A/N: A fully illustrated version of this story can be found on my webpage (see my profile).
Remus handed him the bead necklace with a hint of amusement on his face, while James and Peter studied theirs.
" These are neat, Moony. Thanks," James said, spinning his around his finger.
It was the summer of sixth year, and the Lupin family had been to some obscure island in Central America looking for a man who claimed to know of cure for lycanthropy. It seemed like one of these rumors circulated every summer, much to Sirius' irritation. Remus had spent the previous one in Ukraine, and the one before that in Tibet. Sirius had been relieved to receive news that this year's quest had been considerably shortened due to bad weather. As much as he had wanted his friend around him the previous summers, this one was especially important. With Sirius' new apartment in London, the four had more freedom than ever before, and Sirius would have been very disappointed to not have Moony join in the fun.
Sirius took his souvenir present with an enthusiastic grin, examining it for a second before putting it around his neck. The simple wooden beads clacked against one another as he hopelessly fumbled in an attempt to latch it.
" Oh, for Merlin's sake, Padfoot, hold still," Remus said with a laugh, reaching for his throat. Sirius held his breath as Remus' fingers gently brushed his long, black hair aside to access the clasp. His heart beat accelerated slightly at the close proximity the task required, fighting with every muscle not to betray the pleasure he took from it.
" Stop squirming," Remus said with exasperation, apparently not finding it much easier than Sirius had to secure it. Sirius watched Remus' focused expression, his tongue parting his lips slightly and his brow creased. Remus' fingers felt so nice against his throat. He had to remind himself to start breathing again when Remus released him at last, with a satisfied glance at his handiwork.
" That looks pretty cool, Sirius," Peter said with an approving nod. " I wasn't too sure, you know. Jewelry's not usually for blokes, you know." Remus shrugged.
" All the men were wearing them there. It was pretty much down to either these or primitive pottery," he said.
" Well, I like it, Moony. Cheers," Sirius said, glancing at his reflection in the wall mirror Mrs. Potter had given him. She and Mrs. Pettigrew had contributed a few furnishings to the otherwise bare apartment. Mrs. Lupin had been too preoccupied with the trip to remember a house warming gift, but had nonetheless sent her son along with a casserole. It always left Sirius with a combination of guilt and joy when his friends' families showed him such considerate treatment.
" Much better choice than pottery, Moony," James said, pocketing his present with a smile.
Sirius caught a glimpse of something as he turned away from the mirror. Turning back, he spotted an odd bead that didn't match the others, engraved with a letter " Z ".
" What's the ' Z ' for, Moony?" he asked, fingering it curiously. Remus gave a strange half-smile, raising his eyes from Sirius' neck to his face.
" Didn't take you long to notice that, did it? I didn't think it would. I myself didn't see it until I got back. I don't know what it stands for, actually. I thought they all matched when I got them." Sirius dropped the subject, despite his curiosity.
The rest of the evening was more or less a blur of pub crawling, drinking games and private jokes for the four friends, until they decided to call it a night. Sirius and Remus decided to walk back the few blocks to the apartment, where Remus was staying while he visited, after James and Peter flooed to their homes.
" Great isn't it?" Remus asked with a stretch.
" Having our first unsupervised residence to hang about at?"
Sirius noted how well-rested and healthy Remus looked since his return. The sun had lightened his hair and given his face some color, and he was well between transformations. He nodded absently in reply.
" Have too much to drink, Padfoot?" Remus asked with a chuckle.
" Hmm? No. I was just lost in thought there for a moment," he said.
" Doesn't sound like you," Remus replied.
" Ha bloody ha. So how were the tropics, anyway? Spot any bare breasted native girls whilst lounging about on the beach?" he asked. Remus shrugged.
" It wasn't exactly a beach lounging vacation, you know. I spent most of it in some muggle vehicle holding on for dear life as it more or less bounced across undrivable jungle terrain," he said. They were quiet for a moment, crossing a deserted street.
" And, no. No bare breasted native girls," Remus added as they reached the sidewalk. " Besides, it's rather challenging to chat up half dressed ladies when you're being followed about by a particularly fussy mum."
They reached the basement flat and descended the steps.
" Shall we commence with the drinking, or would you rather have tea?" Sirius asked, tossing his leather jacket over a chair.
" Silly question," Remus said, sinking onto the nagahyde loveseat and slipping off his shoes.
" Well, just make yourself at home," Sirius said with a laugh, summoning two cold beers from the kitchenette. He opened his and handed the other to Remus before plopping down beside him,
" So why did I get the one with the odd bead?" Sirius asked, playing with necklace thoughtfully.
" Hmm? Oh, the beads. Well, I thought it would appeal to your strange sense of humor and love of a good mystery," Remus said, taking a swig from the bottle. Sirius gave an amused snort.
" You're so full of shit, Moony. So, in other words, you gave them out at random," he said.
" Precisely," Remus replied, his eyes sparkling with mirth.
" Did you find what you were looking for? Out in the jungle, I mean?" Sirius asked. Remus' eyes narrowed.
" Yes, Sirius. I'm no longer a werewolf. I would have mentioned it, but it was far too interesting listening to James talk about Lily responding civilly to his last owl post and Peter recounting that his pet gerbil had babies," he said dryly. Sirius shook his head.
" That's not what I meant, you git. I meant did you find that witch doctor or whatever before you had to leave?" he asked. Remus sighed.
" Yeah, for what it was worth. He was dead," Remus said, frowning deeply.
" What the hell happened?" Sirius asked.
" Wouldn't mind knowing the answer to that myself. Pretty grisly sight, actually. Our guide led us to this hut about a mile hike from the village. There was blood everywhere, and the man said it wasn't unusual for the shaman to work some blood magic around his dwelling, and not to be concerned. He called out for him, and when no one came out, he went to investigate. I followed him. The guy had been ripped to ribbons." Remus shivered slightly at the memory, taking a heavy sip from the bottle.
" Damn, that's awful, Moony," Sirius said. Remus shook his head.
" Guess we'll probably be getting used to sights like that before long," he murmured.
" I don't think you could ever really get used to it," Sirius said. He thought of how he'd told McGonnagal that he wanted to become an auror, and tried to imagine the things he'd probably witness if he succeeded.
" I hope not," Remus mused. They drank in silence for a moment, Sirius summoning another beer for each of them.
" Do you think he had the cure?" Sirius asked at last. Remus shrugged.
" I doubt it," he said, then added uncertainly, " I guess we'll never know now."
Sirius excused himself to go to the bathroom. It was nice having Moony there, he thought, even if the conversation had turned decidedly grimmer than he had anticipated. Not that he had any expectations. Alone, in his apartment, with privacy, alcohol, and a rather small sofa ... No, it was pleasant enough to just have him near, he told himself. He'd felt this way about Remus for at least a year now, after all. It was just the way things were. Remus wasn't the most overtly enthusiastic guy when it came to pursuing relationships, but when he had expressed interest, it had been in a girl. There was nothing to be gained in bringing up an attraction that would only make things uncomfortable between old friends, Sirius felt. He was actually a little proud of himself for his own self-restraint in the matter. He had never had, nor attempted to have, the almost compulsory habit of keeping secrets that Remus had, even if he did hide things on occasion.
Sirius returned to the front room to find Remus gazing disdainfully at a photograph he held. Sirius paled slightly.
" I was looking through this box of books you haven't unpacked yet, and it fell out of your old muggle studies textbook," Remus explained.
" It's from the lesson where the professor took our portraits with a muggle camera," Sirius said, joining him on the sofa.
" I remember now. It was first year, wasn't it?" Remus asked. Sirius nodded.
" Well, I certainly look eleven. I thought I threw this away," he said, laying it aside and looking at the one of Sirius that had fallen out with it. Sirius shrugged.
" You did. I decided to keep it," he said. Remus laughed.
" I never knew you were so sentimental," he said. Sirius plucked the photo off the sofa and returned it to the leaves of the textbook.
" I'm not. I'm just a pack-rat," he muttered. Remus looked around the spartan interior of the flat with a raised eyebrow.
" Oh. I see," he said. Sirius took the other photo and put it away, searching his mind for a change of subject.
" So, do you still send owls to that Graves bird from Ravenclaw?" he asked, and summoned more to drink.
" I sent her a postcard this summer. We don't really correspond like we used to," he said, opening his beer as Sirius handed it to him.
" Why not? I thought you really liked her," Sirius said.
" Well, it's not like that with us, really," Remus said with a shrug. " I do really like her as a friend, though. She's really nice."
Sirius struggled to hide the elation he felt, telling himself that this meant nothing.
" She is nice, Jane," he said, playing with a loose thread in the couch. " I talked to her a few times about the muggle music you got me into." Remus tilted his head to one side and laughed.
" You're grinning like a madman, Sirius. Don't tell me with all the pretty girls throwing themselves at you at school that you fancy my plain little Jane?" he asked. Sirius looked up with a startled glance.
" No," he said, more firmly that he had meant to. A look of confusion crossed Remus' face.
" Oh. Well that's too bad then. You see, she told me she liked me, and I felt rather bad about it. It would be nice if someone wonderful like you liked her. You two would get on, I think," Remus said. Sirius ran a hand through his hair with frustration. The mixed signals of this conversation were playing havoc with his emotions.
" Well, we do have something in common," Sirius muttered. Remus gave him a quizzical look.
" I'm just glad that you don't like her, that's what I'm happy about," he blurted out quickly, then winced, realizing he'd only dug himself in deeper.
" What I mean is -- um -- I thought she liked me, and that if you liked her, it would be a problem," he explained lamely, his mind and heart racing. Remus stared at him in puzzlement, his mouth open slightly.
" You've always been pretty oblivious when it comes to who likes you, you know," Remus said quietly. Sirius gave a dismissive gesture.
" I just saw her staring at us at lunch, okay?" he said defensively. Remus said nothing, looking pensive. Sirius sighed deeply. The drinking was starting to effect him, and he wasn't sure what he was talking about anymore.
" I'm going to bed, Moony," he said, rising unsteadily. Remus placed a hand on Sirius' arm.
" No," he said softly. Sirius looked down at him questioningly.
" I -- I think we have more to say to each other," Remus whispered.
Sirius looked him in the eyes, something he had been almost afraid to do for a long time, it seemed, and felt his breath leave him. Remus gave him a steady, meaningful glance in return, his golden eyes dark. Sirius felt his knees weaken, and sank back onto the sofa, his eyes never leaving Remus'.
" Do we?" Sirius asked. Remus nodded, with a dazed, dreamy look that made Sirius grin uncontrollably. He looked down, cautiously taking Remus' hand in his and looking back up at him, to find a smile creeping across his lips as well. Sirius barked with a joyous laugh.
" No kidding?" he asked. Remus nodded.
Sirius caressed the side of his face, Remus tilting his head at his touch with a sigh. He scarcely had time to savor the reaction, before Remus leaned forward and captured his lips with his own.
" Would you like to continue this -- erm -- discussion, in there?" Remus asked as they came up for breath, nodding his head towards the bedroom door.
The next morning, Sirius woke to find Remus in his arms. He had never felt so happy to be alive, as he stroked the light brown hair of the sleeping boy whose face was nestled into his chest. Remus stirred, blinking sleepily and looking up at him.
" Morning, Padfoot," he said, seeming to search Sirius' face for any sign of regret. Sirius pulled him up and kissed him deeply, as if to assure himself this was more than a dream. When at last their lips parted, Remus ran his fingers along Sirius' high cheekbones, trailing them lightly across his lips and down to his throat, marveling at each feature with an intensity that almost made him uncomfortable. When Remus reached the string of beads, he curled his fingers beneath them and smiled.
" So, what bullshit story are you going to use to explain the odd bead, if anyone asks?" he asked, kissing the spot where the beads had been. Sirius gave a short laugh, running his fingers over the back of Remus' neck.
" Well, you see, this exotically beautiful person brought me this from some mysterious, tropical island," he began.
" Exotically beautiful, eh?" Remus asked, glancing up from where he had been enjoying the feeling of the way Sirius' throat vibrated against his lips when he spoke.
" I'm in bed with a male werewolf. That's exotic, and you're beautiful. Now hush. Anyway, this delectably attractive morsel, who has the hots for yours truly, presented me with this token of affection," Sirius said.
" A token of affection I also gave to the rodent and ungulate," Remus said with a smirk. Sirius smacked him playfully on the rear.
" But mine is special, and thus the truly affectionate token," he said indignantly.
" So what does the ' Z ' stand for?" Remus asked, nibbling lightly along Sirius' jawline.
" Why do you," he started, giving a low moan, " insist on interrupting me while I answer your questions? Ah, yes, the mysterious letter stands for a very special, ancient, magical word, sacred in the language of the natives of this island. It means ... it means ...". Sirius trailed off with a gasp of pleasure, as Remus ran his tongue along his throat.
" It means ' mine '," Sirius rasped, his head thrown back against the pillow.
" Yes. ' Z ' for ' mine '. Makes perfect sense," Remus murmured against his skin.