Author's Notes: thanks to cimorene, fearlessdiva, annelarissa and the unsquickable jenny for beta. written for the veelainc valentine's day challenge.
All Souls' Day
By phineas jones
Remus stirs from a thin sleep and opens his eyes to see white sunlight through almost-bare trees. It's cold in the room; he can feel it even through his extra blanket. He rolls over and swings his legs over the side of the bed. Pulls on the robe draped across the single chair in the room. Everything looks exactly as it should. As it always does. He thinks, maybe today.
He's been waiting for months. Dumbledore's letter was brief but informative. He has made sure he has food to spare and clean towels, an extra pillow and blankets folded carefully by the couch in his study.
He dresses and goes downstairs to make his morning tea. Drinks it in his study while he skims through The Prophet. Folds the paper neatly when he's done and leaves it on top of the stack of papers from earlier in the week. On Saturday, he'll burn them in the fireplace. On Sunday, he'll start a new pile.
Or that's what he would normally do. But things could change any day, any moment. He knows that. He just doesn't know how.
He walks out his front door, into the over-bright morning. The sky is clear like it has been through most of October, but on this first day of November there are fewer leaves to block the sunlight. Instead they form a softly-crackling carpet under Remus' feet as he walks toward the woods that meet the edge of the clearing around his house.
He walks quietly to the ash tree and stands where he stands every morning at this time, left shoulder under the lowest branch, squinting into the light as he looks straight up through the branches. Every morning there are constants; the tree, the ground, his house and the sky remain firmly in place. The setting is the same. But every day something is different. The colors of the sky, the firmness of the earth, the smell on the air, the birds who make nests in the tree and abandon them when the air turns cold and bitter. The leaves that reveal their true colors and then fade and fall to the ground, brown and brittle.
This morning, the tree is completely bare. The last leaves that clung and rustled feebly in the faint breeze of yesterday morning are somewhere under foot, maybe already crushed into a fine brown powder by Remus' feet. The sky is pale blue and bright in his eyes, shot through with veins of bare branches. Remus lets his head fall back against the tree and that's when he first catches the new scent on the air.
A desperate instinct tells him to flee. But he remains standing in place, watching the sky until he hears the approaching footsteps, the snap of a dry twig underfoot. Sirius stops a few feet away and Remus finally drops his gaze from the sky to Sirius, who is taking a breath, ready to speak.
"Remus," is all that he says and all Remus can do is stare. This is not the Sirius he knew and it is not the Sirius he saw at Hogwarts, deranged and filthy and barely recognizable. He is still too thin but he seems more substantial; the sharp angles of his bones softened by flesh and muscle. His hair is unkempt but it is cropped and almost shiny. There is a hint of pink on the pale flesh of his cheeks and his eyes catch the light of the November sun.
"You look… good. Healthy." Remus is aware of the hesitation in his words and the rasp in his throat. He is aware of the grey in his hair and the crinkled skin at the sides of his eyes and mouth. Remus is aware of time - of each second as it ticks by and Sirius stands watching him, of each year that has seen them apart from each other and left them like this. Changed.
Sirius laughs warmly into the chill air and turns his gaze from Remus to his side, to the tree, to the ground. "You know Arabella. I wasn't getting out of there without more food than I've had in the past… in a long time." His eyes meet Remus' again. Remus wants to look away, to be able to move his face into a small smile the way Sirius has. "And a haircut," Sirius adds, lifting his hand to the back of his head.
Remus is aware that he should speak now. Say something about Arabella and her doting ways. Ask Sirius if he's been to see Mundungus already as well. But he can't open his mouth because what might come out instead is Sirius, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. Sorry. I failed you. I believed them and betrayed you and hated you and there's nothing I can do and I'm so terribly sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry. He can't say these things out loud. They are inadequate, fumbling words with no power to breach the distance or the time between them. Even the sound of them echoing in his head makes his knees weak and his breath short.
Sirius is looking at him still. The silence is thick between them and Remus remembers again that it's his turn to speak. Sirius' words, his stance, his expression are casual. Remus wishes for some of Sirius' characteristic ease - something he seems to have recovered, at least partially, in this past year of relative freedom.
A year. One year. Remus remembers thirteen years and thinks that he deserves his discomfort and more.
"Remus." It's barely a whisper. Sirius reaches out slowly, fingers extending to touch the side of Remus' face. Remus doesn't mean to flinch but the touch is so warm compared to the cold, dry air that surrounds them.
"You don't have to… I got Dumbledore's owl. Months ago. You can stay here as long as you want to… need to. I'm going… I'll go make some tea." He moves around Sirius, carefully not touching him, and strides toward the house over dead leaves and dying grass, not looking to see whether Sirius has followed.
Alone in his tiny kitchen, he bends over empty tea cups and gasps for breath. He can't do this. How can he do this?
He hears the swish of Sirius' robes in the doorway before he speaks, "Look, Remus, I'm sorry it's taken so long. I went to the others first because I thought I might… well, that I could stay here longer then. But I don't have to…"
Remus doesn't have time to think before he whirls to face Sirius with wide eyes. You're sorry? resounds in his head but again he remains silent. Sirius looks wary, hovering in the doorway as though he might turn and flee at the first sign of danger. His eyes glitter brightly, watching Remus as though expecting him to move suddenly, to pounce or to run.
The silence lingers and Sirius breaks it again. "I'll make the tea." He brushes by Remus and picks up the kettle, fills it with water. Remus watches. What is happening? He thought he was ready for this morning. He has had a year to contemplate this encounter. He would have taken the ugliest words from Sirius. He would have taken a beating, agreed, helped. But Sirius isn't yelling, isn't scolding, isn't enumerating the tortures he has endured or berating Remus' lack of trust, his lack of faith, the weakness of his love. Sirius is making tea.
Remus sits in a chair at his tiny oak table, drops his head into his hands. He hears the raspy noise that comes from the back of his throat. And then Sirius is there beside him, on one knee, pulling his hands away from his face and holding them in both of his, warming them. Sirius' face is wrinkled with worry as he looks up at Remus.
"Do you want me to go?" The question is quiet and measured. Sirius' lips stop trembling when he presses them together.
"Go where?" Remus asks tiredly and Sirius bares his teeth in a brief smile.
He stops smiling when he asks again, "Do you want me to leave? I can… Mundungus said I can stay with him if I need to but I was hoping… I'd rather be here if you'll have me."
If you'll have me. Remus looks into the tired face and can see now, at this proximity, lines to match his own and more on the brow - just above the eyes. "No. Yes, of course I want you here."
Only when he feels the rush of air across his own face does Remus realize that Sirius has been holding his breath, waiting. He is about to speak again, I'm sorry, when Sirius presses his hands together, releases them and stands. The kettle is whistling and Remus watches him pour the water into cups and rifle through items on the countertop until he finds tea and sugar.
The cups clunk against the wooden table when Sirius sets them down. Remus looks into his steaming cup. He lifts it and tastes the over-sweetness for a second before it burns his tongue. Sirius is watching, sitting still but his fingers are twitching around his cup. Remus watches his fingers. Maybe this is it. Sirius will torture him with kind gestures and two feet of distance and beautifully long fingers around untasted tea. If this is were the best offer - or the worst - Remus would take it.
But the fingers drop away from the cup and Sirius lays his hands flat on the table, "Remus," he breathes deeply as though with effort, "can I just… can I…." He swallows the words as he pushes away from the table and he's on both knees now, beside Remus again.
Remus is still looking at the cup where Sirius' fingers aren't, until Sirius reaches up and places his hand at the nape of his neck, turning Remus' face toward him. Remus' whole body reacts to the touch, his heart beats faster and blood rushes in his ears. Sirius holds him that way for a moment then pulls him down into an awkward hug, bent over, his knee pressing into Sirius' side. Remus shifts, turns in his chair and Sirius pulls them closer together, head tucked into Remus' neck, hands gripping tightly, desperately, to his robes and his hair.
Remus doesn't know whose need this is. Who is comforting and who is being comforted. He thinks maybe it doesn't matter. Sirius's hair is soft on his chin, the lean muscles of his back taut under his fingers. He pulls back, raises his hands and touches Sirius's face. Lowers his head and kisses the lines on Sirius' forehead, the creases at the corners of his eyes, the soft, dry skin at the edge of his lips.
Sirius pulls. Pulls Remus off his chair, to the floor so they're both kneeling and Sirius can kiss him. He answers Remus' gentle touches with a desperate ferocity that leaves them both gasping. Remus clings, digs his fingers into Sirius' shoulder and holds on like he wishes he always had. Sirius keeps pulling, dragging his hands across Remus' back to bring him closer until he overbalances and they half-topple, half-slide to the floor, caught at the last moment only by Remus' hand.
Sirius laughs and Remus can't help but laugh with him. It's a new old sound and Remus wants more of it. But he lets Sirius pull him down and kiss him again and as his hips press into the cold floor he thinks, absurdly, that he's never been down here before - he's been in this house for years, walked on this floor for years but he's never toppled onto it before, never knelt and been kissed by someone on it. His mind moves to other rooms in the house, outside, to the ash tree and the leaves and the sky. "Stay," he murmurs against Sirius' lips and he feels a smile in return.
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