Choice Pairing Competition: Remus/Sirius, Brood(ing), gamble(ing), murmur(ed), unravel(s)

Fanfiction Idol: Round 3. A first.

I don't own HP.

Not sure what really happened here, but I gave the beginning of Remus and Sirius' relationship a much different take than usual, and it starts a lot later than usual. Couldn't tell you why.

For Adam, because I was planning a Dean/Seamus for this prompt, but he talked me into WolfStar.

There is a gulf between them. It's twelve years wide, and it seems utterly impassable.

Neither of them speak. Neither of them know what to say. Remus murmured a quiet, "Come in," when he opened the door, but beyond that, they are silent.

Neither has removed his gaze from the other's face since their eyes first met. They can't bear to. Twelve years is far too long.

Remus is memorizing, relearning the face he once knew better than his own. He suspects that Sirius is doing the same.

The silence stretches for an eternity.

"I'm sorry," they both blurt suddenly, simultaneously. Remus ducks his head and Sirius grins.

"You don't have to-" they both start, again in unison. Sirius shakes his head and Remus allows a small smile.

"Always on the same page, aren't we, Moony?"

But they aren't, not anymore. And that's the problem. Sirius spent twelve years in a three meter square room. Stagnant. Remus was still living, moving during that time. Or, at least, putting up a face of living. Flipping pages. Pretending.

But Remus doesn't say that. Instead, he just smiles softly. He knows it doesn't quite reach his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he says again. "I should have known."

Sirius shakes his head. "I… we all suspected each other."

Remus frowns. "It's different. I think some part of me did know. Because no matter how much I tried to write you off, some part of me… I couldn't let you go." The last bit comes out in a whisper, barely audible. "But I never did anything."

Sirius takes a step forward only to stop abruptly right there. As though he'd, on instinct, gone to… do something. Hug Remus, maybe? But then rethought it as soon as he remembered.

And Remus hates this tenuous line they're walking.

"You couldn't have known," Sirius whispers, his voice raw with pain and still rough with disuse – to Remus' ears, at least. "We made sure you couldn't have known."

Remus swallows, staring at his tattered shoes. He doesn't know what to say to that. Some part of him suspects that Sirius has spent the last twelve years brooding on this – going over and over in his head what he did wrong, what he should have known, what he should have seen. It's his nature to condemn himself for all the mistakes he never could have avoided making, just because he can see the solution in hindsight.

But then, for that matter, it's just as much Remus' nature to do the same, and, Azkaban or not, he, too, spent the last twelve years contemplating what he should have done better.

He meets Sirius' eyes again and he can't help but feel like he's seventeen again, absolutely hopelessly lost at the simple sight of grey. He loses himself in Sirius' eyes every time, so he forces his gaze away. They need to settle this, first. Settle… something. Whatever this is.

It feels like they're dancing awkwardly around each other, trying not to tread on toes. Which isn't very fair, because they've both always been gifted dancers.

And, for once, it is Sirius who first admits vulnerability. "I'm not sure what to say."

Remus closes his eyes briefly, breathing deeply before admitting, "Neither am I."

He is vividly reminded of the moment when they were eighteen and confused – the day after their first kiss. Because their first kiss was an absolute mess, what with both of them being quite plastered: an admittedly unusual state for Remus. And so the day after was a lot of testing the waters, a lot of analyzing what wasn't said even more than what was. A lot of trying to figure out if an attempt at a relationship was worth gambling their friendship.

And deciding that it was worth that is the hardest decision he's ever made, and he rather suspects it's the same for Sirius.

This feels a lot like – maybe too much like – that moment. They're trying to figure out what's at stake here: what could be lost, what could be gained. There are so many ways this could go.

But not backwards, and maybe that's the problem. They can't go back. They can never go back. No matter how much this moment feels like a regression, they can never truly return to the way they were before. They aren't the same people as they were back then.

"I-" they both start at the same time, and then stop as they realize the other is speaking.

"You go ahead-" Sirius says just as Remus speaks.

"What were you going to-"

They both stop again. Remus is staring at his shoes again. He keeps his mouth firmly shut this time, and eventually, Sirius says, "What, Moony?"

Remus shakes his head. "You go ahead." He freezes when he feels a cold finger on his chin, barely keeping himself from shuddering at the temperature. It makes him uneasy – Sirius always used to have warm hands.

"Look at me, please, Rem." Remus looks up, and Sirius removes his hand. He's a lot closer than he was before. "I want to see your face. I spent twelve years unable to remember what you looked like – because they took every single memory of you. Every one. Because even when you were furious with me, I still loved you like crazy." He stops for a moment, and his voice drops in volume when he continues. "I still love you like crazy."

His grey eyes are burning, wildfire as always. And, as always was the case, Remus is utterly helpless to resist – not that he's even sure he would, if he could.

"I still love you, too," he breathes. And then Sirius' hand is on his cheek and Remus doesn't notice the temperature this time except to note that it feels good, because Remus is burning up in Sirius' wildfire eyes.

And when their lips meet, Remus knows that even though he cannot say that twelve years don't matter, and he cannot say that twelve years hasn't changed anything, he can say that even twelve years later, they still fit as though they were made for each other.

The knot that has lived in Remus' chest since that Halloween finally unravels and, for the first time in twelve years, he feels truly alive.