Remus awakens early the next morning with his stomach thundering protests against his thin flesh, and sits up drowsily, gently pushing away the leg draped across him and -




Oh.He stares down at the unkempt man curled around him, sleeping peacefully on the rug, as yesterday's events rush past him in a haze of memories and emotions; sadness and rage and love and need and finally overwhelming gratitude. His breath hitches as he remembers the way he woke once in the night to see Sirius watching him in the darkness, the low firelight playing on his face and something dangerously close to tears threatening in his black eyes.

He runs the pad of his thumb along the sleeping man's jaw line and brushes the curve of his lip, exploring the contours of his face. He can feel that the skin is soft and thin as parchment over his starved face and he winces to think of what this beautiful laughing Gryffindor boy has become.

He has a feeling that this is the first night in a long time his best friend has slept as Sirius rather than Padfoot, and smiles slightly. Later, he knows, he will have to confront his friend - but for now, he decides, he will allow himself this little state of nirvana, in which he can delude himself into thinking that there are no unanswered questions

After a while, he realises that the fire is dead, and he is cold everywhere that Sirius is not touching him. His empty stomach is telling him that werewolf cannot live by sentimentality alone, and he disentangles himself gently from the sleeping man and kisses his cheek, lingering for a moment to wrap his black robes about the sleeping man before he reluctantly lets himself out into the hallway - and comes face to face - or face-to-thigh - with something resembling a small, filthy child with drooping ears and a hooked, bulbous nose.

"Who the bloody hell are you?" demands Remus.

"Kreacher is a servant of the House of Black," hisses the pallid creature, drawing itself up to its full height - it is almost level with Remus' hip, and the man hides a smile behind his hand. "Kreacher's mistress will not like this, oh no, first the traitor one comes back and now he is contaminating the noble House of Black with all his filthy friends-"

"Where can I get a glass of water, Kreacher?" snaps Remus suddenly. "And preferably something to eat?"

"-and now it wants feeding, oh, Kreacher's mistress would weep, oh, if she only knew what filth desired to enter Kreacher's kitchen..."Remus has a general affection for house-elves - they are, he thinks, not unlike himself, the werewolf; scorned and loathed by wizards, forced always to be an outcast of society, oppressed by social conventions as much as by legal rules - but this one is looking at him with such loathing that he suddenly thinks it might be for the best that house elves are forbidden to carry wands. He winces at the thought of any kitchen under the jurisdiction of this ragged, pitiable creature, and decides he would rather hunt down breakfast in London.

"When he wakes up, tell your master I've gone to get us some breakfast," he says abruptly. "And don't bloody wake him up yourself, let him rest for now."

"Nasty little house-polluting man giving Kreacher orders," spits the house elf, turning and hobbling away into a small side passage. "Oh, if Master Regulus were here…"

Remus scowls at him, but turns and treads away softly down the hall, remembering Sirius' caution to be quiet in the house. He means to ask Sirius about the twitching, moth-eaten curtains later; for now, he simply unhooks an iron key from beside the front door and slips outside. In the distance, Big Ben chimes in the ninth hour. London, already awake and bustling, takes no notice.

The Leaky Cauldron is some distance away, and he doesn't want to be noticed by more people than necessary in London; thus, it is half an hour before he finds Stiles, a bakery well known for serving both Muggle and wizarding patrons and accepting either currency.

The small man behind the counter winks at him as Remus slips him a couple of silver Sickles - Sickles well spent, he thinks as he leaves, feeling the heavy warmth of the bagels in their heat-charmed pinstripe bag - oh, if the Muggles only knew that their little coins with their beloved Queen's head earned them an entirely different bag to those who paid in wizarding money, he thinks, smiling at the rare pleasure of being able to buy something better than the man behind him…

Eventually, however, he runs out of idle thoughts, and is faced with reality.

It isn't that he lied to Sirius last night - not really. Painful years have passed him by and he has never ceased to love his best friend. But for Sirius to assume that a kiss healed everything - that a declaration of love, however genuine, can calm Remus' inner demons, the worries that snake up from his belly and constrict his throat…

It hurts.

The rift between them is healing; Remus can't deny it, and he is grateful for his second chance. But Sirius is the quintessential Gryffindor, so quick to anger and to love alike - in the light of the morning after, Remus thinks wryly that the man he loves is indisputably impossible.

For Sirius, he muses, life is black and white; he divides people into loved and not-loved. Remus supposes that has something to do with why he becomes a great shaggy dog, but Animagus psychology is wasted on him at this hour of the morning and he lets that one slide. All he really knows is that Sirius seems to find it so much easier to fall back into their old ways than Remus does, and it aches to know that Sirius won't understand.

Something fastens its teeth none-too-gently around his left hand, and his right hand is halfway to his wand before he recognises the great shaggy dog, ribs moving visibly beneath its sparse fur as it pants, hot and fast and angry.

Remus glowers furiously into its eyes, trying not to arouse suspicion in passing Muggles, all part of the London rush and blur, but a threat, regardless. He's going to kill Sirius for this…"That thing should be on a lead!" someone calls out, and there are murmurs of agreement and tuts as Remus ducks his head and flushes.

Padfoot lets him go, vanishing into a back alley full of overturned bins and mossy bricks, and he can only hope no one sees him follow.

"You idiot!" he snaps, casting a couple of spells that ought to keep them reasonably inconspicuous. "Can't I even leave you alone for five minutes? You know what you risked?"

"Where were you?" demands Sirius, ignoring him; he is barely back in human form when he wraps long fingers around Remus' bony left wrist and drags him further down the alley, reaching his free hand around the werewolf and pinning him to the wall, hot breath on the his cool cheeks. "Hmm? Where the hell did you go? You should've woken me!"

Remus raises an eyebrow. "I left a message with the mentally disturbed child I discovered wandering the corridor. Pale thing, big nose, didn't seem to like either of us very much…"

"Oh, you mean Snivellus?" Sirius quips, but the smile doesn't reach his eyes. "No, Kreacher's the family house elf; I dunno if you remember me talking about him. I'm all he's got now, not that it means anything to the little pig-face. I haven't even seen him in about a week; he wouldn't pass a message on from an outsider if it didn't contain a minimum of twenty blood-related threats and insults...look, all this is beside the point!" He digs his fingers into Remus' shoulders.

Remus swallows; he's angry, but he's hard, and he doesn't know which is more important . "Look, I didn't know that," he apologises, though he doesn't know why this is his fault or what he's done wrong. "I just went to get breakfast; we didn't eat last night, and…"

Sirius bowls over his explanation, barely listening to him. "You vanish for all those months and then come back and kiss me like that and swear you love me and then I wake up and you're gone and what am I supposed to think?" His voice holds more vulnerability than anger, but his grip on Remus is still tight.

"Why were you so worried?" Remus cocks his head slightly, like a confused puppy. "I just went for some food - it's not like I was even gone long. Don't - don't you trust me?"

Sirius sags visibly at the half-accusatory, half-miserable edge to Remus' voice. "I - I was being stupid." His voice is suddenly quiet as he envelopes Remus in an uncharacteristically gentle hug, face pressed to his neck as he drops a kiss in the soft hollow between neck and collarbone. "I didn't think you were coming back," he admits, pulling back just enough to look Remus in the eye.

"I always come back," says Remus, carefully. "Boomerang, me. Couldn't get rid of me if you tried. Anyway, I left my robe, didn't I?" He smiles tentatively at Sirius, simultaneously indignant and secretly flattered by the man's concern; it is a warming feeling, he finds, to have someone worrying about him for reasons unrelated to fangs and the thickness of their skin. "You're squashing the bagels, by the way," he feels compelled to add.

Sirius stared at him, bemused - then he throws back his head and laughs, wheezing slightly as though his lungs are out of practice.

"God love you, Moony," he growls, dipping his head to bruise rough kisses along Remus' jaw, up past his ear and on both his eyelids, pressing himself against the other man so that Remus can feel Sirius' hot, hard length pressed against his own. His shoulder blades are pressed hard against the wall as the bag of food drops to the alley floor, forgotten.

"Wait, wait, wait," pants Remus. "We can't do this - not here -"

"Back to the house, then?" Sirius' voice is jagged; his breathing is a broken, disjointed rhythm.

"Not yours - come to - mine," says Remus decisively, if breathlessly. "You'll have to come and stay with me."

Sirius looks confused. "I thought you said…"

"Dumbledore found - found me a house in Hogsmeade," explains Remus. "I say a house; it's tiny, really, only one bedroom, bit of a kitchen, front lounge…nothing like the size of your place, but it keeps me close to Harry and the school." He realises he's babbling and blushes furiously. "I mean, only if you want to. But it's not hooked up to the Floo, so we'd have to Apparate?"

"Better not leave any vital bits behind then," chuckles Sirius darkly, wrapping his fingers around. "Go on Remus. Take me." He laughs, and Remus swallows, and they are gone, with a loud crack, with nobody to see them go but the slightly flabby grey rat enthusiastically devouring their abandoned breakfast.