Summer is unusually cold and filled with regrets that Remus ignores, and the streets are drab, grey, piled with dust which the street-sweepers will never be able to completely remove even though they are at it all day – swish-swish, empty sounds. The lamplight is yellow and swallowing the air around it into a sort of bright stillness, and when suddenly the smoke and dust are sliced through by a sharp summer-rain, quick-brisk and oddly featherlike (drifting, a little, and catching on eyes and nose and mouth and eddying its way down), he thinks -- for no reason at all, or for entirely too many that he cannot name -- of Sirius again as he saw him last.
(There was a letter, a few months ago, a hasty upward-tending scrawl on old parchment that smelt faintly of sun and salt and sand, with rips in it where Sirius's quill stabbed savagely through and mutilated words beyond all recognition. And it talked about a lot of things, some of which were happening and some of which had happened and a fair few of which were thoroughly inconsequential, but what it really said was sorry, over and over, though not in ink.)
He reaches home, innumerable street-corners later under an iron-grey, faintly raining sky (it has lightened now, although the water has seeped into the roads and footpaths and pooled itself uncomfortably in his shoes), and climbs the long, weary staircase to his flat. Sirius is waiting at his door, leaning against the wall in a manner which attempts careful unremarkability -- only eyes visible, amused, above the upper edge of a Muggle newspaper (Israel and Jordan sign treaty, it says, on the front) -- but suggests, somehow, nervousness and a touch of the fear of discovery which Remus supposes has become almost customary. Sirius smiles brilliantly, looks twenty years younger, almost not-changed, although only for a moment and not about the eyes.
"Are you going to let me in?" he asks. "Or am I going to stand here for ever and drip all over your unfortunate doormat?" It's certainly the beginning of something.
Remus makes tea for both of them (to steady his nerves, although he's not entirely able to explain to himself why they ought to need steadying at all) in old enamel mugs that used to be his mother's, liberated from their long and joyless sentence to a dusty row along the kitchen shelf. He slides one of them across the worn dining-table to Sirius, who is sitting with his elbows on the table in direct contravention of anything polite society approves of (which is really more than a little familiar) and his dark head in his hands (Remus wonders how he feels to look at himself and remember); Sirius picks the mug up, stares at it as though he has never seen its like before, his finger idly tracing around its rim and catching in the little chink of missing china; it's part scientific examination and part idling concentration like an old oriental painting -- almost-careless brushstrokes more than just lines, the whole thing a careful depiction of absorption in the completely trivial. He looks up, tilts his head, raises an eyebrow.
"Four sugars," Remus says, oddly defensive of his tea and his ceramics. "That was how you used to like it, wasn't it? And more cream than tea, although how you can actually drink it that way I'll never know."
Sirius gives him a long, slow look, curious and questioning and possibly even half-amused; he picks up his mug of tea and walks over to the window, peering through the dust-freckled glass, and after a moment Remus realises that Sirius's shoulders are shaking with laughter.
This was the last time they met, properly, not counting harried moments in the Shrieking Shack and a couple of ragged letters: the twenty-ninth of October, 1981. Dinner at James and Lily's, of course, because that's the way it always was back then, and the night outside was cold and howling but for all that more hospitable than the conversation -- there wasn't much of it, and what there was merely punctuation for the long meaning-ridden silences. But most of it was about war, and about blood, and Remus remembers the dying orange-red firelight and the single candle at the centre of the table and Sirius's mouth stained red with wine.
After that they were all ghosts and memories: two gravestones and a sunken-eyed photograph and a finger in a box, and the image of a glass slammed down hard enough for the wine to spill over the sides and stain the tablecloth a morbid sort of crimson and someone saying see, that's the trouble with battles. They all tell the same story.
Some of it's a little garbled with time, but most of it is not; the telling thing is the way the edges of their conversations are fragile, rubbed red-raw by doubt and years.
It's evening, lazy and dimly-lit. Sirius has usurped the only comfortable chair and is leaning back in it at an alarming angle; he's reading the Weekly World News with an expression that straddles the great divide between excitement and alarm in a dodgy sort of equilibrium. There's a breeze tugging at the window-frames, just strong enough to set them into a gentle clatter, almost in time with Sirius's page-turning and the fire's faint crackle. And in the moody twilight (the sky a murky sort of grey-purple which is at once filthy and serene and furious and utterly self-contradictory), the shadows in the corner seem to lengthen, until they are more real than the unornamented angle of the ceiling's corner.
They're settling into a sort of rhythm, almost, slipping into little quirks of conversation and gesture all too familiar, although roughened into uncertainty around the edges; but there's more to say than will fit within the structure that words impose, and it's between fragmentary conversations (Order business, mostly, but the occasional cheap jibe or Muggle newspaper quote insists upon surfacing) that contrition or nostalgia or loneliness slip into the air. And nothing's perfect, not really, because they're lacking a thousand things (idealism, Remus thinks; idealism and social utopia and a cause to fall in love with and James and Lily and -- ), but it might just be enough for a while, enough to tide them over through this intermission of sorts (although it isn't entirely clear what it exists to divide: eras, friendships, lifetimes).
And the evening stretches around them, warm, like a benediction.