Dedication: To you, just for clicking this far.
Disclaimer: Not mine, never will be.
A/N: This is the longest thing I've ever posted to . It's REALLY different to the older fics that I wrote when I was 13. It may not quite be to everyone's taste. Any feedback is much appreciated.
If he were religious, he would probably say that God had taken a wide, horsehair paintbrush and streaked the morning sky with blue, pink and yellow. But knowing what he does about science, he quite comfortably decides that the light had 'diffracted' or something, and in this moment of time, at seven o'clock in the morning, the December sky is banded with pale, crisp colours. Planes streak their way across the sky, leaving the straight snowy-white trails that turn pink the further east they travel. Otherwise, the sky is empty. Not even the Sun has dared to rise properly and warm the bus stop this morning. So, no clouds in sight.
Shit. A bad day then.
When he was young and Mummy knew best, she had told him that every cloud had a silver lining, but the really special ones had a golden lining. It was lucky, she had said, and meant that he would have a good day.
So on cold winter mornings, when the sky is bare, he knows that he will have a bad day. He supposes that he is the only person who judges the sky each day. Everyone else seems to spend their time craning their heads to look for the elusive red bus around the corner, so that they can hurry through their morning, through their day, so that they can progress to the same bus stop tomorrow.
It is a strange belief. He isn't really a belief kind of person. He usually prefers the solid, the concrete, the proved. The 'two plus two is equal to four and the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the square of the other two sides' kind of things. Normally, he rejects anything that isn't so black and white.
But he isn't looking for black and white here. He wants gold.
He calls them Golden Lining Days. The words are capitalised in his head and are underlined with a firm, crimson line. Golden Lining Days mean gold stars in school, stolen kisses and warm hands on a cold day. It means happiness, fun, and, most of the time, personal gain.
Really, it's just the Sun doing some kind of crazy reflecting trick under a cloud, or something equally Physics related. It doesn't mean that the clouds have decided to smile down on him, and grant him a good day by being lined with gold. It is just a superstition, and as superstitions go, this is a good one.
His first day at school hadn't been a Golden Lining Day. The clouds had formed a thick blanket of grey over the tops of the houses during that September years ago. Mummy held his hand as they walked down their street, turned right and came to his new primary school. He remembered, very vaguely, tugging at his brown blazer as Mummy bent down and looked him in the eyes. She had looked a bit sad, but hugged him and pointed out his new teacher.
It had been a horrible day. All of the other little boys had black blazers with the embroidered crest of the school on the left breast. He had Mummy's best attempt with the thread she had bought at the market with the funny smell. He spent all day imagining that he could smell a faint whiff of the half-rotted fruit from the grocery stall near the haberdashery place.
But the next day, when the clouds formed an impressive mackerel sky, each cloud tinged gold, he had a good day. He had very little recollection of the exact events, but he could remember beaming when Mummy asked how his day was. He also remembered that it was the day he met James who told him his brown blazer was ace, and really, the lion on the crest looked better with gold hair rather than crimson.
Golden Lining Days seemed to occur frequently during his childhood, when the biggest worry was making sure that Mummy didn't find that mud stain on his new green t-shirt, or trying his hardest to find the best stick to play 'Wizards' with James. They weren't always memorable in themselves, but he remembered being happy for whatever times they were. However, there were always the fantastic Golden Lining Days that were unforgettable.
During a summer, when his face resembled a pizza and his limbs were awkward, he lay in a field in a village that was far from any city and marvelled at the fact that he could see the sky without any tall buildings, lampposts or even trees blocking his line of sight. It was early in the morning, earlier than he would normally get up, and the sky was a strange cross between yellow and bright blue. He couldn't see any clouds, but as he sat up, he could see the lone cloud, brushed with the slightest bit of gold ambling along at the horizon. He could remember smiling and running back to the rented cottage.
They went to the beach. Mrs. Potter stayed with Mum under the umbrella to protect her now delicate skin from the unexpectedly warm weather of the British seaside. He swam with James, trying to get as much salt water up his best friend's nose as possible, and waved to Mum as he ran back from the water's edge. She smiled and waved back and he was happy to think that she had temporarily forgotten her anxiety about the future.
As he got out of the water, he was aware of the bikini-clad girls reclining on their towels and looking in his general direction. He sucked in his stomach and stretched his arms over his head to show off his teenage physique. One girl smiled at him and that added to his assurance that it was a true Golden Lining Day.
Almost exactly two years later, he was awake earlier than usual again. But this time, he was in the city and couldn't fully see the wispy clouds decorating the blue canvas sky. If he had been in the habit, his nails would be bitten down to the quick. He anxiously paced his bedroom floor and ran a hand through his hair every few seconds.
The swish, swish clunk from downstairs heralded the arrival of the post. He could vividly remember pulling on a t-shirt and running down the stairs, two at a time and being careful not to slip where the burgundy carpet had been worn down over the years. Mum stood at the bottom of the stairs, post clutched in her hands, her features highlighted by the light coming through the windows by the front door.
Her smile was weak but proud as she offered the thick manila envelope to him. Her hands were trembling but he wasn't sure if that was from her high hopes or the tremors that Dr. Bingham had predicted all those years ago.
He smiled warily and took the envelope in one hand and her arm in his other, gently leading her to sit down and rest whilst he studied his exam results outside in the sunlight. As he read, he started to grin, and looked up at the sky. Golden tendrils of wispy clouds spread across the sky. Tuneful bird song completed the cliché and he was tempted to click his heels as he ran towards the house. Mum was waiting at the patio door and her thinning hair shone in the early morning light forming a golden halo about her pale face. He hugged her, careful not to squeeze.
It seems to him that his life has been punctuated by these high notes of Golden Lining Days. In the same way that he hasn't been religious since they drummed the Lord's Prayer into him at primary school, he doesn't really believe in the power of nature either.
Their bus arrives and he helps his mother aboard. She still shakes, but he cuddles her to him and looks up at the sky for a final check.
Still no clouds.
They travel to the hospital, listening to the chatter of various passengers around them. He holds her hand and is surprised to find himself praying.
He wants to be alone. He doesn't want to sit and stare at the peeling-at-the-corner flowery wallpaper in the flat he shared with James. His friend would hover, and he knew that the hovering and slight intakes of breath and sentences about to be started ('Mate, listen, you're all right, right? Uhh…tea?') would be worse than being left alone to his thoughts.
He catches the train and gets off at Kew, noting with the slightest of smiles the tourists, bundled up in their scarves and hats, keen to see the giant Glass Houses. He also notices the families with small children who are clearly not looking forward to following Mummy and Daddy to look at plants.
The sky above is grey, the clouds thick and dark and pressing down from the sky. On the TV, the weatherman had said that it would rain and then clear up later on.
The short walk from the station to the Gardens is spent dwelling on memories. Every step down this road reminds him of previous visits to Kew, sometimes with Mum, rarely with James, mostly by himself. He values the fact that he can go there by himself. A brief snap shot of green in his polluted city. It's the place where he can have a brief snap shot of clarity in his polluted mind.
He arrives at Victoria Gate and walks through breezily, mustering up a smile for the girl behind the counter as he flashes his member's pass. The gardens open up before him, all the shades of green on display. The Gardens don't seem to die with winter, just change into a muted version of summer. He continues along the grassy path, spying the misted windows of the Glass Houses over the trees. Finally, the pond with its artificial islands comes into view. He moves to a slightly hidden area and plonks down onto a warped wooden bench.
The benches are the most interesting, with their tarnished gold dedication plaques. He doesn't mind the trees and delicate flowers, but he's not a botanist and never will be. He writes and tries to find poetry wherever he looks. Like the clouds. Like these benches.
An American new to these parts. Came to Kew and fell in love. These trees will miss him as much as his family.
It's sad to think of a 58 year old dying at a relatively young age, but he's glad that M. Hartley will be thought of in his favourite place. He imagines a tall, broad man with laughing eyes and a mouth curved in a smile. Hair greying at the temples and a well developed bald spot at the back of his head. M. probably had a large family and a happy but harried wife. A gaggle of kids that miss him now.
No, wait. That kind of man gathers around the fire with his children to tell them about his days in the War after a lunch cooked by the harried wife. He wouldn't tramp around the gardens getting to know the trees. He'd--
Startled, he looks up. There's a man with a camera pointed at him. The Polaroid camera covers a great deal of the man's face, but he can see pale skin and long, black hair attached to a head. There's a neck with a protruding Adam's Apple. There're stylish clothes covering a fit body, but he glosses over that like he usually does.
The man lowers his camera and smiles. He takes the picture that emerges and puts it in a pocket on the inside of his jacket.
'I'm Sirius, and you have hair that matches the plate thingy.'
'I'm Remus, and you seem to have taken a picture of me.'
'Why, yes. Yes I did.'
Remus feels like this is the start of something, whether it's a headache or something more significant, he's not quite sure.
Together they sit on M. Hartley's bench, watching the Sun move from the east and across to the west. First of all, they talk about arty things, Remus trying to impress this strange stranger with his ideas about the shortening shadows, and Sirius trying not to laugh at Remus's conjectures. Somehow, the conversation moves to Remus and his ideas and philosophies in life. Golden Lining Days slip in there, as well as Remus's capability to find significance where there is none.
'Have you ever thought how, like, when you're sitting on the upper deck of a bus in the morning, and, like, you can see everyone going to work and they all look different but the same. It's like you're watching the theatre that Shakespeare was talking about, all these people are like the players and they're acting their own story and featuring in yours.'
Remus expected ridicule, or maybe some gasp of agreement and a frantic nodding of the head. Instead, Sirius shifts in his seat, angling his body to face Remus. The camera lies in his lap, and Remus realises that several pictures had been taken of him as he was rambling.
'You say 'like' a lot.'
So then Remus has to launch into a defensive stream, telling Sirius all about his best friend James and how he was the one affected by popular culture and said 'like' in every other sentence. He tells Sirius that they are close and ends up telling him about getting kicked out of a pub only last month for James's 21st birthday celebrations. He laughs as he talks about the girl that James was eyeing up who turned out to be the girlfriend of the bartender who decided that this was a 'kick-outable offence' - as he had put it.
He's laughing and realises, suddenly, that he doesn't want to be. He stops and Sirius complains.
'Why did you stop laughing? Your jaw was at such a beautiful angle and I could see your entire neck. You have a lovely smile.' Sirius finishes with a lovely smile of his own, sincerity lacing every tiny crease by his eyes and the tiny dimples in his cheeks. Remus wonders if this is a flirtation, but decides swiftly that it can't be.
He turns and looks out across the pond. There are no insects this late in the year, and the springtime ducks and geese seem to have flown elsewhere. The water is fairly still with only a small breeze rippling its surface. For the first time in all of his years coming here, Remus is struck by the fact that the winter truly is the death of the summer, and that the Gardens aren't as alive as they should be. He takes a deep breath as he is struck by the sense of his own mortality, as well as the mortality of everything around him, including his new friend, Sirius.
'Shall we go and get a coffee?'
The walk to the small café up by Victoria Gate should be short and uneventful. There are no colourful flowers to look at, or even many people to watch casually, but Sirius seems to find things to take pictures of, even if Remus can't understand why. Sirius has also decided to talk, revealing what Remus thinks must be his true personality, rather than the weird and random artist.
'So me and my friend Pete,' bend to take a picture of grass 'were just wondering around Shepherd's Bush. Have you been? You really should go to the market, full of people and,' quick run to catch a drop of water falling from a leaf 'all sorts of interesting spices and stuff. Like…'
…and so it continues. Sirius pockets each picture quickly, and Remus really hopes that they aren't smudging. Every so often, Remus interjects, agreeing to some statements, or huffing a quick chuckle at an anecdote. Mainly, he is using this time to watch Sirius, the range of facial expressions and the enthusiasm with which he takes his pictures. It's fascinating to watch him as he stops and straightens, taking care as he changes the film and paper in the camera and pockets the used reel.
They finally get to the café, choosing to sit inside as they both realise that their teeth are chattering and that goosebumps have risen on their arms. They sit by the window and look out over the manicured grass and the now distant trees. Remus sits straight in his chair, ankles crossed and forearms on the table as he waits for his coffee. Sirius seems to take up too much room with his slim body with jean-clad legs spread far apart and an arm across the back of his chair. He looks Remus dead in the eyes and asks:
'How long have you known you were gay?'
If Remus had been drinking, Sirius would have a stained shirt and a look of incredulity. As it is, he looks completely calm and is waiting patiently for his answer. Remus swings between disgust at the question, and relief that someone has finally asked it.
'I suppose since I was 17? There could only be so many trips to the beach where the lifeguard looks more interesting than the bikini-clad girls before I realised.'… would be the funny and clever thing to say. This is an age of slightly increasing tolerance, and Remus assumes that Sirius is one of an increasing number of tolerant. Instead, Remus can only stare at Sirius with a look of disbelief.
'Well, since you asked,' Sirius says, a smile in his eyes as he looks at Remus, 'I've known since I was 13...' and so the story begins.
The first cups of coffee come and are taken away. The second cups come and then the third before Sirius has finished his story.
Sirius came from a large, rich family. In a clichéd world, they would be religious and hateful towards their son who realised he was gay in his very early teens. As it was, they were old money who were averse to the thought of their son working in the Arts as a photographer. They didn't and don't know that their son is gay as Sirius had run away just after his sixteenth birthday, moving to a council house in Wandsworth. He had decided to forge his own path, and Remus learns that this had brought him too many trials and tribulations for his young age.
Sirius caught a break when his Uncle Alphard left him his art gallery in his Will. The tiny space in the King's Road was perfect for displaying his photography, and Sirius had finally been able to build up his own business there, selling fairly expensive colour prints of varying things.
Sirius tells Remus that his candid portrait photography is his best work, and that that is how he came to be in the Gardens today. A representative from Kew had seen his work, and commissioned a set of photographs of people enjoying the Gardens for an advertising campaign.
'And the sexual orientation stuff,' Sirius finishes, 'came along the way. I learned to be proud. Do you know, I even heard about something called the 'Gay Freedom Day Parade' over in the States a couple of years ago? Amazing. It feels like liberation.'
Remus watches Sirius from across the table. He stands up, leans across, and kisses him quickly and chastely. For a minute, he feels a certain serenity.
Then he notices the looks of the other patrons. He throws the correct coinage on the table and strides out of the café, hoping that Sirius will still follow him.
Remus reaches M. Hartley's bench a long time before Sirius does.
'Sorry,' comes a cheerful call from across the little pond, 'just wanted to take a picture of the water from this side. Be there in a minute!'
Remus allows himself to exhale when he hears this. It's like a little bubble of acceptance that he can't help but appreciate.
'Right. Here now. Hello!' Sirius gives him a little peck on the cheek.
They are hidden from view in this secluded area. The ground slopes steeply towards the pond, and the little bench is tucked in at the bottom of the hill just next to a path that circles the entire body of water. Remus allows himself to be emboldened by the seclusion, and holds Sirius's hand. He prepares an excuse about sharing body heat, just in case this is overstepping whatever boundaries he may have overstepped, but is relieved when Sirius squeezes his hand.
'Body heat, of course.' Sirius says in a moment of mind reading.
'My mother died today.' Remus says by way of reply.
It is 5 o'clock, Remus and Sirius are still holding hands, and Remus is still talking. The sky is a duck-egg blue, the heavy clouds having moved away without any of the promised rain. A few light and wispy clouds remain, and Remus thinks briefly of school Geography lessons about clouds as he continues to talk about his mother's beautiful cooking.
He and Sirius seem to have covered every aspect of his mother. It is therapeutic and heart breaking to talk about her, fresh anguish digging into him at every past-tense conjugation, but little bubbles of delight as he remembers her at her best.
Sirius is a good listener. He only asks questions as Remus's pace slows down, and seems to know when a hand squeeze is better than a verbal 'awww'. Sirius has managed to calm Remus's bright panic, muting it into a more normal grief.
They sit in silence after a while, and Sirius voices his thoughts about closing times and how they must be reaching it. Remus is reluctant to leave the Gardens and the serenity that he has found in Sirius.
He breaks their hands apart, instead moving his hands to Sirius's face. As their lips meet for the second time today, Remus can feel Sirius's hands move to his camera. They break apart and Remus takes the camera and snaps a picture of Sirius.
'I'm Remus, and you have eyes that match the sky.'
'I'm Sirius, and you seem to have taken a picture of me.'
'Why, yes. Yes I did.'
They laugh and kiss again. The camera presses into their chests like a reminder that they have to go. Have to do other things.
'I th-' Remus begins.
'Oooo, just wait. Wait a second.'
Sirius jumps up to stand on the bench and takes a picture of the moon through the trees. He stays standing and Remus looks up at him, wondering what today meant and if there will be a tomorrow that will mean the same thing.
A white rectangle floats down to him. It catches the air as it falls, moving from side to side and down down down and onto Remus's lap. There's a picture of a white moon on an indigo sky obscured by several grey branches.
On the other side there's a phone number and a name, and that feels like a promise. Remus looks at the long, lean legs standing next to him on the bench, and then up at the grinning man attached to them. At this angle, the moon is behind his head, giving him a very faint silver lining.
If he were religious, he would say that God had something to do with this.