When the Order brings Sirius Black to Charlie, the man is still covered in the grime of Azkaban.
He has been injured, they tell Charlie. We need a place for him to stay until he is stronger. Until he heals.
‘I’m Charlie,’ he says to the silent man. ‘I’m going to help you … all right?’
Black does not look at him—or at Lupin, Dumbledore and Charlie’s father when they leave.
Charlie uses four tubs of water until Black’s skin does not flake with dirt. He cuts off the long black hair hopelessly tangled and matted with filth. With a soft cloth and soap, his hands, red and raw, slide over corpse-pale skin stretched over a ribcage rattling with shallow breaths; dip between the ridges of a spine, painfully sharp; and encircle ankle bones familiar with the shape of manacles.
Black’s head is lowered, a vacant stare fixed on the rippling surface of murky bath water. He does not speak, so Charlie does: the same calming litany with new dragons that arrive bristling with distrust. He talks about his cottage in the forest, the dragon reserve higher up the mountain side, and his days caring for tetchy creatures blinded with rage and fear.
‘You can’t blame them,’ he says, frowning, as he fills the tub with fresh water. ‘There are keepers who use violence to keep them in line. We don’t use it here, but the other reserves … They should know better, being keepers. Dragons are naturally vicious creatures, but they aren’t malicious—not all of them; dragons have personalities too, and what living creature doesn’t prefer a gentle hand?’
He looks up, swiping his hands up thighs thin and wasted. Black’s eyes are open a slit, coal-dark irises gleaming by the light of the kitchen fire. ‘It seems to me,’ Black’s voice is hoarse and cracked, ‘the bloody creatures don’t know a gentle hand is an option.’ He closes his eyes again, subsiding with a heavy sigh. Charlie blinks and lowers his eyes, continuing to wash Black’s broken body.
‘There is no other option with me,’ he says quietly.
Black does not respond.
Charlie reckons it was a matter of time before he is involved in matters of war. His parents were in the first war when they were about his age, and his uncles died fighting Death Eaters. Black stares at him like he were mad. ‘And you want to make a martyr of yourself like them?’ His voice is still gravelly, and his head lolls on his neck, like consciousness is too heavy for him to bear.
Black has spent most of the past two weeks sleeping, swathed in the thick blankets Charlie tucks around him. He wakes only when Charlie rouses him for meals, and grunts in response to questions, eyes heavy-lidded and bleary. This is a rare moment of lucidity, dark eyes intent on Charlie’s face. He leans forward in the armchair Charlie helped him into, thin fingers clutching the edges of his blanket.
‘Bloody idiot,’ he says, pale lips lifting into a sneer.
Charlie blinks, and continues clearing the dishes from the small table he set up beside the bed; Black is still too weak to leave the sitting room Charlie put his bed in. ‘You asked me why the Order put you here. Did you think they would hide you with someone who isn't in the Order?’ he asks dryly.
‘But you’re … so fucking young.’
‘I’m twenty-one,’ Charlie retorts.
‘Twenty-one,’ Black echoes. ‘You’re a child.’ He says it like a blessing, or a wish.
‘So were you,’ Charlie says, ‘when they put you on Azkaban.’
Black’s eyes are coal-dark, simmering with heat, and he smiles, jagged as a blade wrapped in velvet. ‘Yes, that’s how I know it’s a mistake for children to play soldiers.’
‘Harry’ —the dark-haired man flinches at his godson’s name— ‘is younger than I am, and he’s at the very heart of this, isn’t he? I don’t know the details, but I see the way Dad and Mum and Dumbledore talk about him. He’s my youngest brother’s best friend, did you know that? Ron has faced everything Harry has. My little sister was possessed by You-Know-Who. I’m doing whatever I can for them, so that they can be twenty-one one day too.’
Black stares at him, ashen.
‘You-Know-Who wanted to kill a baby in his cot. There’s no keeping us children,’ —Charlie cannot resist mimicking Black’s derisive tone— ‘from this war.’
The older man looks away.
Black recovers: his limbs less wasted, his cheeks less sunken, but the emptiness in his gaze does not abate. Charlie hears from his father stories of a young Sirius Black: the rebellion against a pureblood family steeped in the Dark Arts, the Muggle motorbike, the secret missions fought alongside James Potter; blokes like him—sickeningly brave and stubborn—are often determined to bear the lodestone of guilt by themselves.
It was only ever his grief that kept an Animagus like him chained to Azkaban.
Charlie knows a child like him can do nothing. His job is to keep the wretched man fed and warm, and he edges away from Black’s insurmountable agony. He bolts up right in bed, his heart thudding in his chest, too warm beneath his blankets. The sound of Black sobbing echoes through the cottage, searing against Charlie’s ears like bloodroot poison. He covers his face with his hands, squeezing his eyes shut.
Not again, he thinks tiredly, and hates himself for it. Has a night gone by without Black's weeping? He would lay here, eyes wide in the darkness, listening to the broken-hearted sounds of a lost man, until the day breaks, and Black no longer has darkness to fear. Fuck, fuck, fuck. FUCK.
He shoves aside the blankets, yanking on a jumper. He does not mask the sounds of his approach, but Black’s sobbing does not cease. Charlie sees Black curled up into a tight ball under his blankets, head tucked between his hands, and realises, his chest hollowing, that Black is having a nightmare. He has been having these nightmares every other day for the past three months, and Charlie ignored him.
Charlie climbs into the narrow bed next to Black, wrapping his arms around the other man, like how he used to soothe his younger brothers when they woke up crying from bad dreams. Black jerks awake, crying out in surprise. His eyes, enormous and shining wet in the darkness, appear child-like. Charlie shushes him, wiping the tears from his face. ‘It’s all right, I’m here, I’ve got you. You’re safe now. I’m here. It’s okay, it’s okay, love.’
‘—Charlie,’ Black whispers, voice shattered, eyes fluttering shut, and he sinks into Charlie’s arms. ‘Charlie.’
Slowly, Sirius’s breathing evens out, his body loosening in sleep, but Charlie continues to watch the darkness. Shadows form the slick grey stones of Azkaban, the numbing coldness of looming Dementors: he sees Sirius Black’s nightmares that were his reality for thirteen years—and Charlie left him there, because the man calls him child, calls him kid. Hurt his ego.
‘Godric,’ Charlie whispers. He is a child.
Charlie moves Sirius into his bedroom, where there is a double bed and windows that open onto the forest. In the mornings, he takes him out into the sunlight, settling him into an easy chair, as he works in the garden. Sirius dozes, his eyes closed, as he turns his face towards the sun. He still looks too thin, wrapped in the thick woolly blankets, but there is colour in his cheeks.
‘Do you like gardening?’ he asks, looking over at Charlie amongst the carrots.
‘I don’t mind it,’ Charlie shrugs, brushing the dirt from his hands. ‘Mum kept a garden, and made us help her with it. We grew carrots and onions, tomatoes and peppers. There were herbs too—it was great, having fresh supplies. It isn’t cheap feeding nine people—and Mum and Dad are always bringing people home—so we did what we could.’
‘Molly and Arthur are generous to a fault.’
Charlie looks up sharply. Sirius gestures to him: ‘They have even given me their son for a nurse when the world still thinks I’m a murderer.’ There is an odd look in his eyes, like a sliver of steel.
Charlie frowns, unable to tell if the older man is mocking him, and returns his attention to the soil beneath his fingers. ‘Dumbledore believes you’re innocent,’ he mutters, ‘and Ron, Harry and Lupin attest for you. That’s good enough for us.’
‘You had to take time away from your beloved dragons,’ Sirius says.
‘That’s hardly a burden. That’s time away from work, much as I love the beasts,’ Charlie snorts. ‘Don’t worry about it, mate. I had a lot of leave days I haven’t been using.’
The sounds of the forest fill the space between them: a bird’s sweet twittering, the leaves rustling in the breeze, a wild boar snuffling in the undergrowth. When Charlie looks at Sirius, the dark-haired man is drowsing again, pale face peaceful and warm in the sunlight. He smiles, relief soft in his chest: Sirius has been able to take a few steps unassisted today.
They have spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, the sauce made from tomatoes and basil fresh from the day’s work, and Sirius asks for seconds.
‘I’ve never had a job,’ Sirius says.
They are in the sitting room, tea mugs steaming on the small table between their armchairs. Charlie looks up from the letter that came from the reserve in the morning: updates on a dragon that was under his charge. Sirius is tugging on the too-short sleeves of the jumper he borrowed from Charlie; while the two men are roughly the same size, Sirius is taller, and still thinner.
‘After Hogwarts, it was straight to the Order,’ the dark-haired man sighs. ‘The Potters were rich, so we didn’t need to work. James and I spent our time hunting down Death Eaters, always raring for a fight. Oh, Lily and Remus tried to talk us out of the more dangerous missions, but we didn’t listen. We were eradicating evil’ —he gives a sharp bark of bitter laughter— ‘which we apparently didn’t do very well, if You-Know-Who is still around.’
Charlie stares at the expression soft and wistful on Sirius’s face. After a beat, when Sirius starts to look puzzled, he clears his throat, rolling up his letter. ‘That still seems like work to me,’ he says matter-of-factly. ‘Like what an Auror was supposed to do. Was it fun?’
‘No.’ Sirius raises an eyebrow. ‘We hated it towards the end.’
‘Exactly. It’s work. Work is still work, no matter how much you believe in the mission, or how much you love what you’re doing. It’ll always be tiresome after a while.’
Sirius laughs: full-bodied and genuine and warm. His face lights up, and the shadows of a poor night’s sleep, of deprivation and Azkaban disappear; Sirius Black looks a decade younger and lighter. Charlie stiffens, his throat closing with queer emotion, unable to take his eyes off Sirius’s face. The other man continues laughing, face creased with the strength of his mirth.
‘Merlin,’ he gasps through his sniggering. ‘You are far too young to be so disillusioned. How old are you truly, kid? Forty-five?’
Charlie looks away before he gets caught gawping. ‘Well, I am the second oldest in a large family. I had a lot of younger siblings to care for. You grow up quickly like that.’
‘You are very good at taking care of other people,’ Sirius agrees, wiping the tears from his eyes. ‘Morgana’s tits, I tell you I spent my twenties killing people, and you tell me, well, that’s just your job, isn’t it? Oh, don’t get me wrong, Charlie old boy, I appreciate the philosophical take on it, and I certainly don’t regret the Death Eaters I’ve killed or put in prison. It’s only … you are too accepting—has anyone told you that? You don’t need to be so kind.’
‘I’m not kind,’ Charlie says quietly.
Sirius rolls his eyes. ‘Oh, shut it. I say you are, and I should know, because I’m your elder; I’m always right.’ He is smirking, his tone teasing. ‘You would make a good father at any rate, whenever you get off this mountain and meet other young people.’
‘I don’t think I’ll be having children.’
‘Oh, that’s what you say now. James said that too, at your age, and he was already married to Lily. You should have seen him when Harry was born—happiest man in the world. James would have made a great father.’ The humour has faded from Sirius’s face now, his dark eyes dimming, retreating to a past Charlie cannot change.
‘No, I mean, I don’t think I will, unless I adopt,’ Charlie blurts, clenching his fists to resist the urge to reach out and take Sirius’s hands, and yank him back to him.
The older man frowns, puzzled. It takes a few seconds for him to make sense of Charlie’s words, and his eyes widen in surprise. ‘Oh,’ he says eloquently, the blaze of his attention fully on Charlie now; Charlie resists the urge to break his gaze. ‘I see. Well … that’s … fine. I suspect Molly would demand grandchildren anyway; she seems the sort to want hordes of grandkids, eh?’
Charlie laughs, harder than necessary with relief. ‘And she expects them sooner too! She said she wouldn’t need to wait nine months after the wedding to see a grandchild with me.’
Sirius grins. ‘I knew it.’
Charlie thinks he should be worried how Sirius would behave around him now; some people—especially posh purebloods like Sirius Black—are very good at hiding their initial dismay, only to flinch whenever Charlie goes near them later. But when Charlie slips into bed at night, his heart thunderous in his chest, Sirius burrows into his arms, back flush against Charlie’s chest, as he has been doing since they first started sleeping together.
‘Good night,’ he murmurs, warm with sleep.
‘Good night,’ Charlie whispers, his heart beating faster somehow, reverberating with emotions he would rather not confront.
Lupin comes to visit six months after the Order left Sirius here. The man, grey and faded, sinks to his knees by Sirius’s chair. He takes Sirius’s hands, turning his face upwards like a supplicant. There is an expression on both men’s faces like seeing a smashed dragonet egg, bloody yolk spilling amongst shattered egg shell. Charlie leaves the cottage, an intruder in his own home.
He tells himself it does not matter. Sirius is not gay—he would have said so by now surely, after Charlie has come out—or if he is, and he does not come out, because he does not want Charlie to think perhaps we could. And that must mean that he does not think of Charlie in that way at all. They are friends—are they friends?
There is a certain ease between them now; like Charlie could bare his soul, and Sirius would not flinch. Sirius’ habits and tastes are familiar to him, and he is pleased whenever he learns something new about the other man, filing it away for—the future, oh, as if there is a future. Charlie is only ever Sirius Black’s nurse, isn’t he?
He knows only the man with dirt streaked on his face, hotly arguing the merits of cold soup, as he worked in the garden next to Charlie; or the man who burned a whole chicken, when he tried to cook dinner waiting for Charlie to come home from the reserve, having gone back to work. What does he know of the beautiful, brave young man who flung hexes and curses, bloody and sweaty next to James Potter and Remus Lupin?
Sirius does not talk about Lupin, looking away like how one would from a heinous wound too shocking to consider. He openly grieves James and Lily Potter, but he whispers Remus and Moony in the dark, as he cries in his sleep, and Charlie holds him, murmuring soothingly, even as he knows he is no good replacement. Well, Lupin is here now, and Charlie is outside in the forest, watching as dusky shadows pool in his empty hands.
He listens to the wind blowing through the mountains, and for the first time, feels the jagged edge of loneliness.
‘What did I tell you, Moony, the boy is a brilliant cook, isn’t he?’ Sirius is beaming.
Lupin smiles at Charlie over the roast beef and shepherd’s pie and apple cobbler, his eyes crinkling with laugh lines. ‘He wouldn’t stop raving about your roast beef earlier,’ he says. ‘I can see why. Sirius, you lucky bugger.’ He nudges Sirius, raising his eyebrows.
Sirius laughs, rolling his eyes, and waves a fork at Charlie. ‘You’ve really outdone yourself today, kid. Trying to impress Lupin, are we?’
‘Well, the Order should know that I’m doing my duty,’ Charlie replies, taking a bite of bland shepherd’s pie; it is hardly as good as Sirius is making it out to be. ‘They are paying for the food.’
There is a pause. Lupin frowns, as Sirius shoots Charlie a slightly puzzled look. He half-shrugs, dropping his gaze. He is being juvenile, of course, but he cannot shake off his mordant mood, and he is in no state to be entertaining guests. The dinner seems to drag on for an eternity and a half, and once plates have been scraped clean, he excuses himself and gives Sirius and Lupin the privacy they must want.
It is deep into the night when the crack of Disapparition echoes through the cottage. Charlie has been listening to the faint music of conversation stealing through the house, as he lay in the darkness, sleepless. He hears Sirius’s footsteps in the hallway, pausing at the bedroom door. The other man sighs loudly, and mutters, ‘Bollocks,’ and he goes away.
Charlie closes his eyes against the darkness.
Charlie’s boss, a usually mild-mannered man, is apoplectic. ‘Come back when your head’s out of your arse!’ he screams in Romanian, his face ruddy and black beard singed. The other dragon-keepers in the courtyard are glaring at Charlie, some of them nursing scratches and bruises; those with burns have already been rushed to the sick bay. Sam might have given him some pity, but she is one of those burned.
He Apparates into his garden, and vomits over his boots, thanking Merlin his sick does not splash on the potatoes at least. Sirius dashes out of the open back door, dressed in a frilly apron wrapped, red sauce smeared on his jaw. ‘Charlie,’ he exclaims, arms extended, but Charlie holds up a hand, shaking his head, wiping his mouth with the other arm.
‘Don’t,’ he says, voice hoarse from the bile that bubbled up his throat. ‘Stay away.’
‘What the fuck happened to you?’ Sirius demands. ‘Did you—did you get hurt? You’re burned! Fuck, we have to get you to the hospital—where’s the closest one? Why the fuck didn’t the reserve take you there?’ He takes a step forward, but Charlie shakes his head again, this time with more vehemence.
‘No,’ Charlie rasps. ‘I’m not hurt. This is just’ —he glances down at his torn robes with charred edges; much more would have burned if Sam did not pull him out of the way— ‘nothing. It doesn’t hurt. Just—stay away. I don’t … I don’t want to—’ he screws up his face. ‘I need to go.’
‘Wait! Don’t. This is your house. I’ll go, all right? You come in and—’
Charlie spun around at the word go. He surges forwards, grabbing Sirius by the shoulders, shoving him bodily backwards into the doorway. ‘NO,’ he snarls. ‘You are not eaving. You are not well enough, you’re not leaving!’
Sirius gapes, dark eyes blazing. ‘All right,’ he whispers. ‘I’m not leaving.’
Charlie meets his gaze, steady and unflinching, and is aware of the thin body he is manhandling, the faint shadows under Sirius’s eyes. A man he has just said is not well enough. He tastes, too, the sour vomit in his mouth, and thinks he might just throw up again. He flinches away from Sirius’s hands coming up to touch him. Sirius drops his hands.
‘I fucked up,’ Charlie says hollowly, his hands clenched into fists by his sides. ‘I wasn’t paying attention, went into a nursing mother’s den. She attacked me, trapped me in the corner, and the other keepers got injured saving my stupid, worthless arse.’ He watches Sirius’s wide-eyed expression. ‘Should have left me there to be burned to a crisp. I’ve only been causing trouble, getting into people’s way. Worthless.’
There is the impression of a breeze, and the other man’s palm is hot and stinging against Charlie’s cheek. The slap echoes through the quiet of the forest. ‘All right, that’s enough, kid,’ Sirius says tersely. ‘Didn’t peg you for the melodramatic sort.’
Charlie gawps, pressing a hand to his hot cheek. ‘What the fuck?’
Sirius sneers. ‘So you’ve made a mistake. You learn, and you move on. I know that you won’t make it again’ —he ignores Charlie’s scoff— ‘You’re a good kid, you have your head on straight. You’re certainly not worthless, and you’re the last person who deserve to fucking die for anything.’
‘Don’t call me kid,’ Charlie mutters sulkily, feeling more like a kid than anything when the words leave his mouth.
The dark-haired man snorts. ‘Oh, trust me, when you get to my age, you’ll wish you could be a kid again. All right, let’s get you cleaned up, eh?’ He comes up behind Charlie, and, putting his hands on Charlie’s shoulders, herds him into the kitchen.
Charlie does not resist; those hands feel surprisingly strong. He lets himself be brought to the bathroom, and obeys when Sirius tells him to fill the tub with his wand. Sirius turns away to pour in a few soap and bubble potions from Charlie’s extensive collection, and Charlie starts stripping off his ruined robes, wincing when the cloth catches on barely healed scratches; the keepers did enough to only stop the bleeding right after the debacle.
Sirius turns, and freezes. Charlie shivers, feeling the other man’s dark gaze physical as a breath. He clenches his jaw, and catching Sirius’s eyes, slips off his pants with deliberate slowness. Sirius swallows audibly, his eyes flicking from between Charlie’s legs to his face, and gives a breathy little laugh. Clearing his throat, he turns away. ‘Get in, kid,’ he gestures to the tub.
‘If I’m a kid, you’d give me a bath,’ Charlie blurts; there is a volatile recklessness singing in his blood, sparked from the moment he lay stricken in the dirt, watching deadly dragon claws flash silver above his head.
‘Get in,’ Sirius repeats, still not looking at him.
Charlie growls wordlessly, but complies. The water is hot and the bubbles piled high on the surface smells of oranges and vanilla. He sinks into the water, so that only his eyes remain above. Sirius glances from the shampoo bottles in his hands at him, and groans, ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake. Don’t give me that look, kid. You don’t want this.’
Charlie bursts out of the water. ‘I never said anything!’
‘Oh, you think so?’ the other man says disdainfully, and reaches out. Holding Charlie’s gaze, he runs the back of his large, bony hand down Charlie’s face, stopping at his chin. Charlie cannot stop the whimper, or pressing his face harder against Sirius’s hand. Sirius stares down at him, eyes wide. ‘Charlie,’ he whispers hoarsely. ‘Fuck. Don’t.’
Charlie turns his face, and kisses Sirius’s knuckles, his breath shuddering. Sirius snatches his hand away with a hiss. ‘Sirius,’ Charlie pleads, not quite knowing what he is asking for, just that he wants to beg for it. ‘Please.’
The older man looks away from him, and shakes his head hard, once. ‘I’ve made enough mistakes, kid. You can’t be one of them.’ He makes to leave, but Charlie grabs the back of his sweater, water turning the green material dark in an instant.
‘Sirius,’ Charlie says again, feeling the tears well up. ‘Please.’
The dark-haired man looks down, and a jagged expression flickers across his weary face. ‘Kid,’ he starts with a sigh, stops, and shakes his head again. ‘Fuck.’ He yanks out of Charlie’s grasp, and sheds the apron and sweater over his head in one smooth movement. Not quite looking at Charlie, he yanks off his trousers, his pants, and before Charlie can make sense of it, he climbs into the tub across from him.
Sirius is sitting on Charlie’s feet, his arms resting on his knees. There is a taut, awkward silence, both men looking at each other uncertainly. Then: Charlie wriggles his toes, brushing the bare skin of the other man’s bum, and Sirius gasps, glaring at him across the bubbles. Slowly, water sloshing over the edge of the tub, Charlie shifts onto his knees, his arms braced on the floor of the tub.
‘I’m too old for you,’ Sirius tells him, dark eyes molten, licking his lips.
‘You’re beautiful,’ Charlie replies, and closes the distance, pressing his lips to Sirius’s.
It is a chaste kiss, wet cool lips tasting of soap. He pulls back, watching Sirius’s face expressionless and slack. He holds his breath, wresting control of the abrupt panic that roars through his chest. Sirius’s coldness melts, and he is giving Charlie a helpless sort of smile.
‘Merlin. Bloody idiot, you kiss like a five-year-old,’ he says teasingly, and puts his large, warm hand on the back of Charlie’s head, and pulls him in.
‘How did you get these scars?’ Sirius asks, fingers tracing the silvery lines on Charlie’s hands. ‘I noticed them from the first day, when you were giving me a bath.’
Charlie raises his hands in front of him, the scars criss-crossing the back of his hands and up his wrists just visible in the darkness. The only light in the bedroom streams in through the open window, moonlight and starlight on the gentle breeze. Sirius is holding him in his arms, both of them naked and nestled within rumpled sheets and squashed pillows. The older man strokes down Charlie’s arms, interlacing their fingers, and Charlie shivers, turning to bury his face in Sirius’s shoulder.
‘A baby Welsh Green was panicking.’
‘And your first thought is to wrestle it with your hands?’ Sirius is derisive.
Charlie sniggers, slapping him on the arm. ‘No, you berk. He was coming to me for comfort—I was there when he hatched, and he associated my scent with a mother. Welsh Green chicks are covered all over with poisoned spines—protection from predators when they’re so little—and it took a while before the other keepers could persuade him into the nest we prepared.’
Sirius pulls away a little to stare him in the face. ‘So … you held a squirming ball of poisoned spikes for … how long?’
‘Thirty minutes?’ Charlie shrugs. ‘I have some scars on my chest too, you see? But the wounds on my chest healed better than those on my hands.’
The other man gives a sharp bark of laughter, shaking his head with disbelief. ‘You’re really something else, kid. What are you?’
Before Charlie can decide if he should be offended, Sirius leans in and kisses him, and he is entirely too distracted to formulate a coherent argument for a while. Sirius pulls back, laughing breathlessly, a hand flat on Charlie’s chest.
‘No, no,’ he chuckles. ‘I’m still too sore and too tired from the first round, love. Merlin, the energy of the young!’ He glances downwards, where evidence of Charlie’s arousal nudges his hip. ‘Down, boy!’
‘You kissed me,’ Charlie reminds him waspishly. ‘Look, I can bottom this time—’
‘No,’ Sirius cuts him off, despite the conflict that contorts his face. He presses harder against Charlie’s chest, scooting back across the bed with some reluctance. ‘No, not until we talk.’
‘About what?’ Charlie wraps a hand around Sirius’s wrist, trying to tug him in.
Sirius breaks his grip, and sits up, wrapping the sheets around his waist. ‘About the day Remus was here.’
Charlie freezes, his hand flopping to the bed. ‘That’s not fair,’ he says hollowly, dropping his gaze. Talking about him while they both lie here naked, still floating on that post-coital haze? Absolutely fucking unfair. He only wants to enjoy this while he can still touch Sirius. Why can’t they pretend just for a moment that Sirius wants him as much as he does? At least for one night; that will be enough, Charlie swears on Merlin.
He lies on his back, staring up at the shadowed ceiling, his hard-on wilting. He does not move to cover up—what does it matter when he has already bared more than his skin to Sirius? It would be all nakedness and nothing at this point: he would lose him, he knows it.
‘What’s not fair?’ Sirius asks hoarsely, brushing a hand through Charlie’s hair. ‘Talk to me, kid. What happened that day? You disappeared from the house, and when I tried to make conversation with everyone, you insisted on being a prick.’ He gently twirls a lock around his finger, tugging on it. ‘Tell me, Charlie, you are tired of caring for this old man, for being an under-appreciated nursemaid. You want me gone so you can join the other Order members in the field—is that it?’
Charlie is struck dumb by the words you are tired of caring: tired? Tired ? Tired of caring for Sirius? Oh, how could the blithering idiot think that? Is he joking? He shoves himself up onto his elbow, batting aside Sirius’s hand. ‘What are you playing at?’ he demands hotly. ‘What the fuck are you going on about?’
‘And here I thought Charlie Weasley was a good nice boy who doesn’t swear—’ Sirius breaks off, passing a hand over his face with a sigh. ‘No, sorry, I’m deflecting, this isn’t a joke, I’m sorry. You aren’t answering my questions.’
Charlie huffs, aggrieved, rolling his eyes. ‘Oh, bloody hell, mate, as if you aren’t tired of this joke. The answer is no , I’ve never, never thought those things. I’m not—I’m not tired of taking care of you—and you’re not old, stop saying that and stop calling me kid—and I don’t care to take part of other missions. That’s not … that’s not why I was upset that day.’
The word upset scrapes the sides of his throat going up, and his heart twists in chagrin to confess it. It must make him seem more of a child in Sirius’s eyes. He is never going to be able to compare against Remus Lupin.
‘Why were you upset then?’ Sirius prompts, eyes gentle. ‘If you don’t tell me, love, I won’t know how to stop upsetting you.’
Charlie takes a deep breath. The words are there right in the bowl of his mouth, but his jaw is clenched, and he cannot—does not want to—force it open. How does he say it without looking like an utter fool? He dashes his forearm across his watering eyes, furious. It feels too hot in his skin, his shame prickling at the back of his neck.
He has not understood people lament about how difficult it is to say I love you and sorry ; he does not have trouble saying it to his family, his friends. Oh, he does now. It is impossible to speak, when he is terrified of appearing pathetic in front of the person he wants to think only the best of him. I swear I’m cooler than this! I swear I’m not usually such a loser.
Oh, fuck it—if he were going to lose Sirius anyway, what does it matter? He falls back onto his back, and addresses the ceiling; easier to talk to the darkness. ‘You love Remus Lupin.’
Sirius is silent for a heartbeat. Charlie does not dare look at him.
‘Wait, you mean—’ Sirius’s voice is strangled. ‘You mean, in love with him? You think I’m in love with Remus? You think, what, that we’re lovers?’ Charlie does not respond, and Sirius bursts into laughter.
The roar of his mirth fills the whole room, and the whole bed moves under his convulsions. Charlie sits up, staring at the writhing form of the other man, wondering if he should be concerned. How is this funny —unless Sirius finds it a joke that he could be in love with Remus Lupin, which must mean that—no, he won’t think that.
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ Sirius sputters after a while, wiping the tears from his eyes. ‘It’s just so ridiculous . Of all things! And here I was, thinking that you’re sick of me, that you see that I’m too old after all, that you’ve met someone young and virile at that job of yours. But it’s really you thinking that Remus is my lover ,’ he speaks with incredulity, his eyes still flashing with laughter.
‘Oh, my dear boy, Remus is my brother. He and James are the last people I would ever think of sleeping with. And Merlin, I’ve never wanted to sleep with any man until you . I’ve only been with women.’
‘What?’ Charlie’s mouth is dry. ‘What do you mean?’
Sirius shrugs, looking down at the blanket, tugging on loose threads. ‘I’ve considered it, but wartime isn’t the best time to explore your sexuality, you know? I was entirely too busy hunting Death Eaters. And what, should I be offering my arse to Dementors to test it out? Do those creatures even fuck? Anyway, I’ve not wanted a man—or anyone in a long time. Until you. You and your gentle hands and your concern and your acceptance—your fucking niceness. I’m weak against stupidly nice people like you, just ask Remus.’
Charlie’s mind is reeling. He thinks of how he opened up Sirius earlier, his fingers not rough but not entirely gentle either, not the way he would have treated someone entirely new to this; how he pushed into the other man with a groan, water swirling around them in the tub, and he leaned forwards, kissing Sirius’s grimace away. ‘I’m the worst,’ he breathes, horrified, burying his face in his hands. ‘I was so rough.’
‘Hey, hey, no,’ Sirius moves closer, hands on Charlie’s wrists, and pulls Charlie’s hands away. ‘No, it was fine. I enjoyed it. If I was in any pain, I would have told you, would have stopped you.’
‘That’s not the point,’ Charlie screws up his face. ‘I should never have assumed. I should have asked—did I even ask if you wanted to bottom?’
‘Charlie, old boy, if I don’t want to bottom, trust me, you would feel it like a kick to the balls,’ Sirius grins. ‘We’re getting off track. I’m not in love with Remus, okay? Never have been. You’re the only one, love.’
Charlie stares, feeling as if he is trying to see the wavering sunlight from somewhere deep underwater. ‘But you call out his name at night. When you sleep.’
‘I do?’ Sirius’s eyes widen. ‘I didn’t know. I remember the nightmares … Remus dying with James and Lily, and I knew I had killed all my friends, the only people who loved me in this world.’ He takes a deep breath. ‘I felt like I had betrayed Remus when I didn’t trust him to be Secret-Keeper for James. I—it was prejudice. I still didn’t trust werewolves, for all my claims for species equality. I’m ashamed. I couldn’t face him until now.’
He holds Charlie’s gaze, his thumbs stroking Charlie’s hands. ‘I want you—badly. And I want to believe that I deserve a person like you, so I knew I had to do better. Had to face my demons. That’s what I did that day Remus came. He forgave me, of course he did, stupid bugger. I told him about you. About how you make me want to believe the fight isn’t over yet—that there are still things worth fighting for when the Dark Lord rises again.’
Charlie watches his face, shadows and moonlight turning skin into polished marble. But the lovely statue is warm beneath his hands, when he lifts it to the other man’s face, his thumb pressed into those plush lips, pulling them apart. Sirius’s breath blows out against his palm. He moves a hand up, running it through the dark hair he shorn poorly the first night they met. Sirius hums, turning his face into Charlie’s palm, eyes closing.
‘I love you,’ Charlie says.
‘I know,’ Sirius grins, teeth gleaming like a dagger in the night. ‘Merlin, how are we going to explain this to Arthur and Molly, eh?’
Charlie grimaces. ‘Can we not talk about my parents when we’re naked in bed?’
The dark-haired man chuckles. ‘All right, all right, Mr Bossy. So, have I convinced you? Are you still upset?’
Charlie shakes his head, a slow smile spreading across his face. ‘No. You fucking love this kid for some reason.’
‘You’re good for me. You’re good to me. How could I not love you?’
Charlie flushes, and leans in. He hesitates, searching Sirius’s face. The other man grunts, rolling his eyes, and closes the rest of the distance. The moment strikes like a lightning storm, white heat simmering in his veins. Sirius twines his arms around Charlie’s neck, pressing in close to him. Their faces are pressed against each other, close as they can be with only skin and bones to separate their souls, and Charlie shudders, drinking in the heat and breath of the other man.
Sirius pulls away with a gasp, looking at Charlie with a blazing look in his eyes. ‘Well, kid, it’s time to be naughty.’
Charlie snickers. ‘Only if you promise to spank me, daddy.’