Better Than This
by Victoria P.

October 1981

Sirius snorted and shifted, flinging an arm over the edge of the bed.

Remus lay awake, watching. The gibbous moon cast the room into bright light and dark shadow. Sirius, white sheet tangled around skin silvered pale, looked as though he were carved from marble, shoulders broad and smooth, back narrowing to slim hips.

Remus reached out a hand to stroke that back, but let it drop halfway between them.

When did Sirius start sleeping face out, he wondered. When did the silences between them become strained and sullen?

He thought back over the past few months, about Peter's furtive reports on Sirius's behavior. "I saw him, Remus. He was with Melissande Nott and they were coming out of Knockturn Alley. You know the Notts have supported You-Know-Who forever." But was Sirius betraying the Order or was he simply betraying Remus? Melissande was a beautiful woman, and she and Sirius had had a torrid on-again, off-again affair their last year at school, before she'd chosen Nott once and for all. Before Sirius had chosen him.

And, really, it had been Sirius's choice; Remus had had no say in the matter. He'd fallen hard early that year, suddenly aware of Sirius as a potential lover rather than just a friend, an extension of James, part of the amalgam that was Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. He'd never let it show, though, conducting a few discreet liaisons of his own. No, he'd played it close to the chest, not letting even James in on the secret. Not until the night of their last Leaving Feast. The merest crook of Sirius's finger had been enough to make him forget pride and fear and crawl into Sirius's bed, past slights and indiscretions forgiven, if not forgotten.

And for three years, it had been worth it. Remus and Sirius were spoken of in one breath, like James and Lily. One entity. A couple. For life, even if they didn't have a marriage certificate.

Remus knew every couple went through rough patches; he struggled with himself, with his own pessimistic nature, his belief that of course Sirius would get bored, fall out of love, want more from life than a small flat in Kensington with a gay werewolf.

And Sirius had always been able to jolly him out of his sulks, prove to him both with his body and his words just how happy he was sharing his life with Remus.

But not lately. And not for a while.

Lately, he saw his own wariness reflected back at him in Sirius's eyes, heard it in the bite of his voice. Sirius had never turned the sharper edge of his tongue on Remus before, and it had been a shock to be questioned as though he were a criminal rather than a lover whenever he returned from his frequent job- hunting expeditions outside London.

Remus knew all about how guilt worked, how it could make you angry and resentful, desperate to be rid of it. And he wondered why Sirius didn't just break up with him, if he wanted someone else. Whatever it was that was eating at him, it had already cast a pall over their relationship, and Remus wasn't sure they could recover. Continuing on this way could only ruin what was left of their friendship.

He closed his eyes against the idea, the headache and heartache already impinging on his weary body, but he realized he'd have to be the strong one, the one to end it.

He stole another glance at the currently oblivious Sirius, and fought against the urge to hold on a little longer. Sirius deserved better, and so did he.


July 1995

"No! No! James!"

Remus wakes with a start at the sound. The walls of the cottage aren't very thick, and Sirius is right next door.

He throws off the covers and swings out of bed, the wood floor warm against the soles of his feet. He thinks, as he has every night since Sirius arrived, that perhaps he should have followed his first instinct and offered to share his own bed, rather than giving Sirius the guest room.

He wonders if it feels as much like an exile to Sirius as it does to him.

He'd reckoned Sirius would want as much space, as much freedom as he could possibly get, and sharing a bed with an ex-lover seemed awfully confining to Remus. Not to mention presumptuous on his part.

He's still not sure if it's concern for Sirius or his own fear that leaves so much unsaid between them.

Sirius is quiet when Remus slips into his room, but Remus doesn't leave right away. He stands at the window, dividing his attention between the waning moon and Sirius's still-too-thin form.

Their time together has passed quickly, amiably, as if they were nothing more than old school chums who'd lost touch along the way. They sleep in, since Remus works nights, and spend their days researching ever more obscure magic for the war against Voldemort. In the late afternoons, they walk to the park, where Padfoot (Snuffles, Remus must constantly remind himself) runs in the grass, plays with other dogs and with delighted children. The Muggles wouldn't know a Grim if they saw one; to them, Pad-- Snuffles is a big, lovable goof. Remus smiles and laughs, feeling younger and more carefree than he has in almost fifteen years, even knowing what darkness approaches.

In a few days' time, they'll be moving into the Black family home in London. Sirius has offered it to Dumbledore as headquarters for the Order, and as it's Unplottable, Dumbledore has accepted it.

Remus is not looking forward to the move and he knows Sirius dreads it even more than he. He remembers Sirius's flight from home at the age of sixteen, remembers Mrs. Black's tirades on Mudbloods and half-breeds, and suppresses a shiver.

Remus would like to get the air between him and Sirius cleared before they remove to London, but he's not sure how to do it. He's never been one for meaningful discussion of his feelings, and none of the books on relationships he's browsed through (and he has to grin at the amazing number of books Muggles produce on the subject) cover their particular situation. His grin widens into a full-fledged smile as he imagines it -- _Gay Werewolves and the Innocent Ex- Convicts Who Love Them_.

He wonders if there's any money to be made in writing such a book, and has to bite back a laugh so he doesn't wake Sirius, who now seems to be sleeping peacefully.

He likes the feel of having a smile on his face, but he sobers abruptly as he recalls that he's no longer sure how Sirius feels about him. A shallow version of their friendship has been rebuilt, but neither of them seems prepared to address the deeper questions.

Sirius begins thrashing, the sheets twining around him, baring him to the waist. His hands curl into fists and his face twists in pain.

Instinct overcoming his reservations, Remus moves swiftly to the bed, slips in beside him.

"Shh," he whispers, curling his body around Sirius, stroking his hair. "I'm here."

"Remus?" Sirius asks, voice hoarse, eyes still closed.


"Just another nightmare," Sirius says.

"I know." Sirius doesn't respond; Remus can feel the tension in him, muscles locked, unable to fight or flee. Remus closes his eyes, breathes Sirius in. Warmth floods his chest and he tightens his embrace for a moment, before thought returns. Sirius is shivering, even in the August heat; his skin is clammy where it's pressed up against Remus. 'It's too much, too fast,' Remus thinks, 'I've mucked it up.' He withdraws, but only an inch or two. "I'm sorry," he says. "I'll just go."

Sirius grabs his hand in a viselike grip, runs a thumb over Remus's wrist.

"No," he says. "Stay."

Sirius sighs and Remus feels this familiar-yet-strange body in his arms relax. He inhales again, buries his face in Sirius's hair. Up close, he can see there's gray in it, and he's once again full of sorrow at the years Sirius has lost, the darkness they've both endured.

Closing his eyes, his last thought before he falls asleep, Sirius in his arms, is that they both deserve better. And maybe, now that they're together again, they can have it.


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