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Rourke Island | Late April | End of the Warm Season

 

The house seemed empty.

This was something of a surprise to Sirius, though hadn’t been expecting a warm welcome.

Scraping the mud off of his boots, he hauled one of the enormous trunks filled with equipment into the dimly lit entryway. He knocked again on the doorframe, breathing hard he leaned against the tall trunk. No answer.

He glanced behind him through the open doorway to check on James’s progress up the steep hill.

There were no paved roads here. No neatly arranged sidewalks. The amenities that made the main island hospitable to the Antarctic cruise passengers never made it Rourke Island, which was off-limits to tourists.

It was off-limits to almost everyone.

Aside from himself and James, there were only six people on the island.

It had taken nearly 2 years for the BBC to arrange a filming permit. After much cajoling, with the promise of a hefty donation to the project and the assurance of media exposure leading to higher awareness and higher funding, the Rourke team had relented, but not without conditions.

They would only allow two filmmakers, and only they would only accept those who were well-versed in wildlife survival. The terse letter from the project leader, Dr. Lupin, was blunt: he was opposed to hosting the filmmakers, but the university funding his grant had insisted. He expected filmmakers who would participate in all aspects of base life, which included helping with maintenance, cleaning, cooking, and assisting in research when an extra hand was needed. There would be no special treatment and no hand-holding.

Broken bones, freezing conditions, constant solitude, perpetual nighttime; this environment was considered perfectly acceptable to the biologists at the base, and anyone who didn’t have a previous track record of survival in similar conditions would not be permitted.

Sirius was, of course, the obvious choice for the assignment. Restless by nature and nomadic by choice, the litany of dangerous conditions did nothing to dissuade him. James was chosen to accompany him less because of his track record as a wildlife survivalist, and more because of the moderate fame Sirius and James’s few collaborative works had brought to the network.

Sirius had had no doubts that James - fit, fearless, and constantly cheerful - would be able to adapt. Now, standing in the doorway of the cabin and peering down into the ravine, he had a slight inkling of worry.

He left his trunk inside and stepped back onto the porch, pulling the door shut behind him. In the distance he saw James, nearly unidentifiable under his many layers. He was making slow progress up the hill, weighted down with his heavy pack and two large trunks filled with equipment. The rest of their belongings were still on the shore.

“You alright?” Sirius called.

His voice was lost in the wind. He kept one eye on James, ready to intervene if he stumbled, and surveyed the horizon. Sharp mountain peaks rose around him, the ice-covered caps nearly disappearing into the white-grey sky. Despite the fact that it was technically summer on the island, the peaks were perpetually snowy and the temperature wasn’t very forgiving.

The cabin was at relatively low altitude, despite the steep climb. They had arrived by boat and taken a dinghy to land at the beach; it was impossible to bring any vessel larger than that ashore, due to the rocky inlets surrounding the island. The ocean was wild and unrelenting, waves crashing against the shore and the tide rising precipitously high. For now, there was a long stretch of flat sand visible. It would be eaten up by the ocean soon.

The house was situated a hundred yards or so from the beach, nestled in a valley that gave some degree of protection from the weather. The earth was rocky and barren. Sirius scuffed it with his boots, trying to get a sense of the soil. It seemed inhospitable, and he guessed that they did very little growing here. They probably relied on deliveries from cargo ships every few months in the summer. He glanced at the tempestuous sea, vicious in the height of summer. They probably rationed over winter; he doubted cargo ships could safely travel during the colder months.

James finally crested the hill, panting. He dropped the trunks at his side and pulled a water bottle from the side of his backpack.

“Not sure I’m cut out for this, mate,” he gasped. Through his heavy breathing, James still managed to flash him a bright smile.

Sirius laughed, in spite of his own misgivings. He picked up James’s luggage and turned back towards the cabin.

“Well, keep that to yourself, huh?”

A silhouette had appeared on the hill to the west of the cabin, heading down a barely-visible path that led to the whitewashed lighthouse at the top of the peak.

“That’s probably Lupin,” Sirius muttered, “let’s wait on the porch. He’s already pissed that we’re coming here. No point tracking mud all over the place and really starting off on the wrong foot.”

The pair tried not to stare at the man as he grew larger, approaching the cabin at a slight jog.

He was an older man, with choppy gray hair sticking out of his cap haphazardly. He seemed to be limping, though he was remarkably agile, jumping over rocks and sidestepping patches of slimy lichen as he picked his way down the path.

As he approached Sirius could see a number of scars littering his face.

“Dr. Remus Lupin?” Sirius stood up and dusted himself off, calling out to the man as he drew near.

The man barked out a laugh. He slowed down to a stroll, approaching the cabin with his arms crossed, surveying the pair on the porch with a single beady eye. The other appeared to be glass. He hauled himself up the steps, still chortling to himself.

Sirius raised an eyebrow and stretched out his hand.

“I’m not Lupin,” he met Sirius’s grasp with a firm, scarred hand, “name’s Moody.”

“Ah. I see. Well, I’m Sirius Black, and this is James Potter. It’s nice to meet you.”

Moody didn’t shake James’s hand. He peered at him shrewdly, before spinning back to Sirius.

“You're the finest wildlife photographers they could spare, huh?”

Sirius smiled wryly, fighting his urge to correct Moody on both his profession and his apparent lack of skill.

He tried for a disarming smile and a shrug, “Apparently so.”

Moody cackled again.

“Lupin won’t be pleased.”

 

 

Their bedroom was on the ground floor, located at the back of the cabin. It was a large room, with six bunks built into the walls, a thermal sleeping bag rolled up and resting on each thin mattress.

“You’ll be in here. Just throw your stuff down and I’ll give you the grand tour. I’m the only one they could spare today, so you’ll have to make do with a mad old codger like me. But I’ll tell you everything you need to know, don’t you worry.”

They dropped their bags onto the beds, and pushed their trunks and luggage into the corners of the room. Moody had already made his way back into the hallway. James raised his eyebrows at Sirius, who flashed him a grin.

“This should be fun, huh?”

“Not exactly the word I’d use, mate,” James muttered.

They walked back through the house to the entryway. Moody clapped his hands together, as if demanding attention. As if his scarred face could do anything but demand attention.

“So. This is your new home for the next year. The cabin in which you are standing was built in the fifties, though the land it's built on has been in use as a residence by whalers since at least the late 1800s.”

Sirius nodded, feeling a stab of annoyance. He had done his research thoroughly, as he always did before embarking on a new project. He hadn’t, however, slept in nearly twenty hours. He was dead on his feet, and he knew James wouldn’t be faring any better.

The tour lasted nearly an hour. How, Sirius wasn’t quite sure. For a space that was about to hold eight people, and could apparently hold even more than that based on the number of beds the bunk room, it was tiny.

The front of the cabin consisted of the porch and the small entryway where snowshoes, coats, scarves, and bizarrely, diving equipment seemed to be jammed into a series of rickety shelves. They moved into the main living space, a kitchen taking up most of the left-hand side of the room, a sitting area on the right, and the doorway to their dormitory-style bedroom in the back. Another door adjacent to theirs led outside to a complex assortment of generators, power lines and water tanks. Near that door, a staircase led up to the second level.

Off the landing upstairs, there were six doors. The first door on the right was propped open, revealing a small bathroom with an ancient, rusty shower in the corner of the room.

“Lily and Marlene share this room,” Moody gestured to the door immediately to the left, across from the bathroom, “Lily’s a botanist and Marlene’s a biologist, working on seabirds. Turns and albatross mostly.”

“The Longbottoms are next to them,” he pointed to the second door on the left-hand wall.

“That’s Frank and Alice. They’re married. Both of them work mostly with birds as well. We all pitch in on any active research project, though, so you’ll see a lot of crossover.”

“This room is mine,” he pointed to the back right door, “and this one,” he pointed to one of the two doors along the back wall of the landing, sitting directly above their bedroom, “is mission control.”

He pushed open the door. This room was fairly large and held a jumble of file cabinets and mismatched desks. A long row of tables lined the back wall, with radios, log books, and nautical instruments covering the surface. Quite a few screens hung on the walls, wires running from the expensive looking technology on the tables that was quite incongruous to the rest of the rundown cabin.

In the middle of the room Sirius counted six desks, each with a computer and shabby office chair, in various states of cleanliness.

“If you know what’s good for you, you won’t touch anything in here,” Moody said with a hint of a smile, “Privacy is hard to come by here, and our personal space is sacred.”

James pointed to a small table tucked away in the corner, completely bare except for a typewriter.

“What on earth are you using a typewriter for?”

Moody snorted, “It’s Lupin’s. For his notes. I don’t think the man trusts technology. To be fair, our internet only works about half the time.”

They exited the office. Moody opened the second door at the back of the landing, revealing another staircase.

“Lupin lives up there. He likes the quiet,” Moody said pointedly.

 

 

After the tour, they slept until dinner.

The sounds of pots and pans clanging in the kitchen woke Sirius, mixed with voices muffled by their closed bedroom door.

He stretched, pulling himself out of bed and stripping out of the soiled clothes he had fallen asleep in.

“James,” he grabbed the other man by the shoulder and shook him gently, “Jamie. Dinner time.”

James groaned, and Sirius smiled fondly.

Antarctica or not, James was a bear to wake up. This had been the case since they were children at school together. The familiarity of it was reassuring.

He pulled on a fresh pair of thick socks, contemplating the idea of having his friend with him for such a long, isolated assignment. He rarely knew anyone when he took a long field assignment. This was intentional; he typically chose solo missions, or elected to meet up with local filmmakers, rather than work with his coworkers.

Despite their status as a somewhat iconic duo, the productions James and Sirius together did were usually shorter term assignments, and they typically filmed in England. And while Sirius knew the documentaries he did with James was more well-received than some of the larger pieces that he contributed to, he personally felt that his best filmmaking was done on his own. He was too restless, too anxious to stay in one place for too long. So when he inevitably chose to take a job in a remote location, he worked best alone, without any reminder of his baggage weighing him down.

His job was to be alone; to just observe. To capture reality as truthfully as possible; neutral, unbiased.This was impossible, of course. The act of observation always fundamentally changed the nature of the subject he was recording.

In the wild, his very presence altered the landscape. Crouching in the tall grass of the Serengeti he would film a family of impala, knowing his scent was in the wind, deterring the lioness that wanted to hunt. The animals in front of him would live, simply because he was there. Telephoto lenses were his best friend, allowing him to observe from a distance, never placing himself in the midst of the action.

Move silently, stay aloof, stay apart. These were the keys to his success.

He even avoided speaking to the locals in areas he visited. Unlike most documentarians, he preferred not to entrench himself in the local culture.

He had once stayed with a family in Indonesia; the assignment had been on plastic pollution, but he had gotten sidetracked, gotten caught up in the family's inability to care for their dying young daughter. There was no clean water, no medicine. She had died in the home, just feet from where Sirius was sleeping. After that, he couldn’t bring himself to care about whether or not the river nearby was filled with empty packaging. This little girl is dead, he had wanted to scream to his producer. She is dead and her mother is grieving and I can’t possibly film a tepid, dirty river while the world is falling apart around me.

It was one of his first assignments since he had been disowned and the pain on that mother’s face as she buried her daughter haunted him. He couldn’t remember a time when his own mother had felt sorrow on his behalf. He stared at her contorted face, wondering how his own mother would have reacted to his untimely death. Wondering how she managed to follow him half-way across the world. He left that project unfinished and took off for Greenland, running as always.

“You ready?”

James was up and dressed. Sirius was still holding the second sock limp in his hands, lost in thought.

“Yeah, just let me finish getting dressed. I’ll just be a minute.”

James gave him an odd look, but opened the door and headed into the kitchen without him. Sirius rummaged through his backpack for a clean shirt and pulled it over his head, listening to James’s jovial voice in the kitchen. Unlike Sirius, James never had a problem inserting himself into the daily lives of his subjects. Their philosophy on filming was starkly opposite. He assumed James’s cheerful

He pushed open the kitchen door. James was standing by the counter, deep in conversation with a tall, light-haired man.

“Hello!”

A small woman with short, mousey hair was standing next to him.

He jumped slightly.

“Sorry,” he ran a hand through his hair, sweeping it off of his face, “hello. I’m Sirius.”

“It’s so great to meet you! I’m Alice Longbottom,” they shook hands.

“We never have visitors, so you have no idea how exciting this is for us. Come sit!”

She pulled out a chair at the kitchen table. The table was long and large, probably large enough to accommodate twelve people. She sat him down and pulled up a chair next to him.

“Remus hasn’t told us much about your project. Tell us about it! Can I get you water or…”

She hopped up and ran to the sink, grabbing a glass out of the cupboard. She was still chatting a mile a minute, filling plates for the guests and telling them about the menu for that evening. Moody and two other women were at the stove as well, piling food high on their plates.

James and the tall blond man sat opposite Sirius. Alice sat down and slid Sirius a plate.

“This is my husband, Frank.”

They said their hellos and Sirius began to pick at his food, allowing James to take charge of the conversation, interjecting a question here or there to learn more about the researchers and their subjects. He would have to prioritize filming based around the unpredictable nature of animals: their migration patterns, breeding seasons. Always chasing the elusive, perfect shot, never certain when it would come. He felt a shiver of excitement run through him. He was back in the field.

Marlene, the seabird specialist with long blond hair was introduced next. She was the newest arrival to the island apart, of course, from James and Sirius. A graduate student in her early twenties, Marlene was the least scarred and disheveled of the group. She had only been on the island for a few months. Her clothes were still in decent condition, her hair still looked as though it had been cut in a salon, not over the kitchen sink.

She would may end up as one of the better on-camera interviews, Sirius thought. Not because she looked the least weathered, but because she probably had yet to adopt the clipped, terse way of speaking about her research subjects that was so common among long-term research biologists. Sirius found that his interviews often sounded like entries in a log-book, and he and James were forever cajoling people into speaking candidly about their work.

Lily, with bright red hair and a sly smile, sat down next. She sank into the seat next to James, who took one look at her and flushed. Sirius smirked. She had been on the island for just over a year, she told them, but was expecting to have her project pulled soon due to a lack of funding. The look on James' face stated quite plainly that he wished he had arrived on the island earlier.

Frank and Alice had been on site for a full eighteen month tour, and were just beginning their second. They were both about forty, Sirius guessed. They were sweet and calm. He thought they made a nice balance to Moody’s rough character. They chatted jovially about penguins and albatross and a number of other species Sirius had never heard of.

Moody had been on the island for the better part of four years. He grunted something about whales, but shared little else before diving into his dinner.

Lupin was absent.

Frank, Alice, and Marlene ate quickly and stood up, offering their apologies. They were off to observe the elusive, nighttime dives of Chinstrap penguins. Sirius already had to fight the urge to follow them.

“So, erm, Lily. What are you working on at the moment?” James asked.

Lily launched into a complicated explanation of lichen, moss, and melting sea ice.

Sirius allowed his attention to drift. He picked at his dinner, macaroni with some type of nondescript protein. Canned chicken, probably. Or maybe tuna? He gulped it down and pulled out a small notebook.

“What are you writing, then? Making notes about us already?”

Sirius glanced up at Moody, “No, nothing like that. I’m just writing down all of the research projects you guys have mentioned. I’ll need to get more information on everything to find out how to schedule filming.”

He sighed, “There’s so much going on, it’s really a job for a whole camera crew.”

Moody eyed him suspiciously.

“You’re team’s not allowed anyone else.”

“I know,” Sirius said, surprised at the harshness of Moody’s tone, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply we’d need to bring in more people. We’ll just need to prioritize. Plus I’m not sure we could afford anyone else, to be honest. It was a nightmare getting here, as I’m sure you know.”

Moody grunted in agreement.

“But, I did notice,” Sirius said in a would-be casual tone, “that there are six beds in our room. I got the impression Dr. Lupin was opposed to more than two of us because of a lack of space.”

The other man snorted, “Not a lack of space, no. A lack of time to babysit, more like. This is no place for a Hollywood camera crew, boy.”

Sirius nodded slowly. It was what he expected, and it wasn’t unusual. Many of the people in the treacherous places he filmed harbored some condescension, some resentment. They didn’t believe, or didn’t want to believe, that he would voluntarily put up with the harsh conditions they were forced to live with.

He inevitably proved them wrong. Harsh conditions were a staple in his life; always had been.

Still, it was good to know what he was up against with Lupin.

“Ah. Well, I certainly appreciate how busy you all are. We’ll stay out of your way.”

Moody nodded, banging his fork down on his plate.

“Well I’m off to bed. Whales wait for no man.”

Sirius bade him goodnight before following suit. He waved to Lily and James, leaving them chatting in the kitchen long after he retired.

 

 

Sirius woke suddenly, not pulled gently into consciousness but startled awake. A soft noise was tapping insistently, echoing around the bedroom.

He cursed softly. He had been dreaming of his mother, rapping on his bedroom door. He had been crouching. Hiding? He scrubbed a hand across his face. He had been hiding, he was sure of it. It was his tenth birthday and he was hiding in the space between the foot of his bed and his armoire.

He had locked the door to keep her out.

Why?

He couldn’t remember.

The dream slipped away, tugged like the tide out to sea.

He thrust his hand out of the sleeping bag, grimacing at the blast of chilly air that met his skin. He reached for his watch. 4:11am. The tapping stopped, but there was no use trying to go back to sleep. As Moody had said, whales wait for no man.

He sighed and heaved himself out of bed, dressing quietly so he didn’t wake James. He opened his trunk and laid his equipment out on one of the spare bunks. He plucked one of his higher end digital cameras, a viewfinder, and a few lenses out of the jumble and packed up his camera bag.

The kitchen was still dark. For a few weeks, he would hold off on filming. He and James would further hammer out the storyline they wanted to follow. The broad idea was to capture the projects of a year-round research base, the lives of the researchers, the critically endangered animals, and the ever-changing ecology of the Antarctic as climate change ravaged the continent. But each person would have a story to tell. Each researcher would have passions, projects, and stories that would come together to tell the story of the Antarctic landscape. It was up to James to tease out their stories and weave them together again in a coherent narrative that captured the public’s attention. Sirius directed the filming and captured the shots -- and did a damn good job, he wasn’t too humble to admit -- but it would all be for naught without James’s masterful storytelling.

They had to allow themselves the time to witness the biologists’ routines and feel out the pace of the household. In order to get the full passions, stories, and reactions of their subjects, it was important to first gain their trust. Sirius and James had just a few weeks to play nice and anticipate which biologists would be the most accepting of them tagging along for the day; like a domino effect, once he conquered one, the rest would soon accept them.

Sirius began making a pot of coffee; a habitually earlier riser, he found through experience that there was nothing that ingratiated himself to hosts more than making a pot of coffee in the morning. It was one of his few rules about becoming close to hosts that he broke, particularly in the beginning of filming when he was working to earn trust.

The coffee was percolating when he heard footsteps on the stairs. Moody came into the kitchen, his hulking figure dressed in a raincoat and galoshes.

“Ah! Good man!”

He grabbed a thermos and filled it to the brim. He slid the carafe back under the steady dip of coffee.

“So what’s your plan for the day?” Sirius asked Moody.

“Taking out the Tombstone to tag orcas.”

“The tombstone?”

“Name of the boat,” Moody said, his back to Sirius as he rifled through the refrigerator. He turned around, grinning.

“Because you never know if it’s going to be your last trip,” he explained with relish. Sirius had the distinct impression he enjoyed explaining the moniker to newcomers.

“Right. That’s certainly… dark.”

He hoped the name was stenciled on the back of the boat. It would be quite an image.

“Tell Lupin I’m going down to start hoisting her out if you see him.”

“Sure.”

Moody strode out of the kitchen, leaving the room quiet once again. Sirius poured himself a mug of coffee and sat down at the table, fiddling with the settings on his camera. He needed to get a sense of the landscape this week and a full day exploring the island, photographing the surroundings with various states of natural light would be a good start.

He drained his mug, laced up his boots, and bundled himself up in layers of fleece.

The porch was covered. Plastic tarps hung from the roof on both sides, anchored down by rocks, presumably acting as a barricade to the wind. Mercifully, it was calm today. Cold, but calm.

He held up his viewfinder and began surveying the landscape, trying to find a good frame. He hopped down and walked a few paces in either direction, eyes on the horizon. From the top of the hill he could survey the beach below. He pulled a telephoto lens from his bag and fitted it on the camera. The beach was alive already in the cool morning light. Large birds wheeled and dove into the ocean, sea spray slashed against the rocks, a few smaller birds were pecking at the sand, strutting and squawking in various territorial squabbles as their neighbors came too close to whatever little creature they had unearthed from the rocks and sand.

He turned his attention to the rocky cliffs of the valley walls. On either side of the house, the hills rose steeply, rocks turning to boulders turning to jagged cliffs. All the way up to the permanently snow-dusted peak, Sirius saw nothing but harsh, pointed rocks. Still, they were alive with movement. He swung around and pointed his camera skyward. Large brown birds were nested in between the cracks and crevices of stone. He watched for several minutes; birds wheeled around the nests, shrieking at one another; some birds took flight, some returned to their nests, and half-downy chicks popped their heads up to meet them.

He heard the rustle of wings and pulled his face away from the camera in time to see one of the large birds land softly on the damp grass in front of him. It stared at him beadily. He stood stock still for several seconds, until the bird’s attention drifted elsewhere. Then he crouched down and began to photograph.

The bird - a skua? - was dark brown with flecks of lighter colors throughout its feathers. It seemed to be would-be-casually ignoring Sirius, pecking its way closer and closer to the man. Sirius stayed still, breathing slowly and deeply as the bird inched towards him and began investigating the camera bag in the grass by his boot. He slowly lowered the arms holding his camera, then sank down slowly, kneeling in the grass next to the bird. It eyed him sharply, but didn’t move away. Sirius raised his camera and began taking

He heard the cabin door open behind him. Sirius and the bird turned toward the sound in tandem, eyeing the newcomer.

A tall, lanky man was pushing the door open. He stopped short, evidently surprised to see someone in front of the house. He surveyed Sirius appraisingly with wide, bright, golden eyes. The skua shrieked and fluttered its wings angrily, taking a few steps towards the man in a guarded stance.

“Dr. Lupin?”

The man nodded once, sharply, then continued. He walked down the stairs, setting the bird aloft in a flurry of feathers and piercing cries. Sirius scrambled quickly to his feet. He strode towards the path, hand outstretched in greeting.

“Hi, I’m--”

But the man took no notice; he walked right past Sirius and continued down the path at a quick walk.

“Um,” Sirius said stupidly. He dropped his hand.

“Oh! I’m supposed to tell you...” Lupin stopped and turned back towards Sirius, fixing him with that bright stare again. Sirius lost his train of thought under the gaze.

“Uh. Moody… right. Moody told me to tell you he’s… hoisting the Tombstone down? Or out? I’ve really no idea what he said, honestly, but I think he’s on the boat.”

Lupin nodded again, and continued on his way.

Sirius watched the man until he was below the crest of the hill and out of sight.

He was young. Younger than Sirius would ever had expected. Indeed, he expected the research base manager on the station to be at least as old as Moody. But no, Lupin couldn’t have been older than thirty-five, maybe just forty on the outside. Attractive, too. Far more attractive than Sirius could have anticipated. Unable to find any photos of the team members online, he had just assumed this base manager would be like the many other base managers he had met before him; invariably, a thin white man in his early fifties, weathered and muscled by years of outdoor work.

So, wasn’t Dr. Lupin a surprise? A man around his own age, grumpy as a pensioner, but fit as any of the adventurous, young and reckless photographers, aid workers, or Red Cross members Sirius sometimes had flings with in dusty tents or bombshelled concrete buildings.

Sirius could tell he was slim and tall, but he was mostly hidden under a few layers of rain gear. A few tawny waves of hair had stuck out from under his hat, and those eyes. Sirius suppressed a shiver. Sirius had no doubt he was a skilled researcher; those eyes pierced right through him. He hadn’t been acknowledged as much as studied, watched, seen. It wasn’t an entirely comfortable feeling.

Sirius walked to the top of the hill and looked out at the sea below, trying to find Moody and Lupin on the shore.

There, off the east. A small boat on the rocky shore, attached to a crane. He lifted the viewfinder to his eye and dialed in on the scene.

Moody was aboard the boat, at the prow, looking off into the distance at the sea. Lupin was on shore working at a control panel, obviously operating whatever computer controlled the large crane. Sirius watched as the boat began to lift up and off the ground slowly. Lupin walked over to it and slung himself over the side, then disappeared into the boat’s small cabin. It lifted slowly and was lowered into the water. The crane lifted away, chain swaying in the off-shore breeze.

They were off.

 

Rourke Island | May | Beginning of the Cold Season

 

The weeks passed slowly. James and Sirius learned the routines of the biologists, studying them as carefully as they studied their own creatures.

Each morning, Sirius woke early, the tapping and creaking of the old house pulling him into consciousness, and the promise of a new area of the island to explore lifting him out of bed before the sun.

He made the coffee, poured a thermos for Moody, and put out the fruit and muffins the researchers grabbed before they headed out the door.

Moody and Lupin left the earliest, usually before six. Frank and Alice came down shortly after and talked quietly with Sirius while they loaded up their gear and pulled on their coats.

Marlene usually came downstairs fully dressed and ready to go just before Frank and Alice left for the day; she did not linger in the kitchen, but grabbed her breakfast and ran out the door after the couple.

Lily woke the latest, stumbling down to the kitchen in her pyjamas, wiping sleep out of her eyes. She wasn’t tethered to the fickle schedules of animals.

Sirius would usually be sitting in the adjoined living room, drinking a third cup of coffee and pouring over maps and charts of the island by the time Lily was awake. She was proving to be a strong ally already; she pointed out the inaccuracies in the many atlases, and circled the coves and inlets Sirius should capture on film.

Sirius would hand her his camera, opening the screen to the images he had captured the previous day, and she would tie up her long red hair and give him a running commentary on the various animals he might see at each location, with the best days and times to capture each species.

She was willing to share her intimate knowledge of the island with him and James; she did it without thought or hesitation. Unlike the taciturn Moody or the quiet Longbottoms, her way of teaching James and Sirius was organic, and never seemed like a lecture. Sirius was grateful for it.

All of the biologists had their own way of approaching the filmmakers, but Lily’s casual chats were by far the best. Moody boomed out facts and anecdotes like a furious tour guide, equal parts irritated at their ignorance and unable to stop himself from instructing; Alice spoke to them like a patient mother, alight with the joys of nature; Frank was a researcher through and through, reeling of lists of facts and figures with only the slightest provocation. Marlene still treated the island as an unnerving mystery, sharing facts about the weather and the animals in hushed tones of reverence. Only Lupin had nothing to say.

Throughout the week Sirius had walked the island three or four times over, photographing anything and everything. He had seen Lupin in the boat and on the shore; walking up the hill to the lighthouse and striding across the flat sandy beach at low tide. He and Sirius passed one another several times. Sirius nodded politely in greeting but took Lupin’s cue, and said nothing.

He rarely joined them for dinner. Lily could usually persuade him to eat with them on Sunday nights, which was the only day of the week most of them took a break from tagging and sampling. He would typically come in late and miss half of supper, but sometimes he would sit at the end of the table and speak to Lily quietly for a few minutes while he ate. Sirius ended up glancing at the pair far too often during these rare meals, wondering what they could be talking about. His hair was usually wind tousled, his cheeks bright red with the cold. He was never without his small green notebook, which he would lay on the table next to him during dinner, tapping it idly with his fingers.

After Sunday dinners, the researchers, James, and Sirius would grab some bottles of wine and head to the couches and overstuffed armchairs on the living room side of the main floor.

Moody invariably excused himself with some dry comment about children staying up past their bedtimes while responsible adults needed their sleep. Lupin never bothered with excuses; he just slipped out of the room behind him without a word to anyone, silent as a ghost.

 

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She was here again. At the door.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

It was slow, this time. Slow and rhythmic.

It sounded metallic. Dangerous.

A soft chime. A slide.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Sirius, curled in the space between his bed and the armoire, wondered why she wasn’t more insistent. Why she wasn’t beating down the door as she so often did.

Surely this was some new torture, to slowly wait him out until he had no choice but to open the door. To accept whatever punishment she had devised for him this time.

He wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t open the door. He would wait her out.

He lifted his viewfinder to his eye. When he had gotten that?

He framed the door in his lens. The woodwork around the door was exquisite, carved vines and flowers twisting and dancing along the door. The lighting was perfect. Just a few beams of sunlight were shining in, the morning sun not strong enough to fully penetrate the dark, dusty room.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Fear was choking him. He pressed the viewfinder closer to his eye, relishing the pressure pushing against his skull.

How beautiful the door looked at this angle.

 

 

He awoke sudden again, fingers pressed against his face in the dark. He heard James snoring softly in the bed across the room and heard that same strange tapping echoing through the room again.

It was just after four.

Tap, tap.

Tap, tap, tap.

He closed his eyes, but the nightmare was too close to the surface; it threatened to rise up and overtake him, drag him under.

He threw off his sleeping bag and jumped out of bed, dressing quickly. He might as well get started with the day. It was the first day he would be filming and his fingers itched to begin adjusting his cameras.

He pulled one of the waterproof trunks filled with equipment from the top bunk and brought it into the kitchen with him. As the coffee percolated, he laid out cameras, lenses, mics, filters, lights. He picked through them, touching each one with a reverence. He flipped through his journal, checking the meticulous notes he had taken during the past week, wondering what he should capture first.

General shots of the island were crucial, of course. He would want the island in all of its forms; day, night, light, dark, stormy, bright, cheerful, morose. He would need footage of everything, but capturing B roll footage just didn’t feel right today.

There was something electric about beginning a new project, and he felt that he needed to dive into the story head first, and worry about extraneous edit shots later.

He ran his finger down the list of projects that were ongoing throughout the island.

All manner of seabirds were finishing up their nesting at this point in the season. Courtship, breeding, laying eggs - all that was finished, but he could still capture the half-downy chicks wobbling around the island or the first flights of juvenile seabirds soaring precariously over the ocean, avoiding the jaws of seals and killer whales. Several larger mammals, whales and seals, and sea lions, were becoming more prevalent. Lily was constantly out foraging for rare lichen and moss. He glanced out the window. The morning was pure and bright. The opportunities were endless.

“Today’s the day, hm?”

Sirius smiled at Moody, “it is.”

The man poured a mug of coffee and surveyed the instruments on the table.

“Have you decided who gets the honor of babysitting you two today, then?”

Sirius rolled his eyes good-naturedly at the barb. “No, I’m still deciding.”

“Well, we’re hoping to tag a family today,” Moody said, “we’ve spotted at least two calves with a pod that keeps circling the western bay. Not sure what Lupin will say, but it's a beautiful sight. You should try to film it soon.”

“Not today.”

Sirius turned. Lupin had entered the kitchen, pulling a hat over his unruly hair. Moody arched an eyebrow at him, but made no comment.

Sirius leaned back in his chair, watching him carefully. Lupin tugged on his coat and headed for the door, forgoing breakfast as usual. Moody poured him a thermos of coffee and followed.

 

In the end, they followed Lily around the island as she sampled soil and tracked the growth of various plants.

With Lupin’s frosty reception, he and James decided it would be better to start with one of the team members who already seemed to trust them. Eager to jump into something lively, Sirius had all but decided on Marlene. However, Frank’s grumpy demeanor that morning over a crushed nest -- combined with James’ newfound and unyielding adoration -- tipped the scales in Lily’s favor.

James jogged ahead with Lily, Sirius following behind at a distance. The sun was just rising over the horizon, painting the churning sea and the rocky peaks golden. The earth was cool and the dew of frost gathered like dust in the outcrops of boulders that dotted the landscape. Lily’s hair was glowing. She turned back to smile at Sirius, a halo of light surrounding her head.

They had made a good choice.

 

 

“So, how was day one?” Lily asked, leaning against the kitchen counter and mixed a bowl of brownie batter.

James beamed.

“Wonderful. The footage was brilliant.”

She laughed, “Did you even look at it?”

“Of course I did! While you were off collecting your precious dirt, I was hard at work, checking to make sure Sirius didn’t ruin the whole film.”

Sirius rolled his eyes and snorted. Lily made a noise of skepticism, but smiled more broadly than ever. James had barely glanced at the footage; he was much too preoccupied.

Truthfully though, Sirius was thoroughly impressed with the days’ work. They had interviewed Lily at length, allowing her to talk through the early stages of the project and catch the audience up to the current state of sampling. She discussed the purpose of her work, the process of collecting, the analysis of data, and the implications of her findings.

She spoke clearly and passionately, obviously expert in her field with the added benefit of being a naturally gifted speaker.

James was over the moon, both as a producer and as a self-proclaimed man in love.

“So, what have we done to deserve being graced by your baked goods tonight, Lils?”

Sirius snorted again, and buried his face in his cup of tea to hide his shit-eating grin. This time it was Lily who barely restrained an eyeroll.

“It’s Alice and Frank’s anniversary. But, of course, I also figured we’d celebrate your successful first day.”

“How long have they been married?” asked Sirius. He began to fiddle with his camera again, adjusting the filters to the indoor lighting. He wondered if the staff would be okay with him filming their dinner this early into their stay. He doubted it.

“Nine years.”

“That’s wonderful,” Sirius said, offhandedly.

“Yes,” said Lily thoughtfully, “they’ve… well, they really deserve some happiness. They’ve had a rough go of it.”

James perked up at this, “oh yeah? How so?” he said in a would-be-casual voice.

Sirius could sense when James transitioned into producer mode; he was forever fishing for a human interest piece, something to soften the cold hard facts of ecology, climate change, or environmentalism. He needed someone to give it a face.

Sirius, however, frowned; he felt it was too early to be prying into the personal lives of the staff on the island. They needed to let themselves relax on their own terms. Trying to force camaraderie would just put them on their guard for longer.

But, Sirius considered, watching Lily launch into a complicated tale of mortgages and miscarriages, James was a natural at this. As their executives often reminded him, James had the human touch that Sirius somehow lacked.

The front door banged open, startling him.

“Frank? Alice?” Lily called.

“Not yet, I’m afraid,” Moody called back, “just me and the boss.”

Lupin and Moody strode into the room, outer layers stripped off in the entryway, but still dripping freezing salt water over the room.

“Are you alright? You’re back earlier than I expected.”

Lupin headed upstairs, clutching his notebook tightly, looking grim.

“Engine trouble. Barely got her hoisted back on land before she gave out.”

Lily murmured sympathetically, and Moody left the room.

 

 

The mood that night was jovial, despite the setbacks that plagued Moody and Lupin earlier; The group was happy enough that Sirius chanced filming some of the party. Frank had managed to cobble together a necklace of salvaged wire and sea glass. He presented it to Alice with all the pop and circumstance of a proposal. Alice, for her part, had painstakingly repaired Frank’s best pocket knife, which had been broken during their very first month on the island. It was surprisingly touching.

Sirius refrained from filming during dinner; this earlier in the game swooping in to film people spill pasta sauce down their shirts was not a way to make himself popular. After dinner, when the party moved to the couches on the opposite side of the room, he grabbed his camera and began to record surreptitiously from the corner.

It was impossible not to be caught in such a small group, but fortunately Alice seemed thrilled to have him capturing the party. Sirius promised to upload the footage as soon as the internet behaved, so that she might send a clip off to her parents in Edinburgh.

She was rambling into the camera, cheeks red and eyes bright with wine. Sirius was laughing as she stumbled over her words, Frank calmly translating her cheery salutations to her family.

“An’ I can say any...anything?”

“Sure,” Sirius smiled, “though I can’t promise it won’t end up in the documentary later. Hard partying biologists might be a sleeper hit.”

“Oh, surely you wouldn’t do that to Alice,” Frank chortled.

Sirius just laughed, “Truthfully, I can never tell what James will do in the editing room. Drunken revelry makes for excellent viewing.”

“‘m not drunk!” Alice protested, giggling, “i’m just giddy. Giddy with love for my necklace. And the documentary. And my husband,” she added as an afterthought.

They laughed at Frank’s mock consternation of playing second fiddle to the necklace and the film. Out of the corner of his eye he caught Lupin staring at him. He couldn’t decipher the look, but by the time he turned to face him directly, the other man was gone. He gazed into the dark stairwell. Maybe he had just gone up for a moment. Maybe if...

Alice tugged on Sirius’s arm and shouted, “oh! Let’s go film Richard! My mum loves a good Richard story!”

“Who?”

“Richard! The asshole! The skua who hates us!”

He looked around bewildered, trying to catch the eye of one of the more sober researchers.

“She’s actually not wrong,” Lily said conspiratorially, “there’s this one bird who nests nearby and absolutely hates us all. Well, me and Moody have worked hard to get in his good books, but everyone else…”

And with Lily steering him out to the front porch to film a bloodthirsty bird, all thoughts of Lupin were driven from his mind.

 

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Tap. Tap.

The knocking increased in speed. He could picture his mother, her fist furiously slamming against the door. She would be furious, eyes bright, teeth clenched.

He couldn’t remember what he had done, but he knew it must have been something awful. He knew by the ferocity of her knocking that he must have been dreadful. He would be punished once she made it inside the room.

A fire was burning in the fireplace. He wasn’t sure when the maids had lit it.

His eyes roamed around the rest of the room, cataloging all of the various ways his bedroom could be used against him.

Burning fire, iron poker, ties from bathrobes suffocating, blankets smothering.

What had he done?

What would she use?

 

Sirius woke with a start again, hands curled around his throat.

He glanced at the watch he now kept tucked under his pillow, at the ready to check the time each morning he was startled awake. He grimaced at the time - 4:07 - and rolled on his side, but he knew it would be no use trying to return to sleep.

He felt unsettled, angry even.

He hadn’t had nightmares since he was a teenager. Something about the island had awakened them. It was the old pipes, the creaky boards, the howling winds, the cold, barren land.

 

 

Lily was the last one awake in the morning, as usual. James was in the bedroom working on storyboarding, and Sirius was up in the kitchen making fresh pots of coffee as each group devoured it and adjusting his equipment for the day.

“Hello, hello!”

“Good morning, Lily.”

“Morning. Alice forwarded me that bit of video you sent her last night. It was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her that drunk. Please tell me you’ve kept a spare on your hard drive or whatever.”

Sirius laughed, “of course.”

Lily poured herself a cup of coffee, and brought the pot over to refresh his own mug.

“Cheers.”

“Sure thing,” Lily took a long drag of coffee, “you know it’s really nice to have you guys here. It’s great to have some new people around, but it’s also nice to have someone...capturing us? I don’t think I’m saying this right,” she laughed, and put her coffee down.

“You know, being here is… it’s challenging. We’re so isolated. It’s great to be here, don’t get me wrong. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. But sometimes it seems like we’re totally alone. Not just like, ‘wow look how far away we are from civilization’ alone, but like, like the whole world could have fallen apart or moved on and we wouldn’t know. And no one would think to tell us. It’s like… everyone’s just forgotten us.”

“You know that’s not true, though,” Sirius said.

“Of course,” she waved his concern away, “It’s just nice to think that we’re being seen. That our voices might be heard. Even if we’re just shouting about fungi,” Lily sighed.

“Lupin didn’t seem pleased that I was filming last night,” Sirius said lightly.

“Ah, well. That’s just Remus,” Lily said.

“I get the impression he doesn’t want us here.”

“Oh, er. Well...”

Lily looked awkward. Sirius quickly broke in to assuage her guilt.

“It’s okay. I get it. It’s a pretty typical reaction, to be honest. We might interfere, people act strangely around us, we get in the way of work,” he ticked the reasons off on his fingers, “I’ve heard it all before.”

Funny how it never bothered him before.

Lily looked at him, considering.

“It’s not that. Well okay, it is that. Remus cares about getting our work done above everything else. But if he really thought you were interfering, you’d have already been on a ferry out of here. No, he’s fine with you being here, I think. It’s just that he’s… protective.”

Sirius nodded. It made sense. The man was certainly guarded of his work.

“Most people that come here…” Lily spoke slowly, choosing her words carefully.

“Remus put it like this to me once: most people who choose to spend years of their life so far from civilization have a reason for leaving it behind. Something big enough that the isolation of this place becomes a draw. Now I’m not sure if he meant that people put up with the discomfort because it is sort of therapeutic, or if he just meant that the discomfort of living on a base is better than whatever alternative might be waiting at home. But I think he’s right. I think the sort of people who are drawn to this work are the kind that thrive best in isolation, or with people of their own kind. Who aren’t going to pry, who aren’t going to demand the niceties of hello, how are you, I’m well, how’s the weather.

“You need to be that type of person, I think, to survive here. Long term, I mean. Look at Marlene, for example. Happiest girl on earth, loves her family, still has a boyfriend waiting for her that she talks with twice a week. She’s a wonderful researcher, but I’ve no doubt she’ll just stay for her research cycle and head home.”

“I know Remus seems very detached from all of this,” she motioned around the room, “And from all of us. But he’s not. He’s trying to keep us safe, I think. In his own way.”

Sirius didn’t say anything. He stayed quiet, considering.

“It’s why he only wanted someone experienced in wildlife filming. He was so particular about getting the right filmmakers, you know. He wanted someone who's been in the field their whole life. Not just because he wanted someone who could handle themselves out here, but because he wanted someone who would understand the type of people we are, and the type of life we lead.”

“He expected we’d get someone like James, honestly. He’s…” she smiled wryly, “he’s wonderful, obviously, but it’s pretty apparent he’s not someone who’s devoted to hardcore wildlife documentaries. He still complains about the hot water running out, for god's sake,” she said fondly.

Sirius snorted; James, bless him, really wasn’t cut out for Sirius’s nomadic lifestyle. Human interest stories based out of London were more his speed. Not that his work here wasn’t impeccable; it was. It was just a matter of him suffering for the art in a way Sirius never did. The thrill of the footage far outweighed the negative for Sirius.

“Remus wanted someone like us and he held out for so long because he expected he would get sent a bunch of finicky artsy types. I don’t think he expected you. And now that you’re here, I don’t think he quite knows what to do with you.”

 

 

Rourke Island | June | Cold Season

 

July was almost upon them and the dark austral winter was settling in. Unlike many research bases, Rourke Island stayed inhabited with its full crew throughout the cold season. Moody joked that this was because Rourke was always operating as a skeleton crew, one step away from catastrophe. Sirius privately agreed with him.

That morning found he and James on the porch, wielding hammers and nails instead of their usual cameras and lights. The porch had been battered in a storm the previous evening, and while everyone who agreed to live on Rourke Island was responsible for the upkeep of the building, tool, and equipment, the biologists were busy scrambling to capture their last few data points before the cold weather and nearly constant night made research difficult.

Marlene, Frank, and Alice’s work rarely stopped; even in winter they had a series of different bird species to follow around the island. Moody and Lupin’s work was slowing down, and Lily’s had come to a near halt. It would only be a few more weeks before the latter three biologists would spend the majority of their day indoors, writing up their articles and preparing grant paperwork. Shortly, they would be able to help with repairing and winterizing the house, but until then it was up to James and Sirius.

Even in full sunlight, it was still dim now that winter was approaching. Everyone was eager to be home before evening now, but Sirius expected that Moody, Lupin, and Lily would be back by late afternoon. He was determined to finish fixing the porch quickly and catch up with them for a few hours of filming before they finished for the day.

“Oi, pass me that one, mate.”

“That what?” Sirius said, tiredly.

“That… er…. pointy one.”

Sirius sat back on his haunches, surveyed the mess of tools surrounding them, and then turned to raise an eyebrow at James.

“You should absolutely not be allowed near tools, Jamie.”

James slumped down on the stairs of the porch, rubbing his gloved hands together.

“Too right, cause I dunno what the fuck I’m doing. Ah, look,” James was looking past Sirius’s shoulders at a figure walking up the hill towards the cabin.

Lupin was ambling towards them, heading nimbly up the path, feet taking him around the stony outcrops by muscle memory. His head was bent down against the cold and he was writing quickly in his notebook as he walked.

Sirius’s breath caught in his throat. Lily must have said something to him after she and Sirius talked frankly about Lupin’s disregard for the filmmakers the morning after Frank and Alice’s anniversary. She had to have. He wasn’t exactly kind to James and Sirius now, but he no longer radiated hostility. He was tolerant of them, and even took the time to explain his work when James prompted him to.

Not on camera, of course, but still. Baby steps.

Sirius returned to work, not wanting to be caught staring, still watching his progress out of the corner of his eyes. James had no such qualms.

“You’re back early today, huh?” he called.

Lupin shot James an indecipherable look, then flicked his eyes over the state of the porch’s continued disrepair. The half Sirius had been working on was tidily patched up, the wooden walls framing the sides of the porch to keep the wind out reinforced with scrap wood and tarps. James’ side was still something of a disaster.

“Yes. Do you--” Lupin cut himself off, looking uncharacteristically befuddled, “do you need help?”

He was glancing back and forth between James and James’s haphazard handiwork with a mixture of concern and pity, as though astonished that the man could produce such shockingly bad work.

Sirius snorted and tried to keep the smile off of his face, “I can finish up here. James would be far more useful filming b-roll. Or just sitting somewhere quietly.”

James tossed a dirty rag at Sirius, who caught it deftly, laughing. Lupin looked between the pair uncertainly before heading inside. Sirius watched him as he went.

“-ius. Sirius?”

“What?” He pulled his eyes away from the door swinging shut.

James was looking at him pointedly, a small smirk on his lips.

“Well, I was going to ask if you really did want me to get more b-roll, but now I’m wondering if this would be a good time to talk about that,” James said, nodding at the front door.

“That what?” Sirius frowned.

James just looked at him, the smile sliding off of his face. He narrowed his eyes.

“Do you really not know what you’re doing?”

“What am I doing?”

James sighed, “it could be nothing. But you seem very… preoccupied... with Lupin.”

Sirius opened his mouth to protest, but paused, thought better of it, and shut it. The one constant throughout his life was James; when his mind was reeling, when he was fighting off his demons, when he didn’t know if he was coming or going, there was James. A man who knew him better than he knew himself.

He considered it. Was he preoccupied with Lupin?

Yes, he realized slowly. Yes. He was.

“He’s… interesting.”

“Mhm,” James said, “he’s fit, more like.”

Sirius didn’t have to waste time considering this. If he wasn’t stuck on an island for the better part of a year, and if it wasn’t a professional minefield, Sirius knew he would have likely already tried it on with the man. But this wasn’t his usual quick fling that he could escape from in two weeks’ time. And Sirius had the nagging suspicion that once he got a taste of what it was like to be with the man, he wouldn't want a meaningless fling at all. Even based on the little insight that he had, he knew ‘meaningless’ and ‘Remus Lupin’ didn’t go hand in hand. There was a heaviness about him, a seriousness that drew Sirius to him like moth to flame.

“Yes. But it’s more than that. He’s so…” he cast around for the right word.

“Enigmatic?” James suggested.

“Yes. Exactly. Maybe.” Sirius picked up his hammer again, “At least, I think that’s what it is.”

“Well,” James said, dropping his own tools on the porch and jumping up, “glad we cleared that up. Now I’m going to get some real work done, alright?”

James left him a few minutes later with a small hand-held camera slung around his neck and Sirius worked in silence, meditatively tearing out James’s attempted fixes and considering the best way to approach the damage from the storm.

The door opened.

“Did you need help?”

Sirius glanced up, sweeping his hair out of his eyes.

“Oh! Hello. Um, I think I’ve got it covered…” he sat back in a squat, then stood up and walked a few feet down the path to survey the remaining work. Lupin walked down the stairs and stood at his shoulder, head tilting as he considered the progress.

“I can fix the stairs,” Lupin offers quietly, “while you finish that?”

He nods at the wall on the right side of the porch.

“Alright, thanks.”

The pair worked together in silence, only occasionally muttering to one another as they exchanged tools.

Lupin worked quickly and quietly, with the sort of natural ease that came from someone who was used to working with their hands. Sirius considered the long lines of his body, the lanky slimness that belied his wiry strength. Sirius had to fight a sudden, overwhelming urge to run his hands up and down Lupin’s muscled forearms.

He suppressed a shiver and turned his concentration back on the porch.

 

 

 

His nightmares woke him again. Mercifully, he couldn’t remember them, but he knew he had dreamed. Perhaps about his father this time. He didn’t know. But his heart was beating too quickly, sweat beading in on forehead, and that infernal tapping was echoing throughout his room.

3:57am.

He groaned and hoisted himself out of bed.

He put the coffee on and moved to sit down at the table, as was his practice in the morning. He stopped, realizing he didn’t have any film to pour over as a result of the porch taking up most of his previous day. He glanced up the dark stairwell. Perhaps he would treat himself to an early shower, and savor five minutes of hot water before the rest of the house began to wake.

Making up his mind, he grabbed his towel and padded softly up the stairs. He was pushing open the bathroom door when he heard it.

A faint tapping.

He cocked his head and held his breath, ears straining to catch the noise more clearly.

He had assumed the ticking was coming from some of the heavy duty equipment that was housed outside at the back of the cabin, directly behind the bunk room he and James were sharing. The power generator, or one of the refrigeration units for specimens perhaps. But he doubted it would be audible all the way up here.

He tossed his towel onto the bathroom counter and crept down the hall. The door at the back corner of the hallway was ajar, a sliver of light falling on the shadowy floor. The noise was getting louder.

A light was on in the office room that housed the biologists’ desks. Sirius inched closer to the open gap and peered inside.

It was Lupin, hunched over a typewriter on the otherwise bare little corner table, his small green notebook open next to it. Sirius vaguely recalled Moody’s pronouncement that the man didn’t like technology.

Lupin stopped abruptly and Sirius withdrew a few inches into the shadows. But Lupin didn’t seem to notice him. He just sat back and stretched a bit, running a hand through his curls. He flipped a page in his notebook and yawned, then went back to transcribing whatever was written in the notebook.

Sirius winced as the typewriter started up again, and hurried down the hall, eager to get away before Lupin spotted him.

The bathroom was surprisingly cold; Sirius was used to taking the last shower of the day and the room was typically warm and steamy by the time he followed James, despite there being only a little lukewarm water left.

He turned on the shower and waited for it to warm up, all the while considering the myriad of ways this job had turned out differently than he had expected.

He thought about what Lily had said, how she had explained Lupin’s aversion to outsiders.

Most people who choose to spend years of their life so far from civilization have a reason for leaving it behind… the isolation of this place becomes a draw.

He shivered and stepped into the warm water.

He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Lily’s ominous pronouncement for some time now. It was as though someone had climbed into his mind and articulated the unconscious rationale he always wanted to give when someone asked him why he chose to film in remote parts of the world; why he chose to keep moving rather than staying in one place; why James’s flat was his only fixed address and his attendance there was spotty at best.

He had been curious about Lupin before Lily explained his rationale, but not so intensely fascinated by him. Terse, grumpy, absent Lupin. Attractive, too, which had been nice in its own way. At least if the guy was a jerk to be around when he did manage to stay in the same room as Sirius he was nice to look at.

But James, knowing Sirius as well as he did, would know that something must have changed for Sirius to go from mildly curious to moderately infatuated. Sirius never went after blokes based on their looks; he had to fall hard and fully, before he bothered jumping into bed with someone. Boring people never cut it; if he wanted predictable, his own hand was far more reliable.

But then Lily had explained Remus’s theory about this sort of work, and Sirius’s mind wouldn’t stop racing. It was true for him, wasn’t it? If it weren’t for his fucked up childhood, he’d likely not chase after the most dangerous assignments in the most remote, far-off places.

So why wouldn’t it be true for Remus? For Lily, for Moody, and Frank, and Alice? Lily had very aptly deduced that Marlene would be homesick and unlikely to live as a long-term researcher. She was making plans to return to England at the end of the season.

He had pieced together, from various conversations and vague statements from the group, that Alice and Frank found their research on the island a good distraction after hardship and miscarriages in Scotland; a balm to their marriage as they worked on joint creation of a different kind.

Lily had made enough derisive comments about her family to lead Sirius to suspect she had her own set of family issues. He had overheard James comforting her one night, but Sirius didn’t want to stick around long enough to hear anything personal.

There was no guessing why Moody felt at home on the island; he freely admitted that while he was a “brilliant researcher,” he had been fired from every lab he’d ever worked in due to one simple limitation: the inability to listen to the idiots in charge.

And then there was Remus. With the exception of James and Marlene, everyone on the island was a bit guarded. But over the past few months they had eased into a place of relative friendship with the group. James, mother hen and best friend extraordinaire, had befriended the biologists and learned most of their histories organically. Even without James, Sirius was sure that he would have figured out most of the reasons each person chose to come to the island. Standoffish as he was, Sirius was used to sussing out facts from the tiniest hints of information, and often without the aid of a translator. But then there was Remus. A closed book.

Sirius had learned from Moody at some point that Remus had been on the island for nearly seven years. As far as Moody knew, he had left only once for a month or so, and Moody wasn’t even sure what the single trip off Rourke had been about. Sirius couldn’t judge; he had been running from his own demons for longer than that, but he hadn’t made it so formalized. While he occasionally returned to London to collect his post and see the Potters, Remus had all but imprisoned himself in the most remote place on the planet.

The idea had its merits though. He remembered Indonesia, remembered London, and considered the fact that an island devoid of people might be the best place for him.

Sirius shut off the shower wrapped a towel around his waist, still deep in thought. Thinking about the island. Thinking about Remus.

Remus.

When had he started thinking of him as Remus?

Sirius toweled his hair dry roughly with a hand towel and threw it in a bun on the top of his head. He grabbed at his discarded watch on the counter and hoped he could get downstairs before Moody and the rest trickled down. He’d like to plan his day out before they all left.

4:27am.

He gathered up his flannel pyjamas in one arm and turned the doorknob, expecting to jog quickly downstairs to his bedroom to avoid the cold air as much as possible. No matter how high they were able to set the heat, it never really warmed up in the cabin.

He pushed the door open, took a step into the hallway, and nearly jumped out of his skin. Remus was standing there, hand reaching out for the doorknob, a puzzled expression on his face.

“Alastor, why--”

He stopped short, staring at Sirius. His eyes flicked from the water pooling under Sirius’s feet to the top of his messy bun, coming to rest awkwardly somewhere around his stomach. He didn’t meet Sirius’s eyes again.

“Sorry. I thought you were Alastor.” Remus said faintly, taking a large step backwards and angling himself to the side, making room for Sirius to navigate down the stairs. He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.

“That’s alright,” Sirius said placidly, “I’m just up earlier than I expected, thought I’d get showering out of the way.”

“Right.”

Remus was, Sirius noticed, clutching his own towel and change of clothes.

“I hope I didn’t interrupt your morning,” Sirius called, making his way down the stairs.

Remus didn’t respond, but Sirius felt eyes on his back the whole way downstairs.

 

 

 

Rourke Island | August | Cold Season

 

Over the next month, Remus was distant. It was a different sort of distance than Sirius was used to, though. He had been mildly hostile with a touch of suspicion when Sirius and James had first arrived, but now he just seemed withdrawn. Even Lily seemed to be unable to draw him out of his work these days; she was particularly frustrated because by mid-July Moody and Remus’s work had all but stopped. Moody helped the others with their research, but Remus was now spending almost all his time upstairs in the house, condensing his past year of research into various articles and book chapters.

It was an unwelcome change. Sirius thought had been beginning to develop a rapport with the man, albeit a cautious one.

It came as a surprise, then, when Remus hovered next to Sirus’s shoulder as he sat at the kitchen table one Friday morning in late July. It was early, earlier than Moody and he typically went out, but he was dressed for a typical day out in the field.

“Did you want more?”

Sirius glanced up at the man, who was holding a half-full pot of coffee.

“Oh, sure,” Sirius said slowly, “thanks.”

Remus nodded and filled up Sirius’s cup, then set his small notebook and a thermos down and poured his own coffee. He returned the coffee pot to the counter and sat down next to Sirius.

“Moody and I are going out today. Would you and James like to come with us?”

“Oh. Sure,” Sirius said slowly, surprised. “That would be wonderful.”

Remus nodded and drank his coffee. He tapped his fingers on the cover of his notebook, not meeting Sirius’s eye.

Why today, Sirius wondered? Why wait until the majority of his work was wrapped up to invite a camera crew aboard. Maybe he wanted them to get terrible shots so they’d stop dropping hints that they would love to film with him and Moody more often.

More likely, he just wanted to make sure they weren’t in the way, and chose a day of little importance to allow them aboard. At this point the pair only went out twice a week, and according to what little Sirius was able to overhear, they weren’t observing anything out of the ordinary. It was just perfunctory data collection at this point in the year.

“I thought most of your work was finished at this point,” Sirius ventured.

“It is,” Remus said, “but we work closely with SAERI. Their team lead has a ping from a pod of pseudorca crassidens below 50 degrees and--”

He stopped himself and looked at Sirius before starting again, speaking more slowly, his tone slightly bitter.

“There are whales near here that shouldn’t be, basically. I doubt they’re here; more likely the pod’s trackers have malfunctioned. But we have to check it out.” Remus said.

“Oh, okay. Pseudorca crassidens are false killer whales, yeah?” Sirius said slowly, “Those don’t usually get down into such cold waters this late in the season, right? So you don’t actually think they’re going to be there is that the idea? Sorry, I’m trying to…. What?”

Remus was looking at him perplexedly. Sirius quirked an eyebrow and watched him expectantly.

“What?” he repeated

“Yes, that’s right,” Remus said. He stood up suddenly and made his way back to the counter, tipping the rest of his coffee into his travel mug.

“We’ll probably be leaving soon, if you wanted to start getting ready.”

“Sure thing,” Sirius said, bemusedly.

 

 

Half an hour later James and Sirius were hauling their camera equipment into the rickety Tombstone. Moody was in the boat and Remus was on shore, operating the confusing panel of knobs and levers that hoisted the Tombstone off of the cliff-edge and lowered it into the sea fifteen feet below.

Remus was still on land when the boat began to shudder and list. Sirius had already been out with them twice, but it was still jarring to watch Remus slowly meander up from the hoist controls and climb aboard the slowly rising vessel. He wanted to shout at him to hurry up.

The process of being lowered into the sea was equal parts fascinating and terrifying. He and James had filmed it many times from land and once from aboard the boat. Today, Sirius focused on filming the sea below him and the sides of the cliffs as they descended. How hard it was to capture the exhilaration and terror of dropping into the stormy waves.

Sirius kept filming until they were safely in the water and underway. Then he popped some motion sickness pills in his mouth and headed back into the cabin, where Remus, Moody, and James were huddled out of the cold.

“So,” James said brightly, “how far until we reach the whales?”

Remus didn’t respond; he kept navigating and tapping at the controls on the bridge.

Moody chuckled, “well, the boss and I aren’t sure there are going to be any to see, to be honest.”

‘Right, you mentioned a… what was it, Sirius? A malfunctioning… something?”

“Remus said that the pod’s tracker might be malfunctioning,” he muttered.

“Right,” Moody said jovially, “these little buggers have only been spotted past the 52nd south parallel once, and that was with a mass stranding. And it was in the summer!” he added fiercely, as though daring them to challenge him on the particular latitudinal habits of false killer whales.

“This particular pod was supposedly north of New Zealand a few months ago. And rather than going north into the South Pacific here,” he jabbed at an oceanographic survey map hanging in the cabin, “the tracker went offline for a month, then resurfaced here,” he jabbed at a point off the coast of Valparaíso, Chile.

“And then the tracker went offline again, before popping up near the Wollaston Island.”

He jabbed to the very southern tip of South America.

“And now they’re within a few miles of us. Allegedly.”

James nodded, still surveying the map.

“Right. Excellent. Can you say all of that again outside? We’ve got to set the stage and all. Make it a dramatic, but inevitable disappointment.”

Moody snorted, but shuffled towards the door. James flashed Sirius a smile and grabbed his camera from the table.

“Great!” James said, “okay. So can you give me a full rundown of what a… a pseudo…. a pseudork…?”

“I’ll do the talking, lad. You’ll just hurt yourself.”

The door to the cabin swung shut. Sirius sat down at the now vacated table in the corner of the cabin.

“So what happens if we do end up running into the false killer whales?”

“Well,” Remus said speculatively, “we’ll confirm with SAERI that the tracker is correct. It’s obviously still malfunctioning, considering it went down a few times over the past six months. So, we’ll try to refit the pod with new trackers, I suppose.”

“That makes sense.”

Remus hummed some kind of affirmation.

“So,” Sirius said, strumming his fingers on the tabletops, “how long will it be? Moody never actually answered…”

“Another twenty minutes or so.”

Sirius nodded again and drank some coffee to mask his awkwardness. He hadn’t a clue how to make small talk with Remus. He was bad at it at the best of times, but with Remus he was completely out of his depth. Typically he would scroll through his camera or grab his viewfinder to scope out the framing for his next shot.

Flustered, he grabbed for James’s still camera and began scrolling through the images, barely seeing them.

“Are you, um, getting good...shots? Film?”

Sirius looked up in surprise.

“Yeah,” he said, smiling slowly, “Yes. Everything is beautiful here. It’d be impossible not to.”

Remus nodded, “And the… I don’t know. Story? Plot? What is it called in a documentary anyways?”

“The narrative structure, typically. But you’re right, Jamie will weave the whole thing into a big story. He’s very into getting backstories and making connections and all that. It makes for the most impactful documentaries.”

Sirius clicked through more photos, landing on a batch taken the night of Alice’s engagement party. There was a photo of him, his own camera in hand, staring at Remus with a sort of reverence.

He scrolled back to the beginning, cheeks heated and hating himself just a bit.

“Yes. He seems very good. Everyone here loves him,” Remus said.

“And you, obviously,” he tacked on quickly.

Sirius laughed, “No surprise there. Everyone loves Jamie.”

Remus nodded, “I think Lily…”

“Is absolutely head over heels in love but refusing to admit it because we’re trapped together on an itty bitty island and shit could get weird?”

Remus let out a surprised laugh. His eyes widened and then he averted his gaze back to the stern of the boat, still smiling softly.

“Yes. Something like that.”

“Yeah. The feeling’s mutual, in case you were wondering. I dunno if Lily put you up to asking or anything.”

“She didn’t,” Remus said, “but it’s good to know, I suppose.”

“Ah okay. My few female friends have definitely used me in the past to feel out how James was feeling. Token gay confidant and all that, I think.”

Remus didn’t say anything, but his smile gradually disappeared and a pensive look came over his face.

Sirius kept watching him for a moment, but quickly looked away before Remus’s gaze could flicker back to his own.

He flipped through the photos again, lingering on a few and adjusting the settings, just to give the pretense that he was actually working.

After a few more minutes, Remus cut the engine and stepped out from behind the wheel. Sirius followed.

“I suppose I should bring the camera just in case, huh?”

Remus shrugged, and pushed open the door.

Moody and James were at the stern, leaning forward and pointing towards something in the distance.

“Well. You’re not going to believe it, Lupin,” Moody called.

Remus looked confused for a second, then strode across the deck more quickly and with more purpose than Sirius had ever seen him move.

James turned. He was grinning from ear to ear.

Sirius jogged across the deck to catch up with Remus, who grabbed the binoculars that Moody was holding out to him. James trained the camera on him; for the first time, Remus didn’t protest.

“You’re fucking kidding me,” Remus muttered, pressing the binoculars to his eyes.

Moody burst into laughter.

“You can say that again, eh!? Unbelievable.”

He snatched the binoculars back and continued to watch the pod.

Remus was leaning forward over the stern now, holding up a hand to shield his eyes from the sun.

Sirius, who now realized his gaze had been firmly fixed on Remus, followed Remus’s sightline. Way off in the distance a few barely discernible shapes broke above the water, spraying seafoam around them.

‘This is fucking incredible,” Remus whispered.

“I didn’t know you knew this many curse words, Lupin,” James said cheerfully.

Remus swung back around to stare at James with a look of surprise that plainly said he had forgotten James and Sirius were there. He scowled at the camera and then, suddenly, walked back towards the cabin.

Sirius smacked James and then jogged after Remus, worried that James had broken the jubilant mood.

“Feel free to ignore James. Or tell him to fuck off, whatever. I’ll keep him from filming you today, if you’d like.”

Remus flung himself into the cabin and headed to the bridge, where he started the engines again on their lowest setting, apparently intent on getting closer to the whales.

Sirius hovered in the doorway, unsure if Remus would snap at him if he tried to come in.

Remus looked at him, turned back towards the bridge, then did a double-take.

“Sorry, what?” he said breathlessly.

“I said… sorry about James? I can keep him from filming you today.”

“Oh,” Remus said, surprised, “oh, that would be fine. Why?”

“Because… you don’t like it?”

“Right,” Remus said distractedly, “Sorry. No, I don’t care if he films me, I guess. I just… this is so…”

“Fucking incredible?” Sirius supplied.

Remus looked up and Sirius shivered when the bright golden eyes met his own. He smiled broadly.

“Yes.”

 

 

 

He was up in Remus’s bedroom.

This was a dream, of course.

He had never seen Remus’s bedroom.

Nevertheless here he was in his dream (how did he know it was a dream?).

The dream-bedroom was small and cramped, a chilly, dark attic room with sloped roofs. There were no windows and only a small oil lamp for light. The wind was howling through the cracked glass panes. They were at the turn of the century but somehow Remus’s beat up laptop was on the desk. Remus was perched in front of it. He was typing, but it sounded the same as the tapping tapping tapping of the typewriter.

“Come back to bed, darling,” Sirius said.

He was wrapped in Remus’s soft blanket. Wearing one of Remus’s soft sweaters.

“In a moment,” dream-Remus said.

“In a moment.”

 

 

He woke up and checked his watch. 2:14am.

Now that he had connected Remus with the tapping, he rarely dreamed of his mother. Occasionally he would, but more often than not he simply woke with a start around 4:00am and smiled fondly up at the ceiling.

However, tonight was the first time he had dreamt of Remus (daydreams notwithstanding).

It was just past two in the morning. Sirius doubted that Remus had even slept. The group had been out on the Tombstone the previous day for hours, returning well after dark. Lily had to come down the hoist to assist them. James and Sirius had stayed up in the living room until well after midnight going over the footage they’d captured of the whales.

At some point Moody stepped downstairs and grabbed a pile of junk food.

“Midnight snack, eh?” he smiled deviously.

Remus snuck down a few minutes later. He seemed surprised to see them, but nodded hello, then covertly grabbed an enormous quantity of chocolate.

Sirius watched him retreat upstairs. He could hear his and Moody’s voices trickling down the stairwell.

“Oh my god, look at you,” James said with a hearty eye roll.

“What?” Sirius said.

“Get that dopey look off your face. The man eats a little chocolate and you moon after him like he walks on water…”

“Shhh,” Sirius hissed.

Then he whispered, “Did you see how much he took though? It was so much. And you just wouldn’t expect it with him, you know? He’s so…”

Sirius had glanced at James’s shit-eating grin, then tossed his notebook at James’s face.

“Like you can fucking talk,” he had grumbled.

So, in all, it was no surprise that after just an hour or two of coming to bed himself, he heard Remus upstairs typing away.

For once, though, the typing didn’t bother him. He rolled over and let it lull him back to sleep.

 

 

They went out in the Tombstone every day for the next week. The bitter winds and freezing temperature did nothing to dissuade Remus and Moody, and Sirius was only too happy to join in. James was slightly less enthusiastic and had to be reminded each morning that they were capturing a historic scientific discovery. The importance of documenting the moment, combined with a gallon or so of hot coffee was usually enough to get James back to his cheerful self.

Usually.

By the seventh day, though, James had called it quits. The pod had been travelling further and further north each day, and by the fifth day they were too far for the little Tombstone to safely travel and still make it back by nightfall. Nevertheless, Remus and Moody persisted on travelling out for the remainder of the week.

Remus had fitted as many of the group as he could with new trackers, and was carefully monitoring their migratory pattern. If they made a sudden turn around and would be within sailing distance, Remus wanted to be ready to meet them. The fact that their fingers were in a semi-permanent state of numbness was worth it for Sirius. By their third day together, the wall of social distance that Remus had resurrected had come down, leaving them on friendly-if-not-friends terms once again.

With so few hands on deck to assist the biologists, James or Sirius had been drafted into service. They read numbers from little handheld devices, called out latitudes and longitudes, held sample vials, and loaded tracking devices onto the device Remus was using to tag the whales. They alternated between working and helping, depending on what was more in need at the moment, Sirius captured shots of the stormy sea and the men at work when things were slow. James took over and interviewed from behind the camera when narration seemed fitting.

Sirius worked quietly and studiously by Remus’s side. He was surprisingly adept at assisting with their various experiments and data gathering missions, no doubt because he was trying to please Remus. And it appeared to be working, as they had quickly established an ease while working together. Even better, Sirius felt like he was finally bonding with Remus beyond their roles as base manager and filmmaker. Remus, always so guarded and tense at the house, was in his element at sea.

The joy of the discovery had cracked his mask of isolation and indifference. His attitude towards Sirius didn’t seem to have altered in any perceptible way. He was still calm and quiet, but something had changed; something had shaken loose. Sirius could see, for the first time since arriving on the island, what Remus would be like to have as a friend. Remus offered him a wry smile when Moody began lecturing him on rogue waves. There was a wicked glint in his eye when they caught each others’ gaze while James was doing something stupid; he called Sirius over to film one of the calves, then guided his arm so he could pat it.

It was as simple as those shared, small moments; inconsequential to anyone other than the pair of them. A shared laugh, an unspoken agreement to share the last of the coffee, their patient, quiet work. Hardly anything had changed, and yet Sirius felt that his entire world had been upended.

 

 

On the eighth day, everything changed.

Remus no longer had any hope of running into the pod, but he wanted to spend one more day on the water cataloging the weather and the other various conditions that could have drawn the group this far South so late in the season. The seas were unusually rough that day with a fierce wind and freezing temperatures.

Moody and James hadn’t come; Moody was home begrudgingly, nursing a cold. James had flat out refused, taking a place beside Lily at the fireplace, and informing Remus that his professional opinion as a filmmaker dictated that only one camera man would be required aboard the vessel.

Remus looked at Sirius and rolled his eyes. He inclined his head towards the door, a silent question.

Sirius had just grinned in response and pulled on his hat. A little cold and ice had never bothered him before.

The two men found themselves sitting in the tiny cabin that contained the bridge, Sirius at the table and Remus at the wheel.

“I promise this will be the last day I drag you out here,” Remus said, fiddling with the computer controls.

Sirius laughed, “it’s really no problem. It turns out with enough of these motion sickness pills I’ve become quite a sailor.”

Remus arched an eyebrow in disbelief, but smiled.

“Yes, quite,” he said, just the smallest hint of teasing in his voice.

They lapsed into an easy silence, Remus watching the sea and Sirius reading an article Lily had given him to proofread before publication. Most of the team wrote frequent blog posts and published in popular magazines in addition to their scholarly work but Lily, who was still working on her dissertation, rarely had time for lighthearted pieces. She wasn’t used to writing for layman and kept pestering James and Sirius to critique her work. Eventually Sirius alone had been tasked with the job, as James’s notes were heavy on hyperbolic praise and light on constructive criticism.

“Is that Lily’s piece for the Times?”

“Yes. It’s good. Surprisingly fascinating for piece about lichen.”

Remus laughed.

“She’s a great writer. Doesn’t give herself nearly enough credit.”

“Do you read a lot of her work?”

“Some of it, sure. We all tend to help each other out here. The fewer emails back and forth with editorial boards the better, given our spotty connection up here.”

“Ah right, I didn’t think of that. Have you read any of her dissertation? I know she’s going mental with her next deadline coming up.”

“God, yeah. I’m one of her external reviewers actually.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that. I thought it was like professors who did that mostly.”

“Well for a viva defense there are internal and external examiners, who are basically experts in the field. It’s not your supervisor, but a professor from your school and a professor from another institution. I’m not in her field, obviously, so I’m not an examiner. For reviewing there are usually several people who help out, your research supervisor and others. And yes, it’s usually professors.”

“But you’re not a professor, are you?”

“I suppose I am, technically. I’m employed by Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey. I don’t teach, though. I tried once, at the very beginning of my stay here. It was a nightmare. The internet connection was even worse back then, if you can believe it.”

Sirius had to actively fight back the image of Remus in a waistcoat before he spoke again.

“I had no idea. That’s amazing.”

Remus shrugged

“It’s alright. It’s mostly just paperwork. I basically owe Cambridge a lot of articles, get them a lot of grants, and do a bit of post-grad support work, when I can.”

“Do you think you’ll ever go back to teaching?”

“What, back in Cambridge?”

“Or here,” Sirius said quickly, seeing the look of disdain on Remus’s face, “remotely, I mean.”

Remus considered it, but eventually shook his head.

“I really like teaching, to be honest. But not remotely. I’ve been offered positions that are mostly based in England, where I’d do some teaching, some lab work, and shorter research trips.”

“And that’s not appealing to you?”

The pauses between question and answer were getting longer; Sirius knew he was edging towards dangerous territory.

“Not really,” Remus said lightly after a moment.

“I suppose I’m the same,” Sirius ventured.

“Sometimes I’ll be gone for a year or so and end up back at Jamie’s flat in London. But after a few weeks I’m dying to be back out here. When I’m in the city for too long I just get jumpy, like I was to crawl out of my skin.”

“That, I understand,” Remus said with conviction.

He cut the engine. They had arrived at whatever plot point Remus felt was necessary to investigate.

They moved towards the door in tandem, Remus wrenching it open but Sirius, who was closer to the threshold, pushing into the open doorway.

“Sorry-”

“Oh no, you go.”

“I--”

They were pressed chest to chest, Sirius gazing up silently at Remus’s golden lashes.

So many freckles.

They shuffled awkwardly in the doorway for a second.

“Sorry,” Sirius said abruptly. His voice sounded too loud, too harsh.

He placed a hand on Remus’s waist to still him, and stepped to the side decisively, giving them both space. Before Sirius could release him, Remus grabbed his forearm quickly, almost unconsciously. Remus opened his mouth to speak, but once again, stayed silent. He stared at his own hand on Sirius’s arm. Then he dropped it as if he had been burned.

He stepped outside and cleared his throat.

“Sorry,” Remus said.

“It’s fine,” Sirius said softly, taking a few seconds before following him out onto the deck, “what do you want to start with?”

“Let’s get water samples,” Remus said, regaining his steadiness.

Sirius followed him across the deck, smiling.

 

 

Rourke Island | September | Beginning of the Warm Season

 

Slowly but surely, the hours of daylight were lengthening.The temperature on the island varied little during the day; it was always moderately cold and windy, but the nights were less bitter, the wind less piercing. Soon something like Spring would grace the island.

They were nearly half-way through their stay on the island.

James had spent the last week putting together a project report and editing some of their footage together to send their executive producers an idea of the content and storyline they were pursuing. Feedback from their team so far was all positive.

The island was beautiful and the were animals fascinating, of course, but best of all was James’s interviews and the skillful editing that showcased the stories of six impassioned researchers, all self-isolated on Rouke, all a part of the strange little community that lived in the house on the hill.

Sirius watched some of the early cuts. James had decided to tell the story in a linear fashion, rather than focusing on projects, and it had been fascinating to see the biologists open up over time, slowly revealing more of the drive that kept them working through sprained ankles, ice storms, and barely edible food.

He rarely watched any of the edits James put together before the final product. He’d comb over his own work, of course. Obsessively, even. He’d film the same sunrise everyday for six months straight until he found the exact shot he wanted; the light glinting off the ocean just as an albatross took flight in a spray of sea foam. But watching the storyline unfold, trying to cajole the human subjects of the documentaries into telling an orderly tale throughout months of interviewing? That was James’s speciality, not Sirius’s. He didn’t have the patience to deal with the messy, complicated, difficult subjects that were human beings.

He sat at the kitchen table, lunch forgotten and eyes fixed on James’s laptop. The scene had been filmed by James, using a still tripod if he had to guess. The scene itself was static; the camera didn’t pan across the landscape, and the early afternoon light was beginning for more attention, but still, Sirius was transfixed. Frank was in the foreground, speaking softly to the camera. Alice was in the background, a blurry shape moving among the ground nests, bending, measuring, sampling, monitoring.

“After the last miscarriage, we had to get away. We had to make a change somehow. And doing this together has…”

Frank glanced back at his wife and whispered, “It saved us.”

The scene cut to their anniversary party, footage Sirius recognized as his own. Alice and Lily were holding wine glasses and dancing in the living room, Frank sandwiched between them, laughing. James’s voice filled his headphones, a voice over talking about the intense and unexpected camaraderie on the island, even enveloping the documentary team. Then, images of James dancing with Lily; James laughing with Marlene and Alice as they were chased by Richard the Skua; James and Moody, for some god awful reason, reenacting the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp; Sirius on the Tombstone, holding an electronic tracker and staring longingly at Remus.

His heart leapt. He paused the video and leaned back in his chair, closing the screen of the laptop to avoid his own face. He slid the headphones down and drummed the table with his fingers.

“What do you think?”

Sirius twisted in his seat and saw James entering the room.

“It’s great.”

“Yeah?” James said skeptically.

“Yeah. Of course it is, Jamie. You always do great work,” Sirius said, puzzled by James’s disappointed reaction.

“Well you look like you just watched your own funeral there, for a second, so forgive my doubting…”

“Oh. I… I just didn’t realize... I hate watching myself. You know that.”

“Yeah,” James said slowly, sinking down in the chair next to Sirius, “That’s going to be kind of unavoidable on this project, I think.”

Sirius just looked at him doubtfully.

“It is,” James said pointedly, sliding the laptop back towards him and grabbing the headphones from around Sirius’s neck.

“This project has definitely grown into more than an environmental piece. I mean, that’s obviously the heart of it, but it’s so much more than that. I thought we’d barely even interview the biologists, just a few talking heads and that was that. But they make the piece, Sirius. They drive the story. You see that, right?”

Sirius didn’t answer. He just scraped his chair back from the table and wandered to the cabinets, pulling them open and trying to scrounge together some lunch.

“Make me something, yeah?” James asked, already lost in thought as he scrolled back through his clips.

“Sure.”

The pair worked silently for a while, Sirius boiling water for rice and James nitpicking some aspect of the audio synchronization.

“Hey, Lupin,” he heard James say distractedly.

Sirius whipped around. Remus nodded hello and wandered into the kitchen himself. Sirius watched his pot of water, trying deliberately not to stare at the other man as he rifled through the cabinets, reaching up to grab bread and peanut butter. Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius thought he saw a silvery scar across the thin bit of skin exposed as his shirt lifted up as he reached for the jar. He shivered.

“How’s that going, James?” Remus asked.

“Okay,” James said slowly, “fuck. Motherfucking fuck. Sorry. No it’s good,” he looked up at Remus and smiled brightly.

Remus laughed quietly, “it certainly sounds like it.”

“Ah, no it’s fine. It’s just a mic issue. Want to watch it?”

“Can I?” Remus said, surprised.

“Sure. As long as you promise not to try and dissuade me from using different footage.”

Remus hummed something that sounded like dissent. Sirius smiled, staring into the water.

“Hey, mate, you ever heard that expression about a watched pot?”

“Shut up,” Sirius said, coloring. He threw some salt into the water and pulled a can of black beans from the cabinet.

“Come here and fix these for me.”

Sirius walked back to the table, eyeing Remus warily. He was watching the laptop, headphones perched over his curls, face impassive.
“What am I fixing?”

James pushed Sirius’s tablet -- the one explicitly reserved for detailed editing, complete with a “do not touch this James” sticker on the case -- towards him. A few seconds of film was broken down into several frames, each with wildly light levels.

“What the fuck did you do?” Sirius muttered.

James threw his hands up and laughed, “I did my best.”

“Well, never do it again.”

He quickly got caught up in his task, barely realizing that James had not only added the rice to the boiling water, but finished up the meal and placed a plate down in front of him.

“Thanks,” he muttered, “nearly done here.”

He suddenly realized how long he’d been working at the edits. He froze, finger stilled on the tablet screen, staring at it absentmindedly as he tried to calculate the time that had passed in his head. Remus had been watching for several minutes, and he was sure to be getting close to the last image Sirius had seen. How would he read the expression on Siriur’s face? Would he--

The table shifted a bit and Sirius’s finger slipped and he ratched up the exposure on one of the frames to 200%. He swore under his breath and looked up in confusion. Remus had stood up from the table. He was leaning over the laptop, tapping at the keys, and looking flustered.

“It’s…”

“I’ll take it,” James offered, gently easing it back from Lupin with a perplexed look on his face.

“No, it’s… I can…” he was peering at it intently, trying to fiddle with something. Eventually he gave up and closed the lid.

“Okay. Yeah. Thanks, that was… that was really good.”

He offered a weak smile to James and began to leave the room.

“Oh did you…?” James gestured at the half-eaten sandwich on the table. Remus didn’t turn back.

“Okay, well now I’m convinced it’s shit,” James said grumpily, pulling the computer back to him. He flicked the lid open and stilled.

“What was it? What did he stop watching at?” Sirius’s stomach churned, imagining all the ways Remus could interpret the dopey look on Sirus’s face in that photo.

He peered at the laptop. It was a still image, but this one Sirius hadn’t gotten to. By the timestamp it looked like it was only a few seconds after he’d stopped watching. The pod of false killer whales framed were centered in the shot. Remus and Moody were on the left side of the frame; Moody gesturing wildly at the whales with a manic grin and Remus smiling softly at something off screen, whales forgotten.

“I mean,” James started speaking, softly, hand clasped on Sirius’s shoulder, “I’m sure this goes without saying, but he was looking at you.”

Sirius didn’t respond. He inched the film back a few seconds. The image just prior to this one was its twin; Sirius gazing fondly at Remus.

“Why would you even… why’d you do this, James?” Sirius asked quietly

“Because you both deserved to know.”

 

 

 

The first supply ship of the season was scheduled to arrive in a few weeks. Marlene had arranged passage on the ship a few months prior. Her project now completed, she would be the first of their group to leave the island.

The impending departure cast a pall on the group, but it was summer now, and there was work to be done.

Research was back in full swing. The biologists worked 12 hour days, leaving early in the morning and returning home covered in dirt, mud, sea foam, and mysterious stains. Sirius and James matched their frenetic pace, splitting up most days to cover as much of the team as possible.

“Toss me that rope, will you?” Moody called.

Sirius was on the boat with Remus and Moody, barely managing to stay upright in the rough seas. He grunted in responses, wiping saltwater out of his eyes and flinging a heavy rope to Moody. Moody tied down a tarp over one of the hatches.

“You alright?” Remus’s quiet voice asked in his ear.

He nodded. The conditions were too difficult to film in, so he was reduced to standing in the freezing rain on deck, trying to help the men tighten the ship down and return back to the island.

“We’re set out here. Why don’t you go in the cabin?” Remus offered.

Normally he wasn’t to shirk from responsibility, but every inch of him was exhausted. He returned to the cabin gratefully, slumping down and rested his head on the table. Sniffling, he pulled some tissues out of his pocket. They were a sodden lump, disintegrating in his palm. He groaned.

He had no memory of falling asleep, but the next thing he knew, he was being shaken awake gently. He stared up blearily into a pair of bright eyes.

“Hey, we’re back.”

He sat up, a wool blanket slipping off of his shoulders.

“Thanks. Shit, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I fell asleep.”

“It’s alright,” Remus said.

He groaned as he stood, joints cracking and head aching. It seemed close to sunset. They made their way up the hill slowly, Sirius stumbling on the rocks a few times. Remus placed a hand on his back, steadying him, each time.

“How long did it take to get back?”

“Not too long.”

“But… how long was I asleep?”

“A few hours. Moody went up a while ago. I stayed to finish up my notes.”

“Oh.”

The thought of Remus sitting across the table from him, quietly transcribing the day’s notes while he slept tugged at his chest.

“Thanks.”

Remus murmured a quiet “you’re welcome,” but peered at Sirius with concern.

“I think you’re quite sick, Sirius.”

“Just a cold,” he muttered.

Sirius could see Remus looking at him skeptically out of the corner of his eye, but he didn’t respond. They reached the cabin and Sirius headed straight for the bunk room, boots and coat still on. He collapsed on his bed and fell into a deep sleep.

 

 

He was shaking his head frantically, sweating, shivering, freezing.

He tried to speak, tried to scream. Nothing would come out.

His mother was rapping at the bedroom door.

Tap. Tap tap tap. Tap. Tap tap.

The knocking was getting louder, getting faster. He heard his mother’s voice, his father’s. Regulus pleading with them.

Tap tap tap.

The nothing.

His father was towering over him.

 

A scream woke him up. It took him a half a second to realize it was his own. His hands were clutching at his throat. He sat up and tried to shrug off his still-damp raincoat. He was overheated and feverish.

He fumbled around for his watch, expecting it to be on the bedside table where it usually was.

There was a soft knock at the door and Sirius jumped, cracking his head against the upper bunk.

“Sirius? Are you alright?”

Remus was standing in the open doorway, looking concerned.

“Yeah,” be said, hoarsely.

Remus walked a few steps into the room, evidently unconvinced.

“Are you… did you yell?”

Sirius shrugged. He wished the other man would go away.

“Just a dream.”

“Okay. Are you… hold on a second.”

To his relief, Remus left the room. He pulled off his boots and dropped them onto the floor next to his raincoat. He tried to stand, but found it too difficult. He sunk back on the bed and pulled off his jeans and shirt. He sank back against the pillow and let his eyes rest for a moment, hoping he didn’t slip back into the dream.

A hand on his shoulder, a cool hand against his forehead.

“Sirius. Sirius wake up, just for a minute.”

He cracked open his eyes, meeting Remus’s concerned gaze.

“Hm?”

“Open up,” Remus said, proffering a thermometer.

He obeyed, and Remus slipped the little glass instrument under his tongue. He leant back, resting his head back on the pillow.

“No, no sit up. Come on.”

Remus maneuvered his body up and sat on the edge of his bed, supporting Sirius’s weight. shoulder. A strong arm wrapped around Sirius’s shoulders.

“Alright, just stay still.”

He wasn’t sure how long Remus stayed with him, but his solid chest was the last thing Sirius remembered.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

His mother’s voice. His father’s voice. His brother’s voice.

His father’s hand, gilded ring right there in his face. A flash of steel.

Nothing.

 

He woke again with a gasp. Lying still, he stared at the dark ceiling, listening to the typewriter above him. The noise hadn’t ceased, so Sirius guessed he hadn’t screamed out this time. A soft snore to his left confirmed this.

He rolled onto his side and saw James, fast asleep, in the bunk across from his own.

He rolled onto his back again and shut his eyes. The typewriter tapped away above him, lulling him back to sleep.

This time he dreamed of Remus.

 

 

He wasn’t recovered until the day of Marlene’s going away party. It was a Sunday night, and it reminded him of Frank and Alice’s engagement party.

Remus was off in the corner, apparently back to his old habit of keeping his distance from Sirius. Moody was watching the festivities with a begrudging smile. The rest of the group alternated between laughing, crying, and sharing stories. Sirius sat on an overstuffed armchair in the corner, this time not because he was trying to film covertly, but because he was still too weak to drink and dance.

After a few bottles of wine, a plot was hatched to lure Richard, the demonic skua, from the cliffs above the cabin. Marlene wanted to present him with some kind of peace offering. The skuas were territorial and detested all of the biologists that had attempted to catalog their nest contents. Only Moody and Lily had been spared Richard’s wrath prior to James and Sirius's arrival. Now, Marlene was bundling up in James’s clothing, attempting to fool Richard into complacency.

Remus, who had crept closer to him throughout the night, finally settled on the couch that was next to Sirius’s chair. Moody made his way up to bed, the rest of the group were making their way outside. Sirius, keen to avoid the chilly wind outside, stayed in his armchair, breath baited as Remus leaned forward to talk to him.

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay,” he said.

“I’m glad,” Remus said, smiling.

A peel of laughter and shrieking reverberated through the cabin’s front window.

“So much for observing nature without interacting, huh?” Sirius said wryly.

“You’d think we’d know better,” Remus said with a grin.

“So what, you’re in here on principle or you just have no interest in making friends with Richard?”

Remus’s eyes flickered to the front door, then behind him to the staircase. He leaned forward conspiratorially.

“Honestly, and you can’t tell anyone, but I actually fucking hate birds.”

Sirius laughed in surprise. Remus gave him a wry smile and shrugged a bit.

“Yeah, not something that can get around when you’re the manager of a research base specializing in endangered birds,” he said.

“Oh, sorry, no. That’s too good. Definitely going in the documentary.”

Remus laughed, “I’ll deny everything.”

Sirius laughed again, until his throat was too sore and he coughed.

“I’ll make some tea,” Remus said, eyes flashing with concern again.
“You should sit by the fire to stay warm.”

Remus bustled around in the kitchen while Sirius moved to the fireplace. He sank down onto some of the giant, overly stuffed cushions Lily kept on the floor, and grabbed a soft blanket to wrap around him. He was tired once again, but didn’t feel like turning in, as he wanted to stay up to have a few more minutes with Marlene.

“Here, lemon chamomile. I know you hate it, but it’ll be good for you. Besides, mine’s better than James’s.”

Sirius took the cup from him and sipped, surprise flooding through him.

“This is good. I…. how did you know I hated chamomile tea?”

Remus sank down onto the cushion across from Sirius. He was quiet for a beat, gazing into the fire. Then he turned and offered Sirius a little half smile.

“I’m the base manager. I know everything.”

Sirius scoffed, but smiled back and he didn’t look away. Remus’s eyebrows furrowed, but he didn’t break the gaze, either. Sirius drank in the sight of his face; the stray curls falling over his forehead, the dimple in his cheek, the smattering of freckles on the bridge of his nose, the flecks of gold in his eyes. The curve of his lips.

He leaned forward imperceptibly, wanted to be drawn in, wanting to be closer to this wonderful, enigmatic man.

Remus’s smile fell slowly, his breathing getting faster. He moved forward, and Sirius felt Remus’s fingers ghost along his wrist.

“Sirius…”

“Hm?”

He didn’t answer, just kept his eyes locked on Sirius and leaned in, and with a sharp inhale, he press their lips together softly.

They didn’t pull apart, didn’t break the kiss, so much as they exhaled together, floating backwards. They kissed again and again, soft, chaste, sweet.

“Is this alright?” Sirius muttered, hand cupping the back of Remus’s neck, thumb swiping across his cheekbone.

Remus didn’t answer, just kept gently kissing him. He brought both of his own hands up, one cupping the back of Sirius’s neck, one tangling in his long hair. He pulled him closer as he swiped a tongue across Sirius’s lower lip.

Sirius moaned and Remus darted his tongue in the other man’s mouth.

Sirius pulled away, breathing heavily.

“We should…” he glanced towards the front of the cabin. “The others… not that I mind,” he said quickly.

“Do you?”

Remus just stared at him, then looked towards the door slowly, coming back to his senses.

“Oh god, I… I’m sorry. That was… this was…” he stood up quickly and headed towards up stairs, leaving Sirius alone by the fire.

He stayed there for a few minutes, trying to wrap his head around what had gone wrong. Eventually he picked up his tea and went to the bunk room. He didn’t want to be around when the others returned.

 

 

“Sirius? You awake?” James whispered.

“Yeah.”

“Oh! Why… are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah. Or no. I guess I’m still kind of sick.”

James hummed sympathetically.

“I told Marlene you’d try to be up early to say your goodbyes. She doesn’t leave until 8 or so, so you’ll probably see her.”

“Right, good. I planned on it.”

Sirius could tell his voice was too flat, too dead. James flicked the light on and came to stand over him.

“What’s wrong? What happened?”

He was staring at the ceiling. His eyes flicked over to James.

“He made me a cup of tea,” he said slowly, “then he kissed me, and he left.”

James sank onto the bed.

“What?”

“We kissed, then he ran off. I just…” Sirius sat up, frustrated, “I know it isn’t me. I know that. But…”

“It isn’t you,” James said reassuringly, “It isn’t.”

“I just feel like I’m too fucked up with connect with anyone. My parents--”

“That’s not it,” James said firmly

“Maybe not. But it feels that way.”

James slung an arm around his shoulders and sat with him in silence for several minutes.

“Lily and I decided… Okay, so I know this is totally different and I don’t mean to be… er, co-opting whatever you’re feeling or anything, but Lily and I decided we don’t want to start to date until we’re off the island. It’s like… things are just so different here. We won’t know who we really are together, until we can first see each other in our normal lives, you know? So… maybe Remus is thinking something along those lines.”

Sirius just shrugged, and felt James’s arm tighten around his shoulders.

“Lily plans on leaving the island, though, doesn’t she?”

“Yes,” James said softly, “on the same ship back as us, actually.”

Sirius looked over at James in surprise, “I didn’t know that.”

“She was going to come back on the last ship of the season, a month later, but she decided to head back early. We’re…”

“Really serious about trying to be together?”

“Yeah,” he said sheepishly, grinning.

“Plus she does need to get back and write her dissertation and meet with professors and everything,” he said quickly, remembering to look contrite.

“How would you feel if she decided to stay here for good?”

James didn’t answer, just hugged Sirius tighter to his side.

 

 

This time when he heard the tapping of the typewriter, he didn’t dream of his parents. He didn’t even dream of Remus. His eyes flew open and he laid there in the dark, listening to the muffled sound of the keys clanging against the metal body.

His body ached to go upstairs and wrap Remus up in his arms. To hold him, or to shake him silly for running off on him, he didn’t know. Maybe just to talk.

He shouldn’t. He knew that. Time and again Remus had tried to keep his distance. He always wanted to pull away, and Sirius would be wrong to corner him. Nothing productive could come of it.

But still, his legs were sliding over the side of his mattress. His feet hit the cold floor. He crept up the stairs and onto the landing, peering at the strip of light spilling out of the half opened doorway.

He walked forward a few more steps and gazed at Remus, hunched over the typewriter in a soft green sweater, glancing at his notes and typing furiously, lost in his own world. He waited for a moment or two, until Remus seemed to reach a logical stopping point and the typewriter ceased.

Sirius knocked on the partially opened door.

“Hey,” Sirius said softly.

Remus looked up sharply at Sirius; shifted nervously in his seat.

“Hi.”

“Hey, sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s fine. I didn’t realize you were awake.”

“Yeah. I usually can’t sleep past four or five anymore.”

Remus made a small noise of acknowledgement, or maybe empathy.

“I hope I didn’t wake you up,” he said, gesturing to the typewriter.

Sirius pulled a chair from one of the other researcher’s desks and sat down in front of Remus, so close they were almost touching. He leaned forward towards the other man, keeping his voice low.

“You did, actually,” he said with a smile. Remus looked surprised. He opened his mouth but Sirius cut him off.

“It’s alright. As soon as I figured out it was you, I didn’t mind.”

“Oh,” Remus breathed.

Sirius reached out and took his hand, twining their fingers together.

“Can we talk about this?”

Remus swallowed thickly. Sirius desperately wanted to slide his chair forward, to press his legs between Remus’s knees and lean forward to kiss him. Instead, he stayed stock still. He practiced the slow, quiet breathing that he perfected in the field. Stay still. Don’t move. Let the world come to you.

“Yeah, alright,” Remus muttered.

He glanced towards the open door.

“Upstairs?”

Sirius’s eyebrows raised.

“Sure.”

 

 

His bedroom was nothing like Sirius had expected. He had dreamt about it a few times and imagined it even more often. In his dreams he had expected sloping roofs, piles of papers, candlelight.

This room was big and bright. White washed walls led up to a high ceiling. There was a fireplace in one corner, with bookcases built into the wall around it. Remus had a decent size bed, a luxury compared to the rest of the staff. It was piled high with pillows and blankets. It wasn’t austere or cold at all.

The far wall was dominated with a large window, something Sirius must have seen dozens of times while he was filming, but never bothered to consider its placement in the house. The curtains were drawn back and Remus had a beautiful view of the lighthouse and the sea beyond it. Sirius stood in front of it and marveled at the sight; he could see the sea lions gathering in a rocky cove on one of the beaches in the west. The fuzzy huddle of penguins off the east. Albatross and turns circling the skies. The moon was still visible, competing with the rising sun.

Sirius felt a hand on his lower back.

“You can come up here to film if you’d like,” Remus said softly in his ear.

Sirius turned around and let Remus’s arms circle his waist. He looked up at the other man, grinning.

“Thank you.”

Remus looked at him for a few more seconds before stepping backwards towards the bed, tugging Sirius with him.

“We should talk,” Sirius said, “before…”

“I know,” Remus said simply.

He sat on the bed and pulled Sirius down on his lap. His knees sank down into the soft mattress on either side of Remus.

Remus buried his head against Sirius’s chest.

“I’m not good at this,” he said, finally.

Sirius carded his fingers through the other man’s hair.

“Not good at what?” he asked quietly, trying not to disturb the fragile peace.

“This,” he squeezed Sirius’s sides, “you and me. All of it.”

He leaned back to stare up at Sirius’s face.

“I,” he swallowed thickly and avoided Sirius’s gaze, “it look me a long time to be okay with… myself. I can’t do relationships. I never had, actually. Plus that’s… it’s not really… possible here.”

“I know,” Sirius said weakly.

“Then what do you want?” Remus asked.

“I don’t know.”

Remus smiled at him sadly. He ran his hands up and down Sirius’s sides, pressed kisses to his neck and shoulders. Sirius shivered.

They sank down together onto the bed, their kisses turning from soft and sad to urgent and desperate.

“Is this alright?” Sirius gasped out between kisses.

“Yes,” Remus muttered.

Sirius pulled back, pressing a hand against his chest.

“You said that last time,” he said pointedly.

Remus pulled Sirius’s hand up to his lips and kissed his wrist, then leaned forward and pressed kisses to his lips.

“I promise.”

“You’re not going to run from me this time?”

“No.”

‘You’re not going to stop talking to me?”

“No,” Remus said, smiling softly, “I obviously can’t stop myself.”

“And if someone finds out we’ve been together?” Sirius said finally.

Remus hesitated at this; Sirius saw a flicker of panic in his eyes.

“We can stop right here, you know. We don’t need to go any further than this,” Sirius whispered.

“I know,” Remus said, taking a deep breath.

He rolled them over and kissed Sirius deeply.

 

 

 

Rourke Island | Warm Season

 

They kept it a secret. Whatever it was.

Everyone knew, of course, but they had an unspoken agreement to keep it a secret nonetheless. Sirius didn’t know what he would do if James asked him point blank, are you shagging the base manager who didn’t even want us here in the first place?

He’d probably say yes. He probably wouldn’t be able to help himself.

Sirius knew that James knew because, while James often found Sirius gone when James awoke in the morning, he rarely found him running down the stairs in the early morning with flushed cheeks and wrongly-buttoned pyjamas.

James just rolled his eyes, thumped him on the back, and hoped to hell nothing would go wrong in the next few months.

Lily knew because James knew.

Alice knew because Lily knew.

Frank knew because Alice knew.

Moody knew because Remus had stopped being such a grumpy bastard in the morning and helped him with the orca’s chum buckets. Plus, he got Sirius to help him with it. Plus, Moody’s bed happened to be positioned very near an air duct that connected to the one below Remus’s bed.

The rest of the summer flew by. Having arrived at the end of the previous summer, James and Sirius had missed most of the strenuous work. This time, though, they worked themselves to the bone, filming day and night and helping with the research and the house upkeep whenever they set their cameras down.

Sirius was exhausted, but exhilarated. He spent most days with Remus, sharing secret glances, secret touches. He spent most nights with him too, sneaking upstairs once James started snoring. Most nights they were too exhausted to do anything and many times Remus had already fallen asleep by the time Sirius slid under the covers. None of that mattered; the only thing that mattered was that they were together, curled under the blankets, breathing the same air.

Lily tried to cajole everyone into taking the entire day off on Christmas, but at breakfast Frank wanted to check something, Alice wanted to help, then James and Sirius wanted to follow, and soon the whole team was up and working. Lily tried to protest feebly, before she too realized that the dew point that morning would be excellent for sampling one of her prized fungi.

By the time New Year’s Day rolled around a week later, though, she put her foot down.

“There will be no work today!” she declared at breakfast.

“I think that’s a good idea, Lily,” Remus said, back to the table, pouring himself a cup of coffee.

Everyone stared at him in astonishment. He glanced at them, lips twitching in smile, then made his way to the table and sat down next to Sirius, surreptitiously pressing his thigh against Sirius’s.

“Tell us how the documentary is going,” he said to James.

“Great. So good. Actually I might just,” James fingers twitched over his laptop’s keyboard, keen to get back to editing. Lily slammed it shut.

“No work for you two, either!”

James grimaced, pulling his fingertips from under the screen.

“Alright, love, no need to get violent… does anyone want pancakes, then?”

Alice arched an eyebrow at Lily, who flushed, but smiled happily. Remus smiled into his coffee cup and slid a hand onto Sirius’s knee, squeezing it softly. Sirius dropped one of his own hands down and tangled their fingers together.

Remus’s fingers crept further up his thigh, and Sirius slapped at him playfully, breathing a laugh into his own mug. He stood up from the table quickly.

“I’ll help you, Jamie,” he declared loudly.

 

 

Sirius woke suddenly. A sound had woken him. Was it a scream? A laugh? He lay perfectly still, heart racing, ears straining to catch the sound. But it was silent.

He was in Remus’s bedroom, head resting on Remus’s chest, hand curled loosely around his waist. He shifted, sat up and reached an arm over Remus, turning the clock on the bedside table.

1:07am.

He lay back down and an arm tightened around his shoulder.

“You okay?” Remus muttered sleepily, burrowing his face into Sirius’s hair.

“Yeah. I just thought I heard something.”

“Hmm. Nightmare?”

“I guess so.”

Remus gave him a little squeeze and kissed his hair, then let sleep overtake him again.

Sirius closed his eyes and tried to trick himself into falling asleep again. He listened to Remus’s steady breathing, his heart beat.

Just as he was dozing off again he heard it.

Another scream, muffled this time. A shout, a laugh.

He shook Remus awake and turned on the lamp on his bedside table.

“Did you hear that?”

Remus sat up and rubbed a hand over his face.

“No.”

“Listen.”

Remus looked perplexed.

“Are you sure it wasn--?”

“Shh.”

Remus looped his arms around Sirius’s waist and rested his chin on Sirius’s shoulder. They sat in silence for a minute or so, before Remus kissed the side of Sirius’s neck, tightened his arms and started pulling him back down to the bed.

“It wasn’t a dream, I swear,” Sirius whispered, letting Remus ease him onto his back. Remus followed, lying above Sirius and kissing him deeply.

“I’ll stay awake with you, then,” he peppered kisses down his jaw, his neck, “then I’ll hear it too.”

Sirius hummed in agreement, now thoroughly hoping the silence would remain unbroken. He inched his hands under Remus’s shirt, laughing as the other man shivered. Remus sat up and pulled his shirt off, then picked up Sirius’s hands and blew his hot breath on them.

“You’re too cold,” he laughed quietly, “how are you always cold?”

“Not my fault you’re a walking space heater, Lupin,” he grumbled happily in reply.

He reached up and cupped the back of Remus’s neck, pulling him down into a searing kiss. Remus slid his hands over Sirius’s hips, down, down, down, thumbs hooked under the elastic of his boxers. Kissing his neck, pressed a bruising kiss to his collar bone, and -

Voices downstairs, muffled. Barely there.

Sirius sat bolt upright, cracking his head against Remus’s.

“Ow!”

“Fuck, sorry, sorry,” Sirius said quickly, “Did you hear that?”

“Yes,” Remus said, rubbing his forehead.

“I heard a scream earlier. Should we go check on everyone?”

“Probably,” Remus sighed.

They dressed in silence, Sirius slipping his pyjamas back on and Remus pulling on dark jeans and a sweater. Sirius made a beeline for the door and flung it open, but a hand stopped him.

“Why don’t you stay here?”

A look of confusion crossed Sirius’s face, before he remembered that, strictly speaking, as far as the rest of the house was pretending, he had never even seen Remus’s bedroom before so emerging from it in the middle of the night might be a bit of a tip off. He held back a hearty eye-roll and opened the door, sweeping an arm across the threshold in invitation.

“Go on, then.”

“Sorry,” Remus muttered as he passed.

Sirius watched him retreat down the stairs. He shut the door into the bedroom just before Remus opened the door at the bottom of the landing. Behind the two sets of doors, he could barely hear Remus’s baritone voice. A higher pitched voice joined the fray, then another male voice. Not Remus’s this time.

Frustrated at the lack of clarity, he crossed the room again and sank down on the bed. He had just started climbing back under the covers, assuming he’d need to hide until the house fell back to sleep when he heard the lower door open and footsteps coming up the stairs.

Remus’s bedroom door opened and he poked his head in, smiling.

“You’ll want to come down.”

“Am I…is it okay if I do?”

“We all know you’re up there, mate,” James called from below, “just get the fuck down here!”

Confused, he got out of bed and walked downstairs, Remus trailing slightly behind him.

Everyone was crowded on the small landing. Moody was leaning against the open doorway into his bedroom, a smile on his scarred face. Frank and James were talking animatedly and Alice and Lily were hugging.

“What’s going on?” he said weakly.

“I’m pregnant,” Lily said, turning her laughing, tear-stained face to Sirius, “and…” she glanced at Alice, who nodded.

“So is Alice!”

“What… but…. how?”

“Oh come on,” Frank cackled, “I know you’re one of a few here without a biology degree, but you must have some idea of how.”

They all laughed and Sirius rolled his eyes.

“Alright, but…it… both of you!?”

He both hands through his hair, his sleep-fogged brain trying to catch up with the onslaught of information. He stumbled over to James and pulled him into a tight hug.

“This is good, yeah?” he asked James, quietly.

“Yes. Fuck… yes. I’m terrified, but yes,” he laughed and sniffed.

Sirius turned to Lily and pulled her into an equally tight hug, looking over her shoulder at James with a sly grin.

“‘Oh we aren’t going to start dating until we get back to England,’ he says,” he said mockingly.

Lily punched his shoulder lightly as he let go and moved towards Alice.

“Well, once Marlene was gone and I had that whole room to myself…”

They laughed and James pulled her back into a hug, as if he was incapable of being physically separated from her for more than a few seconds.

“And you two,” he said softly, smiling at Frank and Alice, “this is incredible, guys. I’m so happy for you.”

“Thanks,” Alice said, sniffing and laying a hand over her lower abdomen.

“How long have you known?”

“About four months. I’ve always miscarried in the first trimester so I didn’t want to say anything. I just assumed…”

She trailed off and Frank hugged her fiercely.

Moody coughed and thumped a hand on his doorframe. He surveyed Frank and Alice, then Lily and James who were beaming at the married couple, arms wrapped around one another. He glanced at Sirius, then Remus, still standing in the doorway.

“So, everyone’s paired up in little families, huh?”

Neither Remus nor Sirius spoke, but Moody didn’t leave them enough time for the silence to congeal into something tense.

“Well. As much as I’d love to hear about how we all made this discovery in the middle of the night, it’s far too early for me to be awake. Back to bed all. Maybe tomorrow we take another day off, eh?”

They gave each other a few more tearful hugs and made their way back to their bedrooms. Sirius hesitated for a second, before Remus placed a hand on his back and guided him up the stairs.

He fell asleep, happy and full.

 

 

Despite the fact that two of their number were pregnant, working didn’t slow down over the next few months. Remus, Frank, and Moody worked even longer days, helping out Alice and Lily with their respective research projects -- more out of chivalry than necessity, as both women kept up their steady pace.

More and more of their evenings were filled with talk of baby names, nurseries, and the best small towns to raise children in. Alice and Frank added their name to the list of people leaving in April.

Over the next few months, the cabin began to look more sparse. Slowly, books began to disappear from the shelves. Each weekend a new space on the wall was cleared as Alice or Lily took down photographs and wrapped them carefully in paper, stowing them in their trunks. Bits and pieces of the cabin was disappearing before his eyes, and still, they didn’t talk about it.

About the obvious.

That Sirius was leaving and Remus would be staying behind.

Sirius woke one March morning, just less than a month before the cargo ship was scheduled to arrive, to find Remus watching him, carding his fingers through Sirius’s long and unruly hair.

“I’m going to miss this,” he whispered.

Sirius stiffened. He closed his eyes again and rolled closer to Remus, pressing his nose into the crook of his neck.

“Don’t say that.”

Remus didn’t respond. Just held him tighter.

“Happy birthday,” Sirius said after a few minutes, remembering, sleep finally clearing from his mind.

“Thanks,” Remus said flatly. He sat up and pulled a sweater on, scrubbing a hand over his face and trying to finger comb his curls.

“Sorry. I made it depressing.”

“No,” Remus sighed, “you didn’t. It’s me.”

Sirius sat up and wrapped his arms around Remus, rested his forehead on the nape of Remus’s neck.

“I don’t want to go, Rem” he said quietly.

Remus laughed humorlessly.

“And I don’t want you to go,” he responded, “but here we are.”

Sirius felt like crying.

They got up and dressed for the day.

 

 

That night, they snuck upstairs early. Lily and James had tried to make a cake without a cake pan or proper flour, ending up with a concoction that resembled a cross between a chocolate lasagna and a lump of mud. They laughed, picking at it bravely, and enduring as much conversation as they could before making their exit.

The rest of the house’s inhabitants seemed to understand their need for solitude. Sirius hadn’t missed their pitying looks when anyone mentioned how close their departure date was getting.

Upstairs, they lay in bed, too restless to do much and too deep in denial to talk about it.

Finally, Sirius had enough. He straddled Remus’s hips and kissed him deeply.

“Tell me something,” he whispered.

“Like what?” Remus said quizzically.

“I don’t know. Anything. How did you get here?”

“Why won’t I leave, you mean?” he retorted, a little bitterly.

“No,” Sirius said softly, “no, Rem. I just… I want to talk to you. I want to listen to you, while I still have the chance.”

Remus didn’t respond, but he slipped out from under Sirius and sat at the edge of the bed.

“Fuck,” Sirius breathed, “I’m sorry. I keep fucking this up.”

For a while Remus didn’t speak. Sirius lay back in the bed, staring at the ceiling. Remus looked out the window at the setting sun.

“My father was a doctor,” he said finally.

“It wasn’t just him though, it was like a family thing. You know, ‘my father a doctor, my grandfather before him,’ all that tosh. It was all very traditional. His whole family was... traditional, religious, conservative. He was a pastor.”

Remus sighed, scrubbing his hands on his bent knees.

“He never liked me, really. I tried so hard to please him, but he was always distant, always keeping me at arms length. It’s like he knew, even from when I was a young age, that I wouldn’t turn out to be a carbon copy of him, the way he was of his own father. He knew I was gay, I’m sure, well before I even realized it. I never wanted to play football or rugby, anything physical like that. I just wanted to spend time in the forests. He hated that so much,” Remus smiled wistfully.

Sirius didn’t dare speak.

“It’s funny… I see it with the sea lions here sometimes. They’ll have a pup that’s born premature, or with a deformity or something. And the mother -- the males have nothing to do with raising pups -- the mother will abandon the sickly ones. That lack of emotion is an evolutionary imperative… Why waste resources?”

He gazed out toward the cove where the sea lions gathered to give birth, barely visible in the dusk. The silence lingered for a few moments.

“Anyway,” Remus started again more briskly, “my father and I didn’t get along. I dropped out of my pre-med course at uni and started looking into being a veterinarian. Well, he didn’t like that one bit. Threatened to stop paying my tuition, told me I was a coward for dropping out because the coursework was too challenging, the whole lark. My mother must have persuaded him to keep paying, though, because the bills were always taken care of.”

“And then she died,” Remus said suddenly, “My mother, I mean. She died when I was a first year post-grad.”

“I’m so sorry,” Sirius said softly.

“It’s alright,” Remus said vaguely. He stood up and walked to the window, pressing his forehead against the glass and staring out at the stormy ocean.

“I went home for the funeral and ended up having a huge row with my father. He was convinced, just completely and utterly convinced, that my coming out to her the previous year was the reason she had gotten sick. I actually laughed in his face when he told me, which went about as you can imagine.”

“I just remember standing there thinking ‘how can this man, this doctor, be so utterly stupid?’ And the longer I tried to rationalize with him, the longer we fought, the more I realized I could never try to logic with him. I could never win with him. Nothing I could say would ever make him see me as anything other than the disappointment that killed his wife.”

Sirius could barely hear Remus at the end.

“I’m so…” Sirius wasn’t sure what to say exactly. Sorry? Angry? Filled with hate for a man he had never met? He cleared his throat and tried again.

“So there was nothing left for you in Scotland?”

“Yeah,” Remus said, back still turned to Sirius. “Pretty much. I had already applied to be a postgraduate researcher here for a six month term and had deferred my place on the team once because my mother was diagnosed with cancer. The next year’s cohort was being formed just after her funeral and they reached out to me, and I just… left.”

“I kept applying to work with different professors or on different projects since then. I finished my doctorate while I was out here. I’ve only been back to Scotland once, actually, for my viva. While I was there they offered me the job as the permanent base manager here. It was sort of already arranged beforehand, but I had to go make it formalized. So now I’m fortunate to be able to stay here, as long as they’ll have me.”

“And when you went back there, did you see your father?” Sirius asked softly.

Remus made a noise somewhere between a snort of laughter and disgust.

“No. No… he…” Remus stopped.

Sirius saw his silhouette stiffen.

“He killed himself. Just a year after my mother died. My uncle wrote to me and asked that I not be present at the funeral.”

“God. I’m so sorry, Remus.”

“It’s alright,” he waved it off, turning around and leaned against glace, facing Sirius.

“It was actually just a few months before I went back home. I packed up the last of his crap and sold the house while I was there. He left a suicide note addressed to me,” Remus said lightly.

“My uncle didn’t send it, but I found it in the house. You know what it said? That he had ‘failed his family.’ That’s all it said, literally, just ‘I’ve failed my family’ and his name.”

Remus trailed off pensively, shaking his head.

“Do you think he meant it… kindly?”

Remus pierced him with a puzzled stare, eyebrows furrowed, “What do you mean?”

“Well. Like,” Sirius swallowed thickly, uncomfortably aware of how many lines he was crossing, “like you had left and he felt guilty that he had driven you away.”

Remus’s eyebrows rose.

“No,” he said, smiling a slightly patronizing smile and speaking slowly, in the manner of a kind teacher correcting a particularly stupid child, “No, I’m quite sure that’s not how he meant it.”

“He could ha-”

“It’s alright,” Remus said, turning around to stare out at the sea once again, a hint of bitterness creeping into his voice, “There’s no need to try and make it something comforting. While he was alive he was quite firm on his stance that my sexuality was an abject failure of his parenting and my moral fortitude. There’s no reason to think he had a change of heart just because I’d been gone for a few months.”

“I don’t know, he-”

“God, Sirius, just- ” he started sharply, but cut himself off quickly.

“Sorry,” Remus muttered, “I just don’t see any need to rehash it.”

“Yeah, sure. I’m sorry. My fault completely.”

They stayed fixed there, still as a painting. Sirius still slumped against the headboard, fingers tangled in the blankets, Remus turned once again, staring out at the sea.

“My father tried to kill me,” Sirius blurted out.

The words hung out in the air, heavy, too heavy. They were out of his mouth before his brain had even realized the thought was simmering in the back of his head.

Remus stiffened, but didn’t turn around. A heavy silence hung between them.

“Sorry,” Sirius started, “sorry. That’s totally inappropriate. I don’t mean to like, take away from whatever you’re dealing with. I’m not trying to play the olympics of suffering or anything, I just…”

Sirius trailed off lamely, staring intently at the back of Remus’s coat, trying to decipher his body language.

His shoulders slumped down and shook slightly.

Was he…?

“Oi! Are you laughing?” Sirius said incredulously.

Remus turned to face him, face buried in his hands. He was laughing.

Sirius stared at him, a harsh retort on the tip of his tongue.

“Sorry,” Remus gasped out, biting back the laughter, “sorry. God. It’s not funny, I know. It’s just…”

He glanced up at Sirius, “sorry,” he said more soberly, “that’s really fucking awful. I just wasn’t expecting that at all. I thought you were going to tell me more about how my dear father most certainly had a change of heart at the end because families are all we have in the long run or some shit like that. Not… Jesus,” he snorted again, “not the exact fucking opposite of that sentiment.”

It was Sirius’s turn to laugh, though it was little more than a derisive huff of air.

“Trust me, I’d be the last to tell you that.”

“Apparently so,” Remus said. He looked at Sirius pensively for a long moment, “do you want to talk about it?”

“Oh I don’t know. Not particularly. It was… well. My father bashed me with a fireplace… thing… a poker? Anyway, my mother hated me. I mean really and truly hated me. She didn’t mind my brother so much; he was a coward, just did whatever she said to stay out of her way. But my father… he hated all of us, I think. Her included. They had an arranged marriage and he was hardly ever around, but when he was it was hell. He was always fighting with my mother. He mostly ignored us, thankfully, but one day my mother had hit me. A lot, I mean.”

He swallowed. When was the last time he had told this story?

“She had beaten me so badly I could hardly walk. And she wasn’t exactly cautious about it, you know? I spent most of the year in boarding school and when I came home she just didn’t allow me out of the house, so she was never careful to make sure people couldn’t see the bruises. Normally it didn’t matter to my father, but I think my mother was just carrying on to him about how irritated she was by something I had done that day. And my father -- who was not right in the head, as you can imagine -- just went off on her. Called her a stupid bitch, asked her why she hit me so much, why she wouldn’t just send me to live with some relative or a nanny in France, asking her why she wouldn’t just do something ‘properly’ and either finish the job or send me away.”

He paused, smiling slightly, perversely, as he remembered the day.

“And I was just standing thinking ‘my god, this is great, they’ll send me away to live with some distant aunt or something,’ and out of nowhere my father just bashes me in the head with a poker. I don’t remember much after that, but I do remember my mother and my brother shouting for him to stop…. I don’t remember too much after that, but I know at one point he carried me up to the top of the staircase and threw me down. I think the idea was to call it an accident later? I’m not really sure. But I remember being woken up there in the middle of the night, my brother poking me in the face and whispering for me to run. He’d packed bags for me and everything.”

Sirius shivered at the memory of Regulus’s pale face inches from his own, thrusting a bag into his limp grasp. His heart ached.

“Anyways. I showed up at Jamie’s doorstep and never went back,” he finished.

Remus was looking at him in astonishment.

“Well. That’s… quite horrible. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s alright.”

“James? That’s who you went to?”

“Yep. Known him since I was a kid. I know I call him a lifesaver all the time when he fetches me coffee or a new lens, but I damn well mean it.”

“Yes. I can see that. It’s really amazing that you had him.”

“It really is.”

Remus looked like he was deep in thought. He could imagine the questions. The same ones that came the few times he was brave enough to tell that story: what happened then? Did you press charges? What happened in the courts? What happened to your brother?

He dreaded them. He sunk deeper in the chair, waiting for the inevitable.

“Well,” Remus said slowly, “if we were playing the olympics of suffering, I think you’d surely win.”

Sirius barked out a surprised laugh, “Ha! Well, I’m not really sure you can compare our stories and find a clear winner, to be honest. We’re both a bit fucked, yeah?”

Remus nodded emphatically.

“Points for creativity though, hm? I mean, father-disappointed-after-coming-out is a dime a dozen, isn’t it?”

Sirius just shrugged, “Sure. Doesn’t make it any less horrible though.”

“No,” Remus mused, “I suppose not.”

“It also doesn’t mean you have to be haunted by it forever, though,” Sirius said softly.

 

 

 

Rourke Island | April | End of the Warm Season

 

The temperature had been dropping steadily, the warm season coming to an end. Their final morning was damp and chill. Sirius wrapped himself up in layers of fleece and hoisted the last trunk onto the little dinghy.

Remus was walking down the hill, clutching the few odds and ends Sirius had remembered he left behind in Remus’s bedroom.

A spare lens. A broken laptop charger. A snapped watch band.

“Here you go,” Remus said, “that’s the last of it.”

“Thanks.”

They stood there awkwardly for a second, wishing the crew member from the cargo ship who was ferrying the little boat would look away.

Finally Remus pulled him into a warm embrace. Kissed his hair.

“Take care of yourself, Sirius. And write to me.”

“I will.” he said.

He walked to the edge of the shore and stepped into the boat.

“Maybe I’ll be back someday,” he called.

From the beach, Sirius could see Remus saying something faintly, but it was swallowed up by the sea.

 

 

 

London | Spring

 

Nearly a year had passed, and finally, the documentary was ready to be released.

Sirius rarely attended screenings for any of his work, and this time was no exception. His absence was usually an unfortunate side effect of his busy filming schedule. That was the case for the screening of Rourke: Life at the End of the World as well, but this time his jam-packed calendar was intentional.

He spent a few weeks in London after returning from the island. He crashed in James’s spare bedroom and helped Lily move into James’s flat while she was busy preparing for both her viva and motherhood.

He used the excuse of not wanting to overstay his welcome to book a series of short projects, flying him all over the world.

He came back to London only once, to meet Harry and move his few meager belongings to a storage locker a few blocks from James’s place.

Then he was off. Thailand, Syria, Myanmar. Anywhere he didn’t speak the language. Anywhere he could stay detached.
He talked with James and Lily when he could; collected recipes, mailed back baby toys from around the world, no delivery ever coming from the same country twice.

He was in Nepal during most of March and into early April living in a series of host families homes, speaking only through the translation of the director and a few other local crew members. He spent his days climbing cliff faces, filming from precariously strung ropes, and exhausting himself to the point of numbness.

He managed to lose track of the days. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, back in a village with an internet cafe, that he realized he had successfully managed to do what he thought was impossible; forget about the screening.

He plugged his cellphone into one of the outlets in the cafe and paid for an hour of time on a computer, hoping the internet here was strong enough for a skype call. A few minutes later James answered.

“Hey Jamie, can you hear me?”

“Yeah! Hey, mate. You look like shi- sheep!” Lily ducked into view, waving Harry’s little fist at the camera in a greeting.

“Say ‘hello!’”

“Harry! Hello little one! Is your dad dragging you all over London to film the tube? Is it so much more fun than South Africa?”

“Alright, alright,” James grumbled. Sirius had sent back a veritable safari of little carved animals from his time filming giraffes on reserves in South Africa. Harry had delighted in them, and Sirius used the opportunity to poke fun at James’s newest project - a history of the London underground. He couldn’t even feel guilty about the remarks; James and Lily were deliriously happy, and Sirius knew James wouldn’t trade his job for the world.

“So Rourke’s doing really well. Going on the award circuit and everything,” James said tentatively.

“They’ll want to interview you, just a fair warning. They’re already gushing about your cinematography.”

Sirius smiled grimly, “well, I’ll be sure to stay away for a while, then.”

Lily frowned behind James, then pulled herself and Harry out of the picture. James ignored him.

“We saw Alice and Frank, they’re doing great. They’re in town for a bit and we’re going to set up a little playdate with Neville and Harry. Marlene came too. She and her partner are both doing post-docs.”

“Good, I’m glad to hear that.”

James let the silence linger for a second.

“He didn’t come,” he said finally.

“I know.”

“Did you… have you been keeping in touch?”

Sirius shrugged. They had been, at the beginning. They had no pretense that they’d continue their relationship, but keeping a connection open felt right. They emailed constantly, for a while. Then Sirius took a job in Laos and by the time he made it to South Africa, where he was able to stay in a hotel, Remus’s internet was down from a storm. A few missed emails because dozens of unsent drafts, and time dragged on. Moved on.

“No, but… I know him. Moody didn’t come either, I bet.”

James smiled, “No, he did not.”

“No surprises there.”

“Right.”

After a few minutes, Sirius feigned a broken connection, and ended the call.

 

 

 

London | Summer

 

“Forget a tuxedo, when’s the last time you even wore a shirt that buttoned?”

“Shut up,” Sirius laughed.

He was sitting in the little room in the back of the church, bouncing Harry up and down on one knee. Lily had sunk into a chair, dropping her bouquet on the side table. James stood behind her, massaging her shoulders.

“I’m so fucking glad that part’s over,” she whispered.

Sirius laughed

“Language, love,” James sing-songed.

Petunia strode into the room, her own son toddling behind her.

“Lily,” she said, a false grin cemented on her face, “I think it’s time for pictures.”

“Alright, give me a second.”

Petunia huffed and strode out of the room.

“We’ll go get the family shots out of the way, yeah? We’ll make my mum happy, then get the hell out of here and party. Come on love,” she picked Harry up and pointed at Sirius, “you stay here. We’ll need you soon, I’m sure.”

Sirius threw his hands up in acceptance, more than willing to listen to the bride and do what he was told.

The Potters left, and he wandered around the little room, peering at stacks of bibles and church newsletters in the make-shift dressing room. The little church was outside of Lily’s hometown, where her parents still lived. She and James had been perfectly happy to go to a courthouse, but Lily had finally given in to her mother’s vague disapproval, and planned a real wedding.

‘Excuse me, sir?”

Sirius spun around. The priest was standing in the doorway, looking at him expectantly.

“We have a service at four. We’ll need the room.”

“Oh! Sure. Sorry about that.”

He walked back through the empty church slowly, thinking of families. Thinking of love. His skin itched. His next assignment had been cancelled; too much political unrest for the BBC to risk sending filmmakers. He thought about his stuffy hotel room and pushed open the door to the outside. He wanted to breathe fresh air. He wanted to plan his escape.

The pictures went on for longer than he expected. Sure enough, as soon as he was outside, the photographers pushed him in the shot, snapped some pictures, then dragged him out of the frame. Portraits of the couple, then with Harry, then just the bridesmaids, then just the groomsmen. It was exhausting. He hated being on the other side of the camera.
By the time they piled into the hired car and headed to the reception hall, they were all exhausted. Lily was resting her head on James’s shoulder. Harry was cradled in Sirius’s arms.

“I just want to go straight to bed,” Lily complained. “My feet are already killing me. Not that this isn’t the happiest day of my life or anything,” she added quickly, grinning at James.

“N- n- no need to apologize, babe” James said, stifling a yawn. “I get it.”

Sirius grinned at them both as they pulled up to the hall.

“Shall I duck out and buy you both coffees?” He teased.

“They better serve me a damn coffee, for the price I’m paying them,” Lily groused.

Sirius just laughed and opened the car door, stepping out into the sunlight.

The crowd cheered as the wedding party entered the hall. James spun Lily around, making his new wife and son laugh as they twirled on the marble floor.

Sirius split off, blending into the mass of people. He surveyed the edges of the room. Sure enough, he spotted a metal urn on a table towards the back of the room. The wedding cake was already on display, surrounded by flowers -- none of them lilies or petunias, he noted with a grin.

He slunk around the edges of the room, making his way to the coffee station quickly. He pulled three cups off of the pyramid of shining white china and began adding sugar and cream.

A tap on his shoulder interrupted him.

“Sorry, just getting the bride a… a...-”

Remus smiled nervously.

Sirius sloshed the pitcher of cream down his front.

“Rem?” he said incredulously, “what are you doing here?”

“Well,” Remus arched an eyebrow and held out his arms, gesturing around.

“Right,” Sirius laughed, startled. He set the pitcher down on the table behind him and grabbed a napkin, dabbing at his shirt.

“Sorry,” Remus said, leaning around him to grab another cloth napkin.

“It’s alright, I got it,” Sirius said distractedly.

Remus always looked good, but Remus in a suit looked better.

His hair curled softly around his ears, his eyes shining bright in the low lighting. The freckles on his nose seemed more pronounced now. His pale was skin. It would be winter on the island.

“How did you get here? When did you get here? I didn’t see you at the church.”

“No,” he said regretfully, “I missed the ceremony. Jetlag.”

“Oh, that’s… that’s too bad,” Sirius said.

He had flown in just for the wedding, and would fly out again soon enough. He took a few steps back, trying to avoid the magnetic pull of the man. Trying not to be disappointed again.

“Can we talk? Not right now,” Remus said quickly, “I’m sure you have a lot going on as best man, but…. Later?”

“Sure, yeah.”

“Alright,” Remus said softly, “well. You should get that to Lily before she kills you.”

He nodded at the coffee cup and walked away, leaving Sirius alone again.

 

 

He ate dinner, but didn’t taste it. He gave a speech, but barely heard it. From the head table, his eyes kept finding Remus’s. He was seated with Frank and Alice, Marlene and her partner Dorcas, and a few other people Sirius didn’t recognize. He thought they must be friends of Lily’s from the university, but he really didn’t care.

He clapped along thoughtlessly after the first dance. He laughed absentmindedly as Harry joined in on the cake smashing, thoroughly impressed with the idea of smooshing lumps of the stuff into his parents’ face.

The moment he was able to, he found Remus. They met near the coffee station again, but sidestepped it, both clutching drinks from the bar. Sirius inclined his head towards the back door, where strings of lights framed a patio. They made their way outside, skirting the smokers and disinterested teenagers playing on their mobile phones. They found a dimly lit corner and leaned against the half-height stone wall enclosing the patio.

“So,” Sirius said, smiling at Remus, “how’s the island? How’s Richard?”

Remus looked puzzled,

“Richard…? Oh! The fucking bird? He’s terrible, same as always, thanks so much for reminding me. If I play my cards right, though, I’ll never have to see him again.”

Sirius laughed, “what, you’ve finally cracked and taken to poisoning the wildlife?”

Remus shook his head. His smile fell slowly and he looked nervous.

“No,” he took a deep breath. Looked away from Sirius.

“I’m not going back.”

“You’re not going back,” Sirius repeated slowly. “What do you mean, you’re not going back?”

“My contract is up.”

“Oh.”

He looked at the other man’s anxious face.

“I’m so sorry, Remus. What happened? Did your grant --”

Remus shook his head and took a long drink.

“No, it’s not… I didn’t renew it. My contract, I mean.”

It took a few seconds for Sirius’s brain to catch up.

“You left?”

“I took a teaching position.”

“Where?”

“London.”

Sirius leaned back in his seat, swiping a hand through his hair and studying Remus’s face.

“Why?” Sirius said finally.

“I’ve spent the last eight years on the island. It’s been my home. I love it and I can’t even imagine how much I’m going to miss it. But until… Well, as long as the BAS kept offering me contract renewals, I never even considered coming home. There was nothing for me here. Except shame, and bad memories, and maybe fear. And I adore my job, so it’s not like I actually spent much time thinking about what I could be missing out on…”

He sighed.

“But then you showed up…”

Remus trailed off, avoiding Sirius’s eyes and taking a long sip of his drink. When he finally caught Sirius’s eyes suddenly, a flash of panic in them.

“And I’m not saying I expect anything to happen here,” he waved a hand between them, “but it made me realize I could have more. And I want more,” he breathed. His eyes flickered to Sirius’s face, apprehensive.

“Sorry. I know me showing up here after so long is… it’s not fair to you and it’s--”

Sirius leaned forward and grasped Remus’s hand.

“Rem.”

“What?” Remus breathed wildly.

“Shut up.”

Remus snapped his mouth shut, a look of contrition on his face. Sirius reached up and laid a hand against the side of Remus’s face, stroking a thumb against his jaw. He pressed their lips together, firm and sweet.

“I’m glad you’re here.”