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Grey eyes jump from clock, to door, to Harry sucking his thumb on James' lap. His leg bouncing up and down in anticipation, Sirius imagines being out in the warm evening air on his bike, away from this group, from bad news, from burdens placed on a people too young to bear them. Three years into this war, and Sirius realizes that he was out of his mind to be excited by the prospect of joining the Order. Too many have died since; too many have watched their lives decay into ruin. The collapse of his own life is no exception.

The itch for a fag borders on unbearable, and if it weren't for the fact that it'd cost him his bollocks if he lit up with Harry or Neville in the room, he might just do it. It's strange how life, even among the Order, has changed with the addition of the sprogs. He no longer smokes indoors, Moody minds his language, and late night get togethers—once filled with booze, boisterous discussions, and the occasional hook up in the loo—have tamed considerably. Sometimes Sirius wonders if the babies don't belong to the lot of them now; he knows he'd easily give his life if it meant protecting Harry or Neville. And judging by the fact that everyone is still here, still fighting, Sirius thinks that he's not alone in the sentiment.

Neville begins to fuss in Alice's arms, and she shushes him sweetly, kissing the top of his head. Harry, apparently sensing a rebellion against this painfully long meeting, fidgets on James' lap, making those little snuffling noises that always preface a full on wail. Sirius can't blame either of them; he's reached his breaking point as well.

"It seems the hour is getting late," Dumbledore says gently from the head of the table, looking on fondly at the babies. "Perhaps we should break for today."

Lily and Alice apologize profusely for Harry and Neville's fussiness, but Dumbledore assures them that the boys are the two most well behaved babies he has ever met and that only so much can be expected of children so little. Sirius almost scoffs at that—both Harry and Neville have quite the destiny to live up to already now that the prophecy is known. He resists the urge, though, because he's already been scolded twice this meeting for commentary—verbal or otherwise—by Minerva's disapproving gaze.

Dumbledore clears his throat as everyone begins to shift around and gather up their things. "A final note: we are in need of a reconnaissance team to go west for a few days in light of recent information concerning Death Eater attacks near Caernarfon. Remus, Sirius, I was hoping that I might employ your services for this assignment."

At the sound of his name following Remus', Sirius pauses—jacket half on—and feels his stomach churn at the prospect. It's strange how something so natural for so many years—his name coupled with Remus'—can now elicit such a reaction from him. His body tenses, eyes widen and lips thin into an irritated line. He steals a glance at Remus, who looks equally as disturbed by the idea, before forcing his eyes to Dumbledore.

"Together?"

Dumbledore nods, "You've always worked quite well together, and with Remus' quick thinking and your skill for noticing details, I can think of no two better people for the job. It's imperative that we have this information before we continue forward with our plans."

Sirius shares a look with James, one so easily read as I can't believe he's doing this. While he and Remus didn't exactly advertise their relationship, the past three years—and subsequent mid-snog walk-ins by various Order members—have seen that it was fairly well known. As was the break-up of last September and the fact that they haven't been alone together since. Why, then, Dumbledore would ask them to do this is entirely beyond him.

"I can go," James says quickly. "With Remus or Sirius."

"I'm afraid not, James. It's too dangerous right now, and I would be negligent in my duties if I even entertained the idea."

"But—"

"Let it go, Potter," Moody grumbles. "A little time together might do them good. They'll either make nice or kill each other. The problem's solved either way."

"We're still here, you know," Remus says, seething, his cheeks scarlet.

For once in the past several months, Sirius finds himself agreeing with Remus. Fuck Moody for carrying on about them in their presence; the least he could do is have the common decency to wait until they left. And, for the record, they don't need any time together. They've done together, and together doesn't work for them, obviously. The last thing Sirius wants is to have to try to get along with Remus. He's not quite sure if he's capable of such a thing anymore.

How quickly things change.

Once, they were mad for each other. It seems like a lifetime ago now, as he catches sight of Remus across the table. A million years and more since they whispered tender exchanges, woke up in one another's arms, kissed and felt their stomachs drop from the thrill. But they were just boys then, didn't know any better. And now…well, now they're left with love turned to ash.

Not that Sirius would ever want what they had back. He doesn't; he can't bring himself to want it. What's past has passed. He's doing fine without Remus. His needs are met, his itches scratched. In fact, he may even be happier unattached. And it's not as if they wouldn't have broken up sooner or later anyway. They're just too different.

But none of that makes any of this easier to deal with—the mission, the interaction. There are reasons, of course, for why they've been staying the hell away from each other—reasons that don't involve warm fuzzy feelings of any sort. The relationship soured, along with their kindness towards each other. And up until this point, they've done a bang up job of never being alone together. If one counts that as luck, then their luck has apparently run out.

"Fine," Sirius grumbles. "Whatever you like, Albus."

"But Sirius—"

He turns to James before continuing loudly, "No, James. You and I both know that when he gets his mind set on something, he won't change it. Let's say we make it easier on everyone and just agree to it, alright?"

Sirius abruptly stands then, unable to tolerate the stares from his fellow Order members any longer, and slips out the back door without a word.

The night is muggier than he anticipated, further dampening his already bitter mood. Leaning up against one of the porch's pillars, Sirius rummages through the pockets of his leather jacket for a pack of fags. He lights one up, takes a long drag, and relishes the moment when the nicotine reaches his frayed nerves.

"Fuck, yes," he nearly moans, taking in another deep breath of smoke.

He's nearing the end of the cigarette when he hears the shuffling of chairs and jumbled voices. The meeting must be officially over now. Sirius is half tempted to Apparate just then, lacking all desire to say any goodbyes to his comrades in arms. He lingers, though—because in reality this could be the very last time he sees any one of them—and slips another fag from the package. Tonight strikes him as a chain-smoking kind of night.

Staring up at the clear, black sky—an act he has always found incredibly calming—Sirius begins to name constellations. It once was a challenge for him, but hasn't been since the age of eight. He misses the mystery of the stars, longs to not know names or mythology or various Divination meanings associated with them. What he wouldn't give to just see shining dots; life was much simpler then.

Ursa Major, he recites to himself, the Great Bear, primary stars include Dubhe, Alkaid, Mizar, Alcor—

The sound of footsteps on the creaking wooden boards of the porch halts his thoughts. He waits for a voice to follow, but it doesn't. Instead, he watches Remus slip past him, without so much as a glance, towards the edge of the yard. Sirius feels rage spark and crackle in his chest at the obvious slight, pushing him to say the words that follow.

"Didn't know you'd become such a fucking prat, Lupin."

Remus turns immediately, eyes narrowed. In the silence, tension mounts. Sirius wonders why he just did that, why—after all these months of mutually agreed upon silence—he had to go ruin it all with his big mouth.

"Do you have anything worthwhile to say, Sirius, or are you just spouting off shite like you always do?"

Sirius shrugs. "Just commenting on your holier-than-thou-art attitude is all."

"I know you're an attention whore, but I thought you weren't interested in having mine anymore. I think you made that perfectly clear some months ago. So unless there's something you'd like to discuss…"

"Got somewhere to be?" Sirius asks, snuffing out his fag and walking down the steps.

"Home."

"Have what's-his-face waiting on you, do you?"

The sudden shift of Remus' expression makes Sirius regret bringing up what's-his-face. Gone is the irritation, and in its place comes hurt. Too many years of trying to rid Remus of those pained eyes have Sirius' insides twisting in remorse. There's screwing around with Remus, and there's crossing a line. Sirius feels as if he's committed the latter.

"What's-his-face and I aren't seeing each other any longer. Not that it's any of your damn business."

Remus pivots on his heel, effectively ending their conversation before Sirius can even get an apology out. Not that he wants to, of course, but if he did, well, it's obvious that Remus wouldn't be interested in hearing it. The crack of Apparition that follows makes that much clear.

If he's honest with himself, Sirius has hated what's-his-face from the beginning for reasons that he can't quite explain. He only ever saw the bastard once, when James needed to stop over at Remus' place for something. He was perfectly average looking—nothing special there. Sirius supposes that the part that bothered him the most about the whole thing was how happy Remus was. After spending so long being the person that made Remus smile, watching someone else elicit that reaction from him was a hard pill to swallow.

But those feelings—feelings of wanting to be the reason for Remus' laughter and smiles—have long since left him. He's not interested in them anymore, not interested in Remus anymore. Why then he feels this small sense of victory in Remus' single status, he's not sure. Perhaps it's due to the fact that seeing an ex miserable is in some way rewarding. Yes, that's likely it.

~*~*~

"Dumbledore's a nutter."

Sirius looks up from changing Harry's nappy on the living room floor to James, who leans against the door jamb connecting to the kitchen. He doesn't like that look on James' face, one that so distinctly hints at the interrogation to come. Bless James, but sometimes he can be more trouble than he's worth.

"You're telling me this why?" Sirius asks, busying himself with switching out nappies while Harry wiggles about on the blanket.

"He knows about you and Moony. It's not right that he's forcing you two to go on this mission together."

"Leave it, Prongs."

"It's going to end disastrously and—"

"James."

That shuts him up quickly, and Sirius is grateful for the sudden silence. Without a word, James walks back into the kitchen—presumably to finish off lunch—leaving Sirius and Harry alone.

He directs his eyes back to Harry, who has rolled over and begun to crawl away from him—bare bum exposed to all—giggling. His reflexes still impressive from all those years as Chaser, Sirius quickly stops Harry in his tracks and slides the baby back to him. Harry looks quick to pout, eyes growing large and lip sticking out in a way that breaks Sirius' heart. If his godson ever learns that that jutting lip will get him whatever he wants, it'll be too soon, Sirius thinks.

"I know, mate. I'd much rather run around starkers myself. Feels good to get some air on the bits, now doesn't it?"

"Pafoo."

"Right you are," Sirius agrees, nodding while fastening Harry's nappy. "But your mummy's mental, see. And if she finds out that Daddy and Uncle Sirius let you run around here without your nappy, it'll be our bits."

"No," Harry says, picking at the hard eyes of his Moony stuffed animal with small fingers.

That word again. Sirius rolls his eyes; ever since Harry learned how to say it, that's all he's been saying at nearly every opportunity—that, and "bad".

He pulls up Harry's trousers before releasing him back into the wilderness of strewn toys, discarded bottles, and what looks to be a spilled bowl of dry cereal. It's terribly obvious from the mess that James has been in charge of his care for the afternoon. Lily—who is visiting an ill Alice—would have never let things get so out of control. And if it weren't for the fact that Sirius steps on or trips over every bloody thing in the room, he'd think the mess makes it a bit more homey.

"Off you go, sprog."

And Harry does with stuffed Moony in hand, heading directly for the other plush Marauders. Sirius watches on momentarily as Harry has Prongs and Padfoot get into a fight—cue growling noises and what Sirius can only assume is Harry's rendition of what a stag sounds like, though it comes off a bit like a sheep. Midway through the battle, Harry drops it all, hugs Padfoot tightly to his chest and strokes his fur.

"You ought to have one of your own," James says from the doorway to the kitchen again, looking on at Harry and Sirius.

Sirius snorts at that.

"I'm serious. You're brilliant with him."

"Not interested," he says, flippantly.

"Liar. I see the way you look at Harry."

Sirius throws up a rude gesture, scowling. But despite how wrong James is, he supposes that just a bit of what he's saying is right. One look from Harry's chubby little face, one gurgle or coo or laugh, makes Sirius' heart swell up with both pride and longing. If he were somebody else living at another time, then hell yeah he'd like a sprog or two. But as it stands, he's fighting in a war, which is no place to bring a child into. Not to mention that he's a Black; he'll be damned before he's responsible for carrying on the family line.

"Look, Prongs, I—"

Mid-sentence, his eyes drift to where Harry is sitting, Padfoot and Moony in hand. Green eyes stare down at the two plush toys, and Harry brings the wolf's and dog's snouts together, making little kissing sounds.

"Oi, Harry! Have a little respect, " Sirius half-shouts, half-groans, plucking the Moony toy from his tiny hands and tossing it to James.

"Bad!" Harry yells at him. "No!"

"You don't want the rubbish toy anyway, Prongslet. Stinky, old wolves. They're mean, you know? They bite—"

"Enough, Sirius!" James interjects, walking over to where Sirius sits and hauling him onto his feet and into the kitchen.

Sirius doesn't dare look at James as they step into the kitchen. He knows he crossed a line with that one— which, like always, he realizes two seconds too late. That…he shouldn't have… Sirius sighs, preparing himself for the tongue lashing to follow.

"The fuck was that, Padfoot?" James whispers harshly. "He's a baby. He doesn't understand what he's doing. And for you to get all sensitive and take your issues out on my son—"

"I'm sorry."

James doesn't look placated at all by his apology. "You have balls, Black, if you think that I'd stand for something like this. You may have turned bigoted arsehole in the past year, may have really earned your name, but I won't have you exposing Harry to that thinking. Remus is his uncle, too, and we do not perpetuate stereotypes about his condition in this house."

"I said I was sorry, James."

"That was low even for you," James says, shaking his head.

"Look, I know I'm an idiot, alright?"

He feels properly ashamed. Not once had Sirius really bought into the werewolf stereotypes. And while werewolves do bite and are mean, he hadn't intended his words to serve as any sort of lesson for Harry. Instead, he was projecting his anger towards Remus onto the situation, which wasn't right. No one needs this sort of childish shite, especially not now in the middle of this war.

James crosses his arms over his chest. "You need to work things out with Moony."

"Prongs—"

"No, Padfoot. This is getting out of hand. Lily and I have been in the middle of your break-up for the past year. And now you're dragging Harry into it?"

"James, I didn't mean what I said to Harry."

"Fix it," James says firmly. "Fix it, or you're not allowed over anymore."

"That's not fair!"

"I'm not asking you to snog him. Just talk things out."

"We can't get along. It'll just end in arguing."

"You got along fine for nine years. I'm not buying your excuse."

For a long while Sirius stares at James, wonders when he became to voice of reason and maturity. Maybe it came with fatherhood. Maybe it came with the war. Maybe it was due to Lily's influence. All Sirius knows is that he's not the same James anymore. A part of Sirius feels proud of how far James has come from the boy on the train and wishes he, himself, could have grown so much. Another part of him longs for the easy smiles and unkind prankster of their boyhood. That James would have backed down from him eventually where this James won't.

Sirius sighs, "It's a bit different now, isn't it? Do you expect us to just go back to being mates after we've had our cocks up each other's arses? That's not something you come back from, James."

The expression on James' face is one of disappointment, of defeat. And Sirius feels it, too. Things are spiraling out of control; things they thought untouchable have been broken—true love, the Marauders, the whole bloody world. And there doesn't seem to be a simple solution for any of their problems anymore.

"Why'd you do it, Padfoot?" James asks softly, evenly.

Sirius' own tone echoes his. "Do what?"

"Go and fuck things up like this. You walk around so hurt that anyone would think that he'd burned you somehow or ended things. That's not how it happened, though. So I want to know what was so bloody special about McKinnon that you went and ruined what you had with Remus."

"He told you about that?"

"Lily forced it out of him."

"Look, it's not an easy thing to understand," he explains, tone one of shame.

"Apparently so because even Remus didn't understand what went wrong between the two of you. According to him, everything was fine. You must be brilliant at covering your tracks because Remus didn't even suspect you had anyone on the side."

Staring his black motorbike boots, Sirius closes his eyes tightly. He hadn't anticipated Remus divulging all the details of their messy split, nor had he anticipated that having his lies thrown back at him would feel like being drawn and quartered. Because the fact of the matter is he never had "anyone on the side," that his reasons had come from within the relationship itself. And, quite frankly, Remus had been right not to suspect anything, mostly because Sirius hadn't opened up about what was happening inside him.

No, if he had stopped fancying Remus, that would have been bearable. Preferable even. If it had been his only issue…well, Sirius could live with that.

"He was using," Sirius whispers hoarsely, and the words are painful to voice.

"Using what? Drugs?"

"No, the Dark Arts. I…can't be with someone who uses them. James, my whole family…it's in my blood…I…They're addictive. I don't know what it is about them, but they make you feel good. Like a rush, you know? You can't…stop."

"Are you talking about that spell in the Ludlow ambush? Sirius, we all would have died if he hadn't cast it."

"Everyone was saying that he was the spy. And then he fires off that spell? That's ancient magic, Prongs. Dangerous, and old, and I don't even know where the bloody hell he learned it. Dear old mum probably couldn't tell you either. I could have been sleeping with the enemy, could have been giving him information."

"He's not the spy. I've told you this a thousand times over. Dodge and Moody have no idea what they're talking about. Things just don't add up."

"It's really suspicious, though, isn't it? He disappeared for days at a time—"

"—On Dumbledore's orders—"

"—So he says—"

"—Dumbledore confirmed it."

"James…"

"So that's why you were fucking around on him? Because you thought he was the spy and he was into the Dark Arts?"

Sirius' heart struggles feebly before sinking in his chest. If that were the sole reason, it would be easy to put aside his issues with Remus, as well. He could properly hate Remus then. Hate and forget and bury their history in the cold, dead ground. Life would be so much easier if that's how it'd happened.

But that's not how it happened. The prospect of telling James that he wasn't cheating, however, would only complicate things further, especially now when trust and truth mean everything. And honestly, Sirius would rather be thought of as a coward and unfaithful than a coward and a liar, perhaps because he'd had the playboy image thrust upon him years ago. Unfounded and untrue, of course, but advantageous all the same now.

"No. Not entirely."

"Well, then?"

It takes a lot of courage to meet James' eyes, a lot of courage not to walk out the door like he desperately wants to do. But he's a Gryffindor for a reason, and while it may kill him, grey eyes do find hazel. He only hopes that James can understand.

"I was falling in love with him."

James stares at Sirius, shakes his head as if he's trying to work off a Confundus Charm, and stares at him once more. Once the initial shock wears off, James briefly peeks into the living room to check on Harry, before turning his attention back to him.

"What?" he asks.

"Don't make me say it again," Sirius pleads.

"You know, we're often accused of having one mind, and most of the time, I would agree. But this? I have no idea where in the hell you're coming from."

"It was just supposed to be fucking, James. We'd decided that from the very beginning, back in sixth year. But then things got all…monogamous in seventh year. And before I knew it, I was asking him to move in with me after graduation. We started acting like…"

"…like a couple," James provides.

"Like you and Lily." Sirius runs his hands over his face in frustration. "I never planned on falling for him. Shagging is one thing, but love… that's complicated. You have to give yourself to someone, and there's not much I can give of myself."

After all, he's a Black; that alone is enough reason not to get close to anyone. And damaged—a boy abused by a mad mother, ignored by a disinterested father. Never knowing love or affection or anything that's supposed to be human.

It would have been fine if Remus had only wanted him for a fuck or for his gold or for the power of his name. All those impersonal things are so easily given. But to be wanted for himself? That, Sirius hadn't been able to deal with.

So he shut down, closed himself off from the one person who threatened to expose him in ways he's never been exposed before. It scared the shite out of him—stepping over this new threshold, being faced with the prospect of being genuinely happy for once in his life. Sirius doesn't know how to be happy in love; he's never seen it in his own family, after all. And he couldn't risk opening himself up and being crushed under someone's heel someday in the years to come, especially by someone who was thought to be a spy for Voldemort.

"When did you…?"

"We were snogging one morning after he came back from one of those long assignments for Dumbledore. I missed him like hell, Prongs. And I pulled back, looked at him…" Sirius nearly whimpers. "And I was telling him I loved him before I knew it, only I didn't get it all out before I realized what I was saying."

"So you made up the lie about McKinnon because you couldn't man up."

Sirius recalls the look on Remus' face after he'd confessed to a false affair. He'd looked like someone had just driven a knife through his heart, only worse maybe. Sirius imagines that's what it likely felt like.

"It's no wonder he hates you," James scoffs, in the wake of Sirius' silence.

"I deserve it."

"Yeah, you do."

Sirius shrugs weakly, "I tried to make myself hate him after that. It wasn't easy, but you can tell yourself something—even if it's a lie—and after a while you start to believe it. That's how he and I got to where we are now."

They say nothing to one another after that, their silence punctuated with Harry's animal sounds coming from the other room. Sirius supposes he should feel as if a weight has been lifted—finally getting all of that off his chest. But if anything, it only burdens him more.

"Fix it," James repeats after some time.

"When? How? You act like it's so simple."

"You leave together for assignment tomorrow. What else are you two going to do for the two days you're gone? It's all reconnaissance. Not like you're going to see much action. Talk to him about it."

"You're missing the bit where I'm over it."

"One, you're not over it. You wouldn't still be fighting like this if you were. And two, you'll fix it because I'm holding your godson ransom until you do."

Sirius scowls. "That's low, Potter."

It is unfortunate for Sirius, however, that it's also the best motivation out there.

~*~*~

"Are you going to say more than two words to me the whole time we're on assignment? Or are you content with just sitting there in the dark corner and stabbing that poor bit of roast?"

Remus glances over at him—brow set in a scowl—and rolls his eyes. His attention then turns back to the remnants of their dinner, and nothing more really needs to be said between them.

"Fine. Do whatever the bloody hell you'd like."

Sirius pushes his own dinner around on his plate, staring out the grimy window of this grimy inn on this thus far shitty evening. The roast is dry—drier than his bloody conversation with Remus—the mash is criminally lumpy, and the beer tastes like piss. And that's not even mentioning the fact that the bloke who delivered their dinner looked like he'd spent twenty hard years in Azkaban. Which is to say that he isn't the type of bloke you want handling your food. Though, Sirius supposes that "food" is too kind a word for the masses on his plate. But still.

To make matters worse, he's feeling particularly restless, being cooped up with Remus in this room. For a second he considers telling Remus to shove off to his own room—now connected to Sirius' through a spelled door on the far wall—but knows that Remus won't abandon the window that overlooks the pub's entrance. That, and Sirius isn't entirely sure that being alone would improve his discomfort at all.

And it's stupid—wanting conversation instead of the once-longed-for silence. Stupid and rubbish and it's all Dumbledore's fault for forcing them into this situation. Sirius fears what he might feel if he looks at Remus for any length of time—admiration, longing, the damnable word that he refuses to believe has ever applied to him. But fear aside, Sirius knows that being alone with Remus is bringing up old emotions and routines that he'd much rather forget but can't quite seem to.

"Do you think Dumbledore even knew what he was talking about? It's been four sodding hours and nothing has happened," Sirius grumbles, deciding that not talking to Remus over dinner is too strange to contemplate.

"Death Eaters tend not to meet in shady looking pubs with those of questionable allegiances in broad daylight, in case you hadn't realized."

Remus' tone—course and bitter—lights up something in Sirius. This sparring, he knows how to deal with. And more importantly, it doesn't bring about any unwanted feelings.

"Oh, so sorry. Please forgive my ignorance. I guess you would know more about these dealings than I, now wouldn't you?"

"What exactly are you implying, Sirius?" Remus asks, the anger of his words hidden beneath a layer of coldness.

"Don't play dumb. You know damn well what I'm implying."

At that, Remus stands, eyes burning holes into Sirius. And Sirius, in response, takes to his feet and approaches his once-lover. It's strange, this sensation bubbling up inside him, like a reunion with a long forgotten friend. Fighting with Remus had always turned him on in the heat of the moment, but not quite like this. Now, he feels so bloody alive.

"Are we really going to have this discussion?"

Sirius shrugs. "You can just admit your guilt and get it over with."

For a moment, Sirius thinks Remus is going to shout at him or punch him, he's coiled so tightly. But the venom in those brown eyes disperses, and Sirius doesn't know what to expect exactly. It's only when he sees Remus' hurt expression that he is unarmed, is forced to somehow acknowledge, again, what he has been fighting with all night.

"If I were a Death Eater like Moody and Dodge claim, you would know, Sirius. I couldn't keep something like that from you."

Sirius tries to reclaim some of his anger. "You're a brilliant liar. All those years hiding your lycanthropy."

"Fine," Remus begins, defeated. "I'm a Death Eater. And a liar. And why not a Mudblood for good measure. Because that's obviously what you want me to be."

He tries to walk away, throwing Sirius his much desired victory in this argument, but Sirius stops him. He nearly recoils from the first contact he's had with Remus in months, the feel of familiar skin beneath the pads of his fingers. Remus appears similarly taken aback, lips parted and eyes questioning.

"Don't ever call yourself…that word," he says softly.

"And the others?" Remus asks.

Sirius isn't sure what to say to that. Maybe James is right; maybe Remus isn't a Death Eater. But if Sirius admitted to that possibility, the carefully built justification he had for the break-up would crumble. He would be left with the role of betrayer rather than the betrayed, and the idea of that is too much to swallow.

"I'm sorry," he says, but for what, Sirius doesn't know.

"Good night, Sirius."

 

Only, it's not a good night. It's a dreadful one, restlessness consuming him and making it impossible for him to relax. Not that this ruddy bed even gives the impression of comfort, he thinks as he tosses and turns once more.

Maybe he could sleep if it weren't for the fact that Remus is awake and keeping watch just one room over, that he hates himself for his accusations. Remus was right—the more he considers it, the more he realizes that he would have known if Remus had joined the Death Eaters. Years of friendship followed by intimacy taught him everything he needed to know to understand Remus—the twitch of his lips, the tapping of his fingers, the way he cocked his head. And while it's an easy thing to believe—and oh-so-tempting—it truly doesn't add up. If for no other reason, Remus would never fight for a wizard who employs Fenrir Greyback.

And the fact that he touched Remus? Well, that's not helping the situation either. He remembers what it felt like. He remembers how the desire to run his hands along every bare inch of his friend consumed him incessantly, like he'd come down with a crazed fever.

He feels that fever now, scorching him thoroughly. In the grey darkness of his room, he stares at his hand—fists it and flexes it—and hates himself for reaching out to stop Remus in the first place. All these months he'd done so well staying away from him. And now that he has initiated something—even an accidental something—Sirius wishes he could take it back. He doesn't want to bear the burden of this wanting and not wanting.

With the sound of a small shuffling from the other room, Sirius redirects his attention from his hand—and Remus—to the noise. The door that adjoins his with Remus' creaks open. At that, Sirius sits up, hand slipping beneath his pillow to his wand, more out of habit than because he feels threatened. But after he sees Remus entering his room—clad in his boxers and white tee—he releases his wand.

"Did you hear that?" Remus whispers.

"What?"

"The crack."

"No, I thought it was lightening. The wireless said we were supposed to get a storm. Is it—"

Remus shakes his head. "Apparition."

"You're sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure!" he scolds, creeping towards the window that overlooks the courtyard.

Securing the bed linen around his waist—sleeping starkers having always been one of his habits—Sirius joins Remus at the window.

The inn they're staying at is old, semi-circular, and has a pub in the left wing of the building. Located in the seedy part of town, it's a great place for dark wizards to meet up and discuss the progress of the war. Fortunately, a room overlooking the courtyard had been available, giving them access to view the pub's door. If any of their old friends decide to show up, they ought to be able to see them coming.

"Don't stand in full view of the window!" Remus hisses, shoving him over so that he's mostly hid by the drapes. "We don't want them to know anyone is watching."

"Don't tell me what to do!" Sirius whispers loudly, shoving Remus back.

"Stop acting like an overindulged child who doesn’t like to be—"

"—Is that Dolohov?"

Sirius points to a cloaked figure looming by the pub door. Remus moves the drapes back to get a better look before shaking his head.

"I can't tell. What makes you think it's him?"

"The fucker is built like a mountain troll."

"I don't know, Sirius. It could be anyone. I think we ought to err on the side of caution for now."

"What about 'constant vigilance?'"

"I'd like to take an opportunity to point out that Moody is missing an eye, a leg, and is scarred worse than I am. There's a fine line between vigilance and paranoid recklessness."

"I'm telling him you said that."

Before Sirius even has an opportunity to redirect his gaze to the figure, he feels Remus' hand on his arm, grip almost painfully tight. The sudden contact startles him—both because it's Remus and because he wasn't expecting it. When he forces his eyes to where Remus' own are trained on the pub door below, his heart skips a beat, and not in any pleasant sort of way.

"That's…"

"Bella," Sirius confirms, looking at the second figure. "I'm sure of it."

"Oh God, Padfoot."

They both look at one another as soon as the nickname slips from Remus' lips, attention drawn away from Death Eaters and focused entirely on each other. Remus' mouth hangs open, and Sirius' own parts. They've not used their nicknames for ages, not since before they broke things off. And Sirius hadn't realized just how much he'd missed hearing it from Remus' lips. Gorgeous, full, kissable lips.

"What did you just say?" Sirius asks, breathlessly.

"Sorry, sorry, I…" Remus shrugs. "Habit."

"Don't…apologize."

Sirius could wince, knowing all too well where his hormones are driving him. This isn't okay. Remus is off limits; Remus will cut off his bollocks at the first sign of his trying to initiate anything remotely cordial. And they're supposed to be on a bloody mission for Merlin's sake, not a two day romantic getaway. And they don't even like one another anymore, which is perfectly fine as far as Sirius is concerned and—

"What do you think she's giving him?" Remus asks, pointing out the window and tearing Sirius from his panicked thoughts.

"Don't know. Instructions probably. Whatever she's handing over isn't very big at all."

"Maybe we should Floo Dumbledore."

"Not yet," Sirius explains. "We should try to find out more information. If Lord Noseless has Bella delivering messages, you can bet they're important and that the details won't come all at once. It'd be too risky to chance interception."

"They'll be back tomorrow, then?"

"It's hard to say. If it were me, I wouldn't choose the same location twice in a row."

"But Voldemort is getting cocky."

"Exactly."

The figures walk towards the shadows of the building separately before Apparating away with two consecutive cracks. Sirius wonders what exactly is happening. Dumbledore had been vague on the details, saying only that the Death Eaters had been too quiet for too long and he had suspicions that they were planning something big. A nameless informant gave Dumbledore the name of this small town along with a series of dates. It's certainly not much to go on, which only serves to intensify Sirius' nerves.

"They won't be back tonight," Remus says, walking over to the bed and sitting down.

"I doubt it."

"I have this horrible feeling that this has something to do with Harry and Neville."

Padding his way back to the bed, Sirius sits beside Remus, making sure to keep a respectable amount of space between them. He readjusts the blanket wrapped around his waist—fabric having ridden too low on his hips and part having revealed too much of his leg—and sighs.

"We can't think like that. If we do, we'll fuck up somewhere along the line."

"How can you not think about it? Harry's your godson."

Sirius looks at him. "Since when have you been such a worrier?"

"I don't know, Sirius, maybe since we've buried seventeen of our Order members in the past two years," he snaps. "I don't want to bury anymore, especially not the people I care most about."

"That's why you have all those grays."

It's a reflex still ingrained in him, spurred on by close proximity. Sirius raises his hand to thread his fingers through Remus' hair—shaggier now than he normally lets it get. His fingers never feel the silky smooth locks, though, because Remus slaps his hand away.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

"I…don't know," Sirius stammers.

"What, do you think just because I called you by your nickname you have free license just do whatever you will with me?" he shouts, standing.

"It's not like that."

Standing, Sirius grabs Remus' arm, halting the few steps of progress Remus has made towards his door. He could kick himself for touching Remus again, knowing all too well what it's doing to him. But, the alternative of having Remus hide behind his bedroom door, thinking the worst of him, doesn't feel like the better option.

Remus tries to free himself from Sirius' hard grip, jerking and pulling, but Sirius' grasp is firm. With a tug, Remus comes falling towards Sirius' chest, and Sirius holds him there.

The look in Remus' eyes is perfectly murderous, anger bordering on pre-moon rage. It's perverse how turned on he is by Remus' spiteful little looks. Maybe it shouldn't surprise him, though. Not after all those nights filled with angry sex over the course of their relationship.

But Remus doesn't seem like he's into the prospect of that tonight. It would be ridiculous if he were, really, after all that had happened. Just as Sirius thinks to let Remus go, to accept whatever it is that Remus is going to do to him for such a stupid move, however, he notices Remus' eyes focused on his lips.

Perhaps, like him, Remus is fighting this. Maybe he isn't alone in this struggle to keep his emotions in line with his thoughts. Maybe they would both let themselves have it if they could. And Sirius—breathing suddenly shallow—thinks that perhaps he should give this to the both of them.

His lips crush into Remus', and his hold is still firm on his former lover. Remus fights back, fists pounding weakly against Sirius' chest in a meager attempt to stop this. For a moment, Sirius wonders if he's made a mistake, if Remus really doesn't want him.

With just a bit more gentle coaxing from Sirius' mouth, however, Remus stops his feigned struggling and his lips begin to fall into time with Sirius'. Before Sirius realizes it, blunt teeth are baring down softly on his lips, tugging them into a swell. He moans his appreciation, and Remus returns it fully.

His brain begins to shut down when Remus' tongue flicks against the part of his lips, and Sirius opens for him eager, ready. Tongues meet and tangle, push and explore. Sirius submits like the dog that he is, allowing Remus to claim him in this kiss.

They get no further than that, though. Remus suddenly pulls away from Sirius and takes several steps back. Sirius watches as Remus brings the back of his hand to his lips, wiping away the remnants of their pent up frustration and perhaps even longing.

For once, Sirius has nothing to say. He moistens his kiss-swollen lips, tongue catching the faint taste of Remus still, and Sirius tries to relish it. Flesh over-warm, he hardly cares when he finds his blanket slackened and nearly exposing himself to Remus until he realizes that the situation probably calls for some modesty. He doesn't want to offend Remus anymore than he may already have.

"That…"

"…was very necessary? Brilliant? Out of this world?" Sirius offers weakly, yet hopeful.

Remus looks pained, eyes pressed tightly shut. "It can't happen again."

"Don't tell me you didn't feel something, Moony."

"Maybe I did, but…" He shrugs, defeated. "It can't happen again."

And with that, Remus retreats into his room, the sound of the door locking echoing in the silence.

~*~*~

In retrospect, he should have seen this coming, should have known better than to assume the next move of the Death Eaters. What had started out as a walk around town tonight with Remus—mostly because sitting in silence in their rooms was driving them both mental—has become a duel to the death.

He and Remus try to seek cover, try to steal away into the outskirts of town so there are no casualties, but the Death Eaters are right on their tails. With a quick flick of his wand, Remus sends a spell over his shoulder, barely aiming but managing to buy them a few desperately needed seconds. They manage to slip behind two trees fairly unnoticed as a result.

Chest heaving and lungs constricting from his full on sprint, Sirius struggles to stay on his feet. He manages a look at Remus, who appears to be in only slightly better shape than he is. With an inclination of his head and a nod, Remus effectively communicates their next plan of action.

The senior Avery speeds past the trees where they are hiding, and both Remus and Sirius fire off spells that hit the Death Eater soundly on the back—the glow of Sirius' spell a vibrant red and Remus' an unforgiving green. For a split second he looks over at Remus and finds no remorse in that face. He envies Remus' uncanny ability to take the lives of Death Eaters, knows that as long as he doesn't infect another human being, Remus has made his peace with Death Eater casualties.

His attention has been stolen too long, he realizes, when he meets Bellatrix's cruel, twisted smile. The first spell conjured from his wand is the Cruciatus—and maybe it's strange how easily this spell flows from his wand—and it brings Bella to her knees in writhing agony. Sirius doesn't have time to relish her pain, however, because an orange light flashes just past him, and he spins around to turn his attention to Nott.

Sirius falls into the duel with a comfortable sort of familiarity. His feet step and legs bend with a swordsman's grace—a mark of his pure-blood upbringing—and his back remains straight in perfect dueling posture. Nott—and his sloppy style—are quickly overcome by him after a series of common but equally as dangerous spells. Before Sirius can finish him off—and this part gets no easier, no matter how many times he does it—Nott Disapparates.

From the corner of his eye, he catches sight of Bella and Remus dueling. He is running to Remus' aid when he's engaged in a duel with Travers, who is by far one of the best fighters Voldemort has. As if to reassure Sirius of that, Travers casts a strange blue light that speeds towards Sirius faster than any spell he's seen before. Sirius jumps out of the way, but not before the spell catches the top of his left hand, splitting the flesh open to the bone.

He shrieks, falling to his knees and momentarily losing his wand. Remus turns to find out what's happened to him, and it's at that moment that Bella casts the Killing Curse.

"Remus!"

The world pauses for one unbearably long moment. He watches as Remus' brown eyes widen, as he turns back to Bella who is cackling wickedly. Remus falls to his knees, almost lifeless, as the Killing Curse narrowly misses him.

The world picks back up, double-time.

Remus flings a curse towards Bellatrix, which catches her arm and renders it useless. She fires one back with her good arm, but Sirius doesn't know the outcome of that because Travers has reengaged him.

What Sirius does know is that he can't last much longer, not with the wound on his hand and not against someone with skill and an obvious advantage over him. With his options quickly dwindling, Sirius finds himself relying on magic tightly bound to his blood. Thinking back to the spell books in his father's library, Sirius searches his mind for the right one.

Before he can properly settle, he's faced with another attack and rolls to dodge it. Sirius fires back a curse that he would have never thought he'd ever have to use and turns away just as he hears Travers' wail. If he chanced a look, he knows that there would be nothing in the man's eye sockets. The moment he feels remorse, Sirius thinks of the McKinnons and what Travers did to them; suddenly, having his eyes ripped from their sockets doesn't seem like a just punishment at all for the likes of him.

Sirius takes to his feet, rushing towards where Bella and Remus duel. He catches her with a severing hex, cutting her deeply across her back. She growls, and Remus hits her with a spell that makes the color drain from her face. She falls over, twitching on the ground.

Assuring themselves that no one will follow them, they run to each other, Remus' hand circling Sirius' wrist and Apparating them to the safety of Remus' flat.

~*~*~

On Remus' bed, Sirius sits in pain, right hand cradling his damaged left. He moves it, testing just how much function he's lost, and quickly regrets it as a searing stab races up his arm. Sirius doesn't know what sort of spell Travers used and can only hope that the injury isn't so severe that Remus can't fix it. A trip to St. Mungo's at this point might be risky given that the Death Eaters know he's been injured.

"Alright there?" Remus asks, coming into the bedroom with his kit of plasters and salves.

"Managing."

Remus offers him a weak smile before dropping to his knees in front of Sirius to inspect his hand. Judging from the wincing, Sirius can tell that Remus doesn't like what he sees. And if Remus—who has spent the last fifteen years fixing himself up post-moon—thinks it's bad, then it must be.

"You're not going to have to cut it off, are you?"

"No, you're safe from that, I think, unless I really fuck up my wandwork. You're going to have to go easy on it, though."

"But that's my wanking hand," Sirius says jokingly, hoping to lighten the mood.

Remus glances up at him. "I'm afraid you're going to have to find someone to scratch your itch for you, then. Or make do with your right."

With the way that Remus is looking at him, Sirius feels the strong urge to kiss him, to apologize for everything he's said and done for the past year. He thinks back to the Killing Curse that barely missed Remus, thinks how Remus might not have been with him right now if it hadn't been for quick reflexes. Suddenly all this fighting seems so incredibly stupid. If nothing else, Sirius thinks they ought to work on mending their friendship; life's too short and uncertain to hold grudges.

An agonizing pain spreads through his hand, stopping any thoughts of making peace with Remus in their tracks. He tries to jerk his hand back from the cloth that Remus is using to clean the wound, but Remus persists.

"Oww! Bloody hell, Remus," Sirius hisses.

"Sorry, but it's probably best to do this part the Muggle way. Any variant on a cleansing charm will be too harsh on a cut this severe, I think."

The cleaning alone seems to take forever, only furthered by the sharp pains, twinges, and deep aches caused by the cloth and antiseptic. Remus tries his best to be gentle, and if it were anyone else attending to him, Sirius would have shouted obscenities already. Because it's Remus, however, Sirius resists.

"There, now for the charms."

The first of them, Remus explains, is to regrow the muscle tissue. He didn't explain, however, that it would hurt like hell. Before Sirius even has the opportunity to complain about it, Remus casts another series of charms—one minty cool, one that tingles, one that momentarily changes his damaged flesh turquoise. Finally, in silence, Remus spreads a salve across the significantly improved wound and wraps a bandage around it.

"That's the best I can do, I'm afraid."

"Thanks, Moony. Feels loads better already."

Sirius expects Remus to move from his kneeling position, but Remus remains at his feet. His hands slip firmly onto Sirius' thigh, and Sirius' breath hitches in response to the unexpected and intimate contact. He wonders what Remus is thinking, knowing full well where his own thoughts are drifting.

"You should stay here tonight," Remus says. "I'll worry if you go home, especially with your hand like that. I mean, I know the bed isn't as big as yours…I'll sleep on the couch, of course…"

"Moony?" Sirius calls, taking Remus by the hand.

Remus stands. "Hmm?"

"Shut up."

Sirius leans back onto Remus' bed, pulling Remus on top of him. Between them, a year has suddenly faded into nonexistence, anger and concern and accusations slipping away like sand through fingers. Sirius remembers this, remembers him, his lips finding their way to Remus'—always slightly chapped from worrying at them—his right arm circling Remus' neck.

Remus presses into him, and Sirius gives an involuntary gasp at the feel of Moony's cock gradually making itself known. When his lips part, Remus slips his tongue between them, exploring Sirius' mouth and drinking him in. Sirius pushes back against him—both tongue and body—his nerves buzzing with a pleasing sensation. He feels his own cock harden against Remus' thigh, and unashamed, Sirius wonders how they ever managed to quit each other for an entire year.

"Want you," Sirius mumbles, as Remus drops kisses along his cheek.

"Budge up, then," he replies before his teeth find the shell of Sirius' ear.

Sirius, relishing the feel of Remus nipping at his ear, finds it difficult to move at all. He whimpers, hand seeking out the strain in Remus' corduroys, and feels his cock twitch at the thickness and heaviness of Remus' own. There, he rubs, and Remus' hips jerk to push against his hand, seeking friction.

"If you don't stop that right now…" Remus threatens.

Sirius bites the flesh where neck meets shoulder, and Remus keens in response, making Sirius wonder if Remus hadn't wanted this all along. "What?"

"This will be a very…mmm…short lived—Sirius—ungh…liaison."

The prospect of all of this ending prematurely sends Sirius inching up the bed into a better position just as Remus had asked. Remus shifts on top of him, lips meeting in a fever and bodies aligning in a way that Sirius never quite appreciated before.

As Sirius takes Remus' lip between his teeth, Remus slides his hand between them, pushing up Sirius' shirt frantically as if to suggest that it's perfectly criminal that he's still wearing it. Sirius tries to take it off, but Remus' lips—relentless in claiming his own—make it quite impossible to get it past his chest.

They break—mouths kiss-swollen—long enough for Sirius to lift up to rid himself of the shirt and for Remus to do the same. And as soon as they take care of that business, their hands are on one another's zips, fighting their way through trousers.

It's Remus who achieves his goal first—and only because Sirius has a bad habit of foregoing pants—and he takes Sirius' hard length into hand. Sirius shudders at the touch, mouth dropping open as he takes in a sharp breath. As Remus strokes downward, Sirius releases the breath he hadn't even realized he was holding with a moan.

"God, don't do that," Remus begs with a tortured little laugh.

"Undoes you, does it?"

He nods where he sucks eagerly at Sirius' neck. "As does your saying stuff like that."

Remus' hips cant suddenly as Sirius draws out his length. He buries his head into Sirius neck, panting as silky smooth flesh meets silky smooth flesh. They rock against one another, whispering incoherent words at every grind of the hips. Remus whimpers Sirius' name, and Sirius returns it with equal passion.

Hands slipping down Remus' sides—muscles taut and bones ever protruding—Sirius pushes the corduroys and pants down over Remus' arse. Palms seek out Remus' cheeks, nails digging into firm muscle, and Remus shifts just slightly, encouraging Sirius further in his pursuits.

His finger seeks out Remus' entrance, brushing lightly against the tight pucker. Remus nearly jumps at the initial contact, but Sirius soothes him with his lips, with his tongue, with the friction of his cock. As Remus relaxes, Sirius teases him open.

It's not as if Sirius hasn't had men—or women—after his break-up with Remus, but those (often) one-night-stands had never measured up to this. Sirius' mind clings to an idea long since buried, that what makes this wholly different from anything else is the feelings he has for Remus. One feeling in particular, in fact—one that he still can't bring himself to come to terms with.

Love.

"What's wrong?" Remus manages through his panting under Sirius' ministrations. "You look…something. Off. Yeah. Oh fuck, yeah."

"Huh? Nothing. It's nothing."

He can't think about that—about that frightening word—now. This isn't love. This isn't anything. It's fucking, sure, but fucking doesn't have to mean something; he's done enough of it to know that much.

In wanting to bury these feelings surfacing inside him, Sirius withdraws from Remus—and Remus makes a disapproving noise at that. He moves them around, discarding Remus of the rest of his clothes and himself of his denims. Then, he lies back, legs spread open, inviting Remus to make him forget.

That's all the encouragement Remus needs, apparently, as he leans over Sirius to fetch a container of lube from his bedside drawer. He applies it liberally to both his fingers and his cock before grazing Sirius' opening with the slick digits.

Sirius squirms against him—waiting and wanting—eager to have Remus inside him after all this time. Two fingers press into him, and it burns. It's been some time since he's done this regularly. Sirius embraces the discomfort, though, embraces the foreignness invading him, welcomes this feeling back after all this time.

"Moony," he hisses, as Remus begins to pump and spread his fingers inside him.

As Remus hits his prostate, he nearly jumps, mouth momentarily hanging open as he lets the pleasure build around him. He forgets, now, that pesky word that's haunted him this past year, can only feel, not think.

What he feels is nothing short of heart-stopping.

"Give it to me, love," Sirius demands. "Hard."

"You're hardly prepared—"

"Remus."

That does it for Remus—the sound of his name, heavy and gravel-like across Sirius' lips. When he feels Remus pushing against him, his stomach tenses in anticipation before he remembers that tension doesn't quite work well for his. Remus must sense this tension, too, because he uses his free hand to rub Sirius' arm comfortingly.

Remus eases into him, Sirius holding his breath as he does. The feel of Remus buried inside him brings back so many memories, of stolen moments in abandoned corridors and late nights between the bed linens. In some ways, this feels like the first time—that sense of finally hanging heavy over them, that sense of so this is what it is to be complete. In other ways, it feels like they're picking up right where they left off—unintentionally sloppy kisses and awkward rhythm no longer an issue after all these years.

"I…" Remus begins, softly.

"I know," Sirius says. "I'm there, too."

This poignant moment lasts only briefly, giving way to more primal needs—heat, friction, tightness. Remus moves in him, drawing back and pushing in once more. Sirius remembers the steps to this dance as if it had been ingrained in him—perhaps they've done this so many times it has—and moves his hips to meet Remus' thrusts.

Sensations build, almost peak as Remus hits his prostate over and over again. But it's not enough, not quite how Sirius wants it. Even in his euphoria, even as he tries to push all thoughts of what this means from his mind, Sirius can't shake the feeling that this isn't likely to happen again; it leaves him feeling empty.

"Make me feel it, love," he begs. "For a week."

Remus' thrusts become slams, and Sirius' own movements become more frantic, trying anything to make himself feel more. Not long after his request, it starts to ache—the brutality of it.

It has Sirius moaning like a slag.

He reaches down between them, taking himself into hand. But before he even has the opportunity to get much of a stroke in, he's already coating Remus' belly with his come, already twitching around Remus' thickness.

"Oh bloody hell, Sirius," Remus whimpers.

No more than three thrusts later, Remus is spilling himself inside Sirius, Sirius relishing the feel of it. For a moment, they pant in silence, trying to reclaim their breath. He thinks about kissing Remus in this afterglow, but realizes that the moments for post-shag kissing passed ages ago. They're not those people any longer.

Instead, Remus withdraws from him, and taking his wand, mutters a quick cleaning charm. Without a word, they both settle into bed, but neither finds easy sleep this night.

~*~*~

When they wake, they don't look at one another.

As Sirius slips slowly from Remus' messy bed—state only made worse by their shagging—he wishes he had an excuse for his behavior last night. Booze, drugs, grief—anything. But like it or not, he had been in this right mind, had wanted it against his better judgment—had done it against his better judgment.

They can't excuse away their behavior, so they ignore each other.

Sirius seeks out his clothes that lie strewn on the floor, quickly grabbing his denims that still stink like sweat and earth from yesterday's battle. He thinks to take a moment to Scourify them, but he can't quite bear being starkers in front of Remus any longer than he has to. So he slips them on, flattens his hair with his hands, and then finds his shirt.

When he hears Remus sniff hard, he wonders if his ex-boyfriend is crying, is beating himself up over some stupid mistake of theirs. He does that a lot—blames himself for things that are always, at least partially, out of his control. If the sun failed to rise one morning, Sirius knows that Remus would somehow find a way to shoulder the responsibility for it.

He catches himself opening his mouth to apologize several times as he puts on his socks and seeks out his boots. His regret dies swiftly on his tongue, though, uncertainty telling him it's best not to say anything to Remus just now; he's already done enough damage.

The reasons for Sirius' guilt are simple. It all comes down to the feelings he's failed to come to terms with—doesn't want to come to terms with—and what that emotional denial has done to Remus as a result. Not for the first time, Sirius wonders if Remus loved him last year, if Remus had been waiting to hear those three words from him before he voiced the sentiments himself. And if that's the case—if Remus had truly loved him back then—then Sirius can only imagine what his lie about McKinnon had done to him.

By sleeping with Remus last night, Sirius can't shake the feeling that they've opened Pandora's box. What miseries fly out, he can't know for certain. What he does know, however, is that he's not sure he has the strength to acknowledge them.

After finishing with his boots, Sirius stands to make his getaway. As he turns the corner of the bed, he meets Remus—who looks equally troubled to have accidentally turned to face him—and feels his heart sink. Remus' own regret is written so easily on his face, and Sirius doesn't blame him for that. For as much as they needed one another in the past, what they did last night after abstaining for so long is a bit like a reformed dark wizard going back to the Black Arts; it doesn't take much to get pulled back in.

Sirius doesn't trust himself enough not to be taken again.

"I'll just be going," Sirius mutters, and it's a fight just to get those few words out.

"That would be for the best," Remus agrees in an almost whisper.

~*~*~

Sirius spends the majority of the day in his flat, nursing a bottle of Firewhisky. It's not until the Order meeting draws near that he stops and, stumbling, seeks out a sobriety potion tucked away in the cabinet of the loo. When he finally finds it, he only drinks half, figuring he'll likely need to be a bit pissed to have the courage to see Remus so soon.

In retrospect, Sirius thinks, as he Apparates into the yard of the Order's safehouse, he probably should have drunk the whole thing. He has nearly splinched himself judging from the foreign twinge on his forearm. Uninterested in examining his arm beyond a brief glance, he quickly makes his way into the house and seeks out a spot around an already crowded table.

"Mister Black, fashionably late as usual," Minerva says tersely, rolling her eyes from where she sits near Dumbledore.

He's sure that he would have some sort of witty comment to respond with if it weren't for the fact that he's slightly buzzed, his mind not quite as sharp as it ought to be. Instead, he blows her a kiss and takes the seat next to Lily. The moment he sits, he feels a sharp ache inside him and instantly regrets encouraging Remus to make him "feel it for a week." And judging from the way that Remus' cheeks are pink, he must know the cause of his discomfort.

"Now that we are all in attendance, let's get started, shall we?" Dumbledore begins. "In regards to your assignment in the west, Remus and Sirius, how did you fair?"

Sirius looks to Remus for help, unsure of exactly what to tell Dumbledore and what to hold back on; however, Remus refuses to meet his eyes. Left to his own devices, Sirius turns to Dumbledore and decides to explain it all. He doesn't have the mind tonight to keep his lies straight.

"We were attacked on the second night." And there is a collective gasp. "Bellatrix, Travers, Nott, the elder Avery…"

"Avery is dead," Remus adds. "I…killed him. And Travers has been blinded."

"Which was my doing."

"Nott Apparated as soon as he lost the upper hand, and we left Bellatrix there."

"You know what I've told you about survivors," Moody mutters, before Dumbledore waves him off.

"Sirius was injured," Remus explains, bite to his words at Moody's accusation. "Travers and Bellatrix aren't pushovers by any means, and we were at a distinct disadvantage."

"Yes, of course. You were both very fortunate to have had an opportunity to escape, and you did right by doing so," Dumbledore says. "I am not so much concerned about your being discovered as I am by what you saw, if anything."

Sirius tries to think back to that first night and says, with a touch of uncertainly, "Dolohov showed up. Bella met up with him not long after, but we couldn't see what they were exchanging. I assumed it was something important, though."

"Naturally. Lord Voldemort would not send Dolohov, Bellatrix, and Travers to the same location in a span of two days if he didn't think whatever message he was sending required the utmost protection. They are too valuable to him to risk."

Remus shrugs. "We know nothing else, though. It's not much to go on."

"We must maintain hope and perseverance."

Sirius wonders if Dumbledore even listens to what he says. Hope and perseverance? How long have they been clinging to just that? How many of their own have died in the name of protecting the future? Too many, in Sirius' opinion. The Prewitts, McKinnon, Meadows, Fenwick… And for what? The Order has gained nothing—not an ounce of good news or an advantage over the enemy—almost since they began really fighting a few years ago.

For an hour, Sirius listens to Dumbledore's ideas, to the next stages of the plan—a plan for what, Sirius has no idea, and he figures Dumbledore doesn't know either. He hears Moody bicker with McGonagall, Dodge throwing in his two Knuts here and there. And while he hears all of it, he doesn't absorb a thing. In his newly sobered state, his head begins to pound weakly, making it difficult to follow the conversation. So instead, he tries to focus his attention on sleeping Harry, nestled in his mother's arms, until Dumbledore announces that the meeting is over.

He doesn't rise from his seat right away, instead leaning over the arm of the chair to smooth his hand over Harry's unruly hair, smiling.

"You should have told us you'd been injured. What happened?" Lily asks.

"It wasn't such a big deal. Remus patched me up just fine."

"Still."

"Come on, Red," he says with a grin, "You've one baby to mother. You don't need to coddle the rest of us, now."

"And Remus? How did you two get along?"

"Did Prongs ask you to interrogate in his stead?" he asks, glancing over to where James is speaking with Emmaline. "It was fine."

She looks at him accusingly. "Why don't I believe you?"

He doesn't get an opportunity to answer that because Harry wakes up, snuffles turning into grumpy cries. Lily does her best to placate him—rocking him in her arms and cooing at him—but Harry is too upset for any of that. James, apparently sensing that it's time to go, breaks off his conversation and returns to Lily's side.

"I take it that's our cue."

"Yeah, sounds like it. It's a bit late for him. He'll go down just fine when we get him to his cot," Lily answers, standing and picking up Harry's nappy bag before turning her attention back to Sirius. "Don't think we're done with this conversation, Padfoot."

Sirius rolls his eyes. "Of course not, sweetheart."

After saying a few goodbyes, Sirius follows the Potters outside. He gives Lily and Harry a kiss and claps James on the shoulder, begging them to take care and remember to expect him on Friday, before the couple Apparates home.

It's with some surprise that he realizes he made it through that meeting unscathed. That likely won't be the case on Friday, though, when he goes over to mind Harry for a bit. And as much as he would love to back out of the engagement now that he knows an interrogation is to come, he won't deny James and Lily a few hours away. It is their anniversary, after all, and while they can't really go out, dinner together at his place is something. Really, it's the least he can do for them.

The silence—brief after the Potters left—is suddenly broken by the sound of the screen door creaking open. Sirius turns, not at all shocked to find Remus joining him on the porch. And while he isn't shocked, he still isn't sure what to say to Remus, why it is that Remus is approaching him.

"Have a fag?" Remus asks.

Sirius rummages around in his pocket for his pack and, producing it, tosses it to him. "Always. But I thought you quit."

"It's just one of those nights," he says, shrugging. "You know what I mean."

He does. He's had too many of those nights over the course of the past few years, which has made it impossible to kick the habit. Though if he's honest with himself, he's never completely wanted to in the first place. Thick-skinned Remus with his even thicker walls, however, managed to quit; he's simply too good to let the hard things to get to him.

"Why am I under the impression that you're not here just to bum a fag?"

"I thought we might talk about last night."

"Why?" Sirius groans, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"What? You want to keep silent about it? Because that's worked so brilliantly for us in the past."

While Remus' point is entirely valid, that doesn't mean he's any more ready to speak about what happened between them. It was such a stupid thing to do, such a caught-up-in-the-moment decision. They'd just battled Death Eaters, nearly lost their lives. Something like that would bring anyone together, especially the two of them who have been avoiding this tension—sexual or otherwise—between them for months. But Sirius never imagined it to progress past this morning.

"Can't we just…" He sighs. "Call it what it is?"

"What exactly is it?"

"A celebratory fuck?" Sirius suggests, unable to look Remus in the eye.

Remus nods solemnly. "Right then."

It takes a moment before Sirius realizes that Remus is walking down the steps to the sidewalk. With a mixture of panic and frustration, his heart constricts in his chest. Perhaps he shouldn't have sounded so casual; things are anything but casual between them. And maybe he shouldn't have called it a fuck because, if he's honest with himself, nothing he and Remus have ever done together could really be considered fucking. There was always something present between them—friendship or tenderness or that word that he refuses to think of. Last night was really no different.

He considers how immature it sounds—dismissing what happened between them. He's not a boy anymore; gone is the blissful naïveté that once permitted him to play fast and loose with lovers without fear of consequence. And yeah, maybe he and Remus are really broken beyond repair. Maybe things will never be what they were before. All Sirius knows is that they made progress last night towards something productive—not friendship, or love, or anything of such a serious stock. But it was something, and Sirius is struck by the desire to cling to it.

"What do you want it to be?" he calls, following Remus off the porch.

"I don't know."

But this isn't I don't know and more of Remus' patented I'm not going to answer that, you stupid sod.

"Moony," he says, taking Remus' wrist to stop his progress. "Please."

"I wasn't expecting us to get back together if that's what you're so concerned about. I'm not that naïve. Nor would I want to resume what we had."

Sirius can't pretend that the words don't cut him. Even though he feels similar sentiments, it hurts to know that Remus no longer wants him emotionally. Somehow it cheapens their previous relationship—tarnishes those memories that he still holds dear. Sirius wants desperately for Remus to take what he said back.

"Was what we had so bad?" Sirius asks.

"This isn't the place, Sirius."

"Then let's go somewhere. A pub maybe? Or that café just a few blocks over? I know you love their pastries."

"I don't think—"

"My treat."

Remus sighs, frustrated. "Why is this suddenly so important to you?"

"Because it's important to you. And you're right, we do need to talk about it. It's just going to fester between us otherwise, and I don't want that."

He looks at him, eyes narrowed. "Whatever this is—pastries, your treat—it's not a date."

"Not a date. That's fine."

"Then let go of my wrist. We're not holding hands."

Sirius does so, and Remus sets their pace down the sidewalk to the café they once frequented after Order meetings in the past. The familiarity of it all calms Sirius—the way Remus puffs on his cigarette, the stroll by starlight, the accidental bumps of shoulders and hands as they walk side by side. For a second, Sirius feels like he's living a different life with this man next to him.

"It wasn't, you know."

He looks over at Remus. "Hmm?"

"You asked if what we had was so bad. And it wasn't. Sometimes in those first few months I missed you so much I thought I'd stop breathing altogether."

The expression on Remus' face in one of uncertainty—should he really have admitted that sort of thing? In response, Sirius closes his eyes and reaches for a cigarette, suddenly needing desperately. He lights it with his Zippo—his favorite one he bought while visiting Remus over summer holiday before seventh year—and takes a long drag. Sirius considers whether or not he really wants to admit to Remus his own state in those first days after their break-up. Since Remus had, though, he feels he ought to as well.

"I cried."

"What?" Remus asks, startled.

"The night you packed your things and left the flat. I cried. I'd never felt so alone in my entire life."

"But you're the one who broke up with me. You're the one who was having a one off on the side. I thought you'd be happy with your new found freedom."

They ought to have gone to a pub, Sirius realizes, because he feels tonight's conversation would be a little easier to manage with another stiff drink. He should have known that his reasons for breaking up would come back to bite him in the arse. And he's not entirely sure that being honest from the beginning would have been any more painful than having to tell Remus now that he'd lied.

As they've arrived at the café, Sirius is spared a few additional minutes to get his story together. They sit in the corner—though they didn't have many options since the place is a bit crowded tonight—and their waitress comes to take their order. Remus spouts off something that Sirius, in his panic, doesn't hear entirely—though it definitely included the promised desserts—and when asked, Sirius says he'll just have whatever Remus is having. When the waitress leaves, Sirius feels Remus' eyes on him.

"Look, about my reasons," Sirius begins, ashamed, "they may have been a little more complicated than I let on."

"What do you mean? I don't see the complexity in shagging McKinnon."

Sirius hates how Remus keeps focusing on that. Hates it, but understands it to some degree. Remus has spent his entire life being told he's beneath people, especially where his lycanthropy is concerned. Of all the lies Sirius could have come up with, this is the one he shouldn't have chosen; Remus probably spent an obscene amount of time comparing himself with McKinnon and always found himself coming up short. For all that Sirius may have hated Remus' ability to make him feel that bloody word, he never wanted Remus to feel inadequate, never wanted to be just another one of those people.

"I never shagged McKinnon, Remus," he mutters.

"Please, you don't have to spare my feelings," Remus replies, voice less annoyed and far heavier with emotion that Sirius anticipated. "It's alright now."

"No, it's not. I'm telling you that I lied." Sirius looks up into Remus' shocked eyes. "I never slept with her."

"Why would you do something like that? If you wanted out, you could have just said so."

"No, I couldn't have. You would've wanted reasons regardless."

"So why then? Why did you break up with me? You said you'd suspected me as well, but…" Remus shakes his head, as if struggling to process Sirius' words. "Was that a lie, too?"

"In all honesty, that was mostly true. I did have my suspicions for a while, but it wouldn't have…that alone couldn't have made me break things off."

Remus' face falls, as he swallows the confirmation he'd likely feared for some time now. Sirius catches himself reaching across the table to place a comforting hand on Remus' arm but pauses and withdraws before Remus has the chance to shrug him off.

The urge to come clean about everything overwhelms Sirius. Pausing, he tests the words—the truth, the confession—on his tongue. Eight simple words: I think I was in love with you. His tongue rolls over the syllables, the voice in his head speaks them. They are not easy to say, and Sirius isn't ignorant to the fact that nothing will ever be the same after they leave his lips. For better or worse, he's going to do it, if for no other reason than to rid his conscience of this guilt.

"Forget it," Remus says, a sense of finality in his tone. "The reasons why aren't important. And if I keep…if we keep rehashing them, we'll never move on."

"Wait, you need to know—"

"I don't want to know. Knowing…it doesn't change what happened. It's what has happened that I need to come to terms with entirely. I don't care about your motivations, Sirius."

He's missed his chance. It's so bloody clear to him, and the moment he truly wants to do it, he can't. Despite how he tries, Sirius can't think of a way to get Remus to hear him out; he knows Remus too well to think that he'll actually give him the opportunity to say what's on his mind. Remus is just too stubborn like that.

"I'd like to apologize for last night," Remus explains, and Sirius is struck by the even, almost rehearsed, tone of his voice. "It only further complicated things between us."

"Then I'm sorry, too. I had my share in it, after all."

The conversation pauses there, as the waitress brings them their order. Sirius' nose crinkles at the sight of the tea Remus is so fond of—and that, personally, he feels tastes like piss. The cake, however, doesn't look half bad.

Remus digs in immediately while Sirius plays with his piece instead of eating it. His mind drifts to apologies, to what he could possibly say to make this all better. There's not much that can right this, though, and Sirius isn't even sure just how much of their relationship can be repaired.

Struck by that thought, he looks up at Remus and says, "About last night, where does that leave us?"

"What are you asking?"

"We've been fighting for bloody ever. We weren't…mates, really. But after last night, we're not not mates, if you understand me. I don't know what you want me to be to you anymore."

"Oh," Remus whispers, setting down his tea cup. "What would you like to be to me?"

That's not an easy question to answer by any means. Sirius doesn't know what he wants. He's afraid to let Remus get close again, afraid he might feel what he felt before. But he doesn't want to be enemies either. He certainly doesn't want to be carrying on in silence like they have been. But can they really go back to just friendship?

"I want to get along," he answers truthfully. "I want to talk to you, Moony. I don't want things to be awkward anymore, and if you're pissed off about something I did, I want you to say it to my face like you used to."

"That's fair. I'd like to go back to some semblance of normalcy as well. It's exhausting being this angry with you. But the sex…"

"Was…a mistake."

Remus nods. "Agreed. We should just forget it."

As he shifts in his seat, Sirius feels the ache inside him still—the reminder of Remus and what happened between them last night. Since he left Remus' this morning, Sirius has had to suffer this discomfort, and yet he doesn't mind it. It's a reminder that he was wanted by the man that he once was in love with. And it's strange how, just for an hour or so yesterday, the months of awkwardness, cold glares, and harsh exchanges collapsed. It's as if they managed to cheat time somehow, someway. Sirius doesn't know how to make sense of it; all he knows is that last night felt a bit liking coming home after a long, tedious assignment—glorious and familiar and everything collected into a few spare moments of his life.

It's a thought that gives Sirius pause. He wonders if this, with Moony, is something he'll be able to let go, something he'll be willing to forget. Part of him thinks not. Because, if Moony is home, what is he without him? Will be spend his life in restlessness, going from person to person with the lingering sense of wanting to be somewhere he belongs? But the other part of him thinks that getting hooked on Remus again might be as bad as returning to Grimmauld Place. The lies and silence and secrets make him miserable, as if he's trapped in his boyhood room. What's more, it's so hard to escape both Remus and that house. Though, maybe it's time to stop running and fighting and struggling. Maybe it's time to face the hardships of adulthood head on, like he never has before.

As Sirius looks over to Remus, ready to say something regardless of what that something is, the words dissipate. His Moony—and, yes, somehow Remus will always belong with him no matter what—looks anguished over this—his brow heavy and eyes tired. Sirius knows he's responsible for it—Moony's misery—and that's why his words fail him. He can't bear the thought of causing Remus any more pain.

"You're right," Sirius says, defeated. "Let's just forget it."

~*~*~

"You know when I said that you two should fix things, I didn't mean with your cocks," James chides, adjusting his tie in the bathroom mirror. "Words are usually the better bet."

Sirius throws him a two-fingered salute from where he sits on the bathtub's edge in James' bath. He knew he was going to be interrogated tonight before James and Lily left for their little dinner; however, no amount of preparation could have really prepared him for having his idiotic decisions shoved in his face. Yes, he knows he shouldn't have shagged Remus. Yes, he knows that shagging didn't fix anything between them. But it happened all the same, and he understands that he's going to have to shoulder the burden of those ruddy choices.

"I don't need a lecture from you, thanks ever so much," Sirius mutters.

"So you talked then?"

"Yes, we talked, alright?"

"And?"

"And nothing. We both agreed it was a huge mistake."

Adjusting his collar, James turns to look skeptically at Sirius, brow raised and eyes accusatory. Sirius doesn't like this expression—it makes him feel a bit like a child being questioned by a father—and diverts his gaze to one of those funny Muggle bath toys—rubby ducks?—on the floor.

"You felt something."

"Did not," Sirius retorts.

"Merlin's bollocks, Padfoot! We're fighting a war. If you feel something for Moony, you ought to tell him. Who knows how long we've got."

"Says he who was against our arrangement in the first place."

"Look, I was a giant wanker in school. And yeah, being pissed off about you and Moony and whatever it was you two got up to behind the bed hangings was not one of my finer moments." A pause and then, "You two are made for each other, you know."

As Sirius begins to tell James that none of matters, his eyes fall on Remus, who has appeared in the doorway with Harry clinging to him in a fierce little hug. Sirius' stomach knots up, and what he wouldn't give to be able to relieve the tension.

As if by some unspoken request, James drops the conversation about him and Remus. Whether he is more or less relieved about that, Sirius isn't sure. On one hand, James is an annoying berk. On the other, having to talk with Remus seems like an awkward, impossible challenge, which has only been made worse by his constant thoughts these past few days. Constant thoughts which led him to a long forgotten cupboard in his flat packed with the remnants of his and Remus' life together.

He knew it was a mistake, of course, to unearth the memories and mementos he'd long since buried—pictures and letters and a few, unbearably meaningful gifts they had exchanged. Sirius hadn't remembered how happy he'd been back then, in those early days when they were fresh out of school. But when he'd stared at his face in the photos, he'd been stunned by the happiness there. Nowadays, he doesn't smile like that. And when he thinks of how it'd all been because of Remus, he's struck by how stupid he'd been. But none of that matters now, he reminds himself, because what's done is done.

"I'll just go see if Lily is ready," James explains, looking between them before slipping out the door.

Sirius sighs. "How much of that conversation did you hear?"

"Enough."

"Sorry."

"It's not your fault. He shouldn't be putting his nose in our business."

"As if that's ever stopped him before."

"Moooony. Kisses!"

Harry brings his stuffed Padfoot to Remus' cheek—and Sirius cringes—making small kissing sounds. When Harry gets older, Sirius is going to return this embarrassment twice over. However, Remus isn't fussed by it, and instead gives Harry a quick kiss followed by one to his stuffed toy.

"Kisses are very nice, aren't they, Harry?"

"Nice!" he squeals in a fit of giggles.

"Mummy tells me that Uncle Sirius is going to mind you while she and Daddy have dinner at Uncle Sirius' flat."

"Mummy go," Harry explains, nodding.

"And are you going to be a good boy?"

"Harry bad."

Remus' laugh that follows fills Sirius up inside—a laugh that starts as a snort before ringing out deeply. He remembers a time when Remus used to laugh like that because of him. And Sirius knows he shouldn't be thinking of the past. He's quickly discovering that the one thing he might want most is a terribly dangerous thing, indeed.

"Looks like you're going to have your hands full tonight."

Sirius stands and reaches for Harry, Harry eager to be held by him. "When isn't the Prongslet a handful? But we're going to have brilliant fun, yeah?" He pokes Harry in the stomach.

"It was a kind thing for you to do, Sirius," Remus says, smiling. "They need this."

If anyone knows that, it's Sirius, who has watched James and Lily holed up in this house for too long—movement restricted almost entirely save for the occasional meeting. They never have time alone anymore, never have the opportunity to just get away for a few hours and enjoy themselves properly. Having fought in this war for so long, they all feel a lot older than twenty-one, but two people who have shouldered so much responsibility at such a young age deserve to have a bit of quiet time together. Sirius was more than happy to offer his flat for a romantic night out—its walls warded against the darkest magic and offering protection of many kinds.

"They do," he agrees. "But what are you doing here? Lily didn't ring you because I'm watching the sprog alone, right?"

"Oh no, I was just checking in on them. There was a Death Eater attack in Winsford this afternoon, and it was just a bit too close, you know? I came as soon as I could."

"Thanks for looking out for them, Moony."

"You don't have to thank me. They're my friends, too." Remus pauses. "I thought something might have happened. I stopped at your flat, and when you didn't answer—"

"You went to my flat?" Sirius asks, surprised.

Remus looks a bit hurt. "Just because we don't sh—err, bake biscuits anymore," he explains, censoring himself in Harry's presence now that he's begun to repeat everything, "doesn't mean I can't care about you."

Sirius arches an eyebrow, amused. "Bake biscuits?"

"Oh shove off!" he shouts with a laugh. "It served its purpose, didn't it?"

"Gentlemen?"

Just then Lily appears in the doorway, a lovely sight clad in a little black dress that Sirius distinctly remembers from Lily and James' pre-marriage days. She's amused, and the smile on her lips only serves to make her all the prettier. If James doesn't enjoy himself tonight, he deserves to be smacked, Sirius thinks.

"We're going to leave. We'll be back by ten, as promised, Padfoot."

"Mummy! Mummy!" Harry shouts, reaching for her.

"There's a dear. Now be good for Uncle Sirius, okay?" She kisses his messy black mop of hair. "Mummy loves you and will see you in a bit."

"Don't worry about us," Sirius interjects. "We'll be just fine. Enjoy yourselves."

Lily winks at him. "Oh, I intend to."

After another peck to Harry's cheek, she leaves quickly, not wanting to upset Harry further than it already might. He fusses only for a few minutes, and Sirius' gentle bouncing soothes Harry's fat tears.

 

Twenty minutes into James and Lily's leaving, Harry has forgotten they've even left him behind, playing happily on the floor with his toys. Sirius watches on from the couch, quite proud of himself and his ability to keep things under control. Usually his Harry minding duties are a little more chaotic.

He thinks that having Moony around helps keep things in order—his former lover having a sort of knack when it comes to damage control. Sirius wonders, as his eyes fall onto Remus, why he's still here in the first place. Not that he minds, because he most certainly doesn't. However, it's strange all the same.

More often than he'd like to admit, Sirius has thought about what babysitting with Remus might be like. They broke things off soon after Harry was born and never had the opportunity to have the baby to themselves. But now, sitting in this living room among all of Harry's things, it feels pleasantly domestic. The fact that he's not bothered by it startles him a little, but Sirius is quickly coming to terms with the fact that he wants—or once wanted—something very akin to this with Remus. Not that they could have ever had it, but it would have been nice all the same.

"I ought to be going," Remus says, standing, and it pulls Sirius from his thoughts.

"Why? I mean, you've only just got here, and, well…"

"I never meant to crash your godfather-godson time. Like I said, just stopping by anyway." He shrugs. "It looks like you have plans after anyway, so—"

Sirius is caught off guard by that. Yes, he does have plans with someone after his minding duties are over. Not that the date particularly means anything to him. He only made it because he thought—knows—that he needs to move on in lieu of his discussion with Remus a few days ago. And nothing quite captures the spirit of moving on like a fuck.

"How did you guess? I don't remember telling you."

Remus' lips pull into a subtle, guilty smile. "Your shirt. You always liked wearing it when we… Well, anyway, I should be off."

As if spurred by his guilt, Remus doesn't even wait for Sirius' response before walking casually yet briskly towards the Floo. Immediately, Sirius jumps up to ask him to wait, but spills hot tea down his front in the process. A string of curses follow, stopping Remus in his tracks.

"Are you alright, Padfoot?" Remus asks, approaching him in concern.

"Hurts like hell," Sirius mutters before waving his still-bandaged hand. "This is apparently my week for injuries."

"Shit, let's get you to the loo. Lily probably has some dittany stowed away in there. Ought to clear the burn right up." Remus turns to Harry. "Harry, Padfoot and I will just be in the loo for a second, alright?"

"Pafoo ouchy?" Harry asks from his pile of toy Quidditch players, his bottom lip jutting out.

"Just a bit, Prongslet," Sirius says, pulling out his wand and flicking it to put up the child safety charm. "But I'll be just fine."

 

The fact of the matter is, Sirius isn't "just fine". Only, not for the reasons he initially thought. He stands against the sink, button-up unbuttoned, with Remus applying dittany to his front. As Remus' hand brushes his skin, he sucks in a breath, and it has a lot less to do with the coolness of the dittany and far more to do with Remus touching him.

The further Remus' hand travels down his stomach, the harder it is for Sirius to remember to breathe altogether. In an attempt to keep his hormones in check, he tries to focus his thoughts elsewhere. However, elsewhere is significantly less "elsewhere" and more concerned with other aspects of Remus—the fringe of his hair, the part of his lips, the way his muscles move beneath the thin cotton of his tee. And so much for controlling hormones because his denims are growing increasingly, uncomfortably snug.

"Remus?" he whispers, involuntarily licking his lips.

"Hmm?" And Remus sounds quite lost, himself.

"I've…not been burned quite that far down."

Sirius feels Remus' hand smear the dittany around his navel, almost unconsciously, before he snaps out of his daze and withdraws his hand slightly.

"Oh."

Just as Sirius realizes that Remus is not bothering to separate the short distance between them, he notices the subtle tilt of Remus' head. Perhaps he's reading too much into things. Perhaps he's simply caught up in the moment. Regardless of reasons, though, Sirius leans down towards Remus as Remus moves upwards towards him.

Their lips never meet, only graze past each other as Sirius catches himself near-kiss. His lips, then, brush Remus' stubbled cheek. And Remus, caught slightly off guard, falls against him. Neither moves, or thinks, or breathes for what feels like hours. Sirius can feel Remus' cock, half-hard, against his thigh, and he'd be a liar if he said that his hips didn't jerk in response to the sensation.

"I don't want to want this," Remus says, lips moving against Sirius' cheek.

"Me either," Sirius replies, hands finding their way to Remus' hips almost of their own accord. "Things were better before. Less complicated."

"Yeah."

And despite their agreement, despite the fact that neither of them claims to want it, both Remus' and Sirius' hips begin to slowly rock against each other's. Remus' hands—still covered with dittany—slip up Sirius' bare chest. And when their cocks align in that moment, Remus' head falls against Sirius' neck.

"Sirius," he moans, hips canting upwards. "Sirius, I…"

As much as it pains him to think it—and he only does because he hears Harry shuffling in the corridor—Sirius knows that they have to stop this. This is getting in too deep, getting too close to someone. It's one thing to want it, to feel it—the love he has for Remus—but another thing entirely to act on it. And acting on it now will only get them both hurt.

"We have to stop, Moony," he says, pushing Remus back gently.

Remus runs his hands over his face in frustration. "Yes, sorry. God, I can't believe that just happened."

"It's not a big deal." Sirius hopes he sounds convincing because he certainly doesn't feel the words himself. "We just…won't let it happen again."

~*~*~

Except that they do.

Two and a half weeks after watching Harry, two and a half weeks after promising they won't let themselves get caught up in any more moments, they lay in Sirius' bed together, naked and sated. Somehow it's a little less awkward this time around as they sprawl out, trying to catch their breath and cool their sweat-slicked skin.

Sirius reaches over to touch Remus' hand, squeezing it, before sitting up and rummaging around in his bedside table drawer for his pack of cigarettes. He lights it wandlessly, snapping his fingers in front of the end. Taking a long drag, the smoke fills his lungs, nicotine scratching the only itch that Remus couldn't manage himself.

"Want it?" Sirius offers, holding it out to Remus.

Remus shakes his head. "No thanks, Padfoot."

"You sound…" Sirius waves his hand about, as if trying to summoning the words from thin air. "You sound something. It's not content, whatever it is."

"I am content," Remus replies, his fingertips grazing Sirius' bare thigh. "How could I be anything but after that? It's just…we keep saying that we're not going to do this anymore, but before we know it, we're falling into bed with each other."

Sirius lays back down beside Remus, head propped up in his hand. They say nothing to one another for a long while—long enough for Sirius to finish off his cigarette—and only look into each other's eyes. After Sirius discards his cigarette butt in the ashtray on the bedside table, he lets his fingers sweep slowly along Remus' bare chest—Remus wiggling and huffing when his fingers brush light enough to tickle.

"Let's not fight this." Sirius kisses his forehead. "I'm tired of all this soddin' sexual tension between us, and I'm tired of having to pretend that I don't want you when I do."

"But we said we weren't going to get involved with each other."

"We're not getting involved. We're just shagging."

As if to somehow reinforce that those are two entirely separate concepts—and that one of them has all the incentives Remus could ever need—Sirius leans down to take the shell of Remus' ear between his teeth. Remus hisses, shifts so that he's facing Sirius, and runs his hand across Sirius' arse. As Remus' fingers dig into his arse cheek, Sirius moans into his ear.

"It doesn't have to be anything more than this," Sirius reassures him. "Just fucking around is all. We've done this before."

Sirius tries to forget that this is so much more than cold, meaningless fucking, that this is shagging with the man that he loves. As if tonight jolted his memory, Sirius recalls why they closed their relationship in seventh year, why they moved in with one another, why he gladly came home to Remus every night. What they had was special—a once in a lifetime sort of thing—and Sirius isn't going to fuck up this opportunity to have Remus again just because he has feelings to muddle things.

"What about everything else, though?"

"Like what?"

"Like the war. Like the fact that you think I'm spying for the enemy—"

"Oi, hey now," Sirius says, soothingly. "I don't think that anymore."

"I've done nothing to warrant your trust since then. Shagging can't fix what's wrong with us."

"So let's not worry about fixing it."

Remus rolls onto his back, shaking his head and squeezing his eyes tightly shut. He runs his hands over his face in frustration, and Sirius dreads whatever it is that Remus is thinking. To comfort him, Sirius places soft kisses along his shoulder, pausing every once in a while to scrape his blunt teeth across the salty flesh.

"I love you," Remus whispers. "That's why I can't keep doing this." He turns to look at Sirius. "You made me fall in love with you, you selfish berk."

Sirius feels suddenly winded, as if he's received a blow to the stomach. Torn between wanting to search Remus' eyes and wanting to shut his own, he settles for staring at Remus' mousy brown hair splayed against the pillow. He tells himself that he shouldn't be surprised, that he'd wondered about this very thing ages ago.

But that had been altogether different, hadn't it? That wasn't knowing, just wondering. And as much as Sirius knows he returns the feelings, as much as he thinks he should feel overjoyed by knowing that his love is returned, Sirius has never been more frightened than he is in this moment.

"Say something," Remus prompts, voice small. "Please."

Unsure of what else to do, Sirius takes Remus' hand into his own, placing delicate kisses along his knuckles. "What should I say?"

"That you don't hate me for loving you. That you understand why this has to stop. I can't have you and not have you at the same time, Sirius."

Shifting so that his warm cheek rests against Remus' hand, he sighs, almost pained. "I don't hate you, Moony. And I do understand."

As Remus' eyes search him, Sirius wonders if he isn't waiting to hear something in return. Does Remus know? Has he known all along? While Sirius does love him, he wouldn't dare complicate matters any further than they already are. Three little words would have them both questioning where they stand even more than they are currently; three little words could be all the reason to return to what they'd left behind.

He can't voice them, for all that he wants to. Remus deserves better than what he can offer. He deserves someone who can love selflessly, who can love properly. Sirius can't give his entire self to Remus, mostly because he has too many demons that still hold him tight. And if nothing else, Remus deserves more than broken pieces of a lover. So Sirius remains resolved that Remus can never know.

Minutes pass as they lie there, looking at one another. Remus must realize that he isn't going to hear anything in reply to his admission of love because his lips meet Sirius' in what feels like a goodbye—long, slow, gut-wrenching.

~*~*~

In the dim lighting of this dingy pub, Sirius traces "RJL" with his finger against the crumb-laden table in their corner booth. It's ironic how, in the wake of distancing himself entirely from Remus to make things easier on them both, he can't get Remus out of his mind. It's been two bloody months since he's seen his former lover's face, and the only reason he's not gone mad from it is because he's hardly had a moment's peace; the Death Eaters have stepped up their game considerably recently.

It's the sight of a coin being pushed towards him that breaks Sirius' reverie, his finger halting on the loop of the "J". He glances up to Peter, sitting across from him with a lopsided grin on his face.

"Sickle," Peter explains. "For your thoughts."

"It's nothing, mate," Sirius replies, picking up his beer bottle and taking a long drink.

Peter shakes his head. "You're a really dreadful liar, you know that? So the way I see it, you have two options: tell me what's on your mind now or I'll buy you drinks until I can force it out of you."

"Drinks sound tempting. But really, not in the mood to talk about it, Pete."

"It's about Remus, isn't it?"

Sirius looks up from the bottle between his hands. Peter's giving him that knowing expression—eyes narrowed and lips quirked. As much as he doesn't think he'll be able to get out of this one, Sirius tries it all the same.

"No, it has nothing to do with him."

Peter frowns. "You're sure? I was over at his flat the other day, and he seemed dejected."

"Yeah?" Sirius shrugs.

"Well if it's not about Remus, then it has to be about tomorrow night."

Yeah, tomorrow night—the other cause for Sirius' fierce yearning to get completely shite-faced. He's known about tomorrow for weeks, but it hasn't become any easier to accept the fact that they're actually going to do it—the Fidelius Charm.

Sirius had never wanted it to come to this; it shouldn't have. He should have been more careful, should have been around to protect the Potters more often than he was. Maybe then they wouldn't have had to go into hiding.

He tries to tell himself that it's not permanent. No, surely by next summer they'll be able to throw Harry a proper birthday, invite whoever they like without fear of spies or Death Eater attacks. James and Lily and Harry will be safe; he will see them again. Everything will be alright.

"Are you sure you can handle this, Wormtail?"

"For the thousandth time, yes. Do you think I'm incapable of keeping a secret?" Peter asks, his voice low.

"No, it's not that, mate. Sorry."

And it really isn't. Sirius knows he can trust Peter because Peter is one of them, one of the Marauders. He's kept Remus' secret safe for all these years, after all. A lot of people have judged him incapable of all sorts of things, but Sirius has never doubted Peter's ability in anything—well, except for Potions, maybe. No, Peter will come through for them like he always has, and when the war is over, things will just go back to normal.

Sirius is sure of it.

~*~*~

At 8:43 on Halloween, a glass slips from between his fingers, shattering on the kitchen floor. His heart plummets for reasons he doesn't understand, and Sirius fights to shake off the confusion. What in the bloody hell was that awful feeling just then?

He tells himself that it was nothing, that the paranoia of this whole Secret Keeper thing has set his nerves on edge. Yet almost in a daze, he kneels to the floor and begins to pick up the pieces of glass. As he stands to throw them in the bin, Sirius waits for his heart to start beating properly again, for the queasiness to stop churning in his stomach. But it doesn't, and Sirius begins to grow on edge.

In wondering what could have brought on this edginess, his first thought is James. Something's happened. Something's happened, and it's all his fault. But then he reminds himself that this is James. James who duels like a champion. James who would fight on out of shear principle. James would never allow himself…

He wouldn't.

Yet Sirius jogs into his bedroom to fetch the two-way mirror just to be sure. He scrambles for it where it lays on in bedside table and holds it closely to his face.

"Prongs?"

The reflective surface dissipates at the sound of his voice, the image of what looks to be the ceiling of James and Lily's bedroom appearing where James' face ought to be. At that moment, Sirius could kill him for leaving the mirror upstairs. They have a Promise, and you don't break a Marauder Promise. James was supposed to have the damn thing on him all the time.

"James!" he shouts, his hands beginning to shake. "Bloody hell, answer me!"

Sirius waits for what feels like an eternity, his legs frozen in place. He tries not to think of the worst because Peter isn't capable of that. The Potters are safe. Of course they are. They're downstairs listening to the wireless, playing with the baby. And he'll just Apparate over. And he'll find them there. And they'll fucking laugh because he's being such a worrier. And—

And he hears the screams of a baby over the mirror.

Harry.

 

Sirius will never remember how he does it, how he manages to Apparate without splinching himself into quarters. The important thing, though, is that he does.

He finds himself in the Potters' bedroom of all places, notices immediately his mirror's twin laying on Lily's vanity along with perfumes and powders and what looks to be a sexy nightgown draped over the chair. There's something unbelievably eerie about the house, something distinctly off.

It's only then that Sirius properly hears his godson's screams, as if he'd somehow been deafened in his fear. Weak legs carry him into the corridor, his hand on the wall to help support himself, down past the bath and into Harry's nursery. As he rounds the corner to take Harry into his arms, he jumps back.

Grey eyes fall on Lily's face, her body laying broken on the floor as if she is a ragdoll. He blinks rapidly, confused by the sight. Why isn't she moving? Why isn't she smiling? Laughing? Where is the, what are you doing here, silly? I'm just putting the baby down for bed?

"Red?"

A pause.

"Lily-love?"

And he feels the bile rising in his throat.

"Evans?"

Sirius can't hold back anymore and vomits next to the doorway. Before he knows it, he can't see, his vision clouded by tears he doesn't know how to cry in his shock. Who would…why would…? How can she be…

No, she isn't.

She fucking isn't.

She wouldn't…

Lily wouldn't leave her baby.

She's just been stunned. Yes, just stunned, he tells himself. And everything is going to be alright.

In an almost shuffle, he drags himself into the nursery, and Harry's screams have fallen into sniffles at the sight of him. Sirius drops to the floor next to Lily, gathers her in his arms.

And she's still warm. Yet, somehow unbearably cold in the same moment. Her limp frame shifts against him without resistance, her head resting against his chest, eyes staring lifelessly at his face. And suddenly, he knows and struggles with accepting it.

I'm thinking about asking James to marry me, but I wanted your consent first, Padfoot. So what do you say?

Gently, he wipes the strands of her hair from her face, tries to force the locks into some semblance of neatness—some semblance of Lily. But no matter what he does, he can't get her to look right. His cries wrack him harder, his deep breaths not enough to fill his lungs, his nose runs with wetness.

When I said we were having a baby, I meant it. The five of us. Me, James, you, Remus, Peter. It's going to take a bloody village to keep James' child in line."

And he's kissing her forehead over and over and over again, resting his cheek there and clinging to her as if he were a child.

We want you to be Harry's godfather. If anything happens to us, you have to promise us that you'll raise him as your own, Padfoot. Love him and spoil him like we would.

With shaking fingers, he closes her eyes. She looks like she could be sleeping, so peaceful and beautiful and alive even now. Gently, he lays her down, mindful of her head. He brings his lips to her cheek in a daze before whispering,

"I love you, Red."

And then, as if he's been burned, he recoils from her—from what's left of her—and falls backwards against the cot. He uses the side to haul himself to his feet. Harry's tiny hands begin to grasp desperately at him, and Sirius picks him up, holding Harry to his chest—though he doesn't know where he gets the strength.

Harry's sobs and screams renew—cries for his mum and eventually for his dad—as Sirius stumbles with him out of the nursery. Sirius tries to push Harry's face against his shoulder to prevent his godson to have to stare at his mother's dead body any longer. And he's probably being too rough, feeling Harry struggle against him. If he were in his right mind, he would do something about that—loosen his hold or readjust Harry—but Sirius doesn't know what to think, only that he needs to act.

"Daddy!" Harry shrieks, as if in pain.

The thought finally occurs to Sirius that he hasn't found James upstairs, and it's as if someone has jammed a knife in his throat. He falls against the wall from the shock of it, Harry's head—cradled by his hand—making contact with the hard surface. His godson's screams are heart-wrenching, and yet he's barely moved by them.

James.

Where is James?

He thinks to call out for him, but his throat is so dry and tongue so heavy. But if James isn't upstairs then maybe he…

"J-James?" he says, hoarsely. "Jamie?"

Sirius calls out for him over and over again, his words echoed by Harry. They walk down the corridor, voices growing louder and more hysterical. But Sirius goes no further than the stairs. He doesn't want to acknowledge the chances of James' survival, doesn't want to walk down the stairs to find out the truth that he already knows in his heart.

If Lily's dead…if the Death Eaters made it this far, then James has been long gone. He would have given his life to buy Lily time to get to the nursery.

It's for that reason that Sirius doesn't dare continue his search. There are no survivors down there. And oh, a part of him wants to see it for himself, wants to find James. But if he goes looking, if he finds what he knows he's going to find, then he'll never be able to leave James. Not like that. Never like that.

Sirius chokes a sob into Harry's hair, his shoulders jerking with every cry. He fights to reclaim himself, but it seems as if he's going to die right here with his friends. It's like he's been gutted and hollowed, and Sirius knows he needs to get out of here, to take Harry and get as far away from his place as possible.

But he can't. His magic, uncontrollable in this mad sort of grief, begins to crackle in the air. The lights flicker, scaring Harry all the more, but Sirius can't make it stop. He's worthless; he's let this happen. James and Lily are…not here…because of his failings. If only he'd been stronger, been smarter. But now, Sirius realizes the depths of his weakness and wants nothing more than to let go.

As he slips down the wall into a crumpled pile on the floor—Harry squirming and crying against him—he wonders why this happened. To Lily. To James. To all of them. Moony would tell him some rubbish about Muggle God, how He gives and takes. And, in that moment, Sirius hates him for it—for words that he has never even voiced, but still.

Hates him and yearns to rail at him, to tell him what an idiot he is for believing in all that shite. And he wants to say, don’t you understand? This is why I can't bring myself to love you. Because of reasons like this. It's dangerous to love. Foolish and worthless and look what it's done to him now—

And before Sirius even realizes he's focusing all his attention on Remus, Sirius has Apparated himself and Harry with a pop!.

~*~*~

His vision blurs when his feet meet the floor, legs giving out on him suddenly. Sirius falls to his knees with Harry still in his arms, and his stomach is suddenly sick again. He feels the burning of his left thigh—unnatural and dizzying. Just as the idea of having splinched himself enters his mind, the thought leaves quickly with the sound of footsteps.

"Sirius!"

He hears the panic in Remus' tone but his focus swims at the steadily quickening stabs sinking into his flesh. Harry fights free of his loose grip, his whimpers and anguished squeals echoing through Sirius' head. And Sirius feels Remus' hands on his shoulders, on his face, pushing hair out of his eyes, yet it takes so long to register.

Shock, he thinks, but he can't manage to move his hand to feel at his leg.

"What's happened?" Remus begs, giving him a firm shake. "Sirius, please!"

The movement jolts him briefly from his stupor, and Sirius sees Remus kneeling next to him, Harry held to his chest. He knows how to answer that question, but his tongue struggles to shape to the words themselves. Finally, he feels the wetness collecting in his eyes again, sees it form in Remus' own, and Sirius knows that he knows.

"H-how?" Remus asks.

"Peter," he whispers. "The traitor. We switched…I…"

As if reinvigorated by the thought of Peter's betrayal, Sirius fights to get to his feet. He false starts, landing promptly on his arse, and then tries again to lift himself using the sofa for support. However, Remus stops him before he can make any more progress towards his wand that lies discarded on the floor.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"I'm going to…find him," he says, through gritted teeth. "Then…I'm going to kill…him."

Because, for the first time, Sirius has enough clarity of mind to have the ability to direct his anger and pain and sadness towards someone. Peter gave them up. Peter made Harry an orphan. Peter is just as responsible for this as he is.

"No, you're not. You'll splinch yourself in two before you even manage to get to him."

"I'm going, Moony." He takes a deep breath, struggling to stand once more. "Take care of Harry."

"You're not leaving this flat."

Avoiding the command altogether, Sirius limps towards his dropped wand, a shock of mind-numbing pain racing through him with even the slightest amount of pressure on his wounded leg. He manages a few steps before Remus has him by the arm, turning him.

Sirius is crushed by the weakness in Remus' eyes, the way he looks so vulnerable. And if he even felt a little less devotion to James, Sirius may have willingly given in to Remus' request.

But he can't. Because Peter broke the rules, betrayed them all and made them point fingers at one another. Sirius can never forgive him for that, nor can he ever forgive himself. Peter has to pay for what he's done.

"They'll kill you. You won't even stand a chance, Sirius."

"I know."

And he does. It's always the survivors that have it the toughest. And while he may be brave, Sirius isn't sure he has the courage to face a world without James, a world where friends sell each other out. Nor does he feel he has a right to be here when he's failed so miserably at the promise he made to protect them no matter the cost. He should die along with Peter for his misjudgment, for his lack of insight. He doesn't deserve to live if Lily and James can't.

It's with that thought that Sirius slips his hand against Remus' cheek, thumbing his cheekbone. In this final moment—their last moment together—Sirius wants Remus to know. And their life together flashes before his eyes—snogs and embraces and laughter and tears. He thinks they could have been happy, if he had been a better man. He thinks that so many things could have been different if he'd only been stronger.

"I love you," he whispers. "That's why I left in the first place. I loved you so much it scared the hell out of me."

Remus recoils as if he's been slapped, eyes wide before softening. And Sirius stares at him intensely, burns his image into his mind, on his heart with all the hurt and the regret.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you."

Eyes wet, Remus shakes his head, as if in disbelief. "We would have been fine, if you'd just given it a chance."

"Maybe," he mutters, avoiding Remus' eyes altogether for fear that he's responsible for some of those tears. "But we're out of chances now."

"Only because you're choosing to leave me. Just stay."

"I need to see that Peter gets what he has coming."

Sirius' concentration begins to wane, adrenaline fueled determination having briefly alleviated some of his pain. Slowly, he bends to take his wand into hand, trying to focus on Peter's flat with all he can muster. However, it's a whimpered, "Pafoo" that breaks his thoughts.

He watches his godson reach for him from Remus' arms, hears his tiny cries and feels his own heart shatter. Harry needs him. He'd promised James that if anything were to happen to him and Lily, he would look after Harry like he was his own. So many promises had been broken tonight, and yet this promise—the one Sirius vowed to uphold no matter what—seems suddenly impossible to break.

This is perhaps more important than revenge upon Peter, upon himself. This little boy, with his mother's eyes and father's hair and beautiful smile and contagious laugh, might be more important than anything. And Sirius is torn. What should he do? Which promise is more important—the one to protect Harry or the one to see justice through no matter what?

"They won't let me keep him. I'm a Dark Creature," Remus says. "If you leave us, the Ministry will take him from me. God knows where he'll end up, Sirius."

Sirius' lip quivers at the mere thought—no, he won't let Harry lose anymore than he already has tonight—and Sirius sinks to the floor, back against the wall. As Remus puts Harry down, Harry immediately curls up against Sirius' chest, hiccupped cries now muffled. Placing his hand on Harry's back, Sirius rubs soothing circles there before pulling Harry tightly against him.

On the floor next to him, Remus sits. "I'll help you in any way I can."

"Moony…"

"You're hurt. Harry is bleeding. Stay, and let me take care of you both."

Exhausted and grieving, Sirius finally nods the acquiescence of his defeat. He can't leave Harry behind, can't risk him. Only he can keep his godson safe, raise him how Lily and James would want him to be raised. He doesn't trust the Ministry or Dumbledore or anyone for that matter. Just himself. And Moony.

 

It's half midnight as Sirius lies awake in Remus' bed, Harry tucked against his side. His leg still aches but is much improved under Remus' careful ministrations, though he would still worry about his ability to duel if Death Eaters came calling tonight. Remus also saw to the cut on Harry's forehead, the spot now covered with a bandage. Remus says he'll have a scar, and Sirius blames himself for that, too.

And it's amazing, how his mind can wander such distances when he's so weary. His eyes have threatened to close several times now, but he waits for Remus to return from contacting the Order. He can't sleep until he knows what's going on, knows that they're safe.

He doesn't have to wait long—and in the mean time has taken to watching his godson sleep—until Remus slips into the bedroom. During the walk towards the bed, he sheds his clothes and gathers up his pajamas in an all too familiar routine. Sirius waits in silence, eager for even a morsel of news.

Remus gets into bed—Harry between them—and stares at Sirius in a way that Sirius knows to mean bad news. He tenses at the thought of it, closes his eyes tightly, and feels Remus' hand close over his own that rests on Harry's back.

"Frank and Alice are gone. Tortured into madness, I'm told," Remus says slowly, evenly. "Neville's alright and with his grandmother right now."

"Who?" he asks, hoarsely.

"Sirius, it's not important—"

"Tell me."

"Your cousin and the Lestranges."

"God damn it," he hisses.

"I've contacted Dumbledore, told him everything. The Order is on the hunt for Wormtail."

Sirius looks at Remus. "Are the wards up on the flat?"

"Yes, of course."

"The good ones?"

Remus nods. "The best of everything I could think of. The ones sealed in blood magic. I've redone the enchantments so only I can Apparate in or out, no longer the five of us. It's a risk if anything should go wrong, but I think we're safe for tonight."

Sirius slips his hand into Remus'. "We'll adjust them tomorrow, first thing."

"Naturally. Now you need to get some rest, Padfoot. You're no good to anyone exhausted."

He knows that and wonders if he'll ever see sleep tonight all the same. There are so many questions left unanswered—most importantly, is Voldemort still out there? He's never feared Voldemort more than he does now, and Sirius wonders if it has to do with the new found responsibility of parenthood. He can't let Lily and James down. He won't.

Now that the grief has dulled and the adrenaline quelled, Sirius no longer suffers from a want of death. Because, as he thinks about it again, maybe the most just punishment for him, for his mistakes, is surviving. To suffer without James and Lily, to watch Harry grow up without them and to have to live every day with the fact that he's the reason why this little boy will only know his parents through pictures. It's a heavy burden to bear, but one that he deserves for letting so many people down.

"Sirius? What you're thinking right now—stop it."

"I can't."

"You will. You have to. Harry needs your full attention."

Sirius looks down at Harry nestled against him, takes in the sight of his tear-stained cheeks. He wonders how they'll make it through tomorrow or the next day or the one after that. He wonders if it'll ever get easier for them or if every day will be a fight. He wonders if Harry will grow up to hate him for all his shortcomings.

"It's not going to be easy," Remus says softly, "and it's not going to be the same. But I promise you that we'll make it through this."

He thought that he didn't have any tears left in him to cry, but Sirius has to choke back a sob at that. We? After all of this, Remus would still stand by him? That's an incredible thought—one he struggles to wrap his mind around.

And perhaps this isn't the right time or place, but he wants to clarify something all the same. He's tired of secrets—now understanding what secrets have cost them all. He doesn't want there to be any questions left between them because they'll never recover from this devastation—never heal—until it's all out there.

"What I said tonight—"

"Padfoot, please, you were in shock and—"

"I meant it. I really do love you. And I'm sorry for having been such a wanker about it."

"Sirius?"

"Yes?" he asks, hesitantly.

"We don't have to do this tonight—have this conversation."

"Right."

The relief that follows is overwhelming. Who knows what comes next for them, but whatever it is, it's not a relationship or even a talk of one. They have so much other shite to wade through, so much to come to terms with. Sirius feels like tomorrow morning he's going to wake up and have to learn how to live all over again. Of course they can't have this conversation now.

But the promise of this conversation in the future—the promise of forgiveness even though he doesn't deserve it—gives him hope. Hope for the future. Hope for Harry. Hope for them. It's enough for Sirius that Remus knows his feelings, that they'll face tomorrow not as a couple but as survivors. And everything else can come later.

~Epilogue~

Sitting on the park bench, sun warming his skin, Sirius watches Harry carefully as he builds a sand castle with another child that looks to be his age. The war may have ended months ago, but being out in the open, so exposed, leaves Sirius wound a bit too tightly. He wonders if it'll ever go away—the agitation. If it doesn't, Sirius worries he'll end up like Moody. And that, most assuredly, is someone Sirius never wants to become.

He supposes the real threat is over now. Voldemort is gone—has been since that October night—and most of the Death Eaters have been captured and are awaiting trial. If all goes well, they'll get an eternity in Azkaban for their endeavors, and Sirius will no longer have to look out for them. Judging from Harry's early start to his terrible twos, Sirius is going to have his hands full, with the grey hair to prove it. The last thing he needs is murderers on the loose.

As he watches Harry babble near-incoherent instructions to his little friend, Sirius considers how far they've come in these few months—Ministry trials and dangerous threats, tears of a little boy who just wants his mum and dad and the nightmares that come with them. They carry their scars—Harry's literal and his own much more figurative—but Sirius has the sense that someday they'll be as close to normal as they'll ever get. And it's the promise of that day that Sirius strives towards each morning.

"Chatting up the single mums?"

Looking over his shoulder, Sirius meets Remus' eyes, glistening with mischief. He can't quite stop the grin forming on his lips and decides to play along with this little game.

"Loads. I've already got three fellytone whats-its. They're desperate for me, Moony."

"Three fellytone whats-its?" Remus asks, feigning astonishment as he takes the seat next to Sirius. "You don't say. I wonder if they know that you have no idea what a fellytone is."

"Shove off. I know what it is." Sirius points across the playground to one of the mums. "See that one? We're going out tonight."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

In reality, he's never talked to the girl in his life. But it's a good time, playing this little game with Remus, and Remus doesn't mind. Because the truth is, he's going to be going home with Remus and Harry soon. They'll have dinner like a proper family before Harry is bathed and put to bed. Then, he'll snog Moony on the couch—they have such little time nowadays with an almost-two-year-old controlling their lives—and they'll likely fall asleep before they get very far.

Because it's not just himself, alone, that has moved forward but he and Remus together. It's been a slow work in progress—platonic even in those early days—but they're striving towards something promising. They've not shagged yet, not really done anything more than kiss and rub up against each other—and even the latter is a new development. Somehow, though, it feels like just the right pace.

"What about me?" Remus asks.

"You'll mind Harry, of course."

"I can't persuade you to change your plans?"

Sirius smirks, looking on. "What kind of persuasion are we talking about, my dear Monsieur Moony?"

"Only the best kind, Monsieur Padfoot."

"Well, on that note," Sirius says, winking.

He stands and calls for Harry, who looks positively mutinous at the prospect of having to leave his sand and friend so soon. Sirius senses the struggle ahead of him and is slightly relieved to see Remus walking ahead to retrieve their charge.

And it's strange now, thinking how he used to fear this—committing himself to Remus, tying himself down with a sprog. If he's perfectly honest with himself, he's never been happier with his love life than he is now. Maybe the war changed him, or pseudo-parenthood, or falling for his partner-in-crime. Maybe the reasons don't matter. Maybe he should just be content with the little life he and Remus and Harry have made for themselves from the rubble of the past.


Artwork for this fic can be found here.