Remus Lupin wakes at 5:47am to the sound of police dogs in the garden. Jonathan, his cat, gives a half-hearted hiss from the end of the bed, and a torch shines through the flimsy net curtains of the bedroom window. Five minutes later, speaking despondently into their walkie talkies, the huddle of policemen crunch back out again. A helicopter sounds overhead. This is not, as you might expect it to be, an uncommon occurrence, and Remus soon goes back to sleep.
Sunlight bothers him again at seven, and with the vigor of Nosferatu he hauls himself up in bed and wishes he could have died in his sleep. Rest assured, this is a sentiment he only ever really possesses between seven o'clock and seven thirty, but it's been a fairly constant one for the past six years nonetheless.
He pats Jonathan awake to get him to shift off his numb feet, then climbs out of bed and pads into the bathroom, yawning and trying to reach an itch on his lower back. He looks into the mirror first, which is a mistake, then switches the shower on, waits four seconds for water to begin chugging noisily out the top like a smoker's cough, and pulls off his nightly uniform of too-big pyjama bottoms and faded Pink Floyd t-shirt. He wears them largely because it seems like appropriate bachelor attire and because, at twenty-seven, he can no longer seriously sport such a shirt in public.
Then again, it's so stuffy and sweltering in his flat at night he usually ends up shucking all his clothes off by one in the morning and sleeping naked instead. It isn’t as though there's anybody about to shock. No one but Jonathan, and Remus is becoming concerned he's getting so fat his eyelids are going to soon be permanently closed anyway.
Must take him to the vet is his last thought before he closes the shower door and steps beneath the water. His curse reverberates about the tiled walls when it scalds him, and again when someone in the flat above puts a tap on and the water lashes down like ice.
"Another raid," says Mrs Pitcher, the landlady, rifling through the post. Not just her own either. She has at least three tenants' unopened envelopes clutched between four skeletal fingers and one gremlin thumb. She is an old woman - at least one hundred and eighty seven - and always speaks from the side of her mouth like a Walt Disney crook.
"Yes, it woke me up," says Remus.
"Dare say it woke the whole bloody street up. And I bet they didn't catch him."
"Never do, do they?"
"Theft, I expect," she sniffs. "Mr Townsend mentioned to me only last week how his terracotta flowerpots have been going missing - "
"Actually, Mrs Pitcher, d'you mind if I just collect my post? I'm in a bit of a hurry is all. Tuesday morning, you know the drill!"
She huffs with ancient breath and at a glacial pace shifts a generous three inches to let him past. Remus smiles and sticks an arm around her to paw in his pigeon box, takes the bills, BookPeople catalogue and Pizza King leaflet he finds there and stuffs them into his bag.
"Goodbye, Mrs Pitcher. Have a lovely day!"
She waves a hand, not answering.
Remus' journey, made twice daily, takes the form of one brisk eleven and a half minute walk, three tube station stops, a seven minute bus journey through several grimy south London streets, and another five minute walk or three minute jog depending on how late he happens to be.
Today he’s in enough time for it to be the walk, which means it could actually turn out to be quite a good day. Odd really, given that it's a Tuesday and Tuesdays are, Remus has always maintained, atrocious. Staff progress meeting, late lunch hour and, given that it's still the start of the week, one can always be sure there'll be a gargantuan stack of work matching the height of his divider waiting for him on the desk.
He clocks in just on time right alongside Peter, who's balancing his slip with a cream cheese bagel. Most of it's clinging to his flashing snowman tie. He's been wearing it for two weeks now, and the red flashes are starting to jar and blink. If you press the carrot nose it sings a demonic version of Frosty the Snowman.
"'Lo, Remus," says Peter, spraying crumbs.
"Cutting it fine again."
"I know, I know."
"Something like that."
"Ah, I feel you, mate."
Do you, Peter? Remus wonders, as a dollop of Philadelphia lands on the carpet. Do you 'feel' me?
Peter Pettigrew is the youngest in the office, and possibly the most in denial. He tries valiantly hard to enjoy his job, believes it has, in its gruelling monotony, a certain charm. Often he’ll lean back in his chair and sigh something like, “Ah, the daily grind,” without being prompted to speak. He’s utterly intrigued by everyone else’s business too, and isn’t happy until he's had his daily fix of gossip, which rarely takes the form of anything more exciting than somebody smoking half a joint in the third floor toilets.
Remus can rarely indulge him. This only seems to make Peter plague him more. It doesn't help that their flimsy cubicles stand side by side, so that when Remus goes to sit down at his, Peter follows.
His cubicle is three walls of metal-framed green felt. Someone has draped tattered red tinsel over the top in some vain attempt at kick-starting Remus' festive spirit. He has a plywood desk, a computer installed with Windows 98 on which you can occasionally get limited internet access and even Solitaire, a phone he has trouble transferring calls on, and his very own swivel chair, perfect for when he wants to quickly turn round and stare at the blank wall two feet behind him.
His closest amenities are the ladies' toilets and a vending machine which sells nothing but Minute Maid orange juice. On the felt walls he has a picture of Jonathan as a kitten, a staff timetable and an early Christmas card from his ex-boyfriend Mark he hasn't quite the heart to throw away.
"Are you going to the staff meeting later?" Peter asks.
"Of course I'm going. Why would I not be going?"
Peter shrugs, shooting a rubber band stress ball from hand to hand. His own cubicle is adorned mainly with newspaper clippings and comics that make him snort into his Rustlers southern fried sub of a lunchtime and simple recipes for the lazier bachelor, the pinnacles being "Guinness shrimp" and "three minute chocolate cake" (essentially microwaved hot chocolate powder, eggs, and, from what Peter has told him, a lot of good luck).
"I dunno. Just making conversation. You're really boring on Tuesdays, do you know that?"
Remus fires up his computer and loosens the knot a little on his tie. He clicks the end of a red pen and lies it flat on a large refill pad salvaged from his single drawer, stretches his arms until they click, and begins his day's work.
And what, you are surely demanding, is this tantalizing work? Well. Remus Lupin helps to supply pencils.
It isn’t so bad, supplying pencils. They do, after all, need to be supplied. And their company supplies to everywhere: schools, hospitals, libraries, other offices. You name it, they supply there. The pencils are pretty exciting, too. They come in all colours and sizes, a whole plethora of pencils. There are even big glossy catalogues filled with all the different types, stowed away in filing cabinets in the store room. Pollock & Co., they're called, though Remus has never met Mr Pollock in his life. Or Mr Co.
There are perks. As many free pencils as he wants, for example. It’s reasonable pay, and the work isn't particularly challenging (although he often debates whether this last perk is indeed a perk at all). The office sits in a fairly safe area of London, in a fairly modern block of buildings, with a fairly lenient boss and a fairly friendly group of co-workers.
It's a living.
"Pencils are the original all-rounder," Frank, staff team leader, tells them that afternoon. They're all stuffed into the meeting room, dark and sweaty with the blinds shuttered against the beastly December weather. "Everyone uses them. Everyone needs them. Come rain or shine, recession or no, people will. Need. Pencils. I want all of you to remember that."
Frank is passionate about two things in life: his wife and pencils. He's a pleasant enough man (more pleasant still whenever, if ever, he manages to loosen up at the occasional office do) but it's difficult to have a conversation with him that doesn't start with either "my wife Alice" or "the thing about pencils is" or "Alice said that pencils are".
Nobody ever really listens to him, which is a shame because he tries so terribly hard. Even as he’s speaking now, one group are huddled on the table tops, legs swinging, chattering quite openly to one another like naughty children at school.
Hippy Dorcas with her droopy cardigans and weird jewellery, Marlene with legs up to her chin and extensions down to her backside, Caradoc with his big nose and oil-dripping voice, James with his boyish grin and silly, skinny ties, and his friend (because they’re known for being friends) Sirius, who is never anything but very composed and very cool and very capable of excessive laughter.
Truth be told, Remus has always harboured a little bit of a crush on Sirius Black, ever since he arrived at Pollock six months ago with his shirt sleeves rolled to his elbows and his expensive tie loose around his neck. He is, by all accounts, the office sweetheart. The younger women fancy him, the older women mother him, the men all want to accompany him to the pub of a Friday lunchtime, and he leans too far back in his chair and never falls.
But it's purely aesthetic, of course. He's stupidly handsome, and that's about as far as it goes. Remus has barely ever spoken a word to him.
Life has been quite kind to Sirius Black. As in any lifetime there have been many downs, but far more ups, and now, at twenty-five, he is in good health, with a good flat in south London not ten minutes from a fairly good job. Fair enough, it isn’t the most riveting of work, but he needs it. Hopefully he won't be here forever, and hopefully he'll one day leave on his own terms.
In the meantime, he's surrounded by good, friendly people, has found a particularly cherished friend in James Potter, the bloke in his neighbouring cubicle, and he doesn't really have to do much work in return for more than adequate pay.
Like many people, he isn’t living life in the way he initially intended, and he hasn’t sold a single piece of art for two years now. But he’s perfectly alright. Content, and comfortable.
He's also really incredibly bored.
He doesn't hate Pollock & Co. There isn't really anything to hate, besides the repetition. Still, he’s beginning to hate himself for even entertaining the idea of succumbing to the nine-to-five, to being "comfortable", let alone actually doing it. Which sounds terribly bohemian and childish, Sirius is aware, but unfortunately it's how he feels. He hasn’t had so much as a date, a kiss, in almost a year now, let alone a decent relationship. Some days he doesn't even bother to change out of his work clothes when he gets home. He finds himself doing terrifying things like buying day-planner calendars and making shopping lists and eating ready meals and talking to his goldfish and owning goldfish in the first place.
Three years in Art College just to end up in a modest flat on a quiet court, chatting merrily away to something with a three-second memory span while he irons his trousers. His father always insisted studying art was a waste. Sirius is worried he's beginning to prove him right.
He started looking for ways to try and make his life more exciting almost as soon as he began working at Pollock. He spends quite a bit of time with James out of hours, and he goes out with his workmates as much as humanly possible, and he always insists on new and interesting places to eat at lunch time. He tries to paint and go to galleries at the weekends when he isn't too busy (or tired) and he does his utmost to meet handsome, exciting men as contenders for his next boyfriend, something he feels he's in particularly dire need of.
All of the men in the office are straight, or taken, or honestly just a little bit ugly, and there's no one he much fancies. Except Remus, the guy in Sales who never speaks.
Well, he does. He once said "thank you" when Sirius held the door open for him, and "you're welcome" when he held the door open for Sirius. And he came up to Sirius on a morning three months ago to say, "Sirius, Kingsley would like you to fax him the purity stipulations if you're not too busy". Then he'd walked away, and Sirius had faxed Kingsley the purity stipulations, and peered at Remus very subtly from behind the wall of his cubicle.
He fancies Remus, but only on an aesthetic level. He knows absolutely nothing about him, except that he often brings cheese and ham on rye for lunch.
"Pencils are the original all-rounder," says Frank, in the dingy darkness of the meeting room at one o'clock on Tuesday afternoon. "Everyone uses them. Everyone needs them. Come rain or shine, recession or no, people will. Need. Pencils. I want all of you to remember that."
James lets out a low, whistling breath. "William Wallace, eat your heart out," he mutters. Sirius snorts.
Frank shoots them a look, the disapproving teacher.
"However," he continues boldly on, turning away from them again, "there's a whole world of suppliers out there, and we have to give our customers reason to return to us. Times are hard, economically speaking, and there's tough, tough competition. We have to remember to stress our variety, our high ecological standard, our loyalty scheme..."
Sirius easily begins to block him out. Every week it's the same, as though it's actually possible to convince people that, other than in price, there's actually a difference between one pencil and another. He glances, bored, around the rest of the circle, landing first on Peter Pettigrew, stuffing a Miniature Hero Bounty into his mouth, then at Remus next to him. He's hunched up in his chair, staring very intently at a stain on the carpet, eyes very clearly glazed.
He barely blinks as he nibbles on his lower lip. He has on this sweet grey cardigan, the sleeves of which he tugs down past his wrists as if he’s cold, though the room is hot. He looks up and catches Sirius staring and blinks once, slowly. His lips quirk up into a weary smile, but he looks away before Sirius can mirror it.
When the meeting ends, Remus is the first out of his seat while the others stroll leisurely behind. Remus always looks busy. Perhaps he actually enjoys his job, though Sirius doubts it. He’d like to ask him some time. He’s sure what the answer would be, but he feels as if somehow Remus would answer the question better than anybody else in the office would, even James, who’s frankly hilarious.
Sirius watches Remus walk all the way back to his cubicle across the room, then returns to his own when it becomes clear Remus isn't going to look up again.
"Well, that was intensely painful," James declares when Sirius sits down.
"It was, wasn't it?"
"What's Frank even doing as team leader? He'd better lead a group of - " He pauses to hiccough, indigestion from having to eat his lunch too fast - "a group of toddlers."
James talks about toddlers a lot, given that he has one. A little one. Harry. Sometimes James brings him into the office and he sits on the floor shredding papers for everyone.
"He can't help being useless," says Sirius, returning to his game of FreeCell, "and it's better than having someone who's, you know, actually serious."
"S'pose," James yawns, stretching his back. "God, another four hours to go."
"Hang in there, buddy," says Sirius, double-clicking the Ace of Hearts.
"Why is everything more exhausting in winter? I thought the days were supposed to be shorter." Clearly not in the mood to do any work, he glances despondently out of the floor-to-ceiling windows where the sky is already growing gloomy. "And Lily wants to go to this play tonight."
"This bloody – I don't know, this improvised, verbatim… thing."
"Ah yes, I've heard about that one."
"Shut up, you know what I mean," says James, rubbing his eyes. "Personally, I'd rather she go with a friend and have me stay at home with the littl'un. But no, he has to go to her bloody sister's so… seeing them will be a joy."
"You should've asked me! I loved having Harry last time."
"Yeah, Lil's still not entirely convinced sushi was an appropriate lunch for a three-year-old."
"He liked it," says Sirius. "It was all I had in."
"Who only has sushi in their fridge?" says James, finally starting to address the large pile of papers on his desk. "Don’t tell me you didn't at least have oven chips in. See, she'll let him have chips, but not fish. Mum logic. Hey, did you get my e-mail?"
"The one with the baby and the Jack Daniels."
"Oh, yeah. Thanks. It was funny."
"Come on, it was hilarious. Oh whatever. Here, give these to Pete, would you?"
Sirius drags a Five of Clubs about the screen, tip of his tongue between his teeth in concentration. "Give your own damn papers to him."
James doesn't. The papers sit stubbornly on his desk for at least an hour, until Sirius, exhausted from his intense card game, gets thirsty. On his way to the vending machines he snatches up James' papers and makes his way down the long line of prison cells, stopping at the one where Peter is often to be found making something out of paperclips and rubber bands or, very occasionally, working.
His chair is empty. Beside it, Remus sits staring at his computer screen, cheek resting on his fist, brow furrowed, looking thoroughly confused.
Sirius glances around the room and back again.
"Where's Pete?" he asks, and Remus jumps so hard his elbow slips from the desk entirely with a whump. Sirius bites back a laugh. "Sorry, you were really concentrating there, weren't you?"
"No no, not too much," says Remus, glancing up with a smile. "But I’ve no idea where he is, sorry."
"That's a shame. Got a present for him." Sirius drops the whole stack of papers on Peter's desk with a smack, rattling several empty orange juice cans. He sits himself down in Peter’s empty chair, having gained Remus' attention. "So what’s happening on this side of town?"
"Oh, not a lot. I’m engaged in the thrilling task of trying to comprehend last month's surfeit of 2Bs."
"That sounds intense."
"It is just that."
Remus' eyes are back on his computer screen now, pen twiddling between his fingers, and Sirius doesn't want to bother him but he doesn't feel like going back to work yet either. Or FreeCell, at least. He swivels on Peter's chair. Then he says, "I was just on my way to the vending machine. Want anything?"
Remus seems surprised by the offer.
"I’m alright, thanks," he says, then seems to think better of it. "Actually, could you get us a Twix?" He digs in his pocket for change, but Sirius tells him not to worry and returns minutes later, dropping the chocolate bar into Remus' desk tidy. He's pleased that Remus doesn't seem to mind this gesture, despite the fact that they barely ever speak to one another.
"Want half?" he offers, opening it.
Sirius does, but he refuses out of politeness, cracking the tab on his Minute Maid.
"You always get those," he remarks.
Remus gives a little smile as he bites into a bar. "I didn’t realise anyone noticed."
Now it sounds as though Sirius has been watching him, which he hasn’t, he just has a particularly good eye for detail, but Remus isn’t to know this, so it continues to sound as though Sirius has been watching him.
"I know what everybody gets," Sirius says quickly, covering himself. He peers at the sweet wrappers in Peter’s bin. "Pete always gets Twirls. James is on Minstrels."
Remus gives a quiet huff of laughter. "Quite the detective," he says. He takes another bite, and a little bit of caramel sticks to his lip before he licks it away. "These are honestly the highlight of my day."
"Well. Apart from seeing my cat and drinking myself to sleep with tea. Watching Heartbeat."
Sirius laughs, a little too loudly perhaps, but it’s more in surprise that Remus, elusive as he is, has a sense of humour. He’s about to reply when Peter comes bounding back down the small carpeted pathway, two Twirls and a can of Minute Maid in his hand. He looks confused when he sees Sirius, as though he can't quite remember if this really is his own seat or not.
"Just some faxes for you there, mate," Sirius explains, standing up. He doesn't want to. He wants to stay here and pick at Remus some more and figure out why he never speaks to him.
"Oh right, cheers!" Peter bristles, bustling round Sirius to plonk himself down in the seat.
Sirius nods. "Right. See you later, Pete. Remus." He smiles and, wonderfully, Remus smiles right back.
"What was making you squawk so much over there?" James asks when Sirius returns. "You sound like a seal when you laugh, you know."
"Remus. He's funny."
"Is he?" James raises his eyebrows with a bored, Tuesday afternoon sigh. "Never knew that."
"Mr McCarthy... Mr McCarthy... Mr - yes, I realise that, Mr McCarthy, but you see... no. No, of course not. No, I understand, I... but look, we don't actually have any control over - sir, I'm really going to have to ask you to calm down, this is merely..."
Remus wants to say it, really he does. This is merely an issue over some bloody pencils, you insufferable old twat. But he has to remain polite. It says so in his employee hand booklet.
He has been on the phone to Mr McCarthy for over twenty minutes now. It's past five o'clock. He could, legally, put the phone down. But the polite idiot deep within himself won't allow him to do it, in the same way it won't allow him to stand up to people who push in front of him in the bus queue, or to turn down Jehovah's Witnesses who come to his door clutching copies of Watchtower, and he lets Mr McCarthy abuse him for a further seven minutes before, finally, the old fool hangs up himself.
Well. It's definitely one of Remus' more successfully-handled complaints.
Free at last, he switches off his computer, shrugs his coat on and wraps his scarf around his neck, patting his pockets for his keys. He says goodbye to Dorcas, the only person left in the office, then goes out into the hallway and hits the button for the lift. Inside, he pulls out his phone to check for messages. It’s a habit, though he doesn't really know who he's expecting to send him any. Mark, perhaps? Jonathan?
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," comes a familiar voice, and a hand stops the doors, forcing them to move apart again. It’s Sirius who bounds in, grinning. "Sorry. Went all the way to the stairs thinking I'd try to be healthy and then thought, you know, fuck it. It's a long way down."
"Definitely know the feeling."
Remus does, too. He has a new "teetotal resolution" practically every other week, usually made when either a) drunk, or b) hungover.
"James is trying to get me to go to the gym with him. Can you believe that?"
"God, no. I don't know why anyone would go to the gym by choice."
"Right?" Sirius chuckles. "It's like, you work in an office, you hardly require a six pack."
He says this, and yet it’s obvious Sirius isn't exactly in bad shape himself. At any rate, it isn't as though he tries to hide anything. Even now, his collar and tie are so loose that a rather large portion of skin is on show, and his shirts are always tightly-fitted, impractical things.
Don't stare, Remus. Do not stare.
Remus imagines wearing his own work shirt so low. He'd probably get done for public indecency.
Inwardly he marvels at the fact Sirius is talking to him at all, when before today the only words they’ve ever really exchanged have been polite greetings and goodbyes. It was a surprise, and not at all an unwelcomed one, when Sirius bought him that Twix this afternoon, but Remus is still unsure as to why he did.
They seem to be in the lift a long time, and when the doors finally haul themselves open again Sirius finds something to say. Remus is halfway through a cheery goodbye when Sirius asks him, "What are you doing on Friday?"
"Friday... morning? Friday afternoon?" Remus pauses. "Friday evening?"
Sirius laughs. "The middle one. Afternoon. We always go out at lunch, you never come. You should."
Truthfully, Friday office pub breaks have never much appealed to Remus. It's all too bleak, too depressing, too laddy, even with the constant presence that is Marlene Legs'n'Hair. They all come back tipsy and annoy him all afternoon when he's overworked and overtired and wants nothing more than to crawl into bed but still has four hours to go.
Maybe it would be easier if he was a part of it. But when he first arrived at Pollock, he'd been so anxious about the idea of drinking in the day time that he'd refused all the friendly offers, and people simply stopped bothering to ask. He's the office bore. He knows that. He embraces it. Well, he tries to. It's a bit disheartening, to be honest, like being the maudlin kid at school who never has a partner for trips because all he talks about is death. It's Remus' his fault that he's left out of things, but that doesn't make him any less aware of it.
Then again, having Caradoc swagger over, clap Remus on the shoulder and say, "Come for a pint, Lupin, you definitely need it, you great queer," is a lot different to having Sirius Black give him a friendly, hopeful smile, saying he should come, but not demanding it.
So Remus bites back an excuse from the vast catalogue in his head and says, "Yes, yes alright," and this time he finishes his goodbye properly.
When he gets home, Jonathan's thrown up on the living room carpet, and the people in the flat above are having noisy sex.
"With all due respect, Pete," James says from behind his pint, "you're completely wrong."
It's a quarter past one on Friday afternoon, and Sirius finds himself squashed in the corner of a pub booth, James beside him, Peter opposite and, next to Peter, Remus. James and Peter are locked in an intensely heated debate – Man Utd vs. Man City – and Remus and Sirius are relatively silent. Sirius likes football. He just isn't stupid enough to talk to James about it. The man has a finely-honed habit of obliterating anybody who has an opinion different to his.
Once or twice Sirius rolls his eyes at Remus, makes him smile, but exasperated facial expressions can only achieve so much. He hates that they're diagonal from one another since they can't really talk, and the whole point of asking Remus to come here had been so that they could do just that: talk.
"You're a glory fan, Peter," James is insisting. "You are. Isn't he, Sirius?"
"A glory fan."
"No, I'm not!" Peter squawks. "I'm just saying..."
Sirius blocks them out again, stifles a Friday-afternoon yawn, and drains his flat Coke. This, he concludes, is all going swimmingly. At this rate, Remus will never want to come to the pub with them again. Excellent!
"Remus," he says suddenly, cutting across the two rabid dogs. "D'you want another?"
Due to barely speaking, Remus has long since finished his own drink, which was a modest lemonade. He nods gratefully, and when James moves to let Sirius past, Remus slips out of his seat too.
"Oh my God," he mutters as they cross to the bar. "Help."
"They're so unbelievably boring, aren't they? Swear to God Potter's only like this on a Friday lunchtime when he's plonked opposite Pettigrew." He pauses to order their drinks as the barman approaches, then turns back to Remus. "God only knows what they'd be like if they were next to each other in the office."
"Pencils would never get supplied," says Remus, "and then where would we be?"
"In a world of chaos, surely."
Sirius pays, passes Remus his drink and pointedly sits down on a barstool instead of returning to the table. They're due back in half an hour, so he isn't going to waste the whole lunch hour listening to Peter's theories on the supernatural origins of the Manchester derby. He wants to speak to Remus properly.
It's nice, seeing him up close like this. Sirius has done it so rarely that he's never really noticed the details of Remus’ face before, the pale dusting of freckles across his nose, even the miniscule gap in his front teeth. He's terribly pretty. He obviously isn't aware of it either – and if he is, Sirius gets the impression Remus is most likely bothered by it. That's perhaps a flaw. Some people find modesty endearing; Sirius just finds it a bit exasperating.
"So," he says, setting his glass down, "Remus."
"We still know very little about one another."
"Other than the fact that you hate the gym and I like Twixes."
"And you have a cat."
"And you possess the obscure yet impressive talent of being able to reel off everybody's vending machine preferences."
"Which are all important facts," Sirius nods, "just not very revealing ones."
"You'd like to know something revealing?"
Sirius laughs. "Well, not necessarily something private, but perhaps something that you ought to know about a person you've worked with for six months."
Remus appears to consider this. "I'm twenty-seven," is what he says first.
"I've got a degree in English Literature which I have put to good use by specialising in the mass mail-out of pencils. Occasionally dip into product returns. I'm verbally abused thrice weekly and my favourite film is probably City Lights." He sips his drink using the straw, which is rather sweet. "And that's all you really need to know."
"All I need to know or all you want to tell me?" says Sirius. He must sound far too flirtatious, because Remus quirks an eyebrow.
"What about you?" he asks Sirius instead of answering.
"Ah. Well. I spent three years at art college trying to justify my reasons for being at art college. Two years obtaining a basic level of accounting, which I have now used to help supply the people of Britain with fine-quality pencils. I avoid talking to customers at all costs, and as for my favourite film... It's a Wonderful Life."
"Well, that or Empire Strikes Back."
Remus laughs at this. "Well thank you, Sirius, that was very illuminating. I can't believe I went a whole half a year without knowing any of that."
His voice comes out deadpan, and in a moment of uncharacteristic anxiety Sirius wonders if Remus is making fun of him.
"I know I definitely feel more fulfilled learning you're a fan of Charlie Chaplin," says Sirius. "Although I've never actually seen City Lights."
"I've never seen It's a Wonderful Life."
"You should come over and watch it some time."
"What a kind offer."
"No, honestly, I watch it every Christmas. You're totally welcome to join." Totally, totally welcome to join.
Remus laughs gently, as though Sirius is joking. "Isn't that a bit... sad?"
"Two blokes alone in a flat at Christmas, watching Jimmy Stewart films."
"I don't mind if you don't. I'm a pretty sad sort of bloke."
"I somehow doubt that very much."
"No really, I go home at night and I paint watercolours. I mean, come on. I've got pet goldfish and I talk to them. I drink chamomile tea to put me to sleep at night. And I actually enjoy it." Remus starts to laugh; emboldened, Sirius continues: "Literally the highlight of my week is taking my laundry out of the tumble dryer. I can't get any sadder so you shouldn't be surprised by annual viewings of black and white Christmas films on my big fuck-off TV - which, yes, I did buy to a fill a hole in my life where a partner should most likely be."
When Remus stops laughing he looks down at his lemonade and says, very softly, "I'm surprised."
"Well, it's just..." Remus hesitates. "I had an idea of how your life might be. Christ, that sounds so creepy."
Sirius doesn't find it creepy at all. He rather likes the idea that Remus has been thinking about him.
"That's alright. I have my ideas of what your life might be like too, pencil supplication and love of 1930's cinema aside." He shrugs. "Wouldn't mind finding out whether or not I'm right."
Remus gives him a strange, confused smile at this. "Sirius, am I... I'm not misread -"
"Right, shall we call it one more and then head on back, mateys?" James' voice booms above them. He claps them both on the back, so hard they almost fall into their drinks, then leans between them to order two more drinks, one for himself and one for a defeated-looking Peter.
Across James' back, Sirius and Remus share a smile, and later on the way out, as James and Peter go on ahead, Sirius touches Remus very gently on the arm and says, "Tomorrow then. You'll come and watch with me, yeah?"
Remus doesn't even seem to hesitate. "Yeah. Of course."
Sirius doesn't really know what the hell he's doing. He doesn't know anything about Remus. Doesn't really even know if he's gay. Doesn't know if Remus is even going to consider this a date. Such matters have never concerned him massively in the past. There's only one way to find such things out, after all.
They make arrangements for Remus to arrive at seven, and Sirius promises to cook for him and successfully makes it sound as though he's a reasonably good chef, which he isn't. At all. He goes to Tesco on his way home from work and buys frozen paella and decides that he'll only claim he's made it himself if it seems like Remus might believe him.
He buys wine, too. He doesn't know much about wine, so he just picks the one in a carafe that costs the most. Remus might end up hating the film, but if he's drunk it won't really matter.
Remus agonizes over what to wear. Agonizes. His bit of a crush on Sirius Black is no longer purely aesthetic. Remus is actually beginning to like him. He's funny, he's unfairly attractive, he calls barmen "mate" and makes bold propositions like inviting Remus round to watch classic Hollywood Christmas films, as though the two of them have been friends for years.
And now, just when Remus' mind as well as his cock has started to like someone, it has also begun telling him that everything in his plywood wardrobe is crap. Twenty minutes before he's meant to arrive at Sirius' flat, he's stripped to his boxers in his bedroom, alternating between holding up a slim red jumper and a casual white button-up.
"Oh, this is useless!" he barks into the silence of his bedroom. "Jonathan, I am so sick of this teenage girls bollocks. What am I doing?"
Jonathan meows ruefully and looks rather ill. Remus suddenly feels bad for leaving him. He really does need to get him that vet appointment. For one wild moment he even considers taking him to Sirius's, wrapped up in a blanket or something, just for company's sake. But that would be crossing Sirius's line of jokey sad and just be plain sad. That would be a great way of making sure Sirius never speaks to him again.
In the end Remus tugs on the jumper and his best jeans, drags a comb through his hair, brushes his teeth at lightning speed and dabs on the aftershave he's barely used since his mum sent it him for Christmas twelve months ago. He grabs his jacket, gives Jonathan a quick pet, checks the cat bowl's still full, and bolts out the front door.
Sirius' flat smells absolutely heavenly. Sirius' flat looks absolutely heavenly. Sirius looks absolutely heavenly.
"Hey!" he chirps, gorgeous in his slim black button-down and low slung jeans. "Just go through into the kitchen."
Remus isn't exactly sure which part constitutes the kitchen, because the whole main living space is open plan. The floor is a continuous stream of trendy dark wood-effect laminate, and the walls are all smooth and clean cream with thick-framed black and white photographs positioned artistically here and there.
It's likely the flat on a Pollock & Co. wage, is a lot more faux expensive than actually expensive - the black leather sofas fake leather, the dark wood table hollow and so on - but it's lovely all the same. Definitely a cut above Remus' crappy old hovel anyway.
He perches on one of the breakfast bar stools and peers over at what's sizzling in the wok.
"You like seafood, right?" says Sirius, padding across to the oven. "Shit, I probably should've asked."
"It's fine, I do."
"I suppose you could always pick the fish out."
Sirius looks at him and smiles, giving the wok a shake. "Well, good! D'you want some wine?"
He nods to what looks like a very expensive bottle of wine on the counter top. It comes in its own bloody carafe, for God's sake. Remus pours it out into the two waiting glasses, takes a sip of his own and immediately finds it repulsive, thick and gloopy and dark. Sirius downs half of his in one and pulls a face too.
"Christ, what have I bought? Here, don't drink that. I can tell you don't like it. What do you want instead?"
When they take their food through into the lounge area, it's with plates of paella and cups of tea.
"That really is a fuck off TV," Remus blurts out before he can stop himself. It's massive. Massive. Almost too big actually, and a bit ugly.
"Yeah. I'm one of those unfortunate people who splurges when I'm upset or angry and, well..." Sirius motions to the TV uselessly, not finishing.
"What... what were you upset about?"
Sirius looks across at Remus from his side of the couch and says, very seriously, "Getting a job at Pollock."
They both suddenly begin to laugh.
By nine o'clock, the floor is covered with discarded sofa cushions, plates and cups, and the wok they've eaten the remaining paella straight out of. The credits of It's a Wonderful Life are scrolling down the screen, and Sirius has his legs slung across Remus' lap.
It feels strange and domestic, as though they aren't two men who've shared an office for half a year and yet barely ever spoken to one another before last week. But it's comfortable too. Not quite natural - Remus doesn't know Sirius well enough for that yet - but yes, comfortable. Fine. Easy.
Although he's slightly concerned Sirius has fallen asleep. His eyes are closed, and he hasn't unfolded his arms from across his chest for about half an hour now.
"Yeah." He's silent for another moment. Then he sniffs and yawns and moves his arms to stretch, his shirt riding up slightly, exposing a slim, dark trail of hair from his belly button down into the waistband of his jeans. "Did you like it?"
"Yeah, it was good. A bit sweet, but nice enough. Comfy there?"
"Very. Haven't had anyone to put my feet up on for ages."
"Glad to be of assistance."
Sirius laughs lazily and finally opens his eyes, blinking at Remus in the darkness of the room.
"What time is it?"
"Just after nine."
"Alright. D'you wanna stay?"
"There's a spare room."
"No, I'd better get home to my..."
For a moment, Remus is certain he sees something close to panic flick across Sirius' face. "Your...?"
Remus hesitates, a bit embarrassed. "Cat. He's not very well."
Sirius visibly relaxes and smiles again, moving his legs from Remus' lap to let him sit up. "Thanks for coming," he says.
"Thanks for having me. Here, I'll help you wash up."
But Sirius, yawning again, shakes his head and waves a dismissive hand. "Don't worry about it, I'll sort it later. You get home to your cat."
"You make it sound ridiculous."
"Sorry," Sirius grins. "I meant for it to sound cute."
They share another silent look, and for one wild moment Remus thinks they're supposed to kiss. After all, there's no way Sirius is straight after this; that much has already been confirmed. But that doesn't mean Sirius likes him, or desires him, or even wants to see him outside of work again. Which is a bit of a depressing thought really.
In the end, they hug briefly, and Remus shrugs his jacket on and Sirius shows him to the door, dozy and slow. That's about the moment that the bizarreness of the situation hits Remus, and he doesn't know whether to laugh or ask what on earth they've just done.
"So. See you at work on Monday?" says Sirius.
It turns out Sirius does want to see Remus again outside of work after all. After that evening, one date - and they really do begin to feel like dates - turns into two, then three. Sirius initiates them by leaving sticky notes on Remus' computer, 'On the Waterfront?' and a smiley face on bright yellow and then, a week later, slightly bolder, 'King of Hearts?' and a kiss on pink.
Remus takes each one with a stupid grin, ignores Peter's curious looks and peeks round his cubicle to find Sirius. He's always lounging, talking to James, laughing, never looking, and Remus wonders if he does it on purpose, if he goes out of his way to be irresistibly cool and aloof.
On the second date Sirius shows him some of his art; vast watercolours of rivers and oceans and forests which would never be found in south London, so utterly fragile and beautiful it's difficult to believe someone as brash as Sirius could have painted them. He even admits how much he misses being able to sell his work, having people look at his creations. But then he laughs self-deprecatingly and says, "There you go, that's my less-than-adequate sob story. Everyone has to have one."
On the third date they kiss. Briefly. Rather awkwardly, on Sirius' door step, but well enough to make them both smile, to keep that smile on Remus' face all the way home. It's strange and interesting and exciting to be 'seeing' someone, and it makes going into work that little bit brighter, leaving at night that little bit more difficult.
Their fourth film is at Remus' place. He doesn't mind hosting. It is, after all, only fair. He isn't too bad a cook, and he keeps everything clean and tidy, and Jonathan is a lot friendlier now he's visited the vet and been prescribed freakishly large pills that Remus has to individually cut up and put in his food, the portions of which had been doubled by recommendation.
But his flat is so, well, shit. It's in the basement of a Victorian house - it says so on the eaves, 1868 - and having the ground floor means he has to descend the old stone outdoor steps which are icy and lethal in December, and the one lounge window is so low there's barely any light. It certainly isn't open plan. The kitchen is a box. So's the loo. The bedroom is only slightly bigger, and there definitely isn't a spare. It's depressing, if anything, and he's appropriately ashamed of it. Ashamed of what Sirius might think. He finds he's really starting to care what Sirius thinks.
Remus has taken to peering at him, subtly, from behind the cubicle wall at various points in the day. He can just about spot Sirius' desk from his own cubicle, which is about the only perk of being on this side of the office.
He'll see Sirius bent over his desk, cheek resting on his hand, as he scribbles something down on a pad of paper, looking bored. Numbers, it always looks like. Finance. Business. Hard stuff. Clever stuff. And yet his expression always makes it seem as though it's the easiest thing in the world. He'll often swear under his breath – Remus can never hear him but the fucks are always quite obvious – and scribble the whole lot out, chucking his pen aside in a temper.
Remus loves watching him. It sounds so unbelievably creepy, but who's there to notice? Everything Sirius does, he does with such bloody flair - even fucking up accounts. The elegant way he tilts his head back and drinks deeply from his can of Diet Coke, or the way he rocks back in his chair, or mouths numbers under his breath as he works, taps figures into his computer with slender fingers and, Remus' favourite, how he rests his pen between his front teeth and rocks it gently while he concentrates. It somehow manages to be the most absurdly erotic thing Remus has ever witnessed.
This crush is becoming ridiculous.
"I brought wine," Sirius says when Remus lets him into his flat, "but nice stuff this time. Here. Hey, wow, I like your house."
"Oh, course you do."
"What's that tone for? I do. Love the walls." He drags his fingers against one blindingly yellow wall and gives Remus a bastard smirk. He's definitely taking the piss now.
"We're not allowed to paint," Remus explains. "Believe me, I would. Are you alright with lasagne?"
"Perfect, thanks. Oh, hello! Who's this?"
Remus turns on his way to the kitchen to find that Sirius has been rather warily approached by Jonathan. Sirius crouches down and scratches him very gently under his furry grey chin, then behind his ears, then the dip of his chubby neck, and Jonathan purrs his appreciation.
"You called your cat Jonathan?"
"What's wrong with that? Jonathan's a fine name."
"Yeah, for a respectable lawyer perhaps. Mittens, Snowy, they're cat names."
Sirius' voice switches to a deeper, even posher version of himself: "Afternoon, Jonathan. Did you get my fax, Jonathan? Splendid weather we're having, isn't it, Jonathan?"
Jonathan peers back at him, almost as if in understanding. Remus scoffs.
They eat cross-legged on the living room floor in front of Let's Fall in Love, terrible and clichéd and weirdly funny, their shoulders brushing, toes touching. Halfway through Sirius' hand creeps across the carpet and brushes Remus' fingers. Remus jumps slightly, startled by the contact. His tongue darts out to wet suddenly dry lips, and then he curls his fingers back over Sirius', and somehow they're holding hands.
Sirius kisses him soon after that. It's the delicious, inevitable consequence of four classic Hollywood cinema movies and a shared bottle of wine, tiny smirks across the space of the office, subtle brushes of arms and hips in the photocopying room, a hundred silly e-mails and three Friday lunchtimes spent in the pub talking rubbish.
Ten minutes later, they've somehow found their way into Remus' bedroom.
"Oh God, is this - is this okay?" Sirius gasps between kisses. His hands are everywhere - Remus' hands are everywhere; clutching and tugging and trying to undress - and Sirius isn't sure what he'll do if the answer is no.
"Yes, yes," Remus breathes into his mouth, "absolutely. Definitely."
They're on the bed, and he's arching up beneath Sirius, responding to every touch and pull and whisper, beautiful and panting and tasting of sweet white wine.
Sirius all but tears at the buttons on Remus' flimsy shirt, popping one off completely and making muddled promises to replace it as Remus lets out a laugh. Sirius slips the shirt down lightly freckled shoulders, tosses it aside, leans back to pull off his own t-shirt as Remus slips out of his jeans.
When they're both down to only their boxers, their lips meet again in a frenzied kiss. Their hands join, fingers entwining as they began to rock against each other agonizingly. It's sweltering - the heat of the radiators doesn't help. Sirius can actually see tiny beads of sweat in the dip of Remus' collarbone, the hollow of his throat, and as he leans to lick at the salty skin Remus offers up this soft, pliant moan, tangling his fingers in Sirius' hair and pulling.
"God, Remus, I want you," Sirius admits. He gives Remus' throat one last lick, feeling his Adam's apple bob beneath his tongue, before travelling further south, catching one nipple lightly between his teeth, giving it a flick with his tongue, pulling forth another of those wonderful shivers.
It's a bit overwhelming actually. Sirius hasn't had sex in months and now, to have Remus – sweet, quiet Remus from sales – splayed out beneath him, pale chest heaving, pupils lust-blown, Sirius isn't quite sure where to start.
Slowly, he tucks his fingers into the top of Remus' boxers. He looks up at him from beneath his eyelashes, feeling another painful jolt at the way Remus is looking right back at him, lips parted, eyes glassy. Sirius pulls the boxers down and off, takes hold of Remus' cock, heavy in his hand. It feels silky and hot against his skin, the head pearling with pre-come, and he leans to take the tip slowly into his mouth, sucking lightly as Remus keens beneath him.
He's always felt fairly confident in his blowjob-giving abilities, but even an expert can have difficulty when the recipient twice shoves his hips up hard enough to choke him. Sirius splutters and pulls off, just about catching Remus' babbled fuck, sorry, sorry before grinning, wiping his swollen mouth, going back down again.
Remus possesses no short supply of desperate and breathless encouragements, and he's generous with them, his long fingers tugging insistently at Sirius' hair, one leg coming over Sirius' back, like he's trying to anchor himself against bucking those sharp hips again.
"Jesus," Sirius hears him whisper. "This'll be over very soon if you keep this up, so..."
So Sirius doesn't keep it up. He pulls his lips away, his fingers, and crawls back up the bed to kiss Remus very gently on the mouth. He feels speculative hands on his chest, fingers ghosting over his hot skin, before travelling down to the ache in his boxers. Sirius breaks the kiss to look down at where Remus' hand is palming his cock through the cotton. Then his eyes travel back up, and their gazes meet.
"Remus," he murmurs, "I really wanna fuck you."
Remus' answer is a bruising kiss which forces Sirius back a little, and with little more than a quick flurry of tugging hands, they're both completely undressed, writhing against each other, their clothes in a heap on the floor.
Sirius presses a long, quick line of kisses along Remus' neck, distracting him as Remus tries to turn and root in the night stand. It takes a little while actually - he seems to have a lot of junk in there - but eventually a small, cold tube of Liquid Silk hits Sirius in the chest, followed by an open box of condoms.
He sets the box aside and pulled Remus forward by his legs so they're resting snugly astride Sirius' hips. Then, with slightly shaking fingers, he uncaps the tube, squeezes a liberal amount into the palm of his hand, and rubs it around his fingers, never missing the hungry look Remus is eyeing him with.
Accommodatingly, Remus bends his knees, sliding his feet up the bed, and the obvious invitation makes Sirius' mouth water. He is so beautiful, stripped bare from his work attire and no longer Remus-from-sales, or Remus-from-the-office, just Remus, pale and gorgeous and suddenly filled with this sexy confidence Sirius had no idea he possessed.
Resting one hand on a sharp hip, he reaches between Remus' legs. Slick fingers gently circle him, leaving a ring of smooth wetness. Carefully, Sirius presses one finger, his forefinger into him, sinking forward slowly. Remus doesn't so much as whisper. He shifts a bit on the second finger, and by the third he's groaning weakly, spreading his legs wider. His cock is heavy and red, glistening against his belly, and a crimson flush has travelled all the way from his crotch up to his chest, on to his neck from there. He looks absolutely wrecked.
And Sirius, his own cock throbbing, works his fingers slowly, mesmerised by the sight, and waits and waits with bated breath for Remus to say it's alright.
When he does, Sirius almost tears the condom in his haste, ripping the packaging with his teeth, rolling it on to his cock, slicking himself with the last of the Silk and lining up and shoving forward with his hips, sinking into Remus with a stuttering moan.
It's hot, and so tight it almost hurts. He has to pause a moment to gather himself, to keep from coming too soon because it's honestly been fucking months, dammit. But soon Sirius is grabbing Remus' hips and burying himself in a little deeper and leaning forward, draping himself over Remus to press firm, desperate kisses to his lips, then to his neck, before slowly beginning to fuck him.
Their bodies move together in slick tandem with one another. The clutch of Remus' body is so good, too good, so that Sirius finds himself teetering on the edge all too soon, and his muscles all protest with the strain of trying to keep himself from snapping forward too quickly.
But after several sweltering, agonizing minutes, Remus starts moving his hips in wider circles, rolling up into Sirius' slow thrusts, and then he starts to speak, to gasp faster, faster, please faster and Sirius can let himself go, and he starts to drive in and out of Remus' body with starry-eyed dizziness, making noises he'd be ashamed of if he could properly register that they're coming from him.
Filthy, desperate moans spill effortlessly from Remus' own lips, breathless commands and curses and groans. He's rocking up against Sirius, meeting every frantic thrust, so clearly close to coming that when Sirius pulls him up, Remus' moan at having his cock caught between the hardness of their stomachs is almost a shout.
And when Sirius lies him back down on the bed to wrap a hand around his cock, gathering pre-come with his thumb and slicking it down, it takes only three firm strokes before Remus' eyes are rolling into the back of his head and he's mewling and coming, hard, in thick, hot spurts, all over Sirius' hand.
Remus' body clenches as the intensity of his release shoots through him, and the sensation hits Sirius in a heartbeat, and he's suddenly dangerously close to coming himself, his thrusts turning desperate and clumsy.
And Remus, sated and drowsy, wraps his long legs tighter around Sirius's waist, kissed him hard on the lips, pants into his mouth, come on, come on, let go, give it to me and Sirius surges forward with a shout Remus will no doubt tease him for later and comes hard, almost sobbing out his release, feeling himself fall apart.
They're together after that. It spreads round the office like wildfire and Remus is surprised to find he doesn't mind at all. Well, the cold looks from the office women who are convinced he's turned Sirius against them he could do without, but he rather enjoys the way Peter probes and pesters and questions, not to mention the frustrated grunts he gives when Remus gives him nothing in return but a mysterious smile.
He bins the Christmas card from Mark, replaces it with a photograph of Sirius in bed, pulling a hideous face. He pins up a drawing Sirius has done too, folding it up into an aeroplane and flinging it across the room to cheer Remus up on a rainy Monday morning. It's of the two of them. He's given Remus freakishly large eyes with love hearts in them and exaggerated his own physique substantially, and the first time Remus saw it he'd snorted so loudly everyone in the office had turned to look.
Sirius will send him daft e-mails like, cringey-cutesy teasing little things, 'you look soooooo good from here' and 'tell pettigrew to keep his ratty hands off you' and 'hey handsome meet me in the photocopying room in five minutes ps can you send me this month's mailout figures pls and thank youuuu xx'.
He still leaves sticky notes on Remus' computer too, arranging their nights in or nights out or, more frequently as the weeks push on, days in and days out. The office closes up for Christmas, they go to the staff party together and spend an hour in the locked supply closet, surrounded by an ominous amount of pencils, and when Christmas day itself comes they spend that together too, since Sirius says he no longer sees his family and Remus' arthritic parents spend the winters in Spain.
Remus has never been so blissfully, peacefully happy. Even his flat doesn't seem to hold much of its previous perpetual gloom anymore, and Jonathan is better again, and he looks foward to going work, and he doesn't even mind when he gets called a mindless numbskull by a customer on the phone.
And then February comes, and they've been together for almost two months, and everything starts to go wrong.
"I want you all to understand that this is not the fault of anyone in this branch," Kingsley, the owner of the south London office, says to them one freezing Thursday morning. He stands before them all in the dank meeting room, wearing a concentrated frown. "It was not preventable by any member of staff. This is largely a result of the current economic situation, but unfortunately it will affect some of you in this room. This branch will have to be moved to, and combined with, the branch in Berkshire, and as I'm sure most of you have already gathered, this will result in... some redundancies."
Most of them have already gathered, and yet a shocked gasp still goes up round the cramped room, a frustrated buzz of panic erupting soon after. Remus looks across the room at Sirius, but he doesn't meet his eyes. He's staring at the floor, brow furrowed, arms set stubbornly in the folded position they'd taken up at the very start of the meeting. Beside him, James seems to be going out of his mind.
"I've got a family," Remus can hear him saying.
"This will not apply to all of you," Kingsley goes on, trying to raise his voice above the incessant din, "and I shall personally see to it that it applies to as few of you as possible. But it's a reality we have to acknowledge, and something we have to be prepared for. I'm sorry, guys. I really am sorry."
The following week, on Wednesday morning, Remus is called into Kingsley's office. He smiles up at Frank the messenger, mutters, "Righto," and backs his chair out of his cubicle. He tries not to let his fear show, but people have been called in and out of the office for the past three days, and it looks and feels a little like walking the green mile.
On a normal day when Remus is summoned to Kingsley's office, Sirius likes to sing under his breath as he passes: "Someone's in trouble." This time he glances up, offers Remus an encouraging smile, and gently brushes his hand.
"Ah, Remus," Kingsley smiles when he walks in, closing the door behind him. "Have a seat. Can I get you anything? Tea? Coffee? I've a little chai myself."
"I'm fine, thank you," says Remus, wondering why redundancy is beginning to feel like a tea party.
He sits himself down in the plush chair before Kingsley's desk. The office is huge, square and modern, with expensive Roman blinds on the internal windows and a long sleek desk and state of the art computer. He trusts Kingsley isn't going to be let go.
"Don't look so worried," Kingsley says kindly, sitting down opposite him. "I'm not going to keep you in wait - I've actually got some fantastic news for you."
Remus looks up at this.
Kingsley takes a deep, leisurely breath and leant back in his chair, hands tucked across his stomach. "Remus, you've been with us for five years and your track record is, to put it simply, nothing short of outstanding."
"Thank you, sir."
"Now, I know you probably didn't intend to stay in pencil supplying forever. I mean, who did?" Kingsley gestures to himself self-deprecatingly and gives a tired smile, as though they're equals. "But if you work your way up, you can make a career out of this. You can make very decent money, live a very comfortable life indeed, and all in, I'd say, less than only ten years."
Less than only ten years.
"Brilliant," Remus mumbles.
Kingsley smiles again. "Head Office recognises your endeavours and, well... Remus, they'd like to offer you the position of Assistant Manager when we transfer to the Reading branch."
"Come in, Sirius, sit down. Would you like anything? Tea? Coffee?"
Sirius refuses impatiently, sits down in the cushy chair Kingsley offers him and leans forward, elbows on his knees, fingers clasped almost as if in prayer.
"Right, well. I'm not going to keep you waiting." Kingsley clears his throat and drummed his fingers on the arms of his chair. "Sirius, you've been with us eight months and your track record is truly outstanding."
"Thank you," says Sirius, brightening considerably.
"But you see, Sirius, while you're good at what you do... Head Office has decided that you're simply not experienced enough to match the endeavours of the Accounts team at the Reading branch."
Silence rings out into the office. Sirius swallows thickly, the lump in his throat a dull ache.
"I'm very sorry, Sirius - "
"Wait - "
"- But we're going to have to let you go."
"What am I going to do?" Sirius mumbles into Remus's neck. He was sitting, rather awkwardly, in Remus' lap in a corner of the otherwise empty lunch room. He'd come in, theatrically cheerful, dropped down on to Remus, feigning relief that he'd been let go from such a fucking dead-end job. Then he'd squeezed his eyes shut tight and wound his arms tight round Remus' neck.
"What am I going to do?"
Remus rubs soothing circles on his back, glad for the blinds on the internal windows. "Everything will be fine," he whispers. "You'll find another job - "
"What if I don't?"
"But what if I don't?"
Remus pulls Sirius back gently to look him in the eye. "You will. How... how was your redundancy package?"
"Generous," Sirius admits, "but it won't keep."
"But you've enough?"
"For now." He hesitates. "I have to leave at the end of the month. I don't know what I'll do. It was hard enough forcing myself to apply for this job. I'm scared I'll just give up again."
"Then I'll help you."
"You're moving," says Sirius, his tone almost accusatory, as though Remus wasn't supposed to accept the job.
"Then you can come with me."
"Don't be stupid, Remus. I'm the artist, remember?" He slides off Remus' lap into the seat beside him, and buries his head in his hands.
A woman comes rushing in, some young thing from accounts, tears streaming down her face. Seeing the two of them she grunts in frustration and storms out again. It seems everyone's looking to escape today.
"You said you hated having a job like this," Remus says desperately, when nothing else seems appropriate.
"I still need one!"
"Well then... then I'm sorry, I don't know what to say. I want to help you, I just need time to... think about it."
"What's there to think about?" Sirius demands. "I thought you were the guy with all the answers. After all, you're the one who got the promotion and the pay rise. You're the one moving to Reading while the rest of us stay here and rot."
Remus stares, bewildered. He's never seen Sirius like this before. He's seen him angry and frustrated, of course, over incompetent co-workers and fucked-up accounts. But he's never raised his voice to Remus, not once.
"Don't use that against me, Sirius, it's not fair."
"Not fair?" Sirius splutters. "I'll tell you what's not fair. Living alone and trying to support yourself and being told to leave by Head Office even though they're the ones who've fucked up the company and I'm the one with the supposedly outstanding track record. I don't deserve this!"
"I know, and I'm sorry, but I don't know what to say that can make it better. I need time to think. I'm a little overwhelmed myself, you know."
"Yeah, I suppose you must be. Promotion. Pay rise. Transfer to an upmarket area. Must be so overwhelming."
He storms out then, and Remus leans back in his chair and kicks hard at the Minute Maid vending machine.
James is safe, and Peter too. Dorcas seems fine, and Marlene, and of course Kingsley. Frank has been offered a transfer to the Berkshire branch but a demotion at the same time, since the only other option is upwards to Assistant Manager, and that position's already been offered to Remus. He can't look Frank in the eye for days.
He certainly can't look at Sirius. That hurts too, but for entirely different reasons. Remus can't stand the thought that they've broken up, though to be honest he's unsure if they actually have. He still holds on to a faint glimmer of hope that one day he might come into work and find one of those ridiculous sticky notes on his computer screen.
As the transfer to Reading grows ever closer, Remus has to begin making preparations. He speaks to Mrs Pitcher about ending his tenancy, takes the train to Reading one Saturday to speak to his new employers, and clears his little flat of all the useless junk he's accumulated over the past five years. He also splashes out on a new collar for Jonathan with some hi-tech device in it that makes it easy to find him if he runs away, so scared is Remus of Jonathan hating the lack of familiarity in Berkshire and trying to get back to their south London home.
One particularly freezing, particularly rainy evening when Remus is busy separating his books into a Keep pile and a Charity pile, his doorbell buzzes. He look up in surprise. Hardly anyone ever calls round, especially not in this weather. Dropping his creased paperback of David Copperfield, he goes out into the hall, undoes the many very necessary locks and bolts on the door and pulls it open.
Sirius stands, shivering and soaked, on the doorstep, dark hair plastered to his head. He has no coat or umbrella, just his leather jacket pulled tight around him. Remus wastes no time hauling him inside, closing the door and bothering to slide only the bolt across so that he can quickly turn and look at Sirius properly.
"Sirius? What on earth are you doing?"
"Yes, I can see that. Look, go through into the living room."
He turns on the old 1970's gas fire and sits Sirius down on the couch where he drips all over the velveteen cushion covers. Fetching a clean towel from the bathroom, he makes to press it to Sirius' sopping head, remembers they aren't really together anymore and passes it to him instead.
"Thanks," Sirius mutters. He drags it viciously back and forth across his head till the normally elegant black hair is wild and soft and damp. "I'm sorry for dropping in like this. I should have phoned, I didn't know you were busy."
"I'm not, I'm just..." Remus gestures to the piles of paperbacks. "Re-organising my books." It might still be a bit insensitive to talk about moving. He changes the subject. "Would you like some tea?"
"Well you're freezing so I'm getting you some anyway."
When he sets the hot mugs down on the coffee table, Sirius reached out and wrapped his pale fingers around one of them. Neither of them speak at first.
Then, in a mumble, Sirius says, "I miss you. And I'm sorry. And I hate myself for what I said to you."
"You were upset."
"I should have been happy for you. I am happy for you, and proud of you too. And I'm also fucking jealous as sin but I swear to God I'm trying to work on it." Sirius finally looks at him. His eyes are sad. "I don't want to lose you when you go to Reading."
Remus, without really thinking about it, says, "You won't."
"Yeah, but it's not going to be the same, is it? Not seeing you every day." Sirius seems to think for a moment. "And most nights. I'll miss you like hell."
"I'll miss you too." Remus realises the truth of this only when he says it, and he repeats himself. "I'll miss you too."
"I just kind of wanted to say goodbye properly. Since I'm leaving in a week, and then you are not long after that. I didn't want us to be on bad terms - "
"Wait. Goodbye? What do you mean, goodbye?"
"Well I just thought maybe now rather than when we're surrounded by people."
"Sirius, I'm going to the county next door, not leaving the country. I don't want us to break up, I - I don't want to say goodbye."
Sirius adjusts his fingers around his mug. He looks uncomfortable, not only in his expression but physically too. His clothes have begun to stick to him, and when he speaks he has to swipe at a few beads of rainwater still rolling down the side of his face.
"I didn't think you'd want me distracting you, or holding you back or something," he says.
Remus stares at him. "Sirius, have you gone mad?"
"What d'you mean by that?"
"How could you distract me?"
"Don't you realise the difference you've made?" Remus says quietly. "You were the one who made me stop waking up and wishing I'd done anything but. I actually looked forward to starting the day, and it was only because of you. You think because I'm moving to a different city I'm just going to throw that in the bloody bin? Because you might distract me? What does that even mean?"
"I... I dunno. It made sense in my head."
Remus almost laughs with relief. "Look, Sirius, I don't know what the answer is but it's - it's not saying goodbye. It's definitely not that." He pauses. "Not unless you want to, that is."
"I don't," Sirius says quickly.
Sitting there, Remus looks first into Sirius' eyes, then down to his long fingers clutching his tea, and then finally at Jonathan who's begun to curl himself happily around Sirius' legs. Remus smiles.
"Come with me," he says. "Come and live with me."
"When I move, I want you to come with me. You can look for a job there, can't you? Or you can paint and sell. That's what you always wanted to do, isn't?"
Sirius is quiet for a long time. "I can't," he says eventually.
"Remus, we've only been together a few months."
"So I'd drive you up the wall."
Remus laughs. "I don't care."
"And what about when my redundancy money runs out? And my savings? And what if I still don't have a job? How could I afford to pay?"
Remus thinks about it, and the longer he does the more deflated he can see Sirius becoming.
"You know I can't just say getting a job will be easy, because life's not like that," Remus begins carefully, "but what's keeping you here that you wouldn't be able to find there? Any sane person would hire you in a heartbeat. You've got qualifications, you've got experience, you've got... well, you know, you're you, and... and on the off chance you don't get a job and your money runs out, then I'm getting a pay rise. I already comfortably afford a one-bed flat as it is. It'll be cheaper there. I'll just be able to... more than comfortably afford a one-bed flat."
"Unless you'd rather have your own room, of course."
Sirius chuckles softly at that. He reaches out to stroke his thumb over the back of Remus' hand, Jonathan still purring at his feet.
"Are you just trying to make me feel better with sentimental bollocks, or do you actually mean that?"
Remus thinks about it, and finds that he does. He really does.
"I really do."
And Sirius' tiny smile blossoms into something big and spring-like, and he lunges forward and takes hold of Remus' face in both hands and kisses him over and over.
"I really am going to drive you up the wall," he promises when they part for air.
As though to prove his point, Sirius lifts a hand and flicks at Remus' ear, very gently. Remus catches his hand, pulls it down, entwining their fingers. He presses one more kiss to Sirius' lips, grinning.
"Do your worst."