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those bare deep vacuums between the stars

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Sirius said, “We used to fuck.”

He said it, not cruelly, but as though he was reading it off a grocery list: eggs, bread, milk, cigarettes. Earlier in the day he’d said We used to live here before I went to Azkaban, looking around at the walls of their Phroog Alley flat with a flatly disinterested air. It had been the first thing he said since he delivered the news about Voldemort and crashed onto the sofa. His feet had been cut up; he had run ragged as Padfoot, looping about the country doing courier-work. It had taken Remus a full hour to get him cleaned up and his wounds treated.

“You were a sap and called it making love,” Remus interposed firmly. “If you’re hungry, I’ll heat up the soup. It’s going on five.”

“You used to work in a bookshop. There were children. You hated them.”

“It was a library. I can do a fry-up, if you’d rather, but you need to eat. Man cannot live on tea alone.” If there was irony in that, this hollow-cheeked revenant wouldn’t understand it.

Sirius asked, “Do you have mushrooms?” He left his seat and came up to hover at Remus’ elbow in the kitchen, eyes darting.

“Should do. You want them with tomatoes, or bacon, or tatties, or…”

“Not potatoes,” Sirius said, sharp, and shook his head emphatically. “Sorry, it’s nearly all they ever fed us, and I. Did I ever like potatoes?”

“Indeed you didn’t, you aristocratic wanker. No potatoes, then.”

“I want salt. And that yellowish stuff.”

“Mustard. I’ll see to it, go sit back down and finish your tea.”

If he took a moment between pulling out the bacon and slicing it to lean his forehead against a cabinet and shudder, it was nobody’s business but his own. All things considered, he thought he was behaving quite admirably. It was frustrating that they were out of Dijon mustard.

Sirius ate an egg, two rashers of bacon, and three mushrooms, darting anxious little glances at Remus the whole time as though he was going to be graded on his performance.

Afterwards he said, “I wasn’t asking for it now. I’m no prize.”

“”Yes, I wondered whether you’d heard of this marvellous institution called bathing. And your hair’s terrible.”

“The bathroom’s the second door on the left,” Sirius said, and grinned delightedly. “Moony, you wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve been living on. Harry smuggled me food some days, but mostly… if I’d taken to it directly after Azkaban I shouldn’t have cared.”

“After Barbados it must have been a letdown. I did mean it about the bath, you know.”

“I’m going, I’m going,” Sirius said, barked laughter. “Shouldn’t want to drag filth unnecessarily into your clean kitchen.”

It had been Sirius’ kitchen, his particular domain into which Remus ventured only to make endless cups of tea and scavenge breakfast. He had bought the flat primarily because of that kitchen: the deep oven, the enormous chimney, the wide counters where he could nauseatingly flay rabbits or roll out dough—Muggle-wise—for enormous savoury pies. Once Remus had come home to a peacock sectioned across three counters and Sirius had grinned viciously about Wiltshire and Malfoy and wouldn’t Cissa like to know where her precious bird went. Frank had nearly lost a leg, that time.

He roused himself when the water stopped running, drained the sink and put away the dishes that had been scrubbed to the whiteness of bleached bones, and went to investigate the innards of the trunk into which he’d thrown Sirius’ clothes when he returned from France. For well over a decade it’d sat in the loft above his study, smugly taking up about half the space, and to get it down showered the floor in the odds and ends that had been pelted in after it.

It was like memory, to undo the leather straps and stiff brass buckles and heave the lid open. It was Sirius’ trunk from Hogwarts, and the preservation spells knit into the very fabric of the thing had held against the years and Remus’ neglect. Sirius during the war had worn leathers and denims and wrock t-shirts under his robes, and occasionally dark, conservatively-cut, robes to stand officiously at Mr. Potter’s elbow at Ministry events. For Lily and James’ wedding he had shown up in house colours, all black and sparkling silver with his hair knotted back. In the kitchen he had worn a dress in lieu of aprons. He had been thin, and tall, if not taller than Remus, and had had the promise of further growth even at twenty, at twenty-one: his hands, cradling Harry, had been absurdly large against the lean strength of his arms. A puppy not quite grown into its paws. Orion Black, in Remus’ few memories of him, loomed very large, but Azkaban had taken the chance of growth from Sirius. At thirty-five his etiolated frame might still fit clothes the twenty year-old had been on the verge of outgrowing.

Remus stacked the clothes on the floor outside the bathroom, topped them with a towel, knocked to call Sirius an idiot and inform him he didn’t need to wander around in clothes that had seen a month of hard travel and rough sleeping and were coming frayed at the seams. Sirius shouted back obscene suggestions muffled by the door. It could have been fifteen years ago, easy as anything.

After Lily and James’ death, he had lingered some months in France after sending Emmeline home with their newly unnecessary information, had wandered through Germany and Hungary into Romania, thought of making his home in a country where his kind were treated as more than mindless animals. When he’d returned Moody had patted him on the back and offered alcohol, Andromeda Tonks had instituted weekly lunch, and Sirius’ attorney had offered him the deeds to the flat. Before he went to France on Dumbledore’s orders feeling like it was a greater reprieve than he had any right to, he had lived in these rooms with Sirius for three years. Alone, he’d lived in them for twelve. With Sirius in the bathroom and then knocking about for clothes, those years melted away, everything about the flat felt wrong. He’d turned his bedroom into a study, Sirius’ into his own, none of the old ornaments remained where they’d been put, he’d torn down Sirius’ posters and boxed away his books. He had to put everything back, if they had to share the space again. But Sirius might have to run, or leave on Dumbledore’s orders. From the shores of one war to another he had stayed alone, lonely. Now Sirius was back, ominous like a thunderstorm darkening the horizon, and all Remus wanted was to run out bareheaded and risk lightning.

He busied himself turning his desk into a low cot for Sirius, dragging bedding and quilts over from his room, and standing the trunk at the foot of the bed. There were toiletries enough in the bathroom, he could unbox a new toothbrush and purchase a set of combs. They had shared soap and shaving cream before; it would be uneconomic to lay out for a new set. Sirius hardly looked as though he had much use for either. A set of underwear, and very likely shoes. Perhaps a shirt or two, trousers that weren’t fifteen years old. He could drag off to the shops himself, if Sirius was in a state to stay alone in the heart of magical London, or hand off the list to Tonks or Dung Fletcher.

When Sirius came in he had drawn out quill and parchment and was making a list, cobbling together their immediate needs and what he remembered of Sirius’ likes and dislikes. No potatoes, no cabbage, no beans unless for some strange Indian curry: none of the bits and bobs that sustained life through the lean times. Gone from overindulged snob to prison survivor, he would want to be lapped in comforts. There had been a particular wine he’d liked that Andromeda had favoured also, something full-bodied that Remus remembered only from kissing.

Sirius said, “You really have gone mad, haven’t you, Moony?” He was standing braced in the doorway when Remus turned. The clothes fit him. Under the thin grey of the t-shirt his collarbones stood stark above the scrawling black of his tattoos. He had had more muscle in those days, but his frame had grown broader since, and the shirt that gaped at the collar was tight about the shoulders, painted onto the arms. The trousers slung low on his hips, hung loose around his thighs. He had been shriven down to bone.

“You’ve cut your hair,” Remus answered, probably confirming Sirius’ suspicions. He looked like a ruined church, some abbey handed over by Henry Tudor to the Protestants: the stained-glass gone, and the tapestries, and the worked altar-cloths and the bright beauty of the votives and ornaments. Only the bones left, the high arches of harsh stone, the weathered masonry, the defiant cry of continued existence. Remus wanted to fall to his knees, offer blasphemous worship. Not a prize, Sirius had said. The curve of his skull showed under the close-cropped hair, and the strong clean lines of jaw and cheek-bone now that the straggling beard had been shaved off. Remus could have taught an anatomy lesson, using him. The Common English Pure-Blood, here seen as a male in his thirties. Observe the high cheek-bones, the large sunken socket of the eye, the high dome of the forehead. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you with it this short.”

“My scalp’s more scab than skin,” Sirius said easily. “What are you muttering over?”

“Trying to remember what you like to eat,” he said, and Sirius came down to sit companionably close to him on the bed and filch the list.

“Someone should. I’ll eat what you put before me. Except leeks.”

“Or potatoes.”

“Or potatoes,” Sirius agreed lightly, and flung himself flat on his back. “Mattresses, Moony, such luxury. I’ve been sleeping on rock and scrounged newspaper.”

It exposed a strip of his concave belly, the hipbones pushing against skin, the dark trail of hair sinking beneath the waistband of his trousers. Remus, traitorous, could not help but look, or want to touch. He kept his hands clenched into fists, smiled, tried to think of some triviality to latch onto. He had forgotten how impossible it felt, to sit beside Sirius and want him, in all the years he had spent convincing himself into hatred instead.

He had forgotten that Sirius had a dog’s nose and a dog’s sad lack of inhibition. In a moment he was being pulled down, an arm snaking about his waist and tugging, to lie nose to nose with Sirius. His feet brushed the floor, and in a minute or five his hip would begin to hurt. All he could see was Sirius’ smile, the one crooked tooth he had never fixed, the way the lip pulled up in a snarl above a canine, the bright joy in it, the more dreadful for the devastation of his face, the searching sobriety of his eyes.

“I thought you weren’t asking,” he managed, got an elbow under himself, pushed up and away from Sirius till he could begin to think. Being so close after so long was like a Confundus Charm spun from love and long familiarity.

“I’m offering,” Sirius said, closed his hand cold over the curve of Remus’ shoulder, shook him. “You’ve never known to ask for anything, Moony. If I hadn’t done something you’d have kept yourself to looks and sighs till the war ate us whole.”

“Your idea of doing something involved swans and small children and Dora in a milkmaid’s dress,” Remus said, indignant and rearing up.

“It worked,” Sirius said, and dragged him ruthlessly down again. “I don’t have that in me again, so I’m just offering. I’m no prize, but I’m here if you want me.”

“Padfoot,” Remus said, his arm trapped and his hip aching and the pain in his heart unknotting, “I will always want you. Don’t be stupid.”

The kiss when it came was hesitant, quiet, nothing like the first time they’d kissed, so many years and so few yards away. In its way it was a first kiss, hullo again if not quite hullo, not a kiss between longtime companions. Impossible as it seemed, they had been apart longer than they had been boys together, and their bodies would not let them dissimulate though their speech so persistently did. They kissed slowly, brushing their mouths together, Sirius still damp and cool from his bath, Remus bristling with stubble. Sirius stroked his hand down to Remus’ wrist, and back up to his shoulder, holding him at a comforting distance.

When they parted Remus bent awkwardly to tuck his face against Sirius’ shoulder, kiss the skin exposed by the sagging collar, butt against his chin. When they had been boys together he had liked to rough-house with Sirius, sneak touch in under pretence. If they had grown together like trees trained in a greenhouse, if they had been allowed a life together and the raising of Harry, if he had known Sirius from years of sleeping and waking beside him instead of this panicked instinct... but it was done now, it was over, and they would never again be parted.

“We were happy,” Sirius said, confident. “We must have been. When I saw you in the Shack last year I had no memory of us, only of fighting near the end. You threw a vase at me, once. They take it all away, you know.”

The Sirius who lived in Remus’ memory had been a fierce bright boy who hugged his heart close to himself, held his secrets like diamonds and distracted everyone with the shine of sunlight on glass. The first night they’d gone to bed to do anything but sleep Remus had woken to find Sirius watching him, and had closed his eyes against the scrutiny, terrified and warmed through. For fourteen years he had shut away the memory, every memory of Sirius, as though sealing away noxious poisons against a needful time. For twelve years Sirius had been siphoned dry.

“We were happy,” he said, and brushed a kiss over the jut of Sirius’ scapula, and another over the brutal shape of the tattoo beneath it. “Even in the end, when we barely trusted each other, I wanted to return to you. And you left me this place. I hated you for it, for a while, for how well you knew me.”

“I forgot,” Sirius said. “I forgot how you looked, Moony. All day I’ve been remembering. You haven’t changed at all.”

“I’m old and grey,” Remus said, cripplingly shy, hanging his head. It had been a thing settled between them that Sirius was handsome, James charismatic, Remus wise, and Peter unsettlingly good at getting out of trouble. Even when they had been lovers Sirius had said very little about his looks that Remus could not ascribe to cupboard love, panted out as Remus kissed and touched him. “Did they meddle with your eyes?”

“You look just as I had thought you would,” Sirius said, and pressed a defiant kiss to his hair. “Distinguished. Your students must have been waiting to fall to their knees. Had fun with the seventh years, eh?”

“Sirius!” Remus reared up again, truly horrified this time, and saw Sirius cackling, suddenly like the boy he had been, and not the wreck after all. He looked young, and terribly precious, and utterly terrible.

“I want to go to my knees for you,” he growled, and pressed Remus ruthlessly back into the bed.