Title: All around me.
Pairing: Remus/Sirius.
Disclaimer: I wish.
Summary:
AU. Remus owns a bookstore just outside of town. It's small, it's quaint - and horribly English. Every Wednesday he gets the strangest of customers.

well you know everytime i look at that expression printed on the page, i think i hear you

It was nothing like the centre of the universe, but sometimes Remus liked to pretend. Tying his laces together on a morning, sitting on the edge of his bed, before untangling them and smiling to himself as he catches his reflection in the mirror. Heading into the kitchen, draping his jacket over one shoulder as he stirs up two cups of tea. Drinking the second after watching the first go missing somewhere between the bathroom and the study. Three paces out of the door, rushing back for his keys and missing the second step on the stairs with a low hum. Bypassing the mail and taking the park route, right before dawn.

At twenty-six, he definitely knows better. But at twenty-six, he's young enough to not really care.

--

It's routine, really, he thinks to himself as the chimes above the door blow in the breeze. Dolphin shaped, stars, and completely not fitting at all. Watching his spoon drag waves as he pours milk into a mug and glances up.

At eight am, he's already surrounded in pages of other peoples stories. Magic and fantasy and how to teach yourself croquet. The psychology of love and he smiles to himself, highlighting passages and handwriting notes and sticking smiley faces, on white (in ink), right on the spines.

Only seven books in the entire store have frowning faces in red biro. Seven books he spent his summer on when he was fifteen and he'd prefer to keep them to himself.

His first customer is at half past eleven and his nose is buried happily in an old Shakespeare anthology, magnifying the side notes and biting down on his bottom lip. He sells two copies of The old man and the sea and three of A better guide to hugging.

He drinks camomile tea with a spoonful of honey over lunch and nods at the group of teenagers heading to the back to laugh over the erotic literature and point out words like 'erect' and 'throbbing' before shoving each other as they leave.

His regulars call in late afternoon. He knows none of their names but in his head recognises them by their books.

An old woman wearing a checkered headscarf with tufts of silver curls hanging down at the front. A pair of sharp glasses and a cane. He calls her Emily even though she collects her backorders under the name Margaret. Remus thinks Emily is more fitting.

The first book she ever purchased from his was The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller. And he's called her it ever since.

Of course, there are the others too. Jack ('Big Sur'), Geoff ('The house of fame'), Charlotte ('The Professor').
And Remus's eyes light up horrendously whenever he hears them rummaging around at the back of the shelves.

At sixteen, he'd often visited the place himself. Never imagining, back then of course, that it would come to mean anything like it does. He always figured he would leave school, get a degree in something or go into training with his father. For his father.

He was most definitely happier, but climbing on a set of rickety stepladders to dust down the very top shelves was far from what he'd expected of himself.

--

He got to read all the new editions, first editions, best editions before anybody else, though. It was one of the few pleasures he enjoyed. And one of the many reasons he hadn't given up, even as the customers became less and less.

It was much too easy for him to lose himself in a small string of words.
He had a store full of them.

--

On Wednesday's, right before closing, there was always a man. He'd been curious at first, a dark winter jacket and heavy boots loitering outside. He thought it was a one off. He was quite used to that, people unsure as to whether they wanted to go inside. People wanting to take photographs. But there was a pattern. Every Wednesday, this man, for almost two months, at precisely 4:57 in the afternoon. He would be there.

Just as Remus was turning the sign to closed and dimming the lights, he would take a few steps towards the door before turning around and leaving.

Remus was quite fond of watching the way he walked into the distance, quoting poetry in his head, searching for lines that would fit it perfectly. But nothing was ever enough.

It was like sewing disastrous stories together and making them beautiful.

It was a bit of mystery for him, and he lived for it.

--

His mother always wanted him to be a doctor. A veterinarian. He almost agreed until he got attacked by dogs the week before his fifth birthday.

On his Twenty-fourth, she hand-wrapped a medical journal and told him it was never too late.

Remus just smiled and said he had to get to work.

He opened the store, for the first time, at ten pm then.

He was completely exhausted and falling asleep over smudging ink by morning came, but it was quite possibly the most liberating experience of his life.

A young girl with a ponytail and brown knee-highs bought the book for seven pounds.
He wished her good luck, holding the door open for her as she stuffed it haphazardly into her backpack and walked away.

He whistled to himself cheerfully, swinging a dirty cloth in his left hand, and went back to work.

--

Remus's favourite season had always been winter, ever since he'd rolled around in baggy jeans and no gloves up on the fields as a child. His fingers numb, his feet aching but he'd laughed and laughed until his throat started to dry up and he threw himself down the bank - tumbling into a giant snowball. Even as an adult, he never wore gloves in winter. He had a wardrobe full of them (sent by his mother) wool and cotton and plaid - but they were for autumn weather with damp leaves and strong winds and rain.

He never wore them in winter because it never felt as real and biting and chaotic.

Once the beginning of December hit and the bad weather with it, the hours seemed to drag by. After midday, of course, because nobody wanted to be stranded or come up with the possibility of public transport shutting off.

He'd pull thick jumpers around them, knit in ridiculous patterns of deer and sheep and chimneys, snuggling into their wide collars as he sat in the back of the store with hot chocolate. He spent those days doing stockchecks or looking up books he felt he ought to have read.

He always still went to work. Sometimes flipping the 'open' sign to sit staring at the empty floor. But he didn't mind all that much.

Winter was still the best.

It gave him time to himself, to think - and nothing could really ever beat watching the umbrellas flying past outside or seeing the first snow reflected in the high streetlights, settling delicately on the pavement.

--

"Merry Christmas, honey!" his Aunt crooned cheerfully as she handed over two brightly coloured parcels before turning to his mother and stretching her grin even further across her ruby-cracked lips, pulling her into a hug, "Oh, and you too!"

Remus ran a hand over the greens and the reds and the silvers, curling his thumb around the ribbon and pulling on it self-consciously as he sat on the edge of the sofa.

"You still doing that book thing?" his uncle asked awkwardly from the doorway and he nodded, mutely.

There was a silence then. Not the kind like way back when, his mother telling him in hushed tones that his father was a very busy man and he wouldn't be back until the New Year. Not like the kind when his cousin had voiced his intent to move in with his married lover. It was tense, but not the hurtful kind where secrets bulged behind pressed lips or tight eyes.

"Good for you." his uncle smiled after looking him up and down then sharing a glance with his wife and Remus's mother, "Good for you, son."

Remus's hands tightened nervously around the gifts in his hand and the tape ripped right down the middle. He looked up, unashamed, and laughed. Laughed until it wasn't awkward anymore.

--

A week before spring kicked in, Remus met a girl.
A week before spring kicked in, Remus fell in love.

Only not really.

"What do you think of Hemingway?" she'd asked, pushing her way to the counter and slamming a stack of books down. Remus seperated them into two piles so they didn't obscure her face and he shrugged as he keyed them into the till.

"He was very ahead of his time. I'm still not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing."

"Men without women?" she smirked and he could see then that her eyes matched her scarf and he almost blushed. Instead, he looked down, studying the twisted spine of one of the books almost too carefully.

"The lost generation. And that's seventeen pounds fifty. Good material."

There was a pause and Remus pretended he wasn't studying the way her lips curved around ghost words from the corner of his eye. She tucked a strand of thick red hair behind her ear and rubbed her hands together.

"In modern war you will die like a dog for no reason."

She handed over a couple of loose notes and Remus smiled to himself.

"There is no hunting like the hunting of man." he stuttered as she turned to leave.

They dated for two months.
She didn't break his heart, but she broke her own.

Hours later, she sat in a motel room in Switzerland and wrote him letter after letter that she knew she'd never send.
Hours later, he bought his first ever walkman - second hand, and sat down amongst the shelves in the dark listening to Morrissey.

There were always imprints.

--

Two days before his twenty seventh birthday, Remus bought a cat.
It was dark ginger with thin white stripes over it's back and blonde paws.

His mother had been allergic for as long as he could remember, which was one bonus, he thought.

When we walked into his apartment, late at night, after work, it ran towards the door and followed him around making soft mews as it tried to climb up his leg.
Pushing himself back into the sofa, it climbed and lay nestled between his shoulder and his neck.

Remus decided, after three days, to name it Barnes, after her.
Hemingway was always hers now.

It made him feel less loney, curled up in bed with the rain crashing against the windows (spilling into the buckets lazily). Gentle purring in his ear in the dark.

It was like growing up.

--

It was April 17th when Remus was sitting in his store, his left hand flipping pages and adjusting his reading glasses whilst his right rubbed up and down Barnes's back as she sat beside him, her front paw in her mouth - behind her ears. He'd taken to letting her accompany him to work when the old lady in the apartment opposite his had commented on how lovely she was and how, sometimes, she heard sad little miaows ducking under the door during the daytime.

Remus had given her extra treats and cuddles that night before tucking her safely in his bag the next morning and she'd followed him ever since.

He made a mug of tea for himself and shared the milk, a rose-patterned saucer on the side from a customer who had grown quite attatched to her - though, in all fairness, there hadn't really been one who didn't seem to love her.

Emily broke off pieces of chicken from her shopping bag on a Friday. Sometimes fish, but that was only ever when she was having her daughter over for Sunday lunch. She preferred fish, Remus had been told, and he smiled.

Barnes wasn't really all that picky though it was obvious she relished in the attention. New smells, new people, new hands digging against her fur.

Remus had to say he liked it too, it was a conversation started so it seemed, she was a conversation starter. In a matter of weeks he'd learned not only about Emily's daughter but also that she had a grandson who was going off to University in the fall to study Literature and all of the books she purchased she eventually passed on to him. He learnt that Jack used to be an Engineer until his back gave out and now he ran his own webpage specialising in trading car parts.

Geoff was around the same age as him and worked as a schoolteacher. He'd lost his virginity to his brother's ex-girlfriend and they hadn't spoken since. He had one kid with a woman up in Scotland who he never saw, her terms, not his. But he wrote twice a year.

Charlotte was an aspiring novelist with a young daughter, she'd got pregnant at sixteen and her brother had diverted their parents anger by announcing at the same time that he was gay and had been shagging his best friend. She'd based the main character on him, but she'd never tell him. They didn't tend to throw 'I love you' around a lot.

It was captivating and heartbreaking and Remus sometimes set biscuits out on the counter after that. Just ginger snaps and oatmeal cookies. The best ones he kept in the back room for emergencies.

It was April 17th and Remus was flipping through an ancient copy of a J.M.Barrie novel when the chimes above the door went off and he glanced up at an awkward young man in a black jacket and thick boots - looking terribly out of place.

Of course he recognised him, of course, but he nodded in greeting and went back to reading.

He heard a tumble of books a little while later and almost stood up to go help.
It's only when he heard the cursing that he gave a half-laugh and sauntered over, glancing down at the crouched position of the young man with fallen books all around him.

"May I help?" Remus asked, shaking his head, "It seems like you're having a little trouble there."

"Me and bookstores don't exactly have a great relationship. 'sides, I'm looking for something for my idiot of a friend. This is sort of embarassing."

He looked up then, thick black glasses framing an angular face with a mess of dark hair.

"James Potter." he said as he stretched, standing and scrunching up his face at the shelves, "And do these come in sizes or what?"

--

It was well past closing time when Remus finally got to sit down, collapsing back into his chair with the embroidered cushion and almost smiling. Barnes immediately jumped onto his lap and started digging her claws into his thigh just barely enough for him to know she wanted attention.

"It's been quite a day." he said to her softly, rustling the fur behind her ears as she rubbed up against him, purring.

James, it seemed, most definitely wasn't the 'book' type. He'd spent half an hour (at the very least) trying rather inarticulately to explain to Remus exactly what he was looking for. And even then, Remus didn't think he really had a clue.

"My friend --" he'd rubbed the back of his neck and looked about embarrassed, "--he likes all this weird shit. I mean stuff. This weird stuff. And it's his birthday."

Remus just nodded mutely and leaned back on his heels.

"It's for my girlfriend, really." James spluttered then and looked down at the floor, "...I'm really not used to book shops."

"How about you just tell me what it is you want, and I'll see if I have it, no questions, no awkward situations. Sound good?"

James let out a sigh of relief and they both laughed.

There was a trail of wet, muddy footprints from the door to the rug by which James was standing and his jeans were pulled taut in all the wrong places. His shirt collar looked completely windswept and he was like a hurricane, Remus thought to himself, only more volatile and (kind of) less destructive. He walked over to the counter, following Remus, a loose lace trailing in his wake as he helped himself to a couple of the biscuits. Stuffing them into his mouth and chewing.

"You have a girlfriend?" he asked around a mouthful before swallowing hard and asking again.

Remus shook his head and walked over to where Barnes was asleep, leaning back his arms folded across his chest, fidgeting with his sleeves. "No, no. It's - just me."

"Right." James nodded, "See, I'm looking for a book about making - things. For people."

He most definitely was intriguing.

"Knitting? Woodwork? Chemistry?"

He half wanted to laugh.

"Fuck off." but it was lighthearted and James shook his head, a pale flush spreading across his cheeks, "I was thinking more. Making things. In a kitchen -like...area. Yes."

Remus looked incredulous.

"You want to learn to bake?"

"Great, make me sound like a pansy, why don't you?"

Two hours later, he'd managed to set James off with three books. One a beginners guide to cookery and two on the finer side of pastries. After they'd shared a pot of tea and rummaged around a bit for books in the backroom, Remus had learnt of a girl. They worked together apparently, James and her, she was in the same department and they'd trained together. "My girlfriend." he'd been told and he grinned.

Apparently cooking impressed her.

Remus thought it was cute, though had odd allusions to Bridget Jones in his head.

"Good Luck!" he called as James headed for the door.

It wasn't until he heard him muttering under his breath about flower stores that Remus knew he'd be back.

--

He had a routine for everything really, most of it developed through habit more than anything. When he got home on a night he would pour himself a glass of milk and heat it up in the microwave, shower and change into a pair of loose pyjama pants before sitting down to drink it on the sofa. On the nights he was late, he would make sandwiches with just the right amount of mixed jam in the middle. On the nights he wasn't, it'd be tuna casserole or soup.

At 10:02 Remus would tuck himself into bed and Barnes would curl up by his shoulder. He'd read the obituaries in the newspaper and skim past the star signs before turning out the lights and lying awake, staring up at the ceiling until 10:37, when he promptly fell asleep.

--

On Friday, Remus got a phonecall. Whilst this wasn't that unusual in itself, it being from his mother made it so. He lowered his voice and excused himself from the young man out front, speaking in hushed tones and disappearing into the back.

"I met a lovely lady the other day -" she started and Remus almost groaned, almost hung up but he flipped the switch to boil the kettle instead and rested back against the table. Half watching out at the store. Half not paying attention to anything.

Her name was Marie. She was half his age and a student.

Remus was about to protest when the next line cut him short.

"Her father and I are going out Saturday evening. Are you okay with that?"

--

"My mother is dating and I'm not." he groaned to Barnes that afternoon, "Something is completely wrong with this picture."

She just miaowed softly and rubbed her wet nose against his face but, under her breath (if she could speak), Remus was sure she called him a loser. Affectionately, all the same, but still.

He frowned and spent the rest of the day putting books about sex into alphabetical order to make himself feel better.

Sadly, it didn't do anything but make him think of his mother and 'sex' in the same sentence.
Which he had, naturally, avoided for the duration of his life.

"Until now -" he muttered, "Great. Just great."

--

He spent the weekend between places. Half of the time at his store trying not to think about anything, the rest watching a show on the discovery channel about whales beaching themselves along the coast, abroad.

Emily called in Saturday morning and made him a cup of herbal tea, against his wishes.

He sighed and inhaled the fruity scent whilst the pleasant burning spread up his finger tips and into his hands.

"Now what's wrong, dear?" she asked and he paused. Stuck on his words.

"My mother acts more my age than I do." he answered eventually and she just smiled, the wrinkles across her face twisting up with her thinning red lips.

"Of course she does -" and Remus looked at her with surprise and she looked right back, firmly, " - of course she does, she's old. It's what we do. Spend half our life living it and the other half re-enacting it."

He thought of his father then and bit his lip.

"Yeah." he shrugged, "Yeah. I guess you're right."

--

James didn't come by that Wednesday and Remus wasn't still moping, really, he wasn't. He hadn't answered his phone since before the weekend but he was letting himself fall in love all over again with some of the classics he found on a top shelf, buried away.

A short man with wide shoulders and blonde hair stumbled in cheerily just after one though, and placed a collection of books on the counter.

"You do trade in?" he asked and Remus nodded, "Good. Anything that won't destroy my kitchen?"

And that's when he met Peter ('Looking good dead').
If anything, he thought, right then - James really should be Claire in his head.
Natural disasters.
He smirked to himself and offered over the plate of biscuits which Peter pawed at greedily before showing him a flashy, white grin.