A/N: I'm afraid I've fallen hard into a new/old fandom. There can never be enough Remus Lupin.

Chicken

Over his years at Hogwarts, Remus Lupin had perfected his Truth or Dare game.

Truth or Dare never lasted long amongst the Marauders. They would rarely go through a full two rounds before someone had been given a dare that involved so much complicated, out-of-dorm, detention-risking activity that the game would typically not resume. Yet despite this, it was suggested often enough, as an antidote to the all-consuming boredom that seemed to grip Remus' dorm mates if more than five seconds went by without an outside stimulus.

Remus had a strategy.

His strategy involved the two house rules. One "chicken," or refusal of a dare or truth, allowed per game, and no participant was allowed to choose either option more than twice in a row. Remus tried to get his allotment of dares from Peter, because his ideas were slightly less diabolical than James' or Sirius'. A good two-third of Remus' detentions were a result of Truth or Dare-he certainly wouldn't have attempted to steal a kiss from Madame Pomfrey or drenched Professor Slughorn's crystallized pineapple in armadillo bile without his friends egging him on. That was what he liked about the game. A part of him envied his friends their devil-may-care attitudes, but he needed the extra encouragement of the solemn, fraternal bonds of Truth or Dare (as James put it whenever someone was tempted to say chicken more than once) to elevate himself to their level of mischief making.

As for truth questions, Remus was honest, but allowed himself to use misleading wording. Particularly when The Question came up, as it inevitably did, to him more than any of the others because he'd never given a satisfactory answer. Who did he find interesting or delectable or otherwise crush-worthy at the moment? Remus has his answers down pat. "There aren't any girls I like here." "None of the ladies of Hogwarts seem more interesting than any of the others." "No, there's no one back at home, either." "My answer hasn't changed since last time, you know."

None of his dorm mates seemed to notice the loophole in his answers. The fact that they didn't notice made Remus all the more determined to keep his secret.

Once, during a late night game halfway through fourth year, Sirius gave Remus a particularly nasty dare involving the Slytherin breakfast table and bubotuber pus. James whooped and said he bet Remus would say chicken. "He won't," Peter said. "Remus never uses chicken."

"Yeah he..." Sirius trailed off, an almost comical expression of befuddlement on his face, clearly trying to find a memory that wasn't there.

"No, he doesn't," Peter said complacently, opening a Chocolate Frog. "He hasn't even once."

"Hey... that's true," James said, his expression very close to Sirius'. "How come? And how come Peter noticed and we didn't?"

Remus shrugged. "Perhaps he's smarter than you. And perhaps I'm braver than you."

Both assertions were met with loud denials. Remus had halfway hoped an argument would break out, but it didn't, so he continued in a casual tone. "Honestly, I've just never been asked a question I wasn't willing to answer, or a dare I wasn't willing to do." This was only technically true. There had been some truly insensitive questions about lycanthropy that Remus had very much wanted not to answer, but he had answered them, and so he told himself that made him willing to answer them. "You all go too easy on me," he concluded.

Remus' number of detentions increased dramatically that year. He told himself he didn't care, as long as his friends were still treating his refusal to say chicken as a challenge to themselves. As long as they didn't realize that Remus was holding his way out in reserve, every single game, against the eventuality of being asked a single question.

Fifth year they started closing in. First it was Sirius. He asked Remus, as a truth question, what they would have to do to make him say chicken. "Well, since it hasn't happened, it's safe to assume I don't know," Remus answered with a lofty air that he knew would irritate Sirius. He thought he saw James frown at his wording, but he didn't say anything.

A few weeks later they wound up back on the familiar topic of who was crushing on who. Remus thought Peter's expression was rather shrewd as he phrased his question. "Is there anyone at Hogwarts, anyone at all, that you fancy?"

Remus made a show of considering. "If I had to pick, Lily Evans seems like the best girl around." The look of suspicion on Peter's face faded into amusement as James launched himself onto Remus' bed and put him into what was evidently James' idea of a wrestling hold.

Both escapes were narrow, and Remus could feel that his luck was running out. Ultimately it was James who trapped him, in the first game of their sixth year. "I'm not going to ask who you fancy because you always spout some rubbish about how the girls here aren't up to snuff. Listen very carefully and answer what I'm asking. Is there anyone, anywhere, boy or girl, in the entire world, that you have a crush on?"

Remus was forced to answer yes.

Identical expressions of fiendish glee lit up his dorm mates' faces. Remus knew what was coming, but he tried to avoid it anyway, playing for time and hoping something would happen to curtail the game. He challenged Peter; Peter picked truth, and then challenged him back. Remus picked dare, and Peter gave him the ridiculously easy dare of throwing a sock at Sirius-Remus knew he just wanted to speed things along. Remus challenged Sirius and gave him a truth question, which Sirius promptly answered and challenged Remus back. Remus picked dare, got another ridiculously easy dare, and challenged James. James picked truth, answered his question quickly, and challenged Remus with an air of triumph. Because of the house rules, Remus was forced to pick truth. He hadn't really finished saying the word "truth" before James demanded, "Who is it?"

Remus met his eyes. "Chicken."

There was a moment of silence. Then, "I bet it's me," Sirius said gloatingly.

James threw a pillow at him. Remus was immensely grateful for the distraction; it gave him the moment he needed to quiet the panic in his heart and assume a suitably disparaging attitude. "I knew you'd say that, Pads," he said in a weary tone, rolling his eyes. "Your ego knows no bounds."

"I'm just as fanciable as you are," James complained, going to retrieve his pillow and shoving Sirius for good measure. Sirius shoved him back at once, but James did not take up the invitation for a fight. He looked at Remus, and his face was unusually grave. "Seriously, Remus, you can tell us who it is. Nobody cares if it's a bloke."

Remus took a quick look at everyone's expressions and realized that this might actually be the case-no one seemed shocked or repulsed, just wildly curious. Still, he was not tempted to answer. He crossed his arms and put on his best prefect expression. "I said chicken. I've said it one time in six years and all of you say it all the time, so respect it and move on. Peter, truth or dare?"

Collective groans and complains. But Remus didn't budge, and eventually the others did, grudgingly, have to admit that Remus always respect it when someone else used chicken. Peter finally picked dare, and Remus dared him to go down to the common room and charm the entrance to the girls' dorm to wolf-whistle at them when they came down in the morning. Between the four of them trying to figure out the right spells to use and Sirius' attempts to add things rather more vulgar than a wolf-whistle into the spell, Remus' use of chicken gradually stopped being discussed.

The reprieve was brief.

For the next few months, Remus had to use chicken every time they played. No matter how many times he refused to answer, it was always the first question asked of him. Once Sirius followed up, after Remus had already used chicken, with a question as to why he wouldn't tell them. Remus replied that he felt it would make things awkward. This sparked a rapid-fire bout of the three of them speculating that it simply had to be one of them. Remus thought he was bearing up all right, but he must have slipped up somehow and let it show that he was upset. A brief silence fell, and then James said, "Y'know, he has a point about this being awkward. Let's drop it."

After that the subject of Remus' crush was tacitly banned from Truth or Dare. It didn't stop his friends from asking at other times, though, times when Remus was free to lie or shove them in the lake if he wanted. Sirius continued to insist that it could only be himself, as charming and desirable as he was. Peter liked to ask Remus, pointedly, if he thought so-and-so from Ravenclaw was cute or if he had been staring at the bloke who played Keeper in the last Quidditch match. Remus snapped at Peter a lot and always felt guilty about it after. James, in a misplaced display of brotherhood, kept urging Remus to let him in on the secret so that James could help him with his game plan, because at this rate Remus wasn't going to get so much as a kiss before graduation. Remus was too kind to mention that if he wanted help wooing someone, James was the last person he would go to.

If the circumstances had been different Remus would have been thrilled. Thrilled to discover, once again, that a secret he thought was taboo wasn't any big deal to his friends. But the knowledge that his homosexuality didn't ban him from the Marauders' inner sanctum any more than his lycanthropy did wasn't something he could fully enjoy. He was still carefully guarding the heart of the secret, the last level that might result in his expulsion from the group.

In seventh year, James suddenly became a lot more grounded. The double whammy of being named Head Boy and finally getting into Lily Evans' good graces dramatically reduced both his amount of free time and his taste for mischief. Sirius moped. Peter found himself a steady girlfriend in the sixth year, and spent a lot of former Marauder time curled up with her in the common room.

Sirius, by contrast, seemed less interested in flirtation and dating than ever before (although he still confidently proclaimed himself the object of Remus' secret love whenever the subject came up, and a few times that it didn't). He and Remus spent a lot more time together as a pair that year than they ever had before, in consequence of the other two having girlfriends. People began to say "Siriusandremus" like it was one word, the way they'd always said "Siriusandjames."

About a week before Christmas break, Sirius and Remus went up to the owlery so that Remus could send off a mail order for his mother's present. Then Sirius refused to go back down. He skulked along the balustrades in some sort of ill-tempered mood that he would not explain. Remus trailed behind him, irritated and bewildered and cold.

With daylight fading and snow just beginning to fall, Sirius turned to him and said "It's me, isn't it, Remus?" in a completely different tone than he had ever asked before. Remus would have said he sounded insecure, if the word could be applied to Sirius Black.

"Just when I think you're done asking," Remus said, heaving a put-upon sigh. He couldn't meet Sirius' eye as he said it.

"Isn't it?" Sirius' hands were shoved into his pockets, his shoulders rounded. "I watch you. I watch who you watch, who makes you smile. It can't be anybody else. It has to be me."

"Why do you keep asking?" Remus asked, real anger in his voice. "Why do you have to know so badly?"

Suddenly Sirius kissed him-briefly, without touching him anywhere but the lips, his hands still deep in his pockets. He pulled back quickly. "Because."

Remus let the snow drift onto his closed eyelashes and searched inside himself for some kind of plausible denial. Something that would protect him from the possibility that to Sirius, this was all just proving a point. He couldn't find anything. "It's you."

There was silence for one horrible moment. Remus wondered if it would be broken by Sirius gloating. He had just about talked himself into opening his eyes to find out how Sirius looked, when Sirius kissed him again.

He didn't open his eyes for a long time. Or speak. There didn't seem to be any need to. It was only when the snow had thickened and the sun was a distant memory that they were both forced to admit they were freezing (despite their very best efforts at keeping warm).

"Is this a secret?" Remus asked through chattering teeth as they retraced their steps to the owlery.

Sirius took his hand-at first Remus thought he was doing it for the sake of balance on the snowy roof, but he didn't let go. "I think it's been a secret long enough."

The next time they played Truth or Dare, Remus used chicken early on, on a stupid little dare, just because he could. Everyone looked surprised, but only for a moment; then James and Peter grinned, Sirius made a big show of snuggling up to Remus, and the game went on.