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Time is a Fine Invention

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There's a common misconception about leaving home. It's often thought that moving out matures you, educates you, transforms you into the upstanding member of society you were always meant to be. You drop your juvenile ways like hot coals and promptly grow a thick wad of facial hair and a world-weary cynicism. You start watching Newsnight and Question Time, and you understand the difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and you know what all the dials on the oven are for. You can even have a decent bash at the maths bit on Countdown. There's a common misconception about leaving home that it turns you into an adult.

Sirius Black does as little as possible to perpetuate this myth. One rainy morning in September there's a strained knock on the door of 36 Littlebridge Lane. Sirius answers, legs apart, water pistol in hand, aiming Pulp Fiction-style out into the open grey air.

"Halt! Who goes there? Friend or..." He cocks the plastic weapon. "Foe?"

"It's me, you wank," a voice behind a sodden Walkers crisps crate says. "Let me in my house."

"You wanna play rough? Heh, okay... say hello to my little -"

James barges past before Sirius can finish, knocking the gun from his hands and sending it skidding across the floor. It took Sirius a good twenty minutes to unearth that gun from the garden shed, and he's slightly put out to see it whack uselessly into the skirting board.

"Oi!"

"Well!" says James. "Don't hold me up in the doorway of my own home."

"You assigned me warden of the house while you were gone," Sirius reminds him, scrabbling for the gun and following James into the kitchen, his socks slipping dangerously on the wooden floor. "That means you shall be subjected to all routine checks, regardless of your status as homeowner."

He finishes by spraying the last few drops of water from the gun on to James who, like a stressed and sopping Terminator, barely flinches. He dumps the Walkers crate onto the worktop.

It is brimming with enough food to feed the entire village of Dartmouth, though there's some chance they'd all be diagnosed with diabetes and Vitamin C deficiency not long after. James has never had much of a taste for green food, unless you count KFC lettuce and Haribo. Next to the crate are several boxes, each one lovingly labelled with its purpose - 'tins', 'condiments', 'sweeties', 'misc' (whatever constitutes 'misc') - all courtesy of Mrs Potter. James begins unloading the food and placing it into the separate boxes while Sirius sits at the breakfast bar and doesn't help.

"So," he says, picking at a loose thread on his pyjama bottoms, "was it busy, then?"

"What?"

"The shop where you went, was it busy?"

James examines the use-by date on a Pot Noodle. "I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"I hardly ever go to Tesco! How should I know what counts as busy?"

"Well, were there a lot of people there? Usually a place is considered busy if a fair number of people are occupying it. Although I suppose most folk are more organised than you and've already done their uni shopping."

"Yes, and I congratulate them. Truly, I do."

"Hm, so. Was it then?"

"What?"

"Busy!"

James' head snaps up again. He looks desperate, like he's being tormented. "Are you bored?"

"A bit."

"You could always help, you know."

"You didn't help me with my packing."

"I'd hardly call it packing!" James splutters, Pot Noodle tossed into 'misc'. "You don't have to worry about food, and you're probably gonna be kicking around in nothing but a pair of grubby boxers for the next nine months."

"Well, that's not very nice now, is it?"

"Your words!"

Sirius looks at him, at James' red, perspiring face. His glasses are cock-eyed and ever so slightly steamy. James never gets worked up about anything other than Arsenal, and The Cube, and the auction bits on Homes Under the Hammer. There's something slightly unsettling to see him like this now. Especially today.

"Are you alright?" Sirius finally asks.

"I'm just!" Exhaling slowly, James lowers both hands. "I am stressed."

"Would you like a massage?"

"No."

"Would you like to grow a pair?"

"Shut up, Sirius," James mumbles, but at least he's smiling.

Job done, Sirius drags the porcelain fruit bowl towards himself. It's huge and white with a pattern of bluebirds around the outside and tiny orange flowers on the bottom. Thinking it to be the height of interior design, they bought it for Mrs Potter's birthday last year and filled it with liquorice satins, the stains from which never quite came out. Sirius picks out all the green grapes now, popping them into his mouth and tossing the reds to the side.

"Don't know what you're so worried about anyway," he says, mouth full. "Exciting times are to be had, Jamie boy, exciting times."

"Exciting, but no less trying."

"Trying. What could possibly be trying about good old-fashioned piss-ups and endless merry japery?"

"I don't know. The fact that none of that will involve Lily?"

Sirius forces back what he instinctively wants to say - "But it'll involve me, you ungrateful shaft!" - and instead says, "Lily? Which Lily is that then, James? You'll have to remind me."

"Shut - "

"Oh wait, you don't mean the Lily who, some time ago now, set aside your knobhead ways, became your loyal sweetheart, and promised that distance between you wouldn't be detrimental to your gooey relationship, do you? Do you mean that Lily?"

"Yes, that Lily."

"That Lily." He points a finger. "Got it."

"Good, I'm glad."

James reaches into the bottom of the crate to drag out a large multipack of Tesco value crisps. He looks at it for a moment. Then he sighs and lobs the whole lot at Sirius. It hits him in the face.

"You wouldn't understand," James grumbles. "You're single. You've always been single."

"Well now see, that isn't true." Sirius rips the bag open and lunges for the first pack of smoky bacon. "First year I went out with Ava-Rose Polgar, remember that? And then later, the buxom Lauren Ellsworth."

"When did you go out with Lauren Ellsworth?"

"Year nine. When she broke up with Ryan Ebbings for eight days."

James snorts.

"Snogged her behind the stage curtains in the drama studio," Sirius tells him with a waggle of his eyebrows. "Twice."

"And not long after proclaimed yourself gayer than Boy George in a tutu?"

"What can I say? She merely served as the seal of the deal, as it were. The deal being that I love a good -"

"Don't!" James interrupts by shoving a messy handful of Sirius' crisps straight into Sirius' unassuming mouth, neither fair nor pleasant but nonetheless effective. "I've spent the whole bloody summer with you talking about penis and I need to be in a masculine frame of mind for when Lily gets here."

"What could be more masculine than penis?" Sirius asks, spraying crumbs.

James doesn't answer. It is clear, in spite of their brief camaraderie, he's still that dreaded word: stressed. He eats a couple of Sirius’ crisps, as though refuelling, and finishes unpacking the rest of the shopping with the determination of a patient mother, jaw set as though it's some incredibly intricate task.

"Ooh, party rings!" Sirius reaches for the packet, crisps still stuffed in both hand and mouth, only to have his fingers batted away.

"Sirius, this is supposed to last for a while yet so bloody hands off."

"You're not fun," he grumbles, sticking his slapped fingers back into his crisp bag. "I'm not going up north with you if you're going to be a miserable piss-wank. You weren't a miserable piss-wank at school."

"I wasn't with Lily at school."

"I wasn't with Mimy mih mih mih."

He throws a crisp at James' head. Then another. James doesn't rise to it for once, and Sirius quickly grows bored. His laptop is sitting on the breakfast table and he returns to it when it becomes clear his potato snack warfare isn't going to garner a reaction.

"Check if she's on Facebook, will you?" James says over his shoulder.

Annoyed, Sirius considers ignoring the request but only manages to be stubborn for a few seconds before obediently switching tabs from a YouTube compilation of dogs refusing to take baths over to Facebook, where he scans his Newsfeed.

"Not anymore..." He scrolls and squints. "But she updated her status an hour ago."

James rushes over, panicked. Sirius doesn't know what he thinks it's going to be. That his girlfriend has abruptly decided to dump him over the internet for all to witness? Lily's a freak, but she isn't that cruel.

Sirius reads aloud, "'So excited for the highlands, gonna be amazing, kiss kiss'. Ah bless." He moves the cursor to Like it.

James visibly relaxes, and Sirius goes to update his own status too: 'gettin ready for north east 2k12¬!'. He tags it 'with James Potter' and within minutes six of his friends have Liked it.

Grunting, James returns to the counter and collapses the cardboard crate, dumping it in the bin.

"That's supposed to go in the recycling bin," Sirius reminds him.

"Right, that's everything!" says James, ignoring him. He frowns. "Do you think I'll have enough food?"

Thanks to copious amounts of extra-curricular sport, lashings of charm and, of course, appropriate smarts, Sirius is attending the University of Durham, a catered institute. James meanwhile is off to Newcastle, sixteen miles up the road from Sirius. While this is indeed his first choice university and he is more than convinced he will receive there not only a top-notch dentistry degree but also a plethora of once in a lifetime experiences, as per the colourful university brochure, he's going to be living in a flat with five other people. He's going to be left to fend for himself. It's an idea so hilarious Sirius sort of wishes he was going to Newcastle too, just to see his hopeless best friend attempt to become domesticated.

The two of them scan the vast array of crisps, biscuits, soups, tins, instant noodles and pasta bags and then look at each other, nodding solemnly.

"Brilliant." Heaving something close to a sigh of relief, James claps his hands. "Right. Mum's bringing us medicine, bathroom stuff, washing powder -"

Sirius snorts, stuffing another handful of crisps into his mouth. "Why?"

"So that just leaves you on bedding. Did you pack everything up while I was gone like I asked you to?"

Sirius swallows the potatoey paste in his mouth. "Er..."

"Sirius."

"Hey guess what, I found your old Arsenal bedsheets! The -"

"Oh fantastic! Now we just need a bloody duvet to put them on." James flaps his arms like a demented insect, storming into the living room where their bedding is, sure enough, laid out and definitely not in any way, shape or form packed up.

"Christ," Sirius mumbles. He rolls his eyes and follows. "Just out of interest, at what point was it that you miraculously morphed into a clapper-clawed middle-aged woman? Because it's hardly deniable, Jamie, that you're acting somewhat odd."

James frowns at him as he begins gathering the pillows and blankets strewn about the floor. Sirius helps by kicking a few nearer to him.

"Are you just having a bad day, hmm? Are you having your bi-monthly hissy fit - ?"

"Sirius." James' head snaps up abruptly. "Just help me out here. Please?"

Begrudgingly, because he hates the dirtying feel of cold sheets, Sirius places his crisp packet aside and helps James pack the huge duvets up as tightly as they'll go. They have to bind them with the gaffa tape and bicycle rope nicked from the garage.

They both give the goose-feather-stuffed parcels a pat when they're finished, panting slightly. They aren't used to having to do practical things like this. It's a wonder James even managed to do the food shopping. They are the only two boys in their year who didn't do the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, instead wiling away their weekends on their X-boxes - usually in different rooms of the house - communicating via headsets and consuming vast portions of disease-inducing foods. Much more worthwhile activities to engage in, clearly.

"We're going to uni," James breathes, "like, practically together. How did that happen?"

"For it was written," says Sirius, slinging an arm around him. "It's fate. Nought could tear us apart, pal."

James doesn't laugh. He just smiles this really strange, fond smile, the kind he might have practised in a mirror.

"I'm glad you're coming with me," he says after a beat. "Really."

"Careful. Don't go all gay on me, that's my job."

"No, it's just... I didn't realise how weird this was all going to be when we applied. I mean, it's hard enough..." James shakes his head. "It's hard enough leaving Lil. I can't imagine having to say goodbye to you too."

"James, is there something you want to tell me?"

James scoffs and shoves him away, pretending to fuss with the duvets again. It's not Sirius' fault for feeling uncomfortable; it's not like James to start giving hearty speeches and being all romantic about feat and friendship and whatnot. It's weird.

"Forget it. Should've known I couldn't trust you to be serious for once." He's still smiling but he sounds sort of hurt too, and Sirius looks at him anxiously.

James is his brother, and Sirius loves him with every bone and muscle and gut in his body, but he never knows what to say in these situations. What is he supposed to say? Ever since Sirius told him he was gay James seems to have expected him to be the fountain of feelings and sentimentality and All That Is Sweet, when really, Sirius is about as in touch with his emotions as the arse end of a pumpkin.

"Look," he says finally, placing a hand on James' shoulder and stopping his movements. "I know you're upset about Lily. But trust me, buddy, you're gonna be fine. She loves you, though God knows why. What's two hours really? Two hours is a rugby match. Two hours is four episodes of DIY SOS. Two episodes if it's Big Build. It's nothing!"

Actually, they've looked it up on Google maps and the distance between Newcastle and Edinburgh is two hours and thirty-one minutes. James brightened up considerably upon learning this, but it doesn't seem to be of much use now. He still looks totally forlorn.

"You don't get it," he says, shrugging Sirius off. "No offence, but you don't have a clue."

Often Sirius tries to be annoyed with James. It rarely ever works, unless James has done something really terrible like corrupted one of his saved games on the X-box or bad mouthed Marlon Brando or misplaced one of his DVDs.

Since James hasn't done any of those things - having merely confessed his worries and vulnerabilities concerning his recently-developing love life and blossoming relationship with one Lily Evans - Sirius has to sigh, slide down beside him and nod away like a little Jack-in-the-box.

"I know. You're right. I don't."

Eventually James' small smile widens into a grin. He shakes himself, clapping Sirius on the back.

"Sorry for being a sod today," he says. "Sorry, sorry, sorry."

"Nah, you're alright, partner. De rien. It's understandable, totally and utterly. But you know what? When things seem bollocks, just think of all the other exciting stuff you have to look forward to!"

"Is that what you're doing?"

"Sure, I'm excited. As a fox in a chicken coop. As you when Evans let you get a look-in. As Frank that time Alice Everett got her tits out at the Leavers' do -"

"Alright, alright, you're excited about piss-ups and sodomy, I get it."

Sirius rolls his eyes, but it stings a bit too. It's sort of annoying how James expects him to act like a girl when it comes to advice and feelings, but there's a coarseness, at times an uncomfortable tone, whenever he describes what he imagines to be Sirius' primary interests, all kinds of crass nonsense that is barely even physically possible, let alone emotionally plausible.

Still, James isn't totally wrong either. When it comes to Sirius, James is rarely wrong about anything. Because of course, Sirius plans to spend three years studying, three years attending dandy little parties looking dapper, three years soaking in the lovely atmosphere of historic Durham, but it's also a chance to spend three years with lovely university boys, all done up in their chinos and sexy cardigans, smoking roll-ups, drinking absinthe, reading e.e. cummings by the fire after sex.

This uni thing will be a perfect doddle, the non-academic perks of which, it has to be said, are more than a tad bit appealing to Sirius Black.

 * * *

The farewell between James and Lily is awkward for everyone except James and Lily. The Potter parents have since returned from the chemist loaded with off-the-shelf medicines and travel sweets and, rather embarrassingly, condoms. Now they're sitting in the lounge, and Sirius is sitting opposite them, and they all have to wait there and act as though they can't hear a word of the goodbye that's taking place between James and Lily in the kitchen.

James' house on Littlebridge is lovely and sunny and everything that Sirius' old house was not, but it's also a new build with walls like paper and you can hear practically everything that goes on in any other room of the house, which are all crammed in close together with no locks on the doors.

This means that, over the past two summers, some very uncomfortable and sticky situations have arisen. Topping Sirius' own personal list are: 1) overhearing Sir and Lady Potter engaging in some good old-fashioned hanky panky while he'd been trying to watch a midnight screening of Halloween, and 2) having a rather involved bedtime wank interrupted by Mr Potter storming into his bedroom with a cricket bat, claiming there was an intruder in the house (which later turned out to be a pigeon with its head stuck in the kitchen vent).

Luckily, the Potters are the most accepting parents. They'd have to be to let Sirius crash with them every holiday between school terms. But now as they hear the shrill, "If only you'd said yes to me in year nine, eh, Lily? Ha ha ha..." trembling from the kitchen, Mr Potter grows slightly red in the face. Mrs Potter is trying to pretend she's overly concerned with her cross-stitching, but Sirius can see her lifting one ear ever so slightly towards the door.

Sirius has been given a jammy dodger to keep him occupied, but he can't keep from wolfing it down in one bite, and when it's gone he's anxious to find he no longer has anything to concentrate on.

"You're such a fantastic baker, Mrs P," he says cheerfully. Even ballsy Sirius has never been able to bring himself to call her Helen; she's got this odd mix of homeliness and toughness that commands respect.

"Thank you, chickie. Be sure to send me your new address so I can post you more. I know you're going to be in catered accommodation but you can never be sure what you're signing up for until you get there, and then when you do it's too late because you're three hundred miles away from home and there's nothing you can do about it."

Leave it to Mrs Potter to give a last-minute confidence boost.

It's at least another twenty minutes before James returns to the living room. Lily has gone. They've certainly taken their time which is annoying, because Sirius and James have a journey of at least six hours ahead of them and it would be best if they could get something close to a move on.

James looks all pale and shaken too. Sirius feels bad for him, of course he does, but he still doesn't really get it. Perhaps it's because he's never been in a relationship himself or perhaps it's because he has little appreciation for the fairer sex. It's one of the reasons he's glad he's gay actually; James claims to love Lily, and yet the woman seems to cause him so much bloody misery. If that's what heterosexual relationships are like then Sirius is glad to be thoroughly exempt from them.

He doesn't exactly dislike Lily. In fact, in spite of how they acted towards one another during their time at school, he finds her rather refreshing. She can be quite funny when she isn't going mental about something, and she doesn't dumb herself down around James like some girls do.

No, Sirius dislikes the way James has changed since finally getting with Lily (clearly because he's so desperately, hopelessly in love with her). What could have been an amazing, six-hour car journey full of sing-alongs and games of Guess the Movie and Fuck Off (the premise of the latter is simple: wave to a nearby driver, gain their approval, then promptly flick your finger up at them) is ruined.

Once they all finally pile into the Potters' car and wave goodbye to number thirty-six, James is silent for practically the whole journey. In fact, the only time he speaks up is when his dad asks him if he wants to stop at the next service station for a piss.

It bothers Sirius, despite the fact that he's had James blabbing in his ear for the past seven years, but he guesses his commentary and attempts at consolation are not wanted right now. With an appropriate look of sympathy fixed on his face like a true best friend, he digs out his iPod and soon falls asleep to The Human League.

* * *

They drop Sirius off first. Mr Potter drives as far as he can before the abundance of cars about the packed university city force him to stop. Still, they manage to make it far enough to park only a seven and a half minute walk away from Sirius' assigned college.

University College: the oldest of them all. It's set in this great big castle which Sirius has a feeling he's supposed to appreciate immensely. To him though, the important factors are that it's near to the buildings he'll be studying in and it has the best food.

After lugging his case from the boot of Mr Potter's Peugeot, the four of them walk in total deathly silence until he's standing outside the entrance to the castle with cases that have the next year of his life packed into them. He gives a tight smile when Mrs Potter presses a large box into his hands.

"Just in case there's nothing you like at dinner time," she says sweetly.

He suddenly doesn't want them to go. It must show, because James' mum takes hold of his face in her hands and says, "Now now, don't look so woebegone. You'll be back home with our James before you know it."

Back home. Oh God, she's such a dear woman. He feels the moment calls for sobbing, or collapsing in the street, or a cracked, broken voice like Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond, but when he opens his mouth to speak he sounds surprisingly normal and his eyes stay dry.

"Thanks for looking after me," he says.

She taps his face with her palm and kisses his cheek. "Are you sure you don't want us to come up with you? Help you unpack, get you settled? It won't take a tick."

He very badly wants them to, but he knows they're anxious to get their own son settled into his new home. Besides, dear old Mrs Potter tottering about his dorm trying to plump cushions and force biscuits on to everyone who walks past the door might not give the kind of dignified first impression Sirius is aiming for.

"I'll be fine, honestly," he says. "I'll ring you tonight, let you know how I've got on."

She smiles at him, giving his face another gentle pat. "You be good now."

Mr Potter thrusts a hand out and Sirius takes it and gives it a firm, manly shake. Mr Potter prefers it when boys act 'like boys', and Sirius would like to leave a good lasting impression. Not that he isn't going to see them again soon. Because he is. Of course he is.

Then it's James' turn. Sirius looks at him, and James looks back and it seems as though he's going to laugh. They start to speak at the same time.

"Right, well -"

"So I'll probably see you -"

And so they pause, embarrassed. It's Sirius who continues.

"I'll probably see you later or something. Or tomorrow. Or not, if you're still settling in, but there's a bus that goes more or less straight to Newcastle, I think, so any time..."

James is nodding, glancing all around himself as though thoroughly entranced by the ornate gate and rain-slick, cobbled street surrounding them. Nearby, some girl in a onesie and Ugg boots is bawling her eyes out on what is presumably her dad. It doesn't make things any easier.

Sirius isn't sure why this is so awkward. Things between himself and James have never been awkward. Besides, Newcastle isn't far, they can see each other practically whenever they want to.

But then again, since meeting on that first day of boarding school seven years ago they've barely ever been apart. Sixteen miles isn't far but it's still distance, and Sirius isn't sure whose bed he's going to jump on when he has a fantastic new idea for a film or a prank or an invention, or who he's going to flick cornflakes at during breakfast, or who he's going to chat to about Hitchcock when he wakes up in the night, or abuse via the X-box headsets in the next room over.

Whoever it is, it isn't going to be James.

"Yeah," James nods, "we'll go for a pint or something. Your place or mine. Either or."

"Yeah, either's fine. I hear Newcastle has one of the best student unions, so..."

"But Durham has history," James says after far too long a pause, and his tone suggests it's supposed to be a joke and it's not the slightest bit funny, but they both snigger anyway.

"It does," says Sirius, and they laugh again and this is awful.

"Do you want some help with your...?"

Sirius stares at him, then suddenly registers the bundle of stuff at his feet. There isn't much. He hasn't had to bring a lot more than clothes and bedding and wash stuff. It's James who's had to go all-out for his new flat. His new flat with his new flatmates who he'll throw flat-parties with. A flaternity, if you will.

"No, no, you're alright. Not to worry. No, you head off. To Newcastle. Go and learn how to fix some teeth!"

"Yeah, you go and read some stories. Write lots of essays."

It's six in the evening. All of Sirius' energy and restlessness and jokes have seeped from his very being like slime, and he's left with nothing but a sore arse and a suitcase and this overwhelming urge to hug his best friend. So he does.

"Oof, steady on," says James, but he hugs him back, and when they part he forces a grin. "Right, away with you, you soppy arse. See you soon."

And they all say goodbye again, and smile at each other, and with an obvious determination not to drag the ordeal out any longer James takes a step back with his hands in his pockets, then another, and then he turns, and then he’s walking away.

Chapter Text

Sirius isn't going to lie, not to himself and not to anyone else if they ask: he has high hopes for his roommate. Well, why not? A boy his age, comfortable with his sexuality, possessing of a healthy libido. Why shouldn't he consider the possibility that he may get to share his room with a Sebastian Flyte look-alike (Brideshead television series version, not the awful film remake) in a cricket jumper and polished Oxfords?

Even if they don't spark up some private dormitory romance, he's sure they'll be friends. He imagines the two of them sitting cross-legged on their beds of a rainy night, drinking hot toddies in their pyjamas (tartan), probably tossing a wooden croquet ball around, chatting about big ideas.

The thought is comforting enough to keep his mind off James' retreating form as Sirius goes through the tedious task of enrolment (a woman with severely straightened hair spends five minutes telling him that the matriculation card gets him into the building, and the key gets him into his room), and then he's sent on his way.

He manages to get himself lost more than once. The hall is nicknamed Castle, but he isn't one of the ones sleeping in the Castle Keep itself. Sirius has instead been placed in the nineteenth century extension with the rest of the rabble.

It's pretty, if you like bare bricks. Lots of pointless alcoves and stone floors and leering oil paintings, but they're not enough to keep his interest when he's becoming increasingly lost and frustrated, and eventually he has to stop and ask a chirpy American girl who looks like she knows the 411 where to go.

"Most of the boys sleep on the B floor," she says, glancing at his key tag.

"Right. And where am I?"

"You're on D."

And so back down two flights of stone stairs. The lift's too full of anxious Freshers to bother with, piled in like defensive penguins.

It's not Sirius' fault he's lost; in some apparent attempt at keeping the charm and the character of the old building intact, there are hardly any signs or proper corridors. Most of the rooms stem off into little annexes, and when he eventually finds his room it's in a kind of tacked-on wing at the very back of the B floor, beyond a cold stone foyer and behind two heavy swinging doors. It's the sort of thing Mrs Potter would love, but to be honest it reminds Sirius of the Medieval Times dinner theatre he went to in Florida when he was nine.

He's panting and rather warm now. He pauses before the door emblazoned with a golden B3 to fix a smile on his face and push the hair out of his eyes. Always best to make a good first impression, he imagines Mr Potter remarking in his hearty boom. Sirius shoves open the door, letting it swing and thud against the nailed-down stopper.

On the bed furthest from the door lies a small, portly boy. He's lounging in nothing but a pair of pyjama bottoms, a huge set of headphones resting on a head of curly hair with the volume so high Sirius can hear exactly what song it is ('Who Gon Stop Me'), and an enormous bag of Kettle chips balanced on his very pink chest. No wooden croquet balls are immediately visible.

Sirius blinks. Sebastian Flyte this ain't.

"Hello!" he says, nonetheless.

The guy doesn't hear Sirius. He whistles to Kanye and shoves another handful of crisps into his gaping maw.

Changing tack, Sirius turns and slams the door shut. The boy jumps in alarm. The headphones slip from his head as he gives Sirius a ghastly deer-in-headlights look, crisps now scattered in a messy heap between his legs.

"I'm assuming this one's mine then, is it?" says Sirius, pointing to the remaining bed, the one directly under the biggest window in the room, light puddling all over the vacuum packed duvet.

He dumps his duffle bag on top of it and in a moment of slight desperation double checks the tag on his key. But no, there it is - B3 on the tag and B3 on the door. This is the place.

It's not a bad room. Cream walls, beige carpet, and a dear little blocked up fireplace, the mantelpiece of which has already been adorned with Miniature Heroes and a can of Lynx Africa.

It's quite big, enough to accommodate two desks besides the wardrobes and beds, not to mention two fully grown men.

For the first time the thought hits him - two fully grown men - with startling clarity. This is the person he'll be sleeping next to for the rest of the year. This lad, with his Kettle Chip crumbs and rumpled plaid bedding. There's four feet between them, if that. Sirius wonders, anxiously, if the boy is a mouth-breather.

As it happens, though, he believes in fate, and if fate has brought them together then Sirius hasn't the authority to question it. Everything happens for a reason (he reminds himself of this, again, in Mr Potter's voice).

He stands abruptly, strides across the room and thrusts out a hand.

"Anyway, I'm Sirius. Good to meet you!"

He immediately regrets this upon seeing the sorry state of the boy's greasy hands, but his palm is being clasped before Sirius can change his mind.

"Peter," the boy nods. "Peter Pettigrew."

"Pettigrew?"

"Yeah?"

"Pleasure!" Sirius replies, discretely wiping his hand on his jeans. "Where you from, Pete?"

"Carlisle."

"Dartmouth myself. What are you studying?"

"Geology."

"Oh, rocks. Nice. Lots of... rocks around here, sitting on a river and that."

He smiles down at Peter still staring up at him from the bed with wide eyes. When it's obvious he isn't going to return the question, Sirius continues.

"I'm doing English. Literature. I thought about doing Film, but it doesn't sound great, does it? A degree in Film Studies? I mean, I know that makes me sound a bit of a snob, but I'm not, really. It's just I know a lot about it already, and I feel like university should broaden your mind, make you do things you wouldn't normally expect to. You know?"

Wordlessly, Peter shrugs. What's his problem? Sirius' eyes dart about the room in a sudden search for suspicious objects. Peter Pettigrew seems the type who might be into questionable activities, the way he's looking so shifty.

Sirius turns back to him. "Are you alright?"

Suddenly, alarmingly, as though Peter is a tap and Sirius' words have burst him, the boy begins babbling.

"Sorry," he blurts out. "I should've waited till you arrived to ask which bed you wanted, but I got here this morning and I was so knackered I took a nap. If you want to swap, honestly, we can. I hope you don't think I was trying to steal the best bed for myself. Not that this is the best bed, they're both the same really. We could move them about? Oh, but I think they're bolted to the floor..."

Sirius watches him, startled. Truth be told, he would have rather preferred Peter's bed, but glancing down he sees it has been adequately Kettle-chipped already. Maybe he doesn't much want it after all.

"Chill out, you nut," he says, finding himself chuckling. "It's fine."

Of course, it's not really fine. It's not fine that Peter has the bed in the darkest corner of the room, and it's not fine that he's the spit of a young Tommy Cooper. It's far from fine that he's taking some wank subject like Geology. But there's a world outside this room, historic Durham and beyond, and as long as Peter isn't going to ruin Sirius' chances with prospective bed-guests then he supposes things will run smoothly.

So Sirius relaxes and unzips his hold-all and has a closer glance at his quarters. His accommodation fees are clearly being put to good use: he's got his very own cork board, and even a lamp.

"You can stick that on speakers if you want," he says, turning and nodding to Peter's iPod.

"I haven't got any..."

"That's alright, I have." He pulls his own mini dock from the bag and tosses it across the room. It lands on Peter's thigh, and he squeaks.

Unfortunately, Peter's taste in music leaves little to be desired (shuffle presents them first with 'That's My Bitch', followed by 'Dirt Road Anthem') but Sirius doesn't bother to comment. He leaves Peter alone and starts to unpack.

Text books, alarm clock, laptop, various leads which may or may not possess a purpose, who knows? Then the most recent edition of 1001 Movies to See Before You Die, lovingly creased, dog-eared and annotated like a journal. He slides it onto the shelf above his desk. It looks a bit bare, sitting there on its own, so he puts the leads beside it.

Then he rolls out his duvet and blanket, plumps up a couple of pillows, and flops back on the bed.

"C'est fait!"

Peter looks at him, then at Sirius's ide of the room. "Is that it?"

"Eh?"

"What about your clothes? Don't you have any posters? Or wash stuff? Or study stuff? Or... shoes?"

"It's all in that case somewhere. Oh, but I'll tell you what I do have." Sirius sits up again, leaning and scrabbling for the box beside his case, the one Mrs Potter so lovingly pressed into his hands like a mother sending her son off to evacuation. Or perhaps war. He rips the lid off. "Bis-cuits! That's French for biscuits."

And oh, the sweet woman has given him an array. Shortbread and gingerbread and cookies and more of those indescricable jammy dodgers. He hears Peter creep over.

"Are they homemade?" he asks, awed.

"Yep."

"Did your mum make them?"

"Er - sort of. Here." Sirius shakes the box and, bless him, Peter actually tries to refuse at first.

It's about three more minutes before the two of them are lying on their respective beds, crumbs adorning their clothes (Peter has since had the decency to pull on a Swizz Beatz t-shirt), the feast in the box rapidly decreasing. The ice has officially been broken with the help of butter, caster sugar and jam, a delicious solution to an otherwise sticky situation.

As they chat, Sirius learns that Peter moved to Carlisle four years ago, that he got into the university by the skin of his teeth, not quite reaching his predicted grades but by some stroke of luck being taken on anyway, and that living an hour away means his mum expects him home every other weekend.

"You're lucky you live three hundred miles off," he says miserably, "or your mum'd be nagging at you to come home all the time too."

The idea of this is absurdly funny to Sirius, and he answers Peter's questioning look first by licking the jam from his fingers.

"I'm used to being away from home," he explains. "I've been at boarding school my whole life."

"Really? Christ, poor you. This is the first time I've ever shared a room with someone else."

"We had our own rooms, it wasn't like some whimsical Enid Blyton book. But it's fine living in close quarters anyway, you sort of make better friends."

"Have any of your friends come here?"

"No... but I've a friend at Newcastle. It's not that far. What about you?"

Peter shakes his head. "My friends all think Durham is a bit... you know. Most of them are at Manchester or Leeds, one of the big cities."

"Why didn't you go too?"

"My mum wanted me to come here."

Sirius suspects Peter Pettigrew is the kind of boy who does everything his mummy tells him to, and for a moment he considers the idea that this will make for a much more entertaining roommate than some beautiful, roll-up smoking hedonist.

Then Peter belches and scratches his arse, and Sirius re-thinks that idea. The guy already seems far too comfortable in his presence for Sirius' liking. He scrunches up his nose.

"Got a girlfriend back home, Peter?"

"Me?" Peter lets out this really weird, parrot-like laugh that makes Sirius jump. "Nah, not me. I expect you have. A girlfriend, I mean."

"Oh?"

"Well..." Peter, delightfully, suddenly blushes. "Just a guess."

"I haven't actually. One has to keep oneself on the market, you know? Free and single, that's the way I like it." Sirius shrugs. "Plus - and let's not be coy here, Pete - I'm quite blatantly gay."

It has the desired effect. Peter is in the midst of tipping the last few bits out of his Kettle chips bag down his throat, and he chokes so hard that the crisps that don't end up sprayed all over the floor slide down his chin in a revolting potatoey drool. Even as Sirius laughs Peter is still coughing up his guts, round face crimson. It seems an age before he stops.

"You're joking," he says weakly.

"Certainly not." Sirius sprawls out lazily on the bed like a cat, arms behind his head. "It's best you know, pal. On the off-chance you happen to walk in on my fine self in a somewhat compromising position, I'd rather we be at the stage where we can be blasé about the whole thing. Oh, don't look so worried. It's fine. I won't be offended if you bring a girl back. I'm all about tolerance and equality, seriously."

It only feels strange after he's said it. Sirius realises then that he hasn't once had the opportunity to be blunt about this sort of thing to anyone. Even if it's just to dumpy old Peter it feels nice to be open about it, as though a little bit of the weight that's been clamping down on him for the past half a decade has been chipped away. Bloody hell, someone ought to stop him! Next he'll be out on the streets of Durham in drag.

"Alright, just... no funny business, yeah?" Peter mumbles after a very long time.

"No what?"

"Funny business. You know. Weird stuff."

"Weird stuff? I don't know what weird stuff is."

"Oh my God. Just. Strange behaviour."

"Does strange behaviour in-or-exclude wanking over you while you sleep?" asks Sirius, and he barks out a wild laugh when several pillows and an empty Kettle Chip bag are lobbed directly at his head.

* * *

Sirius has always been a sociable fellow. It's probably to do with the way he's been brought up. His mother and father were forever inviting Very Important People round to wander their big old house in London at leisure, in order that they could pounce on them with some preposterous business proposal over a fine meal of raw steak and blood-coloured wine not an hour later.

Sirius was always there with his little brother to help fill seats, to pass the out of season asparagus, to answer prying questions about the curriculum at Saint Faustus's Boarding School, to listen to a catechism on the etiquette of the world of business and, more than anything, to prove that Walburga and Orion Black could raise a reasonably respectable child.

It's not something Sirius likes to remind himself of very often, but his exposure to such situations as a kid undoubtedly aided in him becoming the person he is today: bold, brazen, loquacious Sirius Black who could surely charm the pants off the Queen, if he so wished.

That's why, once he tires of the burbles of Peter Pettigrew - the burbliness of which increased tenfold upon Sirius revealing his penchant for "strange behaviour" - he wanders out of the room and begins exploring his new college at will, chatting to anyone who happens to catch his eye.

It's the only way to get off to a good start, he thinks. He'll never understand the people who lock themselves away in their room "until they're ready" to come out and socialise. Sirius has always been headstrong. It's always worked so far in his life and it's why things usually turn out in his favour; the more mates you have, he thinks, the less likely you'll end up moping around at any time looking like a sad twat.

The wardens have put on some kind of buffet thing in the dining room that's rather wankily been passed off as "brunch", and though he's not very hungry after having consumed vast oceans of biscuit, he strolls on down anyway.

Peter's caught up with him now and is dawdling along after him, but when they enter the 'Great Hall', Sirius shakes him off and wanders round by himself. It's a nice room, all vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. It's brimming with people, and for one rather sickly sweet moment it reminds him of being back at boarding school on wintry mornings with everyone desperate for hot food.

Rounding several pieces of ornate furniture and dodging a couple of girls with clipboards and badges, Sirius spots two boys sat atop one of the tables, chatting to each other. He puts his cavort down Memory Lane on hold for a moment as he strides over with determination.

It doesn't cross his mind that they might not want to talk to him. It's Freshers' Week and besides, everyone always wants to talk to him. Wherever he goes people gravitate towards him. He can't help being a human honey pot.

And anyway, as it happens, they don't mind at all. They give him identical looks when he greets them, and Sirius realises they're twins, one redhead, one blond. It's the blond, who looks a tantalising mixture of Boyd Holbrook and River Phoenix, that he's instantly attracted to.

But it's the redhead - whose wild hair really is nudging towards red rather than orange - who flashes him a big smile. Never mind. Better to have one twin fancy you than neither.

"I'm Sirius."

"Hi, Sirius," Redhead grins, and while his face isn't as dramatic and striking as Blond's, he has a lovely North-Eastern accent. "I'm Fabian. This is my brother Gideon. We all have weird names!"

For reasons Sirius can't fathom, his response to this is, "Wahey!"

They begin chatting, and Sirius thinks it's going swimmingly as it transpires that Gideon is studying English Lit too, Fabian opting for the considerably less alluring Classics.

"Did you mean to come to the same university?" Sirius asks them.

"What, you mean did we wake up this morning and realise we're both being carted off to Durham?" says Gideon. He wrinkles his lovely nose and says bitterly, "No. Oxford knocked me back. Durham was Fab's first choice, my fourth."

He says it as though Durham is the pit of the earth.

"Oh."

"Course, I'm at Hatfield," Gideon goes on. His cool eyes are already darting around the rest of the room. Is he actually bored? "Your college's rival. I'm just helping my little brother here get settled in. We haven't not shared a room for, well, all our lives really."

"Imagine that!" says Sirius, though since learning the fitter twin isn't at this college and doesn't appear to be much bothered about Sirius anyway, even as a mate, he's quickly losing interest.

"There's a party at Gid's halls tonight, Sirius," Fabian pipes up.

"Not one here?"

"I think most people here are just going to the Union for clan warfare. You should come with us though. Are you rooming with anyone? Bring them."

Sirius agrees because he gathers it isn't the done thing at university to refuse parties. Plus he's dying to get out and make the most of his first week. He's not got much money either since his loan hasn't come through yet, so hopefully a party at a college, rather than the Union, might just mean free booze.

Who knows, he might even get lucky on his first night. Maybe this Gideon is a little more free-spirited when he's in the party mood - and if not, well, he's heard Hatfield is full of rugby players.

* * *

It's dark by the time he returns to his room. He finds Peter in there on his MacBook, little face lit only by the screen.

"Alright, Pete?" he says, starting up his own laptop. "Settled in then, have you?"

"Mm."

"Coming to the Hatfield thing?"

"The what?"

Sirius doesn't answer for a few moments as his desktop loads and he opens Facebook. He's only been gallivanting about Castle for a couple of hours and already he has six friend requests, including one from Peter.

Peter's profile picture isn't an image of himself. It's of an alpaca wearing wearing a deerstalker with the caption: "An adventure? Alpaca my bags." Right then.

"I'm saying there's a party at Hatfield tonight. Might be fun?" Sirius peers over the top of the screen when Peter doesn't answer. "Come on, you can't stay in all week. You have to make your friends now, it'll just get harder later on in term."

"Alright, who made you King of the Universities?"

Sirius frowns. "I've done extensive research. Student Room, they have everything. It's like a vast ocean of out of date emoticons and people asking embarrassing questions so I don't have to."

It only takes a little more nagging to get Peter to relent and accept the invitation, and to Sirius' surprise he actually has the decency to slouch off for a shower. Maybe Peter wants to go out more than he's letting on. He's probably one of those sad people who've come to university with the intention of losing their virginity.

Roomie gone, Sirius reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. He's a bit surprised, a bit hurt even, to see the empty inbox. He'd felt sure James would text him. James always texts first. It's just a thing they have.

Bastardizing 'the thing', Sirius churns out a quick message - how's it going jimmy? - before texting Mrs Potter to thank her for the fine way in which she regaled him with shortbread.

Finally alone, he's now forced to actually consider the realities of university; that he's three hundred miles from home, that James hasn't found time to send him one measly text, and that he's sharing a room with Beans from Even Stevens. It's a sad situation - but then, Sirius never expected leaving home to be easy.

His phone vibrates back at him within minutes - so James isn't too busy to talk then - and the reply flashes back at him in the growing darkness of the room: this flat is amazing! its got a toastie maker. shower's already broken. u?

Then another immediately follows: roommate?!?!

It's at this moment that Sirius allows his inner Petulant Child to shine through. He can't lie. A horrible part of him sort of hoped, in an awful, twisted kind of way, that James would find his new flatmates unbearable. The idea that James is having fun without him is unpleasant, to say the least.

Annoyed, he texts back: sharing with a fat swot. He feels bad as soon as he's sent it. After all, Peter can't help being fat and swotty.

Quickly, Sirius tacks on another text: jk he's alright really.

With a sigh he sinks into his pillows and stares at the slanting ceiling above him, waiting for Peter to get out of the shower so that he can spruce himself up to an adequate degree.

The phone vibrates yet again, but when Sirius scrabbles to read it all he's greeted with is James' simple response: LOL.

Dismayed by the lack of invitation for conversation, he throws the phone back on the bed and curls up on his side. Eighteen years he's been waiting for this day, and it's surprisingly weird and mundane.

He can only hope that swanning off to the Big Hatfield Party with those fit twins and Peter will liven things up considerably. Or even just a bit. Sirius would settle for just a bit.

Chapter Text

Alright, it's not the best party Sirius has ever been to. When they get to Hatfield - quite a pretty building, and considerably less ostentatious than Castle - it's sort of in that hazy stage where people aren't quite sure if they're going to stick around or stroll on to pastures new. There's a modest little bar that's been set up, which is free but understandably so, and every song booming from the mismatching speakers is some abhorrent mash-up or remix. At the moment it's Pitbull vs. Simon & Garfunkel.

As Sirius stands in the stone foyer, holding a plastic cup filled with Tesco Value vodka and coke, it suddenly dawns on him that he's never actually been at a party where he doesn't know anyone.

People at school used to throw them all the time, only they were these hushed cloak-and-dagger affairs, with all the fervency of underground Prohibition bars, with guys sneaking in girls from the sister school using the ancient underground tunnels. It was great. The clandestine operations were almost as much fun as the fine tunes, feasting and flim-flam pokers games which followed. Sirius was always in his element then. Now he's not so sure.

Still, Peter at least doesn't have a clue what to do either. He's made a real effort, bless, all done up in a tight white button-up which reveals his nipples rather alarmingly, dress trousers just a touch too short and feet shoved into old Converse, perhaps to give the impression that he's a guy who doesn't take himself too seriously.

Fabian, too, seems more than happy to keep Sirius company, but unfortunately his fit brother Gideon wanders off as soon as they arrive and Sirius is left talking to his two new best mates about Hadrian's Wall. Peter is, after all, a Geology student from Carlisle and Fabian is studying Classics, but Sirius finds it difficult to get across the extent to which he doesn't care about forts or the Whin Sill without actually saying, "Pete, Fab - I don't care about forts or the Whin Sill."

Eventually he wanders across the foyer and away from them, and they don't seem to notice or mind too much. Strolling into the common room for another drink, Sirius soon spots something he fancies, or at least someone he can attempt to fancy. A guy, broad-shouldered but slim, standing to one side by himself, looking a little lost.

Sirius watches him in profile: a sharp, pretty face, an Eton mop of blond hair. He catches Sirius staring and gives a bashful smile and, considering this sufficient encouragement, Sirius grins back and approaches him.

"Hey!"

"Hello."

"Great party, isn't it?"

"Smashing," the boy replies in a plummy voice suiting only someone who describes things as 'smashing'.

"I'm Sirius."

"I beg your pardon?"

"My name, it's Sirius."

"Oh, righto! That's... I'm Charlie." Charlie holds out the wrong palm, the one gripping his plastic cup of wine, and clumsily switches to the other and shakes Sirius' hand. "Very nice to meet you..." There's an awkward pause as he considers saying Sirius' name, and then obviously thinks it too risky to mess up and doesn't bother. "Are you a first year?"

"I am, are you?"

"Oh I am, I arrived here just an hour or so ago. I live here, you see, in this college. Bit of a surprise, walking into a party but, ah... they said it might be like this. What are you studying?"

"English Lit."

"Beg pardon?"

"English Literature."

"Oh really?" says Charlie, in that bland, disinterested way posh people talk. "I'm here for French and Geography myself."

He then launches into this whole routine about how he wasn't really sure whether or not to do joint honours, and the pros and cons of doing just French, followed by the pros and cons of doing just Geography, and then he gives all of his reasons for doing Geography, the main one being a fantastic gap-yah to South Africa, and his reasons for doing French which is that his parents have a maison en Paris, and Sirius is rather quickly consumed by an all-encompassing boredom. The only he reason he keeps his feet planted in that same spot for fifteen minutes is because the guy looks like a skinny Sam J. Jones in Flash Gordon.

Eventually, and it really is very eventually, the life story comes to a rather limp, dwindling close and Sirius seizes his opportunity.

"Wow! Quite a wild ride you've been on there, Charlie. Will you let me grab you a drink?"

It takes him a moment to remember that the bar is free, rendering the question a little less charming, but it doesn't matter anyway because Charlie is looking at him with regretful eyes as it sinks in that he's being chatted up, and that Sirius doesn't really care that he fed olives to rabid aardwolves in Cape Town.

"Will you excuse me?" he deadpans. "I've just seen someone I know."

"Right. Right then. See you around, Charlie."

"Yes, goodbye..." There's another pause as he tries to remember Sirius' name, and in the end he just taps him awkwardly on the forearm and hurries off. Sirius watches him go, knowing he's been hoodwinked; Charlie only got here an hour ago. Charlie doesn't know anyone. Charlie's a liar.

So Sirius stands on his own again, swirling the remains of his drink about in the cup. It's gone thick and flat like cough medicine, and he turns to abandon it on a side table but stops when something catches his eye. It's as sudden as clouds forming on a clear British summer's day, and Sirius' drink almost slips from between his fingers as he fumbles to put it down.

A young man of such unmatchable beauty that it makes Sirius' eyes go fuzzy is walking towards him. An enchanting, heaven-hued rarity. An adonis in jeans and knitwear. He is coming towards Sirius as though in slow-motion, and Sirius suddenly feels like Lester Burnham drooling over Angela, that's how surreal and slow-motion it is. He can practically see the rose petals, hear the tinkle of the xylophone, almost finds himself whispering spectacular as the boy comes towards him with these huge, heavy-lidded brown eyes and plump, perfect lips with which he surely plans to kiss and kiss and kiss Sirius until the early morning hours.

Then he walks past Sirius to get to the door.

"Hang on!"

It takes Sirius a few moments to realise the words have been barked from his very own lips, but no one around him even really notices. A couple turn to glance but, seeing that it's just a madman shouting and clumsily trying to put his drink down, merely conclude that he is inebriated and turn away again.

The angel is looking at him though, and now that Sirius has his attention he can tell him just what he thinks about the spark that has undoubtedly passed between them like a twist of electric fire.

"You are really fit," Sirius blurts out.

There's no hush. The music doesn't stop. No one turns again to look at him. The person continues to stare though, and the lusty butterflies in Sirius' stomach seem to make babies and multiply. Finally, the boy quirks a brow, gives a fleeting, awkward half-smile - the way Hyacinth Bucket might look at a rabid hedgehog living amongst her begonias - and continues on his way out of the room.

Naturally, Sirius wastes no time in scrambling out after him. It's not like him to let something slip from his grasp so easily, and this isn't just any something, this is a beautiful something, possibly the most beautiful something he's ever seen, second only to Marlon Brando, and possibly Anthony Perkins in The Tin Star.

He darts out into the foyer and glances around, seeing the large double doors close shut on the night air. With swift steps he bounds towards them, until a hand reaches out and grabs him, and he whirls round to see Peter gazing up at him, grinning like a tipsy Cheshire Cat.

"Sirius, mate, did you know - "

"Yes, Peter, I know, I know," he says, knowing nothing, shaking Peter off and pulling back the front door. He closes it behind himself on Peter's confused expression and looks around.

The boy is on the front steps of the college, zipping a jacket up over his cable knit jumper.

"Didn't mean to embarrass you," Sirius tells him pleasantly, slinking down the steps and squaring his shoulders. It's his Johnny-Depp-in-Chocolat swagger. He's particularly proud of having mastered it. It works best in a well-tailored suit or some kind of slinky hipster tunic, but even Johnny Depp has to make do with what he's got sometimes, so Sirius can do the same.

The boy is lighting a cigarette, and jumps a little when Sirius speaks.

"You didn't," he says, turning, and oh, his voice is pure heaven, all soft and grunty and delicious. If heaven could drip in liquid form from lips then this boy would be drooling more than James does after a piss-up and a kebab. "Might've embarrassed yourself, mind."

Sirius stares for a few moments, wondering if it's supposed to be an insult or a consolation. "Oh. Do you think so?"

The boy cocks his head to the side, puffing smoke.

"You are really fit? Is that your usual go-to?" He gives a little nod. "And I bet that's only your first, isn't it?"

It takes a couple of seconds for Sirius to realise the boy is indicating to the cup still clutched in his hand. He shakes it uselessly.

"I'm not drunk," he laughs, as though the very thought is outrageous. "I was just bowled over by you."

It's the boy's turn to stare now. He gives Sirius a long, calculating look which arouses Sirius probably much more than it's intended to. Sirius can't tell if it's lust he sees in the deep brown eyes, or scorn. Perhaps it's a mixture of the two, and this person likes to go for the whole Mr Rochester approach: do I hate you, or do I want to shag you? We just don't know!

"You're a bit... forward, aren't you, even for a new guy?" he says. "How d'you even know if I'm into guys? Written across my forehead, eh?"

Sirius blinks. "Compliment's a compliment, mate. If you're not bent, then fine."

Of course, it's not fine because Sirius has already decided that he has to have this delectable piece of work in his bed very, very soon. But if he's going to get all offended...

The boy's eyes, which until this point have remained fairly neutral, suddenly narrow. "Bent? That's how you describe gay people, is it? Bent?"

He's stepped forward a little bit now, and while Sirius stands his ground he's starting to become slightly unnerved. This isn't how things normally go at all. Under regular circumstances Sirius would have at least managed to cop a feel by now.

"That's how everyone describes gay people," he replies, as though it's obvious.

"Everyone?"

He's stepping even closer. Sirius has never kissed an angry bloke before - not counting the time he drunkenly smacked a massive one on Caradoc Dearborn's lips in upper sixth and was promptly boxed in the face - but it always looks so delicious in films. Angry sex is sort of an aspiration of his, triggered two years ago by the tent scene in Brokeback Mountain.

"What's your problem?" he asks instead.

The boy laughs humourlessly. "You think I have the problem? Alright, yeah, I have a problem. Drunk, mouthy Freshers hanging around when I'm trying to sleep. A bit like you really."

"What are you then?"

"Not drunk and not mouthy."

"And not a Fresher?"

"No."

"What then? PhD student? Old and wise?"

He sighs, drawing on his cigarette. "Second year," he says reluctantly, like it's information he doesn't want to give.

"So you've only just stopped being a first year really. Why don't you have your own place?"

"I didn't want one," the boy says curtly.

"You mean no one would share with you."

Sirius doesn't mean it in a cruel way, really he doesn't. Before he's actually said the words, he thinks they might be funny.

"Oh piss off, will you?" the gorgeous buttercup spits, turning to leave with another drag on his fag. "I've heard enough from jumped-up pretty boys today, it's doing my head in."

Sirius' eyes widen with more joy than is perhaps appropriate.

"Am I one of the pretty boys?"

"Yeah, wasn't really a compliment, mate."

"Well if you want to insult me, darling, you'll have to try a little harder."

Sirius descends the rest of the steps so they're standing face to face, only inches apart. He's just considering what might be the most Brando move in this situation, when the boy sighs and flicks his cigarette to the ground, stubbing it out with the pointed toe of his Chelsea boot. Sirius watches him carefully.

"What is it?" he asks. "Are you stressed? First-day-back blues? Homesick? Hey, can I have your name? I'm Sirius."

The boy gives him another of those hard, lingering looks, the kind that shows Sirius that really, in spite of his cold front, he's just dying to rip Sirius' clothes off and ravish him then and there for all the world to see. Well, all of Hatfield at least.

"Well, Sirius," he mutters, "you can't have it, no."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm not in the habit of socialising with snotty little toffs, alright?"

Sirius, who hasn't been called a toff since he met his estranged hippy cousin Andromeda when he was fourteen, splutters for a rebuke and, quite uncharacteristically, comes up with nothing. And when the boy has turned and and started walking off down the long drive of the building, Sirius has nothing.

And when Sirius takes in the magnificent view of the boy's denim-clad arse, he still has nothing.

* * *

Sirius is convinced, for a few short moments the next morning, that it's music which has pulled him from a stiff and uncomfortable sleep. It doesn't take long for him to realise that the low, thumping bass he can hear isn't coming from a stereo at all. It is in fact the steady pulse of a thick, fiery ache inside his head, worsened by the blinding light streaming through the window above his bed.

He groans and rolls over, kicking the twisted duvet from his body. His pillow has gone from under his head. His lamp has been knocked over in the night. All in all, not a great start to the morning. But then, mornings have never been the most enriching part of Sirius' day.

It's at this point he notices a pair of mousy eyes watching him from across the room. If Sirius expected Peter to be a tardy slob, he was wrong. The lad is up and dressed and is perched on the edge of his own bed, laptop balanced across his knees.

"Good morning!" he says over the screen, and Sirius winces.

"All is pain," he croaks back.

"Shall we go for breakfast?"

"All is pain."

"I know. You could get coffee and bacon."

The thought of coffee makes Sirius' stomach lurch, but bacon... Jesus, bacon sounds wonderful. He finds himself suddenly salivating, a welcomed relief to his dry, cotton-stuffed mouth.

In spite of this rather eager reaction to the thought of grease, however, it's at least another ten minutes before he can bring himself to try and sit up. It's not actually as bad as he'd expected it to be, although he does see a few white spots in front of his eyes for a moment.

Then he looks down at himself.

"Why aren't I clothed?"

"You said sleeping with clothes on is bad for circulation around your..." Peter trails off, holding his hand flat out above his eyes as though shielding himself from the sun as he pointedly stares at his laptop screen and definitely not at any appendage belonging to his roommate.

"Did I?"

"You were pretty pissed."

"Was I?"

"Something about your one true love abandoning you."

Ah yes. Now he remembers. Well, he remembers some of it anyway. He remembers talking about the Whin Sill. He sort of remembers thinking he was in American Beauty. And then he remembers the gorgeous young man in the oversized jumper and the sexual tension sizzling between them like steak on a summer barbeque.

He remembers being called a pompous twat too. No, a condescending twat-toff. No, a pretty boy toff. Definitely a twat or a toff at some point, anyway.

Oh.

"Oh." He looks around, squinting in the sunlight and still not making any move to put some clothes on. "Was it a good night then?"

"By your standards or mine?"

Sirius shrugs. "Better go for mine since you're asking."

"You seemed to enjoy yourself. You, er, got off with Fabian."

"Did I?" It takes a few minutes for him to remember who Fabian is. "Is that the blond one? The fit one?"

"The other one."

"Oh."

Oh well, better than nothing. Yawning loudly, Sirius rubs his eyes and considers getting dressed. His clothes are still packed in his case, so he begins collecting the garments strewn about his bed from last night.

"What about you?" he asks as he tugs his jeans on. "Have a nice time? Get your groove on?"

"Not bad, though I think I'll stick to parties at our own college from now on."

"That isn't showing university spirit." Sirius' voice is hoarse and strained, tone listless, but Peter scowls anyway.

"I didn't come here to show university spirit. I came to learn about dolerite and plate tectonics and - and walls -"

"Oh yes, I remember that. You and Fabian had that mind-numbing conversation about Hadrian's Wall, didn't you? Two of you got on like a house on fire." He pulls a t-shirt over his head, adding with a slightly cruel snigger, "You're the house, he's the fire."

He thinks it's pretty good considering the time and the raging bull that's been let loose in his head, but Peter doesn't appear to appreciate it.

"You might want to get a move on," he says sharply, closing his laptop. "We've got an induction lecture at twelve and it's only just gone eleven."

"Lectures? In the first week?"

"An induction lecture. And then we get to sign up for societies."

Having now been stood up for a good few minutes, Sirius is starting to feel sickly and dizzy and hot again. He blinks a few times and has to ask Peter to repeat his words.

"Societies," Peter says patiently. "You know, clubs. Another way of 'showing university spirit', eh?"

"Sorry, just - they're holding this fun fair today? When everyone is undoubtedly hanging out their arse or still, you know, half-pissed?"

"I think they're having it a few times this week so it doesn't get overrun. I thought me and you could go and sign up today. There's a couple of things I'm interested in and I don't want all the spaces to fill up."

"I don't think the spaces do fill up, mate. I think it's just whoever wants in on the cult."

Even if there are unlimited spaces, Sirius doubts any of Peter's desired clubs will be oversubscribed. What could he possibly be interested in? Pet Rock Collectors and Kettle Chip Appreciation Society?

At any rate, Sirius certainly doesn't feel like going to some boring club sign-up. It'll be like being back at school on the first day of term filling in their PE options, everyone bustling around the assembly hall and getting in the way, desperate to be on the list for rugby or football and not be landed with the saddos doing badminton.

And anyway, he's pretty sure he doesn't want to get involved in any societies. He's never understood why people purposely attach more commitments to themselves. Especially embarrassing ones like theatre and medieval re-enactments.

But then he looks at Peter, notices the anxious expression on the round little face and thinks that maybe, probably, Peter just doesn't want to be left alone on his second day away from home. Sirius doesn't blame him. Truth told, he already misses his bed at the Potters' a bit, too.

"Alright, alright. Let me get some fried pig belly in me and we'll get on with the whole shebang."

It's sort of sweet how grateful Peter looks when he grins.

* * *

The 'induction lecture' isn't actually like a lecture at all and is in fact just a numbing matriculation which takes place in the cathedral at lunch time. The cathedral itself is stunning, but the sacred effect is spoilt slightly by the over-eager bloke in a dreadful red jumper who calls himself Andy and stands at the altar like a Pentecostal preacher, wittering on about everything that's already been included in their welcome packs.

Four helpings of bacon and three Co-codamols have helped Sirius attack his hangover considerably, but sitting there listening to apple-polisher Andy brings the nauseating pain bubbling to the front of his head again.

Is it possible, he wonders, to be mentally shanked in the head purely as a result of someone's tedious chants of, "Respect other people's laundry in the washing machines, lads and ladies, we're all clean bees here, now, aren't we?" and "Our university aims to provide you all with only the most nourishing food, because a healthy university is a - say it with me - happy university!"?

Judging by the throb in his head, it is.

Eventually though, after approximately sixty four million years, the talk ends to limp applause and they're dismissed like school children, everyone making desperately for the exit.

"Where's this society thing, Pete?" Sirius asks, rubbing his hands together earnestly. He's just spotted a head of bright red hair and he doesn't much fancy running into Fabian. He can remember most of what happened last night now, and it's not as though he and Fabian did anything more scandalous than snog a bit (though Sirius does remember telling him he'd never properly got off with "such a handsome ginger" before, which is pretty mortifying) but, regardless, it's not a conversation Sirius feels like having now that Andy's re-infected him with a blinding headache. Fucking Andy.

Stepping out into the bright September sunshine, Sirius and Peter follow the crowds to the SU in silence. Despite how beautiful the city is, with its impressive architecture and breathtaking World Heritage Site, Dunhelm House is an incredibly depressing building for a union. It sticks out on the landscape like an ugly wart on a beauteous face. '60s build of course. 'Brutalist'. Miserable. The inside is just as bad.

"Oh, it's packed," Sirius moans once they step through the entrance, but he stops in his tracks when he notices a slender boy ahead of them making for the double doors of the sports hall.

Sirius' breath catches in his throat when he sees the mop of brown hair, the large jumper, the skinny legs - but then the boy turns around, and Sirius realises it's just some random bloke with a pinched face. Not the angel from last night after all. Why do all students have to dress in that same heroin-chic academia way?

Maybe the angel from last night is here anyway?

"Do second years have to rejoin societies?" he wonders aloud.

"How should I know?" Peter shrugs. He's already eyeing up a nearby stand for Sci-fiSoc.

"Do you mind if I wander off?"

Peter's already gravitating towards a blonde girl in a Star Trek outfit, handing out flyers, and doesn't hear him. Well! Fine then. If that's the gratitude Sirius gets for dragging himself along to keep the little cakeball company, fine.

Sirius wanders through whatever paths he can find. A few people accost him with stickers along the way so that by the time he makes it down one lane of stands, his clothes are advertising Chinese Debating, Jewish Society and Opera Ensemble.

He knows there are more stands in the sports hall, but for a while his eyes linger on the sign for FilmSoc. It's one of the busier tables. He gnaws his lip in consideration.

In the end, he doesn't bother signing up. It'll just be nerds wetting themselves over Wes Anderson and anyway, there's this little group queuing for it, all done up in a way they probably think is terribly bohemian with turtlenecks and berets and silly pointy shoes. A couple turn and glare at him as though anyone remotely normal is exempt from their precious artsy club, and Sirius sneers back to make it clear he doesn't want to join their boring society anyway.

This lot of beatnik-wannabes waiting in line to sign up for Film Society probably think Zooey Deschanel and The Perks of Being a Wallflower are worthy of Oscars, probably only watched Requiem for a Dream because of Jared Leto, probably think Casablanca is a type of disease. He strides off to the sports hall instead.

Wandering in, he's relieved to find a much quieter state of affairs. There are a fair few stands in here but not many people, and the only noise is an incredibly low buzz of conversation. He feels like he's walking into a Western, surrounded by tense saloons.

Glancing round, he realises why. Outside in the foyer, the space has been reserved for the arts, entertainment, sports, fun. Here is where the political ones hang out.

Let's see, he thinks, glancing round as he drifts idly along the quiet aisles. Debating Team? No. FemSoc? Probably not for him. Durham Liberal Democrats? Thanks, but no thanks. Green Party Students? Certainly not.

But then, funnily enough, something does spark his interest and he stops in his tracks, glancing up at one of the more vibrant signs in the hall.

LGBT Society. That's him! The G in LGBT! That sounds right up his street. A room full of openly gay people, discussing being gay? He won't have to do any work! It'll practically be an orgy. And here he was thinking that maintaining a sex life at university was actually going to require effort.

He stops again. He's suddenly torn between gawking and laughing and melting because, as a nice turning point to the so-far shit day, he finds the stand is only being run by that celestial, sweet-seasoned turtle dove from last night; the one who called him a twatting toff, or whatever it was.

"Why if it isn't Hatfield's sweetest!" is his perhaps misguided opening line. Sirius flicks a couple of finger guns. "Knew you were gay." He leans over the table slightly, tongue between his teeth as he smiles. "I'm never wrong."

The boy slowly drags his eyes up from the paper he's writing on. He looks even lovelier today, in a slightly crumpled button-up and too-big cardigan, hair all mussed.

"Well, if isn't Don Juan," comes the low, flat reply. "And on what grounds are you making your assumptions about me today?"

"While I admit my powers of deduction are generally impeccable, I didn't have to work too hard on this particular case." Sirius points to the LGBT sign.

Clicking his pen, the boy says, "LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender."

"Well you're not a lesbian, are you?" Sirius jokes.

"I could be bisexual. I could be transgendered. Or I could be none of those because, you know, it is possible to care about issues that don't directly affect you. I'd take a punt and guess that's something that's never crossed your mind, though?"

Sirius frowns. "How would you know?"

He's less bothered that the stunning seraph thinks he's politically selfish and socially unaware, and more concerned with the fact that he isn't succumbing to any of Sirius' best tricks: teasing, eye contact, squaring his shoulders. What more can he possibly do?

"Well, has it crossed your mind?" he asks.

Sirius' pause lasts just a little too long. "Yeah," he eventually scoffs, but the only reply he gets is a roll of the eyes. "Look, I just want to join your club."

"No chance."

"You can't stop me!" Sirius protests.

"I'm pretty sure I could," the boy replies, but he doesn't look up from his writing as he says it, and for the first time since Sirius has met him there's a slightly uncertain waver to his voice. Sirius smirks.

"Come on, you need more names on that little list of yours. I mean..." He indicates the rather empty space surrounding the stand, "Business isn't exactly booming, is it?"

Finally their gazes meet, and there it is again - that wondrous spark. Oh, the boy is even dreamier n the light of the day. His eyes actually have little golden flecks in them, Sirius notices. Flecks! That's sexy, isn't it? Flecks? He wonders if anything beautiful can be noticed in his own considerably less interesting grey eyes, and bats them a little, just to make sure he's drawing attention to them.

The boy stares sullenly back.

"It's the second day of Freshers' week. Maybe you're just too eager," he suggests.

"Or maybe all the LGBT-ers around here were out last night enjoying the sexual freedom of university and are simply too exhausted to roll in today and play at politics." He clicks his fingers as a thought occurs to him. "Hey, I bet you'd know all about that, Second Year. You could show me all the best gay haunts. We could -"

"There aren't any gay clubs in Durham," the boy interrupts, still writing. What does he even need to be writing? It's not as if he's the one signing up. "It's actually something we're aiming to rectify with the help of this society. I mean, it's only fair that members of the LGBT community have somewhere they can feel accepted, as well as giving them wider ability to meet like-minded people. After all, not everyone can possess your keen skills of observation."

He adds this last part seemingly as an afterthought, so quietly Sirius almost doesn't hear him.

"Hey, look, I'm happy to fight for everyone's right to scream when 'Material Girl' comes on in a gay club. Oh just let me sign up, will you?"

He's met by a withering sigh.

"Just fill in a form and be on your way," the boy says, flicking a form at Sirius in defeat.

"I haven't got a pen," Sirius says, pleased.

With a click of his tongue the boy hands his biro over. Their fingers brush slightly when Sirius takes it. The touch, though light, is electric. Sirius wonders if the boy can feel it too and looks up to check but... well, no, he's still just frowning like he's got a stone in his shoe.

"We have socials every Monday in this building," he says when Sirius hands the form back to him.

It sounds as if there should be more and Sirius stares expectantly, but nothing else comes. Right then. Socials every Monday. Brilliant.

"And Sirius?"

The sound of his name on those lips makes Sirius' bones melt.

"Yes?"

"This is a real society with real aims. We actually want to make a difference, you know? If you're only interested in scouting for boys, then go somewhere else. Hop on a bus to Newcastle. Don't come looking for it here."

"Wouldn't dream of it," says Sirius. "Can I have your name now?"

"Sorry?"

"Well, you know mine. It's only polite. Especially if you're going to be my team leader. My name is Sirius Black, by the way, if you want to find me on Facebook."

"Yeah, thanks for that, I don't think 'Sirius' would have narrowed it down enough."

"Good one."

"It's Remus."

"It's..?"

He sighs again. "My name? It's Remus. Lupin, and I don't have Facebook. Alright? Now -" He indicates to the right with his pen; "- Insufferable Flirt Soc's over there. Off you go."

Chapter Text

The rest of Freshers' Week passes by in a haze of muddled weather and hangovers and boredom. There's little more to it than that. Sirius really is just bored. And hungover, but largely bored.

He goes out, of course, in the evenings, but he didn't know he had to buy tickets for university events beforehand and Durham's nightlife itself is a bit more wine and tapas than wired and wild.

He makes friends when he's drunk, then promptly forgets about them the next day when he wakes up with half a dozen new numbers in his phone and a few 3am offers to hook up, which make him feel queasy.

The days he spends mostly with Peter and a few others who drift in, make absolutely no impression on Sirius, then drift out again. He doesn't see his angel in disguise, Remus, all week. There's no real reason he should. After all, they're in different years, different colleges, and Remus doesn't exactly seem the party type. At least, not the kind of parties Sirius has been attending.

By the end of the week the novelty of university has already worn off; everyone seems spent. In fact, it's only the knowledge of the LGBT social that keeps Sirius in high spirits. So distracted is he by the thought of it that when he walks into the dining hall on Monday morning to find Peter sweating over his Geology reading list, Sirius can't even find it in himself to come up with something vaguely sympathetic-sounding.

He knows he should be saying things like, "Come on, Pete, I bet you're already fantastic at mineral classification!" and "Rock-forming processes? What a vastly interesting subject! How edifying! How enlightening!"

Really all he wants to say is, "Show ignorance or show intellect; which one is more likely to result in a bedful of Remus Lupin?"

He suspects intellect, but perhaps not too much. Remus seems like he might be into politics, after all. He's probably taking something like Law, and he'll definitely know that if Sirius bursts into the meeting room going, "Did you know that 21.4% of gay people in Britain are economically inactive?" he's just been doing some mad Googling.

The truth is, while his sexuality wasn't exactly a welcomed revelation as a young teenager, Sirius has never been in a position where he's had to care much about gay issues. He grew up at boarding school, so it's only recently that he's started to discover a world outside of Devonshire. He doesn't go to gay bars and drag shows. He has little to no knowledge of Cher's discography. In short, he's always been a bit more Brideshead Revisited than Queer as Folk.

To be fair, he does know quite a bit about politics. It's something his family were so interested in, and he had compulsory General Studies lessons at school. But it's not as though he actually wants to discuss that sort of thing either. What good would his discussion do? He's just one tiny voice in a cacophany of millions.

Sirius has always maintained that, unless you swan off to Oxford or Cambridge or take a degree in Politics or act really-fucking-boring all the time, there's no point even bothering putting your political opinion forward because, well, no one actually cares. They act like they do, but only so that once you've finished giving your lukewarm opinion, they can bounce in with theirs.

"What do you think, Pete?" he asks, dropping into the seat beside Peter and reaching for a box of Weetos. "Do people fancy you more if you show an interest in current affairs?"

It's probably stupid asking such an obvious virgin but he's the only person around.

Peter looks up from his reading list distractedly. "What?"

"Oh you know what I mean. Being political, you know, having posters of Che Guevara in your dorm and saying things like 'down with Thatcher!'"

"Didn't she leave office about twenty years ago?"

"I thought it was the done thing for students to endlessly dislike her."

Peter shakes his head. It's clear he's barely listening as he focuses on the paper in his hands again.

"Why are you looking so nervous?" Sirius asks reluctantly, not sure he's ready to deal with emotions from someone like Peter.

"I shouldn't be here," Peter mutters back. "I don't know any of this stuff."

"Well obviously, that's why it's on your syllabus so they can teach it to you."

"They suggest you read up on the topics before you arrive." He slaps the papers down on to the table, looking desperate. "Why didn't I read up on the topics?"

"A suggestion is not a command, Peter. A command is like - well, like the Ten Commandments. You have to actually listen to those. They weren't just suggestions, were they? God didn't just say to Moses, 'it's probably not in your best interest to murder anyone, but if you really insist'..." Sirius stops when he realises Peter isn't even listening. "Oh you'll be fine, you old jelly, stop wetting yourself."

But Peter won't stop wetting himself - figuratively and, judging by how many times he gets up from the table to go to the loo, perhaps even literally - and by the time Sirius insists he stay put, his face looks like the tomatoes you get in Full English breakfasts, and his palms are all sweaty and pink, and he insists on trying to calm himself with astonishing amounts of food.

"Look, don't eat that," Sirius tells him tiredly. "Here, dry cereal helps calm your nerves. And chamomile tea, have some of that too. We used to have it before rugby matches at school."

Peter gulps down three cups.

"Why are you nervous, Pete? I mean really?" Sirius asks, digging into his massive bowl of cereal cereal and speaking with his mouth full. "It's just a lecture. You're at university to learn, they'll teach you everything you need to know."

"You don't understand, Sirius. I shouldn't be here. I only got here because the class is under-subscribed this term. I didn't even get all my predicted grades. Things, lessons, they don't..." He brings a finger up to tap his temple. "They don't stay in here. What if I end up having to drop out? Mum'll be devastated."

"Look, you're not exactly taking Medicine. Or, I don't know, Law. How hard can it be really?"

Apparently this isn't the right thing to say. Peter actually looks sort of hurt.

"If you can't hack it," Sirius says quickly, "which I'm sure you can, just remember - everything you need to know is somewhere on the internet! You'll be fine. You're a... I'm sure you're a smart guy." This he accompanies with a lacklustre punch to Peter's arm.

Peter smiles back gratefully, slightly cheered, and leans to take a big bite of dry Bran Flakes, screwing his face up in disgust.

"Anyway," he says through his pained mouthful, "haven't you got a lecture too?"

"Not today. I'm going to this social though."

"What? What for?"

"LGBT Society!" Sirius says brightly, and Peter pulls a face. "Excuse me, I'll have you know it's an extremely valuable and influential organisation."

"What, like, influencing people to be gay?"

"No, you imbecile. Like, talking about issues and... things. Like for example, did you know that Durham doesn't have any gay clubs? Some people would say gay clubs don't make for an equal society, but it's only fair that we gays have somewhere we can go to feel accepted and... you know. Pick up a quick shag."

"What's that I hear about a quick shag?" comes a familiar Geordie voice, and Sirius looks up to find Fabian smiling down at them. Well, at him.

"'Lo, Fabian," Peter says, suddenly cheerful. Ever since the Hatfield party and their discussion on igneous rocks in the North Pennines, Peter has been convinced that he is Fabian and Gideon's long lost triplet brother. Their much fatter, slightly more ridiculous long lost triplet brother.

"Alright, Fab?" says Sirius.

They haven't discussed their brief encounter, but the way Fabian has been looking at him all week suggests he'd like to. There's no particular reason why Sirius has been rejecting the optic advances, other than that he's mostly been too hungover to react or too drunk to notice. It's not that Fabian wouldn't be alright for another quick stint but, apart from everything else, Sirius has sort of been wrapped up in thoughts of Remus de Beau all week.

"Sirius is joining a gay club," Peter tells Fabian around another spoonful of dry flakes.

Fabian's green eyes light up. "That sounds fun."

"It's not supposed to be fun," says Peter. "Apparently it's a valuable and insulated organisation."

"Influential," Sirius corrects him, before turning back to Fabian with a finely honed look of superiority. "It's an influential organisation."

"Oh, good," says Fabian, raising his eyebrows. "When is it?"

"Four, when lectures are over."

"Great, so you're free all day then!"

Sirius' head snaps up. Fell right into that one, Black. "Er, well -"

"I know you haven't got any lectures today because Gideon hasn't either."

Well, that's creepy. Of course, Sirius had quite forgotten that smouldering Gideon is taking English too. He finds it quite disturbing that Fabian may have gone out of his way to find out the times of the Lit lectures purely to corner Sirius like this. He's undoubtedly about to suggest something totally sexually perverted.

"Come for lunch with me?" says Fabian pleasantly.

Oh, alright then. Just lunch.

Sirius hesitates, running his hands over his stomach, feigning fullness. "I've just eaten a colossal amount of Weetos, mate, really I -"

"I meant later, you dolt," Fabian laughs. "And I was thinking more liquid lunch anyway."

Ah, so sexual perversion isn't entirely out of the question then. The guy just wants to get him drunk before he ties Sirius to his bed and smears condiments all over his nipples.

"I don't know," he says eventually, avoiding the green eyes. "I was going to do some reading and, er, preparation and whatnot for my first lecture and... I don't know if I should really do much drinking..."

* * *

"What the fuck, why have I never been out with you before?" Sirius cries. The fine taste of bitter lager is still fresh in his throat. He slams another empty glass down on the table, one arm slung across the back of the wooden booth, hand coming to rest behind Fabian's head of thick red hair.

"You have. We went to that rugby party and got off in that utility room." Fabian's fiery brows furrow. "Least I think it was a utility room. Might have been a greenhouse. There was a lot of algae."

Sirius nods enthusiastically. "Of course! How could I forget such an amorous, passionate encounter?"

Beside him, the whole left side of his body pressed to Sirius' right, Fabian snorts.

"You talk so ridiculously, Sirius."

"Do I?"

"So posh."

"I think you're just astonishingly northern, mate."

"Astonishingly," Fabian repeats, sniggering. "Where you from again?"

"Dartmouth."

"I've never kissed a southerner before."

"Poor you," says Sirius, and Fabian laughs again.

Stupidly, Sirius mirrors his drunken sniggers, unable to understand why it's funny, why any of this is funny. More than several heavy pints tends to have that effect though, especially on a stomach of nothing but chocolate cereal. He is not plastered, not yet, but he's had enough to have decided that red hair is kind of sexy.

They didn't even start drinking until a couple of hours ago. The first part of their lunch meeting - it's not a date, Sirius refuses to call it a date - was spent talking over tea, until it became so horribly awkward Sirius suggested they grab a pint instead. It's had the desired effect of loosening him up to the point that Fabian is now officially his new best friend, but Sirius has a feeling he's forgetting something important.

"What time is it?" he asks suddenly, and Fabian thrusts out his wrist and stares at a slightly battered gold watch for ages before announcing it to be twenty-past-four-I-think.

"Shit!" Sirius stands so abruptly their pint glasses almost topple over, and the grumpy construction workers behind him raise their eyebrows. "I was supposed to meet for the thing!"

"What?"

"The thing!" He's already pulling his jacket on, tossing crumpled pound notes on to the table.

"The insulated organisation?" asks Fabian, bewildered.

"Influential, Fabian, it's an influential organisation."

He's halfway to the door now, Fabian realising a few seconds later that he's supposed to follow. Sirius can't even recall what they've been talking about for so long. The only answer that comes to mind, as he stumbles through the doors of the Dun Cow, is "bollocks". They have chatted nothing but bollocks for about four hours, and now Sirius is late and how can he possibly achieve his goal of wooing dear Remus if he's late?

"I have to get to Dunhelm House now!" he cries, spinning around to face a suitably dazed Fabian. "Er - where's Dunhelm House?"

* * *

"I have arrived!" Sirius announces, bursting through the doors to the social room with intoxicated bravado.

He's sort of expecting confetti and applause. After all, getting here in double quick time has been no mean feat. For one thing, he had to convince Fabian that he wasn't abandoning him, he just really really had to go and now and fast. Then he had to hail a taxi and taxis don't drive particularly quickly through university towns, so Sirius had to up the ante by bribing the cabbie, with his last fiver, to pick up the speed. Then he actually had to find the meeting room and there are too many rooms and too few signs in the Student Union building, so that was damn near impossible, especially considering he's had a drop or two to drink. He deserves some sort of award for this, he thinks, some sort of trophy.

All he's greeted with is a dozen pairs of shocked eyes. Well, almost all full of shock. One familiar set of brown eyes is looking decidedly unsurprised.

"Er, hello. I'm Brian. You must be Sirius," someone says timidly, and Sirius jumps at the phantom voice.

His eyes move from Remus to the front of the room where a blond boy is perched on a chair, looking nervous. He's clad in this truly awful green jumper. In fact, when Sirius glances around he notices they all seem to be in knitwear. There are a lot of questionable crew cuts too. It looks like some sort of 1940s prayer circle.

"Must I be?" he says, swaggering closer to the group.

"Er, yes." Brian scrambles for a bit of paper placed beside his feet. "Yes, you were the only one on the list not here, you see."

"Brilliant deduction skills, Bri!"

"Feel free to take a seat."

He looks around at the circle again. There are about seven empty chairs. It's a most pathetic scene, especially when coupled with the dark, wood-panelled walls and the grey skies through the window and the stoic, blank faces staring back at him.

"Do I need to pull up a spare chair, or...?"

His joke falls on stony ground. When it's clear nobody is going to humour him - in fact, if there's one thing this room seems to be seriously lacking in it's humour - he obediently opts for a seat opposite Remus.

"Great," sighs Shy Bri. "Now, Craig was just about to start briefing us on Q Ball before the, erm, interruption. Craig?"

"Craig" is sitting to the left of Brian and is the only thing that makes Sirius tear his gaze from Remus for a few short moments.

Craig is tall and spindly and spotty, and he has a slightly crazed look in his eye when he gazes around the circle. Sirius naively thought there might be some reasonably decent looking guys at this thing, but Craig is very camp and very loud and possibly some sort of maniac.

This image isn't helped when he stands and does jazz hands at them all, before launching into his piece on 'Q Ball'; some tacky-sounding fundraising event that Sirius has next to no interest in.

It's boring. Dear God, it's boring. Craig drones on and on and on, and then on some more, and then Brian gets up and drones on and on and on, and then some other bloke called Elijah, who is wearing suspenders for some reason, gets up and drones on and on and on, and Sirius is nearly asleep by the time it's over. It wouldn't be so bad if Remus had been the one to drone on and on and on but as it happens, Remus doesn't say a word throughout the whole entire thing.

Sirius is disappointed. He's disappointed that he doesn't get to hear that lovely voice say things like "This is a serious problem, men!" and "We need to fight back against this injustice!" and he's disappointed that Remus deliberately avoids his gaze for the whole meeting, and he's disappointed that he can't even console himself by soaking up the gorgeousness of his fellow recruits because they're all terribly... odd.

He tries communicating with Remus via telepathic means - Look at me, my sweet! Do glance my way! Set your eyes upon me and allow yourself to fall deep into the swirling oceans of adoration that are my eyes only when I gaze upon your lovely form - but all he gets is a glance when Remus turns his head to the side to clear his throat.

This prolonged torture means that, by the time the meeting is finally dismissed, Sirius all but leaps across the room to catch up with him.

"Afternoon, Moonshine!" he trills. He's particularly proud of the nickname - check me out with my etymology skills, Lupin - but Remus appears strangely unmoved.

"I don't really have time to talk."

"What, you can't even make time for me?" Sirius says cheekily, but the smile quickly fades from his face when Remus turns and shoots him a very dirty look.

"Especially not for you," he snaps, coming to a stand still. "You know, Sirius, I had two scenarios in my head regarding you."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. I thought you'd either show up and make fun of everything, or not show up at all. But to show up late? And drunk? That's really taking the piss, you know?"

"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get really drunk," Sirius says truthfully. "In fact, I hardly had anything. It's just that all I've eaten today is cereal - not even healthy cereal like Weetabix - and it really took its toll and - I'm sorry. I was really looking forward to this, honest."

Remus scoffs, apparently unconvinced. "You mean you were looking forward to bothering me again."

"Well... I was excited about seeing you again -"

"Sirius, do me a favour and don't come back next week."

Sirius stares at him, surprised. He's mostly sobered up now, but he still wobbles a little when he tries to lean against the wall. "Why not?"

"Because I'd rather you drop out now than halfway through the semester when you realise that, for one thing, I don't want to go out with you and for another, no one else here does either."

"Excuse me, I'll have you know Brian was making eyes at me throughout the whole thing," he says, but when his joke fails to amuse, he sighs. "You're being unnecessarily awkward, you know. You don't even know me!"

For a moment he thinks he sees a new emotion flicker in Remus' large, doe-like eyes - consideration perhaps - but in the end he just shakes his head and says, "I know your type."

"You're only a second year. You don't know everything."

Of course, Sirius says that, but in actual point of fact something about Remus Lupin suggests he might just know everything in the world.

"I've seen more than you have!" Remus blusters. "I know exactly what kind of person you are. You come in here, dressed to the nines in your bloody Jack Wills get-up, no doubt possessing every intention to blow your loan on going out every night and getting completely pissed, and never mind if you end up having to drop out because who needs a degree anyway?"

Sirius blinks.

"And that's fine!" Remus goes on. "That's totally fine if that's what you're about. Just don't try and drag other people into it."

"I've been here one week. You can't make ridiculous predictions like that, it's totally unreasonable!"

"Right, well tell me which parts were wrong."

"Well... I don't intend to drop out." He looks down at himself. "And I'm not wearing Jack Wills. Well, my socks are Jack Wi -"

"See?"

"Oh come on. Lighten up a bit, will you? What's with you? Are you just having a bad week, or...?"

Remus makes as though to leave.

"I've concluded that you're not a very happy person," Sirius announces to his retreating back.

Slowly, Remus turns to look at him.

"Are you reading Criminology? Because your detective skills are astounding."

"English Literature actually," Sirius replies cheerfully.

"You? English Literature?"

"Why's that surprising?"

"You're right," Remus says after a second, "it's not. Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Degree in English Literature from Durham University?"

"Hey, I'm not doing it to look good," says Sirius, even though maybe he is, a little bit. "I like English! You know, you're lucky you're so gorgeous or I might actually be hurt."

"Oh right, well it's good to know the value of my words goes out of the window as a result of how aesthetically pleasing you find my face."

"I didn't mean it like that. Come on, don't hate me before you even know me. Get to know me and then feel free to call me whatever you like." (Hopefully things like 'darling' and 'sweetums' and 'sexiest man on the whole of the heavenly body'). "Let's go somewhere and hang out. Just one drink? You can't be too busy for one drink."

"I think you've had enough."

Oh for God's sake. How can one person be so sensible?

"Tomorrow then," Sirius tries instead. "Go on."

"I'm working tomorrow."

"On a Tuesday?"

"Yes."

"Don't you have lectures?"

"As well as work. Some people are capable of both, Sirius."

"Where do you work?"

Finally, Remus stops in his tracks with another of those world-weary sighs, like he's seen and heard and experienced far too much in this life already.

"A library," Remus tells him after a long moment, clearly taking care not to specify which library. "Now, at the risk of sounding like I'm trying to get rid of you, I really do have to go."

Remus starts to walk away before Sirius can even formulate a proper goodbye, but when he calls after him - "Have a wonderful evening!" - he's at least 85% certain that the shake of Remus' head indicates fondness rather than contempt.

Chapter Text

Being that he is a generous and not at all inconsiderate best friend, James finally finds it in himself to call the next day. Sirius is lying on his bed, flipping through 1001 Movies to See Before You Die and eating all of the hearts and cola bottles out of a bag of Haribo and pointedly ignoring his reading list, when his phone vibrates.

"Bonjour!" James sings down the line, waiting for Sirius to bark back with "bonjour, bonjour, bonjour!"

It's another of their long-held rituals, and when Sirius doesn't play ball the falling of James' face is practically audible.

"What's the matter? You love Beauty and the Beast."

"Be that as it may," Sirius admits, "you haven't spoken to me all week!"

"Sirius, you know the little square thing you have pressed to your ear right now? Well did you know you can ring people on it as well as receive calls? Fucking brilliant, I know -"

"That isn't how things work between us, Potter."

"What? Oh mate, you're not still talking about the thing, are you? We came up with the thing when we were about twelve!"

Sirius' expression of utter outrage is wasted on a phone call since James isn't there to bear witness to its ferocity. His indignancy, he hopes, is still evident in his voice when he speaks.

"We have to hold fast to these traditions now that we're not living together any more, James! We can't just start brutalizing our praxes. I mean, what was it Aristotle said?"

He hears James sigh. "I dunno, mate. He said many things, he was quite well-known for it."

"The one about friendship."

"Oh God, I don't know. Anyway, I was - "

"'A true friend is one soul in two bodies'."

"That is very heavy, and not at all relevant to this situation." James makes little attempt to hide the exasperation in his voice, a fact which only serves to add fuel to Sirius's already sizzling fire. He hasn't waited all week for James to phone just so he can act exasperated.

"We can't maintain a true friendship if I'm trying to preserve one convention and you're poaching it to make rugs and piano keys," Sirius says hotly.

"I see university has matured you considerably."

Sirius huffs and sits back on his bed, admittedly glad to be hearing the wanker's voice even if he has corrupted their phoning ritual. It's horribly embarrassing, but having James to talk to suddenly feels like this huge relief, as though home isn't as far away as it's seemed. Not that he'd ever, ever, ever in a century and a half tell James that. He's an adult human, for Christ's sake.

Instead he mumbles, "It's certainly done something to me."

"What's the matter?" James presses. "Didn't have a good first week? Only pulled six unfortunate people instead of seven? Going for one a day, were you?"

Sirius scowls. "I'll have you know I haven't pulled at all, thank you."

"What?" James laughs raucously and Sirius can imagine him throwing his head back in that way he always does, when he makes his glasses slip backwards off his face.

"Oi, dick, why's that funny?" he asks indignantly.

"You?" James splutters. "You, who managed to pull the park keeper on that bouncy castle at the Dartmouth church fête, couldn't even get a leg over during Freshers? Everyone gets a leg over during Freshers. Several legs. That's what it's for."

"So I suppose that includes you then?"

"Alright, alright, everyone not already spoken for."

"How is dear Lilith doing?"

"Oh, she's settling in," James replies. He speaks in this silly, dreamy way, like a cooing dove. "She says she likes Edinburgh and her new flatmates, and she's promised me no one's tried it on with her. Have to say I'm none too sure about that one. As if no one would try it on with her! And she's been to Arthur's Seat. As if no one would try it on with her at Arthur's Seat."

"As if," Sirius mutters. He supposes it's own fault for being the one to bring Lady Fabulous up in the first place, but he rolls his eyes all the same, legs swinging idly off the bed. He shoves another love heart in his mouth.

"We talked on the phone for four hours last night."

"Oh, so you found time to talk to her then?"

James heaves another great sigh. "Mate, when you and I shack up I will gladly while away the hours yacking to you over the phone. As it is, I don't see that happening any time soon so, until then, could you stop being so weird? What's got into you?"

Now it's Sirius' turn to splutter. James calling him childish? That's a bit rich! God, it's like his best friend has morphed into some wanky urbanite in the space of a week, leaving Sirius trailing behind still with his humble Devonshire mindset.

"Nothing!" he says. "I just wanted to talk to you. Go ahead and arrest me, you ungrateful bastard."

"You're such a wet biscuit, you can't be homesick already."

"Aren't you?"

"No, I'm having a great time. Flat's great, classes are easy. You had any yet?"

"It was my first today." Sirius casts a bored glance to his reading list. "This morning. 'Romantic Forms of Grief'."

It was actually alright - sort of interesting and the lecturer wasn't half bad - but he keeps his tone miserable all the same, determined not to let James know that he's managed to find positive aspects of the working side to university life. A good old guilt trip will serve him right for not calling.

"You what? Thought you were supposed to be doing books and that."

"It's about poetry."

"Sounds like a load of old wank to me," James says cheerfully. "Anyway, listen All that aside, I was actually calling to see if you wanted to meet up? It's not too soon, is it? I don't know about you but I've nothing on tonight. So we'll get together, yeah? I mean, I'll get the bus to you."

Finally, Sirius smiles. He doesn't want James to know this.

"Alright," he says loftily, lounging back on his bed. "I can probably fit you in."

"That's very good of you," James says. "Tonight then?"

"Sure. I mean, I'm pretty busy this afternoon, so you best just find a pub and text me the address when you're there. Doubt I'll have time to meet you at the bus station, you know."

James, not remotely fooled, just laughs at him.

"Dick," he says, and hangs up.

* * *

Having commandeered Peter's printer, Sirius now holds in his hands a complete list of all the libraries in Durham. A tiny voice in the back of his mind tells him that what he's doing is the action of a mad man. A much louder, much more Sirius-esque voice tells him that this is a fantastic idea, foolproof and sure to result in much success and shagging, two excellent things.

As he wanders the city in search of the buildings printed before him, more lost than he looks, his imagination frequently conjures up the surprised look of awe he's sure will appear on Remus Lupin's face when he sees Sirius saunter up to the front desk and say something like, "Don't mind me, I drop in every Tuesday to peruse the works of Voltaire."

And then Sirius will wander off to the philosophy section - or was Voltaire a poet? - and Remus will try to contain himself as he watches Sirius being brooding and mysterious in a corner, but eventually he'll be so overcome by the lustful enticements of Sirius' obvious intellect that he'll drag him into the Reference room and ravish him then and there, and damned if the Head Librarian sees!

It is an inevitability Sirius is hugely looking forward to, truth be told. Fortunately, the university's main library isn't that difficult to find either. He's visited it more than once on open days, and it's an astonishingly ugly building situated on the science site (go figure), but he can't imagine Remus working somewhere like this.

It's busy when he enters, and he can barely see for wool-clad students and plywood bookcases, but when he approaches the front desk the pointy-faced librarian gives him a stern look over the top of her specs as though to say his is a kind which does not belong in the sacred library.

"Hi." He smiles brightly, leaning his elbow on the desk. "I'm looking for -"

"Reference computers are over there," she tells him impatiently, pointing to a cluster of '90s PCs in the far corner. Ah, now Sirius remembers just why it is that he enjoys libraries so much: the warm welcomes!

"Actually I'm looking for a person. Do you know if Remus Lupin works here?"

"No."

"No he doesn't, or no you don't know - ?"

"There's no one by that name here. Try Palace Green." She's not even looking at him, she's marking something down in some old register. What a vastly rude human being; never has Sirius Black been subjected to such effrontery. He almost tells her this, but she looks like she might be capable of dropkicking him with her vintage stiletto.

"Sorry to be a pain, but could you tell me where Palace Green is, please?" he asks instead.

"Between the Castle and the cathedral," she explodes, cutting off the last part of his sentence. "You first year students are given maps before you even arrive, not to mention there are ones hung up on every street corner. Use your eyes!"

Sirius blinks at her. Why does everyone here have such a vendetta against first year students? He was only asking a bloody question! He's beginning to wonder if this quest is worth it if he's going to be subjected to such obstacles. Then he remembers Remus' fantastic mouth. Of course it's worth it.

Thanking her, Sirius leaves and heads back in the direction of his own college. Between the Castle and the cathedral? So Palace Green has been next to his new home all week and he hasn't even noticed it. How embarrassing. He could have saved himself so much time, time that could have been spent seducing Remus over copies of Organon rather than allowing himself to fall victim to verbal abuse from a real-life witch.

Still, when he finds pretty Palace Green (a bit more like a small, Hammer film church than an actual library) and wanders into the main reception area, the young woman behind the desk is much more friendly.

"Hello, I'm looking for a friend," he tells her, patience still going strong. "Does Remus Lupin work here?"

Her face brightens at 'friend' and drops at 'Remus Lupin'. She looks confused.

"He works in the Exchequer," she says after a pause. "Does he know you're here?"

Now it's Sirius who brightens. He isn't sure he'd have been up to checking out another of these dull book houses, especially if he'd had to have walked through the city again.

"Hm? Oh, no. I'm just dropping in. Why? Is he not allowed visitors?"

What is this, some kind of prison? But no, the woman merely shrugs, giving a little shake of her head and making her jewellery jangle.

"Is it important?" she asks.

"I'm afraid so."

"Well, it's not a busy area so a visit never hurts." She points to a door off the main library, gold plating on the dark oak reading 'The Exchequer Building'. Internally congratulating himself, Sirius approaches.

It's weird inside. He's surprised, upon opening the door, to be faced not with normal ground but with a winding staircase, almost like he's being led into some sort of basement. The room is vast, with huge arched windows and dark wood panelling and high ceilings.

It's also very quiet. In fact, there doesn't look to be a single person in here. It's a bit eerie actually, like something out of a horror film, and his movements are slow as he descends the stairs.

Remus must be here somewhere or the woman wouldn't have told him to come in, but as he peers over the front desk and wanders up and down the parquet aisles, surrounded by tall, dusty book cases, he sees not a soul. He can't even tell what these weird books are. Hardly any of them seem to have legible titles on the spines and most of them are encased behind what looks like chicken wire.

Pausing in front of a particularly large volume in the middle of one of the more grand book cases, he momentarily sets aside his search to reach out a hand and undo the catch on the wire covering it.

"Don't."

Sirius jumps and yanks his hand back, convinced for a moment that it's the book talking to him. He's relieved when he turns to see Remus looking at him, laden with an armful of ancient looking tomes, one eyebrow raised.

"That's a 1754 King James Bible," he says. "It's probably best you don't touch it."

Instinctively, Sirius wipes his palms on his jeans, before fixing a smile on his face, tossing the hair out of his eyes. His prince has arrived.

"Are you stalking me?" Remus asks, moving past him to flick the catch on another wire door and placing the books in his arms carefully inside.

"No," Sirius lies. "Bloke can visit a library, can't he? I'm here for some... reading material."

While Remus snorts softly at this, he doesn't actually have his usual weary expression fixed on his face. In fact, he almost looks to be smiling. Not quite, but almost. It's quite strange.

"Nice try, Eng Lit, but these books aren't for borrowing. This place used to be a treasury. Now records and things are kept here. Very old books for -" Remus raises his hands and waggles his long fingers; "very special hands."

Books stacked and door closed, he moves past Sirius and makes his way back up the aisle again towards the front of the building. Smiling, Sirius follows. He hasn't been called a twat yet; so far so good.

"Bit of a pointless library then, isn't it?" he calls after him, voice echoing in the vast hall. "I mean, if you can't even take the books out..."

"Oh they can be taken out," Remus tells him. He's already laden with another pile of dusty books. "Just not by first-year Lit students."

"Shame. I really wanted to read about the..." Leaning lazily against the desk where yet more unsorted works lay in neat stacks, Sirius picks a book up off the top of a pile. "Notable Alumni of Sheffield University."

Then, and Sirius only notices it briefly but few things ever manage to slip past his sharp eyes, Remus definitely smiles. Or rather, his lips tug slightly as he rolls his eyes, but when it comes to this highly-strung second-year, even a lip tug seems like a Big Deal. And - who'd have thought it - all it took was the records of Sheffield Uni.

In fact, the strange half-smile is still there when Remus comes to take the Alumni book, along with the others, back to the shelves. Sirius almost asks him why he's in a better mood today. He quickly thinks better of the idea, though. Perhaps this very slight joviality is part of Remus' natural, subconscious state, and if he's reminded of it he might do everything in his power to cover it up and resume his usual dour demeanour.

"Do I even want to know how you found out I work here?" he asks.

"No. It was very illegal and underhand. Best not to wonder too much."

"Oh, excellent." 

"So," Sirius drags out as he pushes himself away from the desk. "Do you get paid to work here?"

"I do now," Remus replies. His brow furrows as he crouches in front of one of the cases, eyes searching rapidly. With a little 'ah' noise he slips one huge book on to the shelf.

"You mean you didn't used to?"

"No. Most campus jobs start out as volunteer work."

Sirius pulls a face, hands in pockets as he gazes around himself. "What a waste."

"Well, it's not if you're really interested in something."

"Are you really interested in this stuff?"

"I'm an Ancient History student. I'm more than happy to spend my time in here instead of..." Remus waves a vague hand over towards the stained-glass windows, not finishing.

"Out there where there are people and you have to interact. Perish the thought!" Sirius gives a dramatic swoon, and Remus is clearly not amused.

"Why are you here anyway?" he asks. "Since we've already established you haven't arrived with studious intentions."

"Couple of things," Sirius says quickly, noticing his love is already slipping back into Fight Mode. "First - I thought I'd help you out here!"

Remus casts an eye over the whole length of Sirius' body, before meeting his gaze once more.

"Yeah, that's quite alright, thank you. Heaven knows where those hands of yours've been."

"Right." Casting a glance down to his upturned hands, Sirius nods. "Right, then. Er, other thing... thought you might like to go for that drink tonight?"

"Sirius, perhaps I didn't make myself clear the other day. I don't want to go on a date with you..."

"Ah-ah! Not a date! My friend - my best friend - James is coming down from Newcastle and I thought you might like to join us. Probably go to the Shakespeare or something. Inn, I mean."

Remus stares at him. He's hesitating, as though he's somehow uncomfortable.

"I don't know your friend," he says, standing up again and dusting his trousers off. "Why would I want to be out with someone I don't know?"

Sirius gives a nervous laugh. He's never been shot down so often in his life. He's not even really asking Remus out and he's still getting offers thrown back in his face. What precisely is he doing that's so awful?

"Isn't that what university's all about?" he tries hopefully.

"You keep telling yourself that, Sirius." Remus huffs as he walks past him. Their shoulders brush a bit, but it's not really affectionate.

"Right," says Sirius. He can hear Remus grabbing more books behind him. "So what's that then, reserve a table or - ?"

"Have fun with your friend," Remus says pointedly.

Sirius bites back a sigh. Why be so difficult? Why be so stubborn? He's beginning to wonder if his new-found interest in Remus is more out of a determination to succeed, rather than an actual yearning for the weird man himself.

"Just out of interest - is there any particular reason you dislike me so much?" Sirius asks.

Remus actually looks surprised at this. He even pauses in his retreat back to the book shelves in order to answer.

"I don't."

"You don't?"

"I don't dislike you."

"Really?"

"I mean, I don't even know you. I'm completely neutral."

"Oh."

Somehow that feels worse. At least when people dislike you, you've made something of an impression on them. But indifference? No one has ever been indifferent to Sirius Black before. It feels quite dreadful.

He wants to ask if Remus calls all the people he's indifferent towards a snotty toff. Instead he shakes himself and says, "Right, well! if you change your mind you know where I am, so... I'll leave you to it." There's a pause as he waits for a reply that never comes. "Er, bye then."

He's expecting - hoping for, might be the more appropriate term - some sort of Hollywood moment then. For Remus to say now hang on, Black, the fact of the matter is I'm actually mad for you and the only reason I'm acting like a complete prick is because I'm not used to being overcome by such powerful feelings of lust, so do me a favour and maybe don't leave.

Suffice to say, Remus doesn't say anything of the sort. He does say "goodbye" though, and that might just count as progress.

* * *

"Might just count as progress, don't you think?" Sirius mutters three hours later, swilling the remains of his lager about in his glass.

"What, him saying goodbye to you?"

"Yeah."

Across from him, James gives a look far too pitying for Sirius' liking.

"What?" he says miserably.

"Nothing, it's just you're proper pathetic," James chuckles, draining the dregs of his pint. "One week of uni and you're already withering away like a house plant. And over some history student, no less. Pull yourself together, man. No one will ever shag you otherwise."

Slowly, Sirius leans across the table. "As always, your sympathy continues to both comfort and astound me," he slurs.

"I can't be sympathetic when you're whining over someone you've only known for a few days. If he doesn't fancy you, he doesn't fancy you. Give it up. You've got another three years of this, you can't start having a breakdown now. I don't deserve it."

"I just don't like that he doesn't like me! Even as a friend. I've never had someone dislike me, James. Me. Me."

"Mate, I can assure you plenty of people disliked you at school."

"Who? No, they didn't. Well maybe yes, but only because I disliked them first. I've never been nice to someone and still rejected so... bluntly."

"Are you sure you're being nice to him?"

"Yes!"

"Because telling someone their arse is so delectable you want to live inside it doesn't count as being nice."

"Oh don't pretend you know all about the art of courtship," Sirius snaps. "It took you six years to bag Lily. In fact, I'm sure the only reason she gave in in the end was out of concern that she'd murder you otherwise."

James throws his head back and gives a hearty laugh, the sound almost lost amongst the loud buzz of conversation in the Shakespeare Inn.

"Ooh, you jealous little bastard, Sirius Black."

"Although maybe that's the trick," Sirius goes on, ignoring him. "Maybe if you spend long enough wearing somebody down they eventually have to stop hating you."

"Au contraire, mon frére, Lily never hated me."

"It'll be like Pretty Woman..."

"Perturbed, is the word, she was perturbed by me."

"... He's the successful businessman, she's the down-on-her-luck hooker. They are, by all accounts, completely wrong for each other. But then, due to constant close contact, they fall in love. It's simple. In fact, it's probably human nature or instinct or something."

James stares at him. "It's Stockholm Syndrome. Did you just compare your relationship with some history geek to Pretty Woman? Look, Sirius, with all due respect, maybe you should be focusing on more pressing issues."

"Such as?"

"Well, we did talk about trying to get jobs."


Sirius snorts. "You got one, have you?"

"I'm looking. I was going to respond to a poster in Carphone Warehouse, but when I looked through the window they all looked really sad. But we might want to get a house together next year and I'd prefer if you had a bit of cash in your pocket when we do."

But Sirius merely waves an impatient hand. Between courting and university and being the spritely socialite he so naturally is, he's sure he has no time for something as mundane and time-consuming as a job.

"James, I'm a knight among peasants in this city," he says airily.

"What - "

"And how many times do you see knights working behind the till at McDonald's?"

"I - what? What does that even mean?"

"Do you really think I'm going to win fair lady's heart from behind the till at McDonald's?"

"Alright, you're boring me now."

"Well I'm not, am I? Going to win it, I mean? The heart. Fair lady's heart."

"Who's fair lady again?"

"Remus!"

"Right. And you're..."

"The knight."

"Got it." James pauses and shakes his head. "You're fucking weird, lad. Get us another pint."

Chapter Text

It's by no means an unwelcome surprise to find Remus himself outside the Shakespeare Inn when Sirius stumbles out three hours later, struggling to get his arm into his jacket, but nonetheless a surprise it is.

His brown hair is flattened and curling slightly from the rain, and he's in this wonderful grey duffle coat that makes Sirius want to pinch his cheeks and call him Paddington Bear. He just about refrains from this long enough to cry out, completely sober, "Reeemus!"

Remus appears somewhat startled by this, and takes a step back.

"What a wonderful coincidence!" Sirius goes on.

"Well, it's not - "

"I can't believe we're meeting like this. Here! At this time, in this specific part of the city. What a strange old world! What a small, strange old world we live in." He rushes down the last of the rain-slippery steps to stand in front of him.

"Right, except it's not a coincidence," Remus stresses. "I knew you were here, so."

Sirius blinks, realisation stirring low in his belly to form a delicious hopeful soup. Touched, he fights the urge to reach out and brush his fingers against Remus' darling little face.

"You sought me out?" he says.

"Er, if you like?" says Remus, but then Sirius notices those lovely eyes are not on him. He remembers James.

"Oh, sorry!" he splutters. "This is my James - I mean - this is my friend James. James, this is..." Sirius sighs, lips pursed in pleased disbelief. "This is Remus."

James who, absolutely unlike Sirius, is intoxicated, plunges a hand out with a stupid grin on his face.

"Hello there, Remus," he drawls, giving Remus' hand an extraordinarily hard shake. "I've heard all about you, sonny."

"Really."

"Of course! For thou art the pinkest lady of my best pal's eye," he grins, with an expression which suggests he thinks this a very clever thing to say.

There's this thing James does when he's drunk where he slips between being camp and being Shakespeare, and right now he seems to be wobbling uncertainly between both zones. He slings an arm around Sirius' shoulder, making them both stumble slightly.

"Miserable, he's been. He's spent all evening waxing lyrical about you, about how the course of true love never runs smooth. About how like a summer's day you are." James turns to glance back at the sign of the pub triumphantly. "About how you walk in beauty!"

"Actually, that was Byron."

"Course it was!" James says cheerfully. He gives Remus another heavy clap on the arm, before setting both hands on his shoulders and standing very, very close to him. "Listen. Take care of him, alright? I know he looks like an arrogant dickhead - "

"Hey!"

" - and to a great extent he is, Remus, mate, but he's a fragile soul really. And no matter how often he claims everyone adores him - "

"I - "

" - or how big he thinks his wang is - "

"Excuse me - "

" - he will never be able to come to terms with the fact that people liked me more than him at school - "

"James was actually just getting the last bus home, weren't you, James?" Sirius rushes in, physically stepping between the two men.

Oh drunken James, he thinks woefully, how oft you have ruined me. He loves James, really really loves him, but Sirius realises these incriminating quips must cease immediately.

"Alright, alright." James holds his hands up in mock surrender. "You two want to be alone, je comprends, je comprends."

"We're not - " Remus starts.

"I'll be back next week, mate, I promise," James continues, pulling Sirius into a hug, and Sirius finds himself suddenly clinging back. Not that James isn't a total embarrassment of a human being - and the last bus to Newcastle really is about to leave - but he's still missed him, and he holds on until James is the one pulling back.

"Nice to meet you, Remus!" he says with a cheery wave. "And remember to look for a job, Sirius. I can't be friends with a skint wanker!"

Remus' tight smile isn't as enthusiastic as James' farewell, although there does seem to be some genuine amusement flickering in his eyes.

"He's a character," he says when James is gone.

"Oh he's great," says Sirius. "He's just very, um... excitable."

"Meaning pissed?"

"Yeah."

"Are you?"

"Me? Not reeeaaally." Digging his hands in his pockets, swaying on the balls of his feet, Sirius adds, "Sort of spent up last week."

"Ah," Remus nods. "I suppose then that means I can't expect a drink from you."

The  hope soup in Sirius' belly beginning to bubble with interest.

"The - the pub's closing now anyway," he says, jabbing a thumb behind himself at the inn. Risking it, he quickly continues, "But I've got lager in my room if you fancy coming round."

Well. Peter's got lager in their room.

Remus smirks, but it's a nice smirk, like it's got warmth behind it.

"Hidden where your mum can't find it?" he says.

"Ha ha," Sirius deadpans, but he can't manage anything more loquacious, because the hope soup has now transformed itself into a three course meal of ineffable excitement, right there in the pit of his stomach. Because Remus Lupin has just agreed to come to his room and drink. Alcoholic  things. Alone. Together. If he can manage to get rid of Peter, that is.

"So you're in Castle, right?" Remus prompts. He says it so wonderfully in that wonderful northern accent. Ca-sul.

"Castle," Sirius automatically repeats in a terrible, dopey imitation. He only wanted to try it out, but Remus' eyes narrow, and clearly he thinks Sirius is making fun of him. "I mean, er, yes, indeed, that's the one. Shall we get going?"

Remus extends an arm, allowing Sirius to lead the way, and Sirius practically tumbles forwards in his haste.

"Thanks," he mumbles, when Remus' quick hand stops him from falling.

"I think you are a bit pissed."

"I'm not, honest," Sirius insists. He's not entirely sure that's the truth, but he tries hard to sound earnest. "I mean, I had a couple but..." He has to trail off when he realises there's no more to the story. As they set off down the lane leading off from the pub, he changes tack. "So what made you change your mind anyway?"

"About coming? Well, I didn't have much else to do."

"Oh."

Remus gives him a sideways glance. "I mean... I felt a bit bad about before."

"Oh?"

"What I mean is, it was actually quite nice of you to come and find me. I think."

"You think?"

"Well, it was a bit unnerving."

"Oh."

Sirius wants to shake himself. What's the matter with him? He's normally eloquent as a Shakespearean Fool. Something about Remus' willingness to talk is having a strange effect on him. He can't even say it's because he's so transfixed by Remus' wondrous lips, since he can't see them very well in the dark as they head towards the bridge.

"We're not going this way, are we?" Remus says abruptly.

Sirius stops, suddenly convinced he's taken a wrong turning. Well, who could blame him? What with getting totally flustered over Remus' curling hair and duffle coat and the way he says 'castle' in that broad, northern, Mancunian-Cumbrian-Yorkshire - where is he from anyway?

"Yes," Sirius says blankly. "This is the way I came."

"Prebends isn't very safe at night," Remus tells him, in the tone of a parent warning their five year old child off using Calpol as a snack. "We should go around."

On the one hand, Sirius sort of wants Remus in his room as quickly as possible to allow for maximum wooing time, but on the other he wants to keep him happy. He hasn't heard anything bad about Prebends Bridge so far, but if Remus thinks it isn't very safe then as far as Sirius is concerned the bridge is Durham's Chernobyl.

"What's so wrong with it?" he asks, as they make for the long path leading around it instead.

"Nothing inherently. It's only really dangerous at night. You know, muggings and stuff. It's sort of infamous."

"I didn't know."

"Well, now you do. Just as well really, you're definitely the type they'd go for."

Sirius looks at him in the dark, their cold breath mingling in the air between them. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Remus shrugs, hands in his pockets. "Well, you know... first year, likes a drink or two, nice looking clothes on his back. You'd be ripe for the picking."

"You really have a problem with the way I dress, don't you?"

"Oh, I think you look dashing, Sirius. Just a bit..." Remus wrinkles his nose in a way he probably doesn't realise looks quite so judgemental.

"What?" Sirius presses.

"You know."

"No, what?"

"You just..." Remus lifts one hand from his pocket to wave it at him vaguely, "look like you have a bit of money, that's all."

Sirius can't help but scoff. So stunned is he by the suggestion he barely even registers the barely-there compliment.

"Remus. I'm not rich, you know," he says, shaking his head.

"No?"

"I just like to spend my money on nice things, instead of tat."

"A worthy cause."

Sirius wants to call him a snob - an inverted one, is that a real thing? - but he can't find it in himself to say a bad word, which is strange really because he's never had a problem doing it to anyone else.

He nudges Remus' arm instead and says, "We can't all look effortlessly brilliant like you."

Remus rolls his eyes to the stars, and Sirius suddenly wants to kick himself. These lines always sound great in his head. Then they come out in the open, and just hang there like an unfortunate miasma.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, and Sirius' dorm has morphed into a veritable paradise.

"Grab a pew," Sirius says brightly, shrugging off his jacket and gesturing to his bed. "What do you want to drink? I'm having lager but I mean, you could have tea. I can get you tea from the lounge. There's a tea machine. Or maybe you're more of a coffee guy."

"I hate coffee," Remus replies, perching on the bed and giving a tiny, experimental bounce that makes Sirius' heart kick up a beat. Remus Lupin is bouncing experimentally on his bed. Oh, the rapture. "I'm fine with lager, thanks."

Sucking in a breath, Sirius retrieves a couple of Carlsbergs from Peter's side of the room.

"Ta," says Remus, when Sirius hands him one. "Tinnies in a lad's bedroom. Feel like I'm sixteen again."

There seems to be some kind of sexual undercurrent that Sirius is entirely too interested by.

"You have a roommate?" asks Remus.

"Pete? Yeah. He's, er, he's out tonight."

Fine, so perhaps Sirius accosted Peter when Remus went to use the bathroom, and perhaps he begged him - or ordered him, whatever, the details aren't important - to go and kip with Fabian for the night. But where's the harm in that? Those two adore each other. They can discuss pebbles and erosion and hydrocarbon exploration all night long. Really, Sirius has done Peter a favour. Lad needs a few more friends.

"How do you find that? Sharing a room?"

"I mean, it's fine. He's..." Sirius tries to think of the adjective that would most effectively sum up the spirit of Peter, but can't think of anything. "He's a nice guy."

"No, but like, privacy-wise. Doesn't it bother you having someone there all the time?"

"He's not here all the time. Out practically every night. Lad's out of control." He's trying to make it quite clear that Remus is free to come round any time he likes.

Sirius sits down, noticing with slightly dazed eyes the way Remus' long fingers snap the tab open on his can, the way his soft lips brush the metal rim as he takes a drink. His own can sits in his lap, forgotten.

Remus licks his lips and turns to look at him. "You're staring at me," he remarks, rather flatly.

"Probably because you're so bloody gorgeous."

One brow lifts. "Are you always this forward?"

"Probably. Maybe? I don't know." Sirius pauses. "Does it bother you?"

It's clear that now Remus is the one considering his answer.

"I don't think it does really. It was a bit odd at first, but now that I've gathered you act like that even when you're not drunk, it's less annoying." He takes another large gulp of his drink. "Plus I was in an awful mood last week, so I didn't exactly welcome poshos flirting with me."

"You keep calling me that."

"What?"

"A posh boy. What exactly constitutes 'posh'? Because I really don't think I'll fit the description."

Remus smiles at this. "Sirius, I'm sorry, but literally everything about you screams private school - no, boarding school."

"Well, so what if it does? What's wrong with boarding schools?"

"Apart from the fact they're notorious symbols of social and economic inequality, and a status symbol for the super-rich?" Remus shrugs. "Nothing."

Then he takes a calm sip of his drink while Sirius opens and closes his mouth uselessly.

"Well, I think you should be less judgemental," he says eventually, lamely, with none of his usual eloquent flow. To occupy himself he snaps open his can and takes a healthy slug. He needs to mellow out. Already the proximity of Remus' body is doing funny things to him.

Ten or fifteen minutes pass before they finish their first drinks and the subject changes.

"What's this you're reading?" Remus asks, as Sirius wrenches another couple of drinks from their plastic rings. They've taken off their shoes and their coats now, and Remus has drawn his legs up on to the bed, pressing back into the corner, and it's such an unbelievable sight that Sirius stares at him for a moment before realising that Remus has hold of 1001 Movies to See Before You Die.

"Oh it's um, like a bit of a journal really," Sirius replies, sitting down next to him.

Flipping through the well-thumbed pages, Remus' eyebrows raise slightly. "You realise this is basically unreadable?"

He has a point. A lot of the ink is smudged now from hours of poring over it, and Sirius' scrawlings and markings don't help the legibility. It all makes perfect sense to him, though.

"What's the red mark mean?" Remus asks.

"That I've seen it."

He flips through the book. "You've seen them all."

"Oh no, not all of them. There's still a few I haven't managed to get hold of. A lot of the pre-war ones can be tricky, you know, Docks of New YorkWay Down EastBirth of a Nation. As you can imagine, you get some odd looks when you tell an archivist you're looking for a copy of Birth of a Nation. Took me long enough to see Nosferatu and I was really disappointed."

"Not scary enough for you?"

"He was sufficiently creepy, I suppose, but the whole film was just a bit off. I mean, it gets all these phenomenal reviews, but I felt like it mangled the original story while adding absolutely nothing to it? You know, name changes and stuff like that. And it was so slow. Not in a suspenseful way, you know, not in a Hitchcock way. Just in a really junky, crappy way. And obviously it's technologically primitive - "

"It was made in, like, 1925."

"22," Sirius immediately corrects, and Remus smiles again, briefly.

Placing the book aside, he leans forward a bit. "So you do actually do your homework, just not for your uni course?"

"Hey, I like books too," Sirius says feebly.

"I don't see many around here."

"They're in there somewhere." He waves a vague hand to his still-packed suitcase.

"That's devotion to your degree that, right there," Remus scoffs.

"Lay off, Mother, I've only had one lecture."

"What was it on?"

"Oh, you know. Keats." His hand waves again, dismissively, and he turns so they're facing one another. They're close enough that he can see a small, dark freckle beneath Remus' bottom lip. "I suppose you like Keats?"

"I do quite like him actually."

"I myself am more of a Yeats man than a Keats man."

"Really? Is that because Sean Bean quoted Yeats in Equilibrium?"

"You've seen Equilibrium?"

"I'm not some kind of monk, Sirius. Although I only saw it because I heard it was like 1984."

"Oh, I've read 1984!"

Remus snorts from behind the rim of his can, head dipping slightly. "You and every other GCSE student."

Remus Lupin, Sirius decides in that moment, is completely and utterly, totally, wholeheartedly and possibly probably most likely forever incapable of being satisfied in any way, shape, or form.

"You're daft, you are," Sirius says mildly, lifting his drink to his lips, and there's a moment of staring before Remus laughs, laughs, and the sound is like auricular ambrosia, and the drink on Sirius' lips is suddenly sixty times sweeter.

He has no idea what's going on. Perhaps Remus is a lightweight? It's not a problem, of course, even if it is slightly disconcerting. Sirius wonders how best to deal with the situation. Perhaps more booze? He's about to get up to grab another can, when a hand on his arm stops him.

He's startled by the contact, by how very warm Remus' calloused fingertips are on his bare skin. But when he drags his eyes up to meet Remus', he realises Remus isn't looking at him.

"Are you alright?" Sirius asks tentatively.

Remus releases his grip on the arm. "Yeah, sorry. Just got a bit light-headed there for a moment."

"Is it the - "

"No, no," he says, "it's not the drink, it's... I'm fine now."

"D'you want some water? It'll have to be from the tap, I'm afraid."

"No, thanks."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure, Black."

Something about the use of his last name makes Sirius feel rejected - probably the intention - and he leans away.

"Anyway," he goes on with a tactful change of subject, "what about you? What do you, er, like to do in your spare time? Other than lambast first years and loiter outside student pubs."

"I read a lot," Remus answers shortly. He's leaning back again now, cradling his drink in his lap. "Some people do it for fun, you know?"

Sirius sighs.

"Alright," he says, "be honest with me. We've known each other about a week, yeah? We're from completely different ends of the country, we've had only one conversation that's lasted over ten minutes - I'm referring to this one - and I'd like to know why exactly it is that you see me as this, like... I don't know. Immature... toff... who takes absolutely nothing seriously and has never read a novel for pleasure before in his life?"

"Well," Remus says, drumming his fingers against his can, "do you take anything seriously?"

"Of course I do."

"I dunno. Maybe I haven't quite forgiven your performance on Monday."

Sirius rolls his eyes. "God forbid a student be a bit tipsy of a Monday afternoon."

"I did tell you not to be a prick."

"I think we have different ideas of what it means to be a prick."

"Clearly," says Remus, raising his eyebrows. Then he sighs, only it's more of a little huff really, because Remus isn't emotive enough for proper sighs. "Yeah, I'm maybe being a bit harsh. Suppose I'm just used to seeing guys like you in this town. It kind of goes with the territory."

"What - really attractive, fashionable, happening guys?"

Remus shakes his head, takes a swig of his drink, and says without missing a beat, "Tories."

"What on earth makes you say that?" Sirius says, sitting back, aghast.

The look Remus gives him is vaguely amused. "Sirius."

"What!"

"If you're a Tory, you can say so. The ground won't swallow you up."

"I'm not saying so."

"Alright, then."

"Remus."

Remus chuckles. "What?"

"Don't make assumptions like that. You barely know me. You have nothing to go on."

"Aside from the fact you just described yourself as 'happening'. Classic Tory behaviour." Remus goes to take another drink, then pauses, looking at Sirius' facae. "Shit, I've not actually offended you, have I?" But he doesn't sound worried. He sounds like he might laugh.

"No."

But maybe Sirius is a bit offended. Not that he didn't spend the majority of his upbringing swamped in right wing politics, and not that he doesn't still (and secretly) find some self-righteous lefties a little nauseating (he went to boarding school, for God's sake, he can't help it) but he's a bit mortified by the idea of being branded as some kind of Bullingdon-esque snob. Partly because it sounds so unattractive. Partly because he thinks about Mr Potter waxing lyrical about the good old days of Clement Attlee at the breakfast table, and feels a bit ashamed.

"Come on, Sirius, you're a rich boy. It is what it is. Just drink and be merry. Isn't that the Tory manifesto?"

Perhaps this is Remus' idea of a joke, but Sirius suddenly finds himself feeling irritated, like there's something itching beneath his skin to get out.

"I told you I'm not rich," he says. "And I'm not... whatever you seem to think I am. God, I can just imagine what it's like at your house - all up the miners and down with Thatcher. Giving yourself a big pat on the back for being permanently affronted by everything. We can all make assumptions, Lupin."

The use of Remus' surname seems to surprise them both, and while Sirius has absolutely no idea how Remus feels about it, personally he finds it quite sexy. Definitely not the expected reaction to a tumultuous discussion of politics.

But Remus simply laughs, apparently enjoying the conversation. "Yeah, you're probably not that wrong there, to be honest."

Sirius shakes his head. He shifts on the bed, kneeling up, drink wobbling precariously since he's had considerably more than Remus.

"Come on," he says. "Turn to face me. We're going to have a proper conversation. What's it going to take to convince you that I'm not a totally out of touch arsehole? Seriously, what's gonna make you stop giving me this look like I'm completely brain dead?"

He leans forward, very close, and surprisingly Remus doesn't lean back.

Sirius holds up his hand, listing off points on his fingers. "What would you like to talk about, Remus? Nuclear deterrents? The NHS? Elimination of the structural deficit? Or, oh no, I know, are you one of those Green boys? Want me to put a complete downer on everything and talk about the devastating impacts of climate change?"

"If you like," Remus says, and his breath is warm as it ghosts over Sirius' lips, and Sirius stops suddenly and stares at him, and Remus holds his gaze with impressively steady, albeit slightly glassy eyes.

Realisation twists like a knot in Sirius' stomach. He swallows, cocking his head to the side.

"Remus," he says slowly, "would I be jumping the gun to suggest you're getting turned on by me offering to talk about major areas of British politics?"

Remus kisses him instead of replying.

Chapter Text

Kissing Remus Lupin is pure, sweet, sugary bliss. It's better than any daydream. It's better than the best sex Sirius has ever had.

Is this the real life? he wonders dumbly, is this just impossibly arousing fantasy?

"Remus," he manages. "This is very lovely."

Not his finest oratory, but it's about all he can summon at the moment, circumstances being what they are.

"Glad you think so," Remus murmurs, making particularly wonderful work of a patch of skin beneath Sirius' right ear.

"What happened to being Switzerland?" Sirius asks, tipping his head back slightly in case Remus wants access to his neck.

"What?"

"You said you were neutral towards me."

"Maybe I'm not anymore."

"Why? Because I demonstrated some level of - ah - political awareness?"

"Do you ever shut up?" Remus mumbles against his jaw. "Maybe it just is what it is, and you're not bad looking, and you don't think I'm bad looking, and so here we are."

Sirius' lips part in stunned stupidity. Already he can feel the uncomfortable strain against the rough material of his jeans.

"I'm not quite sure what to say," he manages.

"Makes a change," Remus replies, and then he's kissing him again, and his hand is sliding down Sirius' jeans, and it seems there's no mistaking it now: Remus Lupin wants to sleep with him.

The realisation sends approximately one million thoughts rocketing into Sirius' head, culminating in an eloquent gasp of, "God, you're sexy."

They carry on making out on the bed for a while, which is nice, but then Remus moves away without warning and is suddenly at Sirius' waist, pushing his t-shirt up and mouthing at his navel for one dizzying moment, and Sirius quickly decides that he does not require that tongue in his mouth if the alternative is having it in that vicinity.

"What - what are you going to do?" he breathes, hauling himself up on to his elbows to watch, dazed, as nimble fingers make short work of his belt and fly.

"Really, Black," Remus murmurs, tossing the leather strap aside so that it lands buckle-first with a dull thud against the carpet. "Don't tell me no one's ever gone down on you before."

Sirius laughs, breathlessly, in startled disbelief, a bark of a sound that quickly morphs into a gasping moan as Remus tugs his boxers down (though not without a snort of derision at their tiger skin print). Sirius isn't quite sure if it's luck or destiny that has resulted in the most gorgeous boy in England giving him a blowjob, but it's hardly an important issue right now. He wants to know what it is, what's behind this change of heart, but he can't bring himself to do anything but impart encouragement with strings of incoherent nonsense, pressing his fingers into soft, soft hair.

By some miracle, he finally does manage to get a full sentence out, somewhere between Remus coming up for air and moving to nip at the inside of Sirius' left thigh.

"I honestly thought you were seriously frigid," Sirius breathes, letting his head fall back against the pillow. "You with your jumpers and your frowns and that. But you’re actually good at this. Should’ve invited you up sooner, eh?"

The mouth disappears.

"What?" says Remus.

Sirius opens his eyes and dips his head forward. Remus is staring up at him with those gorgeous, darkened honey-brown eyes, a strange look on his face.

"What?" Sirius echoes back innocently, and then to his utmost horror Remus begins to sit up.

"What do you mean frigid?" Remus asks, rather blankly.

"Well. You know."

"No. What?"

Sirius swallows, suddenly sure he's done something very, very wrong. Remus' hand is still on his dick though, so perhaps not all hope is lost.

He laughs. "Well, I just didn't think you'd be the type."

"The type for what?"

"Well, you know. Anything... heavy."

Remus quirks an eyebrow. "What, I'm a virgin just because I resisted your dreadful attempts at seduction last week?"

"Well, no but I -"

"Look, it’s probably difficult for you to comprehend but not wanting to sleep with Sirius Black doesn’t make someone a virgin, alright? Don't go thinking you've magically pulled me from the depths of my cloistered existence with the power of your luscious hair or something like that."

"Oh my God, I don’t think that.”

"Of course, guys like you always jump to that kind of conclusion about someone who isn't as dapper as you."

"I didn't - look, I know you're not a virgin," Sirius sighs. He looks at Remus for a long moment. "Can we carry on?"

Eyes are rolled, legs are swung over the side of the bed, and Remus grabs his shoes.

"You really know how to kill the mood, Black."

"You really know how to be over-sensitive!" Sirius replies. "Are you seriously going?"

Remus looks at him like he's stupid. "Surprisingly, I'm not really in the mood to go near your dick anymore."

"What, just because I said I thought you were frigid? Well, you're just proving me right." Sirius knows, even as he says it, how childish he sounds. "But fine, go."

"Alright, I will."

"...Really?"

Remus is shrugging his coat on now. He actually is leaving. Leaving, when Sirius' heart is still pounding with unfulfilled wants and his head is still swimming with all the reasons why he should just keep his mouth shut in future. Leaving, when Sirius' dick is still sloped, sadly, half-hard against his thigh.

"Remus," he drags out, scrabbling to cover himself with a pillow as Remus opens the door. "Come on. You don't have to go."

Remus turns around, hand on the door handle, and looks at him. For a brief, fleeting moment it looks as though he might relent. As though he might admit that he's overreacting - always overreacting - and it's stupid to leave over one tiny slip of the tongue. But his eyes scan Sirius from top to bottom, Sirius who is half-naked and no doubt looking pathetic, and Remus sighs, and he shrugs.

"Sorry, this was a stupid idea," he grunts. "I'll... see you around, alright?"

The fire seals make the door slam hard. Alone, Sirius does nothing to stop the long, strangled sound of woe that escapes his throat.

* * *

"Sirius? Sirius?"

A muffled noise of protest emanates from beneath the quilt as Sirius snuggles deeper into his covers, desperate to get away from the finger prodding persistently at his shoulder.

"Sirius, it's two o'clock in the afternoon. Shouldn't you have a lecture today?"

"Probably."

"Have you missed it?"

"Probably."

"Are you hungry?"

"Possibly."

"Do you want to come into town with me?"

"No."

The bed depresses, and Sirius yelps as what can only be Peter's arse collides with his knee.

"How did it go with Remus last night?"

Sirius moans, long and miserable and muffled against his pillow.

"That good, eh?" Peter chuckles.

Unable to keep from whining about it any longer, Sirius sits up, wrenches the covers down to his waist and looks at Peter with bleary, sad eyes, his hair sticking up in all directions.

"I can't believe it, Pete," he says in sleepy misery. "I had him right where I wanted him. He was right between my legs - "

"Alright, no need for details - "

"And I offended him. I don't even know why. I was merely expressing my gratitude for his gorgeous mouth in an amorous, lustful way. I wasn't thinking about what I was actually saying."

"What did you say?"

Sirius huffs, waving a dismissive hand. "Oh, I don't know. Something pertaining to his surprising promiscuity. Which I appreciated, by the way, I wasn't saying it was a bad thing."

"And he got upset?"

"More like grumpy. Just inexplicably grumpy, and he'd been really nice before and we talked about Nosferatu and, oh God, at one point he actually laughed and it was really... lovely."

"I'm glad I've never met this bloke," Peter sniffs, leaning back against the wall beside the bed. "I mean, from what you told me the other night about the queer meeting and the Hatfield do, he sounds like a right nutjob."

"No, he's not!" Sirius protests, only now he's not so sure. Perhaps 'nutjob' is too strong a word, but Remus Lupin is definitely temperamental to say the least. Not that Sirius hasn't always liked his lovers feisty, but there's feisty and then there's just plain mental.

Honestly, what's reasonable about patronising someone for half an hour, then pouncing on them, then leaving them spread-eagled on their bed with a half-sucked cock? Is he trying to mess with Sirius' mind or something? Is he trying to send him spiralling into the depths of insanity?

Because that is a not-nice thing. That is a very, very not-nice thing to do.

"I think you should steer clear of him," Peter says after a moment or two. "We've only been here a couple of weeks and already you're in love. Are you always this quick to fall for someone?"

Sirius thinks briefly about the handful of people he's been with. "Yes," he decides, "but I usually exorcise them with a good shag."

Peter wrinkles his face up in disgust.

"You asked," says Sirius, and then he pulls the covers the rest of the way off and shoves at Peter's shoulder. "Come on, shift. I need to piss."

As he uses the bathroom, also to brush his teeth and dab on a bit of deodorant instead of taking a shower and grimace at his bedhead and bloodshot eyes in the mirror, Peter calls to him through the door.

"So you coming to town or what? Since you've missed your morning lecture anyway."

Sirius groans. "Not up to it, mate," he calls back. His throat is so raw. It's like Remus' kisses have left him dry-mouthed and soulless, like an incubus in beautiful disguise.

Maybe that's it. Maybe Remus is some mythological creature, set on ruining Sirius' sex life to avenge every boy he's ever fucked over. There haven't been many, but he remembers making Finlay Armstrong cry last year when he accidentally laughed at the state of his somewhat inadequate manhood, claiming it to be far too exiguous to be taken seriously.

In Sirius' defence, he had been horrifically drunk. At any rate, it definitely doesn't justify the presence of an incubus in his bedroom.

"I don't think you should mope," Peter is saying now. "I'm going to try and look for a job. You could too."

Sirius wanders back out into their room, eyebrows raised. "A job?" he repeats. "Why do you need to look for a job?"

Peter pauses in the midst of searching beneath his mattress for his wallet - paranoid little teddy bear he is, bless - to smile. "It was Fabian's idea. There's this annual Argentinian rafting Geology expedition, but it's sort of expensive and, well, I don't think it's something I could afford otherwise."

Sirius stares at him. "Oh," he says slowly, "what... fun."

He remembers what James said last night, about how it's probably best he gets a job too. To be fair, it's likely Sirius' student loan will run out pretty quickly, but dirty work has never much appealed to him and that's all students can get, isn't it? Dirty work; boxing fast food or cleaning bogs or serving pissed-up birds and rugby boys at the SU bar.

Nay, Sirius says to these menial jobs. Nay. He must stay in bed and write lovesick poetry and wallow in a suffocating slime of self-pity.

He's about to voice these thoughts when there's a knock on the door, and Fabian comes in all bright and cheery and ginger, and in the instant that follows Sirius somehow finds himself being dressed by his only two friends at university and pushed out of the door like a reluctant dog being taken for a walk by its overenthusiastic pre-teen owners.

He doesn't even bother disguising his groan of protest.

* * *

"Pete, you're not getting a job in the pound shop."

"Why not?"

"Because." Sirius pauses to lick a large dollop of pastry cream off his finger. "You're my roommate. We have a reputation to maintain. We have standards."

They're sat on Prebends Bridge - the dangerous, dangerous bridge where spooks come out at midnight - legs dangling as the three of them tackle their respective desserts. Sirius, being heartbroken and confused and disgruntled, has gone for the most expensive, most richly fattening cake on offer. Fuck it. He deserves this, even if he is getting puff pastry and roasted almonds all over his favourite jeans.

"Nowt wrong with the pound shop," Fabian says through his mouthful. "They have everything you get from the big retailers, 'cept they don't shamelessly rip you off."

"Oh God, you sound so..." Sirius starts, but then he stops himself, realising what he was about to say. You sound so working class. Fuck it all, he really is a snob.

"It's that or Greggs," says Peter. "I'm leaning more towards Greggs."

Sirius snorts, spraying pastry. "It's probably best you of all people steer clear of any bakery jobs, Pete."

"Christ, you're in a right snippy mood today, aren't you, boyo?" says Fabian.

"Lupin walked out on him mid-blow," Peter grumbles, apparently hurt by the bakery comment.

"Lupin? As in Remus?" Fabian raises his eyebrows. "You got with him?"

Sirius huffs, picking at the last of his food. "Yeah. For a bit." He looks up. "What you looking at me like that for?"

Fabian is indeed looking at him weirdly, all puppy dog eyes and pursed lips. "Gideon says he's a right weirdo, refuses to talk to practically any first years."

"What does Gideon know? He's only been here a week and a half!"

"Yeah, so doesn't that make it clearer that Lupin's obviously weird? If he's noticed in such a short space of time? And Gideon gets on with everyone."

Sirius thinks about it. Gideon is really fit, but he hadn't struck him as particularly friendly. And if Remus doesn't talk to anyone, why did he come to the Inn last night? Smugly, he looks at Fabian. Perhaps the poor boy thinks badmouthing Remus is going to make Sirius like him instead.

Then again, with the way things are going it looks as though Sirius might actually have to settle for Fabian Prewett's affections. Hardly anyone has looked twice at him at this university so far, and it's not as if Remus is going to speak to him ever again.

"So if he ditched you," Peter pipes up, "does that mean you're not doing your influential organisation anymore?"

"Queer Club?" says Sirius. He hasn't really thought about that. He's not exactly in any rush to enter back into the knitting club/prayer circle, but maybe it's an opportunity to prove to Remus he isn't a completely insensitive, uninteresting, unintelligent twatbag.

"I never said I joined because of him," he says eventually.

"I just assumed..."

"Well, don't." Sirius slides from the bridge wall, chucking the rest of the messy slice into the river below. "I'm going to be an active member of that society. I'll make every effort to bring gay pride to Durham. Don't need Remus Lupin to do that now, do I?"

Fabian and Peter exchange a look, and Sirius is suddenly annoyed. Don't they believe him? It wouldn't surprise him really. He doesn't even believe himself, after all.

"Oh come on," he snaps. "Get those bloody job forms in, Pete, and then we can do something actually worthwhile in this abysmally boring old town. You know, like go to the pub?"

He starts off up the bridge again without waiting for a reply, his two new friends - his two only friends here so far - quick to follow.

Chapter Text

For a self-proclaimed active member of LGBT Society, Sirius can't claim to remain overly active within it for the next month or so. Not that he isn't just dying to rush back to that drafty 1950s social room to see his stony-faced new pals, to pray to pastor Craig and form a wank circle over Cher, but October arrives with haste, bringing with it darker days, a crispened Wear, and a fresh, somewhat unfamiliar feeling of unease stirring deep within Sirius' body.

It sounds dreadfully poetic. It's not. It's just a bit shit and lonely really.

He'd sort of assumed making friends at this place would be the simplest part of university life. It is undoubtedly, unequivocally, unquestionably the hardest.

In the past, no matter what issues arose in Sirius' young life, he could always be sure of one thing: people liked him. Whether that was platonically, romantically, sexually, he was never without someone to talk to, someone to be seen with, to drink with, to sleep with.

Once even his father, in a moment of uncharacteristic affection, said, "My son has a way of walking into a room and winning over anyone, a perfect stranger, with little more than a smile."

His dad failed to mention that most of the rooms Sirius walked into in his younger days were full of arsey aristocrats, business types and ghastly clones of his parents, people he'd been taught from a young age to woo with charm and the right sort of accent and a good knowledge of fencing and hunting and fruit-flavoured macaroons which are just "so much better than tacky old advent calendars, thank you ever so much".

University isn't like that. While there are indeed an abundance of Eton types who enjoy fencing and hunting and polo and chortling with glasses of sherry, he doesn't want to be friends with them. And while he'd always been certain of his intellect at school, people here just know more than him; more about politics, more about activism, and probably more about sex and drugs and drinking if ever he became close enough to find out.

It's not that people dislike him. At least, it doesn't seem that way, but maybe his self-awareness has gone down the drain along with his intelligence and sense of general well-being. He can go to a club or a party and people won't bat an eyelid. They just don't seem to realise Sirius exists. His smiles fall on stony ground. He's too posh and snobby for most of them, and no longer posh enough for the aristocratic knobjobs with their jumpers draped round their shoulders.

So Sirius spends his first month of university with an uncomfortably small handful of companions. He attends more lectures than he misses, sits through each soul-destroying tutorial without complaint, shoves essays in their assigned pigeon hole three days before the due date, and spends most weekends in his dorm with Peter and Fabian, streaming films and putting too much sugar in his body.

Might as well, he thinks miserably around every spoonful of Phish Food. No one is ever going to shag him anyway.

"Cheer up," Fabian says one rainy Saturday afternoon, his tone slightly pleading.

They're in Sirius' room, huddled on the bed beneath several blankets - most nicked from Peter's side of the room - sharing a ridiculous bag of pic 'n mix. They've played four games of Mass Effect on Sirius' laptop, murdered a family on Sims 2, and now they're enduring a sitting of The Smiths' second album, Meat is Murder, and it's not even three o'clock yet.

"Why should I?" Sirius mumbles back. He pauses to shove a pink flying saucer in his mouth. Then another. Then he gnaws on a strawberry pencil. "It's a fucking dreadful day."

"Could be worse."

"How?"

"You could be... well. Dead."

"Why are you studying Classics? You should be a therapist."

"Alright," Fabian chuckles, "at least I'm trying. How can I cheer you up then?"

"Get me some friends," Sirius says without thinking.

He sees Fabian's hurt expression and feels a bit bad then. He's obviously trying to pretend he isn't hurt, but it's no use. Fabian has become a better friend than Sirius initially expected. That means they cuddle sometimes when they're drunk and Sirius is close to letting forth inebriated tears over his loss of contact with Remus Lupin and the outside world in general.

It's not Fabian's fault that Sirius doesn't fancy him back. It's not as though he's doing anything wrong. He's actually pretty cool. His eyes are lovely and he always smells very good and he listens well.

He's just a bit too... nice? You see, Fabian's like this strawberry pencil - sweet, conventional, a friend to all - whereas Remus is more of a Bassetts Black Jack. Bittersweet and... chewy. An acquired taste, but those who love it can't understand why everybody else doesn't.

Remus. Oh Remus. Bloody fucking Remus. To say Sirius barely knows him, to say he's such an insufferable brat, he hasn't been able to get Remus Lupin out of his head since their last, painful meeting.

And he can't stop thinking about sex either. It's so embarrassing. He'll be in the middle of a lecture on Thomas Hardy's inner demons or something, and all of a sudden the only thing he can concentrate on is trying to work out whether or not his desk would be big enough to accommodate a concealed blowjob.

He suspects it's the challenge Remus presents. After all, Sirius has never been rejected over anything in his life and yet now, thanks to Remus Lupin, he can barely have a wank these days without considering the fact he might end up in tears before he's finished.

"How about we go for a drink when Pete gets back from work?" Fabian suggests, since it's the weekend and Peter is always stuck behind the till at Poundland until six.

"Can't," says Sirius.

"Why not?"

"I'm ugly."

"You're definitely not."

"And anyway, I'm skint," says Sirius, ignoring the compliment in favour of eyeing the rain pelting hard against the sash window above his bed. "I'm sick of the pub. I'm just hungry. I'm hungry all the time. Let's go to Tesco and buy mini pizzas."

Fabian seems reluctant at first, perhaps because it's raining so hard and they're sitting so close together and sharing sweets and listening to proper student music. But Sirius begins to stand instead of waiting for an answer, so Fabian says alright, and they go to Tesco.

 * * *

While Sirius does indeed find it glorious to be surrounded by food, once they get to the supermarket they're faced with the age-old question: French Fancies or Jaffa Cakes? It's a close call, causing deep inner conflict. In Sirius, that is. Fabian just stands around looking bored. He's allergic to gluten and not much fun in food shops.

"This is deeply troubling," Sirius murmurs, glancing between each box. Then two people he forgot even existed until today round the corner of the aisle. and he drops both boxes in alarm.

Weirdo Craig and Shy Brian from the LGBT society are approaching with terrifying speed. They're wearing matching anoraks and sharing a basket and clasping hands as though it's normal to hold hands with someone in a Tesco Express and not completely impractical given the narrow aisles.

"Oh God," Sirius mutters. He does the natural thing of course, which is to launch himself behind a large yellow sign-post advertising cut price cherry bakewells, grabbing a box of Viennesse whirls to hold up in front of his face for good measure.

"Sirius - " Fabian starts.

"Sh! Don't make eye contact with them," he hisses out of the side of his mouth. "Remember Jurassic Park. Just stay still and they won't see - "

"Si-rius!"

He drops his box for the second time with a clatter, whirling from Fabian to face tall, spindly, Weirdo Craig.

"Alright, mate?" Sirius says hesitantly. This is it. The moment he'll be dragged kicking and screaming back into that wretched society.

"Haven't seen you in a while, mister. Mr Shy! Mr Invisible!"

Sirius wonders how many more he's going to come up with. Mr Unreliable? Mr Wanker?

Was Craig always this camp? Sirius doesn't remember him being this camp. Granted, he had been slightly inebriated upon their first meeting, but surely he'd remember someone who refers to a defected society member as Mr Shy.

"We've been just dying to see that handsome face of yours again - oh-oh, is this your boyfriend?"

Nope. Apparently Sirius' memory skills are just genuinely catastrophic.

"We're just friends," he says, casting a glance at Fabian. Somehow he feels this is his fault. Him with his stupid red hair, getting them caught.

"Good to know you're both on the market then," Craig winks. Then he looks at meek Brian. "I'm joking, Bri. Aaaanyway," he turns back to Sirius, "whether or not you should have been prioritising our little society is neither here nor there. What I'd like to know is are you going to be showing your lovely jubbly face at the upcoming Spooky Stars LGBT Halloween Fundraiser?"

"Try saying that when you're rat-arsed," Fabian mutters.

"The what?" says Sirius.

Craig sighs. "This is why you actually need to attend socials? It's going to be a themed party, held at Collingwood."

"What's the cause?" asks Fabian.

"All funds are going to go towards Q Ball."

"What's the theme?" Sirius grunts.

"The clue's in the name! Spooky Stars!" Craig cries, as though it's obvious what that means. When neither Sirius nor Fabian respond, he says, "Dead celebrities?!"

"Oh, lovely."

"I won't tell you what I'm going to be, c'est un surprise! I can't wait to see what you come up with."

Sirius sucks in a breath. "Actually, Craig, mate, I think I'm busy."

"I haven't even told you when it is yet."

"When is it?"

"Next Saturday!"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure - "

Fabian suddenly cuts in with, "Oh brilliant, we're both free next Saturday, aren't we, mate?"

Sirius stares at him. Traitor! Judas! "Er..."

"Fabulous," Craig gushes. "So I'll see you both there? Collingwood at nine?"

"Wonderful," Fabian chirps.

When Craig and Brian have gone, Sirius whacks Fabian with a box of angel slices.

"Ow!"

"What did you go and do that for, you great tit?" he demands.

Fabian sighs, rubbing his abused arm and taking the angel slices from Sirius to slide them back on to the shelf. "I'm sick of you moping and whining about how unpopular you are. Look, you've broken the angel slices now, they're rattling."

Sirius' jaw drops. "Excuse me," he says, "I don't mope, or whine, or any such nonsense."

"Oh, but you do. Get me some friendswhy does nobody here like meI feel like I haven't had a shag since 1942."

"How very dare you," Sirius says curtly, more offended by the overly-plummy imitation of his voice.

"It's true! And yet you don't do anything about it, you just sit in your room and look hopeless like you're expecting a whole crowd of admirers to come knocking on the door without you doing anything in the first place."

"I've tried making friends!" Sirius splutters. "People here just don't seem to... like me very much."

"Probably because you launch cake warfare on innocent people. And I have to admit you can say some odd things. What was it you said to that lass in the Inn the other night? 'I don't know why you're upset about your dad getting fired, everyone knows the BBC is corrupt anyway'?"

"They are!"

"You need to work on your tact, mate."

"And you need to work on this annoying habit you have of speaking for other people so that they end up going to really shit Halloween parties organised by Craig. It's going to be the most unfun thing imaginable. God, I can just picture it now. Some oak-panelled function room so depressing you want to off yourself. Wine spritzers. Chers. So many Chers."

"I think what I admire most about you, Sirius, is how open-minded you are. Anyway, no one will be dressed as Cher. Cher isn't dead."

"Oh shut it. Are we getting these bloody cakes then or what?"

He takes both the French Fancies and the Jaffa Cakes, because he deserves them.

 * * *

"Hold still, Pete!"

"I can't, you're hurting me!"

"Well, I can't do it if you keep moving your mouth."

"... Sirius, this feels weird."

"Will you stop complaining"

"I don't think this is supposed to go on the face."

"Yeah, but it's... well it's too late now, my lad."

It's Halloween weekend, and Sirius is standing in the middle of their bedroom, putting the finishing artistic touches on Peter's face. He smears floury fingers beneath Peter's eyes, down his cheeks, then stands back, quite satisfied. Peter is supposed to be Michael Jackson. He looks more like the Michelin Man.

Sirius catches Fabian's eye, who is tactfully trying very hard to conceal a laugh.

"I still don't understand why you're not dressing up," Peter moans.

"I am dressed up," Sirius says, starting to lose his patience. He's never known someone to whine so much. "I'm Elvis. Look, leather jacket and everything."

Peter doesn't look convinced. "Well, why isn't Fabian dressed up?"

"He is."

"What's he supposed to be?"

"He is Judas. Go and have a look in the mirror then! You're a veritable work of art."

Sighing, as though trudging to his very demise, Peter slouches over to the full-length mirror next to the bathroom door, black pants far too tight and Fabian's white shirt hanging limply off his shoulders as a result of Peter's pitifully short stature. There's a moment of silence as he considers himself.

"I look like a knobhead!" he wails, prompting Sirius and Fabian to finally fall about laughing. "It isn't funny! Sirius, help me get this stuff off my face."

He starts rubbing desperately at the strange, pasty concoction the three of them managed to knock together an hour ago. It's mainly just flour and face cream, though Sirius and Fabian thought it might be terribly funny to dump half a tube of Liquid Silk in there too when Peter wasn't looking, which was horribly cruel and a waste of provisions, but hilarious enough to justify it.

"What if I see someone I like?" Peter's saying now.

Fabian and Sirius exchange a look. Despite telling Peter about the party last week, they've so far failed to mention the rather important fact that it is a spooky celebration of all that is gay.

"I don't think you'll see anyone you fancy there, Peter."

Peter groans. "I'll look so stupid."

"You won't," Sirius tells him, shrugging on his leather jacket and pocketing his phone. He texted James an hour ago, suggesting he come, but he hasn't heard anything back so far. Twat. "Anyway, you can't do anything about it now," he continues. "Party's already started, and I haven't got a fucking clue where Collingwood is."

He's never in his life been to a party that started at eight. He can only hope that a lot of booze, a lot of people and a lot of Remus Lupin will make up for how undoubtedly shite this thing is going to be.

Of course, he's under no obligation. He knows this, no matter how many times he's complained at Fabian over the past week for getting them roped into the whole situation. The reason he isn't crawling under his bedcovers and watching On the Waterfront on his laptop in the dark and wanking over Marlon Brando in eyeliner is because this party might actually be the prime opportunity to prove to Remus just how little a wanker Sirius can be.

He isn't going to wander in there in some daft costume; he'll stand and look dark and mysterious and brooding, in stark contrast to Peter's ridiculous appearance, and wait for Remus to come to him.

He hasn't seen him for four weeks ever since their little hiccup, and of course it's to do with the fact that they're in different years and on different courses and in different colleges, but it's also to do with the fact that Sirius has been determined not to cave and seek him out. Remus may be constantly rejecting him, but Sirius hasn't turned into a totally desperate plebeian just yet.

As they leave for Collingwood halls, it occurs to Sirius, quite incidentally, that Remus might not even be at the party at all, and when they find the college (thanks only to Fabian's masterful ability to notice sign posts) it seems pretty quiet. It's so still they can hear the crickets chirping in the surrounding greenery, and Sirius is unsure whether a tame party would be more or less likely to beckon Remus Lupin into its fundraising clutches.

A boy dressed as Audrey Hepburn takes their money at the door - three fucking quid entry, so it'd better be good - and points down a corridor. Sirius leads, Fabian behind him, Peter trudging at the very end with supreme effort. The distant sound of Duran Duran beckons them to a huge, glass-walled hall, the autumn darkness from outside broken up by garish strips of strobe lighting; pink and yellow and sickly green. It makes everyone look ten times more terrifying, even the ones who haven't tried to be particularly scary.

Sirius immediately spots Bob Marley, Whitney Houston and Jim Morrison, all grinding up against each other in some bizarre 80s-style orgy.

"This is absurd," he says above the din, watching in grim fascination.

The place is fairly packed, which is surprising considering how little impact the LGBT Society seems to have at this university. There's a huge neon pink banner hanging from one corner of the ceiling to the other, crying, "Happy Halloween, Little Monsters!" which Sirius finds weirdly puerile and sinister. Looking round, he half expects to see a buffet table filled with triangle sandwiches and caterpillar cake.

Fabian doesn't look convinced that this is the place for him either. "Maybe we should, er..."

"Oh no," says Sirius, "you made us come here, so we're going to stay!" What he really means is, 'I haven't seen Remus yet, so we're going to stay'.

Peter seems to have disappeared and, unconcerned, Sirius makes a beeline for the bar. It isn't really a proper bar at all but a series of rickety tables thrown together with a huge tablecloth draped over the top to mop up any spilled lager.

It isn't free either. They charge him £2 for half a pint, robbing bastards, and it's flat and warm when he gets it, the froth floating half-heartedly on the top like scum. He's trying to work out how much of this pitiful concoction it would take to get him drunk and fearless, when hands grip his hips and Fabian is at his ear, asking if he wants to dance.

"I've just got a drink," Sirius complains, but since Fabian has been a fairly good friend to him over the past month Sirius decides to indulge him for a bit. They trail to the tightly-packed dance floor to the sounds of Debbie Gibson, and Sirius sips his drink and glances around for Remus as he sways half-heartedly to 'Shake Your Love'.

No sign of his darling, but he does glimpse Peter getting chatted up by Janis Joplin, a scene which prompts Sirius to guffaw loudly into Fabian's shoulder.

"What is it?" Fabian asks, suddenly looking nervous, as though his dancing is subject to scorn.

"Nothing, it's just Pete's getting chatted up by... Remus!"

"Wait, what?"

Sirius doesn't answer. He cranes to look over Fabian's tall shoulder at where he's sure he's just spotted Remus, and - yes! There he is! He's sat over in a dark corner, and Sirius only notices him again fleetingly from a strobe light that flashes across his face, lighting him up, angelic features shimmering in sickly lemon. He's on one of the tables pushed against the wall, long legs dangling and fiddling with something between his fingers. He looks cool and comfortable, and he isn't wearing a costume, and he's smiling and... there's some burly bloke in a bad wig leaning over him. Sirius freezes.

"You alright?" Fabian says in his ear.

"Remus is here," Sirius says back, "and he's getting chatted up by Jimi Hendrix. What do I do?"

Fabian pulls back with a shrug, looking dejected. He makes some kind of remark that Sirius doesn't hear and suspects he isn't supposed to. He watches the scene before him instead, seething. How dare this sorry excuse for a psychedelic guitar God chat up his Remus. And how - how dare Remus be so unperturbed by it.

Quickly making up his mind, Sirius grabs Fabian by the shoulders.

"Kiss me," he demands. They have to shout to hear each other over the music, and at first Fabian looks confused and doesn't hear him and Sirius has to yell even louder, "I said kiss me!"

A couple of dancing queens nearby snigger and one bats Fabian's arm with well-manicured fingers and says, "Ooh, demanding little thing, isn't he?" but Fabian barely notices.

"I..." He flounders, large hands unsure what to do with themselves as they shift from Sirius' shoulders to his waist to his elbows.

"Come on, you've done it before," Sirius urges. Doesn't Fabian realise the scene of Remus enjoying the company of another fellow requires drastic measures?

When Fabian doesn't react, Sirius grabs him and pulls him in, pressing their lips together firmly, eyes wide open to keep a look out for Remus' reaction. He doesn't even glance up, and Sirius lets forth a huff of frustration, right into Fabian's mouth.

"It's not working, we need to get closer."

"Sirius, this is ridiculous. Stop being so weird - "

"I'm not being!"

"Just..." Fabian sighs, rubbing the back of his neck and stepping backwards, as though afraid Sirius might try to accost him again. "Go and talk to him, if you must. I'm sure it's not what it looks like."

The reassurance rings hollow in Sirius' ears. "Can I tell him you're my boyfriend?"

"Why?"

"I don't know, it seems like it might be a good idea!"

"Fucking hell, Sirius, I can't... look, I'm getting a drink." Fabian pushes himself away and stalks past, their shoulders knocking roughly.

Still feeling his belly twist with surprising fury upon watching the scene of Remus and his obvious admirer, Sirius promptly forgets Fabian and begins battling his way through the tightly-packed bodies, abandoning his plan of 'don't approach, be approached' and alerting Remus to his presence with a loud, sing-songy shout of, "Hi!"

Remus, cut off mid-sentence, blinks up at him.

"Hello," he offers after a moment or two.

Cutting to the chase, Sirius jerks a thumb at Jimi. "Who's this then?"

"This is Kingsley," Remus tells him in a low voice, eyes cool and assessing. "Kingsley, this is... Sirius."

Kingsley is tall and strong and handsome, with huge arms and huge fists which swallow Sirius' fingers and palm up completely when they shake hands. Silence follows the stony introduction.

"I brought my boyfriend," Sirius suddenly blurts out. He's not quite sure what to make of the quirk of Remus' eyebrow.

"Congratulations," he says evenly.

"Yeah," Sirius goes on, turning to Kingsley. Kingsley. What kind of name is 'Kingsley' anyway? "S'pretty serious."

Now it's Kingsley's brows that begin dancing. "Great, man," he says. "That's... Remus, I'm getting a drink, do you want anything?"

But Remus thanks him and refuses and smiles, and Jimi wanders off to the over-priced bar and leaves Sirius alone with his honey pie who, wonderfully, is looking decidedly less angry than the last time they met. Or parted. Whatever.

"So who's that then?" he asks cheerily, as though he and Remus are still on speaking terms, and as though the presence of this Kingsley hasn't totally wreaked havoc upon his fragile soul.

"Kingsley."

"Yes, you said that. I mean is he your, you know."

"My 'you know'?"

"Your boyfriend. Partner. Other half."

"No."

"Oh." Sirius relaxes, promptly casting the threat of Kingsley Hendrix aside. "You look lovely, by the way. Who are you supposed to be?"

Turning away from him, Remus casts a weary eye over the party laid out before them. In his lap, he's rolling a cigarette.

"James Dean," he deadpans, and Sirius laughs.

"Very authentic James Dean get-up," he says, casting his eyes over the over-sized jumper and slim-fitting jeans, but Remus doesn't smile.

"And you?" he asks.

"Me? Amy Winehouse."

There's a chance that Remus does smile at this, but the gaudy lights make it difficult to see properly.

"So, um," he goes on when Remus doesn't speak, "are you still, er, still mad at me?"

"A bit."

"I'm sorry," Sirius rushes out. God, he hates apologising. "I am. I can make it up to you. I can take you out for dinner."

Remus looks at him then, seeming more amused than angry. "I thought you had a boyfriend?"

"What? Oh." Sirius glances around behind himself, as though expecting Fabian to appear out of thin air. "Well, er. Hm."

They both go quiet for a moment as Sirius debates between truth and lie. Abba is booming from the speakers now, a group of drag queens standing a bit away all necking pints of lager, and Sirius suddenly wants to leave very badly. Preferably with Remus Lupin's fingers laced with his.

Unfortunately, he's 'a bit' mad. Still, that's better than 'a lot' mad, and definitely better than 'really fucking' mad. Progress, Sirius thinks hopefully, progress.

"Can I ask you a question?" he says suddenly.

"Just did."

"Ha. Yeah. Can I though?"

Remus waves a hand, granting his divine permission and, noticing he hasn't been punched in the face yet, Sirius takes a chance and slides on to the table next to him.

"Why did you kiss me the other week?" When Remus doesn't answer, Sirius continues, "And other stuff. I mean, let's face it, we probably would have ended up having sex if I hadn't - er, sorry. Am I being presumptuous again?"

"Aren't you always?" says Remus. "Anyway, I can't tell you."

"Why not? I won't tell anyone. And I do kind of deserve to know. You are sort of toying with my emotions here. Don't worry if it's embarrassing, it's alright if you have some kind of mental illness or sex addiction or..." He's suddenly unsure if what he's saying is offensive or not. "Something."

Remus rolls his eyes. "No, Sirius. I can't tell you because I don't know."

"Are you saying you dislike me emotionally but physically you find it inexplicably difficult to keep your hands off me?"

"No," Remus says flatly. "I'm saying there was a small frame of time in which I felt like doing something I no longer have any desire to do at all. There was a frame of time that followed in which I was angry with you and now I don't really care much about what you said. Moods change. People get over things. Are you drinking that?"

It takes Sirius a moment to realise Remus is gesturing to his barely-sipped lager. Wordlessly, he hands it over.

"Thanks. I'd buy my own but I'm not exactly made of money." He takes a long gulp, head back. "Not everything has to have a reason, Sirius, so don't bother asking for one. Life isn't like, you know, a film." He licks his lips. "Hence also why you pretending to have a boyfriend isn't gonna make me jealous."

Sirius feels like he's been slapped in the face. Nothing's ever simple with this boy. He can't just say 'I wanted to shag you because I fancy you' or 'I wanted to shag you because I was drunk' or 'I was going through a rough time and needed to use shagging as an outlet for my angst-prompted libido'. No, just some guff about life being allowed to have plot holes, as though that's supposed to make sense or be devastatingly poetic or something.

Annoyed, Sirius huffs. "How do you know he's not my boyfriend? He could be my boyfriend if I wanted him to be."

"Go and dance with him then."

Sirius stares at him. Then he slides off the table. "Alright," he says, "alright, I will. Just watch me."

"I'm watching."

"Good!

He nods, then opens his mouth to speak again, to make some wonderfully witty quip. In the face of Remus' cool, bored eyes, nothing comes out. Sirius knows deep down he's capable of wit and of charm and of eloquence, but a month with Remus Lupin isn't enough time to harness that talent, and he turns on his heel without another word, immersing himself in the sticky, sweaty crowd of costume-clad queens, seeking out the familiar shock of red with clumsily thrown together plans of getting drunk, dancing, and making stony-faced Remus Lupin green with envy.

The next morning, Sirius wakes up in Fabian Prewett's bed.

Chapter Text

Sirius knows he's a bad person. A churlish, spiteful scut. A cowardly little wart. A heartless scumbag. In short, a wanker.

However, knowing all of this does nothing to stop him from taking one look at Fabian's peaceful, sleeping face, untangling himself from the long limbs and bolting.

He remembers to pick up his clothes on the way out of course, each item hidden somewhere around the small dorm - jeans and jacket folded neatly on the chair, t-shirt atop the bookshelf, and boxers, after some rooting, down the back of the bed - but it's only when he's halfway down the corridor that he's finally pulling the last of them on.

There have been times in Sirius's life where he's been so drunk it takes him the whole day to remember he got off with someone the night before. This is not one of those times. Waking up naked in an unfamiliar bed with a pair of arms wrapped around him and an arse that doesn't feel as though it's in particularly tip top shape is already indicative of a night of drunken shagging, but even now, hungover, he can remember it happening anyway. Which is a bit of a ballache, really, considering Sirius only has two friends here and Fabian is one of them. Was. Perhaps still is. Who knows?

As luck would have it, the state of Sirius's friendship with Fabian is quickly shoved to the back of his mind as he bursts through the door to his dorm, fully intent on dropping back into bed and sleeping the rest of the morning away and ignoring any hurt redheads who may come looking for him.

He gets halfway to his bed, realises something isn't quite right, turns around and screams. Peter has gone. In his place lies the resurrected corpse of Janis Joplin. She screams when he does, and then Peter comes waddling out of the bathroom naked and screams too.

"Oh Christ, my eyes," Sirius moans, turning away as Peter hurriedly covers his arse - which could well be some sort of alien life form - with an abandoned pair of Y-fronts.

"Sirius - "

"No, no! That's fine, just stay there. Please. I'm going to go and bleach my brain now."

Hurriedly, Sirius side steps out of the room, head down, closing the door behind him. A few seconds pass before a shudder snakes its way through his body, and he makes for the stairs instead, two questions battling for dominance in his mind:

1) At what point did I think going home with Fabian instead of Remus was a good idea?

and 2) How the fuck did Peter grab a shag at a queer bash?

Sirius fails to find the answer to either of these questions even as he wanders into town and the cool autumn air begins to soothe his throbbing head. He resolves to find some greasy spoon for a bit of comfort-cum-brain food when distraction smacks him in the face in the form of an obnoxiously coloured flyer.

LET'S SEND PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES DOWN THE DRAIN flashes up at him in startlingly blue Comic Sans.

Suddenly some spotty swot is in his face, barking, "Did you know that over one billion barrels of oil were used to make the plastic bottles consumed in the United Kingdom last year?!"

"Oh wow, er - "

"And that doesn't include the petroleum used to transport them!"

His spit sprays revoltingly, and Sirius finds himself suddenly furious. "Calm down!" he splutters. "Fuck me, I'm just going for a fry up, mate."

This is one of the things he truly hates about university. Every week there's something new being protested about; global warming and Natwest and shark fin soup and whether or not it's politically correct to refer to the bloody grass as bloody green, as though any of them can actually do anything about it, pretending they're these tough working class kids and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that the majority of them are middle class yuppies studying Classics and History and Medicine at Durham.

It would annoy Sirius anyway, but now he's sort of trying to remember why he hopped into bed with Fabian and he's sort of got a massive headache and he sort of really wants some fucking bacon, so he literally shoves the spotty twat aside, sending his poncy flyers up in the air, and battles his way through the rest of the crowd, making a mental note to nip into Tesco after breakfast to arm himself with a massive bottle of Evian.

The cafe he hurriedly escapes to is one he's ventured in only once before. He'd wrinkled his nose up at it then, with its greasy lino and net curtains, but now the smell of sizzling meat is tantalising, the sweetest he's ever smelt.

It's made sweeter still when he spots Remus Lupin slouched behind one of the red-checked tables, book in hand.

Sirius isn't exactly surprised by the sight - attending a campus university means he tends to bump into the same people a lot - but he is surprised by how Remus doesn't even bother looking up. Perhaps he's ignoring him.

The thought does little to stop Sirius from sliding into the chair opposite without waiting for an invitation.

"Hello, cuckoo bud," he croons.

Remus spares him only the tiniest upward flicker of his eyes. "Well, if it isn't Amy Winehouse."

"What you reading?"

He can see the cover anyway - John Betjeman's Trains and Buttered Toast - but Remus is kind enough to shift it ever so slightly towards himself so that Sirius can get an ever so slightly better look.

"Wouldn't have thought that would be your cup of tea," he says, leaning back in his seat.

"Oh?"

"Well, you know. Betjeman. Prep school, Oxford, bit of a rebel at that. Not the most progressive bloke either."

It takes a moment or two but eventually, the tiniest of tiny smiles begins to grace Remus's gorgeous, sun-dappled features.

"I maintain his conservatism was purely aesthetic," he says quietly, "and even if it wasn't, I don't have to agree with him to appreciate his brilliance."

Silence passes between them for a few moments, during which time Sirius turns to gaze out the window, slightly steamy with condensation, at the steadily increasing crowd of water bottle protestors across the road.

"Don't bail on me now, Black," Remus murmurs after a while, pulling Sirius's attention back towards him. "Here's me thinking you were about to say something of substance."

Sirius scoffs, forgetting the protesters in favour of making patterns with his finger in grains of spilled salt. "Yeah well, I'm concerned if I say something of substance you'll get horny again and try to dropkick me this time."

"Only if you choose once more to follow it with something completely thoughtless."

"I'll remember that for next time."

"Next time, eh?"

"Oh yeah. Sorry. Assuming things again." Sitting up straight in his chair, Sirius glances round. "Where's that waitress? I'm famished here."

"And hungover by the looks of it. Then again, I'm not surprised. You were still hanging off your fella with a pint sloshing over your wrist when I left."

Sirius practically shudders. He doesn't want to be reminded of anything Remus may have witnessed of him last night. He must be grimacing because Remus adds, "Cheer up. Might never happen."

Remus seems to be in a good mood. Just his luck, really, to come across Remus Lupin in a good mood when Sirius himself is in a rather regretful one.

"I'm just really hungry," he says eventually, managing a tight smile.

"Yes, you said that."

"Oops, sorry."

"So you should be," says Remus, but he's clearly joking.

Sirius wishes he were in a better mood so that he could fully appreciate the pleasant turn of events. Then again, if he were in his usual buoyant and exuberant mood he'd probably get up on the table and start singing Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin', so it's probably best Sirius is feeling slightly more subdued than usual.

"I don't know where I am with you," he says after a while.

"I believe it's called Dahlia's Kitchen," Remus replies, not looking up from Betjeman. He licks the tip of his finger and turns a page.

"You know what I mean."

"You're assuming I know what you mean."

"No, I know you know what I mean."

"I didn't realise you'd be so affected by all this."

Sirius snorts. "If by 'all this' you mean sexually accosting me, storming out midway, and then making a complete idiot out of me last night then yes, I am rather affected by 'all this'."

Remus finally has the good grace to look at him. "I can't believe you just referred to a blowjob as the act of being 'sexually accosted'." Raising a brow he adds, "Was I really that bad?"

"You're mental," Sirius huffs.

"No, I'm a normal human being who stopped being upset about something that happened a month ago," Remus says primly, placing his book down at last. "Now if you really want me to still be upset then by all means continue to stare at me like I'm some kind of deranged circus act. But when you think about the facts, Sirius, you're the one who stopped coming to the LGBT socials, and as far as I could tell you were avoiding me. I didn't think you'd turn up last night, so what did you expect from me? Raging fires and fury? And you needn't look at me like that."

Sirius promptly closes his gob.

"Anyway, I wasn't even that upset," Remus goes on. "Just more... I dunno. Embarrassed."

"I embarrassed you?" Sirius says weakly, horrified. Thinking he'd made Remus angry was bad enough, but it's not like Sirius hasn't pissed people off in bed before. Embarrassed on the other hand?

"Too much awareness. I'm pretty dreadful at sex with a sound mind. I think I was too impatient, not getting sufficiently pissed before making a pass at you." Remus looks down and opens his book again. "I'm going to change the subject now. Is that alright?"

Bewildered, Sirius holds his hands out. "Go for it."

"So. Betjeman. Do you actually like him or are you merely a fountain of related facts?"

* * *

Sirius can't pretend he wasn't a bit put out by the way he was treated last night by Remus, subtly confident and delectable as he is, especially when memories begin returning to his fuzzy brain with the assistance of gloriously fried food and black coffee.

Memories of rather intense feelings of determination and annoyance at Remus' lack of interest in him. Memories of weirdo Craig, dressed as Twiggy, throwing up noisily in the gents. Memories of drunken dancing (grinding, perhaps grinding would be more appropriate), and memories - awful, embarrassing memories - of telling Fabian Prewett that he could "make this pretty good".

He still doesn't know what possessed him to do it - except perhaps similar amounts of rejection and crap vodka - but now that he's pieced everything together he can conclude that sleeping with Fabian hadn't been pre-planned in any sense, and happened only at the very last hurdle.

They'd got back from the party around three and Sirius, for reasons unknown, had insisted on sleeping in Fabian's room. He vaguely remembers Fabian arguing with him over it, only half-joking, saying that he was drunk, they both were, and it wasn't a good idea, but Sirius was sobering up, and had whined that he was just so tired and he was here now and couldn't he just kip on the floor?

And of course Fabian hadn't let him sleep on the floor, and had let Sirius into his bed, and for a while they'd curled up together and really had tried to sleep. But they'd both fidgeted and one of them had turned and someone's dick or arse or something got brushed, or maybe their faces got too close together, and it was all downhill from there. Or uphill, depending on which way you look at it. Because sleeping with Fabian wasn't ideal, but the sex was perfectly adequate.

He forces himself to put it aside altogether now as he and Remus walk together along the riverbank like young, harmonious lovers. All of last night's irritation seems to seep into the Wear to be washed away to the North Sea, the space this leaves in Sirius soon filled by Remus's sweet, honeyed words.

God, but he's lovely.

"I think he was just a pessimist rather than some last-ditch Tory," he's saying, head down, gesturing with his gorgeous, long-fingered hands. They're talking about Larkin now. "I mean yeah, he demonstrates this apparent hatred of progress - or the modern world's idea of progress - but I think he'd just become disillusioned by these newfangled ideas about what it means to have quality of life. That's why he's so much more of an idealist than say, R.S. Thomas. I mean, Thomas knew the countryside, Larkin was just lamenting for this Golden Age he'd never actually experienced."

Remus is so intelligent. It's really rather sexy.

"And I think maybe he even knew that himself, and you're not listening to a word I'm saying, are you?"

"Of course I am! And I think, erm..." He pauses, casting his eyes over the fresh, dazzling blue of the afternoon autumn sky as though hoping for inspiration, something that might actually challenge Remus's already boundless mind. "I think it can also come down to how much of a dick someone is. I mean, R.S. Thomas was most definitely a dick."

It's alright. He did R.S. Thomas at A Level. He knows R.S. Thomas was a dick. It should be fine. And indeed it is, because Remus smiles, albeit a bit crookedly, and nods.

"I s'pose."

"I mean, there's luddite and then there's just lunatic."

Finally, Remus laughs. "Right."

Sirius has cracked Remus Lupin. He knows what makes him laugh. Poets. Jokes about poets make him laugh. So alright, Sirius will have to do a bit of homework on this. Of course, a few will be off limits. Like Keats. Can't exactly go making jokes about Keats, since they'd mostly have to concern loss of love and terminal illness. Coleridge? Coleridge could be funny, opium and that. Are drugs funny though? Not really.

He'll have to think about this.

Biting his lip, he says, "You're really big on poetry, aren't you?"

Remus looks at him, surprised. "Me? Not really. I mean, I can't pretend to know much about it."

Shit. If Remus is someone who doesn't know much about poetry, what on earth does that make Sirius?

"Really? Could've fooled me," he says. "I keep forgetting you're doing History, not English."

"That some sly way of telling me I talk too much?"

"No! Not at all, I..." He shrugs, uselessly.

Remus's hard glare relaxes, giving way to another low chuckle. "I don't remember you being this quiet."

"I think university's done something funny to me," Sirius confesses.

"University does that. Couple months in you suddenly become the complete antithesis of what you were in high school."

"Ah, so what were you? Cheery straight fascist?"

"Funny."

They're descending a little slope now, cold breaths huffing from between their lips as they bounce, and Remus is digging in his pocket for something. By the time they're on flat ground, just beside a little bench overlooking the icy river, he's produced a packet of cigarettes.

"I definitely didn't smoke, for one thing," he says when he's lit up. He doesn't offer the pack to Sirius. Maybe he wants to share the one cigarette, like some chic couple in a '50s French film?

But no, Remus plonks himself down on the bench and holds the pack out to Sirius.

"So why did you start?" Sirius asks, sitting down beside him and shaking his head at the offer. "To attract gentlemen with your smokey, Hepburn-esque allure?"

Remus sniffs, pocketing the fags. "No. To deal with the stress of being constantly surrounded by complete twats."

"Do you hate everyone or just most people?"

"Something between the two."

Sirius laughs.

"What about you?" Remus says after a moment.

"Hm?"

"Do you love everyone or just most people?" he mimics in a guff imitation of Sirius' voice.

"I'd say I like a lot of people. But love? I tend to reserve my love for special cases."

He winks. Remus sighs.

"How's the boyfriend?" he asks, but he says it with an emphasis on 'boy' to underline their mutual awareness that Sirius is an idiot.

"Didn't work at all that, did it?"

"Oh, I don't know. You started out as your usual self with the jealousy garb, but as the night wore on I started to realise you were possibly the best of a bad bunch."

Sirius realises this is most likely supposed to be a compliment, and yet surprisingly it's more like a kick to the balls than a stomachful of butterflies.

"Don't fuck with me like that, Remus," he says tiredly.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Making me think I had a chance at going home with you instead of Fabian."

"Oh. Ouch." Remus takes a long drag on the cigarette, eyes set on the river, glittering prettily in the cold sun. "Poor bloke."

"Me or him?"

"Him, obviously. Hopped into bed with you even though you didn't pay him any attention all night?"

"Watching, were you?"

"Only when I didn't have my eye on Bettie Page pole-dancing." He examines his nails, almost thoughtfully, a rare expression on the usually stony face. "And anyway, you didn't have a chance."

"Yeah, yeah," Sirius says gruffly. "Kick me when I'm down. Ta."

But then Remus is saying, "No, I left early. Or didn't you notice? There was this documentary on about Neolithic medicine and I knew everyone would be out at some sort of Halloween do and I'd have the lounge to myself..."

It takes a moment or two for Sirius to realise that Remus is actually being serious, and then he's laughing, to such an extent he barely registers the hard way in which Remus is now staring at him.

"Think that's funny, do you?" he deadpans, glancing down at his cigarette.

"I actually really do," Sirius snorts, unsure if the tears he can feel forming in his eyes are from much-needed laughter or mere cold.

Remus stares at him for a little while longer.

"Fuck off," he says eventually, the last drag on his cigarette an obvious attempt at hiding a laugh of his own.

* * *

Janis Joplin has gone when Sirius gets back, thank God. It's the first thing he notices when he goes in the dorm in fact, three hours later, after parting ways with the truly perfect, only occasionally unnecessarily cruel Remus Lupin.

"Alright, Bobby McGee, I've had time to recover now so you can start explaining why - "

What Sirius wants Peter to explain remains unsaid when his eyes land on Fabian and he trails off mid-sentence. Fabian looks the same as always, but the gaze he fixes Sirius with is less than savoury.

"Oh, hi." Sirius stands awkwardly, unsure if he's allowed to leave again or not. It's not that he's forgotten about his not-particularly-ideal night with Fabian, or the fact that he'll have to deal with it at some point, but Remus has sort of put him in a good mood and, at the risk of seeming horribly twatty, Sirius doesn't really want to discuss drunken one night stands with Fabian at the moment.

"Where were you today?" Peter asks.

Sirius shrugs, toeing at the carpet. "Just around town."

"All day?"

"Well, I sort of bumped into Remus, so..."

His astonishing lack of tact - the thing which, funnily enough, Fabian pointed out to him only last week - only occurs to him after he's said it, but slightly before Fabian shoves past him and out of the room.

In the awkward silence that follows, Sirius just about manages to get out a strange, twisted scoffing noise.

"What've you been saying to him?" he jokes limply, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

Peter stares back at him. There's this strange mixture of anger and bewilderment set in his chubby face, but it's understandable really. He and Fabian are sort of soul mates.

After a while, when Peter's mouth still remains stubbornly closed, Sirius claps his hands together, rubbing them hard as though trying to conjure up some kind of comfortable atmosphere.

"So go on then," he says as brightly as he can manage, "tell me all about last night, you sly dog."

Peter leaves then, too.

Chapter Text

It takes approximately one more week for Sirius to decide he can't stand university. Never in his life has he felt so alone.

Fabian certainly doesn't talk to him anymore, but Peter's even worse. They share a room and yet he won't even look at Sirius, bar the few instances where speech is absolutely mandatory (for example, "Got a spare pound for the launderette?" or "Your mum's shortbread wound up in my postbox again today").

It's totally ridiculous because Sirius hasn't even done anything to Peter, but alas. Yes, that sums Sirius' current situation up nicely: alas.

Classes don't help. Sirius has absolutely no interest in the significance of food in 'The Eve of St. Agnes' or transformation in 'Tintern Abbey'. The combination of warm classroom, monotonous teacher and 9 a.m. starts means he's often on the brink of sleep in his lectures, and as for his tutorial groups, he feels so out of his depth amongst his fellow mouthy students that he usually keeps his mouth shut for fear of humiliation.

Then the first Wednesday of November comes, lugging with it soggy orange leaves and dark skies and a haunting request from one of his tutors, silver fox Timothy, asking him to stay behind one afternoon for a chat. It follows a numbing tutorial on the topic of Desire, which unfortunately just makes Sirius think of Remus Lupin and his old bed at home and Marlon Brando and famous Dartmouth onion rings and all other sorts of lovely things he's being denied.

Timothy pulls a chair up for him beside his big old oak desk and asks him to sit down. He offers him a biscuit, which Sirius takes and immediately regrets. It's a ginger nut and he can't bite into it with his front teeth, so he has to go in with his canines, and he soon has a little pile of orange crumbs in his lap, and when Timothy says, "Did you enjoy today's tutorial, Sirius?" it takes ages for Sirius to reply because he's chewing and chewing, so he just has to make a dumb noise of confirmation.

"It's always been one of my favourite topics to teach," Timothy goes on in his deep, plummy voice. "Desire. I don't know why really. I just think Desire is one of the most intriguing aspects of human nature. It permeates literature, always has done."

Sirius stares at him, queasily unsure whether or not definitely-over-fifty Tim is trying to chat him up.

"Er," he says slowly, picking at the lat of his biscuit, "yeah. Yeah, it's really... interesting."

Timothy chuckles. "Your enthusiasm is overwhelming, I must say."

Sirius frowns without quite meaning to, but the professor gives nothing away, continuing to smile with that weird, serene look on his face, the one he gets when he's talking about something particularly mind-numbing. He isn't one of Sirius' better tutors, but Sirius is never sure if this is because of the way Timothy insists on dragging e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g out in this painful, laborious way, or because he chooses to dress in such distracting pastel jackets.

"Sirius, may I ask you a question?" he says after a long while.

With a brief glance at the door, Sirius nods. "Alright."

A part of him suspects the question might be, "What are you doing on Friday evening?" or perhaps even, "Would you mind locking the door?" Timothy's never struck him as queer, and a lot of the girls think he's fit for an old person, but Sirius has heard a rumour that he picks one student per semester to sleep with. Perhaps it's his turn. What's he supposed to say? Refuse, obviously, but how? He doesn't want to get marked down on his next assignment for being rude. He needs all the credit he can get.

"Stop me if you don't want to discuss this."

"... Right."

"Do you remember the exact moment you decided it would be English Literature that you applied for at university?"

The question comes as a surprise. Sirius has to take a moment to cast aside all thoughts of bad college pornos, and then a further moment to consider the question he's actually been asked, and even then he just says lamely, "Erm, no. Don't think so."

"Alright then, your careers interviews at school. You must remember those. When your teachers asked you why you wanted to study English, what did you say?"

"That I liked it."

"Nothing more?"

"Not really. I've always been good at it. English, I mean."

"Oh, you are. Very good. A talented lad." He says this with little conviction, a balm to soothe nervous students being pulled up for their poor work ethic. Timothy wrings his fingers, stretches his elbow with a gruesome click. "Talent doesn't always, necessarily, accompany passion. As the weeks have gone by I've started to wonder if you lack just that. Stop me if you think I'm being unfair."

He looks at him calmly, as though Sirius should know what to say.

"Alright then," Sirius manages. He feels hot all over, and silly, and he finds a spot in Timothy's office - the oppressive spine of Finnegan's Wake - and stares at it helplessly.

"Do you think I'm being unfair?"

"No..."

"Do you think this chat's unwarranted?"

"I'm not really sure what you want me to say... or what this is about." He pauses. "Maybe a bit unwarranted, yeah."

"I was the one who oversaw your application prior to your acceptance at the university," Timothy says patiently. "Often I can't match names to applications by the time term rolls around, but of course I remembered your name." At this point he smiles, quite kindly. "Now you and I both know you could have applied anywhere for practically any course, and nobody is about to dispute your intelligence. I see it every year. Bright, capable students, so used to their own talent that they end up doing perhaps what they think they ought to do rather than what they want to do. Do you know what I mean?"

Sirius nods, eyes back on Joyce, scratching at the back of his hand.

"I wouldn't say anything if I thought you were happy. I'm concerned that you aren't. I'm concerned by your complete lack of contribution in tutorials. Your mind seems o be elsewhere all of the time."

Sirius rubs his fingers hard against his forehead and looks anywhere but his tutor's face. He's always hated being criticised by teachers over work. He was always in trouble for bad behaviour at school, but never for being stupid. He's never been one of those kids. He is now. He almost wishes he was being chatted up instead.

"You write well, but your essays lack the enthusiasm I desire in my students," Timothy continues. "You'll have to excuse the cliché, Sirius, but I want all of you to think outside of the box. At the moment it's almost as if you're, oh I don't know, wearily peeking over the side of the box, having a little glance around and then deciding to leave your explorations for another day." He speaks absent-mindedly, sniffing, even chuckling a bit though it's anything but funny.

Sirius stares at him, incredulous. "Right, well." He nods. "Right."

"I'm not criticizing you, Sirius," says Timothy, even though he is.

"No."

"I'm merely wondering if there's anything you'd rather be spending your time and money doing."

"There isn't."

He glances out of the large, wooden-framed window beside the desk. They're high up in here, third floor, and all he can see is a white sky and the roof of the Arts building and a very dirty seagull perched on the roof.

"Would you like another biscuit? I'm not just your academic adviser, Sirius. Going to university marks an immense change in lifestyle, and if you're not settling in I can help -"

Sirius bites back a rather mortified huff. Tim thinks he has no friends. Or rather, Tim knows.

"No, no, there's nothing... I'm fine, honestly. I think I'm just..." He thinks about saying shy, but they'd both know he'd be lying. "I think maybe I'll enjoy classes more when I can pick my own modules. No offence," he adds quickly. "I like more modern stuff. Although your lecture on Wordsworth that week was stellar."

Timothy smiles patiently. "Try to speak up more in class, eh? You've a contribution mark to think about after all. And if ever you have a problem..." He taps his desk with his chunky forefinger. "You can come straight to me."

Sirius wonders, as he hauls his bag over his shoulder to go, if Timothy honestly thinks this little chat has made a positive difference. After today, Sirius can't think of anyone he'd be less likely to approach with a problem. He leaves when he's dismissed, ginger biscuit stuck in his teeth.

* * *

He takes the long way home because he doesn't have anywhere to be. It rains for a bit, and a group of students protesting against the use of plastic carrier bags jostle him into taking a flyer, and a woman outside Sainsbury's drops a penny which he automatically picks up for her with a rather poetic sense of handing over his own luck. He makes a mental note to write it down later in case he ever needs an idea for a film, which he probably won't because he's a stupid student who gets laughed at by his teacher for being a moron.

Other than that his journey is uneventful and Sirius arrives back at his halls with wet hair, a sodden flyer and two hours to waste before dinner. He's completely exhausted. He always seems to be tired recently. A complete extrovert, he gets his energy from being around other people.The company of other people is something he's been lacking in.

Dimly aware that he's probably feeling a bit too sorry for himself, Sirius nevertheless wallows in his own self-pity as a means of justifying his feelings of utter animosity towards university life. It is, by all accounts, dreadful.

As bad luck would have it, he spots Fabian on the third floor. It's a common occurrence, spotting Fabian, but not, by default, a welcomed one, and for a moment Sirius considers jumping behind the nearest tall object like the coward he has apparently become.

Then Fabian sees him, and Sirius decides it's best to pretend they're still friends instead.

"Fabian," he says, trying a smile. When he comes closer, he notices Fabian has his key out, ready to escape into his room. "How's tricks?"

The only signs Fabian shows of being less than happy to see Sirius are a slight quirk of a red brow and a fairly gruff tone when he says, "Alright. You?"

"Yeah, not bad, thanks." Sirius leans against the door frame of Fabian's room, half-expecting to be invited in. "Busy, you know, very busy."

"Right. Yeah. Me too." Fabian pointedly turns the key in the lock of his door. "Well, it was nice - "

"Oh." Sirius stands up straight, hands in pockets, soggy flyer balled up in his fist. "Can I come in actually?"

"In?"

Sirius toes at the carpet for a moment. "Like, we should talk, you know?"

He's not sure where it comes from. He doesn't particularly want to talk to Fabian, because talking to Fabian is undoubtedly going to involve shame. But there's also a part of him loudly proclaiming that he needs friends again. Desperately.

"Right. Talk," says Fabian. For a moment they merely look at one another, and Sirius begins to feel queasy with awkwardness. Then Fabian sighs and says, "Five minutes, then. I'm only picking up stuff for a seminar."

"Brilliant, what's it on?"

"Nothing you'd know about."

"Try me!" Sirius says cheerfully, but Fabian doesn't.

A brief glance at the unmade bed makes Sirius immediately regret his decision. He's never really looked properly at Fabian's room before. He's always either been too drunk or too focused on escaping. There aren't any posters on the walls, but there are a few photos on the notice board of lots of people with red hair, and Sirius assumes they're members of the Prewett family, rather than that Fabian just likes to collect pictures of other ginger people.

There's a photo of him and Gideon too, and they have their arms around each other and they look a bit dorky and cute, and Gideon is pretending the straw he's holding is a cigar, which is weird because Sirius didn't think Gideon had a sense of humour.

He didn't think either how strange it must be, not being around your twin all the time after eighteen years, maybe a bit like being split in half. Maybe it's the same as how Sirius feels about James, because he's shared a home with James for eight years since the start of boarding school and now they're at different universities it does feel a bit wrong, like there's something missing. That must be how Fabian feels, only worse because he and Gideon have literally always been together, from day one, kicking around in their mum's belly in Newcastle.

There are also lots and lots of books in Fabian's bedroom and the ones that aren't on Classics are fantasy, all Tolkien and Terry Pratchett and stuff like that, and on the desk there's a grey scarf and a half-empty bottle of orange juice and a box of gluten-free cereal bars and the battered gold watch and a MacBook and a Twilight Zone DVD, and it all just makes Sirius feel a bit sad. It's one of those weird moments where he realises people other than himself exist, and Fabian exists and has interests and a twin and he likes The Hobbit and scary films and he has feelings and he has thoughts of his own, and a gluten allergy maybe, and even though Sirius doesn't think about Fabian much, maybe Fabian thinks about him quite a bit.

That just makes Sirius feel like a dick, and he wants to say that he's sorry but he can't. His mouth won't make the words; it rarely can.

"Your room's so much nicer than mine," he says. "And warmer too."

Fabian just looks at him, running his tongue a over his lower lip, an awkward habit.

"I mean, you already know that because you've been there -  "

"Sirius..."

"But it's really quite - "

"Sirius. I've really got to go soon." As though to emphasise his point, Fabian drops his keys on the desk and begins rummaging for a couple of books. Sirius watches him, a bit nervous.

"I just - I think we should be mates again," he says after a while. Fabian doesn't pause. "Just sort of put what happened behind us as, you know, a bit of a drunken... mistake."

Fabian finally looks at him. "I already have," he says. "Haven't you?"

"Well yeah, but seeing as we don't really hang out anymore or talk or even really look at each other, I just kind of assumed you hadn't got over it or something."

"I said I put it behind me. Not that I've forgiven you."

Their eyes meet, Fabian's gaze steady, Sirius' confused.

"Forgiven me for what?" he asks. "What did I do wrong? Look, friends do stuff together all the time and it doesn't mean anything. It's not like we're bound to each other now or something. Not everything has to be this big drama."

Fabian appears worryingly incredulous for a moment. Then he smiles, a bit bitterly, and shakes his head.

"You don't get it, do you? Sirius, it's not like I'm in love with you, or that I've spent the past week crying over you or anything like that. Don't be so quick to flatter yourself." He shoves two large books in his bag. "And it's not like I haven't had one night stands either. You know, if we'd woken up that morning and you'd have said you didn't want to do it again, that would have been fine, yeah? It wasn't like I was about to force you into some kind of relationship with me. It wasn't like I couldn't handle the groundbreaking revelation that you didn't fancy me. It wasn't like I didn't already know that."

He pauses to sling his bag over his shoulder and scoop up his keys.

"But no. You leave, you avoid me all day like you're embarrassed of me or something, you act a prick and go find Remus -"

"I didn't go to find him, I just wanted breakfast."

"It's like you think you're too good for everyone," says Fabian, ignoring him, "except the people who treat you like shit . I've been nothing but nice to you since you got here. Same with Pete. But you just use people, mate. I don't wanna be around you anymore 'cos the only reason you want friends is so you don't have to be seen on your own."

"Fabian - "

"Anyway, you need to head off now."

"Oh, come on, don't -"

"No, I mean you need to get out, I'm going to be late."

Fabian shoves past him to get to the door, turning back with an expectant look. Sirius steps out of the door after him.

"I just panicked," he says lamely, watching as Fabian locks the door on all his possessions.

He turns to look at Sirius, expression softening slightly.

"Yeah, but..." He hesitates. "You just have to treat people a bit better maybe. Anyway. See you."

He walks past Sirius, their shoulders brushing slightly, and in a small voice Sirius says, "See you," back.

* * *

"Your friend's mum's pecan tarts wound up in my post box again," Peter mumbles when Sirius walks into their room. He's on his laptop, hunched over, with a packet of jelly babies open beside him.

"Thanks." Sirius flops on to his bed. A few moments pass before he says, "Do you want some?"

"What?"

"Pecan tarts. Do you want some?"

Peter's hesitation is obvious, even without Sirius looking at him. "No," he says reluctantly.

Sirius rolls over on to his stomach. "Come on, Pete. Let's be friends."

"We are friends," Peter says doubtfully, but he doesn't look up from the screen as he shoves another jelly baby in his mouth.

"What happened between Fabian and I isn't a big deal. There's no need for you and me to be weird with each other."

"No, I know. I'm not being weird." But that's all he says, and Sirius looks at him for a little while longer until it becomes clear that Peter isn't going to return the gaze.

He rolls back over, staring up at the slanted ceiling, kicking his legs up idly.

Well. If Fabian doesn't want to talk to him and Peter doesn't want to talk to him, then bugger it. He'll turn to the one person who always wants to talk to him. Sirius rolls off the bed and strides into the bathroom, closing the door behind him and taking out his phone. He calls James' number.

Six rings pass before a voice sounds in his ear.

"Welcome to the Vodafone message centre. Your call cannot be taken -"

"For fuck's sake."

"- leave a message after the -"

Sirius shuts it up with a swipe of his thumb, shoving the phone back into his pocket. He sighs, flops down on to the closed lid of the toilet. Behind the door he hears the crackle of the jelly babies packet, and he's starving so he thinks about going out and asking for one, but it might be weird so he doesn't.

In the moments that follow, Sirius stares at their stockpile of Domestos (the combined gifts of Mrs Potter and Mrs Pettigrew) and knows there's only really one other person he can reasonably entertain the idea of hanging out with. Giving himself only a brief pause to consider the idea - so that he can't change his mind - he stands up, leaves the room, and heads to Palace Green Library.

Chapter Text

The heavy door to the Exchequer creaks as Sirius pushes it open, peering through the dancing dust, winter sunlight beaming in through the windows. He sees nothing but books and their cases. The thought that Remus might be too busy for visitors crosses his mind, but he ignores it.

"Hello?" he calls out. He follows with a whistle, then closes the door behind himself and descends the winding staircase with deliberately heavy footsteps. This time, he doesn't manage to take even one step across the parquet floor before Remus is popping out from behind a bookshelf, two heavy volumes of pure drivel in his arms.

"You look like a wet puppy," is his greeting. Sirius is slightly cheered by the fact that 'puppy' can, in some respects, be deemed an affectionate term.

"It started raining again," he explains unnecessarily, pushing his hair back. "Do you want some help with those?"

"No, thanks. Although actually you can open that wire gate for me. That one just there." Remus motions with his head. The stained glass turns the sunlight orange, and his brown hair suddenly appears red. It's positively astonishingly lovely, and Sirius considers telling him so as he pulls back the chicken wire, but Remus is speaking - albeit a bit breathlessly as he hauls the books inside - before he can.

"To what do I owe this pleasure?"

"You know me," says Sirius, standing up straight again, forcing cheeriness, "always eager to lend a helping hand."

"Hm?" Remus seems to take him seriously because he says, taking a piece of paper from his pocket and marking something off on it, "You could help me by bringing those books from the front desk. No, not those - the ones on the left."

As soon as Sirius scoops up the pile of dusty tomes, he realises his mistake. The sheer weight of the masses of century old papers and hardback covers makes him almost drop all the books at once as he wobbles precariously on the balls of his feet. The physical exertion, however, is not enough to mask the loud, mental reminder that he must appear quite manly in front of Remus, and so he gulps back the grunt of discomfort nestling in his throat and, forcing himself to stay upright and not keel over, determinedly hauls the books over to where Remus is opening another wire gate.

"Thanks," he murmurs. He barely even seems to notice the astonishing feat Sirius has just pulled off as he slips one book off the top of the pile and slots it neatly away.

The pile of books, Sirius now notices, are Parliamentary Debates from 1902, and he cannot fathom why anybody has recently checked these out. In fact, he can't fathom why anyone would have checked them out in 1902, let alone the 21st Century. He can't even fathom why they exist in the first place.

"So go on then," says Remus.

"What?"

"Why are you really here?" He doesn't look up from his list. "Not going to ask me on a date or something, are you?"

"I think I'm a bit too fragile to handle a rejection right now."

"Ah, and I was feeling generous today."

"You do know how to tease a man, Remus Lupin."

"Just one of my many talents," Remus deadpans, examining the spine of another book. Briefly, he glances up at Sirius' face, and suddenly blinks. "What's wrong? You're not really upset, are you?"

"No!"

"Well. Why are you looking at me like I've just pissed on your best quilted jacket?"

"Funny," Sirius grumbles, adding after too long a pause, "I don't even own a quilted jacket."

"Have to admit I'm surprised."

"Remuuuus," Sirius drags out, and even he's annoyed by the whining note in his voice. "Don't."

"Don't what?"

"Act like you can't bloody stand the sight out of me!"

Remus snorts to himself, but then he looks up again. Sirius must be doing something wonderfully heartbreaking with his face because Remus sighs and says, "Right. Go on then. Tell me what you want. I'll refrain from bruising your fragile ego as much as humanly possible."

"Thanks."

"Told you I was feeling generous today."

"For someone who shows such obvious hatred towards other students, you're certainly a lot like them sometimes."

This seems to interest Remus quite a bit.

"What do you mean?" he asks.

"Oh, you know. They're not very friendly, you're not very friendly." Sirius shrugs, scratching idly at cuff of his jacket. "Course, none of them are quite so gorgeous as you so I suppose in that respect you're not like them at all."

Remus stares at him for a second, expression rather blank, and Sirius thinks he might have offended him. But then Remus' eyes seem to sparkle a bit, and his mouth twitches as if he's about to smile.

"What a pitiful attempt at sweet talking your way out of an insult," he says, shaking his head. "You've really got to stop with the gorgeous stuff, though. It's becoming unnerving."

Sirius raises an eyebrow in question, and Remus almost smiles again.

"I haven't got some sort of self-esteem issue, if that's what you're thinking. I'm merely concerned you have some kind of memory problem. I did hear your compliments the first fifty thousand times, after all."

He pushes himself from the gate behind them to saunter - at least, Sirius fancies it's a saunter - back over to the front counter. Now it's Sirius who can't conceal his grin. Hands in his pockets, he follows after him.

"You're incredibly ungrateful, you know," he says, trying out a little saunter of his own.

"Oh?"

"Not that I mind. It's dead sexy."

"Yeah, definitely a memory problem. Amnesia? An early onset of Alzheimer's perhaps?"

"Come on," says Sirius, "don't pretend you're not enjoying it. Everyone likes knowing someone fancies them."

Heaving another couple of books into his arms - who even gets so many of these things out that they have to be put away so often? - Remus moves past Sirius to start down another aisle, speaking as he does.

"While I admit there's an initial pleasure in knowing someone finds you attractive, the words 'fit' and 'gorgeous' and - " His voice rises to a posh mimicry; " - 'dead sexy' do lose their shine after a little while. I expect they're things you say to people a lot."

"No, no one. Really. Only you."

"Flattered."

"Should be." Then, noticing the abundance of fairly easy conversation between them, Sirius throws further caution to the wind: "So d'you fancy coming for dinner with me tonight?"

"Depends if you're paying," Remus shoots back immediately, and Sirius feels his heart burst with unimaginable pleasure because that, that right there, was most definitely a yes.

"Of course! For everything! Anywhere you want to go!" he insists. He notices his eagerness a second too late, a mental reminder to reign himself in a little echoing through his mind. Play it cool, Sirius. Just play it cool like the cool fox you are.

"I was joking, Sirius. I wouldn't have you do that." Remus slots the last book on its assigned shelf, closes the gate, dusts off his hands and stands up. "But I can't tonight actually."

The exultant heat surging through Sirius' body suddenly jerks and curls itself up into a little ball, nestling itself in his stomach with a mewl of disappointment.

"Oh," he says. "Why not?"

"The Philosophy Society are hosting a lecture. It's the first of the term so I'd rather not miss it. They're having an excellent speaker in. Benjamin Torrance, don't know if you've heard of him."

"What's it on?" Sirius asks, certain he can offer up an exciting alternative to some boring old lecture.

"Whether or not the distribution of well-being is a moral issue."

"Oh! That just so happens to be one of my very favourite topics of debate!"

"Oh, well you should definitely come along!" Third time lucky, Remus finally does smile. "You might genuinely be interested in coming. It's not actually going to be a debate, and it'll be told from the viewpoint that it isn't morally wrong for one person to have a lot of money and another to have none."

"That doesn't sound like something you'd agree with."

Remus shrugs. "I like to be proven wrong occasionally. There's no point being passionate about a subject if you aren't willing to listen to the other side of the argument. And anyway, it's Ben Torrance. I could listen to him lecture on a theory that we're being overrun by mutated Nazi mice and still be interested."

Sirius scoffs. "Well... I won't have to speak, will I?"

Remus raises an eyebrow, amusement etched across his face, from his eyes to the dusting of freckles across his nose which scrunches up with his wry smile.

"No, Sirius. You won't have to speak."

* * *

Three hours later, they're coming out of the Arts lecture theatre and Sirius is alive with inspiration.

Or possibly arousal, from sitting fantastically close to Remus for two whole hours. Whichever. The point is, he's feeling considerably more alert than he had been when they'd first sat down and Ben Torrance, surprisingly young and springy, strolled on stage with a winning smile.

Remus had applauded quite fervently. Sirius suspects he fancies Torrance a bit. A shame really, because that proves what Remus' type is, and Remus' type is slender and well-dressed and dark-haired - like Sirius - but also really, really passionate about issues and politics and smartness and being smart and smart things.

"What did you think?" Remus wants to know now as they descend the steps outside.

"Pretty smart, that Ben, isn't he?" says Sirius.

"He's..." But Remus has to trail off, shaking his head, as though Ben Torrance's passionate, intelligent allure simply leaves him at a loss for words.

They seek shelter from the fresh rain in a bus stop, and Sirius mulls over an answer he thinks will be suitably intelligent-sounding as Remus lights a cigarette.

"Did he convince you then?" Sirius asks, glancing around the dingy shelter.

"I don't know. Not quite. The bits about the true value of money, money being man-made, I liked that. And the details on New Stone era values were phenomenal. But I'm still not convinced his argument was totally applicable to a 21st century society."

"Oh, er, me neither."

Remus shoots him a sideways glance. "I'm not going to snap at you if you disagree, you know. I do actually want to know what you think."

But the bus arrives before Sirius can make clear what he thinks, and Remus has to stub out his barely-smoked fag with a tut, and there's only a few seconds for Sirius to ask, "Where are we going?" and Remus to reply, "Town. To eat" before they're climbing on to the bus and taking separate seats. Everywhere else is full, Remus ending up next to a pensioner while Sirius is landed with a mum and a baby, the latter of which keeps pulling irritatingly at his jacket.

He's relieved when, four stops later, they get off. Remus leads the way without pausing to request recommendations. It's a bit disconcerting really. Not that Sirius has any problem with someone else being the decisive one, but he's concerned that Remus, being Remus, might lead them to some all-vegan, all-organic, save-the-cows hippy place, when all Sirius really wants is steak and shrimp and beer.

As it happens, the place they wind up outside is down a little side street, and the only thing odd about it is that you have to go in through what looks like the back entrance. At least, that's where all the dustbins are.

He can't even see the sign to find out what the place is called, but when they go inside it looks enough like a properly established pub to keep him satisfied, so he follows Remus to a little table on the right, in the window, and sits down.

"This is... nice," he says, noticing how haphazardly all of the paintings are hung, some of the picture hooks annoyingly empty.

"It's warm," says Remus, "and cheap."

"Oh, if you wanted to go somewhere more expensive - I mean, I told you I'd pay -"

"I like it here."

He picks up a menu as though to finalize his point, and Sirius follows suit. He can't really concentrate properly though - not that the abundance of grease-with-chips-or-mash isn't overwhelmingly appealing - because Remus is absent-mindedly running his finger along his jaw as he reads, and Sirius finds his attention able to settle on nothing but that.

He can't believe they're actually on a date. Well, alright, perhaps not a real date with pre-meditated times and places and nice clothes and candlelight, but Remus is sitting across from him in a restaurant in the evening, and that's surely close enough.

They order soon, Remus opting for some mushroom thing he obviously gets a lot by the way he deftly covers it in pepper when it arrives, and Sirius going for some kind of North-Eastern salad because, in spite of his cravings for both steak and shrimp, he's uncertain whether or not the meat in this sort of establishment would be safe for consumption.

Not that the food is really important. Sirius manages to order the most expensive bottle of wine - which, at £8.95, isn't very expensive at all - before Remus can protest, and though he sighs, he accepts a glass when it arrives.

"I don't normally drink wine," he says, swilling the dark liquid about in his glass.

"No? Not working-class enough for you?" says Sirius, gulping down a hearty mouthful of his own.

Remus quirks an eyebrow at this, but otherwise appears surprisingly mellow. "It has a tendency to get me horribly drunk."

"Oh good. Me too!" He finishes his first glass then with a flourish and realises with a start he is trying to get himself drunk. Is that an early sign of alcoholism? Trying to get drunk without even realising you're trying to get drunk until the first glass is well and truly drained in a matter of seconds?

"Slow down," says Remus, and Sirius suddenly finds himself feeling a bit nervous. Remus is speaking and looking at him in that strange, sly way, the one that he uses a lot, that suggests possibly amusement or distaste or attraction; Sirius is never sure which.

"Oh, I just... I realised I haven't had a drink in ages." In fact, the last time he had, he woke up with Fabian's nose buried in the hollow of his neck. "Trying to get as much in as possible before Christmas. Wouldn't want to waste my first term of student life, now, would I?"

"That would be tragic," Remus says dryly. He watches as Sirius pours another glass, then says, "How is your first term of student life going?"

"Oh, you know. Pretty bad."

"Really?"

"Not what I expected at least. I'm sure you'll roll your eyes, but I thought there'd be a lot more going out and a lot less..." He waves a vague hand, the one that isn't clutching the fresh wine. "Staying in. I mean it's alright, staying in, if you have someone to stay in with. But my roommate's being a bit off with me, and so's Fabian. You remember Fabian."

"Your boyfriend."

"Right. Well, no. But yeah. Him. So I don't know. It's pretty lonely." He shrugs and swallows half the wine. Remus has barely sipped his. "What about you anyway? How's your first term as a second year going?"

"Fine," Remus replies. "Been fairly solitary too, but since my first year wasn't I'm actually quite glad of the peace now."

"You were a social butterfly in first year?"

"Not quite. Just one person, a boyfriend, and relationships require so much effort that it's nice to be able to have some time to myself for once."

He says it so casually and Sirius stares at him, not quite sure how he feels about this revelation.

"You had a boyfriend?" he echoes stupidly.

Now it's Remus who's knocking back his wine, licking the red from his lips before speaking. "Yes?"

"You're not still together, are you?"

"Of course not. I'd hardly be here, would I?"

Tentatively, Sirius sneaks his hand across the table, an open invitation for Remus to take hold of it if the conversation gets too emotional.

"Did it - did it end badly?" he whispers.

"Um, no. He's taking his third year abroad."

"Oh."

"Yes. I'm quite glad actually. It was alright while it lasted, but it made me realise I'm definitely not a relationship sort of person."

Sirius wonders if this is some sort of way of saying that Remus isn't interested in him, and he's unsure how he feels about this too. In the end he says, "Me neither." Because it's sort of true, in a way. Not that he'd be opposed to sweeping Remus off his feet and riding into the sunset, if Remus so desired it, but generally speaking he's not magnificently fussed about any actual sort of union.

Basically, he thinks, if he can't have the ring he'll still take the sex. Then he gets worried that he's just mentally objectified Remus, and drinks more wine to quell his guilt.

They manage to polish the bottle off rather quickly as they sit there, Remus doing most of the talking and Sirius more than happy to listen. The food is pretty abysmal, but he orders a second bottle of wine with a pleasant buzz in his chest and a lightness in his head that sort of makes up for it.

It's as they're near the end of this bottle, Remus talking freely about the lecture again, exciting ex-boyfriends who study abroad thankfully forgotten, that Sirius realises he is becoming steadily intoxicated.

"Tell me what you thought now," Remus says suddenly, and while he isn't drunk and has had considerably less wine than Sirius, he's a lot more chatty than usual. "About the lecture? I mean what you really thought about it, not what you think I want to hear."

Sirius looks at him, then his gaze travels up to the ceiling, the rotating fan whirring gently. He searches his foggy mind for remnants of the lecture, pursing his lips in thought, tasting tangy wine, thinking, thinking...

"Well," he says slowly, "I was, um... I was interested in the parts where he talked about the 'flaw of socialism' and that? You know, that not everyone is automatically equal, that people create their own worth."

"Not everyone can," Remus tells him. "Not everyone is in that sort of position to begin with. Financially, I mean."

Sirius scoffs. "I managed."

"What?"

"Well, I'm here, aren't I?"

"What do you mean?"

He waves a clumsy hand. "Well, you know. Me, I haven't had a penny to my name for the last two years, and yet I'm not crying about it and blaming someone better off than me. I got to university, didn't I?" He drains his glass, goes to pour another, realises the bottle is empty.

"What do you mean? You haven't had any money?"

"No," Sirius says distractedly, glancing round for the waiter. Turning back, he notices Remus looking at him in earnest. "What?"

"I was waiting for you to explain," says Remus. He hesitates ever so slightly. "Unless it's a sensitive issue."

"No. Not at all. Couple of years ago, my parents decided they didn't want me. I didn't want them either. So I left! Course, I realised they were my main source of income after they were shot of me, and it was a bit late by then." He shrugs, cheerful and drunk. "School gave me a grant for my fees when they found out what happened, so that was alright. But I don't have much other family - well, I do, but they're all dead fucking posh and live in the Maldives or Quebec or something - so I went to live with James in the holidays. James? Remember James?"

Wordlessly, Remus nods.

"Yeah. His family are wonderful. So I s'pose I wasn't completely done for. I mean, I had a roof over my head and food and that, and the Potters always gave me money for like, winter clothes and stuff. I don't know, I had this weird growth spurt around seventeen and none of my clothes fit me anymore, and they helped me with that. But it was alright, 'cos James lives in this harbour town and there was always jobs going, and I worked a couple of summers in a bakery to pay them back. It was great actually, apart from having to get up dead early. They used to do these frogs, okay, and you thought they were cakes but actually when you took their heads off they were filled with - what? What you looking at me like that for?"

Remus is, indeed, looking at him strangely. "You never told me that."

"Told you what?"

"That you left home. That you had a job. Any of that."

"Well. Not exactly the thing you spout about when you're trying to sell yourself, is it? D'you want more wine?"

"You should have told me."

"Why? Would it have affected the way you treated me?" Suddenly, Sirius laughs. "Of course it would. I suppose I'm worth your time now that you know I'm poor?"

He doesn't mean it badly, but he's drunk and barely thinking about each word as it slips from between his wine-stained lips.

"That's not it at all," says Remus sternly.

"Your main issue with me seemed to be that you thought I was rich."

"No, not that you were rich. Just a bit, I don't know, full of yourself."

"Well, maybe that's arrogance left over from when I was rich. 'Cos I was rich, Remus. Reeeeaaaally fucking rich. But! Not happy. And that... that is key, you know?"

He suddenly seems to come back into himself, glances up from where his fingers are toying with the stem of his glass to notice the way Remus is looking at him. For once he isn't smirking or sighing or rolling his eyes, and yet in spite of that, Sirius feels ridiculous.

"But it's not a big deal," he says quickly. "It's all in the past. I'm here now, doing... having... fun. So."

And then - and it's only a brief flicker of hope, but it's there - Sirius thinks Remus is going to do something Significant. Reach across and brush his hand, perhaps. Nudge their feet together beneath the table. Smile at him and tell him how strong he is. Some Hollywood moment, to mark the next stage in their so-far rocky relationship.

He doesn't. He just mutters, "Sorry it happened to you."

"Oh, that's alright. We should get more to drink."

"I think we should call it a night."

Their eyes meet, Sirius' hazy and unfocused, not entirely from drink. "Aren't you enjoying yourself?"

"I'm just tired."

"I've made things weird now, haven't I?"

"No, not at all. Honestly. I've a morning lecture tomorrow." Sirius must not look convinced, because Remus continues, "Sirius, really. It's fine. I'm glad you told me. I think it's really - you're really..."

Sirius looks at him hopefully.

"Come on," Remus says finally, "let's go."

So they pay the bill, and go halves even though it's ridiculously cheap, and leave. It's as they're waiting at the nearest bus stop, this one without a shelter (though thankfully the rain has stopped) that Sirius says, "You don't think I'm an idiot now, do you? Or weird? Or melodramatic?"

"I think you're all of those things, Sirius. Though not because of what you just told me."

"Alright. Thanks."

Silence passes between them. A few cars drive by, sloshing puddles.

"Remus?" Sirius says after a while.

"Mm?"

"Um. Remus?"

"What?"

He realises he doesn't actually have anything to say. Nothing that doesn't sound totally ridiculous, anyway. Just sad, badly-formed phrases swimming through his mind like "we are friends now, aren't we?" and "I love your voice" and "I still haven't asked where you're from" and more ridiculous, sentimental nonsense. Remus is half-turned towards him, hunched up in his jacket against the cold, eyes warm and full of question.

On a whim that isn't really a whim, and is more an urge that's been dying to burst out since three o'clock this afternoon, when Remus called him a wet puppy, Sirius leans across and kisses him.

Surprisingly, Remus lets him. For a while.

"Sirius," he manages, after a few moments of clumsy, drunken, cold-lipped snogging, "I'm not... we're not -"

Sirius goes to kiss him again, catching his jaw as Remus turns his head away.

"I suppose I don't mind - this - but we're not... we're not dating, yeah?"

Dazed, Sirius looks at him. "Okay," he says dumbly.

"I want to make sure we're on the same level."

"I just want to kiss you, that's all."

"Yeah, well. Alright."

And now, magically, it's Remus who closes the gap between them. His lips are somehow suddenly much warmer as he slides his hands around Sirius' waist, Sirius' own arms falling into a loop behind Remus' neck. It's not quite Parisian romance, standing at the bus stop on a soggy night in Durham, but it's enough to send carefree pleasure crawling up Sirius' spine, a strange sense of having won something running in exultant waves through his limbs, and he's still drunk and light and it all just feels really, really nice.

Drunk, cold, and momentarily forgetting his recent misery, Sirius is sure he has wrapped in his arms the pure embodiment of joy. Until the number fourteen arrives seven and a half minutes later, they kiss.

Chapter Text

Morning dawns bright and early with birdsong and blue sky, and Sirius consumes his breakfast with absolute relish. He’s humming as he strolls into the dining hall, as he pulls up a bowl and pours in Coco Pops, as he taps his spoon against the table. Miraculously, he doesn't even feel the urge to complain when he has to use soya milk instead of regular. After all, how can one complain at a time like this, when one is so desperately in love?

A girl beside him shoots him a weary look, no doubt prompted by the breezy humming. He doesn't even mind when his cheery, "Hi!" isn't returned.

Let her scorn me, he thinks triumphantly, let them all! I have Remus Lupin!

Except he doesn't have Remus Lupin - not in that sense, not yet - but their long, indulgent kisses last night have been more than enough to keep Sirius in high spirits, complete with a sense of determination that one day he shall win Remus' inscrutable heart once and for all. One day soon. As in, this week preferably. Or next, at a stretch.

Sitting there, it all comes flooding back to him in one long, indulgent wave of honeyed pleasure. Their kissing at the bus stop. Their close proximity on the old, worn seats of the number fourteen. The way they'd kissed a bit more in the empty foyer of Remus' halls, until a couple of inebriated chinos boys had jogged past, jostling and congratulating them loudly. The ever so slightly lighter tone in Remus' gruff, "Goodnight, Bla - Sirius".

Yes, Sirius remembers it all as he sits staring into the swirls of chocolatey soya milk, a dopey smile on his face. The only thing that would make it better would be having someone to tell all of this to, James preferably, but even Peter or Fabian would do. He considers the girl sitting next to him, but she's dressed in a Scottish National Party t-shirt and doesn't look much fun, so he settles for having little, love-struck conversations in his head instead:

Sirius, you'll never guess who I got off with last night.

Do tell, Sirius.

Only Remus Lupin!

How strange, Sirius! So did I!

Champion!

But that's no good either, as it merely serves to remind him that he’s on his way to becoming that guy in halls who talks to himself while staring into his bowl, and so he stops it and stirs his cereal a bit more. Talking to yourself is alright, but it's not a patch on talking to your best friend, or someone who can actually set up some kind of valuable discourse. He puts down his spoon and takes his phone from his pocket.

A brief flicker of hope dances in his heart when he sees a text from James, but upon opening it he finds it's merely a drunken I klove yuo mate! sent from the early hours of this morning.

James must have been out, then, having fun. Fun. Everyone seems to be having it, if endless choc-a-bloc Facebook albums with names pertaining to ‘first year antics’ are anything to go by. Sirius wonders just how much fun there is to be had in Newcastle. This is another example of why he needs Fabian around. Fabian is from Newcastle. He knows these things. He knows the place's reputation. Fabian would be able to tell him the likelihood that James is having a whale of a time without him.

Glancing around, Sirius spots Fabian across the room, deep in conversation with a gorgeous Spanish bloke who once asked Sirius how to use the tumble dryer. So that's no good. He decides to pick up his phone again and simply text James himself: Good night? 

It's early in the morning and it might wake James up, but never mind. Somehow, Sirius feel as though he’d deserve it. As he slips the phone back into his pocket, someone passing by manages to jostle his elbow so hard he almost sends his bowl of cereal flying.

"Sorry!" comes a flustered voice from above.

"That's alright." He glances behind himself to see a short, spiky-haired girl wrestling with an armful of flyers.

"Beach bonfire?" she pants, holding one of the papers out to him.

Of course. He'd completely forgotten about the 5th of November, which is, as it happens, today. Taking the leaflet, he thanks her, watching as she rushes off and bumps stupidly into someone else instead.

He turns his attention to the rather creased paper in his hands.

BEACH BONANZA!! it reads in alarming orange, TO REMEMBER REMEMBER THE FIFTH OF NOVEMBER - THIS THURSDAY AT NINE!!!

The abundance of exclamation marks bothers him somewhat, as does the blurry stockphoto of what appears to be some sort of forest fire - but two far more important things catch his eye, and each carry with them equal appeal: FREE SPARKLERS! and FREE VODKA BAR!

He is sold.

* * *

It's a bit pathetic how pleased Sirius is when James accepts an invitation to the tantalising Beach Bonanza.

Brillo, his text reads, sounds good!

He gives the screen what he thinks is a secret smile, though when he glances up across his dorm he finds a pair of eyes watching him that don't belong to Peter.

Ever since shacking up with Janis Joplin on what Sirius has privately begun referring to as 'The Night, The Dreaded Night', Peter has made Janis - AKA Lucy - his official lady. That means they eat all their meals together in the dining hall, and go to daft fantasy and steampunk parties dressed like idiots, and Janis marches into the dorm at really inconvenient times like eleven at night or half past nine in the morning so they can watch Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer together on Peter's laptop without even asking first if it's alright with Sirius.

They don't even watch it with headphones, so Sirius has to listen to all that garbage too, usually when he's trying to do something really important that requires a lot of concentration like hunting for Remus Lupin's Facebook page (he refuses to accept that he doesn't have one), and stalking James's Facebook page to scour all his new friends, and updating his own Facebook page to give the impression that he isn't having a totally shit time at university.

At least, though, Peter and Janis have the decency to only shag when he's not in the room. He isn't sure he'd be able to handle that, emotionally or physically; the idea alone that Peter is getting more sex than him is depressing, and the sight of it might actually make Sirius throw up.

"Alright, Lucy?" Sirius says, when it's clear Janis isn't going to look away.

"What are you grinning at?" she asks in her dopey, dreamy voice. She seems constantly stoned, which is generally amusing and grating in equal measures.

"Going to a bonfire," he replies, as though he's still nine and 'going to a bonfire' is reason enough to be profusely excited.

"Beach Bonanza?" she trills.

"Are you going?"

"Of course! Free sparklers!"

Taking this rather cheery conversation as a sign of possible friendship, Sirius says, "And a free vodka bar!"

The smile falls from her face. "I don't drink."

"Right."

"It encourages death," Peter pipes up from beside her.

Sirius snorts. "So does crossing the road. And getting on a train. And eating too much."

Peter and Janis have gone back to watching Red Dwarf and aren’t listening. Not that Sirius needs their company. There's nothing worse than being friends with couples, a fact he discovered when James started going out with Lily. Couples just spend all their time fawning over one another and sitting on the other's lap and teasing each other in some futile attempt at masking their burning arousal until they can be alone.

It's so pathetic. Sirius would never do that, he decides, with anyone. Not in front of other people, at least. This decision serves as a reminder that he needs desperately to know if Remus is going to this beach party since, despite having so far engaged in some pretty fantastic kissing and half a blowjob, Sirius still doesn't actually have Remus’ number.

It's a pickle he intends to solve by grabbing his jacket and heading off to Palace Green.

* * *

Remus isn't here. Sirius doesn't know why he's surprised. Remus already explained about having a morning lecture but, perhaps overwhelmed by the bliss of the previous evening, Sirius sort of forgot about it. Until now.

His sigh echoes around the dusty walls of the Exchequer as he settles on his next plan of action which is to loiter outside the Ancient History building and try to look as unsuspicious as possible, but when he gets there (after more than a few wrong turns that he casually tries to pretend he meant to take as he whirls about aimlessly and backtracks) he finds the cobbled streets totally empty, bereft of any human life forms bar one ashen old man clutching a plastic shopping bag.

Sirius kicks at a loose purple stone and turns to leave. He has a lecture in the afternoon, but he still has the rest of the morning and lunch to waste before then. When he comes back out on to the high street, there are so many people and they all seem to be doing something, walking with purpose, with friends, with push chairs and shopping bags. Sirius finds it difficult to fill a weekend, let alone a Thursday morning.

He wanders round the shops for a bit, dallying like the bunking schoolboy he never was. He spends the most time in Waterstones reading a zombie apocalypse-themed graphic novel, but he soon grows bored, especially with the portly man behind him coughing up several internal organs, so he slots the novel back in place and leaves. Wandering back in the direction of his halls of residence, he finds Tesco to be his final destination.

It's not like he needs food, so he doesn’t buy food. Not proper food anyway. The sweet aisle catches his eye, and he’s there in a second. He’s always had a weakness for sweets. His parents’ stern warnings that they’d rot the teeth from his skull always make him hesitate for about a second every time he’s faced with them.

Today it’s between jelly beans and jelly tots, so similar yet so different. It’s as he’s literally weighing them up in his hands that a gruff, very familiar voice sounds over his shoulder.

"Jelly tots? Really?"

Sirius jumps, sending both beans and tots flying.

"Remus!" he exclaims, before quickly gathering himself. "My, my. We really need to stop meeting like this."

"It is actually a coincidence this time," Remus replies, and he flicks the hair out of his eyes, one hand in his pocket, the other clutching a small blue box.

Sirius spares a moment to look him over, lovely as he is, in slim-fitting jeans and duffle coat with his hair all autumny-swept. Remus pretends to be totally opposed to fashion and All Things Superficial, but Sirius suspects otherwise. Those jeans look far too well-fitting to be a pair of Asda Values.

"I'm just buying medicine," Remus continues, holding up the box of Ibuprofen by way of explanation.

Sirius snaps back into himself. "Oh my God, are you alright?"

He smiles a bit. "I'm fine, Sirius. Just a monthly top up, nothing for you to worry about." He sniffs. He does actually sound a bit under the weather, now he's mentioned it. "Anyway. What are you up to? Grocery shopping?" Remus glances at the rows of gaudy confectionery behind them, one eyebrow arched.

"I was only looking," Sirius says defensively. "They smell so nice."

"But it all gets sour and stuck in your teeth," Remus says, picking up a pack of strawberry boot laces and studying it with some disdain.

"Well, it's not like you have to buy them." Sirius takes the bootlaces from him gently and considers them himself. "I was looking for you before actually," he continues, as casually as possible.

"Were you?"

"There's a bonfire thing on tonight. Happy 5th of November by the way." Then he hesitates, considering the most suave method of invitation. "Don't suppose you'd fancy coming?"

"Have to admit there's something rather special about celebrating that-time-they-almost-blew-up-Parliament," Remus says after a moment's thought. "Where's it at, this 'bonfire thing'?"

"The beach!" Sirius whips the crumpled flyer from his pocket and hands it over. "Well, the lakeside. Free vodka bar. Free sparklers." Sirius waves his hands a little in celebration. "Might be fun, might it? James is coming. And Peter and Janis."

"Janis?"

"Lucy, I mean. It'll be fun," he says again, as though saying it will be fun will make it undoubtedly true.

"Ah, well. Maybe."

"So that's an unequivocal yes?"

"I've got a lot of tutorial prep for tomorrow. I might be along, if I get it done."

Resolving that this is far superior to a flat-out 'no', Sirius nods, before glancing up quickly, remembering something important.

"Oh, Remus. Can I have your number?"

"My number?"

"Yeah, your number. You know, to contact you so I don't ever have to come looking for you again like a dope? So I can send you dirty texts to distract you from tutorial prep?"

Remus doesn't laugh. He rolls his eyes. Still, he takes out a pen and clicks the end and jots down his number on the back of the flyer, along with 'Remus Lupin', as though Sirius might forget.

"Here. Don't abuse it. Not many people get that information."

"Believe me, I can imagine," Sirius jokes, but Remus doesn't laugh at that either. Quickly, in case Remus might change his mind, Sirius stuffs the flyer back in his pocket. "No, really, I'm honoured. I mean, thanks. Makes things a lot easier now."

"'Things'?"

"Well, you know, going places and... stuff."

"Right. Things." He nods. "Anyway, I need to get back for lunch. It’ll be over in twenty minutes."

"Me too," Sirius says reluctantly. "I'll see you later?"

"Sure. I mean, maybe," says Remus, and then he turns to leave, lips clearly set for a farewell.

Sirius takes a deep breath, noticing a distinct difference between their interactions now and those of last night.

"Don't I get a kiss goodbye?" he says hopefully, gripping the bootlaces a little tighter, his eyes searching Remus' face for any obvious signs of lust.

He finds only surprise and - yes, there it is, like a punch to the gut - hesitation. But after a few moments Remus obediently leans forward and presses a quick kiss to the corner of Sirius' mouth.

Remus says, "Overt displays of affection aren't really appropriate in supermarkets, Sirius," and Sirius laughs and doesn't feel any better.

* * *

Having James at his side always makes Sirius feel more confident, and tonight is no exception. For the first time since being at university, he strolls into a party feeling like his old self: cool, calm, and criminally attractive.

He's tugged on his tightest, darkest jeans, his white, close-fitting dress shirt, the one with the three-quarter length sleeves that makes him feel rather like a pirate, and spritzed on his most expensive aftershave. He's scruffed up his hair and pretends not to have plied it with half a can of hairspray to keep it in place, and a heavy, expensive belt is looped around his jeans, the one that makes a satisfying clunk when it's slipped off and tossed on to the floor.

James, in sweat pants and t-shirt, has clearly made supreme effort.

"Can't have the ladies trying to chat me up," he explains in response to Sirius' disdainful look.

"You could have at least worn something with buttons," says Sirius when they trudge down the muddy slope to the heart of the party. Already they can see the crackling bonfire, an impressive five feet or so considering the fairly early hour.

The party itself isn't that bad for a university do. Of course, it isn't really on a beach because they aren't anywhere near one. The bonfire itself is set on grass, but their claim of 'beach' bonanza is backed up by the lakeside and a few sandy pebbles rolling about the place, not to mention a bizarre, half-Hawaiian half-Jamaican theme, with a few of the PartySoc girls wandering around in hula skirts with trays of drinks.

Someone is blasting Kings of Leon from unidentifiable speakers, and thankfully for Sirius, everyone else has dressed up rather than down so that James is the one who ends up looking daft and not him.

And the vodka bar, of course, is ready and waiting. It consists of two picnic tables draped with balloon-emblazoned plastic, six or seven large bottles of Smirnoff and several containers of flat Diet Coke. The whole set-up seems to wink at them as they take their first (excluding heavy pre-drinks in Sirius' dorm) beverages of the night.

"I'm glad you came," Sirius says as they wander back over to the grassy slope.

"Miss me, eh?" James grins.

"Well, I know you missed me."

"Course I did. University's mental and brilliant and everything, but it breaks my heart not being able to come home to my little puppy foot every night." He reaches and pinches Sirius’ cheek, already slightly tipsy when they left halls.

"How are lectures and things?"

"Fine, fine," James says vaguely, waving a hand. "Missed a couple of tutorials so far though. Well, like, four. Said they'd kick me off the course if I missed another. Oops."

Considering they sat almost every detention they had in school - and let it be known that there were many - in the company of each other, Sirius wants to relate to James now too. But the fact of the matter is, he's never busy enough or hungover enough to ever miss even a lecture, let alone a tutorial.

"Aren't you enjoying the course?"

"I don't know. I mean – yeah, I don’t know. There's so much theory. No practice, not until next Semester anyway. It's so bloody boring." James pauses to take a long gulp of his drink, draining it. "But who does work in first year, right?"

Sirius wonders what Remus would say about that if he were here. For the record, Remus is definitely not here.

"Gonna introduce me to your pals then or what?" James asks, wiping his mouth.

"Ah... none of them are here yet."

"What, you're not friends with any of this lot? There's loads of people here."

"No one I recognise. Probably all third years or something," Sirius replies vaguely, stalling by downing a hefty amount of flat coke and vodka.

"Well alright, where's your roomie? He here yet?"

"Don't think so."

"Can't believe you've got a roommate. Sounds so American, that. He's not your new best mate, is he? I mean, I know you said he was a fat swot but maybe he's a funny fat swot."

"He's not."

James seems satisfied with this, and leads the way back to the picnic tables to collect another drink for himself. On the way back to the slope they meet Fabian and his fit brother Gideon, and while Sirius briefly considers ignoring them and striking up another conversation with James and making himself look deep in thought, they sort of end up walking directly into the line of one another, and within moments communication becomes inevitable.

"Fabian!" he says, like it's this big surprise. "And Gideon, right?"

"I think I remember you. Sirius, yeah?" says Gideon, but he's already looking past him, like he did the first time they met.

"Yes, indeed. This is James. He's at Newcastle."

"Pleasure to meet you," James says cheerfully, shaking their hands. "Are you two brothers? You look a bit the same."

"Twins."

"Twins! That's ace. Can you read each other's minds?"

Gideon and Fabian smile at him patiently, as though they think he's joking.

When the silence that stretches between them becomes painful, Sirius says, "So you going to the bar?" at the same time Fabian says, "Well, we were just going to the bar."

They all laugh, rigidly.

"Yeah well, maybe see you later? Gonna get over there before everything runs out," Fabian says apologetically, and it's ridiculous how nice he's still trying to be when he's already made it clear he thinks Sirius a total wanker. "It was nice to meet you, James."

"Oh, and you," James says a second too late to their retreating backs. Turning back to Sirius he twists his face into an expression of suspicious surprise. "Care to explain why that was fucking fantastically awkward?"

Sirius shrugs and drinks.

"Are they your friends then or what?"

"No. Well, sort of. Fabian at least. The redhead. We had a bit of a falling out."

"Over?"

Sirius hesitates. "Awkward one night stand," he says eventually.

"No way!" James exclaims. "Never!" But after a moment it becomes clear he isn't outraged by the one night stand itself. "Him?" he says, whirling round to look at the twins once more. "He's never gay."

"Believe me, he is."

"Both of them?"

"Just him."

"I'd have pegged the other for gay perhaps, but not the ginger one."

"Unfortunately not the case."

James turns back to face him, done gawping. "Why 'unfortunately'? Ginger one's much better looking than the other, blondie looks ill."

Sirius snorts. "Like your opinion's valid. You're straight and biased towards gingers."

"Alas, I am weak to their fiery prowess." James takes another long gulp of his drink, then winces. "Wait, what's all this about one night stands? What happened to History boy? Have you exorcised him already? You sly dog."

Sirius sighs, swilling the remains of his frankly rather weak vodka and coke about in its plastic cup. "No. I don't know. It's complicated."

James groans. "You can tell you're an art student. Go on then, boyo. What's complicating you?"

"It’s just - he's just..." Sirius waves his hands around in frustration. "Difficult! To figure out, I mean. To, you know, read."

"Thought you were supposed to be good at reading."

"Yes, well. His is a book of many plot twists and revelations."

"Go on..."

"Like, one minute he'll jump on you and the next day act like it never happened at all," says Sirius. He feels a bit guilty about it really because last night Remus didn't jump on him at all. Does it matter though? The point still stands: last night Remus snogged with the skill of a Hollywood actor, and this morning pecked Sirius like an unwilling nephew to his aunt. What's he supposed to think?

"Commitment-phobic?" James suggests.

"I don't know," Sirius mumbles. "Not like I asked him to marry me. Only wanted to..."

"Shag him?"

"Yes. No. I don't know."

"Oh, buddy," James croons, wrapping an arm around him, "come here. No, stop resisting, come here. You'll be alright. Truth be told, when I met him I thought he was a bit of a miserable bugger anyway."

"Yeah, well. He's different once you get to know him. Sort of."

"As your best friend I feel it my moral obligation to say that you can do so much better."

"I really can't."

James jerks. "Sorry, am I looking at Sirius Black right now, or some mangy imposter who's taken charge of his body? What are you on about with 'can't'? You're the man that can!"

"Don't say 'man that can', James, it makes me feel like Shaft or something."

"Mais c'est vrai! You shouldn't be messed around by someone who treats you badly."

"What utter wank! Lily treated you badly for six years, you have absolutely no room to give such advice."

"I'm trying to help, you great tit. Look, stop moping. Let's get another drink and have some fun, yeah? Remember what that means? Fun? You're such a downer now you're at uni. Don't be a downer. No one likes a downer."

"M’not a downer," Sirius mumbles.

"Prove it! Down that," James demands, pulling Sirius close again and gesturing to his drink. Clumsily, he clinks their plastic cups together, sloshing coke. "To an abundance of ups and a lack of downs."

Fondly, Sirius sighs. "Beautiful."

Chapter Text

The night flows on, the bonfire roars, and Sirius reclaims his throne, his former majestic status, with ease and charm and a lot of vodka.

That's how he finds himself, now, sitting cross-legged on the muddy grass in his best jeans, a circle of about a dozen people hanging on his and James's every word and roaring with drunken, appreciative laughter at every grisly, rather hyperbolic tale.

"Twenty eight stitches," James cries. He taps his temple clumsily. "Right. Across. Here." The crowd groans and laughs and encourage loudly when James goes on, "And the bouncy castle! At the fête! Let me tell you about the bouncy castle."

Sirius laughs too because he is definitely-not-a-downer, and because he knows he should be happy that things are suddenly so much like how they used to be at school. But even in his drunken state he can't help glancing around for one particular bright-eyed face.

Remus hasn't come, and Sirius can't help but feel disappointed. He knows Remus's life doesn't revolve around him, but he'd sort of got it in his head that he'd show up anyway.

At least, he thinks, he has James. If it weren't for James, all these people wouldn't be here, and the thought that Sirius needs James in order to make friends is sort of saddening and also, weirdly, sort of comforting, as though one of them doesn't work properly without the other.

Even Gideon has been won over - though Fabian has stuck with his own friends - and is sitting snugly in the circle, guffawing along with everyone else. Bizarre, really, how James so clearly possesses the one quality Sirius always thought was his. Maybe James was the one making friends for him all through school, and Sirius never noticed.

Maybe, on the other hand, Sirius is just feeling sorry for himself.

Another half hour crawls by, and the vodka starts to do less pleasant things to him. It, along with the intense heat of the bonfire and the constant thrum of heavy rock music and roaring, drunken chatter helps form a hot and steady throb in Sirius's head which, before long, launches itself into a fully-fledged, blinding headache.

It is a sorry reminder that he can't even handle his drink any more.

He makes a noise of discomfort but James, now in full, one-on-one, apparently rather intense conversation with Gideon Prewett, doesn't seem to notice. Sirius places his cup down and stumbles to his feet, swaying unsteadily and seeing, for a moment, two bonfires instead of one. Finding his way to the makeshift bar, he asks one of the hula girls for a glass of water and throws it down with a groan. His head really does hurt and he can't understand why. Who ever heard of getting a hangover before the night is through?

Meekly, he leans against the side of one of the portacabin loos, rubbing his hands over his face and forehead in a futile attempt at easing out the pain. He remembers the headaches he used to get in summer as a kid from screwing his eyes up against the sun, and the way his mother used to try and literally ease them from his skull by pressing her fingers hard against his forehead and dragging them down. She was not the most practical of women. He tries it now and accidentally pokes himself in the eye.

Giving up, he moves his fingers away and sees Remus - or at least, possibly Remus - striding towards the lakeside with his hands in his pockets.

Sirius's stomach flips. For a moment, he wavers. Then he calls out, "Remus!" because it might not be Remus because the maybe-Remus is rather far away, but then again it might well be Remus, so Sirius calls out "Remus" and hopes for the best.

Remus-but-possibly-also-not-Remus does not turn around.

Ignoring his dizzy head as best he can, Sirius pushes himself away from the cabin and stumbles towards the shining figure of hope.

"Remus?" he tries again, moving closer, and this time the person does turn around, and Remus is looking at him with what appears to be relief.

"There you are," he says gruffly. "Thought you might have left. I'd have been annoyed if you had."

"Really?" Sirius says brightly.

"Yeah. I had to walk here from Palace Green and it took ages. Would have been a right waste of a journey."

"Oh right. Yeah, I suppose," says Sirius, and then he smiles a big, pleased smile. "I'm so glad you came! It's a bit late."

"I finished late. But, you know, finish I did. I don't suppose there's anything free left?"

"I don't think so."

"Pity. Whenever I'm in the mood to drink there's never anything about."

"Do you want to, um - do you want to go somewhere - ?" Sirius asks, rubbing hard at his forehead and leaving uncomfortable red fingerprints.

"No, that's okay. Are you alright?"

"I've got a bit of a headache - " Sirius starts, but then James comes rushing over and cuts him off.

"The party's moving to Gideon's!" he yells, far from sober. Then he notices Remus. "Oh hello, mate! Not seen you in a while."

James raises his eyebrows at Sirius in an extremely ambiguous way - Sirius isn't sure if it's meant to say get in there or run, you fool! - and then continues on with his message: "We thought it was getting a bit shite here now the bar's dried up and that. We'll stock up at Tesco? Go to his dorm? There's loads of us."

Sirius hesitates, and not only because of his ridiculous head pains. "I don't know..."

"Thought you weren't being a downer," James teases. He tries to brush his knuckles against Sirius's shoulder and misses.

"A downer?" Remus says flatly.

"Yeah, a misery guts," says James. "Come on! You can come too, Remus."

"Cor, thanks."

James claps them both hard on the back and leads the way, and since Remus lives at Hatfield College anyway, and Sirius wants to stay with Remus in spite of his blinding headache, they're left with little choice but to follow.


The foyer of Hatfield is suddenly brimming with a dozen or so people, all of them eagerly anticipating Gideon and his prophet James leading the way to the sacred dorm. Gideon soon appeases them with a wave of his hand, as though he's the Pope or something.

All that can be heard echoing around the walls then are drunken slurs and the rustling of plastic shopping bags and the clinking of bottles. The pumped little crowd begins to move all at once, and Sirius and Remus, at the back, follow warily. It's a long way up and they can't all fit in the lift, so most of them ascend the winding stairs like zombies until they reach the second floor. Sirius looks down to find Remus suddenly tugging on his hand.

"Come on," he says, pulling him towards a door down the hallway.

While Sirius is more than happy to go anywhere Remus Lupin wants to take him, he doesn't want to be the downer James claims he is. James, however, is at the front of the little crowd, too busy telling another sordid story and taking his new role as King of Newcastle in his stride to notice any departures.

"Only for a minute," Remus says, noticing his hesitation, and since he's holding on to Sirius's hand now and offering to take Sirius to his bedroom, the last word on Sirius's lips is going to be "no".

Remus's bedroom is utterly beautiful. Fitting, really. Sirius thinks he could happily stay here forever. In one of the drawers, or something, amidst Remus's socks. He wouldn't be much bother.

Remus doesn't have a room mate, so his room is a lot smaller than Sirius's, but the walls are a warm olive green, and the covers on his bed are tartan fleece, and his noticeboard is absolutely covered; lots of flyers for boycotts and postcards from people with illegible chicken-scratch writing, and a huge map of Yorkshire as it was in 1610, and even a few photos. Sirius doesn't get close enough to inspect them before Remus is pushing him down on the bed gently.

For one glorious moment, Sirius thinks Remus is about to climb on top of him and ravish him, and he tilts his head stupidly for a kiss. But Remus has already turned away to slip off his coat, hanging it on the back of the door.

"Does your head still hurt?" he asks quietly.

"Yeah. Quite a bit actually." Sirius rubs it for effect. "I don't know why. I didn't have much to drink."

"Heat and flickering lights trigger migraines," Remus says wisely. "And alcohol doesn't help. I can already tell it's bad by the way you keep screwing your eyes up. It'll hurt less if you relax."

Crossing the room, Remus pulls open the top drawer of a chest and begins rummaging about for something. He picks up a few little pots and tubes, but apparently they aren't what he's looking for because he soon tosses them aside carelessly. Then with a little "ah" of recognition, he returns to the bed clutching a small tub of something clear and bubbly and icy blue.

"Er," says Sirius, as Remus sits beside him, "what's that?"

"Lie back."

Sirius automatically does as he's told, toeing off his shoes before shifting to lay back on the plush warmth of Remus's bed. There are a surprisingly large amount of blankets and cushions, and the thought that Remus is a secret softie is really incredibly sweet.

After a moment or two, gentle fingers are settling in his hair, stroking it backwards and off his face, smoothing it away from his forehead.

"You've too much hair," Remus mutters, still scraping gently.

"It's part of my look."

"Is it now?"

"Don't you like it?"

Remus doesn't answer. After a few more seconds the fingers are gone from Sirius's hair and he can hear the plastic tub being uncapped.

"Be a bit cold," is all Remus says, before the fingers return to Sirius's skin, freezing, wet and smooth.

What feels like jelly is spread across his forehead in long, slow swipes, from temple to temple, before Remus begins rubbing tiny circles in slow, soothing paths. The initial swipes of the stuff - whatever it actually is - feel as though they're sticking to his skin, until Remus rubs more over them, the fresh, cleansing smell of spearmint permeating the air around them.

As if by magic, the pain in Sirius's head slowly begins to disappear.

"God, that's amazing," he groans, shifting his head back further and closing his eyes. "That feels incredible."

Remus caps the tub and works with what's left. He rubs the last of it on until all of it begins to feel like it's sticking to Sirius's skin. It starts to get a bit uncomfortable. Not terribly, just enough that he's very aware it's there.

Then, to Sirius's disappointment, Remus stops rubbing and reaches for a Kleenex to wipe his fingers.

"What is it?" Sirius asks, opening his eyes.

"Just some kind of jelly. They have a name, I forget what. My mum makes them."

"She makes them? Out of what?"

"All sorts. Fruit, grape water, seed oil, junk like that. Supposed to be all natural ingredients." He leans over Sirius a bit, tapping his forehead gently as though testing for dryness, and his voice, when he speaks, is very soft and considerate. "She has a little business out of it now, but originally she made them when I was a kid because I used to get ill a lot. Still do, migraines and stuff. My mother is highly suspicious of mainstream medicine. Of anything that makes life quick and easy really. We didn't even get a microwave until last year. I think this is ready to come off now."

He gets up off the bed again and goes through a door to what is presumably the bathroom, returning with a soft hand towel, one end damp with tap water. Sitting down again, he presses it gently to Sirius's forehead, and Sirius actually lets out a small moan of pleasure. He can't help it. It's like magic, like the knots in his head are being dutifully untied by the mere touch of water.

"Tell her she's an amazing lady, your mum," he sighs.

He thinks he hears the smile in Remus's voice. "Loads of places sell these. We just could never afford them." Then he tuts. "Your hair's getting in the way again."

"I suppose I look ridiculous, don't I, with this all over me."

"Only a bit."

They're both quiet as Remus continues to clean the last of the freeze from Sirius's head, and when he's done he pushes some of the hair back to where it normally falls. Although Sirius's eyes are closed again he can hear Remus fold the towel up and place it on the bedside table.

Then he leans over very carefully and kisses Sirius on the mouth.

Sirius is surprised that the one emotion overwhelming him more than any other is relief; relief that, unlike Sirius's previous concerns, Remus still sort of maybe wants him, that he still wants to kiss him after all.

He lifts a hand to find Remus's face, not overly accustomed to kissing upside down, and rubs his palm flat against the slightly rough, unshaven cheek, encouraging the soft, warm kisses. He can feel Remus's own hand cupped around his jaw, and it can't be a comfortable position, leaning over like this, but he doesn't seem to mind because they stay like this for seconds, minutes, until Remus gently pulls away, Sirius's lips fluttering so that he ends up catching more air than mouth.

"Remus," he whispers, gravelly and adoring.

"Mm?"

"Remus... where are you from?"

There's a pause as the thumb on Sirius's jaw stops its absent-minded stroking. Remus gives a low chuckle and says, "Batley. In Yorkshire."

"I've never been."

"There's not much there."

Slowly, with cautious movements for fear of bringing back his headache, Sirius sits up, wiping at his numb head to make sure all the gunk is definitely gone, before shifting round to face Remus. Then, smiling, Sirius leans forward to kiss him properly.

Slender arms encircle his waist, pulling him so that he's practically sitting in Remus' lap. The position makes him feel a little odd actually, like being eight again and sitting on Santa's knee. Weird thought. But this small concern is promptly forgotten Remus nips gently on Sirius's bottom lip, a move which seems so desperately radical and erotic Sirius can't help but shiver feverishly against.

Then he finds he is fully on Remus's lap, with one leg positioned awkwardly over Remus's knee which is ridiculous really, because they could just as easily fall back on to the bed, but Sirius is more concerned with taking great fistfuls of Remus's lovely hair in his hands, and Remus is apparently more concerned with gripping Sirius's arse and hauling him further on to him, and so they don't have time to think of things like mundane practicalities.

Remus has this energy that Sirius isn't used to, and when they kiss he tastes of nothing but the mundane plainess of lips and a very faint trace of tobacco, which should be disgusting really but is actually darkly exhilarating and bitterly addictive, so that Sirius keeps licking into his mouth like a madman desperate for nicotine. Sirius does spare a thought or two to consider whether or not his own mouth tastes revolting, tacky with vodka, caramelly with Coke, but Remus apparently doesn't think it does because at least four and a half minutes pass before they break apart, panting.

"Is this okay?" asks Remus, sneaking a hand up the front of Sirius's shirt, though the tight material and their position makes it difficult for him to get his fingers much further past Sirius' belly button.

Sirius laughs breathlessly. "Are you really asking me that?"

"Well, if your head's still hurting - "

"It's not." It's not, it's not, it's not.

"Right. Alright. Good. Yes." And then they're kissing again, and it's perfect.

It's Remus who takes the initiative to haul the both of them back on to the bed. He does so with surprising ease, the transferral of their bodies a smooth motion worthy of a Mills & Boon paperback. Sirius is straddling him, gazing down at a kind of beauty he imagines a writer might describe as ethereal or haunting or pure, but which in that moment he can only think to describe as overwhelmingly sexy.

Remus's hands go straight to the buttons on Sirius's shirt, almost snapping them off in his haste, and Sirius wants to ask what the rush is but he also doesn't want Remus to stop, and so he helps him shove the shirt off his shoulders and then his own fingers are finding the hem of Remus's t-shirt and tugging it off and then going for Remus's belt, and then he realises Remus doesn't have a belt, so he goes to pull off his own belt but finds Remus's fingers are already there so Sirius has to sit there for a few moments until it's been removed because he's straddling Remus and can't really lean over to kiss him yet, but then the belt's gone with a clunk and he can kiss him, so they kiss some more with hot, bruising, eager lips and it's so wonderful wonderful wonderful that Sirius doesn't register the opening door until a rather drunken Geordie voice is saying, "Lupin, James wants to know if Sirius - ohhh, bugger fuck it. Okay."

They both freeze. Sirius whips round.

"Gideon!" he yelps, and although he doesn't know the blond twin very well he still feels it's fair game to follow with, "Get the fuck out!"

"I'm going, I'm going!"

Gideon obediently leaves, slamming the door in his haste. It's like something out of a tacky romcom, and although there are times Sirius wishes his life was like a film, this isn't one of them. He rolls off Remus, bare back cushioned by the thousands of blankets beneath him. Remus doesn't say a word as he turns to kiss him again, and Sirius lets him for a while but now the mood has cracked a bit as a result of North-Eastern invaders, he's sort of been given a bit of a clearer mind to think.

"Remus," he breathes, pushing him back ever so slightly. "Remus, is this... what are we doing?"

"I'm a bit concerned that you aren't aware."

Sirius smiles in spite of himself, then shakes his head. "No, I mean... you're not drunk, and I... does this mean you like me?"

Remus looks at him for a while. "I don't dislike you."

"Oh. Well, that's encouraging."

"I like you well enough to do this," Remus explains, which is probably some stoic History student way of saying 'I'm horny', "but if you mean do I want to be in a relationship with you then no, I don't."

It's blunt and forward and it shouldn't hurt but it does, a little bit at least. Sirius doesn't know why. It's not like he wants to be in a relationship either. Still, it's always nice to be wanted.

"Well. Alright. I didn't say anything about a relationship, did I?"

"No, I know. I was just making sure." Remus's eyes search him with a frankness that makes Sirius a little uncomfortable. "So do you want to do this or not?"

Of course he does. He's wanted to do this since he saw Remus Lupin smoking a cigarette on the steps of Hatfield College. And yet now they're here, and he's half naked and Remus has just given him a head massage and proceeded to kiss the breath out of him, and still Sirius is hesitant to slip back into their previous embrace.

He doesn't know why he's hesitant. It's not like casual arrangements have ever bothered him before.

He decides not to speak, and dips his head and kisses Remus instead because it's easier than arguing the case for something he doesn't even want. He's no more a "relationship type" than Remus, and all they're doing by talking, he reasons, is wasting time.

Chapter Text

He wakes in plush comfort. The crisp winter sunlight is streaming gently through the window, his body is warm beneath a soft blanket, and his arms are wrapped tight around Remus Lupin's waist.

Heaven , he promptly decides, this is Heaven.

And then, as if in sync, Remus wakes up too.

"Too tight," are the first words to fall in a sleepy mumble from his lips. He paws clumsily at Sirius' arms, which immediately go lax but stay where they are. Sirius ghosts a hand over the warmth of Remus's stomach, smiling into his shoulder.

"Sleep well?" he murmurs, placing a soft kiss to the freckle-dusted skin.

"Not particularly," Remus mutters back. "You make the weirdest noises in your sleep."

"Oh."

"Mm. Like a dog. Sort of snuffly and whimpery."

How embarrassing. Not that Sirius hasn't heard this claim before - from James, mainly, and occasionally from Peter - but he would have thought his voice box would have had enough restraint for one night where Remus was concerned.

"Sorry."

Remus sniffs and yawns and turns over in bed, which unfortunately forces Sirius's arms away but fortunately brings them face to face with one another. Remus somehow - and it really is a mystery as to how - manages to look even lovelier first thing in the morning; his pupils are tiny, unfocused things, so the hazel irises are huge and yellowy in his eyes, and his lips are swollen slightly with sleep, and his cheeks are flushed with warmth.

"You are so gorgeous," Sirius tells him, meaning it.

"Ah, please. Haven't put my make-up on yet," says Remus, and he pretends to try and hold a hand over his face, and Sirius snorts into the crook of his elbow where he's resting his head on his arm.

This is nice, of course, lovely even - still, Sirius finds himself wondering when they're going to get around to talking about things that really matter, such as how good Remus thinks he was last night and, most crucially, how soon before they can do it again.

Remus doesn't seem interested in taking this plunge, so Sirius, being the gentleman that he is, makes it easy for him.

"Last night was fantastic." He tries to say it in a sort of purr and mainly ends up sounding like he has a sore throat.

"Glad you enjoyed yourself."

"Didn't you?"

"Sure."

"Well good. You should have. Not every day you get to have sex with someone as highly sought after as me." It sounded better in his head.

"We didn't exactly have sex."

"Well if you're going to get technical about it... hey, don't fancy getting technical now, do you?" That did too.

For once though, Remus doesn't seem to mind the dreadful chat up lines. He doesn't even manage to reach inside his throat to pull out a dry quip, not even a scoff, though there is a little furrow in his brow as he considers Sirius for a moment.

Then he closes the space between them and their lips meet softly, and Remus's hand travels down the side of Sirius's body to curve around his arse through his boxers.

Just as quickly as it happens, Remus pulls away.

"Mm, better not," he says, "I've got a seminar at ten."

"What time is it now?"

"Nearly ten."

"Ah. Right. Alright then."

"Sorry."

"Not to worry!"

Suprisingly, Remus doesn't tell him to get out. Of course, he doesn't say Sirius Black, you are the most magnificent creature I have ever had the pleasure to simultaneously orgasm with, and I command you to lay naked in my bed for the rest of your days either, which would be really ideal. But he does give a tired little smile, and so Sirius takes a gamble and says, "So is there any chance I could see you later?"

Remus thinks about this.

"Well, I work late on Fridays, but you can come by the Palace if you want. Up to you."

Sirius grins then, dopily, and chances another quick kiss. Really, he thinks, that's probably about as close to an offer of a date he will ever get with Remus Lupin.

* * *

Sirius' good mood quickly vanishes when he finds James in the hallway, rather worn, a little bloody, and lying next to a small puddle of orange-coloured vomit. He's cut off mid-whistle.

"Oh my... God." He stumbles to the ground. "James! James, are you alive?!"

James, to Sirius's utter relief, shifts his head slightly to burrow further into himself, waving a clumsy hand as he does. "Mmph. Shh. Tryin'a sleep."

"James, you're beaten and hideous. I can't leave you like this!" He shakes James's shoulder, urging him awake again, and soon bleary, bloodshot eyes are blinking up at him from behind skewed glasses.

"What happened?" he croaks. "Where am I?"

"Erm. I think this is Gideon's room." Sirius glances up at the door, trying to distinguish it from the identical ones stretching down the rest of the hallway. "What happened to your face? You're bleeding!" He touches tentative fingers to the dried, crimson gash along James's cheek. "Has someone hurt you? James? Don't leave me, mate, stay with me! James! Ja - "

"Shh, will you? God, my head," James groans, letting said head fall back against the woodchip wall. "No one hurt me. I fell over. I think. Before I threw up. Or... maybe after."

"Alright. Okay. Well..." Sirius thinks for a moment, frantic. "Come on then. Can you stand up?"

James huffs tiredly. "Why? Just leave me here for a bit."

"I can't. I don't live here, and neither do you." He's also conscious of the fact that Remus is still in his room, getting ready to go to his tutorial, and he might come out any moment and see James in this state, all vomity and gross and pathetic, and that just won't do. That's something Sirius won't allow to happen. Because concerned as he is for his best friend's welfare, he realises how badly this scenario will reflect on him too if anyone were to see it.

Eventually, although James is as reluctant as his weary body will allow him to be, Sirius manages to get him on his feet. He offers to let James put an arm around his shoulder, but James just gives him a tired look from behind his glasses and says, "I'm hungover, Sirius, not some wounded soldier", and walks the rest of the way downstairs himself, like the ungrateful wankshaft that he is.

They find their way to the Hatfield cafeteria, and Sirius has to pay a fiver - a fiver! - just for entry, because despite being a student at the university, he doesn't live in these halls of residence and the wardens are robbing bastards. But it at least means they can sit down and drink the cafeteria's watery coffee as James attempts to piece together parts of his apparently rather eventful night.

"There was Sambuca. I remember that. Lots of Sambuca. And Twister? I think we played Twister."

"I hardly think a game of Twister would result in such chaos," Sirius says primly.

"I haven't finished yet! I, ah... hm." James pauses for a long time, staring into his polystyrene cup, rubbing idly along the edge of the scratch on his cheek. "I definitely offended Gideon."

"Offended him?"

"Yeah. I remember him being pissed off at me. Put me out of his room. I fell over." He taps his cheek. "Then threw up."

"Christ."

"Then I guess I passed out."

"You're a mess, man." Sirius raises an eyebrow. "How did you offend him?"

"Oh, I remember that. Yeah, told him you could do better than a ginger half-life."

"What?"

"And that was why you ditched - uh, Fabian, was it?"

"James!"

"Gideon didn't actually know about the one night stand though, so I had to explain about it to him too. I don't think he likes you very much now either." James shrugs and swirls his coffee about in its cup. "I just assumed he'd know. They seem very close. Ugh, I feel horrendous. D'you have any Paracetamol?"

Sirius, however, is still floundering in his seat. "Half-life ?" he eventually manages to get out. "You called them half-lives? What does that even mean? That's not even a thing!"

"I was pissed!" is James' defence. "You can't blame me."

"I can and I will."

"Yeah, well, if you wanted to defend your honour you should have been there. But where were you instead?"

"I - "

"Don't answer that question. Already know the answer. I remember Gideon came bursting in the room going, 'Sirius and Lupin? Fuck me, I didn't know Lupin was a fairy!'" His pathetic imitation of Gideon's Geordie accent sounds more Welsh, and Sirius snorts in spite of himself. "I think that was what led to the upset actually," James goes on, tone entirely too thoughtful given the current situation.

"Right, well. Thanks for making things a thousand times more awkward. As if one twin hating me wasn't enough."

"Oh come on. Not like you're ever going to have to see him."

"I have lectures with him!"

"Don't sit next to him then." James throws back the last of his coffee and goes on casually, "So did you shag Remus?"

Sirius, having been resting his head in his hands, looks up. "What? No!"

"Oh shit, you actually did."

"I actually didn't."

"Dear God, you can be particular. Alright, alright, Pernickety, he shagged you."

"Wrong again," Sirius tells him, and he's not lying - not really, anyway - but he still takes a deliberately slow swig of coffee to avoid having to speak further.

"You're such a liar," James scoffs. "I can always tell when you're lying."

"Oh yeah?"

"I've known you for seven years, what do you think? You get this really shifty look in your eyes and you look like you're about to burst into terrified laughter and you run your thumb over that weird freckle on your hand."

Sirius looks up from where he's running his thumb over the freckle on his hand. "It's not weird!"

"So what did you do? Because I know you did something."

"You know, for a straight gent you're awfully interested in homosexual affairs."

"Jesus Christ, I didn't ask what flavour condom you used. Only for the brief outline. What's the matter? You always tell me about your escapades." James leans in conspiratorially, the bloodshot eyes making him appear manic and creepy. "Was he really bad? Is that it?"

"No!"

In truth, Sirius is reluctant - and honestly, the reluctance surprises him too because he does always tell James about his escapades, and usually in more detail than James desires - because somehow, talking about Remus behind his back like this seems so... cheap. Last night wasn't exactly the height of romance, but it still meant something - if not to Remus, then at least to Sirius - and he doesn't want to devalue it by discussing Remus so frankly.

So in the end he just says, "We spent a private, sober night together and it was perfectly nice. Alright?"

James grins in triumph. "Abandoned me for sex. What kind of friend are you?"

Sirius doesn't really have any defence for this. "Shut up. Rescued your trampy self this morning, didn't I?"

"Mm. Yeah. About that. Maybe we should head off? Before they discover the, er, unseemly mess."

"I think that's a fine idea."

* * *

Sirius tosses aside his final lecture of the week so that they can spend the day going round the shops, James making constant remarks like "Christ, so many old people" and "Christ, so many castles" and "Christ, you don't have a Jack Wills here? Not even one?"

They wander aimlessly for a while, neither of them with pockets bulging enough to buy something really interesting. They go to the pharmacy and buy stingy stuff for James's cut, then they go to HMV and pretend to be interested in the X-Box games for a while, and then they go to the pub so that James can work off his hangover. After an hour or so they venture to the arcades with fond ideas of re-enacting their childhood summers, like some dopey film montage, but when they get there it's just a bit empty and sad, with drunkards and young mums playing the slot machines and the carpets sticky with booze, so they leave and head back towards the bus station instead.

It's only four o'clock, and yet the day seems to have dragged. Sirius has never had a day with James which dragged, except perhaps particularly lazy days in summer spent in or around the Potters' blow-up Argos pool.

Sirius suddenly feels rather guilty now.

"Sorry," he says, hands in his pockets as he kicks gently at the already-shattered glass of the bus shelter. "Been a bit rubbish today, hasn't it?"

"No, no..."

"I don't know the city well enough yet to..." He shrugs helplessly, then goes back to his kicking.

"Be alright," James says suddenly. "We'll be back home for Christmas soon, and everything'll be normal again."

"Normal?"

"Yeah, you know. Me and you. Mum and Dad. Lily. Can't wait, can you?"

He's surprised how relieved he is to hear James is looking forward to the same thing he is, and he smiles.

"Nothing quite like a Potter Manor Christmas," he says quietly, and James grins back.

The number twenty seven chooses that moment to roll up beside them with a heavy grunt, splashing a huge brown puddle they just about manage to dodge.

"Keep smiling!" says James, nudging Sirius' arm with a fist.

He turns and boards the bus, and gives a brief wave out the window when he sits down. Then the doors close on Sirius, and he can see his own reflection staring back at him, and it morphs as the bus begins to move. It might be this, and it might be the weather, and it might be nothing at all, but he feels a bit sad then, and he isn't really sure why.

* * *

Remus is sitting amidst a mountain of books when Sirius arrives at Palace Green. It's ten past six and completely dark outside.

"I'm busy at the moment," Remus mutters, not looking up from the two books he holds in his hands. Sirius hasn't even opened his mouth yet.

"I'll go then, shall I?"

"You don't have to. I'll be done in a minute."

Sirius steps as quietly as possible over to the desk and drops down into one of the leather chairs, bag falling at his feet. Not that he'd been expecting Remus to not want to talk to him, but fortunately Sirius has been sitting in a cafe for a couple of hours prior to this to try and get some of the required reading done, so now he slips Madame Bovary from his bag once more and opens it to the marked page.

He was supposed to finish this three days ago, but it's really terribly dull. Not to mention Ms. Bovary is a complete imbecile who constantly makes Sirius rejoice in his own homosexuality, relieved not to have to fall victim to the same fate as her unfortunate admirers i.e. having to put up with the most irritating woman on earth.

Remus clearly doesn't know what a ‘minute' means, because at least thirty-five of them pass - in which time Sirius has just about managed to force his way through ten pages of Flaubert - before he finally stands up and dusts his hands off and closes the last of the chicken-wire gates.

"Bovary," he says in a low voice, startling Sirius, "that's a naughty book."

Sirius isn't quite sure what to make of this, because although the words themselves are uncharacteristically suggestive for Remus, he says it in that flat, conversational way, as though commenting on the neutral taste of sweet potato mash.

"It's, er, it's for my course."

Remus is leaning over the desk now, peering at him and nibbling absent-mindedly on his bottom lip. It's horribly, dreadfully distracting.

"Mm," he says, "I took Comparative Lit as an elective in first year. Had to read that too. Hated it. I don't suppose you know what happens in the end?"

Sirius shakes his head.

"Well. I won't ruin it for you, but if you don't dislike her now you will soon." He tilts his head slightly. "Grab those, will you?" He points to a small pile of hardbacks at the end of the desk, which Sirius obediently scoops into his arms, not before dropping Madame Bovary carelessly into his chair.

Remus takes the second pile, and then wanders off to a door across the room, labelled, when Sirius gets up close, as the Reference Library. Inside is a small, warm room, walls entirely shelved and filled mostly with dictionaries, encyclopaedias or videos. There's a television in the corner, along with a loveseat that looks as though it's seen better days.

"There's a gap in that shelf, you can put them there."

Sirius does as he's told, inspecting a few of the videos as he does. Chariots of Fire . 1984 . Ulysses. Who even gets these out? Why are they even in the Exchequer?

"What a random collection," Sirius observes. "Do people actually watch videos in here then?"

"Well. Sometimes."

Sirius laughs. "How weird. You'd think they'd just stream them. Especially stuff like this. You can probably even get it on YouTube. I remember we had to watch Chariots of Fire in PSHE once but I honestly didn’t even know what was going on half the time, it was stupid."

He half turns, and Remus is standing there, looking at him, picking absently at his nails.

"Er," Sirius starts, "everything alright?"

"Yeah, it’s just." Remus licks his lips. "You're acting nervous or something. Like you’re stalling."

Sirius doesn't have any idea what he means.

"I have no idea what you mean."

Remus gives him a confused look. "Didn't you come here for… because of last night?"

Sirius' eyes widen in realisation. "What? No!" At least, he doesn't think he did. Oh God, maybe he did. Subconsciously, of course, like some sleazy client. "Why would you think that?"

"Well that's what you said, isn't it?"

"Is it?"

"'Any chance I could see you later' you said," Remus echoes their conversation from that morning.

"I meant 'see' as in... see you! See you and talk and things. Not in a..." He thinks, desperately. "Not in a prostitutey way."

Prostitutey way.

Prostitutey way.

Prostitutey way.

Oh God, has he just indirectly referred to Remus as a prostitute? And not even with acceptable grammar?

Perhaps Remus hasn't noticed?

No, he looks pretty annoyed now. He's definitely noticed.

"Wow," he says, "that's really charming. I'll remember that."

"No. No, I didn't mean it in a bad way."

"I'm not sure how that can have been said in a good way, Black."

No no no, they're not going back to 'Black'! They made progress, dammit! Progress! Sirius wants to grab Remus by the shoulders, shake him, say why are you being so bloody difficult? You know I didn't mean to offend you! You know I like you! You know you turn me into an uncouth idiot, so why are you pretending you think I want to insult you? Why are you making this so hard?

Instead he says, "I'm really sorry. That was a stupid thing to say."

"Yeah, kind of was," Remus says gruffly.

"Don’t be mad."

"I’m not mad."

"Well, you look it."

"That’s just my face," he says, then he sighs. "I’m not mad, Sirius, I just misunderstood."

"No," Sirius says quickly, "you didn’t." He licks his lips, which suddenly seem very dry. "See, I thought I’d do the gentlemanly thing and take you out for a drink first, but if you want to skip the gentlemanly part then I’m more than willing to."

When he steps forward, his hand reaches out a little, his thumb brushing against the rough black denim of Remus’ waistband. He's never said delivered such a bad line before in his life. Now he's the one who feels like the bloody prostitute. Not that he isn't being completely honest, not that he isn't over the moon at simply being able to realistically entertain the prospect of continuing where they left off yesterday... but here? Like this? In the dusty old TV room of some dusty old Exchequer?

It isn't exactly what he had in mind when he first laid eyes on Remus, but then, it's not like he has a better idea right now, especially not when Remus finally offers him a tiny tug of lips as Sirius lowers himself to his knees.

 

* * *

"Are you allowed to smoke in here?" he asks fifteen minutes later, an unpleasant tang in the back of his throat. He runs his tongue uncomfortably over his teeth. What else could he have done? They're in a library.

Remus shrugs, exhaling slowly. They've moved to the loveseat now, and Remus' trousers are up but still undone, and he's all flushed and lovely and rumpled, and Sirius thinks it was definitely worth acting a bit trashy if these are the consequences.

"Probably not, but hardly anyone ever comes in here. It's much quicker than going outside."

"Gosh, the debauchery this room has seen," Sirius jokes. "Is this the first time you've engaged in a bit of rough and tumble in the Reference Library?"

He gazes round the old room as he says it, fully expecting either a) a derisive snort or b) a yes. To his horror, Remus gives a little shake of his head.

"My old boyfriend was the Head librarian here," he says, as if that explains everything.

"Oh the... rapture," Sirius says flatly.

Remus gives him a sideways glance, smirking a bit through his smoke. "What's the matter? Jealous that you didn't get to christen the TV room? Then again, it probably would have been more fitting for you. He hated films."

"Sounds like a fun guy. Head librarian. Luddite. Where's he studying abroad? Qatar?"

"Canada."

"Oh, very nice. Doing?"

"Management."

"Thrilling. What a thrilling guy."

Remus sits up properly to look at him, amusement in his eyes. "You really are jealous, aren't you? Bloody hell, doesn't take much, does it?" He takes a long, thoughtful drag on his cigarette, then says, "Good job I'm not as childish as you. I suppose you've had plenty of boyfriends."

"No. Never."

"Really?"

Sirius shrugs, before saying lightly, "I had a girlfriend in year nine if that counts?"

Apparently it doesn't because Remus says, "Every lad had a girlfriend in year nine."

"Including you?"

"Well. Every lad who went to school."

Sirius perks up at this, suddenly interested. "You didn't go to school?"

"A bit. Missed a lot. Don't recall having much of a year nine."

"Why?"

Remus doesn't answer for a while, calmly sucking up the last of his fag before stubbing it out on the worn arm of the chair. The burn is barely recognisable amongst all the other marks scarring the fabric.

"I was ill a lot as a child," he says eventually. "With all sorts, I mean. I had - have - a terrible immune system."

"Bloody hell, really? I mean, are you alright?" Sirius isn't exactly sure what he means by 'alright' but it's probably something along the lines of are-you-in-imminent-danger-of-death.

Remus gives him a tired smile. "I'm fine. I'm just more susceptible to bloody colds and flus. Well, that's probably playing it down a bit. There have been a few things. Pleurisy was the first 'big' one. When I was twelve."

"Pleurisy?"

"Do you know what it is?"

Sirius hesitates. "Vaguely."

"Yeah, well. I missed a lot of school because of that. Including year nine. So no girlfriend for me."

They're quiet for a few moments, but because Sirius only sort of knows what pleurisy is, he's uncertain as to the magnitude of this revelation. But Remus seems fairly calm - as in, the horror of having to recall these memories hasn't turned him into an emotional wreck - and so Sirius assumes he's required to take on a sympathetic-but-mildly-unsurprised approach.

"But you're better now?" he says tentatively.

"Well obviously, Sirius."

"Okay. That's good." He pauses. "You're so smart, to say you missed a lot of school."

He genuinely means it, he isn't just trying to butter Remus up, but Remus looks at him as though he is anyway.

"I just read," he explains. "It's not like there was much to do in hospital. Not when you're stuck in a bed all day with no one to talk to. And my mum's obsessed with Classics so she'd bring me piles of books on, you know, Roman mythology and stuff. Course I was always more interested in the actual history than the stories, but they were fun to read."

Sirius can't imagine Remus having fun. It's a very bizarre concept.

"Is that where your name comes from then?" Sirius asks, liking the way it sounds, as though he actually knows what he's talking about. Compulsory Latin did come in handy after all.

"What? Oh. Yeah." Remus huffs out a small laugh. "And yes, I know."

"Know?"

Remus turns to look at him. "That it's fitting she'd name me after the brother that died, rather than the strong, healthy conqueror." He says the last part in a growl, low and exaggerated, and Sirius laughs.

"Hey, could be worse," he says, "your parents could be well into astronomy."

"Yeah," says Remus lightly, "that's true."

He stands up then, apparently missing the look of disappointment on Sirius' face now that Remus has implied his name is stupid.

"Right, it's late," Remus says, fixing his jeans, "I need to close up."

Sirius stands obediently and pulls his jacket on, patting the pocket for keys. "Um," he starts, "it's not so late. Do you want to go to the pub or something?"

Remus pauses, as though considering it. "I mean, I’m pretty tired."

"Oh. Alright."

But hands are gripping his shoulders, and Remus is forcing them to look at one another.

"No, Sirius, don't give me the kicked puppy look. I mean, I am genuinely tired. It's been a long day. Look, it's Saturday tomorrow. You can come to my dorm or something, if you want."

‘If you want’, he says, as if he doesn’t care - does Remus care about anything? - and Sirius isn't sure how he feels about that. Relief that Remus poses absolutely no threat of suffocating commitment? Or disappointment, for exactly the same reason?

He should probably be excited that his life is so riveting and so complicated that he has to be faced with such conflict. In reality though, he just feels confused and exhausted and vaguely, subtly frustrated.

"I guess I might see you tomorrow then," he says finally, although there's really no 'might' about it.

"Yeah, alright," says Remus. "Might repay the favour."

"Brilliant," says Sirius, and he sort of means it, and sort of doesn't mean it at all, because even if it's uncharacteristic of him he never wanted this to be about favours.

Chapter Text

And so it goes, as Sirius Black embarks on what can only be described as an affair - yes, an actual real-life affair, as though he himself has morphed into buxom Madame Bovary - with Remus Lupin for the next few short days, weeks, until snow falls and term ends.

Admittedly, it lacks some of the fervency, some of the passion even, of the affairs one might happen to find in film and literature. In film and literature it's all secrecy and exoticism and tormented, frustrated attraction; late-night phone calls and making love in motels, and there's always a big 'fuck you' to society involved somewhere along the way.

With Remus it's more the come-to-my-dorm-and-I'll-give-you-a-handjob-and-tea type affair. There isn't much secrecy involved either. In fact, if people found out about it, it wouldn't really matter at all. The only reason Sirius has begun privately referring to it as an affair, though, is because it is definitely not, as Remus has pointed out on numerous occasions, a relationship.

Of course, affairs also tend to involve sex, and they haven't actually had sex yet. For Sirius, fooling around leading to sex has always been an inevitability. For Remus, sex seems laden with symbolism.

He seems to think that, if they sleep together, it will mean something Very Important. Sirius needn't ask what that Very Important something is. He already suspects it involves a word starting in 'cou' and ending in 'ple'.

Remus is really quite incredibly old-fashioned sometimes. Sirius has only made the mistake of asking if he's a virgin once. It had ended in a rather lonely night of a top-and-tail sleeping arrangement and an awfully unsatisfied ache in his boxers. Remus is gorgeous and complicated but also terribly sensitive and a bit unreasonable, and Sirius has learned to leave such questions confined to his head.

Not that they always spend their evenings in bed with one another. Now, for instance, they're laying on Remus' bed as opposed to in it, talking by the gentle glow of the desk lamp, as Sirius attempts to explain to Remus the simple difference between two-point and three-point lighting.

"Take Citizen Kane," he says, waving a hand, "the lighting constantly changes from three-point to two depending on Kane's mood. Two-point for the gloomy moods, of course, since there are more shadows and creepy bits."

"I've seen Citizen Kane. I don't remember that happening."

"Well no, it's not supposed to be obvious. It's subliminal."

"I see. Well. That makes sense," says Remus, as though it doesn't make sense at all. "Citizen Kane's your favourite film, isn't it?"

"What? No!"

"I thought it was..."

"Well, it's a contender. But first place definitely goes to A Streetcar Named Desire. Or maybe The Shining. Or maybe The Shawshank Redemption. Oh, and I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy."

"Ever read the books?"

"Of which?"

"Any of them."

"God, no. Well, Streetcar's a play anyway so I suppose there's no point me reading it."

Remus hums his disapproval and reaches for his cup of tea on the bedside table. "You're possibly the worst Literature student I've ever met, Sirius," he says. "You can't just rely on Sparknotes and films."

"Done alright so far," Sirius says cheerfully, but that isn't strictly true and they both know it. He's just got back his assignment grades for the two major assessments of the term, and while he hasn't done especially terrible, he hasn't done spectacularly either. It's a weird feeling, getting a mediocre grade, but he supposes it's own fault; it's not like he's given this degree his all so far.

Never mind, though. New Year is coming up; he'll make some sort of resolution. That's how people deal with unfavourable situations, isn't it?

"Hey, Remus? You don't think I'm stupid, do you?"

"I think you're a complete idiot."

"No, I mean academically-speaking."

"Oh. Well I don't know. I've never sat a class with you." Remus shrugs, picking idly at his nails. "You seem smart. You know your stuff about films and that, too... but then on the other hand, you make completely arsey moves. Or rather, don't make any moves at all. Like, you know, not joining Film Society."

"Bit late in the semester for that now, isn't it? I'm going home tomorrow."

"I suppose you wouldn't show much commitment to it anyway, even if you did join. I mean, I notice you haven't been to a single LGBT meeting since that disastrous first one all those weeks ago."

"Where you told me not to come again," Sirius reminds him.

"Because I thought you were taking the piss. We've since - "

"Fallen madly in love?"

" - Progressed. Anyway, I wouldn't actually mind if you came back. We need the numbers or they'll cut the society, which is ridiculous because it's one of the most imporant," Remus says hotly. "If Medieval Banquet Society is allowed to exist, then we should too."

"Medieval Banquet Society? What do they do?"

Remus looks at him. "Take a wild guess, Watson. Anyway, Craig's started harping on about Q Ball, and since I'm Year Rep I have to help organise it. Wouldn't mind a hand."

"Ah, well I'm - "

"Don't say you're busy, I know you're not."

"Was going to say I'm not very good at organising things," says Sirius, which is entirely true. "I'll help, if by help you mean hang around and pick bunting and make tea and relieve some of that pent-up tension after a hard day's work." This he emphasises with a sly running of fingers across Remus' jumper-clad stomach.

Remus looks at him and gently scoffs, which is always his natural reaction when he wants to hide a smile.

"Wanted a handy man, not a housewife," he says. He must have a funny idea of what it means to be a handy man though, because soon they're kissing and Remus' hand quickly finds its way up the front of Sirius' shirt.

Their kisses are slow, wet, indulgent things; warm, lazy, familiar. The familiarity is something Sirius finds vaguely unsettling actually. Not that he's in any position to be picky - not when he's the lucky boy who's had the utmost pleasure of fooling around with Angelface for the past couple of weeks - but the automatic nature of their little trysts does have a way of making him feel so incredibly old.

Remus often tires of kissing too. Already he's pulled away and started undressing them both from the waist down, and Sirius tries to get back to kissing by dipping his head and pressing their mouths together again, but their lips move together only once or twice before Remus shifts away.

Perhaps Sirius is biased because he really really enjoys kissing and always has done, ever since Matty Hopps gave him frequent lessons in it behind the greenhouses in fifth year. And maybe Remus just isn't the kissing type, because now he's moved his lips away altogether and he's slipping his hand into the front of Sirius' boxer briefs and guiding Sirius' hand to his own rather obvious arousal at the same time.

Things begin to blur a bit then, as they often do. They wank each other in this quick, perfunctory way, and it's over very quickly when Remus whispers in Sirius' ear and tells him to come, and Sirius does, very messily, and then Remus does too with a rough moan that sounds like he might be in pain even though he's not, and then they both flop back on to the bed like ragdolls and it's done, and the clock's minute hand has only moved about ten spaces to the right, maybe even less.

"Well," Remus says through a yawn, "Merry Christmas."

"Yeah," Sirius breathes back, "cheers."

He'd happily stay there for the rest of his days but the mess striped across his chest has begun to dribble down to his stomach, and it's too sticky and uncomfortable and, now that he's no longer aroused, sort of too gross to stay like this. He has to sit up and paw for the box of Kleenex on Remus' night stand to sort himself out.

It's as he's cleaning himself up and offering the box over that he decides to let slip a heartfelt comment, in the spirit of Christmas.

"I'll miss you," he says, going for a soft and affected tone of voice that he thinks sounds romantic.

"Oh, I'm sure you'll find someone else to frot with."

"Is that what you're going to do?"

"Me? God, no. That would actually mean some sort of enjoyment for me. Christmases in the Lupin household are always spent in total misery."

Sirius looks at him, concerned. "Why?"

"Well is a cramped cottage in Batley packed full of fifty-seven nameless aunts and uncles, along with all their insufferable offspring, your idea of a good time? Not to mention the house is always freezing in the winter, and Mum's always stressed beyond reason, and someone - usually my dad - upsets everything by drinking too much and laying into some distant family member over something that happened years ago."

"Lovely."

"Isn't it? Although it's quite beneficial in some ways, because every Christmas bust-up results in one less guest the following year. I imagine I'll only be about forty by the time we're down to the last handful."

"Your Christmas cheer is wholly inspiring."

Remus rolls his eyes. "Well are your Christmases any better?"

"I suppose Christmas with my family wasn't," Sirius replies, recalling his sixteen December 25ths spent in London with a shudder. He lies back down and slips his hands behind his head. "It was always incredibly formal, with all these people I didn't know crowded round the dinner table and all this weird food laid out to cater for them all individually, because they'd fly in from places really exotic and far off where they don't even celebrate Christmas. They were all business associates."

"I see."

"There were never any presents or proper decorations or anything like that. I mean, there was a black tree in the hallway but it came pre-decorated with crystallised fruit and daft shit like that. And we got gifts, but we always had to open them when everyone had left, just my brother and me up in our room."

For a moment, Remus expression goes soft. He looks at Sirius with something which might be bordering on sympathy, but since Sirius is only being honest and frank and doesn't particularly want sympathy, he smiles in a way that he hopes doesn't look sad.

"Not that we minded. We weren't exactly the Partridge family. No, what did my head in was that the presents were always such junk. Like the calligraphy set I got when I was about seven. I mean, it must have cost a bomb but I just wanted an Action Man really."

"You're mental," Remus tells him. "I would have loved something like a calligraphy set. I was the one who got the Action Man. Actually, it wasn't even a proper Action Man, it was the cheap version with some wanky name. Go-Go Man or something like that."

"I'd have settled for Go-Go Man! I never had anything like that. Suppose that's my parents' answer right there as to why I'm such a queer: no male idol as a kid. S'their fault."

Remus stares at him. The emotions flitting across his face are difficult to read.

"Your parents sound like something out of a storybook," he says eventually. "I didn't think people like that actually existed."

"Oh, I'm probably making them sound a lot worse than they were," Sirius says casually. "They had hidden depths. They just also had... priorities."

"And Christmas at James'?" Remus presses. "That alright? Not gonna tell me some horror story that'll make me worry about you for the next three weeks, are you?"

Sirius shifts his head on the pillow to look at him. "You'd worry about me?"

"Well, if you were going back to what you just described I might be a little concerned. Anyone would be. Don't look at me like that, I'm not completely heartless."

Grinning, Sirius says, "Christmas at James' house is magnificent, so you needn't lose any sleep over me. There will be an abundance of decorations and tacky films and food and it'll be total bliss like always. The only thing you might be concerned about is the fact that I'll probably come back obese and you won't fancy me any more."

He chances a quick look at Remus, thinking he might take the concept of fancying Sirius to be far too "coupley". But, as it happens, Remus doesn't say a word, and so Sirius continues tentatively, "I'll still fancy you if you come back obese."

He's not sure he would actually, since part of Remus' overwhelming appeal is that painfully sexy body, the one he seems so unaware of possessing. It would be a dreadful thing to lose it, for both of them.

"Thank you for that guaranteed seal of approval, Sirius," Remus deadpans.

"No, I mean... you know. Don't be afraid to go a little wild this year. I'd still like you. And anyway..." Sirius suddenly grins; "I can think of several ways we could easily work off any unwanted extra weight."

He runs his hand up Remus' side, tantalising, he thinks, but then the ribs beneath his fingers begin to shake, and he realises Remus is laughing.

"Christ, I find it difficult to believe you're a real person sometimes," he says through his sniggers. "The things you say."

"Not doing it for you?"

"What do you think? Look, come here."

And then Remus is pulling him close and, scattering Sirius' previous concerns about the serious lack of oral work going on between them, he presses their lips together in a long, slow kiss. Then another, and another, and then Remus kisses Sirius' chin, and Sirius repays him by kissing Remus very gently on the nose, and Remus rolls his eyes in that trademark way of his, and for a moment it feels so like they're an actual couple that Sirius almost believes they are, and he's surprised by how good that makes him feel. Because handjobs are fantastic and blowjobs are even better, but somehow being allowed to kiss Remus Lupin on his gorgeous, perfectly-formed nose outweighs them both.

And that thought feels a lot less weird than it probably should.

"Have a good Christmas, yeah?" Remus says, warm breath ghosting over Sirius' lips. "Don't do anything too utterly ridiculous, and while I appreciate how you'd react to my own radical transformation, I'd prefer it if you didn't return to school massively overweight."

Sirius laughs. "Alright. Hey, that can be my Christmas present to you. Keeping my glorious body intact for your viewing pleasure."

They've already made a prior agreement not to get each other presents. Remus says it's because they're mature adults and the exchanging of gifts between mature adults is a complete waste of time and money, not to mention added stress at an already incredibly trying time, but Sirius also suspects it's something to do with Remus attempting to underline the fact that they are really definitely not a couple in any way.

Not that Sirius minds not exchanging presents. It's not like there's anything he wants that can come gift-wrapped, and while he's more than happy to spend lashings of money on Remus, he isn't entirely sure what sort of present such a difficult person would actually like. Knowing Sirius, he'd probably end up panicking and getting Remus something completely inappropriate, like stupid underwear or an impractical sex toy, and since he feels like he's made considerable progress with the man of his dreams he doesn't want to mess things up for the sake of a leopard-print thong.

He's briefly entertained ideas of getting Remus something incredibly special, like jewelry. It would be expensive but tasteful, something Remus could actually wear, perhaps even with an engraving. They always do that in films, give something simple and boxed and silver, engraved on the back with an inside joke rather than something gooey.

But he's fairly sure Remus wouldn't accept such a middle-class gift - would probably call it a phenomenal waste of money, an insult to those in need - and besides, they don't really have any inside jokes.

"Have a good Christmas too," Sirius whispers now, "really."

He keeps it simple, so that Remus' lingering memory of him over the Christmas break is a positive one. It seems to work. Sirius earns for himself a beautiful, tiny half-smile and one last, lingering kiss.

 

-

He boards his train at a time far too early to be healthy the next morning. It's freezing and foggy and he has to get the bus to Newcastle to find James, who is hungover and so late they almost miss their train.

The train itself doesn't provide any relief from this added stress; there are a lot of students going back down south, and for almost an hour both Sirius and James have to stand in the end compartment until a group of girls in hunter boots and quilted jackets bugger off at Nottingham and they finally manage to bag themselves a couple of seats.

They talk of course, but eventually nothing but slurred nonsense starts to spew from James' mouth, and it's clear he's completely exhausted. Sirius is rather tired himself from having stayed at Remus' so late, and when James falls asleep with his mouth open and his glasses pushed awkwardly against the train window, Sirius shoves his earphones in and chooses Pink Floyd to comfort him all the way back to Dartmouth, napping in small doses.

James' parents are still at work when they get back, and Sirius almost falls to the hallway floor of number thirty-six before he's even taken his shoes off. The familiar, sweet smells overwhelm him, the cosy warmth, the security. It's not even his house, not really, and yet it's never felt more like home.

Behind him, he hears James inhaling great lungfuls.

"Sirius," he says slowly, "mate, I don't want to overwhelm you but... dear sweet Christ, I think she's made gingerbread men."

They make a mad dash for the kitchen, literally tripping in their haste so that James almost goes flying into the Aga.

"Oh God," he breathes when he's composed himself, "they have Smarties for buttons."

Sirius' response is muffled; he's already managed to cram one large biscuit into his mouth, a bit of leg sticking out.

"Theswuns've M&M's!"

It's only when they've devoured half the plate that Sirius plucks up the pink folded note on the counter that reads 'Don't take more than two each - Auntie Molly and Uncle Des are coming round later! x'

They look at each other.

"Oops. Ah. Oh well." Sirius places the note back down and dusts the gingerbread crumbs from his hands, swallowing his last mouthful with sinful noises of approval.

"I couldn't contain myself," James admits, wiping his mouth. "You don't know the crap I've been eating since September."

"I can imagine," says Sirius. He stretches, a few joints cracking pleasantly, and smiles at his best friend. "Shall we watch telly? The guide said Jingle All the Way's on tonight. That should put us in exceptionally high spirits."

He's already starting towards the living room when James says, "Oh not for me, mate. I'm gonna hop in the shower actually."

"What, now?"

"Yeah, I'm dead grimy."

"You can keep 'til it's finished."

"No no no. I'm going to see Lily."

Sirius frowns. "Right now?"

As though he's joking, James laughs. "I can't wait, I haven't seen her in months!"

"You Skype with her all the time."

"Oh, Sirius." James' jaunty chuckles have begun to fade now. "Don't be an idiot."

"I'm not being!" Sirius says hotly, even though he knows he is. "She can wait another night surely."

"What, and you can't?" James walks towards the door again, to the hallway, grabbing his case and making for the stairs. Sirius follows.

"We always watch Jingle All the Way. What am I supposed to do now?" he says miserably.

He knows he's being an insufferable brat, but he'd been so excited about being back at home with James that the idea of him rushing off as soon as they arrived didn't even cross his mind.

"I don't know, go and see our other friends? Frank? Benjy?" James' face falls. "I thought you'd want to go out."

"Well I don't know. Not straight away..."

James gives a little shrug. He has, at least, the decency to look a bit ashamed, though when Sirius thinks about it he doesn't really know why James ought to feel ashamed. He wants to see his girlfriend after nearly four months apart. It's totally reasonable. And yet Sirius is still filled with this childish sense of indiginancy he can't quite shake.

"I really need to see her," James says. "Sorry, mate. I'll be back later tonight. Why don't you call Remus?"

He's up the stairs before Sirius can answer. Grabbing his own stuff, Sirius follows, watching as James disappears into his room, shirt already tugged off and dropped carelessly on the hallway floor.

Sirius turns to trudge into his own room. It's not really a proper bedroom. Of course, if put up for sale the house would be advertised as a three-bed property, but really, Sirius' room is the old study. Upon insisting that he would be staying with them for every holiday, Helen and Harry promptly swapped the desk for a wardrobe and crammed a bed into the tiny space beside the window.

There's not much else in here, but he has Marlon Brando and James Dean posters on the walls and Batman bedcovers and a little clock on the bedside table with the A-Team theme for an alarm and two shelves above the bed crammed with DVDs, and even though his room in his old house back in London had been huge, this room is far more wonderful. He's fully aware of how devastated he'll be when he has to leave.

He drags his case in and closes the door and flicks on the light and gazes around at the familiar little cube of comfort. A little sigh escapes his lips and he flops on to the bed, mewling his approval of the old familiar comfort like a cat. He yawns and rubs his eyes and wonders if he's tired enough to sleep.

In the room next to him he hears the shower turn on. Sirius huffs into his pillow.

Bloody Lily, he thinks sourly, bloody James and their bloody love.

Pulling his phone from his pocket, he does consider James' idea of meeting up with some school friends. It's an idea he quickly discards though. Frank went to UCL, and Benjy to Warwick, and Caradoc to Exeter, and Sirius isn't sure he'll be able to put up with all their wonderful stories of how wonderful it is being at wonderful universities where everything is simplay wahndahful.

So he drags himself up again and goes downstairs to make tea with honey, then comes back up and puts on some pyjama bottoms and a Pulp Fiction t-shirt and curls up on his bed and flops about and yawns a lot for a while, until James comes in reeking of Lacoste, dapper in his best jeans with his hair all combed and his face shaven.

"You going out tonight?" he asks.

Sirius, in his pyjamas, arches a brow.

"Right," says James. "In that case, I'll post the keys back through the letter box when I've locked up. Do I look alright?"

Sirius shrugs. "Yeah?"

It's obvious from James' expression that he's aware how pathetic Sirius is being, but instead of griping at him he forces a grin.

"Have a good night, mate. I'll see you in a bit, yeah?" Then he closes the door.

Sirius watches him go, then lies back on his bed and thinks about what he feels like doing and decides he doesn't really feel like doing anything. His bed is warm now. He doesn't want to move from it. At least, he thinks, he's back at home. It's safe and cosy and he has his own space and no snoring Peter or freaky Janis or guilt-inducing Fabian, and he can eat his meals whenever and wherever he wants to and he doesn't have lectures or tutorials or assignments, and that's all good. That is all very, very good.

Still. There's no Remus in Dartmouth.

He looks at his phone again and considers, for a moment, James' other idea of calling him. He's fairly sure that Remus will be back at home himself now, since they left at the same time and he's only had to get to West Yorkshire.

Sirius slides a contemplative finger along the smooth edge of his mobile. But what will he say? "I miss you"? Remus doesn't like that sort of thing at all. "What are you up to"? He'd probably call it a useless question. Maybe. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

He could ask for help - I was just calling because there's this bit in Wuthering Heights I don't quite understand... - and then smoothly switch the conversation to something more lighthearted. Of course, Remus might ask why he's reading his Literature texts at the start of the Christmas holidays, but in that case, Sirius could respond by saying he wants to get ahead. And Remus would approve of that sort of thing, so really the plan is, by all accounts, foolproof.

He eagerly finds Remus' number. The phone rings eight times before going to Voicemail. Sirius drops it back on to his bed with a grunt.

Of course he wouldn't pick up. He's probably somewhere having a wonderful time. Without Sirius. In Yorkshire. Probably messing around with someone else. Or shagging someone else. Someone better. Some Yorkshire boy, with brilliant alcohol tolerance and pie-making skills. Because that's what they eat in Yorkshire, isn't it? Pies and -

The phone suddenly trills, and Sirius nearly falls off the bed in his haste to pick it up.

"Hello?" he practically barks.

"Hey," comes Remus' decidedly more calm voice. "Missed your call. Sorry."

"It's fine! Hi!" Sirius burbles. "How are you?"

"I'm not bad. How are you?"

"Fine." God, Remus sounds phenomenal on the phone. All gravelly and low. Sirius quickly remembers his excuse and sets to work. "I was reading..."

A pause. "You were reading."

Even though Remus can't see him, Sirius nods. The plan shatters. "Right. Yes. What were you doing?"

"I was undressing," says Remus.

Sirius stills and then, pleased and made rather smug by the obvious attempt at seduction, he smiles, relaxes into his pillow and says, "And why, pray tell, were you undressing?"

"To take a shower."

"Oh." Smooth, Black, smooth as silk. "That makes sense."

"Yeah, always useful. Why? What did you think?"

"I don't know," Sirius lies. "Maybe you had someone else with you."

It's a cheap trick, fishing for compliments. Remus doesn't take the bait.

Instead, he laughs. "What, besides the distant cousins from Belfast sleeping on my bedroom floor?"

"Ouch, really?"

"Mm. Yeah. But not to worry, it's only for a couple of days." He gives a small cough before adding casually, "Until then, I'll just have to wank in the shower."

Sirius' whole mouth goes as dry as Mrs Potter's gingerbread men. He freezes once more. It's fortunate that Remus isn't here to see it. For all Remus knows, Sirius is reclining artfully, casually and suave, totally unmoved by the delicious images being conjured up in his mind.

"Is that what you're going to do now?" Sirius asks, more tentatively than he'd intended.

"Perhaps. It has been a long day."

Sirius feels a spike of arousal, low in his abdomen. He thumbs absent-mindedly at the drawstrings on his pyjama bottoms. "Gonna think of me while you do it?"

Remus laughs again. "Maybe."

"You're in an adventurous mood today," Sirius just about manages to get out.

"You sound surprised," Remus observes. "Why? All it means is I can imagine a scenario where I do things to you without you ruining the mood with your ridiculous comments."

"Like - like what?"

"Like when you started talking about Twin Peaks that evening in the English Seminar room? That was particularly irksome - "

"No, I mean..." Sirius swallows. "What sorts of things?"

There's a pause from Remus, and then another quiet scoff. "This is stupid."

"Is it?"

"Are you actually getting turned on by this?"

"... Are you?"

Remus doesn't answer that question. "Where are you?"

"On my bed. Er, where are you?"

"Sitting on the edge of the bath."

"Okay," says Sirius, and then he stops stupidly. Is he reading this wrong? Are they genuinely contemplating this? He can feel the arousal pooling low in his belly at the mere prospect of doing this with Remus, but it's a lot harder than people make out. Desperately, he tries to think of all the films he's seen - adult included - involving this scenario. What's that one line they always say...?

"So..." Sirius finally drawls when he's remembered. "What are you wearing?"

"My boxers."

"Just your boxers?"

"Yeah. What about you?"

Sirius briefly considers lying - I'm totally naked. I just got back from a really gritty, sweaty workout and now I'm hot all over - but decides it's best to be honest, lest he run into problems of slip-ups and plot holes.

"My pyjamas," he answers.

"Hot," comes the flat reply.

Dammit. Remus actually wanted him to lie.

"Anyway, I've got to dash," Remus continues. "Sorry. There's a seven-year-old scratching at the door for a bath and a Golden Retriever no doubt chewing up my socks. Again. He's already done that twice today." He pauses. "You alright?"

"What?"

"I just said I've got to go."

"Oh, me too." Sirius slips his hand from out of his pyjama bottoms. It's okay, it's probably for the best. He's never been much of a dirty talker. And besides, a couple of weeks of messing around with Remus Lupin has made one thing clear in Sirius' mind: he likes to tease. He is still a gorgeous buttercup, a sweet angel, an adonis, but he is also a sadistic bastard. He'd probably have Sirius teetering on the brink of overwhelming pleasure, phone pressed tight enough to his ear to bruise, then ring off.

"Yeah?" says Remus. "You up to anything special tonight?"

"Me?" Think, Sirius, think. He's asking you a question. He's genuinely interested. "I think I might watch Jingle All the Way."

"A cult classic. Well, I'm sorry I'll be missing that."

"We could watch it together, when we get back to uni."

"It's unlucky to watch Christmas films when it's not Christmas."

"Oh."

"Course, we could just throw caution to the wind on that one."

Sirius grins. "Good idea... Remus?"

"Yeah?"

"I... sleep well. When you go, I mean."

"Thanks, Sirius. You too."

Then he hangs up.

Chapter Text

Christmas morning dawns with lots of frost but no snow, and lots of James Potter jumping on Sirius' bed but no sleeping in.

Wonderful.

"Cease," Sirius just about manages to croak from beneath his duvet. "Cease and desist."

Christmas Eve involved more than a bit of merrymaking, and as a result he is a wee bit hungover and more than a wee bit pained as James, weirdly energetic and apparently perfectly fine, jumps on and around him with exuberant glee, singing 'Walking in the Air' in an horrific falsetto.

"Why are you doing this to me?" Sirius moans. "Please... have mercy."

"No, fuck you. I want my presents."

James hops off the bed then with a tremendous thump and bolts out of the room, pausing on the way to scoop a t-shirt up from the pile of toxic waste on the floor and lob it at Sirius' chest.

"Mum's making egg and bacon and those weird little garlic mushrooms if that's an incentive!" he calls on his way out.

It's a major incentive, actually. Seven minutes later Sirius is shuffling downstairs like a homeless puppy in his boxers, through the Christmas morning warmth of the house into the kitchen, where he discovers the deliciously distinct British scent that is the full English breakfast.

"Happy Christmas, chicken," Mrs Potter smiles as he slouches in.

She sets the spatula aside for a moment to wrap an arm around him and ruffle his frankly rather disgusting hair. A true mother.

The radio is on low, Slade streaming out softly, because there's a no-telly-til-the-Queen's-on rule in the Potter household on Christmas day. Mrs Potter feeds him, and then feeds him again, and then he feeds himself with the fried bread crusts James refuses to eat. They're both given hot chocolate with extra sugar and semi-skimmed milk and far too much cream, yet in spite of these fine delicacies James is wriggling in his seat like a four-year-old, desperate to burst into the lounge.

"Not until Dad gets up," she says.

Then Dad gets up and James all but gallops into the living room, landing with a great thud beside the tree and making all six hundred and forty three of its baubles rattle.

James is not normally this excited on the 25th of December. In fact, last Christmas he didn't get up until midday, and even then he went back to bed after opening his presents. But he has been promised something Very Exciting this year, and when Mrs Potter's expensive Marks and Spencers red wrapping paper and invisible sellotape has been shorn and cast to the floor, James discovers that that Very Exciting something happens to be a 42" LG plasma screen TV. Thirty seconds later James begins sobbing and salivating over it, practically gnawing at one smooth, curved corner, whimpering, "Think of the gaming. Think of the gaming."

Sirius, beside him, watches in both amusement and a spot of envy. But only because he knows that Marlon Brando's face would look wondrous on such a mighty screen.

He's nudged out of his thoughts by Mrs Potter's voice, and a gentle hand brushing his shoulder. He turns to her.

"This is for you, Sirius."

Sirius wonders if three Christmases with the Potters still requires the polite, "Oh, you really shouldn't have."

She hands him a box, neatly wrapped, about the size of a toaster. Smiling broadly under the gaze of them all, Sirius takes it from her and carefully unwraps the shiny paper. The box he pulls out is grey and black striped and quite heavy. A flash of white words makes him pause.

Oh.

"Oh." His fingers still. "Wow."

"Do you like it?"

Beneath his fingers sits a boxed up, brand new, pristine Canon Rebel T3i. The one with the gorgeous HD video and rotating articulated LCD screen. The one he's been seriously considering cutting into his student loan to buy.

The box is smooth in his hands and heavy with potential as he considers the most appropriate response but, perhaps sensing his hesitation, Mrs Potter speaks first.

"I know you left your other one behind," she says, meaning "at home", "and James is always saying how interested you were in animation - "

"Stop motion," James cuts in.

"Oh, yes. Quite right. It seemed a shame for you to have to stop."

Sirius glances at James, wondering if this was his suggestion. It's not that the camera isn't beautiful, and it's not as though he didn't have ongoing and incredibly gruelling stop motion projects in progress prior to his leaving home... surely, though, he can't accept this? The Rebel isn't an exortionately expensive camera, but it's not cheap either.

"This is really beautiful," he says finally. "And lovely of you, and I really... it's really brilliant but... are you sure you want to give this to me?"

"By God, Sirius, you're right. What were we thinking?" Mr Potter suddenly lunges forward and pretends to try and take the box from Sirius' hands. They all laugh, but the hysterical yelp that forces its way out of Sirius' throat is nervous, because he feels stupid and ungrateful, unsure how to go about displaying his feelings.

"Of course we want you to have it, chickie. That's why we bought it for you!" says Mrs Potter. "Though you have to promise to use it. You need to send us lots of lovely footage of Durham."

"Of course I will," says Sirius. "Thank you so much."

And then he doesn't know what else to do so he leans across and hugs her, rather awkwardly, and James lets out a high-pitched snort of laughter that he tries to muffle with the wrapping paper still clutched in his hands.

 

 

-

"Still can't believe my parents got you a video camera," James says later as they sit cross-legged on the couch in front of A Christmas Carol. He shoves the last piece of his Snickers into his mouth and says, spraying nuts and nougat all down his front, "They love you more than they love me."

"Oh please," an airy voice pipes up from beside him, "they bought you a socking great television. I think that more than adequately displays just how spoilt you are, Mr Potter."

The voice belongs to the famous Lily Evans, who has decided to so kindly grace them with her presence at the Potter household for the post-Christmas dinner sated bliss, otherwise known as 'The Hour of the Stomach Ache, the Quality Street, and the Forced Consumption of After Eights'.

They've also been joined for the day by James' Uncle Cormac and Auntie Joanna, and their four delightful children Patrick, George, William and Sebastian. They are all frightfully posh, even Patrick who is two. When Joanna spoonfed the poor child a lump of mashed up parsnip-and-peas at lunchtime, Sirius had half expected him to say, "Thank you ever so, Mah-mar. Much obliged".

They're from Harold's side of the family, and even he takes the piss out of them.

Sirius doesn't much like them either. They look at him strangely, as though he shouldn't be here. Even now, nine-year-old Sebastian is giving him a wary look from across the room, though Sirius has a suspicion he might just be eyeing up the camera in his lap.

He cradles it now protectively, only just managing to refrain from sticking his tongue out at the little brat. He'd kicked Sirius twice at lunch beneath the table, and even had the audacity to complain when Sirius kicked him back.

"It is lovely though, isn't it?" James is saying. It takes Sirius a moment to realise he's talking about the television. Again.

"If you're into that sort of thing," says Lily. "Personally I didn't see a problem with your other television. What did I say? Spoilt rotten."

She leans forward slightly in her seat, across James, to flash Sirius a smile, as though they're in on some joke together. Sirius doesn't know what it's supposed to be. That James is a prat perhaps?

It takes some strength to smile back. For some reason Lily's presence is irritating Sirius a bit, which is strange because she's actually being really nice. Too nice. In fact, he sort of wishes she'd just say, "Bugger off, Black, you insufferable little imp" because at least then things would begin to feel, well, familiar again. He's never had to spend a Christmas with Lily, or with James' God-awful extended family. The one time he really wanted it to just be the four of them, and they're overrun by intruders.

This is not, Sirius realises, a particularly nice, or mature, or grateful way of thinking, but who cares? It's not like he's saying it. He is merely seething in silence.

A small glass of sickly sweet liqueur under his nose pulls him from his thoughts. Sirius places his camera on the side table carefully (he doesn't feel safe enough yet to do anything but stroke its smooth edges and occasionally turn it on) and accepts the glass from Mr Potter with a smile.

"What's that?" comes a girlish voice.

Sirius glances round, realising James' snivelling little cousin Sebastian has wandered over, ratty face inquisitive.

"Baileys," James replies, sipping some of his own.

"What is it?" Sebastian demands.

"Not for little kids."

"I want to try some."

"Go away, Seb," and James puts out a hand and bats the small, annoying creature away.

Mr Potter has left the lounge, but Sebastian still looks on the verge of calling to his mother that cousin Jamie thumped him one. His small, beady eyes land on the camera, and he looks at Sirius instead.

"Can I have a go?"

Sirius looks round to check the adults are in the kitchen before giving his curt reply: "No."

"Why not?"

"Because you'll mess it up."

"You're supposed to share on Christmas."

"You're supposed to bugger off and leave the grown-ups alone on Christmas." Even as he says it Sirius can imagine he's talking to his own little brother, getting some ridiculously pathetic satisfaction out of being patronizing to a nine-year-old. And like Regulus, Sebastian is not bothered.

"You're not a grown-up," he says in that pantomimish voice of accusation that all kids seem to universally possess. "My mum says you're just a big kid really."

"I don't give a toss what your mum says."

"Sirius!" That's Lily.

"My mum says you were really naughty at school and that Uncle Harold is mad to look after you and that you're a... a, er..." Little Sebastian's brow furrows with the difficulty of trying to remember the word he's heard his witch of a mother utter from the walls of their half-million pound barn conversion in Surrey.

"A liability," supplies another plummy voice, and they all turn to see that Sebastian's frog of an older brother, William, has joined them. "She says you're a liability, and not family so you shouldn't really be here at all."

Sirius fancies that, when William grows up, he will undoubtedly be one of the tweed-wearing twats found in places like Durham University.

"Right, both of you little sods can bugger off," James tells them in a low, warning voice, "before I fetch your parents. Go on."

They go, but not without identical, upper-middle-class sneers drawn on their faces. Sirius watches them, torn between feeding them the liqueur in his glass and chucking it over their Brideshead dos.

Taking his lack of desire to be thrown out of the Potter home into account, Sirius does neither and instead turns back to James and Lily and tries to pretend he isn't at all embarrassed or bothered by the sentiments of Auntie Joanna.

"God, what bastarding little creeps," James says in an obvious attempt at lightening the mood. "Can't stand my dad's side of the family. They're all so..."

Lily is clearly on the verge of offering something more substantial, because she has her bottom lip pulled in by her teeth and she's placing a hand on James' leg so that she can lean across him. Sirius doesn't really fancy listening to her, because knowing Lily she'll somehow twist everything round to make it sound as though it's Sirius' fault. So he stands up and excuses himself to go to the bathroom.

In fairness, it's not a lie because he does need to piss. Afterwards he goes up to his bedroom instead of returning to the lounge and gives the little brat's words probably a lot more thought than he should.

You're not family? Rude, insolent child. Truthful child, but rude and insolent all the same.

He lies on his bed for a while. The buzz of A Christmas Carol travels all the way up the stairs and he listens to it for a bit, chirps "God bless you, one and all" along with Tiny Tim, and soon tires of doing nothing.

On a whim, he leans over the side of his bed and wrenches open the bottom drawer of his night stand to begin looking for something. Not a particular something. He just wants something to occupy himself with until he feels like going back downstairs.

This occupation he finds in the form of his Sixth Form Leavers' book, which he drags out from beneath a King James Bible and several bags of Revels.

His old school crest flashes up at him in blue and yellow and red. It's a bit of a crappy book really. The spine of his broke within an hour, so when he opens it now a few of the glossy pages fall out on to the bed. Faces flash up at him, faces he used to hate, faces he loved, and faces he fancied, and people he fought with and a few that he slept with, a lot that he laughed with, or laughed at. He sees Frank playing the French horn on the music page, embarrassed in his white shirt and piano tie, and James launching himself into the air for long jump on the sports page, and Lily in a lab coat, holding a rabbit in her arms, and Caradoc stood beside her with a rat, and Sirius sees his own name on the 'Most Likely' page, written beneath 'Most likely to be seen with James Potter' and then, directly beneath it, James' name and 'Most likely to be seen with Sirius Black'.

A few more pages fall out then and he swears and lets them all flutter to the bed before flipping to the still-remaining back page where all of his classmates signed. There are the usual 'good luck's and 'enjoy uni's from people he never really spoke to, but the ones that fill him to the brim with fondness are the heartfelt messages from his friends, Frank's loving "Enjoy university, you pompous git. You'll fit right in" and Benjy's tear-jerking "I shall miss u gay boy" and James' poetic "Good luck getting rid of me, ha ha ha ha ha".

There's a message beside James' obnoxiously large scrawl that Sirius never really looked at properly before. It's in a neater hand, from his Year 13 English teacher, he realises, and it says, "Keep on James' case up north!" and then, a little below it, "Sirius, you are genuinely one of the most talented students I've had the pleasure to teach".

Sirius almost scoffs. That teacher would be having a fit if he could see him now.

 

 

-

It's Mrs Potter who finds him. She bustles into his room ten minutes later with a tin of Celebrations, and Sirius quickly stashes the book beneath his pillow. He feels stupid being caught looking at it.

"What's the matter, lovie?" she asks, setting the tin down on his bedside table.

"Nothing."

"You look a bit low."

He smiles at her. "I'm fine."

"The love birds turfed you out, eh?" She sits beside him and puts an arm around him, and he suspects she's a little bit drunk.

"Ha. Nah..."

"You know you can invite people round too."

"I haven't got anyone," he says, and he doesn't mean it to sound as sad as it does.

She clucks sympathetically and shakes him a bit. "A lad like you? Now, that can't be right." Then out of nowhere: "Do you want to ring your mum?"

He looks at her, a bit startled. "No, of course not." Does he? "No, I'm fine."

"You know where the phone is."

"I'm fine." And he is, he's fine, he's fine, he's fine. He can't be irrationally upset, after all; he's not even drunk.

"I know you are," and she ruffles his hair fondly and beams at him, as though she's his mother and he's a scruffy little twelve-year-old. "Tell you what. James is after a party for New Year."

"Is he?" says Sirius, as though he didn't already know.

"Dad and I are off to Surrey with Cormac and Jo. Why don't you ask your friends round then?"

He considers saying it again - I haven't got anyone - but he's aware that she's just being nice. She's always being nice. He briefly wonders what he's done to deserve it.

"Thanks," he says instead. He considers adding "for everything" but decides his messy little bedroom isn't the place, and neither of them are quite drunk enough for it in the first place.

 

 

-

Following the Corrie Christmas special, the working through of a six-pack of lager and a spectacular Christmas wank, Sirius flops back on to his bed and rummages in his pocket for his phone, rolling on to his stomach drunkenly in order to properly retrieve it.

Clumsily he searches for Remus' number, almost making the mistake of calling his brother instead. Remus picks up after the third ring, which makes a nice change, and when he does Sirius can hear the loud hum of chatter and Shakin' Stevens in the background.

"Hello?"

"Hi!" Sirius sings. "It's me."

"Hang on." There's a pause, a little whoosh noise, more chatter, and then a click and suddenly the hum of noise is gone. "Alright," comes Remus' voice, "that's better."

"Sounds busy."

"Indeed."

"It's pretty late."

"Late?" Remus huffs out a laugh. "They haven't even got the bonfire going yet. This is painful."

"Poor you."

"Poor me."

"Hey, happy Christmas, though!"

"You too, chirpy."

"Did you have a nice day?"

"I've had better Christmases, but Dad got me Frozen Planet and Nan set fire to her party hat, so it wasn't all bad. What about you?"

"Yeah, not bad," says Sirius, feeling a bit guilty for not being more enthusiastic. After all, the Potters don't have to let him stay for Christmas. "I missed you."

"Is that why you called?"

"Hm? Oh, ha. No, no..." They've actually only communicated over the holiday via short, unsatisfactory texts so far, but it feels wrong to ask Remus to come round over text, so he cuts to the chase now and asks Remus round. "Remus, do you want to come round?"

"What?"

"Do you want to come round? Here, I mean. For New Year?"

"New Year?"

"We're having a party. You should come. I mean, I'd like it if you came."

"Well..."

"No pressure, of course."

"You live in Dartmouth."

"I'd pay for the train fare!"

"That's not what I meant." But Remus doesn't actually explain what he meant, because in the distance there's suddenly a loud crash and two dogs begin barking and a baby starts wailing, and in a different tone altogether Remus suddenly says, "Wouldn't James' parents mind?"

"No, they offered."

"And James wouldn't mind?"

"No!"

"And other people are going to be there too?"

"Of course. It's a party. I'm not just going to invite you round to play Cluedo with James and me, am I?"

Remus huffs out a little laugh. "Alright then. New Year."

"Brilliant!" Sirius chirps. "You can sleep in my room, obviously. And I'll pick you up from the train station. Are you alright getting a train?"

"Yes, Sirius. I am fine with getting a train."

"I know it's a long way."

"I think I'll manage it."

"If not, you can always - "

He's cut off as a voice from downstairs - Mrs Potter's, he quickly realises - calls up, her voice echoing around the landing.

"James! Sirius! Uncle Cormac and Auntie Joanna are off now - come and say goodbye!"

Rolling on to his back again, interrupted in his golden conversation with Remus, Sirius growls. Oh fuck off, Auntie Jo.

 

 

-

No matter how many times James Potter throws a party, he never quite seems to lose his knack. He can leave it all up to the last minute, every last detail, and then suddenly hurl everything together in one swift motion like some party-planning wizard. When Sirius pads into the kitchen on the morning of New Year's Eve, he blinks sleepily, rubs his eyes and says, "What witchcraft is this?"

For the counter tops are adorned with brightly coloured bottles, and the breakfast table with substantial packs of lager, and since it's only ten in the morning and James spent the whole of yesterday playing Mass Effect, Sirius is unsure just when he managed to acquire all of these goods.

"When did you manage to acquire all of these goods?"

"You were asleep," says James, as though that answers everything. He's sat on the counter, bare legs dangling, drinking from a bowl of strawberry milk. The Potter parents have been gone two days, and already they've run out of glasses and spoons.

"You could have woken me. I would have come."

"Lily came."

"Oh. Well." Sirius reaches out to grab a bottle of raspberry Sambuca. "That explains this then."

"Don't throw a paddy," says James.

"I'm not!"

"A paddy is imminent. I can tell. You're jutting out your bottom lip."

"Well." And then he says it again: "You could have woken me."

"I needed Lily's car to cart it all home. Here, look what I got. Just for you." James sets his bowl down and turns, pawing at the bottles on his right. He slides out a pretty white bottle of Malibu and holds it up like a prize. "That gay drink you like."

"It's not gay!"

"It's fairy dust. It also costs a small fortune, so be grateful."

Since the Potters left money specifically for the party, Sirius doesn't see how this is a valid point. Nonetheless, he smiles his thanks before sliding on to the counter top himself, picking up James' bowl and draining the last of the cold milk.

"When's his majesty arriving? You look revolting by the way," says James.

"Three. And do I?"

"You need a shave, and your hair wants washing. You're a mess."

Thoughtfully, Sirius picks up a strand of long black hair and examines it. He's always had good hair, but that's not to say it doesn't require the occasional wash. Still, he's getting a bit bored with it now.

Over the past few days he's toyed with the idea of dying it - red, perhaps, in the spirit of Christmas, or maybe going all declining-Hollywood-actor and bleaching it blond - but he considers the blackness something of a trademark; pure and natural black hair in England is about as rare as July sun, even more so when considering the fact he doesn't have particularly hairy limbs and his eyebrows don't meet in the middle. And anyway, said brows are like sculpted lines of liquorice, so dying his hair would probably look odd.

Still. It's New Year; he could do with something.

"Will you cut my hair for me?" he asks after a moment, dropping the strand and turning to James.

"What, now?"

"Yeah. Not much. Just the ends. It's getting all thin and bedraggled."

"Do it yourself."

"You always used to do it for me."

"We're grown men now."

But after much persuasion, mostly along the lines of "but I want to impress Remus, I'll shut up about him if you help me", they find themselves in the middle of the kitchen, Sirius on a breakfast chair in his t-shirt and boxers and James standing behind him with an old pair of scissors fetched from a graffiti'd pencil case.

"Go on then," Sirius urges, cautiously aware of the time. He only has a few hours left to clothe himself becomingly before Remus arrives.

"Wait, there's still a bit of glue..." He hears the scrape of nail on metal as James picks at the dried-on PVA, then finally he says, "There!" and Sirius feels hands beginning to move his hair about.

It's fine for a while. It's just like sitting in their dorm at school again when James used to trim the ends of his hair so that it was only just off the collar of his shirt. That was the rule at school - your hair couldn't touch your collar - and since Sirius couldn't cut the back of his own hair, James was always there to help out.

He hums now, apparently enjoying this reminiscent handiwork.

"Don't cut off too much," Sirius says, suddenly anxious as a rather large lock drops to the tiled floor beside him. "James, you're cutting off too much."

"It's fine."

"I don't want to look like you..."

"Say that again and I'll lop your ear off, mate."

They both laugh, but then more falls to the floor at Sirius' feet. "No really, James, that's far too much. I only wanted the ends off."

"You look fine."

"Well. That'll do now. Here, let me get up."

"Wait, I haven't done the front. You can't go with the front long and the back short."

"The back's short?!"

"Shorter, I meant shorter."

Before he can protest James moves, and suddenly he's looming over him with those gummy scissors, cutting dangerously close to his eyes.

"James!"

"What? Fucking hell, Sirius, stop squirming or I'm going to mess it up."

"It's already messed up. It looks like there's a litter of bloody Afghan hound puppies at my feet. Let me look in the mirror."

He makes to stand up, and at the same time James opens the scissors, and suddenly a chunk of dark hair is falling in front of his eyes and James is gasping and snorting with astonished laughter, and Sirius' arse is hovering three centimetres off the chair, body frozen as the fallen hair tickles his bare feet.

Barely a second passes before he's demanding in a squeak of a voice, "What did you do?"

But James, scissors still mid-air, is guffawing too madly to speak, and with a frantic hand Sirius feels for the hair which isn't there anymore.

"Shit! James, you imbecile!"

"Fuck, I'm - oh God - " A pause as he laughs more. "I'm so sorry, mate, I'm..."

Sirius shoves past him, darting for the hallway, bursting into the downstairs loo where a mirror hangs, ready and waiting. It takes a moment for him to realise his eyes are squeezed shut. He opens them and slowly lowers his hand to examine the damage.

His fringe is gone.

"It's gone!" he howls, and from the kitchen he hears the bastard laugh louder. "I look like a monk."

But his agony is quickly replaced with wrath, and he growls and throws himself back into the kitchen where James is still doubled over, and he makes a lunge for the scissors still clutched in his shaking hands.

"Give me those scissors, you bastard!"

"Not on your life -"

"- You cut my hair off -!"

"- You asked me to -!"

" - I will genuinely end you, James, I'll bloody kill you!"

What follows is something which can only be described as a vicious, animalistic locking of bodies. David Attenborough should probably be there, narrating it. Somehow James manages to get his whole upper body twisted around Sirius' back, effectively taking the scissors right out of his reach, but James' downfall is that he has paid little to no attention to the positioning of his feet, and with a grunt of exertion Sirius kicks out madly, twisting his leg around James' ankle, tripping him so that they both fall to the cold floor with a tumble and a thump and a lot of groaning.

Making a speedy recovery, Sirius makes another grab for the scissors. But James is quick, rolling over, straight into the fallen hair, and it's through James' subsequent loud sneeze that Sirius cries, "Feel the remnants of your torture!" and lobs a handful of the stuff at his face.

James lobs a handful back, and while this has the desired effect of tumbling down the neck of Sirius' t-shirt and sending him into a fit of itchiness, James lets his guard down just a moment too long and Sirius seizes his opportunity like a gladiator, lunging forward and making a second grab for the scissors.

But James isn't giving up that easily. He holds his hands out, and his arms go around Sirius' back, and his fingers clutch at anything they can so that when Sirius pulls away from him his t-shirt is tugged halfway up his chest and his head becomes momentarily stuck in the hair-infested fabric.

With a growl of anger Sirius rips it up and off and, catching James off-guard and interrupting his triumphant cackle, deftly pushes the other boy on to his stomach.

The chair topples over in the process, but they just about manage to dodge it, and Sirius holds up the scissors as his fingers scrabble to clutch a handful of messy hair.

"Get off me - Sirius - !" James flails with a girlish scream as Sirius grabs his head, seizes a hunk of thick, black hair and chops.

James' head drops back on to the tiled floor as the hair comes free in Sirius' hand, and Sirius leans back, still straddling James, and lets out a cry of exultation.

"You bastard!" James snarls from beneath him, "You fucking savage!"

"Victory is - " He never gets to finish his exclamation of glee because then the doorbell rings, cutting through the heated atmosphere.

With Sirius surprised into both silence and stillness, James manages to get a leg up and kick him off. After a few hazy moments the two of them stumble towards the door.

Lily enters, carrying a box of fireworks. She freezes when she sees them and they freeze too, like some ridiculous slapstick comedy duo. Behind them, amidst the booze and dirty dishes, lies masses of scattered black hair, and the chair on its side like a fallen soldier, and the old, bunged-up scissors, and Sirius' t-shirt and, for some reason, one of James' socks.

It looks like something terrible has happened here. As Sirius reaches up sheepishly to feel for the remains of his hair he realises that, in a way, it has.

Chapter Text

Remus is standing outside the station exit in his Paddington bear coat, cigarette glued to his lip, when Sirius gets there. His hands are snug in grey, fingerless gloves and he has a scarf wrapped around his neck, and his hair has managed to grow substantially in the last three weeks so that it falls into his eyes, and with his cheeks and lips rosy with cold he looks even more beautiful than Sirius has been constantly remembering.

"Hello, gorgeous," he sings as he bounds over, as though an exaggeratedly cheery tone will mask the fact that he's butchered his hair.

"Hey," Remus begins. Then he looks up and stops, and Sirius gulps.

He runs a hand through the scrub of black. It feels soft and maintainable and totally devastating. "It's really awful, isn't it?"

"No," Remus says slowly. His eyes continue to inspect Sirius intently. "No, not at all. Why did you do it?"

"Oh, you know. Just fancied a change."

He's not sure Remus would approve of the circumstances under which Sirius lost his beautiful locks. Lily was the one who managed to fix it and make him appear an acceptable member of society again (along with James, whose hair, it has to be said, was subjected to a rather vicious attack) but he looks so ordinary now. Plus it's an absolutely freakish sensation, being able to feel the cold on his neck after five years.

Oh well. It's his own fault. Moral of the story: James Potter is a twatshaft.

"D'you want me to carry your stuff?" he offers.

"No, no, I can manage, thanks."

"It's really good to see you."

Finally, Remus smiles. A proper smile, so it doesn't seem too forward when Sirius leans in and hugs him, and it's wonderful when Remus hugs back. They don't kiss, Sirius notices. Still, never mind; plenty of time for that later.

"Don't mind walking, do you?" he says as Remus grabs his bag. "It's only five minutes."

They make it back in three, the stinging chill urging them on, and the house is quiet when they return. James has tottered off to Lily's for the afternoon and they've told people not to start arriving until eight at the very earliest, meaning he and Remus have almost five hours to kill.

It's quite exhilarating really. Sirius has never had five whole hours with Remus to himself. At university, Remus is always shooting off somewhere - working, lectures, tutorials - but now he's in Dartmouth and really, unless he goes mad with being in such close proximity to Sirius for the next twenty-four hours and ends up running off into lands far and beyond, he has to stay right here.

Sirius rather likes that thought.

"You can put your stuff in my bedroom, okay?" he says as they stand in the warmth of the hallway, both of them red with cold.

He feels weirdly tense as he climbs the stairs, Remus in tow. It's not like having visitors to his dorm at uni. His dorm is bland and impersonal and filled with an abundance of Peter, and Sirius can easily hide behind the blank walls and generic bedsheets and pretend to be someone else there. But his bedroom - his real bedroom - surely says something about him, and he hopes it doesn't say anything bad. He at least remembered to make his bed this morning, so hopefully Remus' first impression won't be too negative.

"Wow," he says. "Oh, nice covers."

He sits on the bed, and Sirius begins to feel a little dumb. Remus is sat on his bed. His real bed. His real bed.

Being that he is a polite and well-trained host, Sirius leaves Remus to get settled and goes downstairs to make tea. He's hard pressed to find clean mugs. In the end it's a toss up between a Julius Caesar teacup he salvages from the draining board - twelve little porcelain panels depicting his betrayal and death - which he knows Remus would really like but which is plastered horribly in day-old coffee, and using an already clean West Ham United mug he finds at the back of the cupboard.

He decides on Julius Caesar, though when he goes to wash it he realises the sponge is lying in a shallow puddle of greasy water in the sink, beneath a stack of plates, covered in what could well be the remains of chilli con carne but which might also be some kind of living organism.

So he uses the West Ham mug instead. After all, he wants Remus to enjoy the aesthetic appeal of his drinking apparatus, but he doesn't want to give him E. Coli poisoning.

He's lounging on the bed, the camera in his lap, when Sirius returns. Sirius puts the mug down on the night stand, not trusting even meticulous Remus to handle both tea and camera, before discreetly kicking a pair of boxer shorts under the bed and casting a quick glance over his room for any more offending items. He didn't have much time to clean up, what with ruining his hair and trying to fix said hair and declaring James Potter to be King of the Clumsy Treacherous Bastards.

Not counting the Playboy calendar (an extra Christmas present from James) on the door, and the giant face of James Dean leering down at them from above the bed, both of which he imagines Remus will think stupid, everything seems to be in order.

"Is this new?" Remus says, motioning to the camera.

"The Potters got it me for Christmas," Sirius replies. He sits down quietly beside Remus before reaching out, smoothing his forefinger over one curved edge of the camera. "It's gorgeous, isn't it?"

"It's lovely. What are you going to do with it?"

Sirius hesitates. "Haven't decided yet."

Carefully, Remus places the camera back down and turns to face Sirius again, and they're very close now and Sirius wonders when they're finally going to get around to kissing and hopes it will be soon.

"So now you're going to join Film Society, aren't you? No excuse now." Remus asks, drawing Sirius' attention away from a small, honey-coloured freckle, just beneath Remus' bottom lip.

"Hadn't planned on it."

"Come on, Sirius, you should."

"Why do you care so much?"

"If you're aiming for a particular career path, you'd do well to get involved in relevant Societies, that's all."

Sirius snorts. "I'm sure dossing around with that lot every week would be a tremendous help."

"You'd be surprised actually." He doesn't go on, or make any attempt to surprise Sirius, and instead reaches for the bright orange West Ham mug.

"What are you going to do?" Sirius suddenly asks.

"What do you mean?"

"As a job. With your degree. When you leave."

Remus sips his tea thoughtfully. "I want to write, at some point. Not that I can make much of a living out of that. I'd like to lecture one day, but it would mean carrying on with university for a long time, so I'm looking into a teaching diploma."

"You want to be a teacher?"

Sirius leans his head back against the wall and tries to imagine Remus in a loosened tie and white shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbows, perhaps even with horn-rimmed glasses perched on his nose.

He'd be perfect. All the intellectual enthusiasm of John Keating, together with the sexy good looks of... who's a famous sexy teacher? Sting? Sting will do. All the sexy good looks of Sting.

All the girls would fancy him like mad and note with hopeful desperation the lack of a wedding ring on his long, beautiful fingers as he draws up fourteenth century battle plans on the whiteboard. Then word would somehow spread round the school that this Keatsian figure is actually not interested in women at all, and actually never will be, and actually shares his trendy urban townhouse with -

Well. With someone.

"You'd make a brilliant teacher," Sirius declares, a little grin playing on his lips.

"D'you reckon?" Unusually, Remus actually sounds a little bit uncertain.

"Course! What I wouldn't give to be the lucky bugger that gets to sit detentions with you." He waggles his eyebrows. "Mr Lupin."

Remus looks at him for a few long moments. "I don't even know why I hang out with you."

"Ah, buttercup, don't say that - "

"Totally objectify me." But it's obvious Remus is on the verge of smiling, a fact he masks poorly by sipping his tea.

"No, well. Obviously you're really smart and all that, too."

"Great, I hear it's rather beneficial to be really smart and all that when you're applying to be a teacher."

"You're so prickly," Sirius accuses. "I'm trying to be nice."

Remus laughs. "I know."

The rich, lovely laugh seems to mark an appropriate point for them to kiss without it being awkward or inappropriate. Sirius subtly shifts closer by way of invitation, but Remus still doesn't budge and Sirius can't help but wonder why. They haven't seen each other in three weeks, and unless Remus really did find some pie-making Yorkshire boy, Sirius can't understand why they aren't naked yet.

Maybe it's the hair. He reaches up to run a hand through the unfamiliar scrub. Yeah. It's probably the hair.

"So. Your, er, your parents don't mind you spending New Year here, do they?" Sirius goes on when it's clear Remus isn't going to climb on top of him any time soon.

"Bit late for that now, isn't it?" says Remus, throwing him a quick smile. "No, they don't mind. Mum says she doesn't blame me. My family really can be insufferable."

"What do they do that's so insufferable?"

"Oh, I don't know. Exist?" He laughs gently to show he's joking, but Sirius isn't so sure. "No, it's just... basically they're all extremely proud of their "pure Yorkshire" working class status. Which, you know, isn't the problem, but the way they treat me is."

There's a pause, dramatic enough to make Sirius suddenly rather concerned. But then Remus continues, and it turns out the details of his apparently trying family life aren't so devastating after all.

"They think if you go to university you're a traitor. A snob. Why don't you just come home and sign on, Remus? Every bloody day since the start of the holidays. Drives me spare."

"Don't they want you to do well?"

"They do, in the sense that they want me to become the manager of Tesco or the proud owner of a fish and chip stand. But a degree? God forbid anyone in my family gets a degree and think they're above everyone else."

Sirius looks at him then, considering. It's like he isn't really talking to Remus at all, because since when does Remus go against the idea of being working class?

He thinks he might just understand why it is that Remus is so quick to judge, so quick to label people as rich and twatty and up themselves. After all, Sirius himself is still laden with the prejudices his own family instilled in him, even if he doesn't want to acknowledge that fact, and even if he's trying to rid himself of them. Can you ever truly escape the influence of your upbringing?

"Well," Sirius starts, but because he's still thinking about sex he has nothing of substance to offer. In the end, before the silence grows too awkward, he lamely decides on, "Fuck 'em."

"Solid advice."

Remus drains the last of his tea, and they still haven't kissed, not even on the cheek, and a haircut can't be so bad that it stops your sort-of-maybe-lover from kissing you on the cheek, can it?

Barely pausing for thought, Sirius leans over and kisses Remus' cheek instead.

"Um," he says, "thank you, Sirius."

But they're turned towards each other now, so Sirius ignores the joke and kisses Remus on the lips instead. A bit too forcefully, actually, because Remus almost topples over and drops his mug. He pulls away as he rights himself.

"God, knock me out, why don't you?"

"Sorry! Just we hadn't done that yet."

"What, am I on a timer? I thought we were having a conversation." Remus leans, slides the mug on to the bedside table, then shoots Sirius an unimpressed look. "People do have those, you know?"

He's not being fair. He's saying it like Sirius is the one who suggested this no-strings-attached business. Casting his mind back, he's fairly sure it was Remus. At least, Remus was the one who firmly stated they weren't to be in a relationship, then proceeded to shag Sirius anyway. And all Sirius wanted just now was a bloody kiss.

"I've got to do the washing up." It doesn't do wonders to show his indignation, but at least it's not a lie.

"Alright... I'll help."

"I can do it myself." It's only when Sirius has climbed off the bed that he notices the peculiar look Remus has fixed him with.

"Are you in a strop with me?" he asks slowly.

"No!"

"You are."

"Well!" And then Sirius hesitates, because he is sort of in a strop, because he has sort of been denied of Remus for the past fortnight, and because for once Remus' lack of interest doesn't seem particularly justified. Unless he really does find the hair repulsive.

"I haven't had the best Christmas break either, you know," Sirius says.

"Alright, what was so terrible about it?"

"Christ, you're doing it again."

"Doing what?"

"Being... patronizing. Fucking hell, I'm not five, Remus."

"Stop acting like you are then."

Sirius promptly makes his decision, and slides off the bed. It's definitely best to go and do the washing up instead of trying to come up with another reason why Remus Lupin, in spite of his divinity, is really quite bloody infuriating sometimes.

 

 

 

His determination is short-lived. As he stands in the kitchen, staring at the mountain of plates, each delicate tablet placed precariously on top of another, a pair of arms suddenly wrap around his waist. He didn't actually hear Remus come downstairs and his immediate thought, for some reason, is that it's James.

He jumps rather violently as a result, mouth automatically set for a quip of "get off, gay boy". Then Remus' voice sounds in his ear, deliciously close and warm, and the words die on Sirius' lips.

"Look, I know you like to pout, but please don't sulk."

He nips at Sirius' ear then, very lightly, and presses a small kiss to his jaw. It's very nice, having his earlobe nipped like a little bird and having warm lips on his skin again, but weirdly enough, Sirius still finds the strength within himself to shrug Remus off.

"You're mental," he mutters, reaching across the draining board for the sodden dish cloth. It looks like some kind of dead rodent. With a grimace, he begins wringing out the grey water into the sink.

"Why?" asks Remus, watching him.

"You can't snap at me for kissing you and then come down and start eating my ear." Sirius makes a grab for the half-empty bottle of Fairy Liquid on the windowsill, pouring far too much on to the cloth and squeezing hard so that foam oozes between his fingers. "Why can't you just stick with one mood? Everyone else manages."

"Sorry."

"What?"

Sirius turns, the soapy foam dripping from the dishcloth on to the tiled floor. Remus shrugs.

"I said I'm sorry. For upsetting you. You're right, about the mood swings."

There's a pause as Sirius allows this strange apology to sink in. Eventually he mumbles, "That makes me sound like a pansy,"

"Well, I'm still sorry for being short with you. It's not fair of me, when you've let me come and stay. I'm just... I don't know, stressed, that's all." Remus wanders closer again and picks up the tea towel. "Want me to dry?"

Sirius considers him for a moment, considers this strange turn of events. Then he moves back to the sink, picks up a plate, washes it, and passes it to Remus.

"What are you stressed about?" Sirius asks. He tries to pretend the situation isn't ridiculously domestic (to be honest, he finds it wonderfully domestic).

"Uni," Remus replies.

"What about it?"

"You know, exams. In January? As soon as we go back?"

"Oh, yeah. Those."

"Yeah. Those." Remus gives a tiny, Remus-y sigh, which is different from normal people's sighs because it's very gruff and world-weary, like an angry old man. "I just want to do well," he says, in this really honest, slightly heartbreaking way.

"Of course you'll do well. It's me who should be worrying. Except I'm not." Sirius pauses for a few moments to scrub vigorously at a particularly stubborn patch of dried lasagne on Mrs Potter's favourite cornflower blue dinner plate. "I mean, it's only first year."

"Only first year? You do know you still need to get at least a 2:1 in your exams, don't you?"

"No, only a 2:2."

"A 2:2 to pass the year, a 2:1 to carry on your subject at Honours level. You should probably start revising."

"Do you think I'm stupid or something?" He doesn't say it with any malice and doesn't mean it with any malice, but Remus still looks at him in surprise.

"I didn't say that. And no, I don't, but it's not like GCSE or A Level. You can't just wing it."

Sirius, who did exactly that at both GCSE and A Level, grimaces. "Well. To tell you the truth, Remus, I wouldn't mind not passing and having to drop out, so maybe I'll just wing it after all."

This is apparently the wrong thing to say, because Remus rolls his eyes so hard Sirius is pretty sure it makes a sound.

"Don't start," he says. "I can't stand when people say stuff like that."

"What?"

"You know what."

"What?"

But Sirius never gets to find out what - and isn't entirely sure Remus would ever explain anyway - because James chooses that exact moment to come home early, bursting through the front door singing a horrific rendition of Non, je ne regrette rien.

 

 

 

When the guests start arriving at eight, and the house becomes packed to the brim at nine, Sirius' response is to bounce from person to person in search of what initially appears to be embraces and reminiscences and warm welcomes but which, he later realises, is actually acceptance and proof and self-assuredness.

Because every time he sees an old friend and is promptly and momentarily covered in their limbs, an exclamation of "Black!" loud in his ear, he finds himself looking around for Remus. It's as though, like a child, he's saying look, look, I told you I had friends, I told you.

Which is both pathetic and redundant really, because Remus doesn't even care. And why should he? Why should he care about a pack of rugby boys Sirius successfully intimidated into admiring him when he was eleven years old?

They all seem to have grown up substantially. The rugby boys, that is. All filled out, so their arms bulge beneath their grey Hollister t-shirts, and their hair is short and gelled, and they all have impressive facial hair dusting their jaws.

They all notice his hair too - or lack thereof - but Benjy Fenwick is the first to throw an arm around him and say, "Well somebody grew a pair of balls!"

Sirius laughs good-naturedly and mutters some vague insult back, and wonders if it's too early to open his gay Malibu. By the time he decides it is, indeed, appropriate to start drinking, about twenty more people have managed to cram themselves into the house - people who definitely weren't on the Facebook invitation list for the 'potter-black new years party that you should dEfinately come 2' (title courtesy of James).

Lily allows in a whole gaggle of girls Sirius doesn't recognise, and Caradoc, when he eventually arrives, is accompanied by four rather attractive males that Sirius is less inclined to kick out.

"Do you know all of these people?" Remus asks, when they happen to find themselves alone in the kitchen together.

"No," Sirius admits, finding himself a clean glass. "They all seem okay though. The more the merrier, right?"

Remus raises his eyebrows in agreement, grabs a bottle of Magners and wanders off. Sirius doesn't see him again for some time.

 

 

 

"Woke up in the morning and she claimed not to remember a thing," Caradoc is smirking, two hours later, at the centre of a circle in front of the living room fireplace. "Positively devilish gahl," he continues in that plummy voice of his, "by which I mean, boys, a bleddy animal."

They all jeer, as though it's the height of hilarity. Sirius wants to throw up - not literally, of course, he's not that drunk yet - because on the one hand he thinks he's never heard such utter wank spewing from the mouth of a boy, but on the other, he's dimly aware that actually, he has. He's dimly aware that these are the sorts of conversations they used to have at school all the time. He's dimly aware that it's exactly the sort of thing he would have said at one point.

Would still say, probably, if he had any good stories to tell.

"The honeys at university," Caradoc is saying now behind the neck of a Heineken; "I've never known anything like it. Elysian fields, boys, Elysian fields."

The urge to puke heightens. Was Caradoc always this much of a tosser? They've been sitting for the past two hours, each boy in turn relaying nothing but their drinking/sexual/sporting conquests at university, and Caradoc has been the major spokesperson. Sirius thinks he might actually explode if he has to hear one more sordid tale. His death certificate will say 'Cause of Death: Overdose on Messy-Blowjob-in-the-SU Bar Story'. Or perhaps just 'Over-exposure to Knobs'.

"What about you, Sirius?" someone is saying now, thick and rich and posh, and when Sirius turns to his left he realises Benjy has shuffled up behind him. "What about you, eh? Still a fairy?"

They all laugh again, but it's worse this time because it's at him.

Still, as has already been clarified, he's not yet so drunk that he'll punch Benjy or sob. Managing a smirk, Sirius replies, "Why? Interested?" and Benjy makes a great show of being terrified and backing off, and Sirius laughs with everyone else and in his head he thinks fuck off, you great twat and forgets that they used to be friends.

He's glad now that Remus hasn't actually stuck around. It's like all his old mates have returned from university with fatter egos - to complement, he supposes, their considerably fatter arses - and it's making him feel irritated and bored, and he wants to tell them to fuck off back to their parents' estates, or to the water polo club, or to Jack Wills, or to Fred Perry. He's never known such a lot of insufferable posh boy... posh boy twats.

He shakes himself. He must be drunk. Indeed when he stands, the room spins a bit, and it's clear bits of cotton wool are starting to stuff themselves into his head and the booze is beginning to work its magic, and when a group of boys walk past he smiles brightly in spite of never having seen them before in his life, so yes, he must be getting there.

Good.

He wanders off to the kitchen for more. People have been dipping into everything - spirits, wines, lagers, cider - and he has to start mixing. That's never a good thing, and always ensures the worst of the worst hangovers, but it's New Year, he thinks, so it doesn't really matter.

A good half an hour with a bottle of rum and a minimal amount of cola, a large bottle of Strongbow and Edgar Bones barging into the living room to pour vodka shots and slice tomatoes is all it takes before Sirius is happy again. As he lounges before the fire listening to more of Caradoc's bollocks, all he can think of is Remus, how he wants to see him and speak to him and kiss him and pull smiles from him. It's ridiculous that Remus has been here in Dartmouth for more than eight hours and Sirius has barely got to spend any proper time with him. When James came home this afternoon they wiled away the hours by watching bad post-Christmas television in tense silence. Sirius wants to see him now, and he wants to see him on his own.

So finally, he excuses himself from the rugby boys' wank circle with little to no intention of returning and wanders off to find that familiar face, feeling confident and invincible.

It's only half eleven, and it's perhaps a bit early to be so drunk, but everyone seems to be in a similar state. Someone has insisted on 'college' music, as though they're in American Pie or something, and Jimmy Eat World blasts in his ears. As he squeezes through the ridiculous crowd, he finds James at the front door with a little group Sirius doesn't recognise. They've all got cigarettes dangling from their lips and James already looks pissed to sin, his eyes horribly bloodshot, his grin ridiculously slack.

"Comrade," James slurs, saluting him, and then he suddenly lunges forwards and pulls Sirius into a tight embrace, pressing a loud kiss to his cheek. "Fuckin' best mate."

Sirius snorts loudly. "Are you high?"

"No, but... what an excellent idea!" He grabs Sirius by the hand. "Let's go find some weeeeed."

He says it like it's all planted round the house for them to find, like an Easter Egg hunt, and the idea is so absurdly funny to Sirius that he starts sniggering, and then laughing, and then he can't stop laughing and soon he's wiping tears from his eyes because he's so funny, so funny that James has started laughing even though Sirius hasn't actually told him the joke.

"What's so funny?" he hears, and when he looks up from the wall of the house he sees Remus. How it is that he can always pop up out of nowhere, Sirius doesn't know, but he suspects, in his inebriated state, that Remus is a wizard.

"Honeysuckle!" Sirius exclaims. "Where've you been, eh? Missed you really a lot." He reaches out to loop his arms around Remus' neck. In the background he hears James pretend to gag, and Sirius manages to shoot a quick, "Fuck off, Potter" over his shoulder before turning back to Remus and smiling. "So. Hm. Y'look delicious, trifle-face."

It suddenly seems a very good idea to reiterate this point by leaning forward and licking a long stripe along Remus' jaw, which he does, very enthusiastically. Remus pushes him away with a little chuckle.

"Wow. You're really drunk," he observes.

"I just... people brought so much." Snickering, Sirius sways slightly on the balls of his feet. "Whassa boy to do?"

"Control himself?" Remus suggests. He's smiling though, and Sirius laughs and kisses him, slow and wet and insistent, so that he's leaning into Remus and so that they almost fall over. Fortunately Remus reaches out a hand to steady himself on the wall behind them.

"It's fucking freezing," Sirius suddenly complains, only just now noticing the chill seeping through his thin t-shirt.

"Is it?"

"Wanna warm me up?"

"I'm surprised I didn't see that one coming."

"No, really... give us a cuddle." He takes hold of Remus' arms and wraps them around his own waist, before gripping the front of Remus' shirt, burying his head in his neck, inhaling his sweet scent.

"You're a ridiculously affectionate drunk," Remus tells him, and Sirius grins.

"Don't you want my affections?" he purrs. He gives a soft nip to the hollow of Remus' neck, feeling it vibrate beneath his mouth as Remus laughs and doesn't answer. "We should go inside," Sirius quickly decides. "I'm freezing my balls off, quite frankly. I wonder where Frank is? We shared a dorm at school t'gether, you know."

Lacing their icy fingers together, Sirius tugs Remus back through the open door, past the group of smokers, past James who has started to get worked up about the imminent fireworks, into the warmth of the hallway. It already reeks of lager and sweat and smoke.

Four bottles of wine, cheap Echo Falls, stand on the phone table. The telephone, as it happens, is mysteriously missing, but Sirius pays this no mind as he reaches to swipe a bottle up, shaking it triumphantly like a prize.

"Let's go to my room," he says. "We'll have our own party, and no one's invited. Except maybe Frank, if we find him. I wonder where he is?"

Again, not requiring an answer, he leads them to the stairs. They have to clumsily sidestep a couple of girls - from Lily's gaggle, he hazily notices - locked in a rather heated embrace. As they climb the stairs, Sirius in front, they come across several more such scenarios. This doesn't stop even when they open Sirius' bedroom door; to Sirius' horror, they find Caradoc and a pink-haired girl not in the bed, but definitely on the bed.

"Remove yourselves from the premises!" he demands. At least, he thinks he demands it. It comes out as more of a drunken slew of mismatched letters, but Caradoc seems to get the message because he hastily stands with a hearty rah-hah-hah laugh and darts past Sirius saying, "Just like last Halloween, eh, laddo?"

"God, disgusting," Sirius exclaims when they've gone.

He flops on to his bed and unscrews the cap on the Echo Falls and takes a long pull. Then he passes it to Remus, who puts it down on the night stand without drinking any. He climbs on to the bed and puts a hand on Sirius' chest, but almost concernedly, like someone checking for a pulse. Sirius turns to him and laughs stupidly and says, "Ar'you tryin' to seduce me, Mr Lupin?" and Mr Lupin has obviously never seen The Graduate because he leans back on his elbow and raises a brow in confusion.

God, he is so gorgeous. Every feature on his face is somehow perfectly aligned. Some unfortunate persons have a too-high forehead, or eyes that are too close together, or lips that are just a little too big, a nose just a little too long. Not Remus. He's perfect. So achingly perfect, and Sirius suddenly wants to kiss him and touch him and take off his conservatively plain t-shirt and jeans very very badly.

He quickly rolls over, rather haphazardly, and climbs on top of his delectable little angel cake. Their legs get caught together, and somebody's crotch very nearly receives an unwelcome greeting from a knee, and Remus huffs a bit and tells Sirius he's a clumsy mess. Eventually they get comfortable. Remus' legs are bent at the knee and Sirius sits rather delicately on his crotch. He takes full advantage of the opportunity to grind against Remus every so often, enjoying the way the hazel eyes flutter.

Then Sirius leans down and their mouths finally meet.

Wine-slick lips slide together with practised ease, and there isn't much time between the kiss starting and Sirius plunging his tongue into Remus' mouth with loud, heavy breaths, and it's so warm and easy and familiar, and Remus somehow always tastes so good that it's all Sirius can do not to weep with joy.

"Remus," he whispers when they break for breath, panting slightly. "Missed you."

"Me or this?"

"You - this - everything, I... just you," he babbles, and then he closes the gap between them again because he can rarely think of the right thing to say at moments like this even when he's sober.

He thinks he feels a hand at his chest, perhaps it's pushing him back, but he ignores it and kisses Remus again, and then kisses his cheek, and his temple, and moves to whisper in his ear, low and warm, "D'you know what we should do?"

"Hm?"

"We should - we should have sex," Sirius breathes. "Here. That'd be good, wouldn't it?"

Right now, Sirius reckons it's probably the best idea he's ever had.

"Sirius - "

"Really want you," he says, and he does. Their lips meet again briefly. "Really do, like it's ridiculous how much, you know."

Now's the time to wait for a response, to wait for the grin, to wait for the yes yes yes, a thousand times yes. He leans back unsteadily so that he's resting against Remus' bent legs and grapples for the bottle of wine. His eyes never leave Remus' as he drinks, spare hand trailing up and down Remus' chest.

"You're really drunk," Remus states.

"You too."

"I'm really not."

"I want you, angel face." Sirius sighs adoringly. "Come on. People kiss at New Year, don't they?" He reaches across to paw at the digital clock on his night stand, blinking blearily at the red flashing 11:45. "Let's do something more substantial."

"I... look, please stop being ridiculous."

Suddenly, because it seems like it might work, Sirius grinds his hips, hard, breathing out a laugh through his smirk when Remus groans.

"Don't you want me? Don't answer that." He leans to kiss him again. "Already know the answer. You told me, Remus, you told me you wanted me."

But Remus won't play ball, not even when Sirius slides a hand up his shirt. In fact, Remus actually bats it away with a snap of "your hands are freezing!"

He tries dipping his fingers into the front of Remus' jeans instead, but Remus is even quicker to get rid of his hand this time. Still, Sirius is determined. So determined. He's so sure Remus wants him. Granted, he's never known a boy to play this hard to get before, but it's New Year, he's in good spirits, he's willing to play a bit.

So he says, with utmost sincerity, "You can have anything you want. Anything. I don't care, it's yours."

"Christ, Sirius..."

But Sirius barely hears him - or perhaps refuses to acknowledge the words - and bends to suck hard at Remus' neck, at the sharp jut of his collarbone. Remus lets him for a moment. Then Sirius tries again and Remus starts to get tetchy.

"Please," Sirius whispers.

"No."

"Please."

"No! Stop begging, you only want it because you're pissed."

"So?! People shag at parties all the time!"

"Good for them."

"Strangers, I mean. And we're not strangers. And you said you want to, and it's New Year, and... and I really want you."

"Do you know you sound like a five year old when you talk like that?" Remus tells him irritably. "Why can't you just grow up?"

"Well, what do you want me to say?" Sirius demands, suddenly furious. "I want you to fuck me? Alright then. I want you to fuck me, Remus, I really really want you to fuck me. Is that better?"

"Look, stop pawing at me, for God's sake!"

Sirius flinches like he's been hit. He looks down at Remus' face and sees this really strange expression on it. It's the sort of expression a person might get when they hit a cat with their car; they're angry at the cat for running out and they yell at it, but then they hit it by accident and by the time it's all over the anger is still on their face because it's happened so quickly, but there's regret in their eyes too, and shock, because they were mad at the cat but they didn't mean to kill the bugger.

That's what Remus looks like now. He's staring at Sirius as though he's just sprouted fur and a tail and Remus has hit him with his car. His hands are on Sirius' chest, moving slightly, as though contemplating pulling him in for a hug.

But then the hands turn firm and push Sirius off roughly so that he falls back against the wall beside the bed. Because he's drunk his heavy head hits the surface with a painful crack.

"Ouch... Remus..."

But Remus has already gone. The door swings closed behind him, and the whiny pop punk becomes muffled, and Sirius is alone. He notes the suddenly empty bedroom with a surprising degree of humiliation. The first thing he does is reach for the bottle of wine, downing a hefty amount as though he isn't already drunk enough. Then he slides off the bed, gets unsteadily to his feet, and automatically goes in search of Remus.

Chapter Text

Everyone's gone when he stumbles downstairs, and for a moment he's suddenly terrified.

"James?" he calls out anxiously, swaying slightly as he stands in the deserted hallway.

He wonders, briefly, if he's dreaming. Then a cheer erupts outside and he relaxes, slumping against the wall. His head bumps Mrs Potter's wicker love heart and it falls from its little hook to the floor, but he's only vaguely aware of it happening. With a heavy head and a rather sickly sensation swirling in his belly, he pushes himself away from the wall and shuffles into the kitchen.

It's bright. Too bright. He paws clumsily for the light switch and turns it off. Then he notices Remus sat at the table, apologises stupidly and switches it back on again. Remus doesn't even flinch.

Sirius is faced with two options now. He can sit down at the table, look Remus in the eye and demand an apology for... for refusing to have sex with him? No, for pushing him and making him hurt his head. He can reach around his own back, grasp his spine and pull forth a heavy handful of backbone.

Alternatively, he can act as though nothing's happened.

"Hey," he says softly from the doorway. "You okay?"

He says "you okay" because Remus does not look okay at all. He's leaning slightly over the table and pinching his forehead, eyes closed like he's in pain.

"Just a headache," he mutters. "Sometimes when I drink..."

He doesn't finish. Still, at least Remus is playing along in the game of Pretend. At least they can be cowards together.

Sirius pads over quietly and automatically reaches to nestle a hand in Remus' hair. It's like some natural instinct, wanting to alleviate his pain, but at the last minute he stops, curls his fingers back into his hand, and drops his arm.

"D'you want some Paracetamol?" he offers.

"I've got Ibuprofen upstairs."

"I'll go and get it for you if you like."

"It's fine, I'll get it," says Remus, but he doesn't.

Silence. Then, "D'you want some yogurt?"

Remus opens his eyes at that. "Er..." His brow furrows. "No, that's okay, thank you."

Sirius only offered it because it's the one thing he's sure, in his inebriated state, they still have in the fridge. They're very good at eating, him and James, but not so good at the restocking part. Most of the money James' parents left has gone on booze and Blockbusters.

Now he's so suddenly starving hungry at the mention of food that he wanders over to the fridge and snatches the carton of Unsweetened Natural Greek and finds a soup spoon in the cutlery drawer, and then sits down opposite Remus and begins to eat. It tastes tangy and unsatisfying on his tongue, and he rather wishes he hadn't started, but he doesn't know what other option there is other than gnawing his own arm off or laying into the packet of sunflower seeds on the windowsill.

Remus watches him for a while, his expression unreadable. Then, quite suddenly, he sighs, "Sirius, for God's sake."

This comes as something of a surprise. Sirius lowers his next spoonful of yogurt in indignation. "What?"

"What are you doing?"

He examines the yogurt carton, as though looking for the answer. All he sees is '100g contains: Energy 545kJ/135kcal' and 'Best before end: see lid', none of which is much help at all. He turns back to Remus and says, "I'm eating yogurt."

"No - "

"Greek yogurt?"

"Sirius!" Remus snaps. "Fuck's sake, Sirius."

"What?"

 

"Is everything a joke to you?"

Sirius doesn't think this is particularly fair, on account of the fact that he is clearly pissed and, when pissed, things that are quite serious do generally become considerably funnier.

"What do you mean? What do you want me to say? Do you want me to be angry? This is so absurd," he drags out, words still very slightly slurred. "Why would somebody ask someone to get angry at them?"

Remus shakes his head, and puts the head in his hands, and doesn't speak for a very long time. So long in fact that Sirius begins to feel awkward. He eats a bit more yogurt to fill the time, even though he's starting to feel quite horribly sick, and thinks about the appropriateness of asking Remus if he wants a cup of tea. It's a habit he picked up as a kid, constantly asking people if they want this or that when they're angry with him, usually because he could never actually bring himself to say sorry.

But he's not sure Remus is actually angry with him. And why should he be? He just seems to want Sirius to be angry instead, which seems a little weird but then, Remus Lupin is a little weird himself.

Outside, a whole host of voices suddenly yell, "TEN!" and Sirius almost jumps out of his seat. When he glances out of the kitchen window he realises what's happening.

"They're starting the - "

"I don't mean to take things out on you," Remus says suddenly, cutting him off. "Or be awful to you."

Sirius turns back to him, surprised. "Remus?"

"I'm very stressed at the moment. No, I'm stressed all the time, I'm in a permanent state of stress, and anxiety's just... I don't do well with it and... I know that doesn't justify... I know I shouldn't - "

"It's alright!" Sirius says cheerfully.

"No, it's not!" Remus says, so viciously that Sirius recoils slightly, breakfast chair cold and hard against his back. "It's not alright for me to be hideous and for you to just put up with it. It's not healthy."

"You're not hideous."

"I snap at you all the time. At everyone."

Sirius considers this. "I've heard worse."

He has. It was, for instance, pretty mortifying when Damien Foti called him a seagull-shagger for two days in Year Eleven (until, that is, Sirius whacked him in the back of the knees with a common room pool cue). But Remus is shaking his head before Sirius can even relay the seagull-shagger example.

"You just don't get it," he says.

Sirius doesn't doubt that he doesn't get it. He pretends to look out of the window for a bit. A stillness settles over the room. He wonders who caused this. Himself, for begging for sex like some deprived middle-aged housewife? Or Remus, for merely overreacting? It's just sex, after all. And what kind of young man passes up blatant offers for sex?

He stares at his reflection in the dark glass, and in the back garden his friends yell, "ZERO!" A firework explodes, and his own face flashes blankly back at him.

"Happy New Year," he says, turning back to Remus.

"Happy New Year," comes the quiet reply. "I think we should call it a day."

"You want to go to bed?"

"You know what I mean."

"I don't." But he does, he does know what Remus means, and he so doesn't want it to mean what he knows it means, and he looks at Remus with new eyes and suddenly feels even sicker, like all the Natural Greek is going to come up and cover the breakfast table.

"It's just not ideal, Sirius. It never was. I should never have got involved with you. And it's not your fault - "

"I'm - "

"It's mine. I'm not used to having people around, that's all. I'm used to being on my own." He says it again: "It's not your fault."

Sirius feels he should correct him, because if it wasn't his fault then why would Remus be saying this?  But Sirius' mouth is dry, sour with vodka and yogurt, and his tongue suddenly feels like this great dead thing in his mouth, heavy and useless.

"I wanted to break things off anyway," Remus goes on quietly. "Not now. Not on New Year. I didn't want to ruin your party, but I'm just... I probably shouldn't be saying any of this. You're so drunk."

"M'not," he manages to mutter, and it's true that Remus' words have lurched him messily into a startling state of sobriety.

"I didn't want us to go any further, it's not..." Remus hesitates. "It would have just been harder to do this. You'd have got... attached. Maybe we both would have." Sirius feels very much so that this last part is tacked on to make him feel better.

"You were always gonna do this?"

"I nearly failed last year," Remus admits. It's clear the words don't come easy. "Boyfriends, relationships, they're not my priority. I'm not good with them. When we go back, second semester, that's when things really start to matter." He pauses before adding, almost as an afterthought, "You should think about that too."

Sirius scours his mind for a reply and comes up only with a memory. Himself, sat at the breakfast table in his house in London, his parents opposite. Of course you're not taking Media Studies as an A Level. Do you think we pay thousands of pounds a year for you to obtain useless qualifications? Think of your degree, Sirius. Think of your degree.

"Are you alright?" Remus asks out of the blue, and Sirius realises he's been quiet for a long time.

More fireworks boom and crackle outside, and it becomes difficult to think for a few moments. But then, finally, he registers the question, and something inside himself suddenly switches itself on. Or perhaps off, because he's seeing past humiliation and confusion, even manages to see past the fuzz of the last remnants of his drunkenness for a moment, and he's suddenly furious.

"No, I'm not," he snaps. "This is completely unreasonable!"

"I knew I should have left it till later..."

"That wouldn't have made it any better!" Sirius splutters. He dumps the soup spoon into the yogurt pot with such ferocity that a fair amount of the stuff gloops over the side on to the table. "In fact, it would have made it worse because then you would have spent even more time leading me on."

"Leading you on?" says Remus in surprise. "When did I ever give you the impression this was something that was going to continue? Look, Sirius, it was fine while it lasted, but it's obviously got to that point where you want more and I want less. And I'm sorry but that's just how it is."

Another firework rockets into the air, bursts and dies, and this time Sirius flinches and sinks back into his chair. He can feel himself burning with hurt and humiliation, and he wants to sleep and not look at Remus for a bit. This is possibly the worst way to enter into the new year.

It's the closest he's ever come to a break-up, and it's so much worse than it looks in films. In films people stick up for themselves. In films people stomp out and slam the door. Faces get slapped and glasses get smashed and people say "fuck you" a lot.

So that's what Sirius does. He says, "Fuck you, Remus," and he gets up and leaves the room.

 

-

At four o'clock in the morning, when everyone has left, Sirius crawls out of bed and throws up in the bathroom sink. Hot tears sting his eyes as he leans over the bowl and spits the last of the lagery-vodkary-yogurty concoction into it. He swipes the tap on, washes it away, and gulps down three large handfuls of water.

He actually feels remarkably better. Then he remembers Remus, and how Remus broke up with him, except he didn't really break up with him because they were never going out, and he suddenly wants to throw up all over again. He manages to stop himself - quite easily really, since there's nothing left in his stomach to chuck up - and slouches back down the hallway to his bedroom. The house is deathly silent. He wonders where Remus is. His stuff is still in Sirius' room, so he must have stayed, but where? Not sharing a bed hadn't been on the agenda.

He glances at James' door across the hall and for a moment the absurd idea that Remus might be in there crosses his mind. Without even checking the answer is obviously no, but he pads across to the door and knocks gently anyway.

"James?" he whispers. A loud snore greets him, and he takes it as an invitation to go in.

James' room is the usual tip when he enters. It stinks of unwashed boy, and James rarely bothers to draw the curtains at night so the moonlight seeping in through the window illuminates all the crap on his floor; the clothes and books, X-box controllers and week-old underwear, all the usual junk that Sirius has learned to expertly side step after seven years of living with James Potter.

He shakes his warm shoulder, then quickly climbs into bed with him. It's not as odd as it at first sounds; James has a considerably larger bedroom than Sirius, and was treated to a leather base queen-sized bed for his sixteenth birthday because Mr Potter said he was "growing up" (he also sprawls and had a habit of falling out of his old twin bed and hurting himself) so they're not especially squashed up and James can't exactly accuse Sirius of trying something on with him.

Having said that, upon waking up James' first utterance is a sleepy mumble of, "Geddout of my bed, y'queer."

Sirius ignores this. "Happy New Year, mate."

"Mmmmm," James hums sleepily. They're both very quiet and very still for a few long moments. Then James inhales sharply, shifting a bit on to his side, and says, "You woke me up to say that?"

Sirius doesn't know why he woke him up. "I suppose."

"You really are a queer."

"Well you're in bed with a queer."

"Don't care, you queer."

Then Sirius kicks him, and James kicks back, and Sirius nearly falls out of bed and they both snicker until he rights himself and rolls back on to the bed properly.

"Have you thrown up?" James asks him.

"Mm."

"There's Mentos in the night stand. No offence."

Sirius takes three and chews heartily for a few moments. The alcohol and the vomiting and the four hours of restless sleep he's had has done funny things to his brain, and the sound of himself chewing seems horribly loud. He swallows quickly, the noise a thick sludge in his ears.

"Remus broke things off with me," he says after a while.

"Tonight?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry, mate. Why?"

"Says... he needs to concentrate. And I wanted more than he did or something. I think I'm just... too pushy for him." He's purposely vague, as though he himself has absolutely no idea what Remus was talking about, as though he's as clueless as James.

"I'm sorry," James says again, and the covers swish as he reaches to squeeze Sirius' shoulder. "I don't think it would have worked out anyway. He's too..." He hesitates. "And you're too..."

"Yeah. I know," says Sirius. "I really like him. And I don't know why. I wish I didn't. He can be a real tosser."

"That's the spirit!"

But this does little to cheer Sirius up, and James obviously realises this because he shifts a bit closer - not so close that it's weird, but close enough that it's obvious he's making an effort - and taps him on the shoulder and says, "It'll all be alright, buddy."

He still sounds a bit drunk, but Sirius appreciates it all the same.

"James... do you like Remus?"

"What, like, do I fancy him?"

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm asking, James, do you want to shag Remus."

"Alright, sarky!"

"Is he nice to you? When you talk, I mean."

James shrugs in the dark. "I suppose. Don't know him as well as you. He's been nice enough, yeah. I think he's quite funny."

"Funny funny or weird funny?"

"Er, first one. Well, both actually, because he is a bit strange? But I was talking to him for an hour or so at the party and he's quite a good laugh, once you get used to his sense of humour."

Sirius sighs. He doesn't know what it is about Remus being nice to everyone but him.

"Did Lily ever explain why she was such a harpy to you at school?" he asks finally.

"She was not!"

"She was. She was a horror, and you know it. And she's not a bad person, is she? She's nice, she's... she's alright for a laugh."

"God's sake, Sirius, don't start asking me to compare mine and Lily's relationship with yours and Remus'. They're completely different."

"James, just because I'm gay - "

"I don't mean that, you wank. I mean... look." James turns over in bed to face him properly, and he's putting on his Serious Face, which isn't very effective when he's still slightly intoxicated and his eyes are a bit unfocused without his glasses, but at least he's trying. "Lily could say something to me at school and it'd hurt and it'd be like a kick to the balls, but it'd only be because I was being a twat in the first place. With you and Remus it's not like that. You're nice to him, aren't you? And you get nothing back. At least, that's what I've gathered. You do send the most depressing e-mails."

"Sorry."

"So if you want my honest opinion, mate, I think he's either always a bitch to people that he likes - you know, like when little lads pull a girl's pigtails in primary school - or he's trying to make you stop liking him. I'm assuming it's the latter because, erm, he broke things off with you. Or maybe it's both. Maybe he likes you but he's not supposed to like you, and it's a pain that you like him because he's not allowed to like you back so he's trying to make you stop... liking him."

"...Right."

"Makes sense in my head."

"No, no, I get it."

"Maybe he's got homophobic parents," James suggests.

"I don't think so. He's had a boyfriend before."

"Maybe... it was a bad relationship."

"Maybe," Sirius says without much conviction.

He squeezes his eyes shut and tries to remember what Remus said to him in the kitchen, but it's hazy and fuzzy in his memory and his head still hurts from when he threw up and his brain rattled about in his skull, and all he can remember is Remus saying "it was fine while it lasted" which seems so cheap and worthless now, as though Remus could have been fooling around with anyone with a dick and a nice face for two months and it wouldn't have mattered.

"I do really like him," Sirius says after a while. It comes out weak and false-sounding, so he says it again: "I really like him. I can't stop thinking about him. It's agony."

And James doesn't shift away or get embarrassed like he used to the rare times Sirius talked about this sort of thing, in their dorm at school when everyone else had gone to sleep. He just says, "I used to feel that way about Lily."

"Worked out for you though."

"Might work out for you, too."

Sirius shakes his head. "Sometimes I feel like he can't stand being around me. But I can't stop saying all these stupid things to him, telling him how much I like him. And even when I'm gushing I know how ridiculous I sound, and how desperate, and maybe that's what annoys him because fuck, I annoy myself, but I just keep trying because I think, well, maybe this time he'll like it."

There's a long, long silence. Beneath the covers, Sirius can feel James fidgeting, but it just seems more absent-minded than awkward, as though he's really trying hard to come up with a response. In the end he seems to give up, because he just goes, "I dunno what to say, mate..."

"It's alright."

Sirius knows he shouldn't feel disappointed. James is his brother, but even brothers don't really have an answer for everything. But at least he's listening, and it feels good to talk about it.

"But you have three years of university left," James goes on, out of the blue, surprising him. "And you're gonna meet so many people, and you're gonna like them, and you're not gonna say 'I don't know why I like them'."

Sirius looks at him, blinking in the dark. "What do you mean?"

"You deserve more than someone who makes you uncertain about yourself. Fucking hell, you're Sirius Black."

It's horribly cliché and bad Hollywood, but Sirius lets him go on.

"I mean, you kneed Jamie Holland in the bollocks for calling you a fairy in Lower Sixth."

"One of my finer moments."

"But people from school would be having a fit if they saw you now. You never let anyone fuck you over, least of all people you were, I dunno, having it off with or whatever. Now you're all mopey and sad all the time. I hate seeing you like this, mate, I really do."

"It's not just him," says Sirius. "It's everything. University isn't... it wasn't supposed to be like this. It's shit, James. The people, and the lectures, and... I just wish I'd got a job and stayed at home. Or gone somewhere else. Somewhere where you have flatmates, not a room mate, and there's no fucking dining hall where you have to sit on your own like a sad twat because you don't have any friends. I'm that sad twat, James. Me."

"Hey, if people aren't friends with you then it's their loss," says James. "You're a brilliant friend. The best. You must be if I'm willingly sacrificing all masculinity to tell you this. I mean, look at us." He gestures between them and rolls his eyes. "Jesus Christ."

Sirius snorts with laughter, and then groans in pure unhappiness.

"What am I going to do?" he whines. "I don't want to go back. Not without him. Then I really will be on my own."

"Sirius. Look at me."

Sirius does.

"Stop being a mopey whiny wanker," James says firmly. He seems to have found his voice now. "Really. Just stop it. I'm not going to shower you with all the reasons people like you because, to be quite honest, your ego is already the size of Buddha's arse. But they do like you, alright? Okay, so not everyone's going to be exactly like they were at school, but universities are big places. There are all sorts of people, and you just have to find the ones that are right for you. Look, one of my flatmates is from Ukraine and he barely speaks any English and he's obsessed with Tarot cards. At first glance, he's terrifying! But guess what? He makes the best banoffee pie you have ever tasted in your entirety. D'you see what I'm saying?"

"Er..."

"You can't just go looking for clones from our school days and expect things to be chill. Give everyone a chance, yeah? Join Societies and speak up in tutorials and... and smile at people. You've got to put some work in, man."

"Jesus, you've actually morphed into one of those wankshaft inspirational speakers we used to have in General Studies," Sirius murmurs, secretly appreciating it immensely. "Thanks, though. I'm... thanks."

"Welcome." James turns further on to his side and closes his eyes. He sniffs loudly, sighs and says, sleepy and ambiguous, "Oh buddy. Never thought it'd be you."

"What?"

"Nothing," James mumbles into his pillow. Soon he falls asleep again, and Sirius lies on his back listening to the winter birds outside the bedroom window.

 

-

For some godforsaken reason, James has set his alarm clock. At half past eight it suddenly begins screaming in Sirius' left ear like a fire alarm, piercing, killing, and his red eyes snap open and he lies there, twitching, as James scrambles across him to turn it off.

"Settit f'r yesterday," he croaks, flopping back down into bed, "t'go shopping."

"Wanker," Sirius tries to say, but nothing comes out except the tiny click of the 'k'. He sits up very carefully, most certainly on the brink of death, and gets up out of James' bed. He's not as alert as he was at four o'clock this morning, so he trips over a controller, an A-Level ring binder and a pair of Timberlands before stumbling successfully to the door.

He goes to the bathroom first, realising with a grimace that he didn't actually wash the sick away very well at all. He tries again, drinks more water, has a piss, and then goes back to his own bedroom.

He finds Remus in there, picking up his stuff, and for a moment they look at each other in silence. Sirius is still very aware that he looks like some kind of hideous hungover monster, eyes bloodshot and face pale and short hair sticking up in every conceivable direction, so he climbs into his messy bed and tries to disguise the act as one of defiance, a sort of I don't even want to look at you right now, Lupin kind of thing.

Miraculously, it sort of seems to work. At least, Sirius thinks he senses a bit of uncertainty in Remus' voice when he says, "Sirius, I'm going now."

Sirius turns on to his side and snuggles deeper into the covers, wishing they would swallow him up.

"There's a train at nine, I've checked. You don't want me hanging around all day, and - " Remus stops. He must think he's being too considerate. "Look, are you going to at least look at me?"

Sirius stares at the wall and forces himself to remain still. He isn't quite sure what he thinks this is going to achieve, but since he can't speak properly and since he isn't very good at getting angry at Remus anyway, he isn't sure what he could say that would show Remus just how hurt he really is. Staying completely still and trying to ignore him is the next best tactic.

"Right. Well," Remus says after a few moments of painful, buzzing silence, "I might see you when term starts, then."

The maybe, maybe not hangs in the air between them.

For one pathetic moment, Sirius wishes he'd stay. Not forever, just a few minutes longer. To apologise perhaps, or give him one last kiss. Even on the cheek, or on his head. He'd settle for that.

Remus turns and leaves without saying goodbye. Sirius spends the whole of New Year's day in bed, except at seven o'clock when he gets up to eat leftover dip and watch Eastenders.

Chapter Text

For once in his life, Sirius is glad the gruelling task of examination exists. So rapidly is he thrown into the chaotic mayhem of deadlines and Literature papers and vicious assessments upon returning to Durham, he barely has time to dwell on Remus cruel-bastard-of-a-Yorkshire-user Lupin.

Of course, that doesn't count the nights spent alone in his tiny twin bed, and it doesn't count the empty weekends when he should be desperately revising. Sirius can't help but think of Remus' stupid smashingly lovely face then. But the times he's sat in the examination hall, bent over a barely legible essay on metaphor in 'Paradise Lost', or tragedy in 'Dubliners', or making half-arsed attempts at justifying inferences of incest in 'Great Expectations', he doesn't have a single moment to think of Remus.

Which, he supposes, isn't such a bad thing at all. His New Year's resolutions - made a day late, due to unforeseen circumstances i.e. cruel abandonment - are rather basic when stripped to their bare bones:

1. Stop Moping;

2. Grow Hair Back;

3. Make Some Fucking Friends.

It's quite a neat little package, he thinks, since they all go hand in hand with one another. If he grows his hair back, he'll look brilliant again, and if he looks brilliant again he'll make friends faster, and if makes friends faster he'll get busy quicker, and if he gets busy (living, ha ha ha) he can finally stop sulking.

Still, it's easier said than done. When the exams are over a week into February and he's fairly certain he hasn't completely failed, Sirius quite easily slips back into his old routine: get up, eat, shower if hair is getting too greasy, go to lectures, sleep through lectures, eat, sleep more, lectures, sleep, eat, sleep. Sometimes a tutorial or seminar rears its ugly head, but for the most part he spends the rest of the month in a phenomenally sloth-like daze; tired, down, frustrated emotionally, sexually and physically, and generally wishing he lived his life as a blissfully ignorant oyster.

He's fairly convinced that if he doesn't start interacting with people again he's actually going to melt into a big pile of antisocial mush. He needs other people for energy, but besides that, he just misses his friends too. He misses James, of course, but he finds himself sort of missing Fabian, too.

Ever since coming back to university Sirius has tried smiling at him all the time, but Fabian actually cares about his degree so he's always off looking busy like he has somewhere to be, head down, earphones jammed in, long legs carrying him a mile a minute. Sometimes he even reads while he walks, and he reads at dinner times too, surrounded by all the bouncy new pals he has magically accumulated since telling Sirius, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off.

It's a shame really because now that they're not mates any more Sirius wants him around again. Surprisingly, it's not even because he misses having someone like him unconditionally. He just sort of misses having a friend around who didn't expect anything of him, and who was always willing to stick with him, and who always had a smile for him and vanilla incense sticks in his dorm and strawberry and lime Mentos gum in his pockets.

In hindsight, he was actually a brilliant mate to have. But while Sirius is more than willing to admit he himself was the one who ruined their friendship, he's not entirely sure how to go about fixing things. After all, Fabian has clearly gathered rather a lot of new companions, what with him being so nice and friendly and uncommonly patient, so Sirius is unsure if the cheerful redhead will be interested in rectifying their initial kinship.

It would be much easier if Fabian could just be a good lad and step out into the road without looking both ways first and almost get hit by a bus, all in full view of Sirius who would then rush out and save the North-Eastern damsel in distress, thus solidifying their friendship for many years to come. After all, you can't let someone save you from getting flattened by a bus and then not be their friend.

But Fabian won't cooperate, and as a result, Sirius has to take a slow and subtle approach. He begins by holding the door open for Fabian on the way to the dining room one Monday morning, and again when he bumps into him outside the common room in the evening. On Wednesday afternoon, they find themselves standing next to each other in the parcel line, and Sirius says, "What are you picking up?" and Fabian says, "Picture hooks". He doesn't ask what Sirius is picking up, or explain what the picture hooks are for, but he does smile, and that's definitely progress.

It's on Friday evening though, when Sirius finds himself in the library searching begrudgingly for a copy of 'Brave New World Revisited' that Fabian shows he no longer thinks Sirius is such a tosser that they can't be on speaking terms again.

After finding a third copy of plain old 'Brave New World', Sirius gives up, wanders over to the front desk, is pointed with a patronizing smile in the complete opposite direction of where he's been looking, and finds five practically untouched copies of the twatting book he has to read for his twatting tutorial.

He grabs one and slouches over to the self check-out, bastarding book in hand, and lo and behold, there stands one half of the Prewett partnership. Fabian is leaning over the check-out, running his finger over his bottom lip. He looks thoroughly perplexed. Beside him sit a pile of very old, very dusty tomes. Sirius didn't think tomes actually existed - thought they were something confined to the realms of fantasy - but nay, here they sit; dull, painful and falling apart, all with gold lettering on the front saying things like 'Reading the Fractures of Rome' and 'New Light on The Iliad' and 'A Study in the Life, Times and Work of Homer, with Emphasis on Political Bindings, Partnerships and Philosophy - Revisited'.

There are no essays due for at least a month, what with exams just having finished, and Sirius knows Fabian gets this stuff out just because he wants to. He actually likes this wank. In fact, it's probably his wanking material.

It's 'New Light on the Iliad' that's causing him distress. Sirius watches as Fabian sighs, attempts to scan it again, watches the screen of the check-out lay blank and unresponsive until a message box pops up saying 'Cancel or Continue?'

He lets out a frustrated noise and hits 'continue'. Sirius knows he must be getting really worked up because Fabian never makes noises like that. He must really want this book, he must really want to know about the new light on the Iliad. So in the politest tone he can muster, Sirius says from behind him, "D'you want me to try?"

Fabian jumps and whirls around. He looks absolutely exhausted, and the library is practically empty at this time of night so it makes sense that he'd be surprised to have some randomer lurking over his shoulder. But he relaxes when he sees it's only Sirius.

"Oh. Yeah, alright. Give it a go," he says, running a hand through his rather dishevelled red hair. "Please."

Sirius sets 'Brave New World Revisited' on the side and takes the book from Fabian's hands. The cover almost falls off as he slips it over the scanner, and there's a long, awkward pause as he holds it there and waits and waits. They share a stiff smile and then, thank God, the machine beeps and 'New Light on the Iliad' flashes up on screen.

"There we go," says Sirius, standing back. "I guess you weren't holding it long enough - "

"- It normally just does it straight away - "

" - It's quite old, so - "

" - Yeah."

Sirius attempts a world-weary huff of laughter and says, "I don't know why they can't just do it the old-fashioned way."

"With the stamp, yeah." Fabian scans the other horrors in double quick time and shoves them in his bag and moves to let Sirius scan his own book. "Um, Sirius?" he says hesitantly, as a message pops up on screen warning Sirius that if he does not return Aldous Huxley's masterpiece to the library by the 21st of February, he will suffer a long and terrible death.

"Yeah?" he says, stuffing the book into his bag.

"The Classics Society are screening Gladiator at the cinema tomorrow night - "

"Russell Crowe Gladiator?"

"Yeah, yeah. And then there's gonna be like a seminar afterwards? It's mostly about, you know, historical context and accuracy, but there's stuff about the filming itself too and you're perfectly welcome to come." He adjusts the strap of his bag on his shoulder, looking rather shy as he avoids Sirius' gaze. "There's gonna be people from ClassSoc and FilmSoc and I think a few from the other Theatre and Drama Societies, so..." He holds his arms out and shrugs. "You know, might be... I mean you've probably seen it before, but..."

Sirius considers this prime opportunity for friendship and Ridley Scott indulgence with interest. Because essentially what is happening is Fabian is showing willing to put behind them the fact that Sirius led him along, used him to try and make Remus jealous, slept with him and promptly bailed on him. Fabian is showing willing to do this by offering up an invite to see on the big screen one of the greatest historical action films of all time.

Logically, Sirius should take Fabian Prewett's hand in marriage. Instead, he puts the turn of events down to Fabian's natural yearning for keeping the peace, smiles at him broadly and says, "What time's it on at?"

 

-

Sirius regrets his decision when, at five o'clock the next day, he grabs a seat in the dark auditorium and casts a disdainful eye over the herd of plebeians who have to come to see Ridley Scott's masterpiece. It's strange because, for a film lover, he's always hated cinemas. At least, being in the cinema with other people.

He and James would always go to see very late viewings of horror films in the holidays, and James would insist upon the late hour because of the atmosphere and Sirius would insist upon it because late viewings meant no passive imbecile robotically chewing popcorn behind you, no silly girls screeching and giggling into their boyfriends' arms, no couples noisily getting off with each other and showing a total lack of respect for the art - the art - laid out beautifully before them.

That's why he may have made a bit of a mistake with this ClassSoc screening. The place is near packed, filled to the brim with what can only be described as nerds, and he can already hear a girl in front of him saying to her two friends, "Russell Crowe? Is he the one with the face like a muffin?"

But on the other hand, he's never seen Gladiator on the big screen, and he figures it's sort of one of those things you're supposed to do at least once in your life, like holding hands with your lover in front of the Eiffel Tower, and eating a deep fried Mars Bar.

So he perseveres and takes off his jacket and mechanically pulls out his phone and checks for texts from Remus. He knows it's sad, and he knows in his heart of hearts that Remus isn't going to get in touch, but since no one else knows Sirius is checking his phone for apologetic/romantic texts he's surely allowed to comfort himself by entertaining the brief glimmer of hope he gets before looking at the wretched thing.

The screen remains stubbornly blank. Oh well.

He registers someone standing over him then, asking if they can sit next to him, and he waves a hand in allowance. "Go ahead."

"I hope that's on silent."

Sirius turns to look at his new neighbour, and finds startlingly dark eyes staring back at him. These are accompanied by a mop of black curls and an easy, dimpled smile.

"Sure is," he says, giving the phone a little shake. Not that it needs to be on silent anyway.

"Glad to hear it," the guy goes on, and Sirius realises he's American. "There's nothing worse than people's phones going off during a movie."

Sirius gives a short laugh in concurrence and slides the phone back into his jeans pocket. "Except having the person who constantly eats sitting directly behind you."

"Or having the guy who likes to put his feet up sitting directly behind you."

"Or having children sitting anywhere within five feet of you."

"Or being on the row of the guy who has to keep getting up to go to the bathroom."

"Oh God, do you mean everyone I go to the cinema with ever?"

The boy laughs and sticks out his hand. "I'm Sam."

It takes Sirius a moment to realise someone is introducing themselves to him, perhaps because he's hardly spent time with anyone but Remus for so many weeks, so he grabs Sam's hand just a second too late, and just a bit too hard.

"Sirius," he rushes out, and Sam smiles.

"Sirius," he echoes slowly, almost like he's tasting it. "That's an interesting name. Like the star, right?"

"Right. And you're Sam like..." The words have a strange effect on his brain, so that by the time they come out of his mouth every prolific or hilarious Sam that he could refer to is suddenly gone from his mind, and the only one he can think of is Fireman Sam. He almost says it, but then, thank God, Sam - the real Sam - rescues him.

"Like Samuel, after the Prophet. My family are Jewish," he explains.

Sirius doesn't know what it is about Americans and giving away half their life story when they've only just met you. He never knows what to say in response, whether he's expected to comment on that life story or if he's supposed to supply his own, so more often than not he ends up saying mortifying things like this:

"Oh, that's really... cool. I mean, there's lots of really talented Jewish people, so I suppose it's not so bad being Jewish. Not that you were looking for justification for being Jewish. I mean, you might be perfectly fine with being Jewish. There's no reason you shouldn't be. But it's just a religion, and no religion is better than any other." A pause while he considers this point and why he isn't shutting up. "Except in the case of maybe certain tribal religions where they sacrifice, you know, baby monkeys and stuff. I'd say some religions are a bit better than that. But there's no need to be arrogant about your faith. Not that there's anything wrong with being proud of your faith. But then maybe you don't really care about that, maybe you're not particularly... Jewish."

Sam raises his eyebrows, pursing his lips like he wants to laugh. "What do you mean?"

"Well, you know, I mean you're Jewish but you might not be Jewish Jewish."

"A rabbi circumcised me so I'd say that's Jewish Jewish enough for me."

Sirius almost chokes. "Okay, that's good to know. I mean, not good to know, I don't... I'm not picky or anything. I mean, we all have preferences... I'll be quiet."

Sam laughs, and it's quite a nice laugh really, very American and full. "I'd prefer it if you weren't," he says kindly.

That's quite nice of him, Sirius supposes. At least he isn't backing away in horrified astonishment.

"Well, I don't really know what else to say," Sirius replies, wishing desperately for the film to start so that he can stop embarrassing himself in front of innocent Americans who don't deserve to be subjected to such babbling idiocy. "I mean, we've already covered religion, monkey sacrifice and foreskin so what else is there?"

Sam throws his head back and laughs again, louder this time. "Well tell me, Sirius," he says when he's recovered, "have you seen Gladiator before?"

Sirius is glad for the change of subject. "Only about seventy-four times," he says.

"Ah, see, I've seen it seventy-five."

It's a terrible joke, but Sirius laughs dopily anyway.

"And do you prefer Blade Runner or Gladiator?" Sam wants to know.

"They're... not exactly comparable."

"Of course they are."

"How?"

Sam opens his mouth to reply, but then the lights around them dim from yellow to purple to black, and the pre-film credits flash up on screen. He nudges Sirius on the arm with a smile, before settling back into his seat.

"I'll tell you later."

 

-

Three and a half hours later, Sirius has learnt that Sam is a first year International Relations student from Colorado, lives in St Chad's halls, and loves films, Michael Jackson, cycling and Nando's.

He also thinks that Gladiator is unequivocally better than Blade Runner, and he puts up a fairly good argument as they walk to the seminar together, and he continues this fairly good argument as they emerge from the hour-long talk.

In the end, because they both have to go home, they agree to disagree (even though Sirius is more than convinced that Sam is completely wrong on all accounts, even if he does use some pretty fancy vocabulary like "self-referentially incoherent" and "osteoporosis" in relation to films even Sirius has never heard of).

"So I never actually asked," Sam says as they wander to the bus stop together, "are you in ClassSoc? I've never seen you in FilmSoc and I've been there since day one."

"I'm not in either," Sirius replies. "My friend asked me to come."

"Who's your friend?"

"Fabian," says Sirius, and when Sam looks uncomprehending he adds, "Prewett?"

"Ohh," Sam drags out. "The twin, right? I know his brother. We play lacrosse together sometimes."

"Gideon plays lacrosse? But he looks like River Phoenix."

Sam laughs heartily. "He's pretty good, you know. Hey, you involved in any sports?"

"No."

"Any Societies?"

Sirius hesitates and considers lying. "No..."

"What is it you study again?"

"English."

"Oh."

And that's it. The truth has come out: Sirius Black is completely and utterly boring. They're at the bus stop now and he can't think of anything to redeem himself, and he doesn't know why he wants to really because it's not like he's ever going to see Sam again. He could ask for his number and try to make some headway on Resolution Number Three (Operation: Friends and the Making Thereof) but, as arrogant as it sounds, Sam is quite obviously gay and has been quite obviously flirting with him for the past few hours, and Sirius doesn't want him to get the wrong impression.

"Well, you should join Film Society," Sam says finally. "I think you'd really enjoy it. It's a lot of fun, and you obviously know what you're talking about."

"Do I?"

"Sure. Between you and me, there are a lot of people in FilmSoc who just want to see a free movie and stuff their faces with Union food. Hardly anyone ever sticks around to discuss anything." He smiles. "It'd be nice to have someone to talk to. And there are some cool people there. The presidents, Sebastian and Alister, are so passionate about cinema. They're always organising socials and projects - film-making projects, if that's what you're interested in. Or are you more of a critic?"

"Oh, I..." Sirius hesitates; his stop motion projects suddenly seem so stupid in light of Sam's expertise. "Well, a bit of both maybe. I mean, I like making stuff, yeah."

"Ah, well, you make the films and I'll critique them." Sam winks, and Sirius grins back automatically. "Alternatively, we could just talk about how much better Gladiator is than Blade Runner."

"But it's not."

"Well then I'd like another chance to convert you," Sam laughs, and then the number sixteen draws up outside the shelter. "Is this one yours?"

"No, no."

"Alright, well it's mine, so. It was really nice meeting you, Sirius. I hope you'll come."

"Yeah," Sirius says with a little smile as Sam sticks his hand out for the second time, "maybe I will."

 

-

When he gets back to halls, Sirius flops on his bed and checks his phone for the fifty-sixth time that day. There is obviously nothing, but for one insane moment he actually opens the message creator and considers sending something to Remus. What would be most appropriate? 'How are you'? 'How were your exams'? 'I might join FilmSoc after all, will that make you like me'? 'I miss you and I think about you every night and I can't stand the thought of your stupid face and why why why why why'?

Admittedly, it's tempting. In the end, he slides the phone on to his night stand and lies back on his bed and focuses on the positives. His exams are over. Fabian might still want to be his friend. He might have a new friend, an American Jewish friend who likes Ridley Scott and South African food. And he just had the privilege of seeing Gladiator on a proper cinema screen despite not being old enough for such an exhilarating experience in the year 2000.

Progress takes time, he reminds himself in a drunken James sort of voice. Things will get better in time. University will get better in time. He'll get over Remus in time. His hair will grow back in time. Hopefully.

Chapter Text

When exams are well and truly over for everyone, not just Sirius, that's when problems begin to arise. He suddenly starts seeing Remus everywhere. It's as though he's been hibernating in his nest like some regal Arctic animal for the past month, and now he's emerging for the dawnings of spring to gnaw on Sirius' heart and soul and mind like they're nuts and berries.

It's probably rather a brutal analogy but that's how it feels. He sees Remus in the queue at Tesco, in Boots at the pharmaceutical desk, in cafés bent over his books, in the Union nursing half a lemonade and, more frequently than any of those, simply on the streets, strolling along without any obvious cares, and with no time to spare Sirius a glance.

It doesn't seem to be that Remus is ignoring him. Sometimes, very occasionally, they do go through the excruciating pain of catching one another's eye and Remus will smile very briefly at him before turning back to his books or his lemonade or the pharmacist to slip across a paper requesting six boxes of Co-codamol.

Meanwhile, Sirius stares at the back of him and wishes that Remus would stop wearing that stupid duffle coat, because it fits him wonderfully.

Anyway, the point is that it's all very A Streetcar Named Desire in the sense that Sirius is quite literally one step away from going to Hatfield College and standing beneath the windows and screeching REEEEEEEEMUUUUUUUS and hoping for some kind of romantic reaction.

He doesn't want to feel like this. He doesn't force himself to feel like this. He doesn't deliberately walk in the rain or lie awake in bed at night in some lame attempt at catharsis. And he wouldn't blame anyone for calling him a pathetic love-sick puppy, because he is. He is. And it's become increasingly apparent that he can't do anything about it.

Lectures begin again in February and he does his best to care about them but he just can't. They start discussing Brideshead Revisited in tutorials too. It used to be one of Sirius' favourite novels, only now he just wants to stand up and yell, "Everyone in this book is a wanker! Why can't they just admit their feelings? Why does everything have to be so difficult? Why can't they all just shag it out of their systems?!" but he suspects that isn't what the tutor has in mind when he asks questions like, "How did you all relate to the characters?" so Sirius stays quiet and watches the clock instead.

 

 

-

On Thursday night, Janis Joplin invites him to a party.

Essentially what happens is Sirius is sprawled across his bed at ten o'clock in the evening, in a pair of boxers and an over-sized Middle Earth vest while he rages/moans/sobs over his atrocity of an English essay. Peter wanders in with Janis in tow and the two of them are dressed to the nines.

Peter is in a brown dress shirt and slacks of dubious origin (as in, Sirius is not entirely convinced the slacks did not once belong to a sixteenth century jester) and Janis is in very tight purple trousers and an orange tube top. Hair bristles out from beneath her armpits in an extremely attractive manner, like a very small lion's mane.

"Where you off to, then?" Sirius mumbles into the space bar of his laptop, kicking his feet against his headboard.

"Party," Peter says primly. Ever since getting a girlfriend he has become incredibly self-assured. It's amusing and infuriating in equal parts.

"Oh yeah? And whose party might this be?" Sirius rolls onto his back, grinning, waiting for the doubtless hysterical answer; head of StarTrekSoc, a geology lecturer, Janis' parents.

"Gideon Prewett's," Peter replies, and he sounds so proud of himself that Sirius almost laughs.

He is, however, too busy being indignant that Peter has been invited and not him. Then he remembers that Gideon hates him for shagging his brother, so it makes sense really. Still - Peter?

"Did he actually invite you or are you just tagging along?" Sirius says, and he knows he's being mean.

"Of course he invited us!" Peter says hotly. "Well, Fabian anyway. And they're one in the same."

Sirius rolls back on his stomach with a snort. "They're twins, Peter, not Bokanovksy clones. And anyway, how can Gideon be hosting a party if he doesn't have his own house? Doing it in his dorm, is he?"

Peter is ignoring him, running a ratty hairbrush through his curls. Janis, having bounced herself down on to Peter's bed, smiles at Sirius warmly. She's nice really. If only she'd shave her underarms and sort out the obvious monobrow, she'd be quite pretty.

"It's like a frat party, Sirius, lots of sports players going. Like they have in America, isn't it?" she says giddily. "Someone is letting him host at their house on All Saints Street. A boy on the rowing team, I think. Or maybe it was cross country. Pete, was it rowing or cross country?"

"Water polo," Peter says distractedly, trying to sort out the dead animal on his head.

"Water polo," Janis nods. She turns back to Sirius. "Come along. You'll have a nice time."

He doesn't see how Janis could know this but, in truth, Sirius is rather tempted. There are two streets amongst the students known for their luxury and party-hosting prowess. One is Reality Lane, six streets from University College. The other is All Saints Street. Its cobbled road and terraced houses are unassuming at first glance, but Sirius has heard stories. Oh, how he's heard stories.

Already he's smoothing down his shirt as though preparing to impress the best of the very best. How on earth Gideon, a first year English student, managed to get a third or fourth year water polo player to give up his house on All Saints for the evening, God only knows.

Still, it would be nice to get out and meet some new people. It's not like he has to talk to Gideon, or even look at Gideon. Everyone knows you can go to house parties and not be on the invitation list and not ever have to make eye contact with the host, as long as you go late enough in the evening.

Decided, he closes the lid of his laptop and bounds across the room. "Give me five minutes to shower!"

"Sirius, no! We're going to be late," Peter squeaks, at which point Sirius conveniently closes the bathroom door in his face.

 

 

-

He knows exactly what to expect from a party being hosted on All Saints: a Victorian building with huge rooms, high ceilings, sash windows that cover entire walls. The old-fashioned charm of the fireplaces will be yoked with bottles of absinthe stacked across the mantel. There'll be original artwork on the white-wash walls bought from craft fairs, and a huge kitchen with an AGA, setting aside its given purpose in order to host vast amounts of alcohol. Tasteful and minimalist furniture, perhaps with a few androgynous boys setting up an orgy on a chaise long, while others smoke roll-ups in a circle in the next room, legs folded against the stripped floorboards. Everyone will kiss everyone else in a very Blakeian way. Someone will play Chopin on a record player, followed by The Smiths and Cream. They'll sing Bohemian Rhapsody in harmony before the fire, and recite T.S. Eliot and talk very deeply about religion and Bob Dylan until they all fall asleep on one another in front of the reproduction Monet.

He's right about the AGA at least. It's there, a big old ugly thing, as soon as they walk in through the kitchen entrance. The alcohol isn't sitting on top of it because most of the space has been taken up by several empty pizza boxes, but it's sitting everywhere else. The first thing Peter does is swipe a can of Heineken off a counter-top. Sirius follows suit, noting immediately that a lot of the other guests seem pretty far gone.

It's a struggle just to get out of the kitchen, what with everyone being in there, all pressed up against one another and sloshing bottles of coloured fizzy stuff.

Someone's put on 'Sharp Dressed Man' by ZZ Top, although no one is particularly sharply dressed themselves. All Sirius sees is a lot of boys, a lot of tall, tall, broad-shouldered boys, in tight t-shirts or sports jumpers. Some of them are even in shorts, as though they've just wandered down All Saints Street fresh from a footie match. There are a few girls too, but they're tiny, wafery things who seem to get quite frenquently squashed. One has the whole side of her face pressed against the fridge, but is dealing with it remarkably calmly, one arm stuck out at an angle to keep her WKD safe.

Sirius is glad now he didn't go the whole hog like Peter and put on a dress shirt. He'd look a right fool. Peter does look a fool, bless him.

He sees plenty of people he recognises, but no one who recognises him. When they go through into the living room, which is sparse with crap furniture and absolutely no Victorian charm, Peter and Janis find Fabian in a corner. He's lounging in an armchair with his long legs hanging over the side, surrounded by a little group of drunkards. Fabian sees Peter and Janis and waves them over. He doesn't see Sirius. Or maybe he does and he's ignoring him.

Snapping the tab on his lager, Sirius considers forcing himself into the little group anyway. But he probably needs to be drunk before he can do that without a) himself minding and b) anyone else minding. He eyes up a group of "arty types" he thinks he recognises from his Comparative Lit lectures and considers going over to talk to them instead when a heavy hand claps itself on his shoulder and he jumps and almost spills Heineken over his favourite Jurassic Park t-shirt.

He turns and Sam is there, smiling his dimpled smile.

"Now there's a face I recognise!" He grins widely. "Starry boy. Remember me? Sam like the Prophet?"

He's rather tipsy.

Sirius, still taken slightly aback, smiles just a second too late. "Right, right! Fancy seeing you here," he says, as though he himself was actually invited in the first place.

"I told you I know Gideon. We play lacrosse together." Then he prods Sirius in the chest with the hand wrapped around his bottle of Budweiser. "What's your excuse, huh?"

"Er..." Sirius waves a vague hand behind himself. "Fabian."

"Right! Right, sweet, sweet. So." And then Sam slings an arm around Sirius, which is quite difficult because Sam is rather short, and begins walking them slowly over to a different corner of the room. "I have a bone to pick with you, dog star."

"Oh?"

"You weren't at Film Society last night. You said you were gonna be there!"

"I said maybe."

"Well, what were you doing that was soooo important?

Sirius shrugs. "Essay stuff."

"Oh come on. First year essays over Psycho? I'm ashamed of you. I was so looking forward to discussing Hitchcock's use of sympathetic protagonists with you and you weren't. There." He prods Sirius' chest on the last two words, then stands back and smiles at him. "Next week, okay?"

"Well..."

"Excellent!"

That's that settled then.

"Come on then, introductions, introductions. These things are mandatory at parties of this calibre."

Sirius wonders what exactly Sam means by 'calibre'. He's dragged over to a pack of about six boys, over by the iPod dock. They're all dressed in similar attire of artfully ripped, bleached jeans and grey t-shirts with ambiguous slogans across the chest like 'Work It' and 'To The Max' and 'Shoot'. They all have very manly names too, all hard-hitting one syllable things like Jack and Joe and Josh and Jake and Sirius suddenly feels very floaty and effeminate. He's wearing a Jurassic Park t-shirt, for Christ's sake. Granted, it's one of Spielberg's finest projects, but he's a university student.

They are all, it transpires, members of Sam and Gideon's lacrosse team.

"Do you play any sports, Sirius?" says Joe-or-was-it-Jack.

"Not anymore," he answers, and they all look at him like he's just trodden on a kitten. "I used to play rugby," he adds quickly, and to this they all chorus ahhh! and nice! and tough game, tough game. One even slaps him on the back and cries, "Right on!" as though he's just solved world hunger. Sirius almost falls over.

"What position did you play?" one wants to know.

"Oh, just a winger."

"And what does that entail?" Jake, who is very very drunk, leans over and asks.

"Er, well, not much really. Little skill and lots of running." Sirius chances a self-deprecating laugh at this, but they all look very solemn.

"Hey," says another, winding an arm around his back and leaning down close. It's like being breathed on by a very good looking mountain troll. "Don't feel bad about it. Every team needs its little scrawny guy."

"Scrawny?" Sirius echoes, looking up at him. "Would you say I'm...?"

"Oh, definitely."

"Like The Beatles," says Joe-or-was-it-Jack. "George Formby was just the little wimpy guy, but where would they have been without him?"

They all nod, very serious and slow, and Sirius can feel his IQ lowering a bit.

 

 

-

"Do you think I'm scrawny?" he asks Sam later, when the pack of J's have disappeared and they're sitting on a sofa together. He runs a self-conscious hand up one of his arms, and Sam reaches out and does the same.

"No, man, no, you're good," he replies, squeezing his shoulder. Sirius isn't convinced. Is that why Remus broke things off with him? Because he's scrawny? "Let me get you another drink," Sam continues, and he stands up and wobbles precariously for a moment, and then stumbles off to the kitchen.

Sirius doesn't know how he's so drunk already. How everyone is so drunk already. It's not even a decent party. The music is abysmal. The people are, for the most part, hideously dull. There isn't even a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, for God's sake.

Sam comes back with two solo cups filled to the brim with red wine, and hands one over.

"So," he smiles, "what have you been up to since we last met?"

"Literally nothing."

"Literally nothing? Can't be literally nothing. That means you wouldn't have been sleeping, or eating, or - "

"Yep, I'm a vampire."

It's a bad joke, but Sam throws his head back and laughs loudly anyway.

"You'd suit being a vampire," he says, thumbing playfully at Sirius' jaw. "Although you'd need to cut your hair."

"No!" Sirius says a little too forcefully. It's only just started to grow properly again. "No, I'm growing it. It used to be long, I... had an accident."

Sam looks puzzled, as though the thought of a boy growing his hair is too absurd for words.

"Well, I guess you'll have to be a little more Lestat than Dracula, huh?" And then he laughs again, and downs literally half of his wine in one. And Sirius isn't even exaggerating this time, literally half of the solo cup is drained in one gulp.

"Bad week?" he asks before he can stop himself.

Sam pauses, then smiles a little sheepishly and lowers the cup. "You could say that. I got a really shitty test back on Monday. I'm totally snowed under with FilmSoc since we're helping out in this sort of, you know, upcoming festival? And, uh..." And then Sam leans really close, so that Sirius can see just how long his dark eyelashes really are. "Between you and me, there's been a little trouble in paradise too."

Sirius looks at him for a while, waiting for Sam to lean back again. He doesn't. He has red wine stains crusting on his lower lip.

"Er... with your girlfriend?" Sirius says carefully.

Sam snorts. "Me? Come on, Sirius, we know these things about each other."

Do they?

"So a... boyfriend then."

"Ex. Ex-boyfriend. Does 'trouble in paradise' still apply when it's an ex?"

"I'm not sure."

"Well, anyway. He's a prick." And then he downs the second half of wine, and tosses the cup aside carelessly. Yep. Completely pissed.

Sirius suppresses a sigh. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Why did he offer that? They barely even know each other.

"No, no, I wouldn't want to bore you with that," Sam says, before launching into the whole story from beginning to end. He doesn't leave out any of the gritty details either, which is quite amusing because when sober Sam seemed so sweet, but is also just a little over the top even for Sirius. It's when Sam says, "He used to do this incredible thing with his thumb and tongue..." that Sirius starts to zone out.

He thinks about the likelihood that he'll finish his essay on time or if he'll have to lose points for lateness, and he thinks about how stupid Peter looks in those Shakespearean Fool trousers, and he thinks about how Remus sleeps with his mouth open and makes little clicking noises in the back of his throat, and by the time he's finished thinking about all of that Sam seems to have finished and is looking at him expectantly.

"So what do you think I should do?" he asks, with wide, searching brown eyes.

"Er..." Sirius clutches for an appropriate answer. "I think you should do what makes you happy."

"God, you're right," Sam breathes, shaking his head. "You're so right. I just want to be in a new relationship. A new, healthy, normal relationship. You know?"

He's leaning close again. He's very pretty, is Sam, but it's just a little too close for comfort. Sirius subtly leans back.

"How weird!" he says, forcing a stupid smile. "We're like opposites in that respect. To me, the thought of a relationship right now is just..." He shakes his head, as though it doesn't even bear thinking about.

Sam is not fazed.

"Did you have a bad experience too?" he asks, soulful and concerned.

Sirius hesitates. "Sort of..."

"You can tell me."

So Sirius does. He tells him.

 

 

-

"So he just... left? Just like that?"

Sirius nods sadly. Truth be told, he's playing it up a bit, enjoying the sympathy. He's a bit drunker now than when he started telling the story - it's sort of turned into an hour-long epic, including all the bits about James and Christmas and how dreadful uni is - and Sam is rubbing soothing circles on his back and handing him more of that disgusting red wine.

"And you haven't seen him since?"

"Just in Boots," says Sirius. He shrugs. "And the pub. And Tesco. But that's all..."

"You poor thing."

"Yeah, well. C'est la vie, right?"

"It shouldn't be," Sam says urgently. "It shouldn't be la vie. I can't believe anyone broke up with you."

"We didn't break up. We weren't going out. He made sure I understood that." He should feel bad for talking about Remus like this, but he doesn't. It feels good. It feels really good actually.

"His name's Remus?" Sam asks.

"That's right."

"I might know him..."

"Yeah?"

Sam shrugs. "Maybe. Is it a common name in England?"

Sirius snorts. "No, not at all. Not in the slightest."

"Is he in LGBT Society?"

"How did you know?"

Sam shifts in his seat and removes his hand from Sirius' back, slinging it across the top of the sofa instead. "FilmSoc are helping out at Q Ball," he explains. "They do it every year. All the Societies do really, if they can and if they're not, you know, total bigoted jerks. We're going to be screening films there this year."

"Like what?"

Sam's brow furrows as he struggles to remember. He leans a little closer to stop himself from falling straight into Sirius' lap, the wine in his cup swirling in a sickly kind of way.

"Uh... Milk... Brokeback Mountain - "

"Brokeback Mountain?"

"What?"

"You're screening Brokeback Mountain at a gay pride festival."

"Brokeback Mountain is beautiful! It won an Oscar!"

Sirius laughs and nudges him on the arm. "For Best Score."

"And Best Director! God, don't you know anything? I thought you were supposed to be good at films."

Sirius nudges him again, harder this time. "I am good at films."

"Well, you didn't know Brokeback Mountain won Best Director."

"I'm good at good films, mate."

"You're wearing a Jurassic Park t-shirt."

"Jurassic Park is a masterpiece."

"Jurassic Park is shit," Sam laughs, before draining his sixty-eighth drink of the night. "Looks good on you, though."

"Cheers."

"Like mine?" Sam holds his t-shirt out so that Sirius can see properly, and he realises the little cubes and lines are supposed to be like The Matrix.

"Beautiful," he declares.

"Aw thanks, buddy."

In less than two seconds Sam leans across and kisses him. Sirius, weightless from telling his story, lets him.

Chapter Text

They grab a "quick coffee" on Saturday morning. An incredibly quick coffee actually; Sam has to go to a service at the Synagogue, darkly funny really considering how hungover he is. Still, it's inevitable that they'd have this meet. When you spend half an hour with your tongue down someone's throat, it's only polite to discuss anything but that the next morning over an overpriced cappuccino.

Actually, Sam's drinking hot chocolate, and a bit of cream covers his top lip after the first sip. In an ideal world Sirius would gesture to his own lip with a little smile and a wink, or even lean over and swipe it up with his thumb, or possibly even kiss it off. And then Sam would smile shyly and apologise and Sirius would say, "Don't apologise, it's cute," and they'd grin at each other like Harry and Sally.

In reality, Sam wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and says, "I don't even like this whipped stuff," and Sirius keeps his distance because he's never been good with this sort of situation, this whole 'now-it's-the-morning-after-are-we-dating-or-did-I-just-need-a-warm-body-last-night' shebang. A case in point would be how he bailed on Fabian.

Not that he and Sam had sex, or even touched much, or even did anything other than make out for a good twenty or so minutes, with a break halfway through when Sirius momentarily lost his phone down the sofa cushion. But this conversation could be the make or break of their friendship, or the start of a relationship, and Sirius isn't sure if he wants one of those at all.

He should, by all accounts, want one. A relationship, that is. Sam is cute and friendly and knows a lot about films and plays a lot of sports and has nice curly hair and big brown eyes, and he's small enough that Sirius could put an arm around him and he'd fit perfectly beneath him. He's a good kisser too, from what Sirius can recall.

And he seems to like Sirius, judging by the way his hand is creeping across the sugar-strewn Starbucks table, and beneath it the way his Converse are subtly brushing against Sirius' Oxfords. But he's not Remus, and Sirius would never say that out loud but it's true. He is simply not Remus.

"I'd love to see your films some time," he's saying now. "If you don't mind showing me, that is."

"I don't mind," says Sirius, "it's just they're all..." Lost. No, not lost. Left behind.

"I review independent movies for the university paper," Sam explains, "so maybe we could, you know..." He pauses, gives a little smile. "Work together some time."

Sirius suddenly wants to give him a massive hug. He wants to ruffle those lush Colorado curls. He wants to like Sam, wants to really really like him, but it's far from simple, especially when he's looking into Sam's eyes and thinking, yeah, those are a nice shade of brown, but Remus' eyes...

It takes him a moment to realise Sam has spoken and he's now looking at Sirius expectantly, and his hand has crept even further so their fingertips are touching. Sirius blinks.

"Sorry, what was that?" he asks, closing his eyes and shaking his head a bit as though to show he's definitely not ignoring Sam, he's just so tired and so silly. "I was on another planet then. Not because of you, I'm just..."

Sam just laughs. "I wanted to know if you're coming to Q Ball," he says patiently. "The last FilmSoc meeting before it is on Thursday. The festival's on Saturday. I'd like it if you came." He doesn't add with me, but he doesn't really need to.

"They're holding it in February?"

"Mm. Why not?"

"Bit cold, isn't it?"

Sam laughs again as though he's joking. "So we're screening a couple films and handing out these great flyers about gay cinema that Seboneli fixed up."

Who's Seboneli, Sirius wonders? Some kind of gay Italian mastermind?

"Then there'll be a talk about, you know, the power of entertainment, how important it is for gay actors and actresses to come out, all that..." His large, dark eyes flicker up and catch Sirius', and he gives another of those bone-melting little smiles. "Stuff."

"Sounds great."

In what is clearly a moment of overwhelming passion, Sam then pushes his whole hand forward so it's covering Sirius', and now, yes, they're actually doing this; they're actually sitting in a coffee shop with one of their hands covering the other's. It's touching and novel and a bit embarrassing, and Sirius glances around awkwardly.

The man sat to the left of them with his nose buried in the Daily Telegraph is peering out from behind Ed Miliband's glaring face and looking very, very disapproving. The two teenage girls sat to the right of them look as though they might burst with joy.

"So you'll come?" Sam says earnestly, giving his hand a little squeeze.

"Of course I will."

Of course he will. Remus will be there.

 

-

The week hurries by, and he somehow manages to get his first essay of the semester in on time. By the time next Saturday rolls around, he is in a fairly calm state of relaxation. No essays for another month. No new novel until Monday. No major upsets regarding the friendships he is slowly stitching back together with Peter and Fabian. And he hasn't thought about Remus in any great depth for at least two days. Meaning, although he's thought about him while engaging in day-to-day activities, he hasn't wanked over him or anything like that, which is probably a good thing. It's not really healthy to wank over someone who broke your heart. If anything it's sort of creepy.

On Saturday morning he stays in the shower so long he misses breakfast and shaves and dresses very carefully in a tight white t-shirt and dark jeans and leather jacket and rubs on some but not too much of his most expensive aftershave.

In spite of the time it takes he doesn't look particularly extraordinary when he peers in the mirror, but at least he doesn't look like he's on the verge of a mental breakdown or a guest on the Jeremy Kyle show, and that's really all he wanted. Can't have Remus seeing him looking like a guest on the Jeremy Kyle show, after all. That would be tragic.

On the way out he picks up his camera and considers it for a moment. He could take it. But what would he do with it other than show it off? And anyway, it would probably only get nicked. In the end, he places it carefully back in the night stand and pats it gently. One day, old boy, one day.

"Coming to Q Ball with me, Pete?" he asks by the door.

Peter looks up quickly from his laptop, sounding far too relieved when he says, "I've got work."

Bugger you then. Sirius leaves by himself and goes all the way downstairs by himself and steps out into the actually rather beautiful February day by himself and starts towards the city park.

He's not sure he wants to be going at all. No one has called it a pride festival but that's what it is, and pride festivals have never really been his thing. Maybe they would have been, were the circumstances different, but being gay in a conservative boarding school in Devon isn't at all like being gay in a liberal city state school. He isn't sure the boys on the rugby pitch at school would have appreciated him saying things like, "What did you get up to this weekend, lads? I myself paraded the streets of London in a feather boa."

Pathetic, really, but at least he can admit that.

No, what's more pathetic is the real reason he's going to this fun fair. It's not like he's expecting Remus to see Sirius with his hour-long-washed hair and trendy jeans and suddenly fall in love with him. It's not like he's even expecting Remus to want to talk to him. But Sirius wants him to see that he's, well, okay. Not totally heartbroken. Not totally useless. Not totally mourning the loss of whatever strange relationship they shared during those few short, confusing months.

And maybe he'll make a load of new friends who are both gay and into cinema, and maybe Sam will kiss him again, sober this time, beneath the lights of the projector screening Milk, and maybe they'll hold hands and share candy floss and Sirius will win Sam one of those lolloping great cuddly toys off a dart stand, and then maybe he'll be so happy he'll forget about Remus altogether.

And maybe he's talking complete bollocks.

 

-

"Oh God, I'm really early, aren't I?" Sirius looks around at a party which has definitely not kicked off yet, and then back at Sam who is smiling bright as starshine.

"No, no, not at all! In fact, you're right on time to help out!" he burbles. He's wearing one of the FilmSoc t-shirts and a bright red hoodie with a fur hood, pulled up over his head so his dark curls hang out around his eyes like a rag doll. It's very cute, but in a puppy dog sort of way more than a Marlon-Brando-in-Sayonara way.

"First though, come and meet Seboneli." Sam takes his hand and begins weaving him through the seats and stalls that make up the Film Society's portion of the festival.

Sirius is rather intrigued to meet the famous Italian, but when they get to the large canopy Sam has been leading him to there are only two people standing there, one short and red-haired and freckly, the other tall and stern and sharp.

Sam introduces them both, and Sirius suddenly understands what he means: Seb and Ali. Sebastian and Alister, the presidents.

"Well, I'm president," Sebastian says snippily. "He's vice."

"One day I'll overthrow him," Alister jokes. Sebastian looks outraged.

"Do you know what a projector is, Sirius?" he asks, saying Sirius' name like he's got a dead cockroach in his mouth.

"Remind me?" says Sirius, and Sam snorts, and Sebastian sighs in a very long-suffering kind of way.

"Help Samuel set up the projector," he orders in a long southern drawl, as though Sirius is even a part of his bloody Society, "and don't muck it up. Cost a fortune."

"He's a little uptight," Sam explains with a quiet grin when Sebandali have wandered off somewhere with clipboards.

"A little?" says Sirius. "If he gets any tighter he'll explode. And then we'll all be covered in bits of comb-over and pompous bastard."

Sam laughs loudly, and Sirius feels a small jab of pleasure at the sound. Together they unpack the projector that simply cost a fortune. One wall of the large white canopy serves as the screen, and Sam conjures a DVD player out of nowhere and plugs it in to the projector. A Dolby logo flashes up, eerie and blue, and he tilts the light and dials this way and that to get it as sharp as possible. He's not doing a very good job.

"You know, if you do it like this..." Their hands brush as Sirius leans over to take command, and Sam smiles but Sirius pulls away just a little too quickly. "Um, yeah. If you just... move this one like that, then..."

"Oh, that's excellent!" Sam grins, delighted, as the logo suddenly comes into sharp focus. "You have a projector at home?"

"Used to."

"Bet that was good. Hey, Ali! Look how sharp Sirius got the picture."

He's suddenly being congratulated by people he doesn't even know, a whole gaggle of people in FilmSoc t-shirts who've arrived to help out, and it feels quite nice for a while until Sebastian comes back over and ruins everything.

"The festival is set to officially start in half an hour," he announces, flinging his watch into everyone's faces.

When Sirius peers past their canopy, he can see that everything is starting to come together, and when he steps out of Film Society's territory altogether, he is in awe. The city park has been taken over.

There's a long, long path leading through the entire place, alongside which people have begun setting up stalls selling food and t-shirts and programmes and balloons and stickers, every item emblazoned with pro-gay slogans. There are face-painting stalls and charity raffles and girls wandering round dressed as tigers and zebras and unicorns (because nothing says "Gay is OK" like tigers and zebras and unicorns). A DJ is setting up decks on a large raised platform in one far-off corner, while some indie pop band - at least, they look like an indie pop band in their skinny jeans and cardigans - go through sound check in the opposite corner.

ArtSoc are here displaying Andy Warhol and Keith Haring prints, LitSoc are here selling copies of Maurice and The Line of Beauty and The Front Runner, DanceSoc are taking to the stage in a third corner wearing colours of the rainbow with matching painted faces, and ClassSoc are setting up a makeshift theatre for when they act out the story of Nisus and Euryalus later on in the afternoon.

There's a carousel too, and a group of burly looking men in blue overalls are setting up dodgems and waltzers, and a gaudy, rainbow-coloured bouncy castle bobs in the distance (Sirius can guess that was more Craig's idea than Remus').

"It's fantastic, isn't it?" Sam says behind him. Sirius nods dumbly, unable to believe that the poxy little LGBT Society actually managed to organise this.

He turns back to Sam, who looks at him expectantly and holds up a couple of DVDs.

"A Single Man or Shelter?"

 

-

It's all going swimmingly until Remus walks in. Sirius almost falls over in surprise.

"Hello, hello, hello!" cries a loud voice. "Just seeing how you're all getting on, my lovelies!" Beside Remus, Craig has marched in, bold and fabulous in neon yellow.

"We're getting on just fine," Sebastian grimaces.

Like some Western showdown, the two square up to each other, president of LGBT Society and president of FilmSoc. It should be hilarious, what with Sebastian being so frigid and stern and Craig being, well, Craig. But Sirius can't tear his eyes away from Remus, and Remus isn't helping by not moving his eyes away either.

Sam, oblivious, yaps on to Alister about Morgan Freeman. So Sirius takes the plunge.

"Hey!" he says brightly. Or rather, he tries to say it brightly, but his voice breaks in the middle and the last part of the word disappears into a weird croak, never to be heard again.

"Hello," Remus says. They start to inch towards one another very carefully. "You joined then."

For a moment, Sirius has no idea what he's talking about. Then he registers the projector and the canopy and smiles. "Oh no, I didn't actually join. I'm just here helping out a..." He waves a hand, searching for the word, eyes still fixed on Remus' face. "Friend."

"Oh right."

Then they slip into excruciating silence, and Sirius wants to punch himself in the head. His body feels suddenly flushed with heat, aware that he hasn't stood this close to Remus in a month and aware that Remus looks more wonderful than ever, if a little tired around the eyes. All Sirius wants to do is hug him. Not even in a particularly romantic way. He just wants to put his arms around him and put a hand in his hair and ask if he's getting enough sleep.

He suspects though, with everything that's happened, that might be a bit inappropriate.

"Who's your friend?" Remus asks after a while.

Sirius turns and catches Sam's eye, and Sam apologises to Alister and eagerly bounds over like a puppy and puts one hand on Sirius' shoulder and sticks out the other for Remus to shake. Remus looks, for the briefest of moments, almost confused.

"I'm Sam!"

"Hi. Remus." They shake hands, which seems strangely formal.

"I recognise you from the festival meetings," Sam smiles. "You were - "

"Really? I don't think I recognise you."

"Oh, well." Sam pauses and blinks. "There were a lot of people there, I guess, and you were speaking and I was just - "

"At the back," Remus supplies.

Sirius shoots him a sharp look, confused. He isn't even saying it particularly rudely. More hurriedly than anything else, but why? Why would anyone be short with Sam? That's like being short with a newborn kitten.

"Right. Yeah." Sam tries to laugh, scrubbing a hand through his curls. "I guess so!"

Sebastian, thank God, calls Sam away then to shout at him for the fact that Alister has accidentally pulled the plug on the projector. Sirius turns back to Remus and begins deciding whether or not to be annoyed.

Remus looks back at him serenely and says in a flat tone, "He seems nice."

"Yeah, he is actually."

"Very good-looking."

Sirius shrugs. "I suppose."

Remus pauses, and for a moment even seems to hesitate. Then he says, "So is everything alright here then?"

"Yeah, of course. I mean..." Sirius gestures to the commotion behind them, Sebastian glowering and Alister apologising profusely. "We're having a few issues with the plugging in and out of things, but besides that - "

"Sirius."

"Everything's fine."

"Good. I've been going out of my mind trying to get this thing organised for months and I really don't want anything going wrong."

"Everything's fine," Sirius says again.

"Right," says Remus. "I'll leave you to it then. Have a good day."

And then he goes, slips through the gap in the canopy, and Sirius sees his shadow bobbing along in the bright February sunshine for a few moments before disappearing altogether.

Behind him, Sam whistles low and long. "Someone's a little jealous, huh?" he says.

Sirius turns in surprise. "Jealous?" and Sam gestures to where Remus has just left.

"Him, I mean. He was being pretty sharp with me, don't you think?"

What does Sam think? That Sirius introduced him as his boyfriend?

"He's always like that," he says lamely.

"Ah, right. Very charming!"

Sirius doesn't defend Remus. He doesn't have the energy. It's like seeing him again, speaking to him again, has completely drained him, which is both cliché and pathetic. Alternatively, he may just be hungry from missing breakfast.

"Want to come and get some food with me?" he asks Sam, in an attempt at both changing the subject and gaining a good amount of what he saw sizzling on the food stalls.

"Sure," says Sam. Then, gently, "Hey."

Sirius turns back to him and Sam stands on his tip toes and winds his arms around Sirius' neck and kisses him soundly on the lips.

"That's the spirit!" Craig cheers, as he too wanders past them and bounds out between the gap in the canopy.

 

-

The day drags on and Sirius doesn't see Remus again at all. That's not to say he isn't looking for him because he is, very subtly, but Remus doesn't show and Sirius wonders where on earth he's hiding away. He organised this whole thing; surely he should be glorying in the fruits of his labour?

And oh, what delicious fruits they are. The festival truly is fantastic, even for someone like Sirius who isn't normally into this sort of thing. The FilmSoc area stays packed all day, and people actually ask questions, ask him questions as though he seems like the kind of bloke who knows what he's talking about.

He does a lot of wandering too. At about three in the afternoon, he finds himself stood before the ClassSoc stand watching a third year law student collapse romantically on top of a second year medic, both of them dressed in Roman Gladiator outfits nicked from the drama studio. Fabian watches on proudly.

"James Cameron, eat your heart out, eh?" he says when he sees Sirius.

"Definitely a director in the making," Sirius tells him, clapping him on the back, and that seems to mean they're friends again.

By the time night falls, sky darkening properly around seven and pitch black by eight, the festival seems to have taken on a strange, clubby feel. The indie pop band take off, and the DJ starts playing a lot of Queen and Village People and Lady Gaga, and people just start going mental.

It's almost a bit seedy actually. A lot of the day-time guests were straight, supporters of LGBT rights or people who just came along for a hot dog and a go on the carousel. Most of them have left now though, and every gay man in Durham who has been deprived of a night club thus far seems to be taking this as their prime opportunity to 'party hard'.

Sirius doesn't know where to look. Everyone keeps taking their shirts off even though it's freezing, and he feels like if he makes eye contact with anyone he'll be whipped up into some mad gay frenzy. It's no fun being sober at a place like this. If only Remus were here, they could take off somewhere and be wry, ironic observers together, shake their heads at the animalistic scene and share a roll-up.

But all he finds is Sam beneath the canopy, dancing with some boy to The Producers up on screen, high only on sugar and fun because there's no alcohol at the festival other than what people have smuggled in themselves. He detaches himself from the other boy as soon as he sees Sirius, throwing himself into his arms and grinning madly.

"You disappeared!" he says. He's laughing even though it's not really funny. Sirius is beginning to think Sam laughs a bit too much.

"Well, I'm back now."

"You are indeed," Sam says, and he kisses him again, and this is all far, far too comfortable for Sirius' liking. "Come watch the film."

"Musicals... not really my thing."

"Alright, stay with me then."

So he does, and Sam paws all over him and Sirius can feel himself starting to get a bit annoyed, and he wonders if this is how Remus used to feel with him.

It's when Sam presses right up close and slides his hands down Sirius' back and grabs his arse that Sirius says, "Sam, mate, give it a rest, will you?"

Sam removes his arms almost immediately, but the matey 'mate' doesn't seem to bother him because he grins up at Sirius and says, "Sorry. Can't seem to keep my hands off you."

Sirius wishes he would. At one point, having a beautiful boy fawn over him like this would have made please him. Now it's just a bit draining.

He definitely feels as though he's had his fill of Q Ball. The music is blurring into a dizzying mix of nonsense, and so are the films they're showing, and now that it's turning into this strange, surreal party he'd rather just go home. When he says this (not all the stuff about it being strange and surreal, just that he'd rather like to go home now) Sam pouts like a child.

"Alright," he says reluctantly. "But it's still early. We should hang out later."

"Yeah, okay. I mean, maybe."

Sirius says a quick farewell to Sebandali who are arguing about the plug again and don't even thank him, and wanders out into the night, just about managing to dodge four middle-aged men dressed entirely inappropriately as Native Americans.

He pulls his jacket tighter around him, suddenly freezing in the February night air. As he reaches the city park gates, fingers reaching out to touch the icy metal, his phone vibrates in his pocket. He stops and quickly pulls it out, eager.

Disappointingly, it's only from Sam, but he's sufficiently startled when he reads the four words flashing up on screen.

my roommate's out tonight x

His whole throat goes dry and he pauses, staring dumbly at the screen. He should be flattered. He's not. He's oddly nervous, oddly hesitant and, odder still, he doesn't bother replying; he slips the phone back into his pocket and carries on walking. He'll tell Sam that he forgot to check his phone, that it was on silent, that he fell asleep. Something like that.

Chapter Text

There are few places in the world colder than the bank of Durham's frozen lake in February at night, of this Sirius is convinced. Granted, it hasn't been a particularly warm day anyway, but the clear blue skies made the chill air pleasant and bearable.

Now it's dark, and he shivers in his jacket and thin t-shirt, eyes stinging, breath dancing in the air before him. The cold stinging the back of his neck makes him yearn desperately for his long hair. The freeze seeps into his bones, sits still and aching, until his clothes start to stiffen and his joints begin to protest.

The streets are eerily silent for a Saturday night. It's like something out of one of those old Hammer films. Approaching the bridge he sees fewer and fewer people, though it wouldn't be surprising if a member of the living dead came drooling out from behind one of the trees. Not that Sirius can blame people for deserting this place. It is no doubt the most awkward patch of land in the whole city. People are expected to skip Prebends Bridge and go the long way round, but going the long way round means, well, going the long way round.

It is too cold to go the long way round. He is too much looking forward to his warm bed, to a Peter-free dorm, to spoiling himself with hot tea and the Snickers in his desk drawer and a six hundredth re-watch of The Great Dictator. He hops up three stone steps until his feet are planted on the sloping bridge, and then begins to walk.

It's practically deserted. And rather beautiful, actually, with the lake on each side glistening with thin ice, and the sky completely black, and the city before him strangely peaceful, all laid out before him like a sleepy toy model. He doesn't know what the big deal is - there are no drugs being bought or sold or snorted, no feral children hailing his nightly expedition with explicit jeers, no witches chanting "double, double toil and trouble" around a cauldron.

In fact, the only other people he sees are the three blokes at the other end smoking innocent cigarettes, and all they're doing is pushing themselves away from the bridge wall and looking at him with their legs firmly apart.

Oh God. They're pushing themselves away from the bridge wall and looking at him with their legs firmly apart.

For some reason, Sirius' own legs keep going, though his mind swims with the possibility of turning and going back the way he came. It's not that the men are doing anything wrong, and it's probably not fair to immediately assume that they will, but one cannot be too careful when one is faced with the power stance, Sirius reminds himself.

They've definitely seen him now. They're cocking their heads to the side, hoisting up their stonewashed jeans, stubbing out their cigarettes with their Nikes. They mutter to one another. One of them smiles. Sirius considers the trick he usually employs when he wants to avoid a nearby situation: he'll stop in his tracks, pull out his phone, scan the empty screen carefully as though reading a particularly intriguing message, then sigh and turn on his heel as if to say change of plans, now I've got to go all the way back!

But then he thinks, no. This is no time for discrimination or prejudice. What would Remus think? Sirius is past that sort of thing now. They're just harmless men, having a cigarette on the bridge. They might even be going to Q Ball. They're probably sick of people thinking they're yobs just because they've sheared all their hair off. It's not their fault they have skinheads and tattoos on their faces and tracksuit jackets. Perhaps it's all they know. Perhaps they just want a friend.

And anyway, if they try anything funny he can always just kick them in the balls.

He lets his fingers brush over the phone in his pocket, then leaves it, curls his fingers and pretends he's sixteen again, pushing his shirt sleeves up to go and fight George McGrath in the quad. Sirius Black is not scared of anything, particularly not three older skinheads standing between him and the exit to the most infamous bridge in County Durham.

And so he walks on, determinedly avoiding their steely gazes, hands deep in his pockets. He tries out a little swagger, then feels stupid and stops, and then imagines himself drunk and fearless, and then they're in front of him and he is being asked for his phone.

"What?" he says dumbly, coming to a standstill.

"I said," one of them (clearly the ring-leader, judging by the terrifying tribal tattoo inked into the skin of his bald head) stresses in a broad North-Eastern accent, "give us your phone, mate. Mine's dead. I need to make a call."

You can go fuck yourself before I give you anything of mine, "mate", Sirius thinks. Only he hasn't just thought it. He realises a second too late that he's actually said it too.

He takes a step back as they all take one forward, like some mad dance routine. It seems like any minute now the Sharks are going to cavort across one end of the bridge and the Jets the other. Sirius would definitely be a Shark.

"I don't think you quite understood, boyo," Tribal Tattoo goes on, reaching out to shove Sirius in the chest, so hard he falls into one of the bulls standing behind him. "Give us your phone or we'll fuckin' hit yeh."

Sirius has never quite understood what that means. "Hit". He's heard it in films, of course, but unfortunately it never really seems to equate to an actual hit. Because he could deal with a slap round the face, but he doesn't think that's quite what these lads have in mind.

He begins to panic when he feels strong hands grip his arms, and surprisingly, the man behind him lets him go quite easily. Tossed back into the centre of the circle, Sirius shrugs his jacket back up onto his shoulders where it's been tugged down and considers what he is armed with. Unless mobiles are good for shanking, he's completely defenceless.

Unfortunately, the part of his brain that makes any and all outward reactions hasn't seemed to realise this yet because, for some godforsaken reason, Sirius decides it's best to square his shoulders, look the ringleader straight in the eye and say, "I'd like to see you try."

Everyone knows - and that 'everyone' includes men, women, children, babies, cats and single-celled organisms - that when you are faced with the bad guy, and the bad guy is saying he's going to "hit" you, you do not, under any circumstances, say "I would like to see you try", unless your name is Bruce Wayne, Han Solo or Wolverine.

Sirius stares at them. They stare back. To be honest, they actually look a little shocked, but it isn't enough to fill Sirius with even a tiny amount of gratification. Gone are the days when he would sink a fist into an assailant's stomach without a second thought. Gone are his schoolboy instincts.

He darts between two of them and runs.

 

-

 

The burly trio don't put up a particularly good chase. Unsurprising really, considering their girth and smoking habits. They leg it after him as far as the Baker Lane alleyway leading towards the city centre, and then seem to give up in consideration of the increasing numbers of passers-by.

Sirius doesn't stop, though. He doesn't even check to see if they're still behind him until he's only a minute away from his halls of residence, and even then he runs the last sixty seconds for good measure. He's not even extortionately out of breath when he gets there either -  he is, after all, a former school rugby team winger - but he's still gasping for breath, panicking. Tears prick the back of his eyes painfully.

Rugby did not prepare him for the emotional side of being chased by three North-Eastern yobs, and as he stands outside the entrance to Uni College, panting, hair sticking to his forehead with cold and sweat, he can't help the way his body trembles in fear and anger. Then he laughs, madly, at having gotten away at all.

When he's calm - which takes a good six or seven minutes and a lot of sucking in of breath and shaky exhaling - he huffs out one last deep sigh and turns to the card-accessed doors, digging hastily in his pocket for his wallet.

It's not in the left-hand side of his jacket. He tries the right. Not there either. Now marginally concerned, he pats the front of his jeans. Then the back. Then the front again. Then he re-checks the pockets of his jacket.

It's gone.

To scream "fuck" is his immediate reaction, closely followed by, "for fuck's sake!" A satisfying echo rings out around the courtyard. He groans and collapses against the wall of the building, letting out a silly tearless sob.

Still he continues to check his pockets, as though patting them will wheeze out magic dust and make the wallet re-appear, but the simple fact of that matter is that the wallet is gone. The bastards took it.

He remembers now being shoved back into the arms of one of the men, his own arms pulled back, how easily he'd been let go when he'd struggled. Or rather, when they'd finished robbing him. Livid, Sirius turns and kicks hard against the stone wall beside the sliding doors. This he follows with one more mighty "fuck!" and then, feeling at least a little better, he begins mentally scouring the contents of the stolen wallet.

A bit of money. A few receipts. Gum. His matriculation card. The bloody thing that allows him to get in and out of his own home. How could he be so stupid as to put it in his wallet? Who even puts cards in their wallets? Now he thinks about it, that's a ridiculous place to put your cards, because heartless bastards steal  wallets.

Still, it could have been much much worse. He could have had credit cards in there. He could have had his phone nicked. He could have been beaten up. He could have - well, it could have been worse anyway. So stop your complaining, Black, he tells himself in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Mr T.

He glances up at the dark, quiet building looming over him like Count Dracula's castle. On a Saturday night there's no one about to open the doors for him. He could, of course, ring the warden but then they'd charge him for losing his card, and he hasn't any money. He can't ring Peter because he's at work. He could ring Sam and ask if he could go and hang out in St Chad's with him, but that would mean having to acknowledge Sam's none too subtle invitation. Sex with Sam was never a serious thought, and it's certainly not befitting of Sirius' current situation either.

The only other person he speaks to in his halls is Fabian, and since they seem to be on friendlier terms he pulls out his phone and calls his number.

It rings, and rings, and rings, and goes to Voicemail. Sirius tries again, muttering all the while, words forming in the air in icy clouds. He's freezing again now the heat from his panicked running has seeped away into the air.

"Come on, pick up, pick up, pick up - fuck it!"

Voicemail again. What on earth is he doing? Surely he can't still be at that queer bash? Perhaps he's asleep? Sirius trundles down the entrance steps and seriously considers the idea of going around the building, finding Fabian's room, chucking stones at the window and yelling at him to come down and open the door. Even if Fabian isn't in, there might be someone  who hears him. It's not one of Sirius' more solid plans, but it's worth a try.

He's already halfway there, shoes crunching on the icy grass, when he looks up, straight ahead, into the still darkness, and is struck by a new idea. Palace Green Library stands in the distance, a shimmering beacon of hope - or rather, a dark, shady, slightly creepy beacon of hope - beckoning him over.

Peter doesn't finish work until nine. It's twenty-seven minutes past eight now. The library is no doubt deserted at this time, but they all stay open until midnight so there's no reason he can't go and sit in there until Peter returns and lets Sirius into his own home.

It's so cold outside that Sirius doesn't give the idea a second thought.

 

-

 

Surprisingly, the place isn't completely dead. The library itself is still occupied by one or two students, mostly looking very serious with their heads down, bent over books, earphones jammed in, hot Starbucks ready at the hand. It's utterly ridiculous. Exams are over and it's a Saturday night - who are these people? Freaks, Sirius reminds himself. Freaks.

He floats around for a bit, calming himself down, clearing his head enough to be able to look on the bright side: he hasn't lost anything too serious, and his face is still intact.

After a while, though, people start to look at him strangely, warily, as though they know he shouldn't be there, as though they know he's just some moron who's gone and lost his matric card. He considers getting a book out and pretending to read, but he can't bear the thought of sitting still. Pretty soon he leaves the room, crosses the foyer and goes to the Exchequer instead.

It's unlocked, weirdly, but the lights are off when he goes in and it takes him almost five minutes to find the switches (nestled behind a little panel door built to blend into the wall; quirky but positively infuriating) and it's a further two minutes before the old, useless things actually manage to find it in themselves to flicker on. He can practically hear their world-weary exhalation of ancient breath as they do.

The majestic bookshelves suddenly become bathed in warm light and Sirius actually smiles a bit, padding down the spiral staircase. It's a creepy place, with its stained glass windows and tall, eerie aisles, and it stinks of books and oldness, but it's Remus' place, and that's reason enough for Sirius to feel comfortable, as far removed from skinhead yobs as possible.

He makes a fair few rounds of the room, up and down, up and down, feeling like an investigator in some old horror film, half expecting a ghost to pop out from behind an aisle at every turn. But after a while the creepiness seems to fade, and he sees the place for what it really is: quiet, tranquil, packed with naught scarier than a few old books.

Sirius can see why Remus likes it here. It seems like the kind of place a poet or philosopher or artist might do some very serious thinking.

At ten to nine he checks his phone for the seventy-fifth time and considers calling Peter now, on the off chance he's been let out of work early. After all, Sirius is getting desperate here. As his thumb hovers over the search tool on his phone, though, he hears the far-off creaking of the door. He jumps and takes a quiet step back, pocketing his phone. Soon comes the eerie sound of soft, slow foosteps, descending the staircase, and his immediate thought is that there really are ghosts in this horror of a place.

Then a soft, gruff voice calls out, "Rebecca?" and Sirius blinks.

He sees Remus' shadow before he sees Remus himself. Sirius stands at the bottom end of one aisle, and like some old Western movie Remus slowly rounds the corner at the top end to face him, a heavy book held by his side like a gun.

In some lame attempt at playing along, Sirius holds up his hands.

"No Rebecca here." Who the fuck is Rebecca? "Just me."

"Sirius?"

"Hello, Remus..."

"You shouldn't be here."

Sirius doesn't quite know what Remus means by this. It isn't against the rules for students to visit the Exchequer, even if it is unusual.

He shrugs. "I didn't know you'd be here. I thought you'd still be at the festival."

Remus is wearing a coat and scarf, both of which he sheds as he turns and walks back to the desk. Sirius follows.

"Who's Rebecca?" he tries when Remus doesn't speak.

"The cleaning lady. I assumed it was her since the lights were on and no one else ever comes in here. Not at this time on a Saturday anyway." He dumps the coat, scarf and book on the desk and turns around. "What are you doing here?"

His tone is almost accusatory, as though Sirius has invaded on his private place. Sirius considers the reason he's here in the first place, and feels pretty angry too.

"I don't have my ID card so I couldn't get into my hall and I was freezing and I didn't know where else to go," he explains. "I'm waiting for Peter to get back. That alright with you?"

Remus squints a little, like he doesn't believe him. "You don't have your card? Do you mean you lost it?"

"Actually, someone took it."

"Someone?"

"Some... men."

Remus' eyes narrow again, but for a different reason this time. "What do you mean?"

Sighing, as though it's really-not-a-big-deal-honest, Sirius scuffs his toe gently against the front of the desk. He suddenly feels weirdly embarrassed.

"I was walking home and some... blokes started on me. They didn't do anything, it's not a big deal, but when I got back I realised they'd, you know."

"What?"

"Nicked my wallet."

Remus swears. "Have you been to the police station?"

"I was a bit more focused on running away and not dying of hypothermia."  Sirius cringes inwardly at himself for admitting to Remus that he ran away in the first place.

"And are you alright?" Remus is stepping closer now, and Sirius notices how his face is flushed red with cold. "They didn't hurt you?"

"No!" Sirius tries out a little laugh which sounds so stupid he wishes he hadn't bothered. "I can stand up for myself."

"Where did it happen?" Remus wants to know.

Sirius hesitates. "The bridge..."

"Prebends Bridge?"

"Maybe - "

"Where I told you not to go - "

"Yes, but - "

"- Especially at night."

"For Christ's sake, you're talking to me like I'm a child. I'm not stupid, Remus."

"Well you just don't listen! You could have been seriously hurt!"

They look at each other. Sirius is the first to look away, wishing he'd just stayed out in the cold to avoid the bother of all this. Of all the ways he frequently fantasised about his reunion with Remus, this wasn't one of them.

"Well I wasn't, was I?" he mumbles.

"No, but you could have been - "

"But I wasn't!"

"Alright, fine." Remus holds his hands up and there it is, the I wash my hands of this gesture."So. What are you going to do?"

"Like I say, I was gonna ring Pete and - "

"About your stuff!"

"Oh. Right. Well, they didn't take much. Just a bit of money and my card, so I suppose I'll go down the Union tomorrow and pay for a new one. Fifteen quid or something like that."

"Right. Are you going to ring him now?"

It's past nine now, but when Peter picks up the phone he sounds weird and cloudy, as though he's on a train or the tube or a bus.

"Sorry," comes his voice, distant and jarred, "say that again?"

Sirius sighs. "I was asking when you'd be back. And make sure you come straight to halls when you get off the bus or whatever you're on. Don't go to Tesco or anything like that."

"Why?"

"Pete, I just told  you why."

"I didn't hear you properly."

"I have misplaced my card. And there's no one around and Fabian's still out and the wardens are off duty."

"Right. Of course, I'd do it, Sirius  - "

"Good. Thanks."

"But I'm at Lucy's tonight. I'm on my way there right now."

"Lucy? Who the hell is Lucy?" He remembers a second too late. Janis. "I mean - look, can't you just come back and then go to hers?"

"I would," Peter says apologetically, which is a downright lie, "but I'm on the other side of campus now. She lives at Grey. Can't you get someone else to do it?"

"Well yes, technically I could wait around for a host of drunken fools to return home, but that would involve quite literally freezing my balls off. Have you not noticed there is ice on the roads, Peter? Ice!"

But Peter won't budge for him, and after muttering something vague about trying Fabian he hangs up. Wretch! Traitor!

"I'm going to assume your efforts proved fruitless," Remus says from where he's kneeling in front of one of the shelves, carefully stacking books.

"Little rat'd never help a mate out," Sirius mutters, tapping keys murderously. "Wait, I'll ring Fabian again."

"Hey -"

"He always has his phone on, I don't know what he's doing - "

"Sirius."

His head snaps up. Remus is looking straight at him now.

"Calm down, alright? You're getting yourself worked up because you're shaken," he says wisely. "Just come and sit down, I'll make you a cup of tea. You can stay here, and if there's still no one about when we leave you can sleep on my floor, okay?"

Sirius' heart trips over its feet a little, and he grins, grateful.

"Just the floor?" he says cheekily, and Remus shoots him another look.

"I have a blow up mattress. But yes, just the floor."

Sirius lowers himself to the floor and slides over to where Remus is working. He drops his tone to something gentler, more sincere, and nudges Remus on the arm. "Hey. Thanks."

What then transpires is half an hour of Sirius warming up enough to eventually take his jacket off, watching Remus organise books while he sips the tea Remus made him in the little kitchenette at the back. Sirius should be happy about this, this open offer to observe Remus' lithe and graceful movements, the way his hair falls easily into his beautiful eyes, the little sighs and clicks of the tongue, and Sirius is happy about it. For about six of those thirty minutes. Then he begins to grow horribly bored.

Unable to focus on much else, he starts replaying the bridge scene in his head; how he should have turned and gone the other way, or not talked back to them, or just gone for it and punched their lights out. De Niro would have punched them. Why can't you be more like De Niro?

Why indeed.

To shake the thoughts, he tries talking to Remus instead. He might as well get some good out of this situation. After all, they haven't spoken in weeks, and surely such an opportunity should not be wasted.

"Why are you working anyway?" he asks finally. It's the best he can come up with. Lame.

Remus, now used to the silence, jumps, almost dropping William James' Varieties of Religious Experience.

"You know I work on Saturday nights," he says.

Sirius does know. Some of their finest trysts have taken place in this very room.

"Yes but I thought, you know, with the festival..."

"I only organised it. Certainly doesn't mean I want to stay."

"Ah, still the sunshiney social butterfly I remember."

Remus frowns a little, and God, Sirius still fancies him.

"And why did you leave early?" Remus asks, sliding another book onto the shelf. "Not up to your standards? Or weren't you having a nice enough time with Sam?"

He says the name so distastefully that Sirius can't help but grin.

"You weren't very nice to him," he says lightly.

"Nonsense."

"He reckons you're jealous."

"What, of him? Bambi?"

"There's nothing going on between us though."

"Really? Craig said you were all over each other."

Fucking Craig.

"He was all over me," Sirius corrects, picking at his thumbnail. "I don't know why. He said he wants a new relationship. I think he wants it to be with me."

Remus hauls the last book into place with a particularly hard shove, before letting his hands flop exasperatedly to his knees.

"Why are we having this conversation?" he asks. "What do you want, my blessing? I don't care what you do with other people."

His tone is so blunt that silence falls between them for a few moments. Sirius shuts his mouth, stung. Remus looks like he might apologise.

"I just thought we could have a chat," Sirius mutters, scratching gently at the freckle on his hand. "I haven't talked to you in ages."

"Yes, well, I don't want to hear about your new relationship, quite frankly."

"It's not my new relationship. I don't even fancy Sam that much. If anything, he's sort of annoying."

"You two should get on famously then."

For once, the venom seems to hit Sirius in the head, rather than the gut or the blissfully ignorant heart, and finally he snaps.

"Why are you being like this?"

Remus looks at him in surprise. "Like what?"

"Like difficult." But that's not the word Sirius is looking for, and he changes his mind. "Mean. What are you trying to do? Make me not like you anymore?"

Considering the shoddy answer he gives, Remus thinks for far too long. "I just get... wound up," he says eventually.

Sirius's eyes roll so hard it's audible. "I already know that. You've made it perfectly clear how irritating you find me but, weirdly enough, you never actually say why."

"I didn't say irritated with you, did I? Although you can be pretty annoying yourself, with your bloody questions and incessant chatter and horrible flirting."

"And yet you invite me to sleep in your room!"

"For God's sake, Sirius..."

"And you put your mum's home-made frozen jam on my head and you come to stay in the holidays and... and we have..." He almost says it - great sex - but Remus is speaking before he can.

"I get irritated that you seem interested in me and I can't do anything about it."

"Yes, you can!"

"No, I can't. Do you have any idea the kind of pressure I'm under?"

"I don't! Enlighten me!" Sirius trills, almost maniacally. He is turning into a maniac. "Because as far as I can tell you're a second year History student with a job in a library."

"Don't patronise me, Sirius. You have no idea how hard it was for me to get here and what's more, you don't care."

"Of course I care! But you never tell me anything!"

"Well, what would you like to know?" Sarcasm drips from between Remus' plump, full lips like honey. Acidic honey. "Furthermore, how can I break it down in a way that's simple enough for you to understand?"

"I'm not stupid, Remus."

"I know you're not, but there's a lot that people like you don't understand."

"People like me?"

"Privileged people - no, Sirius, let me finish. You are privileged, whether you want to acknowledge it or not. I'm not saying unfortunate things haven't happened to you, because they have. Tonight's a case in point and I'm sorry, it's awful, but that doesn't mean you haven't had opportunities handed to you on a plate."

Remus suddenly sits back on his haunches and seems for a moment to be on the verge of laughing.

"Getting into university was a walk in the park for you, wasn't it?" he continues after a few moments of strangely amused consideration. "Could have done anything you wanted, hence why you've ended up doing a subject purely out of snobbery, something you don't even care about."

"That is not true. And I don't see how this relates to - "

"You lived in school. Literally. I barely ever managed to get through a week, I was in hospital that often." He shakes his head, as though the memory irritates him. "Doctors poking at me with their incessant needles, telling me I'd be dead within a year one week, that I'd live for forty more another. And when you don't go to school, Sirius, you don't learn  anything."

Sirius sits listening, not daring to look Remus in the eye. It's clear Remus is getting into the swing of things now, and Sirius is suddenly concerned that he's going to hear something he very much doesn't want to. It's like something out of a TV drama, only he doesn't feel impassioned or near tears; he just feels sort of awkward and ashamed, like he's stumbling across a particularly horrid secret.

"Or at least it's difficult to," Remus goes on in a mutter. It seems as though he's speaking more to himself now than Sirius. "Everything I know I've taught myself. Every exam I've passed has been on my own merit. No teachers, no schools, not since I was thirteen. Just books, my mum... God, a maths tutor when we could afford it. And even he told me not to bother applying to university because my GCSEs were so crap. But I went ahead and did A Levels anyway, worked stupidly hard, wrote this massive great grovelly personal statement... every university I applied to rejected me except this one."

"Well this is a really good university to get into," Sirius says quietly, hoping to please Remus somewhat. He has apparently missed the point entirely though, because Remus scoffs and looks at him in this really incredulous way.

"Yeah, it is," he says. "An extremely good university. I don't think you even appreciate how much. I didn't appreciate how much either until recently. I got here and I was so naive and moon-eyed and so excited to be away from bloody Batley. I was discovering all these things about myself and having guys actually take an interest in me, and I completely forgot I had to pass the year.

"Remus, this is ridiculous," Sirius says abruptly, because it is. "You can have a social life and still do well. Don't you..?"

But Sirius trails off as Remus shakes his head, like some hardened old man.

"I'm sorry if I ever gave you the impression that I think you're stupid," he says quietly. "You're not. You're smart. You don't need me to tell you that. You'll still do well no matter what because you're just one of those people, aren't you? One of those infuriating people who can do whatever they want and don't even appreciate that they can."

"So that's it then," Sirius says quietly. His head feels hot with information, like he's been given too much to retain, as though he's not as smart as Remus says he is. "You'll never have another relationship or any proper friends because you just want to... work hard?"

Eventually, when Remus doesn't answer, Sirius can state the only thing pacing through his mind:

"That is such fucking rubbish!"

"What?"

"Well I mean, it is!" Sirius explodes. "What, so you're just gonna work yourself dead and never have a proper shag or actually be happy, all so you can say 'oh look, I got a First in Ancient History. Granted, I was miserable while I did it'..."

"I'm not miserable."

"Bollocks you're not miserable! You're the most miserable person I've ever met! I mean, no offence - "

"Christ, none taken..."

"Because you're fantastic and funny and gorgeous and all that stuff as well, but you wouldn't act the way you do if you were happy. You weren't happy when you had to go to lectures and tutorials, and you weren't happy the times you locked yourself up in your dorm and refused to answer your phone because you were working so much."

This, Sirius maintains, is all absolutely true. Remus, however, is still looking at him sceptically.

"But the times when you acted at least a bit happy were when we were together - " (he wants to say 'in bed' because it would back up his argument more effectively, but given the way Remus is looking at him it's simply not appropriate); " - watching a film or something, and you weren't thinking about work or any of that boring junk. And you were nice, and it was sort of..." He flails, searching desperately for the word. "Soft."

"Soft?" Remus echoes derisively. "Well if that isn't the biggest load of clichéd bollocks I've ever heard."

"Remus, I can't believe this is why you broke things off with me."

Remus shifts like he's uncomfortable, and for the first time since they met Sirius actually feels as though he has the upper hand.

"I genuinely thought you were one of the smartest people I know," he says, "but if you're actually serious about this you're just... an idiot."

"I see," Remus murmurs, looking annoyed. "I pour my heart out to you of all people, and somehow I'm the idiot?"

"Well!" says Sirius, and then he laughs because he feels so relieved. "If you'd just told me instead of griping at me all the time, I would have respected what you wanted. I would have admired you! I had no idea about any of this, about the home-schooling or anything. I just thought you were, I don't know, a bit of a geek or something."

"Cheers, Sirius."

"I wouldn't distract you," he goes on earnestly, "or bother you if you didn't want me around. And I'd, you know, support you. I could help you."

"I'm not asking you to have a baby with me."

"What are you asking me to do then?" Sirius asks, quiet and hopeful. This is it. This is it.

Remus looks at him, sighs, lets his head drop back against a door of chicken wire with a soft rattle. This is not it.

"You like me," Sirius urges. "You've said it now."

Remus' head springs up again. "I said no such thing!"

"You've as good as said it."

"You read into things that aren't there."

"Look me in the eye and tell me you don't like me."

"No. This is stupid."

"Look me in the eye!"

He won't, so Sirius makes him. He grabs Remus by the shoulders - gentle, but firm, like you might handle a little cat or a hamster - and his hands travel up to his face, his warm, lovely face. Their eyes lock, and if this isn't a Hollywood moment Sirius doesn't know what is.

"Go on," he says softly.

Remus' gaze is steady. "You're insufferable sometimes."

Sirius takes his chances and kisses him.

Chapter Text

Despite all his time spent fantasising about it over the past couple of months, Sirius had almost forgotten what kissing Remus was like. Now he remembers. Every touch and memory and sensation practically floods him like one big sugary ocean, filling him up again with every brush and stroke of Remus' soft, if a little cold-rough lips. He wonders how he could ever have forgotten something which is, by all accounts, absolutely fucking perfect.

It doesn't last particularly long, but it's long enough that when Remus pushes him back against the wire gating of a book case, Sirius just lets it happen. His body feels weak with exultation, and there's a big, stupid grin spread across his face.

"Oh Sirius," Remus murmurs to him, low and clearly adoring, "you continue to amaze me."

The grin widens, and Sirius doesn't think he's ever been more pleased with himself in his life.

"With how you insist on disregarding absolutely everything I say and doing exactly as you please."

Sirius's smile drops so hard he can practically hear it.

"What?"

Remus shuffles back and climbs to his feet, saying as he does, "You're unbelievable."

"Wait, what?"

He's stood up now, and Sirius is quick to follow. His heart trips fearfully as Remus glances at the door.

"No," Sirius all but snaps. "No, you're not going now."

"No, I'm not," Remus says pointedly, raising an eyebrow.

"And I'm not either! Neither of us are going anywhere until we've talked about this - "

"I believe we just did, and you made up your mind to ignore me. Again."

"And you made up your mind to kiss me."

"When did I kiss you? Please, Sirius, do remind me. Enlighten me. Because funnily enough, all I remember just now is you jumping on me - "

"Alright, how about five months ago," Sirius snaps. "We're lying on my bed, and we're talking about these mind-numbing things, and you decide that vocabulary pertaining to British politics is turning you on. And so you kiss me. I didn't tell you to, I didn't ask you to - "

"That was different."

"How?!"

"Because... because it was only supposed to be a one-time thing."

"But it wasn't, was it? Because not a week later we're on your bed, and you're bloody nursing me, and then you do it again! And I suppose I don't need to go into detail about what happened between us after that, do I? For nearly two months, I might add. Or have you forgotten about that too? Honestly, Remus, I'd be happy to go into detail if it's really necessary - "

"Oh stop it."

He's losing him now. Remus is starting to turn away, actually contemplating leaving instead of arguing back and sticking up for himself. Sirius should probably just shut up now and take it as having won something, as a small victory to remind himself of on lonely nights.

But he can't find it in himself to do that. It's like he's already churned out half of what he wants to say, and the other half is still bubbling inside him like a pan of angry pasta, right at the surface, ready to tip out. So he tips it out, tips it all out, and weirdly enough, Remus sticks around to listen.

"How can you call me unbelievable?" Sirius continues hotly. "D'you know what's really unbelievable? The fact that you actually had the cheek to get angry at me if I used to so much as try to hug you, and yet when I think about it..." He shakes his head a bit, still in the midst of thinking about it in the first place. "When I think about it, you were the one who initiated the whole relationship between us in the first place. And yet you treat me as though I were some bloody puppy following you around and making you play with me."

In fairness, Remus now has the decency to look, if not guilty, at least a bit uncomfortable.

"You know, if you'd just carried on ignoring me after we first met, I think I probably would've gotten over you quite easily. But you acted as though you liked me, even if it was in that infuriating way of yours, and I actually thought... and then you just left."

"Look, Sirius, it's not a big deal - "

"Maybe not for you!" Sirius cuts him off. "Or is that how it's supposed to be for everyone? What, do we get to university and suddenly we're not allowed to have fucking feelings any more? Are relationships not supposed to mean anything when you're doing your grown-up degree? Am I being too fucking high school for you?"

That's confirmation enough that he's angry. He keeps saying "fuck".

"You're certainly being something," Remus mutters.

"Like what, pathetic? Oh no, no, presumptuous, that's your favourite, isn't it? Well you know what, Remus, you're a lot of things too," Sirius says harshly. "And I could tell you all of those things, but for reasons I cannot in this moment fathom, I actually care about your feelings. I actually like you. I still like you. And I know you like me too, and that's why I'm so frustrated because if you didn't I'd just give it up as a lost cause but you do, you do, and you give me these shitty excuses - "

"I'm telling the truth -!"

"Like 'oh, I've got to work hard, I've got to pass, I've got to do this and that and you're just getting in the way, Sirius, like a kid, like always'." His imitation isn't exactly top-notch, but that's hardly the point right now. "Well that's fine, you can do what you've got to do. But d'you know what, Remus? You don't have to be a total prick."

Sirius has never fully understood the notion of silence ringing out until now. Remus looks at him with a totally unreadable expression in those big brown eyes, and Sirius forces himself to look back. In all honesty though, he's still trying to decide whether "prick" was too harsh or too soft.

At any rate, it's not exactly a monologue worthy of Pacino or De Niro or Nicholson. Still, it seems to get the message across.

Remus doesn't seem to have anything to say in response to this. Sirius waits for it, he really does. He waits, and waits, and still they stand in silence like two strangers. In the end, when it's clear Remus isn't going to even try to argue with him, Sirius does the only thing he actually feels comfortable enough to do, because he certainly doesn't feel comfortable enough to carry on his tirade. He just walks away.

 

 

 

There's always that bit in Hollywood movies where the protagonist makes his grand final speech and storms off - usually into the pouring rain - whereupon he is promptly chased by his lover/long lost sibling/traitor of a best friend/neglectful parent. They discuss the angry tirade, get drenched by the rain, then kiss/hug/laugh and make up, the end credits roll, and the audience applaud.

For once in his life, Sirius doesn't expect that to happen and yet, weirdly, it sort of does. Well, when he goes outside it isn't raining, and Remus isn't particularly prompt about giving chase, and Sirius has already been sat on the low wall outside his halls of residence for two minutes before Remus finally decides to approach, very very warily.

He doesn't say anything romantic or pleading or dramatic either. He sits down on the wall beside Sirius, hands in his lap, and looks at the ground. Then, in a voice low and slightly shaky from the cold, he says, "Right. First of all, fuck you."

Rolling his eyes, Sirius mumbles back, "Alright then."

"Secondly," Remus goes on, but this time the words take much longer to form, and it's clear they don't come easy. "Secondly, I'm sorry. I can't argue with what you said and I'm... yes, I'm sorry."

Sirius glances at him. What's he supposed to say to that? 'It's alright'? 'I forgive you'? 'I'm sorry too, for calling you a prick'?

"So if you can't argue with what I said," he says slowly instead, "does that mean you...?"

"D'you have to make everything so difficult? Fuck's sake, Black, yes. Alright? Yes, I've..." Remus seems to flounder for a moment before deciding on the appropriate term: "Feelings for you." Then, in a mutter, he adds, "And not entirely ones of affection sometimes."

"There you go again," Sirius snaps, so immediately he surprises even himself. "Honestly, Remus, I can't keep up with your bad moods and this whole taking out your stress on me thing. It's exhausting. And it's not fair."

Remus looks like he's ready to argue, but in the end he only sighs. "I know."

"I'm sorry for what I said in there. Well, I'm not. I mean, it's still true. But I shouldn't have called you a prick. So... suppose I'm sorry for that." Sirius takes a deep, freezing breath. "I  still like you, Remus. I can't stop thinking about you. But Christ, you frustrate me so much, too."

He should feel stupid for admitting it, but at least Remus doesn't laugh. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"I've been thinking about you too," he says quietly. "Just about whether there's a slight possibility I made a mistake in walking out on you like I did. I mean, I'm not completely heartless, I realise it was a bit..." He almost seems to grimace before he says it. "Cruel. But recently I've been sort of wondering if it was even for the best."

"And you've concluded..."

"I haven't concluded anything just yet."

"Well let me know soon," Sirius says quietly, staring at his shoes, "because I've a whole host of boys lining up outside my door to take me out."

Remus scoffs, only when Sirius looks at him, he's sort of smiling too. Remus lets his arms go slack, his hands falling from his lap to grip at the wall on either side of his legs. Sirius sees his chance. He knows what Marlon Brando would do, and Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart; he reaches out his own hand, very slow and tentative, and carefully brushes the little finger of Remus' right hand with his own on the left, as if to say there's your conclusion.

Remus jumps, before realising what it is and relaxing. His Adam's apple bobs convulsively as he swallows and then, carefully, he says, "I wasn't lying. I feel under pressure all the time. And relationships, they're... they're added pressure, you know? And it made me nervous that I went and..." He sighs, as though the next words are going to pain him and he's bracing himself. "Fell. That I went and fell for someone who not only liked me back and therefore offered a serious distraction, but who in himself was something of a... handful."

"You think I'm hard work?"

"I wouldn't say that's an unreasonable claim, would you? And it's not a bad thing either, Sirius. I mean, you're an extrovert, it's who you are. And I'm just not. And I didn't understand how we could possibly even entertain the idea of being together because we're so completely different, but..."

"But...?"

"I have the distinct impression we're going to keep bumping into each other like this." Now he brushes Sirius's finger with his own and looks brooding and exhausted. "And the distinct impression I'm not going to be quite able to forget about you."

And then, that's it. They kiss. Sirius couldn't have hoped for a better Hollywood ending.

Only it's not the end, because just as their hands break apart to cup one another's faces, a group of seven or so intoxicated students pick their moment to come stumbling through the wilderness surrounding Castle, yielding their matric cards and jeering at the sight before them.

One particularly large specimen begins singing 'It Must Be Love', and then he blinks in the darkness as he stands before Sirius and Remus and slurs, "Oh, they're both lads. Oh my God, seriously, well done, you two."

"Er - "

"Timothy, look, look at them, they just don't care, don't you just want to congratulate them?"

Sirius can't blame these drunken fools; he almost wants to congratulate himself.

Timothy is the one attempting to swipe his card into the access point and is failing miserably, too busy cursing the card as a "phoney" to congratulate the happy and apparently rebellious couple. Thankfully, another boy offers his help and the doors finally slide open. Sirius and Remus take the chance to hurry in after the group into the suffocating warmth of the foyer. It's like walking into some reversed version of Narnia.

When the boys have finished patting them on the backs and have finally wandered off, Sirius shoves his hands into his pockets, sways slightly on the balls of his feet, and says, "Do you want to...?" He doesn't finish, motioning with his head towards the stairs in what he hopes is a sufficiently cool, Sean Connery-esque manner.

And Remus, thank God, says, "Fine."

Sirius isn't sure how exactly it went from what came before to what it is now. They take the lift because it's quicker, but he regrets it when they're actually stood in the thing because he suddenly doesn't know what to do with his hands or his legs or his head. They seem like these big useless extensions of his body no matter what he does with them, and when he shifts his feet and scratches his neck one time too many Remus shoots him an odd look, as though he might be regretting his decision.

But once they get inside Sirius's dorm and the door is closed and the warm bedside lamp is on, it's a bit better. He quickly draws the curtains as Remus perches on the desk chair like he's a first-time guest.

"I'm just going to the..." Sirius trails off and points to the bathroom door instead because it suddenly doesn't seem very romantic for one to announce one would like to take a piss.

It's after, when he's washing his hands, that he notices the Colgate on the edge of the sink and considers brushing his teeth. The last thing he ate was a handful of strawberry laces, but that was a while ago now and his mouth might not taste very good any more. Would it seem presumptuous to brush his teeth? As though he's getting ahead of himself? Perhaps he could just gargle some of Pete's Listerine instead. He picks the bottle up and contemplates the dubious purple liquid with a slight grimace. It looks like something you might try to poison a rich old man with.

Oh God, he's taking too long. Remus will know he's up to something. In the end, he puts the huge bottle of Listerine down and grabs a can of Lynx off the side of the bath instead, presses the top very gently and sprays the tiniest amount under each arm. Then he runs a quick hand through his hair and looks at himself in the mirror and quietly tells himself not to a) say anything stupid, b) do anything stupid, and c) in any way act stupid.

Then, taking a deep breath, Sirius switches the light off and goes back into his room. Remus is swivelling the chair around idly, gazing at the blank walls. He manages a tiny smile when Sirius appears.

"Love what you've done with the place," he says, and Sirius figures it's supposed to be a joke so he laughs.

He sits down on his bed, on the very edge, and wonders if he's supposed to kiss Remus again. He wants to, very badly, but the moment seems to have passed.

"What do you want to do?" he asks eventually.

"'Do'?"

"I mean, we could watch a film or something..."

"Alright," Remus nods. "Let's watch a film."

They decide on Jason and the Argonauts - or rather, Sirius decides on it and feels pretty pleased for thinking up something an Ancient History student might enjoy - and place the laptop on the desk chair and then sit next to each other on the bed, backs against the wall.

It's fine for about ten minutes. Then Remus starts to yawn into his arm where it's propped up on his knees, and Sirius starts to get pretty bored too because, after you've seen it once and gotten over the initial surreal hilarity, Jason and the Argonauts is pretty dreadfully boring.

He feels bad and awkward for picking something pretty dreadfully boring, so he watches Jason fighting the skeletons and tries to make a joke about history and skeletons when he gets the chance, but Remus doesn't seem interested because when Sirius gets to the punchline - "Napoleon bone-apart!" - Remus cuts him off with a kiss.

It's perhaps not the most romantic invitation for a kiss, but Sirius doesn't really mind because it was an awful joke and anyway, he's vaguely aware of some philosophy that consequences are more important than the triggers themselves.

And God, what gorgeous consequences they are. Having Remus reach across and press their lips together and dust a hand up Sirius's neck, reaching around the back to tug him closer. Remus tastes a bit smokey, and they're both still rather cold so he's breathing hard through his nose, which is still slightly red, and burying a hand in Sirius's newly-grown hair as though trying to warm his fingers.

When they pull away, Sirius takes hold of that hand in both of his and rubs it gently, holding the freezing fingers until they're warm against his own. Then he kisses the knuckles very carefully in a move that, prior to actually happening, he'd thought might seem incredibly romantic and suave. He's not sure they're far enough along yet for knuckle-kissing, but it's happened now. At least Remus hasn't pulled away.

"I'm really sorry for calling you a prick," Sirius says eventually, because he feels like it needs to be heard.

"Don't apologise for that."

"Well, I'm sorry for putting on a shit film then."

He hears the smile in Remus' voice. "Less easily forgivable. Shall we turn it off?"

So Sirius does, and then he closes his laptop and places it carefully on his desk, and then climbs back on to the bed and lies down. He looks at Remus and wonders if they're about to have a Moment. It seems as though they might.

After a while, Remus lies down too. They kiss a bit more, then look at each other until it becomes weird, then Sirius closes his eyes. It seems like hours before he opens them again. When he does, Remus is looking at him with warm, drowsy eyes.

"After this," Sirius murmurs, "you're not going to go back to ignoring me, or telling me you don't want to see me any more, are you?"

"No. I'm not going to ignore you, no."

Sirius hums quietly, and drags his thumb over the soft sharpness of Remus' cheekbone. It might be enough for now.

"Today's been weird," he says after a while.

"Mm."

"Can't believe they took my card."

"You'll get another one."

"Yeah, I know. Thanks for letting me stay with you."

"That's alright."

"You can stay with me now if you like."

"That's good," Remus says through a little yawn, "since I'd already planned on it." His eyes blink once, sleepily, at Sirius, before finally closing altogether.

"Remus?"

"Mm?"

"I really am sorry."

It's a few long moments before Remus answers, and when he does it's in a voice distant with sleep and warmth.

"Me too," he murmurs, and Sirius feels like that, that there, was definitely a Moment.

 

 

 

He wakes up to hands around his waist and a warm, dry mouth on his neck. His room, he notices when he glances around, is bathed in this warm, dewy early-morning light that he's never had chance to witness before. When he looks at the clock it's almost six in the morning. Too early to be awake.

Then he registers how the lips have begun to kiss him, and the fingers around him have tightened, and decides it's not too early at all.

It's a struggle to twist his sleep-heavy body round in Remus' arms, but it's worth it when he does; to wake up to this ruined hair and these sleep-swollen lips and huge eyes, yellowy with their tiny pupil, is something Sirius has missed more than he even realised before.

"Bored?" he murmurs.

"A bit," Remus whispers thickly. "You were making those noises again. Woke me up."

"Sorry."

"Should be." But then Remus smiles and stretches, joints clicking quietly, and when he flops back again his arms are loose around Sirius' body.

It feels strangely domestic, although Sirius is all stiff from not changing out of his clothes last night, and he wonders how he can ask if he can move to take his jeans off without sounding too suggestive.

In the end, he decides on, "D'you mind terribly if I take my jeans off? My legs are like rocks."

Remus lets him go. When Sirius has peeled the stiff denim from himself and left it in a heap on his floor, he falls straight back into the warmth of the bed and Remus starts kissing him.

Sirius almost laughs because the removal of the jeans really wasn't supposed to be suggestive, but then hands are curling round him again and sliding down his back and Sirius forgets all about it and kisses back.

It doesn't taste spectacular, and when Sirius goes to wrap his arms around Remus' waist his hand somehow manages to get stuck between the wall and Remus' back. But he can't exactly pull away now and go and brush his teeth, and besides, if Remus doesn't mind then Sirius certainly doesn't mind either.

The hand around his waist is dipping a thumb beneath the waistband of his boxers now, and Sirius ignores his numb hand and morning breath and presses his body closer to Remus until they're flush against one another like pieces of Lego. Soft, warm, sexy Lego.

"Um," he pants into Remus' mouth, "you can take your jeans off too if they're, you know, stiff."

"Stiff. Right."

Remus pulls back a bit reluctantly and sits up. He doesn't stop at his jeans. He toes off his socks and pulls his t-shirt over his head, and then leans forward again so he's on top of Sirius, chest heaving slightly, so close Sirius can see the goosebumps on the pale skin.

"D'you want some covers?" he whispers.

They slide under the duvet and it's like sliding into snow, and they hold one another to get warm, and then they start rocking together in this slow, torturous, lazy, wonderful way, and the kisses are just as slow and torturous and lazy and wonderful, and it lasts so long that when Sirius looks at the clock again it's almost half past six. He's tense and gently panting, shivering beneath the now-warm sheets, beneath Remus' body, as though he's got a fever.

"Sirius," Remus murmurs, and his name sounds like bliss.

Sirius's eyes have somehow closed. He opens them again and turns his head back to face Remus. It's all so stupidly romantic and Hollywood that he feels as though he's got to follow some sort of script lest he fuck everything up magnificently.

"Yeah?" he breathes back.

Remus' answer is a very pointed trail of warm fingers down Sirius' still-clothed chest.

"It'll make things different," is all Sirius can think to whisper, as though they're carrying on a perfectly normal conversation together. "It's okay though. Isn't it?"

Remus kisses him and says, "It's okay."

So Sirius lets him finish undressing him and then he lies back, listening to Remus root in the night stand, and wonders if he's dreaming. Then the arm Remus is propping himself up with slips and they bang foreheads painfully; it's as though the gods are trying to tell Sirius, in a most helpful manner, that no, he is definitely not dreaming and he should stop trying to be deep.

"Sorry," Remus whispers through a smirk. He presses warm lips to Sirius's sore head and strokes the hair out of his eyes. The smirk turns into a smile - soft and very small, but there - and the yellow of his eyes is hidden once more behind large, inky black pupils.

Sirius feels like he should say something significant now, and at the same time feels like he could communicate everything he wants to Remus without ever opening his gob. With a smile of his own, he presses their lips together and holds Remus' hand in his own. It's never been like this before, and he's never been an artist, and he really shouldn't think it but, well, it really does feel poetic.

Chapter Text

It's poetic for all of two minutes. Then Remus, panting and worked up and beautiful, returns to the night stand and problems start to arise.

There is this common misconception amongst people who aren't gay blokes about sex between gay blokes - even if said blokes happen to be in love with one another, or at least very much in like - being this testosterone-charged frenzy, lots of swearing and grunting and carnal energy as though they're bloody apes or something. Or that it's just sensual, slick and erotic, all beautiful male forms sliding together, Grecian dancing, gorgeous and easy and good.

There's nothing easy about Remus sighing, tossing aside a special edition copy of Casablanca, trying to find lube and condoms and all the other things that a healthy, streetwise young man should surely possess in his bedside table.

"It's definitely in there, you just have to root... here, let me."

And then Sirius has to sit up and let the covers fall into a pool in his lap so that he's momentarily freezing again because the radiators in this bloody hall are on the weirdest timers. He has to learn over Remus and root around in the brimming night stand, in the end having to resort to chucking stuff out of it - there goes his deodorant, keys, sunglasses, a full pack of Haribo Starmix, a single glove, the Casablanca DVD.

"Vaseline?" he suggests, producing a sticky tub.

When he does finally unearth his lone tube of Liquid Silk he's rather embarrassed to realise it's almost completely gone, vanished, and since he hasn't exactly been getting much in the way of actual sex over the past half a year, and since Remus probably knows that full well, it's painfully obvious where it's been running off to.

Remus is tactful, and doesn't mention this. Either that, or he doesn't actually care enough to notice. He's climbing back on top of Sirius now, leaning down to smooth his long fingers over the curve of Sirius' jaw, and from there to his neck, and then down to his bare, goose-bumpy chest. Being turned on always seems to make Remus a lot more, well, complimentary. He looks down at Sirius and, after a moment's pause, says, "You look... er, quite beautiful right now. If you were wondering."

"Glad you're enjoying the view," Sirius sighs, secretly ecstatic. He's lying back again now, all splayed out like a sensual hair advert. Pantene for Men - enjoy the view.

Then Remus kisses him, and Sirius kisses back, for ages, until his last rational thought is that this is beyond perfect, even if the evidence of his gruelling two-month wank regime lies in the form of a near empty tube of Liquid Silk on the pillow next to them.

There's this great swooping sensation in his stomach when they stop making out and Remus shimmies down the length of the bed. He goes a bit too far actually and almost slips off the end, and Sirius can't stop the laugh that breaks from his throat until Remus mutters for him to shush, and slowly curls himself to lean comfortably between Sirius' legs.

It's a beautiful image, Remus Lupin leaning over like that, contemplating Sirius' cock like someone might a box of expensive chocolates, like it's this great gift they're not quite sure how to go about indulging themselves with. It's an image that should be on black and white postcards in art galleries, or printed on a canvas to hang above the bed of some trendy gay bachelor, or Instagram'd by the most celebrated amateur photographers. It is beautiful.

In the end, Remus takes Sirius into his mouth, swallows him down and begins sucking him off in a fairly neat and tidy way, until Sirius is squirming beneath him, flooded not only with almost painful arousal but also this ridiculous sense of nostalgia, a sense of oh Remus, it's just how it used to be, my darling.

It's fortunate he's not particularly talkative during sex.

So embroiled is he in the magic of Remus' mouth, Sirius fairly jumps when cold, slicked fingers begin prodding at him, trying and failing to make some progress. This part can be a bit hit and miss anyway, but he hasn't done this for months and he must be tensing up because it's awkward, and Remus tuts as though Sirius is trying to make it difficult.

Remus suggests he lie on his front but Sirius won't and so Remus tries again and it still doesn't work, and he says, "Do you have any cushions?" and Sirius says, "Erm, no? It's not a boudoir," and so Remus takes the pillow out from behind Sirius' head instead. It's not very comfortable on his neck anymore, but Sirius obediently arches to let Remus slip the pillow beneath his hips, and then the cool fingers press into him again and this time, this time, it works perfectly, and Remus works on him with a slowness Sirius never expected.

He's spent a lot of time fantasising about this moment - no, really, a scary amount of time - and he always thought it would be quick and rough, like the way Remus speaks. But it's not. It's slow. Too slow, as though Remus is either afraid of hurting him or doing his utmost to prolong this rite of passage.

"Remus," Sirius murmurs, when it stops feeling good and starts getting boring. His chest is heaving like he's back on the cold rugby pitch again, and his hands feel as though they're shaking, and he's filled with so much want that he'd rather Remus just, you know, get on with it.

Remus takes the mutter of his name as a cue. He draws his fingers away carefully, shucks his boxers down and off, leans over to swipe up one of Sirius' many unused condoms and tears at the foil clumsily. As he's rolling it on and throttling the exhausted tube of Liquid Silk for all it's worth, Sirius notices his fingers are shaking a bit, and he says, rather quietly, "You're gorgeous" because it seems like it might calm Remus down.

Remus kisses him again in reply, and then he's on him, inside him, slow and tentative and a bit painful in spite of the luxurious foreplay because, as Sirius found out a long time ago, Remus isn't exactly small.

But at the same time it's good. It's so good, and the heat in Sirius' belly pulses, and his teeth sink into his bottom lip and he bites back a moan which is a bit less fuck and a bit more finally. He's vaguely aware of himself panting Remus' name very quietly, and vaguely aware that he probably sounds stupid, but then Remus stills, buried to the hilt, and they look at each other and for a moment it stops being clumsy and is almost sort of beautiful.

Then Sirius shifts his body just so, and Remus begins to move. They're slow at first, every thrust coming slow and even, and Sirius rolls his hips to meet each one, and every time he does both of them moan, breathless and low.

"Remus..." he begins to pant, "Remus, s'feels so good."

"Like that?" Remus whispers back, long, sticky fingers reaching to wrap around Sirius' cock, one by one.

"Yes," Sirius breathes, about all he can manage, "yeah - yes, fuck."

The confirmation is like a catalyst. Remus lets loose, quickening his pace a little, and everything that comes next happens in this hot, hazy smudge of pleasure, with their hips quickening in tandem and the heat inside Sirius' belly building and throbbing, and their noses keep brushing and Remus catches Sirius' lips in these hard, messy kisses every so often, and doesn't slow down once, gets quicker if anything, so that within minutes Sirius is gasping out some ragged nonsense and clawing at Remus' back, digging shell-shaped patterns into his skin, sobbing Remus' name into his shoulder.

There are lips on his neck and a hand on his dick and another sliding up and over his stomach and his heaving chest, and then fingers are brushing his nipples and even though nipples have never really done much for him, something tightens to breaking point. Suddenly, it snaps. Sirius comes so embarrassingly quickly that his right foot jerks out and somehow manages to get stuck painfully between the mattress and the wall, and his loud, breathless moan trails off into a groan of, "Owww..." as he tries to dislodge it.

Remus doesn't seem to notice. His whole body suddenly stiffens beneath the clenching of Sirius' muscles, and with a sharp gasp - almost as though he's trying to suppress something more vocal - he thrusts forward, desperately, and closes his eyes tight, and breathes loud through his nose, quickly at first, until he slows, and his breathing slows too, and he's finished.

Afterwards, lying face to face, with Sirius' foot salvaged from its former trap, they share extremely confined bed space and long, indulgent kisses.

"Well that was lovely," Sirius yawns after a while. He rolls over onto his stomach, head propped up on his arms so he can look at Remus properly.

"Just lovely? That's all I get?"

"Hey, buddy, that's high praise according to my scale."

"I see. And how far does this scale of yours go?"

"Well, there're five spaces," Sirius drawls, waggling his fingers drowsily. "Starts at 'straight from the fiery pits of hell'. Then 'not much fun', 'somewhat reasonable', 'lovely' and, finally, 'angels sing in exultation'."

Remus snorts. "Right. So how could I have made this experience more heavenly for you?"

"Two pillows, mate. My neck's killing me."

"This is your bed! It's not my fault - "

"Yep. Two pillows. Don't care how you figure it out, just bear it in mind for next time."

"Next time, eh?"

Sirius rolls on to his back again, giddy and warm all over, and gently takes hold of Remus' face by his chin. "Don't pretend you're not dying for another go already," he murmurs, grinning with his tongue between his teeth.

"Brat."

Bold with pleasure, Sirius sticks the tongue out and licks the side of Remus' face.

"Such a child."

"Whatever, sunbeam, you know you fancy me."

"How could I? You're deranged," Remus tells him fondly. He doesn't help his case any by reaching out a hand and running it through Sirius' hair, pausing when he gets to the back to gently scratch the nape of his neck with his fingers.

"I like being scratched behind my ears," Sirius mumbles.

"Scratch behind your own ears, puppy."

"Cruel."

"That's what you get for only giving me a four on your scale."

"The ratings are susceptible to change," Sirius tells him, leaning forwards and pressing a kiss to Remus' nose. "'Tis all but a matter of practice."

"That," Remus whispers, "is your worst chat-up line yet."

"But it's working."

"Is it?"

"You're aroused."

"Debatable."

"You want me again already."

Sirius kisses him hard on the mouth through a laugh, and their teeth knock together and they breathe at the wrong time, and when Sirius manages to get Remus on his back so that he can straddle him, they're both grinning. Well, Sirius is beaming. Remus is sort of failing at concealing one of those fond smiles.

Sirius suggests coyly, "How about another practice now?

"Now?" Remus says without much conviction.

"Where's your youthful vigour, Lupin? We'll go slow. And I'll go easy on you. You just lie back."

In what he hopes is an at least somewhat graceful movement, Sirius starts to slide back down the length of Remus' body until his head is level with the flat expanse of his stomach. He presses a kiss to the warm, lightly furred skin there.

"After all," he murmurs, resting his chin on Remus' belly button and looking up at him from beneath his eyelashes in what he hopes is an alluring manner, "I have it on good authority that you like it when I - "

The door bangs open. Sirius slips in shock and falls face-first into Remus' tummy, earning a soft oof! from above him.

"Morning!" Peter sings. "Oh fu - bananas."

"Bananas?!" Sirius growls, wrenching around and groping for the first object to hand, which happens to be the tub of Vaseline he first suggested. "Get out!"

He lobs the whole lot. The lid is loose, and the tub lands with a messy splat on the wall beside Peter's head, before sliding down like a dead thing, leaving a clear, glistening trail of petroleum jelly as it goes. Peter, white, rushes back out of the room, slamming the door shut behind himself.

"What do I like you doing again?" Remus asks from above Sirius, sounding far too amused.

Sirius collapses against him, cheek against Remus' stomach, and huffs. "Somehow seems to have slipped my mind."

* * *

Sirius forgives Peter after an hour or so of embarrassed grovelling. Not because he actually wants to forgive him, but there's only so many times he can hear "I'm sorry, believe me, it's not like I wanted to see it" before he actually goes genuinely, literally insane.

To be fair, Peter had to come back for work - even the Pound Shop doesn't sleep on Sundays - but Sirius maintains that, if Peter knows he has to get up early for work, he shouldn't go round to stay at his girlfriend's.

Then again, if he hadn't stayed at Janis's then last night (and, subsequently, this morning) might not have happened, so Sirius supposes in a sense he also has to thank Peter profusely.

Not that he does.

After Remus leaves and then, thankfully, Peter, Sirius has a quick shower and sits on his bed with nothing but a towel around his waist and finds his phone in his jacket pocket.

He briefly considers sending James a you'll never guess what text, but he hasn't a sent a you'll never guess what text since seventh year when he managed to trade less-than-expert blowjobs with a seemingly heterosexual prefect in the science labs. And since Remus is a lot more than a frustrated goody two shoes crouched beside a bunsen burner, it just seems tacky to talk about him over text.

Or to talk about him at all. Sirius finds he suddenly doesn't want to tell James about any of this. Wants to keep it, almost, for himself.

So instead, in magnificently high spirits, he quickly texts to James: good morning, beautifullet's meet up some time yeeeeee?

Sirius is a particularly huge fan of extending the last letter of words in texts. Affectionate but not too sentimental or serious, it's the perfect device. And it can be used in any number of situations too, for instance 'I love youuuu' and 'last night was greatttt' and 'I'm lonelyyyy'.

He's just contemplating whether or not sending 'get home safeeee?' to Remus is too gooey even in spite of the extra added e's, when an alert for James' message pops up. He goes to his inbox, thumb ready to press, when he stops altogether. An actual groan slinks its way out from between his lips.

For beneath James' message scrolls Sam's from last night - my roommate's out tonight x - the one that Sirius never replied to. He'd genuinely forgotten all about it. Late night cuddling and early morning sex with Remus Lupin tends to have that effect.

First things first: has Sirius done something wrong here? In sleeping with Remus, in the face of Sam's obvious affection, has he actually done something bad? God forbid, has he... cheated on Sam? No, surely not. They're not together. He never actually told Sam he had feelings for him. Sam just sort of... made wild assumptions and groped him a bit. But then, Sirius didn't really stop him, did he? And it wasn't as though he didn't enjoy it, when he was drunk at least. Yesterday afternoon was a bit annoying, but it's not like Sirius gave any negative signals or protests or warnings, so what was Sam supposed to do?

Oh Sam. Poor, lovely Sam. What's to be done with Sam?

Sirius' immediate thought is, of course, that they should meet up. Talk about things. Straighten things out. The whole 'let's just be friends' speech will rear its ugly head at some point. They'll hug it out. Maybe one last kiss? No, no kiss. Just a hug, a manly pat on the back... but what if Sam gets angry? Christ, what if he cries? No, that's stupid. He's a lacrosse player. Lacrosse players don't cry. But they do get violent...

He groans again. This is hopeless. Then, just as quickly, he straightens up and opens his message creator: hey sam d'you fancy meeting up for -

Wait, he can't text Sam. Then he'll know Sirius ignored his text! Tossing his phone aside, Sirius grabs his laptop from his desk and turns it on, immediately opening up Facebook and finding his way on to Sam's profile page. There's this lovely photo of him grinning at the top of some Colorado mountain, and Sirius feels bad all over again. He quickly opens up Message and begins to type:

d'you fancy meeting up for coffee later?

He toys with the addition of a kiss, adds one, takes it away, adds two, takes them both away, then deletes the whole message, finding it all to be far too casually flirtatious. Mustn't be flirtatious in any way.

let's meet up for coffee.

The full stop makes it seem far too hostile, but it still sounds bad even when he takes it away. And does Sirius even fancy coffee anyway? It's a bit early. He'd rather have tea - oh for Christ's sake, what does it matter? They won't be drinking anyway. Sam will be sobbing and Sirius will be trying to console him, as their respective drinks go cold beside them, cold like their impossible relationship.

hey buddy, wanna grab a coffee?

Too try-hard buddy-buddy manly, and yet still weirdly flirtatious?! Sirius removes his fingers from the keyboard, cracks his knuckles, exhales slowly, eyes closed. Then, twisting his neck slightly like Rocky facing his next fight, he very calmly types:

come and join me for starbucks

He stares at it for a few seconds, before adding a smiley face.

* * *

"So you didn't reply to my text," Sam grins from behind the lid of his mocha something or other with extra... was it peppermint?

Sirius, opposite, sips his too-hot tea to buy himself some time.

"Sam," he says eventually, putting the mug down, wrapping his fingers round it like a lifeline. "The thing is..."

Just say it. Just say you can't be with him. You want to be friends, but you can't be with him and that's why you didn't respond to the text. You realise it was cowardly and immature, but you felt it was for the best and you just wanted to spare his feelings, because you care about him as a friend. As a friend.

"I got mugged."

Apparently it's possible for Sam's immense brown eyes to widen even more.

"What? Oh my God!"

"Yeah..."

"Are you okay?"

"Oh I'm fine, I'm fine, they didn't even get a punch in." Well, he might as well get something out of this. "But, you see, they took my wallet and my phone. So if you texted me..."

Oh God. He's lying. Sam is so kind and innocent and friendly, and Sirius is lying to him. First he ignores his text, now he's telling bare-faced lies straight to his sweet little Adam Brody face? Can he actually sink any lower? No really, can he actually?

"I can't believe this," says Sam, shaking his head, ignoring the text comment completely. "Where did it happen?"

"Prebends."

"Shit," Sam breathes, and he reaches out and takes hold of Sirius' hand.

Just as quickly as it happens, Sirius pulls back, shaking his head. "No, no, Sam, look... listen, this isn't about what happened to me. I wanted to talk to you about... we can't keep..." He makes a vaguely frustrated noise, like a goat, perhaps, stuck in a ditch, and pulls the drink-tea-stall-time trick.

Sam is looking at him, intent and concerned, and it's really really really just best to be honest.

"You're really lovely," he says finally, trying his very best to look Sam in the eye, "and really nice and I think you're brilliant, mate. But..."

Silence - which isn't really silence, and is in fact an interlude where the flood of noise from half-arsed hipsters and MacBooks and coffee machines fills the air around them - hangs between them for a few moments.

"You just don't want to date me," Sam finishes quietly.

Sirius looks at him in surprise. "Well yeah, I suppose that's... I'm sorry. I really do like you, pal..."

"You just don't like me."

It's actually quite helpful the way Sam keeps finishing his sentences for him.

"Sorry, Sam."

"That's okay."

"I'd really like it if we could be friends." He almost cringes. He didn't really just say that, did he? God, what a creep. Apart from funerals, break-ups are the only time when clichés are mildly acceptable, and yet he still shudders.

"Sure." Sam gives a little shrug, managing a tiny smile, and then lifts his mocha whatever to his lips, not actually drinking any. He hesitates. "Was there something I...?"

"What? No! No, no, no, absolutely not. No, you're great. It's not you, it's - "

"Don't."

"What?"

"Stop. Don't say that."

"Say what?"

"'It's not you, it's me'."

"Why not?"

"Because, Sirius," Sam smiles, "one day you're going to be a serious filmmaker or critic or writer, and you don't want it on record that you actually said something as horribly banal as 'it's not you, it's me'. It would ruin you."

"Alright, alright. But it really is me. Honest. I mean, you're lovely and you know tons about films, loads more than me - "

"I don't know about that..."

Sirius doesn't know about that either, but he's trying to be nice here.

"And I'd ask you out in a heartbeat if I could, it's just that I'm going through a very strange time right now in terms of, er, relationships, and it's just not really... it's just not the right time."

"It's okay."

"Really?"

"Uh huh."

Sirius lets out a long breath. "Cor, brilliant. Hey, thanks for being so nice about this."

Sam laughs again. "Well, what else could I be? Obviously I like you, Sirius, otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation. But what can I do? I can't force you to like me back."

"But I do like you - "

"Not like that," Sam shakes his head. "And I guess, maybe, I was just kind of desperate to have someone like me again. I haven't been single in a long time and it's super weird and I don't like it much, so I guess I kind of... threw myself at you?"

"Oh, you didn't..."

"No, I did. It's alright to say it, Sirius.  I think maybe this is a good idea. Maybe it'll be good for me to be single for a while."

They share a little smile, sip their respective drinks, and set them back down again.

"You don't really mean that, do you?" Sirius says quietly.

"Not at all," Sam smiles, and dear God it's bloody heartbreaking.

Sirius leaves it a while. They finish their drinks, and Sirius offers to buy him another and Sam kindly refuses. He tries to pay, but Sirius tells him not to be silly, so he has to fork out for both of their overpriced drinks with the creased tenner he found in his underwear drawer before going out.

When they're outside, getting to the awkward part where they have to do dreadful non-gropey hugs/half-kisses on the cheek and say their farewells and make vague promises of meeting up again 'as friends', without actually mentioning the 'as friends' part, Sirius takes a deep breath, wonders if it's too insensitive, and quickly decides that Sam seems immune to other people's insensitivity anyway.

"Hey Sam," he starts slowly. He shoves his hands deep in his pockets against the cold, and toes at the concrete ground. "Sam, how do you feel about redheads?"

Chapter Text

"Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art,

Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night

And watching, with eternal lids apart,

Like Nature's patient, sleepless Eremite..."

The lecturers are always going on about how poetry should speak to you. Sirius has never really understood how. Like, when the poets were penning their apparently genius sonnets, they weren't intending them for napping students, sent to sleep by the overpowering stench of wood polish in a 1970's lecture theatre. They were intending them for their own lovers. Or their unrequited loves. Or their mothers. One of the three.

He's never really understood it until now. Because even though Bright Star was definitely not written for anyone but Abbie Cornish, Sirius still seriously entertains the idea of whispering it into Remus' ear in post-coital bliss.

That's what his professor says it's about: the poet lying next to his sleeping sweetheart and wishing to stay there forever. Sirius quite likes the idea of staying in bed with Remus forever. And it's not a possibility so far out of reach; as of recent, they haven't seemed to do much but stay in bed together.

Would Remus appreciate being serenaded with Bright Star? Sirius doesn't doubt Remus knows Keats' entire back catalogue of lush poems and gooey sonnets. Would he laugh?

"Gentlemen, take note," the professor is smiling now, peering at them over the tops of his spectacles, "this poem is a pure declaration of love. Undoubtedly one of the most naked produced by any of the Romantics. No lady would be able to resist a recitation of this one. Just something to keep in mind."

That's it. Romance. He and Remus are definitely in dire need of some romance. After all, they've been sleeping together for a whole week now, and they even went to the cinema on Wednesday (some weirdo art house thing they both were fairly disturbed by), and things seem to be going, by all accounts, absolutely swimmingly.

Sirius turns to the boy sat next to him and smiles, slyly, and the boy smiles nervously back.

Romance. Remus, roses that are red ... yes, Sirius, take note. Take note.

* * *

"Mon chéri!" he cries, when Remus opens the door.

"Mon amour," Remus deadpans.

Sirius sticks his hand out, brandishing a bright bunch of Germini.

"I brought you flowers, babe, look."

"Yes, I can see that." Remus sort of peers at them strangely, almost as though he's expecting them to explode in his face. He keeps a hand on the door too, like he's not quite sure whether to let Sirius in yet. "Well they're very... beautiful. Thank you, Sirius, that was very thoughtful of you."

He takes the flowers and lets Sirius in, kisses him on the lips and looks around for somewhere to stow the plants. In the end he props them up on the windowsill to die, and then sits back down at his desk where all of his work is spread out before him.

"Give me a second," he murmurs. He makes one last note on a page that is almost completely black from the plethora of notes it's been filled with, then slides it into the middle of a huge hardback book with the rather simple and ominous gold title: HISTORY.

When he's finished, Sirius comes up behind him and bends slightly to wind his arms around Remus' neck, pressing his lips to his slightly furry jaw, moving to nip gently at the top of his lovely little ear.

"Are you hungry?" Sirius asks.

"That a come-on?"

He snorts softly. "No. I thought I might take you out for dinner."

"Oh? What's the occasion?"

"Need there be one? Alright, call it a mark in our... companionship."

"And what mark's that?"

Sirius sighs and lets his body go slack where it's draped around Remus. "Must you question all?"

"I'm a History student. It's sort of what we do."

"Let's say we're celebrating a whole week of enjoying one another's company."

"Well." Remus pauses. He looks as though he might be intending to dispute this but in the end he, quite thankfully, comes up with nothing. He caps his pen, leans back in his chair and looks up. "Alright then. Where are we going?"

Sirius grins at him, triumphant. "Just dress nice."

* * *

Remus doesn't just dress nicely, he dresses delectably. So wonderful that when they stroll into the Italian restaurant Sirius spent sixty two years agonizing over (more expensive than Little Italy, but slightly cheaper than Bella Italia so he can buy Remus as much as he wants, safe in the knowledge that it is both delicious and possible to afford on a student budget) he is convinced that everyone in there is on the verge of pushing away their plates of spaghetti in favour of simply eating Remus up with their eyes instead.

He feels a rather exciting pang of jealousy, as though he's James Bond with the bird everyone wants on his arm. If James Bond frequented the city centre's La Campagna, that is.

"That old bloke's looking at you," Sirius whispers, outraged. At a corner table, sitting alone with a plate of carbonara, there is indeed some old dad type in a velvet jacket leering at Remus. Leering. Bastard with his bastarding elbow patches.

"Yes," Remus mutters back, "he is."

"I think he fancies you."

Remus shoots Sirius an unamused look. "I think he's my tutor." He wanders past the wooden pedestal where they're supposed to wait and goes right over to talk to him, leaving Sirius standing on his own, wondering if he's supposed to follow.

"Good evening." A strangely-dressed woman (Sirius isn't sure if her dull black dress is supposed to say sophisticated Italian or depressed French maid) has strolled over with a clutch of leather-bound menus, smile at the ready. "So sorry to keep you waiting, sir. Have you a reservation?"

She finds his name in the register, then smiles at him sympathetically, assuming he's alone.

"Table for two. Has your guest arrived?"

Sirius clears his throat awkwardly. "They've just gone to the bathroom," he says, because "he's abandoned me for that old man over there" doesn't seem appropriate.

He has to sit at the table - complete with authentic red-checked tablecloth and half-melted candle - on his own until Remus has the good grace to return, which he does after five minutes of excited chatter with David Attenborough.

"Sorry about that," he says when he sits down, straightening his cuffs.

"That's alright," Sirius mumbles. He's picked his way down another quarter of the candle. Its body lies in waxy flakes around the tarnished silver holder.

"He's terribly worked up about something. My tutor, I mean. There's just been some major research done into the theory of Jesus' supposed wives, and even though it's more the Divinity School's area, it's really quite exciting..." He then proceeds to tell Sirius exactly why it's so incredibly exciting, and Sirius listens and watches and wonders why Remus never takes anything they do together seriously.

After the waiter comes to take their drinks order, Remus snaps out of his daze long enough to ask, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Well, it's obviously something."

"Why's it obviously something?"

"You're not saying anything, and you're not looking at me, and you're scratching that weird freckle on your hand."

Sirius looks up from the freckle on his hand. "Why does everyone keep saying it's weird?"

"Because it's the lone freckle. I swear you haven't got another one anywhere else on your whole entire body. And I should know by now."

Sirius pulls a face. "That was tacky."

"Yeah, it was a bit. I think you're having a bad influence on me." He smiles, and their drinks arrive. Remus swallows a significant amount of his pint before trying again: "Tell me what's wrong. Are you in a bad mood because I went and spoke to John? You know, Sirius, if we're going to be together you're going to have to stop taking everything to heart."

"What?"

"You don't need my attention every second of the day. Believe it or not, I do actually like spending time with you more than my History tutor, but if I hadn't spoken to him I would've spent the whole evening feeling awkward for ignoring him until he left, you know?"

Sirius stares at him dumbly.

"Don't go quiet on me, Sirius," Remus tells him behind another sip of his drink. "It's not natural when you do that."

"You want to be with me?"

Remus lowers his glass. "Isn't that what this is about?"

"What what's about?"

"This." He gestures around them. "This... outing."

"I don't know. Is it?"

"Isn't it?"

"I don't know! I'm so confused."

"Don't you want to be together?"

"I'm - "

"I though that's what you wanted..."

"I do!" He does. He does, he does, he does. "But... I want you to want it too."

Remus looks at him carefully. The din in the restaurant is so loud, the clatter of the exposed kitchen so raucous, that Sirius only just catches what he says.

"Well, I do."

It's clear they both realise it sounds like a vow at the same time, and Remus quickly busies himself with drinking to hide all obvious embarrassment.

"Oh God," Sirius murmurs, downing a hearty amount of his own pint with a flourish. "We haven't even had a starter yet. D'you want some olives?"

And so they quietly consider their respective vows over acid green, oil-drenched olives. Sirius doesn't even like olives, for fuck's sake.

This is a lot more difficult than he thought it might be. He never fantasised about relationships in the past. He was never one of the boys at school who paid to have anonymous roses sent on Valentine's day, or who wrote cushy Christmas cards to his crushes in December, or who daydreamed about white weddings and big houses and children and dogs. He daydreamed about sex, mostly, and Amsterdam and surrealist parties and gritty independent film-esque encounters in dangerous clubs.

So it never crossed his mind what it might be like to ask someone out. He's never really done it before.

He clears his throat with some determination.

"So, d'you fancy it then?" he says casually.

"What?" Remus asks around an olive.

"Me and you. Together, I mean."

"Yes. I already said that. Don't make me say it again, please."

And it occurs to Sirius then that, for all his own wishful thinking, Remus Lupin is not touched by romance. He's not into Keats because Keats was in love; he's into Keats because Keats was smart and tragic and interesting, and Remus likes things that are smart and tragic and interesting. That's why he does History. Remus is not into flowers or fine dining or declarations of love or serenading or hand holding.

And when Sirius thinks about it, really thinks about it, he doesn't mind at all. In fact, he's not sure he'd like Remus as much as he does if he was into all that gushy stuff. Because Remus would just be Sam then, wouldn't he? Or Fabian. And they're both attractive and smart and interesting, but still, there must be a reason Sirius likes Remus so much and not them, mustn't there?

They're better for each other, those two. And Sirius and Remus, well, they're going to be pretty good for each other too.

Sirius smiles, tries to pretend he isn't exploding from the inside, and picks up a menu.

"Great," he grins. "Can we order properly now? I'm starving."

* * *

"I still think you should have gone to the police," Remus says afterwards as they stroll along together, passing by the lake, the frozen boathouse, the beautiful, ominous bridge. The sky has turned this very strange colour, sort of dark and frosty blue with deep, swirling purples, like wild heather. There's a slither of moon peeking out from behind the cathedral, and a surreal calmness, as though the whole city has gone to sleep.

Sirius takes a hand out of his coat pocket to wave it dismissively. "Eh. No harm done. Maybe I'll learn from it."

"You can learn from the experience and still get your wallet back."

"It was a tenner and a bit of plastic, Remus. I think I'll live."

Remus mutters something about it being about the principle, not the tenner, until Sirius nudges him to get him to shut up, and Remus nudges him back, harder, so that Sirius almost falls into a lamp post. Then Remus snorts and apologises and grabs Sirius' arm and pulls him back and doesn't let go for a good five seconds. When he does he walks so close their arms brush, and it's not quite holding hands in the snow, but it's enough to make Sirius feel giddy and stupid.

Then again, that could just be the alcohol.

"So now we've had our first date," Remus says out of the blue, "are you going to invite me up for coffee?"

"Ah well, see. I don't know about that."

"No?"

"There are still a few vital areas we haven't covered."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"You said this is our first date. There's a criteria for a first date, you know."

Remus rolls his eyes. "That's some habit you've got there, Sirius Black."

"What?"

He looks up from the ground, cheeks flushed red and lovely with cold, and their drowsy eyes meet.

"Pretending everything's a film," he says mildly. "That everything runs like a film. That life's just one big blockbuster, complete with inspiring montages and sickeningly sweet endings and sympathetic protagonists. I wouldn't be surprised if you thought Heaven was the 'Making Of' documentary."

Sirius laughs. "Nothing wrong with pretending every now and then, Moonshine."

Silence passes between them, their feet crunching on the frosty ground until, finally, Remus, in a way that is probably a lot of effort for him, decides to play along.

"Alright then," he sighs, "let's see. So we had the flowers."

"We had the witty dinner proposal."

"Well. We had a dinner proposal."

"We had you looking delectable and me feeling faint at the sight - "

"We had you getting mildly jealous, I remember that."

"We had the suave Italian restaurant."

"Missed out on the shared string of spaghetti, but we'll skim over that fact. Now we're taking the obligatory romantic stroll along the lakeside, strangely deserted bar the odd happy family passing us by to set the cheerfully festive atmosphere." Remus stops in his tracks. His voice, when he speaks, is a dry and teasing drawl. "I don't see what comes between this and you inviting me up for coffee."

Sirius stops too. He can barely contain his grin.

"Liar," he whispers, and he winds his arms around Remus' neck and kisses him.

"This is all far too Hollywood," Remus murmurs when they gently break apart. His hands have settled on Sirius' waist. Their noses brush, and Sirius smiles.

"I like Hollywood," he says softly.

Remus hums gently, and closes his eyes, and rests his forehead against Sirius'. "Yeah," he says, "Hollywood's alright, I suppose."

"You suppose."

"I suppose."

"And happy endings too?"

Remus opens his eyes. "You're leaving Hollywood and entering the realms of the Tesco DVD bargain box. You of all people should be ashamed of such terrible clichés." But his grip on Sirius' waist tightens a little, and he lowers his eyes and he says, with what novelists call the ghost of a smile, "We'll see."

There's no point looking for meaning in the words. Because with Remus, well, it's never really been about words. Remus' words have rarely ever made Sirius want to kick up a dance, to say "God bless you one and all", to run up the Durham equivalent of the seventy-two stone steps.

It's only when they start walking again, and their cold fingers brush, and Remus looks at him and smiles this gorgeous, chapped-lip smile, that Sirius realises "we'll see" means something much more than Remus made it sound. Perhaps that's wishful thinking, but Sirius has a lot of faith in those smiles. Those smiles could light up the city.

Chapter Text

Six months later

"Smile for the camera! Remus... Remus... Re - "

"Go away."

"But everyone wants to see your pretty face! Alright, where's Samnfab - oh, you two are disgusting, this isn't that kind of film... where's James? James! Come and be in my film!"

"What's the film?"

"Whatever you want it to be, pal. I'm granting you complete artistic freedom."

"Alright, I need to make a cape."

James sets down his empty can of Carling and wanders off upstairs, and Sirius lowers his camera, caps the lens, and leans his head back into Remus' lap.

"Hello, gorgeous," he grins.

"Hello, darling," Remus' upside-down face murmurs back. He has his nose buried in Fabian's Victorian copy of the Odyssey which, since they - that's Sirius and Fabian and Peter and James - moved in a week ago, has had pride of place on the living room book shelf, alongside 1001 Movies to See Before You Die and James' battered copy of Cujo.

It is three o'clock in the morning. All their guests, bar Sam and Janis and Remus, have left. Peter has passed out in the bathtub.

"How's the directing project going?" Remus asks, eyes not moving from his current page.

"Gooood," Sirius drags out. He gives the camera in his lap a fond pat. "Got some great footage of James chucking up in the Rice Krispies box."

"Ah, so it's an art house film then?"

"Something like that," Sirius mumbles, turning his head and nestling it into the warmth of Remus' t-shirt. The Lumineers still buzz in the background on low, and he can hear his friends muttering dopily to each other, and the thud of James' drunken blundering in his room upstairs.

"I'm sure your new tutor will love it."

"I'm sure he will too. He'd be a fool not to. There's this fantastic part where James' cousin gets married. And lots of bits with you sleeping. 'Cos every film needs its pretty face."

"Well there's an unnerving revelation."

"M'drunk."

"You're drunk. I think we should get you to your bed."

"Our bed," Sirius corrects.

"Our bed, is it? You've kicked me out of it every time I've slept in it."

"Sorry. It's just so small."

Small like everything else in the house, as well as the house itself. It's an old place, a slightly damp cottage set halfway between Durham and Newcastle with a ten-minute bus journey either way, and the old walls shake, and they all hit their heads on the slanted ceilings, especially Fabian who is about nine feet tall, and the kitchen and bathroom tiles are freezing in the mornings, and it's theirs and it's perfect.

"I'll try not to kick you out tonight," Sirius tells him, "though I make no promises. No promises do I make."

"I appreciate the sentiment all the same." Remus sets his book aside and tries to move Sirius' head very gently. Then he stills, and pats Sirius' hair instead. "You're not going to fall asleep on me, are you?"

"Only for a bit," Sirius mumbles.

"You have a rather heavy head. Do you know that?"

"That's because it's full of so many wonderful things."

Remus laughs quietly, and somehow - Sirius himself isn't entirely sure how - manages to coax him into a sitting position. He runs a hand through Sirius' new-grown hair, kisses him on the neck and stands up, holding out a hand.

"Come on. I'll make sure you don't bang that wonderfully brimming head again."

Sirius wearily rubs the fading week-old bruise on his forehead and sets his camera on the side table, before taking Remus' hand and getting unsteadily to his feet.

"Goodnight, Samnfab," he drawls over his shoulder, but they've fallen asleep in the armchair and don't hear him.

Upstairs, settled beneath the covers of a tiny double bed, Sirius allows his heavy head to fall back on to the pillow. They used to have a sort of nanny at his old house in London, and when he was little and he'd been running around all day she'd tuck him into bed in the evening and say, as though he wasn't in the room, "Ooh, he'll sleep tonight!"

That's how it feels now, as though he's been on his feet all week and now he's ready for a whole night of warm, refreshing peace. Only the nanny's not here to say it, so he says it to himself, mumbled into his pillow, "He'll sleep tonight."

Remus, getting undressed at the foot of the bed, looks up. "What?"

"I said he'll sleep tonight."

"Who?"

"Me."

He can feel Remus peeling back the quilt. His mum made it for Sirius, and it's patchwork and very soft and warm, if a bit girly. But it's far too hot to use it in late August, and Remus folds it neatly at the end of the bed. The mattress depresses slightly as he slips beneath the covers, and Sirius automatically curls around him and rests his head on his chest, and Remus pretends to mind for a moment before winding an arm around him and rubbing his shoulder, turning out the lamp with his spare hand.

They lie together quietly in the warm darkness. After a while, Sirius murmurs, "Did you like the house-warming party?"

"I did."

"D'you like this house?"

"I do."

Sirius rubs his cheek against the soft cotton of Remus' t-shirt and sighs, content.

"Well. Goodnight, Moonshine," he says through a yawn, tacking sleepily on the end, "Love you."

Remus squeezes his shoulder and kisses his head and falls easily to sleep.

Despite his previous forecast regarding a lovely long night of deep dozing, Sirius stays awake a bit longer. Lying like this, he can hear Remus' steady heartbeat, his deep breathing, feel the rise and fall of his chest, and it sounds very romantic because it is, but Sirius knows he won't be able to fall asleep like this. It's too distracting, and his own pillow is a lot more comfortable and a lot less inclined to move and murmur. He'll shift his head back down soon and go properly to sleep, but it's not often Remus nods off first, so Sirius takes the opportunity to enjoy it. He thinks in the silence for a while.

He thinks about this new house and how wonderful it feels to be out of halls, to never have to drink soya milk again, and he thinks about his new course, Film Aesthetics, and how much he loves rolling it off his tongue. He thinks about his friends, new and old and irritating and brilliant, about living with James again, and being here with Remus and everything feeling like it's supposed to be here, that he's found his place (this damp little house, this city, this bed), that he's done it right. That he's done alright.

There's this film he used to watch as a kid. An old film, old enough to be in black and white, but not enough to bore his eight-year-old self as he lay beneath a duvet in the loft, transfixed by the dusty projector. He remembers Katharine Hepburn - or maybe it was Audrey - and he remembers Cary Grant, and he remembers this line, this one line, that he's always got repeating itself like a record on a loop in his head, that thick American accent, that soft, southern chirp: How does your garden grow, Case? Is it wonderful where you are?

And Sirius thinks, as he drifts off to sleep, it is. It's wonderful.

End