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posted by [personal profile] marauderbigbang at 09:42am on 12/09/2010
Title: Full Value of Joy
Author: Di/[profile] dogsunderfoot
Artists: [personal profile] chalada and [personal profile] epithalamium
Pairing(s): James/Lily, eventual Sirius/Remus (also inc. Remus/OC and mentions of Sirius/OCs)
Rating and Warnings: PG-13 for language, off-screen deaths, sexual innuendo, and adult situations
Summary: After personal tragedy strikes, Remus disappears from the lives of his friends for five years. When Sirius finally finds him, Remus is reluctant to re-establish their friendship. Is it because of his unspoken grief—or something else entirely?
Word Count: 38,200 (Give or take a few words)
Notes: A few liberties have been made with the timeline for the Marauders—and the year of Harry’s birth.
Thanks and love to the twin-of-my-soul, [personal profile] remuslives23 for her support and help with this monster.
Also: thanks and adoration to ‘my’ wonderful artists: [personal profile] chalada and [personal profile] epithalamium. Hugs to you both because you’re fabulous!
Thanks, too, to [profile] fallenmelody and to [personal profile] brighty18, the mods. May you each reap the harvests that you have sown!
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all characters, places, objects, ideas, and related material are the property of JK Rowling and her various publishing entities. Neither the author, the artists, nor the [personal profile] marauderbigbang are in any way making a monetary profit from this posting.


*****


Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with. ~Mark Twain

*****


The doorman smiled broadly, completely ignorant of the fact that his yellow, crooked teeth made him look rather sinister. His apple-round pink cheeks and twinkling blue eyes fortunately softened the effect to the point that most people didn’t even notice the menacing incisors.

"Good morning, Mr Black. How are you this fine morning?"

George’s slight exaggeration about the quality of the day was easy to overlook when his most piercing of whistles was able to call a cab to the kerb in something like ten seconds.

"Doing well, George. And you?"

"Never better, sir, never better."

"How’s the missus?"

"Her lumbago’s acting up a bit, but she’ll be right as rain in a day or two."

Sirius slid into the cab and grinned. "Tell her to feel better soon, George. Stay as dry as you can today."

"You’re a fine man to think of me," George replied. In a rather harsh tone, he said to the driver, "Move along, now. Sharp-like!"

"Where to?" the cabbie asked, as George slammed the door shut and retreated back under the awning.

Sirius gave the man an address that was around the corner and half a block from the building in which he worked. He’d recently discovered a small coffee shop that made the world’s best coffee and he didn’t feel alive until he’d had at least two cups of it. He could also pick up the daily newspapers and the occasional magazine there.

"What do you think Man U’s chances are?" the cabbie asked, breaking into Sirius’ not-quite-awake thoughts.

"Manchester?" Sirius repeated. "Fuck. They couldn’t find the goal if it were painted bright orange and had flags flying on the top of it."

The cabbie laughed and they had a spirited discussion throughout the traffic-packed streets about Man U’s newest goalie.

"Mark my words," the cabbie said as he finally nosed the cab toward the kerb in front of Sirius’ destination, "he’ll be sent packing in three months."

"They’ll be lucky if it’s only three months." Sirius exited the vehicle then leaned into the passenger side window to press some money into the cabbie’s waiting palm. "It was a pleasure."

The man took a glance at the pieces of paper, surprise evident in his eyes. "Blimey, sir!"

Sirius grinned and backed away. Years of internships at publishing companies that paid him with nothing but experience had led him to take jobs bartending and serving tables. Once he’d found his niche at Vernon-Gray Publishing, he’d worked his way up the ladder, using smiles and a few well-twisted daggers until he’d achieved his current position. He appreciated what he’d been through too much not to consider the others who made life more comfortable for him now.

Inside the small coffee shop, Sirius picked up the two newspapers he usually read, and was pleased to realise the newest issue of Writer’s Point of View was on the stand. As an editor in a large publishing firm, he enjoyed the writing process more than most. He’d once intended to become a newspaper reporter but, after only eight months of university courses, he’d discovered he’d rather tear stories apart and rebuild them than create them from scratch. That didn’t mean he didn’t like to read articles about writing and the author’s mindset. Truth was, sometimes he’d come across insightful items that would help him to deal with recalcitrant and moody writers that he dealt with on a daily basis.

"Mr Black, we’ve got some delightful pastries today," the pretty girl behind the counter told him.

"No, Sally, I think I’ll stick to my usual." Sirius grabbed two Snickers bars and tossed them onto the counter next to the periodicals and the white paper bag containing the two cups of coffee.

She shook her head, but gave him a flirtatious glance from beneath long lashes. "You should get yourself a girl to make you some bacon and eggs in the morning."

"Oh, I’m perfectly capable of doing that for myself," Sirius assured her. "What I need is for morning to come a few hours later than it does."

He winked at her, snatched up his items and headed to his office.

"Sirius, Barbara Wellington called. She said she doesn’t understand those revisions you recommended last week."

Sirius rolled his eyes, but kept walking. His assistant, Emmeline, kept pace, flipping through a note pad and shifting sticky notes from one place to another.

"And Flitwick called, saying he was going to be late, and would you mind telling Helen to start on the research for that book for Minerva—"

Sirius held up the bag with the coffee. "Em, coffee first, think later."

"I’ve already had a cup—"

"I haven’t."

"You’re twenty minutes late, Sirius, and your schedule is full, beginning with that meeting with Mr Hoskins in forty minutes! Ms Vernon has already been down here looking for you and you’re telling me you’re incapable of thinking until you have a bloody cup of coffee?"

Sirius opened the door to his office, turning to block her from entering. "Be a darling and find Helen for me, won’t you?"

The woman opened her mouth to protest, but Sirius grinned even wider and winked. "You’re an angel."

"You always bloody say that," she grumbled, her resolve suddenly collapsing under the weight of masculine charm and brilliant grey eyes.

"And I always bloody mean it," he maintained, gently pushing the door closed.

He sank gratefully into his plush leather chair, reaching for one of the cups of coffee and the magazine. Mr Hoskins was forty minutes away which meant forty more minutes of peaceful employment. After that, well...

He’d edited three books for the eminent jewel in the publishing house’s crown and had enjoyed working with the man. The author’s latest manuscript, however, was shit. Sirius had no easy fixes for it—short of burning it.

No, the meeting was not going to go well, and Sirius half-smiled as he thumbed through the Writer’s magazine, scanning through employment advertisements and wondering if he should start jotting down the names and addresses. He opened the first Snickers bar and started to munch contentedly.

He paused at an article entitled, "How to Get an Editor to Work With You—Not Against You". Snorting in disdain at some of the writer’s suggestions, he licked some chocolate from his finger and turned the page.

"Why Did They Stop Writing?" asked the letters at the top of the page.

Sirius’ eyes drifted over the photographs of authors who had written several best-selling stories and novels, and then had abruptly quit, for whatever reason. Most of the photos were taken directly from book jackets or were copies of publicity photos. There were a few candid shots showing the authors in their new professions.

Sirius read quickly through some of the captions, opening the second Snickers bar. "You’re better off teaching maths," he said to the photo of one man. "Your last book was the biggest bit of tripe I’d ever had the misfortune to read. Gorgeous tripe, but tripe none the less."

He took a drink of coffee and turned the next page. There were only two photographs on the page: one of a wrecked car surrounded by fire fighters; the other was of a tall, sandy-haired man carrying a plastic bag full of groceries through a parking lot. The photographer had caught him looking over his shoulder, so the man’s face could clearly be seen.

Sirius slowly lowered the Styrofoam cup and stared more intently at the picture. A strange, suffocating feeling stole through his chest, robbing him of breath and making him very cognisant of every beat of his heart. "Oh, God, Remus. What have you done to yourself?" he whispered, his voice breaking with emotion.

The man in the photo said nothing and Sirius let his finger lightly trace the man’s face. He was thinner than the last time that Sirius had seen him—and he’d never had much meat on his bones to begin. His hair was long and stringy and he had a moustache and several days’ growth of stubble that was just short of ‘beard’ status. Sirius hated it, if only because he could remember the man laughing once, saying, "Who wants a caterpillar on his face?"

It was his eyes, though, that made Sirius’ heart hurt. Even through the graininess of a telephoto lens, Sirius could see they were haunted, aching with loss. Sirius found himself counting on his fingers.

It’s been five years. It’s still as fresh to him as if it happened yesterday...

Sirius glanced again at the photo of the wrecked car and steeled himself to read the caption: "Wolfe’s wife and son were killed in this accident, prompting the best-selling author to withdraw into relative obscurity in a small town in America."

America? Sirius took a long drink of coffee and stared at a spot on the wall. He’d guessed France. Peter had guessed South Africa. James had only half-jokingly said, "He’s gone to some Buddhist temple in Tibet."

The door to his office suddenly swung open and Emmeline came in, already mid-sentence: "—on her way. She’s already done some of the research, so you should be pleased. What won’t please you, however, is that Mr Hoskins is here. He’s—" She stopped and stared at the dark-haired man. "Sirius, are you all right? You look, well, you don’t look good at all."

Sirius sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger. "I’ll be fine, Em."

"Can I get you something? Something for a headache or something to settle your stomach?"

"No." Sirius managed to stretch his lips into a smile. "I’ll be fine. I just need a minute. Where’s Mr Hoskins?"

"He’s in the blue room. Are you sure I shouldn’t tell him you’re ill and—"

"I said, I’ll be fine. Just—go get the old boy a scotch and soda—"

"It’s not even ten yet!"

"Coffee, then! Damn it, Emmeline, just keep him occupied, please? And for God’s sake, don’t tell him I’m ill. The old bugger will smell blood and bring me down like a three-legged gazelle."

His assistant blinked rapidly several times. "As far as analogies go, that one was either bloody brilliant or the worst piece of shite I’ve ever heard."

"Consider it brilliant and be gone," Sirius ordered with a wave of his hand. Emmeline regarded him for another moment and then left, closing the door softly behind her.

Sirius leaned his elbows on the desk and pressed his face into still-shaky hands. "Fuck, Remus. I did not need to see this today."

Would tomorrow have been better? Why can’t one schedule shocking news? ‘Em, I need to schedule some time for dismay and sorrow at seeing how one of my best friends has ruined himself. Could you pencil that in around two?’ Fuck. I did not need this today. Why in the hell would Remus allow this?

He looked down at the picture, looking at the angle of Remus’ line of vision. He was definitely not looking at the camera; he seemed unaware of it altogether. And then realisation smacked Sirius in the face: He doesn’t know.

The editor shook his head disapprovingly. The magazine had no doubt been refused entrance into Remus’ world—with every bit as much finality as his former friends had. Unlike his friends, however, they’d chosen to disregard his grief and rejection and had gotten what they needed.

We gave up too easily. America. Bloody hell.

He gave himself five more minutes to pull himself together before making his way down the corridor to the room where Fred Hoskins was waiting.

Fred Hoskins had been a well-established author before he’d come to Vernon-Gray ten years before. Sirius had ‘inherited’ the honour of being his editor when another editor had retired. A more cantankerous, obnoxious man didn’t exist—but he wrote brilliant novels. Sirius could still remember the day that the Misses Gray and Vernon had come into his office and informed him that he had been given a ‘promotion’.

"You’re the best candidate to deal with him."

"You’ve got talent, Sirius, and more than that, you’ve got a way about you."

"With that silver tongue of yours, you’ll be able to get him to agree to changes, but still make him think the changes are his decision."

"You’re perfect for this."


Through trial-and-error, Sirius had finally discovered the perfect way to get the man to accept his changes. Most of the time, he was blatantly deceptive, offering back pages that had already been slightly edited and then telling the man that they would have to talk about edits to those. The man occasionally looked at the sentences and said he hadn’t thought he’d written it like that originally, but never pursued the issue, to Sirius’ relief.

Today, however, was going to be very different—and Sirius was of no mood to mollycoddle the man through it, though he’d have to try.

He plastered a smile on his face before he went through the door, greeting the man with an effusive, "Good morning, Fred!"

"You’ve kept me waiting," the silver-haired man snapped.

"Ah, yes, couldn’t be helped. Shall we get started?" Don’t expect me to apologise.

"I was ready to get started ten minutes ago."

So, the old badger was ready for a fight, was he? Oh, he’s come to the right bloody place, then.

Sirius took out the manuscript and put it on the table between them. "Before we talk about what you’re planning to write next, I have to share this with you." He forced a laugh. "You won’t believe what someone has done, Fred. Someone sent in the first three chapters of a book and used your name. Of course, once I struggled through the first chapter, I realised it couldn’t be yours, so I nearly chucked it in the bin. I saved it, though, thinking you might have a right good laugh out of it."

The man pulled himself up straighter, if it were possible, and stared at the bundle of paper in front of him. Even through the top sheet, he could see the red ink peeking through on the first page of the story underneath. "Young man—"

"Oh, I know, I know." Sirius held up a hand to stop him. "It’s not proper or nice, but I did think you might find it somewhat amusing that someone would even think of duplicating your style and talent."

He almost laughed at the man’s expression. The old man obviously didn’t know whether to be pleased at Sirius’ compliments or offended that Sirius had dismissed the new manuscript so offhandedly.

"You’re welcome to have a look at it, if you’d like," Sirius said, pushing the papers closer to the man.

Hoskins finally reached for it and started to flip through it, his eyes widening at Sirius’ comments and the red ink that bled from every page. He finally put it back down and folded his hands on top of it.

"Not much of a plot, eh?"

Sirius shrugged. "Well, the plot is not necessarily the problem. After all, how many bloody plots are there in the world? No, it’s the execution of it. No one would ever believe that a father would decide to turn his son in for murder just because he disapproves of the boy’s girlfriend. It’s not logical."

"But if the boy has caused problems for his father for years—"

"That’s not what it says, though," Sirius said. "If the son was that much trouble, there’d have been other brushes with the police, other times when he was ready to write him off. As it is, the author says on page six or seven that the son hadn’t given the father any problems until—"

"Maybe the father had been oblivious to the other things his son had done—"

"Then it needs to be said," Sirius insisted firmly. He finally leaned his elbows on the table and looked into the man’s dark brown eyes. "Fred, I’ve edited your last three books. Do you trust me?"

The writer’s eyebrows lowered and he answered slowly as if it hurt him to say, "You’ve done a good job for me, I’ll admit."

"Then trust me when I say that this manuscript doesn’t give enough. If you want to do something more emotional, then do it, but you’re going to have to give us the details. You have to make us understand why the father is angry. You have to take us step by step through it all. You have to make us feel the anger and the frustration and the confusion and the sadness. But more than that, you have to be willing to feel it if you want us to feel it. Are you ready to turn yourself inside out for the sake of this book?" He sat absolutely still, waiting for Hoskins to respond. Sirius’ authority had often been established by sitting motionless like this, letting an author decide how to respond to his straightforward honesty.

And then, suddenly, a memory from ten years before crept on velvet paws into his mind:

"You have to be willing to give more than this, Remus."

"I don’t understand—"

"You hold everything back. You hold your emotions back so much that no one knows what you’re feeling. You’re doing the same thing to your book! You have such a stranglehold on it, it can’t fucking breathe! Let the characters tell us what they’re feeling, not just what they’re thinking!"

Remus had walked out of their flat, obviously hurt and angry. When he’d come back, he’d sat down at the computer and started typing. His keystrokes were quick, sharp, and furious. After two hours, he’d come into Sirius’ bedroom and tossed twenty stapled papers at his friend and walked out. When Sirius returned the pages to Remus twenty minutes later, he had tears racing down his cheeks.

"God, Remus, if this is how you feel things, I don’t know how you get through one day."

Remus hadn’t looked up from his bowl of cereal and the crossword puzzle he’d been working. "That, Sirius, is why I hold things back so much."


Hoskins suddenly sighed and reached out to brush one hand across the top sheet of the manuscript. "You never thought someone else did it."

Sirius shook his head. "No. I was trying to give you a way to walk away from it."

"With my pride intact, eh?"

Sirius shrugged. "I thought if you were willing to fight me on it, it might be something worth fighting for."

The older man regarded his editor with something Sirius didn’t recognise. Then he picked up the manuscript and began flipping through the pages. "Do you think this is completely ridiculous? Fred Hoskins, writer of adventure and detective novels, taking on something like this?"

Sirius chuckled. "It’s a chance to prove that you’re a brilliant writer all told, not just a brilliant writer of adventure."

"But—?" the man pressed.

"I won’t let you take any shortcuts. I’ll demand that you give me everything."

The older man rose and tossed the sheaf of paper on the table. "Will you know how to do that without making it sound like a damn woman wrote it?"

Sirius smiled grimly, thinking of the photo in the magazine and a young 20-year-old man typing away furiously at God-awful hours of the morning. "I’ve done it before."

*


James had the door to his office open, anticipating a visit from a new client. As a result, he could clearly hear his secretary when she answered the phone.

"Good afternoon, Hennessey, Garber, & Jones. James Potter’s office."

There was a pause, and then Sophie giggled. "You’re going to get charged with harassment someday, Mr Black. You mark my words."

James rolled his eyes, almost fearful of whatever comment Sirius might have made to the woman. "Chances are, she’s right," he muttered.

"Mr Potter is in his office, would you like to speak to him? Just a moment, then."

James picked up the phone as soon as he saw the ‘hold’ button light up. A quick conversation with Sirius should put him in a slightly happier mood and make it easier to put his new client at ease. "Sirius! It’s been so long! Oh, wait. We saw you last night for dinner. Why can’t I get rid of you?"

Sirius chuckled. "It’s because you fed me last night. With food like that, you can’t possibly think I’m going to go away."

"I told Lily to put more saffron in the chicken."

"Cunt."

"Now what is it that happens if you eat saffron?" James asked slyly.

"My oesophagus will swell shut in a matter of minutes and I’ll turn a lovely shade of blue. Then I’ll fall face first into my plate and die, which might or might not ruin your dining pleasure."

"Hmm. I suppose how much pleasure I get out of it depends on how much of a git you’ve been, flirting with my wife."

"Would you rather I flirt with your daughter?"

"Sirius, she’s five."

"She’s already informed me she’s going to marry me."

"Only because she hasn’t had enough experience to know how much of a pouf you really are."

"Hey, for the right woman—"

"I suppose I should be glad you’re not flirting with my son, now that I think about it."

They chuckled and James could hear the creak of Sirius’ chair which meant that he was leaning back and propping his feet up on his desk.

"So, why are you calling, Padfoot?" The lawyer kicked his own feet up on his mahogany desk, narrowly avoiding kicking a stack of documents onto the floor. There was a deep sigh on the other end of the line. Worry scurried up James’ spine. He doesn’t sigh like that unless he’s genuinely upset about something. "Sirius?"

"He’s in America."

James inhaled sharply. There was only one person who could create that tone of regret and longing in Sirius’ words. Remus. It has to be Remus. Slowly he lowered his feet back down to the floor and leaned his elbows on his desktop."How did you find out?"

"There’s a story in a magazine, and some photographer got a picture of him."

James closed his eyes. A stupid photographer was able to do what we couldn’t: find him. "How does he look?"

Sirius’ reply was uncharacteristically subdued. "He looks like hell, James."

"Bring it over tonight, all right?"

"Six?"

James thought quickly. "Make it seven. Harry has football practice."

Sirius made a sound of assent. "Will you call Peter?"

"I will."

Sirius disconnected, but James stared at the receiver for a long moment.

America. Now we know where he is. How long until Sirius decides we need to do something about it?

*******


Sirius was leaning against the window sill, staring sightlessly outside, when Julia Gray came into his office and took a seat in Sirius’ leather chair.

"You’ve been terribly distracted today," she said without preamble.

He sighed and scratched at the back of his head. "Yes."

She rested her elbow on his desk and began to twirl a strand of her auburn hair around her finger. "You weren’t very nice to Marvin earlier."

Sirius snorted in disgust as he thought about the explosive confrontation he’d had with the children’s book division editor. "Marvin is never nice to me. I’m just finally returning the favour."

"Marvin isn’t nice to anyone," she pointed out. "Why is it just suddenly bothering you today?"

He turned his gaze back out the window. "Have you ever had one of those moments in which you suddenly realise you made a terrible, terrible mistake?"

"Haven’t we all?" She paused, both in speech and in the twisting of her hair for a moment before asking, "Has this anything to do with Mr Hoskins?"

"Fred?" Sirius glanced at her, smiled, and then looked away again. "No. This happened so many years ago that I don’t know if I can fix it."

He heard the sound of leather creaking as if she were settling herself into the chair more comfortably. "Would you like to talk about it?" she asked.

He considered telling her ‘no’, but the fact was that he liked his employers and was able to talk to them about anything. Julia Gray and Diana Vernon had taken a large risk hiring him over older and more experienced editors, and they let him know that they had never regretted it. Like older sisters, they teased him unmercifully about his looks, his sexual conquests—and the lack thereof—and anything else; but they respected his opinion and respected him. She deserved some sort of an explanation for his aberrant mood.

"When I was in secondary school," he began, "I met this bloke. We became friends—it was like we’d known each other since we were sprogs." His quiet chuckle was barely more than a puff of air. "It didn’t take me long to realise that he was destined for bigger and better things. We went to uni together. The professors didn’t seem to think he was anything special, but, God!" He shook his head. "He had a novel eating away inside him. He started telling me the plot one day while we ate cheese sandwiches between classes. After that, every day, he’d tell me a little more. It was fascinating: the characters were amazing and so believable, the plot was interesting and fun..."

Sirius closed his eyes. "Every time I eat a cheese sandwich, I remember sitting on concrete walls or in stairways, listening to him tell the next bit. After a while, it became obvious that it wasn’t just one novel, but a whole damned series. We sat down and plotted how he could expand some of his ideas into larger plotlines, not realising that it would all come to fruition."

"He got his book published? Is he someone I know?"

"Page thirty-seven," he said, without looking back. She was a smart woman; she’d figure it out.

After a moment, he heard the sound of pages being turned. "R. J. Wolfe?" Her tone was both shocked and inquiring.

"Remus," Sirius said softly. "Remus John Lupin, actually."

She was quiet for a moment, and he took the chance to look over at her. She was scanning the magazine article, continuously winding the strand of hair one way and then the other around her finger. He pushed himself away from the window and slipped into one of the plush wingchairs on the other side of the desk.

Slowly, her blue eyes rose to meet his. "I remember when Old Moon was published," she said thoughtfully. "I bought it to see if it was everything people were making it out to be."

"What did you think?" Sirius asked, his voice deceptively light.

She laughed. "I was insanely jealous and incredibly angry that we hadn’t gotten our hands on him first. And I mean that quite literally, because Di and I talked about how cute he was."

Sirius chuckled. "Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but I was the one who told him to send it to Snell’s. I was doing an internship there at the time and had high hopes they’d hire me. I thought they might appreciate the editing I’d done on Old Moon."

"You—?"

"We were roommates. He’d type a chapter; I’d ‘fix’ it for him. I went through it two or three more times as a whole and then he sent it in. Most of what’s in the published book is what he originally submitted."

"That’s highly irregular," Julia commented.

"Of course. But he’s an incredible writer and I’m a bloody fantastic editor. We worked well together."

"Obviously. Was that in spite of your arrogance and confidence? Or because of it?" They both smiled and then she asked, "What happened after that?"

"Snell’s got him another editor and I didn’t have him waking me up at three in the morning to read something because he just wasn’t sure it was any good or not."

"Did you stay in touch?"

"Until Dora and Teddy died, yes." Sirius reached over and pulled the magazine closer to him. "Remus has always been—different. He had a tendency to push good things away because he believed he didn’t deserve them. Considering his childhood, I’m not surprised that he was as fucked up as he was. And he’d be the first to say so," he hurried to say, seeing Julia was getting ready to protest. She closed her mouth and rolled her eyes, gesturing for him to continue. He crossed one leg over the other, letting his ankle rest on his knee, and reached down to fiddle with the laces of his shoes. "Getting him to propose to Dora took many, many nights of drunken conversations that I’m sure neither one of us completely remember. After she got pregnant, he left her for a month, because he believed he’d be a lousy father and she’d be better off raising the baby without him."

Julia tilted her head to the side. "You know, that character, Jasper, in Old Moon—"

"Oh, that’s Remus, up and down. He’d never admit to it, though. Once Teddy was born, Remus took to fatherhood like a duck to water. He was happier than I’d ever known him."

"And then this?" She motioned toward the article.

"And then that. He shoved his friends aside after the funeral. He wouldn’t accept our calls, he wouldn’t return our e-mails, and he wouldn’t even answer the door if we drove to his place."

"Poor boy," she whispered.

"The ‘poor boy’ took off without telling us where he was going. Bastard. For a year, I searched for him, but couldn’t find him. I just found out today that he’s been living in America." Sirius flicked his finger at the page in front of him.

"So, the mistake you mentioned at the beginning of this conversation—?"

Sirius rubbed his chin with the backs of his fingers. "Jules, would you be terribly angry if I said I might need to take a small holiday?"

*******


Peter tried not to be self-conscious as his eyes tracked across the bright orange highlighted lines, but it was difficult to ignore Sirius’ piercing stare. Still, he made himself finish reading the bit about Remus and went back to the photos on page thirty-seven. Finally, he gently placed the magazine down on the table and looked at Sirius.

"Well?" Sirius demanded.

"Well, what?" Peter blinked at Sirius’ almost aggressive tone. "I need a minute to process this, Sirius."

"He looks like shit," Sirius moaned. "Look at him!"

"He looks as if he’s twenty years older than his actual age," James commented, taking a drink of ale.

"We should have tried harder," Sirius said forcefully. "He needed us then. He needs us now."

"That’s not what he said when he slammed the door in my face five years ago," James shot back with a hint of anger.

"He didn’t know what he was saying. We knew he was hurting—"

"You agreed that we should give him some time and some space," James argued.

"Don’t make us guilty of a crime we didn’t commit, Sirius," Peter said sharply, more than a little irritated with Sirius’ attitude. Of course, he’s never been rational when it’s come to Remus. "Had we known he was going to leave like he did, we would have tried harder."

Sirius acknowledged the truth of Peter’s comment with a nod, but it was clear from the scowl on his face that he didn’t like it. "We should have known. I should have realised. He was so wrapped up in Dora and Teddy—I should have known that he was going to do something desperate."

"Considering everything, it’s a bloody miracle he didn’t commit suicide," Peter said, voicing the worry that had filled every waking moment in the weeks following the accident until Remus disappeared.

James banged the bottle down on the table. "What he did wasn’t desperate, it was cowardly. Fucking hell, Sirius, how many times did he say we were his family? Who would have guessed that he would have taken off to parts unknown without telling us? That’s not the way that you treat family."

"Not unless you’re Remus and you have the horrible family that he does. I won’t even go into my family to offer further proof," Sirius sighed and sipped at his ale. "I’m going to the States."

James and Peter exchanged glances. "Do you think that’s a good idea?" James asked. "If he hasn’t made an attempt to get in touch with us in five years..." He let his sentence trail off for Sirius and Peter to complete with their own assumptions.

"Maybe he needs to know that we still care about him and we still miss him."

"Maybe he doesn’t give a damn," Peter said quietly.

"No. I refuse to believe that!" Sirius reached for the magazine and turned it so they could see Remus clearly. "Look at him! He’s miserable! The Remus we knew would never let himself get to this point!"

"That’s just it, though, isn’t it, Sirius?" Peter folded his hands tightly together until his knuckles whitened. "This isn’t the Remus we knew. He hasn’t been that Remus since Dora died."

*


Peter’s words took the wind out of Sirius’ sails, and the dark-haired man fell sullenly silent. He didn’t know what to say to convince them he was right. Truth be told, he wasn’t sure he was. He’d hoped that a long talk with James and Peter would have solidified things in his head, made a path of action clearer. Instead, he felt more confused.

He allowed Peter and James to turn the conversation away from Remus to the things that were important in their day-to-day lives now. They tried to draw him into their light-hearted teasing, but he was in no mood for it. He grimly nursed his beer, responding only when necessary, his mind trapped in never-ending circles about what he should do—and how soon he should do it.

"I have to go," Peter suddenly said. "I’ve got to finish getting ready for my meeting about the funding for my project."

"When is that?" James asked.

"Monday. I still have charts and graphs to prepare, and some last minute data to enter, though."

James walked Peter to the door, where they stood muttering quietly to one another before Peter left. Once he was gone, James came back to the table and sat down across from Sirius.

The editor recognised the look in James’ eyes: he was about to say something he knew Sirius would not agree with. The perverse side of Sirius decided to tackle the issue head on. "You don’t think I should go."

James was silent for a long minute. "I don’t know, Sirius. He obviously doesn’t miss us or care about getting in touch with us. Is it right for us to push our way into someplace where we’re clearly not wanted?"

"He might be afraid we’re angry with him—"

"He should be! I am as mad as hell with him!" James exploded. "And before you go on, let me remind you that I know this is what he does. After all, he spent half of that month away from Dora in our spare bedroom. He sabotages his own happiness, Sirius, and then he expects other people to beg, push, or jolly him into accepting the things that were his in the first place."

"You know why."

"That’s an excuse," James snapped. "I know he had a bloody awful childhood, but he’s got to grow up and start accepting things like an adult. He can’t keep running away from things. And running from happiness and friendship is—it’s ridiculous."

Sirius rubbed his thumb over the condensation on the bottle, concentrating on the small print on the label. "You have to admit, James, if you always seemed to lose the things that made you the happiest, it might make you a bit jaded. It might make you want to push the good things away because you’re afraid you’re going to lose them anyhow. It’s a way of taking control of your destiny, deciding to get rid of those things on your own terms instead of losing them to the will of God, or the Fates, or karma, or whatever else has determined that you shouldn’t have it anymore."

"You’ve always made excuses for him."

Sirius looked up at the slight tone of disgust in James’ voice. "What do you mean by that?"

"Exactly that." James put his elbows on the table and leaned toward Sirius. "If it were Peter who’d told you to fuck off and then flew off to America without telling you, would you be ready to fly across the pond to find him?"

Sirius felt every muscle in his body tighten. "If Peter looked that miserable, I would."

James continued to stare at Sirius silently.

"What? You think I wouldn’t?"

"You want to know what I really think, Sirius?"

Oh, God, no, I don’t. I already know—

"I think you’re still in love with him."

Sirius made a scoffing sound. "It was a long time ago, James."

"I’ve loved Lily for fifteen years. You haven’t dated anyone seriously in the last fifteen years. Not since we all became roommates."

"That’s not true. What about Andrew?"

"Andrew was your first gay crush. He was little more than an experiment. You recognised that fact two days after he broke up with you."

"What about Alice?"

"That wasn’t serious. You only wanted to marry her because you were lonely."

"That’s a fine fucking thing to say."

James’ gaze was steady as he replied softly, "But it’s true, and you know it."

Sirius felt the weight of truth pressing down on him, pushing the air out of his lungs, making spots dance in front of his eyes as if he were going to pass out. "I loved her."

"You loved the idea of her. Lily and I were married, Remus and Dora were married, Peter and Eleanor were engaged... You were a third wheel no matter where you looked, and you hated that."

He couldn’t deny it. It was true. It was very, very painful, but it was true.

"It’s always been Remus, Sirius. It’s always been about him. You gave him everything, and he let you do it."

Sirius’ eyebrows lowered dangerously. "Be careful, James."

The other man ran a hand over the back of his head. "Sirius, when you first went to uni, what were you planning to do with your life?"

"I was going to be a journalist, but—"

"What did Slughorn say about your writing?"

"He said I had real talent, but—"

"Why did you stop writing?"

"I realised I had a better talent for editing—"

"And whose work were you editing?"

Indignation and anger made Sirius’ silver eyes flash. "That’s unfair!"

James banged his hand on the table, making the bottles and the other man jump. "Answer the question, Sirius!"

"He never asked me to do it! We did it for each other, reading each other’s pieces and offering suggestions and such."

"He didn’t offer to stop writing for your sake, did he?"

Sirius’ hands clenched into fists. "It wasn’t like that! He had more to offer than I did, writing-wise. And I did realise that I liked editing better than writing. It was a better fit for me, rearranging things and helping to fix things to make them stronger and better! I’m good at what I do, damnit, and I’m not going to make any apologies for it!"

"He let you do it. He let you give up your dream for his."

Sirius shot to his feet, shoving the chair back with an ugly scraping sound across the tiled floor. "No. He never did that. I helped him achieve his dream, yes, but it wasn’t at a price that I wasn’t willing to pay!"

"Sirius, calm down—"

"Calm down? You bastard! How do you expect me to calm down?"

"I didn’t mean to upset you—"

"‘Didn’t mean—’ Well, what did you mean by all this, then?"

James sighed. "I don’t know," he admitted, his shoulders slumping.

Sirius looked beseechingly at his friend. "I thought you liked Remus."

"I do! Hell, Sirius, he was as much my brother as you are." James lowered his forehead to rest upon his forearms for a moment. When he raised his head again, he was frowning. "Look, when we were boys, your dream was to write. And you gave that up for him. Without regret, yes, and yes, I know he didn’t ask it of you. But..." He rubbed his hands over his face. "Sirius, did you two ever talk about how you felt about him?"

Sirius fell back down into his chair. "Once."

"What did he say?"

"What do you think he said? He wasn’t interested."

"I don’t want your heart broken if you find him and he’s still not interested," James blurted out.

Sirius ran his thumb over the corner of the magazine, flicking the pages. "James, I’ve missed him. I’ve missed his friendship. I’ve missed the four of us together. I don’t want anything more than that." His fingers stroked the slick paper. "Well, with the exception that I want him to look happy."

James reached across the table and touched Remus’ photo. His fingertips brushed Sirius’. "I want that, too."

"I’m going to America," Sirius stated softly.

James smiled sadly. "I didn’t doubt it for a minute."

*******


"Snell Publishing."

"Yes, this is Sirius Black, over at Vernon-Gray. Could you tell me who R. J. Wolfe’s agent is?"

"I’m sorry, sir, but I am not authorised to give out that information."

"Could you tell me who has that authority, then?"

*


"Cornelia Stewart’s office."

"Hello, my name is Sirius Black, from Vernon-Gray Publishing. Is Ms Stewart in?"

"She is in a meeting. Would you care to leave a message?"

*


"Cornelia Stewart’s office."

"Hello, it’s Sirius Black. Again."

"And, again, Mr Black, when Ms Stewart is available to talk to you, she will return your calls."

"What’s your name?"

"Pardon?"

"I asked your name. I’ve been through this sort of thing before, so I might as well know your name so that the next time I call because she’s deliberately ignoring me, I can just say, "Hey, whatever-your-name is, it’s me, Sirius. How’s the weather over there on the south side?"

*


"Sirius Black."

"Mr Black, this is Cornelia Stewart."

"Pardon me?"

"I said, this is Cornelia Stewart."

"Good God. You do exist."

"I hardly think that remark appropriate."

"It was certainly more appropriate than ‘I’ll have to come over there and give Angela a thorough snogging for convincing you to call me.’"

*


"Cornelia Stewart."

"May I just call you Cornelia?"

"Is this you again, Mr Black?"

"I am nothing if not persistent. Though, if I do say so myself, I am also extremely handsome."

"You are obviously extremely vain."

"Well, of course. Wouldn’t do to have the looks that I do and not be able to appreciate it."

"I’m still not giving you Mr Wolfe’s phone number."

"Isn’t there anything I can use as bribery?"

"I’ve always wanted a Jaguar."

"The car or the cat?"

*


"Sirius Bla—"

"Sirius Black, you are the most interesting man I’ve had to deal with."

"I hope that’s a good thing, Cornelia."

"The flowers were beautiful."

"Good. I certainly paid enough for them."

"I haven’t decided whether the little model car was a stroke of genius or a sign that you’re truly mad."

"It’s difficult to tell, sometimes."

"Hmm. Indeed."

"Am I interesting and genius enough to get R. J.’s phone number?"

"I’ll probably regret this, but... Do you have a pen and paper handy?"

*


"I’ve got his phone number, James."

"It only took you six days. I’m impressed."

"I am persistent, charming, and interesting."

"And a complete and utter git. What kind of sexual favours did you have to promise?"

"Would you like to come with me one night and find out?"

*******


He stared at the phone all morning, going over what Remus might say, what he himself would say—and wondering if he should call in the first place.

What’s the worst that could happen? He could tell me to leave him the hell alone and hang up on me.

It was early afternoon when he picked up the handset and, heart pounding frantically and loudly in his chest, punched the series of numbers that would enable him to call out of Britain and into some unknown area of the United States. Even though he’d expected it, the actual ringing of the phone startled him.

Oh, fuck. What do I say?

Two rings. Three. Four. A mechanical voice came on the line to ask him to leave his name and number. Sirius replaced the handset. This was difficult enough without leaving a message.

He tried four more times throughout the afternoon and was ready to ask the answering machine its name so he could ask it how things were across the ocean. The final time was right before he left for the day. He eyed the clock on the wall, thinking he should have considered the time difference before hitting the redial button.

One o’clock there. Where would he have been all morning? Working? If he has—

"Hello?"

All thought and breath went out of Sirius’ body. The voice was raspier, slightly deeper, but it was unmistakeably familiar.

"Hello?" the voice asked again.

"Moony."

Of all the things in the world that Sirius had thought of saying, reverting back to a nickname he hadn’t used in years hadn’t been one of them.

There was a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the phone and then a quiet, "Sirius?"

"Got it in one, mate."

"Fucking hell."

"Nice. And I was going to say it was good to finally hear your voice."

"How’d you get this number?"

"Finally got pushy with your agent. I had to threaten her with plagues of Biblical proportions before she finally gave it to me. If it makes you feel any better, there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth involved."

Remus decided that was all the witty banter he wanted. "What do you want, Sirius?"

"I wanted to talk to you. It’s been a while, you realise."

"Yes."

There was an awkward pause, and then Sirius blurted out the first thing he could think of. "I’ve missed you."

"Have you?"

Sirius picked up a red pencil and began to doodle across the top of the closest manuscript—which was intended for the trash. "Yes. James doesn’t appreciate pub crawls—or rather, he does, but Lily doesn’t—and Peter just isn’t any fun anymore, now that he’s on the brink of some amazing scientific discovery and is desperate to find funding."

He could have been wrong, but he thought there was a slight chuckle after his breathless diatribe. "So, you’ve missed me because you’ve been inconvenienced?"

"And lonely."

"There’s no... significant other?"

"Who would have me, really? I doubt I’ve improved since you left."

"Gotten worse, no doubt."

"Absolutely." Sirius took a deep breath and then said, "You left us, Moony. Without a word, without a note, without any warning."

There was a long sigh.

"Why did you do that?" Sirius pressed.

"I didn’t want you to stop me."

"Mission accomplished, then. Why didn’t you tell us where you were once you’d got settled?"

"Oh, God, Sirius."

"We were worried about you. We had no idea where you were. James said you were in so Buddhist temple in Tibet."

"I couldn’t stay there anymore, Sirius. I felt like the walls were caving in on me."

"And so you went to America without a word?"

"I went to France first."

"The point remains."

"Then I went to Italy for a couple of months," Remus continued, ignoring Sirius’ comment and the point he was trying to make. "Then I more or less meandered through India and Australia and somehow ended up here."

"Somehow."

He could almost imagine the shrug of Remus’ shoulders. "It’s peaceful here."

"So is Dartmoor."

"You know what I mean."

No memories, no ghosts of the past, no-one to ask questions or to offer condolences; yes, I do know what he means.

"No-one knows you as R. J. Wolfe, then?"

"I think there are a couple of people who suspect, but they’ve been very good about it."

Was it one of those people who clued the magazine as to Remus’ whereabouts? Sirius wasn’t ready to ask about the article he’d seen.

"How are you doing? Are you writing?"

"No."

That answer should have told Sirius everything he could want to know, if he were absolutely convinced Remus wasn’t lying. The answer was a little too quick to suit him. "Your publisher is no doubt pulling their hair out."

"They can go fuck themselves for all I care."

"So, what do you do there in the wilds of the American colonies?"

There was a long silence and then Remus said, "I survive, Padfoot. I survive."

And with that, he hung up.

*******


Sirius waited a week before calling again. This time, he only had to try twice before Remus answered.

"Hey, Moony."

There was a long silence, and then, "You aren’t going to leave me alone, are you?"

"I didn’t know you wanted me to."

"The fact that I haven’t called didn’t tip you off?"

Sirius could hear many emotions bleeding through Remus’ words, and none of them were good. "Remus—" Before he could go any further, the other man stopped him.

"Sirius, don’t call me."

It took Sirius a moment before he realised that Remus had again cut the phone call off short.

*******


"Why don’t you try, Prongs?"

"Why are you calling me that? I thought you’d gotten out of that habit."

Sirius shook his head. "I don’t know. For the same reason that I’ve been calling him ‘Moony’, I suppose."

"Am I ever going to get the story about why you call each other those ridiculous nicknames?" Lily asked, coming into the living room and handing each of them a bottle of ale.

Sirius stared at James. "You’ve never told her the story of ‘Prongs’?"

James groaned. "No, and you’re not going to, either. ‘Padfoot’ is because Sirius liked to creep up behind us and scare the shit out of us. Remus named him after he’d read a book about the Grim—you know, the legendary black dog that is a harbinger of doom?"

Lily considered Sirius for a moment. "It fits, sadly enough."

"‘Moony’ is because Remus has always been a daydreamer. He’d get caught by Sirius’ antics more than any of us. He found himself in a rather unfortunate position when he had his pants jerked down right in front of a girl that he’d been lusting over for a while."

"You didn’t!" Lily gasped, staring at Sirius. Then she rolled her eyes. "My apologies. I forgot who I was talking to."

"I thought I was doing him a favour. Considering his, er, everything, I thought she’d be impressed and go out with him." Sirius shrugged. "James named Peter ‘Wormtail’ because when Peter refused to dissect his first lab rat when the time came. Peter brought the rat home and caught all kinds of hell for it. We wanted to call him ‘Ratface’, because honestly, when you look at him the right way, he does have some ratty features: the pointy nose, the small, beady eyes..."

James grinned. "‘Wormtail’ seemed vaguely kinder."

"God help someone if you decided to nickname someone you didn’t like," Lily remarked. "Now, what about ‘Prongs’?"

"No. Never," James said, pointing to Sirius and shaking his head. "Swear to it. Now."

"Oh, come on, James, you can’t expect me to—"

"Swear!"

Sirius’ gaze went from Lily to James and back again. A wicked smile appeared right before he said quickly, "It’s because of you, Lily, and his obvious pleasure in seeing you one day in that white dress you used to have—that strapless thing with the little pink flowers."

"Oh, you are dead!" James yelled, jumping out of his chair and pulling his friend onto the floor for an impromptu wrestling match.

Twelve-year-old Harry came into the room to watch the two men. "Mum?"

Lily shook her head. "Don’t ask, sweetheart. Just—walk away while you can."

Five minutes later, after a lot of cursing, insults, and two accidental collisions with furniture, James and Sirius crawled back into their seats.

"We’re getting too old for this shit," Sirius said, panting slightly.

James rubbed the elbow that had banged into the coffee table leg. "I hate being thirty-four. I feel so old."

"Yeah," Sirius agreed softly.

They sipped at their ale for a moment, and then Sirius again brought up the original reason he’d come over. "Maybe he’d talk to you. You’ve always been more—sympathetic and grown-up. He’s always respected you."

"Bollocks. I listened to him and told him what I’d do and then he’d do whatever you told him to do."

"Still, if you called—"

"Sirius, he told you to fuck off the last time you called—"

"Not true."

"Sorry. He hung up as soon as he heard your voice the last time you called. He told you to fuck off the last two times before that. He doesn’t want to talk to us. That’s all there is to it."

"But if you’d just try—"

Lily walked into the room, the cordless phone in her hands. "What’s the phone number, Sirius?"

James’ forehead creased in alarm. "Lily—"

"He’s going to keep badgering you until you call, James. He’s not going to leave Remus alone until he sees that Remus is going to be completely pissed off that we’re calling now. Phone number, Sirius."

"He might have some choice words for you as well," Sirius pointed out, digging in his pocket for his wallet and the creased piece of paper that he’d kept in it.

"Not with me, he won’t," Lily said firmly, pressing the buttons rapidly and then raising the phone to her ear.

The men stared at her in trepidation as she held up one finger, then a second... She tensed visibly and her eyes went unfocused as if she were listening intently to something.

"I understand completely, Remus, I do, but this is Lily, not Sirius," she said finally. She waited to hear Remus’ reaction, then pointed a finger at Sirius and grimaced. "He’s been hounding James to call you. They’ve been fighting about it, actually."

A pause.

"The couch is going to live, fortunately, but I have my doubts about the coffee table."

She smiled and winked at James. "If I’m the one calling, who do you think won?"

"Why will he talk to her and not me?" Sirius whispered harshly to James.

"Because he likes her and doesn’t like you," James replied quietly.

"Prat."

"Git."

"Arse."

"Bastard."

Lily’s voice got a little louder. "They’re arguing over who the biggest idiot is, actually... You think so? Yes, I can understand that. If you were here, I wouldn’t have to deal with them both alone, you know. I have to grapple with my sanity every day because of them."

She turned slightly so they couldn’t see her face as Remus supposedly responded to her gentle admonishment. "I know, dearie, but—" Again, she fell silent, listening. Her face changed subtly, becoming softer and sadder. "Oh, God, Remus, you know we understand why you needed to get out of England, but can’t you understand that we love you and miss you? It’s been so difficult because we didn’t know if you were even alive, for God’s sake."

She suddenly turned and walked back into the kitchen, leaving Sirius and James staring at each other in disbelief.

"Did she just walk away from us so we couldn’t hear this conversation?" James asked rhetorically.

"I do believe she did, Prongs."

The two men scrambled from their chairs and darted into the kitchen. Lily was standing by the sink, staring out of the window above it, speaking quietly. "...himself. He doesn’t mean to hurt you. We don’t mean to hurt you. We just don’t want you to cut yourselves off from us completely. Why is that such a difficult thing to ask?"

She didn’t turn to look at James or Sirius while she listened to Remus’ reply. Sirius noticed that she reached for a hand towel she’d had laying on the counter and clenched her fingers tightly into it.

"Remus, I’m going to be blunt, and you can tell me exactly how you feel afterwards, but I have to say it. I know you think you’re protecting us and protecting yourself by keeping yourself away, but it’s absolutely the most selfish and cruel thing you can possibly do. Bad things will happen, no matter what. Even if you never talk to us again, Sirius could still get shot because he’s had a sordid affair with some woman’s husband, or I could put cyanide in James’ eggs one morning because I’m sick of his snoring. Peter’s lab rats could break out and infest him with all kinds of horrible diseases. But to deliberately hurt and cut people out of your life because you’re merely afraid you’re going to lose them is ridiculous. We could be helping you through everything instead of knowing you’re suffering alone. You haven’t given us the chance to be the friends we want to be."

Sirius caught his breath and thought James had done the same. Lily bowed her head and listened some more. Finally, she said, "Can we at least call you at Christmas?" There was a long moment and then she nodded. She must have remembered Remus couldn’t see her, because she hurriedly said, "Yes, I understand. We love you, Remus. Yes. I’ll tell him. All three of them. Take care of yourself, all right?"

She thumbed the ‘off’ button and turned toward the two men. "Done. Happy now?" And then she burst into tears.

*******


It was a month later that Sirius sat staring at the phone again, the neatly folded paper once again in his fingers as he debated what to do.

He’ll just have to bloody deal with it.

The phone rang twice and then there was a breathless, "’Lo?"

Sirius spoke quickly so he could get everything out before Remus could hang up, should he be so inclined. "Remus, I thought you should know that James’ mum died."

He waited a moment, but there was no click, no dial tone. It seemed as if Remus might still be on the other end of the line. He decided to check. "Are you still there?"

"What happened?" came the muffled response.

"Cancer. They caught it too late to do anything more than just give her painkillers for the past month."

"Oh, God. How’s James?"

"Bloody miserable."

There was a pause, then, "How are you?"

Sirius blinked tears from his eyes and chuckled bitterly. "Bloody miserable."

"I’m so sorry, Padfoot."

Sirius almost missed the softly spoken nickname, but by the time he realised what Remus had said, the other man was already saying, "She was a wonderful woman."

"More of a mother to me than my own," Sirius said, truthfully.

"Yes, I know."

There was more than just acknowledgement of Sirius’ relationship to James’ mother. It was empathetic agreement—and Sirius heard the remorse colouring the simple words. Still, he didn’t point out that James’ mum had been as devastated by Remus’ disappearance as they’d been. He also didn’t point out that Mrs Potter had considered Remus a third son. By the regret in Remus’ voice, however, Sirius thought that maybe Remus was thinking it. "Er, I have to go. I need to get some work done because I’m going to take the next couple of days off."

"Yes, of course."

An awkward silence fell between them, and then Remus said, "Thanks for calling, Sirius."

Anger flared for a moment, and Sirius—who couldn’t be said to be the most patient of men in the first place—spoke before thinking, "So, it’s all right if I call you to tell you that someone’s died, but it’s not all right to call you because we’re friends and I want you to know I’ve missed you?"

There was a sigh, and he could almost imagine Remus rubbing his temple with two long fingers. He himself rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger tiredly. "Don’t answer that, Remus. I don’t want to fight about this now."

"Will you want to fight about it later, then?"

"Most definitely." Sirius did smile a little at that. "Thanks for not hanging up on me."

"Don’t make this a habit," Remus warned.

"Don’t make what a habit?" Sirius asked, hearing resentment rise in his voice that Remus was again going to grumble about him calling.

Remus didn’t answer right away, but Sirius waited. "Don’t make a habit of calling me with bad news," the other man finally said. "It might be—nice—to hear some good news. Occasionally."

Sirius felt some of the muscles in his shoulders unknot, and he pumped his fist in the air. Yes! "When I have some, I’ll call again, then."

"Okay."

"Take care, Moony."

"Give James my condolences."

"Of course."

They hung up without another word, but Sirius sat back smiling. Remus might just forgive him yet.

*******


"Sirius Black?"

"Yes?"

"Cornelia Stewart."

"Ah, the lovely lady that was so helpful to me."

"Yes, well. I just rang your office, and they said you weren’t going to be in. I wondered if you could possibly stop in at my office today."

Sirius glanced at his watch and made a few quick calculations. "Can I ask why?"

"I have something here—something unusual that you might very much like."

*******


An hour later found him sitting in a rather uncomfortable wooden chair on the other side of Cornelia Stewart’s massive desk.

"Let me offer my condolences on the loss of Mrs Potter," the white-haired woman said.

Sirius felt his eyebrows lower in confusion. "How did—?"

"Before I explain, let me thank you also for doing something that I was beginning to fear was impossible."

"What was that?"

Her brown eyes shone brightly. "You got him to write again."

*******


Sirius waited until he was in his car before he finally opened the manila folder. On top was a simple handwritten cover sheet for a fax. Sirius ran one finger over the familiar half-print/half-script that formed the simple sentences:

To: Cornelia Stewart
For Sirius Black. His mum, Abigail Potter, died yesterday. He’ll know what to do with this. Please excuse the imposition.
RJL


Sirius closed his eyes to keep the tears from falling. ‘His mum, Abigail Potter’. As usual, Remus had taken a few words and made them emotional landmines. Swallowing hard to dislodge the lump in his throat, he opened his eyes, blinked a few times, and then moved the cover sheet aside.

The sight of Remus’ handwriting, so long lost to him, made the blood thump wildly through his veins. It was everything Remus was: not altogether organised, occasionally rushed, full of contradictions. An ‘s’ might be printed in one spot, but written in another, depending on how quickly Remus was thinking and writing, and how absolutely engrossed he was in what he was doing.

For all that, however, there were few mistakes or corrections.

He always claimed he thought better with a pencil and paper than with a computer.

His eyes scanned over the pages. By the end, his tears were falling unchecked. He’d wondered if Remus had known how devastated Mrs Potter was by his disappearance, and if he’d realised she’d considered him a third son. By the obviously heartfelt words, Sirius now had his answer.

When he read the letter to James twenty minutes later, the other man also cried—and agreed with Sirius that there was only one thing that they could do with what Remus had written.

*******


Sirius stepped up to the podium and cleared his throat. "Today, I received a letter that James thought I should read to all of you. It’s from a good friend of ours, one who is too far away to be here today. Otherwise, I have no doubt he would be."

He opened the manila folder, running his fingers lightly over the Remus’ handwriting.

I hope I do this justice, Remus, for your sake.

He cleared his throat again and began to read: "‘Dear James, Lily, Harry, Katie, and Sirius—
I wanted to tell you how very sorry I am at your loss, but I know how very small that word, ‘sorry’, is when thinking about how much you’ve lost. It is an inconsequential word, a word truly incapable of expressing the grief and sorrow that exists when someone so dear is taken from us. There can never be a word to adequately describe how I feel at knowing that the most graceful and gracious lady I’ve ever known is no longer here among us lesser mortals.

"‘I know there will be many people at the funeral service who will remember your mother for her beautiful gardens. There will never be redder roses or more vivid peonies anywhere than in your mum’s back garden. I never see lilac without thinking of how she made me trim that shrub at the corner of the house because only I was tall enough to reach the upper branches. The small pond in the centre of the garden was always a sanctuary against the chaos of a world gone mad.

"‘There will be others at the service who will remember the parties that she organised, and her bizarre predilection for unusual hats, which led to more than one joke about her being the ‘Mad Hatter’. Others will remember her devotion to her causes. The Historical Society will finally be able to name that wing of the local museum after your mother, now that she is not there to protest the idea.’" Sirius paused, half-smiling, as he allowed the few titters of laughter to die down. The next part would be difficult, however, and he steeled himself for the brutal words and the images that they would conjure.

"‘But I will remember your mother as the one woman who taught me that there is more to being a mother than alcohol-induced comas and alcohol-fueled rages. She taught me that a mother doesn’t need to be abusive or hurtful, doesn’t need to hit or swear. She taught me that a mother’s love doesn’t demand tears and apologies after bruises or broken bones. Through your mum, I discovered a new world: one of peace, warmth, and safety. I longed for her smiles of approval, felt sadness beneath her gazes of displeasure, and relished the gentle pat on my shoulder that meant she was proud of me.’"

Sirius’ voice cracked and he gripped the sides of the podium as he blinked several times to bring himself back under control. He had to get through this without crying. For Remus, if no one else.

"‘I never told her how I felt, and I regret that deeply. I hope she understood that my respect and love for her could be found in simple things like helping her trim lilac shrubs, and peeling potatoes, and painting that bloody bedroom three times until she was satisfied with the colour. I hope she understood that one of the only reasons why my name exists on the covers of books is because she once said to me: ‘You have a gift. Don’t waste it.’ I didn’t want to disappoint her.

"‘I wish she had been my mum, too, James. She was truly an amazing woman and I adored her.’" Sirius very carefully closed the folder and looked down at James. The other man smiled through his tears and nodded in approval.

Sirius cast a glance over the sniffling crowd, fully realising something that he’d only half-recognised up until then. You knew, Remus. Somehow, you knew that I’d want to say what Mrs Potter meant to me and you—and I’d never be able to find the words. It’s always been that way for us, and I miss that. Don’t you?

******


The lift doors opened, and Sirius’ step forward faltered when Emmeline suddenly appeared in front of him.

"The misses want to see you," she announced, looking both curious and concerned.

Sirius’ mind immediately began sifting through things he’d done, things he hadn’t done, and what could have gone wrong while he was out of the office for the past four days. None of the things he could imagine seemed drastic enough to be called to the offices of Julia and Diana. He nodded to Emmeline and pushed the button for the next floor.

Oh, God, it had better not be Fred Hoskins complaining that I didn’t return his phone call the other day. I told Emmeline to call and explain that I was attending Mrs Potter’s funeral and would call him today. The bastard is probably still upset that I said that last chapter was crap and is looking for a reason to get me fired.

He brooded on Fred Hoskins, his footfalls becoming firmer and louder as he walked. He was mumbling under his breath about arrogant authors and old fools by the time he pushed the door to Miss Diana’s office.

"...out of his contract," Di was saying, her eyes intent on her laptop’s monitor. "How much do you think it will cost us?"

I couldn’t have pissed him off so badly that he wants out of his contract! For God’s sake, isn’t he adult enough to handle a little criticism?

Julia was casually leafing through a publishing magazine. "I don’t know. Certainly a few thousand. Sirius said—" She caught sight of the man standing in the doorway and smiled broadly. "Speak of the devil."

Di looked up from the screen and stared at him for a moment before saying, "Nice tie."

Sirius glanced down, unable to remember which one he’d grabbed that morning. It wasn’t anything special, merely a mottled mass of reds and greys.

"What she means is, that suit looks amazing on you," Julia translated.

"It fits so nicely," Di drew the last word out, punctuating it with a feral grin.

"You are not allowed to think such things," Sirius said, shaking his finger at the brown-haired woman. "You’re married."

"Oh, I can think those things," Diana protested. "I just can’t do what I’m thinking I’d like to do."

"You realise I can have you two charged with sexual harassment," Sirius warned.

Julia and Diana exchanged glances and then burst into laughter.

"Sit down, Sirius, and let’s have a bit of a chat, shall we?" Julia said, motioning to the mate of the chair in which she was seated.

"How effing long does it take for an e-mail to cross the ocean?" Di muttered crossly, staring at the laptop once again.

"I told you, he probably didn’t even write a resignation letter yet. He wants to see what we know first," Julia admonished her friend lightly.

"I don’t know why in the world he wouldn’t think we’d fire his ass."

"Because he’s stupid, hon. Incredibly stupid."

Sirius waited patiently, sipping at his coffee from the shop around the corner. While it seemed like something interesting was happening, he knew they wouldn’t tell him unless they thought it was necessary.

"Sirius, are you still thinking that you need a small holiday?" Julia asked suddenly.

He sighed. "Not at this moment, I don’t think."

Her eyes were full of sympathy. "Mr Wolfe, er, Lupin still doesn’t want to talk to you?"

Sirius sighed. "He has finally agreed to let me call him occasionally. It only took three months and Mrs Potter’s death to get that far. If I announce I’m coming to visit, it might send him into the wilds of Canada or to Timbuktu or something."

Diana sat back in her chair, chewing on the inside of her cheek thoughtfully. "How would he react if you said you had to discuss a business proposition with him?"

Sirius’ eyebrows rose slightly. "What kind of business proposition?"

"We want him," she replied bluntly. She looked toward Julia and a wicked smile appeared. "In more ways than one, actually..."

"Two hot boys under one roof may be too much for us to handle," Julia said, her expression mirroring Di’s. "But we’ll take our chances."

"You know him, you’ve worked with him, and, regardless of what was happened in the past five years, I’d be willing to wager he trusts you and your work." Something on the computer screen caught Di’s eye, making her pause. She slid her finger over the touchpad, muttering, "Finally!"

Julia picked up the thread of her business partner’s thought. "How happy has he been at Snell’s?"

Sirius shrugged. "He never complained to me."

"Do you think we could convince him to sign with us? Is there a specific set of conditions or something that we could use to lure him over here?"

"I really don’t know." Sirius exhaled loudly. "You’d have to talk to him—or talk to Snell’s. He hasn’t written anything for five years. They may be willing to release him since he hasn’t done anything recently."

"I wonder how much pressure they’ve put on the poor boy?" Di wondered, turning her laptop around and pushing it toward Julia.

Sirius waited until Julia read whatever it was on the monitor. She started twisting a strand of hair around her finger as she did.

It must be serious.

"What a fucking lie!" she suddenly exclaimed.

"My thought exactly," Diana agreed. "Sirius?" She waited until his grey eyes met hers and then said, "Congratulations. You’ve been promoted. We’ll discuss your salary and all that crap later, but for now, we need you to get on a plane to the States."

Sirius slowly straightened, blinking rapidly in shock. He’d known the partners to do some mad and maddening things at times, but this was rather unprecedented. "What are you talking about? What kind of promotion? And why am I going to the States?"

Julia rolled her eyes as if it should be all self-evident. "To sign Lupin, of course. And to settle the mess in our Philadelphia office."

"What mess?"

"Bloody stupid Lucius Malfoy has decided he wants to start his own publishing company and he’s trying to take some of our best American authors with him. It says in his contract that he’s not allowed to start his own company or poach our authors should he leave us, but he’s trying to do it behind a screen of someone else’s name," Di explained quickly. "He fucking denies all of it, the ratfink bastard."

Sirius stifled a chuckle at the transplanted American’s epithet. "And what am I to do, exactly?"

"Punch him in the nose," Di suggested.

"Kick him in the balls," Julia countered.

"I like that better," Di conceded, with an appreciative nod. "We don’t care. Just get him to understand that he can leave— with our blessings at that—but if he tries to take anyone with him, we’ll sue him for everything he owns, including those incredibly pretentious Italian loafers he likes."

Sirius smiled. He’d met Lucius Malfoy several times and had never liked him. This could be rather fun.

"We’re not going to tell him you’re coming," Julia warned.

"So, be prepared for anything," Di said. "Knife in the back, poison in the coffee..."

"We’ll have a letter for you to hand deliver to him that explains you have our authorisation to deal with him as you see fit."

"And if he so much as twitches without your permission after you hand that letter to him, fire his stupid ass."

Sirius couldn’t hold back his laughter any longer. After a moment, Julia and Diana joined him.

"God, I love working for you two," Sirius finally said. "What is the official title of my new position? I should know that before I go kick Lucius in the balls."

The two women stared at each other, uncharacteristically speechless.

"I have no idea what you’d call it here," Di mused. "I guess you’re our Chief of Operations?"

"Some kind of Executive Operating Officer?" Julia shrugged.

"We’ll have to call someone and get your official title, I suppose." A mischievous gleam appeared in Diana’s eye. "How about ‘Di and Julia’s Boy Toy’?"

"‘Di and Julia’s Muscle’?"

"‘Editing God’?"

"‘Operations God’?"

Di shrugged. "We’ll work it out."

"Just get your gorgeous arse on a plane and get moving," Julia said firmly.

*******


The taxicab’s tyres squealed as it pulled away, leaving Sirius standing outside the building that housed the Philadelphia branch of Vernon-Gray Publishing.

Sirius had been to the Philadelphia office three or four times, sent to help with some kind of editing problem, or because Julia and Di needed a confidential manuscript or document delivered in person. He’d been treated nicely enough, but dismissed as soon as his mission had been accomplished. This time, he strode into the main lobby with his most expensive wool suit and black cashmere topcoat. He looked every inch an executive, and he felt a guilty pleasure at the looks he was already getting.

He went to the reception desk that served all the businesses that shared the building and leaned on it, winking at the matronly woman who seemed unable to do anything but stare at him. "Sweetheart, could you please tell me if Lucius Malfoy of Vernon-Gray is in yet?"

"Uh, yes, he just arrived a few minutes ago."

"Perfect." Sirius straightened. "Have a wonderful day, won’t you?"

"Thank you," she responded weakly, seeming confused. "You, too."

He smirked at her. "Oh, I most definitely will."

The lift doors opened on the ninth floor, and Sirius strode into the reception area for Vernon-Gray Publishing. The two receptionists looked up, their jaws dropping slackly.

Damn, I look good.

"Ladies," he said. "I’m here to see Lucius Malfoy."

The older one looked down quickly at the appointment book. "Your name?"

"Sirius Black, but my name won’t be there," he replied. "You might want to pencil me in for the rest of the day, however."

*


Lucius Malfoy slowly folded the letter and put it back into the envelope. "Well, congratulations on your promotion, Black."

"Thank you." Sirius sipped at his coffee and shuddered. "Good God, Malfoy, this is the worst coffee I’ve had in months."

"Well, thank you for coming all the way from London to let me know that," Lucius said, tilting his head slightly, inviting Sirius to tell him exactly why he was there.

Sirius reached across the desk and spun Malfoy’s phone around and hit the button to call the man’s administrative assistant.

"Yes, Mr Malfoy?"

"Actually, this is Mr Black. Do you think you could do a favour for me and find me an actual cup of coffee?"

"I thought I—"

"Stacey—your name is Stacey, right?—Stacey, I like my coffee so strong that a spoon can stand upright in it. Do you think you could find something like that for me?"

"I’ll see what I can do, Mr Black."

"You’re an angel."

Sirius pressed the button again, but sat staring at the phone thoughtfully.

"Is there a problem, Black?"

"Well, there might be a small one. See, Julia and Diana are a little concerned about some rumours they’ve heard recently."

"Oh? What kind of rumours?"

"The ‘he’s planning on starting his own publishing company and stealing away some of Vernon-Gray’s best authors’ kind of rumours."

"Oh, really? I hadn’t heard that," Malfoy said calmly, smiling slightly.

"Really? Well, what a relief." Sirius put the coffee mug on the desk, giving it a little extra push to make it slide away from him. "I was absolutely shocked when the girls told me."

The Executive Editor of the Philadelphia branch sat back in his chair and picked up a sleek, silver pen. "I admit to being absolutely shocked as well."

"I can tell."

Malfoy tapped the pen against his lower lip. "It’s horrible how rumours get started."

"How do you suppose those rumours got started?"

"God knows."

"Yes, I’m sure He does. And I’m here to find the origins of those vicious, terrible, little stories." With a smirk, Sirius reached into the inner pocket of his suit jacket. "Let’s ring Alastor Moody, shall we? He’s one of the authors they say you’re taking to the new publishing company. Let’s see what he knows about it, shall we? How do I get an outside line?"

Malfoy’s smile diminished slightly and his eyes were much harder than a few minutes ago. "Moody is very temperamental. Disturbing him with this rumour might lead him to believe that our company is troubled and in danger of collapsing from the inside."

"Really?" Sirius held up the receiver. "Do I press here, where it says, ‘Line 1’?"

The blond man frowned. "Yes, but I warn you that if Moody takes this call badly, I will be ringing London directly afterward."

Sirius nodded and commenced with pushing the digits according to the paper he’d unfolded and laid on the desk. He saw Malfoy trying to read the other names on the paper beneath Moody’s, so he deliberately turned the paper upside down.

The frown became a glare, but Sirius smiled. "The phone is ringing. Ah, here we are. Yes, Mr Moody, this is Sirius Black. I work at Vernon-Gray Publishing... No, there’s no problem, really, just a small matter of some clarification... Good. Mr Malfoy wanted me to ask you if you had given any more thought to his proposition about signing on with his new publishing company."

Across the desk, Malfoy stiffened, and his eyes narrowed. "This is totally inexcusable," he said. "You are completely misrepresenting yourself."

Sirius held a finger to his lips and then pointed to Malfoy. "Sorry about that, Mr Moody. You were saying? Yes, he most assuredly did listen to your concern that his company might not be able to compete with the percentages you’ve already been granted. Your fame and your talent precede you, however, and I’m sure your book sales will be just as wonderful with his new company... Well, yes, I do work for Vernon-Gray, but Mr Malfoy’s new company is so incredibly interesting." He drew the last word out, his grey eyes intent on Lucius’ cold blue ones. "I tell you what, Mr Moody. How about if I have someone get in touch with you in the next couple of days to help you make a decision? Splendid. I look forward to working with you."

Sirius disconnected, but his finger hovered over the button that would give him access to the outside line. "Who do I try next, Malfoy? Cornelius Fudge? Marlene MacKinnon? Or should I just call Tom Riddle right now and ask him about the company he’s setting up right now—and how, after the loyalty clause in your contract expires, he plans to sell it to you for an absurd amount of money?"

"You have no proof," Malfoy snarled, tossing the silver pen down on the desk.

"I’ve got all the bloody proof I need," Sirius said, picking up the pen and tucking it into his shirt pocket. "Consider your arse fired."



*******


It took two days to sort through the editors and their qualifications and personalities to find the right person to take Lucius Malfoy’s place. Actually, it took Sirius only three hours to decide he had the right person. The rest of the time was spent interviewing those who felt they had a justifiable reason for having the job and for soothing ruffled feathers when they realised Sirius had made his choice.

Sirius also used the time to do some investigating. Two mornings after installing Kingsley Shacklebolt as the head of the Philadelphia branch, Sirius stepped on a plane bound for Pittsburgh.

*


"Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?" James queried.

Sirius exhaled loudly. "What else can I do, James? You know if tell him I’m coming, he’ll run away again. Or hide."

"It feels too much like ambushing him."

"Well, yes, that’s because it is. I have to give him these books from your mum. I don’t want to leave them on his front stoop without an explanation, especially considering how expensive they are."

"That’s assuming he has a front stoop. He might be living in a cave for all we know."

"Considering the countryside I’ve seen on the way here from the airport, I think it likely."

"Is it really that horrible?"

"No, it isn’t," Sirius admitted. "Actually, what I’ve seen is very pretty. My hotel room is quite comfortable, too. Nothing crawling between the sheets but me tonight."

James made a few sexual innuendoes that Sirius responded to with even more filthy ones and then they said their goodbyes.

Lost in thought, Sirius absently flipped his cell phone closed and open again several times. He would only have one chance, and he had to strike the right chord.

The answering machine took his call, and he took a deep breath before saying lightly, "Remus, I’m in Pittsburgh. Well, not technically in Pittsburgh—I’m at a hotel not too far from the airport. I’d like to see you, and I have something for you from James’ mum. Before you tell me to shove off, let me warn you that I have your address in my hand. Yes, I do. I have ways of getting information, you understand." He paused to give an evil laugh. "I also have my laptop and internet access, so I can get directions to your place with just a few taps of my fingers. So, here are your options: By what the desk manager said, you can have your arse here in two hours. Now, I know you could be busy right now, so I won’t expect you here in exactly two hours from this moment. However, if you haven’t graced me with your presence by dinnertime, I’m renting a car and coming to find you. I will warn you that I still drive as fast and as badly as I ever have. Do you think I can remember to drive on the right-handed side of the road all the way down to your place? The time is one o’clock, Moony. The countdown has begun."

*


Sirius glanced at the clock before thumbing his cell phone open. It had been almost two hours since he’d called Remus.

"Sirius Black."

"For God’s sake, Sirius, stay. There is no need to endanger innocent people. Where exactly are you?"

Triumphantly, Sirius gave Remus the name of the hotel and his room number, and then settled back to wait.

*


As a knock went, it was surprisingly common. It wasn’t timid, as if Remus didn’t really want Sirius to hear it, and it wasn’t demanding, as if Remus were trying to beat the door down and kick his arse for his arrogance. It was just a knock: three quick, sharp taps with bony knuckles against a hollow steel door.

And yet, it made Sirius’ heart stop.

He went to the door and opened it eagerly. The tall figure standing in the hallway was so familiar, yet so alien. He was the same height and had the same thin build that Sirius could remember; but the beard and the long hair pulled back into a tail that hung just slightly below slumped shoulders made Remus seem like someone new. It wasn’t until he looked into the familiar blue of Remus’ eyes, however, that the grin Sirius had been wearing disappeared. He could see the pain he’d seen in the magazine photograph, but the knowledge that he was seeing the ache firsthand made tears suddenly spring to his own eyes.

"God, Remus." He flung himself forward, wrapping his arms around Remus’ shoulders, oblivious to the tension in Remus’ frame at first. "I’ve missed you."

Remus clumsily patted him on the back. "You’re a bloody fool, then."

Sirius pulled back, now feeling the taut muscles and the vague, desperate tugs that Remus was making against his embrace. "Come in, Moony. Check out my lodgings."

Remus followed Sirius into the room, his eyes dutifully scanning the room. "As far as hotel rooms go, I’d say it’s a nice one."

"Soft drink?" Sirius offered. "Or, even better, how about dinner?"

Remus smiled lopsidedly. "You’re as bottomless a pit as ever, aren’t you?"

"It should be nice to know that some things don’t change. I thought dinner might give us the perfect opportunity to catch up."

"So, really, you’ve only called me up here because you want me to chauffeur you to places to eat."

Sirius shrugged. "Someone has to do it. Why not you? I can pay you for your trouble." He smirked. "I’ve got a corporate credit card."

"Whatever possessed your boss to give you that?"

"Whatever it was that possessed them to give me a promotion and a raise."

"They do realise you’re insane." It was more statement than question.

"That’s what they love about me. Well, that and the fact that I fill out a suit rather well."

Remus snorted in amusement. "Have a preference? Steak? Seafood? Italian?"

"I’m so hungry, it all sounds good."

The brown-haired man pulled his keys from his pocket. "Let’s go, then."

He led Sirius down to the car park and wordlessly pointed to a blue SUV.

"I wouldn’t have picked this vehicle for you," Sirius said as he clambered into the passenger side.

Remus peered at him, tilting his head slightly. "Why? What’s wrong with it?"

"You were the one wondering how many books you’d have to sell in order to get an Aston-Martin."

At first, Remus said nothing, easing the Jeep out of its parking spot and then onto the road that ran in front of the hotel. "An Aston-Martin would never be able to get up my road in the mud or the snow. Actually, to call it a road is a compliment. It’s nothing but ruts with gravel."

"You live that far away from civilisation?"

"No," Remus said curtly. His jaw clenched for a moment and then he softened his tone. "It’s a poor area. There isn’t much money for paving every backwoods road. They barely have enough money to keep the existing roads in decent repair."

Sirius didn’t bother to hide the long look he gave his friend. It had been five years since he’d had to read Remus’ subtle gestures and expressions, but he remembered enough to realise what he was seeing. "You’re really pissed off that I called you."

"Well, fuck, Sirius! What did you expect?" Remus exploded, slapping the steering wheel with the palm of his hand. "It’s so bloody typical: you call, and you expect everyone to drop everything to come and attend to your every whim."

Sirius reared back as much as the seat would allow. "That’s not—"

"So, ‘I’ll give you two hours to get your arse here, or I’ll drive in a terrible manner to invade your house and home’ doesn’t sound vaguely familiar?"

"If you were so angry about it, why didn’t you just tell me to bugger off?"

"You bloody threatened to come anyhow! Besides, I know the way you are. You’ve found my phone number, my address, and yes, I have no doubt you’d have found directions on the internet, if you’d had to. You’d probably gone out and bought a bloody GPS system if you’d thought it would help."

"If you were going to be this angry, you should have told me to stay away," Sirius said. "I wanted to see you, but not enough that I want to spend a couple of hours being yelled and cursed at."

Remus again fell silent as he manoeuvred the Jeep through a busy intersection and then eased into the other lane.

"The truth is, Remus, you wanted to see me every bit as much as I wanted to see you," Sirius continued softly, somehow intuiting exactly what was bothering his reclusive friend. "You’re angry because of that. You don’t want to be happy to see me, because then you’ll have to rethink what you’re doing, hiding out in the middle of nowhere."

He deliberately looked out the window so he couldn’t see the anger flare even higher. A minute passed, then a second. Sirius shifted slightly in his seat, only partially cognisant of the stores and restaurants that they were passing. Was Remus so busy driving that he couldn’t yell at him?

The car stopped and he looked up to see the light was red. He took the moment to ask, "Should I get out and walk back to the hotel now?"

"No."

The muscle in Remus’ jaw was taut, but he was rubbing his temple with his index and middle fingers as he did when he was thinking things through—or when he was troubled and was looking for words. Sirius didn’t say anything more. Long forgotten memories were now pushing their way to the surface: recollections of Remus flaring angrily, hotly—and then becoming quiet and introspective while he considered if the charge against him had validity. It was then that he would fully accept the criticism or calmly offer justification why the other person was incorrect in their thoughts or words.

It’s probably better not to ask him anything now, considering the traffic and all the intersections and lanes and everything... and he’s only got one hand on the steering wheel.

The Jeep swung in toward a restaurant and came to an abrupt stop. Sirius’ fingers fumbled for the door handle, but halted when Remus suddenly said quietly, "You’re right."

Sirius blinked. It was rare for Remus to so quickly admit to something so emotionally charged, and he wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. "I am?"

"Not completely," Remus said, looking straight ahead. "I am... glad to see you and I didn’t think I would be. Or should be."

Sirius smiled triumphantly.

"That doesn’t mean I’m going to question why I’m here," Remus warned him. "I have my reasons and I’d not be here if I hadn’t thought everything out completely. Don’t expect me to feel guilty about any of it." And with those words, he shoved the door open and exited the vehicle.

*


"So I sat there—in his leather chair, mind you—watching him pack up his personal things. I was quite helpful, too, reminding him that the stapler and the pens were company property. He appreciated my help."

Remus took a drink of his beer and tilted his head slightly to the side. "And you know he appreciated your help because he said..." He let his voice trail off, waiting for Sirius to finish the sentence.

"Well, because he said so." Sirius raised the tone of his voice until he sounded uncannily like Malfoy’s, "‘You’ve been so very helpful, Black.’"

Remus smiled and peered at the label on the bottle. "I’ve heard Lucius Malfoy is a bit of a bastard."

"‘A bit of a bastard’? My dear Moony, that’s a complete and utter lie. He’s a great heaping bastard."

The brown-haired man chuckled and Sirius grinned at the fact that he’d made Remus laugh. It had been difficult, working through appetizers and salads before Remus seemed relaxed enough for them to have an actual conversation. He was finally starting to see more of the Remus he’d known, even if it was a more subdued and sadder version.

"Now, I’ve been talking about me for the past forty-five minutes. What about you?"

Remus shrugged. "There’s nothing to tell."

"What do you do with yourself all day?"

"A little of this, a little of that." Remus seemed to consider something very carefully before saying, "I’ve been helping my neighbour with his business recently."

"What line of business is that?"

Again, Remus hesitated before answering. "I’ve been writing some articles for his newspaper."

Shock washed through Sirius. Remus had flat-out lied to him on the phone, denying he’d been writing. He hadn’t thought Remus was writing at all; neither had Remus’ agent. Still, he should have realised that Remus couldn’t stop writing completely. It was too deep in the man’s soul. In fact, he would have said that Remus bled ink. "What kind of articles?"

"Mostly fluff pieces. The quilters from such-and-such church are having an auction to raise money for some organisation or another; those sorts of things."

Sirius was very careful to make sure he was smiling when he asked, "Do they realise that it’s R. J. Wolfe writing these pieces?"

"My neighbour knows. He owns the house I’m renting, and I had to provide all kinds of information before he let me rent the place. He’s been very supportive—and circumspect."

A strange little stab of jealousy went through Sirius, and he heard James’ voice as clearly as if the other man were sitting beside him: "What were you planning to do with your life? He let you give up your dream for his..." "Do you like writing for a newspaper?"

Remus frowned. "It’s... writing. It gives me something to do; gives me a way to fill up some time."

"Your agent didn’t think you were writing anything."

"I’m not writing anything that she would find important or worthwhile," Remus said sharply. "Not unless she wanted to go to the spaghetti dinner for the seven-year-old girl who has leukaemia. Are you done?" He reached for the check, but Sirius was quicker.

"I told you I’d pay."

Remus capitulated readily enough. Sirius wondered if he were thinking that a free dinner was the least that Sirius could do for demanding his presence in such a way.

As they walked through the restaurant, a man approached them. "Excuse me, are you R. J. Wolfe?"

Remus shook his head, "No, sorry."

"You certainly look like him."

"Poor guy, if he looks like me," Remus commented. Sirius suddenly realised that Remus’ Blackpool accent had disappeared, leaving a broad southwest Pennsylvanian drawl.

"It’s almost unbelievable how much you look like him," the other man insisted yet again.

"Who is R. J. Wolfe anyhow?" Remus asked. Sirius had seen him do this often: pretending to be ignorant of R. J. Wolfe’s identity was often the most certain way to get people to leave them alone.

The man’s eyebrows rose. "You’ve never heard of R. J. Wolfe? The author of Old Moon? Wonderful book. One of the best I’ve ever read."

Remus shook his head, turning away and starting for the door. "I guess I’ll have to look it up sometime. I’m not much of a reader."

"I’d kinda forgotten about him until I saw that article in that magazine last month," the man mused, following them.

Remus turned slowly. "What article?" In his shock, the British accent had seeped back into his words, but the other man didn’t seem to notice.

"Oh, about authors who’ve given up writing for one reason or another. God, are you sure you’re not him? You look exactly like that picture of him: same hair, same beard..."

Remus’ eyes widened and Sirius saw the beginnings of anxiety and confusion stir in his friend’s blue eyes. "Hey, sorry about this, but we’re going to be late," he said, concentrating on one of his favourite American actors and trying to deliver the line as he thought the actor might have. He gave the stranger a friendly smile and wave and shoved Remus none-too-gently at the door.

Outside, Remus turned to look at him. "You don’t seem surprised. What article was he referring to?"

"Just as he said, it was an article about authors who haven’t written anything recently, telling what they’ve been doing."

"And I’m in it?"

Sirius took a deep breath. "Among nineteen others, yes."

"What magazine was it?"

"It’s Writer’s Point of View in Britain. They have an American counterpart, though I can’t remember the name of it right offhand. The story was probably in it, too."

Remus muttered a curse under his breath. It wasn’t until they were in the Jeep and on the way back to the hotel that he finally asked, "How terrible was it?"

Sirius fidgeted with his seatbelt. "Could have been worse."

"He said there was a picture..."

"There was."

"I don’t remember a photographer—"

"That’s because they took it with a telephoto lens. It’s rather obvious you didn’t know they were taking it."

"Bastards," Remus mumbled. His fingers tightened on the steering wheel and Sirius wondered fleetingly if the vehicle wasn’t moving just a tad faster.

"You should be thankful they took five years to find you," Sirius commented, keeping his tone as light as he could.

"How did they find me, though? And why would they want to?" Remus sounded bewildered.

"God, Remus, you wrote not just one, but three critically acclaimed books, and then, for reasons unbeknownst to most people, you disappeared. People can’t help but wonder what happened."

"And they can’t just leave me alone? If I wanted that kind of attention, I’d still be writing the bloody books." The muscle in his jaw twitched. "Did the article tell everyone where I was? Should I be expecting the entire bleeding world to come beating on my door?"

"If they haven’t by now, they’re not going to," Sirius said dismissively. "The article I saw was published five months ago."

Remus shot him a look. "You called me five months ago."

"Fine, Remus, I’ll confess. I saw the bloody article with the bloody picture and I was worried about you. That’s when I badgered your agent into giving me your number."

"Shit," Remus whispered. "Fucking hell."

An uncomfortable silence fell between them. Again, Remus rubbed his temples; Sirius massaged the back of his own neck, feeling the tension settle there. He couldn’t think of what to say. He didn’t know Remus well enough anymore to know what would pacify him or what would set him off further.

It wasn’t until Remus had pulled up in front of the hotel that he finally looked at Sirius and asked sharply, "What was it in the article that made you decide to track me down? You had five years, Sirius, that you could have tried to find me—"

"No, stop right there," Sirius said, resentment exploding within his heart. "I tried to find you. I flew to France to try to find you, but you’d left the day before. For months, I asked your editor for any news, and he just kept telling me he didn’t know anything either, that you had left general directions for depositing your checks and that you would phone them for messages. Then I tried to talk to your agent, but he said he didn’t have the first idea where you’d gone. When he retired, that’s when things changed, and they got stricter about confidentiality. I didn’t know what else to do to find you. I didn’t even know where to begin to look."

He slammed his head back against the headrest. "Damnit, Remus, you wanted to disappear, and you did. I was trying to respect your need to get away, to be free of—whatever it was that you needed to be free of. I hated not knowing where you were. I hated every birthday and every Christmas that passed because you weren’t there. I wanted to see you and be with you and talk to you and..." He stopped and looked over at the other man who was staring at him with widened eyes.

Before he could stop himself, Sirius reached over and gently framed Remus’ face between his hands. "I wanted to know you were all right. I wanted to talk to you and know that you were finding some kind of happiness again." His thumb gently traced Remus’ bearded jaw. "When I saw that picture in the magazine, I knew that you hadn’t."

Remus gently pulled away. "Don’t, Sirius. Please."

"Don’t touch you at all? Don’t tell you what I’m thinking? Don’t yell at you for being so bloody maddening as to disappear from our lives for five years?" His voice softened. "Or don’t yell at you for disappearing from my life for five years?"

Remus looked out the driver’s side window, without saying anything.

Sirius sighed. "I’m sorry. I don’t..." He shook his head, unable to verbalise the feelings of fear and worry—and want—that were swirling through him. "I don’t want to fuck this up. I don’t want you to disappear again."

Still, there was silence.

"Remus, talk to me. Say something. Even if it’s to tell me to keep my bloody hands away from you."

Finally—finally—Remus turned to Sirius and gave a weak smile. "It must have been one hell of a terrible photo."

*


They sat in Sirius’ hotel room as Remus read the article. Sirius held his breath when Remus turned the page, revealing the photos of himself and of the car accident. Strangely enough, Remus didn’t react until he’d finished the entire story.

"I feel like I’m a disappointment," Remus finally said. He went back to the first page and pointed to an author who had decided to become a social worker. "I haven’t been nearly as self-sacrificing."

Sirius smiled. "I’ll bet you bought a ticket to that spaghetti dinner for the girl with cancer."

Remus grinned. "Of course. And sent an anonymous donation as well."

*******


When Sirius awoke, it took him a moment to remember where he was.

Too many hotel rooms in the past week.

His next thought made him look quickly over to his left, to the other bed in the room.

He’s still here!

A thrill of excitement went through Sirius. It had taken all of his persuasive skills to get Remus to agree to spend the night there. After Remus read the article, they’d ended up at the hotel’s bar where, to Sirius’ relief, they seemed to find the familiar and comfortable conversational strides that they’d had years before. As a result, they stayed later than either of them had intended. Remus had agreed, albeit reluctantly, that it was too late and he’d had too much to drink to drive the hour and a half back to his house.

All the same, Sirius had half-expected the other man to leave during the night. The fact that Remus was there, huddled beneath the stiff sheets and thin blankets, told Sirius that Remus might not want to be alone after all.

Sirius stayed where he was, studying the small bit of Remus’ face that he could see. It was all too easy for him to imagine waking up in the same bed as Remus, and he inhaled deeply as he felt the stirrings in his belly and lower that told him that he was still very much attracted to his friend.

Mustn’t touch. Mustn’t think about it. Mustn’t think about how I want to shove my tongue—

Remus’ eyes fluttered opened. He caught sight of Sirius and frowned slightly. "Padfoot?" His voice was deep and raspy from sleeping—and went straight to Sirius’ groin, making certain parts of his anatomy twitch uncomfortably.

"Hey, Moony." Sirius sat up and willed his erection to subside enough that Remus wouldn’t notice.

"What time is it?" Even as he asked, Remus was raising his left arm to look blearily at his watch.

"Time for breakfast!" Sirius announced. "I’m starved."

"You’re always starved," Remus groaned, burying his head beneath the pillow.

"Oh, come on, Moony." In one fluid movement, Sirius got out of bed and ripped the pillow away from Remus’ light grip.

"Shit, Padfoot!" Remus made a grab at the pillow and failed miserably.

"I’m for a shower, if you don’t mind," Sirius said smugly. "And then breakfast, all right?"

Remus sighed and crossed his arms over his face. "I can’t drive home on an empty stomach, I suppose."

"Aren’t you going to drive me around and show me the sights? I’ve heard that the view coming into Pittsburgh through some kind of tunnel is something to behold."

"God, Sirius, you can’t seriously be thinking that I’d want to spend the day with you in Pittsburgh?"

"Aren’t there museums? Some kind of quaint shops or something? I have to get something for Harry and Katie."

Remus didn’t respond right away, and Sirius was concerned that maybe his friend had fallen back asleep. "Oy, Remus!" he yelled, tossing the pillow back at Remus’ head.

"Bastard!" Remus shot from the bed, pillow in hand, and smacked Sirius with it. "I was thinking!"

"Pillow fight!" crowed Sirius, reaching for a weapon of his own.

After a few hard thumps and a few near-misses of breakable items, the two men collapsed breathlessly onto Remus’ bed.

"It’s been so long since we’ve done that," Sirius said, chuckling softly.

"At least ten years," Remus estimated, staring up at the ceiling.

Sirius’ eyes slid along his friend’s profile, taking in details that he’d missed for so long: the light eyelashes, the slightly too long nose, the lips that quirked up to one side when Remus was amused...

Remus suddenly turned his head and their eyes met.

James was right. I am still in love with him. What kind of idiot am I?

"Sirius..." There was a wary and apprehensive light in Remus’ eyes as if he might suspect what Sirius was thinking.

"That’s me, and you’re Remus. Now that we have that straight..." Does he know his eyes made me more breathless than the stupid pillow fight? Thank God he slept in his jeans last night, or I’d be embarrassing myself mightily right now.

Remus sat up quickly and reached for his shoes. "I need a cigarette."

"You smoke?"

Remus gave him a puzzled stare. "I always have."

"I thought you quit—" Sirius choked before saying, "—when Teddy was born."

Tension suddenly filled the air between the two men.

"I started again," Remus said sharply, rising and making his way to the door, pausing only to grab his button-down shirt from the chair where he’d thrown it the night before. "I’ll be outside when you’re ready to go."

Sirius smacked himself in the forehead and cursed repeatedly under his breath as the door slammed shut behind his friend.

*


"I’m really sorry," Sirius said later as they were driving to whatever restaurant that Remus was taking them for breakfast. Those were the first words they’d spoken since Sirius had got into the Jeep.

Remus shot him a quick glance.

"What? Can’t I apologise for being thoughtless?"

Long fingers wrapped themselves even tighter around the steering wheel. "It’s that you so very rarely do."

Sirius winced as Remus swung into the left-handed lane to pass another car. "I don’t know how in the hell you got accustomed to driving like this," he remarked instead of taking on Remus’ comment. "This would give me a heart attack trying to drive like this."

"You’d get used to it quicker than I did," Remus said after a moment. Before Sirius could think of something else to say, Remus asked, "Do you still have Esmerelda?"

Sirius smiled broadly at the thought of his classic motorcycle. "You don’t think I’d get rid of my best girl?"

"How many citations have you gotten in the last five years?" came the sly question.

"Just one." Sirius couldn’t help chuckling. "Would have been two, but I was going too fast to be caught."

He thought Remus was coughing—and then he realised that the man was actually trying to choke back laughter.

With that, the tension between them eased once again, but Sirius kept his comments and questions to those about their surroundings and the buildings they were passing.

They were nearly to the restaurant when Sirius’ cell phone rang.

"Sirius Black here."

"Sirius! Diana."

"Di! My lady, my love!"

"Have you seen that gorgeous thing yet?"

"I see him every time I look in the mirror."

"Oh, good one! That will count toward your Christmas bonus."

"I get a bonus this year?"

"Depending on your answer to my question."

"The answer is: I have, but I don’t have an answer yet."

"Have you at least asked him? Is he considering it?"

"Well..."

Diana sighed. "All right, I’ll give you another day or two. By the way, Kingsley’s already called this morning to say that he’s re-signed that Lockhart guy. I hate those bloody books of Lockhart’s, but they do sell."

"You’ll love him and his bloody books when you and your hubby are in a gondola in Venice next summer."

"Hmm. Yes. Anyhow, give us a call once you’ve talked to Remus."

Sirius assured her he would and then disconnected.

"Is everything all right?" Remus asked.

"Wonderful," Sirius said with a grin. "One of my bosses calling to check on me."

"I’m amazed they let you out of their sight."

"I’m very reliable, you know."

Sirius guessed that Remus’ doubtful stare would have been a lot longer if he hadn’t been driving.

*


Sirius waited until they were almost finished eating before asking, "Are you happy with your publisher?"

Remus tilted his head to one side. "I wouldn’t think they’re overly happy with me, waiting for another book."

Sirius popped the last bit of toast in his mouth and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. "Can I ask you something horribly personal that might make you never want to talk to me again?"

"Sirius, you used to ask me two horribly personal questions on a daily basis. I’m still talking to you now, aren’t I?"

Considering we haven’t talked in five years, I’m worried the rules might have changed.

"Is there no book because you just haven’t gotten around to putting it down on paper? Or has your muse buggered off for parts unknown?"

The silence that greeted Sirius’ question was more introspective than angry, so he waited for the answer.

"I don’t know," Remus finally said. "I think—"

"You think what?"

Remus reached for another piece of toast and opened a small packet of grape jelly. "Do you remember at the end of the third book, I had Sara and Jasper unsure of their relationship? But Sara was pressuring Jasper into a commitment he didn’t want?"

"Yes. They were supposed to get married in the fourth book," Sirius said, amazed at how much of the story he could recall.

"I think—" Again Remus cut himself off.

"What? You don’t mean to tell me that after all that you’ve put poor Sara through, that Jasper wouldn’t marry her?"

Remus kept his eyes on his plate as he said, "I think Jasper might be in love with someone else."

Sirius’ eyes widened. "Really? Who? You don’t have any other strong female characters other than Sara and Bridget, who’s married to Colin. You don’t have him falling in love with that strange girl with the scarves, do you?"

Remus glanced up at him and then away just as quickly. "Sybill. Her name is Sybill, and no, he’s not in love with her. You know curiosity killed the cat."

"Then we can be thankful I have a more dog-like nature. Come on. Tell me who Jasper loves, then, if not Sara."

Remus shook his head. "I’m still working it out. But if I’m right, then it upsets almost everything in the fifth book."

Sirius thought quickly, trying to remember what specifically Remus had outlined as happening in the fifth book. "And you’re not going to tell me?"

Again, Remus shook his head. "Not until I’m sure it’s the way it is."

Sirius sensed the finality in Remus’ words. He knew there’d be no point in trying to get an answer out of the other man at that point. It also seemed like the wrong time to bring up Diana and Julia’s offer, so Sirius changed the subject altogether. "What are we doing today?"

"‘We’?" Remus repeated. "I have an interview today—"

Shock exploded through Sirius. "You’re giving an interview?"

"No. I’m writing a piece for the paper about a man who restored an old Victorian home into a bed-and-breakfast. I’m supposed to meet him this afternoon."

Sirius stifled a burp and took another drink of coffee, considering his next move. "I get to come along, right?"

"No, you don’t get to come along. The place is not far from where I live."

"Aren’t you going to take me to see your place? I shared my lodgings with you. Shouldn’t you return the favour?"

Remus blinked slowly at him, as if he couldn’t believe Sirius had suggested such a thing. "Sirius—"

"Come on, Remus. It’ll give me something to tell James and Peter when I go back. I won’t be much trouble. And I’ll rent a car to bring me back to the airport when you get sick of me."

Remus was already shaking his head. "I live out in the middle of nowhere—"

"Do you have a second bedroom? A couch? I’ve slept in worse places. You were with me sometimes when I have. Just for a night or two. Come on, Remus," he wheedled. "It’ll be like old times. We’ve still got a lot to get caught up on."

"You’d be bored out of your mind."

"No, I wouldn’t! And I’ll be as good as gold." He could see the indecision in Remus’ eyes, even if the jaw was stubbornly set. "I don’t have anywhere that I need to be, and—let’s face it, Moony—you’ve missed me dreadfully." He batted his eyelashes at Remus, who didn’t seem to know whether to be horrified or amused.

The waitress suddenly appeared at their table. "Can I do anything else for you boys?"

"As a matter of fact, you can," Sirius said with an ingratiating grin. "Convince him to take this poor, miserable, homeless Englishman in for a couple of days."

The woman ogled Sirius shamelessly and then said, "If he doesn’t want you, I’ll kick my husband out and take you in for a night or two."

Sirius spread his hands out slightly, as if to say, "See?" and sat back in his chair, giving Remus a subtle wink.

Remus stared at him for a moment before shaking his head, obviously realising he had lost. "You pay for breakfast, then. And you’re buying groceries—I know what it costs to feed you."

*


"How in the hell did you convince him of that?" James’ voice rose in pitch from his disbelief.

"I have my ways, Prongs."

"You’ve drugged him."

"I used my charm." Sirius glanced behind him to see if Remus was coming out of the toilets.

"Again, I say you’ve drugged him. He’s always been immune to your charm."

"No one is immune to the Sirius Black charm: old ladies, children, literary hermits..."

A soft voice in the background interrupted the comment that James was about to make. "Lily says to behave yourself and not scare him away."

"What in the world would---hey, he’s coming. I’ll talk to you later."

*


"The two rivers form the Ohio River at Pittsburgh. That’s why they call it ‘Three Rivers’." Remus took one hand from the steering wheel to sketch the rivers in the air.

"The man who was sitting next to me on the plane said Pittsburgh has more bridges than Venice. Is that true?"

Remus thought about it for a moment. "If it doesn’t, it’s very close."

"Do you think when you bring me back to the airport, we can take a detour so I can see it?"

Remus’ eyebrows rose. "I thought you were going to rent a car to drive back."

Sirius splayed a hand across his chest. "Honestly, Remus, would you trust me with a car on these roads?"

Remus rubbed his chin with the side of his finger. "No, I suppose not."

"Will you take me to Pittsburgh, then?"

Remus cast an amused glance at him then reached for a battered leather-encased notebook tucked between his seat and the centre console. He tossed it onto Sirius’ lap. "Find the last page with my writing on it and you’ll find a phone number for a man named Bob. Call and see if I can change the interview to tomorrow."

*******


Sirius and Remus spent the day touring Pittsburgh. Knowing how much Sirius liked Pop Art, Remus took him to the Andy Warhol Museum before taking him to something Remus called the Strip District (which had nothing to do with disrobing and dancing women) for one of the best sandwiches Sirius had ever tasted. While in that area, they investigated several small shops that provided Sirius with enough cheap souvenirs to make the Potter children—and James—happy.

"God, this has been a wonderful day," Sirius sighed as they drove south that evening.

"You’re like a child," Remus said with a smile.

"Have you forgotten how often Lily accuses me of that very thing?"

Remus chuckled. "No, I haven’t."

"Then why do you seem surprised?"

Remus looked out the driver’s side window before answering, "I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it."

*


As they continued on, Sirius began reminding Remus of things and people they both knew in London and how they’d fared in the past five years. They were near their destination before Sirius mentioned James’ mother.

"She’s left the estate to James, of course, but he doesn’t know what to do with it," Sirius said. "It’s so old and draughty, and too far out of town for him to travel each day."

"It’s too bad he just can’t magically pop from one spot to another," Remus mused. "The grounds are incredible, and the kids would love growing up there."

"Like we did, eh, Moony?" Sirius grinned impishly. "Can you imagine Lily’s reaction if Harry jumped out of the hayloft like James always did? Or if Katie ate as many of those little green apples as you did that time?"

"The ones that made me sick for two days?" Remus shook his head. "I don’t think I’ve ever been so sick in my life."

"I don’t suppose James, Peter, and I helped, bringing you chocolates and crisps to cheer you."

"Not at all." Remus smiled, but there was a softness to it that was quite incongruous with the topic of their conversation. It was explained a moment later when he said, "Mrs Potter called my foster mother and told her to just let me stay there. She sat by the bed for hours, watching me."

"She did the same thing for me when I first ate saffron and had my first allergic reaction to it."

"She was a very soothing person, and a very kind one."

"She was," Sirius agreed. He cleared his throat. "Your letter was perfect, by the way."

Relief was evident in Remus’ eyes. "I had to say something."

"You know there was a reason why she left you that three-volume first edition set of Great Expectations, don’t you?"

"Besides the fact that James wouldn’t know what to do with them, and you’d want to mark them up with red ink?" Remus’ smile was forced.

"She had a long talk with James and me about you right before she died."

Remus massaged his temple with his fingers. "I’m sure I disappointed her greatly."

"No. You didn’t. She was more worried about you than disappointed."

"Did she see that article?"

"She did. She wanted you to know that she was very proud of you and what you accomplished. You exceeded every expectation that anyone ever had for you. That’s why she left those books to you."

Remus said nothing.

"She told me to keep calling you and not let you push me—us—away again."

Remus shot a glance in his direction. "Did she really?"

"She did. And Remus—"

"What?"

"I’m not going to disappoint the woman that was the closest thing to a real mum that we both had." Sirius left the question, "Are you?" unspoken, but Remus could apparently feel the words hanging heavily in the air between them.

He whispered, "No."

*


"It’s just around this bend. It’s not much," Remus said in warning as the Jeep slithered down the gravel road.

A grey squirrel scampered across the gravel and then sat beside the road, flicking its tail at their intrusion.

"What other kinds of creatures do you have out here?" Sirius asked, starting to imagine the worst.

"The typical woodland animals: deer, raccoons, opossum, chipmunks—"

"Bears?"

Remus shot him an amused glance. "You ain’t afraid of a little ol’ bear, are you, Sirius?" The Pennsylvanian accent was back and Sirius laughed.

"Should I be?"

"I’ve not seen one," Remus said. "They do come through occasionally, though. This is it."

The house was a cedar-shingled bungalow with a black roof and dark green trim around the windows and door. A deep porch ran the entire length of the house, and nothing but trees could be seen in any direction. Sirius’ initial impression was of peace—and sanctuary.

"Don’t you get bored out here?" he wondered aloud.

"Bored?" Remus brought the vehicle to a stop and looked around, smiling. "No."

A big, black dog suddenly came bounding out of the woods, tongue lolling and tail waving furiously.

"There’s my boy!" Remus pushed the door open and knelt to accept the armful of wiggling canine.

"My God, Remus, he looks like a Grim!" Sirius commented in awe. "He’s yours?"

Remus finished stroking the silky ears and then stood up. "He just showed up one night two years ago. He comes and goes."

The dog trotted over to Sirius and began sniffling at him, trying to figure out if the dark-haired man was friend or foe. "What’s his name?"

Remus scratched at the back of his neck and looked up at the treetops as he replied almost too quickly for Sirius to understand, "Padfoot."

"You named the dog after me?"

"No, I named the dog after a legendary creature. The fact that you happen to have that nickname is mere coincidence." Blue eyes finally met grey and Sirius saw laughter in the sapphire depths.

"You did name the bloody dog after me!"

Remus laughed—an actual, full-throated chuckle—"Well, it seemed appropriate. And you weren’t here to complain."

The dog, having concluded that Sirius must have been a long-lost relative, suddenly reared up on his hind legs and braced his paws on the man’s chest so he could lick Sirius’ cheek. Then, with a happy yip, he ran back to Remus, pausing only to let Remus ruffle the fur on his head before disappearing among the trees.

"I’ll probably get rabies now," Sirius muttered as he followed Remus into the cabin.

Remus’ chuckle told him he’d been heard.

*


They spent the evening drinking cold beer and reminiscing. At first, Sirius made a conscious effort to avoid saying anything that might alarm Remus. As the night progressed, however, he lost the need to guard his tongue. Their conversation became less stilted, and laughter rang freely throughout the small house.

It was late when Sirius finally yawned one too many times and Remus suggested they go to bed. He led the way to the back of the small house where the two bedrooms were and pointed to the room on the right.

"Thank you for allowing me to stay," Sirius said, pulling Remus in for a quick hug. He noticed that Remus was not nearly as stiff and uncomfortable as he’d been when they’d first embraced the day before.

"Thank you for forcing me to let you stay," Remus replied with a lopsided smile.



*******


"It’s a beautiful place," Remus said to the owner of the bed-and-breakfast.

The man preened. "Thank you. I’m quite proud of how it turned out, especially since I had no experience in carpentry or decorating when I started."

"Can’t say that now, can you?" Sirius teased.

Bob laughed. "No, not at all. And I’ll never take on another project like this again, I tell you."

Remus stopped to make another note in his tablet while Sirius drifted toward the small bar the man had installed in what had once been a parlour. Bob followed him.

"How about some Guinness?"

Sirius turned, his interest piqued. "You have Guinness?"

"I do. It’s a personal favourite of mine, so I keep some for myself. Not many of my visitors care for it, but seeing as you’re from the other side of the pond..." He opened the small refrigerator under the counter and glanced back at Remus, who was slowly making his way across the room, admiring the hand-carved mouldings around the perimeter of the ceiling. "How about your partner?"

Sirius glanced over his shoulder. "Partner?"

"Aren’t you two... involved?" Bob’s confident manner wavered slightly.

"Involved?" Remus’ voice was sharp, his glare telling. "We’re friends, nothing more."

"Oh."

Sirius could tell that Bob was thinking quickly, trying to cover his mistake in a way that wouldn’t make him look worse than he already did—and ruin the article that Remus was supposed to be writing. "Look, it’s all right," Sirius said quickly. "People make that mistake all the time." He laughed. "We have a friend, James, and when we were in school, people were constantly trying to link all three of us together. God, if we’d actually done what people thought we did, I’d need physical rehabilitation for the rest of my life."

Bob chuckled dutifully, though he cast a doubtful glance at Remus. The writer’s expression was dark, almost angry.

"The man’s got Guinness, Moony." Sirius said. "Bob?"

Bob was all too ready to hand two bottles across the bar to Sirius, who then held one out to Remus.

"It was a mistake," Sirius said softly.

For a few seconds, Remus merely stared at the bottle. Just when Sirius was about to order him to take the bloody Guinness and stop acting like an arse, Remus accepted the bottle, nodding hesitantly. Sirius and Bob each found themselves breathing a little more freely as he twisted off the cap and began to drink. He said little then, focussing his attention on his notes while Sirius and Bob talked of more random topics. After about five minutes, Remus plunked his empty bottle down on the bar, interrupting them. "I think I have everything I need to write a decent article. If I have any questions, I’ll call, if that’s all right."

Bob nodded and rushed to say, "Absolutely, no problem. I’m sure whatever you write will be just fine, though."

After that, it was as if Remus couldn’t get out of the place fast enough. Sirius had just barely settled his backside onto the seat before Remus was backing out of the driveway. Sirius did wait, however, until they were a mile or two down the road before asking, "What in the hell was that about back there?"

"It was a mistake, right?" Remus replied harshly. "That’s what you said."

"As many times as we were accused of being lovers, you’re suddenly taking offense now?"

Remus said nothing.

"We went to a gay club once and had a laugh pretending to be partners."

There was no comment.

"Remus, talk to me."

The muscle in Remus’ jaw was so tight that Sirius found himself wondering if the bone would snap. Still, the man didn’t say a word.

Sirius stared out the side window, a very ugly realisation forming inside his head. "It’s me, isn’t it? It’s what we—what I said to you that night."

Remus didn’t confirm or deny it, but a quick glance revealed a crimson flush stealing across his cheekbones.

"I thought we were over that," Sirius said softly. "I thought it didn’t matter to you."

"Would you just fucking shut up?" Remus exploded. "It didn’t. It doesn’t. It’s just—"

"What? Fucking hell, Remus, we were fine for years after I told you—after that night. Why does it bother you now that someone might think we’re lovers?"

"It just does, all right?" Remus growled. "Now, shut the fuck up before I pull over and make you walk back to Pittsburgh."

Sirius closed his eyes. Note to self: telling Remus that I’m still in love with him might not be the best thing to do right now.

***


"Lily? Where’s James?"

"Sirius! How are you? How’s Remus? How are things?"

"Fine. Where’s James?"

"Oh, I’m sorry, he’s gone pub crawling with some mates from work."

"Shit."

"What’s happened?"

"Remember how Remus would take off and wander around the city when he was upset?"

"Oh, God, Sirius, what have you done?"

"I’ve turned one of my best friends into a paranoid homophobe."

*******


When Sirius heard the noise on the front porch, he wasn’t sure whether he should panic or not. It could have been Remus—but it could have been a bear, for all he knew. When whatever it was scratched on the door, it solidified two things in Sirius’ head: firstly, it wasn’t Remus, because he’d have just come in; and secondly, that it wasn’t a bear, because the scratch wouldn’t have been nearly that gentle.

Heart in his mouth, and feeling more than a tad foolish that he was so frightened—Stop acting like a bloody five-year-old girl, Black!—he went to the door and opened it a crack.

A black snout pushed itself in through the gap with a soft "Woof."

"Padfoot!" Sirius gasped, feeling his heart return to its proper place in his chest. He opened the door all the way to allow the dog entrance, peering out into the encroaching darkness. "Didn’t see Moony out there, did you?"

The dog wagged its tail, but didn’t seem bothered to tell Sirius any details.

Sirius stood by the door, debating his next course of action. The empty feeling in his stomach made up his mind. "How about some dinner, Padfoot?"

*


Remus came into the house an hour later to find Sirius on the couch with a big black dog lying beside him.

"I made dinner," Sirius said, keeping his eyes on the television. His fingers didn’t stop stroking the furry head that was resting on his leg.

Remus felt the other man’s tension, knew that Sirius was teetering between concern and anger.

Like when we were younger. He never could understand that sometimes I just can’t deal with things by facing them.

Still, the man had come from London to see him. He wanted Remus’ friendship. He didn’t deserve Remus’ cowardice.

Stupid git. He should have stayed with James and Peter. They’re so much better for him. What can I offer him? I’m too damaged. I’m too much of everything that he doesn’t deserve.

And that was the problem. So much had happened, so many things touched off by one simple declaration seven years ago—and Remus didn’t know how to deal with the confusion and the guilt that he carried within him.

It was so much easier when he didn’t know where I was.

Without a word—because he didn’t know what to say—he walked into the kitchen. Sirius had always been a better cook than Remus, to the point that they’d finally agreed that Sirius would cook and Remus would clean up. Remus couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips when he realised that the dishes were stacked up neatly by the sink for him to wash.

And we fall right back to where and what we were.

He turned the water on to fill the sink and began to roll up his sleeves.

"Remus."

He hadn’t heard Sirius come into the room. Padfoot, indeed. "What, Sirius?"

"If I’d known coming here would hurt you so badly, I wouldn’t have come."

He glanced behind him and saw sincerity and apprehension written in every line of Sirius’ face.

He’s always been so easy to read. How did I not see the obvious?

"It’s all right. It’s not your fault, Sirius. It’s—me."

Sirius laughed, but it was bitter. "Well, yes, it is you. It’s not me who hid for five years. It’s not me who took an innocent remark and made it into an insult. It’s not me who then ran away from you to avoid talking about it. God, Remus, you never had a problem with my sexual orientation before, and we lived together for years."

He fell silent, looking shocked that he’d blurted out so much. A hurt expression suddenly appeared in his grey eyes. "Is this—what I am—going to ruin our friendship? Or did I ruin it when I told you I loved you?"

Regret and sadness flooded through Remus. He had never wanted to hurt Sirius. Granted, he’d realised that Sirius would be upset and sorry when Remus had left, but he’d known that Sirius would soon be too busy with his editing work—and boyfriends—to notice Remus’ absence.

Here he was, though, pleading for explanations, and there was a look in his eye that reminded Remus of the night that Sirius had turned his life upside down with one slightly tipsy, yet still entirely too sober, declaration.

He deserves an explanation. If anyone does, it’s Sirius.

They’d been friends for years. No one else had so equally shared the joys and sorrows in Remus’ life as Sirius.

Sirius had been one of the few who’d offered a comforting, solid presence when Remus had been bounced from one foster family to another. He’d been the one to realise that Remus was being physically abused by his fourth foster father—and had consistently provided lies and alibis, and then brought Remus to sanctuary at the Potters’ when things went wrong and blood had flowed. While Remus’ friends had visited him in hospital, it had been mainly Sirius who’d cheered him through rehabilitation sessions, seeing the tears and frustration and anger.

Sirius had spent as many hours over Remus’ first book as Remus himself had. Sirius had pushed him to write and rewrite until nearly every word was perfect. Sirius had commiserated with him over every rejection letter. Sirius had been the one to buy the bottle of champagne—and it wasn’t the cheap stuff—when Old Moon was accepted by the publisher.

He’s seen me at my absolute worst and he’s never given up on me. He’s always allowed me my triumphs without begrudging me any of them. I’ve tried to push him away. I’ve tried to forget about him—but he’s here.

There was nothing for it. They were going to have the conversation that Remus had pushed away for years. Sirius would now know the main reason why Remus had left England.

Am I ready for this? Is he?

*


Sirius saw Remus’ shoulders slump in resignation. "Can we—go sit down?"

The defeated look in the blue eyes stabbed into Sirius’ heart with the efficiency of a stiletto. "Should we have a bottle of wine for this?" he asked, referring to a habit they’d had when they were younger of only allowing a serious discussion or argument to last until the last sip of wine had been taken.

Remus gave a lopsided smile. "Might need two for this one." He moved toward a cabinet while motioning for Sirius to return to the living room.

Padfoot, the dog, had taken over the entire couch, but reluctantly shifted to one end when Sirius poked him.

"He’s not always so compliant," Remus commented, emerging from the kitchen with a bottle of wine and two glasses in his hands.

"He and I have an understanding," Sirius said. "I give him hamburger, he gives me part of the couch."

"Sounds reasonable, I suppose." Remus poured the wine and placed the bottle on the coffee table.

"We’re reasonable blokes," Sirius maintained, sipping at the wine.

Remus gave him a sceptical glance, but said nothing in response. Instead, he asked, "Do you remember about two months after Dora and I got married, that she suddenly—changed?"

"She couldn’t stand to look at me," Sirius said flatly. "I never could figure out what made her angry. You told me you didn’t know either."

Remus inhaled deeply. "I lied."

"Well, what bug crawled up her arse, then?"

Remus took a gulp of wine and, determinedly not looking at Sirius, replied, "I told her about what happened—about what you said the week before the wedding."

"Fuck, Remus!" Sirius groaned, slapping his free hand over his eyes in dismay.

"I wasn’t going to, but, there were... extenuating circumstances."

"‘Extenuating...’ You’re fucking kidding me. What kind of ‘extenuating circumstances’ would entail you having to tell your wife that a man—your best friend, no less—had come on to you a week before your wedding?"

Remus leaned forward so his forearms rested on his thighs. "She was jealous of our friendship. I didn’t realise how much until one night after we’d been to a party—some banquet thrown by Snell’s. She’d worn a gown that left nothing to the imagination and, well, the car ride home had been very interesting. But, I had thought of something I wanted to tell you, and when we got home, instead of heading upstairs with her, I told her I was going to call you." He glanced over at Sirius and smiled lopsidedly. "I’d been drinking and knew I’d forget to tell you whatever it was—God, I don’t remember what it was, now."

Sirius laughed. "I remember. You wanted to tell me that the bastard that they’d hired instead of me was leaving to go to America."

Remus shook his head. "How you remember that... Anyhow, I called you, and went upstairs to find that she’d locked me out of the bedroom. We had a fight and she claimed I loved you more than her." He took a drink of wine as if he were fortifying himself for the next bit. "I told her that you’d been with me for years, that you’d been there for me through good times and bad times—and that you weren’t jealous of her."

Sirius reached over to scratch Padfoot behind the ears. "I’m going to guess that didn’t go over well."

"No. And one thing led to another, and she accused us of being lovers. I told her we weren’t, but you’d offered and—" he took a deep breath before continuing, "—maybe I should have accepted because you kissed a whole hell of a lot better."

Sirius’ eyes bugged out of their sockets. "Holy shit! You said that to your wife?"

"And got hell for it, too."

"Well, no shit!"

"It took me a lot of grovelling and apologies before she started to talk to me again. That’s when we went off to Paris."

"I wondered why she seemed so smug about that trip," Sirius reflected. "She seemed so full of herself that you were taking her—and made a point of telling me not to call."

"I’m sorry, Sirius. I know I shouldn’t have told her. I know things were awful."

"They did get better when she found out she was pregnant with Teddy," Sirius pointed out.

"You started dating Alice then, and that helped, too," Remus said. "Dora didn’t feel so threatened, I guess."

"Well, hell, what did she think I was going to do? Steal her husband away?"

"I think that’s exactly what she thought."

Sirius grunted. "She was an idiot."

"No, she wasn’t. She was..." Remus shrugged. "She just wanted someone to love her completely and totally. You and I have always been close, and we’ve always had the kind of friendship that people envy. She was afraid I’d choose you over her."

"But, the fact that you married her should have showed her that you’d chosen her over me."

"It should have, but she was angry and upset. She was frightened. Then, when Alice left you..."

Sirius winced. "Dora and Alice were close. Did Alice tell Dora why she left me? That I’d admitted I didn’t love her because I still cared about you?"

Remus drained the glass of wine. "Yes."

"Oh, fuck."

"Dora told me that if I even thought about spending any more time with you than I already did, she’d divorce me and tell every newspaper that would listen that I was having it on with you. She told me there’d be no way any court would allow me to have Teddy when I was guilty of having a homosexual affair with my best friend."

"But you weren’t."

"No, but one doesn’t need to be guilty to be crucified in the press."

Sirius had to acknowledge the truthfulness of that. Still... "You didn’t tell me you knew why Alice had left me."

"I figured you’d tell me if you needed to. Besides, I thought you were embarrassed about it, or you were afraid it might drive a wedge in our friendship."

It was Sirius’ turn to empty his glass. "It didn’t, though. I didn’t know you knew the truth of it all."

Remus shrugged.

"So, knowing that I still cared about you—three years after I’d confessed as much to you—how could you leave without a word after Dora and Teddy died? Considering our friendship, I deserved an answer to why you wouldn’t talk to me."

Remus poured another glass of wine for himself and then filled Sirius’ as well. "I’d hoped you wouldn’t ask me that."

"Well, I have, and you have to answer the question."

"I told you that we’d argued before Dora took off that night."

"Yes."

Remus laced his fingers tightly together around his glass and, looking into its contents, whispered, "We’d argued about you again."

Sirius opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again, not knowing what to say.

"My publisher called and said that a movie studio had contacted them about the rights to Old Moon."

"You never—"

"I know. I told Dora, and then I made the biggest mistake I could have made." Remus swallowed hard and placed his glass on the coffee table. His hand was shaking. "I told Dora I was going to call you, and she started screaming at me."

"Didn’t she want me to know at all?"

"She wanted me to celebrate with her, to go out and have dinner and champagne... I told her we would, as soon as I told you."

"That story was as much mine as yours," Sirius protested. "She knew that."

"I thought she did. God, Sirius; the things we said to one another. I called her a manipulative bitch who couldn’t stand to see me happy. She called me an unsatisfied queer who was incapable of satisfying her in any way, shape, or form. We threw more insults back and forth until she finally told me she was taking Teddy and going to her mother’s. She said I could decide if I wanted my family back or if I wanted—you."

There was enough of a hesitation that Sirius knew that Remus had edited what Dora had really said. He ignored it, though, to make the obvious conclusion so that Remus wouldn’t have to. "And that’s when she left—and then crashed."

Remus nodded, covering his face with his hands.

"Bloody hell, Moony," Sirius breathed. "No wonder you got upset about Bob’s assumption."

"I don’t suppose it really matters," Remus said, his hands muffling his voice. "It’s not like I’m married now. I am—able to choose to be in whatever kind of relationship I want to be, whether it’s with a woman or a man—or Padfoot."

The dog raised his head and cocked it to the side, staring at the man who lowered his hands to smile weakly at the animal.

"Whenever I would see you, Sirius, it would bring her words right back to me," Remus went on. "I know it wasn’t fair to you, but I couldn’t help but think that, if you’d just stopped—caring about me, or had fought for Alice a little harder, maybe..."

"Maybe there’d have been no reason for Dora to be jealous," Sirius finished. "And maybe she wouldn’t have crashed."

"And I’d still have Teddy," Remus whispered, tears welling in his eyes.

Sirius couldn’t have stopped himself if he’d wanted to. He lurched out of his seat and onto the couch that Remus was sitting on, throwing his arms around his friend’s neck. "I’m sorry, Moony. I’m so sorry," he whimpered.

His touch shattered the last bit of Remus’ restraint. The grieving man began to sob loudly, his body shaking almost violently. Sirius said nothing, if only because he knew nothing he could say would help. After a moment, he felt Remus’ arms tentatively encircle him and he shifted slightly closer. It was, in some ways, what he’d been wanting for years. His hope had been that Remus would be in his arms for a more selfish—and romantic—reason. If Remus could find solace in Sirius’ tight embrace, though, that was enough.

After a few minutes, the big black dog on the couch jumped down and came over to them, whining. His nose swiped across Sirius’ cheek, making the dark-haired man yelp at the suddenness and wetness of it. "Gah, Padfoot!"

The dog, sensing a slight weakness, shoved his head beneath Sirius’ arms and pushed himself further into their embrace until his nose hit Remus’ chin.

Sobs turned to chuckles as the dog lapped at Remus’ damp and salty cheek. "Padfoot!" Remus’ arms shifted to wrap around the dog, and Sirius felt cold at the loss of the other man’s arms around him.

"What about me?" Sirius whined. "Would it help if I licked you, too?"

Remus wiped his red, splotchy eyes with his sleeve and chuckled. "No, I can’t say it would."

"Well, there’s gratitude for you," Sirius muttered.

Remus unexpectedly hooked one hand behind Sirius’ head and pulled him close. For just a split second, Sirius thought Remus intended to kiss him. Instead, the writer pressed his forehead to Sirius’. "You’ve already done more for me than I ever thought you could," he said softly. "You didn’t give up on me, even when that’s what I wanted."

"I won’t ever give up on you," Sirius promised.

The corner of Remus’ lips rose slightly, the beginning of a lopsided smile. "Persistent bugger, aren’t you?"

"You know I am, and you love me for it."

Sirius felt a jolt go through Remus’ body at his casual comment. Before the dark-haired man could apologise for his offhanded remark, though, Remus smiled and let his hand slip down to Sirius’ shoulder. "It’s only one of many reasons why I do. Did you eat already?" And with that, Remus was pushing himself away and getting to his feet.

"There are hamburgers in the fridge. I already ate, but I could eat again," Sirius said absently, watching the other man head into the kitchen, Padfoot at his heels. He could hear Remus saying something about the hamburgers, but his mind was replaying Remus’ response to his comment.

‘One of many reasons why I do.’ What did he mean by that? What the hell, Remus?

*******


The next morning, Sirius stumbled bleary-eyed into the kitchen to find Remus at the table, typing furiously on his laptop, his notebook open on the table beside him. "Hey."

Remus grunted something in reply, his eyes not leaving the screen.

Sirius grinned at the man’s concentration. This brings back memories.

As he made himself a cup of instant coffee, he glanced over at the table. The omnipresent cup for tea was within Remus’ reach, but there was no sign he’d eaten anything. Shaking his head, Sirius set to work.

Twenty minutes later, a plate of bacon and eggs appeared as if by magic beneath Remus’ nose, and he reared back, startled.

"Now, you can’t tell me you didn’t know I was cooking breakfast," Sirius admonished him, catching the look of surprise on his friend’s face.

"I was concentrating," Remus said in his defence, taking the plate in his hands.

Sirius laughed softly and sat down with his own plate of food. "This instant coffee is shite," he announced. "You need to buy a coffee maker."

Remus tilted his head to one side. "I don’t drink coffee, though."

"I do."

The brown-haired man took a bite from a piece of bacon while regarding Sirius thoughtfully. "Are you planning on coming here more often to make it worth my while buying such a thing?"

"If you buy a coffee maker, I just might."

Grey and blue eyes met, but didn’t shy away from one another. "It’s a long way to come for a cup of coffee."

"True," Sirius conceded. "Maybe I’ll have to get myself transferred to the Philadelphia office."

"You just got an incredible promotion. I doubt your bosses—however wonderful they are—would allow it."

"I only got the position for two reasons."

"Your charm and your looks, yes, I know," Remus said, rolling his eyes.

"No, no, really. There were reasons. The first was because they wanted someone to kick Malfoy in the balls."

Remus’ eyebrows rose. "Oh, really? You didn’t tell me you were so violent in ousting him."

"Tempted to, yes, but I refrained."

"Noble of you."

"Yes, well. The other reason, though, we still have to discuss."

"Oh? Careless of you to just agree to something without discussing it fully."

"No, no. You and I have to discuss the other reason."

Remus picked up another piece of bacon and shoved it into his mouth. "Sounds ominous."

"Jules and Di want to publish your books."

"I’m under contract with Snell’s."

"I know that, but contracts can be broken or bought out."

"I haven’t written anything in five years. There’s no guarantee I’m going to write anything in the next five." The answer was very casually given, which meant Remus was hiding something.

Sirius pointed to the laptop with his fork. "Liar."

"Writing for the newspaper doesn’t count."

"Do you mean to tell me that if I searched the files on that computer that there would be nothing there but newspaper articles?" Sirius kept his eyes on Remus as he asked. He was satisfied to see Remus stop chewing for just the tiniest of moments. "Come on, Remus. You might have temporarily lain the series aside, but I know you. I know you have other ideas. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that you have another novel already typed up, ready to go."

Remus pushed some eggs around his plate with his fork, deliberately not looking at Sirius. "Even if I did have something—and I’m not saying I do," he added firmly, "it wouldn’t be ready."

"Let me read it, then," Sirius offered.

Remus raised his head quickly. "I said I don’t—"

"You can’t give me that shit. I know you."

Remus sighed and returned his attention to his food. "God, you’re a stubborn, hard-headed bastard."

"I prefer persistent bugger," Sirius countered with a smile.

The blue eyes met his again. "I’ll just bet you do. Here, then." Remus turned the laptop around so that Sirius could see the screen. "Tell me what you think of this."

"Don’t they have an editor at that paper of yours?" Sirius asked, nevertheless punching the keys necessary to bring the beginning of the article into view.

"They do. But it would be a good thing to see if we still work well together, don’t you think? Before I even think about ringing Snell’s and give them a chance of relieving themselves of my non-productive self."

Sirius shot a grin at his friend and then began to read.

*


"If we play our cards right," Remus said sotto voce, "we could get a fabulous meal tonight."

Sirius allowed his friend to hold the door to the newspaper office for him. "Lay on, Macduff."

"God, that would make you Macbeth," Remus muttered, letting the door close. "Shall I expect a dagger in my ribs?"

A slight man with thinning red hair looked up from his desk as Remus led the way across the reception area. "Remus!"

"Hello, Arthur. I’ve got that thing written about the new bed-and-breakfast."

Relief spread across the man’s features. "Thank God! I was just now trying to find something online worth filling up a page. Percy!"

Almost immediately, a younger version of the man emerged from the back room. Sirius was surprised to see a wary expression in Percy’s eyes when he saw Remus standing there.

"Arthur, this is a friend of mine, Sirius Black. He’s an editor at Vernon-Gray Publishing. He’s already gone over the article, and trust me when I say there won’t be anything else you can do to my piece to make it any better."

Sirius and Arthur exchanged a handshake and some pleasantries.

"This is my son, Percy," Arthur said, motioning to the young man. "He’s majoring in journalism at the local university. He helps me out during the summer and on his breaks."

"Percy’s the third of Arthur’s children," Remus added. "He’s got seven children altogether."

"Seven!" Sirius yelped. "Good God, man!"

"Only four live at home full time, now," the man said. "Bill, my eldest, works for a museum—the Acquisitions Department. Charlie is a cowboy in South Dakota—"

"A cowboy?" Sirius repeated.

"An honest-to-God cowboy," Remus said.

"Then there’s Percy, and then the twins, Fred and George. Then there’s Ron, and last is our only girl, Ginny." Arthur paused to hand the envelope with Remus’ story in it to his son. "That will go on the front page of that last section. Set it up, won’t you?"

"You’re a reality show waiting to happen," Sirius commented.

Arthur laughed. "My wife loves watching those shows. I’ve told her not to get any ideas for any more, though. Seven is all I can handle." He glanced from Sirius to Remus, then back again. "Are you here for business or pleasure, Mr Black?"

"Call me Sirius, please." Sirius smiled. "I had some business with our office in Philadelphia, but Remus and I have been friends for years. I thought I’d visit him and see what’s keeping him here."

Remus interrupted whatever Arthur was going to say. "I was thinking about taking him to Hazlett’s Inn tonight for a home-cooked meal."

"Hazlett’s?" Arthur started to shake his head despairingly. "Remus, have I taught you nothing? The only good home-cooked meal is one cooked at home."

"Well, I doubt Sirius would like the consistency of my mashed potatoes," Remus said with a grin.

"Wait," Arthur said. "Just wait right there." He picked up the phone and, after some fumbling with the buttons and a long pause, said, "Molly? Do you have enough for two more tonight?"

"Arthur, we couldn’t—" Remus began.

The newspaperman waved him off. "Remus is here, and he has a visitor from England. He says he wants his friend to have a home-cooked meal before he leaves. Just a minute." Arthur started rooting around on his desk for a piece of paper and a pen. "Okay, potatoes. Yes, milk, and... Got it. Around six, would you say?"

A few minutes later, Sirius climbed into the Jeep and looked at the slyly grinning Remus. "You are a piece of work, you know that? A more manipulative bastard does not exist."

"You can thank me later," Remus said.

*******


"That was incredible," Sirius said, placing his fork carefully down on the now-empty plate.

Molly Weasley smiled, her round cheeks pinking at the praise. "Oh, Mr Black, it was nothing."

"I told you to call me Sirius; and trust me, this was the best meal I’ve had in months."

"Considering how he cooks, Molly, he’s telling the truth," Remus remarked.

"Would you like another piece of pie, dear?" Molly asked, seeing Remus’ empty plate.

"No, I’ve had plenty, thank you."

"Remus—"

"No, Molly, really. And no lectures about how I need fattening up."

The woman might have intended to do that very thing, but was distracted by Ron’s sudden exclamation at the theft of his piece of pie by one of the twins.

"Did Percy tell you his good news, Remus?" Arthur asked, speaking loudly to be heard over the sound of his wife scolding the errant son. "He won a competition for a piece he wrote. All the journalism students in their sophomore and junior years were encouraged to compete, and his story was chosen as the winner."

"Well done!" Remus’ smile was warm as he looked across the table at Percy. "What was the topic of your winning story?"

Sirius wondered if he was the only one who could see that Percy looked decidedly uncomfortable as Remus addressed him. "It wasn’t much, really. I didn’t think it had much of a chance."

"He wrote about how the budget in the English Department had been cut back in favour of funding for athletics," Arthur answered. "I was thinking about putting it in the paper, but I was afraid it might be seen as favouritism."

"Dad, you can’t publish it," Percy protested. "It was nothing."

"It’s impressive," Remus commented. "And it’s not favouritism if it’s good writing. What kind of prize did you get?"

"He got one thousand dollars," Molly replied in awe. "I can scarcely believe that one little story of his would be worth so much."

Percy fidgeted in his seat. "Dad, Mom, really, it’s not a big deal."

The twin that hadn’t stolen the pie said scornfully, "Everything is a big deal to you, Percy. I don’t know why you don’t want Dad to splatter it all over the front page."

"Stop harassing your brother," Molly chastised the twin. "He’s just being humble."

"It’s really not that good," Percy mumbled, his face nearly as red as his hair.

"It must be good, if you won," Remus insisted. "You’ve earned it."

"A thousand dollars is nothing to sneeze at," Arthur chimed in.

Sirius sat back, letting his hand rest on the back of Remus’ chair. "Honestly, mate, be proud of what you’ve done."

Percy swallowed hard, and looked down at his plate. "Yes, I should be proud of what I’ve done."

"Then it’s settled," Molly said, standing and starting to reach for empty plates. "Ginny, help me clear..."

In the ensuing ruckus—the twins and Ron trying to vanish upstairs to keep from getting recruited into doing dishes and Arthur inviting Remus and Sirius out onto the patio for a longer conversation—Sirius was the only one who caught Percy’s glance at Remus. It was filled with regret and Sirius couldn’t help but wonder what it could mean.

It wasn’t until they were preparing to leave when someone said something, causing Remus to turn his head quickly to look over his shoulder at something. There was something in the angle that made Sirius remember the photo in the magazine and he frowned. He wouldn’t be here right now with a plate of leftover roast in his hands, arguing with the twins over the meaning of the word ‘football’ if it hadn’t been for the article. Still, he wondered again who it was who’d photographed Remus for the magazine against his friend’s knowledge.

I suppose I have to thank them for helping me find Remus, though I’m sure that wasn’t their intention. They probably got a few dollars for letting the author or the editors of that article know where Remus was. I hope it was worth it to them. In this town, a couple of hundred dollars would be much appreciated.

Sudden realisation flooded through Sirius’ mind.

Of course, they might have got as much as a thousand dollars...

"Where’s Percy?" he asked the twins. "I’d like to say good-bye to him."

"Percy? Why waste your time on him?" Fred scoffed.

"He’s probably practicing his acceptance speech for his Pulitzer Prize," George joked.

There was chaos for a while as the twins and Ron called for Percy’s presence as loudly as possible. It wasn’t until Molly got involved, yelling, "Go see what your brothers want before I toss you out the window to them!" that Percy finally emerged, shamefacedly, from the house.

"I wanted to congratulate you again on winning that competition," Sirius said.

"Thanks," Percy muttered, taking Sirius’ outstretched hand and shaking it half-heartedly.

"It really is a wonderful thing." Remus was smiling at the boy, but his forehead was slightly creased with concern over Percy’s lack of enthusiasm. "I look forward to reading it."

"It’s too bad your father didn’t run your story instead of Remus’," Sirius said. "Remus wouldn’t have minded waiting a week or two for his story to be printed. Not if it was in the interest of a young, up-and-coming journalist like yourself."

Percy swallowed hard. "I’m sure my dad made the right decision. Mr Lupin’s story is incredible, really."

"Well, of course, it is," Sirius snarled. "But you’d know why it’s so good, wouldn’t you?"

Percy’s face blanched and his eyes widened behind the lenses of his glasses.

"Remus writes as well as a New York Times best-selling author, doesn’t he?" Beside him, Sirius felt Remus’ sudden tension, but he didn’t dare look at his friend. "Maybe you should have written something fictional; something about a writer who has disappeared from the literary world and just shows up in a small town one day."

"Sirius—" Remus hissed in warning.

Sirius waved him off. "I’m just taking the piss, Moony. I’m sure Percy’s article is wonderfully written. After all, he won a competition with it, right?" His voice continued to get harsher, angrier. "It’s not like he got paid a thousand dollars for revealing the whereabouts of a person trying desperately to live a life of privacy and peace."

"How did you—?" Percy’s voice shook.

"I’ve got a reasonable amount of intelligence and a suspicious nature, you lying little shit" Sirius snapped. "There are very few journalists out there that wouldn’t give their left nut for a story. And then you realised the answer to the ‘Great Disappearance of R. J. Wolfe’ was right under your nose..."

"Christ!" Remus spat.

"What are you accusing my son of doing?" Arthur demanded.

"...Large family, eager to be respected and noticed, all you needed was one photo to one magazine."Sirius stepped closer to Percy, who fell back another step to keep his distance from the man. "To hell with his right to privacy. So fucking what if other journalists came out of the woodwork to question him or hound him to death with what he’s been doing or what he’s writing? You’re a fucking Judas Iscariot—for one thousand American dollars."

"What did you do, Percy?" Arthur asked quietly, sounding like he dreaded the answer.

"He sold Remus out," Sirius answered curtly. "And I’ll tell you one thing, little man—" His finger tapped Percy’s chest. "If that photo hadn’t helped me to find Remus, I’d have put my fist in your face repeatedly by now for what you’ve done."

"Sirius, don’t."

The dark-haired man turned toward his friend. "This is the bastard who either took the picture or told them where to find you, Remus."

"I understand that, but—don’t." Remus put his hand on Sirius’ shoulder and squeezed it tightly, almost painfully. "Arthur, I—I just don’t know what to say. This is—"

"We’ll talk tomorrow," Arthur said, his eyes focussed on Percy’s bowed head. "I’m so sorry, Remus. I didn’t know."

"Yes, well..." Remus let the sentence trail off. "Thank Molly for the dinner. Come on, Sirius."

The ride home was quiet. Sirius tried once to talk about what had happened ("He had no right—") but Remus interrupted him in a strangely gentle tone. "It’s over, Sirius. Let it go."

The editor’s calm could only be maintained for so long, however. As Remus fumbled with the key to the front door, Sirius burst out with, "How can you be so calm about this?"

"Because I’m not so sure I’m angry about it."

"Remus, they took your picture without your knowledge and published it. You could have had all kinds of media whores around here—"

"But I don’t," Remus said firmly, pushing the door open.

"But—"

"Sirius, you’re here. You wouldn’t be if not for that horrible photo."

"I know, but—"

Remus wheeled around and Sirius suddenly realised how close they were, and he felt himself breathless at the proximity of the bright blue eyes. "I didn’t know how much I missed you until this happened. If the price I had to pay for that knowledge is one God-awful photo in a magazine..." Remus paused, and then, to Sirius’ wonder and amazement, he placed his hand on Sirius’ shoulder and softly stroked the side of Sirius’ neck with his thumb. "It seems a small price to pay."

For one of the few times in his life, Sirius was speechless. His jaw opened to say something, but when no words were forthcoming, he clamped it shut again.

A smile tugged at Remus’ lips. "The sight of seeing you like this, with nothing to say seems to be a bonus in all this." He abruptly turned and, grabbing the plate of leftover roast from Sirius’ hand, retreated into the kitchen.

***


"What in the hell is he playing at?"

There was a sigh. "I’m sure I don’t know, Sirius."

"He’s throwing out these signals—does he even know what he’s doing to me? I ended up wanking—"

"Oh, I do not want to hear any more of that!" James groaned.

"What am I supposed to think, though, Prongs?"

"Why don’t you just ask him?"

"And have him kick me out of the house and shut himself off from us again? Oh, yeah, that’s a brilliant idea."

"Could you sound any more sarcastic? Wait until you’re ready to get on the plane, then."

"I’ll end up causing a scene at the airport."

"I’m sure people who work at the airport will have seen stranger things."

***


Lily was staring at James with such disbelief that he found himself fidgeting. "What?"

"Your best friend asks you for your opinion and your advice and the only thing you can tell him is to ask Remus about it at the airport?"

"What else was I supposed to say? I don’t know what’s going on in Remus’ head any more than Sirius does."

Lily rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the carrots she’d been slivering for the salad.

"You don’t know either," James said accusingly. "So don’t pretend that you do."

His wife sighed and laid the knife down with such deliberation that he found himself wondering if she’d been thinking of throwing it at him. "James. When Sirius was having his Great Sexual Identity Crisis of 1985, who was the first person to accept Sirius immediately without reservations?"

"Remus, but he said it was only because he figured Sirius’ clothes sense might come in handy."

"When Sirius broke up with Awful Andrew, who sat with him for two nights running while he cried his eyes out?"

"Remus, but that was only because Sirius kept him awake. He didn’t have much choice."

"When Sirius went to gay clubs, who went with him the most often?"

"Well, now you’re just starting to make Remus sound like a door mat, because Sirius dragged him along unwillingly."

"When Alice handed her engagement ring back to Sirius, where did Sirius go?"

"He went to Remus and Dora’s. Lily—"

"And when Dora said she was tossing Sirius out after one day, what happened?"

James sighed. "She and Remus got into that bloody awful row and Remus threatened to move back in with Sirius. Are you certain you’re not the attorney in this family?"

"What happened when Sirius told Remus he loved him?" Lily pressed.

"According to Sirius, Remus said that it was piss-poor timing, considering it was a week before Remus and Dora’s wedding."

"Wait. Sirius told him that a week before the wedding?"

"He was drunk—"

"Could his timing have been any worse?"

"It could have been the night before the wedding." James stopped to wait for the eye roll that Lily obligingly gave. "He said he was desperate."

"He was an arse. Still, Remus didn’t punch him in the mouth for saying it, did he?"

"Nooo..."

"There you have it, then."

"There I have what, exactly?"

"James, the man not only didn’t blacken Sirius’ eye for coming on to him, he said Sirius had piss-poor timing. He’s supported and encouraged Sirius to the point that he was willing to risk his own marriage for the dolt, and Sirius doesn’t know how Remus feels? And you don’t see it either?" Lily stared at James expectantly. "Are you two really that stupid?"

James blinked. "You’re not saying—"

"Do you mean to tell me that you’d never noticed how Remus looked at him?" Lily asked softly. "Good Lord, James!"

"Lily, Remus isn’t gay!"

"No, I’d call it bisexual."

"He’s never dated another man in his life!"

"As far as you know, he hasn’t," Lily said snidely.

"I would’ve known—Sirius would’ve known if he had."

Lily put her hands on her hips. "Is it possible Remus never dated another man because he was waiting for one particular man to notice him?"

"You mean—" James’ mouth worked silently for a moment, trying to find the words to complete the sentence. "Are you saying—?"

"I’m saying what I’m saying. It’s up to Sirius to get his head out of his arse before it’s too late."

***


Sirius tapped at the door. "Come on, Remus! I still need to get a shower, and we’re going to be late to the airport!"

"One more minute," came the voice from behind the door. "No, wait!"

The door was suddenly jerked open and Sirius took an involuntarily step backward in surprise. He took a step forward again in wonderment, his body responding almost immediately to what his eyes were taking in. "You shaved."

Oh, fuck, he looks good. And no shirt. Does he know what he’s doing to me? Does he care? Oh, God. Don’t touch, Black. Don’t embarrass yourself—

Remus self-consciously rubbed at the side of his jaw. "I thought it might be time. Here." He held out a pair of scissors, and reached back to the tail of wet hair that was gathered at the nape of his neck. "You can make sure it’s straight." He stepped back into the bathroom, not waiting to see if Sirius was following.

Sirius, however, had no intention of not following. "Remus, I’m not a barber."

"You used to trim my hair all the time. Before." The last word was added belatedly, implying many things that neither of them wanted to talk about.

"But that was just a quick trim. This is something else entirely," Sirius protested.

"How difficult can it be? Cut it off here then neaten up the ends."

The dark-haired man raised his hand to touch the back of his own hair, which was almost to his own shoulders.

Remus saw the motion and smirked, though he said nothing. He lowered the seat on the toilet and sat down, turning slightly. "Do it quickly and it won’t hurt as badly, right?"

"Are you sure?" Sirius asked, opening and closing the scissors with a snap.

Remus had a faraway look in his eye as he replied, "It’s time."

Sirius reached forward and gently stroked the sandy brown tail once, then again. "But are you sure?"

The blue eyes cleared and danced with laughter. "Padfoot, would I have handed you something sharp and potentially dangerous if I weren’t?"

"Point taken." Sirius eyed up the hair, trying to judge where best to make the cut.

This is so terribly wrong, asking me to do this. ‘How do I make myself look better for you, Sirius?’ God, Remus, do you know what I want to do to you right now?

It took only one sharp, decisive cut, and Sirius carefully placed the length of hair in Remus’ hands, along with the elastic band that had held it together.

"It’s longer than I thought."

Sirius bit his tongue to keep from making a rather inappropriate sexual innuendo. Instead, he let his fingers slide through the shortened strands, finger-combing them into place. The hours of watching Remus bent over a tablet, scribbling furiously, made it possible to remember exactly how the light brown hair had curled ever so slightly at the nape of his neck, how it had been angled over and around his ears. Relieved of weight and length, the damp locks were already trying to twist into gentle waves.


Taking a deep breath, Sirius tried a bit of humour to steady himself. "If I fuck this up, I want your promise that you won’t hack me to pieces with these scissors and bury all the parts out in the woods somewhere."

"No, not a chance of that," Remus said with a crooked smile. "Padfoot the dog would dig you up and bring you back, piece by piece. I was barely ready to see you whole. To see you in bloody, chewed bits might be too much for me to deal with."

They chuckled, and Sirius thought it had calmed his nerves. It was very quickly obvious, though, that he’d made a dreadful mistake. His fingertips were constantly brushing the soft skin of Remus’ neck and shoulders. His nose was filled with the smell of Remus’ aftershave lotion—something spicy and musky that heightened Sirius’ awareness of the other man. Then there was just the sheer proximity of the rangy body, lightly muscled and beaded with water droplets...

Does he see my hand shaking? Can he hear my heart pounding inside my chest? Can’t he smell how aroused I am?

When he attempted to trim the hair coming down over the other man’s forehead into a manageable fringe, the sight of the bright blue eyes gazing trustingly up at him made things twist painfully inside Sirius. "I’m afraid I’ll mess up the rest," he said hoarsely, holding the scissors by the blades so that Remus could grasp the handles. "I’ve made you look like a hedgehog with alopecia."

Remus smiled. "You wouldn’t do that." His voice was soft and full of confidence.

His assurance shot through every nerve in Sirius’ body, making him tingle as if he’d been shocked.

He knows. He knows I still want him. Do I acknowledge it? Should I let him speak first? What in the hell do I do?

Before Sirius could decide what he should say, Remus stood up, pressing himself against Sirius ever-so-slightly. The dark-haired man barely contained a whimper at the slide of Remus’ denim jeans over his thickening erection, which was just barely covered by cotton pyjamas and a silk dressing gown.

"Remus—" He swallowed hard, unable to interpret the expression on Remus’ newly shaven face. If he didn’t know any better, he’d swear—

"You’d best get your shower," Remus interrupted, brushing pieces of hair from his shoulders and arms, and pushing past Sirius. "Do you want me to clean this up now or later?"

Sirius must have said ‘Later’, because Remus nodded and left. The moment the door closed, though, Sirius began smacking himself repeatedly in the forehead with heel of his hand, muttering, "Idiot!" with every hit.

*


"Have you got your tickets? What about your passport?"

"Yes, Mum, I’ve got it all right here." Sirius patted his briefcase and grinned impudently at Remus.

"We had to turn around and go back for your tickets. I think I’m entitled to ask these questions as often as I deem necessary."

They both chuckled then Sirius asked, "What will I do in New York without you to nursemaid me?"

"You’ll end up in a bar at the airport, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and miss your flight altogether."

"Aren’t you sorry you aren’t going with me?"

Remus just shook his head in amusement. "You’d best get moving. They’re going to call your flight fairly soon, and you still have to get over to the terminal and try to convince them you’re not a terrorist."

"Moony! I’m hurt to the quick."

Their smiles slowly faded as they stood there staring at one another.

"Come home, Remus," Sirius said impulsively. "We miss you."

Remus looked down at his boots. "I’m not done here, yet."

"Come for a visit, then. You haven’t seen Katie since she was three. Harry would like to get to know you again."

"I don’t—not yet. Soon, though. That’s the best I can do."

"You’ll have to come over anyhow, so that you can get out of that contract with Snell’s," Sirius said, only half-jokingly.

"There are lawyers and agents to do that sort of thing. What with email and faxes and all, I could be in the Australian outback and get everything accomplished."

"Di and Jules want to meet you, though."

"Maybe. Let me think about it. I don’t even know if I’m going to finish that bloody series."

"Why wouldn’t you?" Sirius demanded, bewildered. "You’ve had the thing written in your head for years. It’s just a matter of getting the thing down on paper."

"It’s—changed. I’ve changed," Remus said with a shrug. "We’re none of us the same."

"Don’t tell me that Jasper’s new love interest has the whole series in that much of an uproar," Sirius joked.

Remus stiffened. "What makes you say that?"

Sensing he’d said something wrong, Sirius tried to sound as unconcerned as possible. "It was just a comment. You’d told me that Jasper and Sara weren’t going to get together after all, and it would change the entire fifth book. That was the only change you’d mentioned, but it seems like a big one."

Remus drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Sorry. I just don’t know what I’m doing with it. It might be a shit idea. Give me some time. It’ll take me a while to recover from your visit anyhow."

"You’re a git." Sirius stepped forward and threw his arm around Remus’ neck, bringing him into a tight embrace. "Take care of yourself, Moony." It took a moment, but his friend finally put his arms around Sirius just as firmly.

"Don’t give the flight attendants a difficult time."

Sirius felt goose bumps form from the soft, warm breath on the back of his neck. "Me?" He reluctantly disentangled himself. "I’m the epitome of the perfect traveller."

"I scoff," Remus said with a lopsided smile.

"I am offended."

"Get out of here, you dog." And shocking Sirius to the core, Remus tugged him back into a one-armed embrace and kissed him quickly on the top of his head. "Email me when you get home so I know they didn’t toss you out over the Atlantic." And with that, Remus pulled away and shoved Sirius in the direction the editor needed to go.

Sirius turned to say something—he still wasn’t quite sure what—but it was too late. Remus was already walking away, his hands jammed in his jeans pockets.

Oh, no. No confusion about any of this.

***


Re: Tossing out over the Atlantic
From: Sirius Black
To: R. J. Lupin

Didn’t happen, though I did think of tossing one off.
Thanks for everything. I had a great time.
Sirius

*


Re: Re: Tossing out over the Atlantic
From: R. J. Lupin
To: Sirius Black

It’s amazing they didn’t toss you out—but even more of a miracle that you didn’t indulge yourself. Does the ‘Mile High Club’ not mean anything to you?
Padfoot the dog misses you. He’s looking for more hamburger.
It was good to see you.
Remus

*


Re: Mile High Club
From: Sirius Black
To: R. J. Lupin

The Mile High Club is over-rated. Those tiny lavatories are bad enough, but you know they’re not soundproofed?
S.

*


Re: Soundproofing in airplane restrooms
From: R. J. Lupin
To: Sirius Black

Or should the topic line be ‘Lack of soundproofing?’
At any rate, I do not want to know how you know that.
R.

***


"And you didn’t call me to tell me what Lily said?" Sirius exploded, his disbelief making his tone raise an octave and then some.

James shrugged. "I thought you’d be able to read him well enough to know if he was still interested or not."

"James," Sirius said firmly, "did you or did you not get a phone call from me asking you if you had any idea of what Remus Lupin’s behaviour meant?"

"Sirius," James shot back in the same manner, "you’ve never had a problem determining if a bloke is interested in you. It should be rather more obvious because it’s Remus."

"But it’s not!" Sirius exclaimed. "Damn it, Prongs, if I never noticed he was interested before, how in the hell would I know he is now?"

James sank back in his chair. "I don’t know. I wanted to call you. I had the bloody phone in my hand. But then I started to worry that I might make things even more awkward if I told you what Lily said— and Remus really didn’t feel that way."

Sirius considered his best friend’s words carefully. "You’re right," he finally said with a sigh. "It might have made things worse if I started looking for signs that weren’t there. But it still would have been good to know, because then maybe I could have asked him."

James expression was clearly sceptical. "Would you really have asked?"

"Probably not," Sirius admitted. "It makes me feel better to think that I might have, though."

"So, what’s your next move?"

Sirius ran his fingers through his hair and then folded his hands together on the table. "I have absolutely no idea."

***


Re: Pie
From: Sirius Black
To: R. J. Lupin

Moony,
I’m starved and I keep thinking about Molly Weasley’s apple pie. How does one ship an apple pie from the States to the UK?
Me

*

Re: Pie
From: R. J. Lupin
To: Sirius Black

Padfoot
How does one ship an apple pie across the Atlantic Ocean? One doesn’t. You’ll just have to beg Molly to make one the next time you visit.
I bought a coffee maker, by the way.
Me also

***


Re: Re: Bored
From: Sirius Black
To: R. J. Lupin

I’m bored, Moony. If you were here, I’d drag you out pub-crawling. Or just for fun, we could go hit one of those gay clubs like we used to. Remember that one we went to that had the fabulous DJ who thought we really were a couple? It was closed after a series of health and fire code violations a year after you left. As if we didn’t realise there were problems after one visit. Wires really shouldn’t be sticking out of the walls, and I still shudder to think of what that was in my drink that made it look like that. Thanks for stopping me from drinking it.
I’d kiss you for it, but seeing as you aren’t here...
Padfoot

*


Re: Re: Re: Bored
From: R. J. Lupin
To: Sirius Black

We’re too old for pub crawls and clubbing. We’re at the point where we should have found one pub where we have ‘our’ table, and the bartender knows ‘our’ drinks, and the waitress knows ‘our’ favourite food.
For the record, you kissed me that night for stopping you from drinking that... concoction. On the lips with tongue.
Moony

*


Re: Re: Re: Re: Bored
From: Sirius Black
To: R. J. Lupin

And you liked it, too.

*


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Bored
From: R. J. Lupin
To: Sirius Black

You didn’t hear me complain, did you? Wish you’d used a breath mint first, though.

***


Re: Business Proposition
From: Sirius Black
To: R. J. Lupin

Dear Mr Lupin,
By now, you should have received the packet which was sent to you from yours truly. To verify, it was a packet containing the terms concerning our interest in publishing your next novel. I understand that you have a long and successful relationship with Snell’s Publishing, but I would like to reiterate that Vernon-Gray Publishing employs one of the best, if not the best editor in the UK. Certainly, he is one of the best looking and most charming.
Feel free to contact us with any questions you might have.
Sincerely,
Sirius Black

P.S. How’s that for formality? Come on, Moony. You’ve been sitting on the damn contracts for a month now. Have you even contacted your agent? Or Snell’s? You’ve got to give me a bone here, otherwise, the girls are going to put me on a plane and send me back to you. And honestly, you don’t want to know what they want me to do to you to convince you to sign with them—I mean us.
Of course, I’d get to try that coffee maker. And maybe Molly would make that pie again. That does it. I’m calling the airline this afternoon.
Me

*


Re: Re: Business Proposition
From: R. J. Lupin
To: Sirius Black

Dear Mr Black,
Remember that patience is a virtue.
Yours truly,
R. J. Lupin

Padfoot,
I can only type so quickly, you stupid bugger. How long do you think it takes to type an entire book?
You’re one of the best looking and charming editors? Where is ‘self-important’ or ‘arrogant’ or ‘conceited’ in that list of attributes?
Those threats from the ladies about what you’re going to do to me: do they involve violence or sex?
Me back

*


Re: Re: Re: Business Proposition
From: Sirius Black
To: R. J. Lupin

You had half of that book written already, and I know it.
You’re hoping it’s sex, aren’t you?

*


Re: Re: Re: Re: Business Proposition
From: R. J. Lupin
To: Sirius Black

Egotistical arse.
You just think you know it.
Violence, sex... There’s pain both ways, and who knows? I might be able to get off on the violence just as well as the sex.

*


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Business Propostion
From: Sirius Black
To: R. J. Lupin

I think you scare me.

*


Re: Scaring you
From: R. J. Lupin
To: Sirius Black

Such was my intention. Now leave me alone so I can get some bloody work done. If you want the fucking book, you have to let me finish the damn thing!

***


Re: Book Proposal
From: R. J. Lupin
To: Sirius Black

Mr Black,
Three weeks ago, you expressed an interest in publishing my next book. I have recently submitted an outline and sample chapters of my latest work to my current publisher, but it was not found to be of interest to them. I have fulfilled my contractual obligations to them by offering it to them first. Now that they have rejected it outright, I wondered if you’d be interested in it. It is the fourth in a series that I started several years ago. The first three books were well-received, but the direction of the fourth book might be considered a bit controversial. If you are still interested, I can send you a general outline, the first two chapters, and the most controversial chapter. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
R. J. Lupin

P.S. Remember I told you about the change in Jasper’s love life? The people at Snell’s are completely pissed off at me for it. They’re more than happy to part with me for a fee, and I’m more than happy to pay. I wonder if ‘your’ Di and Julia will be interested in this. I think it might bother a lot of people—especially those who thought Jasper and Sara were right for one another. I think Jasper is happier now, not having to deny things he’s been feeling all along.

*


Re: Re: Book Proposal
From: Sirius Black
To: R. J. Lupin

Mr Lupin,
We are very much interested in your book. Please send whatever you have prepared and we will look it over. Vernon-Gray Publishing is no stranger to publishing books with controversial content. Perhaps you’ll remember the firestorm over the book, My Stepdaughter’s Boyfriend?
Knowing the content and quality of your work as I do, I feel confident that whatever controversial content you refer to is not of a gratuitous nature, but is truly what is demanded of it by the characters in the book.
I look forward to reading it.
Yours,
Sirius Black

P.S. What in the hell have you done to Jasper? Would you just bloody tell me who he falls in love with? Come on, Moony! Tell me what I need to prepare the girls for!

*


Re: Re: Re: Book Proposal
From: R. J. Lupin
To: Sirius Black

I’ve attached the outline and the chapters. You can print them off instead of me mailing the lot to you. It’ll save me from being aggravated by you during that time in which they’re in the postal service’s hands.

I hope you like it, Padfoot.

***


Sirius downloaded the attachments and stared at the general outline for a moment. Remus had been overcautious—Or he’s being sneakily evasive!—in choosing wording that didn’t link Jasper with any particular name in a romantic way.

Bloody Jasper seems to be hanging out with his best mate, Terry, more than with any birds that I can see... Why are there four chapters in which Terry is trying to come to grips with Jasper’s new crush? It’s not Terry’s sister, what’s-her-name, is it? I thought Jasper thought of her as a sister, too...

For a moment, Sirius debated printing everything out before reading it, but the black words across the screen were too enticing.

He skimmed through the first two chapters, realising they were a summary of things that had happened in the first three books. The third chapter Remus sent, however, was actually the tenth chapter of the book. Sirius glanced at the outline.

"Chapter Ten: Jasper reconciles himself to his past and decides where his affections lie."

"I know he’s sitting at his laptop laughing his arse off at me at this very minute," Sirius mumbled, clicking on the file.

Jasper and Sara’s breakup was as messy and emotional as any that Sirius had ever read—and had experienced. He winced as he recognised words that Remus had said that Dora had thrown at him.

This had to hurt to write. It hurts to read it. Why would he do this to himself?

Sara’s accusations that Jasper had another lover surprised Sirius a bit, until he realised that it was the same thing both Andrew and Alice had said to Sirius when they broke up with him. Andrew’s exact wording was echoed by Sara: "Even when you’re with me, you’re not really here! Who is she?"

He had known the answer to Andrew’s question, though at that point, he’d preferred to ignore what his heart had been telling him. He didn’t want to admit he’d been missing and craving the time spent with Remus. He hadn’t wanted to acknowledge that Remus had been the one his heart had been aching for. He had confessed it to Alice, who said it was obvious to anyone who knew the two.

So, who does Jasper want? Who has his heart been aching for? With his heart pounding, Sirius went on.

"I’m not all too sure you’ll understand," Jasper said, deliberately looking away from her, letting his eyes take note of the wallpaper peeling away from the wall between the two windows. "It’s not another woman, Sara."
"Oh, don’t give me that shite! There’s no doubt there’s someone else, and I deserve to know who the bitch is!"
There was no way to soften the blow.
"It’s Terry."
She stared at him disbelievingly. "What do you mean, ‘It’s Terry’? Is he making you break up with me?"
"No, Sara." Jasper laughed bitterly. "He doesn’t even know I was going to have this discussion with you. It’s Terry that I love."
"Jasper—"
He couldn’t stop now if he wanted to. "It’s Terry. It’s always been Terry, but I’ve been trying to deny it for years. You loved me, though, and I thought maybe you could help me forget about him."


"It’s Terry? Jasper’s in love with Terry?"

Sirius shot to his feet, pushing his chair away from the desk. His mind was racing, his thoughts filled with voices from his past.

James: "It’s always been Remus, Sirius. It’s always been about him."

Alice: "I can’t compete with Remus. The two of you are too close and have shared too much..."

Lily: "The man looked at you like you were ice cream on a hot day, and you never noticed?"

The conversation he’d had with Remus a week before Remus’ wedding:

"I love you, Remus."

"You’re drunk."

"No, I’m not. Well, maybe a little. But it’s true. I love you."

"God, Sirius!"

"Don’t be mad—"

"I’m not, but—I’m getting married in a
week! What in the hell makes you think I want to hear this now? Fuck, you’ve got piss-poor timing!"

Sirius pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. It wasn’t, "You’re out of your mind." Lily was right. He should have hit me for coming on to him. Instead, he growled at me for bringing it up a week before the wedding.

He could hear himself telling Julia that Jasper was Remus, and somewhere from deep in his mind, he recalled a comment of Peter’s: "You know, Sirius, Terry is an awful lot like you..."

And only two months ago: "...You love me for it."

"It’s only one of many reasons why I do."


He sighed and turned slightly so he could see the laptop’s screen. The question is, do I take this chapter as a sign that Remus is interested in me? Or is he only being faithful to the character? Do I accept all the teasing, all the comments as flirting? Do I dare? Do I dare to think and to dream that Remus loves me?

There were still more words that Sirius hadn’t yet read. He forced himself to sit down and quell his inner turmoil enough to finish the chapter.

When he finished, he continued to idly scroll down the page, not really expecting to see anything, but hoping that maybe there’d be some note from Remus. He was surprised but encouraged to see three lines of dark blue lettering at the bottom of the page.

Sirius, Art sometimes imitates life. I daresay Jasper is a happier man by following his heart. I hope that I might say the same about myself. Yours, as always, Remus.

Sirius cupped one hand over his mouth. His breath was hot and harsh on his skin.

I can have this. He wants this. I want this.

A smile slowly began to spread across his face. We can have this together.

With one hand, he flipped back to the book’s outline; with the other, he picked up the phone and punched some numbers.

"Hey, Di? I have three chapters of Remus’ book. Do you want me to just email them to you? Or do want actual papers in your hand?"

*


An hour later, Julia slowly flipped the last page over and looked up at Diana. "Are you thinking what I’m thinking?"

Di smiled. "The people at Snell’s are idiots for not publishing this book?"

"Well, that is true, but that’s not the obvious thing."

"Jasper is Remus, right?"

"That’s what Sirius said."

"It’s pretty obvious that Terry is Sirius."

"Right down to the—" Julia quickly leafed through the chapters in front of her, "—need to eat candy bars for breakfast."

Di laughed. "And let’s not forget the ‘bark-like laugh’."

"Could the man be any more obvious?"

"The question is: has Sirius recognised it?"

The phone buzzed and Julia nodded toward it. "My guess is that our Executive Editor wants to return to America."

"If he doesn’t, he’s an idiot," stated Diana.

*


James’ voice on the answering machine was irritated, almost angry. "Remus, I just got a phone call from Sirius. He’s getting ready to board a bloody jet in New York! He wanted to surprise you, the git. He said the plane should be arriving in Pittsburgh sometime after nine. Here’s the flight number—" He rattled off a series of numbers. "I told him there was no guarantee you’d get there in time to meet his flight. He said he’d wait..."

There was a little more to the rambling message about how Sirius hadn’t told anyone where he was going, and how James was convinced he was no better than a fifteen-year-old child, and God help Remus. "He’s your problem now," James concluded. "I leave him in your hands. Oh, and Lily sends her love."

Remus glanced up at the clock and nodded to himself. He had plenty of time to get to the airport. And then the realisation sank in: Sirius was coming.

But to tell me he knows what I was really saying? Or just to finalise the details of a book contract?

Remus replayed the message to get the flight number and then sprinted to take a shower.

*


"Do you have business in Pittsburgh?" Sirius asked the woman next to him.

"I do. I’m a professor of medieval studies at Yale University. I’m going to meet with some colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh. What about yourself?"

Sirius grinned. "I’ve been given a second chance at something I didn’t think was possible."

*


"Fucking road construction," Remus muttered, slapping the steering wheel in frustration.

He glanced down at the clock and groaned. He’d moved only half a mile in ten minutes.

"Come on!"

Apparently, the rainclouds thought he was talking to them because it was then that lightning flashed across the sky and the first drops of rain began to fall.

*


The flight attendants were smiling as they advised everyone to buckle their seatbelts. By the bucking of the airplane, Sirius wasn’t that surprised.

"Do you think we’re close to the airport?" the woman next to him asked.

Sirius glanced at his watch and made a quick calculation. "Only half an hour to go, I’d think."

"Oh, good," she replied. "I hate flying in weather like this."

*


Remus parked as quickly as he could and, heart thumping madly, made his way through the building to the Baggage Claim. The weather had slowed the delayed the flight’s arrival by about fifteen minutes, so Remus decided to grab a cup of tea while he waited.

*


The new expected time of arrival came and went, and there was no change in the status of the flight. Five minutes late turned to ten, and then to fifteen. Remus was watching another fifteen minutes later when the arrival time suddenly vanished and the word ‘Delayed’ appeared.

A frisson of terror went through Remus, and he shuddered.

With a sick feeling in his stomach, Remus made his way to the counter. He tried not to notice that the people working there looked worried.

"Excuse me, could you tell me what’s going on?" he asked a woman quietly.

She gave him a false smile. "The flight has been delayed, sir."

"I can see that," he said, trying not to snarl at her. "Is there a problem?"

Another man shouldered his way past Remus. "My daughter’s on that plane, and I want some answers. What’s happening?"

Within minutes, nearly everyone who’d been waiting for the flight was clustered around the desk, angrily demanding details. A man in an airline blazer emerged from a door to the left. "Folks, if you could come this way—"

Remus suddenly felt light-headed and closed his eyes. The man had the same expression that was on the face of the police officer who’d come to tell of the crash—and Dora and Teddy’s deaths.

A gentle hand on his arm made him open his eyes to see a blonde woman who’d also been waiting for the flight from New York.

"Are you all right?" she asked softly.

"Deja vu," he whispered. "It’s happening all over again."

*


James fumbled for the phone next to the bed, cursing as he knocked his glasses on the floor.

"Potter," he grumbled into the receiver.

"James."

The tone brought him to immediate awareness. "Remus?"

"James—" The writer sounded stunned.

"What’s happened, Moony?"

"James—" There was a gasping sound as if Remus was trying to catch his breath—or as if he were crying.

"What’s wrong?" Lily asked quietly, rolling over to look at her husband.

He shook his head. "Remus, are you okay? Is Sirius with you?"

"Oh, fuck, James!"

Lily pressed her ear close to her husband’s.

"Remus, say it quickly. Get it out. What’s happened?"

"Sirius—" Remus took a deep breath and then, very calmly, almost frighteningly so, said, "The plane went down. They said there are survivors, but they don’t have a list yet."

Lily pulled away quickly, her hands covering her mouth in shock and dismay.

James looked at the clock next to the phone base and made a quick calculation. "It’s midnight there, yes?"

There was a pause and then a sigh. "Yeah."

James covered the receiver with his hand. "Sirius’ plane was supposed to be there a little after nine."

Lily looked at the clock. "It’s been three hours and Remus still doesn’t know anything?"

"Remus, what have they said?"

"Not much. Something happened to the electrical systems, they think. They went down in a field—" Remus stopped and James could hear him breathing rapidly.

"Mate, take a deep breath for me, will you?"

"What?"

"Take a deep breath."

"If I do, it hurts."

James pressed his fingers into the corners of his eyes. He could hear Remus’ panic in the nearly childish tone. "Listen, Moony. I’m coming. All right? I’ll be on the first flight I can catch."

Lily waved her hands rapidly. "The Grant trial starts today!" she mouthed.

Before he could say anything, Remus said hesitantly, "No. Not yet." James could almost feel the sluggishness of Remus’ thoughts. "There’s no point. Wait until I hear something."

"Are you sure?" James asked gently, thinking of colleagues who could take over for him if he did take off for America.

"I might not hear anything until you’re in the air, and," Remus laughed curtly, bitterly, "you know Sirius. He could damn well turn out to be perfectly fine. There wouldn’t be any reason for you to come." He took another gasping breath. "I just had to—tell you."

"If you need me, call," James insisted. "We’ll be waiting."

Lily grabbed the phone. "Remus, listen, sweetheart. Whatever happens, do not give up. Hear me? Sirius will be fine. You have to believe that. Go get a drink—a shot of whiskey might be a good idea. If not, get some tea and concentrate on breathing deeply and staying calm. Do you understand?"

"Yeah."

"Now, do as I tell you. All right?"

"Okay, Lily."

James snatched the phone back. "Call us the minute you hear anything—or when you just need us. We’re here for you, Remus."

"Thanks, Prongs." He sounded vague, but at least he didn’t sound quite as panicked as he had earlier.

James could hear someone talking loudly in the background.

"Gotta go," Remus said suddenly—and he disconnected.

James placed the phone gently back into its base.

Lily threw herself at him, "Oh, James! This can’t possibly be happening to him again! And he’s all alone—"

"I could get Gideon Prewett to take the trial for me. He’s put as much work into it as I have. I could probably be there by noon his time—"

"You can’t miss that trial," Lily asserted. "Your partnership rides on that trial, and you know it."

"Then, we just sit and wait," James sighed. He pounded the mattress with his fist. "I hate waiting!"

"I do have an idea," she said thoughtfully.

*


Remus stepped up to the table. "Sirius Black," he said hoarsely.

The man sitting at the table flipped back to the first page and ran his finger down the list of names.

"Black. Black, Norma. Black, Sirius. Here we go—"

Remus heard the man’s words, but it was as if he were underwater. They didn’t seem to make sense at first. "Could you repeat that?"

The blonde woman from before suddenly appeared at his elbow. "He made it, honey. He’s in the hospital, but he’s made it."

*


"Remus?" He could have slept through the whisper, but he couldn’t ignore the light shaking of his shoulder. He could also no longer ignore the fact that the plastic of the couch in the hospital waiting room was undeniably hard and uncomfortable. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes.

The red hair and green eyes of Lily Potter were unmistakeable.

"Lily?" With a stifled groan at the stiffness in his muscles, he sat up. "What are you doing here?"

"I’m here for you and Sirius," she said, still in a whisper.

Without a word, he threw his arms around her neck, pulling her down on the couch beside him.

"James had that all-important trial starting today or he would be here," Lily said, stroking the back of his head. "I thought you wouldn’t mind some company though."

"You have no idea how wonderful it is that you’re here," he breathed in her ear.

She just held him for a few minutes, feeling his tension ease. "How is he?"

Remus shook his head. "He has some broken bones. They’ll have to operate soon and pin his leg back together. He banged his head, though, and that’s preventing them from doing the operation now. They haven’t said as much, but I can tell they’re worried about his head injury."

"Can we see him?"

Remus glanced at the clock. "They told me to come back at six o’clock. They were going to make him a bit more presentable, and there’s a chance they’ll be moving him into another room."

"You look knackered. Have you gotten any sleep at all?"

"A little, now and again. All rather involuntary," he admitted.

"Have you eaten anything today?" Lily quickly and accurately interpreted the sheepish expression on the man’s face. "Let’s go, then. I know I could do with a bite."

A short time later, they found themselves at a small table in the corner of the cafeteria.

Lily took a bite of mashed potatoes and grimaced. "Have you talked to him?" she asked, reaching for the salt.

"What with his head injury and the drugs, he’s only been awake once or twice. The couple of things he did say didn’t make much sense," Remus said. He paused to take a bite of chicken. "He looked at me and seemed to know who I was."

Lily smiled and reached out to touch his arm. "I think Sirius would know you before anybody else."

Remus froze, mid-chew, feeling a flutter of nervousness. He wasn’t sure what James and Lily knew, but Sirius had never been able to keep his mouth shut about anything. There was a good chance he’d told them about the new chapter—and there was an even better chance that the Potters knew why Sirius had been coming to see him. "Why do you say that?" he asked cautiously.

"Remus, don’t be absurd," Lily chided him. "Are you really so daft that you think we don’t know how you two feel about each other?"

The writer ducked his head, lowering his eyes to his plate. "I really don’t know how he feels."

Lily rolled her eyes. "Don’t be ridiculous."

Remus took a sip of his soft drink and regarded her with wary blue eyes. He could see warmth and acceptance in Lily’s expression, but he didn’t know if James or Peter felt the same. If he asked, then there would be no going back. He’d be acknowledging his feelings, and to do that would be to concede a thousand mistakes. It was one of the most difficult things he could do, and his heart was pounding loudly as he drew in a breath to speak. "Lily—"

She smiled at him invitingly.

"Lily—" He couldn’t seem to say the words that his heart was forming.

"Tell me, Remus."

He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, Lily was still smiling at him. "I’ve wanted him for a very long time," he finally admitted softly, his voice cracking the tiniest bit. With his confession, his heart seemed to swell in his chest, preventing him from breathing properly. I’ve done it. I’ve said it, and I can’t take it back. He forced himself to inhale, and felt his heart return to normal.

"Why didn’t you ever tell him?" Lily asked.

He shook his head and picked up his fork to absently push the kernels of corn around his plate. "He didn’t seem interested in me, and I wasn’t going to destroy the friendship we had by bringing it up."

"He did," Lily pointed out.

"It was too late by then," Remus said with a sigh. "I couldn’t leave Dora practically standing at the altar. She didn’t deserve that." Again, his heart filled his chest, leaving him short of breath. "I did a horrible thing, Lily. I treated her so badly."

"No, you didn’t," Lily contradicted him firmly. "You were very good to her. You loved her."

"Not enough, though," he said, tossing down the fork. "I thought that by marrying her, by focussing on her, I could forget about Sirius. I was too cowardly to try to start something with him, and too cowardly to end things with her. Then when Teddy was born—" Pain stabbed through him, as it always did when he thought of his son. "I thought it would be all right, you know? It was the perfect life—writing books that were making money, a beautiful wife, an adorable child, a new house—and I thought it would make me happy."

Lily reached out and squeezed his arm reassuringly.

"She knew where my heart was, though," he continued. "Things started to fall apart—hell, they started falling apart within the first six months that we were married. She realised how I felt about him, and nothing I did could change how I felt—or that she knew."

Lily moaned in sympathy and reached for him, wrapping her arms around him so that his head rested on her shoulder. "You didn’t give up on her and your relationship, Remus. You did the best you could."

"If I’d have just tried harder—" He broke off, unwilling to say the rest.

She pulled away from him, but her hands tightened on his shoulders. "What if you had tried harder? Dora wouldn’t have tried to leave you? She wouldn’t have died? You were fighting a losing battle." She stroked the hair above his left ear lightly. "Sweetheart, there was nothing you could have done. She could have sat down and talked things out with you, logically and calmly. She chose to leave while she was angry."

Remus sucked in a sharp breath. "How—?"

"You know that Sirius can’t keep a secret to save his life," Lily said with a small smile. "When he came home from America, he sat down and told us everything."

"Shit," Remus muttered, thinking back to the things he’d told Sirius during his visit.

"It’s a good thing, Remus. We finally understood why you left. It all made sense. You were an idiot, but it all made sense." She leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek to take the sting out of her words. "You’ve got a second chance at love, now, Remus."

Remus shuddered and gently pulled away from her, seeing confusion cross her face. "But, Lily, do I deserve it?"

Her jaw dropped, and she stared at him disbelievingly. "How can you possibly say that?"

He struggled to find words, and the thought, You’re a bloody author; you should be able to speak somewhat intelligently, went through his head. "I had Dora, and that ended so badly—"

"That was not your fault."

"I should have—"

"And maybe I should have had oatmeal for breakfast instead of eggs and bacon," Lily snapped. "Remus, what’s in the past is in the past. You can’t change it. You can only go forward."

He blinked at her, and started to massage his temple with two fingers.

"Stop over-thinking it and just accept it," Lily said firmly. "For Sirius’ sake, if not for your own. Sirius deserves a chance at love and a relationship that can last. God knows enough people have walked out on him because of his feelings for you. He deserves to have you and love you and have that love in return."

"You make it sound so easy," Remus mumbled, feeling slightly numb.

"It’s as easy as you want to make it." Lily sat back and picked her fork back up. "And don’t you dare fuck it up because you feel guilty. If you weren’t supposed to have this chance, would Sirius have lived through a plane crash that’s going to keep him in the States for a few weeks until he recovers enough to travel?"

Remus stared at her wide-eyed for a moment before chuckling. "So, the crash was God’s way of saying, ‘Here you go, Lupin. Have at him’?"

Lily grinned. "Why not? At any rate, I’m glad you have to deal with him and not us. He’s likely to drive you crazy. Don’t you remember what he’s like when he’s sick?"

Remus frowned. "I’m flying back to England with you, I think."

They laughed and returned to their meals for a few minutes. A persistent thought circling Remus’ brain made him clear his throat to catch Lily’s attention. "Is James—okay—with this? And Peter?"

Lily rolled her eyes. "They’re sick of dealing with him, too. They’re tired of hearing all about his unrequited love. So, requite it, already."

"There’s no such word as ‘requite’."

"Then why does ‘unrequited’ exist?"

Remus chuckled. "God, you sound like James. Now I see what fifteen years of being with someone will do to you."

Lily slapped him on the arm. "In fifteen years, it’ll be you saying idiotic things that we would normally expect from Sirius."

"You think we’ll—?"

"I know," she said resolutely.

***


The machines beeped and hissed as they constantly monitored Sirius’ vital signs and helped his broken body maintain a state of equilibrium.

The dark-haired man had occasionally awakened in the past day and a half, but never for long and never with any kind of comprehension. Lily could tell by the dark circles beneath Remus’ eyes and the tightness of the skin over his cheekbones that the waiting was starting to wear him down. All the same, he refused to leave the room for any extended period of time. He’d even slept in the chair beside Sirius’ bed at night, instead of doing as Lily did: staying at the hotel one block away.

Lily checked her watch and added five hours to account for the time difference to London. "Remus? Would you like something to drink?" she asked, opening her wallet and pulling out some dollar bills. "I thought I’d go call the kids and stop at the vending machines."

The author barely glanced away from the unconscious man. "That would be nice," he said softly.

She stood up and edged around the bottom of the bed toward the door. "I’ll be right—"

"Lily, he’s waking up again."

Remus’ harsh whisper made her stop in her tracks, but as much as Lily wanted to go to Sirius’ side, she didn’t. Her eyes went to Remus, and her breath caught in her throat. The man’s face was taut with concern, but there was so much love in the blue eyes...

Sirius’ eyelashes fluttered open, and he slowly turned his head toward the man anxiously leaning toward him. There was immediate recognition once Sirius’ gaze sharpened.

"Remus." The whisper was barely heard.

"Sirius." Remus’ voice broke on the last syllable.

The injured man’s lips curved into a gentle smile. "You’re here."

"Where else would I be?"

Lily swallowed hard, feeling tears rise in her eyes. Remus’ tone was tender, every word a caress.

"Was comin’... to see you."

"About my book?"

Sirius laboriously raised his hand to touch Remus’ cheek with his fingertips. "No. Wanted t’ say... love you."

Remus took Sirius’ hand between both of his.

Lily covered her mouth with her hands, ignoring the fact that one hand still clutched the dollar bills. Say it, Remus. Say it!

And then he did: "I love you, too, Sirius."

She watched as Remus leaned over and pressed his lips to Sirius’ forehead.

They were oblivious to her departure.

********


Sirius carefully eased his way through the throng of shoppers, occasionally glancing down at the pastries that were precariously balanced on the tops of the two Styrofoam cups. He got more than one angry glance and heard more than one person mutter, "He doesn’t think he’s getting to the front before us, does he?"

I’m already ahead of you all, so whinge all you’d like. He couldn’t help the smirk that spread itself across his face.

"Excuse us, love," Sirius said to another woman who was clutching a book so tightly it seemed her fingernails were making dents in the cover.

She gave him the once-over then curled her lip in disdain. "Who are you? I’ve been waiting in line for an hour, and—"

"I’m Jasper’s Terry," Sirius said with a grin and a wink. While she stood there debating exactly what he meant, he slipped past her.

Fortunately, the book shop owner had been watching for him and managed to convince the people at the front of the queue to let him pass without incident. Sirius slid the pastry onto the table next to Remus’ left elbow and placed one of the cups next to it.

"Tea, three sugars, a bit of cream," he announced, "and something unbelievably sweet and sticky."

Remus glanced up from the book he’d been signing and gave Sirius a quick smile. "You have no idea how much I love you right now."

Sirius waited until the woman in front of them was gone and the next person was shuffling forward before bending down and whispering, "Maybe you can prove it to me later. I can think of something sweet and sticky..."

The left side of Remus’ lips started to rise, but he merely reached for the book that the next person was handing to him, asking, "What name would you like on here?"

"Michael. And can I say, Mr Wolfe, that Bright Moon was very inspirational to me."

Sirius hid a smile by taking a sip of his coffee. Whenever a man claimed Remus’ fourth book had been ‘very inspirational’, it typically meant it had convinced him to come out of the closet. Remus hadn’t intended for his book to become such a catalyst, but it had, especially when he finally made his relationship with Sirius known in an article for Writer’s Point of View a year ago. The irony that it was the magazine that had led Sirius to find Remus again was not lost on either of the two men.

"I hope you found someone special," Remus commented, finishing his signature with a flourish.

"I did," the young man on the other side of the table replied, almost shyly.

Remus handed the book back to him with a smile. "Good luck, then."

Sirius settled back in the folding chair next to Remus. "Good news: you’ve only got fifty more books to sign."

"Then we can go home."

Sirius heard the longing tone. It had been a long three months, making appearances at bookstores, libraries, and universities throughout the UK, promoting the seventh book of the ‘Moon’ series. "Two months of peace and quiet before we’re off again," Sirius reminded him.

"Why did I agree to let them make movies out of these books?" Remus grumbled, reaching for the next book.

"To get more money to keep me in the style to which I’ve become accustomed," Sirius teased.

The author said nothing, though the corner of his mouth twitched as if he wanted to smile, but wasn’t going to give Sirius the satisfaction. Sirius sat back and watched his lover interacting with his adoring readers. He was unfailingly patient—more than Sirius was. By the time the line had dwindled to eight people (by Sirius’ count), Sirius was fidgeting and making no attempt to hide the fact that he was ready to leave.

He sighed mightily, and Remus cast a stern look his way.

The girl who was in front of Remus bit her lip with uncertainty at the dark-haired man’s sign of impatience, but then recognition lit up her eyes. "You’re Sirius."

Both Remus and Sirius looked up in surprise.

"Do we know each other?" Sirius asked cautiously.

The girl blushed. "I read the article in Writer’s Point of View. I thought you two looked—cute—together."

Sirius leaned over and draped his arm over Remus’ shoulder. "Cute? We’re bloody adorable." He grinned at the sudden profusion of cameras and camera phones, knowing that Remus’ grin would be forced.

"Would you mind signing my book, too?" the girl asked, pushing it in Sirius’ direction.

The two men looked at each other. Sirius could see the gleam of amusement in Remus’ blue eyes and knew that the only thing that could be seen on his face was confusion.

He turned his eyes back to the girl. "Me?"

"If you don’t mind, Mr Wolfe..." she said hurriedly.

"I don’t mind at all," Remus said, holding the pen out to Sirius.

"I think you’re one of the most romantic couples I’ve ever read about," the girl opined.

"Only because you don’t have to deal with his snoring," Remus muttered.

"Or his cooking," Sirius shot back, grinning. Their eyes met and under the table, Remus’ hand fell on Sirius’ knee, squeezing lightly. Trying to disregard the sudden rush of lust through his veins, the editor signed his name, not caring if some of his letters intertwined with those in Remus’ name. After all, the two of them were quite often intertwined themselves...

He closed the book, his eyes rising to meet Remus’. "You realise we have to stay together now. Otherwise, she’ll have to tear my name out of here, and it would be a shame to do that to a defenceless book."

Remus chuckled. "Together for life, if only for the book’s sake, then."

They grinned at each other, knowing they probably looked like fools, but not caring.

"Mr Wolfe, is it true you won’t be writing another ’Moon’ book?" the girl asked, interrupting their moment.

Remus straightened and handed the book back to her. "No. Seven of them are enough. It’s time to move in another direction, I think."

Sirius smiled, thinking of the eleven files on Remus’ laptop filled with the chapters of his next book.

"But what about Terry and Jasper? Will they be all right?"

Remus’ eyebrows rose slightly, and he turned his head to look at Sirius. "I think Terry’s the best thing that ever happened to Jasper. He helps Jasper to not take things too seriously. They laugh and find joy in one another. Terry’s the light that Jasper needs when life is dark. I don’t think Jasper’s going to allow Terry to go any time soon. What did you think, Sirius?"

Sirius rested his forearm on Remus’ shoulder, leaning in closer so that their noses were almost touching, and Remus couldn’t help but see how confident he was in his reply. "I know that Jasper is Terry’s rock. He’s dependable and strong but above all, he reminds Terry that life has to have substance, or it’s nothing more than smoke and mirrors. There will be tears and sorrow in life, and Terry knows he would never want to go through those dark times without the solidity that Jasper brings to him. No, I don’t think Terry and Jasper could do without each other."

"You know that’s how Terry feels, do you?" Remus whispered.

Sirius nodded once. "Absolutely."

Unexpectedly, Remus leaned in closer to brush a light kiss on Sirius’ lips, something he rarely did in public. Then he looked back up at the girl, who was watching them with an awestruck expression. "I think Terry and Jasper will be fine," he said, his blue eyes dancing with joy.
There are 9 comments on this entry. (Reply.)
scrollgirl: naked!tony + steve in avengers prime; text: boy, am i happy to see you, steve (hp remus/sirius)
posted by [personal profile] scrollgirl at 06:34pm on 21/09/2010
This was bloody fantastic :) I hate what happened to Dora and to Teddy especially (*pets him*) but I really love the slow reconciliation between Remus and Sirius. What a great AU! And the artwork is just gorgeous! Love the watercolours.
epithalamium: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] epithalamium at 02:42am on 22/09/2010
Thank you!
dragondi: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dragondi at 04:21pm on 25/09/2010
Thank you so very much! I hated to have them die--especially Teddy--but I couldn't think of anything that would have quite such an emotional impact. I'm glad you liked the pacing--it was tricky getting it just right. And, oh, the artwork is amazing, isn't it? *is lucky*
 
posted by [personal profile] forest_rose at 12:55am on 02/10/2010
This is so wonderful - the story had me hooked on every word, and the artwork is just beautiful! I was so desperate for them to find each other again and be together, and you made it so perfect. My poor Remus! I'm so glad you gave him his happy ending.
dragondi: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dragondi at 03:02am on 02/10/2010
I figure if I'm writing an AU, it's going to be a happy ending. :)
Thanks so much for saying such nice things!
myprettycabinet: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] myprettycabinet at 02:57am on 11/11/2010
Goddamnit - I was planning on going to bed at a decent hour tonight. Thanks a lot. ;)

This was wonderful. 1 of 2 fics I've ever cried over. It was the letter about Mrs. Potter.

YAY for happy endings and lots of funny fandom insider references, heehee.
dragondi: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] dragondi at 05:46am on 05/02/2011
Gosh--I'm sorry I didn't respond to your review ages ago! I feel horribly guilty.

I'm glad you enjoyed my story, even if it did keep you up past your bedtime. :)
But... Should I apologise for making you cry? :\
myprettycabinet: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] myprettycabinet at 01:32am on 16/05/2011
Lol, I'm not sure I ever saw this reply. We could be playing chess by snail mail at this rate!

It's officially been 6 months since I read this, and I still remember Remus' letter, for it's poignancy and beauty, so no, please don't apologise. :-D
 
posted by [personal profile] dramioneforever at 09:17am on 30/05/2012
This is great! You should make some more of these.

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