Disclaimer: Remus Lupin and Sirius Black belong to Ms. Rowling. Paul, however, is mine.

Liberation

Remus doesn't dream about Sirius anymore. Not in that way, at any rate. Sometimes he wakes up gasping with the afterimage of a thin body falling glued to the inside of his eyelids, but those aren't dreams as much as memories glimpsed out of the corner of his mind's eye.

Remus dreams of other things, now, things that only make sense in dreams, strange stories which might be memories of a wolf's mind, low to the ground and running. Sometimes there are nightmares, yes, but they are the old familiar nightmares of being a small child and running from the hairy monster behind him which is desperate to eat him, and the nightmare is that he knows it will catch him. The nightmares are almost comforting, because he knows them.

He doesn't dream during the day, anymore. He no longer catches flashes just out of sight, no longer knows that Sirius is just around the corner, no longer crumples with fresh pain when he turns the corner and finds a Sirius-shaped patch of empty air.

Instead, he goes to work, different jobs every few months, in anonymous grey cities full of people who do not care that he is a werewolf, and is grateful for the wolf-proofing charms Lily developed for him long ago, which mean that he does not get evicted, which mean that he doesn't hurt anyone, which mean that the rest of the time, he can feel very nearly human again.

Every so often, he goes to a bar, or a club, or a hole-in-the-wall dive with a terrible neon sign, and finds someone there, and takes him home, and they have drunken awkward sex. It is not making love, is not even sex really, but only fucking, mechanical and impersonal and hazy in recollection the next day when he wakes up to an empty bed and maybe a note on the pillow. He gets up, and he washes the sheets at the laundromat, which will inevitably have a lightbulb which flickers or simply doesn't work, and he goes to a job which occupies his hands but not his mind, and he wonders how it is that it doesn't hurt quite so much anymore when he sees a man with dark hair, or a big black motorcycle, or who holds himself openly and dancingly the way Sirius used to long ago, or carefully, guarding himself with the set of his shoulders, the way Sirius used to less long ago. It all seems long ago now.

He can even fuck the men who look like Sirius, now.

He wonders if it hurts less because it hurts less, or because of nerve damage.

There is a man at his latest busywork job, one who smiles easily and grins when he sees Remus. He holds himself as if he is having trouble keeping his feet attached to the floor, as if he is on the verge of flying. The man's name, Remus believes, is something religious, something that begins with a P. He asks him, one day, and the man is suddenly not 'the man' anymore, but Paul, and Paul is a real person. Remus says hello to Paul every morning, and goodnight every evening, and in between he is silent as he used to be, checking jars of jam to make sure the labels are the right way up as they pass him on the conveyer belt. Paul speaks to him, tells him jokes that aren't funny about men walking into bars (you'd think they'd have ducked), tells him about growing up in a very small town with an odd name (and a pond full of frogs). Paul speaks to him, and does not let him think. Remus doesn't mind as much as he used to. Sometimes, it feels good not to think.

One day, Remus' mouth twitches, and Paul is delighted. "A smile!" he crows, catching the attention of the other workers on the floor. "The man does have it in him to smile!" Remus ducks his head and blushes, and concentrates again on the strawberry jam. "Now with less artificial sweetening", the labels say. Remus wonders if this is a good thing. The smile is gone, but Paul knows it was there, and it spurs him on to greater depths of punnery, more embarrassing egg-on-my-face sort of stories, and a week later he catches it again. He does not shout in triumph this time, but smiles and goes quiet for a space of time. When it is five o'clock, he asks Remus what his name is. Upon hearing the reply, he comments that he has not heard the name outside of books and films before, but he likes it. He invites Remus out for a drink. Remus declines.

Three weeks later, Remus is sitting at a bar on a barstool free of splinters, a finger of Laphroaig in a tumbler in front of him. He watches the light catch the whisky, smells the peaty smell of it, and is aware that Paul is watching him watch his drink. He takes a sip, and holds it in his mouth until it does not burn anymore, and then swallows. The alcohol is a nugget of warmth inside him. It is not long before Remus is not quite sober anymore, and has lost the filtre between brain and mouth. Paul is looking at him. "He died," says Remus quietly to no-one in particular. "He fell." Remus holds himself very still. He looks brittle, Paul thinks, as if he will break if he moves.

"I thought it might be something like that," says Paul, and Remus looks at him and tries to say something else, but can only manage a choked sort of noise that is not quite a sob. Paul pays for the last round and takes Remus home, and spends the night on Remus' couch, afraid that if he leaves Remus alone he might never see his puzzle again. When he hears Remus moving around the next morning, he leaves quietly, leaving a note on the kitchen table about how he will see Remus at work on Monday.

The ritual repeats for a while. "He died," says Remus every Friday night, staring at his whisky. "He fell." Every Saturday morning, there is a note on the kitchen table.

Remus realises that this is the longest he's stayed at a job since Sirius, and begins to wonder if there is no nerve damage, after all. He wonders if nerves regenerate.

"He died," he says on Friday. "He fell." He looks at Paul. "I didn't." Paul sleeps in Remus' bed that night, and when Remus wakes up on Saturday morning, there is no note on the pillow. There is no note on the kitchen table either. Instead, there are two plates, and Paul is standing at the stove, frying bacon. Remus smiles, and holds himself openly.