Title: Juggle

Author: Lady Wildcat on FFN/tehangst on Livejournal.

Pairing(s): Remus/Sirius

Rating: PG.

Summary: 'Fifteen oranges he'd ruined, Remus remembers.' Sometimes time can flow through extraordinarily ordinary things.

Author's Note: This is...a weird one. It just sort of came out, on a random prompt from my juggling balls sitting innocently beside my desk. I'd love constructive crit on it because of its abruptness and weirdness. I'm not sure how other people will take it. I actually wrote it a while ago and posted it to my fic journal, but I'd like to take a gander at how people here will respond. Reviews appreciated!

I.

Fifteen oranges he'd ruined, Remus remembers. He'd collected all the oranges stuffed into Gryffindor stockings and exchanged them for chocolate frogs in third year--no one wanted the oranges anyway. They were filler presents, given by distant relatives wondering what to send for Christmas and awkwardly deciding on candy and oranges in place of real gifts.

Sirius had collected them, and put them to good use. He was determined to learn to juggle and make himself more impressive. His method included tossing three oranges into the air simultaneously and trying to catch them in one hand. Remus recalls that nine splattered onto the dormitory floor after hours of abuse before Sirius had finally gotten the sense to practice elsewhere.

He'd asked Sirius why he didn't use something neater, like balled-up socks or marbles, and SIrius had laughed that chafing laugh of his and said it was too easy.

One of the oranges had exploded on Remus' open Arithmancy book, and for the rest of the year pages ninety-six and ninety-seven were fused together in sticky harmony.

II.

By seventh year he could do it, and the oranges would fly above his head in a bright blur--three, four, sometimes five on good days. The girls had liked it, just like they liked everything about Sirius, and would flock to him whenever he got his hands on the fruit bowl at breakfast. Sirius loved a good exhibition.

Remus didn't think the juggling itself was sexy, and he was the one whose opinion on that mattered most, anyway, but he did like the way Sirius smiled when he showed off with the oranges, and hid his amusement behind his hand.

One time Sirius had tried with eggs--raw ones--and it went well until he'd caught one too hard and broke its shell and yolk went all over his face. James had laughed 'til he cried, and Sirius had guffawed a bit once he'd wiped it off, but only Remus could see that the laugh didn't reach his eyes.

III.

He'd tried to teach Remus, the first week in the flat. Remus wanted to use socks or proper balls, but Sirius had insisted on oranges, freshly bought. But Remus' fingers were too long and thin for juggling, and he had been too worried about ruining the clean floor, or wrecking the oranges, which really were lovely and begged to be eaten, not thrown about.

After the upteenth try, Sirius had laughed and told him not to worry so much. Then he threw the remaining oranges up into a graceful arc and kissed Remus like there was nothing else in the world that mattered.

IV.

Remus had become used to an empty bed when he went to sleep--had learnt to become accustomed to the slam of the front door at unexpected times in the night. The smell of whiskey and cigarettes had become a daily installment.

He'd heard Sirius take the oranges out of the bowl--heard the steady, reliable thunk and swish as Sirius threw them through the air with accustomed ease of years' practice. Remus squinted through his eyelashes, not wanting to open his eyes and let Sirius know he'd waited up, like he did every night.

Sirius threw the last orange up, slowly into the air--caught it with a lazily bitter backhand. He looked at it for a moment. All the energy had seemed to coil suddenly, explosively in him, and he'd thrown the orange as hard as he could at the wall.

The next time Remus had seen his face was on the front page of the Prophet, laughing wildly with nothing in his eyes.

V.

Azkaban is nothing but grey stone walls and madness. The two combine to be brutal on the hands, and Remus winced when he saw Sirius' fingers for the first time in twelve years. The broken bones hadn't healed properly, and knobs of cartilage twisted them into stange angles that reminded Remus more of an abstract painting or a geometry diagram than a human being.

Sirius' fingers were still recovering when they settled at Grimmauld Place. He could hold larger things and carry bags and such, but his handwriting was abysmal and Remus walked in on him more than once struggling to tie his shoes or button something. They never talked of it; they never talked much those days. Having Sirius around the house those first months meant that they edged carefully around each other as if they'd each fall into a black hole if they stayed too long in the same room. Remus sometimes found himself wishing violently that Sirius would go out--just leave--but then the memories of twelve years staring at a peeling wall wishing the opposite would come back and he'd groan and collect himself.

Sirius had tried to juggle only once--a month after they'd moved, in July. He didn't know Remus was looking. There were no oranges, since Remus hadn't had a taste for them for quite a while. The apples had been able to make about two rotations before one fell through Sirius' fingers and landed on the floor with a muted thud.

He hadn't done anything--just picked them up and methodically, awkwardly put them back in the bowl, mouth set in a grim line.

Sirius never offered anything that had happened to his hands, and Remus could only guess what the inside of Azkaban does to a mind.

VI.

Looking back, Remus should have known better--should have known that Sirius' restlessness and the summer heat would have combined explosively. Someone had bought oranges--probably Molly--probably thought the kitchen needed more color--couldn't blame her, he thinks now.

Orange massacre. Kitchen massacre for that matter. He'd walked in to get a glass of water and had been greeted with fruit carnage. Orange pulp, seeds, juice and peel covered the walls, sink, floor, ceiling, table...Sirius stood in front of him, three remaining oranges in his hands.

"What--how--what--did you--?"

Sirius had just grinned.

"Look," he whispered. "Look, Moony."

Gingerly he threw one of the righthand oranges up, threw the left up, caught the first, throw, catch, throw, catch, throw. He'd winced when one hit his index finger at a particularly painful and awkward angle but kept going, and it had been a start, he'd kept them in the air. Remus watched openmouthed, the faint warm wave of familiarity beginning to wash over him.

"You," he said, "you can..."

The last orange was caught. "Yeah," said Sirius, "still can do it." He'd smiled the first real smile Remus had seen in ages. "I'm still working."

"Yes." Remus smiled, Sirius smiled, and it was only natural what came next. Familiarity settled comfortably into the cracks of Remus' scars and Sirius' broken fingers, and Remus leaned into the kiss and remembered what was good and right and forgivable about the man in front of him.

"Still can do that, too," Sirius said, and smiled again, and was about to say something but Molly's voice had shouted down the stairs just then telling them to come quick, something was wrong.

VII.

It's been a week, Remus thinks. Maybe more. Couldn't be less. He seems to have lost all track of time.

Grimmauld Place hasn't been opened for a week. The Order's been busy. He's been out and busy--loose ends to tie up, taking care of Harry and his friends at Hogwarts, planning what to do next, as if there is a 'next' beyond the next hour, minute, second to live through.

The house smells musty. Remus wonders tiredly where Kreacher is and if anyone would find out if he killed the house-elf if he could hide the body properly. These aren't things Remus Lupin normally thinks, but right now Remus inwardly doesn't give a damn for anything other than the messy hole inside him that just gets bigger when he thinks about it.

He tries not to think about it as he descends the stairs to the kitchen. Food, he thinks, would be nice. Food would take his mind off of other things he doesn't want to deal with. A nice cup of hot chocolate--

The lights flick on in the kitchen, and the sight that greets him is familiar: orange explosion, spread in every which way in the room. Neglected for a week, the juice has gotten sticky instead of dry, but the smell is no less potent. The three intact oranges are scattered haphazardly on the table.

Sirius has left him one last mess to clean up.

Remus' world turns gray as desolate, cold realization hits him for the first time in a week. He buckles to the floor, presses his nose to the sticky ground, and cries.