need to return to Edinburgh in time for his flight back.

This, he thought with satisfaction, is the only way to travel.

The hostel was located on the village's high street, and this early in the season, there were plenty of beds available. Sirius stashed his belongings, pausing only to rummage for shampoo and a towel before hitting the showers.

He sighed with pleasure as the hot water splashed over his skin. The knots in his shoulders loosened as his soapy hands roamed his body, reminding him that he had other parts that did not ache, and might like a bit of attention. However, the needs of his belly were more insistent, and he shut off the water with only mild regret, reaching for his towel.

Shoulder-length black hair still damp from washing, Sirius wandered down the high street, heading for a pub he had seen on his way into town. His stomach growled in anticipation at the scents that assailed him when he pushed open the door.

Not just a hot meal, but a decent one, he thought happily, taking a seat at the bar.

Casting about for a menu, Sirius spotted the bartender.

At first glance, the man looked far too young for the job. He was tall, with honey-brown hair that fell forward into eyes focussed on the beer he was pouring. He had a long, straight nose, full lips, and high cheekbones. The brown sweater he wore was old and scruffy and much too large for his slender frame, hanging down far enough to cover his denim-clad hips.

There was something about the way he stood -- or maybe it was the expression on his face -- that captivated Sirius's artistic eye. He opened the leather-bound notebook he had brought with him, and began to sketch. So caught up was he in his drawing that he did not notice he had been observed until a soft Scottish voice spoke to him.

"Is that meant to be me?"

Startled, Sirius looked up to find the bartender leaning across the bar, head tilted for a better look at the drawing, an amused smile playing on his lips. Seen up close, he had a ruddy flush to his cheeks which contrasted sharply with the paleness of his skin even in the low light of the pub.

Sirius blushed and quickly closed the notebook. "It's nothing."

"Och, I dinna mind." His brown eyes twinkled and for a second Sirius thought he caught the gleam of a tongue piercing. "What'll it be?"

"Pardon?" said Sirius, pulling his eyes away from the man's mouth.

"Pint?" the stranger asked. "Mixed drink? Food?"

"Oh, food," Sirius said quickly. "And a beer. Whatever's good."

"Try the MacRae's Bitter," the bartender suggested. "It goes doon a treat with the shepherd's pie."

"Sounds great," Sirius agreed, still feeling self-conscious.

The young man went to put his order through to the kitchen, then returned to pour Sirius's beer.

"Where do you come from?" he asked.

"America," replied Sirius. Then, belatedly realizing that his accent made that much obvious, he added, "Connecticut. It's next to New York."

"Aye," nodded the barman. "And what are you called, then?"

"Sirius. Sirius Black."

"Remus Lupin," the other man introduced himself. "Black isna a Scots name."

"No," agreed Sirius. "It's English, as far as I know."

"Most o' the Yanks we get up this way are after looking up their family trees," Remus explained.

"I had a grandmother who was a MacMillan."

Remus chuckled. "Nay more than I expected. Are you here with family, then?"

Some of Sirius's self-consciousness had begun to dissipate, charmed by the man's accent and easy smile. "No. Just traveling on my own for a bit before I start college in September."

"College? You mean uni?" asked the bartender.

A plump, middle-aged woman bearing Sirius's shepherd's pie exited the kitchen, elbowing Remus out of the way.

"You can pull on your ain time, laddie," she told him cheerfully. "Meanwhile there's paying customers going dry."

Remus flushed. "Sorry," he mumbled, and hurried away.

Sirius glanced at the woman curiously. "'Pull'? What does that mean?"

Her smile was so like Remus's that he guessed they must be related. "Surely you've been chatted up before. A fine bonnie laddie like you?"

She looked him over approvingly. When Sirius could do no more than goggle at her, she returned to the kitchen, chuckling and shaking her head.

Was she right? Had the bartender been hitting on him? Their conversation had seemed no more than friendly. Sirius eyed the man covertly, hardly tasting the food he had been so eager for not an hour before. He did not look gay, but Sirius had to admit that his experience with people of that orientation was limited. No one at his prep school had been gay -- at least, no one that Sirius had known about -- and it was the sort of thing his family considered unseemly to discuss. Nothing in Remus's bearing or mannerisms gave any hint one way or the other, as far as Sirius could tell. Perhaps the woman had only been having a joke at a foreigner's expense.

To distract himself from his confusion, Sirius returned to his sketch, carefully angling the notebook to shield his work from the drawing's subject. Curiosity consumed him, however, and when Remus returned a short while later to offer Sirius a fresh beer, it was all he could do not to blurt out the question. Instead, he asked about the woman in the kitchen.

"My Auntie Fiona," Remus confirmed. "She owns this place. Offered me work here until I start uni."

Remus did not stay for as long this time, but he kept coming back to the end of the bar where Sirius sat, even when his beer did not need refilling. Between serving customers, Sirius learned that Remus had grown up in Edinburgh, but his family had originally come from the village, and he had spent many of his school holidays there. In September, he would be starting a Geology degree at the University of St Andrews.

Sirius privately thought studying rocks sounded boring, but he found he liked hearing Remus talk about it. Maybe it was the accent. Every now and then, he had to ask the other man to explain a word, and the rise and fall of his voice was different from what Sirius was used to, but for the most part, his speech was pleasant and easy to understand.

"But I thought Brits paid next to nothing for college -- er -- uni," said Sirius at one point. "Why do you need a job?"

"Aye, that's true," Remus admitted. "Auntie Fiona likes a bit o' help with the tourists, though. It's nice to have a bit of extra pocket money as well, and it's no always easy to find work when --" he broke off, shaking his head. "But honestly, I was just needing to get away for a wee bit."

Sirius raised his glass in sympathy. "Right there with you. Do they not want you to do Geology or something?" He had warred long and hard with his own parents over his desire to minor in a "useless" subject like Art History.

"Nay, they were fine about the course," said Remus slowly. "It was more o' the other thing. Me wanting to shag blokes. They dinna think much o' that."

He gave Sirius a sideways glance, gauging his reaction.

"Oh," was all Sirius could think to say.

"Will you be wanting to close your tab, then, Mr. Black?" Remus asked politely.

Sirius guessed that the Scot was testing him, seeing if he would bolt now that he knew the truth. He saw no reason to. There was nothing wrong with being gay, as far as Sirius was concerned. His parents might disagree, but he took pains not to be like them whenever possible. Too many of their views were based on flawed or outdated ideas about the world. In any case, Remus did not seem likely to jump on him without warning.

"No." He cleared his throat. "No, I think I'll have another beer. And it's 'Sirius'. Mr. Black is my father. So, ah, what is there to do around here?"

Remus accepted the change of topic with a nod and the shadow of a smile, naming a few sites of interest within walking distance of the village. His highest recommendation went to a small distillery a few miles up the road.

"I used to go for the tours with my Mum and Da when I was a wee lad," he explained. "It's a brilliant place. This will be the first year I've been old enough to sample the whisky, but I havena been up yet."

"It sounds like fun," agreed Sirius. "Which road do I take?"

Remus hesitated. "I could show you. If you dinna mind the company, that is. I've the day off tomorrow."

"You have a car?" asked Sirius, surprised. Given Remus's age, shabby appearance, and student status, it did not seem likely.

"Nay," said Remus, shaking his head. "It's no but a wee walk, though. An hour, maybe."

Sirius could not help grinning at the hopeful tone in Remus's voice. Maybe the man was hitting on him. Sirius found that he rather enjoyed the attention.

"Sounds like a plan," he said.

Sirius lay awake at the hostel, staring at the underside of the bunk above him. It was not the soft snores of his fellow travelers that kept him from sleep, but a tiny, niggling thought in the back of his mind. Why should it matter?

It should not make any difference to him one way or the other that Remus Lupin was gay, nor should it matter if he was attracted to Sirius. Sirius was straight. He was mildly flattered by the attention the other man gave him, that was all. If he had entertained thoughts from time to time about what it might be like to -- well, that was perfectly normal, surely. Everyone had those thoughts sometimes. Just because boys did not talk about such things among themselves did not make him some kind of --

Sirius sighed and leaned over the side of the bed for his notebook and pencil. Perhaps purging himself of his odd thoughts would help him sleep. He flipped quickly past the drawing he had made at the bar, opening the book to a blank page.

His brother had given him the notebook as a graduation present. Regulus was a great one for diaries and journals, but it was not a hobby he and Sirius shared. Still, Sirius had been touched by the gift. Regulus had suggested he might use it to document his travels. Because Sirius had always been more interested in art than in writing, Regulus had made sure to find a notebook which was only lined on one side of each page.

"But write about it, too, OK?" he had said. "I want to hear about everything when you come home."

Should he write about Remus Lupin? Why should it matter? he thought again. It was all perfectly innocent. He had met and spoken with a friendly local, that was all.

And made a date with him, said the small voice in the back of his mind.

No. It was not a date. Straight people could be friends with gay people and do things together without it meaning anything. Sirius would just have to make sure Remus understood that. Nothing was going to happen.