A good year, really, for the lovers of music, at least. It was an all-time high for single sales in the UK; Kate Bush and Squeeze released their debut albums; Elvis Costello followed up his debut with This Year's Model; Queen released their seventh album, Jazz; ELO kicked off their Out of the Blue world tour; Bee Gees topped the charts with Stayin' Alive — admittedly, maybe not so good, depending on your taste or lack thereof.
On a rather dingy London street — even by East End standards — on a sunny September day, a young man with an excellent taste in music (being a fan of all the aforementioned musicians save the Bee Gees) was rounding a corner. He was a lanky sort of lad but otherwise quite plain, with brown hair and pale eyes. He had a couple of interesting scars — one stretching from his right cheek to his left temple, its twin diagonally across his cheek so it split his upper lip — but they were both so old and fine that one had to stand nose-to-nose with him to notice them. At the moment the young man was on his way home, which was his purpose for rounding the corner in the first place. His name was Remus Lupin.
Remus was toying with the keys in his jeans pocket as he walked, idly searching out the one to his door. This turned out to be in vain, because when he arrived at the tower block where he lived, he found that the entrance was barricaded. The obstruction in question was another young man sitting on the stoop. He was very conspicuous (unlike Remus) and not only because he was remarkably in the way. He was exceedingly handsome, like a highly masculine version of Snow White, with sparkling grey eyes and dark curls that fell into his face in a most fetching, if outdated, manner. Indeed, his whole being seemed to emit a big 'very' and all of its synonyms. The man's name was Sirius Black but Remus was not yet aware of that fact.
"So, when's your next gig? This Saturday?"
"Ah," Remus said simply, observing the man before him but disregarding his question. "It's you again."
"Indeed, it is I again." Sirius showed off a smile that would make girls (had any been present) drop their knickers. Remus did not, for he owned none.
Fishing out the keys to his pocket, Remus asked amiably, "You're not familiar with the expression 'Go away'?"
"No, I can't say I am."
Remus leaned to reach for the door handle, still feigning pleasantness. "What about 'Sod off', then?"
Sirius stretched out his ridiculously long legs in front of Remus and leaned back heavily against the door. "Now that sounds familiar!"
Remus sighed and stepped back onto the pavement. "Look," he said, in a studiedly sedate voice, flattening his muted Estuary even more, "I'm flattered you think I'm interesting enough to stalk — I am, really — but I'm sorry, I'm not bent that way."
"Ah, but there's where you're lying." Sirius sprang to his feet. His knickers-removing smile had been replaced with one of a naughty schoolboy. "You see, if you weren't 'bent that way', you'd not be standing here giving me the 'it's not you, it's me' speech. No, you'd've punched my lights out as soon as I came up to you at the pub. See what I'm driving at?" His deliberate drawl didn't quite mask his underlying cut-glass cadence.
"So your argument is that because I'm not a narrow-minded berk, I must be like you?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
Remus shook his head. "Sorry, but I've got a girlfriend," he said and made another attempt to reach the door.
"No you don't, that's bollocks."
"I beg your pardon?"
"At the pub, your gig was a late one and you and your band stayed until you were as good as thrown out. Not once did I overhear anything about girlfriends or 'I better not be hung-over, the missus'll kill me' — in fact, I'm quite certain I heard you talking about a follow-up party. Ergo, you live alone or you're the shittiest boyfriend to ever walk this earth. You also should've lead with that excuse, it would've made it slightly more convincing." Sirius concluded this little speech by holding out a packet of cigarettes he seemed to conjure forth from some pocket. "Fag?"
Remus stared at him, but then took one of the offered cigarettes and sat down on the stoop. Sirius joined him a second later, lighter already in hand.
"You’ve certainly kept a close eye on me," Remus remarked as he allowed Sirius to light his cigarette for him (he was not sure the nutter wouldn't have made him had he not.) "Since you stayed late as well, I'm assuming you don't have a girlfriend?"
Sirius grinned and lit a cigarette for himself. They were an expensive brand, not the Player's Remus usually smoked. "Nope and I've never had. My friend has one, though; she was screaming blue murder when we came home."
Remus turned to look at him without getting a crick his neck. "What, you're living with your mate and his girlfriend?"
"It's more like she is living with me and my friend," Sirius said loftily. He looked down at his cigarette and as his hold on it tightened, the tone faded somewhat as he continued. "We've been flatmates for a few months now but he's moving in with her soon. Not that'll really make a difference; she spends most of her time at our flat anyways."
Sirius was sober for a moment longer but then looked up at Remus with a radiant smile. "Well, I suppose I best be going, then. I have a few errands to run and then I have a flatmate to keep entertained. I'll see you around, yeah?"
Not waiting for an answer, Sirius sprang to his feet with the energy of a four-year-old and sauntered off, throwing repeated glances over his shoulder. Remus looked down, shaking his head to himself, and when he looked up again, Sirius had vanished from sight. Remus waited until he had finished his cigarette (really, what brand could it be? Embassy? Silk Cut, perhaps?) before he brushed himself off and finally went inside.
If asked if he believed in God, Remus would only smile and say that it was a very personal question. The truth was that Remus wasn't fully decided on whether or not God existed. One thing he was sure of, however, was that "Someone" did not have a soft spot for him.
"Well, fancy seeing you here!"
Remus looked up from his shopping basket and right into a pair of sparkling grey eyes. "You can't have planned this, you simply can't have."
"Oh, no, this is just a coincidence. A very lucky one; serendipity, really, I'd say," Sirius said with a wink. He gestured wildly about the small corner shop in which they stood, nearly upsetting a carton of cornflakes in the process. "I was in the neighbourhood and suddenly had a desperate craving for a fag, so I popped in and found you. It must be fate, don't you think?"
"You know that what you're trying to doing is illegal, right?" Remus asked evenly, giving no heed to Sirius' chatter.
Sirius frowned, or rather knit his brows in a pensive yet fetching manner. "What, buying cigarettes? When did that legislation pass and why haven't I been informed?"
"The age of consent is twenty-one," Remus continued as he browsed the shelves for the muesli brand of his choice. "I'm not and you most definitely aren't, so whatever you're planning, it's illegal."
"Well, you certainly know a great deal about this subject for someone which it doesn't concern, I’d say."
"It's called not being ignorant." Remus didn't have to look to know that Sirius was leering. (Which he, of course, indeed was.) "They're going to toss you into jail if you keep this up."
"I? As in singular — as in by myself, alone?" Sirius asked in an innocently puzzled way that wouldn't have fooled a toddler. "Well, then that's another legislation I haven't been informed of. But do tell me, how can the police know if you're breaking that law? Can they read minds nowadays, and in that case, how do they submit the evidence?"
Remus, being the calm and collected young man that he was, merely took a deep breath instead of bashing his shopping basket against Sirius’ head. "You're only this crude to annoy me, aren't you? You have to be, it's too deliberate."
"Is it working?" Sirius leaned against the shelf with cereals. The shelf wobbled precariously.
"If you're annoying, you mean? Yes."
"Then my life is complete," Sirius said, shining up in yet another grin. The shelf wobbled some more but this time Sirius wasn't quick enough and the carton of cornflakes hit the floor. In a surprisingly elegant move he swooped up the carton and put it back on the shelf from which it had dived. Remus, who had tried to take a French leave during the distraction, didn't even get out of the aisle before Sirius was at his side again. "Here, let me carry that for you," Sirius said and reached for the basket.
Remus swiftly held it out of his reach. "I'm perfectly capable of carrying my own groceries, thank you. I'm not a frail little old lady."
"I certainly hope you aren't! I'd be rather disconcerted in that case, you see."
"Don't you have anything better to do than following me around?" Remus asked, his grip tightening on his basket as he rapidly browsed the shelves without pausing.
"Well, my friend's waiting for me but he can keep doing that. It's sort of like with dogs — you tie them up to a lamppost and then they wait for you to come back. Only I didn't tie him, of course, Lily wouldn't like that..."
Remus stopped and Sirius very nearly walked right into him. "Shouldn't you go back to him then, if he's waiting for you?" Remus asked with a mostly-placid smile, turning to Sirius.
Sirius, still very much in Remus' personal space, shrugged with an air of cheeky flippancy. "Nah, he'll let me have my way."
Almost as if on cue — only a few seconds off — a male voice with tropospheric RP boomed into the small shop: "Sirius, what in the name of something-or-other is taking you so long? Did you get lost or something?"
Sirius glanced at the entrance. "... Or not. Oh well, see you later then, Remus."
"Oh, please, don't put yourself out for my sake," Remus said, checking the best-before date of a jar of honey.
Sirius waved and trotted along to the entrance, presumably where his friend with the vocal powers was waiting. Remus didn't watch him (nor did he pay any attention to the staff and other customers who were staring at him). He put the jar in his basket and then paused when he saw the packet of Regal Embassy, with a receipt attached, lying atop the carton of muesli.
The shop bell jingled and Remus looked up from where he was reading behind the counter to see the new customer. It was a Monday afternoon; the shop was pretty vacant.
"Wow. Imagine you working in a music shop. Too perfect too be true, isn't it?"
"But damn, you're hard to find! Did you know I had to ask around at four different places before anyone even got who I was talking about? I swear, some couldn't even say if you were a man or a woman — tell me, how is one supposed to take that?"
"That I am in fact the world's most convincing transvestite," Remus quipped on automatic as he stared at Sirius. He suspected he was wearing a rather dumbfounded and unbecoming expression on his face and quickly pulled himself together. "You know, this is actually starting to get weird."
Sirius grinned at him. "Are you going to call the police?"
"Not yet, no, but I very probably will soon."
"Capital, capital! Nothing to worry about then," Sirius said and exchanged his winning grin for another one of his knickers-(and-possibly-pants)-dropping smiles from his arsenal. He closed the door behind him and sashayed into the shop, taking in the various instruments and music books with glee. "So, can I help you with something?"
Remus marked the page with his finger and closed his book. "Beg your pardon?"
"Can I help you with something?" Sirius repeated, browsing amongst the displays on the counter. "I can't say I've been enlightened in the ancient and mysterious workings of cash registers but maybe you could use some muscle?"
"If you're so desperate, you can sit quietly over there and not scare any customers, should there be any," Remus said, gesturing to an empty chair in the nearest corner and reopened his book.
Sirius did as he was told but not before grabbing a guitar pick, which he absent-mindedly fiddled with. He sat down on the chair, crossed his legs, uncrossed them, crossed his knees, sat with his legs far apart, sat cross-legged, sat straight as a ramrod, sat like a sack of potatoes and, ultimately, sat tilting his chair.
"What are you reading?" he eventually asked Remus as he lurched backwards, using the wall as support.
"Words," was the concise reply.
"Words, words, words! What is the matter, my lord? Between who? I mean, the matter that you read, my lord," Sirius exclaimed with varying cadence while boldly brandishing the pick. He almost tipped over and paused his tilting. "Could you please specify that a bit?”
Remus did not look up from his book. "English ones."
"Har, har. You're not very keen on carrying on conversations, are you?"
Remus tugged a few stray strands of his hair behind his ear and turned the page. "It's a book about guitars, on how to improve your playing technique."
Sirius snorted good-naturedly as he resumed his chair-tilting. "You don't need that, you're already brilliant."
"Thanks, but I'm not Clapton yet, therefore I'm not good enough."
"Tsk, he's overrated. Never liked the bloke myself."
At this Remus did forsake his book to give Sirius a look of the are-you-fucking-serious variety, but it was a waste of effort since Sirius had turned his attention to the guitars hanging on the wall.
"Isn't that the kind of guitar you're playing?" Sirius asked, pointing in the direction of the Fender Stratocasters, pick still in hand.
"Yeah," said Remus. He didn't bother to correct Sirius that he was, in fact, playing a Telecaster, but would gladly perform Stayin' Alive stark naked on national television if it got him a Strat.
Sirius observed the wall a bit longer, still rocking the chair in a distracted manner. "Yeah," he spoke up at last. "I like these” — he pointed at the Fenders — "better than those." — pointing at the Gibsons — "They... Well, they look sexier, simple as that. You've got good taste."
Sirius jumped to his feet (with such force that the chair fell to the floor with a clatter) and stalked over to the wall, thoughtfully stroking the necks of the guitars. "I'm pants at playing any instrument," Sirius confessed, gaze fixed on an arctic white Stratocaster. That sombre tone was back in his voice. "A great shame to my family, of course. One of many..." He shook his head and abandoned the guitar for its neighbour.
Remus put his book aside and watched Sirius closely, silent.
"I love music, though — I really do, even if it's unreciprocated. There's nothing that makes you feel as much as a well-played piece." Sirius paused by a guitar with a midnight blue body. "You play that well," he said, looking as if he were talking to the instrument when he was, in fact, addressing Remus. (At least, Remus supposed so.) "That night, at the pub... It wasn't even epoch-making music — no offence — but you played with such emotion. But no one seemed to see you. You were pouring your heart out in all but words, and people cared sod-all about it; they only saw that fop who thought he was Freddie Mercury or something. It was so... unfair."
In a fit of frustration — his own or for Remus' sake, no-one could tell — Sirius' hand twitched and he accidentally struck one of the strings. The sound of an out-of-tune guitar pierced the air. "Ouch. See, I told you I'm pants." Sirius turned to Remus, face split in a grin and all traces of sobriety gone.
Remus didn't meet Sirius' gaze; he was cleaning his nails with his thumb's, as talkative as a cod at the fishmonger.
"Oh, bugger. Is it that late already?" Sirius stared at his watch like it had personally insulted him. "I'm sorry; I was going to stay longer but since I had to look left, right and centre for you, I'm afraid I can't. I'll simply have to come back again, I suppose."
Sirius rummaged a pocket of his leather jacket as he walked away from the wall, pulling out a cigarette and a quid. "For this," he said, showing the guitar pick, as he placed the note on the counter. "Keep the change."
He was halfway on his way to the door, when Remus called out, "Catch!"
Sirius spun around and caught something roughly the size of a packet of cigarettes, though he fumbled and almost dropped it. The object turned out to actually be cigarettes; a packet of Regal Embassy.
"You forgot them in my basket at the shop," Remus explained when Sirius looked at him like he'd just burst out in an impromptu ceilidh.
"You wanker. They're for you, you twit; should I've had wrapped it in gift paper just to be extra clear? Honestly!"
Sirius muttered to himself and demonstratively put the packet on top of the shelf with plectrums. He pulled out a grey string from a pocket (why he carried that with him was anyone's guess) and tied it as a ribbon around the packet. "There! Clear enough for you?"
The corners of Remus' lips might've twitched or even curved, but it absolutely wasn't a smile. "Can I ask you something?"
"What's your name?"
If one had thought Sirius' previous expression of surprise was extreme, it was nothing compared to the one he was wearing now. Steam engines had been known to drive through smaller openings that Sirius' slack-jawed mouth.
"You— Wha—? You— Bastard! You utter cad! All this time, and you didn't remember my name? I wrote it down for you and everything, just so you wouldn't forget! I knew I should've trusted my gut instinct and written it on your arm instead of a napkin. The nerve! It's Sirius Black. S-I-R-I-U-S; Sirius. Please remember it this time, all right? Argh, I've never been so insulted before in my life! Just for that, I won't come back tomorrow. No, I'll come back on Wednesday; may you suffer something awful in the absence of my presence... what's your name again? Rupert, Romulus?"
Sirius continued this tirade as he walked out of the shop and even when he was fully out on the street, though the effect was ruined somewhat by his silly grin and effervescent gait. Remus watched him through the shop window, idly nibbling on his thumbnail.
When Sirius was out of sight, he stared at the packet of cigarettes before hesitantly reaching for them.
"All right, I give up. Tell me why you're here."
Sirius looked up from his book (Pride & Prejudice, according to the cover) while expertly balancing his chair. "Hm?"
"You've been coming here every other day for a month now," Remus said, leaning over the counter as he looked at Sirius. "Why are you doing this?"
"I've already told you that; I want to ask you out." Sirius lifted his book to his face, holding it as a mock fan and fluttered his eyelashes coquettishly. "Just say the word and I'll arrange something instantly. We could go see a band, or have dinner, or take a romantic stroll in Hyde Park, or snog in Trafalgar Square and have people call us dirty poofs. That last one's always been a dream of mine." Sirius winked. "Your wish is my command,mi carissime."
Remus shifted his weight and leaned on his elbows. "I know you want to get into my pants and I do believe I've told you I'm not going to let you. So why are you hung-up on me? I'm not handsome, not interesting—"
Sirius slammed his book onto his lap. "Yes, you're poor, obscure, plain and little, with hazel hair and hazel eyes — forgive me, they are green?" Sirius said, complete with gestures that'd have qualified for the theatre. Remus looked scarcely amused as he watched him with decidedly grey-blue eyes.
Sirius caught his book just as it slid off his lap and put it carefully on the nearest shelf. He fished a plectrum out of his pocket and tossed it up. "Heads or tails?"
"Heads. What are you going to do with all those plecs, anyways?" The money Sirius had paid for the guitar pick still laid on the counter.
Sirius caught the plectrum. "Bugger, you won. Why? I'm re-tiling my bathroom with them. It'll be all the rage next year, I guarantee you. Again?"
Remus nodded. "Same. And the real reason?"
"Hah, it's tails!" Sirius said, grinning like a child. "Real reason? Why, I'm a customer, aren't I? Can't very well throw me out or say that I'm distracting you then, can you?"
Shaking his head, Remus concealed his traitorous, twitching lips.
Sirius watched him, and then said, in a less cock-a-hoop voice, "Maybe I think you are? What'd you say then?"
"I'm sorry, you've lost me. Think I'm what?"
"Handsome, interesting, whatever you were going to say you weren't."
Remus straightened himself up and tugged at his cuffs. "I'd say that you're mental and perhaps were dropped on your head one too many times as a kid."
Sirius nodded. "Yes, that is very much possible. The dropping, I mean. Insanity is a family trait, I'm afraid. My mother's always been something of a rum fellow. Surprised I put up with her as long as I did, really."
Remus glanced at him, before turning his gaze to the counter.
There was a moment of silence in the shop, similar to the one you encounter when sharing a seat on the train with a complete stranger.
"What's the time?" Sirius asked eventually. "My watch's stopped; I think the battery's dead."
"Half past four," Remus replied, looking at his own wristwatch.
"Really? I promised James I'd pick him up a quarter to." Sirius retrieved his book and got up from his chair. "Well, I better be going then."
He headed for the door, saying nothing more. His hand was on the handle when Remus spoke up.
"Are you planning to block up the gate again tonight?"
Sirius let go of the handle with a smile. He turned to Remus and said, "Yes, I am, actually. I was thinking six to seven o'clock — how's that sound to you?"
"I should be home by half past six," Remus said, pottering about behind the counter. "Oh, and why don't you pick-up some pasta and milk on your way? I'm out."
Sirius laughed and exited the shop.
The remaining hours dragged by and the fact that Remus didn't make home until ten past seven didn't brighten things up one bit. Remus was in a right mood when he turned the narrow crook to the towerblock. He lost some of the steam, however, when he saw the obstruction lying in the entranceway.
It wasn't Sirius (whom Remus hadn't expected still to be there, if he had been there in the first place, anyways) but a shopping bag.
Remus picked it up and looked at its contents; milk and pasta, both still for some miraculous reason fridge-cold.
There was also a folded note and Remus — who you could have knocked down with a feather at this point — opened it to read:
You are a barefaced cad. I told you to come to the
boathogate without fail; I waited for two nights, I got no sleep waiting, and still you didn't show up. I hope the milk turns sour — it'd be the least you deserve. I demand a full compensation! Treat me to a dinner at the Ritz and then lead me to your bedroom where you will woo me and make the sweetest love to me, and I'll forgive you.
Remus reread the note both twice and thrice before finally accepting it as the real thing. Still feeling puzzled, he carried the bag with him and went inside.
The Telecaster lay gently in his lap; Remus thought it felt like it was mocking him and his awkward attempts to play the intro-riff to Chelsea.
His concentration broke like a cheap watch when something clattered against the glass of the window. Putting the guitar aside, he went to investigate it and managed to be standing right in front of the window during the second shower of clattering somethings. It turned out the somethings were pebbles. Bewildered, but with a premonition of what he'd find, Remus opened the window.
"But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!"
Sirius looked rather tiny where he stood, down in the alley by the gate.
"Sorry, wrong window. Juliet lives over there," Remus said, pointing to his neighbour's window.
"Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief, That thou her maid art far more fair than she!"
Remus observed Sirius with the same kind of look a dog would give its master, when said master refused to throw the stick for another game of fetch. "Are you going to recite the whole monologue?"
"Be not her maid, since she is envious! Her vestal livery is but sick and green, and none but fools do wear it! Cast it off! It is my lady; O, it is my love!"
"Oh, for the love of—! Just— shut up, will you? I'm coming down." Remus closed the window and acquitted himself of this promise.
A minute later he opened the door to the gate, holding his acoustic guitar close to his body. In reply to Sirius' inquiring look, he said, "I'm not taking the Tele down here, if that's what you're thinking. First of all there are no amplifiers.”
"Oh, no, I just didn't know you had another guitar, that's all."
"She was my first." Remus sat down on the steps and placed the guitar in his lap. "Anyways. Shakespeare — are you serious?"
Sirius sniffed and tossed his head. "Most people find it very romantic, you know."
"Oh, very," Remus said and struck the strings. The guitar was horribly out of tune, so he started pulling the pegs. "A tragedy that ends with both the underaged leads killing themselves is perfect courting material."
"I was complimenting you, telling you you're handsome."
"Which just proves you need glasses."
Sirius threw his hands up in the air. "All right, do be a complete unromantic. I can be enough for both of us. I'll just have to treat myself to the Ritz."
"Probably. Which reminds me..." Remus let go of his now relatively in-tune guitar and reached for his rear pocket; after some fumbling and wriggling, he pulled out his wallet. A moment later he held out a pound note to Sirius. "Here. For the food."
Sirius frowned as he pulled his hair out of his face; he somehow managed to make the curls look affronted. "I don't want to be paid back. I bought it for you."
Remus didn't withdraw his hand. "I can't give it back to you because I've already eaten it all," he said, "but I can at least give you the money."
"I don't want the money."
"I'm not going to accept that."
The two of them glared at each other, until Sirius made a show of rolling his eyes and took the money. Remus, hiding a smile, turned to his guitar and resumed playing.
Sirius sat back on his haunches, just listening, lighting and smoking a cigarette to the filter in the meantime. As he lit up his second, he asked, "Is that supposed to be I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea?"
Remus, bent almost double over his guitar in a way that would make his father tear his hair, laughed. "Yeah. Emphasis on supposed."
"Sounds all right to me," Sirius shrugged.
Remus shook his head. He paused, then muted the strings and said in a much less jovial voice, "You shouldn't read me poetry outside my window, you know."
Sirius blinked. "Because... you don't like Shakespeare?"
"Because of what it implies."
"What, you mean you wouldn't like killing yourself over me in the final act?" Sirius said, jestingly, as he got to his feet.
Remus shot him a look. "I don't want people to talk."
The half-burnt cigarette fell to the ground when Sirius' fist tightened. He put it out with his shoe. "You know what? Fuck them. I don't care if they think I'm a sinful abomination; no one tells me how to live my life. If they want to bash my skull against the pavement for that, fine. I can put up a pretty good fight." Sirius broke off and added, in a careful tone, "Unless... Do you care?"
Remus scratched his brow and glanced up at Sirius.
"All right," Sirius said with a nod. "I won't read you poetry in public again. Now, in private, on the other hand..."
"Yeah, sure." Remus posture relaxed and he sat up a little straighter. "Tell me, what kind of music did you like again? Punk or disco? I'm guessing punk."
"Oh yes, punk, all the way. Although I do like sixties’ band like Pink Floyd and The Doors, but that's all very hush-hush."
Mirroring Sirius' grin, Remus started playing the opening notes to Wish You Were Here.
"When does your shift end?"
Remus forwent buttoning his coat and looked up. Sirius was leaning in the doorway of the shop, barely able to keep still. "Uh, five minutes ago. Why?"
"I want to show you something," Sirius said excitedly as he all but skipped into the shop.
"Mm, all right." As Sirius placed his hand on the small of Remus' back and ushered him out, as if he were a child, Remus added, "By the way, have you been busy?"
At this, Sirius paused. "No, not really. Why are you asking?"
"Oh, nothing," Remus said in what he hoped was an off-handed manner. "Just, I haven't seen you in four days, so I thought perhaps you've had your hands full or something."
Sirius turned so he was facing Remus directly and a grin spread over his face. He looked like he'd just been informed that he'd been elected prime minister but before he realized what such a position actually entailed. "You noticed!" he crowed, punching his fist in the air. "You missed me, didn't you? You did!"
"Not really," Remus muttered but Sirius gave no heed to it. He only placed his hand on Remus' back again and forced him out into the dim outdoor light. As they crossed the threshold, Remus heard a faint rustle and felt something being put in his coat pocket. "Sirius, what— Oh. Wow."
"Yeah, she's beautiful, isn't she?"
The motorbike wasn't glistening, but only because all light (save Sirius’ smile) were concealed by clouds and fog. But that wasn't that big a tragedy; the bike was still gorgeous.
"Absolutely," Remus said, staring. "Is it really a Bonnie, or...?"
"Mostly a Bonneville, yeah. The rims and cylinders are from other Triumph models, but she's at least eighty percent Bonnie," Sirius explained, swelling with pride. He gave Remus a pat on the shoulder, then went to his bike and vaulted into the seat.
Leaning against the handlebars, Sirius nodded to the pillion. "May I offer you a ride?"
Remus looked at Sirius, then at the bike and back at him. "Yes, I think you may."
That smile of his appeared again as Remus straddled the bike right behind Sirius. Now, out of Sirius' field of vision, he quickly checked the inside of his pocket; his fingers brushed against a pound note he was sure hadn't been there before.
"You know, you're going to fall off if you're going to be like that," Sirius said, reaching for a helmet. "And it'd be such a sad sight to see your pretty brain splashed all over the road."
Remus rolled his eyes as he took the offered helmet. He secured it and wrapped his arms loosely around Sirius' waist. "Happy now?"
"Yes, thank you. Now hold on just a little tighter."
As the engine started with a roar, Remus slipped the note into one of Sirius' pockets. He managed to get a proper hold just as the bike gathered momentum. Within seconds they were barrelling down the street at breakneck speed. The wind tore at them, all sounds were loud and muffled and it was fast. In secret, Remus loved every second of the too-short trip to his home.
Sirius came to a stop right by the gate. Remus legs were a bit wobbly when he jumped off the bike, but he returned the helmet to Sirius with a smile. "Thanks for the ride."
"You're welcome," Sirius said. His hair was so untidy it resembled tangled-up yarn as it fell all over his face; it made him look almost disturbingly young.
"Listen—" Remus started but cut himself off when he saw something, someone, in the corner of his eye. A darkness, like a billowing robe, moving rapidly, arm stretched out...
At as good as the same time, Remus and Sirius both reached for an object they hid inside their coat and jackets respectively. Their readiness was in vain, though, since the mysterious dark shape turned out to be a young man dressed in loose black clothes, apparently in a great hurry as he ran past them for all he was worth.
Remus and Sirius, with their wands at the ready, stared at each other.
"Well," Sirius said at last, wide-eyed and dazed. "At least now I don't need to tell you about Death Eaters."
Remus nodded slowly. "I think there are a few things you and I have to discuss."
"So," Sirius said, putting his jacket on the coatrack in the hallway. "How come you never told me you're a wizard?"
Remus had already entered the spacious living room; he was not quite pacing yet, but certainly getting there. "Because I thought you were a Muggle and I'd better keep my mouth shut. And I can ask you the same thing." He nibbled on his thumbnail. "Mind if I smoke?"
"No, go ahead."
"Well, I thought you were a Muggle too," Sirius said while Remus pulled out a cigarette from his packet. "I mean, why else would you've been playing at that pub?"
"Because they gave us a gig, perhaps? Why were you there?"
Sirius grinned. "Because Muggle music is better than wizard, if you ask me."
"There you go." Remus lit his cigarette and drew on it as if it were a sweet. Which, if you asked him, he'd say it was.
Sirius leaned against the doorframe, cocking his head. "But if you're a wizard, how come I never saw you at Hogwarts?"
"There are other schools than Hogwarts, you know," Remus said. He'd resumed his almost-pacing, only now leaving a trail of smoke behind him like some kind of steam engine.
"Why go anywhere else when you can be at Hogwarts?" Sirius asked and honestly seemed unable to grasp this concept.
Remus shot him a look and took a deep drag on his cigarette. "Yes, why indeed."
"So where did you go?"
"Does it really matter?"
"I suppose not," Sirius said with a shrug. He gazed at Remus through his fringe, then pulled his hair away from his face. "Remus, are you angry or something?"
"What? Oh, no, not at all," Remus said, waving his free hand in the air. "I'm just going into hysterics a little here."
"I can see that."
"It's just— You're Sirius, and you're a wizard, so that's—" Remus forced himself to make a stop and take a deep breath before meeting Sirius' gaze. "Listen— Sirius, are you that Sirius Black?"
Sirius looked down at his shoes and sort of huddled up. "Er..."
"Brilliant." Remus rubbed his forehead, eyes screwed shut. "Well, at least that explains why you smoke Regal Embassy."
It started with his shoulders shaking, but within seconds Sirius was full-out laughing. "That's all? My cigarettes?" he choked out.
"It does explain a few other things too," Remus said and sank down onto the couch. "Does this mean I have to address you as 'Sir' now?"
"Wouldn't I've mentioned that earlier in that case?" Sirius said. Still sniggering, he joined him on the (absurdly large and poofy) couch and held out an ashtray.
"Thanks," Remus said, stubbing out his cigarette. He frowned and then reached for his wand and Banished the ashes he'd left on the parquet.
"So," Sirius started but didn't get any further. He put the ashtray on the sofa table and turned to Remus, leaning against the backrest. "Listen," he tried again. "This doesn't change anything, right? I mean, I'm still the lout who reads you Shakespeare even when you don't want me to."
A smile tugged at Remus' lips. "Okay. Good to know that I won't be hanged for lese-majesty."
"'Course you won't,” Sirius said softly. He cleared his throat and straightened his shoulders. "So. Anything else I should know about you that you've forgone telling me?"
Remus pulled out his packet of cigarettes again. "No, not really. I'm pretty much clean now," he said, working out another cigarette. "You?"
"Yeah, same." Sirius tipped his head against the backrest. "You know, this whole 'baring of soul' thing wasn't all that bad. A bit girly, yeah" — Remus laughed and almost dropped his cigarette — "but not unmanageable. And all in all, the outcome is pretty nice. I mean, I got you into my flat after all, didn't I?"
"Indeed you did," Remus agreed, mirroring Sirius' grin as he lit up his cigarette. "And you know what? Now that I've seen the living room, I wouldn't mind a quick tour."
"That can of course be arranged!" Sirius jumped to his feet and offered Remus his hand with a bow. "Mr. Lupin?"
"Mr. Black." After tapping the ash off his cigarette, Remus allowed himself to be pulled up, feeling somewhat of a dunce and not minding a bit.
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair!"
Remus leaned out of his window, resting his hands on the sill as he looked down at the dark figure in the alley. "What did I say about reading me poetry by my window?"
"You uneducated berk!" Sirius called. His cheerfulness took the edge off the insult. "Rapunzel is the Brothers Grimm, not Shakespeare. Who taught you literary history?"
Remus raised an eyebrow, though he doubted Sirius could see it, him being backlit and all. "No one, obviously. Do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact I have. It's precisely joyride o'clock."
"No, it's time-to-sleep-off-your-drink o'clock," Remus said, wrapping himself up more tightly in his pyjamas shirt. "Wait, joyride what?"
"Yeah, about that..." Despite Sirius being a shadow in darkness, it was impossible to miss his grin. "Did I mention that my motorbike flies?"
Four minutes, a hurried change of clothes and three stairs later, Remus was standing in the alley beside Sirius. One minute after that, he was straddling the bike. Two minutes in addition to that, they were in the air, flying over London.
About then Remus lost sense of time. He was only aware that one moment they were soaring in the sky, the next they were in the middle of a meadow and the engine was cut off.
With the moon being merely a crescent, the stars had most of the sky to themselves. Their cold light didn't make Remus feel any warmer, though, pretty as they may be. He wrapped himself up more tightly in his coat.
"Are you freezing?"
"A little," Remus said evenly. "I mean, it's the middle of the night and November, after all."
Sirius leaned back. Remus was pillion passenger (again, naturally) so he rested himself against Remus' chest. "Better now?" he asked as he wrapped Remus' arms around his waist. "Comfortable?"
"Yes, very. Thanks." Remus rested his chin lightly atop Sirius' head. "But please warn me beforehand the next time you're going to kidnap me so I can dress better."
"But that would've ruined the whole surprise," Sirius protested cheerfully.
"The fact that your bike can fly is enough of a surprise, thank you."
"I told you she was brilliant!"
Remus shook his head, his lips threatening to break out in a smile.
The meadow they'd parked in was quiet. No noises but the slight rustling of the underbrush and the occasional owl's hoot. Remus' hands were resting on Sirius' stomach, which rose and fell gently with each breath. Sirius had one hand on Remus' and the other playing with the cuff of his coat.
"You know," Sirius started suddenly, "that first time we met, well, the second, really, but—"
"Oh, for the love of—!" Remus groaned and buried his face in Sirius' hair. "What now, are you going to turn into some kind of soppy girl on me? The first time we met, really?"
"Yes, I am, so shut up," Sirius said and swatted his arm. "So, where was I? Ah, right, the first sober time we met, when I was blocking your street door. Remember that?"
"How could I forget?"
"Don't sound so miserable! Well, anyway, I was convinced you'd clock me then."
Remus raised his head so he could frown down at Sirius. "As I remember it, you were quite certain I wasn't going to hit you."
"Bluffing," Sirius said. "Completely talking out of my arse."
Remus scoffed, although it sounded more like a laugh.
Sirius left the now-looser coat buttons in peace and craned his neck so he could see Remus' face. In a quieter voice, he said, "You know, I never thought you'd actually let me, well, stalk you."
"I never thought anyone would want to stalk me, so," Remus mumbled.
"Wow, thinking highly of yourself there, aren't you?" Sirius said, though the sobriety hadn't yet left his voice completely. "That's your philosophy of life? 'I'm not good enough'?"
Remus shrugged. "I just think it's easier trying not be noticed than have people be disappointed with you."
"Really? Well, I think it's better to disappoint them from the start. Which was why I acted like an utter arse in the beginning. Erm… sorry about that."
"It's all right."
A moment passed and then Sirius pressed his face against Remus' chest, trying in vain to stop breathless giggles from welling out of him. "Fuck, nothing went as it was supposed to, did it?" he gasped.
"No, doesn't look that way," Remus agreed with a small smile.
The windows were shut and all of the lights were out. Through a gap in the curtains, the rays of the dying sun were giving the dusky room an orange tint. On the record player Elvis Costello was singing about waiting for the end of the world.
Remus and Sirius laid splayed out on the floor, side by side on the carpet. Smoke from Remus' just-stubbed cigarette was rising to the ceiling, vacillating between twisting left and right as if it didn't know which way to take.
"You're never going to say yes, are you?"
Remus turned his head and found Sirius looking right at him.
"No," Remus confirmed, with a steady gaze. "So what now? Are you going to stop seeing me?"
Sirius smiled. It changed his whole face; he looked calm, soft, naked. This wasn't one of his of his stock smiles. "No, I'm not," he whispered and his voice mirrored his expression perfectly.
For a while neither of them moved or said anything else. Then Remus reached out and ran his fingers through Sirius' hair, tucking a few strands behind his ear; Sirius closed his eyes and leaned into the touch. Remus stilled, and a moment later rolled over and pulled Sirius into a tight embrace.
Sirius tangled his fingers into Remus' shirt and held on.
The vinyl had ended, the repetitive crackling echoed out of the speakers, but neither of them moved to turn the record player off.
"We can't keep doing this."
Sirius looked up from where he was crouching down in front of the refrigerator, glass in hand. "What, looking for something edible in this thingamajig?"
"I'm being serious."
Sirius' joviality faded and he carefully got to his feet; his body was as tense with apprehension as a wound string. "I'm not following."
"We can't keep seeing each other," Remus said, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. He didn't meet Sirius' eyes. "This has to stop."
"Why? You've put up with me this long, haven't you? Why now?" Sirius bit his lip. "Is it the flirting? Because I can quit that, if it disturbs you, I can, I promise..."
Remus pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's— That's not it..."
"Well, what is it then?" Sirius snapped. He swallowed. "Because, honestly, I can't see what else it can be. Have I done something? Are you mad at me?"
"No, not at all, you've done nothing wrong. Just... This can't go on, all right?" Remus gave the distinct impression of a caged animal, uneasiness increasing by the minute.
"No, it's not all right. If I haven't done anything wrong, then what is it?"
"It's me, okay?" Remus said, a hard edge in his voice. "It's me who's wrong, you're faultless, this has to stop."
Something disquieting flashed across Sirius' face. "Oh, really? And what's so terribly wrong with you that it makes it impossible for us to see each other?"
"Look, I'd really rather not go into that," Remus said through clenched teeth. "It'd only make matters ten times worse, and— just take my word for it, okay? It is that bad."
Sirius' face darkened. "So that's it, isn't it?" he said in a bitingly cool voice. "You don't trust me."
"What? No! I mean, yes, I do, it's just—"
A loud crash. "No, you don't!"
Remus stared. The glass Sirius had been holding laid shattered in the sink; Sirius was taking a shaking breath, his hand still twitching, almost convulsively.
"No, you don't trust me," Sirius repeated, a bit more composed this time. "You fucking well don't, just like everybody else.
"Did you know that there's a war going on? 'Course you do, because people are dying; dying, right now as we speak! But I'm not allowed to fight or do anything about it. My friends are, my sodding useless family is, everyone I know, everyone but me, because no one fucking trusts me!"
Remus was silent for a few seconds and then, eventually, asked in an even voice, "And why's that?"
"Because I almost killed someone once," Sirius snapped, though his shoulders were shaking. "And don't give me that look; I'm not lying!"
"Sirius, I don't think—"
"Well, it doesn't matter what you think, now does it? Because it's the truth, and it doesn't care what you think of it."
Once again Remus was reduced to staring while speechless.
Sirius' whole body was shaking by now, but his eyes were dry and his voice not quite breaking. "It was my sixth year at Hogwarts, just after I'd run away from home. I got into duels all the time, cost my house hundreds of points, and then this time I just couldn't stop...
"He, the bloke, he recovered completely, but since then..."
Sirius swallowed thickly several times. He forced a wan, hollow smile. "So... think you can top that?"
Remus just looked at him. Apart from Sirius' shaking, and his own trembling hands, neither of them moved. Then in a quiet, flat voice, Remus said, "I'm a werewolf."
"Listen, this is no time for joking," Sirius snarled. "I'm honestly upset and this close to flying at you, and I..."
Remus didn't say anything.
"Come on... You're pulling my leg, aren't you?"
Sirius let out a laugh; sharp, sudden and just a little hysterical. "You're joking, you've got to be, you have to be," he said, his voice quivering, turning pleading as he continued, "Please, tell me you are, Remus, please..."
Apart from a slight trembling in his jaw, Remus might as well have been a statue.
"Fuck," Sirius whispered, his eyes widening. "But... You can't, you can't be... you're— you're not— you are—" He staggered backwards, using the worktops for support. "Oh fucking shit..."
At long last, Remus moved. He blinked slowly, looked down at his shoes, and left the flat through the front door.
No one called after him.
Remus drew his gaze away from the loophole called window. "Mm, what?"
"We're done; everybody's packing up," Calum said. His bass was already packed away, its case resting against his knees.
"Ah, yes, of course," Remus said, glancing about their rehearsal space. The others were chatting away, halfway out the door.
Calum scratched his neck. "Remus, listen... Is something bothering you?"
"Why are you asking?"
"'Cause you've been acting pretty much like a zombie — more than usual, that is — for like a month now, and, well, that's not normal, right?" Calum's fingers tapped rhythms on his thigh. "So... Has something happened? Bad break-up or something?"
Remus smiled but it didn't reach his eyes. "No, nothing like that. It's just the season, you know, winter and all. Hard to be cheerful when everything's so dreary."
Calum nodded slowly. "If you say so..."
Calum shrugged. He got up to his feet and slung his instrument case over his shoulder. "Well, then. See you next time, Remus."
It took Remus longer than usual to pack up and get going and all in all, he didn't get home until nine that day. When he did arrive, he found a simple folded note lying on his doormat.
Are you free tomorrow? If so, please be present at Hyde Park, northeast area, by 16:00. You know who you're looking for.
Remus fell asleep sometime around three in the morning.
In the gloomy weather, without any snow and the trees bare, the park seemed stark and rather uninviting. At least other visitors were few and far between.
"Charming note you left me."
Sirius started and jumped to his feet, unceremoniously dropping the book he'd been reading on the bench.
Remus smiled, all disarming pleasantness. "Nice spot," he said. "Somewhat secluded but still with plenty of people around, should something happen..."
Not meeting Remus' eyes, Sirius sunk back down on the bench. "Sit," he jerked out. Remus obeyed, seating himself firmly on the opposite edge, and watched how Sirius with admirable subtlety performed a spell. The air around the bench glittered for a second before returning to normal.
"Oh, now that's very clever. A Perception Distortion Spell, right? That's complex magic, that."
Remus stilled. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I should've known this isn't the time to be glib." He placed his hands in his lap and looked down at them.
Sirius retrieved his book and leafed through it several times. "Listen—" he began, slamming the volume shut. "I— Look, I've— I'm sorry."
"For— For treating you badly." It sounded almost like a question. Sirius rubbed his face and then peered at Remus through his fingers. "It shouldn't have taken a month, this."
Remus shrugged. "It's okay. I don't blame you or anything."
"It's just— this, it's all— I don't— I don't know, and I— Argh." Sirius' hands went to his hair. "This doesn't make sense!"
Remus tucked his chin down the collar of his coat.
"I know that blood purity and all that is complete bollocks, I learned that when I was eleven," Sirius said. He let out a frustrated grunt. "But Dark creatures— Werewolves are beasts, always monsters, not human at all — I've never had reason to doubt that. And then you, and all your— your, your youness, it just doesn't add up at all!"
"Sufferers of lycanthropy are really only dangerous on the night of the full moon," Remus said with a wry smile. "Otherwise we're pretty normal. Books often forget that."
"Yeah, I noticed that," Sirius sighed, brushing his hair out of his face several times over. "Listen— I have— I just want to know, did— Are— Were you— Fuck. How long have you been a werewolf? Was it, you know, the whole time, or— or has it...?"
Remus stared at his folded hands. "I was five years old."
"Oh fucking—" Sirius clasped his hand over his mouth. "Shit, I— Oh, Merlin..."
"You really had no idea?" Remus asked mildly.
"Well, no, obviously. I mean, it wasn't like we were seeing each other every day. How was I supposed to know that I ought to’ve cross-referenced the days I didn't see you with the full moon?"
Remus nodded. "True. Point taken."
Sirius took several deep breaths. Then he turned to Remus and asked, in a more controlled voice, "So, well, you know, how does it work?"
"You know, the— the transformation. Do you, Iike, lock yourself up, or...?"
"The Ministry keeps cells where we're locked up during the full moon," Remus said, linking and unlinking his fingers. "And don't worry, those cells are further underground than any Department and the security is top-notch. If anyone would break out, Merlin forbid, he'd be dead before he got out of the room."
Nodding, Sirius swallowed twice before saying, "I— I see. I'm sorry, but I have to ask... Have— Have you ever— Ever, you know—"
"I've never killed someone, if that's what you mean." Remus looked up and met his gaze. "If I had, I wouldn't be here now."
"Ah, okay, I see," Sirius said, wetting his lips. He didn't say anything else after that for a while, so it took Remus a little by surprise when he asked, "So, that's why you've got the scars?"
"Your face. You have a few on your chin." Sirius touched his own. "I wondered where you'd got them."
"Oh, this one?" Remus asked and traced his finger along the short white line on the left side of his chin, ignoring the two longer ones on the right. His mouth curved into a faint smile. "This one I actually got from falling off the birch by our house. I was four, I think."
Sirius huffed a small laugh. "Well, that was a stupid thing to do."
"It was, wasn't it?"
Sirius looked at Remus and his smile faded. He sounded pained when he whispered, "Remus, I... I don't know what to do."
"Look— Sirius. You are a decent person. If you can't see me again after this, well, don't beat yourself up over it, okay?"
Sirius didn't say anything. Nodding slowly, Remus got up from his seat. "Thank you. Goodbye," he said and then left.
Apart from not telling you about my condition, I have only lied to you once. I want to make up for that and tell you the truth. I never went to a wizarding school. Not even a preparatory, because I wasn't allowed. I went to a Muggle school where my father taught and my mother made sure I learned Magic in theory at home. I didn't tell you because I was afraid you would realize what I am.
I'm not very good at friendships. I've always tried to keep to myself as much as possible, only you wouldn't let me. But I want to you to know that even if I've acted uptight and negative, these past months with you have been some of the best in my life. Thank you.
This was all I wanted to say. You don't need to reply to this letter. You don't need to worry about me persecuting you either. Though there is nothing I'd want more than continuing our friendship, I fully understand if you don't feel the same way. I won't harass you, I won't blackmail you and I won't soil your reputation by making it known we've been seeing each other. There are no hard feelings on my part.
As the last thing, I want to thank you for that meeting in the park. It meant more to me than you can ever imagine.
Now I'm finally done. You can burn this letter now, or Banish it if you prefer. But thank you for reading it to the end, Sirius.
Lo You Bes Reg
Remus looked at the letterbox of Sirius flat, down to the envelope in his hand (simply addressed 'Sirius Black') and back at the letterbox. Then he tossed the letter in and bolted.
The knock on the door seemed unnaturally loud as it echoed through the flat. Had it been a minute earlier, though, it would have been drowned by the shower. Remus flung the towel from his shoulders and pulled on his jeans as quickly as he could, nearly injuring himself in the process. He looked far from presentable in wet hair and a mostly-on tee, but this time he actually didn't care as he rushed to the door.
The lock clicked and then the door opened, revealing Sirius standing in the hallway. Half-hiding his face behind his leather jacket, he was nervously drawing on a cigarette and not quite meeting Remus' eyes. "Hello."
"Hullo," Remus replied, clutching the doorframe for support as his knees threatened to give way.
Sirius didn't say anything else, nor did Remus, and the silence stretched on to the point of actual physical discomfort. Remus was just contemplating slamming the door shut if only to escape it when Sirius spoke up.
"I got your letter," he said, words coming out in a rush of air and smoke. "And I— Well..."
Remus swallowed and his grip on the doorframe tightened.
"You know what? Bugger all this," Sirius said and met Remus' gaze dead-on. But as he continued, some of his confidence faltered. "Listen, this— I, I can't promise anything, and I know I've been acting like a fuckwit, and treated you badly, but I'm willing— no, I want to give this a shot, more than anything. That is, I mean, if you still want to, of course."
Remus' grip loosened. "Yeah," he rasped, then cleared his throat and, in a more composed voice, added, "Yeah, I do."
Sirius gave a small, tentative grin which Remus returned as he stepped aside, letting Sirius inside the flat for the very first time.
♮ fin ♮