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500 Miles (I'm Coming Home to You)

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He can smell it in the air. The rain. The heat. The humidity. The wind that's more suffocating than it is refreshing, heavy and damp. All harkening a miserable storm in the height of a miserable summer, but Remus can't quite bring himself to clear off of the rusty metal of the small balcony before he gets pelted with fat drops.

He's rooted there, prisoner to his thoughts, his mind ever spinning. And it's hell to be an academic—all that analysis, all of those questions. Why? And how did this come about? But won't it affect so very much? Consider this. Where does this take you? Take you? It doesn't take you anywhere. Prisoner, remember? Shackled to a man, a past, a now fleeting memory. Gone.

From where he sits, Remus stares past his dangling feet to the busy road seven stories below. Would it be terribly melodramatic of him to slip between the bars and let go? Yes, it would. His mates have always said that he has a neurotic desire to be a martyr for something great. In jest, certainly. However, the only thing he'd be a martyr for tonight is pathetic twats too-hung-up on their boyfriends. Not exactly the way he wants to be remembered, though the promise of not having to suffer the next few weeks does make it compelling.

Remus sighs, feigned desire for suicide aside, he's not sure of anything anymore. Nothing beyond the clamminess of his skin, the way the fabric of his t-shirt rubs him uncomfortably. Of the laughter inside the flat he's shared with his boyfriend for the past two years, of the unbearable ache splintering his heart into a million little pieces.

And part of him always knew that Sirius would be the man that would break him.

The door to their balcony slides open noisily, though Remus hasn't the energy or give-a-damn to turn around. Right now, anyone enjoying themselves is on his shit-list. However, he supposes—as he catches sight of Sirius from the corner of his eye—that there are certain people he would find more annoying than others. And Sirius, while not technically annoying, is the last person on Earth he wants to talk to at the moment.

"What are you doing out here all by your lonesome, my gorgeous little wet blanket?" Sirius asks, mouth full of the Chinese from the takeaway box in his hand.

"Contemplating my death," Remus replies evenly, not bothering to look at Sirius.

"Bit morbid, don't you think?"

"I guess I'm not as skillful at avoiding my problems as you are."

More than anything, Remus regrets saying it, regrets behaving this way. He should be happy for Sirius, possibly more than anyone. Not everyone lands their big break, especially at such a young age. Judging from the pained look on Sirius' face, Remus has stolen his celebratory moment. Briefly, he wonders if Sirius hates him for it. But then again, does it really matter?

Sirius sets his food down, sidling up to Remus. "I love you."

"But it's not enough."

"Remus, don't. You've no right to persecute me. This was as much your decision as it was mine."

Remus gives an exasperated chuckle before biting his lower lip and shaking his head. Does he really not get it? After all this time? Does he truly think that he didn't want to join him, to share the bloody limelight with him? Are his own reasons for not signing that fucking contract so complex that Sirius can't figure it out?

"You're right." And Remus hopes it sounds genuine. "I'm sorry, Sirius."

Because it's easier this way, isn't it? Easier than saying because I'm sick and I'm not going to get better and how do you expect me to tour the fucking country when some mornings it's a fight to get out of bed?. And it's definitely easier than hearing Sirius tell him that he uses his disease as a crutch and an excuse to not take risks when really he's just afraid.

"You could come with me, you know."

"Could, but can't."

"I love you," Sirius reiterates as if it will make a difference, staring up into the clouded sky.

"I love you, too."

His throat tightens quickly after the words escape him, and only because of the lingering question of just how many times he has left to say them. Instinctively, Remus reaches for the ring—Sirius' ring with his family crest—that rests on his ring finger. The weighty metal calms him, his guitar-calloused fingers twisting it as is routine when his thoughts rest heavy on Sirius. He's worn it for at least a year now, and the thought suddenly strikes him that he's going to have to give it back soon.

He's not ready for that, not ready to stare at his bare hand. And, he's not ready to have this conversation—the I-love-you-buts and shouted frustrations that will inevitably come before Sirius leaves for London. So he waits in the silence with the love of his life as the raindrops begin.

~*~*~

The room is muggy when he stirs from the crack of lightning. Muggy and sticky and why the hell does he have two blankets on? His mind's a haze—straddling the narrow line of sleep and wakefulness. It's not yet morning; he can tell without even opening his eyes. Still time for sleep, though he can't. Not peacefully, not when it's so bloody warm in here.

A roll of thunder reminds him of the storm. The power must be out; otherwise the fan would be on. Cracking his eye open, the absence of time on his alarm tells him that much.

Remus shifts, kicking his legs free from the blankets with little care for the fact that he's naked and exposed. As he moves, so does his bed-partner. Closer, unfortunately. He has no desire to feel someone's sweaty flesh against his own, and his stomach rolls with the thought. His mind is suddenly alert to his guest's presence, though, making even a weak promise of returning to sleep impossible.

He doesn't know why he does this. A man his age, honestly. Not that he's terribly old—only seven years older than this one—but he certainly feels it. In his bones. In his stomach. Even in his conversation—a fact that presents itself more often as the years pass. He doesn't care about Ovid, he tells himself time and again, so stop nattering on about him. He'd rather discuss Muse and how badly he'd like that Bellamy bloke's cock up his arse.

The sooner he gets over his interest in younger, dark haired men with a penchant for tattoos and cigarettes, the better. Especially the music junkies. Those are the worst, actually. Worse because they remind him so much of someone else. Someone who has a fair number of tattoos and always had a pack of fags on hand, who lived and breathed music. Six years ago he'd assumed that he'd be over him by now, but, judging from the bloke he brought home last night, he hasn't.

Sirius—still managing to upset his life years after the fact.

With the thought of him, Remus takes a deep breath, exhales, and hopes that the moment has passed. He can't think about Sirius now—won't think about Sirius now—when he has another lover in his bed. Not that it's stopped him before, especially when he pulls the ones with high cheek bones. He'd only made the mistake of calling out the wrong name once. Back when he was young and stupid, when the wounds were still fresh and he'd give everything in the world just to have Sirius back.

And there he is again—weaseling his way into Remus' thoughts, memories, even when he's entirely unwelcome. Remus huffs his frustration, turns to his bed-mate, and suddenly sweaty flesh doesn't seem like such a bad idea. All those times he's tried to cleanse himself of Sirius, maybe he's needed the exact opposite. Get dirty, bury himself in the filth of it all and let it fester and die. Better for everyone that way.

In the dark, he seeks out his lover's lips, moving against them to rouse him from his sleep. There's a huff, maybe a protest, before Remus feels the bloke's mouth slowly crush into his own. They slide against each other, and Remus parts thin lips with his tongue before slipping into his mouth.

And it's not incredible this—what post-sleep snog really is, what with the half-awake fumbling and morning breath?—but it's somehow enough. He's not looking for satisfaction, fulfillment; if he were, it certainly wouldn't be found at the Tribeca. He's long since fallen out of love with the idea of finding his soulmate under colored lights and thrumming music.

Funny that—mostly because once upon a time he had.

~*~

The moment that Remus finds himself in the heart of the Northern Quarter, he immediately remembers why he stopped frequenting the area a few years back. His old haunts bring back a lot of memories—some happy, others unwanted. He spent his youth here, in the pubs and the live bars, getting pissed with his mates and drowning in music.

Sometimes he even played.

Six years ago, no one could get his guitar out of his hands—a well-worn, well-loved Avalon his grandfather had bought him on his fourteenth birthday. Well, no one except Sirius, and only because the only thing better than the feel of polished wood and steel strings beneath the pads of his fingers was Sirius' warm, sweat-slicked skin. Nothing else could have done it. Nothing.

And Sirius is alive here. He feels it as he walks past the Shudehill Book Centre, the Abergeldie Café. All the little pubs they went to before seeing a concert at the MEN or visited to watch a live show. His life was different then, more tranquil yet thrumming with constant energy. Life with Sirius was a quiet whirlwind—an oxymoron that does not escape him, yet that is the only way he is able to think of it. Maybe that's the thing with Sirius—their shared life was a paradox. Maybe that's why it had to end.

Yet this is where it started, Remus realizes after turning in a tucked away street to a well-known door. The Auror—most everything started here for them. His thoughts drift to the alley, but go no further. He can't; he won't. Sirius is gone.

Remus pushes through the door and into the small establishment. It's a bit like coming home, the atmosphere intimate and familiar. Warm. Remus has just enough time to shove his hands into his pockets at the entrance before Frank looks up from the bar.

"Lupin, good to see you!"

"Don't act so surprised," he says with a wry grin. "You're the one who rang me. What's so urgent that you needed to see me right away, anyway? Neville get into trouble with the piano again?"

"I'm thinking about buying him a drum kit instead. He'd make less noise that way, and it's supposed to be unpleasant racket."

Remus can't resist a sheepish smile. "Give him time. Not every child can be a prodigy even though we hope for it."

"Speaking of children," Frank prompts.

"In Romania with his mum on holiday."

"Charlie?"

"Yeah, just started working on a wildlife reserve. Teddy is having a brilliant time of it, according to Dora's email. Sent pictures and everything, though I'm not entirely sure I want to know what sort of things they're up to."

"Give you a heart attack for sure," Frank nods knowingly, pouring him a drink. "Charlie and Dora have a similar love for adventure. They're young, though. You remember what that's like."

Unfortunately, he thinks. Here more than anywhere. In the corner booth, on the makeshift performance floor. He recalls nights of drunken karaoke when the bar just opened, recalls one night in particular that still pains him to think of. And all the other little things, too. Stolen touches beneath the table, long looks before he and Sirius even knew what they meant. The heat of the lamps shining on a lone stool and microphone, the feel of gliding his calloused fingers along the strings of his acoustic as Sirius covers Clapton's "Layla," all sexy-smooth and pain.

As Remus leans against the bar, his eyes are drawn to that same stool—or maybe it's not the same, but Remus wants it to be—and he can remember vividly that night as if it were happening just now. Sirius always had a way about him, but nothing could compare to those moments leaning against that stool with his lips to the mic. His eyes fluttered shut when he sang with his soul, those gritty songs about loss and love.

Remus wonders if he still does, thinks that maybe Phoenix Records would have taught him not to by now. Even so, the Sirius alive in this room would have shut his eyes to sing something like "Layla." And Remus thinks back to the way Sirius' shoulders swayed gently to that classic first riff when he played it, the way his brow would pull at "you've got me on my knees" like he was begging for mercy. Later, Remus learned that Sirius furrowed his brow the same way when he was making love. He could believe it then, though. Just by hearing Sirius, it was obvious that music and love making were practically the same thing to him. And Christ, Sirius could play him like a song.

He stops there, takes a sip of his proffered drink, and softly shakes his head. Frank watches him patiently, and Remus wonders if Frank knows how difficult coming to The Auror is after all this time. Maybe. Bartenders are known for their sage-like qualities, after all.

"Sorry," Remus says, putting his glass down. "So, you needed to speak with me?"

Frank immediately looks down and begins to wipe the bar with a nearby cloth. "Maybe now isn't the best time."

"Frank." He pauses, suddenly worried that this matter is far more serious than he anticipated. "This isn't about an out of tune piano, is it?"

His thoughts jump to all sorts of things: marital problems, sickness, financial difficulties with the bar. While by no means best mates, they've known each other for years, and Remus knows better than anyone that sometimes it's easier to speak about serious issues with more distant friends. Other scenarios played out in his mind as well, but Remus could have never foreseen Frank's answer.

"Sirius is playing the Apollo on his tour next week. I'm holding a party for him here after the show since this is where it all began, you know? I thought you might want to come."

Remus is stunned, blinking rapidly as if to try to pull himself from his shock. He allows his brain to wrap itself around the idea—the Apollo, Sirius, next week, here. It's difficult, though. He's not spoken to Sirius in years, makes it a point not to listen to his music or follow his interviews. Remus has only ever heard one song, and that was enough.

Feel my lungs fill with your breath
My heart beat in your chest
And I live when you're coming undone…

Those lines sear him, stay with him in ways that they will never—can never—stay with someone else. They were only ever meant to be sung in accompaniment to his acoustic. Private, behind closed doors. Not for the whole fucking world. Not ever to achieve multi-platinum status. Just theirs.

But no. No, no, no! He's not going to do this again. And especially not here. Not now. He doesn't want to give Sirius the satisfaction. Christ, he's not even the same Sirius now, though sometimes that's difficult for Remus to comprehend. The man he loved was not one of the most prominent solo artists in all of Europe. He was just…Sirius. Fame and fortune change people, and Remus isn't idiot enough to think that they left any part of Sirius untouched.

"I don't think so, Frank," Remus says, carefully.

Frank takes a sip of his own drink. "He'd like to see you."

"Maybe, but I don't think I can see him."

"Remus…"

"I've moved on," he says, voice firm.

"With who?"

"…people. Dora, for one. We've got a son."

"You can't move on with someone who is visiting her boyfriend in Romania. Your relationship begins and ends with her being the mother of your child."

"Yeah, well I've plenty of blokes, too."

"Men that look like Sirius. Don't think we haven't noticed."

"Frank, I'm just…"

He doesn't know what he is. Tired, maybe. Of this. Of everything. So maybe he does sleep with blokes who resemble Sirius. It's not a crime to have a type, and it's not exactly as if he's unaware of it in the first place. He just can't see Sirius again. He can't.

"Alright," Frank concedes. "But if you change your mind, the party starts at nine."

Remus nods and smiles pitifully. They fall into simple conversation, but Remus' heart isn't in it. It's elsewhere—tied up in the past. How many times had they gone to the Manchester Apollo together? Enough. So many times, in fact, that Remus can't go there without thinking of all those times he'd spent with Sirius. And he wonders if Sirius will think the same next week, wonders if he'll walk onto the stage and think, just over there Remus and I stood and saw Oasis. Probably not. It's been so very long since then.

~*~*~


As he forces his way through the sea of writhing bodies illuminated by flashes of color, Remus could curse himself. The heavy
thud-thud-thud pounds into his skull, and for all that Remus tries to push the horrid noise from his ears, he can't quite manage it tonight. His condition has flared up as of late, making all of his energies go towards keeping his dinner from coming up and his eyes fully opened. The last place he ought to be is at some club right now. But he and Peter promised to take Lily out for a round for her birthday, and he'd feel like an awful friend if he let her down.

After being bumped into by some half-drunken sod, Remus shouts over the music, "I hate you, Lily! You and your God awful taste in clubs!"

"You don't!" She's all smiles and squeezes his hand. "It's not healthy being cooped up in that pathetic little flat of yours and you know it!"

Maybe he does know it. The thought has crossed his mind before, especially when he looks forward to running into his elderly next door neighbor for a chat. His social life had declined after moving out of the halls and even more so after breaking it off with his latest boyfriend. And if he's honest with himself, he had been looking forward to tonight.

"When should we expect that bloke you've been shagging to show up?" Remus asks as the crowd thins at the edge of the dance floor.

"He's not just some bloke, thanks. He's my boyfriend." Lily scans the packed seating area before pointing to a corner booth. "There! That's him."

His eyes follow Lily's finger, and he immediately spots Peter sitting with two dark haired young men. The first, Remus recalls from a photo in her flat, is Lily's boyfriend—all messy hair and glasses. The second, however, is someone completely new to him.

Gorgeous, he is. Remus can feel his heart falter at first sight of him. It's the hair that catches Remus' attention, silky smooth and brushing the back of his neck. And the leather jacket certainly doesn't help matters. A bad boy, then? Oh yes, definitely, Remus thinks as he spots the pack of fags next to the bloke's hands. His type to the very letter, and dear God how is he going to ever make it through tonight?

Because he and Lily have rules about this sort of thing, he remembers regrettably as they approach the booth. No dating friends' friends and the like. And after Michael Galloway—the complete arse—Remus had thought it would never be an issue again. Until now, that is. His only hope is that this bloke isn't Lily's friend and has a penchant for swotty, male, Classics undergrads.

Yeah, not bloody likely.

Sirius—whose name he learns during the brief round of introductions—may not be bent, but he does seem genuinely interested in him. Remus discovers this soon into their five part conversation around beers. It's nothing Sirius does in particular, just the way grey eyes fall on him when he speaks. Enraptured is definitely too strong a word—though in Remus' make-believe world where Sirius is a flaming homosexual it is exactly the right word—but there's something there. Something like a spark, and it's so very difficult to keep his own eyes from meeting Sirius' when either of them speaks.

And Remus resists—or tries to, anyway—for the better part of an hour filled with anecdotes of mischief making, lamenting of particular professors and modules, and talk of football. It's only when Lily and James get up to dance—prompted by Lily's favorite song (this week)—and Peter leaves for the bar to buy another round that Remus can't quite avoid Sirius any longer.

He feels a gentle nudge to his ribs and turns to look at a grinning Sirius. He really does have a nice smile, as smiles go. Gorgeous lips and… And Christ, he hadn't been staring just then, had he? Remus can't quite suppress the heat rising to his cheeks and ducks his head a bit, hoping to hide his embarrassment.

"You don't strike me as someone who gets up to much trouble, but the way Evans talks, you could give me and James a run for our money."

Remus doesn't miss the impressed and teasing tone in his voice and feels slightly pleased with himself. Not that people aren't usually surprised when they hear of his colourful record, but this is somehow different. The thought does cross him that he's misconstruing Sirius' interest in him, but he's three beers in him and a mind to flirt.

"Probably could," he says, all confidence as he takes a slow drink.

"Where'd you get those then? Breaking and entering?"

Sirius nods in the direction of his hands, smug smirk on his face. Remus realizes that he's referring to his plastered fingers, and immediately sets his bottle down, bringing his hand beneath the table. Suddenly he feels very sober.

"Ah no, not exactly. I play a bit of guitar and overdid it yesterday. Rubbed my skin raw."

Remus waits for the moment of judgment to pass, inevitable as always. He knows he doesn't look the type to be a music junkie—a little too awkward, a little too reserved—and wonders if Sirius will laugh it off like a lot of blokes have in the past.

It comes to some surprise then, when Remus finds the courage to meet Sirius' eyes, that Sirius appears to be completely gobsmacked by his confession. Remus looks at him curiously before Sirius' expression settles into something rather indescribable.

"You like music?" Sirius asks, and for the first time, Remus notices the strain-induced scratchiness to his voice.

"No, I love music."

Sirius smiles, looking at him like he's seeing him properly for the first time. "Yeah? Me too."

~*~*~

The taste of Euan Price's lips—would wonders ever cease?

Remus' hands clutch at the younger man's shoulders, his mouth pulled in a smile at the barrage of kisses overcoming him. He puts up an honest counter-strike to be sure, but quickly succumbs to all of Euan's wiles. It's not difficult to, never has been.

With earnest, he kisses Euan—all tease in the wake of their shag. The undercurrent of arousal is always there, of course, but it doesn't grip Euan incessantly like it does his other bed partners. Remus supposes that's why he likes him best. That, and he actually appreciates Greco-Roman philosophy.

But despite Euan's infinite charms, Remus does push him away with a gentle shove. He bites his lip when their gazes meet, rolling his eyes at the look of pure confidence in Euan's own. Sometimes he wonders why he's interested in the ones who think they know everything about themselves and the world, but the answer isn't exactly an easy one to swallow. He quickly pushes the thought aside in favour of one final kiss.

"You need to leave. I don't want to be responsible for a missed flight."

Euan nods gravely. "Yeah, my mum might have a thing or two to say to you about that."

"I thought we agreed that we were keeping this relationship a secret," Remus says.

"Oh so it's a relationship now? I thought it was no-strings-attached fucking."

"It is just fucking. You know what I meant."

Remus is suddenly irritated—not an irregular occurrence when it comes to Euan—by Euan's cocky grin. The grin morphs into a mocking pout before the smile returns and Euan gives him a soft shove in the shoulder.

"You know I know what you meant."

Softening, Remus pulls him into a brief hug, waiting to feel himself missing Euan already. And he tries hard, furrowing his brow as if to will it to happen. But the fact of the matter is that he doesn't, not even a little bit. Resigned, he loosens his hold.

"Have a good time, alright?"

"Yeah right, at my sister's wedding?"

"Maybe you'll find yourself an attractive bloke or two for your trouble."

"I like the way you think, professor. And don't you dare forget to pick me up."

"I wouldn't dream of it," he replies with a roll of his eyes.

Remus escorts him into the corridor of his flat, watching as Euan sinks below the stairwell. He tries to avoid thinking about how much he doesn't give a damn to see Euan go, how he's going to relish some time to himself. Not that Euan is always over, but Remus has always struggled with saying no to him in particular. It's got a lot to do with the fact that he can get the maximum amount of pleasure for the least cost—he's already come to that conclusion.

Euan is a bit like ambient sound in a way—natural and familiar; Remus can appreciate his flippant remarks, his moodiness, his sarcastic commentary. He can always appreciate his twenty-year-old sex drive. But when Remus gets particularly lonely, it's not about the sex at all. It's about all the other little things that make Euan who he is.

And ultimately, who he isn't.

With that miserable thought, he turns and shuts the door behind him. He's not an idiot, no matter what his friends think. He knows what his relationship with Euan is—and ultimately what it's trying and failing to be—but he struggles to come to terms with that. Because, in the end, knowing is different than admitting. And admitting to the fact that he likes cocky, dark haired, music junkies for a reason may be something he'll never be ready to accept.

"Fuck me," he groans, unceremoniously falling onto the sofa.

The side of his face comes into contact with a booklet of sorts, lying on one of the cushions. He lifts up briefly—long enough to remove it—and realizes that Euan has accidentally left his latest Dazed & Confused. And it's only a split second later that he recognizes a gorgeous pair of slate grey eyes on the cover.

They dance for him. Maybe it's just because he remembers what they were like in real life, the way Sirius' every mood could be read from them. Maybe it's because he's often dreamt that Sirius would look at him like that again. It's a guilty desire, one that he can barely stomach most days. But no one could fault him for that.

And it's strange, looking at him like this. Remus desperately wants to recognize the unrecognizable in Sirius, to have the satisfaction of telling himself, you were right, he's not the same man. But he can't.

It's as though time froze him as he was six years ago. Sirius hardly looks older—not like himself who already has premature greys—and perhaps that's what's most frightening. He appears to be exactly the man that Remus had once loved.

Or still loves.

With that, his lips pull into an infuriated grimace. He sends the magazine to the floor with a violent thwack. And he brings his hands to his face, bites his tongue in favor of screaming his frustration.

How dare Sirius do this! How dare he accept Frank's invitation! But it's just like Sirius, always looking for the next person or next big thing to stroke his giant ego. He'll be fawned over, praised for his infinite genius, his remarkable rise to stardom. No one cares to think about all Sirius sold—all he left behind—in order to get there.

All the people he betrayed.

A miserable sound escapes him. Some days he wonders if he's the only person in the world that felt that betrayal—feels that betrayal even now—and he knows the answer. James asks him to stop punishing Sirius. Lily, too, in her own way. Remus wonders how they of all people can refrain from doing so, especially after what happened with Riddle.

Familiar outrage bubbles up inside him at the thought of everything that happened five years ago, but Remus tries to quell it. He can't think about this tonight; it'll only leave him bright eyed and miserable. More miserable, really. And he definitely won't think about Sirius. Let him have his fame and glory, his money and cheap relationships. What's it matter?

Remus finds the energy to get up from the sofa, his foot coming into contact with Euan's magazine. The cover crinkles under his step, and he barely notices—or pretends to—as he walks to the loo before heading to bed.

~*~

Things would have been fine, Remus supposes, if the magazine would have grown legs and kindly dropped itself into the bin during the night. His resolve not to attend Frank's party, to never see Sirius again so long as he lives, would have remained firmly intact.

But the fact of the matter is that it most assuredly was right in front of the sofa as he sat down with his morning toast and coffee—Sirius' face planted between his feet. He stares down at it, transfixed by nothing in particular and yet everything in the same moment. His hand reaches for the magazine almost of its own accord, and it's only after Remus has it in his grip that the reason behind his sudden interest becomes clear to him.

He supposes it has a lot to do with the date. It's almost their anniversary—what would have been ten bloody years if Sirius hadn't…if things hadn't…well, yeah. And Remus, despite the disappointed looks and worried calls from his friends, still celebrates it to some extent. No more romantic dinners for him, though. Now he drinks his meal, usually ends up passed out on Peter's sofa. And he knows he shouldn't be drinking at all, what with his medication, but he does all the same. If there is one thing that suffering from almost bi-monthly seizures has taught him, it's that he might as well live life how he wants. There's never a guarantee he'll live beyond the next one.

And he can hear Sirius, his patented, "The fuck you will. You may have given up on yourself, but I'll be damned before I do. So put down the god damn drink and take your meds."

Secretly, Remus always loved Sirius for setting him back on the right path. If he's honest with himself, he had been at his healthiest during those four years with Sirius. So despite all that he loathes Sirius most of the time, a little piece of him can never deny that Sirius was good for him.

That's probably why he still has dreams from time to time, like last night. Of hot, flashing lights and the lazy lovemaking that followed. Remus wonders if it's a memory or a meshing of reality and fantasy. It was all so vivid. Sirius' breath in his ear, his performance-strained voice whispering I love you. And Remus returning the sentiments in full, rolling over to capture his lips.

Except, the only thing he rolled over to was the emptiness of his bed and unforgiving morning light.

With his thoughts already consumed by Sirius, Remus thumbs the pages of the magazine. Sighing, he flips it open randomly and only has to turn once before he finds the promised—purportedly revealing—interview. When the name Rita Skeeter pops in vibrant green against the black banner, Remus almost thinks that Sirius' whole life will be exposed for sure; she's nothing if not good at what she does.

He sips his coffee, uneager—and yet oh-so-eager—to read the contents of the interview. Brown eyes find the beginning lines, and Remus braces himself for…for what? He has no idea. Confirmation, maybe, that this man is not the man he loved. Or heartache when he realizes that he is.

It's the normal song and dance for the first few questions, nothing that Remus couldn't have told Skeeter herself. What's more interesting to him is the way in which he can hear Sirius saying his response—the familiar cadence of his voice, the air of lightness in his tone. The interview even notes when he laughs, and it occurs in all the spots that Remus imagines it would.

But it's two-thirds of the way down the page that Remus feels his breath hitch, the question burrowing into him like a parasite and the answer equally as discomfort-inducing.

RS: It's interesting—and many of our readers have noted this—that you've rereleased an unplugged version of "Paper Cranes" on your new album. Care to elaborate on the decision?

SB: Ah, this question! laughs You know, I'm starting to feel a little like Carly Simon.

RS: It's a song shrouded in mystery. Considered to be the most romantic song of the decade and developed by an anonymous co-writer? What are your fans to think?

SB: Well they should think that it's a song very near and dear to me, of course. The decision to rerelease it in acoustic was made by me. "Paper Cranes" was intended for the acoustic from the very beginning, but was initially released as a rock ballad. I've spent a lot of time getting back to my roots with Acceleration, and it was the perfect opportunity to record this song as it was originally intended. I think people will find it more moving than the original, to be honest.

RS: And your co-writer?

SB: laughs Will remain anonymous.

RS: Not even the tiniest morsel?

SB: I think it's obvious from the lyrics that this person means a great deal to me. You can't create something like "Paper Cranes" from imagination, you know?

RS: "Means" as in present tense?

SB: Do you think that "Paper Cranes" could be what it is if it was about any old flame? You—

Remus shuts the magazine quickly, having read quite enough.

~*~

"You're an arse."

Remus smirks, leaning down to meet Dora's lips in a brief kiss. He supposes that it's a greeting that would shock most anybody, but after knowing her all these years, Remus would be surprised if her hellos were anything other than scathing or suggestive. She breaks from him, slipping into his flat with their young son on her hip.

"And to what do I owe the insult to my character?" he asks, though he doesn't really expect an answer.

Dora passes Teddy to him, and he quickly plants a kiss on his baby-smooth cheek. Teddy laughs, pushes him away with a palm to his chin, and struggles out of Remus' arms in favor of his toys in the other room. And it's mental, how quickly Teddy has grown. Three years old? Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday he and Dora were having the so-you'll-never-guess-what-we-forgot-during-that-half-drunken-shag-a-couple-months-back discussion.

There's a thud, quickly followed by, "Shit! Sorry, Remus." His attention is immediately drawn away from thoughts of his son to said son's mother sopping up spilled coffee from the carpet with a discarded shirt. Remus rolls his eyes, grabs a tea towel from the nearby kitchen table and joins her on the floor.

"You're an accident waiting to happen, you know that?" he says.

She looks up at him, pink fringe falling in her blue eyes. "You're one to talk. Your whole bloody life is a giant mess."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Her eyes narrow as she jabs her finger at his nose accusingly, causing him to flinch. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

Standing, Dora flings the coffee-soaked, wadded-up shirt at him and crosses her arms over her chest. And for being all of five feet four inches with a shock of short, pink hair, she's still as intimidating as hell. That's probably why she's Moody's favorite student, and God help the solicitor up against her on any case.

"Dora…"

"Don't Dora me. I hear you're not going to the party in Sirius' honor tonight at the Auror. What the bloody hell is that about? I've known you to be a lot of things, Remus, but never a coward."

"It's my weekend with my son," he explains easily, briefly wondering if she'll see beyond it.

"Bollocks!"

She falls unceremoniously to the sofa, and Remus has to wonder if she hadn't just lost her balance. Her sudden rage flickers out into a pout, and she looks on at him in disappointment. He hates that look—thinks that maybe that's the reason she's turned it on to begin with—and moves next to her, putting an arm around her slight shoulders. Dora curls up next to him, not unlike Teddy does when he's sleepy, and sighs.

"I want you to be happy."

"I am happy, love," he answers.

"You're lying. I can tell." She pokes his nose. "Your nose scrunches up a bit when you lie, just like Teddy."

"I'm—"

"Not fine, not happy, and you don't have to pretend for my sake. I'm over it, Remus. I know I can't make you happy."

Despite the number of times they've had this conversation, Remus has never gotten used to hearing the truth fall from Dora's lips. He loves her, just in his own way. And while she's brought him many joys in his life—Teddy being the biggest—he knows she will never make him happy in the way that he needs to be.

Still, he pulls her to him, kisses her forehead. They sit on the sofa, brief silence between them, as the sounds of Teddy playing in his room echo through the flat. It feels altogether unnatural—he, Dora, and Teddy all under the same roof. Thankfully, he knows that Dora's long since gotten over her desire for it.

"He loves you, you know."

"Who?" Remus asks, almost fearing her answer.

"Sirius." Shifting, she pulls away from him and cups his cheek. "And you love him, too. So don't be stubborn. Go see him."

"I'm over it."

"You weren't three years ago. You aren't now, and neither is he. You should have seen his latest interview in Dazed & Confused. It was basically a love letter to you."

Wonderful. So he wasn't the only person under that impression. Remus thinks to ask her what else was said but decides against it. He isn't sure he wants to know, quite frankly. What he read was enough. Too much, maybe. And none of it matters.

"You're going," Dora announces, uncurling herself from him and standing.

"I'm not."

"You are because our son loves Sirius' music—"

"—only because of your bad influence—"

"—and you'd make his day if you took him. You do want to be known as the coolest da ever, don't you?"

"I—"

"You do. Come on, Remus." Dora turns to the corridor. "Teddy, love!"

At the sound of Teddy's feet, Remus knows that this is game over for him. Dora makes her announcement—self-satisfied smirk on her lips—and Teddy's face lights up brighter than Christmas morning. He shifts from foot to foot, small hands curled up in fists from excitement. Teddy wraps his arms tightly around Remus' neck, and Remus reluctantly squeezes him back, thinking how completely fucked he is.

~*~

It takes a lot longer to get to The Auror than is strictly necessary, and for once it's not because he has a toddler in tow. He's the one making things more difficult than they have to be, pausing every few minutes on the sidewalk and slowing down considerably after Teddy begins serenading him with "Howling at the Moon" from—what he's told is—Sirius' second album.

They do arrive somehow, though it's almost a miracle that they do without having to turn around or stop for a trip to the loo more than once. Judging from the sound of the music, the party is well underway. And as he glances at his watch, it's no wonder; it's 9:32. Remus pauses at the door, holding Teddy's hand firmly to keep him from rushing inside.

It's a mistake, and he knows that. Nothing good is going to come from this get together; well, nothing but making his son ridiculously happy. And that's almost enough to make him press on. Almost. Remus thinks that perhaps he could just explain to Teddy that he's not feeling well and maybe they can try to catch Sirius another time.

Yes, lying to his child.

"Brilliant parenting, mate," he mutters under his breath.

"Daddy!" Teddy growls, looking at him with a very stern expression that so is reminiscent of his mother.

"Alright, alright. Impatient, aren't you?"

Before he can think better of it, Remus twists the handle and ushers Teddy inside. The Auror is packed with people, and at a quick glance, Remus recognizes most of them. The lighting is dim, but not as low as it would normally be if the bar were open. And the music is lower, too, though Frank's taste certainly hasn't differed from the norm—still absolute rubbish.

No sooner than he helps Teddy down the two steps to the main floor, he catches sight of vibrant red hair. And then there's Lily, kneeling down to pull Teddy into a hug. Remus can't help but smile at the joy on Teddy's face; part of him wishes Teddy got to see her and James more often. But it's too difficult—too painful—to visit them more than a few times a year.

"How are you, pumpkin?" Lily asks Teddy.

"Very good!" He nods vigorously. "I going to see Siris Back."

"Are you? That'll be fun."

Lily looks up at Remus, question writ on her face—are you alright?—and Remus just shrugs. As right as he could possibly be, he supposes. His stomach is knotting up, the distinct desire to sick up not misplaced on him.

But he feels a little better when Lily stands to embrace him, her arms wound tightly around his shoulders as he squeezes her middle. He shuts his eyes, breathes in her scent. Three months since he's last seen her, and it feels like forever.

"I've missed you," she says.

Just as he opens his eyes, the same sentiments on his lips, he freezes—mind and heart. Because, between the part of friends and acquaintances is Sirius. Their eyes meet, and the whole world fades away.

~*~*~


For what has to be the fifth time tonight, Remus feels Sirius' fingers grazing his thigh beneath the table as James natters on about football. His senses heighten to Sirius' touch—nerves ready with anticipation for the next brush, for the pressure of Sirius' knee against his own. And when it happens, his stomach drops—like he's on the most incredible roller coaster in the world—a smile tugging at his lips. He tries to suppress it with hardly any luck, as he's caught the attention of Peter.

"You alright, mate?"

"Hmm? Me?" Remus sputters. "Yeah…yeah, of course."

"You sure you aren't on something? Fit bartender didn't slip anything into your drink at Essential, hmm?" Sirius asks, knowing full well that he's the cause but pretending otherwise.

"I'm fine."

Remus resists the urge to step hard on Sirius' foot as payback for drawing unnecessary attention to the both of them, but in the end thinks better of it. After all, he doesn't want to give Sirius the impression that he doesn't like the touching. And really, the only thing that Remus is on is Sirius. Or would be, if only one of them would make a move beyond getting handsie under the table.

In the almost-year since he met Sirius, sparks have been flying between them. Flickers at first, but after accidentally running into each other on Canal Street—and subsequently outing each other in the process—those flickers have grown into something much more. Magnetic, even. And the more he spends time with Sirius—which at this point in nearly impossible since they're almost always together—the more he wants more. And quite frankly, it scares the shit out of him.

Because Sirius is nothing if not a flirt. All of this—these little touches—could be nothing more than friendly—albeit incessant—hellos. Sometimes it's hard to remember that, though, because Sirius has a way of making him feel like the only bloke in existence. Dangerous ability, that. Especially so, considering that Remus has nothing to offer him in return and knows it.

Remus' attention is pulled from Sirius with the thud of James' glass coming in harsh contact with the tabletop. Briefly, he wonders why James has made such a show of it—though, really, this is James and that alone should be enough explanation—when he hears the closing chords of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic."

Oh fuck all.

With as much stealth as he can muster, Remus tries to slide down in his seat. He's not drunk enough for this—karaoke night at The Auror. Bloody Frank and his bloody machine. And fuck James for starting this Tuesday evening tradition of getting sloshed and making complete arses of themselves.

James is all drunken-smiles when he announces, "you're up, Remus!"

"Sorry, I think I might throw up. Pardon me."

But Lily—and just whose friend does she think she is?—grabs his wrist to halt his progress as he stands. He jerks himself free and sits down, knowing that his mates—and he uses the term loosely—will pull him up there if need be. His only saving grace is that it's Lily's turn to pick a song for him, and usually she takes some pity.

"Alright then." Lily takes a long sip of her drink. "You, love, will be regaling us with…'I'm Gonna Be' by The Proclaimers."

Suddenly Remus rounds on Peter. "You told them, didn't you? You little traitor!"

"Come on, mate." Peter pats his shoulder. "We've all shared our embarrassing stories of yesteryear. And since you weren't willing to dish, I had to do it for you while you were chatting up that cute bloke the other day."

"I think it's cute that you cried during…what was the film again?"

"Benny & Joon," Remus answers James, seething. "And I was very…young at the time."

"Right then." James nods towards the karaoke machine. "Get to it."

"I'm not singing just so you can take the mickey."

"Come on, I'll sing with you."

Remus thinks he just heard Sirius say he'll sing with him, but surely he's dreaming. When he glances over at Sirius, though—looking very delicious in that grey jumper, he might add—Sirius has an expectant look in his eyes. And despite both of them being certified music lovers, they've never mucked around with each other—never played or sung. Though if he's honest with himself, Remus has wanted to ask him to do so for absolute ages. And, he supposes, that's why he nods his consent dumbly, getting out of the booth in a daze.

Having been playing in live bars since he was old enough to get into them, Remus is no stranger to the spotlight, but he feels distinctly nervous about being up here tonight. The opening chords make him a little queasy—chords he's been playing since he was fifteen—but when Sirius drapes an arm around his shoulders, gives him one of those flashy smiles, his sickness is momentarily lulled into submission.

Suddenly it doesn't matter that he sounds like a dying cat, that he's making a complete arse of himself next to the golden-voiced Sirius. All that matters is that he's singing with him:

When I wake up, well I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who wakes up next to you
When I go out, yeah I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who goes along with you…

 

An hour later, Remus and Sirius nearly tumble out of The Auror, quite a tangle of limbs and hysterical laughter. At what, Remus isn't sure, but whatever it is, it's the most brilliant thing in the world. Or the second most brilliant thing in the world because Sirius is—by far—the first.

They make it several stumbled steps into the alleyway—Sirius' and Remus' arms wound around each others' shoulders and turned in towards each other—before Remus trips. He lands against the rough brick of the building, pulling Sirius against him by accident. For a minute, he thinks to apologize—though he's not entirely sure he's sorry for it—but by the time his tongue is forming around the words, Sirius closes what little space there is between their chests.

"I love that movie," Sirius says, though it comes out half-laughed.

"Benny & Joon? You've never seen it."

"Mmm, true. But you love it, so I love it."

And he supposes that he ought to feel tense as Sirius leans down to capture his lips. But for the first time in his life, he isn't. It feels like the most natural thing in the world, moving into this kiss—like he's been waiting a lifetime for it. His fingers find Sirius' belt loops—pulling him even closer against him—while Sirius winds his hands through Remus' hair.

They move together in the alley for a long while—kissing and touching and breathing in one another. It's only after he's long beyond hope that Remus realizes how drug-like Sirius really is, how much he needs his hands all over him—desperate and frantic. At a loss for breath, they break from one another, careful to only part as much as strictly necessary. And it's at that moment that Remus understands the course of his life has shifted, aligning with Sirius Black's.

~*~*~

Remus supposes that he should have expected this—the inevitable confrontation between the two of them. And for all that he tried to keep busy with Teddy—now whisked away by Auntie Lily—he couldn't hold out for ever. After losing his miniature human shield, he had little choice but to try to mingle as much as possibly until a very respectable hour to get the fucking hell out of there. As luck would have it, the moment he'd been abandoned in a booth by Gideon Prewett, Sirius slipped in Gid's place, pushing a drink towards him.

But now, face-to-face with Sirius, it feels like there's a bloody chasm between them. Remus supposes that time has a lot to do with it. Time and bad memories. Or memories that are only bad because they were once good.

"How have you been?"

The sound of Sirius' concert-strained voice sends a chill through him, and he involuntarily remembers long nights listening to it, hearing Sirius call his name over-and-over-and-over again in that hoarse whisper. He tries to shake the memory's hold on him, but he doesn't think it's done much good.

"Well enough," Remus answers, gruffly.

A sad smile forms on his lips. "I didn't think you'd show, to be honest."

"Nor did I."

"But…I'm glad you did."

Sirius looks up at him, a glimmer of hope dancing in grey eyes. Remus has a twisted desire to do whatever it takes to quash it beneath his heel. Well, a part of him does, at least. He's torn between that and a fierce need to ask Sirius to stop it, to say you did this, you don't have a fucking right to look at me like that, why can't all the money and fame in the world be enough for you—why do you need this, too?. But he can't possibly voice any of that, so he sits staring at his drink in silence.

"Your son," Sirius begins, nodding in Teddy's direction, "he's a brilliant little tyke. Wanted me to sign his forehead, though. Didn't think you'd really approve of that, so—"

"Don't," Remus says.

"Don't what?"

"Don't talk about my son. Don't pretend like everything is alright. We're not mates, Sirius. Not anymore."

"I just want to talk," Sirius explains, putting on his best hurt puppy face.

Remus stands, staring down at Sirius. "We've nothing to say to each other."

He leaves the table in a rush, feeling mutinous wetness in his eyes. And it's not the fact that he can't stand the sight of Sirius anymore that has him like this. If only that were the case. But it's got everything to do with the fact that he can. All these years and they're finally reunited in the flesh. All this time, all this distance, and a part of Remus feels like he never left at all.

And if he doesn't get out of here now—if he doesn't make it obvious to Sirius that things are over between them—he worries that he might never want to.

~*~

For what must be the second time today—and he can't believe he's made a habit of this—he runs a rough flannel firmly across his skin. He tries to scrub away all that he's been suffering these past few days—unwanted thoughts, feelings, memories. And for a while—a few deluded moments—he actually thought it might work. But as he turns off the shower and pauses, he realizes it was just an effort in vain.

Remus steps into the bedroom—black towel wrapped loosely around his waist and hair plastered to his forehead—when his mobile rings. Initially, he thinks nothing of it, snatching it up from where it had been discarded earlier on the bed after a conversation with Teddy. It's only when he sees that the number is restricted that his brow furrows, his curiosity piqued.

"Hello?" Remus says hesitantly.

"I didn't expect you to pick up."

Big fucking mistake. Remus could kick himself for letting his guard down, for answering an unknown call. He's overcome by the urge to put an end to this immediately, to hang up and never look back. But the moment he tries, he somehow fails, as if his brain has some sort of top secret Sirius override. Annoying, that.

"How did you get my number?"

"The same place I get all my information: the lovely Mrs. Potter." A heavy pause, and then, "I miss you, love."

As if suddenly boneless, Remus falls back onto his bed. Leave it to Sirius sodding Black to cut right to the chase. Maybe Sirius is under the impression that he's about to hang up at any moment, which he is. Just as soon as he gets his shaking hand and fluttering heart to fucking cooperate.

" Seeing you the other night—" And here, Remus has no choice but to shut his eyes tightly. "—it was like cheating time or something. Well up until you walked out, but… I didn't get to see you long enough."

"Consider that the story of our life together, as far as I'm concerned. It never lasted long enough."

If anyone were to ask him right then, he wouldn't be able to say why he was baring his heart like this. Maybe because he'd never been able to lie to Sirius effectively. Maybe because he's gone around the bend. Maybe because he's been living with these feelings for so long that his only option is to unleash them or be consumed. Maybe it doesn't even matter because he's said them—for the first time in six years—all the same.

"I'm sorry."

"No, you're not. Because if you were, you would have come home to me. You would have realized that everything that Phoenix Records had to offer you was fake. Money and glory, too. Does it fill you up inside, Sirius? Tell me. Is it everything you dreamed of?"

"Remus—"

"If you were fucking sorry, you wouldn't have sold your soul—and our love—for fame. You would have never produced that song."

"I…I…no, that's not…Remus. I just wanted you to kn—"

"Save it."

He hangs up, tossing his mobile across the room. It's only after he hears a loud thunk against the wall that Remus has the courage to release his held breath, to allow his body to uncoil. As the minutes tick past, he feels guilt—rather than the relief he expects—welling up inside of him like bile, only more unpleasant. From time to time he'd imagined reuniting with Sirius—more often in his dreams than anything—but he had no idea the bitter…monster he'd become, nursing this hurt inside himself. He shouldn't of…he had no right…music had been Sirius' sole aspiration in life. Who was he to have a tantrum about it? To make Sirius feel guilty? No one.

In a desperate hope to remedy this, Remus rushes to his mobile, only to find hope quashed as it lies in several pieces.

~*~

When James offered to have a boys day out with him, Remus was thankful for the distraction. He's struggled a lot with his behavior towards Sirius since their explosive conversation the night before last. And while the thought of getting in touch with Sirius did occur to him after he picked up his new mobile, he was ultimately too cowardly to go through with it then. But getting out of the flat with James has done him some good, and he thinks that maybe he's ready for that call.

He turns towards James, trying to come up with some subtle transition into asking for Sirius' number, when James pulls his car next to some fancy looking building. This isn't at all like James—breaking from their carefully planned agenda—which is why he immediately frowns, curious. There's an underlying sense of guilt on James' face as their eyes meet; three years of fatherhood has taught Remus how to pick up on that. Guilt for what, he isn't sure. But something. Which is why he braces himself and asks,

"Where are we going?"

"Sorry, I got a call from Sirius this morning. He just needed me to stop by his place to pick some papers up. You know how he is," James says with a smile, "Everything's a miniature crisis."

"James—"

"Don't worry. You don't have to come up. I won't even tell him you're in the car."

"No, that's not…" He sighs. "Sirius lives in Manchester now?"

"Yeah, he bought some flat in this building a week or two ago. Do you remember McKinnon? Tall girl with the black hair? Well she's in real estate now and got him a great deal on the place."

"Oh."

It's really all he can bear to respond with, especially with the sudden emergence of conflicting feelings bubbling up inside him. Sirius in Manchester? Talk about life suddenly becoming twice as difficult. As if his—and really, might as well call it what it is—fixation on Sirius wasn't already bad enough. How is he to cope with the fact that Sirius is conveniently living within walking distance of many of the places he frequents once or twice a week.

"I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you came up, if you wanted," James adds, opening the car door.

Remus, however, strongly doubts that, especially after their last conversation. In fact, he would wager that Sirius wouldn't care to see him ever again. Still, this provides the perfect opportunity to apologize for how he acted, to confess to Sirius all that he'd wanted to since their conversation. I'm sorry, mainly, but also, I'm glad you went, even if it meant leaving me behind. Because that much is true—despite how much it hurts to admit it. Maybe all this time and resentment stemmed not towards Sirius himself, but music. Maybe that's why Remus plays so little nowadays. He'd always assumed that Sirius loved him and singing the same, and it crushed him to find out otherwise.

So it's the desire to make amends that drives him to open his own door, to follow James up the steps to Sirius' front door. And while it's hard to follow James through the threshold, he does all the same, momentarily stunned by how…homey Sirius' flat is; he was expecting something posh, something exuding all the pleasures fame might buy.

"James, thanks—"

Turning towards the sound of Sirius' voice, Remus meets his gaze. They hold each other's briefly before Sirius breaks from him, scratching the back of his neck, obviously caught off guard. For Remus' part, he just stares out the large windows overlooking the living room, trying his best to blend in.

"Do you have the papers for Caradoc then?" James asks, and Sirius reaches for a folder on the nearby counter.

Just as James is about to take it from Sirius, his mobile rings. Harry, James announces, and excuses himself into the corridor outside of Sirius' flat to take the call. Remus almost grabs James shirt sleeve as he walks past. He's not been alone with Sirius in years, and he's quite afraid of what might happen.

"Do you…want a drink or something? Water? Tea? I think I have some of that fizzy drink you used to like."

"Ah, no thanks." Remus shoves his hands into his pocket. "Look, about the other night, I'm sorry. I had no right to say those things."

Sirius smiles sadly, then nods. "You did. Have some right, that is. But thanks all the same."

The tension that had been gathering in him for some time eases a little, and Remus can't help but breathe a sigh of relief. He smirks at Sirius and shrugs.

"Maybe I will have a drink, after all."

"Right," Sirius says going to the other side of the kitchen counter to grab a glass, and Remus can't help but think he's pleased. "Are you doing well?"

"Yeah, I suppose. As good as can be expected."

"Are you still…you know, having the seizures?"

"Unfortunately. They're the same as always," Remus explains, taking the glass from Sirius' hand. "I had the last one about two months ago. But generally speaking, I've been better than I was a long time ago. New medication and what not."

"I remember when you would…Christ. I was always so fucking scared." He gives a nervous little laugh. "I was stupid enough to think that I'd get used to it, that I'd be able to react more calmly when you…but…it never got easier, seeing you like that."

They look at each other meaningfully, and Remus supposes that something like this—like the bond they'd created through four years of fighting this disease—doesn't get tainted by the bad of any relationship. Things like this—serious stuff—only seem to push people together. And he and Sirius had enough serious shit to wade through for a lifetime.

"What about you?" Remus asks softly, hoping to redirect the conversation away from himself.

"Me?"

"I heard about Azkaban."

"Mm." Sirius sighs, grabbing a second glass and filling it up with tap water. "Suppose that was all over the news, wasn't it?"

"Are you doing better?"

"Faced a lot of demons in that place." He shakes his head, look on his face one of reflection. "But yeah, I'm clean now. Suppose it was a bit cliché of me. Should have expected it. I mean, you hear about it all the time, don't you? Famous Rockstar sent to Azkaban Rehabilitation Clinic after doing some mental shit."

Remus' face softens. "You had a reason, Sirius. It wasn't…you were… James and Lily and Harry were almost murdered by Riddle that—"

"Because of me."

"You had no control over that."

"It was my brother that led them there."

Remus thinks to argue with Sirius, to try to convince him that what happened that night had very little to do with him. And really, the only thing that Remus could fault him for in the whole situation was never showing his face at the hospital, for turning to liquor and Christ-knows-what instead of being there in person for the Potters. Remus supposes he had his reasons, and despite wanting desperately to know what they are, he doesn't dare ask.

"Still, I'm glad you're better," Remus says, as if it's some sort of consolation prize to the reverberations of that October night.

"I'm just glad you care."

Once more Remus finds himself sharing a look with Sirius, willing himself to not get caught up in things. It's difficult, though, especially when they're opening themselves to one another like this—exposing shared challenges and those that they suffered independently. And, maybe for the first time, the realization dawns on Remus that this whole thing feels foreign and yet so very normal. Sirius—despite six long years of separation—is not so different from the man he once loved. More jaded, certainly. Older and weary, not unlike himself. Yet there is something there unmistakably Sirius.

"Of course I care," Remus says, a little offended. "I never—"

"Sorry about that," James says, stepping back into Sirius' flat. "Your godson sends his love."

As if suddenly realizing he's come in on a personal moment, James looks between the two of them. Remus, for his part, tries not to look suspicious. Sirius seems downright pissed off though, and there's little wonder why. This is the first civil conversation they've had in years, and if what everyone says is true—that Sirius still has feelings for him—then James might have mucked things up for them.

In a subtle form of retaliation, Sirius smacks James on his head with the folder for Caradoc, eliciting a rude gesture in response. Snatching the folder from Sirius, James smacks him back. And Remus thinks this might be go on all afternoon, knowing those two has he does. But perhaps it's a sign of acquired maturity that they stop there.

There's a quick round of goodbyes that follow—James having to get back home and Remus having an evening module to teach—before they show themselves out. As he walks out the door, the thought occurs to Remus that he made it out of there relatively unscathed. Or, at least, much better than he anticipated.

Or he thinks as much until he hears Sirius' voice from the bottom of the first stairwell. Remus pauses, then turns to see Sirius taking the steps two at a time until only a step stands between them. Sirius holds out a slip of paper, and Remus takes it without so much as a thought—old habits dying hard.

"What's this?"

"An address. I do a charity gig once a year. I thought….I mean, I was hoping that maybe you wouldn't be against showing up? If you don't...look, it's not a big deal. I just. Maybe I shouldn't have asked. Sorry."

Remus is struck by the way Sirius trips over his words, by how flustered he seems. And that's a fairly rare occurrence, or at least it has been since Remus has known him. Even in the worst of situations, Sirius has always been able to come across as eloquent and level-headed (even if he is a little sarcastic in the process. Unfolding the paper, Remus notes the date—willing to commit despite his misgivings, if only because he has a weak heart and weaker will—and frowns.

"I've some plans that night. A friend's coming back into town, and I promised to pick him up at the airport."

Sirius looks crushed momentarily before waving him off with a laugh. "Yeah, sorry. It was stupid of me."

Remus catches his eye before continuing down the stairs and can't help but add, "I would have liked to, though."

And Remus surprises himself when he realizes that he hadn't meant the words as comfort, that he truly would have liked to go.

~*~

It's a testament to just how much Remus has been drawn in by Sirius that he drops Euan off at his flat and leaves his randy lover at the door. It's probably very stupid of him—leaving the man who wants him unequivocally for the man who, well, left him all those years ago. Yet, he leaves Euan all the same with a muttered apology and a promise—sincere or fake, he's not yet sure—to call his lover soon.

And for as much as he's been told that Euan resembles Sirius—both in looks and personality—being with him after seeing Sirius again marks a stark contrast. Remus worries that he'll never be able to be with Euan again because—now more than ever—the similarities and differences will fester between his former lover and his current one. It's not fair to Euan, and Remus supposes that it's not fair to himself either.

It's that fact—that he's broken through the barrier that allows him to relive his relationship with Sirius through Euan—that ultimately has him choosing to go to this charity concert; his curiosity alone couldn't have urged him to this breaking point. He has to confront this head on in order to be able to go on with his life. And maybe for the first time, Remus truly understands how greatly their break-up has affected him. And maybe he'll never be able to move on without a proper goodbye, without a confession to the fact that a part of him will always love Sirius. But not the musician. The man.

With that intention in mind, Remus arrives at the designated venue. He expects it to be less extravagant—something akin to the live houses they used to play in. He has no idea where he got that image, but the surprise is enough to throw him off kilter.

Being considerably underdressed—and having the mind to tear Sirius a new arsehole for leaving out the bit about this being a practically black tie event—Remus hides in the back of the ballroom. He scans the room for Sirius, but with little luck. And he'd better find him soon because—judging from the looks he's getting from a very snobby looking lady with a leather notebook in hand to mark her importance—he may be escorted out.

Thankfully before she can make it more than a half step towards him, an elderly gentleman walks up on the make-shift stage thanking everyone for attending the benefit for… And here, Remus' mind altogether shuts down because the gentleman just said something about a charitable organization for furthering research on Lupus and other autoimmune disorders. He has to replay the words again—yes, he had said Lupus, and yes, he is following this up with Sirius' introduction and a note of gratitude for how much Sirius has contributed to the cause.

And fuck. Remus had no idea that Sirius… For the past six years, really? Even after they'd split up? He'd still… Oh, God.

Remus' initial urge is to be sick, followed almost simultaneously by a desire to get the hell out of here. He's nearly at the door when he freezes at the sound of the mic being shuffled around and then Sirius' voice.

"I'd just like to tell everyone how much I appreciate being invited back to play again this year. As I've told you time and again, this is a cause very near to my heart, and I thank you for your support and donations.

"This is usually the point in the evening where I regal you with my charm and wit—"Here, a collective laugh from the stuffy crowd, "—and follow it up with some upbeat number off my latest album. However, I've done a lot of thinking lately and realized that a positive outlook on things is hardly enough to battle this condition. The best weapon is a desire to persevere, despite everything. To continue on, even when you hurt so much it doesn't seem bearable. And more than anything, to have people beside you that will support you every step of the way.

"I don't think I've ever mentioned why I'm so invested in this cause, but I'll tell you all tonight that a person I love very much suffers from Lupus. I'd invited him along tonight, but he turned me down, which has got to be a first for me in the past six years—" Another collective chuckle from the audience, "So I'd like to dedicate this song to him, to our years truly living with this sickness as opposed to merely existing with it, and as a sort of apology for being stupid enough to let him continue on this journey alone."

It's enough to undo anyone, but especially Remus who has never heard Sirius talk about his condition like this before. He maintains his self-control with a deep breath and thinks he has enough strength in him to walk out that door without having a nervous breakdown. Because he can't possibly stay, can't possibly see this event through without coming undone. And Remus refuses to get weepy in front of a room full of strangers.

As he touches the door handle, he is very proud of himself, but his composure swiftly shatters with a few, unexceptional chords plucked from Sirius' acoustic. He pushes the door open in an almost-panic, hearing the faint echo of Sirius singing,

When I wake up, well I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who wakes up next to you
When I go out, yeah I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who goes along with you…
~*~

In the days that follow the charity concert, Remus is a wreck. Not in the usual way, as Peter points out on one particular occasion. Rather than forgetting his medication and trying to drink away most of his problems, he takes the pills mechanically and can't bear the thought of a muddled brain. Or one any more muddled than it already is.

Because the thing is, Remus thought that Sirius forgot. And it sounds stupid, but he'd thought in the whirlwind of money, women, and drugs, Sirius would lose the memory of the night they first kissed. The night that, as far as Remus is concerned, changed his life for the better. And it all began with that damn song. So the fact that Sirius had remembered meant only one thing to Remus.

Sirius was still his Sirius, despite everything Remus had tried to convince himself to believe. That their relationship was so important to him that he clung to the memory of a song sung on a dare—a completely unremarkable moment in time for anyone but a man in love. And Remus, despite a world of misgivings, wants to love him like his twenty-four year old self had.

He calls Sirius two days after the event—after he finds some courage—only to discover that Sirius is out of town, that he isn't due back in Manchester for another week. In a fluster, Remus had muttered an acknowledgement of the fact and promptly hung up. It took him another day to dig up even more courage to text Sirius, asking if they could meet up when he got back in town.

 

He rehearses the carefully thought-out speech just before knocking on Sirius' door, his stomach flip-flopping unpleasantly. With the sound of approaching footsteps, his heart hammers against his ribcage, thud-thump, thud-thump, thud-thump. The thought occurs to him that he needs to calm down, that he's in the middle of a flare up, and that now would be a most inopportune time to have a seizure. It's a mark of someone who has suffered and survived them for a lifetime that he can find the black humor in the scenario at all.

And yes, it's foolish for him to be out like this. He knows as much. But the idea of not going to see Sirius while he feels remotely functioning is out of the question. If there is one thing he's learned, it's never to waste a minute. Tomorrow he could be worse and the following day and the one after that. This flare up could be the flare up that sends a fatal seizure through his brain. There's no guarantee for him—for anyone—and Remus refuses to go without finally setting things right between him and Sirius.

"You made it," Sirius says, opening the door and stepping aside so Remus can enter.

"You thought I wouldn't?"

Sirius shrugs, shutting it behind him. "I wasn't sure."

They stand close to one another in the tiny hallway, and Remus thinks that this is the closest they've been in six years. It brings back many memories, of him winding his arms around Sirius' middle, of pulling him close. And he supposes—after the fact—that that's probably why his carefully rehearsed dialogue flew out the window.

Before he knows it, Remus has grabbed Sirius' shirt and tugged him forward. Their lips meet in a slow, awkward tangle that belies the familiarity shared between the two of them. Remus has to give Sirius some credit; for someone who probably could have never anticipated this coming, he's doing a remarkable job of catching up, of kissing back like he used to. And they fall into familiar rhythm, like a well rehearsed song.

Until, of course, Sirius comes to his senses and pulls back with, "are you drunk?"

"Surprisingly, no," Remus admits with a guilty little smile.

"Not that I don't appreciate the snog, but…"

Remus bites down on his lower lip briefly before continuing. "I came in the end. To the benefit."

"Oh, fuck." Sirius says, wide-eyed and seemingly mortified.

"My thoughts exactly."

"What did you catch?"

"Only the most embarrassing and heartfelt moments."

"Naturally," Sirius huffs.

He has no idea how Sirius is expecting him to react. Honestly, Remus has no idea how he should react himself. Anything he could say about Sirius' confession that night would fall short of the real truth of that matter. Yes, he appreciates Sirius loving him despite his condition. Yes, the song meant so much to him. Yes, he never quite stopped loving him. But saying all of that would somehow cheapen the moment. And Sirius—because he truly is Sirius—will understand without it.

"So what's this mean?" Sirius asks, hesitantly.

Remus shrugs. "I don't know. Nothing's really changed, has it?"

"In six years?" Sirius rolls his eyes, and Remus could both kiss him and smack him for it. "Nothing at all."

"I meant between us." Remus fears the answer, but asks all the same, "Do you still love me?"

"Have you listened to the fucking radio lately? Did you ever think I was singing for anyone but you?"

"I'd just assumed that you did it because you loved the music."

"Oh Christ—and don't you dare repeat this to anyone—but you are the fucking music, nitwit."

And now it's Remus' turn to be pulled into a kiss, but he almost expects it, and this time it tastes like a well-nursed memory. The feel of Sirius' hands move up his back, of familiar muscle beneath his fingertips, takes Remus back to the night before Sirius left for London and stardom. Their tongues tangle, and Remus aches for him in a way that transcends physical need. And suddenly he needs something confirmed.

"I can see you, right? Between tours and recordings and awards ceremonies and guest appearances?" Remus asks, hating the desperation in his voice. "Your company won't have any say over that, will they?"

Sirius smirks, and Remus has no idea what's so humorous. "There is no company, love."

"Hmm?"

"I went to London to tell Dumbledore and Minnie that I'm retiring. And before you ask, no, it has nothing to do with you. Well not really. I'd decided before we ever saw each other again, but I'd hoped that moving back to Manchester would give me a chance of reconnecting with you."

"Sirius…"

"The music means nothing without the muse. Just empty words, really. And six years in the music business feels like a lifetime."

Remus tightens his hold around Sirius, rests his head on his shoulder and takes it all in. He's wanted to hear those words from Sirius for a long time, can't begin to describe what they make him feel. At first Remus worries that these emotions will be fleeting, that he's making the biggest mistake of his life, letting Sirius back in. But as the minutes tick by—the feel of Sirius' chest rising and falling against his own—Remus can't help but be overcome by the sudden steadiness of his whole being, as if he's suddenly found his anchor.

"I'd like to get to know your son," Sirius says softly against his temple with a kiss.

And Remus can't help but smile.