Resignation was something Remus Lupin had learned to live with. As a boy he had resigned himself to the fact that, as a werewolf, he would spend the rest of his life as an unemployable outcast. As a young man he had resigned himself to the fact that of his four best friends, three were dead and one of them was responsible and as dead to him now, a traitor trapped behind bars. That year the traitor had escaped prison; Remus had been given a job at the school where they had met; taught Harry Potter, the only son of his betrayed late friends; seen another seemingly brought back from the grave and attacked the ex-convict under a moonlit sky. He had resigned from his teaching post before he could be fired and had the worst and best year of his life.
He had taken a lonely carriage home to an empty cabin big enough for a family. For weeks he went without word from anyone, tossed and turned in a double bed, unable to forget the climatic events of the past year and faces from better times that had come crawling out of the woodwork and into his subconscious. The barrage of new information had left him reeling. He couldn't eat, sleep or concentrate. In years past he had wished for such things to be true so frequently, that when he woke with a start in the middle of the night, he was convinced the whole affair had been a strange but hopeful dream. A tropical bird broke through the monotony of his days, shattering all illusions of denial about what had happened at Hogwarts in a swaying shack under a moonlit sky. The letter was short and in a hand which Remus had not seen since he was a young man with everything to lose. For a decade he had longed to see the owner of that hand, if only to know the truth, and now that he had he couldn't bear to be apart from him.
It's odd to be writing to you like this after all of this time. This is a hard letter to write which is why it's taken me so long. At this point I don't even know where to start so forgive me. I'm not as gifted with words as you always were. I suppose the first thing I want to say is that I'm sorry for everything. I know we exchanged sentiments of forgiveness but it can't be that easy for you to forget. Part of me is writing this letter in an attempt to rebuild those burnt bridges; to keep you in the know about where and how I am and to never lie to you again. However please do not send reply. I have no doubt that the Ministry have you under close observation in the hope I will show up and make their job easier for them. I also have no doubt that the time will come for us to be together again. I would address more but it wouldn't feel right not to say it face to face. Do not lose hope or sleep over me, Moony. Fates unforeseen are in motion and plans for us will be revealed. Stay strong. Take comfort in small pleasures; books and tea and chocolate and the knowledge that I always come back to you.
There was no love or signature but a muddy dog's paw print. It arrived just before Christmas and felt like a gift in itself. Remus reread the letter daily, making it something of a positive affirmation in the face of negative thoughts, bad dreams and monthly ailments. When he had resigned himself to silence, his blast from the past wrote again.
If any holiday reminds me of you, it's Easter. I'm closer than you think.
A small gift accompanied those words; a painted egg, probably stolen from Honeyduke's cellar and reminiscent of school day pastimes from what seemed like another lifetime altogether. Life went on. Remus followed the news voraciously, terrified of reading news of his pen-pal's capture or of Harry Potter's death as he had been fraudulently entered in to a dangerous competition. Remus went everywhere with the egg tucked into the inside pocket of his fraying jacket. It slept on the pillow beside his and renewed his faith in new beginnings.
Before his recruitment as Hogwarts teacher he had worked as the children's librarian in the nearest muggle village. If he was thankful of anything it was how willingly he had been accepted back at his old post. He suspected it was because the childless old widow who ran the place held a soft spot for him because of some resemblance to her late husband. She made no mention of his monthly inability to show up for work and complimented him on everything but his looks too often for it to seem sincere. At work Remus read the paper religiously, horrified by the events which had unfolded at the tournament. His friend's last living relative had survived but another boy had not and he had died at Voldemort's hand. Now that he had returned Remus knew a storm was brewing and he did not feel strong enough to withstand it. He stamped and replaced books and read to children too young to do so themselves. Whilst glad of the opportunity to earn enough to make a living and to be around others who were too young and puerile to judge him on appearances, leaving the house often felt like a task in itself, and so did returning to its cold, empty rooms.
Everything changed instantly one day so like the many before as he stepped out of the library on to the sunlit street. It was late July and the school holidays had just begun. The nearby park was overflowing with happy children but they were not chasing each other back and forth, flying high on swings, throwing balls or playing hopscotch. They were all distracted by a large shaggy black dog and stood in a circle, petting it in turns. When it saw Remus, much to the disappointment of the children, it came bounding over to him and sat down at his feet. "That your dog, mister?" one of them asked inquisitively. Remus stared down at it, trying not to cry with a shaking hand pressed to his chest over the egg in his pocket.
"Yes...I suppose he is mine."
The long walk home to the cabin hidden out of way in the woods was quicker than ever before. Once back within the safety of their old house, the shaggy black dog Remus knew so well transformed into the ex-convict on the run from the law and his oldest friend, Sirius Black. He still looked so much like the face that had stared at Remus for months only out of newspaper covers; gaunt and thin and in the striped robes of a criminal. Remus had hated him, wanted to avenge his betrayed friends and their orphaned son and burn every copy of those papers. Now he would have wallpapered his house with them. "Hullo," Remus whispered breathlessly as Sirius walked about the living room taking in his familiar surroundings and slipping books from a cabinet. The wounds Remus had inflicted upon him as a werewolf the year before had healed but he still had a slight limp.
"Librarian? And I was worried you'd have changed too much." Sirius drew Remus into the kind of long, drawn out hug which said unspoken things. Remus was reluctant to let go, sure that he would dissolve in his hands like a ghost and be swept off by the wind. "Dumbledore sent me to visit what's left of the old crowd and I thought I best leave the best until last." The air was sucked out of him as Sirius left his hands. Out of habit Remus turned on the radio.
"I think I need a drink," he mumbled as he went into the kitchen, switched on the muggle kettle and took out a single cup before realising he needed another. Sirius smiled, bemused by the fact he needed tea rather than alcohol.
"Could I use the bathroom?" Remus stared at Sirius, hurt that he thought he had to ask in the house he had picked out and paid for, the gravity, extent and consequences of their separation suddenly smothering him. Before he knew it he was crying and Sirius had crossed the room to envelop him in a hug. There was a crack as the egg crushed between them and Remus drew it out of his pocket, laughing lightly. "It's been a long time since I've seen you smile." Sirius wiped the tears from his face with dirty hands and repaired the egg, kissing it before disappearing up the stairs.
Remus had not had company in longer than he cared to remember and was suddenly embarrassed by the state of the house. He tidied up as quickly as he could, tore open the empty cupboards and made a trip to the nearest shop. Whilst he had intended to be quick, he struggled to figure out what Sirius would want after twelve years of no choice and returned to him pacing by the fire and looking abandoned like a dog left by its owners. "I thought you'd gone..." he whispered in a breaking voice. Remus smiled, slightly overwhelmed by the feeling of being wanted again, and took the shopping into the kitchen. Sirius remained lost in thought, another man altogether, clean and shaved with wet hair, pulling at his oversized old pyjamas which he had once used to fill out. "I can't believe you still have these."
"I didn't have the heart to throw anything away." For twelve years there had been a side of the bed he never touched and a cupboard in Remus's bedroom stuffed with Sirius's old things. For the most part it had remained locked and out of mind, but some days were worse than others and he found himself in desperate need of the smell of stale cigarette smoke and the cold sensation of a leather jacket pressed to his cheek. Not that he would admit any of this to Sirius, who had probably not thought of him in years and had not come to Hogwarts in hope of finding him. Remus stood staring at the two cups on the counter where there had for the longest time only been one. He surprised himself when he was the first to apologise. "I'm sorry."
"What?" Sirius was almost smiling.
"It didn't even occur to me to challenge your sentence. All of that time...together and I only thought badly of you when it truly mattered. I'm sorry." Sirius smiled and hung his head, touched.
"I'm sorry too," Sirius said, getting up and standing in the doorway of the kitchen. He was unable to cross the threshold, still feeling like something of an intruder, "I came here but you were gone. I only wanted to see you. I didn't dare dream that after everything you'd want to see me..." Remus didn't know what he would have done if he had seen him before he knew the truth.
"No one hates you as much as you hate yourself Sirius."
"Dementors oly feed on happy memories. It hurt to think of you in that place." Remus grimaced and boiled the kettle again. "It would have been easy to linger but I had to get out. I had no hope of you forgiving me-"
"You need to stop talking like a guilty man-"Sirius sighed loudly, his hands balling in to fists.
"I am guilty. I broke a promise. I lied to you. I hurt you. I said I'd never do those things."
"Not to worry," Remus said in a displaced attempt to be light hearted, "It didn't leave a scar."
The cabin filled with the aromas of a hearty meal. Remus cooked and then Sirius ate. Whilst Remus no longer felt suspended in a choking kind of loneliness he was unable to stomach a morsel, utterly in pieces in the presence of the only man he had ever kissed. Sirius said nothing, too afraid of having shown up out of the blue only to be telling him what to do. They sat there at the kitchen table, hands almost close enough to touch. They could not slip seamlessly back into their old life together. They had been younger men, unbroken by the lives handed to them and full of optimism for what the future held. Now with apologies exchanged and the air cleared, neither knew what to say, unwilling to speak of the droning, dark and difficult lonely days behind them. Sirius took his dish to the sink and stood preoccupied by his reflection in the window. It wasn't long before he sighed and turned away, unable to look at a reflection he no longer recognised. "I need a haircut," he said absentmindedly, raking a hand through his bedraggled shoulder length hair. Remus went and got scissors, towel and a mirror. He draped the towel around Sirius's shoulders and started to cut. He had cut his own hair for years and simply wanted an excuse to be as close to Sirius as they had once been. He ran his hands over his hair and nape of his neck and ears. Sirius sank into the chair as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and as Remus's hand lingered on his shoulder he raised his own, gripping his fingers. He tilted his head, pressing Remus's hand to his cheek. The sensation was both foreign and craved and made them nostalgic for simpler times. Never in their wildest dreams could either of them have fathomed that it would come to this.
They had met under Hogwarts castle roof and whilst Remus had settled into an easy friendship with James and Peter, Sirius had been the outcast, sorted into a house where he was sure he didn't belong, and too out of his depth to talk to them. James cared little for those who paid him no attention but Remus, forever a champion of the underdog, sought Sirius out. They built strong foundations. They looked out for one another. They did all they could to keep each other smiling. No one could break them apart. Sirius's family had let him down and he had found himself another. Whilst Sirius and James had dated a different girl for every week, Remus's condition hadn't permitted him to follow suit. When he had resigned himself to the sobering fact that he would never be loved, Sirius had told him that he was. They were fifteen and they got longer together than James and Lily. Neither judged them, aware themselves that it was impossible to choose who to love. They had left Hogwarts together and moved into a place with a cellar for Remus's monthly transformations and nursery for Harry's arrival. It was out of the way and under the stars and for a short while they were blissfully happy. The war gave no apologies for ruining what they had built. It tore their four asunder before Harry had a chance to sleep in the nursery, and his parents were dead before he could put a sentence together. Sirius went after their betrayer and then to jail, for a crime he didn't commit, and Remus remained without a soul to comfort him, stewing with fury and self-pity in a prison of his own making.
Now Harry was grown, Sirius had escaped and Remus longed to be free too. He still didn't feel like he deserved a man with such strong convictions; who had fought against his family's indoctrination, prejudice against Remus's condition, their being together; fought for anyone who wasn't able to stand up for themselves; broke out of an impenetrable fortress, swam across rough oceans and survived on rats in a cave to be back in his arms. In that respect at least, nothing had changed. His kiss was still exactly the same, if not better than he remembered in every respect. Slow and soft like a tentative explanation and so unlike him in character that it had always managed to catch Remus off guard. He no longer tasted of cigarettes but his hands were still calloused and rough and drew breath out of him the same way they always had. Things were never going to be simple again but at last there were more reasons to smile than there were to cry. Remus opened his mouth to say something but realised words were futile and closed it again. Sirius smirked and they stood cheek to cheek. There was no need to repeat what had been said so long ago and so often in that very house that it's meaning bridged the gap of space and time. "Sirius...I..."