Here is a story I wrote for the Secret Santa monthly challenge on the Hogwarts Online forum. A Remus/Sirius, for Taylor (The Slytherin in Raven Robes). Also throwing a mentioning to EHWIES, as the Remus/Sirius hints in her stories quite inspired me when I was writing this!
"Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum." (to err is human, to persist is of the devil)
Attributed to Seneca.
He is Sirius Black, and he carries himself with the arrogant air of those who are positive of their own importance, try as he might to swear up and down that his family has no influence over him whatsoever.
His name is Sirius Black and his best friend is James Potter and his family is Gryffindor. He is all clear-cut beliefs with no shades of grey, and there is seemingly no place in the likes of his world for something as reserved and discreet and borderline as one Remus Lupin. The Marauders exist though, and the whole castle may become convinced that they are a crazy phenomenon, an unstoppable force of nature – friendship flaring at first sight, eternal, relentless – but Remus knows, and knows quite well, how unlikely and very nearly abnormal the acquaintance actually is. James Potter and Sirius Black, rash, popular and talented, joined at the hip with Peter and himself. Really.
It begins on the train with their jokes and his laughter, a foreign sound he wasn't expecting to have to reunite with quite so quickly. But no – it begins with Sirius' insistent eyes on his tired face each month, with his casual questions about his terribly ill mother, coloured with just a hint of disbelief. Everytime he turns around, Remus seems to meet Sirius' gaze, dark as a stormy night, and it gives him the shakes. His secret feels as if branded on his forehead, over every inch of sickly white skin, a torturous riddle Sirius' clever eyes will solve in no time and then lay bare for all the world to see. He ducks his head and glances away, his heart in his throat, a shiver racing down his spine.
He is quite right, and yet not at all. Sirius Black is one faithful friend, as long as the lazy, capricious spark of his interest is aroused, and it turns out that lycanthropy looks quite new and exciting to him. He is a boy of honesty and confrontations, yet eerily skilled in the art of secrets – and Remus' becomes it, the cement of the Marauders. Their creed, the root of their lifelong complicity – to think about it makes him realize how laughable the world is, and that is quite the chilling thought, used to irony as he might be.
Everything that matters, he starts thinking, is always disclosed or comes into being under Sirius Black's keen and handsome eye, and that one notion is reassuring in a way and yet terrifying, like a cry from his deepest instincts that his mind cannot heed.
His name, his identity, his everything become summed up in one quick, terribly dangerous nickname: Moony.
The first time Sirius drawls it by the fireplace, his bones go soft and his legs numb, and he can hardly find breath enough to hiss: "Quiet!" Sirius laughs, carefree and cruel, the sound low, ricocheting within his ribcage and echoing down, down to the deepest pit of his gut. He trembles at the senseless vulnerability he finds bubbling at the core of him, and at his friend's playful, unreliable nature.
"Padfoot," he groans, "not in public," and Sirius snorts and says: "They won't get it." It's our secret, adds the shadow of his breath, nearly close enough to heat Remus' cheek, as Peter turns towards them, weakly expressing agreement to his first and closest friend before Sirius' careless disdain shuts him up for good.
That's the thing about Sirius, Remus contemplates as he painfully tunes them out, all the secrets always become his – everything always becomes about him. The secrets and the whispers and the glances and the ideas and the madness, the girls and the attention and the gossip and the jealousy, everything that shapes this world is drawn to Sirius like moth to flame, to be claimed or dismissed with a bark of his sharp, deep laughter. It is tiring, unfair and dangerous, as his friend is fickle and egoistical, quite the attention queen. Sirius Black would be the death of him if he weren't so loyal, Remus considers, and even with that constancy to keep some sense of balance, there might very well be demise in this for him.
He doesn't try to specify what this means, uncomfortably aware already that it is not about the Marauders, his friends, his saviours, his everything. He knows, he has, perhaps, always known that a great deal of things are all about Sirius Black, and even more whenever he's concerned. There is a world to be summed up or unleashed in every casual drawl and every too-loud laugh, and Remus finds himself distressingly dependent, fighting to focus on James' jokes and Peter's nice reasonings that they only truly get credit for when Sirius isn't around. But when Sirius isn't around, things lack their spark, their biting, angry edge and the odd touch of elegance he seems to carry even at his crudest moments. It is a pain and a thrill and it is hardly normal, hardly healthy. Sirius is unaware, no doubt – his strange innocence and thorough lack of second thoughts take a huge part in his defence. He is a careless child, and it is stupid and pointless to cling to his casual words, to jolt with a chill of light-headedness at Moony, force a tense smile at the occasional playfulness of Lupin, and silently, senselessly yearn for Remus.
He does it anyway, because he's never truly known to fight himself for what truly matters.
He howls and twists around viciously, but the stag's antlers are firmly holding him back, and he's not quite sure whether it is beast or humanity that shrieks the loudest in his struggles.
He wants, wants, wants the human he found himself nearly nose to muzzle with only a few seconds ago – the boy he knows, a thin, spindly thing whose face expressed curiosity and avidity and disgust and terror, a face that still dances tauntingly at the border of his conscience, nameless – but as his instincts roar and his teeth snap, he is aware, as though in a haze, of wanting even more to track down the wet dog smell, and tear its origin to pieces. Animals surely know betrayal all the more keenly – but too late. The trustful swine follows the master who fed it for so long, blindly, and only squeals once in pained disbelief before it is silenced forever – yet Moony does not squeal, he – it – howls, and thirsts for blood. He is the beast, the monster, and rightfully treated – used – as such. And it hurts –
The dog is creeping closer, its scent heavily familiar, friendly, reassuring, laced with trust and safety – Remus snaps his jaws harder, seething restlessly, and attempts to lunge, to no avail. Is he really fighting with all he has, or does some part of him, the weakest, most painfully human and yet most despicable part, protect Sirius still? He cannot tell – somehow the dog always has the upper hand, and the wolf can only struggle and roar helplessly, a trapped beast, a failure, inferior and wrong, deserving of even the most unfair blows. His friends protect him, from himself and the world – and he owes them everything. And this is it. Nothing is his, his good marks, his nightmares, his jokes, his instincts – everything is about them, and about Sirius, judged, congratulated or smiled at, bittersweet, heady with a condescension he might only be imagining – tainted with his shadow on the wall and his wet dog smell and his laugh –
The dog yelps, a weak, sorry sound, low and raw and almost pained, sounding genuine – as if it matters – and the wolf shudders. He hates it, that whole whirling mess of blurred thoughts and rationalized instincts, human and animal blending into one tormented and twisted creature, and for the first time he knows that Sirius hates it too. It was always a game to him before, always. But now the game has come to an end – the scent of blood is in the air, along with raw, wrathful feelings – and Padfoot's glinting eyes are saying better than any words of his would, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to turn this way. Remus does not want to forgive, nor even, in these maddened, frantic moments, to think like a human, it is too painful – but it is Sirius, his friend, who requires his understanding, and somehow he doesn't seem to have a choice.
Growling, he steps back, retreating into the shadows, and stag and dog both give him space.
Sirius comes back into the shack hours later, walking stealthily. Remus is curled up in one of the sagging armchairs, huddled in the warm spare clothes he brought for after the transformation. He usually never hangs around here, preferring to hurry back to the castle with his friends, where he truly belongs, where his lycanthropy is a carefully-kept secret, not out in the open and poisoning the air. Today he needs a while to himself, however. Sirius knows that – Sirius, oddly, always seems to know everything, and yet he is hardly one to ponder others' feelings. Call if instinct. And Sirius treads carefully over to him, kneeling by his feet – Remus does not look up. Insides twisting, he grits his teeth.
"You know it. I know it," Sirius says quietly.
"Then say it."
Remus sighs, his voice all ragged edges, as always. Those words are too rare and yet too light, they can't be enough, shouldn't be enough – don't let them be enough. He swallows, and gives a solemn nod.
"Is that it?"
Sirius barks a short laugh. "I'm sure you know it wasn't as easy as it sounds."
"You could have killed him, Sirius. 'Sorry' doesn't cover that." Remus gets the words out one by one, tasting their sharp edges on his tongue. "You used me."
"Moony." And he leans in, too close. Remus stiffens, the familiar wet dog smell, laced with cologne, hitting his heightened senses, knocking the breath out of him. It is bittersweet and foreign and it makes him crave more, "Remus. I didn't think. I could never use you. You know that."
"You always assume that whatever you do, the others will understand," Remus croaks. "And that you know us better than anyone. It is not that simple, Padfoot. Everything can't always… come unsaid. I'm sick of the silence."
Sirius shifts closer, brushing against his leg. "I love you, mate," he says. "I know I can be stupid, and Snivellus was practically asking for it. But I would never… willingly endanger you. Never."
You are a danger, Sirius, Remus thinks in a haze, trying not to lean forward. You are a disaster, a hurricane. You make everything too intense and illogical and painful – you – nothing is ever the same –
"Back to the castle?" Sirius asks, standing.
Grinning, he offers his friend a helpful hand. Wincing, Remus reaches out and seizes it, nose stinging and heart in his mouth.
Merlin help him.
Every touch, every brush is an accident, nothing else and nothing more – isn't it?
Forbidden fruit. Sirius is all odd softness, pale, smooth skin and messy hair, and Remus is oh-so-careful to keep his hands to himself. He feels rough and ragged, an old man at seventeen, smiling and shaking his head at his friends' antics. His body is worn-down by the beast within, and he keeps his instincts in check, never truly opening up.
Sirius pushes him, taunts him, exhausts him, with a grin and a casual roll of his so dark eyes. Sirius plays a game, and he's not sure anymore who is hunter and who is prey – all the lines ended up blurred, somehow. The lines that shaped their friendship, his fears, his carefulness, and the very essence of Sirius' being, they twist and writhe with bizarre, dizzying grace, and Remus thoroughly and entirely loses his bearings.
They can't even tell who kissed the other first.
It happens between them like the end and the beginning, the birth of another secret, tiny and huge, shameful and precious. They know without even voicing it that the Marauders can't be told of this. It'd be too much to wrap their heads around – a foreign pull to their perfect equilibrium – they were supposed to be friends, best friends forever, equals forever. And this, it challenges everything, it might very well blow up into their faces. They keep it quiet. They resolve to end it a thousand times, and always end up crawling back to one another, aching for warmth and trust and – love.
This is love, it can't be but it is, and Sirius is his lover. Remus loves a man, as if he hadn't been different enough, scared enough already. Padfoot laughs at him for it, fearless as ever, but still agrees to keep the two of them a secret. Padfoot with his daring, dancing eyes and his dangerously soft hands, Padfoot and the cruel smirks twisting his full lips – and to think that Remus once believed he knew him, once believed he was very lucid about how extraordinary and terrible the man could be. He couldn't know before he saw it, before he really experienced it, soul to soul, skin on skin – felt it in his bones and his blood and his madly shaking hands, that tangible, tangled-up terror of fully belonging to another. Even then, he finds it beyond words, beyond rational thought. Sirius, so many different men all rolled into one, harsh and playful and flippant and angry and passionate and sneaky and rash and cynical and childish – Sirius becomes a riddle, and day by day, Remus unveils it a bit more, and sees it slip between his fingers, teasingly.
With his few careful words, with his restless eyes and eager skin – he gathers the edges and the facets, the shifting shape of the man he's always adored, in a way.
He kisses the laughter and the taunts from his mouth, silencing both of their insecurities.
Remus vaguely remembers falling to pieces once, with a heady, bitter taste in his mouth and daggers in his heart. He remembers being a wreck. He remembers crying for weeks, and the salty flavour of his thick, traitor tears, running down unshaved cheeks, filling his throat and making it hard to breathe, even harder. He remembers losing everything.
Gazing upon the skeletal shadow of the man across the room from him, he recalls precisely what those words mean.
Losing like a freefall, an abrupt, dizzying hole of emptiness, brutally torn into his side. Hollow, hopeless, heart-rending.
Everything like a death penalty, the insult to the injury, a sentence to eternal doom. The poison that ensures that the wound never heals. Forever flaming, forever unfair.
Sirius had lost everything, up until tonight. He is a dark, fleeting silhouette, mad with the thirst for revenge, and rightfully so. Sirius accepts the hand stretched out to him, accepts the violent embrace, but does not look into his old lover's face. He gazes at Harry and at the rat like a burning, despairing man, and Remus swallows the bitter taste in his mouth.
They won't reunite yet. He knows it, comprehends it. But they'll reunite one day. They are the last of the Marauders left, after all.
Time goes by and they both fight their own battles. When they meet again, it is in the Blacks' family house, of all places. Remus has never been there before, obviously, and he's not quite sure what strikes him the most – the awful place itself, the high of seeing his friend again, or the shock before his bitter attitude, which seems to worsen day by day.
"It is wrong for me to be here, Moony," Sirius says dully, darkly, when Remus confronts him at last. "This whole place is filled with evil and hatred. The dust chokes me, the paintings want to strangle me in my sleep. Everyday, I wake up with that sour taste in my mouth, and I can't even do something to make it go away."
Remus feels that he's long forgotten how he once could soothe Padfoot with words – hell, he's hardly ever heard him express feelings this way before, in hushed, raging whispers that clash and collapse from his tongue – so he just kisses him hard in response, hoping that the taste of him can overpower the ghosts and the bitterness. It doesn't really, but still eases it some, and they find themselves tangled up in each other again, fighting to forget – or is it to remember?
Anyhow, Sirius' skin is rough and laced with a salty flavour under his tongue, and it leaves his throat burning, aching deliciously.
They're enough even when they can't, even when Remus fails to distract him and Sirius misses Harry and the high of freedom, so much that it physically hurts – even when he's harsh, turned vicious with frustration and his biting words leave marks. Sometimes it's almost like being young again, and sometimes entirely timeless. It just is, and well, they are grateful for it.
When Sirius collapses beyond the veil, Remus feels himself fall too. Head whirling, heart toppling from some great height, never quite crashing. It is an empty, choking, overwhelming wave rising in his chest and he clings to Harry's arm, restraining –
…and shuts his eyes, dizzy with the loss of what could only be described as everything.
In too deep. He's been a coward, and yet madly reckless – and the time for punishment has come.
(it tastes like ashes in his mouth, heady and harsh, never-ending.)