Author's Note: This story was written for the Veil of Possibilities Challenge. The idea is that when Sirius fell through the veil in OotP, he went into an alternate reality. He is now repeatedly going through the veil, visiting several alternate realities, trying to get home. This story is one of the realities he visits. Go to Nuttersinc. for the entire Challenge.
Disclaimer: Sirius and the HP universe belong to JKR, but we refuse to let Sirius go home until she promises to be nicer to him in the future.
The idea of Remus being a bartender, and his reasons for why it's a good job for a werewolf are borrowed from "Dead Till I Be With Him" by Minx. You can find it at Azkaban's Lair.
Dedicated: To Raina and Lea, for starting this whole wonderful challenge. This is so much better than Sirius being gone forever.The Scent of a Mate
Sirius was in a corridor of what appeared to be an office building. He glanced around, deciding which direction to go. Before he could take one step, a loud discordant bell began to ring and a woman's voice echoed through the corridor.
"UNAUTHORIZED APPARITION ON THE FOURTH FLOOR! SECURITY ALERT! UNAUTHORIZED APPARITION ON THE FOURTH FLOOR!"
Sirius was on the move the moment the alarm began. He walked quickly, hoping to put distance between himself and the spot where he had appeared and thus set off the alarm, but he did not run. Running would only call attention to himself and make it clear that he was the intruder. No, he was just an ordinary citizen with business in the Ministry of Magic, as he now recognized the building to be. He glanced at doorways as he passed, trying to choose one that he could duck into on the pretense of business. "Werewolf Registry" the next door read.
"Perfect," Sirius thought. Not only could he get out of the corridor for a little while, thus avoiding the Ministry security searching for him, but by inquiring about Remus, he might be able to discover if this was his world or not. If it was his world, Sirius hoped he looked different enough from his old wanted poster that he wouldn't be recognized. And if it was not his world, he hoped to discover that fact quickly and get to the veil while he was already in the correct building.
The woman behind the desk looked up warily when Sirius entered the door, but he gave her his full-strength "charm the teacher" smile.
"Bit noisy, that alarm," he said. "Hope they catch the stupid bloke who set it off quickly so they can turn it off again." As he closed the door behind himself, the alarm became muffled; it was only full volume in the corridor. "Do you mind if I quiet it a bit more?" he asked as he pulled his wand from his pocket.
"Go right ahead," she said, and he cast a silencing charm on the door.
"Much better." He took a seat in the sole chair in front of her desk and tried to appear relaxed, but he kept his wand in his lap with one hand upon it. He wanted it in his hand should security find him, but since he had taken it out of his pocket for such an innocent reason, the woman behind the desk didn't seem suspicious.
She appeared to be in her mid-thirties. She had poorly styled brown hair, pink lipstick that clashed with her brick red robe, and no wedding band on her finger. In other words, flirtation would be most welcome.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"I do hope so," he said as he flashed her "the smile" again. "I'm trying to find a particular werewolf, and I don't know where he's currently living."
She frowned and opened a desk drawer to put away two of the scrolls upon her desk. "We don't give out werewolves' addresses to just anyone who wants to bag a werewolf for their trophy collection," she said crossly.
"I should hope not." Sirius tried to sound merely irritated by the idea rather than as deeply sickened as he truly felt. He made up a lie on the spot. Years of lying to his parents and his teachers had provided him with ample opportunities to practice the skill. "I'm James Evans from the Potion Brewers' Guild, and I'm doing follow-up research on some of the subjects of one of our experimental potions. The werewolf I'm looking for was one of the test subjects for the first successful batches of Wolfsbane Potion."
She smiled just slightly and nodded. Sirius interpreted that to mean that she recognized the name of the potion. Emboldened, he continued. "From time to time, we follow up with the early test subjects to check for any long-term side effects."
"I guess if the potion is going to make werewolves more dangerous or something, it will be better to find out before it becomes widespread," she said.
"Exactly," he said. He forced himself to continue smiling. He felt like growling because the woman was more concerned with the remote possibility of a side-effect which could effect non-werewolves than with the probability of a toxic side-effect for the werewolves themselves. He also realized that she had just done him a favour. People were more likely to fall for a con if they thought that by doing as you said they could either gain something they wanted, or could avoid something unpleasant. The werewolf population of Britain driven mad by a bad potion would be very unpleasant indeed.
"There were six—" Sirius was interrupted by the sound of the alarm as the door behind him opened.
"Is everything alright in here?" a security officer asked. Sirius gave him half a glance. He didn't give the wizard a chance to get a good look at him, but he didn't want to seem suspicious by obviously keeping his back to him either.
"We're fine," the witch behind the desk answered. "Have you caught the intruder yet?"
"No, but we're continuing to search and we've increased security in key departments." Silence returned to the room as the officer left.
"Key departments," Sirius reflected, "will include the Department of Mysteries. I'm not going to get to the veil today."
"You were saying?" the witch prompted with a smile.
Sirius returned the smile. "Of the six subjects in this particular test group, I've already followed up with three, two are dead, and that leaves one I need to locate."
She removed a notebook from her top desk drawer and opened to a blank page. "His name?"
"Lupin. Remus Lupin."
The witch paused with her quill just above the inkwell. "Lupin? A werewolf named Lupin? O.K., whose little joke is this? Did Bertie send you here?"
Sirius shook his head. "No joke. That's really his name. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction."
She eyed him warily, but decided to play along. She inked her quill and wrote "Lupin, Remus," at the top of the blank page. Immediately, the page filled in with information. "I guess you were telling the truth," she commented. She copied Remus's address onto a blank scrap of parchment and handed it to Sirius. "A word of advice—tomorrow night is a full moon, so you should wait until after then to visit him. You don't want to deal with a werewolf this close to a full moon, believe me."
Sirius read it quickly and then tucked it into a pocket as he stood up. He tried not to show his disappointment that it was an address he did not recognize. A unfamiliar address probably meant that this was the wrong world again, but Sirius clung to the possibility that Remus had changed his address after Sirius fell through the veil.
"Thank you so much for your time," he said as he shook the witch's hand, laying his left hand atop of hers for good measure. It wouldn't hurt to leave her feeling upbeat about this exchange. "Perhaps I'll find another excuse to drop by soon," he said smiling.
"I'll be here," she said. A faint blush coloured her cheeks.
Sirius left the Ministry building as Padfoot. He slipped into the midst of several people on their way to one of the exits. Each person assumed that he was the familiar of another person in the group. Remus's address was in London, so Sirius remained Padfoot to make the journey. It was only when he reached the vicinity of Remus's address that he stepped into an alley and transformed back. He consulted the address in his pocket and sought out the correct building.
It was a non-descript building of soot-coated brick. Judging by the size and boxy shape, it had been designed for it's current purpose rather than being a house later subdivided into flats. The front door of the building was locked, but that was no barrier to a wizard with a wand. Sirius made his way up two flights and to Remus's door.
Sirius hesitated before knocking. Depending upon how much or how little this world had in common with his own, Remus would either welcome him with open arms or curse him on sight. But now that he was this far, Sirius preferred to knock rather than walk away without seeing him. "After all," he thought, "I am a Gryffindor— more balls than brains."
As he waited for the door to open, Sirius smoothed his hair nervously and tucked his wand back in his pocket. It would be wiser to have it in hand, but it might appear threatening.
The door opened—and it was Remus. He wore brown leather trousers and an unbuttoned white shirt. Sirius had to smile at the sight. Somehow the unbuttoned shirt was infinitely more sexy than no shirt at all. It inevitably drew one's eyes to the line of soft brown hair down the center of his flat stomach, and that line of hair drew one's eyes even lower. Remus pulled the shirt closed with one hand, the other hand remained on the door, ready to push it closed.
"Yes?" Remus asked impatiently.
"Remus? You don't recognize me, do you?"
"Sorry, but don't take it personally. I'm terrible at remembering people, especially if I see them out of context. And I'm really kind of busy now, so—" Remus began to close the door slowly.
"Sorry to have bothered you," Sirius said as he turned away. He fought down the bitter disappointment he felt by reminding himself that this outcome was better than meeting up with a Remus who believed him to be a traitor and a murderer. And, he now knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was not his world. If he could get to the veil tomorrow, he could step through without a moment's hesitation.
"Wait!" Remus called out. Sirius turned to see that the brown-haired man had stepped into the corridor. "Do you need some help?"
"Yeah, I do," Sirius admitted.
"C'mon in then," Remus said as he inclined his head toward the open door. Sirius preceded Remus into the flat. It was a small bed-sit. Nothing extravagant, but it was comfortable and neat.
"I know it's a bit early for dinner, but I have to be at work soon. Are you hungry?"
"Have a seat," Remus invited as he gestured toward a galley kitchen along one wall and the counter with two stools which separated it from the main part of the room. "I've only got the one steak, but we can split it."
Sirius sat down on a stool and watched as Remus held his hand over a cast iron frying pan on an electric stove, testing the temperature. Then he picked up a medium-sized steak from a brown paper wrapper, placed it in the pan, and sucked the beef blood off his fingertips.
"What would you like to drink?" Remus asked as he set two places on the counter. "Beer, tea, milk?"
"Actually, milk would be a good idea," Sirius said, "if it's not a problem." He had no way of knowing if meals would be difficult to come by on the next world, so he knew it would be wise to eat nutritiously whenever he could.
Remus flipped the steak with a fork and then pulled a tray of chips out of the oven. As he dumped half onto each plate, he said, "Sorry, they're the frozen kind, but they're not bad. I presume you like it rare?" He nodded in the direction of the steak still sizzling in the pan.
"I'm not particular," Sirius said smiling. "I used to be, but not anymore." Surviving on Azkaban's fare would cure anyone of being a fussy eater.
Remus smiled back. "Me too. My mum said that when I was little, with the notable exceptions of bacon and battered fish, she couldn't even get me to eat meat."
"I wasn't allowed to refuse," Sirius said. "My mother made me eat escargot during a formal dinner party once. I vomited all over the linen tablecloth and my aunt just as the main course was served." Remus laughed. "Mother gave me escargot, and only escargot, for every meal for four days after that." Remus stopped laughing.
"Wasn't she though?"
Remus cut the steak roughly in half and put the slightly larger piece on Sirius's plate. The center was still a deep almost purplish red. If this had been his Remus, Sirius would have teased him by saying something like, "Skip the pretense and eat it raw."
"So, how long have you been one?" Remus asked as he took a seat beside Sirius at the counter.
"Been one what?"
Remus looked slightly puzzled. He leaned toward Sirius, and Sirius thought for a moment that Remus was about to kiss him. Even as Sirius wondered how he should react—this wasn't his Remus, but it was Remus—Remus inhaled and pulled back again.
"Your scent—I thought at the door—"
"You thought I was a werewolf?" Sirius asked. "Well, I do smell a bit doggy, I suppose," Sirius said with a grin.
Remus didn't return the grin. A slight flush appeared on his cheeks as he stared down at the chips he was pushing around on his plate with his fork. "I apologize for the assumption," Remus said, suddenly very tense and formal. "I'm sorry if I offended you."
"What are you apologizing for?" Sirius asked. "A strange bloke appears at your door, you think he's a werewolf in need of a helping hand, and you share your supper with him. You got the 'in need of a helping hand' part right. You don't owe me an apology. I owe you a 'thank you.'"
Remus nodded but continued to stare at his plate.
"Eat while it's hot," Sirius urged.
Remus cut off a piece of steak but did not eat. "Still, I shouldn't have assumed. Most people would be offended to be mistaken for a werewolf."
"I'm not most people. My lover is a werewolf."
Remus smiled slightly. "I guess that's why you're used to bloody steak. Have you two been together long?"
"Since we were teenagers." Sirius opted not to explain that they had been apart for longer than they had been together.
"Do you want to call—her—on the telephone and tell her you're alright?"
"I'd love to, but he's too far away to call, and he doesn't have a telephone anyway."
Remus exhaled sharply. "That's a relief. Oh—I didn't mean it's a relief that you couldn't call him—just that he is a he. I thought I misjudged you three times in a row. Losing my touch."
"You're in a long-term relationship. At the door, when you knew me, but I didn't recognize you, I thought that maybe I'd met you where I tend bar, but the blokes who come in there, their idea of a long-term relationship is sticking around for breakfast."
"Ahh—sneaking out the moment he falls asleep. Avoiding the awkward 'morning after' during which you might have to admit that you can't remember his name—because you didn't care enough to bother learning his name in the first place. I remember a few of those nights."
"Oh? And here you had the hopeless romantic in me imagining that you and your werewolf lover were 'living happily ever after' in mutual monogamy."
"We hit a rough patch for a while."
"Bugger," Remus glanced at his watch and began to shovel food into his mouth. "I'm going to be late for work," he muttered around a mouthful of steak.
"I'll wash up," Sirius said as Remus slid off the stool and headed toward the chest of drawers, pealing off his shirt as he went. Sirius placed the dirty pans and dishes in the sink, poured in a bit of water and soap, and charmed the scrub brush to go to work.
He returned to the main room just in time to have a perfect view of Remus's leather-clad ass as the werewolf knelt beside the bed and reached under it for something. Sirius whistled in appreciation. Remus glanced back over his shoulder with a smirk and then continued rooting around under the bed.
"Got it," he murmured as he pulled a shoe out from under the bed and sat back to put on the shoe and its mate. He was now wearing a tight v-neck t-shirt in a warm gold colour with a slight shimmer. The colour made the browns of his hair and the trousers seem even warmer and more touchable. "Go around whistling at blokes like that, and it's no wonder that you and your lover hit a 'rough patch'."
"I can't help it if I appreciate the combination of well-fitted leather trousers and a very nice ass. I used to have the most wonderful black leather trousers—butter soft, fit like a second skin, but slid off nice and easy." He slid his hands down the side of his hips as he swayed his hips slightly to pantomime sliding off trousers.
Remus just stared at Sirius's hips for a moment before he blinked and looked away. "At least you still have the very nice ass," he commented as he rose from the floor and returned to the closet to fetch his coat.
"It used to be better," Sirius replied.
"You're welcome to stay here," Remus said as he pulled on a grey overcoat that had seen better days. "I don't have anything worth stealing. Feel free to take the bed; I'll be home quite late. After I get done at Chester's, I'm working at an after-hours club."
"May I come with you?" Sirius asked. He knew Remus would be too busy at work to talk with him, but the idea of sitting alone in the flat was just too lonely to contemplate.
"Fine with me," Remus said with a smile and opened the door. "Be prepared to get hit on."
"Even if I don't have leather trousers anymore?"
"How come I can't get my Re—my boyfriend to wear leather trousers?" Sirius asked as they walked down the staircase and outside.
Remus laughed. "You'll have to ask him, won't you? Personally, I resisted for a long time. They were just a bit too much, if you know what I mean. 'Hi, wanna screw?' But they do improve my tips."
"Ah—so you wear them for practical reasons."
"So did you. You were just after something other than tips, weren't you?"
It was Sirius's turn to laugh. "You know me too well."
"Scary, considering that I just met you."
Sirius liked the club, Chester's, immediately. The ground floor contained a long brass-railed bar complete with a mirrored wall behind it. One could hang out by the bar and check out the entire room—or the bartenders' asses—without obviously staring. The opposite wall had numerous cozy booths, and the center of the room had a few scattered tables the correct height for standing patrons—all the better to mix and mingle easily. But if the ground floor was the place to find your companion—or companions— for the evening, the basement was the place to seal the deal. The basement was the dance floor.
The music was unfamiliar. The beat was not. There was a reason that music was a part of courtship and mating rituals all over the world. Sirius leaned against the railing that protected the unwary from falling down the stairwell. He could only glimpse a small portion of the dance floor. The writhing forms and the pulsating lights would have been right at home at any of the clubs Sirius frequented as a younger man.
"Going down?" a voice asked in his ear. Sirius turned to see Remus beside him.
Remus smiled and moved away. Sirius turned to watch Remus wander through the room collecting empty glasses.
"LAST CALL!" Remus called out to the room at large. He leaned across the bar to Sirius. "Now comes the last minute scramble to stave off loneliness for one more night. If you haven't been hit on yet, you will be." Sirius had been hit on, three times overtly, and numerous more flirtatious touches and knowing smiles. None had tempted him in the slightest. The handsome bartender in the gold t-shirt may not have been his Moony, but he looked like him. How could Sirius be in the same room with Remus and be interested in anyone else?
Remus headed back toward the center of the bar and began filling the final drink orders of the night. Sirius watched with interest as a man with spiky salt-and-pepper hair paid for a drink with a rather large bill, refused the change, and said something that made Remus laugh in a friendly way. Remus placed his hand over the man's hand for moment while he laughed, but when the man asked something, Remus shook his head and let go. Variations of the same scene were repeated at least twice before Remus returned to the end of the bar where Sirius waited.
"Do you ever take any of them up on the offer?" Sirius asked. He looked down into the dregs of his beer as he asked. There was an uncomfortable tightness in his chest that he suspected was jealousy. He swirled the golden liquid in his glass and tried to remind himself that no matter how much this man looked and sounded like his Remus, he wasn't. Sirius had no claim upon him.
Remus didn't reply immediately. "Sometimes. Depends upon—a lot of things. Tonight's the kind of night I probably wouldn't have gone home alone."
Sirius looked up again and discovered that Remus was staring at him intently. His eyes were dilated wide in the shadow surrounding this end of the bar. Sirius half expected to see the golden gleam of Moony's eyes. This was the way Moony stared at Padfoot. "Full moon tomorrow night," Sirius whispered.
Remus nodded without taking his eyes off Sirius. "Tonight's a bad night to be alone, and a worse night to be with someone you don't want to frighten. It's a good night to find a stranger—or to work all night so it's not an issue."
Sirius blinked. "I forgot. You have another job to go to."
"Cancelled. The police got wind of it. No license."
"Oh—um—" The words, "You wouldn't frighten me," were on the tip of Sirius's tongue. All he had to do was speak. He bit his bottom lip and looked down into his glass instead.
"I'll be done within a half hour or so," Remus said. "Do you want a bed for the night? I'll keep my paws off you. I know better than to anger a werewolf by taking his mate."
"How'd you get into this line of work?" Sirius asked as they walked the few blocks back toward Remus's flat.
"Helping a friend out when he was shorthanded. I've been doing it several years now. Took me long enough to realize it that it was a good job for a werewolf. Everything else I tried, sooner or later I'd call in sick once too often and get fired. But this, bartenders trade shifts often enough that I can always manage to have a couple of nights off when I need it. Besides, the best shifts are in the evening, so it suits me. I'm somewhat nocturnal, but you probably knew that."
"Bloody insomniac between first quarter and full," Sirius said with a chuckle.
"No, I sleep fine—during the day." They each glanced sideways at the other simultaneously and broke into matching smiles. "I never did figure out where you know me from," Remus said. "When I thought you were a werewolf, I thought we might have met at the Support Services Office or something."
"And before that, you thought I was one of the nameless and faceless you had shagged rotten."
"Yes, well, hard to remember faces if you aren't actually looking at them."
Sirius laughed. "God, you're awful. Remind me to have a long chat with my boyfriend about what he was up to while we were separated."
"And you were any better, Mr. 'I'd chew my arm off rather than leave it trapped under this bloke until he wakes up'?"
Sirius laughed again. "Fair enough. You're right."
They had reached the front door of Remus's building, and Remus had unlocked the front door as they spoke. The stairs were lit by a weak electric light, but the corridor leading to Remus's flat was dark.
"Bloody hell," Remus muttered as he flipped the light switch twice. "Burned out again, and not a window in the whole corridor. Hope we don't trip over anything—or anyone."
"Poor little werewolf wants his night vision?" Sirius teased as the stairwell door behind them closed and they were plunged into total darkness
"Yes," Remus said as he set off slowly down the corridor, his hand trailing along one wall.
"Lumos," Sirius said as he pulled his wand from his pocket. "Better?"
Remus, with his back to Sirius, had frozen the moment the light blossomed from Sirius's wand. He turned to face Sirius again and immediately retreated several steps. His eyes were fixed on Sirius's wand.
"Remus? Is something wrong?"
"You're —I didn't know that you're a wizard."
Sirius shrugged. "Didn't come up, I guess. But c'mon, Re, how many Muggles do you know who believe that werewolves are real?"
Remus tore his eyes away from the wand to look Sirius in the eyes again. "How many wizards do you know who believe that werewolves deserve to live?"
Sirius didn't know what to answer.
"I guess if you were here to kill me, you'd have done it by now," Remus said. He squared his shoulders and continued down the corridor to his own door. His pretense of complete calm would have been more convincing if he had managed to get the key in the lock without dropping the keyring.
"Let me do it," Sirius said as Remus bent to retrieve the keys. "Alohomora," he incanted, and the door unlocked with a click. Remus looked down at the wand again and took a deep breath before turning the doorknob and going in. Sirius hesitated on the threshold. The easy familiarity between them was gone. He was a stranger to Remus, a stranger of whom Remus was afraid. "Do you want me to leave?" he asked.
Remus shook his head without looking at him. "You just caught me by surprise. I think I need a beer. You want one?"
"No thanks," Sirius replied as he sank down onto the sofa. "One more and I'll be at risk of a hangover tomorrow, and that would be a very bad idea." Tomorrow he planned to break into the Department of Mysteries and go through the veil again. Slowed reflexes could mean the difference between going home or getting caught and going to— "Don't even think it, Sirius," he scolded himself. He toed off his boots and propped his feet up on the foot of the bed.
Remus lay down across the foot of the bed and took a swig from a brown bottle. His flat stomach was just an inch away from the soles of Sirius's feet, close enough that Sirus felt—or imagined that he felt—the warmth coming off Remus's body. "Think what?" Remus asked.
"Nothing. So, you haven't met too many wizards worth knowing?"
Remus snorted. "The ones at the Registry and so-called Support Services think werewolves are a nuisance to be controlled. Set one foot out of line, and you're the responsibility of the Werewolf Control Unit. The courageous wizards of the Werewolf Control Unit think, 'The only good werewolf is a dead werewolf.'"
"What about at school?" Sirius asked. Obviously Remus had not met a Sirius Black at school, but James? Or even Peter? Wouldn't they have been there to befriend Remus? "Didn't you meet any half-decent wizards there?"
"Why would I have met any wizards at school?" Remus asked in genuine confusion.
The truth of the situation hit Sirius full force. He'd been ignoring the obvious all evening. The fact that Remus lived in a Muggle flat hadn't clued him in. He and Remus had lived together in a Muggle flat years ago. For Sirius, it was all a part of his rebellion against his family, and Remus's mixed magical and Muggle parentage had allowed him to feel completely at home in both worlds. The fact that Remus had cooked dinner without magic hadn't clued him in. Remus always preferred cooking without much magic. His mother had taught him to cook, and she always cooked in the Muggle way. The fact that Remus had a Muggle job hadn't clued him in. It was easier to conceal being a werewolf from Muggle employers. But none of those explanations were necessary. This Remus Lupin was a Muggle.
Sirius ran his fingers through his hair. "Oh, I'm stupid. You assumed that I was a Muggle, and I assumed that you were a wizard. You just remind me so much of—my boyfriend, and he's a wizard, so I thought—sorry."
Remus took another sip from the bottle and rolled forward, pressing against Sirius's feet as he put the half-full bottle down on the floor with an air of finality. He rolled onto his back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. "What's his name? You keep avoiding telling me, and I've been avoiding asking. It's easier to hit on someone else's lover if you don't even know his name."
"Moony. I call him 'Moony'."
Remus was silent for a moment, and then he burst into laughter. "Moony? Moony the werewolf? And he actually lets you call him that?"
"Yeah," Sirius said as he began to laugh as well. "I think he kind of hated it when we first started calling him that, but now he likes it. After we—" Sirius broke off abruptly and stopped laughing. He had been recalling how Remus had told him how much he had missed having someone call him Moony during all the years that he was alone. "He's alone again," he thought. "There's no one around him who will call him 'Moony.'"
Remus was suddenly off the bed and pulling open a drawer of the chest. He took out a pair of faded blue pajama bottoms and tossed them to Sirius. "We'd better go to sleep, Moony's mate. Do you want a shirt?"
"No, this is fine," Sirius said as he clutched the thin cotton fabric in his fist and got up from the sofa.
"I've got an extra toothbrush in here somewhere," Remus said as he disappeared into the bathroom. Sirius reached the doorway just as Remus was closing the cabinet behind the mirror. Remus placed a new toothbrush, still in its box, beside the sink. "Let me know if you need anything and can't find it," Remus said as he tried to squeeze past Sirius in the doorway. Remus paused and closed his eyes as he inhaled deeply. "Could you do me a favour?"
"Take a bath before you come to bed."
Sirius sniffed the long hair at his shoulder. "My hair does smell of smoke, doesn't it?"
"No, it's—it does, but—your scent is this unusual mix of human and—"
"Yeah. It's a bit—distracting."
Sirius washed his hair twice. Even he could smell that his hair reeked of smoke, so to Remus, on the night before the full moon, it must have been overwhelming. As for the canine scent, Sirius wasn't sure it would wash away. Granted, he probably smelled like Padfoot because he had been Padfoot since the last time he'd bathed. As long as he refrained from transforming after his bath and put on clean clothes, he should smell completely human. In theory. However, Remus, his Remus, loved Sirius's scent whether or not he had transformed recently. And Sirius knew, or rather Padfoot knew, that Remus retained a slight hint of the wolf's musky scent throughout the month.
Just the thought of Remus's scent was enough to leave Sirius somewhat aroused. And if the thought of a scent could do this to him, Sirius realized, how much more was the real thing able to do to his werewolf host. The full moon was only a night away, the wolf instincts were strong, and Sirius's scent—both human and canine, man and dog—would appeal to the wolf within Remus on an instinctive level.
Sirius wasn't completely sure that was a bad thing.
"Your turn," Sirius said as he came out of the bathroom wearing the pajama bottoms and toweling his hair dry.
"Thanks," Remus said as he disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door.
Sirius saw that the room had been readied for them to go to bed. The beer bottle was gone, the blinds were drawn, all lights turned off with the exception of one beside the bed, and the bed was turned down. Sirius took the hint, put his wand under a pillow, and slipped into bed. The sheets smelled like Remus. Sirius stifled a groan of frustration as he rolled onto his stomach and buried his face in the pillow. Perhaps spending the night here in this bed was the stupidest thing he'd done on his journey so far.
Sirius could hear Remus taking a bath on the other side of the wall. The hand-held showerhead was on—Remus was obviously washing the smoke out of his hair. The water stopped, but Sirius didn't hear the sloshing sound of a person rising from a bathtub. A whimper. A stifled moan. Sirius had already been somewhat aroused, but as he listened to Remus, he became undeniably hard. He was torn between wishing the flat had enough water pressure for a full-blast, sound-drowning shower, and thanking the deity of voyeurism that it did not. Without realizing it, he had begun to rock against the mattress in rhythm to the muffled moans and imagined panting of the man in the next room. Sirius forced himself to stop and rolled onto his back. It was already bad enough that Remus found his scent "distracting;" it wouldn't be fair to add the scent of semen to the bedroom.
"Think of disemboweling toads, think of Mother's damned portrait screaming, think of Snape's disgusting greasy hair—just don't think about Remus."
Neither man said a word when Remus eventually came to bed and turned out the light.
Sirius awoke in the place he most liked to be—wrapped around Remus. Sirius inhaled Remus's wonderful slightly musky scent. He could smell it better as Padfoot, but he appreciated it even when he was human. He kept his eyes closed as he nuzzled his nose in Remus's soft hair and kissed the side of his throat. He stroked one hand down Remus's strong wiry leg and then back up again so he could wrap his arm around Remus's waist and slip his hand under the cotton t-shirt.
Then he remembered.
"How awake are you?" Remus asked.
"More awake than I was a second ago," Sirius replied honestly. He relaxed his grip and allowed Remus to turn and face him. "I'm sorry. It's just—you smell like Moony."
"And you still smell very distracting."
"The dog scent is still there?"
"Not really. It's just you." Remus smiled as he said it. Sirius smiled back, always happy to see Remus—any Remus—smile.
The morning light, leaking around the edges of the blinds, highlighted the gold and silver strands in Remus's hair. Sirius reached out to stroke the metallic strands with his fingertips. Remus caught his hand and kissed his palm.
"Magical show-off," Remus chuckled as he took a seat on the sofa with one leg tucked underneath himself and watched Sirius levitate the breakfast dishes into the sink. "Are you ever going to show up on my doorstep again?"
"Probably not," Sirius admitted as settled onto the sofa beside him. "I'm on my way home. I'm planning to leave the country today—but I could leave tomorrow," Sirius said with a sudden smile. The full moon was tonight, and Padfoot wanted to run under the stars and moon with the wolf. Or if they couldn't find a safe place to run free, perhaps Padfoot could at least stay with the wolf wherever he was confined and help calm him with play. "Remus, I want to do something for you. You've been so wonderful taking care of me since I showed up on your doorstep; let me do something for you. Where are you going for the full moon tonight?"
"I have to report to the containment facility in Southwark. Why?"
"What if you wanted to go somewhere else? I want to take you someplace you'll like better."
Remus shook his head. "It would take mountains of forms, all on stupid parchment scrolls that want to roll up while you're writing on them. And do you have any idea how annoying it is to be required to fill out forms with a quill when you aren't used to writing with one? Then someone from the Werewolf Control Unit would have to inspect the place and decide if it's suitable. If you greased the right palms, you might be able to arrange it before next month, but completely impossible to arrange by tonight."
"I don't suppose you could just not show up."
"I'd be dead within forty-eight hours."
"That's out then. I don't suppose they'd let you bring your pet dog with you into that containment facility."
Remus simultaneously grinned and wrinkled his forehead in confusion. "My pet dog? I don't have a dog."
"It helps Moony. He's less self-destructive if he's not alone."
"I'll look into it, but I suspect the answer would be 'no'. Our comfort isn't exactly a priority."
Sirius almost growled in frustration. He couldn't be with his own Remus for the full moon because the archway and its veil had ripped them apart. Then the first Remus he'd met in an alternate reality had refused to spend the full moon with him due to his concern for Sirius's safety. And now, he couldn't spend the full moon with this Remus because of the Ministry's bureaucracy.
"Damn it. At least I can take care of you tomorrow, can't I?" Sirius asked as he stroked Remus's cheek.
Remus leaned into the touch. "You don't need to. All I'll need tomorrow is rest. Watching me sleep is hardly worth delaying your journey."
Sirius held Remus's face between his palms and looked intently into Remus's eyes. "I can make sure you get home safely, heal any injuries that they don't take care of before you leave that place, and tuck you into bed. I'll even cook for you when you wake up."
Remus smiled. He seemed tempted by the offer. Then he reached up, took hold of Sirius's hands, and pushed them back down into Sirius's lap.
"I'm used to taking care of myself," he said. "Don't stay if you just want me to be a substitute for Moony."
"He'd understand," Sirius said as he pushed down the pang of guilt he felt for delaying his journey home. "He wouldn't like the idea of you being alone for the moon either."
"But it's not what I want," Remus insisted. He still held Sirius's hands, and he stroked one thumb over the back of Sirius's hand. "I won't be a substitute. If you want to stay, stay."
Sirius knew that they were no longer discussing staying for just another day or two. "I can't. I love him." Remus released Sirius's hands and went to the window. He wrapped his arms around himself as if suddenly cold. "And it isn't just Moony," Sirius tried to explain. "My godson needs me. I have to go back."
"You don't have to explain," Remus said quietly. Sirius stood behind him and wrapped his arms around him. He rested his chin on Remus's shoulder as they gazed out the window at the overcast sky.
"You don't even know my name, do you?" Sirius suddenly asked with a smile. "I don't think I ever told you."
"And I didn't ask. You know me, why bother learning their names if they aren't going to stay around. But I know who you are. You're Moony's mate.
"I have a present for you," Remus said in a falsely bright tone as he broke free of Sirius's arms and went to the closet. From the back corner he pulled out a black leather jacket. "I was with this one guy long enough that I decided to tell him what I was. I never saw him again. He didn't even call around to collect his things. I'm not sure if he was terrified of me because he believed me or because he thought I was completely mad. Either way, he left this behind, and black isn't my colour. I know it's not your beloved black leather trousers, but—"
Sirius came forward and touched the leather. It had a well-worn patina that gave it character. The leather was thick enough to protect the wearer from a cold wind or from a spill off a motorcycle onto asphalt.
"I used to have a similar one once," Sirius said.
"I'm not surprised. Try it on."
The jacket fit well, not perfectly, but well. The previous owner had been Sirius's height, if the sleeve length was an accurate way to judge, but probably had broader shoulders. Sirius couldn't help but think that it would have fit him perfectly in his pre-Azkaban days.
"Black is your colour," Remus said as he stroked his hands across Sirius's back and down his arms as if smoothing the jacket.
"Always has been."
Remus's hands fell away. "You should go now."
Sirius nodded. His throat felt tight, and he feared that it would be difficult to say good-bye. But as he turned to look at Remus, one glimpse of Remus's sad eyes actually made his leave taking easier. Only by going home could he make Remus's—his Remus's—eyes happy again. Sirius slid his hand onto Remus's waist and inclined his head to kiss him good-bye, but Remus took a step back—away from Sirius, away from his scent, away from the temptation of that kiss. Sirius nodded. It seemed that no matter which reality he was in, Remus would always be wiser than he.
Sirius opened the door but paused before going into the corridor. He suddenly wondered if there was a Sirius Black on this world, and if fate would ever bring he and Remus together.
"Remus, would you do me one more favour? If we ever meet again, there's a very good chance that I won't remember you. Will you give me a chance anyway?"
Remus nodded and tried to smile.
"Good, because he might turn out to be the love of your life."
If Remus appeared puzzled by the switch from first person to third, Sirius didn't stay to see. Nor did he hear Remus say, "Good-bye, Sirius."
Much to his relief, Sirius was able to reenter the Ministry of Magic using the same ruse that he had used to exit yesterday. "Was it only yesterday?" he thought. And since he still did not know if his counterpart on this world was fugitive—or even if he had a counterpart—he remained in dog form as long as possible.
He returned to human form in order to use the lift leading to the Department of Mysteries. Just as he opened the door of the ampitheatre surrounding the archway and veil, an Unspeakable came out of another door. His surprise at seeing Sirius was his undoing. Sirius was ready for a confrontation; the Unspeakable was not. Sirius stunned him before the man could even reach for his wand.
Fearful that he may have triggered a silent alarm by the use of the stunning spell, Sirius ran down the stone benches and up onto the dias. He went through the veil without hesitation.
* * * * *
Wondering how Remus knew Sirius's name? Although Sirius never told him, Sirius did say his name once while speaking to himself within Remus's hearing.
Wondering what happened after Remus kissed Sirius's palm? That's up to you. The hopeless romantics in the crowd can believe that Sirius resisted temptation. If, on the other hand, your sympathies lie with this lonely Remus, then imagine a whispered, "You wouldn't frighten me," followed by Sirius getting shagged rotten.
The following epilogue violates one condition of my challenge, but I couldn't resist writing it.
* * * * *
Epilogue—Seven Months Later
"Remy, take a look. My birthday present just walked in the door."
Remus looked toward the door and immediately spotted the man his fellow bartender referred to. Nicky's ideal shag was "black, bald, and beautiful," and the attractive man with a gold earring was all three.
"Go for it," Remus said a moment before his gaze fell upon the man stepping out from behind his clean-shaven companion. Sirius looked more rested and better fed than the last time Remus had seen him. He was not wearing the leather jacket, but if he had been, it would have fitted perfectly. He had regained the muscle-tone and broad shoulders to carry it off.
Remus looked again at Sirius's companion. "So that must be Moony," he thought. The attractive black man was ordering two beers from Nicky. "Sorry, Nicky. That one is taken." Nicky was smiling and chatting—undoubtedly flirting—and the object of his attentions seemed to be responding in kind. Remus didn't think too much of it. Harmless flirtation was—if one's partner didn't mind—harmless. Remus watched to see if Sirius did mind. Sirius accepted one of the beers and turned to scan the room. His gaze slipped past Remus as if he didn't even notice him. Remus tried to push down the flash of irritation he felt.
His shift was over. Jack had just arrived and was chatting with one of the regulars. Nicky could handle the light Tuesday evening crowd until Jack joined him behind the bar. Remus headed downstairs to the back room to fetch his coat. For a moment, he was tempted to retreat via the back stairs to the alley. Witnessing the happiness shared by Sirius and his lover was not Remus's ideal way to spend an evening. However, Sirius had probably brought his lover to Chester's so the two werewolves could meet. Remus sighed deeply and steeled himself to go back upstairs.
Sirius's boyfriend was still at the bar, near Nicky, but Sirius himself was not immediately in sight. Then Remus spotted him in one of the booths. He was leaning back against the wall and had his legs stretched out across the bench seat. He had the air of one brought to a party against his will and is only marking time until he is permitted to leave.
"Be careful," Remus said as he slid into the seat opposite Sirius, "my friend Nicky is after your boyfriend."
"He's not my boyfriend; we just work together."
"Oh," Remus couldn't help but look again at the man he'd mistaken for his rival, "so he's not the infamous Moony. Too bad. I almost wanted to meet him."
Remus frowned as he faced his companion again. "If you broke up with him, say so. If you're here because you want to cheat on him, say so. But drop the pretense that there's no such person in your life. If you want to come home with me, just ask."
Sirius chuckled. "I should just ask? You're the one who came over here to hit on me, not the other way around. And I really don't know anyone named Moony. Maybe you've confused me with someone else." He sipped his beer and regarded Remus over the glass.
Remus stared in confusion. He had been certain that this was Sirius. He looked the same—almost. He had the same infectious smile, the same hint of sadness in his eyes, the same glossy black hair. He even sounded the same. Was his scent the same?
"Lean closer," Remus ordered as he rose off his seat and leaned across the table. Sirius leaned across the table with a smirk.
"Do you want to kiss me to test if I'm your long lost love?"
Remus did not answer. He inhaled—and sat back, even more confused. Sirius's scent was almost right, but the slight trace of canine was absent.
"I don't wear cologne, if that's what you were smelling for," Sirius said as he settled back again. He took another small sip of his beer and waited. When Remus didn't say anything right away, Sirius asked, "Well? Am I out of the running because I don't wear the same cologne as the bloke you mistook me for?"
"I don't suppose you have an twin brother named Sirius, do you?" Remus asked.
It was the black-haired man's turn to appear confused. "I'm Sirius," he said at last. "My younger brother and I did resemble each other, but—he died years ago."
Remus shook his head slightly. "This was half a year ago." Despite the fact that this man was named Sirius—too unusual name to be a coincidence—Remus was now convinced that this was not the same man. Sirius—the other Sirius—could possibly have forgotten Remus, but not Moony. And since this was not the same man, Remus realized that he knew nothing about him.
Remus became nervous when he wondered if this man was a wizard like the other Sirius had been. He knew all too well how most wizards felt about werewolves. Although the table blocked his view, he involuntarily glanced down toward Sirius's jacket pockets and wondered if one of them contained a wand. He looked up again just in time to see a knowing smirk and raised eyebrows.
"Are you wondering how well I match him in other ways?" Sirius asked.
"Are you a wizard?" Remus asked bluntly.
Sirius turned to face Remus fully, the grin gone from his face. He nodded. "Are you?"
"No, I took after the Muggle side of the family."
Sirius smiled again. "But you know about magic, so I won't have to pretend—"
"What's your opinion of werewolves?" Being blunt had worked once.
"They're monsters, dark creatures. Why?"
"Fuck," Remus swore as he launched himself out of the booth and nearly ran for the door. He was halfway down the block before he felt a hand grab his arm.
"Wait up, you lunatic. Obviously, I said the wrong thing. I'm sorry. Will you give me a chance to start over?"
"Will you give me a chance?" Sirius had asked months ago, and Remus had promised that he would. Remus stood still and allowed this other Sirius to circle around and face him.
"I'm a werewolf," Remus said. He didn't allow himself to react as he watched Sirius start in surprise and take a step away. "Do you still want a chance?" he asked mockingly.
Sirius didn't answer.
"I thought not," Remus said as shoved his hands into his pockets and brushed past Sirius. A moment later, Sirius fell into step beside him. Remus looked at him inquiringly.
"I'm a Gryffindor," Sirius explained with a shrug. "We're known for being reckless idiots."