A Sleep Like Unto Death
Part 2 - Waking
By Kick Flaw
When Dumbledore had magicked his bed away it reappeared, to the surprise of everyone present, in the Great Hall. The north end's elevated platform, usually occupied by the long table that the professors dined at, made a picturesque setting for the extravagant piece of furniture housing Sirius' ensorcelled form. Three wide steps granted access to the higher level where the bed stood, side facing out, curtains pooling like moonlit blood on the marble floor. Tonight the teachers were separated into two shorter tables at its head and foot. Guardians, almost, sentinels that prevented any curious witch or wizard from straying too close. Everyone knew the story now. Professor Thatcher had taken the opportunity to give an impromptu lesson to her assembled students.
All across the Great Hall they were murmuring about the mishap, wondering, despite Thatcher's assurance that the mistake was nearly impossible to replicate, about the safety of brewing classes in general. Many were speaking in hushed tones of the consequences should Sirius fail to wake. Would Thatcher be fired? Would the Ministry shut Hogwarts down? Where would his body be kept? The more superficial ones were merely gossiping about Sirius himself -he always had a way of drawing attention.
Look how pale he is, they whispered. What if the professors are wrong? What if he's really dead?
Remus blocked those questions out.
Following Dumbledore's announcement about the Kiss of True love, a line of girls had formed, twining all the way from the bed half way through the Great Hall. It wove between the Gryffindor and Slytherin house tables, crowding anyone who sat on that respective side. The lovely chicken dinner prepared by the house elves was practically forgotten. Everyone was too absorbed in the unraveling drama to notice the food on his or her plate, much less eat it.
One by one, girls climbed the three steps, shoes clacking hollowly on marble, to place a lingering kiss on the lips of Hogwarts most famous -or infamous- bachelor. Tall girls, short girls, girls in yellow, blue, red, green, girls with boyfriends, girls alone, composed girls, anxious girls, and one by one, they filed to their seats, disappointed. Nobody it seemed could fill Sirius with the life-fire of real love. The boy was impregnable, a fortress in ruby satin.
The meat on Remus' plate had begun to look diseased, he'd stabbed it so much.
Another girl, another kiss, no movement. A sense of unreality tainted the air. Meanwhile the professors hunched together and spoke in suspiciously lowered voices. There was already discussion of whether his body should remain at Hogwarts, or perhaps be encased in some Ministry display as an example of why certain magic was forbidden. Maybe they'd just entomb the boy.
They would use a glass coffin, regardless, that much was understood. Sirius was simply too gorgeous to be locked away in some dark piece of wood. The death-touch only added to his beauty. He'd always defied gender, with his heart-shaped face, small nose and high cheekbones. The thick curve of his eyelashes and the cut of his lips were androgynous, and now ethereal, angelic, cast in a sleep so deep it mimicked its more permanent brother. Even his hands, his throat, arched sublimely as they succumbed to eternity. Cassandra Black lived in her only son's face and form, if nothing else. He could have been a Greek statue, carved in flawless stone, he lay so still. And like a Greek statue he would never wake, existing only to grace the eyes of every generation until the end of time.
The way Sirius looked only contributed to the night's apocryphal aura. It was nothing like his normal appearance; Anyone who knew him would barely recognize him. Usually his heavy hair obscured the cut-distinct outlines of his face, bangs and wild locks had a way of covering what they fell upon. His blue-violet eyes dominated completely when open, so much so that one barely noticed the rest of him. Sharp and distracted, always lost in the recesses of a too-quick mind. And no grace ever graced him -Sirius' own feet tripped him up. It was hard to see past the smile and the muggle clothes he insisted on wearing to the intrinsically swooping lines of him. But now...now...
Another girl, another kiss. Remus stabbed his chicken again.
"Oh, Peter!" cried a voice, and the masses of tightly curled brown hair that distinguished Veronica Springhip launched at the stolid boy. "Peter!"
"Ronnie!" Peter leapt up to catch her. They embraced frantically.
"Peter, I'm so sorry!" Ronnie said, muffled in his shoulder.
He shook his head. "No, I'm sorry! Can you ever forgive me?"
"I love you."
No more words were needed. The two kissed sweetly, hands clasped. Now that Ronnie and Peter had made-up, the relationships of the Marauders were fully restored to order, Lily and James having forgiven their latest issue when James had desperately sought her out for comfort. Peter and Ronnie, James and Lily, Sirius surrounded by hopeless admirers and Remus, alone. It was a consolation to at least have those pillars in the overwhelming stress that knocked their world around.
"It's so terrible, about Sirius." sighed Ronnie after her boyfriend let her go. "Just...so terrible."
Lily winced as James' fingers gripped hers painfully. "I know." she agreed, soothing him with her eyes.
"I'm so afraid that this won't work." The Hufflepuff whimpered.
"It will work." grated James. "I'll follow him down and drag him back kicking and screaming if I have to. He's not leaving me."
Remus didn't doubt it. The bond between Sirius and James was an extraordinary thing. Death, or eternal sleep, could hardly deter it. The Marauders had been based on that devotion, an all-surpassing loyalty, a love. And it was love, no macho posturing hid that.
"All we can do is hope." Was Lily's reply.
The next girl was a short brunette with shaking hands. A Hufflepuff. She sat on the edge of the bed, leaned down, and pressed her trembling lips to Sirius'. Nothing. A blond Ravenclaw followed, sat, leaned, kissed, nothing.
Sirius would hate this if he were conscious, Remus knew. He would feel violated, slutty, despite his helplessness. Slowly, the light-haired wizard ripped his napkin, unawares of the destruction he was causing. He could stop this, he knew that too, but in front of the entire school? Each kiss was meticulously watched, such was the morbid curiosity of the students. Could he be that brave? It would risk everything, including the friendships he survived on. Everything.
But to kiss Sirius, just once. To kiss the sky.
Up went a Gryffindor, tall. Nothing.
Remus balked. Why did Dumbledore have to do this in front of everybody? Certainly the process was easier, considering the length of the line, but the humiliation, the exposure!
A freckled fourth year departed in unfulfillment. Still the line wound on.
James was willing to defy death for their friend. Couldn't he struggle through the tiny sacrifice of school-wide embarrassment and absolute alienation?
How could he even ask himself that?
"This is ludicrous!" he exploded, throwing down his ruined napkin in naked disgust. The chair scraped the floor loudly as he thrust himself from it.
"Remus, what are you doing?" James looked up at him, surprised.
Remus never replied. He was shoving his way past the line of girls, headed straight up the aisle and trying to ignore the attention his actions generated. The thud-thud-*thud* of his heartbeat filled his ears. The steps seemed to be a veritable mountain. The bed was a malevolent star, burning around its captive.
But he scaled the mountain and broached the fire-storm, and a hush of confused apprehension cloaked the Great Hall.
Suddenly, alone on that platform, the world shrank into a revolving, icy glass ball, trapping him and the boy he loved inside. Hogwarts rolled away into a fog. Remus stepped haltingly to the bedside, staring at Sirius' otherworldly face, so marble-pale against the red and void-black. So beyond-human.
The satin coverlet was silky -that much he could tell even through his robes- underneath the knee he braced on the Headmaster's bed. A dent born of his weight bent the mattress slightly.
His hands tingled on dark ruby pillows, the texture smooth, more like cotton, except where hair caught beneath his palms, and then it was slick, soft.
Was the world holding its breath too?
Elbows gradually folded and, not quite aware of himself, Remus leaned, leaned down, excruciatingly down, endlessly down-
And then his mouth crashed into Sirius'.
Colors burst behind his eyelids -vivid. White, red, black, blue-violet flickering. His muscles trembled -his soul trembled. A soundless, magic-wrought wind slipped through the air, swept up the curtains and loose blankets into a rustling whirlwind. And there, where the only calm place was at the joining, the Kiss of True Love, time dangled. Hearts stopped. Volcanoes could have erupted, the earth could have rended, the sky could have fallen, but Remus would never have known. Not then in that moment when it seemed purity was light and light found its source at his lips.
Eternity clawed at its prisoner, searching for purchase, and was denied.
A breath not his own rushed into his mouth. With it, the wind ceased.
Please, he begged.
Thud. Thud. *Thud*.
Gentle, sluggish, Sirius' eyes slit open. "Oh fuck," then closed again, "who turned on the bloody sun?"
It had worked.
He turned on his heel and strode, head down, through the stunned gazes and gasps. All he knew was that he had to get out, had to run, hide, think. Preferably someplace dark, quiet, and alone. No one followed him.
"So you're telling me," Sirius rubbed a hand over his face, desperately attempting to cope with the last seven hours of his life. "That we concocted some twisted love/sleep/time-warping potion that nearly put me under for all time."
Dumbledore nodded. "Close enough."
The dark-haired boy narrowed his eyes on a speck of dust, the same way he did whenever he was muddling through a problem that escaped him. James fully expected a question about how he'd been awoken next. They hadn't gotten that far yet. Frankly, James himself was having a hard time coming to terms with that part and having to inform his returned best friend was not going to assuage his quivering nerves. Of all people, who would have thought *Remus* had it in him. Remus! It was giving him a headache.
Here it came -Sirius was giving up on figuring it out for himself. "Well...how in hell did we do *that*? I was sure I had all of the ingredients right. Maybe the stirring? Or did some of those batwing slices fall in after all...I just can't see where I went wrong..."
"For Merlin's sake!" James smacked his forehead. Typical. "Don't you care how we cured you?!"
"I'm getting to that. First, I'd like to know how I messed up in the first place."
"It was the chrysanthemum root. Your potion called for crystalline Roon." the Headmaster answered.
Sirius glared at his wild-haired friend. "That's the last time I use *your* notes for potion-work."
"How did you guys cure me, anyway?"
James rolled his eyes, more disgusted than ever with Sirius' priority system. "We let anyone who wanted to kiss you have a go. In front of the entire school. For over an hour."
For the second time that afternoon, Dumbledore had to soothe a distraught teenage wizard and lecture on Fairy Tale Potions. Sirius listened, rapt and horrified, to every serene word. The information was being filed away perfectly in his head, James could tell, which was good because he had forgotten most of it already and he wasn't paying attention this time. No doubt they'd want to recant the tale sometime in the future, even if it was years from now to their grandchildren. Right now he had other things on his mind. Like how the hell to tell one best friend that another of the same gender was in love with him. Of course it was up to him to do it, no one else would.
And then there were the repercussions. James had always been good at planning ahead, at seeing and dealing with the consequences before they actually happened. The way he totaled it, there were four ways this could end. Sirius could admit that he and Remus had been secretly involved prior to the fiasco, so the sudden outing was their only problem. Or maybe Sirius would be thrilled and run off to jump Remus' bones, which wasn't much different. Sirius could be shocked but accepting, a bit more complicated because he'd have an unrequited werewolf on his hands as well as public opinion. Worst scenario, Sirius would be shocked and disgusted, in which case a whole slew of problems crashed down. Damn it.
Poor Remus, James thought, aware for the first time the pain that the other boy must be feeling. This on top of the curse -the world apparently had a deep, inexplicable grudge against him. He hoped Sirius took it well. The idea of Remus beat down any more made his heart ache.
"Whoa." Sirius whimpered. "Whoa. That's intense. I...whoa."
Dumbledore's response was to place a hand on his shoulder. "Just be glad someone loved you enough to lift the spell. You'd be asleep forever otherwise."
Sirius closed his eyes and sank onto his back, flabbergasted.
Any moment now it would hit him. James braced himself.
"Wait!" It hit. The black-haired wizard shot back up. "Who kissed me?"
Every head swiveled to him, as he knew they would. But he couldn't -he couldn't find the right way to break it.
"James?" Sirius prompted.
It only it had been someone else, anyone else, this wouldn't be so hard. He wouldn't feel like he was betraying a trust.
"Remus." He whispered.
The decrepit door squealed as it opened. Whoever was entering was afraid, or timid about intruding in his sacred hovel. It only made that sound when pushed forward slowly. Light footsteps advanced across the room, interrupted randomly by the sound of mangled furniture being nudged blindly out of the way. He knew the furniture was mangled because he'd done it himself. And he knew the movements were blind because the only illumination available in this place was a magically-protected candle which he hadn't lit. Still the person headed unerringly toward the far left corner where he huddled on a shredded, frameless mattress.
Fumbling, and the candle fluttered to life. A dim light stung his eyes momentarily. He hadn't realized they were open. Another weight, too near, sagged his monthly bed, and the abused springs creaked.
When Sirius finally did speak his voice was indefinably sad. Slow. Somber. Heavy. "Too many secrets, Remus."
For a few minutes they were silent. The conversation would come eventually and they had no way of pretending -there was no escape. But for now both were content to sit wordlessly, bemused. Remus raised his head from his arms. There was no fear in him, just regret for a thing he couldn't change, acceptance, and the knowledge that Sirius was always true to his word. He would lose no friends today.
"I can't-" began the black-haired boy, bluntly stating his position, a position Remus already knew.
He stopped him. "I know."
Another lapse into silence. Sirius shifted, kicked idly at a displaced chair-leg, then gave up and rested against the wall. Remus' steady contemplation of the air never wavered.
Sirius tried again. "It's just-"
Again Remus cut him short. "I know."
"I care about you, Moony. I do, so much, but-"
"I *know*." He said with more strength. "I know everything you're going to say. I've heard it out of your mouth a hundred times before: You're not ready for a relationship. You don't date. Period. No exceptions. It's too complicated and time-consuming and you've got better, more important things to concern yourself with. I know." If he stared any harder at the air it would freeze.
"That's all bullshit. That's what I say, but it's just crap to keep people off my back." sighed Sirius.
Remus shook his head numbly. "Don't lie. It's ok. I don't begrudge you what you are. I'm not angry and I don't expect anything from you. Don't feel like you owe me something for something that isn't your fault. Neither of us can change it, so we might as well accept the inevitable. I'm in love with you, I feel this way and I'm not going to stop -I don't even want to. I have for so long it would ruin me to lose it. And it doesn't have to affect our friendship. Please, don't try to change for me, to be something you're not to make me happy. Just let me love you," he pleaded, "just let me be Moony and you be Padfoot and that will satisfy me."
Sirius had his eyes closed, his head pillowed back on the splintering wall. "I'm afraid." It was a half-there whisper.
Very little could have surprised Remus then, but that did. "Of what?"
"Of ruining things. That it won't work. I *could*, I mean, I want to be that to you, I *do*, I'm just...paralyzed by this irrational fear. It's the *real* reason why I don't date. I've never -There's no such thing as true love, Moony! I've believed that all my life! People just end up -end up hurting in the end. I don't want that for you. And I can't overcome this. Too weak. Too much of a coward."
Long moments wasted away after that. The candlelight played havoc on Sirius' pained features as Remus appraised him, baffled. This was a side of his friend he'd never seen before. A boy incapable of believing in love, starved by the want of it, and crippled by the paradox. It made him love him all the more.
There was no way he could ever love him less. Ever. And maybe Sirius would stop being afraid someday. Until that day, he could wait. He was so very good at waiting.
"It's a little chilly in here." Remus murmured and stood, offering Sirius a hand. "And I missed dinner. Feel like a kitchen raid?"
Sirius looked up at him, smiled wryly, and grasped the proffered hand. Their fingers clenching together was more than that of hand-helping-hand, it was understanding, closure. Eternity brushed by them again, begetting identical smiles, and Remus hauled the other boy to his feet.
They walked out of the Shrieking Shack without dropping hands.
Seventeen Years Later
Sirius looked down in the darkness on the face of his long-lost friend, relaxed in sleep. Remus had changed, even more than he'd noticed at their brief reunion in the Whomping Willow. His hair was grayer, his robes and room more tattered. Wrinkles pressed their crow's feet at the corner of his eyes. He seemed older.
But so much remained the same. Memories panged him. The light-haired man still slept on his back, still used as many blankets as he could find, still breathed through his mouth while dreaming. The shape of him had not changed. The aura of him would always be one of pain and peace and patience.
Remembering a sleep of so long ago, the ruined man knelt and oh-so-gently butterflied his lips against the pair parted in dreaming.
Remus snapped awake instantly. Defensive hands flung out against the intruder, one on his neck, the other on his arm, and -stopped. Amber eyes focused, widened.
"...Sirius?" he breathed in wonder.
"I'm not afraid anymore." Sirius said, hollow-eyed, body hovering above the familiar, beloved man who'd promised to wait before either of them had understood what waiting really was. The rickety bed creaked. Not a red, satin-sheeted one but more somehow. "I'm not afraid."
And, smiling, Remus pulled him down for a kiss more drugging than any sleep.
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