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They Said There Were Chances

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Take a look around you, boy, it’s bound to scare you, boy — Barry McGuire

 

Sirius looks pretty much the same as he did the last time Remus saw him, which is both predictable (it has barely been six months) and somehow deeply unsettling. Here he is — Remus’ best friend of ten years, the only person he’s ever been in love with — superficially unchanged, and yet all of a sudden completely foreign and inaccessible, the only stranger in a room full of fellow Order members.

“Hello, Remus,” says a voice to his left, and Remus realizes that he has been staring like an idiot.

“Hi,” he says, turning to face Caradoc, who’s leaning against the wall. “I haven’t seen you in ages. How are things?”

Caradoc grins faintly.

“Well, I’ve been better,” he says, the shadows deep and purple under his pretty eyes. “Beer?”

Remus accepts the summoned bottle with a nod of thanks. Mentally, he’s kicking himself over being so horribly insensitive — the occasion for tonight’s emergency Order meeting is the death of the Prewett brothers, and Caradoc and the Prewetts were notoriously good mates.

“I’m really glad you’re here, I must say,” says Caradoc, mercifully interrupting Remus’ attempt at conveying an apology by way of his contrite beer sipping alone. “First Benjy, then Fab and Gid — my mates keep getting blasted to pieces by Death Eaters, it’s come to the point where no one will sit with me for fear of being next.”

A snort of laughter slips out of Remus, turning a few heads in the gloomy room. Caradoc tuts.

“Merlin, Remus,” he says, in a low, amused voice. “Try and behave. This is a wake we’re at.”

He’s flirting, a baffled Remus realizes all of a sudden. Despite the circumstances, despite… well, despite Sirius. Very flattering, all things considered, if a bit disconcerting. He sneaks a glance at Sirius (still sitting rigidly at the other end of the room, still refusing to acknowledge Remus’ presence) and he tries to decide how it would feel to leave the meeting with Caradoc, of all people — Sirius’ least favourite Order member, possibly the only person he’s ever been jealous of.

“Just as long as it doesn’t turn into my wake,” he replies in an undertone, “Mad-Eye is looking at us, and he doesn’t seem best pleased.”

“See? I told you, it’s dangerous to be mates with me. Save yourself while you can,” advises Caradoc, in mock seriousness. “Speaking of mates, what about James?”

“A bit under the weather,” lies Remus, uneasily. More than anything, he hates that there are now secrets to be kept even from fellow Order members. “Lily too.”

“That’s a pity. Send my regards, will you? They’ve been around even less than you have, recently, and that’s saying something — you’d been gone for so long that I was starting to wonder if you’d switched sides.”

You’re in good company, thinks Remus, a polite grin stretching his suddenly very tired face. Only, Sirius wasn’t joking about that.

***

The agenda of the meeting is short and fairly straightforward: with the Prewetts gone and James and Lily’s sudden unavailability, there are quite a few surveillance shifts to be reassigned, and a handful of more specialized undertakings to be arranged anew. Remus, despite his protests, is excluded from the pool of candidates, the official reason being that he’s just got back to London and still needs to be debriefed properly. A couple of people look like they’re not particularly convinced, and Mad-Eye has to clear his throat loudly to stop the buzz of murmur.

Remus, unhappy, risks a glance at Sirius: to his surprise, his one-time accuser looks more distracted than anything. Not that Remus expected him to be gloating or anything, to be fair: realistically, the whole thing has to be at least vaguely painful for him as well. He’s picking at the skin around his thumb nail, Remus notices, which he always does when he’s nervous.

Caradoc elbows Remus to get his attention.

Fuck ‘em, he mouths, with a sympathetic roll of his cornflower-blue eyes. Bunch of tossers, the lot of them.

Remus hides a grin behind his beer bottle, deeply grateful for Caradoc’s welcoming presence. James and Lily are the best mates anyone could ask for, of course, but he’s been imposing on them for so long now that he’d almost forgotten how it feels to be around someone who’s truly, genuinely excited about being in the same room as you.

“One last point to discuss,” says McGonagall, in her classroom voice. She’s looking directly at Remus, who sits up straighter out of habit. “Remus, Aberforth says that he can arrange a room for you, but not until next Monday. Does anyone here have a couch to offer in the meanwhile?”

Remus feels himself blush scarlet. Of all the announcements to make!

“I will just stay at a hotel somewhere,” he mumbles, acutely aware of the mixed looks of curiosity and pity from his fellow Order members despite the fact that he’s staring at the worn tabletop. “Really, let’s just forget about the whole-”

“Nonsense,” says Caradoc, firmly. “You’re staying at mine, of course. I have plenty of room.”

Remus is just about to thank him, when everyone's attention is drawn by a loud obscenity. He looks up, baffled: Sirius, a pretty murderous look on his face, is waving away his immediate neighbours’ concern. The source of the commotion is easily spotted: a rivulet of blood, its hue shocking against the pale skin of his hand, is pouring out of his tormented thumb nail.

***

“Hope you don’t mind sleeping on the sofa — I’d offer you Benjy’s room, but all his… all his things are still in there, so…”

“The sofa is perfect,” assures Remus, doing his best to sound smooth and casual. Of course, the sofa: Caradoc is probably regretting his offer already, he decides. Took a good look at him under the bright lights of his sitting room and decided he doesn’t want anything to do with someone so deeply, so profoundly unremarkable after all. “Thank you.”

“Obviously,” adds Caradoc, conjuring a pillow with a flick of his wand, “the polite thing to do would be offering you my bed, but I don’t think my back would agree. Ah, to be young again.”

Remus laughs. Caradoc is in his early thirties, with thick blond hair and a very boyish air about him. It’s funny to watch him act like he’s ancient.

“He thinks I’m joking!” says Caradoc, shaking his head as he hands Remus a very nice blanket. He’s grinning. “What are you, kid, about twenty? See me in ten years. I’ll teach you a couple of nifty muscle-relaxing spells.”

***

Caradoc lives in a pretty standard Muggle flat, without most of the niceties that Remus had got used to during his time in Sirius’ uncle’s old place. This reality becomes suddenly and painfully evident while Remus is mid-shower, his head covered in shampoo suds.

“Are you all right in there?” shouts Caradoc, sounding mildly concerned. “I thought I heard a scream.”

“The water!” shouts Remus in response. “It turned freezing all of a sudden!”

“Sorry about that, the boiler is an old relic,” says Caradoc, in a casual tone that he definitely wouldn’t use if he were the one standing naked and cold in someone else’s bathtub. “I’ll try and fix it, but honestly you’re better off casting a water heating spell in the meanwhile.”

“But I can’t see anything, I’ve got shampoo in my eyes!” protests Remus, who’s pretty useless at household spells to begin with. “Can’t you cast it for me?”

“Well, yes, I could,” says Caradoc, a bit stumped. “But not from here, obviously. Can’t you just... oh, very well, I’m coming in. Cover up everything you don’t want me seeing, kid.”

“Thank you,” sighs Remus, grateful, and he blindly reaches for the shower curtain.

“Here you go,” says Caradoc, suddenly quite close by. “Warm enough for you?”

Remus extricates an arm from his makeshift shower curtain cocoon in order to check the temperature.

“Perfect,” he confirms, turning towards what he hopes is Caradoc’s general direction to smile at him. “Again, thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome,” says Caradoc, now slightly amused. “I’m going to see what I can do about the boiler, yell if you have any more shower emergencies. Oh, and for your reference — that shower curtain is completely see-through. See you later!”

***

It takes a mortified Remus almost twenty minutes to find the courage to come out of the bathroom and face Caradoc.

“Oh, there you are,” says Caradoc, who’s smoking on the sofa. He doesn’t look annoyed. “London’s most renowned exhibitionist! How was the rest of your shower?”

“Look, Caradoc, I’m truly sorry about what happened. I promise, I didn’t mean to…”

Caradoc laughs, puffs of smoke escaping his nostrils.

“That’s enough, believe me,” he says, gesturing for Remus to stop apologizing. “I’m not delusional, I know it wasn’t a… a seduction attempt, or anything. But at the same time, you won’t find me complaining about naked blokes in my flat, especially not when they’re as fit as you are.”

Remus blinks slowly.

“Ah,” he says, stupidly. “I, er… thank you. I’m really glad to hear that you, ah, appreciated the show, then.”

Caradoc takes a drag, looking Remus up and down in a very deliberate, thrilling fashion. Remus stands stock-still, his heart thumping in his chest, his cock stirring inside his trousers. He can’t remember anyone ever looking at him the way Caradoc’s looking now, the promise of sex heavy in the air between them — well, anyone but Sirius, of course. The sudden thought of Sirius seems to suck all the excitement out of the situation, leaving Remus feeling completely deflated and rather sorry for himself.

Caradoc exhales a cloud of smoke.

“Listen, Remus,” he says, his tone brisker but not unkind. “I know you know this, but you don’t have to humour me. I know you and-”

“I’m not,” blurts out Remus, determined not to let the ghost of his past love get in the way of the only truly good thing to come his way in months. “I’m not humouring you. I’d love to… listen, Sirius can go fuck himself for all I care.”

“All right, then,” says Caradoc, very amused. “Glad we’re, er, on the same page. He’s not going to burst through the window and hex me to bits, then, is he? He didn’t look very happy, earlier.”

Remus scoffs.

“I’d like to see him try,” he says, curtly.

Caradoc nods and puts his cigarette out. He really is very handsome, Remus thinks, his mouth dry at the idea of what lies ahead. The outline of Caradoc’s hard cock is faintly discernible through the fabric of his trousers. Remus feels dizzy with anticipation.

“How about an encore of that shower scene, then, kid?”

***

By the time Remus wakes up the next morning, Caradoc has already left.

You looked like you needed your sleep, says the note he left on the other pillow. There’s a spare set of keys on the kitchen table. I’ve fixed the boiler and the fridge is stocked. Make yourself at home! Owl your mates, throw a party (neighbours hate me anyway). See you tomorrow, unless I get blasted to pieces by Death Eaters.

Car

PS you have an outstanding arse and I’m already regretting not waking you up.

Remus, grinning like a loon, re-reads Caradoc’s note a couple of times. He can picture him sitting and writing, his blue eyes twinkling in the early morning light as he anticipates Remus’ reaction to the post scriptum, his cock -

The buzzer rings.

Remus, startled, drops the piece of paper he’s holding. Who could possibly… ?

The buzzer rings again.

Remus gets up from the bed, circumspect, wand at the ready. He doesn’t know anyone who’d show up without first sending an owl, not the way things have been going lately, and he’s pretty sure that the same applies to Caradoc. Sweat beads at the back of his neck.

The buzzer rings for a third time, this time — unnervingly — for almost a full minute. Whoever it is that’s downstairs, they won’t take no for an answer. Remus stands in front of the door with his wand raised, heart pounding, ready to defend himself.

The buzzer finally stops. Remus doesn’t move. It could be a trick — it could mean that the intruders have managed to work their way inside the building — they could be coming up the stairs at that very min-

ding!

It’s a small sound, one that Remus might not even have noticed, if not for the fact that all his senses are currently overly heightened. It came, he guesses, from the sitting room window. ding! There it is again, this time unmistakeable — the sound of a tiny object hitting the glass pane of Caradoc’s second floor window. Remus relaxes slightly: maybe it’s naive of him to think so, but the whole thing doesn’t strike him as particularly suited to the Death Eaters’ style.

He wonders who it could be, then. Maybe Caradoc himself, back early from his mission? He might have locked himself out by acciden-

“For fuck’s sake, Moony, I know you’re in there,” shouts Sirius, from the street, his voice raw with annoyance. “Open up the bloody door already.”

***

“What the fuck are you doing here, Sirius?” hisses Remus, through the bolted door of Caradoc’s flat (his first words in six months to the man he once considered the love of his life).

“Let me in,” urges Sirius, testily. “I can’t talk out here.”

“I can’t let you in, this is not my place,” says Remus, feeling spiteful. “Also, I really don’t want to.”

No reply from the other side of the door. Remus waits in silence for what seems like an eternity, until he’s almost positive that Sirius must have left, and then some more.

“Order business,” explains Sirius eventually. His voice is strange, husky. If Remus didn’t know him like he does, he’d guess that he’s struggling to keep his composure. “Please, just let me in.”

***

From the look of him, Sirius has neither bathed nor slept since Remus last saw him. His cheeks are stubbly, his eyes red, and he’s wearing the same clothes he had on the previous night. The sight of the state he’s in fills Remus with dread — surely something terrible must have happened — Lily — James — otherwise Sirius would never...

“Nice place,” says Sirius, his lip curling in distaste as he takes in Caradoc’s sitting room. Remus is equal parts relieved and outraged: whatever it is that made Sirius force his way inside Caradoc’s flat, it’s less important to him than the need to take a dig at his nemesis’ living quarters. Sirius can be very inconsiderate, and Heaven knows Remus has known him to be ruthless, but there’s nothing and nobody he loves more than James and Lily. “Bit small, but nice.”

“Say what you have to say,” says Remus, in a controlled voice. “And then leave. As I said, this is not my place, and I’m not sure Caradoc would like to come back and find you here.”

Sirius’ gaze moves from Remus’ naked torso to the shirt he was wearing the previous night, balled up on the sofa, and then back to Remus again.

“As I said, I am here on Order business, which is why I know that your friend, who gave me this address, is off to Wales overnight,” he says, his tone dripping with disdain as he alludes to Caradoc. Suddenly, he pauses and frowns. “Say, is that big one on your side new?”

Remus, without thinking, looks down. Sirius is talking about the freshest of his various scars, reminder of a big gash he gave himself during a particularly rough full moon the previous April.

“I don’t see why that would matter to you,” he says, coldly.

Sirius doesn’t answer.

“I assumed James was taking care of you,” he says eventually, addressing Caradoc’s houseplant. “Is he not? Why?”

Remus is light-headed with fury. Months earlier, out of sheer survival instinct, he came to terms with Sirius’ sudden back-face turn, his devastating coldness, his indifference in the face of the catastrophical harm he was inflicting on Remus’ whole existence. Now that he has a choice, though, he refuses to stand for his old love’s newfound jealousy, nor for this intolerable display of pity.

“You should leave,” he says, half-hoping that Sirius will say something inexcusable enough to grant him the opportunity to act on the rage that’s making his heart boom inside his chest.

Sirius doesn’t react. He looks unwell, Remus notices, his handsome face ashen and shiny with perspiration. He hates himself for still caring enough to notice, in spite of everything. For still caring enough to worry.

“I meant that,” he says, his anger draining away to leave him so exhausted that he feels like he can barely stand. “I really don’t want to talk to you. Please go away.”

Sirius blinks a couple of times, his tired eyes glistening in the bright morning light, and then he nods slowly.

“I suppose I brought this on myself, didn’t I? Very well, I’ll do it alone. Goodbye, Moony.”

He’s almost at the door when the meaning of what he’s just said finally registers with Remus.

“Wait, what do you mean you’ll do it alone? You’ll do what? Is this for the Order?”

“Yeah,” says Sirius, without turning around. “I was supposed to go with Dorcas, but she’s had a nasty run-in with a couple of Death Eaters last night, and you’re free, so I thought-”

“You kicked me out because you decided I was a spy, you selfish prick!” shouts Remus, astonished by Sirius’ apparent fickleness and brass. “And now you want me to go on a mission- wait a second,” he adds, a chilling suspicion washing over him. Polyjuice. “Turn around, come here. Who are you?”

The man who’s taken on Sirius’ identity obliges, looking rather perplexed.

“What do you mean, who are you?”

“You heard me,” says Remus, wand raised. “What did you do to Sirius?”

“Moony, I swear, it’s me,” says the man, sounding genuinely puzzled. “Can’t you tell?”

Remus shakes his head.

“I don’t believe you,” he says, jamming the tip of his wand against the man’s chest. “I really don’t.”

“Look, just… just ask me something only you and I would know,” says the man, holding his hands up and away from the wand in the pocket of his jeans. “C’mon. Anything at all.”

A colourful blur of school days rushes through Remus’ brains — he’s very tempted — but there were always four of them back then, when friendship was all-encompassing and no secrets were kept. It pains him, but he knows that if he wants to be certain he will have to choose from a much smaller pool — the memories of the two years they spent living together, alone at last.

“What did we do with the last bottle of your Uncle Alphard’s finest Firewhisky?” he spits out, his tone willfully blunt. “Quick!”

The man exhales sharply.

“We toasted to my brother,” he replies, grimacing at the mention of Regulus. “The idiot.”

Remus lowers his wand. He knows for a fact that this particular episode is something not even James is privy to — the person standing in front of him, unlikely as it sounds, can only be the real Sirius.

“It’s really you, then, isn’t it?”

Sirius nods.

“It’s me, yes,” he says, his tone vaguely wistful, meeting Remus’ gaze. “Sorry about that.”

Remus looks away.

“Sirius,” he says, deliberately avoiding the pretty grey eyes that have got him into an endless amount of trouble over the past ten years. “Why did you come?”

“I told you,” says Sirius. “Dorcas…”

“Why me?”

“I knew you didn’t have any other assign-”

“Six months ago you were convinced I was a traitor, were you not? Answer me.”

Sirius sniffs.

“I was,” he says, in the same strange, husky voice he used earlier when he spoke to Remus through the bolted door. “Which goes to show just how bloody good a judge of character I am, I suppose.”

“You told James that it was the reason why you’d kicked me out,” continues Remus, determined to get to the bottom of the whole thing once and for all. “Was that the truth?”

“Of course it was,” says Sirius, taken aback. “Merlin, Moony, what other reason could I possibly have had?”

***

It takes Sirius a good thirty minutes to explain the gist of their upcoming mission (surveillance on the Malfoys’ country estate, actually a pretty straightforward undertaking). Once he finally leaves — ostensibly to run urgent Order errands, but Remus has reasons to suspect a bath might be involved — Remus crawls back into Caradoc’s bed, feeling as though a serious fever has finally broken.

All through his anger and his grief at the abrupt ending of their relationship, he realizes, he hadn’t really noticed just how badly he’d been missing Sirius as a mate — he has so many bits of news to share, so many little stories that’d only be funny to him, such an overwhelming desire to have his best friend back. In the final weeks of their relationship, he recalls, it sometimes felt like the stone-faced stranger he was sharing a bed with was specifically responsible for the disappearance of his old Sirius, the one who was always quick with a joke and never kept anything from Remus.

The person who showed up to Caradoc’s door, to Remus’ enormous relief, seemed to have a lot more in common with Remus’ old friend from school than he did with the man who broke his heart six months earlier. It’s an unexpected development, so abrupt that he almost can’t believe it’s actually happening, and he’s determined not to squander this new opportunity.

***

They meet up after dinner, in front of a Muggle pub they used to frequent when they were fresh out of school. Sirius is early, for once in his life, and as he waits to cross the busy road between them Remus realizes that this might just be the happiest he’s felt in a year, at the very least.

So, this is what the other side is like, he thinks, smiling to himself as he watches Sirius fish a cigarette out of his pocket. I quite like it here.

He and Sirius were never meant to last. He knows this now, he knew it when he was fifteen and first realized that his interest was not unreciprocated, and — if he’s being honest with himself — he knew it all through their exhilarating, tumultuous relationship. It was always going to end, and it was always going to end badly — and it did. But now, here they are. Nothing to lose.

“Pads,” he says, clapping Sirius on the shoulder.

Sirius turns around, a cloud of smoke framing his handsome profile. He has shaved.

“Moony,” he says, grinning. “Here you are. How about a pint before we go?”

It’s a terrible idea, obviously, and Remus agrees immediately. It seems auspicious, in a way, a celebration of renewed friendship. The pub has a new barmaid, a tall redhead with a lot of freckles and truly remarkable tits. Sirius catches Remus looking at her while they choose a table.

“Very fit,” he says, nodding conspiratorially as he sits down. “Nice, er, hair.”

Remus snorts. Even when they were together, Sirius was always fairly encouraging of what he delicately used to refer to as Remus’ tendencies, meaning his attraction to women. Not that Remus ever had the occasion to act on said tendencies.

“Nice hair, yeah,” he says, endeared. “What are you having?”

“We should come back here after we’re done,” says Sirius, ignoring the question. “See if you can convince her to go home with you. Shouldn’t be hard, I reckon we’re the only blokes under the age of seventy around here.”

Remus, amused, rolls his eyes.

“I don’t think that would be very polite of me,” he says, without thinking. “Bringing a bird back to… mmh, I’ll go buy us the first round. Have you decided?”

Sirius shrugs.

“Bring her back to mine,” he suggests, in a suspiciously airy tone, without any acknowledgment of Remus’ faux pas. “That’s what mates are for, isn’t it?”

“I mean, I wouldn’t know,” says Remus, truly enough. Before the previous night, Sirius was the only person he’d ever been with. But now that particular bridge is crossed… he could go home with the barmaid, he realizes with a jolt of excitement. He could go home with anyone he pleased, in fact — he could go home with Sirius himself, even, if he wanted to. The thought is electrifying.

“Are you all right?” asks Sirius, sounding slightly alarmed. “You look a bit… er, overheated.”

***

One pint turns into three, and Remus, who hasn’t really had a proper meal all day, walks out of the pub feeling rather cheerful for someone who’s about to embark on a dangerous surveillance mission.

“Go ahead, Pads, Disapparate us,” he urges, dipping none-too-steadily into a conveniently deserted alley. “If I tried now, chances are we’d end up upside down inside a chimney somewhere in Dorset.”

Sirius snorts.

“Well, Moony, you’re certainly a cheap date,” he says, his grin fading away almost immediately. Remus knows that Sirius is regretting the joke for fear that he’s going to take offense, and he might have taken offense, were he not so happy about the recent developments in his sexual life, not to mention so tipsy.

“Don’t worry,” he says, grabbing Sirius’ forearm tightly. “You can joke around with me, Pads, I’m not one to hold grudges, you know that. And it’s a new phase, isn’t it?”

“Sure,” agrees Sirius, cautiously. His skin is warm under Remus’ fingers. “It’s so nice to be out with you again. I mean that.”

Remus looks up, struck by Sirius’ tone. Sirius is staring at him, his handsome head tilted just so, his dark hair grazing his cheekbone. He is – and this so unexpected, so comically unnecessary that Remus struggles to refrain from laughing – putting on the charm. Trying to impress him, Remus. As if he’d ever not been impressed by Sirius. He grins.

“Same,” he says, studying the contours of Sirius’ shoulders and biceps under his worn t-shirt. The things he wouldn’t give to push him up against a wall right now… “We should probably go, shouldn’t we?”

***

Apparating while tipsy is the opposite of pleasant, but Sirius pressing his body against Remus’ to steady him as they land by the side of a narrow country lane more than makes up for any discomfort. He smells very nice, and Remus is in no hurry to let go of his arm.

“Here we are,” Sirius says, using his free hand to point out a handsome manor house in the distance. “Let’s find a nice spot in the trees and see if anybody is paying dear Narcissa a visit later tonight.”

Remus nods, his thoughts focused mainly on the part where they’re going to hide in the trees together. Judging by Sirius’ knowing grin, it shows.

“I like trees,” says Sirius, in a very casual tone. “Lots of good memories, you know?”

The nerve of him, thinks Remus, delighted. He knows perfectly well what Sirius is alluding to — highly formative afternoon sessions in a certain Forbidden Forest clearing, back in their sixth year — and he finds that he certainly wouldn’t mind a trip down memory lane.

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, Black,” he says with a smirk. He’s half-hard already.

Sirius laughs, a flash of sharp white teeth that sends a shiver of anticipation down Remus’ spine.

“I’m sure I could refresh your memory, Lupin,” he says slowly, staring at Remus with heavily lidded eyes. Remus lets his gaze stray lower — sure enough, there it is, quite obvious inside Sirius’ tight blue jeans: an erection as conspicuous as the ones he used to have to hide under his cloak when they were still in school. Remus is just as flattered now as he was back then.

“Well, this I remember,” he concedes, covering the bulge in Sirius’ jeans with his free hand. Sirius gasps softly. Remus grins and uses the grip he still has on his arm to bring him in even closer, close enough to feel the warmth radiating off the flushed skin of his neck.

Sirius, either out of long-ingrained habit or because it seems like the sensible thing to do at this point, turns his handsome face in Remus’ direction, lips slightly parted in anticipation of a kiss that he quite understandably must be taking for granted. Remus’ grins dies on his lips.

“No,” he says, angling his face in the opposite direction. He’s dying to get off with Sirius, but he really, really can’t stand the thought of kissing him, not like they used to back when they were… he hasn’t kissed Caradoc, either. Not that Caradoc was particularly insistent. “Let’s do something else,” he adds, hoping to sound enticing, and he starts working on Sirius’ belt buckle.

Sirius’ face falls, and he uses his free hand to gently prevent Remus from undoing his belt.

“Remus,” he says, in that strange husky voice that in all evidence he’s started using quite often in the months they’ve been apart. “I’m not sure I want, you know, to do it like this. Why don’t we -”

What Sirius is proposing they do, Remus never gets to hear, because at that very moment there’s a loud blast and Sirius is thrown clean off his feet and into a nearby tree, where he lands with a sickening thud. Remus whips around, wand drawn, and he fires a Stunning spell in the general direction of whoever it was that attacked Sirius. Nothings happens.

“Are you OK?,” he asks, without turning around. “Sirius?”

A groaning sound, no reply.

Worried, Remus sneaks a glance. Sirius is more or less back on his feet, his nose very obviously broken, blood pouring down onto the rest of his face and soaking his t-shirt. Remus’ stomach gives a lurch.

“I’b fide,” says Sirius, swaying slightly on the spot as he draws his wand. “Show yourselves, arseholes!”

“Sirius, c’mon, let’s go,” urges Remus, grabbing him roughly by the arm, and they Disapparate.

***

They Apparate to the front door of Sirius’ flat, drops of blood from Sirius’ nose splattering on Remus’ shirt as they land. Out of sheer habit, Remus taps his wand on the doorknob, and the door swings open. They hobble inside. The place is much gloomier than it used to be, Remus notices.

“Stay here,” he says, propping Sirius against a wall. “I need to lock the door.”

It’s only then that the thought strikes him — the door shouldn’t have opened for him in the first place. He pauses for a second, wand on the lock, his heart thumping in his chest. The idea that Sirius evidently never bothered to change the locking spell after kicking him out fills him with contrasting emotions: on one hand, it’s rather touching — unsevered connection and all that — but mostly it is insulting. You’re no threat to me, he imagines Sirius saying, in that cold, sneering voice he uses when he wishes to wound. You’re welcome to come back anytime you please. It won’t make any difference.

“Boody, are you quite dud?”

The real Sirius’ voice, thick and muffled, brings Remus out of his indignant reverie.

“Coming,” he says, curtly, and he casts the locking spell. He’s got half a mind to just leave Sirius to his own devices, broken nose or not, but then he turns around and the sight of him bloodied and quite helpless makes him lose his nerve completely.

Episkey”, he mutters, pointing his wand at Sirius’ battered face. It works on the first try.

“Thank you,” says Sirius, grinning as he explores the contours of his newly repaired nose. “Moony, what would I do without you?”

Acting on a mad impulse, Remus seizes him by the shoulders and kisses him on the lips. It tastes like blood. Sirius reciprocates the kiss in earnest, his strong arms enveloping Remus’ back, their bodies pressed against each other, their...

“This is a terrible idea,” says Remus, pushing Sirius away. Sirius’ arms fall back at his sides.

“Listen, I’m OK with both outcomes,” he says, pausing to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand. “All right, I’m not, but I’d appreciate it if you’d make up your mind either way. So?”

Remus opens his mouth and closes it without voicing his immediate reaction (a perfect split of “I love you, you prick” and “how come you’re the one doling out ultimatums all of sudden”). Sirius is watching him, unblinkingly, the corner of his mouth quirking slightly in anticipation of the eventual answer. Deep down, Remus knows, he’s sure that Remus will cave, the way he always does. The idea is infuriating. Remus clears his throat. Sirius smiles.

“See you around, Pads,” says Remus, in a voice that sounds nothing like his normal one, and he leaves without waiting for Sirius’ reply.

***

“You’re still here!”

Caradoc sounds very surprised. Remus, who hadn’t been expecting him until the following morning, gets up from the sofa feeling awkward and groggy.

“You said I could…”

“Of course you’re welcome to stay, it’s just that I figured you’d be off with your boyfriend.”

“Ah. Well, we…”

Caradoc sets down his bag and walks over to the sofa.

“Is that blood on your shirt?” he asks, producing a cigarette from behind his ear. “You don’t look like you’re missing any bits, so I take it your mission was a success.”

Remus sits back down.

“It’s Sirius’ blood,” he explains. “He’s fine, don’t worry.”

Caradoc’s eyebrows shoot up.

“I didn’t take you for the violent type,” he says, unlit cigarette hanging from his bottom lip. “Good to know, I suppose. Anything I can do to remain in your good graces, kid? Cup of tea? Want me to suck you off? ”

“I didn’t…” begins Remus, wearily. He’s pretty sure that Caradoc’s only trying to be funny, but the very idea that he’d joke about something so disturbing… suddenly, he wishes he had somewhere else to be. “Listen, it wasn’t me. I would never hurt him.”

“For fuck’s sake, Remus, I’m kidding,” says Caradoc, coolly, and he lights his cigarette.

“Sorry,” says Remus after a pause. “I know you were. It’s just that… it was a rough night, OK?”

Caradoc blows a cloud of smoke.

“I was serious about the cup of tea,” he says, clapping Remus gently on the shoulder. “And the other thing, too, but I don’t think you’d be up for that, am I right?”

“Yeah,” admits Remus, addressing his own shoes. “Sorry, it’s not about you, it’s just that-”

“That you’re in love with him,” finishes Caradoc for him, his tone very matter-of-fact. “Yeah, I can tell.”

“Can you?” says Remus, surprised, looking up. “I didn’t think it would be so obvious.”

Caradoc gives a raspy laugh.

Sirius can go fuck himself for all I care,” he quotes, his impression of Remus fairly accurate if not particularly flattering. “Honestly, kid, I don’t think anyone who’s ever met you has any doubts. It’s a pity and a waste, if you want my opinion, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“It’s not a waste,” says Remus, on the defensive. “He’s… he’s great, and he loves me too. In his own way.”

“Why are you here, then?”

Remus hangs his head again.

“It’s not that easy.”

“But it fucking is,” spits out Caradoc, ash falling from his neglected cigarette onto the carpet. “There’s a fucking war outside, Remus, in case you haven’t noticed. You don’t know if you’ll have the time to fix things, you don’t know if people will still be there when you wake up tomorrow. If you love the bloke and you think he loves you, then fucking go be with him while you can. There’s no fucking point in waiting.”

Remus glances sideways at Caradoc’s face, wet with silent tears. He squirms uneasily. It’s pretty clear that Caradoc is not really talking about him, Remus, any longer, but his tirade strikes a cord. He takes a deep breath.

“Let me put the kettle on,” he offers, because he really can’t picture himself giving Caradoc the hug he so obviously needs. “Is that OK? We can have a nice cup of tea and then maybe I’ll...”

Caradoc turns to face Remus properly. He looks simultaneously ancient and impossibly young, his blue eyes shining like jewels in his tired, splotchy face. He attempts a grin.

“Go home, kid,” he says, in a tone that brooks no response. “It’s very late.”

“But…”

“There’s nothing to discuss,” says Caradoc, shaking his beautiful head. “Now go, for fuck’s sake, and do what you really want to do.”

Remus, overwhelmed with gratitude, obliges.