A/N: This is a story I've been itching to write for a while. I wanted to play with the characterization of Remus from Sirius' point of view, as well as with Sirius' voice. This is set just before James and Lily's wedding.
It's late at night and the pounding sounds like someone is slapping the wood rather than knocking on it. My heart lurches. I lower the soup ladle back into the pot and pad cautiously toward the front door in my bare feet. The smacking continues, a steady beat resonating all the way down the hall. I set my firewhiskey down on the table next to the door. Wand at the ready, I call out, "Who is it?"
A muffled voice. "It's me." Remus.
I release all the locks and fling open the door, wanting to pummel him for scaring the hell out of me but resisting the impulse because I'm just so damn glad to have some company. He never tells me where he's been, just that it's "Order business." He saunters past me in that weird loping way of his, barely affording me a glance as he heads toward the kitchen. Then he stops, whirls around, and glares at me.
"You didn't ask me the security question." And instead of waiting for me to ask it face-to-face, he turns around and goes back outside, standing just outside the threshold as if he's a vampire waiting to be invited in. With that, I realize he's drunk.
"How much have you had to drink?" I ask, picking up my glass and turning my back on him. I've got to wash a bowl if he's staying for dinner.
"That's not the question."
I keep walking.
In the kitchen, I fish out a bowl from the sink and cast a scouring charm.
"Come on, dammit." His voice has an edge but I can't see him from here so I don't know if he's really mad or if it's Prefect Lupin, reprised, pretending. "I could be anyone. Ask me the question."
La la la, I can't hear you, you pathetic tosser.
"Idiot," he mutters, coming in and shutting the door. I hear him turn all the locks again.
I pour a glass and set it on the kitchen table just as he flops into a chair, legs sprawling everywhere. "Tuck," I order, and he pulls his legs back in so I can get around them to the soup pot. He downs half the glass at once. Apparently he's been at it a while already tonight, to have lost the shudder and the grimace. Well, so have I.
Out of the corner of my eye I watch him while I pour our soup. During our sixth year I taught him how to hold his liquor, and he's got that stoic look that he always puts on when he's really, really drunk. His eyes look stern and glassy, and his mouth is set. He's breathing hard through his nose. It's rather a convincing sober act, except for the loud nostril breathing, and I congratulate myself.
Setting the bowls down, I sit diagonally across from him; his legs, as if they sense the space I've just vacated, sprawl again and he slides down in the chair a little. I tuck into the soup, vegetable and beef, my specialty; but Remus finishes off the firewhiskey and pours another from the bottle I've left on the table. Unusual.
"So what brings you here?"
"Ah …" He trails off, waving a hand at me. Looks at the wall. Beyond it. Merlin, I'm going to have to fish it out of him. He chews on the skin of his thumbnail, and I notice the other thumb is red and raw. He stopped doing that our third year at school, but he's at it again now. He gnaws at it, just like he does when he's the wolf. Well, more delicately. But gnawing is the word, nonetheless.
I swat at his hand, and he flinches. "Stop chewing," I say. He looks down at his thumbs as if he's just now noticed them. His fingers are splayed, and I'm shocked again by how ridiculously long they are. He should have been a pianist, so says Lily.
I finish off my whiskey and pour myself another.
"What are you doing here?" I ask again before I knock it back.
"Ugh." Remus sips his whiskey and eyes his thumb with a mixture of awe and disgust.
Oh, for crying out loud. I know he's not fishing for sympathy, and I know he's not waiting for me to wheedle, What's the matter, Remus, dear, are you quite all right? He's just distracted in that damned nutty professor way of his, the way the girls go all ga-ga for and he never notices, the stupid nutter.
"Eat," I say.
Remus picks up his spoon and wipes it absently on his coat, although there's no telling where that coat's been. Then he starts eating. He's a fastidious eater. Refined. Even when he's drunk. He wipes his mouth on a napkin after almost every bite, except I don't have a napkin to offer and he's using the dish towel. I won't tell him where it's been.
We eat in silence for several minutes. Finally he lowers his spoon to the bowl with a soft clink and he says, "Thanks."
"You're wel – "
"I don't know what to get Lily and James for their wedding. Present." And he resumes chewing his thumb. I smack it and he flinches again. "Dammit, stop that," he says. And he chews again. I smack it again, because Lord knows I adore irritating him. He scoots away from the table so I can't reach him because he knows I'm too lazy to get up. "I don't know what to get them," he says with his mouth full of mangled thumb.
"What do you mean?" I pour us both another glass.
"I mean I don't. Know. What. To get them." Gnaw gnaw gnaw.
"Do we have to get them any – "
"Of course we have to get them something! It's their fucking wedding." He stares at his bleeding thumb and suddenly sits on his hand to prevent any further damage. "I mean, it's their wedding," he says quietly. He starts biting the other thumb and suddenly he looks very young.
I feel my brow furrowing and wonder why the hell he's so concerned about it. Nobody's invited. It's just us, and the rest of the Order, and some of their family. Lily bought a dress, but of course she's a girl so she would. And I'm the best man. But the rest of it is no big deal.
No big deal.
I swallow the rest of my firewhiskey and run my finger down the bottle, wondering if I'm perhaps overdoing it a little. Well, so is Remus, and he needs a top-up. I pour us both another.
"I mean," he goes on with that flat expression on his face, "I could get her a scarf. She likes scarves."
"Or a crock pot," I offer.
"No, you sociopath, it has to be something they both can use. It's a wedding present." He looks at me as if I'm deranged. "Erm." He stops and ponders. "No, a scarf is right out. Shit." He throws his head back and stares at the ceiling for a long time, his eyes darting back and forth as if he's reading a catalogue of wedding presents up there. His head comes back down and he rubs a hand roughly across his eyes, pushing the fringe off his face. "Shit, I don't know."
"They don't need anything. James told me. He said – "
"I don't care what he said. It's their … I've got to … I've got to …" He downs the rest of his firewhiskey and lurches out of the kitchen, glass in hand and coat flying like a superhero. I hear him flop down on the sofa. Then there's music on the wireless. Depressing shite. Why does he do this to me? Come over and get all morose for no fucking reason whatsoever, and play that miserable wanking music on my wireless?
"Look here, Moony – " I begin as I stalk in.
But he's got his head in his hands and his glass is empty on the table and I have to refill it. I sit next to him on the sofa because it's the only furniture I've got in here. Mum would be so proud. Young eligible bachelor and his fancy sofa. Well, it serves a purpose.
"It's important," he mumbles. He's blinking at his knees and I finally believe him. But part of me wants to hit him because he's falling apart here and it's enough for me to keep my own shit together with that fucking wedding in a week's time. I mean, their wedding. And everything's about to change, even though they say it won't.
"Okay," I say.
"It's important," he says again.
"Yeah, it is," I agree. I have to. He's reached the point where that's all I can do. Well, not all.
"Come on," I say, tossing back the rest of my drink. "We're staggering down to the pub and we're not coming back until we have to have someone Levitate us here."
"That sounds safe," says Remus to his knees. Pragmatic tosser.
And amazingly, he does.
Merlin, he must be drunker than I thought.
We're leaning on the bar at the crowded pub and we're on our third drink. I'm throwing out ideas like I'm some sort of wedding expert.
"What, are they eighty years old?"
"Play on words. Bad idea."
I sigh. Remus darts his eyes at me, and I notice they're not quite focused. Glad I'm here to keep an eye on him. Maybe I can hook him up with a girl to cheer him up. I gaze around the pub looking for a likely candidate. Candidates.
"Okay," I continue, because I can think and scout at the same time, unlike some people. "Nice parchment and quills."
Remus just stares at me. Right.
"A new owl?"
"Owls are personal. You can't get someone else an owl."
"A nice vase."
"Sure, Mum." He's getting sarcastic now. His lip curls in an unconscious sneer that I've never seen before. Odd.
His brow knits. "Do we want them to go away?"
I know I want you to go away, and send back my friend Remus Lupin, you grouchy old man. I sigh again. "Oh! A wok!"
"Only Lily cooks. It has to be for both – "
" – of them, I know, I know." I order us another round of drinks and we're silent for a few moments. There's an old bloke playing the accordion next to the fireplace and a group of men are singing with him. They're droning out some wanking Irish song about a bed pal without any dowry, whatever that means. Bed. Bed. Honeymoon. Sex.
"Aha!" I shout. Remus turns his face towards me, his body slowly following as he leans with an elbow on the bar. "Bed linens."
He hesitates and I practically leap up and down because I think I've finally got him. He sips thoughtfully on his drink, his eyes far away again.
"No," he says simply, his gaze steely, jaw clenched.
I practically collapse on the bar. I give up. No more suggestions. I can't handle it. He's feeling contrary and there's nothing I can do when he's in that state. Nothing except get him drunker and try to find a nice pair of girls we can chat up. If only there were a booth free …
"Oh, shit." Remus turns around quickly and faces the bartender, leaning down toward his drink as if he's trying to disappear into it. "Shit shit shit shit shit …" He keeps on muttering, his fringe nearly inside the rim of the glass.
"What?" I stare around the pub.
"Don't!" He clutches at my arm, trying to get me to turn around, too. "It's – nothing."
And then I spot Lily and James heading toward us. I call to them and wave. Remus sighs heavily next to me, his long-suffering sigh, his Prefect sigh. "What?" I say to him. He turns around in one movement with a big smile on his face.
"James," he grins. "Lily." His grin twitches and he downs the rest of his drink and reaches for the one waiting for him on the bar. He sways slightly but catches himself, playing it off by shifting his weight onto his other leg. I've trained him well.
Because of the hugs and handclasps, I realize that it's been a while since Remus has seen James and Lily. Strange.
"Hello, bachelors," James says, thinking he's rubbing something in our faces. I roll my eyes.
"Hello, old married buggers," I retort.
"Not quite," says Lily. She's still breathless from the cold outside and her cheeks look all scrubbed. "There's still too much to do. No matter how many things I cross off the list, there's always more." She takes off her coat and a long green scarf and deposits them on the bar. Oh, scarf. Remus was right.
"That damn list never gets any shorter," smiles James, and I know despite the cursing he's happy there's a damn list. Damn him.
"We caved in and decided to order some flowers," Lily grumbles, although she's grinning, too. Why do they pretend they hate this when they don't? "Mum wouldn't have it any other way. So we had to."
"Yeah, things just keep getting added," says James, wrapping his arm around Lily. He looks proud and suddenly I envy him. "It's a never ending process."
I glance at Remus and see he's staring at the floor. Glad I'm not the only one uncomfortable with this. But if I were the only one then I could tell myself I'm an ungenerous bastard. Now there are two of us and that's just not right. I smile as Lily continues and I procure some drinks for them both.
"But I've got my dress and – oh, thanks, Sirius! – and James is wearing his dress robes, and we're just having two floral arrangements on the hors d'oeuvres table afterwards, and as for the music …"
While Lily talks, Remus stares at her, and his expression slowly changes from a smile into something … something almost –
And then James pipes in and Remus turns to him, plastering a big, sudden grin on his face. After a few moments, he stares at the floor again, as if he can't quite bear to look either of them in the eye. Merlin, he's drunk. We both are. And I'm feeling particularly cantankerous. Shit. I'm a selfish, wallowing bastard and I deserve to be hexed.
But fortunately for me, James and Lily don't need us to talk right now. They just need us to smile and nod and be happy for them. Which we are. We are, after all. Remus watches Lily with rapt attention, and there's that look again. What is it? Lips open, eyes jumping all over her face, cheeks flushed … it's almost like … almost like … hunger. I'm not that drunk, am I? That I'd be imagining something like that? Startled, I stare at him.
And suddenly, after fifteen minutes of us both smiling and nodding while James and Lily give us the Wedding Update, Remus speaks. "I've decided what I want to give you for your wedding present." There's barely a slur in his words as he raises his glass to them.
We all raise our glasses as well, because we've never been able to resist a toast, none of us. Too bad Peter's not here.
James puts up a hand. "I've told you, we don't need – "
"Shut up," I say. "This had better be good after all the agoniz – ooff!" Remus elbows me in the ribs, hard. But I don't spill my drink. I rub my ribs and whine to no one in particular, "Ow, that hurt."
I watch as Remus tries to look at both James and Lily, but his gaze keeps darting back to her. He's smiling, but there's something underneath that's not quite happy. He overly enunciates his next words. "I would like to be your photographer, if you'll have me."
Lily gasps. "Our photographer!" She hops up and down, splattering her drink onto Remus' coat. "Oh! Sorry." Remus shakes his head to dismiss her apology, brushing at the liquid with his fingers. She sets her glass on the bar and grasps James' sleeve. "Yes, yes, yes! We'd forgotten all about pictures! Hadn't we, James?"
"It's not on the list," he grins.
"Well, then," says Remus. He downs his drink and smiles wryly, setting the glass aside, and I wonder how he can still be upright after everything we've consumed tonight. But then Lily throws her arms around his neck and he nearly crumples. He hangs onto the bar with one hand, and his other arm wraps around her waist. That damn arm is so long it reaches all the way round the other side onto her ribs and almost onto her stomach. Merlin, he's holding her tightly. And his face is in her neck and his brow is furrowed and his eyes are closed.
And then he kisses her neck, a slow, meditative, lover's kiss, with an open mouth that lingers on her skin after the kiss is done. Right in front of James.
Remus and Lily are still for a split second as the world grinds to a halt. His eyes fly open. He blinks rapidly several times. Then he quickly puts both hands on her waist.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry," he murmurs in her ear, pushing her away, back toward James. "Sorry, mate," he smiles with that un-smile, "I'm drunk, sorry. Ah, shit." He's trying to smile and his eyes are on the floor again.
Lily laughs it off, though she knows what's just happened, and so do I because I was on the right side to get a full view. All James saw was a kiss on the neck, not what kind of kiss it was. She's rubbing the place Remus' lips landed, and she inches closer to James. "It's all right," she says, looking up at James. Her cheeks are red.
"Don't worry, mate," James grins. "I'm not the jealous type."
"No," Lily laughs again, still blushing. "He's not."
Someone's got to cut the tension and it might as well be me. "Well, in that case – " I lean toward her and plant a big, wet, drunken kiss on her cheek. She wipes it away immediately and shoves me good-naturedly in the chest. "Jealous?" I prod.
"Nope," says James. Cocky bastard.
Remus seems relieved and he darts a look at me. I've saved him from something big here. He knows it, and so do I.
We spend another hour and a half at the pub and manage to get a booth. When he's not stealing glances, Remus' eyes remain plastered on his drink, or on the table, or on the wooden seat back behind James and Lily. He chats and banters along with the rest of us, grinning; but when he's not talking the grin slides away and so do his eyes. His thumb is a bloody mess as he continues to chew on it despite my smacks.
Eventually we all say our good nights, and James and Lily head in one direction and Remus and I stagger off in the other, leaning heavily on one another. We don't speak. I hear his breath hitch and I don't look at him. I don't have to. When we get back to mine I'll deposit him on my fancy bachelor sofa and we'll try to sleep it off and in the morning we won't say anything about this. Because we're selfish, wallowing bastards.
But for once I think he's got me topped.
A/N: I hope you liked it! Any reviewer gets to console the drunken bastard of their choice. ;)