Summary: "Cowboys," Sirius had said with that gleam in his eye when they'd gotten through customs, and something about his whim and their desperation had carried them along.
Rating: R for copious swearing
Fandom: Harry Potter
Title, Author and URL of original story: cowboys and clowns by angelgazing
Remus laughed, the branches of the willow swinging just out of reach behind him, a half empty bottle of cheap whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other. "The moon is just a satellite," he said, laughing darkly to himself, "that’s…that’s what’s so goddamn unfair about the entire fucking thing, you see. The moon is just a satellite, pulled along by the earth and its gravity. It’s the earth that fucks me over every goddamn month, really, because it pulls the moon and the moon pulls me. Pulls blood and bones and skin until I’m nothing like myself and it never fails, never, but the moon is just along for the ride, when you think of it."
"Like us," mumbled Peter. "Along for the ride." He eased himself down to the ground and picked up a plate of cold beans, spooning them into his mouth with drowsy single-mindedness. Sirius stretched and nudged a log further into the fire with his boot. Cowboy life was nothing like Hogwarts had been, but there was a simplicity to it that pleased him. He'd learned a new style of riding. He'd learned how to rope and brand. It was as far from the immaculately malicious halls of Grimmauld Place as he could get.
The moon was two days to full, swollen and angry orange-red, heavy just above the horizon. It had the same fey look as the fire, brooding and destructive. Remus tilted his head back to look at it, then closed his eyes against it like it hurt as much as looking at the sun. The herd shifted, one mass of flesh and hair under the light. They'd be at the shack in time, but it was a close thing. Leave the cattle pastured here, go up the mountain, lock Remus away in the shack, or if it was bad, change and divert him into the mine shaft while Peter sat by the fire with the rifle. There were possibilities here that there had never been on the castle grounds. There were woods to roam, no magical barriers to turn them back. They changed less here: there were more dangers, with the wild landscape all ravines and hollows, and the cattle wandering unwatched under the ominous moon. So more often there was Remus, battered and smudged with dust, emerging blinking from the dark mouth of the mine.
Sirius watched—his vision just a little hazy—the line of Remus’ throat when he took another swig of whiskey straight from the bottle. On nights like this, Remus' outline almost blurred into what he would become. He nudged James, sitting beside him but half asleep, then stole his bottle because his mouth was suddenly dry. James grumbled and canted his hand over his eyes. Sirius took off his hat and dropped it on James' face, running his fingers through his hair to unmold it from the sweaty shape of the hat. It had been a couple of years since he had last worn a tie. They were all shaggy and stubbled and lean, beginning to get creases around their eyes from squinting after strays.
"Gravity," said Remus. "Goddamn moon, won't leave us alone. Me or the tides."
"But," Sirius said, swallowing a mouthful of whiskey. "But then isn’t it really the sun? The sun pulls the earth, doesn’t it?"
"Have we been out of school that long?" Remus asked, turning toward him and grinning faintly. "More sky out here than there ever was there."
"You weren't even in Astronomy with us half the time," Sirius grumbled. "You tell me, Moony, about gravity. You were always the one in the books."
"Maybe it’s the sun, maybe it’s the earth and maybe it’s the moon. Maybe it’s all three. No, no, that’s it."
"What’s it?" James asked, blurrily, taking the bottle back from Sirius and emptying it. He handed it back and then laid down on the ground with his hat tipped over his face. Passed out, more like, snoring. The first few days they'd been out here, the cattle had startled at the sound of him, but they were used to it now. Even the horses only snorted and leaned on the other hip. James would have known about gravity, if he hadn't been drunk, Sirius thought. Or maybe not. He and Remus would have to drag the other two into the tents later, but for now, Sirius didn't care about James or the moon or anything but Remus' throat in the orange light.
"S’all three," Remus clarified just the same, watching James with the faintest traces of amusement. "The fault of all and the fault of none because everything builds, doesn’t it? Can’t blame the moon because it just does what gravity demands, can’t blame the earth 'cause it follows the sun, can’t blame the sun 'cause it just sits there and the earth spins round it. And maybe it’s all my fault anyway, and maybe it’s my father’s, but then maybe it isn’t."
"Maybe," Sirius said. The dirt was cold underneath his palms, and the grass was damp and it soaked through the knees of his jeans as he crawled away from James’ side and over Peter—passed out like the lightweight he was before they’d even really made a dent in the whiskey—and toward Remus. He stayed on his knees when he snatched the bottle from Remus’ loose grip. "Maybe it’s just fate that fucked you."
Remus waved the hand with his cigarette as he answered, all lazy grace that after a day of riding herd. "There’s a theory. Just fate that fucked me and just fate that fucked you, too, and left you with a family you despise. Fate that brought us to this godforsaken place. Fate that fucks us all, fucks everyone and then never bothers to call the morning after, when you’re scared and insecure."
"Fate," Sirius barked, lifting the bottle in mock salute, "the ultimate one night stand."
Remus cocked his head, snuffed his cigarette on the ground and came away with dirt on the tips of his fingers. His eyes were bright and slightly unfocused. "You think I don’t know," he whispered, "but I see it. I know why y'all do this. Get drunk ‘til Wormtail and Prongs pass out nearly every month we're out here, because I get drunk on the goddamn moon when it’s this heavy in the sky, this full and close. My skin doesn’t fit right, you know, when it’s this near, drunk becomes a blessing."
"That’s the problem with you, isn’t it?" Sirius sighed, took another drink and then handed back the bottle, brushing his fingers against Remus’ as he did, just drunk-clumsy enough not to bother with subtlety anymore. He moved closer on his knees and pressed his nose against Remus’ exposed throat. "You never allow for a motive other than pity. Never stop to consider for a second that maybe we just want to share in the drunkenness. That maybe we just don’t want you do be alone in it. Maybe we just fucking love you."
Sirius darted out his tongue to taste the way Remus’ pulse picked up just a little speed. Remus pulled away, laid down and propped himself up on his elbows. Sirius followed.
"It doesn’t — "
"Shut up," Sirius interrupted. The moon was bleeding a reflection of the sun and his sleeves were rolled up so his elbows were cold in the dirt. But he had his body pressed to Remus’, who was always so goddamn warm even in the dead of winter, and he could see the way that he was waiting silently. The way they’d both been waiting. He shivered and inhaled against Remus, licked away the dried sweat saltiness from just beneath his jaw. "It's worse out here with no protection and we both know it. I’m through talking."
"Shut up," he said, again. "I’m tired of this."
"So am I. I’m just so damn tired of all of it, but it won’t stop. You won’t stop."
"Remus — "
"You going to take advantage of me while I’m smashed? Nice and pliable, just the way you like?"
"Gotta catch you when you can’t walk away."
Remus trailed his long fingers over Sirius’ cheek, smearing dirt across it before catching Sirius' shaggy hair and tugging, just a little. "Don’t fancy getting caught out here again when dawn comes."
"One of these days, Moony," Sirius whispered against Remus’ chapped mouth, "we won’t have to worry about getting caught."
"You think that’s my only worry?"
"Stop talking now," Sirius said, and kissed him.
+ + + +
They didn't any of them belong here, out in the half-tamed West, not like the stuff their childhood stories had been made of. But there had been the war beginning earlier than anyone had imagined, and not even Hogwarts was safe, and James' family had tried to ship them off to family in the East. Yankee Doodle Potters, James had called them: a couple of second cousins he had met once or twice, their mild husbands, and a passel of cousins. Not Squibs, but not wizards exactly. America didn't have the imagination to support that sort of community, one of the aunts had said, so they tutored their own children and sent them to Muggle school. It wasn't the way the boys had always lived, magic so much in the air that it was like a second skin. It was a cold prospect to face, but the Potters had profited, and they had room enough for four boys in need of a home.
"Cowboys," Sirius had said with that gleam in his eye when they'd gotten through customs, and something about his whim and their desperation had carried them along. Without stopping to meet the Potter-kin, they'd caught a train and come out here, where it was all cattle and tumbleweeds, and they'd learned to swear properly. In the spring, they'd start the rodeo circuit again. Sirius and James had discovered a surprising talent for handling bulls and mustangs. Remus snorted and said something about broomsticks and balance and muscle in the thighs. Sirius said something back about muscle between them, and a certain limberness required, and made kissy faces at them all until they pushed him away.
Rodeo season was hard to navigate, but it made them enough in prizes and clowning wages to get them through the rest of the year out on the range. The months on the road were hard to shape around the moon. They'd build a temporary roofed-over pen out of steel fence pieces, the ones that were built to hold in most of a ton of angry bull, and lock Remus in, or scatter out beyond the city limits, a ramshackle group of wildlife on the way to nowhere, or as close as they could get. Remus and Peter, who couldn't ride, both worked as clowns, which explained the cuts and bruises, the leftover scars. Remus, to everyone's surprise, was good at it: he was unobtrusive when he needed to be, but no sooner was a bull divested of his unfortunate rider than he was heading for Remus, who swung the bright cloths with a flourish and had an uncanny knack of finding a barrel to be behind at the critical moment.
It was a satisfying life, Sirius thought: new girls in every town, or the familiar barrel riders with the spangles on their shirts, girls even Peter could talk to. The rodeo folk were familiar and anonymous at once. Beer everywhere, cigarettes everywhere, the victorious ache of muscles used well. Sirius loved rodeo. It was grandiose, macho, dangerous, overdone, perfectly American. He tamed the beasts, sticking to their backs until he'd bested them, and then stood under the lights knocking the dust of his boots or dragging a bloody nose across his shirtsleeve, and they handed him a check for a job well done. It was a ludicrous way to live. It was astounding. They had bought an old station wagon that held the four of them and their gear. Sirius felt like a gypsy, meandering from town to town until only the flavor of the barbecue distinguished one state from another.
Winters, like now, they were out on the trails, wandering toward the foothills of mountains whose names they didn't know. America was a strange place: a vastness of geography, a nonsense of place names. America was a series of motels and cheap apartments, the times they actually lived in towns, and America was the same tent and can of hash and beans over and over for months. Sirius had almost forgotten the taste of the mist over the lake with its hint of squid-ink and the chilly majesty of the corridors at Hogwarts; after all, it had been three years. Here they were in the mountains, two rifles between them, and they'd had need of them before. He didn't have time to think of England. Either the war would reach here, or it would end. He didn't care what happened to his family in all their malign glory. He worried about the Potters, and about Remus' parents and Peter's when he had the time, but there were no owls here, and he had trouble with ballpoint pens and the determined sadistic way the Post Office insisted he write out the address with the postal code on it. After the first few attempts, he didn't dwell on it. A wandering mind meant that the herd would be scattered to hell and gone, and James would shout, and Remus would go all grim, and Peter would spend hours chasing the strays, because Peter watched for loose ends.
He wasn't that kind of man anyway, to live in the past. He took a lungful of air and kicked his horse up the trail.
+ + + +
It was the silver spurs that did it. Silver spurs that James won, that someone tossed to Remus without thinking, and Remus caught them without thinking, and paled, and swooned, and it was only by luck and a Chaser's old reflexes that Sirius caught him. The cowboys had jeered, and one or two had looked more closely at Remus, and crossed themselves. Superstitious bunch, out there on the range, every last one of them with their little rituals, their God, don't let my neck be broken today. And five or six of them had tried to find Remus out, one way or the other. One crime or another: the beast or the boy-kisser. Remus came back from somewhere with his hair mussed and his mouth set.
"Where've you been?" Sirius demanded.
"Nowhere." Remus ducked into the tent.
"You only make it worse," said James.
"He doesn't think about it," said Peter good-humoredly, rubbing soap into a bridle. "Careless. Touching, feeling, just like the old days. Can't hold the boy back."
"And Remus too careful by half, to fit," James mused, staring at an old photo of the Gryffindor common room, where Lily did her reading curled up in a chair by the fire.
"What?" said Sirius.
"You can't possibly be that thick," said James, "to not see that they hate Remus."
"Bullshit, no one's said a thing to me," Sirius protested. Peter hissed through his teeth.
"Nevermind, Pads," said James. "If you want to be blind."
But Sirius in his dogmind was worrying over the thought of Remus accosted like Padfoot gnawing a bone. He waited for the moon.
"See crazy things out there sometimes," Sirius had said, casually, tilting the beer in his glass. "Everyone of you would piss your pants like a little girl if you knew. Keep it tied up outside of town. He's good protection."
They had nearly had the beast, every tight-assed, chaps-wearing one of the bastards. There was only so far they could drag the extra fence, after all. The pen was close enough to stumble toward. They had sidled closer, the mass of them, too drunk to know better with their fucking bravado. "Go on, boy, seen worse, aintcha?" Sirius trailed behind them, silent, smirking to himself. A loose catch on the pen, that was all, Remus-the-beast snarling, claws suddenly gleaming in the moonlight. Sirius had his wand out before he even remembered he'd tucked it in his waistband; he flung curses at the crowd as they scattered, and then there was only the sound of the fence rails bending under the enormous strength of the werewolf. It had been Padfoot bracing the loose section of fence, straining against steel with triumph rising in him. No pack: there was no place to run here, but now Sirius was running, two days later, running from Remus who had recovered his strength.
Sirius hit the fence so hard the rails seemed to separate his ribs, but he didn’t get a chance to try and catch his breath before there was a mouth on his, hard and demanding and even if the taste was familiar, it was nothing like the kisses he remembered from slow, lazy, clumsy, drunken nights under canvas or panting, desperate, needy fucks crushing the grass around them.
Remus’ fingers were too tight on his arms, his body and mouth pressing him just that too hard until he thought he’d have steel embedded in bone, but he didn’t really care because the extra tongue in his mouth was hot and slick and knowing.
"You," Remus whispered, hissed, panted against his cheek when the kiss broke. His cheek was rough, and the point of one sharp canine gouged Sirius' lip. "You stupid, selfish, arrogant fuck. You never know when to quit, do you, Sirius?"
Sirius couldn’t breathe, from running and hitting the fence and kissing, but he grinned, despite the fact that Remus was still gripping his arms hard enough to bruise. "I hexed them."
"I could kill you myself, with my bare hands, Sirius, I could spread your blood and bones across this godforsaken countryside and leave your skin for them to gnaw on when they felt the need for a snack. You…you ignorant, unthinking, fucking…"
"Fuck, yes, you’ve said that already." Sirius looked up, looked him in the eye when he said it. Though it troubled him, sometimes, that he couldn’t pinpoint when he’d had to start looking up to meet Remus’ eye. "They were — "
"I know what they were doing, I was there."
Sirius tilted his head back further, hair catching on the notch of a hinge and pulling. He thought he might choke on the dust rising from the ground, and the heat, and the smell of manure and old hot dogs. "You think I should have just let them — "
"Yes, Sirius, clearly I think just that."
Sirius closed his eyes to try and block the thin, angry, kiss-bruised line of Remus’ mouth. "No," he said, still seeing the disapproval.
"You don’t fucking get it, do you?" Remus snapped, pulling him forward just to push him back to the fence again, not as hard but not for lack of trying. "This isn’t a game, Sirius, you don’t hex whomever you feel like — without a thought to the outcome just because you don’t like the way they look. You don’t get to send them to their deaths because you don’t like them. You don’t get to play God, not while I’m watching and not while I’m the fucking weapon you chose to use. The world doesn't revolve around you, Sirius, not anymore. Not fucking here."
He swallowed hard, lifted a hand to feel the back of his head. "Remus — "
"No, you shut up now and listen to me, for once in your life just shut up and listen." Remus stepped closer, pressed against him again and forced Sirius to crane his neck backwards to keep meeting his eyes. "This isn’t a game, Sirius, you could have —"
"He was — "
"Shut up," Remus hissed, shaking him so hard his teeth rattled. The fence was a parallel rusty scrape across his back, painful through the thin shirt. "I don’t fucking care what he was doing! You say you deserve my trust, my forgiveness, say you’ve learned your lesson but finally and that you understand the world doesn’t orbit you, and then you — "
"I won’t," Sirius said, interrupting again. "I won’t stand by and let anyone — not ever, Remus, no one, dead or alive, will be able to hold a fucking — not so long as I'm here, I don’t fucking care if they're rednecks or bull-riding gods among men, even, because no one — "
"You can’t possibly think that I wanted you to — and you say that they're beasts?"
"You aren’t, not like—one night a month you want to rip me limb from limb, but they — "
"You think," Remus asked, seemingly darkly amused despite himself, with a sort of grin that hurt Sirius, because it wasn’t. "You think it’s one night out of the month that I — "
"— they want you dead because you're different and they can't wrap their sun-addled brains around it. They know and they don't, Remus, and that marked you something that you aren’t — "
"No," Sirius answered, shrugging his shoulders. "Maybe the other, but the problem, one night of the month, but no — not now, not tomorrow morning and not tomorrow night."
"You still don’t get it," Remus said, but the hint of amusement had faded into something closer to disbelief or maybe despair, but Sirius still had the bitter taste of adrenaline on his tongue and it’d always mixed well with the taste of Remus and he never was bright enough to read the signs until they were behind him. "It isn’t one night a month that I’m different, it’s every night of every month."
"But it’s only — "
Remus laughed darkly, hurt and bitter and a little bit afraid, even, maybe, and cut him off by shoving him against the steel rails again. The full moon passed a week ago and he’s just two days out of bed from it, because it was hard this time, because Sirius was a stupid mud-for-brains asshole who never ever stopped to think when he should and, oh but for the grace of James. "It’s every night of every month," Remus repeated, dragging lips and tongue and teeth over Sirius’ stubbled jaw; the words were sharp, hard and the kind of cold that burns.
Sirius reached for him, but Remus caught his wrists, pinned them, and scraped both their knuckles raw on the top rail. "Remus," Sirius said, and then shut up because Remus was kissing him again and not allowing him the air for talking or thinking or breathing.
"I dream, every night," Remus said, when the kiss broke and Sirius was panting, his forehead to Remus’ jaw, "of sinking my teeth into you, Sirius, I dream of chasing and catching and devouring you until there is nothing left to taunt me every time I breathe. This goddamn magic, Sirius, and these goddamn dreams. It doesn’t stop, but it gets worse when the moon is close — but it doesn’t stop, and you think that the problem is that I don’t want you or that I don’t know what I want and the problem has always been just how and how much I want you."
He released one of Sirius’ wrists, sliding long, pale fingers roughly down and then over, cupping the back of Sirius' neck — no, cupping would be gentle, Remus dug fingertips in and demanded with them, turned Sirius’ head just where he wanted with only the pressure of his thumb — and kissed him like he was dying for the taste of it. And Sirius knew that much, at least, he knew the desire to drown in someone, if nothing else, so he kissed him back like his life depended on it, because sometimes he thought maybe it did, and he couldn’t keep his hips still when Remus was pressed this close and he was so hard that —
Then Remus stopped, pulled away and pulled Sirius away and then shoved him back to the wall face first. He realized that a countercurse had got close enough to burn his cheek only when it struck sparks off the grimy fence and ground rust into the wound.
"It never stops," Sirius said, whispered breathless, like he knew because for once he was sure he did.
Remus bit — hard enough to sting and bruise but not to break skin — the place beneath his collar where shoulder met neck, and Sirius threw his head back and gasped and cried out and almost understood. The gleaming scar on the fence burned his cheek when he pressed his face against it; he could feel fragments of steel digging into his skin. Remus' hands were pulling Sirius’ shirt from his trousers, rough and calloused and not careful like he always thought he had to be before. "This isn’t a game, Sirius," Remus said, hissed and swore and cursed against the skin he’d just abused, "this is who I am, this is what I am. This is what it is, to be a beast, isn’t it? To taste you?"
"No — Remus, stop," Sirius said, the words spilling out all of a sudden because it got to be just a little clearer to him what was happening. "No," he repeated.
"I-I don’t want you like this," Sirius said, cheek pressed to rusty rail and fingers clutching at the hand beneath his shirt, through the fabric and he was breathing dust and Remus and it wasn’t—but it was and he couldn’t, not really.
Remus put his forehead against Sirius’ shoulder and laughed, just as dry and bitter and humorless as always. Just as hopeless as he always seemed to be since — when he’d let Sirius pull him aside only to say ‘should have known this is what I’d get for trusting you’ — "Of course you don’t," he said, "who would? But that’s the point isn’t it? The point I’m trying to make to you. Jesus Christ, Merlin and God above, Sirius, you don’t understand what it is for me to want you." He slid one hand down, over Sirius’ erection and it made him jump and arch and gasp and almost come.
"I don’t want you like this," Sirius said again, even though he did — wanted him so much he couldn’t catch his breath — because Remus, when he was thinking straight, wouldn’t.
"Right," Remus whispered, soft and just a little worse for wear and his fingers were shaking against Sirius’ skin and bleeding into him. "I knew that."
He pulled his hands away and oh, Sirius thought and then, oh, because he never got it right on the first try. "Remus," he said, but Remus was gone when he turned round.
+ + + +
"It isn't easy for everyone," Peter said the next morning, seeing Sirius' bruises, dabbing liniment on Sirius' bare back. "You and James have other things, but magic was most of what I had, Sirius. To give it up was difficult, but Remus can't even do that. Where's the freedom for him?"
Sirius hissed through his teeth as the liniment trickled into an abrasion and set his back on fire in strips. James was writing another of the letters he'd never send, slouched over on a canvas folding chair, his boots propped on what looked like Remus' suitcase. He was humming "Home On The Range". Sirius wanted to hit him. Remus hadn't come back yet.
"Plus there's the whole fag thing," said Peter meditatively, corking the liniment bottle and slapping his hands over Sirius' shoulders. "That doesn't play out well around here. Or anywhere we've been, come to think."
Sirius craned his head around. "What?"
"You know," said Peter, shrugging. "Him. You. You're not subtle."
"Why should I be?"
"No one's going to touch you," said Peter.
"You have a reputation for chasing skirts," James intoned solemnly, looking up and pushing up his glasses. "Or skirts have for chasing you. You handsome bastard."
"That isn't..." Sirius began.
"Like hell it isn't, Pads," James cut in, more sharply than Sirius was used to. "Cut him a break. Look around you. This isn't home. You're golden, but not so gold they won't hurt you badly if you mess with them. They don't understand you, but they leave you alone for now, because you look like a fighter. It's worse for Remus. He's nobody they know. Nobody they care to know."
Sirius shrugged on his shirt, which stuck to the raw places and the liniment on his back. Conversations like this made him want to punch something, or drink, or both. His hands itched to wrap around a pint glass or around somebody's throat. He'd save it for the riding, today, to win enough to make tonight so blurry as to be unrecognizable. "Well. At least the clown has to come back for his costume."
"You are such a fucking ass," James said, shaking his head and going back to his letter. Peter wrinkled his nose and started to put things away. It was getting dark enough that the lights were coming on. Showtime.
+ + + +
It was inevitable, after the months of charmed life. He had gripped the tons of muscle and sinew between his denim thighs a hundred times without incident, always leaping clear at the proper moment. But he leaned, and the bull twisted the other way under him. For a moment, he was a satellite, a falling star, and he wondered at his perfect parabola before gravity caught him and he was on his back staring up at the glare of the lights and a sliver of moon. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't move. The roar of the crowd was the sound of a downpour on a collapsed tent, the sound of drowning on a mountainside. He could see the bull out of the corner of his eye. The lights cast a metallic sheen on its hide and horns; the noise and glint of it was like a war approaching.
Gravity, Sirius thought.
And then Remus was there, the absurd clothes and the obscene grace, drawing off the bull. Sirius tilted his head and stared at Remus until his eyes burned. Remus danced across the ring, flirting a cloth, and the bull followed him, a storm pushed off by a timely wind. Sirius opened his mouth, straining for air, the lights blurring into one flat glare, and then his back arched and the air rushed in. The bull was penned at the other end and Peter appeared, dragging Sirius to his feet. He pulled Sirius' arm over his shoulders and they limped out of the ring with an awkward four-legged hobble.
Remus, when Sirius caught sight of him, was livid: dark eyes, his face pale under the makeup, and two streaks of red across his cheekbones like smears of blood, the scars standing out pearly against the flush. But Sirius was still too dazed to speak. Somebody was unsnapping his shirt, prodding at his ribs; he was wound about with bandages until he nearly lost his breath again and given a white pill, and then the lights finally faded.
+ + + +
There were, Sirius thought, objectively, any number of things that Remus Lupin knew, but, he thought, that number was nothing compared to the things that Remus didn’t know.
Like, for instance, that he was often completely full of shit.
He was sprawled across the front steps of the latest motel, carelessly casual and fucking regal—even if he teased and said that was Sirius’ game, it was his, really, always, with Sirius if no other time, it seemed—with his elbows on concrete steps and Sirius’ jacket on even though the sleeves were too short and a hole in the knee of his faded jeans and a smoke in hand.
And he didn’t know—at least, Sirius was almost certain he didn’t and he didn’t tell him because then it would stop, wouldn’t it? Like all things with Remus did when he became aware of them—that the way his fingers curled round his cigarettes always made Sirius stop and watch, because it was beautiful, really, but he didn’t know that either.
"Oi, Padfoot, you big girl," James said and shoved Sirius, playfully but not, and the not-quite-Lily girl who James'd found gave a tipsy-easy laugh, and Peter snorted and coughed and choked on his cheap beer, which was the least he deserved, really, when he said, "Stop mooning over Moony, it isn’t attractive."
"More attractive than puns," not-Lily (Marilyn?) said, grinning, and Sirius thought that maybe she wasn’t so bad after all. At least, she didn't seem to mind that he'd draped an arm around James' shoulders earlier, palling around like their schoolboy days, the kind of unselfconscious fondling Americans didn't seem to experience. She didn't seem to mind their jovial, inscrutable code, either, but then maybe they were all more transparent than they'd thought.
Remus looked down at them with a cocked eyebrow and a lazy grin that looked like he may have really meant it, and said, "You know, James, you may have finally hit on the reason that it took women so long to give into your—well, I hesitate to call them charms but—"
"You think, Remus," Sirius asked, over not-Lily laughing into James’ shoulder, "that they would have given into him ages sooner and we would have been spared years of moping and plotting to catch skirts, had he only not been mooning over you?"
"I thought that we decided to never speak of it again," James said, all mock dramatic, like it didn’t matter to him that it was the truth and like he hadn’t —
But then Sirius stood, his bruised ribs creaking under the tight bandages and a bottle of whiskey almost slipping from his hand, and climbed the steps until he fucking tripped over Peter and ending up half sprawled across Remus. "Well," he said, "hello there." And kissed him, not so the girl could see, but James did.
"That," he heard James say—with an odd amount of fondness—through the haze of Remus and smoke and alcohol and Remus pushing him away, "is our cue to get lost, I think, before he's sick all over someone and it becomes our problem."
Remus flicked his cigarette, like nothing had just happened and like nothing could fucking touch him, no, not him, not ever, because that would mean having to be something approaching honest with himself and then with someone else, even, maybe.
"Coward," Sirius said, and smiled and sat back down on the steps below and watched Remus and listened to Peter skitter away like a frightened rodent, which wasn’t, of course, that far from the truth of the thing, most times, despite occasional moments of clarity.
He didn’t realize, until Remus tipped his head back and took a long swallow—thin, red lips wrapped round the mouth of the bottle and long, thin fingers wrapped round the neck of the bottle and Sirius was, naturally, unbelievably jealous and achingly hard and possibly, very, very drunk—that he’d lost possession of the alcohol.
"Fool," Remus countered, except that by then Sirius had lost the thread of the conversation and was instead plotting how difficult it would be to convince Remus to — "We’re leaving tomorrow, you know, just means that — "
"Everything changes, doesn’t it?"
"—that we leave tomorrow, doesn’t mean I’m gonna fuck you as a last hurrah for this rodeo."
"Disappointing," Sirius said, or thought, or thought he said; he was watching Remus tip his head back to look at the moon and then close his eyes against it, and Remus was the one with the unhealthy fondness for words anyway, Sirius thought there were better things to do with your mouth, especially when one had a mouth like Remus’ to play with, all pretty and red and mean and made to play, really, even if only with words.
And in his head the word fool was playing, too, dancing round and singing songs and reminding him of things that — "Am I, then?"
It was, naturally, typical of Remus to not bother trying to understand, or to pretend he didn’t understand, for whatever reason. "The fool, Remus," he said, careful not to slur his words. "Am I the fool?"
"If you think that — "
"Shut up, now," he said, because that was his line, or at least, he thought it was. "Moony — "
"The thing of it is, Pads, I know what I am and I know who I am and—there are things that…I know the role I’m set to play."
"Tell me," Sirius said, maybe just a little irrationally and maybe not any at all, but he said it just the same and didn’t stop to think as he turned and stood on his knees and stole back the whiskey.
Remus sighed, and reaching into his—into Sirius’ jacket pocket—and pulled out his pack of cigs, he shook one free and tossed the pack to Sirius, but Sirius was, of course, too drunk and too busy being struck dumb by the site of Remus' fingers curling round the smoke to catch it. Remus laughed and twirled it in his fingers like he knew, but he didn’t, he couldn’t, because then he wouldn’t, and Sirius almost wanted him to know, because something shouted that, that, at least, would be easier.
"Tell me," Sirius repeated, "who are you and who am I?"
"I’m easy, Sirius — " Sirius snorted and Remus rolled his eyes and they both knew that he was anything but. "The moon is just a satellite, after all."
The moon was shining down, not heavy enough in the sky to matter, but heavy enough to — Remus was looking at him for the first time in ages, it seemed, and the light from the moon and the street lights and the motel's shabby lobby caught on his hair, shimmering and winking and almost being, but not — his hair all sun-streaked dun and his eyes bright and questioning and not —
Remus lit his smoke with a lighter he’d nicked from James — strange how these Muggle things were normal now — and his fingers were sort of, almost, maybe trembling, and it wasn’t — well, it was, obviously, but it wasn’t — because Remus always moved with slow liquid grace because he’d been a master of his body when he had control for all of time or at least since he’d had to protect himself against the times he didn’t and wasn’t and Sirius thought, no, and then he thought, no.
And he said, "No."
Remus cocked an eyebrow again, all vaguely, darkly, politely amused — but Sirius wasn’t a stranger, no matter how much he wished sometimes and he knew, even when he didn’t, the way that Remus moved, because his eyes always followed and his fingers always itched to do the same. And the wry smile on his face pulled, twisted scars that Sirius knew the taste of too well to ever just forget. There were more scars there now.
Remus must have seen it coming — he had, of course, learned some lessons, though clearly not nearly all of them — so Sirius leaned forward and kissed him, sloppy and too wet and they were better at it, of course, but not just then because — Well, Sirius thought and then, well, and then, fuck, he thought, because Remus had shoved him away again but not before he could taste the desperation under the hot whiskey Remus flavor of his tongue.
Still holding his forgotten cigarette between two fingers, Remus pressed the pad of his thumb to his wet bottom lip, and Sirius wondered, not then, but later, whether it was to wipe away the kiss or press it deeper, and then he stopped wondering because he was afraid he knew.
"I’m sorry," he said, suddenly, without realizing he was going to—only realizing after that he was — and so he repeated it, "I’m sorry."
"You aren’t," Remus said, scoffed and grinned and shook his head just a little but didn’t dislodge his hand until he had to flick away his cigarette. "You never are."
"I am now."
"If you are it’s probably not for the reasons you should be," Remus said, decided like that was just that and there was nothing else to it.
"No," Sirius agreed, not even as reluctantly as he should have because it was true, at least to Remus, because he was never sorry for the things that Remus thought mattered the most and would probably never go back and change. The pen with the glint of claws in the moonlight. The half-kisses in front of people who would punish Remus for it, only Remus. Sparks at his fingertips one long boring drunken night. Things he had never thought about, would never have thought about, without Remus' participation and disapproval. "Probably not."
Remus laughed, until it almost sounded like he meant it and like he thought there was something funny about this and it wasn’t, but Sirius would pretend because — Well, Sirius thought, and then, fuck, because saying and knowing are different, sometimes, than knowing, because sometimes it hits you in the chest and steals your breath and your heartbeat and it isn’t all that it’s made out to be, this kind of knowing. Like falling in the rodeo ring, being thrown, and landing with your mouth full of sawdust and your lungs empty of air.
Because sometimes, the firelight catches and highlights his hair and the moon shines in his eyes and his mouth is red and wet from your mouth and his eyes flutter, shudder closed against one thing or another and he’s parchment pale and lit from above and behind and you remember the numbers they put under his skin and the bruises they left on him and you wonder if the desperation you were tasting wasn’t really your own all along. And it hits you, then, and knowing it, in that way that won’t let you breathe, is painful like nothing else before it.
"Fuck," Remus said, hissed, "oh, fuck, Padfoot, I’m sorry," he said, because he knew too, but he didn’t know, not really.
Remus brushed his fingertips down Sirius’ cheek, across his bottom lip and over his jaw, and he buried his fingers in Sirius’ hair and kissed him, this time, like this time the point had already been made.
The slick slipslide of mouth against mouth, and Sirius was the one to break it because it felt like something winding down and well, he’d never been good at endings, not really.
Remus pulled back too, trailing fingers, that felt like nothing so much as anger and losing and bone, over his skin until they were back on the bare concrete steps, and the moon bled sliver, a reflection of the sun, down on them and it burned, just a little.
Sirius laughed, and it only sounded a little bitter and a little broken and fuck that was just to his own ears and Remus had always — "It isn’t," he said, "you that’s the satellite, here."