Part Three: Apartments
Things ended like this, sometimes. You took up your briefcase and you were dressed and pressed in your suit and you felt really calm above everything else, even though your throat was ragged from yelling all morning over your cup of tea and your slightly burnt toast. You walked out of the door and you weren't sure whether you were going to walk back in after the long day of work. You weren't even sure if you were going to think about it much, not even on your lunch break when you had to go out to the little diner across the street because you'd been too busy arguing with her to make yourself a sandwich and pack it. You'd have to buy a grilled cheese sandwich and maybe a soda and sit at the counter, which was a little bit greasy and a little bit spattered with eggs and butter from that morning, and you'd watch the occasional fly buzz about, and you wouldn't think about it, because somewhere between your heart and your brain there was a barrier to protect yourself, stop yourself from thinking too hard about it, stop yourself from screaming out all the tension that racked through your body. You just moved like normal, acted like normal, and maybe you'd go back at the end of the day and maybe you wouldn't. You had your choices. You had your life, which was living and breathing and arguing as naturally as that, and sometimes making up afterwards and knowing you loved her, and sometimes not, and always that seed of dissatisfaction deep in your chest, getting blocked by that barrier between heart and brain.
It was a nice day, this day, Sirius Black mused as he walked the long way to work. He might be late but it didn't seem to matter. The briefcase beside him swung with each step he took, banging against his knees. The sun was shining and it hurt to look straight at it, had to watch it through a cloud or the leaves of a tree or from beneath your lashes, as if you were trying to be coy with it, or as if you were some shy schoolboy making love to your crush through the way you looked at her.
As he walked by the park he passed, too, by the museum. He'd taken his two children here once when they were much younger and they had enjoyed in a silent, wide-eyed awe, the vast grandness of the place, the sweeping high ceilings, the scale upon which each exhibit towered over them. With their mouths hanging open they'd surveyed dinosaur skeletons, armor exhibits. All sorts of silly remnants, making them breathe a little quicker. They weren't like that now. Nothing was really like that now, even though the building was still there, essentially unchangeable save for the occasional exhibit that was closed for renovation, or the occasional wing that was closed for remodeling. That was the nice thing about museums; you could open them up or close them down and clean them out and fill them up again and the solid marble facing would remain ever solemn and ever strong, no matter what you did to its insides. With men and women, if you scraped enough of what was inside them out, they crumpled, eventually.
Sirius changed course, turned on his heel, and moved towards the entrance. Somewhere in his pocket he found enough for admission and slipped the little tag onto the lapel of his suitjacket, leaving his briefcase by the coat-check.
He turned slowly, looking up at the pink marbled ceiling first, and then down at the gray marbled floor, something he wasn't sure very many people ever did. It was your first instinct, when you were inspired by something, to look up. Romeo to Juliet. Wolf to the moon. Apparently, in his case, man to the great domed ceiling of the museum. But then, when you looked down, at what lay at your own feet, it was nine times out of ten that you were completely blown away by disappointment.
The floor was polished over scuff marks from shoes and heels, and had a worn, aged look that was, despite Sirius's desire to believe otherwise, rather pleasant to look at.
Sirius let his feet carry him where they pleased to, from one exhibit on modern decorating to the next on old tapestries from the middle ages. They seemed not shabby, their worn, dull threads looking miserable in comparison to the brightly colored plastic of the previous exhibit, but rather enduring, carrying the burden of so many years upon the warp and the weave of their ancient threads. Sirius spent some time in that room, feeling as if maybe he could relate to the stories told, but unreadable, on those great blocks of detailed cloth.
For ten years, now, he'd been married. They loved each other deeply, but there was a part of him missing. He hadn't noticed it until all his other insides had been scooped away and he learned to recognize that empty feeling, learned to know just what it meant. At first, she had been the best of friends. When they'd had their children, each time he'd been filled with a pride and a love that completed those holes, and only left him emptier once the initial surge of joy had left him hollow once more, with an even deeper, weightier ache to gnaw at his heart, right behind his ribcage. And then, there were the fights, both of them strong willed, too unwilling to back down, too bullheaded to ever know when to shut up and calm down and bring it up later, when the screams would be soft voices and their hearts would be steadier.
He wasn't sure if he'd ever loved her. James had set them up on a few dates, when he was spending a lot of time with this girl Sirius never really got to know named Lilly. It was all back in highschool, but Sirius tried not to remember it too much, simply because he'd had such good times then. It would be like the birth of his children, to let himself remember. A surge of good feeling and then the collapsing weight as his emptiness returned to him tenfold.
And still, his feet carried him faithfully onward. Through high necked vases and abstract sculptures, large breasted women headless and armless, made of dark, old stone. Lifeless, loveless. Sirius wasn't the sort of man who spent his time musing over art, was nothing of an artist himself, certainly nothing of the intellectual type. He was a businessman who thought maybe he understood the solitude of these statues.
He stopped at last by a Japanese piece called The Well, from which slow sheets of water stretched and flowed like silk. He watched the water move tirelessly and even gracefully, beautifully smooth, sad and happy, laughing and weeping as only water can manage to do. Ageless and, despite its timelessness, tireless. The Well was nothing but a slab of stone but Sirius found he could not for the life of him tear his eyes away from it. In fact, it kept him so in a trance of numb thought that he barely heard it when someone spoke softly beside him.
"One of my favorites," the voice said unobtrusively, "The Well."
"Hm?" Sirius blinked, pulling his eyes from the slab of wet rock before him. "Oh. Well. I've never seen it, before." He turned, slowly, to face the owner of that soft, rich voice beside him. A short, thin man with sandy hair stood there, half looking at The Well, half looking at Sirius, with deep amber gold eyes flecked with the color of thoughtfulness and hidden behind wire rimmed glasses. He wore a gray turtleneck and old jeans, and his thin arms were folded over his chest, forefinger of one graceful hand resting on his jaw. He smiled, a smile like the sound of the water in The Well. Sirius felt strange suddenly, the way he might being sent a postcard from a place he'd never been with his own handwriting on the back. It was eery, yet oddly pleasant. A postcard that told him something wonderful.
"It's worth seeing again," the man said, "judging by the way you were looking at it. Sorry if I've bothered you -- it's just -- it's rare I see anyone looking so intent..." The man trailed off, running his fingers through his hair half-nervously. Sirius realized suddenly he was staring.
"What's your name?" he asked quickly, before common courtesy could kick in and stop him from asking this very vital question.
"Remus," the smaller man answered, not as confused as perhaps he should have been, "Remus Lupin."
"I'm Sirius Black," Sirius said, holding out his hands. Remus took it, their fingers meshing in the oddest handshake either of them had ever shared, more like holding hands than anything else. "It's nice to meet you. I think I'm going to leave my wife and if she hadn't taken the car to go shopping this morning I would drive it off a bridge, most likely."
"It's nice to meet you, too," Remus replied, and they were still holding hands, "would you like to get something to eat? I know a nice place."
"Near here? After all, as you know, I don't have the car." Sirius felt excited, like a little boy right before Christmas morning, after seeing the toy train speeding brightly in circles of saturated red.
"Quite near," Remus replied, "and the food is rather cheap, as well as rather good."
"Sounds great," Sirius said, "shall we?"
"All right." They dropped each other's hands and hurriedly moved from the low, secretive gurgle of the Well, their feet tapping, tapping beneath them on the scuffed marble floor. Remus had a way of walking that parted the air delicately before him. He didn't distort the air, just rustled thoughtfully through it. Sirius couldn't stop looking at him and a lot of the time, as they walked, their eyes met, shyly but not unpleasantly, with a degree of daring entirely unexpected in two men such s they. Sirius left his briefcase at the coat check, partly because he'd forgotten about it, partly because he absolutely didn't care. Remus led the way to a small, quiet café by the edge of an equally small and quiet park not too far away. Funny Sirius had never passed it by before. It was nice. Underneath the table Remus rested a hand on Sirius's knee and they had thick sandwiches, Remus with tea and Sirius with a cool glass bottle of coke. They didn't speak much, just ate and sipped their drinks and stole glances of each other in blatant secret, like stage whispers. A waiter named Charlie served them and Sirius gave him the biggest tip he'd ever see in his life.
"There's this place I know," Sirius said as they left, "come back to it with me." It was a nice hotel, in a rather respectable part of town, a few blocks away from his office. He'd never been in it before but the carvings on the stone over the doorway was something he admired every day to and from work.
"You're married," Remus said, catching his meaning immediately, "I couldn't."
"There's this place I know," Sirius repeated, "it's really nice. Come back with me." There was silence and Sirius felt his gut clench. He wanted this man as his own. "It's got some terribly fancy name, probably some sort of very abused French, please come with me?"
"I," Remus said, beginning to protest, and then, "I'd love to." They walked the way there, too Sirius fingering his wallet in his pocket nervously. He had a credit card which he never used but was going to finally come in useful now. He felt faintly out of place walking into the reception room but some strength propelled him onward. The credit card he slammed down before the desk clerk.
"For today only. One room," Sirius said, as if he knew what he was doing. Something about his tone of voice must have given the desk clerk proper incentive, for not five minutes later he and Remus were standing inside the spacious, sunny room, a picture window on the far side letting in a view of the bright sky and the city which was no longer gray for all the sunshine that glow down upon it. The bed was big and comfortable looking, the TV wide-screen and opposite a brown leather couch, a small frigidaire beside a squat coffee table. The curtains were dark red and gold to match the bedsheets. The pillows were big, fluffy, silken.
The name of the hotel was La Belle Reve, but the desk clerk pronounced it 'Bell Reev,' slaughtering the delicacy of the French pronounciation. When the managed had said, 'Welcome to Bell Reev' beforehand, Remus had almost winced. But the room was nice enough, needed no improvements, was much fancier than either of their own apartments were, in any case, and therefore, despite the maltreatment of the French name, it was quite enjoyable to be there, watching the sun golden over the rooftops of the city. Remus moved slowly into the center of the room, bed on one side, living room on the other, and stood between the two on that invisible line he sensed. Sirius remained by the doorway, watching, waiting for something. For his heart to move a little slower. For his body to grasp hold of his brain and for both of the two to gather up the nerve he needed. It clicked suddenly, in the back of his brain. He stepped forward.
"I'm going to kiss you now, if that's all right," he said, touching Remus on the shoulder, so that the smaller had to turn and look up at him and Sirius could catch sight of that deep color buried inside his eyes, through the lattice structure of his lashes.
"Yes," Remus said, moving himself closer, "yes, that's all right." Sirius leaned down and he'd never kissed another man before but it seemed oddly right, at least with this man it did, lips upon lips and the heat of their breath upon the heat of their breath and the tentative movements of their tongues. The man tasted sweet, of chocolate, and of the tea and the sandwich he'd had, fresh upon his lips. He tasted of the words they had spoken because there needed to be some excuse as to why they were eating together, other than Remus's hand resting upon Sirius's knee and moving slowly upwards over his thigh, along the inside of his thigh.
They broke apart.
"well," Remus said. He stepped back, crossing the line from living room to bedroom, the one upon which he had teetered for a few, yet undecided moments. There was something about Sirius that suggested he wouldn't force anything. Just wanted, wanted so badly, something that all of a sudden Remus realized he wanted to. And they'd only just met. It was irrational and perhaps extremely stupid, no, definitely extremely stupid, and the world wasn't really what it was shown to be in the movies and told to be through all the books, but this was a little piece of that romance, and Remus liked it.
"Well," Sirius said, unbuttoning his suit jacket with one hand, the other hanging limply by his side, his eyes moving over the room and trying very hard not to alight upon the other man before him. Remus took another step backwards, and another, and another, until the backs of his calves were pressed against the edge of the king-sized bed and he sat down on it. He was watching the taller man put his suit jacket on the seat of the couch and start to work on his dress shirt, and found suddenly that he was tugging his turtleneck up and off, tousling his hair and losing his glasses somewhere in the process. He tossed the sweater aside and shrugged out of the white t shirt beneath, shoulders rolling back, feeling the wiry muscles that laced his body tensing, relaxing, tensing again. His hair fell forward into his eyes and he could see only Sirius's outline through the lace of his hair, a dark color against a background of light. He tugged at the zipper of his jeans and pulled himself out of each leg slowly as Sirius sat beside him.
It was not, Remus realized, the nudity that bothered him so much as the previous lack of it that did. Sirius bounced lightly on the bed, testing out the springs, wrinkling up the red and gold bedsheets with his palms and the movement of his thighs. Remus tossed the last of his clothing aside. It formed a heap of old clothing like a heap of a snake's discarded skin. He liked the artistic way it looked, off in the corner, as if it had been planned that way. The art of nature was impossible to capture, but this was natural, and nature was art itself, and so this, too, was a scene of art. A painting, perhaps, by an old master. 'Deux hommes sur un lit.' Or something pretentious like that, passed down through the years mispronounced.
Sirius touched Remus's thigh as he had touched Sirius's at the café. Remus's breath caught delicious in his throat and after that the moving was slow and tentative, Remus leaning back against the bed, Sirius leaning over him. Their lips as they met trembled from the tension of their bodies. Remus's hips bucked upwards, their pelvises crushed together. Sirius cursed softly, his body aching with passion he remembered from the very beginning of his marriage. Only it had never been quite like this even then. With a low growl of equal pleasure Remus grasped at Sirius's face, fingers tangling in his hair. They kissed a little more roughly, suddenly, muffling heavy breathing, tasting each other and drinking in each other's cries. Remus pressed one hand against the very center of Sirius's stomach, kneading at the muscles. In direct response, Sirius could hear and feel himself give off a high whimper.
Outside, as they touched and kissed and touched lower and kissed lower, the sun wavered ever golden in its perfect spot of passive surveyance, high up in the sky.
Remus found a way to kiss Sirius's arousal just so and took impossible delight in the bucking of his body and the sobbing of his lungs. And then together they both found the perfect way to flip Remus over onto his stomach with Sirius getting on up behind him, between his spread legs. And then it was all sex and sweat after that and their hips moving back and forth, back and forth, together in inverse rhythm, with Remus shoving himself back as Sirius thrust himself forward and there was joy, joy and all of it joy that cascaded like blissful white-hot sound pounding in their temples. Sirius was cursing low and Remus was whimpering then crying out and because neither of them knew much about this kind of body to body, this kind of sex, lovemaking, whatever it was, it was short, over soon with the loud cries and their bodies both collapsing, Sirius on top of Remus and Remus panting on top of the bed which trembled equally as they were trembling.
"Oh," Sirius said, soft to Remus's shoulder, "oh, God. God. Remus." And above all else it felt so fitting, bodiespressed together, the smell of Remus's skin so sweet.
Some things were meant to stay the same. Some things were stronger than time or place or any of the smaller changes, such as what or why or how.
There were some things that were meant always, despite everything, just to Be, beneath the sun, which seemed sometimes to smile in the winking on and off of its intense heat.