Remus Lupin shuffled down the forest path, scowling and muttering to himself, as the bitter winds of January tore through his threadbare coat.
Wouldn't the Lupin house be the first place anyone searching for Sirius Black would look? It'd make more sense to send him to Severus - no, strike that - they'd kill each other within hours. Why not Nympha - what's her name? - that cousin of his who'd gone to the auror academy? She had to be grown by now...
Remus ticked off a few more likely lodgings for the convict in question, glancing pointedly away from certain initials carved into a certain tree on the bank of the frozen creek. He leaped across the narrowest stretch of the ice, nearly falling, and ripping the sleeve of his coat on a branch. He cursed beneath his breath and continued, brushing snow from his shoulders.
But Dumbledore chose me, for whatever reason, and I must accept it.
He couldn't imagine what it would be like to have to live with someone again. He'd grown accustomed to being alone, although it was something he'd once feared. Now the solitary life had grown almost comforting. He didn't want to grow dependent on company again. One taste of companionship, and the immunity he'd built to his own loneliness would shatter. He didn't want to risk going through that again, but he had no choice, did he?
How exactly does one greet a familiar dog? A large black form appeared within his view, curled beneath a tree. He was greeted with more pronounced awkwardness though, as the canine shifted into a tall, dark haired wizard, looking still quite thin but more healthy and clean than he remembered from their brief encounter almost a year before.
"Remus," Sirius said, smiling and pulling the hesitant man into a warm embrace.
"This way," Remus said hoarsely, pulling away and leading him back the way he'd come.
They tread through the forest in silence, except for the crunching of leaves and the occasional patch of snow that had fallen through the thick canopy of bare trees, as Remus navigated the woods that surrounded his home.
"This is amazing," Sirius said, sniffing the crisp winter air and looking around as they crossed back over the creek. Remus paused and looked back to find Sirius had stopped following.
"I remember this place," Sirius said, looking at Remus uncertainly, and smiling as his companion nodded.
"Some things coming back to you now?" Remus asked hesitantly, markedly not looking at that tree. Sirius nodded distractedly, at last placing calloused fingers to the damaged bark of the slender maple. Sirius shot him a wicked grin.
"Yes, some things," Sirius said. Remus released a breath he hadn't known he was holding and returned the smile. He cleared his throat and turned back to the path.
"Shagged you rotten under that tree, didn't I ?" He heard Sirius say behind him, and nearly tripped over an exposed root. Sirius barked with laughter, and Remus gave him a timid grin over his shoulder.
"Now don't expect much, it's the same old shambles," Remus began to explain nervously as they drew closer to the clearing, and wondering why he was bothering to do so. There was more he wanted to say, but fell silent as Sirius waved a dismissive hand and muttered something about having been literally sleeping in ditches, as they reached the back door of the small house.
Sirius settled at the table in the kitchen, watching Remus use muggle methods to prepare them tea with a contented smile.
"When was the last time you ate a proper meal?" Remus asked, heating something that looked like stew in a saucepan.
" Besides rats? I don't know. A day or two. It was a long walk," he said.
Remus was taken aback by the affectionate mockery gleaming behind eyes that were familiar again, though within a face that the years had been unkind to. He saw the lighthearted, if often temperamental young man he'd known for that moment, reawakening an all too well known ache within him that he'd thought he'd trained himself to entirely suppress years ago. He wondered briefly about the disappointment he must present in appearance himself now, so prematurely aged and worlds different from the young man Sirius had once loved.
"Thanks for taking me in, Moony," Sirius said softly, causing Remus a pang of guilt at how reluctantly he'd accepted the task.
After he'd been properly fed, Remus ran Sirius a bath, and dug out some of his father's old clothes from the attic. He placed fresh sheets on the bed in his parents' old room, gazing at them a bit longingly when he was through. It had been a long day, and the crisp linen was inviting. He turned at the sound of the door opening behind him, and his breath caught in his throat. Sirius stood before him in the old silk dressing gown he'd laid out for him, freshly shaved and looking years younger than he had moments before. His black hair fell around his shoulders with the same glossy appearance it had in their youth, and his eyes shone as he sat upon the bed.
"You're too kind, Moony," he said with a sigh. Remus started to leave him, but Sirius called him back, patting the bed. Remus sat stiffly beside him, staring at the fire he'd built in the room's small fireplace.
"I remember that day, you know," Sirius said suddenly, breaking the silence after a few tense moments.
"Eh?" Remus asked, turning his attention away from the flames and watching the way the light shined blue on Sirius' hair.
"That day we carved that tree in the woods," Sirius replied. Remus closed his eyes in recollection.
It had been the summer of their sixth year. Somewhere in that time, between their falling out and Remus' eventual forgiveness, they'd both begun to realize there was something neither of them entirely understood about the charged tension that had come between them. There was something so keenly painful in the betrayal he'd felt, not just because he had trusted his friends to keep his secret safe, but because it had been Sirius Black that had betrayed him, and made him feel as though he were more of a monster to him than a man.
It had been Sirius who had suggested they become animagi, Sirius who had always been the last one to leave his bedside while he healed, Sirius who showed him affection, vulnerability, and so many things that had once made him feel like he might possibly transcend what society thought he was. It hurt him in ways that made Remus reevaluate just how intensely he had been attached to his friend to begin with.
It was with an odd, guilty sense of satisfaction, that he was loathe to admit to even himself, that he played audience to the subdued, resigned young man who fought so desperately to win back his regard. He'd given him space, grown quiet, unobtrusive, so entirely fought the very nature of himself those first few months, that Remus could not help but be impressed. Then came the timid approaches, carefully worded conversations he'd initiate and show such gladness for when he garnered the least reciprocation. And once he'd groveled his way back into civil territory, his attention became overwhelming.
At first Remus told himself it was James' new-found maturity and closeness with Lily that made Sirius Black turn such devoted energy his way, until his gazes grew more frequent, and his touches more lingering.
Then late night conversations became fervent, stolen kisses when no one else was around, and Remus knew the feelings of fondness he'd felt for his friend were deeper than he'd ever imagined.
And on that summer afternoon in the woods those many years ago, they had become lovers.
"I remember how hot it was, and we went wading in that little creek. You were so beautiful. I had seen you naked before, but Merlin, it was like I'd never really looked at you before. I'd never wanted anyone or anything as badly as I wanted to touch you then. The way you made me feel -" Sirius said, his breathing growing rapid.
"I was so crazy about you, Moony," he whispered, his hand brushing Remus' face, a sad smile pulling at his lips. Remus closed his fingers around Sirius', holding his touch to his cheek, then placing his lips to the roughened skin of his hand.
"I never stopped loving you, you know. Even during that horrible time at the end, when we wouldn't even speak to one another," Sirius said, his voice breaking.
"Ssh. It's all right, Pads," Remus said soothingly, putting his arms around him.
This was exactly what he'd been afraid of, those kind sheets, inviting him in to forget the long years he'd been alone beneath them. Spoiling him, making him soft, setting him up for further pain when life took its next blow. He had known as well that his surrender would be inevitable.
"I never stopped loving you, either," he whispered, as he lay back on the bed.