Remus looked up from his newspaper as I came in through the door. 'Hard day?'
Either I looked like shit, or the man had unnaturally accurate perceptive powers. I nodded and sat down on the handle of the couch to toe off my shoes and socks.
'You look exhausted,' he said sympathetically, putting down the paper as he crawled behind me.
I felt his long fingers settle on my shoulder, pressing down on the tight knots, and only just suppressed a groan. 'Not now, Remus. I'm tired.' This time I did moan as his fingers expertly traveled down my back, applying pressure in all the right places.
'I know,' he whispered, placing a gentle kiss on my cheek – something which had struck me as odd the first time, but I'd gotten used to it. 'I didn't ask for anything. Just lie down on your stomach and relax, okay?' He didn't leave any room for argument as he took off my jacket and shirt and pushed me down on the couch.
'Let me take care of you,' he said again, and I couldn't be bothered to protest that I wasn't a child, that I didn't need him, and could you please just take me to my bed; because Remus was now running his hands all over my back with the expertise of a masseur, occasionally letting his hand drift lower underneath the waistband of my trousers, often placing gentle platonic kisses across the exposed skin.
Remus's hands were pleasantly warm, and though I was partially hard, true to his word, nothing was done about it until the next morning. As I drifted off to the most comfortable sleep I've had in months, a part of my mind supplied a vague thought that I'd never had this sort of intimacy with anyone before, not even with Celine. It was worrying perhaps, but not at all unwelcome.
Lesson no.4: Love always came with a price.
It wasn't that I hadn't ever gotten massages before. It was just that every girl who had claimed to be madly in love with me gave me one only to get into my pants. They would even cook me my favourite breakfast in the morning at the price of another go or some bloody expensive gift, while Remus did it just to please me. That was the difference, I realised, between love and friendship. Friends like Remus, however odd their actions were, did things because they cared.
I watched Remus down his fifth shot of whiskey and frowned. We were at James and Lily's New Year party and he seemed to be the only one not enjoying himself. I understood that he was gay, and it was really hard to find someone with the same tastes, but dancing didn't exactly require him to have sex. He could have at least tried to have a bit of fun.
'Don't you think this is great?' asked the girl I was dancing with (Mary or Suzie, I wasn't quite sure). She leaned her head on my shoulder, humming to the tune softly. She had a nice voice, I mused as I tried to catch Remus's eye. I knew he was avoiding me on purpose, but why, I just didn't understand.
'Yeah, sure,' I murmured, distracted.
From the corner of my eye, I could see James disentangling from Lily and making his way towards Remus, who by now, was on his seventh shot. I quickly steered towards them, in an attempt to listen in to their conversation. James was infinitely better than I was in trying to figure out and solve problems, and maybe, I'd get a hint soon enough.
A slight wave of jealousy ripped through me as I realised that Remus would rather open up to James than me, but I quickly waved it off. It was stupid. He had a right to choose whom to confront.
I'd missed part of the conversation, but even from a distance, James's grave expression was enough to tell me that this was serious. 'Just because I don't say anything, Remus, doesn't mean I don't know.'
Remus was about to take another gulp, but James snatched away the glass. 'It's nothing, Jamie,' he whispered, seemingly more to himself than James. 'It means fucking nothing.'
What the hell? What was Remus talking about? Vaguely, I could feel Mary (Suzie?) move closer to me, her hips unabashedly brushing against mine, but I really couldn't be bothered. Remus looked genuinely upset, close to tears even, and I needed to find out why.
James put a firm hand of Remus's shoulder and squeezed. 'You don't have to torture yourself like this. You're worth a lot more than that and you know it.'
Remus rested his head against the table. 'I don't feel it.'
I'd heard that tone before – he'd had the same broken tone when he'd broken up with Richard. Had that bastard come back again? Remus often told me how even now, Richard would show up at the university just to bother him, and quite a few times, he'd even had the audacity to call the house and make loud declarations about how he'd been an idiot and how he loved Remus. But Remus had always put him down with a polite no. Could he have finally gotten through?
No. No, if he dared…I was going to kill that bastard if he so much as laid a hand on my Remus. Richard had no right over him, none at all, and there was no way I was going to let Remus fall into his trap again. He was fine right now. He was happy with me, and things were going to stay that way.
James lifted Remus up by the chin, and I felt that odd bubble of jealousy well up again. It was ridiculous of course, but I wanted to be the one to comfort him, to hold his chin and stroke his cheek. It was supposed to be me he was confessing all his feelings to. I lived with the man for God's sakes! Surely, I would be the more suitable friend to turn to.
'Tell him,' whispered James. 'Tell him how you're-'
But I never got to hear the last of James's sentence, because the clock had finally struck twelve and everyone was shouting 'Happy New Year' and then I was being assaulted by an insistent mouth. As soon as I felt her tounge brush past my lips, I disentangled myself from Suzie (Mary?) as politely as I could. I'm not sure why, but I've never been this disgusted by anyone my entire life.
'Happy new year,' she breathed out smiling, and I forced a smile back, my eyes automatically searching for Remus.
He was gone, and James was now too occupied with an armful of Lily to be questioned about anything.
So I went to the first place that came to my mind – back to our apartment, only to find Remus folding his clothes into a suitcase.
'Where you going?' I asked, coming to stand beside him. I noticed dry tear tracks on his cheeks and reached out to wipe them away.
Remus flinched and roughly brushed away my hand. 'I'm leaving.'
I felt my hands instinctively clench into fists. 'To Richard?' Even saying that name made my blood boil. I'll kill him. I swear to God, I will kill him.
Remus stared at me for a while and then turned back to folding his trousers. 'No, just away from here, away from you.'
I felt like someone had ripped my heart out and stomped on it. 'Wh-why? What'd I do? Whatever it is, Remus, I'm sorry!' I found myself panicking instantly, clutching at his shoulders, running my hands through his hair. Remus was my best friend, he could not just go. 'If this is about the dirty laundry, then-'
Remus pushed me away. 'God, you really are oblivious, aren't you?'
'I don't understand.'
'No, you wouldn't, of course you wouldn't, because Sirius Black never has the time to take his head out of his arse and look beyond himself. If he had-' Remus choked, and fresh tears leaked out of the corner of his eyes. 'If you had, then you would have noticed how hopelessly I am in love with you.'
He turned away, breathing heavily and holding himself up against the cupboard. All I could do was stare. Remus was in love with me?…but…but, this wasn't how things were supposed to be…we were friends…that's all.
'I don't know what you want me to say, Remus.'
Did I love him? No, no…love…love was something else entirely…love was something James and Lily had…something I'd never know, because Blacks weren't trained to love. We could seduce, we could charm, and we could be cruel when we wanted to, as long as it achieved our means. Love, I'd learnt over the years, was a disaster.
Remus reached out, quickly drawing his hand back in as I recoiled instinctively. I cursed myself as a hurt look flashed across his face and more tears trickled down his cheek. 'It's okay, Sirius. It's my fault anyway…I mean, you'd made it clear from the start that this wasn't anything more than sex, right?' He ran a shaky hand through his hair. 'God, I'm so stupid. I should have never-' He shook his head and began to pack again.
I did nothing. I couldn't. I didn't know what to do. This hadn't happened before. No one had ever told me they loved me and meant it, especially not a man. This was not how things of order went…this was not…not…not happening.
'Don't worry, Sirius. I'm not going to bother you anymore,' he said picking up his suitcase and walking towards the door. 'I'm sorry.' Remus's hands fumbled with the keys. 'I'm sorry I fell in love with you. I should have been happy with what I had, but I wanted – I always do this. It's – I'm just so fucking stupid!' He rested his head against the door, sobbing lightly.
And still, I couldn't bring myself to say anything. I wanted to. Hell, yes, I just wanted to hold him in my arms and comfort him till he fell asleep. But not like this…not as people in love. Didn't he know that love destroyed friendships? Didn't he know that love always ended badly?
'I love you, Sirius, I really do, but I can't do this anymore.'
Lesson no. 5: Love will ruin the best thing that has ever happen to you.
Three weeks had passed and not a single day went without me thinking about Remus. It wasn't just the sex, but everything else. I found myself thinking about how his hands would move about wildly whenever he talked about something he loved. Or how though his smile was never as wide as any of ours, it would always reach his eyes. Or even the way he'd sometimes fall asleep on the couch in front of the television, curled tightly to ward off the cold.
There were times I'd walk into the kitchen, eyes half closed and wait for Remus's customary burnt toast, or the small kiss he'd place on my cheek – the one that had left me so confused before. Sometimes I wouldn't realise Remus had gone until I was left without clean underwear, because it would be his turn to do the laundry. I would wait wistfully for someone to chide me as I tripped over my own forgotten boots, or cut my hand while trying to chop carrots. I've lived alone before…I've suffered worse at the hands of my foreboding parents…and yet, nothing had ever tortured me the way Remus's absence did.
It was when I'd gotten up from another one of my dreams at three o'clock in the night, Remus's sweet laughter still ringing in my ears that I decided I didn't care. I didn't care if I didn't love Remus the way he did me. I didn't care because I missed him; even more so, I needed him. So, I went to the first person I knew who would know where Remus was.
James yawed and rubbed his eyes sleepily. 'This had better be good, Sirius. I'm in no mood to put up with your nonsense at three in the morning.'
He moved aside to let me in, but I stayed put outside his door. 'I need to know where Remus lives.' It was a miracle my voice came out so calm and collected, because my insides were rampaging wildly.
James eyes widened. 'No.'
He made to close the door, but I put my foot in between. 'James, please!' This time my voice did sound desperate.
James pushed the door harder, knowing full well that it was painful. 'No, Sirius. No, not again, no. You leave him alone.'
Panic rose up my throat. James had never denied me anything, not unless there was a plausible reason. 'Is it Richard? Is that why you won't tell me?'
James let go of the door in surprise. 'God, you are really thick, you know that! No, it's not Richard, it's you!'
James cut me off with a hand. 'He walks around like the fucking dead – doesn't eat, hardly sleeps – he looks worse than shit, and you have the gall to ask if it's because of Richard? Sometimes, Sirius, I really want to hit you.'
I breathed a sigh of relief, not at all perturbed by James's declaration. I deserved being hit, and I would let him, but not now; not until I found Remus. 'I need him, James…please.'
James rolled his eyes. 'I'm sure the great Sirius Black will find someone else to fuck. So I'm asking you to stay the bloody hell away from him…he's been hurt enough as it is, and I won't have you stripping off what little happiness he has left.'
How low did he think I was? I mean, I'd never – I wouldn't want to hurt Remus on purpose. I couldn't.
I grabbed James by his pyjama collar and looked into his eyes. 'I need him, James, do you understand that? I need him and there's no way you can stop me from getting him. I can track him down, even if you don't tell me where he lives, I know where he works. But I'm still asking you, and it's okay if you don't tell me, but I'll be indebted to you forever if you do.'
James looked at me for a second, and I could almost see the wheels in his head turning, contemplating whether or not he should tell. Finally, he sighed. '15th street, first yellow building to your right, 402.'
You'd think I was being stupid. Riding on a motorbike, shirtless, this early in the morning into a street I rarely visited. You'd think I was even more stupid to be running up the stairs with noisy black boots pulled over my football pyjama bottoms, completely ignoring the disgruntled yells of flat tenants. You'd think that I'd probably surpassed the border of stupidity when I kissed Remus Lupin hard on the lips as soon as he'd opened the door, pushing him until we were both down on the cold, hard floor.
I hugged him tightly, too afraid to let go in case he decided to push me away. James had been right – Remus had definitely grown thinner, but that was to be solved later. 'Come back, Rem. Come back home.'
Remus put up a weak half hearted struggle against my hold, and finally slumped back on the floor, defeated. 'I can't. It's too hard.'
I kissed the sensitive spot on his neck, knowing exactly what sort of reaction it had on him. 'I missed you, Remus…a lot.' I card my fingers through his ever so soft hair, caressing his cheeks, his eyes, his lips. God, how much I'd missed him. 'I don't know if I love you, Remus…I really don't. All I know is that I can't live without you…'
So, yes, love is horribly stupid and completely catastrophic. Yes, you have to spend a lot of time buying gifts, and remembering dates. Yes, there is an awful lot of sacrificing bed space, tv shows and mental sanity. But love's also about waking up to the warmth of another body beside you, love's sharing the last cookie and ending up with a lot more than just chocolate chips in your mouth, love's about soft reassuring touches and firm hands supporting you when you're pissed out of your mind and can't stand up for shit. Love is all that and more.
We were sitting on the couch watching Mind Your Language on tv. Remus had his head pillowed on my lap, while the rest of him was stretched under a warm woolen blanket. I could feel every breath he took, and the way his shoulders shook as he laughed at some Mickey Mouse joke the Indian lady cracked. Not particularly hilarious…but all right.
His hair occasionally fell into his eyes, and I couldn't help but brush it away every single time. I won't lie to you. I didn't do it because I was worried he wouldn't be able to see his show with all that hair in front. It could have been a good reason, but honestly, I just loved the feel of him – his hair, his skin, his lips.
Good Lord, I was obsessed. Was that a good thing?
Remus didn't divert his eyes from the screen, but I could tell he wasn't really paying attention to Mr. Brown anymore. 'Hm?'
'I love you.' I let one of my hands move under the blanket and rubbed his stomach through his shirt. 'I don't say it much, but I do…a lot…'
Remus smiled that wonderful smile again, and reached out to tangle his hand in my hair, rubbing gently. 'I know,' he said softly.
I'd already closed my eyes by then, partly because Remus's fingers were massaging lightly down my neck, but mostly because I knew he was going to kiss me. It was just that sort of moment.
'Sirius, could you throw out the garbage tonight?'
Lesson no. 6: In the end, love, to me, is about Remus, and if that's not disastrous, I don't know what is.