The Stuff Life is Made Of.
Notes: I wrote this over lunch because I was bored and not especially hungry. And then I forgot about it until now (about 10 pm). Haven't looked back over it yet, so forgive me for any errors.
Tick. . .Tick tock. . .
I made sure the doors were locked and the windows bolted, the curtains drawn and the lights off except for the one in the living room. The only visitor I was expecting would be able to get in anyway, and although these actions would by no means deter any visitors I was not expecting, they made me feel a lot more secure. Cup of tea in one hand, newspaper and packet of biscuits in the other, I pulled the kitchen door shut with my foot and slumped down on the leather couch. It was late and it was cold. Something in me began to doubt whether he'd keep our arrangement, and that thought became a worry; if he wasn't here, where was he? What had happened to him? But I reminded myself that Peter was forgetful, and if he didn't show up then he was probably at home with his nose in a book, completely oblivious to the fact that I was waiting here for him.
The biscuits were chocolate-covered digestives, not my favourite at all. The only reason they were there was because Remus bought them, but since he was the only one who thought to go shopping the only biscuits we had were chocolate-coated. In the past I might have smiled as I worried about the state of Remus' teeth with all this chocolate he ate, but at the moment I really couldn't care less about his teeth. The man I had sworn to spend the rest of my life with hadn't been home in two days now after muttering something obscure about an investigation up north and how he was going to represent the Order. It meant nothing to me except that he didn't want me there for some reason, which not only hurt but made me even more suspicious of him than before.
The clock ticked slowly. The smallest hand was there to measure out a period of time somewhere between one second and two, which could be sorely disconcerting to visitors. Apparently it made them want to leave, which was why Remus had bought the wretched thing. I hate clocks. I despise the way they sit there meticulously ticking away the very fabric of my life, each tooth-grinding little sound inching me irresistibly towards – what? Death? Something else? But the worst thing is that, however malicious you think a clock is, they aren't doing it because they want to but because someone made them to do it. Why would a human being invent a machine to remind them of their mortality? Where was the sense in that?
This clock ticked for Peter. One more second in which he had forgotten me, just like all the others. Remus and his little quests, James and his family, Peter and his own fluffy little reality in which nothing really mattered and nothing bad could happen. Me and myself, the clock and some cold tea. I couldn't see the fairness in that. Why was it me, the most loyal, who was left sitting at home like an idiot waiting for a lover who wouldn't come and a friend who had forgotten me?
Tick-tock. Tick. . .tock. There was something irregular in the sound, as if my withering glares made the clock feel awkward and forget what it was doing. Ticktick. . .tock.
And then there was a small sound, somewhere in between one tick and the next, and a shadow flitted across the room. Next moment a large rat snatched one of my biscuits, transforming in the same moment into a small, podgy young man.
"Hello, Sirius. I'm starved."
I levelled a cold glare at Peter. "And I was just about to die of boredom. Where have you been?"
He shrugged, stuffing the biscuit into his mouth. Then me flapped his hands at me until I moved over on the couch, making space for him.
"Nowhere important. Remus not here?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Good? You and Remus always get on so well. Has something happened?"
"Yeah." He shifted uncomfortably, then pulled the remote control for Remus' television set out from under himself. "What the hell is this?"
I shrugged. "Thing for the muggle box. I can't make it work myself but Remus seems to enjoy it. So what's happened with you and him?"
Peter pressed a finger to his lips. "Not me and him, just him. Look, I wasn't going to say anything. Have you got any more biscuits? Did I mention I'm starving?"
"You did." I shoved the packet towards him and he ate for a while. I watched him curiously, half-knowing what he was going to say. Remus behaved oddly. Remus said strange things. Remus vanished for days without telling anyone. And someone was spying on James and Lily for Voldemort. The case for Remus wasn't good at all.
"When was the last time you ate?" I asked, trying to get my biscuits back again.
"Dunno. Found some old chips the other day. Been spending a lot of time as a rat, you see, and, well. . .you don't want to know what rats usually eat. Ever wondered why they live in sewers?"
"Lovely images, thanks Pete."
Tock tock tick. Peter twitched as the silence was filled by the erratic second hand, and I snatched back the biscuit packet. Peter glared at me, then shrugged.
"Look, I came to tell you about Remus."
"And I invited you to talk about Remus."
"You did? Oh. Well before you say anything you should probably know that he's been skulking around James' house at night. I reckon he might be the leak to Voldemort. I mean, I know you love him and everything, but he's not trustworthy."
I shut my eyes, took a deep breath. Peter thought it too. What were the chances of two people who knew him best being so wrong about him? But still, it was surreal. Remus, the one person I had ever loved, the boy I had worshipped through our teenage years, the quiet studious one, the peace-keeper. . .He was a traitor? Something didn't add up. And yet, that was exactly what was suspicious. He was out of character recently, and something was definitely amiss.
"I know," I said eventually. "I think you're right." Something resembling a grin flittered across his face, but he shook it away quickly and replaced it with concern. I scarcely noticed, and lowered my voice to a whisper. "Have you heard of the Fidelius charm?" Peter nodded. "James wants to use it. I daren't tell him about Remus, but as long as the Secret Keeper is one of us, it doesn't matter who the traitor is. He asked me to do it, but I'm too close to Remus. I want you to do it, Pete."
Peter nodded vehemently. "Anything for James."
"Excellent. Have another biscuit. I don't like them much anyway."
It was very late the next day when Remus came home. I was lost in that pleasant, warm land that lies between the waking and sleeping worlds, wrapped up tightly in the duvet when I felt it being tugged away from me. I clung to it possessively until I was jolted awake by someone poking me in the back and hissing in my ear.
"Sirius! Let go of it, will you? Get off!"
I sat up, rubbing the dust from my eyes. "Remus?"
"Who were you expecting?"
He climbed into bed, spreading the duvet out evenly over us both. Tentatively, he kissed my cheek. His lips were warm, and I remembered in that split-second what it was like to be in love with him. Hungrily, not wanting to let that sensation go, I turned and shoved my mouth against his, kissing him until he got over his surprise and kissed back; kissing him until I remembered why I hadn't kissed him for weeks. He was equally surprised when I pulled away, turned my back on him, and closed my eyes. I couldn't let myself fall for him again. A kiss on the cheek could bring me back under his spell, so I mustn't touch him again, must try not to even look at him. But he touched my arm, leaned across to whisper in my ear.
"What's the matter, Sirius?" His voice was hoarse, as if he had been crying. A glance as his face, illuminated by the light of a lamp outside the window, showed me that he had, although not recently. His eyes were still slightly redder than usual, and I could see the track the last tear had taken across his scarred face.
"Did you miss me?" He snuggled up against me, one leg hooked over my hip. I bit my lip; he knew how that position, as he kissed my earlobe, used to arouse me. He wanted that back, and it took all my willpower to remember that I didn't.
"I guess." I muttered, then forced a yawn. He took the hint and let go of me, moving back to his own side of the bed. Suddenly, I felt very, very cold.
The next day I avoided him. And the next. The day after that I made my excuses and attended the casting of the Fidelius charm. When I got home, he seemed to have relaxed, although why eluded me. He was no longer able to reveal Lily and James' location to anybody, so what did he have to be so happy about?
He hummed as he made dinner, and I sat in a chair watching him and half-heartedly eating peanuts.
"What're we having?" I asked, for something to say.
"Not sure yet. I thought I'd throw some stuff together and see what we get."
I nodded. "So. . .Where have you been this week?"
"I told you, Sirius. I went to Newcastle for the Order."
"Don't you believe me?"
I blinked. "Yeah. I mean, of course I do. I just thought I'd ask..."
I knew even then that I still loved him. All the months of trying not to were futile. I placed a peanut on the table top, pressed my thumb down on it until it flicked away and hit Remus on the backside, whistling innocently when he gave me a mildly amused yet accusing look. I smiled half-heartedly, reminding myself that this was the man who was trying to ruin James' life. I had suspected it for months, considering, in a paranoid sort of way, the likelihood of each of our friends being the one. Peter didn't have it in him as far as I could see; too nervous, too hesitant. Too cowardly maybe. And hadn't Remus lied to us before now? He was the enigmatic one, the one you could never really know without dedicated study. It was easy to believe he had the means and ability to pull of the betrayal right under James' nose, and now that I had Peter's confession that he thought Remus was the traitor, it was hard to see how he couldn't be. More than a confession even. I thought about the things Peter had said; "he's been skulking around James' house at night". . .And then I thought, How do you know?
Remus still had his back to me. I hadn't told him Peter was the secret keeper, thinking that as long as he thought it was me, there was no way he'd be able to divulge anything else to Voldemort. I pretended for a moment that I trusted him, and studied his movements. He was completely relaxed, simply a man cooking dinner content in the knowledge that his friends were in safe hands. He diced things and fried things and shoved things in the microwave, and finally, when it was all nearly done, he turned and gave me a dazzling grin. I had always been able to read his grins, and this one said; "It's okay now. We're all safe."
And that was when I realised that we weren't.
The clock ticked. I ran to the hall, grabbing my coat only because I knew Remus would call me back if I didn't. He was following me curiously anyway, but I waved a hand, muttered something reassuring at him. As I ran down the street, I could still hear the infernal clock in my ears, telling me that my life was dripping patiently away from me as I thought or breathed or slept or ran. Taunting me, reminding me that it had been three days since Peter made that slip, three days in which I should have realised my own mistake. Tick, tock. Tick. Tick.
And I was out of time.