Author's Notes: Um…I know I shouldn't be writing anything but my work-in-progress, but I had to write this story. It wouldn't leave me alone.
Thanks so much to cursedinsanity for beta'ing above and beyond the call of duty, and doing a fantastic job!
Sirius sleeps in the bath. Remus sits on the toilet lid and smokes, all night. The bathroom smells of mildew and sweaty towels beneath the cigarettes, which Remus puts out against the side of the sink, leaving ash-stains. When Sirius arrived he stank of blood, dirt and urine, but now he's been scrubbed with Remus's cheap white soap.
The window is open a crack, though it doesn't make a difference in the windless, humid night. Outside are brick row-houses with cracked windows, shadowy under the streetlights. Remus has been renting this flat for two months, but he's barely spent time here. It was meant to be the cheapest possible rest-stop, a place to sleep between missions. Now it's owned by the Order and protected by the Fidelius Charm; Dumbledore became Secret Keeper at five in the morning, after James and Kingsley brought Sirius in and sprawled him out on the couch.
Remus inhales and exhales, watching the smoke curl out into the hot, still air. Sirius is asleep in the bath: thin, folded and torn, like fist-crushed paper. His breath wheezes in and out, shallow and painful. He might be marooned here, in Remus's flat, for the rest of his life. When he wakes they'll have to speak again, after all these silent months.
"You're the only one, Moony," James said, after they brought Sirius in. "Me and Lily can't take him. What about Harry? Merlin, of course I'd take him if I could. Of course I wouldn't leave him with you. He told me what happened, you know. Fuck, Moony."
James was leaning against the wall, cleaning blood from his glasses with spit and the sleeve of his robe. Kingsley and Dumbledore were preparing the Charm in the kitchen.
"You blame me, then?" Remus asked.
"I don't blame either one of you. It was what it was."
In the morning Remus wakes Sirius up by tugging his earlobe. It's a trick he learnt when they were sleeping together.
"Kill me," says Sirius, not opening his eyes. "Please."
Sirius used to say this when woken early after a late night; it's the sort of thing most people say when they don't want to get out of bed. But the tone of the words, flat and helpless, tells Remus a lot more.
"It's me, Padfoot," he replies. "You're safe."
"They killed me, then."
Sirius opens his eyes. "Oh. Yeah. I was here yesterday. Thought I was dead. I'm dead, aren't I?"
"Padfoot, it's real."
"Yes. James told me."
"I watched them do it."
"You told me, yesterday."
"They cut out his tongue, first. He sounded strange, after that."
Remus gags, pressing his palm to his mouth. It smells like nicotine.
Sirius sits up. His arms are crossed over his chest, and his hands run up and down, up and down, from his bony elbows to his shoulders, in frantic soothing motions. He's closed his eyes again. His chest is covered with burns and cuts, and the fine dark hair had been singed off. One of his nipples is sliced right through.
"Do you know what they said when Peter was cut up into pieces?"
"What did they say?"
"They said, 'Remus Lupin will be next. We know where he is. Give in, tell us everything, and we'll leave him alone'."
"Maybe they were bluffing, but it seemed like those pieces of Peter were pieces of you. I told them to kill me."
"Couldn't betray the Order, not even to save you."
Remus puts a hand on Sirius's shoulder, but Sirius flinches away.
"They killed you, didn't they?" he says. "They killed you in front of me. I'm mad, now, Moony. Or I'm dead. Maybe it's better this way."
Dumbledore said he'd return in a few days, with potions and salves to help Sirius heal, but for the moment there's meagre medicine; Remus never has much left after a full moon. At least Sirius is bandaged and in slightly less pain.
There are moth-eaten blue sheets pulled up to his shoulders and a bowl of soup on a tray in his lap. It's a lumpy chicken concoction from a can, the only thing Remus had in his cupboards aside from tea, salt and pepper. He's been living on adrenalin and take-away curry; no wonder every bite of soup makes his stomach cramp. Sirius doesn't complain, because he can't cook either. Together they'd lived on fried eggs and toasted sandwiches.
The bedroom window is open as wide as it goes, propped up by magic. Today there's a cool-ish breeze, making everything slightly more bearable, and Remus pretends he's nursing Sirius back from the flu.
"These sheets," says Sirius, speaking around his spoon. "These are the same sheets."
Remus looks up from his soup. "Sorry, what?"
"When we first fucked. It was these sheets. I teased you about them."
"You called them manky," Remus replies, with a small smile. He can't look at Sirius. "I didn't think you remembered."
"Of course I remember," says Sirius, sounding insulted. "I remember all of it. I remember the first time when we were boys. You know, when we were in the showers."
"You called me queer. Said I was skinny."
"Well, you are. You're queer and skinny."
"I'm not queer. I like girls, too."
"You wanker, that doesn't mean you're not queer," Sirius declares, but he doesn't sound certain. "And you're definitely skinny."
Remus chuckles, softly. "I can't dispute that."
"We never talked about this, did we?"
"No, we didn't."
"It's good we're dead, then. I like this better."
Remus swallows his mouthful of soup, but can't eat any more. He waits until Sirius is finished before levitating the bowls out of the room, back to the kitchen. There's a clunk when they hit the counter, then Remus gets down on his knees beside the bed and takes Sirius's right hand, missing half its little finger.
"We're not dead," he says. "You're suffering spell damage, that's all. But it's going to be all right now."
This isn't strictly true. Sometimes, people don't come back from the Cruciatus. They seem relatively normal for a time, but their minds disintegrate, they lose all reason and memory, until they're nothing but living Inferi. Remus doesn't know what he'll do if this happens to Sirius. He's been in love with Sirius since he was fourteen.
Sirius squeezes his hand. "I think it's becoming clearer, what happened," he says, "but how can I believe I'm here? You don't like me. That's the problem, right. You said you'd found someone else and you were finished with me. So why are you taking care of me?"
"I never said I didn't like you."
"It was implied," Sirius says. He pushes Remus's hand away. "I want to know. Didn't think I'd get the chance. Who is she, Moony?"
"I lied," Remus replies, and his voice cracks. "There isn't anyone. I didn't know what else to say."
Sirius bites his lip and looks out the window. "That's worse, you know. You could have just said you were tired of me."
"Then what was it?"
Remus shakes his head, fiddling with a frayed hole in the sheets. "I don't want to talk about this now. It's important you get better. But we're stuck here, together. We'll have to discuss it sometime, and I promise I'll tell you as soon as I know you're all right."
Sirius refuses to speak for the rest of the day. He turns into Padfoot and limps to the couch, where he curls up and closes his eyes. Remus can tell he isn't sleeping, but decides not to disturb him.
There's nothing to do but read. Books are an unnecessary luxury, so Remus doesn't have many. He scavenges them from bargain bins, only taking what he really needs. A few weeks ago he found an English copy of Conrad's Heart of Darkness at a bookshop in Sofia, half-price amongst faded Bulgarian paperbacks. Now he's almost at the end of it, and he's not sure what he'll read next. Can he go outside to buy a book? He lies on his bed, on the sheets still warm from Sirius, and reads until he falls asleep.
He's woken by someone prodding him in the ribs, and Sirius's voice growling, "Budge over. I want to talk."
Sleep-warm and lax, Remus does what he's told, and Sirius climbs onto the bed. It's just like at school, when they used to get into each other's beds to wank off and talk about soothing, unimportant things.
Then Remus remembers. "No, Sirius," he says, tense because he's already hard, and because he knows he won't resist if Sirius touches him. "Get out. I'm not talking about this now."
Sirius doesn't touch him, but he doesn't move, either. "I'm not losing my marbles," he says. "I don't see what difference it makes, anyway, whether you tell me now or later. I just want you to tell me. Why was it? After all those years we spent together."
"We were never together," Remus blurts, then, "I mean, look. I was convenient for you. I understood that, but it couldn't go on forever."
Sirius lets out his breath, slowly. "That's it, then? I was using you, waiting for the right bird to come along. Right, of course I was."
"What was it, then?"
"What do you think?"
Sirius kisses him, hot wet lips on his, and kisses and kisses him. Remus is afraid to shove him off, because of all the cuts and burns, but mostly because he just can't stop. Sirius climbs on top of him and presses him against the sagging mattress, then pulls his mouth away. Remus leans up to it, hungry, but Sirius shakes his head.
"You want me to say it? That's all this is about? You want me to tell you how much I bloody love you?" Sirius bends to kiss Remus's neck, and the edges of his black hair catch in Remus's mouth. "Moony, I love you," he whispers, into the sweat-damp hot skin, and bites and kisses until Remus moans and twists his hips against the bed. "I didn't always, but I've loved you for years. Wanted to touch you from when I first saw you on the train, by the window…your eyelashes, oh and your eyes, and your skin. You've always been …" he pants, then licks his lips "… always been what I wanted …"
Remus pulls Sirius's head down and kisses him, running his hands under the borrowed flannel pyjama shirt, over Sirius's thankfully unmarred back. Then Sirius's elbows give out and their bodies crush together for a moment, chest to chest. Remus moans in startled pleasure, but Sirius jerks away with a groan of pain.
"Ow, shit," he hisses, rolling onto his back. "I'm sorry, it's … everything hurts. My head, my stomach, my chest ... fucking hurts. And they killed Peter. I keep forgetting, Moony. Still can't believe it happened. Sometimes I can't think about anything else, but sometimes it goes out of my head like it isn't real."
Remus strokes Sirius's hair as he cries, petting him behind the ears in the way he likes, until he calms and snuffles into the pillow. As far as Remus can remember, he's never seen Sirius cry. He hopes it's a good sign.
"Prongs killed Bella, didn't he?" Sirius asks a bit later, after scrubbing his eyes with his palms. "She's dead?"
"Yes. James killed her, in self-defence."
"The others escaped, though."
"No. There were four others, and three were captured. There are more, of course. Much more."
Sirius stretches out on his back with his head turned to face Remus. Their hands are entwined between them: Sirius's uninjured left in Remus's right. Remus bends to kiss Sirius's knuckles.
"We'll miss Harry's birthday," says Sirius. "Next week."
"I was going to miss it anyway," Remus admits. "Felt sick at the thought of seeing you."
Sirius laughs. "You're so daft. I can't believe what a git you've been. Wait till I tell Prongs; I already told him how you broke my heart. I was really smashed at the time, of course. You should have seen his face; he thought it all was a big prank. Don't know how I convinced him."
"He told me about it when you were unconscious. Left out the salient details, though. Sometimes loyalty can be unhelpful."
They lie on the verge of sleep. The window is still open, and outside two cats are yowling and spitting at each other. There's something honest, reassuring, about animals fighting, and about the city summer air, spicy with grime and factory fumes. It doesn't seem like the kind of world that can cut someone into pieces, but it is. It's the kind of world where, in three days, the worst and the best can happen.
"Think we'll be all right?" Sirius mumbles.
"I don't know." A few minutes later, Remus adds, "In the end, no one's all right," but Sirius is already asleep.
"Love is old, love is new
Love is all, love is you"
– The Beatles, Because