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first beneath the sheets

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You feel like Delilah, sitting at your kitchen table with your scissors in your hand. A wand would be neater—you haven't much skill at cutting hair, but years have ingrained the spell as deep as wingardium leviosa—but Sirius is uneasy with a wand near his throat. He's uneasy about a number of things. He's uneasy about sitting in your shabby little kitchen, eyes darting over the peeling paint and shining pots and—again and again—to the door hanging crooked on its hinges, to the barred windows. He's scoping out routes of escape, and you've been careful to leave it clear, to sit out of his direct line of vision. Bars remind Sirius of prison, being held in, held back, held aside.

His hair reminds Sirius of prison, his skin crawls with the filth and fumes of prison. He bathed for an hour last night, and his skin is brutally scrubbed this morning, peeking out in red-white-pink blotches at the open collar of your shirt, at his bony wrists visible above the cuffs. Sirius has been bigger than you at shoulder and shank since you were fourteen—he looks about fourteen now, shrunk down to bare bone, all that gleaming expanse of muscle shorn away in prison. Only his hair lends his face a shadowed adulthood: with that gone he will look wrenchingly young. He looks now to your travelled eye like the wandering ascetics who throng the streets and riversides of india; last night with his coiled hair dripping and a towel around his jutting hips he might have been a Naga sannyasin.

“The hair has to go.” His voice is unpredictable, swooping from the lowest rasp up to a quavering attempt at normalcy that he cannot maintain for more than a few seconds at a time. He used to have a clear strong tenor, and your ears ache for it. He has been avoiding speech. This is the first time in an hour that he has spoken. It is the first time all morning that you have fallen silent, and Sirius has been grasping at contact since he arrived yesterday afternoon.

“I know,” you say, and, taking up the thread of inane conversation, add, “I'm simply planning how best to go about it.”

Sirius smiles. It is a small smile, but it is an old one that you remember well, and to have it turned on you after a lapse of thirteen years is oddly disconcerting. “It's not a military campaign, Moony.”

“Those are usually easier,” you opine, and wait for his hesitant smile. You have spent in childhood and youth and hard-fruiting adulthood an unconscionable amount of time attempting to make Sirius smile.

You get it now, and a roll of the eyes that feels almost as though there is no effort involved. “If you'd only start, Moony, and stop with the whingeing.”

You knock off a mock salute and take your place behind him, replacing the sight of you with the touch of your free hand moulded to his shoulder. It is painfully narrow under your palm. His neck, under the hair, shows his spine in sharp relief, knobs of bone jutting up. You pause with the scissors poised to take your hand off his shoulder and take up a fistful of hair. “I'm just going to hack some of this away,” you say, maintain contact. “Shouldn't hurt.”

He leans forward, acquiscent, presents you with the nape of his neck, oddly, terrifying vulnerable. You long to lean forward, press lips and teeth to it, bite down in ownership. He would let you, you can feel surrender in the tensed body, across the stiff poise of his shoulders, and you know it of old. It would be something familiar, beyond the shuttered formality of being allies and the broken reflection of having been friends—you have bitten the nape of his neck before, seeking out the ridge of bone that so plainly presents itself to your eyes now.

You break skin with your scissors, cutting too close, your eyes too focused on the contour of bone beneath skin to attend to your work. Sirius groans, a heart-breaking, bitten-off sound, and pushes against your hands, against the cold steel between his skin and yours. You could do it, you could let the scissors fall clattering to the floor, shove Sirius against the kitchen table, pin him with your hands on shoulder and arm and with your teeth in his flesh and your tongue on his skin, and learn the new taste of him and relearn the known taste of him, and mark him as yours again and make him yours again, and keep him. You could.

You want so badly to do it that you can feel in your arms the strain of keeping them from wrapping around Sirius and in your lips the strain of keeping them from kissing Sirius. You had not realised how you had missed him, you had not realised that you had. Thirteen years you were without him, and not alone, and not unhappy. Not happy, neither, but well content with your piecemeal jobs and your piecemeal life that you have pulled together since the war, with odd lunches and articles in magazines and weekly teas with the sisters and widows of lost souls, and now with Sirius here it all fades away, and if you press your skin to his, your mouth to his, your bodies together it will be for a little time as though you are young yet, a decade and more ago, and the years will melt away under his hands, under his mouth that is still beautiful. You could.

“Remus?” he says, and his voice is his old voice for an instant, and there is a plea in it, and waiting hope.

You move back, away, take your hands from him and school your voice into impassivity. You are not young as once you were, and to break again would be beyond mending. “Your hair's a right mess,” you say, and snip off another lock.