Escape II: Sheltering

I could feel it go down

You left the sweetest taste in my mouth

You're the silver lining in the cloud

Oh and I wonder what it's all about

- Coldplay

.&.

It was sleeting as he walked along the icy sidewalk, hands shoved into his pockets for warmth. He was running out of ideas. His coat pockets contained nothing better than a few Galleons and some odds and ends—Filibuster's fireworks, a few half-melted Cauldron Cakes, a letter he had been carrying around with him and trying to finish.

He couldn't Apparate yet, and he had left his broomstick, so he ended up walking to the train station and following the familiar route he had memorized. The train station was bustling with Londoners doing last-minute Christmas shopping, their arms full of bags from department stores or dragging their surly children behind them. He avoided the crowds of Muggles and walked with his head down, hands jammed into his pockets, like someone who obviously didn't want to be disturbed, and his footsteps led him to his destination almost before he had realized where he was going.

Sirius slowly climbed the fourteen steps up to the front door, taking his time, and lifted a hand mechanically to ring the doorbell. He heard noisy footsteps clattering swiftly down the staircase inside and a moment later the door swung open to reveal the surprised expression on James' face.

"Come inside," he said quickly. "You're all wet."

Sirius followed him into the entryway and shrugged out of his dripping coat and shoes. He flung them over a rack to dry and asked, "Where're your parents?"

"Christmas party," came the reply. "They'll be gone all evening. I almost went along, but it sounded so boring. Come upstairs?"

The two boys climbed the tall staircase and took refuge in James' bedroom, a spacious but welcoming room with Gryffindor and Quidditch paraphernalia on the walls and an extra bed in the corner where Sirius slept. The Potters had offered him one of the spare bedrooms after he kept showing up to spend the holidays with them, but he had politely refused, feeling like less of a burden when he stayed in James' room.

"Got something dry I can put on?" Sirius asked, strangely nonchalant as he began to strip off his wet shirt and tattered jeans. "It's sleeting out, and I got soaked through."

James rose, his throat feeling oddly constricted. He was trying hard not to look at Sirius undressing as he went to his closet, rummaged for some clean, dry clothes, and tossed them at his friend. After a moment, it was safe to look again.

James watched as Sirius, now dressed, walked across the room and flung himself onto James' bed. He could tell just from the way Sirius moved that there was tension bearing on him, but even still, every movement Sirius made, however careless, was full of easy and unintentional grace.

"So, are you going to tell me what's up?" asked James finally. "You didn't even tell me you were going to be coming."

Something in his tone caused Sirius to sit up straight and look at him. "Come on, I've showed up like this before, mate—"

"Yeah, but…usually with a suitcase."

Sirius's smooth expression betrayed nothing. "I didn't have time. If it's inconvenient—"

"Not that, just unexpected—"

"—you can just ask me to leave."

They were glaring at each other now, because some line had been crossed, some nerve had been touched and Sirius no longer felt as welcome in his best friend's bedroom as he had only moments before.

"Fine. I'll go." He rose and crossed the room, but James stopped him at the threshold.

"Please, Padfoot. I didn't mean it." His voice contrite, James held his friend's arm firmly, unwilling to let him walk away. "I want you here, okay?"

"It's good to know that someone does," Sirius said with a sigh, and he ran a hand through his long hair to push it out of his eyes. "Why the hostility, a second ago?"

James shrugged. "I'd fallen asleep before you came, and you woke me up. Of course I'm cranky." He grinned suddenly, lighting up his face, and it was infectious; Sirius smiled back. "But I'm sure you have a pretty good reason for not bringing your stuff with you this time, right?"

"Yeah. Well." Sirius turned his back, exhaled deeply and tried to find the right way to explain it. "I kind of… I kind of ran away."

"You ran away?" James sounded surprised, but thankfully not reproachful. "Why, what happened—?"

"You knew it was only a matter of time." Sirius began to pace, clearly growing agitated. "I mean, I hate the lot of them, they're a bunch of hypocrites and pureblood maniacs with their—"

"—heads up their arses," James finished for him, nodding. "I know, mate. Can't say I like your mum that much, either."

Sirius grinned. The one time he had invited James to his house had been in their second year at Hogwarts, and dinner with the Blacks had been such a fiasco that Sirius never invited him back again.

"But—you ran away? Did it get that bad?"

"Yes," Sirius said quietly. He ran through the events of a few hours ago in his head: the coldness, then the rage, the screaming and exploding dishes and threats to disinherit him, and the curses that had followed him as he'd stormed out of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place for the last time. "Prongs, mate, you should've seen how it started; they were trying to force my cousin Bellatrix on me—"

"Force her how?"

"Force me to marry her."

James shuddered. "Then I don't blame you for running. Your cousins are scary, especially her."

"And they make me feel like I'm nothing, just because I don't share their ideas that Purebloods are better than anyone with Muggle blood, and that being a Black makes you better than everyone else, I mean, seriously!" He started to pace again. "And I'm the only one there, in my entire family, at that stupid Christmas party, who doesn't think that way. I'm the only one, James! Nobody else has even a scrap of decency, nobody stands up for me when I try to argue with them…"

James was listening to Sirius fume with a quiet expression on his face. He didn't try to speak, only watched as Sirius paced back and forth, growing steadily more agitated.

"All the time telling me I'm not good enough, telling me that I'm shaming the Black family name, that I'm disgraceful and I shouldn't 'associate myself with Mudbloods and other filth,' reminding me that Regulus, stupid idiot, is the good son—I'm so—bloody—sick of it!" Sirius cried, and trying to vent his frustration, aimed an angry punch at the wall. He was close to tears now, and didn't want to show it, so he tried to lose himself in the fury, raised his fist to hit the wall again—

—but suddenly James was there, between him and the wall, and James grabbed his arm tightly and yanked Sirius closer to him, and before either of them realized what was happening, James kissed Sirius, so forcefully that their teeth knocked together, but the pain was quickly replaced by a blinding sensation of pleasure spreading through Sirius—

James wrenched away, gasping. He couldn't, wouldn't, look at Sirius. "I—I'm sorry, I don't—I don't know what—"

Sirius grabbed his shoulders and kissed James hungrily, only aware that he wanted this, that he wanted the recklessness and wildness of this, tangling his hands in James' hair, trying to untuck James' shirt when James pulled away from him again.

"Don't," James panted, and Sirius wanted to ask don't what? but James had a fierceness in his hazel eyes that told Sirius not to interrupt. "Please don't go." He ran a hand through his hair, trying to smooth it down again after Sirius had tousled it, but it was no use. "Stay here. Stay with me. Please."

"That's what I was going to ask," Sirius started to say, but James wasn't listening as he turned away to lock the door to his bedroom, pulled Sirius over to his bed. "Please stay," James said again but Sirius' lips were on his again, cutting him off, making him shiver and want more.

.&.

The Potters were hardly surprised to come home and find Sirius in the kitchen with James – over the years they had grown quite accustomed to their son's best friend appearing at their house with little notice and, although nobody really brought it up, they were more than willing to let their home be a refuge to the boy whose family couldn't love him like they did. When they managed, over tea and toast, to get most of Sirius' story out of him, it was the most natural thing in the world to tell him he needn't ever worry about where to go, because he would always be welcome with them.

"It's about time you simply moved in with us," said James' mother with a smile as she patted Sirius' shoulder. "You can just move into the spare bedroom across the hall from James, dear. You'll be more comfortable there, I think."

The spare room was comfortable, but it was also too big and empty, and so Sirius sneaked into James' bedroom at night, walking down the long hallway and opening his door, and he found James already waiting for him. James lifted his hungry hazel eyes to Sirius and quietly told him, "Lock the door."

Sirius did, and then he crossed the room quickly and sat down beside James on the bed. There were several soft, tentative kisses, as if they had to get used to the idea all over again, and then a sort of ease settled over them, making them bolder, and hands began to wander, and their kisses became more exploring, and night-shirts were unbuttoned. They took their time, with lingering touches and slow motions, as if they had all the time in the world. They didn't speak, and the room was quiet except for the rustling of their movement and their heavy breathing.

When it was over, James and Sirius dropped away from each other onto separate sides of the bed. James was the first to break the silence. "Tell me what happened with your family."

He heard a slight sigh from the other boy. "I had enough. Enough of their superiority. Enough of them trying to tell me what to do, control my life."

"What if you hadn't left?"

Sirius laughed shortly and humorlessly. "Then I guess one way or another they'd have broken me down, eventually."

James was silent then, thinking about it all, thinking about what to say. Blimey or I'm sorry, mate or you're better off without them but everything sounded so trite and trivial. Sirius had left his family, who had never really been his family anyway. "Better off without them" didn't even begin to cover how he must have felt.

But there were always other ways to say things, without actually saying them.

.&.

He hadn't brought anything with him from his house—not his broomstick, his posters, his belongings, not even clothes. That didn't matter, though. James lent him clothes, and nothing had ever felt better against Sirius' skin than a shirt smelling faintly of the scent of James' skin—except, perhaps, James' own skin.

It was James, it had always been James. James and his confident laughter, his crooked smile. James and his windswept, unruly hair. James, asleep on a sofa in the common room, his glasses askew, his tie all twisted round. James and the stubborn line of his jaw that Sirius had so often studied during boring Potions classes. James and the way he would sling his arm around Sirius so easily. It came so naturally, everything did, even their heated kisses and boyishly rough embraces.

James filled him, held him, intensely and almost fiercely possessive. "Don't listen to them," he whispered, biting Sirius' ear, when a particularly nasty Howler came from Mrs. Black shortly after Sirius had run away. "You are good enough. You've always been good enough."

"Not for them," Sirius said, staring at the opposite wall and wishing he could disappear. He was sure the entire Potter household had heard his mother shrieking insults and abuse at him, and that Mr. and Mrs. Potter were tactfully not investigating the source of all the screaming.

"Why does it matter, what they think?" asked James, winding his arms tightly around Sirius' waist. "Why do you still care?"

"I don't," came the gloomy response. "Or I try not to, anyway." He glanced at the door, which had been slightly open during Mrs. Black's screeching. "Do you think your parents heard all of that?"

James shrugged. "Why does it matter? I've told them what you told me, anyway. They already know what your parents are like." He gave a measuring look at Sirius' dark expression. "Does that bother you?"

"No."

"Are you embarrassed?"

"I'm just not proud of them, okay?" Sirius snapped. The Howler was still lying in smoking bits on James' carpet and he suddenly found himself resenting James' concern, his perfect parents, his sympathy for Sirius.

James frowned. As difficult as it always had been to navigate around Sirius' occasional moodiness, he was more than slightly irritated that he couldn't get even a smile out of his cross friend.

"Don't brood."

"I'm not brooding!"

"You're Sirius Black. You're the king of brooding." James saw a tiny twitch at the corner of Sirius' mouth and, encouraged, went on, "Very attractive brooding, though."

"You really think so?"

"I do."

"Then why should I stop? If you find my brooding so attractive?"

James hesitated briefly, then slid his hands around Sirius' neck, bringing him closer. "Because I can think of better things for us to do."

.&.

It was almost ridiculously easy to hide it from James' parents. They were interested but not overly curious about what James and Sirius got up to during the day, since it usually involved some kind of explosive or similarly destructive form of entertainment. And at night, James' door was always locked. It became second nature for Sirius, as soon as he had walked through James' door, to turn the lock and murmur a Silencing Charm before he crossed the room.

There was only one close call, during the whole holiday. James and Sirius had, as they had planned, been trying out a Smothering Charm of their own invention on the heavy, rose-printed drapes in the Potters' sitting room; unfortunately, in his excitement, James had stood too near to the curtains when they used the Charm, and before Sirius could pull him back, the curtains had wrapped themselves forcefully around James. Trying to keep from laughing, Sirius darted into the fray to try and untangle James—since they hadn't tried out the Charm before, they hadn't come up with a way to remove it yet—and found himself trapped in a jumble of draperies and various body parts of James.

While James and Sirius were too busy laughing themselves breathless to figure out how to stop the mayhem, the Smothering Charm, still imperfect, wore off and the draperies settled themselves primly where they had been before. The two boys found themselves pressed together in the tight space between the curtains and the window, and it only took a brief moment to rearrange themselves into a tight, close embrace, heated kisses and frantic touching—

"Boys? James, Sirius? Are you in here?"

Mrs. Potter's familiar voice interrupted their diversion, and James and Sirius jerked apart and tumbled out of the curtains rather gracelessly to land at her feet.

"Smothering Charm—"

"We wanted to try it out—"

"Still a few glitches—"

"The curtains ate you," said James' mother, amused.

The two boys exchanged sheepish glances and nodded at her.

She shook her head, smiling in spite of herself at them. "The things you two get up to…"

James and Sirius shared a secretive, amused grin and, as soon as Mrs. Potter left the room, burst into laughter.

.&.

Was it really so unexpected? Sirius wondered. It didn't feel strange or even sudden to him. All that had happened was a series of events, a trail he'd followed that had somehow led him to this inevitable end. When had it started? He wasn't sure. There had been so many times… but they were best friends. "James and Sirius," the two names always spoken in the same breath, inseparable. There were so many times he had wondered… when James fell asleep in Sirius' bed accidentally instead of his own after a long and exhausting night in the Forbidden Forest with Moony, and Sirius was so strangely content with the arrangement that he didn't tell James of his mistake, and spent the night curled up next to James' warmth… There was no beginning. It had always been there.

.&.

"She wanted me to cut my hair, my mother did. Threatened to do it herself."

"Cut your hair? Why?"

"She said I looked like filthy Muggle scum."

James looked at Sirius, at his aristocratic nose, the determined set of his mouth, and finally his long-lashed grey eyes, slightly obscured by the long dark hair falling elegantly into his face. "I like your hair."

Sirius grinned at him, and the angular hardness in his features softened. "That's what matters."

There were so many thoughts running through James' head as the boys kissed again—he is so beautiful, I can't tell him that, I could never tell him that, but I hope he knows it—and to make up for everything he couldn't say, he wrapped his arms around Sirius more tightly and put everything he could into the kiss.

.&.

James' parents had given him a camera for Christmas, and he had rapidly become obsessed with taking pictures of Sirius with it: Sirius playing Exploding Snap—which he was an expert at, Sirius lighting fireworks in the Potters' parlor (much to the amusement of James' father, as much of a mischief-maker at heart as the two young boys were), Sirius lying stretched out on James' bed with a book, deep in concentration, his hair falling into his face. Trying to document the habits and peculiarities of the rare, elusive Sirius Black? Sirius would ask him sarcastically, but it wasn't enough to dampen James' love of photographing this beautiful, strange boy.

"Stop it," Sirius said with a frown as James photographed him buttering his toast at breakfast. "I can't really be that interesting, can I?"

"Yes," James retorted, but he lowered his camera reluctantly.

"Tell you what, Prongs," Sirius suggested, feeling guilty for spoiling James' fun, "you can take as many pictures as you like as long as you're in them, too. I don't like being photographed alone. I never know what to do on my own."

Click. Click. Click. The shutter clicked rapidly and the images appeared, countless images, innumerable moments of pleasure captured on film, their secret there for everyone to see. Sirius and James peered at the developed photographs eagerly: a boy with glasses and a boy with long dark hair were playing Quidditch together, sliding down the banister together, playing Exploding Snap together, grinning foolishly at the camera, or laughing so hysterically at something that they collapsed into a tangled heap just out of the frame, which was just as well because then the several enthusiastic kisses that followed their fall remained their secret, not captured on the film.

.&.

Grey eyes stared feverishly into hazel as James' bed creaked slightly with movement. Fumbling, tangled in each other; hot mouths and trembling hands. It was strange the way they never spoke of it, never mentioned it. There was simply a mutual consent not to talk about it. But it happened almost every night of the winter holidays.

James threw himself back onto the pillows, trying to steady his breathing, his eyes fastened on Sirius' back which was turned toward him now, bare and glistening with a sheen of sweat.

"It's snowing outside," said Sirius, his voice oddly empty.

James slid up onto his elbows and looked at Sirius. He ran through the possibilities in his mind—should he sit up, put his arm around Sirius? Or would that be too much? Sirius didn't always want to be touched; that was a strange thing about him. Maybe, James thought, he had not been touched often enough as a child, not hugged and pinched and kissed and cuddled enough as James always had been. But James never knew whether Sirius would respond to his touch, or flinch away from it.

Before James had decided whether or not to take the chance, Sirius spoke again. "I know this seems silly. But I wish this holiday wasn't going to end."

"We'll have all next summer, too," James said, determined not to let Sirius fall into a dark mood again. "And you'll never have to go back to your family again."

Sirius tensed, and James suddenly regretted his hasty words, afraid that they had hurt Sirius. "You don't want to go back, do you?" James asked, fighting the urge to reach out a hand and give Sirius the lightest of touches.

"No." Sirius' answer was firm and quiet, though slightly sad. "I don't want to go back, not ever. But…"

His voice broke, and James, giving up the battle of mind against heart, leaned over to him and ran a gentle hand down Sirius' back, making him shiver. The shiver turned into trembling as James' hand continued its familiar course, and the soft, broken "but" that had left Sirius' mouth was soon forgotten.

Outside, it was still snowing.

.&.

"One more."

They had spent an exhausting afternoon in the park, with Sirius disguised as Padfoot, chasing his tail and snapping at the falling snowflakes for James' amusement until they were both thoroughly soaked and freezing. Now, having warmed and dried off by the fireplace, James held up the camera for one more picture.

Sirius relented and moved in closer to James, sliding his arm with ease around the other boy's waist. James held the camera out in one arm, exchanged a pleased grin with Sirius, and settled his arm around Sirius' shoulders.

Click.

.&.

And this was the photograph Harry found years later, stuck to the bottom of a drawer in Sirius' desk, buried under a pile of old Charms exams and faded Chocolate Frog cards. It was an old photograph, and slightly bent, but the image was still clear:

Two black-haired boys, smiling, one wearing glasses and the other with a fine-featured face, their arms around each other, something in their expressions causing Harry to pause and study the picture. Something. Vague, elusive. But there. In the way the two boys were smiling out of the photograph, then turning to smile at each other. In the way that the boy with the glasses had his hand curled protectively around the other boy's neck, his thumb giving a light stroke every now and then. In the gratified warmth shining from grey eyes as the handsome boy leaned his head fondly against his friend's.

Shut up, Prongs, and smile at the camera.

But I want to smile at you.

You can do that, too. This'll be our secret.

.&.

Author's Note: Thank you for reading my story; please drop a review if you've got the time. Also, please note that this is a sequel of sorts to "Escape I: Severing" by Lucie – or Lux, which is the story of Sirius leaving home, and a very good one. I suggest you read that one, not because it's necessary to understanding mine, but it's just a really great story. :)