"Remus?" Sirius called.
"What!" The word was partially muffled by the sound of running water and, probably, soap suds.
Sirius glanced in the mirror at the agitated twitching of the shower curtain and grimaced. It was going to be a very busy day and Remus had overslept. For a moment he considered saying 'no, never mind, I'm just being daft' but dismissed the thought. Something had occurred to him and it was preying on his mind.
"Do you ever think…." he began.
"Almost continuously, try it sometime," Severus stepped through the open bathroom door, hair neatly combed and almost dry and took a stance in front of the lavatory. There was the sound of a zip.
Sirius sighed and rolled his eyes.
"No, seriously! Do you ever think that – well – that we might not be real?"
There was a moment of stunned silence broken by a curse from Severus and the rattle of the shower curtain.
"You're cleaning that up!" Remus said severely to Severus, who was, indeed, already reaching for the tissue. "What do you mean, Sirius? Of course we're real!"
Sirius took the time to shave the tricky bit on his top lip before replying and he could see Remus, towelling busily, watching him in the mirror.
"It's the whole set up here," he continued eventually. "Don't you ever wonder what it's all about?"
"Life's too short," Severus said, straightening up from mopping his boots, "to move at the snail's pace of your thought processes. Precis the argument for me, Remus, and I'll consider it later." He flushed and left, picking up his bag of costumes and props as he stepped through the door and strode off along the hall.
"Precis the argument for me, Remus…" Sirius repeated in a squeaky voice and snorted.
"Cut him some slack," Remus advised. "He's under a lot of pressure."
"Yes," Sirius seized upon that. "That's my point. Remember how it used to be? Back in the old days. He was the beaky, greasy, sarky bastard with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Rock of Gibraltar so how the hell did he come to be the Slytherin sex-machine?"
"Eh?" Remus, half dressed, popped his head out through the neck of his jumper like a rabbit from its burrow.
"And you," Sirius continued, "were the excellent teacher, kind friend and all-together nice guy with the added frisson of the possibility that you might snack on a pupil, while I had a simple time of it – I was psychotic but generally considered to be on the side of the angels. So – given that – how did we wind up like this?" He washed out his razor, set it aside and patted his face dry. No aftershave – not until he'd had a chance to check on what he was supposed to smell like today.
"I mean," he pulled his t-shirt on over his head and put one foot up on the edge of the bath to tie his trainers, "some of the time, to the Slythocentrics out there, I'm the spawn of the devil for what I almost did to their ickle Sevvie-kins and some of the time I am.." he straightened up and struck a pose, "a sex-god… and so are you. I spend huge amounts of my time making women moan – when I'm not making you whimper! And, please, what is all that about?"
"You mean the slash?" Remus sounded amused. "I have no idea. Maybe because we hugged each other in the Shack? Maybe because out of all the people at Hogwarts someone has to be gay? I don't know. But I do know that we have it easy in comparison to some of the others."
"Jeez, yes," Sirius grimaced. They picked up their towels and wash kits and crossed the landing towards their dormitories.
"Bathroom Four's empty," Sirius bellowed and he and Remus' eyes met as a tall, pale individual stepped wearily from his room and limped towards them.
"Tough one, Legolas?" Remus asked.
The elf smiled wanly.
"Boromir again," he whispered. "Between you and me I think he rather enjoys it." He heaved a deep sigh and his voice quavered for a moment as he gasped, "Oh, I miss the nineteen-fifties so much! Excuse me." He covered his eyes with a shaking hand and closed the bathroom door behind him.
"And there's another one," Sirius grumbled as they collected their gear from their room and walked down the long corridor towards the stairs. "Once he was the six hundred year old representative of a wise and benign race and a damned good archer to boot. Now he's the Mirkwood lady-boy whose hands shake so much from the stress of it he can barely nock an arrow most days."
He paused to tap gently on a door and, when there was no reply, opened it and stuck his head in.
"Harry's gone already," he said, closing the door. "I wish I had his energy. Wonder what he's up to today?"
"We can check downstairs," Remus reminded him. "It's your turn to get the breakfast."
The refectory was half empty by the time they got there, stepping around three men in Starfleet 'security' uniform who were arguing over who would take the fall that day.
While Remus went over to join the scrum around the assignment board, Sirius dumped his bag by an empty table and got into the queue behind Zorro who was demonstrating a fencing move to Aragorn, who was politely feigning interest, and Miles Vorkosigan, who was not. He caught Sirius eye and grinned sardonically.
"Poker school, tonight, Black?" he asked. "Usual time, usual place."
Sirius shrugged and nodded.
"Can't make any promises," he said, "until I see what's on my schedule."
Miles nodded understandingly and turned away to snag a jug of juice.
There wasn't a huge amount left to choose from but Sirius put a meal of sorts together and returned to their table where Remus was waiting, listening in resignation to four of the six James Bonds who were trying to cap each others innuendo.
"Well?" he asked as he sat down and placed Remus' tea squarely between his waiting hands. Remus gripped the mug like a lifeline.
"Glad to see you brought plenty, we'll need it," Remus replied and took a large swig. "The day from hell. All NC-17. First thing you're dying heroically saving Harry from Voldemort…"
"Then you're dying ignominiously betraying Harry to Voldemort…."
"Second time this week. Go on."
"Then a routine "getting laid at Lupin's", I'll see you there. And again, same tune different words. Followed by a couple of nice easy PWPs." Remus hesitated and Sirius scowled at him.
"What aren't you telling me?"
Remus sighed and pushed his sched across the table.
"Last entry of the day," he said.
Sirius read it and swore.
"Not again," he said, his face twisted with disgust.
"Sorry, mate," Remus commiserated. His own list for the day wasn't too bad, though the quick switches back and forth between slash and het stories sometimes made his head spin. He sat quietly, watching Sirius weigh up the storyline, give a professional nod and accept his fate with a gallant lift of the shoulders and a curl of the lip.
"Roll on Book Five?" Remus suggested.
"Roll on Book bloody Seven," Sirius grumbled. He glanced enviously down the refectory to the table where most of the characters from the Belgariad were sharing a leisurely pot of tea and a draught board. "Perhaps when that's out we might get a bit more peace?"
"Then there'll be the films," Remus pointed out. "Don't forget – there are still people writing Dr Who f.f. and there hasn't been a new doctor for – years."
Sirius nodded and shovelled up some cornflakes, munching while he scanned the tell-tales beside each assignment. Routine – apart from the last one, he thought with a shudder – with four changes of eye colour, three of hair length and a change from curls to waves to straight.
"I'll being seeing Harry this morning, I suppose," Sirius mused, "but what're the kids up too this afternoon?"
"Looks like the complaints bore fruit," Remus told him with satisfaction. "They're getting a full hour for lunch and their scheds have been simplified. This has the downside that Harry is spending the whole afternoon chasing or being chased by Draco but it's all PG13 max – almost a day off really."
"Lucky little sod," Sirius grinned. "It was worth the rollicking we had then. And a whole hour for lunch – oh, that reminds me…." He rolled a few slices of toast in a napkin and put them in his bag. Sometimes he was fed, sometimes not and sometimes he was but it was rat.
"Ready?" Remus asked.
They left their plates on the table and picked up their gear and wandered across to the portals. Their way took them close to the table where Severus was setting up the chess board and Miles Vorkosigan was leafing through his sheets for the day. Tarzan and Lord Morpheus, waiting their turn, grinned a greeting.
"Morning?" Remus greeted them. "Severus, are you coming?"
"I'm not on til 9.30," Severus replied coolly, "and I don't anticipate this taking that long."
Miles raised his eyebrows at that but didn't respond.
"Miles," Sirius smiled. "The poker might be out for tonight." He held out his sheet and the small man winced as he read the indicated entry.
"I wouldn't stand for that, if I were you," he said.
"What choice do I have?" Sirius asked. "What choice do any of us have? I'm sure Sev wouldn't have endured half the shit he's been through if he had a choice."
"This," Severus told Miles, archly, "is the man who announced in the bathroom this morning that he doesn't believe that he's real."
Tarzan gave a crack of laughter but Miles frowned.
"Not real? Now there's a thought. What makes you say that?"
Sirius looked down at him warily.
"Gut feeling," he said, eventually. "I remember when it was just the books, you see," he added, apologetically, "before there was all this other stuff. I wasn't real in canon but I was realler then than I am now – if you see what I mean."
"You were never real," Severus said, shunting a pawn forward then leaning back in his seat. "You were only ever the absentee emotional crutch – there to provide advice and back-up if necessary but not to interfere with the kids activities – the ideal, if lackadaisical, parent. Dammit, you didn't even have an allocated hair colour until Book Four. Whereas I," he scowled as Miles knight came into play, "was a constant presence in their little lives."
"Like a bad case of eczema," Sirius agreed and Tarzan laughed again, licking the tip of his index finger and making an imaginary mark as though keeping score.
Miles laughed too but Lord Morpheus was frowning.
"That is a dangerous thought," he said. "If we are not real, what are we?"
There was one of the silences that usually followed one of Morpheus's pronouncements, where everybody wondered whether it was a rhetorical question or not; everybody except Tarzan, who was reaching for the fruit bowl.
"I wish I wasn't real," a sad voice murmured and Legolas slunk past, unstrung bow in hand, followed by half a dozen leering orcs, one of whom was mercifully carrying a small tube of lube.
They all winced.
A stirring from the flight of steps at the other end of the room drew their attention. Dubbed the 'Stairway to Heaven' by some frustrated wag, the sweeping curve of marble led up to the, reputedly, luxurious Ladies Quarters.
"Heads up, lads," Miles whispered. "Here they come."
In respectful silence they watched the Queens of Fanfiction descend. No standing in line for a breakfast off a tray for these ladies but a separate kitchen and dining room to match up to the high standards of the rest of their accommodation. Hard-working and dedicated, there was so few of them that it was generally agreed that they earned their privileges. That didn't stop a man looking and dreaming though.
Sirius gave a low groan.
"Seven of Nine," he murmured through gritted teeth.
"I've always had a really high regard for Polgara, myself," Remus sighed.
"Too brainy," Tarzan said through a mouthful of banana, "but I could give that Ginny Weasley one."
"Gentlemen," a cold voice cut across their heated speculations. "Don't we all have places to be? Things to do? People to see?"
Remus poked Sirius in the ribs as he drew breath to ask Elrond who had died and made him king – he was already on probation from an incident the previous week during which Commander Ryker had been slipped a large dose of laxative just before donning his spacesuit for an EVA. Since being made a trusty Elrond had lost what little sense of humour he had ever had and possessed a remarkable facility for appearing at inconvenient moments, and Sirius really couldn't afford another black mark against his name. Sirius nodded grimly and they collected their bags and walked off towards the portals, listening to Severus and Miles upholding the honour of the working guy by giving the middle management a hard time.
"I'm serious, Remus," Sirius resumed his rant as he punched in the first code number of the day. "I'm not letting this lie. If we aren't real, maybe we are imaginary. If I am imaginary, then surely my imagination is as valid as anyone's."
"Well," Remus conceded, "if you really believe that, you should be able to affect the way the story works out. I mean, you could just turn round and say, "No, today I don't think I really want to fight the forces of evil. I think I'd like to play a round of golf instead"."
"Remus," Sirius' eyes lit up. "I think you may have a point. But two heads are better than one. Let's try it. Look," he pointed to the third and fourth assignments of the day, "these 'getting laid at Lupin's'. What say, whichever way they try to write the story – um…"
"I get to be on top," Remus suggested with a grin. Sirius sighed.
"OK, it's a start. Honestly, Remus," he grinned, looking more cheerful suddenly than Remus could remember him looking for months, "I've got a good feeling about this."
"Fine," Remus smiled and hefted his bag onto his shoulder, "but I still get to be on top." With that he stepped through the portal and into somebody's fictional universe.
Sirius grinned and stepped through his own doorway for another hard day pounding various mattresses.
Over the chess board, Severus eyes met those of the diminutive Vorkosigan.
"They're up to something," Severus commented.
"Good," Miles replied. "Check."
"Shit," Severus hastily moved a bishop. "I'll let you know how it pans out."
They both turned in response to a shrill scream and watched as Rhodry Maelwedd chased Rincewind up to the landing and returned grinning and twirling the wizard's hat around the tip of one long finger. The Deverry man shouted gleefully and tossed the hat up to lodge on the chandelier.
Miles nodded and moved a castle. "Just think of the possibilities, Severus. So many heros in such a small space. So much energy and commitment. If we could organise things the way we want, I could be six foot four and you could have a personality!"
Severus grinned and moved a knight. "With brains who needs a personality. Check."
Miles swore, shrugged and tipped his king in defeat.
May be Continued.