Warnings: Some swearing
Notes: Written for RS Small Gifts over on LJ (Merry Christmas Brighty!). A bit of a play on the film The Family Man which is in turn a bit of a play on both A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life. *cues Inception music*. The title comes from a line from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Thank you to Muse35 or the beta *glomps* and Themessrsfor giving this a second check :)
"Your Christmas Eve nightcap, Mr. Padfoot." Remus hands him a tumbler of cream colored liquid topped with a brown dusting of powder. "Three parts nog, two parts Ogden's spicy bourbon, cinnamon—not nutmeg."
"Just the way I like it," Sirius says, taking a whiff and then sneezing profusely as powdery cinnamon invades his nostrils.
Remus shakes his head, soft smile tugging at his lips. "I know."
The sofa dips when Remus sits beside him with a soft groan. Sirius pokes him in his too-thin tummy. "Eat enough?"
"Never. Bless Molly Weasley."
"Hmmm," Sirius agrees with a delighted sip. Bless Remus Lupin, he thinks to himself as he drinks.
They sit in companionable silence, watching the logs in the fire pop softly. Contentment like he hasn't felt in years warms him from head to toe making him sigh. Remus catches his eye in a sideways glance.
"Remember our last Christmas together?" Remus asks, brown eyes drifting shut.
Sirius grins broadly. "Harry's first."
"Prongs with that stupid red nose."
"Shouldn't have criticized Lil's pudding, should he?" Sirius screws up his face and runs a hand roughly through his hair in a poor imitation of their friend. "'I'm just saying my mum's is fantastic! She could show you how is all.'"
That coaxes a chuckle from Remus. "The insistence on mistletoe in every doorway."
Sirius tilts his head in question. "Get any memorable kisses, Moony?"
Remus's head swivels against the back of the sofa to look at Sirius fully. There is a curious half smile playing at his lips. "Not from the person I wanted, no."
The words "me neither" are on the tip of his tongue. He recalls laying a big wet one on James—red nose digging into his cheek and all—and about a million baby kisses as he carried Harry from room to room, but he'd gone to pains to avoid Remus that night. Not that he wouldn't have liked to kiss Remus, but he might not have stopped there and that thought had made him just a little nervous.
There'd been one close shave where they'd almost been caught coming out of the kitchen. Feet shuffling awkwardly before, "Ladies first, Moony." "You're the one with the girly long hair, Padfoot,"
"You're the one with the girly long hair, Padfoot,"Remus had countered, but stepped through the threshold all the same.
"If you wanted to snog Lily so bad I'd have distracted Prongs for you," says Sirius, turning to face Remus and giving him a cheeky wink.
It is a moment before Remus smiles back, a bit sadly.
"Too late now I suppose."
Stuffy silence fills the space between them. Remus is watching him closely, fire dancing in eyes turning them a burnt copper. Sirius swallows, wetting his throat which has gone suddenly dry.
Remus's hand twitches on the sofa beside his as if he is going to reach for Sirius's. Sirius half hopes half dreads he will, but in the next moment he clenches his fist and sighs. "I think I'm tired."
Sirius watches him rise; a mixture of disappointment and relief steals through him.
"Good night, Sirius. Happy Christmas."
Sirius throws back the rest of his drink. Though the fire is still blazing at his feet, he feels cold. Remus seems to have taken all the warmth with him.
There is suddenly the sound of someone clapping slowly. A tall, lanky figure emerges from a dimly lit part of the room beside the window wearing a roguish grin and square specs beneath a mess of dark hair.
"That was your last chance, mate. Well done," says a voice Sirius has only heard in his dreams for more than a decade.
"Prongs?" he asks, stunned. "Is that you?"
"In the flesh…er figuratively speaking."
James Potter sits beside him in Remus's newly vacated seat. Sirius touches him experimentally on the arm. He is very solid.
He eyes his finished tumbler of eggnog. It hadn't been nearly enough to get him as drunk as he'd like to be, but then he is seeing dead people so maybe it was. "I knew he'd put something else in here…"
"Merlin," James muses, adjusting the glasses on his face as if they are betraying him, "you look like actual shit. Did you know?"
Normally any slights on his appearance are enough to distract Sirius, momentarily at least, from the matter at hand, but James Fucking Potter is beside him on the sofa in his parent's old sitting room and that seems to be taking precedence in his mind.
"How are you—? Am I dead?"
James has the nerve to laugh. "No, you're not dead, old friend. You are, however, incredibly stupid."
Sirius who is still stunned and awed and more than a little miserable at the sight of his dead best friend, settles on the old stand-by of petulance. "Am not."
"Yes, you are. Really, I don't know what Moony sees in you."
"Moony doesn't see anything in me."
"Ah, now that's where you're wrong."
"It's not like that between us, Remus and me."
"It was…or it least it could have been. He's given you a dozens of chances over the years and every time you bollocksed it up."
"That's not true."
"New Years. Fifth year," James says in challenge.
Almost as if it were yesterday he can remember how Remus's lips felt against his own—chapped but soft and warm and oh just wonderful. Will remember, with embarrassment, until the day he dies, the keening moan he'd uttered when Remus's tongue brushed his. God those skillful hands in his hair. Touching his stomach softly. The breathless laugh they shared after.
He will also never forget the look of utter disappointment that flashed through Remus's eyes when he told him the next day that it would never happen again.
"My parents, Moony…"
That indifferent mask Remus wore—that damned half smile, eyebrows up in mild curiosity, eyes a bit glazed—was in place before Sirius could doubt himself.
"I understand, Padfoot. It was just a New Years snog, yeah?" "Yeah…"
Stupid really, as he'd ended up running away that summer anyway. But then he'd fucked up colossally and he was lucky Remus had even deigned to speak to him at all sixth year.
He gives James a shrug. "We snogged once. Big deal."
"Summer after seventh?"
Sirius's mouth snaps shut. How did James even know about that?
It's a miracle he even remembers this, drunk as he was. Three sheets to the wind and banging on Moony's door at god-awful o'clock in the morning because he'd somehow locked himself out of his flat and like hell he was going to sleep in a house where James Potter was having sex and he was not.
Always so understanding, their Moony. Answered the door in a care-worn dressing gown—hair sleep-plastered to his face and wand at the ready. Let him in like the loveable stray he is. Offered him a potion to make the queasiness in his stomach subside. Cleaned him up. Even made him breakfast the next morning.
"God I love you, Moony," he'd moaned around a spectacularly greasy bacon sandwich.
Remus had smiled at him fondly over his gently steaming cup of tea. A wealth of affection had overcome him at the sight of Remus, tea-sipping and hair still in disarray. He'd spied Remus's left hand resting on the table across from him. He could take it. Tell Remus he meant it. Tell Remus he loved him. Because he did. He does.
More than he'd been willing to admit at the moment.
So instead he'd thanked his friend profusely, rumpled his hair over protests of "It's fine, Pads! Really!" and let his fingers linger only a little too long in the sandy locks before he departed, feeling somehow worse than when he'd arrived.
James is watching him with a pitying sort of look on his face. In a much softer tone, he asks, "What about just before the switch?"
"Stop," Sirius orders, but the memory surfaces anyway, sending a shard of pain through his heart.
"Secret Keeper…big responsibility, Padfoot." "I know." "You'll be careful, won't you?" "Forget who you're talking to, did you?" "Never."
"You'll be careful, won't you?"
"Forget who you're talking to, did you?"
"Never."Remus stood and embraced him warmly and Sirius let him. "Just...don't die, okay?"
He hated doubting every word he heard. Did he really care or was he just trying to get Sirius to lower his guard?
More than anything he hated being this deceitful, because he loved the man in his arms so much and it hurt because he didn't know. And he, Sirius, didn't know if he could trust him anymore and that hurt possibly even more.
He felt a hand rub slowly up his spine and words that felt suspiciously like "love you" whispered against his neck. He swallowed. God, not now. But Remus tilted his head just a little and suddenly their lips were scant inches apart. Sirius felt the world shudder to a stop.
He'd almost done it then. The words were waiting to be spoken; "I love you, Moony. Tell me I'm wrong. Please." But good sense, or some kind of sense anyway, kicked in and he pulled away regretfully. What if it was a trick?
"See you, Moony." "Goodbye, Sirius."
If he weren't already dead Sirius would quite like to kill James for bringing up these painful memories.
"So what is this then, a...what do the Muggles call it? Invention?"
"Intervention! Yes! For reasons unknown, Remus loves you, Sirius, and we're a bit sick of seeing you ruin every opportunity he's given you to be honest."
"It's not going to work, James. Too much time has passed. Too much has happened."
"Merlin he's still not getting it…" James stills suddenly and cocks his head to one side. He adjusts his glasses slowly and then grins broadly. This once familiar series of events sends a pleasant rush of nostalgia through Sirius and it is too late before he realizes he is probably in deep shit. "Yes…yes that will work splendidly I think," James mutters to himself.
"Prongs, what are you on about?"
"Oh, nothing. Forget it. I can see I'm wasting my time."
James is on his feet and Sirius begins to panic. "James, wait!"
"Happy Christmas, Pads. Make this one count, okay?" he says, backing away and in a puff of white smoke, he's gone.
Sirius sits dumbfounded for several minutes, staring at the spot where James has disappeared. He scrubs his face with his hands and yawns once. He's tired, he decides. He is tired and they'd had a little to drink with dinner and Moony comes around and starts reminding him of better days and he…hallucinated his best friend. Yes. That is what happened.
With that, Sirius stands, stretches, and wanders off to bed.
When Sirius wakes, it is to a surprising amount of sunlight poking him rather hard in the eyes. He groans loudly and realizes, after a moment, that it is not the cruel, cruel sun that evoked the noise, but the pleasurable sensation of a warm, wet mouth nibbling and kissing its way down his stomach.
This is new, he thinks.
Hot breath skirts along his hip and he feels a tongue delve into his navel.
He opens his eyes. The ceiling above him is entirely unfamiliar and the room is far too brightly lit to be Grimmauld Place.
"Are you awake yet or do I have to keep this up?" asks the voice attached to the mouth that is starting to make him squirm from beneath the duvet.
"Remus?" he says, bewildered.
"No it's St. Nick." Remus appears from beneath the duvet and leans forward kissing Sirius thoroughly and without hesitation. He sits back, straddling Sirius's hips and taps Sirius's bare chest thoughtfully, brown eyes bright with mischief. "And you have been very, very naughty this year, Mr. Black."
"Remus…" Sirius reaches for the other man who is definitely Remus Lupin but not.
He certainly looks like Remus. Same eyes, same long nose, same lips but he is different. There are lines missing from his face, around his mouth and eyes. His is hair a rich golden brown with hardly a dusting of grey at his temple. His chest is, oh fuck, he's naked. They both are.
A sharp knock on the door makes them both jump.
"I'm going to Ron's!" a voice says through the door. "Can you please stop shagging and unlock the floo?"
"Yes, alright," Remus calls back and slides reluctantly off of Sirius.
"Is that Harry?"
"One of my helper elves. Though he'd be a lot more helpful if he knew when to leave us alone. Kid is murder on our sex-life when he's about. Do you want eggs?"
Confused, frightened, and a little turned-on, Sirius nods numbly and watches Remus throw on a pair of grey sweats and a bathrobe before exiting the room. He is out of the bed the second the door clicks shut.
He pulls on another pair of sweats and does a quick survey of the room. It is entirely unrecognizable—tastefully decorated with dark brown furniture and cream colored walls. He hurries to one of the large windows, frosted at the edges, and peers out. There is not much but a blanket of snow and a pale blue sky but beyond the trees, in the distance, he recognizes the very familiar spires of Hogwarts Castle.
Wand, he thinks, taking a steadying breath. He dives back onto the bed, reaching beneath the pillows and mutters a quick "yes!" when his fingers wrap around the thin bit of wood, grateful he is predictable in some aspects at least. A scream nearly escapes him when he catches sight of it however.
His wand. Not the one he'd managed to procure on the run last year. His first wand. The one that was taken from him the day he was sent to Azkaban, snapped in two before his eyes.
"Figured it out yet?"
He spins around quickly, spotting James leaning against a handsome wardrobe.
"No…what is this? What have you done?"
"Oh no, please, withhold your gratitude, Padfoot," says James seriously. "I didn't perform extraordinary magic or anything for your benefit."
"Where am I?"
James issues a very put-upon sigh. "You know, you used to be a lot cleverer than this. This is your life if you'd been smart enough to take what was being offered to you years ago."
"Ah," James taps the side of his nose, "all in good time, my friend."
In the next second he's gone and Sirius is not very reassured. He runs his hands over his face and feels an unfamiliar bit of metal on his skin.
"You're kidding me," he says to no one as he twists the golden band on his finger.
A small chuckle escapes him and before he knows it something inside him has burst and he's laughing madly, clutching his sides as he shakes the bed with the force of it.
This is insane and James Potter is a genius. Suddenly he is curious and exhilarated all at once. Pulling on a bathrobe he thinks probably belongs to him, he goes to find Remus.
"There you are. I wanted to ask you—mpppf!"
Whatever Remus was about to say becomes lost as Sirius kisses him. He wraps his arms tightly around the other man, nearly lifting him off his feet. Remus protests only half-heartedly before melting against him, kissing back, long and slow. When he pulls away they're both panting.
"What was that for?" Remus asks breathlessly.
Sirius shrugs, grinning broadly and loving the pink tinge that's worked its way across Remus's cheeks. "Cos I could."
He helps himself to the plate of eggs and toast Remus has laid out.
"Look…Harry wants you to take him to visit James and Lily's graves today."
Something twinges in his chest that Lily and James are still gone in this lovely new universe, but he nods. "Yeah, of course."
"Really?" Remus says, surprised. "I thought I'd have to offer any number of favors to convince you. I know how much it bothers you. He was really upset you wouldn't go last year, you know."
Fuck. He meets Remus's eyes and tries not to look suspicious. "They were my friends…family. I've been thinking about it and I want to."
Remus leans across the table and kisses him. "You never fail to surprise me, Sirius Black. So we'll have tea at the Burrow and then go?"
Remus sighs thoughtfully, tapping his fork against his lips. "Let's see…godson gone for the morning. Shopping done. We've the house to ourselves for the first time in days. Whatever shall we do to keep ourselves busy I wonder?"
As if on cue, cutlery clatters to the table and they're racing each other back to the bedroom, breakfast forgotten.
Tea at the Burrow is a busy affair. Red-haired children running in and out of the house, Arthur has been going non-stop since they arrived about something called a Four-Man Grill, and Molly alternates between shoving food at them and making obvious comments about Sirius's hair and how he is giving impressionable young men ideas.
If anyone notices Sirius is a bit out of touch, they do not mention it. Perhaps he's just a very good actor. He's certainly able to get through the afternoon without incident although there are a few moments where he realizes he should be laughing at some joke or someone waits for him to pick up the thread.
The Weasleys have always been a happy lot, and it is the changes in both Harry and Remus that surprises Sirius the most, though he does well to hide it.
Harry smiles like he hasn't a care in the world. Sirius is clever enough to guess what happened. If he'd never lost faith in Remus, if he and Remus had been together, they would have been there for Harry. Raised him. Given him the childhood he deserved.
Harry laughs more, frowns less—he even flirts with the youngest Weasley. Sirius wonders if it is some cosmic joke or if all Potters just happen to be idiots who rumple their hair in the direction of pretty red-headed girls.
And Remus is nothing short of breathtaking. It is his smile, Sirius's realizes, and he thinks it might just be happiness that's caused such a transformation in the other man. Love looks good on Moony.
He is certain Moony loves him, is in love with him, every time their eyes meet, when he touches Sirius simply on the wrist or the small of his back—always so quietly affectionate in his own way. The casual acceptance of this from the other speaks volumes; they're happy together.
Remus catches him standing in the doorway watching Harry, Ron, and Ginny engaged in a fierce snow fight against Fred and George. He laughs quietly as Harry valiantly takes a shot in the chest for Ginny who is, apparently, a double agent for the twins and is shoving snow down the back of his shirt.
"Well then, are we going to show them how this is done or what?" Remus asks, brushing the back of Sirius's knuckles with his thumb.
Sirius grins back. "Let's."
It is still snowing when they arrive at Godric's Hollow. Sirius hangs back, wanting to give Harry privacy, but Harry takes his hand and gives him a grim smile.
"It's okay, Padfoot. They want to see you too."
Snow swirls past in small flurries as they stare at the place where Lily and James are buried.
"I miss them," Sirius says suddenly. He's had to pretend all day but he doesn't have to fake that.
Harry leans against his arm. "Me too."
His arm falls easily around Harry's shoulder. "Did I ever tell you about the time your mum hexed Prongs with a red nose for Christmas?"
Harry laughs. "Only every year."
"But I like hearing it. Tell me again?"
It has possibly been the best day Sirius has ever had. Certainly the best he's had in a very long time. It's not perfect, but it's pretty damn close.
He has Remus. They have Harry. Harry has them.
Later that night, he lays beside Remus, running fingers across his bare back, afraid to close his eyes for fear when he wakes it will all be gone. Remus, who has no reason to fear such things, begins dozing almost immediately.
"I love you," Sirius whispers before he can help himself.
Brown eyes blink open. "I know."
"No…you don't…you can't know how much…"
Remus leans up on one elbow and runs his fingers through the hair at Sirius's temple. "What's wrong? You've been acting strange all day."
What does this Remus's Sirius normally act like? Better than him, to be certain. Braver. More sure of himself and less afraid to take what he wants. God, he'd been so stupid. Remus loves him, possibly always had, and he'd let his own fears and doubts get in the way.
"Thinking," Sirius says, leaning into the touch. "Can't stop thinking about what my life would be like if I didn't have you."
Remus kisses the tip of his nose and rests his forehead against Sirius's temple. "Well, lucky you, that will never happen."
When he is certain Remus is sound asleep, he slips quietly out of bed and back into the living room.
Harry is sprawled on the sofa in front of a television they'd apparently managed to charm to run on magic. Sirius switches it off just as a furry green bloke is shoving a Christmas tree up a floo and throws the blanket that has slipped to the floor back across his godson.
"Oi, I was watching that," someone hisses.
James waltzes out of the kitchen with a plate of chocolate cake from dinner earlier.
"Aren't you done haunting me?" Sirius asks and sits himself in one of the squashy recliners.
"Nope," James manages around a mouthful of cake and seating himself on the arm of Sirius's chair.
Sirius plucks the fork from James's hand and takes a bite. "I don't want to go back."
"I don't blame you, mate."
"They're affected too. I didn't just ruin my own happiness, I could live with that."
Sirius did not realize it was possible to hate himself even more. Not only had he robbed himself of this wonderful life, he'd kept Remus—his Remus—from having it too. Remus had opened the door and he'd failed to step through every time.
James frowns in Harry's direction and says nothing.
"Why did you send me here? This," Sirius waves the fork around the room, "is never going to happen."
"No, but you see now, don't you? See what happens when you take a chance."
Sirius sighs and feeds James the last bite of cake. "I just wish it weren't too late."
"Well," James says, adjusting the glasses on his face. "It is Christmas. Perhaps you'll get your wish?"
When Sirius looks back, James is gone once more. He doesn't know how much longer he'll get to stay here, and so he tucks the blanket more securely around his godson, and pads back to the bedroom to Moony to make the most of the time he has left.
When Sirius opens his eyes, it is a moment before he realizes he is back in the sitting room at Grimmauld Place. James is nowhere in sight, not that he really expected to see him.
There is a hollow feeling in his chest. He is not sure if he dozed off and dreamed the whole thing.
He watches the fire crackling steadily onward as he waits for the melancholy to subside when he hears someone enter the room to his right.
Remus hands him a glass. "Your Christmas Eve nightcap, Mr. Padfoot. Three parts nog, two parts Ogden's spicy bourbon, cinnamon—not nutmeg."
Warmth that has nothing to do with the fire at his feet floods the emptiness in his chest until he thinks he might burst from it. He reaches for the glass.
"Just the way I like it."
He allows his fingers to brush and linger just a little too long against Remus's.
Remus sends him a quiet smile. "I know."