DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. The song "1917," excerpts from which appear at the beginning and end of this fic, belongs to David Olney and Emmylou Harris.
Posted by: Elspeth (AKA Elspethdixon).
Author notes: Warning: This fic contains alcohol abuse. It also contains slashy themes. For those of you who have read "Scars" and are now hopelessly confused--think of this fic as occurring in some parallel universe in which all of the characters have the exact same personalities and backgrounds as they do in "Scars," but the sexuality of at least one of them is different. After eleven chapters of Sirius and Remus het, I was no longer able to restrain myself, and this is the result.
Part I: A Snapping Thread
strange young man who comes to me
A soldier on a three day spree
He needs one night's cheap ecstasy
And someone's arms to hide him
He greets me with a courtly bow
And hides his pain by acting proud
He drinks too much and he laughs too loud
How can I deny him?
Remus arrived at the Leaky Cauldron to see a familiar looking motorbike illegally parked out in front of the pub, a giant black Triumph with a red and gold Gryffindor tassel hanging off one handlebar and an anti-muggle charm placed over her to keep the police from ticketing her or towing her away. Until a few moments ago, he had wondered why Tom, the Cauldron's owner/barkeep, had contacted him and asked him to come down to the pub—all he'd been able to get out of the man had been a few incoherent mumbles about "bloody aurors," and "astronomy," and "gives me the willies." Now, he wondered no longer.
Remus pushed open the Cauldron's old wooden door, stepping out of the grey London day and into dark-paneled, tobacco-scented twilight. The Cauldron was crowded tonight, witches and wizards and other patron less easily identified gathered around its scarred wooden tables drinking and socializing. The atmosphere was redolent of alcohol and good fellowship, the slightly frenetic cheerfulness of people determined to forget the constant worries of a world at war.
Tomorrow morning they would all return to their jobs as ministry clerks, mediwizards, shop owners, and journalists, but tonight, they were here to have a good time. All, that is, except the young man at the bar.
Rumpled gold and black auror's robes open over a black muggle t-shirt and jeans, dark hair straggling loose from its ponytail, he was slamming back shots of scotch with the silent, single-minded concentration of a man whose sole aim is to get very drunk, very quickly.
"Oh God," Remus groaned inwardly.
"Lupin," the balding bartender hailed him with relief. "Thank God. Get your auror friend to go home before he pulls his wand out and hexes half the bar. I've had drunk aurors in here before; they're a bloody public menace."
"He's not going to do anything, Tom," Remus sighed as he wound his way through the tables to the bar along the far wall. Very carefully—one never, never snuck up on an auror, drunk or not—he approached his friend and placed one hand on a gold-clad shoulder.
Sirius started violently, nearly falling off the barstool, before he looked up to see Remus bending over him.
"Moony?" he asked, blinking and focusing on Remus with obvious difficulty. "What're you doin' 'ere?" The East End accent that seven years at Hogwarts had so effectively diminished was back in full force; it always returned after a couple of drinks.
"Just came in for a drink. I saw you here and thought I'd come over and say hello."
"Bloody liar, Tom called you up an' said fer you to come an' get me, didn' 'e?"
"Well, yes," Remus admitted. "I think you're scaring him. He's probably never seen anyone drink so much and stay conscious."
Sirius's mouth quirked into a bitter, lopsided smile. "Always knew I was talented."
Remus shook his head, sighed, and sat down on the barstool next to Sirius.
"Any particular reason you're trying to give yourself alcohol poisoning, or do you just feel particularly self-destructive today?" He knew he sounded bitter, but he couldn't stand seeing his friend slowly tearing himself apart. Being flatmates with an auror had some serious drawbacks—the long, odd hours, the fact that any auror's residence was an automatic target for Death Eater raids—but it was much easier than trying to find someone willing to rent to a werewolf, or attempting to pass as a muggle in order to get an apartment. But Remus was no longer sure if he could keep dealing with the inevitable fall-out of his friend's job. The nightmares, the hex marks, the worry when Sirius was forced to pull overtime or just plain didn't come home. Constantly nagging at his mind was the insidious fear that one night, after a few two many scotches or rum-and-cokes, the Black Bitch and her rider would end up wrapped around a lamppost or a tree. The thought of those long, lean limbs broken and tangled with shreds of twisted metal…
"Hard day at work, y'know?" Sirius shrugged slightly, apparently oblivious to Remus's resentment, but picking up on his friend's concern. "Don' worry, I'm fine. No shoot-outs or duels or anythin', jus' a clean-up." He paused, shuddered slightly, and then resumed speaking, voice full of forced cheer. "I jus' felt like a drink, like havin' some fun. You wanna join me? Have somethin'?" He generously nudged a barely-touched rum-and-coke in Remus's direction before turning his attention back to slowly lowering the level in the bottle of scotch in front of him.
Remus eyed the brown, carbonated liquid with barely disguised disgust. "You clean engine parts with that stuff. I wouldn't drink it if you paid me. And anyway, I'm not thirsty. I'd rather hear about your clean-up job."
"No, you wouldn'. Drinking's much better. Trust me on this."
"Padfoot, tell me." Remus laid a hand on Sirius's arm, arresting the shot glass halfway to his mouth. "You went to investigate a raid site, right?"
"Yeah, it was a sight, alright, but it wasn' a raid. It was an interrogation, or recruitment drive, or somethin'." Sirius turned to look at Remus, bloodshot blue eyes slightly out of focus. "House in Hampstead, blasted to a shambles." He gave a little laugh. "We told the muggles it was an IRA bombin'. Lucky it was near a tube station."
Remus suddenly felt cold. He'd seen an article in the Evening Prophet about trouble in Hampstead. "Werewolf Couple Tortured to Death for Refusing to Join Dark Lord" the banner headline had screamed. He hadn't read more than a paragraph of the article; it had made him feel too paranoid. Sirius had been called in for that?
"Was it the Pearsons', Padfoot? That place that was in the papers?"
"It's in the papers? Did they say anythin' about the kids?"
"Kids? What kids?"
"The Pearsons' kids," Sirius mumbled. "The ones that got AKed." He closed his eyes, leaned his face into his hand. "Big gold eyes and silver streaked hair. Would 'ave been cute if there weren't so much blood… The older one…" He looked up at Remus again. "Pols was like ice, don' know how she does it. When she told Snape to help lay out bodies—'e works at an apothecary's on Kemick Alley, righ' by there, got pulled in to 'elp—I thought 'e was gonna faint. Even Ol' Mad-Eye looked sick." He turned to face Remus again, eyes staring past him at something unseen.
"They were only kids, Moony. Jus' kids. Bloody 'ell. What kinda person does that to a little girl? And the woman… They tortured 'er first, did y'know? To get the 'usband to talk. A werewolf… God, Moony, they put silver coins on 'er eyes. Burned out 'oles, they were, just 'oles. I've never seen anythin' so 'orrible." Sirius's face was haunted, eyes distant and glazed with more than just alcohol. "Blood all over," he whispered. "All over everythin'."
"Padfoot…" Remus wanted to say something reassuring, something like "it's alright," but he knew that it was manifestly not alright, that it wouldn't be "alright" again for a very long time. Not until people stopped being murdered in the night, until the Dark Mark stopped appearing over the shells of burned out, blood-spattered houses. There were times when he wondered if that day would ever arrive.
"Promise me," Sirius said suddenly, eyes moving back to Remus's face. "I wan'
you to promise me. If they ever… ever come for you, promise you'll say yes. I don' want 'em to burn your eyes out. You have nice eyes, an' they shouldn' be burned out."
"I can't promise something like that," Remus protested. "I would never, ever join up with them, no matter what. And anyway," he added, seeing the unusual sincerity in Sirius's face, "they haven't contacted me yet. Probably they never will. They know what I'd say."
"An' that makes you a target. Like James an' Lily, an' Peter, all workin' for the Ministry, an' me an' Pols, 'cause we're aurors. But we all picked bein' targets, an' you didn', any more'n those kids did. S'not fair." He sighed, then gazed intently into his mostly empty glass, as if searching for something amid the remains of amber liquid. "It ain't never gonna end, is it, Moony?" he asked softly, meditatively. "Never, never, never. Tomorrow it'll be someone else all dead an' bloody. We're all locked in, like planets, going around and around…" Sirius gestured a vague circle with his left hand, the lit end of his cigarette flickering as it swung through the air. "Voldemort's like, like gravity. He's got us, an' 'e won't let go."
"Like gravity," Remus echoed. Get a Black drunk, sit back, and learn about astronomy. It never failed. A drink or three and Sirius would start in on physics and star systems and a mass of other information that most people couldn't even remember when sober.
"Yeah, gravity, y'know? An all-powerful force that you can't escape? Even when you don' expect 'im, when you think things're un-, unaffected by 'im, like in some little muggle street in London, 'e shows up. Kinda like gravity, there even when you think it's not, like in space."
Remus was momentarily sidetracked. "Padfoot," he said patiently, "there isn't any gravity in space. That's why everything floats."
" 'Course there is." Sirius said. He looked rather affronted that Remus would question his knowledge of things astronomical. He had, after all, gotten a NEWT in astronomy. "Gravity's the attraction between two bodies. Not just between the earth an' the moon, like, but between everythin'. Between stars, between galaxies, between, between this glass an' the bar. Even between me an' you." Sirius waved a hand expansively between himself and Remus. "It's always there, the attraction, it's jus' it's usually too small for you to feel it. But that doesn't mean it ain't there." His eyes met Remus's for a moment and held them. "It's always there."
Remus felt a shiver run over his skin at the odd intensity in those eyes. Yes, he thought, it is always there. He shook his head, broke the eye contact. Sirius was not talking about that kind of attraction.
"There's even an equation for it." Sirius began tracing letters on the bar in spilled alcohol. "See? F=GMm/r^2. 'G's the gravitational constant, an' the 'm's are the two things, the two bodies, an' 'r's the distance. So the closer you are, the stronger it is." He looked up from his makeshift sketchboard--how the hell was he able to remember all those letters and symbols in this condition?--to meet Remus's eyes again. "An' you n' me are closer to 'im, 'cause of my job an' your, your thing." Even drunk, Sirius knew better than to mention Remus's lycanthropy in public. "I don' want them doin' the sorta things to you that they did to that family. I don' want those sorta things done to me." He shuddered. "I ain't scared of bein' 'exed, or AKed, but m'scared as Hell of bein' tortured."
Remus could count on the fingers of one hand the times Sirius had actually admitted to being scared. Sirius was always the brave one, the reckless one, the one who laughed--albeit rather hysterically on occasion--in the face of death. But torture was something else all together. He didn't blame any man for fearing the Death Eaters' wands and knives.
"I'm not exactly fond of the prospect myself."
"Because I'd break," Sirius continued, meeting Remus's eyes with drunken earnestness. "I know I would. I'd tell 'em whatever they wanted. An' then they'd go after James an' Lily. An' Petey. An' you. An' I'd rather die than have that happen."
"It won't," Remus said firmly, staring straight into Sirius's bloodshot eyes, trying to fix the other man's attention on him. "You would never betray any of us, any more than I'd work for Voldemort. You couldn't do it. For God's sake, there's a reason the Sorting Hat almost stuck you in Hufflepuff." He shook his head. He'd never heard Sirius sound like this before; drained and empty and filled with self-doubt. When Sirius got upset, he yelled and hit things until the problem went away. Or drank, lately. There was more than one way of making your problems go away. Even after the worst day on the job, the latest night in a bar, he'd always been silent, or loudly talkative about things that had nothing to do with whatever was bothering him. Sirius did not share his problems with people, not the big ones, anyway. Today must have been very, very bad. Remus shuddered inwardly, hearing again Sirius's incoherent ramblings about eyes and blood.
"Come on, Padfoot," Remus said, gently removing the empty glass from Sirius's right hand. "I think we ought to leave. Curfew starts soon, and we have to get home before it does." Outside the dim world of the Cauldron, the sun would already be sinking below the horizon, and once true night fell, all wizards were required to be indoors, at home, not congregating in public places where Death Eaters could easily attack them.
"How we gonna get there?" Sirius asked muzzily. "I've only got the one helmet."
"Oh, yes, that reminds me. Accio motorbike keys." Remus held up a hand to catch the Black Bitch's keys as they flew out of Sirius's pocket.
" 'Ey, I need those!" Sirius said indignantly, making a futile effort to catch the keys as they zipped by his face.
"No you don't." Remus shoved the keys into one of the pockets in his robe. "I'm going to apparate you."
He reached down and pulled Sirius to his feet. The other wizard stood, swaying slightly, for a few seconds, before his knees buckled and he fell heavily against Remus, who moved just in time to slip the taller man's arm over his shoulders. For someone as skinny as he was, Sirius was extremely heavy.
"Moony," Sirius mumbled into Remus's shoulder, "I think I oughta sit back down."
"Oh, no you don't. Come on." Remus tucked the keys in his pocket--the Black Bitch would be safe where she was until morning--and started for the door, Sirius a poorly coordinated dead weight against him. He could feel the heat of his friend's body in a long line down his side, seeping through robes and shirt--or maybe he was just imagining it. He wasn't imagining the tickle of Sirius's hair against his cheek, or the solid shapes of his friend's muscles. Or the smell of alcohol on his breath.
"Les take Bike," Sirius said. "You drive."
"I thought you only had one helmet." He, drive the Black Bitch? No one other than Sirius was allowed to so much as touch her handlebars, not since that night James had painted her "initials" in blue on the gas tank.
"You can wear it," Sirius offered generously. "I like riding Bike with you."
"No," Remus said. "We're going straight home."
Their passage through the pub had not gone unnoticed. There were a few snickers, and a handful of shouted comments--"Taking him home to his wife, are you?" and "Yep, that's Britain's finest for you. No wonder we're losing the war."--but most of the patrons were too absorbed in their own drinks and conversation to do much more than slant an amused, indulgent, or disapproving glance at the two of them. The door of the Leaky Cauldron swung shut behind them, cutting off the hum of voices and spill of light from within, and they lurched out into the gathering twilight.
As soon as the door had latched shut, Remus scanned the street in search of muggles. Seeing none, he apparated himself and Sirius away to the street outside their building, the closest he could get them to the flat, which, like all aurors' residences, was warded against apparition. There were a lot of wards, some of which Sirius had sealed in blood, and most of which only he could pass through without triggering defences or alarms. Remus, oddly enough, could pass through them all as well. They hadn't even had to code the wards to allow him entry--they seemed to accept him somehow as part of Sirius. At the moment, this was most definitely a Good Thing, as Remus highly doubted that his friend was up to disarming the insanely complicated barriers. The two flights of steps up to their flat were obstacle enough.
By the time the two of them finally made it up the steps and lurched into the flat, Remus had come to a decision. This is the last time, he told himself firmly as he kicked a pile of dirty laundry out of the way and steered Sirius over to his bed. The last time I drag him home from a bar. The last time I haul his arse up those bloody steps. I don't think I can stand this anymore.
He was tired of worrying, tired of waiting up for a flatmate who didn't always come home, sick inside from watching Sirius's apparently determined slide towards self-destruction. The war was wearing on all of them. James, running courier messages across England day and night. Peter, putting in long hours at the Ministry until his round face thinned out and his eyes had circles under them. Lily, five months pregnant and still working her job at the Department of Mysteries, because they were too desperate and over-worked to spare her. Desperate enough to hire even werewolves.
But of all of them, Sirius was being hit the hardest, spending day after day inspecting dead bodies and dueling with dark wizards, and night after night drinking, trying, Remus supposed, to forget. Never imagining that every bruise he sustained, every risk he ran, tore his friend's heart apart another little piece at a time.
Remus stood for a long moment in the half-lit room, staring down at the other wizard, who was now lying, unconscious, across the bed. He looked oddly vulnerable, hair tangled and long eyelashes laying dark against his pale skin. With the lines of weariness smoothed away and the haunted, bloodshot eyes closed, he looked once more like the rough-and-tumble boy Remus had gone to Hogwarts with. Remus wasn't sure whether he wanted to hug him or throttle him. I guess I better get his clothes off, he sighed inwardly. I really shouldn't let him sleep in his boots and auror's robe.
With the ease of far too much practice he tugged off dragonhide boots and wrestled limp arms out of sleeves, until Sirius was left in only his black muggle jeans. Remus wasn't about to take those off. Much as his fingers itched toward that zipper, he was not going to torture himself like that, or take advantage of Sirius that way. Sirius had no idea that Remus felt anything more than friendship toward him, and if he'd known, he'd probably have moved out in a heartbeat. As it was, that insistent, lingering attraction--it was not a crush, unfortunately; crushes eventually went away--was probably the last thread keeping Remus from doing the same. But tonight, finally, that thread had snapped. Unwavering loyalty can only last so long in the face of constant emotional pain, even if half of that pain is vicarious.
In the dim light, Sirius's torso was even paler than his face. He was thinner than he'd been a few months ago, though those lean muscles were as sharply defined as ever. Remus could see the long blades of his collarbones, the left one with a small lump in the middle where the bone had thickened around an old break from a bludger. The crescent bite scar on his shoulder stood out vividly, ragged and pink, an ugly, savage thing that never failed to fill Remus with guilt. Lycanthropy might not be contagious to someone in animagus form, but every scratch and bite the wolf inflicted on Padfoot left its mark. Sirius, ever loyal, had claimed that the injury hadn't even hurt. Remus could still see him, sitting in the Shrieking Shack with blood running down his chest, assuring the other three boys that he was fine, that he couldn't even feel it, his pale skin and tight lips making the statement an obvious lie. A tiny, traitor part of Remus's mind fixated on what that scar would feel like under his lips, on what Sirius's callused, broken-nailed fingers would feel like on his own scars. He ignored it, blocking out the mental image as he blocked Sirius's body from his view by covering it with a blanket. Curling fingers that yearned to touch into tight, self-contained fists, Remus left Sirius's room and went to seek his own bed. He could pack in the morning.
in their houses and they die in the air
In Scotland and Wales the dead are everywhere
They die so fast there's no time to prepare
A decent grave to surround them
Old world glory, old world fame
The old world's gone, gone up in flames
Nothing will ever be the same
And nothing lasts forever
Oh I'd pray for him but I've forgotten how
And there's nothing, nothing that can save him now
With those haunted eyes and that funny bow
am I to deny him?