Disclaimer: Not mine. Sadly, so very sadly, not mine
Many thanks to Pandora Culpa and Rynne for their ever-so-helpful beta work, and to Evil Whimsey for her comments on the original incarnation of this piece.
"Liar" was originally published on FictionAlley on 19 January, 2005.
That night, Sirius still hadn't forgotten about it.
He hadn't said anything more on the subject, of course, but it was clear to Remus that he was still dwelling on it. It was in the setting of Sirius' shoulders, in the twin lines between his eyebrows, in the distracted set of his lips – and in the way he shied away from Remus' touch after they'd turned off the lights.
Remus had found in recent months that he could nearly always comfort Sirius with physical contact, be it a passionate kiss or a simple brushing of hands; this sudden refusal of his touch set quiet but insistent alarm bells off in his mind.
In the dim moonlight, he could see Sirius lying still, just out of reach. Possibly pretending to be asleep.
"Sirius," said Remus quietly.
"Mm," said Sirius.
"Why is it bothering you so much?"
"Nothing's bothering me," said Sirius in the flat tones of one who was, quite clearly, bothered by something.
"Liar," said Remus, trying to keep his own tone as light as possible.
"I'm not a liar," said Sirius sharply, sitting up in the bed.
Taken aback at the other man's sudden ferocity, Remus was quiet for a moment. "I meant it as a joke."
"Oh sure," said Sirius sourly. "Ha, ha."
"Just lie down," said Remus, and winced at his choice of words, which at any other time could have set the stage for a stunningly bad pun. "If you don't want to talk about it," he said quickly, "then don't. It's fine."
Sirius mumbled something unintelligible under his breath, and reluctantly lay his head back on his pillow.
Silence reigned, but Remus was patient. Now that the subject hung in the air between them, Remus knew that Sirius would not be able to keep quiet about it for long.
It took four and a half minutes.
"Who does that Weasley woman think she is?" Sirius muttered into his pillow. "I'm not completely incompetent, you know."
"I know," said Remus, because he knew that that was what he was supposed to say, and because it was true.
"I'm not," said Sirius again, this time more firmly.
"And I'm sure she knows that," said Remus softly. "She was just trying to be helpful. She's Molly. Helpful is what she does."
Sirius snorted. "Sure, but hanging around to make sure I ate it? That's not helpful. That's trying to be someone's mother."
"She is someone's mother," Remus pointed out.
"But not mine," said Sirius. "She could have just left. She didn't even eat any herself."
"Maybe she'd already eaten."
"Not the bloody point, Remus."
"So what? Maybe she just wanted a visit."
Sirius snorted again, shifting beneath the covers so that he was even further away – nearly at the edge of the bed. "A visit," he muttered.
"Yes," said Remus, propping himself up on his elbows so that he could see Sirius better. "A visit. Is that so inconceivable?"
Sirius didn't reply. At least, not right away. Remus became aware of the sinking feeling that had slowly been gathering in his stomach.
After a moment, Sirius spoke again in a voice so deliberately soft that Remus could barely hear. "Did you think I wouldn't notice?" he said. "All those people, one every day, just dropping by for a visit? No real reason to come, just a visit. At least Tonks and Moody try to come up with decent cover stories. But a visit. Please."
"Poor, poor Sirius Black," said Sirius harshly into his pillow. "Going mad all alone in that dreadful house. We must keep him out of trouble, mustn't we. Make sure he isn't escaping or trying to kill himself or practicing the Dark Arts. Make sure he keeps all our secrets, but don't ask him about his own. Make sure he's still a rational human being, happy, cheerful. Make sure he's eating well—"
Expecting to be cut off by another rant, Remus was surprised when his cry was instead met with a ringing silence. "Sirius," he said again, much more quietly.
Sirius waited a few year-long seconds, then mumbled, "What?"
But Remus wasn't quite sure what. He knew it would only be insulting to try and tell Sirius that none of his suspicions were true, especially since they were. Every last one of them. Exaggerated in some cases, perhaps, but still true. The "visit" of at least one person per day was indeed for Sirius' benefit: an ill-disguised effort on Dumbledore's part to make him feel included, if not exactly useful, in the day-to-day business of the Order.
For his part, Remus had known from the beginning about the arrangement, but he'd thought it best not to tell Sirius outright, for fear of offending him. In hindsight, of course, it had been stupid to try to keep it from him. Sirius had always been smarter than that.
Remus let the guilt gnaw at him in silence, and sighed.
"Go back to your own room, Lupin," said Sirius.
"I said get the hell out of here!" cried Sirius, facing Remus for the first time as he sat bolt upright. "I won't try to kill myself in my sleep, if that's what you're worried about."
Remus was perpetually ready for a lot of things where Sirius was concerned, but this was one hadn't prepared for. "What?" he said, blinking stupidly as he sat up in the bed. And then he replaced the question with the one he'd really meant to ask: "Why?"
"Because I've had enough," said Sirius vehemently, leaping out of the bed and beginning to pace the room. "I've had more than enough. It's bad enough when the rest of them do it, showing up here with their food and their fake smiles and the stupid questions they've already asked me a million times... but you? You just let them in and pretend everything's nice and normal, like I'm not even supposed to notice."
"I never said—"
"And then," he continued, fuming, "every night it's 'What's wrong, Sirius?' and 'Are you all right, Sirius?' and 'It'll be fine, Sirius' and I'm bloody well sick of it!"
"Listen," said Remus, his voice rising in volume to match the other man's, "has it ever occurred to you that I might be saying those things because I'm actually worried about you?"
"Everyone's worried," growled Sirius in a dangerously low tone. "Poor, poor Sirius. Must make sure he isn't alone at night, mustn't we. I know: send the werewolf to bed with him! That'll do the trick."
Horrified, Remus stared at him with wide eyes. "How can you say—?"
"Oh, Remus," muttered Sirius, cutting him off with a harsh chuckle entirely devoid of mirth. "Spare me the excuses and just get out."
"Excuses?" began Remus defensively, but he was effectively silenced by the coldest glare he'd ever seen.
Since pulling his wits together required all of Remus' energy, he did not otherwise move. He met Sirius' challenging eyes with equal force, and said simply, "No."
Sirius let out a howl of rage and threw at Remus the first thing he could find, which happened to be his pillow. Remus caught it, never once breaking the stare.
"I don't need your bloody pity, Lupin," Sirius sneered. "I don't need you to keep my bloody bed warm just because nobody else will. I can do just fine on my own. I don't need you."
Remus felt himself recoil at the barrage of insults, but he didn't back down. Instead, he climbed out of the bed and stood at eye-level with Sirius. Leaning perilously close, he whispered harshly, "Liar."
Sirius narrowed his eyes.
Remus pressed his lips together in a thin line.
Sirius visibly seethed.
Remus grabbed Sirius by the shoulders, and in spite of the other man's struggles to get away, Remus kissed him as hard as he could.
When Remus finally released him, Sirius stepped back and stared. Not at Remus, but at some invisible point between them. The twin lines had appeared between his brows again, and Remus watched the other man think – and wonder – and realize.
"Ah," said Sirius after a moment. "Yes."
Remus waited until Sirius could look at him again.
"I won't try to deny that the visits are out of concern for your well-being," said Remus quietly. "Dumbledore is worried about you, and he's only trying to help. We're all trying to help. But if you ever, ever suggest again that I'm only with you out of pity, I will turn you in to the Ministry myself. Because no person insane enough to think that should be allowed to run free."
Sirius smiled, a strangely sad expression. "I'm not insane," he said in meek, almost childlike tones.
"Yes you are," said Remus with a quiet smile of his own, and he embraced Sirius with all the strength he could muster. "And I wouldn't have you any other way."
Neither man spoke as they climbed back into the bed. Remus arranged himself on his back, and his pillow beneath his head – and he felt Sirius do the same. After a moment, something brushed Remus' fingers. He shifted his head, looking over at Sirius, and Sirius was already looking back at him.
When Sirius' hand brushed his for a second time, Remus heard the apology almost as loudly as though it had been uttered in words. He accepted with a smile, and Sirius smiled back.
Sirius turned his head away again, closing his eyes in order to welcome sleep, and Remus watched, grateful that things were – at least for tonight – better. Not good; not yet. But better.