Phantom Pain
by Victoria P.

"I'm getting too old for this," Remus mutters, leaning against the wall and clutching the stitch in his side.

"I think we lost them." Even in the dim light of the alley, Bill's hair shines like a beacon.

"Alarms and anti-Apparation wards. We didn't expect that," Remus says.

"We should have," Bill says. "I should have."

"Since when are you omniscient?"

"It's my job, my thing."

Remus raises an eyebrow. "Your -- thing." He enjoys the way Bill flushes at the innuendo; he's even more attractive when his skin is tinged with pink.

Remus knows he probably shouldn't be having such thoughts about Bill Weasley, especially since Bill is involved with the very beautiful, very female Fleur Delacour, and Sirius has only been ... gone for five months. Five months, twelve days, seven hours. He can probably pin it down to the minutes and seconds if he thinks about it, but he tries not to. Not while they're working, anyway.

"So what now?" Bill asks, changing the subject.

"We catch our breath and then Apparate."

Bill leans against the wall, smelling of sweat and something spicy Remus can't quite identify. He is only an inch or two taller than Remus; their shoulders brush as they breathe. Bill is warm and strong and so achingly there, such a contrast to the cold, brick wall behind them. Life hasn't had a chance to ruin him yet, and Remus hopes it never will.

"Are you all right?" Bill asks. "They threw some pretty nasty hexes."

"I'm fine. You?"

Bill cocks his head, looks at him. "Fine."

He's standing so close. It's far too easy to put a hand on his shoulder - it's been too long since Remus has had any but the most cursory contact with another human being. When they'd first arrived back at Grimmauld Place after Sirius fell, Molly held him and stroked his hair; Tonks curled up in his lap, cried on his chest. But after that first outpouring of grief, they'd tiptoed around him, acted as if he'd break if they touched him.

Five months later, they still do.

And he needs to be touched, just like everybody else does. He spent almost thirteen years in an isolation of his own making, brushing up against other people but never connecting, never having anything more than the most shallow interaction possible.

Bill cants toward him, and the air between them hums with possibility. "Remus?" he asks, voice low and hoarse.

Remus moves his hand from Bill's shoulder to his cheek, ghosts a thumb over the stubble there before feathering his mouth against Bill's. He licks at Bill's lips, which part readily. There is nothing hesitant about the kiss; he slants his mouth over Bill's, warmth blossoming in his chest and groin as Bill's tongue slides over his, demanding a response. His hands slip into the red hair spilling silky and soft down Bill's back, coming loose from its ponytail.

Bill tastes of cloves from the cigarettes he sneaks when Molly's not around, with a hint of peppermint.

His hands clutch Remus's shoulders; it takes Remus a moment to realize he's not being pushed away. Then he gives all his attention to the taste and texture of Bill against his tongue -- rough and slick at the same time, hot and wet and hungry.

Kissing Bill is like waking in a snug bed on a cold morning, warm, good, comforting -- a fire banked but ready to burn.

Kissing Sirius was like flying for the first time, or diving into the ocean on a hot summer's day -- a shock to the system that never gets old, never loses its ability to excite and surprise.

Remus thinks he may be ready for a little less excitement and a little more comfort in his life.

Bill breaks the kiss, the look on his face more thoughtful than angry. They are both breathing heavily, and not because they just ran twelve blocks from a gang of Death Eaters.


"I'm sorry," Remus says, but he's not, really.

"Fleur--" Bill begins, but Remus cuts him off again.

"I know. I was out of line. I apologize." He sidles away, putting some distance between them.

They are silent for a few moments; Remus pushes off the wall and begins walking. He has to calm down before he can Apparate; the last thing he needs is to splinch himself.

He can hear Bill behind him, can almost hear him thinking. Remus has had this conversation before. Long before Sirius, there was James, a stolen kiss and a gentle rejection. It's funny, he thinks, how rejection stays with you forever; the successes blur together, and the feeling of acceptance fades, but he can remember the sting of rejection like it was yesterday.

He runs a hand over his face. He'll be laughing at his stupidity in a moment -- not just for kissing Bill, but for rehashing a schoolboy infatuation that died years ago. Kissing James had been exciting in theory, but it had felt like kissing his sister. Later on, he'd kissed Sirius, and it had been like waking up after a long sleep. Sirius was an addiction, an itch that could never be scratched. It hadn't mattered that Sirius had been scared at first, had pushed him away.

Remus learned the difference between liking someone and wanting them.

Right now, he wants Bill.

It's a terrible idea. Remus knows this. And he knows the wanting will pass. He takes a deep breath, racks his brain for something mature and witty to say to defuse the situation, but Bill speaks first.

"I know missing him hurts."

Remus freezes. He'd been repressing successfully until now. His relationship with Sirius has never been a topic of discussion; he's not sure who knew and who didn't, and he doesn't really care anymore.

"It hurts more that sometimes I don't." The words are out before he can stop them. Bill makes some wordless noise of comfort or encouragement, and Remus continues, "Sometimes a whole hour goes by and I don't think of him. I got used to not thinking of him, got used to him being gone--"

Occasionally, after the transformation, he feels the loss of keener wolf senses. Sometimes it takes him a moment or two to remember he doesn't have a tail. Now he wakes every morning with that same vague sense of loss, the full import of which doesn't hit him until he realizes where he is. Where Sirius is not.

Surprisingly, the loss is more familiar than Sirius's presence was, more predictable, and in some horrific way, Remus finds it comforting. He knows how to do this, how to suffer and endure without going mad. Unless he's already gone, which, considering what's just happened and the way his head is spinning, is entirely possible.

It's somehow easier to discuss this with someone who didn't know them both when they were young. And it's definitely easier when he's facing away, when he can't see the pity in Bill's eyes. He's been the object of pity his whole life. It's more than one man should have to bear.

"You know, Mum had a little girl between Charlie and Percy," Bill says, interrupting his wallow. "Elizabeth."

"I'm sorry," he says helplessly. "I didn't know."

"Most people don't. She-- there was something wrong with her heart. Even the Healers couldn't help her. She didn't-- She only lived a few days." He can feel Bill moving closer, but Remus doesn't turn to look at him. "She was so tiny. That's all I remember -- how small she was. And I wasn't so big myself."

"So you're telling me to get over it, stop feeling sorry for myself? Stiff upper lip and all that?" he asks with false lightness, forcing a smile even though Bill can't see.

"God, no." Bill's breath is warm against Remus's skin, and his hand is strong and comforting on Remus's shoulder. "Just--" He interrupts himself. "It fades with time," he says, "but it never disappears."

Remus turns, finally, to see a faraway look in Bill's eyes. Again, there is far too little distance between them, but this time, Bill pulls him close, long arms enfolding him. Remus shuts his eyes and buries his head in Bill's shoulder, inhaling the scent of sweat and cloves and Bill. Bill holds him, saying nothing.

He breathes, feeling his heart rate slow for the first time since the Death Eaters burst in on them at the warehouse. Bill's heart keeps time with his, his breathing slow and even. Remus lets himself be lulled for a moment, lets himself believe the endless ache in his chest will fade. He doesn't think he imagines the brush of Bill's lips against his hair, but he wouldn't swear to it, either. He takes another deep breath, and lifts his head.

They both move away at the same time, and Remus knows they will never speak of it again.

"Time to head back?" Bill asks casually, tucking a wayward lock of hair behind his ear.

"I think so, yes."

Bill Apparates, and Remus follows. He lets the nothingness of Apparation take him for a moment, and then he's home, in the familiar embrace of pain.


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