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Melting the Ice

Chapter Text

Remus was annoyed with himself. He was always good to double check his work bag and make sure that he had everything he needed to grade, but of course the one time he forgets to double check, he’d left two different worksheets on his desk, along with the week’s spelling pre-tests. It wouldn’t usually be a big deal, but of course it had started to sleet by the time he arrived home, and he couldn’t go back out in that. It continued to sleet all night until about 3 in the morning when it turned to snow. His cell phone rang around 4:30 to deliver the automated message that school was canceled, and he’d been up ever since. So, in addition to being annoyed, he was now slightly grumpy from lack of sleep.

It had taken 20 minutes to get his car cleaned off, and even though he’d had it running the entire time, the defrost didn’t do much to help. His fingers were numb in his gloves as he cranked the heat all the way up, hoping that it would decide to work today. The drive from his apartment to work took twice as long as usual, and his car fishtailed twice. But he needed to grab those papers or else he’d be behind on grading, especially since he had a feeling that school would be cancelled again tomorrow.

The neighborhood his school was in was silent as he slowly pulled in. It was an upper-middle class neighborhood, and it seemed as though most people had decided to take the day off rather than risk the icy roads. Movement caught his eye as he pulled into the school parking lot; he saw a figure in a leather jacket hunched against the cold, attempting to brush off a car with bare hands. Remus shook his head at the idiot as he hurried into the warm building and down the dark halls to his fifth-grade classroom. He collected the papers he needed and made a few copies while he was there so he would be ahead of schedule tomorrow if school wasn’t canceled again. He was zipping his bag and picking his way carefully over the icy parking lot to his lone car when a loud voice startled him.

“FUCK!” it rang out, clear across the quiet neighborhood. Remus took a long look at the man and felt a pang of pity as he loaded his bag in the passenger seat. As he turned on the car, he heard his conscience ask himself the same question he posed to his fifth graders: What’s the kind thing to do? Sighing, he turned the opposite way of his cozy apartment and toward the stranger’s driveway. He pulled up to the end of it and rolled down his window.

“Do you need to borrow an ice scraper?” he asked, trying to keep his voice pleasant even though he just wanted to head home for a warm mug of tea.

“No!” the man snapped, then immediately thought better of it. “...Yes? I need to not be late to work! Fuck, fuck, fuck. It’s my first day!” The hunched figure turned towards him, and Remus was taken aback at how young and good looking the other man was, despite the slightly panicked look on his face. He had shoulder-length black hair, a slight tan, and his black leather jacket fit his broad shoulders quite nicely. Remus debated internally for a moment then heard his voice telling the class to “Choose kind.”

“Hop in. I’ll take you.” Remus suddenly worried about his rash offer. Though it was a nice neighborhood, he still didn’t know this man and couldn’t help but wonder if he’d just invited a serial killer into his car. You’re being silly , he reassured himself as he pulled his beanie down slightly lower against the chill of his open window. Too much Ted Bundy Tapes . The swearing man looked slightly apprehensive as well.

The swearing man politely asked, “Sorry...what?”

“I’ll give you a ride to work.” Remus was regretting his offer and knew he probably looked like a creep. “It’ll take you another 20 minutes to get your car cleaned off, and whatever your commute time is you should double it with the icy roads. I’m not sure what time you have to be at work, but you’re probably already cutting it close if you leave now rather than trying to clean off your car.” The swearing man glanced down at his phone to check the time and winced.

“Yes...alright. Thank you.” He jogged as best he could over the ice to the passenger door and had to tug at the handle several times to break through the ice that was holding it shut. Remus hurriedly put his bag of papers in the back seat, waited until his passenger had his seat belt on and then slowly started off. “I work at Cerner. Do you know where that is?”

“Yeah. Which campus?” Remus asked.

“Err...is there more than one?”

“Yeah. There’s two in the area. Maybe three?” Remus offered as he slowly pulled up to a stop sign, pumping his brakes to keep them from locking. The swearing man was scrolling hurriedly through his phone to look for the address. Remus couldn’t help but tap his thumb on the steering wheel slightly impatiently.

“World Headquarters.” The man said finally. Remus turned north, hoping that the interstate would be better than the suburban roads. He knew that the parents in the neighborhood would be annoyed that their roads weren’t completely clean by noon. The neighborhood was slightly uppity like that. Nice enough people but upper-middle class enough that they suffered from a lot of “first-world problems.” Remus knew there was a Facebook group for the neighborhood that was particularly catty about grass length and who brought extra guests to the community swimming pool. Which reminded him—

“Oh, by the way, I personally don’t give a shit how many times you say fuck, but if you want to get along in the neighborhood, you might want to watch your language. Lots of little kids running around, and their parents won’t appreciate your vocabulary lesson.” He risked a glance at the swearing man who sunk back into his seat looking tired.

“I know. I should be better about it. I’ve got a kid in the house too, should set a better example.” Remus wondered if he’d be seeing a new elementary student with dark hair on Monday. “Fuck, barely a kid anymore, I guess. He’ll be 16 soon.” Remus worked to keep the surprise off his face. This man definitely did not look old enough to have a 16 year old but that was none of Remus’ business. The man seemed to feel that he’d said too much and had gone silent. If he was silent for the rest of the hour long car ride it was going to be a very long car ride.

“They grow up fast. I’m a fifth-grade teacher, and I’m always shocked when I have middle schoolers come back to see me. They change so much in just those few years.” The swearing man just gave a low sound of agreement. Perhaps a change of subject would be good. “So...what happened to your ice scraper?” Remus tried again.

“Nothing. Don’t have one,” the man said shortly.

“Don’t have one? But then how did you clean off your car when we got all that snow after Thanksgiving?”

“Didn’t. Just moved here.”

“Where from?”

The man paused as if he was debating what to say. “California,” he finally grunted out. That explained the tan. And the leather jacket in full-on winter coat weather.

“Well, you probably don’t know anyone here yet. I haven’t even introduced myself! My name’s Remus. Remus Lupin. I work at the elementary school across from your house.” Remus wished they were at a stoplight so he could turn and shake the other man’s hand, but he kept both hands firmly on the steering wheel.

“Sirius Black.” Sirius was apparently a man of few words. Remus waited a beat before trying again. They were finally on the interstate, which was slightly better than city roads.

“Well, we’ll need to get you an ice scraper if you’re going to survive our Midwest winters. What brings you to the Kansas City area?”

Sirius heaved a big sigh, apparently regretting accepting the ride if it meant small talk the whole way. “New job.”

At this particularly unenthusiastic answer, Remus finally gave up. “Okay. Here—” He risked letting go of the steering wheel with one hand to dig in his coat pocket for his phone. “I’ve got Spotify Premium. Pick whatever music you’d like.” Remus was regretting his act of kindness. He had a caffeine headache and wished for tea.

Sirius swiped through Remus’ Spotify for several minutes. The silence was slightly unsettling to Remus, and he was glad when Sirius decided to break it.

“You have a playlist called World Peace? How very hippie of you,” he delivered the line in a deadpan voice that didn’t make Remus feel like the comment was a compliment. His Midwestern manners encouraged him to brush it off though.

“It’s the beanie.” Remus adjusted the soft gray beanie self consciously. “It makes me look much more nihilist than I actually am.” He copied Sirius’ flat voice and was surprised to hear a low chuckle beside him. It was a nice laugh, and Remus immediately smiled. Jack Johnson’s cover of “Imagine,” the first song on the World Peace playlist, started through the phone’s speakers.

“Do you have an auxillary cord?” Remus risked a glance over at Sirius, who looked unsure of what to do with the phone now.

“Just set it down in the cupholder. It’ll amplify the sound. My car’s too old to have a way to connect it to the stereo,” Remus tried to keep his voice even. He wasn’t bad off financially as a single man on a teacher’s salary, but with his student loans he definitely didn’t have the ability to buy a home in the neighborhood he worked in. He hadn’t seen much of the car parked in Sirius’ driveway, but he was guessing it was newer than 2001. Sirius relaxed slightly into the music, and Remus was glad he’d given up the small talk. The song changed, and Remus felt Sirius studying him. It felt like forever before Sirius pulled out his phone and started a text to someone.

The drive felt extra long, but finally they were pulling up at Cerner World Headquarters. Sirius had listened to the entire World Peace playlist; Spotify’s algorithms taking over and adding similar songs once the playlist was over. Remus gently stopped the car, put it in park and was able to look at the stranger he’d spent the last hour with. Sirius’ face was guarded, his light gray eyes narrowed slightly at Remus.

“Well, it was nice to meet you, Sirius,” Remus offered politely, extending his hand. Sirius tilted his head slightly but did not shake the outstretched hand.

“Are you for real?” Sirius looked puzzled, and the question made Remus feel the same way.

“What?” Remus knew he sounded as bewildered as he felt.

“Are you for real? Like...you just drove a complete stranger an hour for work, and I’m pretty sure that if I’d insisted on digging my car out of the snow you would’ve helped me. You’ve been exceptionally nice, and in my experience that means people want something, but I can’t imagine what you’d be after from me because you don’t even know me. So...are you for real?” This was the most Sirius had spoken the entire time, and though he seemed confused there was a hint of intensity that Remus was not expecting. He realized his hand was still frozen in the air and dropped it.

“Um...yes? I’m for real. I don’t want anything from you. I just...felt bad for you because it seemed like you were having a shitty day, and now that I know you more I still feel bad for you because it sounds like you’re dealing with a lot right now. Seems like you could use a friend.”

“How would you know that? I’ve barely said anything to you this whole ride.” Sirius’ voice wasn’t quite hostile, but it definitely wasn’t friendly.

“It’s an inference. We’re working on it in reading with my fifth graders. It’s contextual clues combined with what I already know to make an educated guess.” Remus was always a teacher, no matter where he was. “It’s stressful enough to start a new job, much less move halfway across the country with a teenager.”

Sirius raised his eyebrows slightly. “Well…” he blew out a breath. “You’re not wrong...um. Thanks,” he offered belatedly and turned to climb out of the car. Remus watched him take a few steps towards the building when a thought suddenly occurred to him.

“Sirius! Wait! How are you going to get home? You don’t have a car here,” Remus shouted it into the wind as he rolled down the passenger window. Sirius turned around, creasing his brow.

“I’ll take an Uber. It’ll be fine.” The little crease disappeared at this solution.

“It’s supposed to snow again this afternoon. You’ll be lucky if you can get an Uber, especially to drive you all that way.” The crease re-appeared at Remus’ reasoning, this time with a slight lip bite. Remus sighed. “Listen, I have friends that aren’t far from here. I’ll go over there for the day and pick you up on the way home?”

Sirius looked at Remus with that same puzzled look as before then finally his face broke into a smile, the first of the morning. It transformed his face, making him even more handsome, if that was possible. “That would be very appreciated. Thank you, Remus.” Sirius retraced the couple steps back to the car and offered his phone. “Put your number in. I’ll text you when I’m wrapping up for the day.”

Remus quickly entered his number and handed the phone back. Sirius made it all the way to the doors this time, and Remus was surprised when he turned back around and gave a tentative wave. Remus returned it and slowly inched out of the parking lot, feeling the happiest he’d felt all morning.

Chapter Text

Remus checked the time before he called Lily. It was 9:45, and he figured she’d be up, but it was a snow day.

“Hello?” Lily answered the phone in a sing-song voice that sounded very awake.

“Didn’t you sleep in at all on your snow day?” Remus asked, bemused.

“Ha. Forgot to put on “Do Not Disturb” last night so my phone rang and woke up Harry. We’ve been up since 4:30 and are going to take very long naps this afternoon. What about you?” Remus could hear Harry jabbering in the background, and the thought of his nephew made him smile.

“Same. Actually, I’m in the area. Mind if I drop by for the day and chill with you and Harry?”

“Of course. Wait — why on earth are you in the area?! You drove in this weather?!” Lily and James had a cute little split-level house in North Kansas City near Cerner, about 30 minutes away from Remus’ apartment. “ Are you driving in this weather and talking to me on the phone ?” Lily sounded dangerous. She was probably right. Even though Remus was currently at a stoplight, he decided to go ahead and get off the phone.

“Not anymore! I’ll see you soon, Lily!” Remus quickly hung up on her exasperated sounds.

The drive to Lily’s felt even longer than it took due to Remus’ excitement. He saw Lily regularly, as they worked in the same elementary school, but he hadn’t seen little Harry for a while. Harry had been sick, which he passed to Lily, who then passed it to Remus. As Remus pulled up to James and Lily’s house he could see the front door was open for him, and Harry was dancing with giddy impatience at the storm door.

Remus picked his way carefully up the icy steps and felt warmth wash over him as he stepped inside.

“Moony!” Harry was shouting for him and tugging at his coat. Remus never figured out how Harry got the name “Moony” out of “Remus,” but their friend Peter had somehow gotten “Wormy” so he figured “Moony” wasn’t bad.

“Hold on, buddy! I’ll pick you up in a second. Let Uncle Moony get his coat and boots off first.” Harry dropped to the floor and began to tug at a boot, trying to help. Remus quickly unlaced it so it would come off but Harry had already lost interest and was racing up the stairs. Remus hung his coat, took off his beanie, set down his bag and followed when suddenly Harry, standing at the top of the stairs, launched himself down toward Remus. “Woah!” Remus caught the toddler and hoisted him onto his hip. “Lily! When did he start throwing himself down the stairs?!”

“Shoot! I should’ve warned you. James started the game, but now Harry thinks anyone coming up the stairs knows to catch him!” Lily reached out her arms to take Harry, but Harry clung tight and shook his little head.

“NO! Me want Moony!” Harry said loudly but happily. Harry wasn’t usually one to whine, and Remus appreciated that. Whiny kids were one of the reasons he taught 11 year olds, not 7 year olds like Lily did.

“He’s gotten bigger since the last time I saw him. I can understand what he’s saying better now too,” Remus gave Harry a little squeeze and couldn’t help but to press a soft kiss into his wild hair. Lily stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him, Remus returning it with his one free arm. “How are you, Lils?”

“Fine. Tired, but what’s new when you have a two year old?” She laughed and started toward the kitchen, Remus following her. She eyed him carefully.“You look pale. What’s your blood sugar? Have you eaten yet breakfast yet?” she asked, already pulling out eggs from the fridge.

“I had a small piece of cheese earlier but not real breakfast yet. Thanks.” Harry had started to wiggle, and Remus set him down where he zoomed off down the hall toward his toys. Free of his load, Remus retrieved his bag from the bottom of the steps, pulling out his glucometer and lancet, and pricking his finger on the way back up the stairs. He wiped the small dot of blood on the testing strip, and set it on the counter while it read his blood sugar levels. He headed toward the cabinet where the mugs and tea were kept and started making tea for them both. He leaned over and read the number. “I’m at 80. So, I need to eat, but I can wait until you’re done cooking,” he told Lily, who had already set about cracking eggs. He pulled his pump out of his pocket and messed with it for a minute, making sure it would deliver the right amount of insulin for breakfast.

“Good. Okay, tell me! What are you doing so far from home on a snow day?” Lily began scrambling the eggs and pouring them into the pan. As she cooked him a cheese and onion omelette he told her about the papers on his desk and the stranger in need of help. Lily was a good listener, nodding along and asking questions in the right places.

“And then he asked if I was for real!” Remus exclaimed, feeling he was at the climax of his story.

“What did he mean by that?” Lily’s face was pulled into a grimace. She couldn’t stand rude people. Remus took a long sip of Earl Grey before answering.

“Well, he said that people were only nice if they were getting something out of it, but I wasn’t getting anything out of helping him so he didn’t know why I was being so nice.”

“Sounds like he’s met a lot of—” she popped her head into the hall and listened to Harry playing contentedly for a moment before continuing, “shitty people. Well, what did you say to that?” She placed the omelette in front of him and rummaged in the silverware drawer for a fork.

“Basically, that I had felt bad for him and was just trying to be nice. Can’t have been easy to start a new job and move so far with a teenager. Anyways, he doesn’t have a way to get home since I drove him to work, so I offered to pick him up and drive him home, too. That’s why I’m hanging out with you all day.” Remus leaned back against the counter, took a bite of the omelette, and sighed. It was good, with a little bit of cream cheese in the middle in addition to the expected cheddar.

Lily sized him up for a moment before pushing herself up on the opposite counter, her feet softly kicking against the bottom cabinet “Remus Lupin, you are too kind for your own good. But Harry will be happy to have your attention all afternoon. He’s been missing James this week.”

“James gets back tomorrow, right?” James worked for Cerner as a learning consultant, which meant that he travelled to different hospitals around the country and explained new technology to doctors. The position had been a perfect fit for when they graduated college, but now four years later with a wife and a two year old, Remus knew that James was hoping to transfer to a different department that would allow him to stay home more.

“Yes, tomorrow morning as long as the weather holds. It’s supposed to snow again this afternoon, and I’m worried his flight will be cancelled.” Lily bit her lip. “Pete’s going to pick him up from the airport.”

James, Remus, and Peter had all roomed together at college and remained close friends ever since. Remus wasn’t on good terms with his biological family, and he considered James, Lily, and Peter his family. He enjoyed seeing the look of confusion on people’s faces when he introduced James and Peter as his brothers. People usually did a double take between short and fair-haired Peter, to tall and lanky Remus, to medium-build, bespectacled, Indian James.

“Are we still on for tomorrow? Fried chicken at my place?” Remus asked, trying to distract her from her worry.

“Yes, but I’m not sure we’ll all fit. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather come here?” Lily asked, but Remus was already shaking his head.

“It’s just you three and Pete. We’ll fit. We’ve done it before. My apartment isn’t that small. Besides, I don’t want to have to lug everything I need to make fried chicken to your place. And you have this nice glass top stove. I don’t want my cast iron skillets to scratch it up.” Remus knew Lily would spend the rest of the day trying to clean if she was expecting company, and he didn’t want her to go through the trouble.

“I don’t think that’s a real thing...are you sure you even want to make it? You can’t even eat it,” she continued to push. Remus rolled his eyes. Just because he was a Type 1 Diabetic and wouldn’t eat the high-carb, fatty fried chicken didn’t mean he wouldn’t enjoy cooking it for everyone else.

“It’s James’ favorite. I’ll do a piece of baked chicken for myself.” She opened her mouth to protest again, but he cut her off before she began. “Lily. Harry and James and Peter are coming over to my place tomorrow for fried chicken. I hope you join us,” he said firmly.

“Fine,” she relented, taking a sip of tea. “I know James is looking forward to seeing everyone.” Remus took a closer look at Lily. Seeing the weariness on her face, he knew he’d made the right decision. It seemed as if there were something else there too, and he mentally kicked himself for not noticing earlier.

“Lily, is something wrong?” he asked gently. Lily’s face fell, and Remus knew he was right.

“We’ve been trying again. For another baby. But no luck so far,” Lily’s voice wobbled as she spoke, her arms instinctively wrapping around herself protectively.

“Oh, Lily.” Remus set his mug down as Lily slid off the counter. He covered the small kitchen in one stride to pull her into a tight hug. She awkwardly set down her mug and returned the hug. “How long have you been trying?”

“Six months. I know it’s not that long, but it was so fast with Harry, and it just makes me worry. What if it’s a one-and-done kind of deal?” Her voice was muffled against Remus’ chest.

Remus felt terrible for her, if a little out of his depth. He and Lily were close, closer than she and Peter were (Remus was the one who had introduced her to James in college), but they didn’t talk about sex lives. He and James used to until James was regularly hooking up with Lily, and it had become too much to try and look Lily in the eyes after all the graphic details.

“Well, you should talk to your doctor about it if you’re worried,” Remus gave her a gentle squeeze, and she pulled away, eyes reddening.

“I did, and my doctor said I shouldn’t worry until it’s been a year. Apparently, it’s common for the second to take longer than the first.” Remus felt relieved at hearing this.

“Well there you go. It’s normal. Nothing to worry about,” he said reassuringly. Lily bit her lip, and he knew there was more.

“Petunia’s pregnant again.”

That explained it. Petunia was Lily’s older sister. They used to be close, but Petunia’s husband, Vernon, had been very rude about Lily marrying a person of color, and now the sisters only exchanged Christmas cards and saw each other at family events.

“I know it’s not a contest, but it just hurts that she and her horrible husband can have another so easily while we’re struggling.” She took a deep breath and seemed to be more composed. “Sorry to unload all this on you, Re. My mom just told me yesterday that Petunia’s expecting again, and I didn’t want to tell James while he’s out of town.” She picked her mug back up as she leaned against the counter.

“No worries, Lily. Don’t compare yourself with that hag. Look at what she married. Did you know I saw him at the grocery store wearing a MAGA hat?” Lily rolled her eyes, and they easily transitioned into bashing Vernon.

They moved to the table with fresh tea and chatted while Harry ran back and forth between his room and the table, bringing Remus a new toy each trip. Remus’ lap was full of plush dinosaurs, which were arranged into their own seats for lunch time. After a late lunch, Lily put Harry down for a nap and went back to her and James’ bedroom to take a nap of her own. Remus sat at the kitchen table and made quick work of his grading. Their cat crept out of its hiding place and kept him company on his lap as he worked. When he finished, he dug through Lily’s school bag and graded some of her worksheets for her too, smiling at the difference between second-grade handwriting and fifth-grade handwriting. When he’d graded everything he could find, he stretched out on the couch and took a nap.

Remus startled awake when his phone dinged. He could hear Lily quietly playing with Harry in his bedroom and knew that she’d been keeping him occupied so that Remus could sleep. He glanced at his phone. It was a couple minutes after four in the afternoon and he had a text from an unknown number.

This is Sirius Black. I’m wrapping up at work. I don’t know how far away you are, but I should be done in about a half hour.

Remus shot one back. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll be there around 4:30.

“Hey Lily?” he called out.

“Yeah?” she called back, and Remus heard little footsteps thundering down the hall.

“I’m about to head out.” He let out an oof as Harry clambered on top of him.

“Moony sleep?” Harry asked.

“Yeah bud. I took a good nap. What about you?” Remus sat up and readjusted Harry into his lap, careful to keep him away from the hub on his stomach that connected his insulin pump to his body.

“Me sleep,” Harry looked pleased that he and his uncle had been doing the same thing. Lily padded down the hallway quietly.

“Look what I found in Harry’s room.” She held out a pink, lavender, and blue beanie.

“Hey! My bi-pride beanie! Harry, where’d you get this?” Remus took the beanie from her and put it on.

“Me bowow,” Harry said, looking mischievous.

“Borrow, huh? How about I trade you. You can keep the gray one I wore today, and I’ll take this one back with me. Maybe you can trade again when you’re at my place tomorrow.”

Harry looked happy with this deal. “See Moony ‘morrow?” he said excitedly, bouncing up and down on Remus’ leg. Lily picked him up so Remus could start gathering his things.

“Yes. We’re going to see Uncle Moony and Uncle Wormy tomorrow,” she told Harry. Harry leaned way back in her arms so he was facing Remus upside down.

“Daddy home ‘morrow,” he told Remus seriously.

“I know. That’s why you’re coming over. We’re going to celebrate. What should we have to celebrate?” Remus asked him, tickling Harry’s exposed belly.

Harry giggled and squirmed. “Ice cweam!” he shouted, “and ems!”

Remus chuckled, knowing that would be the response. “We can make ice cream with M&Ms. But Uncle Moony’s gotta head out right now.” Harry pouted slightly but another tickle had him giggling. Hugs were given and the gray beanie was left in chubby toddler hands as Remus stepped into the cold February afternoon.

Chapter Text

Remus felt oddly nervous to pick Sirius up. Maybe it was because he’d been too tired in the morning to think through his offer or because he wasn’t looking forward to another hour of awkward silence. Remus shuffled through several different playlists before landing on one that was all covers. He figured it would all be familiar enough to be comfortable but different enough not to be boring.

The drive back didn’t take as long as it had in the morning. The roads were slightly more clear, and the second round of snow hadn’t hit yet. Remus arrived promptly at 4:30 and waited in the parking lot with his car idling. He dug around in his school bag for his book and was completely immersed when a tug at the passenger handle made him jump.

Remus glanced up to confirm it was Sirius and unlocked the door. Sirius sat down heavily with a greeting as Remus stuffed his book back in his bag..

“Good day?” asked Sirius politely.

“Yeah. Saw my nephew and sister-in-law. That was nice. Yours?” Remus pulled out of the parking lot and headed towards the interstate.

“It was...good actually. For a first day,” Sirius seemed hesitant, but kept talking. “Everyone was very friendly. Must be a midwestern thing.”

“Aren’t people nice on the West Coast?” Remus had been to California before and didn’t remember people being rude like they were on the East Coast.

“People are nice enough on the West Coast, but it’s different. Everyone’s extra friendly here. They all want to actually get to know me, not just network politely.”

“Ah. I see. Anything else?” Remus didn’t want to push Sirius, but it seemed like Sirius had warmed up some.

“Boss let us off early because of the weather. That was nice.” Sirius pulled out his phone and texted someone. “Sorry,” he said, still typing, “just letting my brother know I’m headed home. It was supposed to be his first day too, but he’s been home all day by himself because of the snow day. Not that he’s minded though. I’m sure he’s watched TV all day instead of unpacking anything.”

“...your brother?” Remus was confused. He remembered Sirius mentioning a kid but nothing about a brother.

“Yeah, he’s 16. He’ll start at the high school tomorrow. Kind of crappy to start on a Friday, but we just got in on Tuesday, registered on Wednesday and then with the snow day today there’s not another option.” Remus put all the information together and made a mental note that Sirius did not have a sixteen-year-old child but the custody of a younger brother. Sirius’ phone gave a little trill. “Shit. We haven’t been out grocery shopping yet. He wants to know what we’re doing for dinner. Do you have any take out places to recommend?” Remus could feel the gray eyes on him.

“There’s a good Chinese place near your house. Do you want me to stop by on the way?”

“Nah. I’ll clean off the car and head back out to grab it.” Sirius was back on his phone. There was a comfortable silence for a while as Sirius texted back and forth.

Remus cleared his throat softly, and felt Sirius’ attention back on him. “Not to be rude...but have you ever cleaned snow and ice off a car? Or driven in bad weather?”

Remus could feel Sirius stiffen beside him. Sounding defensive, he responded, “How hard can it be?”

“It’s not, but I would feel better just stopping on my way home and making sure you get back to your brother safely.” Sirius was still quiet. Remus tried a different tact. “What do you do if you get caught in a rip tide?”

“Swim parallel to the shore,” Sirius answered immediately, but he sounded caught off guard by the subject change.

“I wouldn’t know. I have no experience with that. So, I probably shouldn’t be swimming in an area that might have a rip current,” Remus explained gently. “You don’t have any experience with snow and ice.”

Sirius was still quiet, but his shoulders were no longer stiff. He seemed thoughtful. “Alright,” he relented. “What’s the name of this place so I can look up the menu and place an order?”

“Master Wok.” Remus could hear Sirius’ fingers tapping softly on his phone. He figured Sirius would need a moment to get his order together, so he focused on the road and the music.

“What would you like?” Sirius asked, interrupting Remus’ thoughts.

“I’m sorry, what?” Remus couldn’t help but glance over at his passenger, who was looking over at him expectantly.

“What do you want for dinner?” Sirius asked again.

“Oh, I have food at home. Thanks though,” Remus wasn’t expecting to be offered dinner.

“No. My treat. You’ve done so much for me today. Take it as a thank you. Have dinner with my brother and me. It’s the least I can do,” Sirius was still waiting.

“No, really, I couldn’t. Just being kind—”

“Remus, don’t be rude,” Sirius interrupted him. “I’ve learned today that you mid-westerners hate being considered rude. Have dinner with us or else I’ll think you rude,” his voice warm. Remus risked a second glance and could see Sirius was smiling.

Remus chuckled, “You’re not wrong. Alright…” he paused, considering what he could order that wouldn’t spike his blood sugar. “I’ll have beef and broccoli, please.”

“See, that wasn’t so hard,” Sirius was already dialling to put in the order. Remus rolled his eyes at the man who had been so reluctant to accept any sort of help all day, but he felt a smile on his face. Sirius gave the restaurant the order and hung up. “It’ll be ready in about 20 minutes. Is that good timing?” he asked.

“Yeah, that’s excellent timing.” Remus could feel Sirius’ eyes on him again but didn’t want to risk another look away from the road.

“That’s a different beanie than the one you were wearing this morning. Less nihilist,” commented Sirius. Remus flushed. He hadn’t thought twice about wearing his bi-pride beanie, but now he realized he had possibly just outed himself to Sirius. Very few people recognized what the colors on his beanie represented in the KC area, but he worried it might be more commonly known in California.

“Er...yeah. My nephew stole this one from me a while ago. Got it back today,” he offered as explanation. He could still feel Sirius sizing him up.

“Those colors suit you,” Sirius said cryptically, and he changed the subject abruptly. “So, what do I need to know to drive in the snow?”

Remus was distracted by doing what he loved — teaching. He explained about pumping the brakes, giving more space, how bridges ice faster, and accelerating slowly. Sirius was a good student, asking questions and listening intently. The driving lesson carried them all the way to the restaurant, where Sirius ran in and came back out, the smell of food wafting from the bags he carried. Remus made a quick stop at a gas station and Sirius laughed when he came back out with an ice scraper. Sirius’ laugh was warm and infectious and soon Remus was laughing with him as they arrived at Sirius’ house, slipping up the driveway with bags of warm Chinese food.

Chapter Text

“We’d better go in through the garage; the steps are icy.” Sirius punched in the garage code and the door rumbled up. Boxes and furniture filled both sides of the garage, and Remus immediately knew why Sirius had parked in the driveway despite the winter weather.

Sirius led a winding path through the boxes to the door. He pushed a button and went into the house; Remus couldn’t help but wait a beat to make sure the garage actually closed before following him.

“Reg! Dinner!” Sirius called out through the quiet house. The garage door led into a spacious kitchen, with white cabinets and sparkling granite countertops. Sirius set the bags down on the counter, yanked open a cabinet door and pulled out paper towels, plastic silverware, and paper plates. “We haven’t unpacked much yet. I know single use isn’t good for the environment, but we’ll recycle it,” Sirius shrugged. “I’m going to run upstairs and change out of my work clothes. Help yourself to anything you can find. Feel free to turn on the TV. Take off your coat.”

Sirius bounded up the stairs two steps at a time as Remus slid off his warm winter coat and set it on the floor near the door, leaving his bag beside it. He slipped off his boots for good measure and started to open their bags and dish out food onto paper plates. There was no table or chairs in the kitchen, and Remus figured they were in the garage, not yet unpacked.

“Who’re you?” a voice startled him. Remus looked up to see a dark haired boy standing in the doorway of the kitchen. The resemblance between the older and younger brother was striking, but the younger’s hair was cut short and there were dark shadows under his eyes.

“Regulus, be polite,” Sirius’ voice cut in from the top of the stairs before Remus could introduce himself. “This is my…friend, Remus. Remus, meet my brother Regulus.” Sirius was coming back down the stairs in sweatpants and a white T-shirt, pulling his long hair into a quick bun. Remus noticed the pause as Sirius seemed to be unsure how to describe a stranger he’d just met, but he couldn’t help but feel pleased that Sirius landed on the word “friend.”

“You’ve already dipped it up. Excellent. Thanks.” Sirius accepted the plate that Remus offered him and ripped off three paper towels from the roll. “TV’s in here,” Sirius nodded towards the next room over and Remus picked up his plate and followed.

“It’s nice to meet you, Regulus,” Remus offered his hand to the teenager as he sidled past in the doorway. Regulus seemed to be sizing Remus up, but he said nothing as he shook Remus’ hand. Remus wasn’t sure if it was real or imagined, but he swore that Regulus’ eyes stayed on his beanie for a beat longer than necessary. Remus regretted wearing it.

Like the kitchen, the next room was devoid of furniture as well. Sirius was arranging himself on the floor, and Remus followed his lead, setting his plate next to Sirius’. A TV was propped up against the wall; Sirius had pulled up Netflix.

“Sorry, we’re not unpacked yet. Like I said, we only got in on Tuesday, and yesterday we were busy. I made sure to get the internet set up though. What do you want to watch?” Sirius paused his flipping to give Remus an opportunity to answer.

“I don’t mind. Um...where’s your restroom?” Remus needed to check his blood sugar and dose before he ate, but he didn’t want to do it in front of people he’d just met. He never knew what others would say, and he’d heard a lot of uneducated, rude comments about his condition.

“Around the corner,” Sirius pointed with the remote as he flipped through options.

Remus grabbed his bag from the kitchen, digging past his keys and emergency juice to find his glucometer. He could overhear the brothers arguing over what to watch as he pricked his finger and adjusted his pump.

When he rejoined them, Regulus had settled himself next to Sirius. The brothers continued bickering over what show to watch, and Remus had the impression that this argument was routine. Apparently, Sirius preferred nature documentaries, which Regulus was sick of watching. Regulus preferred anime, which Sirius was sick of watching. It seemed good natured enough, and Remus was surprised when they agreed to let him pick. It seemed like a lot of pressure for a guest to find something to suit everybody.

“I’m easy going. Whatever you two decide is fine with me,” Remus tried to rid himself of the responsibility. Both brothers insisted, and Remus was left trying to find something that would please both parties.

Finally, at a loss of what else to suggest, he offered a popular comedy. Neither had seen it, so they started the first episode of that. It was in the middle of the second episode that Remus’ phone rang; an automated message told him there would be no school tomorrow. Regulus gave a whoop at the news, and Sirius insisted that Remus stay for at least one more episode since he didn’t have anywhere to be the next day.

Regulus grew bored of hanging out with the adults and meandered off with his phone as Sirius and Remus packed up what was left of the food. Remus glanced out the window and realized snow was falling fast and heavy; his car was already covered.

“Oh no! I’ve gotta go!” Remus dashed for his coat and was hurriedly yanking on his boots when he noticed Sirius slipping on shoes and a hoodie as well. “Where are you doing?” asked Remus.

“I figured you might need some help cleaning off your car. I have an ice scraper now,” Sirius grinned, making Remus laugh. They bantered lightly back and forth as they cleaned off Remus’ car. When they were finished, Sirius’ expression turned thoughtful.

“What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow?” Remus echoed, confused why Sirius was asking.

“Yes, tomorrow. Friday evening. What are you doing? I was thinking that maybe you’d like to go to the movies with Reg and me? We don’t know anyone else here yet, and I think Reg was happy to have company besides me tonight.” Sirius looked hopeful, and Remus hated to crush him.

“I’m sorry, Sirius, but I already have plans. My brother is getting back in town tomorrow, so we’re all getting together to see him. But I had a really nice time tonight. Thanks again for dinner!” Remus saw the disappointment on Sirius’ face and was touched that his company meant so much. He’d gotten the impression that Sirius and Regulus were lonely. Suddenly, he had an idea that made him grin. “Hey! You guys should come to my family thing tomorrow!”

Sirius looked nervous. “Oh, no, we couldn’t impose on your family time.”

“No! It’s not imposing. My family’s not like that. We’d be happy to have you. And Reg! Both of you. You should come. Besides, I’m cooking tomorrow. When was the last time you two ate something besides take out?” Remus saw a guilty look cross Sirius’ face, and he knew he found a weak spot. “Regulus needs to eat vegetables. Come to my place tomorrow, meet my family, and have a home cooked meal. I’m making fried chicken.” Sirius’ eyes lit up: very few people could say no to fried chicken. “Besides, you said yourself that you don’t know anyone here yet. What a great opportunity to meet some more new people! My sister-in-law, Lily, she works at the school too, and one of my brothers works at Cerner. It’d be good to have a friend at work, right?” Sirius lifted a hand to run through his hair, but it was in a bun so he settled for tucking a wisp behind his ear.

“Well, I’ll have to ask Reg about it,” Sirius still looked slightly hesitant.

“I’ll text you my address. I’m planning on you.” Remus tried to make it sound decided, figuring if he sounded decided Sirius might follow his lead. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” he said, waving as he climbed into his car.

“Maybe.” Sirius gave a half smile as he waved back. Remus pulled out of the drive and headed home.

Chapter Text

It snowed all Thursday night, slowing down early Friday morning. By the time Remus woke up, the clouds had parted and the sun was shining. He stretched and realized he felt unusually happy. The memories of the previous evening came flooding back, and Remus grinned.

He rolled over and checked his phone. It was about 9:30 in the morning, and his phone was blowing up. James, who while on his business trip had been too busy to text, had sent several texts and photos of the trip in the group chat to make up for the earlier silence. Both Lily and Peter had responded, so Remus had to scroll through those too. He sent back a thumbs up emoji. Lily had sent a text to just him asking what time they should come over that night, and Peter sent the same message four times, asking if he needed to bring anything. Remus wasn’t sure if it was an accident or impatience on Peter’s part. He told Peter to bring a salad and told Lily to come over around 5:30, and he warned them he’d invited a new friend. There was one from a number he didn’t know that simply said Don’t forget to send me your address. Remus opened that one curiously and realized he hadn’t added Sirius to his phone yet. He shot back You’re coming!? then added Sirius Black to his contacts.

Remus enjoyed the lazy snow day morning, puttering around with tea and scrolling through Twitter. Sirius still hadn’t responded an hour later and Remus went ahead and sent the address and time to arrive.

Remus started heating water to boil an egg and pulled chicken pieces and buttermilk out of the fridge. He’d bought extra chicken, figuring he’d send the leftovers with James and Lily. With Sirius and Regulus coming, they’d have less leftovers, but he figured they wouldn’t mind too much.

He put all the chicken pieces into his biggest bowl, added buttermilk, and put it back in the fridge to brine for the rest of the day. The water had started to boil, so he added a couple eggs and set the microwave timer for seven minutes.

He ate a late breakfast of soft boiled eggs and toast while watching a cooking show. The extra day off gave him time to deep clean the places in his apartment he wouldn’t usually clean. He scrubbed the shower, cleaned the toilets in both bathrooms, swept and swiffered, and vacuumed in addition to the usual dishes, laundry, and general picking up. He made sure the second bedroom was tidied up. It had been a while since Pete had stayed over, but sometimes he opted to spend the night rather than drive back the 45 minutes back to his apartment in Kansas.

With his apartment clean and no grading to do, Remus settled in and read his book for a while. He tried to always be reading a book for enjoyment to set a good example for his class, and he enjoyed posting the title of what he was reading on his classroom door.

His apartment was warm, and he was cozily nestled in a blanket on the couch. He hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep until his phone dinged and woke him up. It was Sirius. Remus sat up rubbed his eyes, trying to make them focus. Work is crazy. Won’t be able to make it. Sorry. He laid back down, feeling a bit disappointed. It would’ve been nice to introduce his new friend to his old friends, but it was a last minute invite. There’d be other opportunities. No worries. Let me know if you change your mind , he replied.

Remus glanced at the time and was shocked to see it was so late. He stuck on his apron and started mixing flour and spices for the fried chicken, chopping onions to put in green beans, and peeling carrots. The rhythm of it all was relaxing. He’d always felt at home in the kitchen and had a good sense for what went well together. At quarter to five he started melting an unhealthy amount of Crisco in his Dutch oven and put the lid on to help the oil get to temperature. He floured and breaded the chicken, and he fried two strips of bacon in a cast-iron skillet on a back burner. After the bacon was done but still soft, he pulled it out and set it on a paper towel, throwing in the diced onion to cook in its grease.

At 5:15 he checked his oil and found it was hot enough to start frying. He slipped in a couple pieces of chicken at a time, leaving the lid off so the humidity wouldn’t make it chewy, and as the breading crisped up he put them into the preheated oven to finish cooking, sliding his own chicken breast in with them. He cut open a bag of frozen green beans and threw them in with the translucent onions.

Remus was a flurry in his kitchen. Garlic here, melted butter there, oven open and closed. There was a knock at the door, and Remus hustled to open it and let Peter in before returning to his pans.

Peter hurried in, shutting the door quickly on the cold and setting his things on the table.

“You’re in charge of the door now,” Remus told Peter, knowing he’d be too busy with dinner to open it the next time.

“I can manage that,” Peter snorted as he pulled out a bag of iceberg lettuce from a plastic grocery sack. Remus couldn’t help but to narrow his eyes at the lettuce. “What?” asked Peter, defensively. “You’re giving my lettuce a death stare. What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing,” sighed Remus, feeling that it was a lost cause to explain that Peter had chosen the most bland and least nutritious of all the lettuce options. Remus had asked him to bring salad, and he’d brought salad.

Peter still looked suspicious, but was quickly distracted by a knock on the door. Remus fiddled with his pump, setting up the right dosage and smiled at hearing Harry’s little voice outside the door. Peter opened the apartment door and let the three in, as Remus started toasting almonds to top the green beans.

“Mmm! Smells good! Remus, how on Earth did you know to make my favorite?” James tossed down his coat and came into the small kitchen to throw an arm around Remus, which Remus immediately had to shrug off to keep his carrots from burning.

“Because you pester me about making it for you on a weekly basis, even when you’re not out of town.” Remus grumbled, but there was no bite in his voice.

James chuckled. “I forgot!”

“Moony! Ems?!” Harry ran crashing into Remus’ legs. Remus reached down and patted his head as James scooped him up and out of the kitchen, helping him out of his little coat. Remus’ heart stopped. He’d forgotten to get M&Ms. He’d have to rummage around and see if he had an old pack stowed away somewhere, but he was certain Harry had eaten his stash the last time he visited.

He pulled the chicken he’d first put in the oven out and set it on the stove. Lily gave his shoulder a squeeze in greeting and pulled five plates out of the cabinet.

“Alright everyone, gather around!” James called importantly, but everyone was already circled around hungrily.

“Okay, so — buttered carrots, green beans, fried chicken, and salad. Help yourselves,” announced Remus, pointing at each pot and pan as he named them. James had already picked up a drumstick and was making contented noises.

“Remus, your phone’s ringing.” Lily handed him the chirping phone that was lit up with an incoming call from Sirius.

Remus answered, “Hang on,” he said into the phone trying to squeeze out of the kitchen past James who was paying no mind to anything except piling his plate with food. “Y’all better leave me some!” he warned as he went back to his bedroom and shut the door so it was quieter. “Hey, what’s up?” he said to Sirius

“Hey! I know you’re busy, just wanted to apologize again for not being able to make it tonight.”

“Oh, no worries! I get it. Life happens.” Remus thought it was nice that Sirius had called.

“How’s it going? Did your nephew steal another beanie?”

“Not yet, but I’ll keep my eyes on him. I actually feel terrible, I forgot to grab some M&Ms for his ice cream. They’re his favorite, but he’ll have to live without tonight. I’ve got regular chocolate chips, though.”

“You forgot the M&Ms?” Sirius gasped in mock horror.

“I know. Worst uncle, right?” Remus chuckled.”Well, I’d better let you go. If you change your mind, there’s plenty of food and you’re still welcome.”

“Thanks, but I’m just about to get home now. Have a good time!”

“Thanks! Have a good night!” Remus swiped the phone to hang up and opened the door from the quiet bedroom to the noisy living area. James was at the table next to Harry, cutting his food into bites. Lily and Peter were on the couch, chatting animatedly about a movie they both wanted to see. Remus dipped up and sat with James and Harry.

“Hey, you’ve gotta hear about this workplace drama.” James loved workplace gossip. “Gideon Prewett — you remember him? He went to college with us. He’s working at Cerner now. He was texting me all day today to keep me in the loop. So that Snape guy that I don’t like—” That was an understatement. James loathed Snape ever since he’d hit on Lily at an office party. “—well apparently he made some kind of comment about ‘Why don’t we have a White History Month?’ to one of his creepy friends, but some other guy overheard and chewed him out for it. Well, of course Snape wasn’t going to have that so he took it to our boss but apparently the guy that chewed him out over it is some new financial manager from California and pretty high up in the company so he didn’t get anywhere. I’m just picturing Snape gaping like a fish while he’s getting his as—” James glanced at Harry and changed words halfway through “—butt handed to him like the spineless little grease mark he is.”

Lily came to dip up seconds and joined the conversation. “Hey, Remus, isn’t that guy you gave a ride to from California, too?”

“You gave a ride to someone?” James asked, eyebrows shooting up. Having a child made James into one of the most cautious people that Remus knew. It was James’ voice he heard in his head telling him that everyone he met might be the next Ted Bundy. Remus and Lily both loved true crime and could watch multiple documentaries, but they no longer let James watch with them because it made him extra paranoid.

“Relax James, it was a guy in my school’s neighborhood. He works at Cerner, too.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s not a serial killer!” James’ voice was a little higher than usual.

“James. Bud. Relax. I’m not dead yet.” Their argument was interrupted by a knock on the door. Remus set his plate down to go answer it.

“I thought you said your new friend couldn’t make it?” Pete asked curiously.

“I’m sure it’s just the neighbor asking if she got a package or something,” muttered Remus over his shoulder. He pulled the door open and found himself face to face with Sirius. Regulus was standing behind him, sniffing towards the open door appreciatively.

“I couldn’t let you be the world’s worst uncle,” said Sirius, holding up a bag of M&Ms. Remus laughed and moved to let the brothers in.

“Everyone, this is Sirius and his brother, Regulus. Um, this is everyone. That’s my brother James, and my nephew, Harry, at the table.” James gave a little wave but was distractedly trying to clean smushed carrot off of Harry’s hand. “This is James’ wife, Lily.” Lily leaned out of the kitchen and hollered a hello as she took down two more plates from the cabinet. “And my other brother, Peter.” Peter shook both Sirius’ and Regulus’ hands.

“I’d shake your hand, but that would just spread this carrot mess further,” said James, now wiping off his own hands. “However, we’re very glad you could make it!”

“And you brought M&Ms? Those are Harry’s favorite. You’ll have a friend for life now,” added Lily, stepping out of the kitchen to greet the guests better.

“Ems!” Harry yelled happily, slipping out of his seat to go play.

“Are y’all hungry? Food’s still warm, and there’s plenty of it,” offered Remus, leading them to the small kitchen.

“Yes, thank you!” said Sirius, picking up a plate. “Sorry we’re late. I had a crazy day at work today. Didn’t think we’d make it after all but Regulus was really looking forward to the fried chicken.” Remus eyed the younger brother piling food onto his plate and smiled, noticing the older brother doing the same.

“James was just telling us about his office drama. We’d love to hear about yours.” Lily’s warm smile was encouraging.

Sirius spoke while dipping up. “Okay, so I know I’m new here, and the Midwest is different than the East Coast, but I was grabbing a soda from the break room when I overheard some jerk asking another jerk why there’s no such thing as white history month. As if we don’t get white history every month.”

James jaw dropped. “You’re the guy!” he said excitedly.

“Pardon me?” said Sirius politely.

“Well...okay. So I work at Cerner too, but I wasn’t there today because I just got back this morning from a business trip to Atlanta. Anyways, I got a text around 2 this afternoon from one of the guys that was there was telling me about how Snape was being a prick as usual but then he got his ass handed to him by some new guy. You’re the new guy! It is truly an honor to meet you.” James said all of this very fast, forgetting to censor his language in his excitement.

Sirius looked amused. “Yes, well. I’m the guy. That’s what took me so long to get off work tonight. Apparently that guy — Snape? What an odd name — took it to his boss, Horace Slughorn, who tried to go back and forth with me over it. Unfortunately for Snape and Horace, I won.”

“Snape’s his last name. His first name is Severus, but I hate even having his name in my mouth,” explained James.

“Severus? Somehow that’s even worse.”

“Right?!” James loved to complain about Snape, and he was clearly enjoying that he now had a friend to share this experience with.

“Let the man eat, James!” Lily admonished.

There was a moment of silence before Peter asked Regulus whether he preferred Marvel or DC, and soon the group was comparing favorite heroes and villains.

“Moony! Ice cweam?” Harry had finished eating ages ago and been playing quietly with the few toys Remus kept at his apartment just for him. Now he was squirming his way into Remus’ lap, stretching out the sweater Remus was wearing as he used it for leverage to pull himself up. Remus picked him up and set him on his knee.

“You want ice cream?” he asked Harry.

“Yes!”

“But you told me you don’t like ice cream,” Remus jiggled Harry a little on his knee as he teased him.

“I like!” Harry protested.

“I’m sorry, but there’s a rule that you can only eat ice cream if it has M&Ms, and Uncle Moony doesn’t have any M&Ms!” Harry’s face suddenly fell, and Remus worried he’d taken the teasing too far. Harry suddenly hopped out of Remus’ lap and ran over to Sirius.

“You have ems?” Remus knew Harry was hitting Sirius full force with his big, green, puppy eyes.

Sirius patted his pockets. “Hmm...not there. Not there. Now where did I leave those M&Ms?” Remus caught Sirius carefully wiggling the pack from his jeans pocket to inside his shirt sleeve. “I think I’m going to need your help finding them,” Sirius told Harry, looking earnest. “The M&Ms have disappeared, but I think you can do some magic to bring them back. Can you turn in a circle?” Harry quickly spun around. “Okay, now you need to clap three times.” Harry clapped seven times, not yet having mastered his numbers.

“Do you have the M&Ms?” Sirius looked at Harry expectantly.

“No!” Harry shouted, enjoying the game.

“Are you sure? Let’s check behind your ear. No, not there. Check the other ear! Not there either. Show me your hands, I want to make sure you’re not hiding them. Hmm..maybe in a pocket?” Sirius reached down and shook the M&Ms out of his sleeve and pulled them up as if they’d been in Harry’s pocket.

“Wow, bud! Did you hide them there the whole time?” James reached over and patted Harry’s pockets. “Are you hiding anything else there?” he teased.

“No, remember? It’s magic. Harry must be magical!” Lily said, as Harry giggled, looking proud of himself.

Remus smiled. Sirius was a good addition to the group, and judging by the grin on his face, the group was good for him. Even Regulus, who had been very quiet all evening, was smiling and looking content.

“Whew! Now that we have the M&Ms, should we make ice cream?” Harry ran back to Remus, and Remus scooped him up and stood.

The distance from the table to the kitchen was two steps, and Remus shifted Harry to his other hip as he began gathering the ingredients for ice cream. Sugar, milk, heavy whipping cream, and vanilla were all assembled on the counter. The M&Ms were still clutched in Harry’s hand.

“Look, Moony,” Harry waved his chubby fist in front of Remus’ face, showing off his treasure.

“Did Sirius help you use your magic to find those M&Ms?” Remus smiled, happy that Harry wanted to share his excitement.

“No, Padfoot,” Harry chirped.

“Padfoot? What’s a padfoot?” Remus looked at James and Lily for clarification, but Lily just shrugged and James looked lost.

“Padfoot with the ems!” Harry explained. Remus still didn’t get it.

“You want a padfoot with your M&Ms?” he asked.

“No! Padfoot!” Harry was becoming frustrated that no one understood him.

Remus thought for a moment. “Could you show me padfoot?” he asked hopefully.

Harry nodded and wiggled to be let down, so Remus set him down and he ran over to Sirius. “Padfoot.” Harry said again, looking up at Sirius. Sirius’ brow was creased, as unsure as the rest of the adults.

“Sirius has a padfoot?” James tried.

“No! Mommy, Daddy, Wormy, Moony, Padfoot!” Harry pointed to everyone as he said his given name for them, pointing at Sirius when he said Padfoot.

“Sirius is Padfoot?” Lily understood first.

“Yes!” Harry’s frustration disappeared, happy to finally be understood. He skipped back over to Remus, and held up his arms to be held again. Remus automatically picked him back up.

“You’re special. Harry doesn’t give many people a nickname. Only Remus, Peter, and my school principal.” Lily was now studying Sirius, looking at him like he’d greatly surprised her.

Sirius looked slightly embarrassed by all of the attention. “Well, I’m honored.” He gave a quick smile.

“Harry’s smart. He recognizes a friend when he meets one,” Peter said quietly. Peter was good at knowing what to say. “Besides, it’s better than Wormy.” That made Sirius laugh, and the conversation resumed.

Remus lost track of the conversation as he measured the ingredients for ice cream. It proved difficult to hold Harry and measure, so he drug a chair into the kitchen and Harry stood beside him, pouring in cups of sugar and helping to messily whisk it all together. Finally, Remus poured it into the ice cream machine, and showed Harry how to turn it on so the machine could churn the mixture.

“Harry, come put your PJs on. We have to go home after ice cream.” Lily often packed Harry’s pajamas and toothbrush so that they could stay a little later and put him straight in bed when they got home. Harry fussed a bit, but by the time the timer went off to say the ice cream was ready he was dancing in Remus’ small kitchen in his footie pajamas.

Everyone dipped up, and Remus watched Sirius and Regulus’ faces as they took their first bites. Remus loved to cook for other people, and he loved watching as his friends appreciated and enjoyed his food. He wasn’t disappointed. Regulus, who had been quiet all evening, grinned and hollered, “This is really good!”

Sirius’ gray eyes had opened wide, and he let out a sigh of happiness. Remus grinned, loving that he could make his new friends so happy with something as simple as ice cream.

Lily had tucked a wrapped a towel around Harry’s neck to protect his pajamas. Harry had ice cream smeared on his face, and he was now rescuing the last few ice cream-covered M&Ms with his fingers. James got up and got a wet paper towel to clean Harry’s face and hands.

Peter had drawn Regulus into a conversation about manga, and Lily started to gather bowls and spoons and put them in the sink. Remus noticed Sirius was watching James and Harry, his expression unreadable.

After Harry was less sticky, James took him to the bathroom to brush his teeth and then they were packing up. James shook Sirius’ hand again, gave Regulus a high five, and hugged Remus and Peter. Lily hugged them all, telling Sirius and Regulus how nice it was to meet them and they should consider themselves welcome anytime. Harry followed his mother’s lead, surprising everyone when he hugged Sirius and Regulus goodbye as well. The little family headed home, leaving the four men standing quietly in the doorway.

“We should head home too…” Sirius started.

“Nonsense!” Peter said. “This is when the party really starts. Wanna play a game?”

Sirius looked unsure as if he didn’t want to overstay his welcome. Remus put a hand on his shoulder but felt him stiffen at the unanticipated touch, and he quickly let go.

“Pete’s right. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Pete’s going to hang out for a while still. We usually play a board game, but I have several to choose from. But no Monopoly. Peter’s not allowed to play that one anymore.”

Sirius still looked ready to leave, but Regulus grinned and headed back into the living room, Sirius trailing behind him.

Regulus chose a particularly bawdy card game involving memes. The group was soon laughing together. Sirius looked relaxed again.

After a couple rounds, Sirius wanted to try a different, more involved board game, and Regulus had lost interest. Remus set him up so he could watch Netflix while the adults kept playing. Their game went later than expected. As they packed up, Remus felt a pang of guilt as he noticed Regulus curled into a tight ball, asleep on the couch. Peter packed up and headed out, giving hugs and shaking hands quietly to not wake up Regulus.

After he left, Remus turned off the TV and turned around to find Sirius sitting on the coffee table, watching Regulus sleeping with a concerned look. Remus just stood by, confused and waiting for Sirius to wake Regulus up. Sirius started to say something before he hesitated and fell silent again.

Remus sat down next to him. “Kids always look more peaceful when they’re asleep,” he said quietly.

“Yeah…” Sirius ran a hand through his long hair. “Reg could use some peace. I know the move has been hard. I saw him smile more tonight than he has in a long time.” Sirius hesitated again. “He doesn’t sleep much at home. I’m shocked that he’s asleep here.”

Remus studied Sirius’ face. Sirius was completely focused on his little brother, lines of worry etched into his young face.

“Do you want to leave him here, and you can pick him up in the morning?” Remus offered.

Sirius’ expression immediately changed from open worry to angry and hostile. “No, that won’t be necessary.” He reached out a hand to shake Regulus awake.

“Sirius, wait.” Remus reached out and stopped him, feeling him stiffen again at being touched. “I have a guest room. You could leave him asleep on the couch and sleep in the guest room. If you wanted.” Sirius glanced at the bedroom door behind them, then back at Regulus’ face. Regulus looked younger asleep. Remus waited as Sirius considered it.

“No, thank you. We can’t impose like that.” Sirius’ voice was quieter now, his expression soft as he watched his brother’s chest rising and falling.

“You’re not imposing. This is what friends do. James and Lily used to stay over, Pete on the couch before Harry. Now Pete gets the bed when he stays. You’re welcome to stay, but it’s up to you. I’m going to make some tea; would you like any?” Remus stood and stretched. He walked toward the kitchen and left Sirius to make a decision.

Remus added water to a mug and microwaved it instead of using the tea kettle. He selected an herbal tea and opened the microwave door just before it beeped. Sirius was still sitting on the coffee table. Remus gave him space, focusing on making his tea, stirring in a small amount of stevia.

He was so focused that he hadn’t noticed Sirius quietly move from the living room to the doorway of the kitchen. “I don’t want any tea, but could I borrow some pajama pants?” Sirius’ expression was unreadable, his arms crossed tight over his chest.

“Sure.” Remus took a sip of his tea, set it on the counter, and went to his bedroom. Sirius followed, stopping at his bedroom door as Remus dug through a dresser drawer and found a pair of pajama pants. He handed them over. “There’s a bathroom connected to the guest bedroom. Feel free to use anything in there. There’s clean towels on the shelf above the toilet if you want a shower. I’ll be up for a little bit, but if you need anything, don’t hesitate to wake me up.”

Remus went to go by Sirius, and Sirius looked alarmed. Remus was puzzled by all this behavior, but figured Sirius must feel out of his element in someone else’s space. “I was just going to grab my tea, and then I’m headed to bed.”

“Oh, okay.” Sirius moved and headed towards his own bedroom, but he didn’t enter. He watched Remus all the way to the kitchen, and Remus could feel his eyes on his back as he returned to his bedroom.

“Good night, Sirius,” Remus said awkwardly.

As he closed his door he heard a quiet “Good night” from the other bedroom.

Chapter Text

It was the middle of the night, and someone was screaming. Remus jolted upright in his bed, his heart beating fast. Without being completely awake he had thrown off his comforter, and he found himself rushing to the living room.

He burst through the door and saw someone in his living room. He wasn’t panicking yet, but it took a minute for his mind to figure out why.

Sirius. Regulus. They had stayed the night. But who had screamed? His eyes were still adjusting, and his heart was still pounding. He made out two figures sitting on the couch. Quiet, reassuring words were being murmured, and one of the figures — who he suspected was Regulus — laid back down on the couch.

Remus stood, uncertain, in the living room. He didn’t want to intrude, but he also didn’t want to leave them if someone was in need of help. He could finally make out Sirius’ face by the moonlight coming in through the balcony door. Sirius had Regulus’ head in his lap, and he was rubbing slow circles on his back. His shoulders were slumped. He sat like that quietly for several minutes, not acknowledging Remus’ presence.

Remus’ heart started to slow back down, and his stomach felt sick after the rush of adrenaline. He knew his hands were shaking. He didn’t want to move and wake Regulus up again, but he also didn’t want to stay there gaping at this private scene. His blood sugar would drop soon after the adrenaline, and he’d need to get a snack.

Sirius moved first. Content that Regulus was asleep again, he gently untangled himself and covered Regulus back up. “Do you mind if I have a smoke?” he asked quietly, speaking to Remus for the first time.

“No, of course not. You’re welcome to the balcony,” Remus whispered in return. “Um...would you like a cup of tea? Or a drink?” he offered.

“A drink, please.” Sirius quietly let himself out the balcony door and left it cracked open so he could still hear Regulus inside. Remus quietly shuffled around the kitchen. He found an old bottle of whiskey that James had left and grabbed a couple of crackers and slice of turkey for himself. He passed Sirius’ leather jacket as he headed to the balcony and on a whim picked it up. He slipped on his slippers and his own coat, grabbed a pair of warm socks for Sirius, and joined him on the balcony.

“I thought you might be cold.” Remus held out the jacket and socks. Sirius was leaning on the railing and took them and put them on without comment, seeming to be lost in thought. Remus set the glasses down on the small table he had outside and sat down in one of the plastic Adirondack chairs that decorated his balcony. He poured a couple fingers worth of whiskey into Sirius’ glass and a splash into his own. He offered it to Sirius, surprised when he drank it all at once. Sirius set his glass back on the table, and Remus refilled it. This time Sirius sipped, and Remus copied the motion. Sirius was quiet, and Remus took the opportunity to nibble at his crackers and turkey.

“James and Lily are really good parents,” Sirius suddenly blurted out.

“Yes, they are,” Remus agreed, unsure what had started this train of thought from Sirius.

“Lily is so patient with Harry, and you can tell James is loving every moment he can spend with his son, even if it’s just brushing teeth,” Sirius went on.

“Yes,” Remus waited. It seemed like there was something more that Sirius wanted to say.

Sirius sat down in the chair opposite Remus. He took a deep breath. “My parents are not like that. They are not…” he seemed to be searching for the right words, “ good parents,” he finished, looking through the glass door at Regulus’ sleeping form. Sirius took another drink, and Remus’ chest tightened as he realized what Sirius was about to share.

“I have custody of Regulus because they were hurting him.” For the first time in this conversation, Sirius made eye contact with Remus. It was steady, and his eyes were sad. “I grew up thinking that it was normal to get knocked around. My parents never seemed to like me, but they loved Regulus. They doted on him and took out their anger on me. But that was fine because at least they weren’t hurting him.” Remus’ heart hurt from looking into those sad gray eyes. “I left home when I was 17. Went to college a year early. My uncle helped pay for it. I didn’t go home to visit for a year. But when I did…” Sirius took a deeper sip of the whiskey. “Regulus had changed from a happy, healthy nine year old to a distant and frightened ten year old. I forced him to show me the bruises and tell me the truth. I tried to pack him up and take him with me that day, but my parents wouldn’t let me. They called the police. I had to leave, and I wasn’t allowed back to see him. I called Child Protective Services, but my parents are very wealthy and have lots of connections. It didn’t do shit.” Sirius finished his drink, holding the glass tightly in his hands, his knuckles white. His cigarette tip glowed red in the darkness as he put it to his mouth.

He let out a breath and continued with his story. “I didn’t know what to do. I tried to sue for custody, but no judge was going to take a child away from his parents and give him to his 18-year-old brother. He was stuck in that house for years. It was finally his teachers that saved him. They realized what was going on and documented it all. Then they hotlined. They had pictures and dates. Apparently they’d hotlined on him several times before. This time it worked, though. My uncle had passed and left me a nice inheritance. I was done with college and had a stable job and decent apartment. He came to live with me.”

Sirius took another drag off the cigarette. “My parents couldn’t leave us alone, though. It didn’t matter what the courts said. It didn’t matter that we had a restraining order. They’d show up at all times of the day or night and beg Regulus to come home. It was killing him. I’d turned against them years ago, but he still loved them. Loves them. So, I moved us far away from them, where they can’t hound him and add emotional damage to what they’ve already done.” Sirius poured himself a third drink. Remus heard him take a shaky breath.

“I hate them for what they did to him. He doesn’t sleep, and when he does he wakes up screaming. I thought they’d leave him alone. They never liked me. I was never obedient or quiet. They hated me more when I came out as gay. But I thought they would leave him alone.” Sirius dropped his head into his hands. “I hate myself for leaving him behind.” His voice had been flat the whole time he told his story, but now Remus could hear it break.

Remus moved as if to touch him, but remembered the way he’d stiffened earlier, realizing he now knew the reason for Sirius’ odd behaviors. He was obviously uncomfortable with unexpected touches and very protective over Regulus. Remus scooted his chair so he was sitting next to Sirius. “Sirius, is it alright if I touch you?” Sirius kept his head down, but Remus saw a small nod. He placed a hand on Sirius’ back and rubbed slow circles the same way he’d watched Sirius do for Regulus earlier. He could feel Sirius’ shoulders shaking under his hand. “Sirius, this is not your fault. You are not to blame. You didn’t leave him, you went back for him. You did everything you could and took on a huge responsibility at a very young age. You’re taking care of someone else when you have your own baggage. This is not your fault. You’re an incredible brother, and Regulus is lucky to have you. This is not your fault.” Remus didn’t know what else to say, so he repeated that over and over, hoping Sirius would hear him.

Remus didn’t know how long they stayed like this. Finally, Sirius took a deep breath and sat up. He rubbed his face. “I’m so sorry for unloading all of this on you.” His voice sounded rough.

“Sirius, don’t worry about it. We all have baggage. Have you told anyone else this before?” Sirius shook his head, and Remus felt that tightness in his chest again. He couldn’t imagine not having anyone to confide in. “If you ever need to talk, I’m here to listen. James and Lily and Peter, too. We’re all here for you. You and Regulus both.” The adrenaline and alcohol had finally wore off, and Remus shivered. “Sirius, your jacket isn’t warm enough for this winter weather. You need to come inside. It’s late. Do you feel like you could go back to bed?” Sirius nodded, looking dead on his feet, the emotional toll of the evening finally hitting him too.

Remus gently ushered him inside, where Sirius staggered back to the guest room. Remus locked the balcony door, and peeked in on Sirius. He’d fallen into bed with his leather jacket still on. Regulus was still curled up in a fetal position on the couch, and Remus laid another blanket at his feet in case he got cold. Finally, Remus crawled back in bed himself and immediately fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Remus awoke, feeling groggy and disoriented. He could hear low voices in the living room and remembered the night before, the story Sirius had shared.

His phone dinged, and he groaned. He needed to get up, but he wanted to sleep more. He groped at his bedside table for his phone and lifted it up to glance at the time. It was just before eight.

He sat up slowly, placing his feet on the floor and rubbed his eyes. He stumbled into his bathroom and straight into the shower, undressing and disconnecting his pump as he went. He left the light off, showering in darkness.

His mind slowly woke up, thinking about Sirius, Regulus and their situation. He was angry at their parents. These two boys had been through hell, yet somehow they managed to still be willing to trust new friends.

Remus shut the water off and toweled off in his naturally-lit bedroom, eyes squinting at this new light. After reconnecting his pump, he threw on a pair of jeans and a maroon sweater and headed out to the living room.

Sirius was folding the blankets on the couch. “Sorry we woke you,” he said, looking guilty.

“I needed to get up anyways. It’s almost eight. I slept in yesterday. The roads should be clear today, and I have things to do.” Remus probably would’ve slept in if he didn’t have guests, but it wasn’t important.

“Regulus is in the shower. I hope you don’t mind?”

“Of course not. That’s why I told you where the towels are. Did you . . . did you sleep OK? You know, besides . . .?” Remus felt stupid. He shouldn’t have brought that up. Sirius didn’t want to talk about that.

Sirius paused in the folding. “Yes, I did. Thank you.”

“Oh, no problem. Pete says the bed is comfortable, but James always complained, so I’m not sure.” Remus headed to the coffee pot, hoping that his nose was right and that Sirius had already made coffee. This morning was a coffee morning, not a tea morning.

“Remus, wait.” Remus turned around, curiously. “I didn’t mean thank you for the bed, though it was nice. Peter’s right; James is just whiny.” Remus smiled, surprised that Sirius had picked that up so quick after just meeting them. “I meant thank you for everything you did last night. Letting us stay. Listening to me. You’re so patient. Talking to you . . . it helped a lot.” Remus saw that haunted look in Sirius’ eyes again.

Sirius set the blankets down and crossed the living room to look Remus better in the eyes. “Thank you,” he stated again, simply. He surprised Remus with a hug.

Remus was a touchy person. He was used to touches on the arm, shoulder, back. The kids at school hugged and high fived him regularly. He hugged his brothers every time he saw them. But he knew Sirius was less willing to touch others, so the gesture surprised him. He quickly recovered from his shock and hugged Sirius back. He could feel Sirius’ damp hair on his neck, and he could smell that he’d used the minty shampoo that Lily had left years ago.

Remus felt a flare of protectiveness for Sirius and Regulus. He’d only known them for two days, but realized he was as willing to drop everything and help them as he would for James, Peter or Lily.

Sirius gave one more gentle squeeze and pulled back. Remus immediately missed his warmth pressed against him.

“Do you ever wear anything besides sweaters?” Sirius asked, his gray eyes bright.

“Of course I do,” Remus said defensively.

“Then why do you always look like Mr. Rogers?” Sirius teased.

“They’re comfy and warm.” Remus faked a pout, delighted when Sirius laughed, a happy barking sound. The truth was that tight fitting clothes would highlight the hub connecting his body to his insulin pump. He hated the awkward questions that came with it, the curious glances. He turned and headed to the kitchen to find a mug, filling it with coffee. “What are your plans for today?” Remus said as he opened the fridge and rummaged around for the sugar-free almond creamer. He added a generous amount and leaned against the counter, sipping from the hot mug. Sirius had perched himself at the kitchen bar on a stool.

“Well, we really need to unpack. I think Regulus did most of his room yesterday, but we’ve gotta find all the kitchen stuff, and I’d like to have the couch inside from the garage. I saw that we’re supposed to get more snow later this week. It’d be good to have the garage empty so I can park the car in there again. I need to go get groceries today or tomorrow. What about you?”

“Mmm. I should do laundry. Maybe go to the library. Not many plans.” Remus was debating what to make for breakfast. “Do you want some chocolate chip pancakes?” It was Saturday, and Remus loved pancakes on Saturdays. The chocolate chips added more carbs, but Remus couldn’t resist. He denied himself a lot of other things, like fried chicken and regular creamer, so he let himself have little treats like chocolate chips occasionally.

“No, thank you,” said Sirius at the same time Regulus came out from the bathroom, toweling his hair and saying, “Yes, please!”

Remus chuckled, amused. Sirius glanced at Regulus, who had on his best puppy eyes, reminding Remus of Harry. “Oh, fine. Yes, please,” Sirius relented. Remus could see that Sirius had a difficult time saying no to Regulus.

Remus wasn’t fancy with his pancakes. He used a quick box mix, adding chocolate chips when they were in the pan and flipping them when they bubbled on the top. He idly chopped an onion and started sauteeing it, adding eggs to a second pan and scrambling them.

The eggs were finished as the first pancakes were. He flipped the golden brown pancakes on Sirius and Regulus’ plates as they finished cooking, adding a heap of eggs to both plates as well. The brothers ate a pancake and were ready for the next by the time it was done. He tucked the extras into the oven to keep warm.

Remus was relaxed, listening to the banter behind him. His mind wandered to Sirius’ hug, how nice he’d felt in his arms. How sweet he was with Harry. How serious he took his responsibility to Regulus. Remus felt an ache in his chest, but it wasn’t a bad one. It made him feel warm inside. Every time he turned to add a pancake to one of their plates, he caught a glance of Sirius. Sirius smiling, laughing, pushing his hair back. Those gray eyes caught his, and Remus quickly looked away, blushing. Sirius was in rumpled, day-old clothes, his mouth full of pancakes, and Remus suddenly wanted to know what the syrup would taste like on his lips.

Sirius looked like sin itself, and seemed to have no idea what he was doing to Remus. Remus swallowed the dregs of his coffee and with it his crush. He resolved himself to get over it, immediately. Sirius was coping with a lot. He needed a friend. Just a friend.

“Have you read all these books?” Regulus’ question brought him out of his reverie. Remus glanced to where he was standing, in front of one of three bookshelves.

“I’ve read all of the other two bookshelves,” Remus gestured with the spatula at one in the other corner of the room and toward the one in the guest bedroom, “but that’s my to-read shelf. I haven’t read those yet, but I want to,” Remus explained, feeling a little self conscious about his shelving system. Everybody preferred a different way to organize their books — Lily liked hers by color, Peter alphabetized, and James just shoved them wherever they fit. Remus had one bookshelf full of his favorites, one full of books that were classics he felt rounded out the collection, and one to-read. He tried to group them by genre on each shelf, biographies and non-fiction together, etc.

“Wow! I can’t imagine reading this many books! I hate reading!” Regulus exclaimed, his fingers loving on the spines despite his words.

“You read lots of graphic novels, right?” Remus asked, conversationally, remembering Regulus’ love for anime and Marvel.

Regulus’ shoulders fell, “Yeah, but those aren’t real books.”

“Graphic novels are real books.” Remus felt terrible that he’d inadvertently offended. He could feel Sirius watching him closely, ready to defend his younger brother.

“They’re just glorified picture books,” Regulus countered, and Remus was sure that this was a quote someone else had said to him before. A careless teacher or librarian. Maybe his mother.

“Oh no, they’re a whole genre. Graphic novels are very much ‘real books.’ They’re an art form, and many graphic novels have won different kinds of awards, sames as other genres.”

Regulus had left the bookshelf and was edging closer to Remus, a hungry look on his face. Remus mentally cursed whoever had destroyed this child’s love of reading. “I use graphic novels to teach my students inferences, how to write dialogue, and other things. They aren’t just glorified picture books. They’ve been having an impact on culture and history for a long time. Think of how important Superman is to U.S. culture, how Captain America was a response to anti-semitism during World War II. Graphic novels are real books,” Remus turned so he was making eye contact with Regulus, wanted to make sure Regulus really understood him, “and anyone who tells you differently is misinformed.”

Regulus had a shy smile on his face. He gave a little shrug, and turned away, starting a new conversation with Sirius.

Remus turned the burner off, pulled a pancake out of the oven where he’d been keeping them warm, and flipped it onto his own plate with a large scoop of eggs. He buttered it and added a small amount of syrup, picking a fork out of the drawer to use. He leaned against the counter, taking a large sip of coffee before starting to devour his breakfast. Sirius was discussing their schedule for the day, answering all of Regulus’ questions, but his eyes were following Remus. Their eyes met for a moment, and as Regulus was again distracted by pancakes, Sirius mouthed a “thank you.”

Remus smiled and nodded, always happy to encourage a reader. His thoughts were drifting to his classroom, and how one of his most reluctant readers had fallen in love with a graphic novel series until Remus heard his name. The brothers were discussing their plans for the day.

“Are you helping us unpack today, Remus?” Regulus was looking at him expectantly, and Sirius was shooting Regulus a dirty look.

“Reg, it’s impolite to take up Remus’ day like that. Remus has other things he needs to do today,” Sirius was gentle but firm. Regulus blinked in surprise at the admonishment.

“Oh, sorry!” Regulus hurried to apologize.

Remus waved him off. “You’re always welcome to ask me for help,” he smiled at both brothers, feeling sad that Sirius didn’t want his help. “Besides, you’d be tired of me. Stuck with me three days in a row now,” he tried to laugh it all off as he put his plate in the sink.

Sirius looked surprised at the insinuation. “I didn’t mean to make you feel unwelcome. I just didn’t want you to feel obligated. We’re...not tired of you.” There was an awkward pause as Sirius seemed to consider his words carefully. “Would you like to come over later today?”

“I don’t want to get in the way of your unpacking,” Remus said, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice. He didn’t want a pity invite.

“What if you came over later, after we got some unpacking finished?” Sirius offered again.

“Maybe,” Remus hedged, shoving another forkful of food into his mouth so he didn’t have to talk more. Sirius’ expression was unreadable, a careful mask had replaced the happy, open face of earlier. Remus’ heart sank. He remembered that mask from their first car ride.

Sirius collected his and Reglus’ plates and loaded them in the dishwasher. It was pretty full from the night before, and Remus watched as Sirius shuffled dishes around to accommodate the new sticky plates.

Regulus was looking bewildered at the sudden shift of energy in the room. Remus felt the same, unsure if he was genuinely being asked over or just taken pity on.

Their goodbyes were short and courteous, but the handshake felt awkward after their warm hug that morning. Sirius had said he’d text later though, so perhaps Remus was reading too much into it.

His company finally gone, Remus pricked his finger and squeezed the drop of blood out to check his sugar levels. His apartment was back to normal — empty.

Chapter Text

So . . . did you ask him out? Remus sighed at the text from James. James loved to matchmake and was constantly trying to set Remus up.

No. Remus sent back. He should’ve started laundry, should’ve done something, but instead was laying on the couch, scrolling through Twitter. Everything was shit. Some political drama that he was only half-following, trying to block out thoughts of his own drama.

WHY NOT??  James reply was immediate. Remus decided to ignore it.

DON’T IGNORE ME

REMUS

I KNOW YOU SEE THESE

YOU’RE PROBABLY JUST SULKING ON YOUR SOFA

Remus sighed, annoyed and touched that James knew him so well. Sulking on Your Sofa is a good band name he sent back, trying change the subject.

Oooh, yeah it is! Like a pop-punk band! James was typing something longer, the message bubble popping up, and stopping as he reread it, then appearing again. Remus scrolled over to text Lily.

Make Jamie stop bothering me, he pleaded, hoping she’d take his side. His phone was blessedly silent for a couple minutes, and he had almost dozed off when it buzzed again.

Snitches get stitches! James had texted, obviously disgruntled that Remus had tattled on him to Lily. Remus huffed and rolled onto his side, pulling a blanket off the top of the couch over him. Maybe if he could take a nap he’d wake up back in his bed, the morning started over, and he could fix whatever had happened between him and Sirius.

He tossed and turned on the couch, finally giving up. He’d go to the library. Or a bookstore. Just get out of the damn apartment.

He was fixing lunch when his phone buzzed again. It was Lily this time.

James is right tho. You should’ve asked him out. You’re obviously smitten. Remus regretted getting Lily involved. He should’ve predicted that James would sweet talk her onto his side. He decided neither of them deserved a response. He set his phone on silent and ate lunch at the kitchen counter, leaning over the sink so he didn’t have to bother with a plate.

He felt better after eating, realizing that his blood sugar had been low and that was part of why he’d been so annoyed with James and Lily, but it didn’t change the fact that he was irked. He was trying to let go of this crush, and they were encouraging it. He didn’t feel like he could tell them what Sirius had shared with him last night.

He sighed and pulled out his phone, trying to figure out what what to say to them when he realized he had a new text. Not from Lily or James.

Your family is really nice. Thanks for having us over. You said we are welcome to ask you for help? Remus stared at the screen for a moment, unsure of how to respond to Sirius’ text. He wasn’t feeling particularly helpful after how they’d left things this morning, but he also genuinely cared about the brothers and had meant what he’d said about helping. He also wanted to see Sirius again, and he immediately pushed that thought away guiltily.

You’re welcome. What do you need help with? Remus sent back and scrolled over and sent a joint text to Lily and James. It’s complicated, and I’m not ready to talk about it yet. James was already responding.

We will back off. Just love you and want you happy. Remus sighed, thankful for his chosen family.

Forcing himself to be productive, Remus started a load of laundry and put away clean dishes. He’d turned his phone back up and hated that he was listening for a text, but he couldn’t help himself. When it finally did ding, he made himself wait until the dishes were all finished before answering it.

My friends in California bought me a whole bunch of kitchen shit as a going away present, but I don’t know what it does or where it should go. You’re a really good cook, so I figured you might know? Remus smiled at Sirius’ compliment.

I could probably figure it out. Remus waited, because Sirius hadn’t actually invited him over, and he certainly wasn’t about to invite himself. It seemed to take forever for Sirius to reply.

Will you come over and help? I’m sorry about this morning. I didn’t want you to feel pressured, but it’s really nice to have a friend. I hadn’t expected that. James said you weren’t doing anything today, so I won’t feel bad about ruining fun afternoon plans. Remus rolled his eyes. Of course James had said that.

You have Sirius’ number? You told him I’m not doing anything? I thought you were going to back off! Remus texted both Lily and James, hoping Lily would come back to his side.

We exchanged numbers when you were making ice cream last night. We have to be able to make fun of Snivellus! And I told him you didn’t have any plans for today because you don’t, and it was before I said I would back off. I’m officially backing off starting now, so earlier doesn’t count. Remus huffed and sent James a rude emoji.

Yeah, I can come help. What time? Remus glanced at the clock, but there was no point. He really wasn’t going to do anything today.

Whenever you want is fine. We’re ordering pizza for dinner. Remus wrinkled his nose. Pizza was high in carbs. Basically all take out food was. He’d manage, though.

Want me to bring a veggie? he offered.

Do I personally want you to bring a vegetable? No. Do I as a responsible adult want you to bring a vegetable? Yeah, sure. Remus laughed, and rummaged through the freezer.

Broccoli? Cauliflower? Peas? He didn’t know what Sirius and Regulus liked.

NOT peas! Sirius’ response was immediate.

Broccoli, then. I’ll head your way in about 15 minutes? Remus needed to change his pump’s infusion set. Sirius sent back a thumbs up emoji.

Changing his infusion set was rote at this point, but he hated doing it. He refilled the insulin reservoir and cringed as he lifted his sweater to prep the new site. His stomach wasn’t amazing to look at in the first place, but it wasn’t helped by the hundreds of little needle scars. It couldn’t be helped though. He’d rather be alive and scarred than the alternative.

He loaded the infusion set into the inserter, locking it in and removing the adhesive. It took a moment to decide on a new spot to place the hub. He would usually have moved it to his arm, but he worried that would be more noticeable than his stomach. He finally settled on moving it to the other side of his stomach and removed the needle guard. Remus barely registered the needle prick, used to it as he was by now, and he hurried through the last part of removing the needle and fussing with the adhesive.

He pulled his sweater down and tidied up, disposing of the needle in his sharps container under the sink.

Even though it was only 10 minutes, the drive to Sirius’ felt long. Remus couldn’t stop himself for being thankful that he’d chosen the apartment with a short commute.

He cursed when he recognized his principal’s car in the parking lot, the familiar tight-bunned figure walking toward it, not far enough away to miss his presence in Sirius’ driveway.

“Remus, I’m surprised to see you here.” She had to raise her voice slightly, but Sirius’ house was ridiculously close to the school.

“Good afternoon, Minnie,” he greeted, willing himself to not look suspicious. He was helping a friend, not trying to hook up with a parent. And it wasn’t one of his student’s parents anyways. No conflicts of interest.

“Picking up Harry’s nicknames? Hm.” Minerva McGonagall tried and failed to give him a stern look, and Remus grinned. She had a soft spot for Remus. She’d been one of his own elementary school teachers many years ago. “How is he? Lily said he’d been sick.”

“He was, but he’s better. I saw them last night.” Remus was going to say more, but he heard a door open behind him.

“HEY! Rem get your ass in out of the co — oh shit!” Sirius had stepped onto the front porch and realized that Remus was talking to someone. Minerva’s mouth became her trademark thin line, her eyebrows almost disappearing into her hairline. Sirius came bounding down the steps and strode across the street to the staff parking lot where Minerva was standing. Remus followed, slightly embarrassed.

“Um, hey. I’m Sirius Black. I’m new to the neighborhood.” Sirius had stuck out his hand, and Minerva shook it.

“Minerva McGonagall, school principal. It’s nice to meet you.” Remus thought her face said very differently, but she was polite as always.

“Oh, you must be the principal Lily was talking about! What’s Harry’s nickname for you? He gave me Padfoot,” Sirius chatted amiably.

Minerva’s eyebrows raised higher, something Remus would’ve thought wasn’t possible, but her tone was noticeably warmer when she addressed Sirius this time. “Harry calls me Minnie. You know James and Lily too, then?”

“Remus introduced me last night. They’re great!” Remus knew that Sirius had won Minerva over. Minerva had been Lily’s supervising teacher when they were student teaching, and if Sirius liked Lily then Minerva would like Sirius.

They all chatted pleasantly for a couple more minutes before Sirius politely mentioned that he wasn’t used to the Midwest cold yet and needed to get back inside. His cheeks and nose were very pink, and Remus felt terrible he hadn’t noticed sooner. He tried to not think about how cute Sirius was with his hair windblown.

They trudged inside, where Regulus was busy unpacking. Sirius snuck his fingers under his brother’s shirt, eliciting a howl of shock at the cold. Remus toed off his shoes and dropped his bag with his diabetic supplies at the door, and he followed Sirius into the living room, surprised by how much it had changed since he’d been there last.

There was a couch, and the TV was sitting on a stand, no longer leaning against the wall. Remus was impressed by the cozy looking pillows and stack of blankets sitting nearby. He would’ve figured the brothers would have the bare minimum.

“Hey, Remus!” Regulus had his usual small smile on, continuing to shelve DVDs into the TV stand.

“Hey, Reg. Good to see you again.”

“We should put that broccoli in the freezer,” Sirius’ hand brushed Remus’ as he tugged at the plastic bag still in Remus’ hand. It sent shivers up Remus’ spine, and Remus reminded himself that he was just being a friend. Sirius headed into the kitchen to put the broccoli up and Remus followed.

The kitchen was different too, but not organized like the living room. The living room was almost finished, only a few empty boxes waiting to be removed in a corner. The kitchen had several boxes labeled “kitchen shit” on the floor, the tape unbroken. There were more, spilling their contents out onto the counter.

“I’m sorry to have drug you into this, but my friends . . . they refused to take no for an answer and bought an entire store’s worth of kitchen supplies for me, and I don’t know what any of it does or where it should go, and they’re going to visit next week, and I’ll never hear the end of it. I . . . I wasn’t ready to share what was going on,” Sirius’ voice dropped, “with Reg because then I’d have to explain my own issues so every time there was a legal meeting or court date I told them that I was taking a cooking class.” Remus surveyed the mess and glanced at Sirius. He felt that familiar ache in his chest, the one that made him want to protect Sirius and Regulus, to make everything better for them. He slowly raised his hand, making sure that Sirius could see him as he squeezed Sirius’ shoulder and set quietly to work.

Sirius seemed embarrassed at sharing so much, and he quickly put the broccoli in the freezer then left to unpack another room. Remus was alone in the kitchen, unpacking and filling the empty drawers. He found a space on the counter to store the blender and toaster and dedicated a whole drawer to little kitchen gadgets. He found a rhythm and was surprised when he found himself on the last box. He washed the dust off of the dishes and slipped them into the cabinet.

He startled when he turned around to find Sirius watching him from across the island. “What kind of pizza do you want?” Sirius’ gray eyes were soft, and tendrils of his dark hair had escaped his bun. He looked . . . sweet. Remus shook his head slightly to rid himself of the thought.

“Whatever you two like is fine,” he said, trying to be accommodating.

“Oh good, we love anchovies on our pizza. Glad you’re OK with that,” Sirius’ face betrayed nothing, while Remus knew that his showed everything. His nose wrinkled in disgust at the mention of anchovies. Sirius barked a laugh, the same happy sound from earlier that morning, and Remus felt relief that he’d been joking. “Seriously, what do you want?” Sirius asked again.

“I thought you were always serious,” Remus couldn’t resist, delighted at the exasperated expression on Sirius’ face.

“Clever, never heard that before,” Sirius rolled his eyes as Remus clutched the counter, laughing at his own joke.

“Something with chicken?” Remus asked hopefully, when he caught his breath again.

“I’ve never thought of putting chicken on a pizza. Reg likes pepperoni, but I hate it and usually go for just plain cheese. Chicken’s a good thought.” Sirius was quiet, his fingers flying on his phone, and Remus realized that he’s doing the order online. “OK, half chicken, half pepperoni. Should be here in about a half hour. I just got it from Papa John’s. I don’t know anything local yet.”

“We’ll show you Spin Pizza another time. It’s James’ favorite,” Remus offered.

“Sounds good. Kitchen looks nice. Thank you, again,” Sirius was opening drawers, occasionally picking out a gadget at what seemed to be random.

“Do you know what that is?” Remus asked, bemusedly.

“Not at all,” Sirius admitted easily, his eyes shining.

“That’s a garlic press. You put the garlic here,” Remus took it from Sirius’ hand and indicated where to insert the garlic. “Then you flip it back and squeeze. It minces your garlic and comes out here.” Sirius was listening intently, so Remus pulled out another gadget from the drawer. “This is an egg separator. You can crack your egg into it here, and the yolk will stay here while the white goes into a bowl. It’s faster and easier to just use your hands, though. This is for peeling vegetables, and this is to tenderize meat.” Sirius followed Remus through the kitchen like this, listening as Remus told him the names of everything and showed him how to use it.

He was surprised when there was a knock on the door. The pizza was already here, and Sirius was at the door, fumbling with cash. He quietly slipped behind and grabbed his bag, heading to the bathroom to dose. Remus didn’t often eat pizza so it was taking a while to figure out the ratio, and his phone wasn’t connecting to the internet so Remus had no way to double check his carb count. A knock on the door startled him, and he distractedly administered his guess on the right dose. “Just a second,” he called out the door, fumbling as he put everything back in his bag.

He tried to be nonchalant as he put his bag back by his shoes, but he could feel Sirius’ eyes following him curiously. Remus remembered the broccoli last minute and popped it into the microwave, thankful for an excuse to give the insulin the time it needed to kick in before he ate. He took his time dishing up his plate, piling broccoli on his and forcing Sirius and Regulus to put some on theirs.

They watched TV again as they ate, and Remus was feeling groggy after the meal and unpacking. His phone lit up as James asked him how the evening was going. He texted back, trying and failing to focus on the message. He absentmindedly texted back and forth with James, when Sirius’ phone rang.

“Hey, James! Yeah? What?” Sirius was looking at him concernedly. Remus was struggling to keep his eyes open, tired but curious why James was calling Sirius. Suddenly Sirius was in front of him, shaking him. “Remus, where’s your bag?”

“My bag?” He blinked in confusion.

“Remus, you need to focus.” Sirius turned and said something to Regulus. Remus could vaguely hear James on speaker phone. He blinked again, and Sirius was pushing something against his mouth. He opened willingly, surprised at the sweet flavor, and swallowed. Sirius kept at it, and slowly Remus realized he was drinking juice. His bag was scattered on the floor, the small can of pineapple juice that Remus kept for emergencies in Sirius’ hand. Remus reached a shaky hand out to take it, and drank the rest of the juice himself, feeling embarrassed. He registered that James was still on speaker phone, giving Sirius instructions on how to use the glucometer to check his blood sugar. It was in the 50s. Still very low, but Remus knew he needed to wait 15 minutes before eating anything else, letting the juice do its job.

“Can I talk to James?” he asked quietly. Sirius wordlessly switched James off speaker and handed him the phone.

“Hey, James,” Remus said, feeling shaky.

“Moony, Rem! Oh, God you scared me,” James sounded strained.

“Fuck. I think I scared everyone, myself included. I think we’re good now, though,” Remus felt more alert and glanced at Sirius, still crouched in front of him, ready to spring into action again. Regulus was standing behind him, pale, and watching the scene carefully.

“What’s your blood sugar at?” James asked.

“It was in the 50s when we checked it a minute ago. I’ll check it again in 15.” James swore, knowing it must’ve been lower than 50 before the juice.

“What happened?” Remus rolled his eyes at James. People would think that it was Lily who fussed, but it was really James. James had always been a mother hen, making sure everyone drank water at parties in college and keeping extra snacks in his backpack just for Remus.

“Pizza. I think I dosed wrong,” Remus didn’t feel like elaborating. James always thought Remus was too secretive about his diabetes and would lecture him about trying to dose in the bathroom, but Remus hated the way people treated him differently after they found out. “How’d you know I was in trouble?”

“Your texts didn’t make any sense. You kept spelling stuff wrong, and you never spell anything wrong. I’m just glad I had Sirius’ number. You’re sure you’re OK?” For all his annoyance at James’ mothering, Remus felt tears prick at his eyes at his brother’s concern.

“I’m OK.” He took a deep breath, blinking the tears back. “It’s just been a long time since I’ve dropped like that. Thank you, for taking care of me even when you’re not here.” James laughed, a nervous sound that didn’t quite cover how scared he’d been.

“That’s what family’s for. Hand me back over to Sirius?” Remus obediently handed the phone back, only paying half attention as James gave Sirius instructions and then they hung up. Sirius slid up onto the couch next to Remus, still looking worried.

“Um, so . . .” Remus hated this part. Telling people. He never knew their reaction. “I have Type 1 Diabetes. It’s also called Juvenile Diabetes. I was diagnosed when I was in third grade.” Sirius was quiet, listening without interruption. “It’s not a big deal, it just means that my pancreas doesn’t produce insulin properly, so I have to get my insulin from somewhere else.” Sirius’ gray eyes were still on him, and Remus looked away from the intensity of them. “Do you . . . have any questions?” Remus wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Sirius asked, his brow furrowed.

Remus bristled, suddenly defensive. “People can be really shitty about it, and we’ve just met. Forgive me if I didn’t want to share all of my medical history with you after a few days of friendship.”

Sirius blinked at him, taken aback at the bite in his voice, then to Remus’ surprise, smiled. “I wondered if anything ever ruffled you. Always so nice and polite. It’s nice to see you’re human too. That’s…” Sirius seemed to be considering his words more carefully this time, “That’s true. It’s not my business. But I’m sorry that people have been such dicks before.”

Remus was taken aback at the quick apology. Sirius nudged his knee against Remus’. Remus frowned slightly, thinking about how bad the situation could’ve been if James hadn’t realized what was going on, if Sirius hadn’t been so fast to leap into action. “Thank you,” he said, feeling humble, “for helping. You did a good job following James’ directions.”

Sirius shrugged and glanced towards the door. “Regulus was the one who found your bag.”

Remus had forgotten about Regulus, standing in the doorway still looking pale and Remus realized he was probably freaked out. “Thank you,” he said, looking Regulus in the eyes. He waved Regulus over to sit on the couch too. “You did a great job too. Are you OK?” Remus asked kindly.

Regulus nodded, slowly. “You’re going to be OK?” he asked, looking nervous.

“Yes, I’m just fine. I feel much better already. My blood sugar’s probably back up by now,” Remus tried to reassure him.

“Oh, James wanted me to remind you to check it again,” Sirius said, picking up the glucometer from where he’d dropped it on the floor. “It’s been 15 minutes.”

Both brothers watched closely as Remus fiddled with it, pushing a new test strip in and grabbing the lancet to prick his finger.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” Regulus asked curiously.

“I’m used to it by now,” Remus shrugged. Regulus looked impressed.

“So, basically you’re a badass,” Sirius chuckled.

Remus felt a blush creep up his cheeks. No one had ever called him badass for being a diabetic. He felt a small smile tug at the corners of his mouth. He swiped the blood on the strip, and after a few seconds it showed that his blood sugar was back up to 103.

“One oh three,” Sirius read aloud. “What does that mean?”

“It means that my blood sugar is back at a normal, stable level. It depends on what when I’ve last eaten, but in general it’s supposed to be approximately between 90-120. I’ll probably eat something when I get home, but I’m good now.” A shadow crossed Sirius’ face. “What?” Remus asked cautiously, worried that Sirius was going to ask something offensive.

“About that . . . James told me to tell you that you’re staying here tonight and that he knows you’re not happy about that, but I’m not to give you a choice because he wants someone to wake you up in the middle of the night.” Remus rolled his eyes, surprised that James still surprised him. “We have a guest room. I’ve been getting it set up for my friends next week. It’s not finished, but it’ll be fine for a night.”

“I don’t suppose I have much choice?”

Sirius shook his head. “James said that if you try to go home he’ll be forced to drive over and stay at your house and you shouldn’t do that to Lily and Harry.”

Remus snorted, defeated. “Fine. I’ll stay here,” he gave in. He checked his phone, surprised by how late it had become.

Sirius sent Regulus up to bed, fussing around in the kitchen for a couple minutes before sitting back down on the sofa.

“James also said you need to eat something with protein?” he handed Remus a can of chicken with a fork. Remus took it wordlessly, wolfing down the chicken in large bites.

Sirius broke the silence. “I know we just met, but I’m really glad to have you as a friend. I’m not trying to pressure you, but I hope you don’t feel like you need to hide anything from me. I spilled all my secrets to you, and I’m here for yours too.”

Remus gazed at Sirius thoughtfully for a minute and then blurted, “I’m bi.” Sirius stared at him, his expression patient. Remus worried that he hadn’t understood. “I’m bisexual,” he clarified.

Sirius smiled, warmly. “Well, it’s twenty bi-teen,” he joked, looking like he was trying to put Remus at ease. It worked, and Remus laughed. He felt lighter than he’d felt for a while, and after Sirius made plans to wake him up after two and headed to his own room, he laid awake for a while. Just thinking, hoping for what could happen.