Since the beginning of the Christmas holidays, Regulus had rarely left his room, and Sirius couldn't bear witnessing this waste of free time any longer. His baby brother might be a bit of a stick -in-the-mud, but he didn't deserve to suffer like this. Not when his big brother was the awesomeness in personification. There had to be something he could do to cheer Regulus up.
Sadly, Sirius didn't know what exactly this something was… until now.
Regulus was busy staring out of his window as his brother stormed into his room. Despite the sign telling everyone not to enter without express permission of Regulus, Sirius entered without even knocking. Regulus wished he were in the mood to send Sirius a deadly glare for this rude behaviour, but he only sighed in resignation.
"I've discovered something that'll cheer you up, Reggie," Sirius said, grapping Regulus from behind and pulling him from his chair. "No back talk! You're coming with me."
Regulus would have never thought about complaining. He knew that Sirius wouldn't care, and he didn't care himself. Why should he care for the miserable mess his life was? He was the unimportant second brother no one cared about. Well… at least not the people he wanted to care.
"I want to show you something. Don't ask, you're going to love it," Sirius said. Regulus rolled his eyes, but let his brother guide him down the stairs into the hall. Kreacher already waited there with their cloaks, which almost made Regulus walk back upstairs. Snow had buried the streets of London, wrapping the city into a biting cold that made everyone cherish the warmth of a fireplace – except Sirius, of course.
Grinning widely, he pulled a woolly hat over Regulus' neatly combed hair. Regulus ripped the hat off immediately. Sirius didn't lose his smile.
"We're going to have so much fun," he promised, grabbed Regulus' wrist and pulled him out of the door.
Regulus shivered at the first contact with the freezing wind. He was surely not going to have fun. But the realisation that 'we' didn't have to include him hit Regulus as soon as they reached the little park opposite of their house. Sirius' friends were waiting for them. Lupin, Pettigrew, and James Potter.
Regulus' stumbled over the kerbside as he met the latter's eyes. The attractive shade of hazel always pulled his clumsy side to the surface, probably because he tried too hard to be cool in James's eyes.
"Hey! Look what I dragged along!" Sirius pulled Regulus in front of him, showing him off like a prizewinning Crup. Lupin offered him a polite smile, Pettigrew a reserved wave, and James nodded at him. Regulus looked at his feet.
"Don't be shy," Sirius said quietly into Regulus' ear. "It was already pretty hard to convince Mother and Father to let them step by. Don't make it even harder for me."
Regulus turned his head to Sirius, making sure not to throw the slightest glance into Potter's direction. "How long do I have to cope with those idiots?"
Sirius smiled at him. "Until you laugh again, Reggie."
It didn't work.
Sirius couldn't find the flaw in his plan. James was able to make everyone laugh, Remus was empathetic enough to find the source of the deepest hidden worry, and Peter was… well, Peter. But not even the combination of all four Marauders together brought the glimpse of a smile back on Regulus' face.
It was already dark, but street lamps and snow generated a soft light, which was a good enough excuse to stay outside even longer. Sirius didn't want to go back inside, not before Regulus was happy again. But his brother sat alone on a bench and wore this depressed expression Sirius couldn't take anymore.
"Mate, I won't survive another snowball fight," James said. "And Regulus doesn't even seem to have fun. The last two rounds he spent sitting there."
Sirius frowned. "There's got to be something we can do. If he spends one more day in his room, sighing and staring out of the window, then I'm going to lose my mind. He's my brother. I don't want to see him like this. If I just knew what's the reason for this depression…"
Remus cleared his throat. He blushed slightly. "Has it… ever occurred to you that Regulus could only be lovesick?"
Sirius blinked. "Love…sick? My baby brother?"
"If I find out whoever caused this, I'm going to kill that person," Sirius growled, fists tightly clenched at his sides.
James's amusement disappeared. He placed a hand on Sirius' shoulder. "I could talk to him," he offered, receiving only sceptic glances for this. "I'm constantly lovesick because of Evans. There's no one better for that job."
Sirius exchanged a look with Remus, then nodded. He opened his mouth to say something, but Peter interrupted him by rolling a huge snowball between them.
"Who's going to help me with the snowman?"
"Hey, may I sit down?" While Sirius, Lupin and Pettigrew built the snowman, James took the seat next to Regulus. It was quite an entertaining view, but Regulus pressed his mouth to an impartial thin line. His smile looked awful and he didn't want James to see that hideous face.
"You look bored," James said after they sat in silence for a while.
"It's just cold," Regulus answered and after an hour without saying a single word, his voice was rough and hoarse.
James scooted a little closer until their thighs brushed against each other. The simple touch was enough to send a jolt of heat through Regulus' body, warming his insides and boiling up his blood until his cheeks burnt red.
"Maybe you should get inside."
The comfortable sensation vanished at James's words. Regulus shook his head.
"Sirius wants me to stay," he said in a quiet voice. James was sitting close enough to hear him, and even if not, Regulus didn't mind him coming even closer. "He's doing all this just for me and I don't want to disappoint him."
"Aw… Brotherly love, that's so adorable." James squeezed Regulus' shoulder but never withdrew his hand, instead he started rubbing over Regulus' back. "Merlin's pants, you're cold as ice. You should definitely go back inside, get a hot chocolate and place yourself in front of the fireplace."
Regulus had trouble suppressing his smile any longer. "No." For that, sitting next to James was way too pleasant. "I'm okay."
"You're not," James stated in a voice that didn't allow any objections. "Come here…"
Regulus turned his head with a frown, which deepened as he watched James opening his cloak. "What're you…" The rest of his sentence never left his lips because James wrapped not only his arm around his shoulder, he also pulled Regulus under his cloak.
Regulus didn't know what felt better: the warm and fuzzy feeling that enveloped him together with the memorable smell, or the feeling of James's hard chest and strong arm. But since both things came hand in hand he didn't have to choose.
"Is there something you'd like to talk about?" James's question startled Regulus, but he soon relaxed back against James. With a lot of imagination this was an embrace, the first time James Potter embraced him, and most likely the last time.
James shrugged. "Sometimes it's easier to talk to someone, who doesn't think of you as his baby brother."
Regulus turned his head to look at James and discovered a foreign gentleness in his face that surprisingly didn't decrease his good looks. When James smiled at him, Regulus was one step away to pour his heart out, to rip it out of his chest and offer it James on a silver platter, but it was Sirius' barking laugh that sealed his lips.
James was Sirius' best friend, that was a line one should never cross, despite the fact that James would never return Regulus' silently but steadily growing feelings.
"I can't tell you," Regulus said, lowering his eyes. He looked straight at James' chest, noticing that he wore nothing but a shirt that wasn't even properly buttoned up. His skin was visible beneath the dark blue fabric, tanned and flawless, screaming to be touched, but covered with light goosebumps.
"Why can't you tell me?"
James laughed. "That's not exactly the answer to my question, but at least something we can easily change." His arm tightened around Regulus' shoulder, tugging him against his side. Regulus let James pull him closer. It was warm and comfortable and everything he ever wanted. He wished he could just block out his brother's presence.
"You're warm," James whispered right into Regulus' ear.
Regulus didn't dare to turn his head this time, but placed his hand on James's chest, finding the spot where he could feel his heartbeat. With a lot of imagination this could be called cuddling now. He didn't want to destroy this moment with the wrong words.
"Surprised?" he asked.
"Positively surprised," James replied. The emphasis on the first word caused Regulus to blush. "I wish you'd feel equally comfortable. Then you'd tell me the reason for your obvious depression."
Regulus shook his head. "I'm not…" He trailed off when James touched his chin, forcing him to look up. Even hidden behind the glasses the hazel eyes still shimmered more beautiful than the snow in the light of the street lamps.
"You are," James said. "But why?"
Because I love you, and you'll never be mine, and that justifies a small depression, Regulus thought, which was progress, but he still couldn't verbalise it.
Regulus' eyes widened.
James smiled triumphantly. "I love it when I'm guessing right."
Regulus' only possibility to avoid looking at James was to shift his eyes away. He felt himself blushing again, making everything even more obvious. But he didn't want to be read so easily by James Potter. Full of determination he watched his brother helping Pettigrew to put the snowman's head onto the body.
James moved his hand from Regulus' chin to his neck. Apparently, he had followed and misinterpreted Regulus' stare. "You don't worry about Sirius' opinion, do you? I mean, he totally wouldn't care what you think of his possible love interests."
"Thank you. I know how unimportant my whole existence is," Regulus said coldly.
"Oh," was the only sound escaping James, now hovering between them and filling the silence with a whiff of guilt. James eventually cleared his throat, but despite his visible embarrassment he didn't withdrew his hands. "I didn't mean it that way."
"Doesn't change the fact that it's the truth," Regulus answered and he had to sound incredibly depressed because James started stroking his hair. It was meant to be a comforting gesture, but the way he ran his hands through Regulus' hair generated all the wrong feelings. If something felt so completely right it had to be wrong.
Regulus leant his head against James's shoulder. "If I were the heir of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black I wouldn't care about anyone's opinion either. And if I were just a wee bit more like Sirius my crush wouldn't be so hopeless…"
"You know…" James wrapped his cloak tighter around Regulus, forcing him even closer. They surely appeared to be one person. "The solution if your love interest doesn't return your feelings is quite easy." He lowered his voice and brought his mouth to Regulus' ear. "Turn your interest to someone else."
Regulus looked up. Their eyes met and held onto each other like there was nothing else of interest besides them. It seemed to be one of these perfect moments in a clichéd romance novel where the reader could feel the kiss paragraphs before it happened. And Regulus waited and waited and waited for those paragraphs to finally end.
The tension had reached a nearly unbearable level when James closed his eyes and leant toward Regulus' mouth. The perfect romance novel kiss was in reach. With a lot of imagination Regulus could already feel it. Too bad his life wasn't a novel…
"Hey!" Sirius' voice broke the fragile moment, and James was gone in a mere second, lost forever.
"Hey!" Sirius whirled around, grinning from ear to ear. With an overly dramatic gesture he had wanted to present the finished snowman in its whole perfection, but when he saw the bundle of James and Regulus he simply froze.
But just for a second.
"Hey!" He shoved Remus out of his way, almost pushing him into the snowman. Followed by the panicked squeak of Peter, Sirius hurried to James and Regulus. They were prominently pulling apart, but James kept his arm swung around Regulus' shoulder, holding him under his cloak.
Sirius stopped in front of them and pointed a warning finger at the two boys. "What do you think you're doing there? Cuddling all day, yeah? Well, I hope you're aware of the fact that you have to ask my father first before you're allowed to marry Regulus, James."
James affected a laugh. "Your brother's cold. That's all."
Regulus nodded silently.
"Well, maybe you should take him inside to properly warm him up," Sirius said, waggling his eyebrows until Regulus' cheeks blushed with embarrassment. For the glimpse of a second Sirius noticed that, although red like a tomato, Regulus' expression seemed to be softer, happier, and maybe that was thanks to James.
Then a snowball hit him in the face.
"You'll pay for that comment, Sirius Black," James promised, already forming another snowball. Sirius yelped and quickly turned around, running away as fast as possible. James and his snowball followed him closely.
Regulus watched them, but what Sirius didn't see was that the glimpse of happiness had disappeared again.