He winced at having to part with the handful of notes in his pocket, but the chip shop knew him well, and the friendly man behind the counter always doubled his order which would at least carry him from tea through tomorrow’s lunch. He took the sack on his arms, giving the man a friendly wave and a promise to see him next week.
Holding the warm sack to his chest, Remus Lupin paused by the door and peered out. It was dreary, an ugly winter storm approaching where the stuff falling from the sky wouldn’t be able to decide whether it wanted to be rain or snow, so it would instead crash to the ground an icy sleet, making everyone stuck in it frozen and hateful. He lifted the collar of his threadbare coat and took a breath.
The frigid air hit him in the face, and he cursed his luck. He had a decent enough job, running a little bookshop that was barely pulling in enough of a profit to stay afloat. He lived upstairs, a bare room with a toilet, a half-rusted tub, and a pathetic excuse for a kitchen. But it was home and there was a fireplace to provide the heat, which would warm his aching bones.
With a sigh, he stepped onto the pavement and prayed his food would hold its warmth because nothing was worse than congealed, fried fish.
Head bowed, Remus hurried along the pavement, rushing toward his building. It wasn’t far, the trip even shorter if he cut through a short, dark alleyway. It was the path he took nearly every time, and no one ever bothered him.
Except tonight. He was coming round the bins when a hand snaked out, and he was shoved roughly against the wall. Something hard was shoved against his ribs, and hot breath hissed into his ear. “Give me what’s in your pockets. And I’ll take that sack as well.”
Remus blinked, feeling a hot rush of fear coursing through his belly. He couldn’t afford to be robbed. He couldn’t afford to lose his supper. But the hand clutching him was thin, shaking, and there was a desperation to that voice.
Remus glanced up, bold and daring. He had to guess a man like this, who looked like he hadn’t seen the inside of a flat or a bath in years, didn’t actually have a weapon. There was a desperation in those grey eyes, and something under the grime that made Remus’ lips part and say, “I don’t think you have the capacity to hurt me, but I have a shop nearby. And there’s enough food here to share.”
The man obviously hadn’t expected it either, because his hand dropped and he let out a high, shaking, almost bark-like laugh. “You’re joking?”
“No,” Remus said slowly, even as the inside of his brain screamed, ‘What the bloody fuck do you think you’re doing, inviting a criminal back to your flat!’ “It’s just up there. Moon and Stars Book Shop.”
“Moon and Stars,” the man muttered. He stepped back and Remus got a good look at him. He was too thin, scruffy, trembling from the cold. His clothes were in tatters, his long hair unkempt and matted. He had several months’ worth of beard growing round his face.
Remus felt something twinge in his belly, and he reached out an arm to steady the man when he stumbled. “Come on. Don’t be a git.”
“So says the man I just tried to rob,” he barked, his voice hoarse.
“Do you want to eat or not?”
There was a pause, like the man could hardly believe what was happening. Hell, Remus could hardly believe it himself. He was no fool…and yet…
“How far?” he rasped.
Remus nodded his head toward the end of the alley. “Just there. I’m Remus, by the way. Remus Lupin.”
The man looked at him, his narrow grey eyes taking him in, then he shook his head. “I just tried to rob you.”
“Yes, for obvious reasons,” Remus said, waving his free hand up and down the man’s body. “Now I haven’t really got any money. My shop is…well…it’s a bookshop, it hardly keeps me rich. But I’ve got this food and tea upstairs and a fire. And a bath.”
The man barked a laugh again. “And what if I kill you in your sleep and take everything you’ve got.”
“Well it wouldn’t get you very far.” Remus smiled at him, then started to walk. After several moments, he heard his steps echoed, and for whatever mad reason, he smiled.
They reached the shop, the man behind him antsy and hopping from foot to foot. The air was getting colder, and Remus felt the first frigid drop on his hand as he unlocked the door and pushed it aside. He let the man go first, nodding toward the stairs as they bypassed the side entrance to the shop. The corridor was cold, but when he opened his flat door, it was warm enough still from the early morning’s fire.
Setting the sack on his small table, Remus flicked on a light and watched as the man closed the door, almost in awe of being inside somewhere. “Erm, you can wash up if you want. Bath is just down there. I’ll get a fire going, get you some fresh clothes. And then we can eat.”
The man stared at him for a long time. “Why?”
Remus shrugged by way of answer, then waved him off as he went straight to the fireplace and stoked up what burning embers remained. He threw a few sheets of newspaper on top, then a dry log and waited for it to catch.
He heard the bath water start to run, and smiled to himself. He had been right. It wasn’t a crime, it was survival. Remus had been there before. Before he was able to scrape together enough from the sale of his parents’ old cottage to buy this place and call it his own. He’d slept on park benches before, and he was no stranger to the raw, deep-belly ache of true hunger.
Dragging himself out of his thoughts, he ran to the bedroom and rummaged through the wardrobe. He had a pair of warm jogging bottoms he never wore, and too many jumpers—enough to spare at the very least. He folded them and walked to the bathroom, setting them down just outside the door.
With a careful knock, he leant his head in to the frame and said, “I’ve left clothes for you just outside the door. Feel free to use whatever you need in there. Food will be sorted in a moment.”
He didn’t for a reply, instead walking back to the table, but he smiled to himself when he heard the bathroom door open, then slam shut again. There had been a pride in the man’s eyes when he was attempting to rob Remus. A pride that said he had to be near the end of his rope if he was finally accepting someone’s offer. Surely this wouldn’t have been the first time someone had offered him something. There were shelters and assistance. He could only guess what kept a man on the streets.
For Remus it had been chronic illness which wasn’t enough to qualify for disability services, but enough to prevent him from keeping a job long enough to make a living. It had been enough to have him fail at University from missing too many classes. It had been enough to wear down friendships because people didn’t understand that just because you didn’t look ill, didn’t mean you weren’t.
With a small sigh, Remus went to his kitchen to fetch a couple of plates. He heard the sounds of his pathetic electric razor, and grinned to himself. Opening the sack of food, he saw the chippy had stuffed everything very full. He opened the containers and dished everything out onto plates, giving the stranger the larger portion.
Flicking on his kettle, Remus brought down two mugs, plunking two bags of tea at the bottom, and he whistled quietly to himself as he waited. Just as the kettle finished, he heard the sounds of bare feet on his wood floors, and turned.
The person standing in front of him was not the same man from the alley. His hair was wet, still too long, but he’d gone at it with Remus’ comb to remove most of the tangles. His face was shaven, and still too thin, but he looked far more human than before. Maybe a bit ridiculous in Remus oversized jumper and jogging bottoms, but there was something different to his posture.
“Aren’t you going to ask my name?” the man questioned. He was eyeing the food, so Remus nodded toward the first plate with the large pile of fish and chips.
“Go on, that one’s yours.”
The man looked hesitant. “Er…”
“I’m not very hungry,” Remus said. “The cold put me off my appetite. Well that, and being threatened in an alley.”
“Nah, really it’s not that serious,” Remus began.
The man coughed, then reached for the plate and held it close to his chest. “No, my name is Sirius. Like the star.”
“Canis Major,” Remus muttered to himself.
“Smart fellow.” Then he abandoned all pretences and went at the food like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Which, on some level, was likely.
Remus didn’t watch, letting Sirius have his privacy as he fixed the tea. The name rang a bell, in a strange way, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He didn’t worry about it straight away. Instead he asked, “How do you take your tea?”
There was a small cough, and Remus looked over at Sirius who had demolished half the food, and had slowed down a bit. “Sorry,” he said after a second. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve been asked that.” He scratched the back of his head. “Er. Milk, I think. No sugar.”
Remus fixed both cups, then handed one off to Sirius, taking up his own plate, and motioned toward the lounge. Sirius followed after several hesitant moments, and took up the far end of the sofa, away from the fire.
“Thank you,” he said after a very long time.
Remus chased a bit of his chips down with the tea, and he smiled. “Any time.”
The man’s face lit up just a little bit, a hint of mischief in his eyes and his mouth quirked up at the corner. “Any time? Really? You make a habit of this, Remus?”
Feeling his cheeks heat up, Remus still smiled and shook his head. “Not as such. But having spent a fair few nights curled up in an alley or park bench, I rather think the very least I can do is offer a meal and cuppa. And maybe, if you’ve nowhere pressing to be, offer a place to stay?”
Sirius blinked. “Erm. That’s…”
“It’s just a sofa. Not very comfortable. But I could do with another hand round my shop and well…” Remus cleared his throat.
“I have money,” Sirius blurted suddenly, then looked away. “Well…in theory I have money. It’s been a process. Getting my accounts unfrozen after the erm…” He waved his hand. “Was all over the papers a month and a half ago. Big story, big scandal.”
Remus furrowed his brow, trying to remember. A month and a half ago he’d been very poorly indeed, shut away upstairs and the shop had gone unopened. But he recalled something…something big. Was on the telly, in the papers. Sirius…
“Sirius Black,” he blurted, and it came rushing back. Sirius Black, the eldest son of the Black Family—aristocratic on one side, MP on the other. His father had been in the Parliament for ages. Sirius had been something of a rebel in his day. Was disinherited from his family at sixteen. It had all been in the bio because a month and a half ago, Sirius had been released from one of Britain’s more terrible prisons, Azkaban, set in the North Sea. Dreadful place, no one of course, wanted to talk about it. He’d been sent away for murder.
And then he’d been acquitted when the real murderer had been caught.
“Bloody hell,” Remus breathed, turning to look at him fully. The only photo the paper printed was of a much younger man in his early twenties. The emaciated creature sat on his sofa was very much not him. “I erm…”
“So you still want to offer a convict a place to stay?” Sirius asked in a very quiet voice.
Remus swallowed. “You were acquitted, are you still a convict?”
“Well considering that after being locked away for murders I didn’t commit,” Sirius said, his voice thick and hoarse, “and acquitted and yet they haven’t unfrozen my accounts, nor have they returned the little bit of property I did own, forcing me onto the streets…I’d say I’m close enough.”
“But you’re not a murderer?” Remus pressed.
“I might have been,” Sirius said, his eyes narrowed. “If I’d got my hands on Pettigrew before the Met, I might have been.”
Remus didn’t know the details of the story. He didn’t recall the names of the victims, but he assumed this Pettigrew had been the one who committed the crime. And Remus could hardly blame him for thinking that way.
“The only heat is from the fireplace,” Remus said quietly. “And I really could use a hand round the shop. I get poorly from time to time, and it’s hard to feed myself when I can’t get down to open the doors. But I can’t afford to pay a full-time employee. If you’d be willing to trade your time for a shitty sofa and the occasional fish and chips…”
“I can cook,” Sirius blurted, then his cheeks went a bit pink. “I mean…I used to be able to cook. I was in solitary for twelve years. So I’m not sure what I’m any good at now. But…I think I can erm…”
“Is that a yes?” Remus asked.
Sirius swallowed down his tea, then picked at the last few chips on his plate. “Yes. I…thank you. Granted I don’t know if I should trust your judgement as I tried to rob you and here you are offering me a place to stay and a job but…thank you.”
Remus chuckled a little. “What can I say. I’m a bit reckless.” He took Sirius’ plate and empty mug, taking it back to the kitchen. “I’m shattered, so I’m heading to bed. There’s a spare pillow and a few blankets in the cupboard there. Feel free to make yourself at home. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry all that happened.”
Sirius gave a small shrug. “Being acquitted, catching Pettigrew, didn’t make much of a difference in the end. They’re still dead.”
Remus felt a small sting in his eyes when he realised it was likely Sirius knew the victims. But now was not the time to ask. Instead he stoked the fire up a bit more, then bade him farewell for the night. Remus was not entirely without sense, and he locked his bedroom door when he got in, but he spent the rest of the night listening to the quiet of the house, wondering about the other man.
In spite of getting very little sleep at all, Remus woke with the dawn, and crawled from his bed to his wardrobe. He was sure to have a bout of illness triggered by the fatigue, but for the day, he would be able to stick it out. He pulled a cosy jumper out, and a pair of well-worn trousers before padding across the hall to the bath. There was no sign of life in the lounge, and part of him wondered if maybe Sirius had just taken what he could—what little Remus had that would be worth any money, and gone.
But he’d find out shortly.
He soaked in the tub for quite some time, scrubbing his skin, the light scarring that had come from welts over the years. The disease hadn’t been kind to him, but he didn’t have it as bad as he might’ve. Not as bad as many did.
Dipping his head under the water, he let himself rest against the bottom of the porcelain before coming up for air. He scrubbed at his hair a bit, then drained the water, dressed, and shaved. There was a bit of stubble left round the sink in a ring, and a massive pile of black clippings in the small bin.
Remus had to wonder what twelve years of solitary had been like. Twelve years of knowing you were imprisoned for a murder you didn’t commit. Twelve years, and to come out of it poor, homeless, and helpless. It would have driven any man mad, and Remus was surprised Sirius could carry on a conversation so well.
Had it been him, he likely would have gone feral.
Rubbing at his face, Remus cleaned his teeth, then walked out into the lounge. He was vaguely surprised to find Sirius there, still asleep curled up in one of the warmer blankets. Remus re-stoked the fire, then scribbled a note to Sirius, leaving it on the low table where he would hopefully find it straight away.
I’ve gone down to mind the shop. You’re welcome to come get acquainted with it if you like, however feel free to take the day to yourself. Anything in the kitchen is yours, and there’s a few quid in a jam jar for food if there’s nothing you fancy. I close the doors at noon for lunch, so if you’re up, I’ll see you then.
With that, he grabbed up a few bags of tea, his favourite mug, and closed the door as quietly as he could manage.
It was still frigid outside, and the weather disgusting, which meant he wasn’t likely to get much business. He relied heavily on foot traffic to bring people in, but when London weather was abysmal, business was as well.
Still, he flicked on the small open sign which glowed an ugly orange at the top window. He unlocked the door, hung the bell, then went to the till to count the money inside. That finished, he flicked on his electric kettle and pulled one of his more cushioned chairs behind the counter to wait.
He had a book he was reading, an old copy in French—which his skills were rusty, but he was rather enjoying it. A customer had brought it in for trade—something he did every so often if it was a decent or rare copy. There was no publisher information, and the man had stated he’d found it in his gran’s things when she’d passed.
It was unique enough for Remus to take it in, giving the man trade enough for two books. So far from what he could decipher, it was a love story between two men. A scandal for the time, he assumed, though even now with it being mostly legal to exist as a man who preferred other men, it wasn’t very welcome by most.
There had been plenty of times Remus had to listen to older generations talking about how hell-bound they were—the ones who didn’t live up to what society believed they should be. He reckoned it could be worse, though, so he didn’t bother feeling too bad about himself.
He was a quarter of the way into his new chapter when he heard the side door open and close. A small smile threatened to turn up the corners of his mouth, so he hid it into his teacup, and instead went for a raised brow when Sirius appeared still wearing the jogging bottom and jumper.
His hair was tamed, dry and fell silky and long across his shoulders. He seemed a bit out of place, rather hesitant looking for a man who had taken to mugging people in dark alleys.
“Morning,” Remus said. “Would you like tea?”
Sirius looked at him, then barked a laugh. “I think I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be English. Everywhere I turn now it’s, would you like a cup of tea?”
“I’ve some coffee somewhere,” Remus said, ignoring the implications he’d been away from polite society for over a decade. “If you prefer it.”
Sirius shook his head. “I fixed myself a cuppa before I came down. And I had a bit of porridge, though you’re out now.”
Remus sighed a bit. “I need to go to the shops later, anyway. Maybe we can stop by somewhere and see about something for you to wear.”
Sirius flushed just a bit. “That bad, am I?”
“Trust me, I don’t intend on inflicting my poor fashion choices on anyone,” Remus said, and smiled. He felt a small rush when the grin was returned, even if it was hesitant. “And anyway, you should be allowed to be comfortable.”
Sirius didn’t seem to know what to say. It was clear he wanted to refuse the offer, and yet didn’t have much choice. So instead he took his leave of Remus to go back upstairs, “For another kip, if you don’t mind. It’s been a while since I’ve got any real sleep.”
Remus couldn’t deny him that. He recalled the day he bought the shop, he took three days to himself to just appreciate he had a place of his own to lay his head. He went back to reading, served the handful of customers who came in, then at noon closed up and headed for the stairs.
He was halfway up when he notice the smell. Not entirely unpleasant, like something baking. With a frown, he pushed inside the flat and spotted Sirius pulling something from the oven. The dark-haired man turned, giving Remus a sort of sheepish grin.
“You had enough left round here for some pasties.”
Remus carefully slid the keys onto the table, and crossed his arms. “You made pasties? From scratch?”
“Er. Well, you had some leftover shepherd’s pie in the fridge. It’s not the best filling, I know but…”
Remus looked over and saw the pasties. They were the perfect amount of shining brown, and small enough to be eaten without utensils. “That’s…well. Very kind of you.”
Sirius ruffled the hair at the back of his head, then shifted several onto a plate, plonking it down in the centre of the table. “I didn’t know what else to do. I’m…well…unused to all this freedom.”
Remus let out a puff of air as he took a seat, and carefully reached for the piping hot pasty. Not looking over, he took a careful bite, and though it very nearly scalded the inside of his mouth, he couldn’t help but notice they were perfect. Flaky and somehow he’d repurposed Remus’ pathetic attempt at shepherd’s pie into something actually edible. “Wow,” he breathed.
“I hope that’s a good wow,” Sirius said, easing down into the second chair. “It’s been ages, you know.”
Remus nodded as he took a second bite. “This is fantastic.”
Sirius looked rather pleased, and Remus felt his insides wobble a bit. He was still too thin, still too skittish, but there was something lurking under the surface Remus just really wanted to know. Wanted to touch. But he reigned himself in immediately. It would be taking advantage of him, knowing he was in a vulnerable state, and Remus would never do that to another person.
“Are you going to have some?” Remus asked, pushing the plate over. “You deserve to enjoy your good work.”
Sirius lowered his eyes, but helped himself, then laughed a bit. “I guess I haven’t lost my touch.” He chewed a bit, then settled back in his chair. “I wanted to be a pastry chef when I was young. Just had the knack for it, you know? My mother was beside herself with fury, her eldest boy lowering himself to such a common job. I went to this…well rather posh public school in Scotland, and I’d skive off going home for exeat weekends, and instead I’d spend two days in the kitchens learning how to make anything. Everything.” He waved his hand, his eyes a bit far off with the memory.
“Well clearly it paid off,” Remus said very quietly, helping himself to another.
Sirius looked at him, then laughed. It was an actual, genuine laugh where the smile reached his eyes and made Remus’ heart flutter even harder. He could see then, the young man—the actual young man lurking beneath the sallow skin and sunken eyes. The shadow of what Sirius had been before the whole mess.
Taking a breath, Remus looked at the clock and said, “Piss it. It’s disgusting outside and of the nine customers who came in, only two bothered to buy anything—and it was from the two pound discount bin. Let me go down and put up the closed sign, then we can go out.”
Sirius looked hesitant, but nodded. “Alright. I’ll just tidy up and…”
“Leave it,” Remus said softly. He wanted to touch his arm, offer him something reassuring, but he didn’t have permission and he wouldn’t cross that line. “We can do it together later. Feel free to rummage about my wardrobe if you’re not keen on going out in that.”
“Are you saying I can’t pull this off?” Sirius challenged, teasing in his tone. He stretched back in the chair and languidly stretched his arms up, slipping them behind his head. The cheeky wink sent heat into Remus’ face, and he looked away.
“Er…well not that it isn’t fetching on you,” he retorted, rising from his seat, “but we wouldn’t want people thinking you’re a tramp. Would we?”
“I suppose now that I’m not anymore.”
Remus looked over sharply, but saw Sirius was still grinning. “Go on. I’ll just be a moment.” Sirius got up from the table, and Remus could feel him watching as he went for the door and took the steps down two at a time.
He went into the shop, heading to put the closed sign up, but saw two women peering inside. Figuring he could handle two more customers, he opened the door and smiled. “Sorry to keep you waiting, I was just upstairs having my lunch.”
“No problem,” the elder of the two said. She led the way inside. “Now, you wouldn’t happen to be one of those shops with a café, would you? I’m dying for a hot cuppa.”
Remus shook his head. “Sadly, no. My skills with food leave something to be desired and…” He trailed off, an idea flaring to life in the back of his head. But…would he be interested? When his funds were unfrozen and he could resume his life, wouldn’t he prefer to be anywhere else than the city that betrayed him?
The women were no longer listening, browsing round the stacks. It took ten long minutes before they settled on something, and ended up purchasing fifty pounds worth of books to take back with them.
“We’re visiting family in the States,” the younger woman explained when Remus totalled their purchases. “Thought it might be nice to bring less traditional gifts.”
“Well I hope they’re pleased with it,” Remus said. “And I hope you come back.”
“We will, of course,” the elder said.
Once they were gone, Remus hurried to close up shop, leaving a note of apology and that they’d be open tomorrow. He then went into the back room and opened his safe. He had a bit of money in there, savings for emergencies—and he decided Sirius was as good as any. It would be enough to stock their kitchen, and get him at least a handful of new clothes—if they could find them cheap. And perhaps a pair of boots and a coat.
It might mean living a little tighter next month if he couldn’t make it up, but bloody hell he wanted to do this for Sirius. Ignoring the way the other man made his insides feel—squirmy and uncomfortable but in that very pleasant and slightly scary way—he knew how much he’d have appreciated it had anyone else done even half this for him.
Pocketing his money, Remus went back upstairs and found Sirius sat on the sofa looking almost nervous. He’d found a pair of Remus’ very old trousers which fit better than the jogging bottoms, and one of his less fluffy jumpers. Everything still swam on him, but he looked a bit better, even in his worn, falling apart shoes.
He nodded, getting up with a small breath. “Listen, we don’t have to…”
“I know we don’t,” Remus interrupted in a hurry. “But it doesn’t change anything. Come on, I know a place we can get some second hand clothes—all really decent, I swear.”
Sirius got up from the sofa, a small smile on his face as he shoved his hands into the pockets of the too-large trousers. “If you think this’ll be the first time I’ve got clothes from second hand shops…” He shrugged and his grin widened. “Used to infuriate my mum. I’d show up with tatty old band t-shirts and ripped jeans. Big, clonking motorbike boots.” His look went a bit fond and wistful, and Remus felt a pang of sadness he hadn’t known the carefree rebel from before.
“Well alright, I feel less bad about it.” He took up his keys again and headed for the door. “It’s a bit shit outside, but I think we can brave it.”
“Nearly two months on the street, Remus,” Sirius reminded him as he walked past him into the corridor. “I think I’ll be okay.”
Their first stop was the shop Remus indicated, where they were able to find a few pairs of jeans and a decent stack of shirts, and all for under thirty quid. Added to that a semi-decent pair of boots which fit nicely and were much better than the torn trainers he had on now.
As they were heading to the till, Remus saw Sirius’ eye wander to the coat rack, and there on the end was a black leather jacket. He stilled, and Sirius noticed after a second. Clearing his throat, he shrugged. “Used to have one like it ages ago.”
“Before the erm…”
“Wrongful imprisonment?” Sirius offered, and winked. “Yeah.”
Remus quickly walked over, in spite of Sirius’ protests. It was a bit expensive, and a bit worn. Twenty five pounds, which would up their total more than Remus had planned to spend, but he couldn’t say no. They’d be in cheaper cuts of chicken instead of steak for the month, but the jacket was too good to pass up.
Sirius tried to refuse, protesting through the entire process, but it was done and the cash was handed over, and Remus was shoving the sack of clothes to Sirius. “Go on, you can change in the loo. Get out of those dreadful clothes.”
Sirius was red in the cheeks, but let himself be ushered over and Remus waited near the shop lady for Sirius to sort himself out.
“You two make a cute couple,” she said softly.
Remus pinked. “Oh erm. We’re…not.”
“Not yet,” she said with a laugh.
“I er…” But what was Remus to say, really? I picked up a homeless man who tried to mug me and now I’m feeding and clothing him? And if I try to chat him up he might feel obligated to have sex with me?
Not bloody likely.
So he just smiled and waited uncomfortably until Sirius came out.
And bloody hell he looked good. He was still thin, but there was something about him stood there in jeans and those boots and the damned jacket that made Remus’ mouth go dry.
“That erm…looks good. You look good,” he fumbled.
Sirius chuckled a little, slinging the sack over his shoulder and led Remus out of the shop. “I feel…better. Human. I haven’t felt human in a damned long time. Thank you.”
Remus nodded, feeling a heat pooling in his belly and he tried to will it away. “You know when I said I knew what it was like, I wasn’t lying. Maybe not the prison bit, but I’ve a thing…erm…condition. Keeps me poorly. And I kept losing my job, and my parents died, and for the better part of a year I was sort of…well had nowhere to go.”
Sirius looked at him carefully as they made their way to the supermarket which was, thankfully, not far from Remus’ flat. “How’d you get your shop, then?”
“Well, my parents had a house, but it had been willed to an aunt who er…” Remus hesitated. He didn’t really have friends to tell this story to, and he wasn’t in the habit of outing himself to strangers. “Well she was less inclined to agree with my lifestyle.”
“Of what, chronically ill, too kind young person?” he challenged.
Remus snorted. “More like, gay man who was paving his way straight to hell with his sinful ways.”
Sirius was silent for a long moment, then said, “Ah. One of those.”
“Right. Well I didn’t have the money to fight her legally. It had been an oversight on the will, a mistake, really. Anyway, she died, and as I was the last living relative, I came into the inheritance. Just took some time. I considered keeping the house, but really didn’t have a lot of fond memories, and I thought using the money to give me something to sustain my future would be best.”
“I’d have done the same,” Sirius said very quietly. “In fact, technically I own my mum’s dreadful building in Chelsea. But I’ve not been allowed to collect. Though dunno if I’d ever sell that place. More like burn it to the ground, then piss on the ashes.”
“Well I do love a good bonfire,” Remus said quietly, and enjoyed the way he could make Sirius light up. “We could toast marshmallows.”
“It’s a plan, then. It’ll happen, some day. At least, that’s what they tell me. When they get the paperwork sorted,” he finished, mimicking a stodgy, nasal accent.
Remus snorted, then reached out to grab Sirius’ arm before pulling back. “Sorry,” he muttered. “It’s erm…this way.”
“I’m not going to shatter apart from a shoulder clap,” Sirius told him. “It’s alright. In fact, it’s…I mean twelve years without a moment of human contact you know. I wouldn’t mind.”
Remus hesitated, then as they turned the corner, he reached out and gave Sirius’ upper arm a squeeze. He watched his face carefully, but apart from his muscle tensing, he didn’t react. Remus took this as a good sign—at least he wasn’t being punched in the face for it.
They got to the supermarket and grabbed a trolley. Remus’ budget was smaller, but Sirius was very clever and was pointing out things he was good at making, things he could stretch into several meals, bargains and things on a sale they could use.
In the end, they had a semi-full trolley well under budget, so Remus added some beer to the lot. “I think we could indulge a bit, don’t you?” he asked when Sirius eyed the purchase.
With a laugh, Sirius shrugged. “Yeah, why not.”
They paid for their things, then together hauled the sacks back to the flat, and banged them on the table for Remus to sort out. Sirius excused himself for another bath, which Remus could not deny him, and when he was alone in the kitchen, he slumped against the counter.
He could not fall for this man. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Sirius had been through hell and back, and Remus didn’t want to be the convenient connection back to humanity. And when things were sorted and Sirius was back to being rich and free, the last thing he’d want is Remus.
At least, that’s what he told himself. Because why set himself up for yet another of life’s disappointments.
After sorting everything, Remus helped himself to a bottle of the beer, and settled on the sofa after stoking up the fire. The weather was shit again, and was now sleeting all over the street. He was glad they’d finished early, and he could enjoy the evening settled in his flat.
Sirius came out half an hour later, his hair wet and tied back into a topknot, wearing one of the new shirts, and Remus’ jogging bottoms. When Remus looked at them, quirking a brow, Sirius flushed. “Sorry, they’re just really comfortable. You don’t mind?”
“Not at all. Consider them yours.”
Sirius face went a bit pink. “How about I sort out tea? With this disgusting weather, I’m thinking a soup?”
“I would be very agreeable to a soup,” Remus said.
Sirius grinned, then padded barefoot into the kitchen to begin. Remus listened, his head leant back on the sofa cushions, as Sirius busied himself like it had been his home for years. He was singing under his breath, the sound very lovely indeed, as he chopped veg, got a stock going, and added all the ingredients.
As it was set to simmer, Sirius returned to the lounge with a beer in his hand, and nodded to the empty space beside Remus. “D’you mind?”
“Of course not. This is technically your space whilst you’re here,” Remus said.
Sirius hesitated, then shrugged and lowered himself to the cushion, curling his feet up and pulled his knees to his chest. He glanced outside, then let out a long, slow breath. “Sometimes I wonder if I quite know how to be…you know…a proper citizen again. You spend so much time in a place where they tell you daily you don’t deserve the air you breathe, it’s hard to remind yourself you do.”
Remus gulped, his throat feeling thick and uncomfortable. “How did you…did you manage it? I mean, every day? Really?”
“Let’s just say the guards they hired preferred to be…less than friendly.”
Remus shook his head. “I’m really sorry.” He dared reach over, giving Sirius’ knee a squeeze, and got a tense smile in return.
“When I first got there, I survived knowing that I was innocent. I hadn’t done it, and even if I rotted away behind those bars, I’d do so an innocent man. Even if I couldn’t be a free one.”
Remus looked at him carefully, wanting to pull him into a hug, but he resisted.
“Their names were James and Lily Potter,” Sirius said after a bout of silence. The names triggered a memory from what Remus had read in the papers. The Potters, the heir to some fortune of haircare and…something? Hadn’t they left behind a child? “James was my best mate. Brother, actually. He took me in when I got disinherited. His family was…really good. Really great, actually.” Sirius dragged a hand down his face, then took a huge gulp from his beer. “There was this company, run by this mad fellow by the name of Riddle. Kept trying to buy James and Lily out. They were always very polite about it, you know. Not sure anyone had any idea how ruthless Riddle was. In the end Peter Pettigrew,” he spat the name, “set me up. Not even sure how he managed to sort out the evidence—he had never really been that clever. Faked his death though, made it look like I’d killed him as well.”
“Sirius,” Remus breathed.
“I loved James more than I’d ever loved anyone. He didn’t care about my fucking family or last name or any of it. And Lily was…perfect. They were perfect. They named me godfather. I was meant to take care of Harry if anything should…” Sirius’ voice cracked and he cleared his throat. “He got shipped off to his aunt and uncle’s. Dreadful, disgusting people. I wanted to get him straight away, planned to use the money to…to hire an attorney, to use my rights as his guardian. But I dunno…” Sirius stopped and took a breath. “He doesn’t even know me.”
Remus felt a clenching in his chest. He’d spent most of his life completely alone, so he couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose everyone he ever loved in a single night. Not like that. “I’m sorry.”
Sirius gave him a tense smile. “What sort are you, Lupin? A man tries to rob you in an alley, and you take him in, feed him, buy him clothes, listen to his ridiculous sob story. One would think you’re a bit mad.”
Remus laughed, reaching out to squeeze Sirius’ knee again. This time there was far less tension in Sirius’ muscles. “I wish I could answer that. I wish I knew what compelled me to invite you up. I mean, I’ve never been mugged before, so I wasn’t sure what was proper protocol. But I think I just reckoned leaving a desperate man to starve in the streets was…well…wrong.”
Sirius made a slightly choked noise, chasing it away with the last of his beer. He gave Remus a long, slow look before rising. “I’ll see if the soup’s done.”
When Remus went to bed that night, he didn’t lock his door.
And so it went for the next month. They got to know each other better, chatting in the mornings and in the evenings. Sirius helped out at the shop some days, and others he spent in the flat cooking or baking. With the holidays approaching, Remus’ business was doing better, and he did manage to recoup the money he’d spent on Sirius.
They enjoyed each other’s company, small touches and a lot of laughing. Sirius filled out a bit with regular sleep and meals. He felt more human, telling Remus so every day. They were a matched set, in a way. Complimenting each other, getting on in a way Remus never had with anyone else before.
They both felt a lot less lonely.
It was round the first week of December when Remus fell poorly to an attack on his immune system. He woke with a violent fever, and swollen joints. His face carried the horrible splotchy rash across his brow and cheeks, and he felt if it got any worse, he’d be destined for hospital.
Unable to get out of bed, Remus laid there until mid-morning when Sirius became aware of his absence. There was a gentle knock on the door, and Sirius let himself in.
“Remus, are you…” He stopped at the sight of him. “Christ, are you okay?”
“Been better,” Remus croaked. Everything hurt, and he groaned as he tried to sit up. “Just erm…”
“No. Don’t. Listen, let me…er do something. What can I do?”
“Just…tea, maybe?” Remus asked. “Something for my fever. In the cupboard with the linens, there’s…”
“Got it,” Sirius said in a rush. He was out, and Remus floated in and out of sleep until he returned with a hot mug with loads of honey, and two pills. “Can you swallow this?”
Remus nodded, but had trouble closing his hand round the mug. Sirius seemed to notice, and carefully eased Remus up with one hand, tipping the tea with his other. Choking down the pills, Remus let out a small sigh of relief and gave Sirius a sheepish look.
“Sorry you had to see this. Doesn’t happen a lot. Not even enough to keep me on medication for it but…I have attacks.”
Sirius looked vaguely frightened. “Do you need an hospital? Or…anything? Christ, I haven’t been round people in so long, I’ve no idea what to do.”
Remus laughed a little. “I think for now I’m alright. Would you mind erm…the shop? I hate to keep it closed.”
“I don’t mind,” Sirius breathed. “I’ll check on you in a while, yeah? Get you something to eat?”
Remus nodded, wincing at the pain as he settled back down against his pillows and let himself drift back to sleep.
He woke sometime when the sun was low in the sky and found a sandwiched wrapped on his bedside table, and a bottle of water with a note. ‘Sorted out the shop, closing before tea. Hope you’re feeling better. x Sirius.’
Remus felt warmth in his belly as he unwrapped the sandwich and took a careful bite. The medication had done an alright job in tending to the fever, and he felt more human. Even the swelling in his hands had gone down, and he was able to sit up on his own.
Just as he was finishing off his water, the door opened and a curious face popped round the corner. He smiled brightly when he saw Remus was awake. “Alright?”
Remus smiled, a little embarrassed by the state he’d been in. “Erm yeah. Fine. Sorry for all the…” He waved his hand absently.
Sirius stepped in the room with a paper sack. “Shop did well today. I erm…skimmed the till a bit to get you soup. I hope you don’t mind.”
Remus laughed, shaking his head. “That’s alright.”
Sirius brightened even more, and for a second Remus realised why he was called Sirius. He shone brighter than anyone he’d ever met. He got a hold of himself as Sirius settled on the bed next to him, pulling out two take-away containers of a very warm, very creamy soup.
“It’s got asparagus in it,” Sirius said. “I would have done something for you myself, but I didn’t want to make you wait.”
Remus took the plastic spoon and tried a bit, letting out a low moan. “Christ, that’s good.”
Sirius grinned. “Just wait until you try mine. But it’ll do in a pinch.”
Rolling his eyes, Remus nudged the other man with his shoulder. “Sure of yourself, are you? Gone from convict tramp to award-winning chef, have you?”
Sirius gave him a wolfish grin. “I always knew I was excellent. I’m a renaissance man, if you must know.”
Remus snorted. “Oh Christ.” He went on eating, enjoying the warmth beside him, hating what he couldn’t have, but appreciating what he got all the same. “I owe you. Really.”
Sirius gave him an incredulous look. “You owe me?” Shaking his head, he rolled his eyes. “After what you did…”
“No,” Remus said, sounding a bit harsh. “That was basic humanity, Sirius. No one deserves what you went through. I get twelve years of neglect and…well…things I can’t even imagine might have made you believe you were undeserving, but you aren’t.”
Sirius was giving him a very careful look. “I’ve lied to you over the last few days.”
Remus blinked. “Sorry?”
Licking his lips, Sirius set the container aside and took a breath. “When you were down at the shop, I phoned in and found out my accounts have been unfrozen. I erm…I have my flat. My mum’s place. Money.”
Remus felt his face go hot. “I see.” He shifted, putting his container beside Sirius’, and folded his hands in his lap. “So I expect you should probably…”
“I know. I mean, I can imagine you wanting your flat back to yourself. I’ll be out tonight, that’s not…well it’s not a problem, of course. And I want to pay you back for everything you’ve done. I’ve got the money now and…”
“No,” Remus said quietly. “You paid your way. You’ve helped me out. You earned what I gave you.”
Sirius’ cheeks went pink. “I just er…not many people would have done what you did. Whether or not I deserved it.”
Remus shrugged. “Yes well…”
“I stayed on these last few days because I didn’t want to leave. I rather…like you. A lot.”
“Sirius,” Remus breathed, carefully schooling his emotions, “I’m not…well as you can see I’ve not got people lining up to be my friend or…anything. And you might want to consider that you only enjoy my company because well, I was kind. I mean, I’m not much to look at…”
Remus’ words were cut off when Sirius reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing it. “You don’t give yourself enough credit. I understand my motivations might seem dodgy to you. Disingenuous. I mean, who would believe me? Barmy man gone half-mad by twelve years in prison. But I like to think I know what I fancy. I like to think I know a good sort when I meet him.”
Remus didn’t dare hope, because he couldn’t bear the thought of loss again. “Sirius…”
“Please. Just…I’ll go, of course. I will. And give you your life back. But would it be dreadful if I came round? If I…if we…” He stopped and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “Could I take you out on a proper date?”
Remus gulped, then found himself nodding because what else could he possibly say to this man. This man he’d been falling for the entire time he was here. Remus Lupin was a lot of things, but he tried very hard not to be foolish. “Alright.”
Sirius looked startled, like he expected Remus to say no. “Right. Good. Alright erm…so I can just pack up and…”
“You could stay,” Remus blurted. “I mean, until you get your flat and everything properly sorted. I can’t imagine something sat on its own for twelve years would be in a fit state tonight.”
“Er no. I expect not,” Sirius admitted.
Remus felt a wave of exhaustion hit him, and he shifted over, lying back on the pillows. “So you can…of course you can stay as long as you need.”
“Shall I leave you to have another kip?” Sirius asked softly.
Remus looked at him for a long while. “I wouldn’t mind terribly if you stayed. Here, I mean.”
Sirius’ jaw tightened, but before Remus could retract the offer, he shifted downward against the second pillow. He stayed on top of the duvet, but his hand snaked out, twisting into Remus’ holding him gently. “You really are a good sort.”
Remus shifted over so he was looking at Sirius. “So are you.” When Sirius started to shake his head, Remus abandoned all pretences of trying to keep Sirius at arm’s length, and took his hand to cup Sirius’ cheek. “You are, Sirius. You really are.”
Sirius let his eyes slip closed as he leant into the touch. “I fancy you. Didn’t think I’d have much chance what with me being a fairly pathetic specimen of humanity but…”
“I’ve fancied you since almost the first moment I saw you.” When Sirius raised an eyebrow, Remus laughed. “Maybe not when you were trying to convince me you had a weapon, but…soon after.”
“I’d very much like to kiss your face, Remus,” Sirius said very softly.
Remus blinked shyly, then gave Sirius’ shoulder a tug. “I reckon that wouldn’t be a terrible way to end the evening.”
Sirius gulped, looking almost petrified before he closed the distance between them. Their lips met, soft and unyielding, hands gripping at each other. It shouldn’t have felt so right, but it did. Oh it did. And they lay there together, and maybe forgetting a little bit that the world might have other ideas for them. For now it was just mouths and hands, and a warm comfort of two people who might have found where they belonged.
Poking his head round the corner, Remus brightened when he saw Sirius tying the apron hurriedly round his waist. He let out a low wolf-whistle, and grinned when Sirius whipped round.
“Sorry, love. I cannot believe how long that took.”
“How’d it go?”
“Oh the usual. Harry’s doing well academically but has a bit of a head for trouble. Nine detentions this term, but I’m hard pressed to be cross.”
Remus rolled his eyes. “Well after hearing your stories…”
Sirius crossed the room and took Remus’ face between his hands, kissing him hard. “How’s the stock out front?” he murmured against his lover’s mouth.
“We could use more pasties. And possibly more fruit tarts.”
“I thought with you out there, that would cover the fruit tart quota for the year.”
“Arse,” Remus muttered fondly, putting his hands at Sirius’ waist. “So will Harry be home for half term?”
“He will,” Sirius said in a low tone as he backed away toward the baking table. “He’s excited to see the new premises.”
Remus grinned, looking round their little shop and café, wondering how it had come to all this. How was it that he’d gone from being mugged, to married? To having a family? To helping raise Sirius’ godson who was such a damned good kid. He reminded Remus quite a lot of himself, and of Sirius. Thrown into a situation he hadn’t asked for, and just trying to make the best of it.
Harry had his problems, growing up in an abusive house hold for twelve years, but Sirius had been true to his word and used a portion of his old Black fortune to hire a lawyer and get custody of his godson. It took very little to prove Harry’s aunt and uncle had mistreated him, and he was more than happy to move in to Remus and Sirius’ small flat.
Next had come the bakery idea. Remus had presented it and Sirius had nearly cried. Nearly, because he didn’t shed tears often.
But somehow they’d fallen in love amongst all the strange beginnings and difficulties the universe threw at them.
They were happy now.
Floured hands grabbed Remus once more, pulling him in for a languid kiss, and pressing a sharp nose against Remus’ soft cheek. “I love you,” Sirius whispered.
Remus wrapped his hands round the back of Sirius’ neck and held him firm and tight. “I love you. And never forget it.”
“Oh,” Sirius said with a grin, “I don’t think I could.”