Chapter 1: On the Ledge
podfic here: https://soundcloud.com/elise-ayala/in-the-bed
When Sirius arrived at Potter Manor nothing could have prepared him for the warm, sparkling world he was confronted with, not even having James around. He’d forgotten James was away all summer at a prestigious and competitive Quidditch camp, run by Oswald Singer, the Oswald Singer, Pads. James had talked it up since Easter; that Sirius had forgotten was a testament to the agitation and isolation of Grimmauld (not to mention the crushing weight of what he’d done to Remus in May).
He stood on the porch faced not with his best mate and a summer of distracting shenanigans, but his very concerned parents. Sirius was ushered in by Mrs. Potter, and sat at the table by Mr. Potter. He was taken round the garden by Mrs. Potter to see how the tomatoes were coming along. And invited to the workshop to see Mr. Potter’s bizarre abstract mosaic sculptures (as if Sirius hadn’t seen the army of them covering the front lawn on his way in). And overfed and fussed over at the breakfast, lunch, and dinner table by the both of them.
Sirius had never been in a home where people were often around and eager to talk to him; Grimmauld was quiet, smothered under generations of silencing and muggle-proofing charms, so that even if someone was in the study just next door, you would never know it. In the face of so much warm attention, Sirius took to wandering the extensive property.
He poked around James’ room and ventured into the low slung attic and peered into the cellar. He found himself mapping out this new home, feeling like if he could just know where everything was he might start to feel at home. He worked from the edges of the Manor in, until one night he followed an oddly curved hallway with all the doors left ajar. He found a door that opened to a tightly spiraling staircase that ended in a trapdoor. After some poking and prodding and, eventually, pleading, the trapdoor snapped open above him and a slender wooden ladder descended gracefully.
Sirius climbed the ladder through the trapdoor into a circular tower room, graced with several well-pillowed window seats and floor to ceiling bookcases in between: Potter Manor's library. The windows looked out on the small pond on the Potter's estate, which even in the dark, Sirius could see was glowing an alarming purple color. Beside it stood two swaying willow trees.
Sirius circled the room slowly, skimming his fingers over the spines. He couldn't see the titles well, but didn't feel much like disturbing the dark. He tugged a large book off the shelf that looked like it might have pictures and brought it over to one of the window seats.
Snuggled up into plush pillows, he idly thumbed through pages of portraits, mostly of half naked women which weren't really of much interest to him and wasn't that just fucking great he thought, snapping the book shut. He hugged it to his chest, burrowing further into the pillows, and watched the willows sway their branches warily over the fluorescent pond.
After that Sirius spent as much time as possible in the library, returning to the bedroom only to keep up the pretense of sleeping there. Most nights and days Sirius was curled up on the window ledge with the best view of the purple pond and the willows.
The ladder floated gently nearby, forever awaiting Sirius' cue. All Sirius had to do was reach out to touch it, which hummed happily under his fingertips, and ask. The first time, he asked, "Can you show me where the Muggle books are?" The ladder twitched spastically, but didn't move.
So Sirius padded over to the nearest shelf to figure it out for himself. And there! Hadn't Moony talked about Crime and Punishment? Which apparently wasn’t about lawful prefectliness, but killing an old lady and falling in love with a prostitute. It was right next to An Unabridged History of Medieval Sorceresses. Sirius knew it was Muggle though, he definitely remembered Moony chuckling over someone's prolonged death scene via tuberculosis. He smiled a bit, thinking of Moony's twisted sense of humor, before he shook himself a little.
More exploration revealed that all the Muggle books were mixed in (everything was incomprehensibly mixed up, but the ladder sort of knew where to find things). Sirius had thought there would be a Muggle section, a novelty and treat, considering Grimmauld not only lacked Muggle books, but had instead an entire section of creature hunting memoirs he’d once got in trouble for trying to burn.
A precarious stack of books formed next to the ledge as Sirius searched the shelves for everything he could remember Remus ever mentioning. He'd even tried to read some, but two pages into Crime and Punishment, Sirius had to put it down because he couldn't stop picking at his fingernails, and watching the willows, and fingering the growing curl of hair behind his ear. Sirius would never find out about the murdered pawn shop lady because he couldn't really sit still like Remus. Only, it wasn't really sitting still that was the problem, because Sirius spent most of his time napping and staring, stack of books nearby both comforting and mocking.
Mr. Potter found him first.
Sirius was staring out at the willows, an abandoned book of poetry still propped in his lap when the ladder soundlessly zoomed over to the trapdoor and down. Mr. Potter's white, but still wild, head of hair emerged a moment later. Sirius rushed to stand up, sitting down awkwardly a moment later.
"Ah so this is where you've been. We've been wondering." Mr. Potter said, turning to the bookshelves.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said, filled with guilt that he couldn't just sleep in the bedroom they gave him.
"Yes well, you should be very sorry for enjoying the library. The library isn't for enjoying,” Mr. Potter teased.
Sirius smiled and watched Mr. Potter scanning the shelves, but if he was looking for something in particular he seemed unable to find it.
"Ah Lautrec!" Mr. Potter exclaimed happily, spying the book on Sirius’ ledge, and his white hair gave a small salute of excitement.
"Sorry sir?" Sirius said.
Mr. Potter gestured wildly to the book, "May I? May I?" Sirius handed over the volume he'd been partially sleeping on. "It's been forever!"
Mr. Potter caressed the cover and sat down in midair, a chair popping into place at the last moment. He cracked the large book to a spread of paintings somewhere in the middle, carefully turning pages, lingering longer over some.
"Do you have a favorite?" Mr. Potter asked, glancing up from a painting with a leering green faced woman.
Sirius stared at her ugly green face, not wanting to lie to Mr. Potter about just how incomprehensible he found it all. "Um, this is the first time I've seen... anything like it."
"Yes! Yes!" Mr. Potter beamed, "Lautrec is so very unique. None quite like him!"
Sirius shifted on the ledge, curling his legs into his torso. "Yea."
"Do you have a favorite?" Mr. Potter asked again.
And if Sirius had thought he could get out of this conversation pretending, it was only because he had never faced the full force of Mr. Potter's earnest attention. "Actually Sir, I... I don't really get it." He couldn't say it just looked like a bunch of naked girls, he wasn't about to have Mr. Potter explain what he was missing about the naked girls.
Mr. Potter looked up at him. "Would you like to?"
"Start here," Mr. Potter flipped to the beginning of the book. "There's always an essay at the beginning to convince you the artist is an unparalleled genius and more often than not, it does its job well.
"And sometimes it helps to know about the artist's life and what other people were painting at the time. For example, did you know, Lautrec didn't get along with his wealthy father? His father wanted him to be something he could never be." Mr. Potter said, trying to casually turn a page, and Sirius suddenly knew that James’ complete lack of subtlety was hereditary, but he couldn't just shove Mr. Potter and tell him to shut up.
Mr. Potter kept going. "He knew what it was to be rejected and he painted the rejects of muggle society."
Somehow it had never occurred to Sirius that muggles, so rejected from the wizarding society he knew, had rejects of their own. "Who?"
Mr. Potter flipped another page, to a painting of a woman's back. "Mostly prostitutes."
"Lots of French painters painted prostitutes," Mr. Potter went on. "It showed how bohemian you were and they were cheap models, and mostly, men liked seeing naked women in their art. But I like Lautrec because it's more than just a body. He paints their humanity."
Sirius wondered how Mr. Potter could see humanity, when all he could see was a back and some messy ginger hair that would probably knock James out. "Oh," was all he said.
Mr. Potter gingerly passed the book over to Sirius, the woman's back still glaring up at him. "Read the introduction," he said, "And then flip through. If something catches your eye just look for a while, if it doesn't catch your eye, you don't have to look."
"Quite welcome," he said, already descending the ladder through the trapdoor.
Sirius looked again at the woman's back before snapping the book shut on her. He looked at the cover a moment before opening it once more, to the beginning, to the promised essay about how brilliant Lautrec really was.
Sirius spent most of the afternoon reading about Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The Toulouse family was wealthy; Lautrec's father was called the Black Prince and he was crotchety and cruel even when he didn't mean to be. And he wanted a son to hunt game and ride horses but Lautrec was a dwarf. He couldn't be what his family thought he would be.
After that Sirius felt tugged toward the book. The woman's back was still incomprehensible but there were others, the strange green faced woman staring out of the corner of a painting reminded him of Bellatrix, and a glaring woman next to a bottle had a fierce expression that reminded him of McGonagall.
And further on, paintings of women laying in bed together, hands disappearing under skirts, hands wrapped around each other, hands resting, completely at ease. His own hands clutched the book tighter, reading each description with a deep ache. They were lovers. They were really lovers. It was confirmed in painting, in writing in this huge book, those hands under skirts and sheets, those hands around shoulders; they were irrefutably lovers!
That deep ache intensified, felt almost bodily, as Sirius gazed at the lovers. His fingertips traced over their beds, the world their love occupied, wanting to feel the possibility of their relationship. He thought of Remus, of being possible with Remus in that world, in those beds, disappearing under those sheets. His wanting solidified, and all the ways he looked and thought about boys slotted into a place of recognition and couldn’t be tugged loose to hide away again.
As summer drifted by, another stack of books formed. Sirius couldn't really focus on the exemplary stack of Moony books, he couldn’t really focus on anything except his heavy want, but he could rest his eyes on the paintings in Mr. Potter's art books. It was a smaller stack, just the book on Lautrec, another with a cover of apples about someone named Cezanne, and a last one with a swirling blue cover about Van Gogh. He flipped through them, lingering longer over some, skipping others, thinking always of Moony.
Curled up on the ledge, surrounded by several aborted attempts at letters, he felt like there was nothing he could possibly say. He'd finally done something Blacker than words could fix.
He pulled the Cezanne book over, having felt comforted before that Cezanne thought he was shit sometimes too. He flipped to the section of still lifes, loving the off-kilter tables and apples that looked like they could tumble right off the page. Sirius had felt like one of those apples his whole life, ready to fall right off the edge, always liminally right on the fucking edge. If only Moony could be there to straighten the tablecloth a little.
Sirius turned the page, wishing he was talented like Mr. or Mrs. Potter and could make something for Moony, a sculpture or a quilt, paint him something to tell him without words. But he didn’t really want to paint Moony anything, he just wanted to melt into the paintings he’d found, and share the melting with Remus. Sirius wanted to walk around cypress trees and through the fields by Mount Sainte Victoire with Remus. Was there a way to travel into and within the paintings?
The rest of the summer Sirius worked like he imagined Van Gogh worked on his ugliest days. He didn't stop to let himself think what it would really solve to show Moony the paintings, he just forged ahead to find a way to go there, go to that lense of reality where things were possible. He only let himself think through the technical problems, like what kind of travel-- apparating or portkey was best for jumping into them. Or the problem of resizing a human within the boundaries of the paint (solved with a clever equation from James' arithmancy textbook). The problem of copying the paintings so that he didn't rip pages out from Mr. Potter's books. The problem of which paintings to give Moony, which ones would he like?
Sirius worked on it through whole nights, staying up to make sure no one caught him using a family heirloom wand underage. Some paintings were easy choices: several Van Gogh landscapes went in right away, right at the beginning. They were accessibly beautiful and looked spacious, therefore requiring less arithmancy. Choosing the Cezanne's was harder. The still lifes Sirius liked best were closely cropped, deconstructed; what if Remus traveled to one of the 'unfinished' paintings and found himself unpainted? But Sirius desperately wanted to show Remus the apples, the vision of Remus' straightening the table cloth occupying his mind.
Copying the paintings onto new parchments took forever, not like when they copied bits of the map, the brushstrokes appeared slowly, one at a time. And each painting needed its own set of ratios to work, so that Remus wouldn't travel in and find himself hunched over on a still life table. And the portkey spell wouldn't work since the travel wasn't changing coordinates, which was fine because the portkey spell was one time use anyway. But neither did the apparating spell work because apparently a painting didn't qualify as a sufficient Destination, which Sirius thought was bollocks. It took a long time to puzzle the actual travel out, but Sirius eventually found a book on pensieves and found that embedding pensieve runes into the paper worked.
Technical problems solved, Sirius considered the aesthetic for the first time in his life. He wanted it to look nice for Moony. He didn't want to shove a stack of thoroughly magicked but still haphazard parchment bits at him. So he asked Mrs. Potter for strong thread and a sharp needle, to fix a corner on his truck he said. And he carefully severed the leather cover from his charms textbook, because it was nearby and the right size. Then he transfigured the cover so it was blank and sewed in the pages as best he could, by hand, because Mrs. Potter might get suspicious if he asked to borrow one of her sewing books.
Every couple of days he charmed the cover a new color: black when he was feeling despondent that his stupid project was both pointless and beside the point, fushia when he'd spent too long looking at the pond on the Manor grounds, forest green because Moony had a sweater that color that he wore often.
Then he found a calligraphy spell you could put on your quill and he wrote out all the names of the paintings in forest green ink, but he vanished them the next day and wrote them again in his own hand, which was still quite neat but much less needlessly flourishy. He doodled borders around the paintings like frames.
All the while he wondered if he should write Moony a letter, there was a blank page left in the back. Maybe not an apology, which Sirius felt he should say out loud, to Remus' disappointed face, but maybe something else. In the end, he inked a simple "To Moony" on the inside of the front cover with the spell. The day before James returned, he tucked it away carefully in his trunk, out of both time and ideas for improving it further.
Sirius tidied the ledge in the library, returning the stack of Moony books to their various, seemingly random spots on the shelf. He slid the books on Van Gogh, Cezanne and Lautrec in last, finally understanding why Remus always seemed to be clutching a book to his chest. But he had the book for Moony, and maybe Remus would forgive him one day and they could look at it together when Sirius was feeling like an apple tumbling on the edge.
James arrival home brought a flurry of activity: Quidditch in the garden and shopping for books and supplies, searching out socks and dungbombs, and packing up their trunks. The night before term Sirius lay in bed, mind spinning anxiously without a task to set his mind to.
He unearthed Moony's book from the safe spot in his trunk and snuck back up to the library. Sitting on the ledge with Moony's book and the Lautrec book, Sirius tried not to think about any of the implications of this particular sleep deprived decision: he was going to include a Lautrec. He flipped to the back, to the paintings of the women and found his favorite. He carefully wrote the pensieve runes into the parchment, charmed the ratios for this particular painting, copied the painting to the very last page of the book, casting light ennervates on himself to stay awake while each brushstroke graced the new page. When it was done, he carefully inscribed the name, Dans Le Lit, Lautrec underneath the painting, having to forgo a border because he couldn't keep his eyes open anymore.
He went back downstairs, too tired to creep carefully, and fell into bed with Moony's book still in his hand.
Chapter 2: In the Bed
Sirius had only sat in the train carriage trying not to look so obviously anxious for two minutes when Remus poked his head in. The train had just started to slowly chug out the station when he slid the door open, and from the corridor told James and Peter, and maybe Sirius too, that he had a prefects' meeting and would be over after. Sirius just stared at him.
When Remus slid the door shut, James faced Sirius. "When he comes back we're gonna clear out. And you're gonna talk to him."
Sirius huffed. "You don't have to tell me."
"Don't I? It's been all summer. You need to fix this, it's giving Wormy anxiety hiccups."
Peter let out an exaggerated hiccup, complete with a grimace. "It's true you know. I hate it when mum and dad fight."
"Yea--Hang on!" James said, sparing Sirius more intense eye contact to turn to Peter in outrage. "You think they're the mum and dad? No no no no no."
"Remus is always trying to talk us out of stuff? He's the mum friend," Peter offered.
"Only so he can talk us into sneakier stuff. He's not the mum friend!" James turned bodily toward Peter to continue the conversation in earnest. "Remus is the cool older sister."
"My older sisters don't let me get away with anything."
"A hypothetical older sister."
"Wormy's the mum friend," Sirius said quietly. Peter grimaced and James gave Sirius the careful-you're-about-to-be-an-arse-face but Sirius continued. "He makes sure Remus doesn't just eat cake and he goes to all your quidditch practices. Listens to all our stupid stories."
"I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said Sirius."
"Yea well. You're the fucking loony uncle."
"And you're the family dog," James said, but he was smiling wide.
James and Peter continued assigning the Marauders family roles, James insisting he and Lily were the mum and dad, while Peter cautiously suggested not getting too attached to that idea. Sirius turned toward the window and tried to think of something to say to Remus when he gave him the book. He regretted not writing Remus a note when he had the chance but his mind was unhelpfully blank. Instead he watched hills speed by, running his fingers along the edges of the book in his pocket.
When Remus finally came by in the middle of the day, James stood up at once, pulling Peter to his feet.
"I'm starving. Rem-- we're gonna go find the trolley. You want anything?"
"Some cauldron cakes?" Remus said, digging into his pockets. "I've got to patrol later. No sugary rest for the weary."
"Or the wicked!" James shouted, already out in the corridor and speeding away.
Remus sat carefully opposite Sirius. "Hey."
Sirius couldn't quite look at Remus, looking instead at his worn sneakers a good three inches from the hem of his robes. So he had gotten taller over the summer. Sirius wondered where that would bring him on Remus, promptly shutting down a vision of them chest to chest.
Remus sighed and Sirius flinched, finally looking up. Sirius couldn't take it. He stood abruptly and shoved the book into Remus' hands. "I made you this," Sirius rushed out. Remus started to open the cover, but Sirius smacked his hands back down on it. "No. No don't open it."
Remus looked up into Sirius' eyes. "You made me a book I can't open?"
"No! Just!" Sirius could feel his heartbeat in his arms and down to his fingertips. "I'll leave! Open it when I leave!"
And with that, Sirius barrelled into the corridor and down the train to fling himself into the first empty carriage he found.
Sirius was falling apart inside waiting for Remus to say something about the book.
Term had started a week ago and so far, Sirius had rarely been alone with Remus for more than a few moments. James and Peter must have made some agreement to act as a constant, cloying buffer between them in a misguided attempt to make everything seem normal again. Sirius hung back more and more, hoping Remus would too but that didn’t happen.
As he climbed the stairs to the dormitory, Sirius regretted fleeing from the train compartment, wishing he’d known they wouldn’t get another moment to themselves. He paused outside the door, wondering if Remus would be inside, wondering if he could stand to be in the dorm alone thinking of Remus avoiding him. Quidditch tryouts had finally started and James was taking his recently acquired captainship very seriously. Peter was taking his Quidditch mom role just as seriously, meaning this was the first time since term a potential meeting was even possible. And Remus was probably politely hiding out in the library. Sirius pushed open the door with a heavy sigh.
Remus was at his desk, socked feet propped up with a textbook in his lap. He looked up from his book to look at Sirius, who set down his bag and pulled over his own desk chair, stupidly, because now he was sat in front of Remus with nothing to do but plead expectantly.
Remus took pity on him. "Hey."
Sirius inhaled, needing to draw in new air just to say hi to Remus.
"I've been looking through the book," Remus said mildly.
"Yea?" Sirius said.
"I was thinking we should try it out today."
We? "But M-- it, it's just for you," Sirius said uncertainly.
Remus shrugged, "Well," and got up to retrieve the book from underneath his pillow. He handed it to Sirius, "Pick one."
"Don't you want to?"
"I want to see what you pick."
Sirius flipped through, vibrating with the need to get this test right. He stopped on one of the Van Gogh landscapes he'd included. He'd liked the dark branches of the olive trees, they'd made him think of Moony: jagged and flexible. He wouldn't tell Moony those things. "This one," he said, watching Remus' face, but there was nothing to see there but vaguely pleasant interest. Sirius reached out tentatively to Remus, resting two fingers on his elbow, apologizing, "The spell is like a pensieve we've got to be touching."
Remus nodded and Sirius gripped his bicep, applying his wand tip to the picture like he was applying paint, compelled to whisper the spell. The spell wasn't fast like a portkey or apparation, instead it felt like traveling through the slippery plants at the shores of the Black Lake, sucked into a swirling mass of slimy tendrils, then gently deposited into Landscape with Olive Trees.
It was quiet; all the background sound of a creaking castle and Highland winds, the rustling of book and parchment and bed clothes, murmured spells and shouts and laughter, every ambient sound Sirius never noticed he was noticing was absent from the painting. Those sounds stripped away, Sirius could instead hear Remus breathing, his own breathing, his own heartbeat. The intimacy of it felt like a mistake. Sirius was intensely aware of not looking at him.
"Have you been here before?" Remus whispered into the quiet.
Sirius shook his head, turning to look at Moony. Merlin, but he was made to be a Van Gogh. The shape of his large ridged nose, his thin face with all its valleys, Sirius had always studied it rather too much. In Van Gogh's paint, all Moony's interesting contours were highlighted. Sirius had always noted the circles under his eyes, but here they were illuminated, short strokes of paint capturing both the curve and color (lavender, deeply lavender). Sirius wanted to hold Moony's face and run his thumbs along those tracks of lavender. They were beautiful, Moony was so beautiful.
Sirius started shivering as he traced the contouring brushstrokes of Moony's face with his eyes. Moony's sandy curls were plush and thick, just like the single cloud over the olive trees. The scars on his forearms arms receded into the variegated brushwork, the thick ruddy pink lines were still there, but Moony's arms weren't divided by them. His arms were like any other object, like a hill, to be rendered whole in colors that shift. Sirius eyes roved, finding Moony's again, and he'd need twenty minutes to catalog every flick of color there, but Moony was watching him. Watching Sirius eat his brushstrokes up.
Sirius coughed and looked away, out toward the twisting olive trees. "D'wanna..?" He asked, gesturing at the fluid blue hills.
"Yea. Lemme just--" and Remus took off his socks, and fuck, but Moony's knobby, corded feet!
Sirius was right, the twist and sweep of Moony's skinny feet were just like the olive tree branches: sturdy but breakable, sturdy because they were breakable, always twisting and breaking and growing still, bearing fruit that everyone thought was mild but started out full of bitterness that had to be soaked out and soaked out. Sirius wondered about the soaking, about all the things Moony had to do to be mild, how he always seemed to manage it, if he should have to because Sirius loved that bitterness.
Remus wiggled his olive tree toes into the thick curves of the field.
"How does it feel?"
Remus smiled wide, the thin brushstrokes of his lips stretching further. "It's squishy. And cold."
"Like paint," Remus echoed, still wiggling, still smiling. "You should try it."
Sirius toed off his boots and peeled off his socks, knocking them over to where Remus had set his socks. His socks felt like paint, the hill felt like paint. Sirius wiggled his toes too.
"Come on," Remus said, catching Sirius' elbow. Remus' fingertips felt like paint and Sirius shivered again. "I want to see if we can walk through it."
They could walk through it. They walked silently, their feet sometimes making smacking wet sounds, their breathing still loud. They weaved through olive trees and Remus touched anything at hand level, running his fingers over dark branches. He looked happy, his expression crinkled into a small smile. They walked and walked, discovering the spell had rendered the actual distance of the field and hills, lending them real space to traverse.
Remus stuck his hands in his pockets as they walked past the olive trees and chuckled. "Feels like there's paint in my pockets." They didn't say much else as they walked. Sirius hadn't stopped shivering, the combination of Moony's eddying solidity and the full body immersion into the eddying landscape had swept him. His thoughts were quieter, just things like turquoise or cream or squish surfacing from the deep occasionally.
They stood at the gently sloping curves of the blue hills and Sirius tried to catalog every variation of blue: navy in the outlines and cornflower and the salty blue of the ocean, and the sloshing blue of missing Moony down to his fingertips. They started climbing, the slippery sounds of paint between their toes increasing. Moony panted softly, and Sirius imagined his breath was the same cornflower blue of the hills, traveling up from Moony's blue lungs.
Remus crested the hills first, Sirius trailing behind to the watch the blue shadows swishing on Moony's robes, and flopped down in a slightly sloping valley, looking down on the olive trees. Sirius settled cross legged beside him, closer than he might otherwise. He watched Remus comb his long, thin fingers, with those knobby knuckles, through the strands of blue. Sirius found a swish of the same blue of the hillside in the curve of Remus ear and wanted desperately to lick it, to feel Moony's blue-soaking-bitterness in his mouth, to swallow it to be blue and lavender like Moony instead of black.
Sirius took a deep breath, trying to clear out any thoughts of swallowing.
"It's nice here." Remus said.
Sirius nodded, unsure what else to do.
"Can I ask you something?" Remus asked, fingers stilling in the blue, and Sirius nodded again, but slowly, thinking of all his failures to have the conversations he ought to have with Remus.
"Why'd you do this?" Remus asked, looking up intently at Sirius.
Sirius curled his legs up, felt his own painted fingertips on his arms. He turned away from Remus to look out at the olive trees; he really loved those olive trees. Sirius had a feeling of wanting to twist up his heart like those branches, to be sturdier for Moony.
"Because the letters I tried to write to you were crap."
"James said you would write to me, but you didn't."
"Did you want to hear from me?"
Remus sighed. "Yes."
Sirius twisted up his heart again, against the pain of failing to do yet another thing that Remus needed. "I tried but they were all crap. I tried to do this."
"Yea but, Sirius, this"-- Remus gestured to the painted landscape-- "Doesn't tell me what happened to you this summer. Or what happened in May. It doesn't tell me anything."
Sirius felt a lump forming in his throat and wondered what color it was. "I wanted to make you something. There aren't... there's nothing good enough to say and I thought if I could make you something..." Sirius swallowed against the lump, probably a sharp, aching yellow thing. "All my letters were so stupid! There's no way, just no way to say how sorry, how shitty... and I thought." Sirius exhaled. "I thought if I... I wanted to give you something, to show you."
"Ok," Remus said.
Sirius flopped back onto the blue hill, turning his cheek into it, wanting to press his whole body permanently into the painting. He didn't know those things were true until he said them to Moony.
Remus didn't let up. "I didn't know you liked art."
This was a part of the showing, and Sirius was a part of the painting so he could do it.
"I didn't until this summer. I didn't know about any of this stuff."
"Yea? Why'd you pick this one?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?" Remus sounded distinctly unimpressed.
"Ok! Fine! I like Van Gogh! I like that everything's so beautiful but it still looks like it hurts. Like not something stupid like pain is beautiful, but just, those two things, hurting and beautiful together." Sirius rushed to say it before losing his nerve. "Does that make any sense?"
"Yea, that makes sense."
"Do you like it?" Sirius asked quietly.
"Yea, I like it. I like that it doesn't look anything like what it is?" Remus wondered. Sirius waited for the wondering. "How do I explain this?" Remus murmured softly, carefully. "It feels like those olive trees are truer than the way I might look at an olive tree in real life. Like I can see something important about the olive trees or the hills that I can't see just on my own."
Remus' fingers resumed their sliding then and Sirius relaxed into the blue, the distance between himself and Remus in reality painted over here, just for a little while. What Remus said was true, Sirius saw the truth of Remus' lavender brushstrokes and the blue in the curve of his ear. Last May he almost exposed those lavender tracks to the world, almost blurred over the blue shell of Remus' ear.
Sirius lost track of how long they laid there; he catalogued all of Remus' colors, trying to find the places where the colors of the painting echoed themselves in Remus, trying to find the places where his own colors matched Remus’.
Sirius was exhausted, exhausted everywhere in every way. Since the trip to Landscape with Olive Trees, Remus had been watching him. Sirius watched him watching him, still unable to form words outside of the painting. But something had changed between them. Something subtle but that maybe Van Gogh could see and make tangible. At the table and in classes, silently in the library, Sirius imagined the air between himself and Remus pulsing and swirling, fine filaments of color keeping them in the same space again.
As the full moon had approached, the first of the school year, those swirling filaments had fractured a bit, into short strokes that needled because Sirius didn't know what was going to happen. Remus had left him suspended until the very morning of the full moon. He'd looked over at Sirius at breakfast and asked, "Are you coming tonight?" spreading jam on his toast. So Sirius had gone, even though he didn't deserve to, because Moony didn't deserve to tear himself up because of Sirius' absence.
Sirius leaned back in the stiff hospital chair, looking his fill at a sleeping Moony in the hospital bed. The early morning infirmary wing was quiet and the white curtains around Remus' bed diffused the light, softening even Sirius’ pitching guilt. Changing into Padfoot last night had simplified the guilt into flattened ears and tail-between-legs and that had seemed to satisfy Moony. It satisfied Sirius too, especially since he hadn't allowed himself to change since May; Padfoot was for Moony, not for Sirius and certainly not for making Sirius feel better when he was an arsehole. But the break from his grief and the glimpse of normality was fortifying. Sirius felt less like losing Moony forever was the only inevitable conclusion. James and Peter had seemed heartened this morning too, almost giddy in their exhaustion, and encouraged Sirius to be the one to take the cloak and wait by Remus' bed.
So he waited, not even tempted to fall asleep when Remus was looking so soft. It was an hour before Remus groaned and attempted to push himself up to sit. Sirius rushed to the bed to help, pulling Remus gently up and settling him on the pillows.
"D'you want some water?" Sirius whispered. Moony rasped a yes and allowed Sirius to hold the glass for him between sips.
Having drained the glass slowly, Remus collapsed back onto the pillows.
"Not a bad night," he said, gently prodding his ribs. Sirius scoffed. "No really," he smiled. "Just the pain from the transformation, doesn't feel like anything more."
Remus requested his bag and Sirius hurried to comply, hauling it onto the narrow hospital bed. Remus dug in the main pocket for a moment before pulling out the book. "Pomfrey won't be by for another few hours. To let me rest. Let's get out of here."
"You sure that's a good idea Moony?"
"What's the difference lying here or lying in a painting? Except that it's less depressing." Remus said, shoving the book at Sirius. "Now pick one out."
Sirius only needed a moment to find the one he wanted. He flipped quickly to The Olive Trees, a sunny, pulsing version of the same strong, twisted branches. Sirius knew Remus thought the hospital wing gloomy; The Olive Trees made Sirius feel like thick sunshine pulsed in place of his blood. He'd take Moony there.
Sirius gripped Remus' wrist gently and said the spell. There was the same slow, traveling through slime feeling and they were once again in the deeply quiet world of the painting. Remus had apparently arrived lying down and Sirius was relieved traveling hadn't jostled him much at all. Sirius watched Remus lift his head up to look at the brightly yellow sky and smile at least as brightly. He settled down next to Remus, once again feeling like the distance between them was painted over here.
"Why this one then?" Remus asked, still smiling, his mouth full of all the same dazzling white and yellow brushstrokes as the sky.
"It's the opposite of dreary, isn't it?" Sirius answered.
Remus agreed on an exhale. "Yea, I like these shadows."
"Yea?" Sirius felt breathless with wanting to know what Remus thought.
"Yea, usually shadows are just black right? Or sort of sinister. But these are white and orange and..." Remus paused, digging a finger into the flecks of light blue in the shadow of the olive tree.
"Periwinkle," Sirius supplied.
Remus looked up, delighted. "Since when do you know what the fuck periwinkle is?"
Sirius cracked a huge smile and shrugged. Remus reached over to dig his fingers into the periwinkle strokes of Sirius' shadow and Sirius scooted a little closer, just to make the digging easier on him. His shadow wasn't just black here, it was periwinkle, just like Remus', and rich ochre and just a little bit of black, only just enough to show a shadow.
"Come a bit closer?" Remus asked, lifting his head up to rest it on Sirius' thigh. "That's better."
Remus' wiry morning curls looked just like the tufts of olive tree leaves and Sirius said so before he could think not too. Remus didn't seem to mind, and said Sirius' hair looked like the mountains in the distance. They were quiet for a while, Remus lazily running his fingers through the ochre paint while Sirius squinted up at the yellow sky to avoid looking too much at Remus' face. The lavender tracks from before were darker today, a ruddy violet wine, and the depth and the proximity of the color felt too tempting.
"You really like touching the paint?" Sirius asked.
"Yea. It's different than the slimy bits in potions. Feels nice. You should try it." Remus said, shifting on Sirius' thigh to curl up on his side, facing the orchard of olive trees and the blushing mountains. Remus facing away gave Sirius the courage to run his fingers through Remus' painted curls, just once, feeling the cool paint squish between his fingers. Remus reached up to tug Sirius' hand back to his head.
"What's it feel like?" Sirius whispered.
"Feels like you're touching my hair." Remus answered, and a moment later, "Feels nice."
Sirius combed straight fingers through, over and over. Then he swirled his fingers around, rearranging Moony's curls, watching the range of Remus' sunny ochres shift into new swirling strokes. He twisted them this way and that, deeply absorbed in the changing contours of Moony curls, the appearance of rusty oranges alongside the same warm brown of the olive tree trunks.
Sirius' thoughts were different here, more immediately a string of color-color-contour, but strangely that only made him more aware of his feelings. The pervasive fog of blackness Sirius felt in reality was shattered here by variegated swaths of rich color. Sirius couldn’t hide from his own contrition here.
"Moony?" Sirius' voice cracked.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Sirius dug his fingers deep into Moony's curls and tried not to cry, "I'm so sorry, Remus."
Sirius felt tears forming as Remus turned on his thigh to stare up at him from his lap.
"Sirius..." And Sirius could see tears forming in Remus' eyes too, like a blurring on the strokes around his eyes, flecked carefully with a shine of white paint.
"How can you stand to be here with me?" Sirius asked, furiously wiping away his own blurry tears with the backs of his hands, and was surprised again, that they were thicker than water, thick like paint.
"Sometimes I don't know," Remus said slowly.
Sirius couldn't hold back a sob then. "Fuck, Remus."
"Well I can't make it easy," Remus said through a wry, watery smile. "I can't... It's actually, it was actually pretty easy, you know? But even though it was easy, I can't let it be easy because then it's like, it's like confirming..." Remus squeezed his eyes shut. "I don't want to be ok with you treating me like that."
Sirius swallowed, rendered mute by the realization that his cruelty weighed more than he even knew. If the roles were reversed, Sirius would have been enraged. But instead he was up against Remus' deeply etched belief that he should be treated like a monster. It was the pencil drawing underneath the paint that Remus would always carry around, and last May, Sirius had darkened those lines.
What wouldn't he give to rub them out now. "I'm sorry Moony. You didn't deserve it. You deserve so much better."
Remus sighed. "You're just so... I can’t help but think of Padfoot, like you chewed up shoes knowing the whole time you shouldn't."
Sirius sobbed, "Yea Moony. That's what happened. Lost control. I didn't mean... I mean, I knew, but I didn't mean--"
"And fuck if you don't look like a kicked puppy right now." Remus reached up to Sirius face. "Come on, stop crying now. You're smudging up the painting."
Sirius sobbed a laugh as Remus wiped away his tears. "I won't chew up your shoes again, Moony."
"You'd better not."
Remus shifted again, this time turning toward Sirius, snuggling his head into Sirius' painted shirt. Remus tugged at Sirius' hands, to get them combing through his hair again and said "Make it up to me."
So Sirius combed his fingers through and tried to make Moony laugh, renaming colors things like salamanders’ eyes yellow and ruined potion orange.
In the days since The Olive Trees, Sirius had been able to hold on to some of that double-edged yellow sun. He carried it around with him, reminding himself that he and Remus had sat in that light together. James and Peter seemed to feel some of the yellow effects too- Sirius and Remus were left alone together more often. The various combinations of their friendships reformed: Peter started regularly attending James' practices again, Remus went with Peter to chess club, Sirius lurked at Remus' remedial potions study group, James and Sirius started frequenting the kitchens again. Remus also stopped hiding in the corner in the library and started working at his desk in the common room again. And Sirius stopped battering around the halls making the suits of armor around McGonagall's office sing bawdy songs to land himself detention.
Instead, he and James went to the kitchens to nick snacks and then, when James went out to practice, he went up to the dormitory to pretend he wasn't watching Moony at his desk and waiting impatiently for the next painting trip. He had already picked it out. Sirius wanted to show Moony Cezanne now. It had been harder to pick the Cezannes to go in the book- the landscapes had less foreground to land on, the still lifes tumbled and shifted, some were unfinished, some were a blur and Sirius loved all those the best.
Moony, for his part, sat at his desk, presumably pretending he didn't know Sirius was pretending to be patient. Or maybe he wasn't making it easy on Sirius and that was ok.
"Alright," Remus sat, smacking his textbook shut. "This History of Magic Essay is a sick joke, I can’t spend another minute sorting through Goblin faction acronyms."
He climbed onto his bed and retrieved the book (from underneath his pillow again, Sirius was pleased to note) and started idly flipping through it. "Which one today?"
"Flip a few more pages--there! This one."
"Alright," and Remus reached out to touch Sirius' wrist this time while Sirius performed the spell.
Slow, they slid through lake-like slime, and then they were standing on the wide path of Avenue at Chantilly II, thin trees and their flat toothbrush bristle leaves arching overhead. Every painting was a sanctuary from ambient noise, but Avenue didn't just sound quiet, it felt quiet. Sirius was hyper aware of Remus' breathing again, it could have been the breeze stirring the spider-leg trees. He could even hear the ticking of Remus' worn wrist watch.
Remus had lost the contouring brushstrokes that highlighted his lavender-wine tracks and his sloping jaw in the Van Goghs. Instead the planes of his body were painted with care, his thin chest, made artificially thinner by the way he curved his shoulders, here looked solid and appealing. In the Cezanne, it felt less like Sirius was looking at Moony's surface strokes and more like he could see the strong underlying planes of Remus, the solid layers that built and built him up.
They walked in silent agreement to the beacon of a green bench at the edge of the path and underneath a bustling arch of leaves. Remus stretched out again, like he had in The Olive Trees, and Sirius sat tentatively by his head, hoping, giving the option. Remus laid his head on Sirius’ thigh again, and somehow, the weight of his head felt more solid here.
"Why this one?" Remus asked, maintaining a burgeoning tradition.
"I thought you'd like sitting on this bench," Sirius answered easily. Sirius had a lot of reasons for loving Cezanne, but just the one for including this painting; it was soft and quiet and he'd wanted Remus to have that.
The atmosphere of the painting gently suggested quiet contemplation and Sirius and Remus followed that advice. Sirius spent a long time squinting his eyes at blocks of leaves above and then comparing it to wide-eyed observation.
Nothing felt distinct here, not one leaf from another, one tree from another, not even Remus' head from Sirius' thigh. They were rendered not as individual objects, but as planes of color; the planes of their robes bled right into each other. There were no lines to separate him from Remus. It was a heady feeling, like he could seep right out of himself into the environment, into Moony.
Sirius ran his fingers through Moony' tawny curls again and watched as the tan lines of his individual fingers got lost in Moony. He did it over and over again, teeth chattering and trying not to think about all the other ways he'd like to lose his skin in Moony.
What could Moony be thinking, letting Sirius lose his fingers in him? The intimacy of it was astounding, but Remus was lolling, staring out at the spindly trees with a hazed look of contentment.
Sirius whispered, "Do you like it here Moony?"
"Yea," whispered back. "This is my favorite so far."
"Mmm," Remus hummed and he paused slowly, pulling words together despite his lethargy, "The Van Goghs were so intense. This is so, hmm... easy," Remus let the word roll out slowly, savoring just how easy it was here.
Sirius couldn't help a fond smile, "Easy?"
"Mm hmm." Remus stretched his planes out, skinny arms coming up to dangle over Sirius' legs. "Or, I don't know, not just easy. Interesting; I can't figure out if these trees feel heavy and solid or light and airy."
"It’s easy to want to keep looking."
Sirius privately thought it was also easy because everything about Remus melded seamlessly into a Cezanne: sweet mild colors concealing unfathomably sturdy construction, construction so sturdy it was light and shifting. But then again, Sirius had thought Remus looked perfect as a Van Gogh, maybe Sirius' thoughts of Remus just bled over into everything. He couldn't be sure if Remus was really like a Cezanne or if Sirius just saw shifting facets of him everywhere, anywhere.
"Do you like it here?" Remus asked.
"Yea, of course."
"Of course," he scoffed. "Tell me why."
Sirius tucked his fingers into the planes of Moony's hair again, trying to decide how much to tell. It was hard here, where Cezanne had stripped everything down, to contemplate anything but honesty. "I think for the same reasons. I like that Cezanne is kind of hard."
"What do you mean hard? We just decided he was easy."
"That's just it. He's both, he's tricky. Like when I first started looking I didn't see all this stuff that only Cezanne does. The colors are soft and easy but there's also the heavy and solid but light and airy. And there's other stuff too, about perspective that I don't really understand yet, but it's there. There's all this smart, difficult stuff underneath the soft colors. It's brilliant."
Remus was smiling up at him beatifically and Sirius wasn't sure what he'd said, so he just smiled back.
"Let's have a look at that perspective stuff," Moony said after a long while.
"I don't have the book anymore. It's Mr. Potter's."
"We'll go to Tomes and Scrolls next Hogsmeade visit. They actually have a lot of muggle books."
Remus surprised Sirius two nights later by rushing into the dorm room a little out of breath.
"The first Hogsmeade visit isn't until after Halloween," Remus said, searching through James' trunk. "McGonagall told us at the meeting tonight, she definitely implied it was to discourage certain students from Halloween shenanigans."
Sirius smiled at that. Remus pulled the cloak out with a flourish. "Come on, if we leave now we'll have maybe an hour before Tomes closes."
"You want to go tonight?"
"Yea, come on!" Remus said, throwing a sweater at Sirius, "You know the passage takes at least thirty minutes and it's already 7:15."
Sirius struggled into the sweater trying to keep up with Moony on the stairs until he took pity on him and paused a moment to let Sirius pull it over his head, before grabbing his arm and near dragging him out of the portrait hole. There was no need because Sirius would run after Remus anywhere. They fairly jogged over to the third floor and the passage beneath the one-eyed witch's hump.
Remus held on to Sirius' elbow in the near dark of passage. The thrilling comfort of it occupied Sirius' whole attention, so that he was unable to ask Remus about the prefects’ meeting and possible complications to Halloween Shenanigans, or whether or not he'd finished his History of Magic essay yet, or why they had to go, right away, right now to read about Cezanne. He didn't really need an answer to that last question anyway. He'd shared these paintings with Moony as an apology yes, from a need to show Moony a better side of himself, but also because Moony got this way, made you feel you were interesting, made you think about what you were interested in. Sirius was sure Moony had no idea how charming it was.
They reached the Honeydukes cellar, scrambling into the cloak and listening for sounds from the front. Sneaking through the store, being under the cloak with Moony was like being in one of the paintings, just the two of them, soft breaths, a tingling physical proximity Sirius couldn't attempt elsewhere. Crowded up against Moony's back waiting for someone else to enter Tomes and Scrolls, he gently touched his fingers to the space between Moony's shoulder blades. They slipped into the shop behind a curvy woman with with spelled purple curls.
Spending increasing amounts of time with Moony in intimate spaces, spaces rendered with a lense of truth in mind, was making it increasingly difficult not to be completely honest with Remus. Sirius had thought at first only of apologizing, and now that he had, he realized he'd thought an apology was the only thing separating him from Remus. But there was more. Sirius' thrill at touching Moony and being touched by him made him feel ecstatic (the same ecstasy of getting away with a prank), but also slightly sick, because he was getting away with something with Remus.
Remus led him to a section tucked in the back of the basement floor, where all the muggle books were: how-to manuals on using Muggle money and taking the tube, a small but mighty smattering of muggle literature, battered travel books, and in a corner devoted to coffee table books ranging from 'unexotic plants' to cats to fashion, they found a collection of art books, including a dreamy blue covered Cezanne book.
Remus pulled it off the shelf and after some awkward maneuvering underneath the cloak, they decided it was a small risk to take it off in this forgotten corner. Book settled on Sirius' lap, Remus scooted close, sitting cross-legged next to Sirius.
A small, wry smile appeared on Remus' face, the half-cracked one. "Let's sort this then." He pulled the book over, half on his lap, and looked in the index for "perspective."
They read several small sections mentioning perspective but it still wasn't making sense to Sirius, so Remus went to the how-to section and found a book on drawing. Terms like 'single point perspective' joined the catalog in Sirius' mind, right next to periwinkle, and then they tried again with the Cezanne book.
Sirius had felt compelled to honesty within Avenue at Chantilly, but it was nothing compared to the exposure of sitting with Remus in real life, no paint strokes to cover him up. When he touched Remus here there was no sensation of paint to cover his motivations. Talking about the colors or the form of the painting when surrounded by it was an obvious topic of conversation. But talking about it here, where they could talk about pranks or classes, felt intimate. All the things Sirius had exposed about himself in their paintings trips followed him out into real life and Sirius missed the safety of the paint.
Sirius flipped to a page with a spread of apple still lifes, including a favorite, Still Life with Pitcher and Fruit on a Table. He still felt like he was right on the edge, just like one of those rosy apples. Staring at the page, Remus beside him mumbling the contents of the perspective paragraph again, and deeply feeling the edgy, tumbling of those apples, it clicked into place for Sirius. Cezanne painted multiple perspectives, all at once, that's why the table looked slanted on one corner and stable at the other.
Sirius felt even more enamored of Cezanne and Remus both; Remus was full of multiple perspectives, ideas on things that didn’t match up exactly, like his preternatural penchant for mischief, and his reluctance to cause trouble for anyone. Or how he thought Divination was stupid but still checked his tea leaves. The way he knew werewolves were just as human, and yet felt like a monster.
He grabbed Remus' arm, "Look Remus," And he showed Remus with too many jabbing hand gestures the direction of things and tried and tried not to fall off the edge.
"Let's do this one tonight," Remus said, flipping purposefully to a painting near the end of the book.
Sirius looked down at the painting, it was Dans Le Lit: the very painting of his inescapably gay feelings and the one he included after much wavering in a sleep-deprived fit of bravery the night before the semester started. The Lautrec painting that was mostly bed, save for two people sleeping. But Sirius knew they weren't just two people, they were two rejects, two girls, two lovers and he felt sick wondering if Remus knew it too.
"Are you sure this one Moony?" Sirius tried. "Only, I don't know how the spell works with people in the paintings."
Remus met his eyes briefly. "Well, let's find out."
Remus tugged his hand over and whispered the spell before Sirius could protest again, and a slow, swirling moment later they were crouched on top of the bed, bending awkwardly to stay within the close confines of the painting. The two lovers were gone, Sirius noticed gratefully.
"I guess the people disappear when we pop in."
"Or we replace them," Remus said, crawling up the bed and lifting up the painted covers.
Sirius stayed crouched, watching Remus snuggle up under the piles of richly rendered blankets, wrestling away the compulsion to tell Remus they were lovers! they were lovers!
"Well are you coming?" Remus asked, peeking over the hills and valleys of bed separating them. "Doesn't look very comfortable."
It wasn't very comfortable. It was so very fucking uncomfortable.
What was Sirius even thinking, including this painting which was basically an underhanded seduction since Remus didn't know about Sirius or the lovers or why Sirius needed those lovers.
Remus was waiting, one hand holding up the corner of the blankets for Sirius. He clambered over, frantically trying to think of some normal friendly reason for including this very intimate painting for when Moony would ask. He'd ask any minute now.
Sirius slid underneath the blankets, and was startled by the slick paint feel of the pillow, so consumed with anxiety he'd almost forgotten they were in a painting. Remus was of course digging his fingers into the paint again, clenching and releasing the sheets surrounding them. Remus' slender face was full of a luminous volume here. Sirius turned his attention to the painting, needing to get away from Remus' earnest beauty here.
He focused on light and color and line again. What was easily identified as brushstrokes in the Van Goghs and the Cezannes here felt too dynamic for the word. They were marks, their bed and their blankets had more of a feeling of carving than applying, the way the wood of the bed was laid out with sharp straight lines, like tick marks (counting isolation, counting guilt, counting hiding love as ridiculous brotherly admiration). Or maybe, counting cycles of building and shifting, because Remus pulled and scratched together the orderly straight scaffolding of himself every day. He was seeing Remus everywhere again, but it was hard not to as Remus took up more and more of his heart.
Sirius shifted in bed, a slick slide away from Remus, to look at the mess of supposedly white sheets tumbling off the bed. Like the supposed black of the shadows, the white of these sheets was not really white at all, but a scribbled cascade of sage and salmon. And beyond the golden mess, a startling red blanket. Sirius reached down to smooth his fingers over the red quilt, and felt it was wrong, disjointed, that his fingers came away unstained by that red.
The slimy feeling of the paint felt more cloying here, in a bed rather than a field or a bench. And where in the field or the bench Sirius could look out over a distance, cast his attention away from his deep need to take any part of Remus into his mouth, here, Sirius was forced to contemplate the blankets tethering them together. Remus’ breath was not only heard here, but felt. The corners of world were folding in on them.
Sirius felt a tentatively painted push between his shoulders blades, in the same safely platonic space Sirius had touched Remus outside the bookstore.
Remus' painted hand reached around Sirius' shoulder, to pull him around so that Sirius was facing Remus and Remus facing Sirius, just like the women in the painting, occupying the same place, the same position as those two lovers, carving out a sacred place for their conversations and their eye contact. The mimicked position only highlighted the gulf between Sirius and those lovers, same as the Potters’ loving attention only made him feel the prior lack of anything like it.
Remus kept a hand on him, holding him in place, holding him together at the seams. "These blankets remind me of you."
"Really?" Sirius said, voice cracking.
"Yea," Remus smiled indulgently, before ducking his head, "This is so fucking soppy, but yea. Sort of bright and, and encompassing, and messy."
"You think I'm messy?"
"Of course you'd focus on that part. Yea, Sirius, you're a bit of a mess," Remus tucked his fingers carefully into Sirius' painted hair. "But a pretty one."
"Pretty," Sirius whispered. "Fuck off."
"Told you it was soppy."
"Calling me pretty isn't soppy, it's... you're just fucking me around."
"I'm not. I'm not, Sirius. Are you just fucking me around?"
"Moony, are we... what are we talking about?"
Remus fixed Sirius with a hard stare, as hard as paint would allow. "Why this painting?"
"You chose it, Moony!" Sirius said hysterically. "You picked this one out!"
"No." Remus had told Sirius he couldn't make it easy on him, and he wasn't. He was going to make Sirius say it, Sirius just wasn't sure if Remus knew all he was asking from him.
"Because..." Tears formed suddenly, just like this summer when he'd seen the painting for the first time, tears and Dans Le Lit would always be tethered now. "Because when I saw it the first time this summer--" deep breath, " The people in the painting are both girls. It's kind of hard to tell right? But they're girls and they're prostitutes and they're... lovers. And when I found out they were… y’know, it was like, not that I was ignoring it, but it was right there in front me and I didn't want to put it away again. I wanted it, but it's fucking terrifying."
Remus brushed his thumb over Sirius' forehead and scooted just a little closer, his voice impossibly soft, like his luminous face, "It's okay."
Sirius shivered and chattered. "M gay Moony." He ducked his head into Remus' chest. "I’m gay." Remus cradled Sirius' head against his chest and Sirius was sick with guilt. "You wouldn't want-- It's not just... M'not just gay. Moony, I... It's you. When I looked at those girls in this painting I thought of you. I always think of you."
"I always think of you too."
Sirius poked his head up, shocked. "You don't mean... Not in the same way."
“I think it’s the same way.”
"No, Remus, I'm... I have feelings for you."
"Sirius, I understand. I'm telling you I feel the same way," Remus said slowly, holding on to Sirius a little tighter. "I saw this painting and I thought of you. I thought of being with you in it."
"But I don't just want to be in the paintings with you."
Remus shook his head, clearly exasperated, but Sirius was sure Remus wasn't getting it, and Sirius wasn't strong enough to spell it out (I want to lick you, listen to you, hold you in my mouth, see the world repeat only you). Remus pulled out his wand, whispered the spell to suck them out of the comforting sludge of narrowed reality and onto Remus' bed. They were on Remus' bed, his real red bed, with real white sheets and Remus really holding on to Sirius.
Their painted world vanished, the protections it held and the rifts it covered and exposed. Sirius felt stripped raw of his layers of varnish and paint, baring only tightly pulled canvas, ready to rend. He held tight to Remus' shirt.
Remus cupped both his hands around Sirius' face, gently tipping it up to look at him.
Remus' touch was nothing like the cool slick paint. Sirius shivered, "You're so warm." Remus looked at him with green eyes that weren't framed in contouring strokes and peculiar colors, but there was a clarity Sirius wouldn't exchange. Sirius brought his hands up to cover Remus', and pressed them flatter over his ears, blocking out the ambient noise and making his breaths sound louder, a bridge to that safe place.
Sirius had no idea what Remus was doing here, looking at him like that, looking at the mess between his hands like it was worth something. Remus leaned down to nose gently at Sirius, touching the tips of their noses together for a moment, breathing the same air. Then he kissed Sirius, slow and wet but so warm.
Remus rolled on top of Sirius, his weight pressing into him, his hands pressing into him, narrowing the world down to being cradled by Moony. Moony, god, Sirius had spent the summer humming an M, trying to hold Moony's name in the hollow of his mouth, it had felt intangibly good. And Moony was on top of him, pushing his mouth into Sirius' and Sirius didn't have to chase the feeling of that M, it was surrounding him, delivered to him in full. "Feels so good Moony," Sirius choked out.
Remus eased his hands off Sirius' ears to thumb at his tears. Sirius swiped furiously at them, hot this time, driving home that he was really crying in front of Remus.
"It's okay Sirius. It's okay."
"No Moony. It's not, I hurt you. I'll hurt you."
Remus pressed his hands back over Sirius ears and Sirius felt calmer. He could hear their breathing, amplified somehow, his heartbeat and it helped. Instinctively, Sirius brought his legs up around Moony's waist, needing to curl up around him and Remus settled firmly into the V of his legs. "Shit Moony."
Remus smiled, a thin sweet thing, and started moving, his erection dragging over Sirius’. Sirius couldn't help but remember Moony's fingers digging into the paint, Moony was pressing and pushing himself into Sirius now like he'd pressed into the colors they'd visited, Sirius felt like every undulating blue he'd pushed his fingers into, rocking up and back again. Sirius pushed his own fingers into Moony's soft hair, lost them there, pressed his face into Moony's neck, sucking the soft skin there into his mouth, holding Moony in his mouth, finally. Moony's warmth and softness was everywhere, wrapping around Sirius in so many sweeping strokes, dragging marks, messy kisses.
When Sirius came Moony dipped his fingers into Sirius' robe to drag his fingers through the cum, still pushing himself into Sirius' thigh, panting into Sirius neck. Sirius shivered beneath Moony, licking his fill of the solid planes of Moony's thin neck, his hard jaw. Moony came, panting, and kept his languid body slotted over Sirius'. Just rested there, still slicking his fingers through cum, running fingertips over Sirius' soft penis, until the cum was cold like paint. Sirius didn't mind being painted in cold cum, Remus needed the cold slick like Sirius needed the thudding quiet, and they'd found a way to have those things drawn right up next to warmth and softness.
"Moony," Sirius hummed out, dazed.
Remus shifted, propping his head up on one olive branch arm to look down at Sirius. The pose was just like another Lautrec painting, L’abandon, only, the intimacy between the two girls was shielded, their backs to the viewer, their world closed off to intruders. Sirius had wished all summer for a mythical place where he could have that intimacy with Remus, had crafted and contrived to transport them elsewhere, clinging to the possibility offered by Dans Le Lit. And here it was, in Remus’ bed, in the close warm space between them.
Sirius looked up into Remus’ face, a little sweaty around his hairline, eyes bright, details that existed only between them. Sirius was not on the outside looking in, Remus was looking at him.
Remus had been looking, he’d seen the black and blue of Sirius’ shadows and the messy creases of Sirius’ white sheets. He’d even seen Sirius succumb to thoughtlessness and rage, he’d seen him fail to find any words for it, he’d seen him offering everything else he had, watched him cum. He had been looking, and he was still here, looking.