Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Sirius/Remus (others scattered/implied)
Challenge/Prompt: au_bingo - Mundane
Rating: PG-13 (liberal use of bad language)
Word Count: 4120
Copyright: Title is a Gold Motel song.
Summary: In which Sirius is almost definitely some degree of mentally disturbed, Tonks really needs to leave the hair dye alone, and Lily and James actually did die in a car crash.
Author’s Notes: I know I don’t write for this fandom too often, but when I was thinking about what I wanted for my mundane prompt – i.e the one where you take a supernatural fandom and then remove all the things that make it exciting – the idea for this story popped into my head. I really wish it hadn’t, because this story makes me actively unhappy and gets way too close to home in places, but whatever. Hopefully it’s vaguely in character despite the fact I hardly ever delve into HP land. And seriously, this is not a happy or particularly hopeful story, so if you’re having a bad day, don’t read this.
All the greatest loves are the unfinished ones.
– Gold Motel
Sirius is all torn kneecaps and shitty cigarettes and palms scraped along the wall, rain dripping from his tangle of hair. Remus sighs when he opens the door and thinks fucking fuck, fucking fuck, fucking fuck, three times in rapid succession, follows it up with what have you taken now? and ends it on and couldn’t you have done this in your own home? Aloud, all he says is: “hi.”
When Sirius grins it’s sudden and sharp and much too bright, and it’s worse than the scowl he was wearing before. “Hi.”
Remus sighs and steps back and lets him into his tiny flat, all the furniture battered into cheap submission and painstakingly stuck together because he has no money and no prospect of money either. He doesn’t mind; it’s home, or enough of it not to matter anymore.
He follows Sirius down the narrow hallway into his living room, where his sofa lolls against the wall and the TV plays alternating bursts of a channel five repeat of a crime show he wasn’t watching anyway and white static. Sirius ambles over to the sofa and collapses onto it with a groaning of springs that makes Remus grit his teeth even if the poor long-suffering couch has had far greater indignities inflicted on it in the past.
“Do you want some tea?” he asks instead.
Sirius considers it for longer than the question really merits, but he nods in the end. “Yeah,” he mumbles, the sound almost lost, remembering to tag on: “please” after a while.
“Ok,” Remus says softly, just to fill in the space. He resigns himself to making two cups of tea, one of which will never be drunk because Sirius will be asleep before he’s even added the milk. It always works out that way.
“I’m drunk,” Sirius murmurs after a while, sprawled on his back with the harsh electric lighting slanting across his thin face, playing across features that used to be beautiful and which are now just tired. “Just drunk, not whatever else you think I am.”
Well, it’s nice to know. Remus thinks about biting off a well, that makes a nice change, but it’s not really his place. His place is to patch up the pieces and to remind Sirius to pay the rent and the bills in his own shitty little flat so the water doesn’t get cut off again. Toss recriminations into that mix and neither of them will get out of this alive. He looks at his ancient kettle, waiting for it to boil, as his television loses and regains signal in the quiet room.
“All right,” he says finally, and anyway, Sirius is already asleep.
Tonks goes by her surname, always, which is fair enough since her parents gave her an utterly ridiculous first name which sounds more like a sneeze than a real name and she gave Sirius a black eye for calling her it once. He laughed it off and told her she was his soulmate and wore the bruise with pride until it faded.
Today, her hair is blue. It wasn’t when Remus last saw her, three days ago.
“I like it,” he says, tugging one of the curls that brushes her cheek. She smiles, bright and quick, and far more real than most of the smiles Remus has had directed at him recently. “What does Kingsley think?” he adds.
Tonks shrugs. “He sighed in a resigned sort of way. He’s not big with words, you know?”
Kingsley is a good guy who could probably crush Remus’ skull with one hand if he wanted to, but they actually get on quite well so hopefully that will never come up.
“I do know,” he agrees, managing a smile of his own.
Tonks and Remus dated for about a month until she actually saw him and Sirius together in the same room, and three days later she told him she wanted him in her life but they weren’t going to work out. Remus can never quite decide if he loves her for what she did and how she did it, with such grace, or if he hates her for it. Either way, she’s a friend who doesn’t turn up at his door bleeding and under the influence of who knows what, and Remus doesn’t have a lot of those.
“So, what colour are you going next?” he asks teasingly, and she sticks her tongue out in reply.
There was a time when Sirius shone brighter than anyone; girls wanted him, boys wanted him, boys wanted to be him. Black curls and gleaming eyes and an infectious smile that lit up any room he walked into. He had the world sprawled begging at his feet and laughed at his options until it looked like it hurt. Remus was so jealous it made him almost sick, but he couldn’t hate Sirius, no matter how hard he tried. Not truly. Not enough.
Remus was awkward as a teenager, quiet and uncomfortable and fiercely aware of the scars that littered his skin, scrawled remains of an event Remus couldn’t even remember; his parents’ car tumbling off the motorway one wet night. He was lucky to survive, but back then he couldn’t appreciate it; he looked like he’d been shredded, body made of scar tissue and t-shirts just the wrong side of worn thin. He wonders, sometimes, if Sirius and James pitied him back then; he wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out they had. He pitied himself in an abstract sort of way, though mostly his life was taken up with Sirius and James’ teenage angst, which was much louder and more time-consuming than his own.
Sirius’ parents were far more upper class than he was willing to admit and had things carefully planned out for him, planned out to the extent that it made Sirius angry and restless and rebellious and just a little dangerous as a result, and with James, well, with James it was always Lily, who went to the all girls’ school up the road, uniform skirt rolled over carefully at the top, red hair like fire when she passed them on the way home. Next to that, Remus’ chronic shyness and semi-dismantled body faded into quiet insignificance, and after a while he even taught himself to be grateful for that.
Sometimes, he misses the way Sirius glittered back then; the anger was something beautiful, sharp, elegant, something you couldn’t take your eyes off, something you were drawn to. Now, it’s painful to watch, ugly and bitter and sour, and only Remus is left staring because somehow he never got around to looking away and he’s not even sure he knows how to anymore.
Sirius traces the thin web of scar that links Remus’ right eye to the corner of his mouth with a steady concentration that would make Remus blush if he still blushed at anything Sirius did. He’s quiet tonight, thoughtful, and angry in an unspoken way that ripples sharp beneath the surface. The television flickers in and out of focus, Casablanca burbling away like an afterthought.
“Fucking Peter,” Sirius mutters.
Remus blinks, eyelashes brushing Sirius’ thumb, and the corner of Sirius’ mouth twitches. Remus sighs, and knows why this is happening. Of course he does. They were golden boys at school, smart and funny and prepared for a future that was going to be full of light and money and possibilities. Only life didn’t wind up like that, life pissed all over them; Sirius has fallen apart and Remus is sinking and James is dead and Peter... Peter is an accountant. He has no intention of ever talking to them again, living his colourless life in an ill-fitting suit and a tired smile. He didn’t even go to Lily and James’ funeral, running scared of something none of them have ever been able to define.
Sirius fucked up Peter’s car once with a length of lead piping. Remus provided the alibi and Sirius covered his tracks, so no one found out; Peter knows, of course, but there’s something comforting in the fact there’s nothing he can do about it.
Remus sighs, long and slow. “Fucking Peter,” he agrees quietly.
Tonks is making them both earl grey, blue hair tumbling around her shoulders, happily at home in his cramped kitchen. Remus is already wondering what colour she’s going to go next; her attention span is notoriously short and she changes her hair at least once a month.
“Why are we whispering?” she asks after twenty minutes, having held out far longer than Remus expected her to. He likes to think he’d have asked earlier, but part of him suspects that he would never have asked at all; parts of him have yet to learn to assert themselves.
“Sirius is asleep,” he responds. “He’s probably dead to the world, but I don’t really want to risk it.”
Tonks darts a glance at Remus’ closed bedroom door, expression contemplative. “Do you know what he took last night?” she asks at last.
Remus shakes his head. “I didn’t ask, he was too busy swiping at all these curtains, or veils, or something, they weren’t actually there, anyway.” He tries to smile. “I shoved him into bed and left him a basin to be sick into, I’ll go and check on him later.”
Tonks laughs, keeping the sound low. “You’re a better person than I am, Remus Lupin,” she remarks, “I wouldn’t let him sleep in my bed.”
Remus’ smile still doesn’t feel quite real but he keeps it going anyway. “Why do you think I own plastic undersheets?”
Tonks waggles her eyebrows at him. “I did wonder...” she teases, and Remus thinks for the hundredth time that he doesn’t deserve to have someone like her in his life, someone still saturated with sunshine. His own sunshine died out years ago, and while Sirius is still burning, it’s the dangerous flames of a petrol fire, saturated and just a little desperate.
She’s watching him now, teapot forgotten. “Do you...” Tonks hesitates, then pushes. “Do you ever think that maybe he needs help? I mean, serious help.”
Of course Remus has thought this, but he knows by now he’ll never get Sirius into rehab. Sirius doesn’t want to be sober ever again, and who is Remus to ask him to stop destroying himself just because it’s destroying him a little bit too? It’s not like he’s got anything that he can offer Sirius in exchange for his broken pieces of anger and self-loathing.
His mouth works for a while, words refusing to break through his lips. After a moment, Tonks walks over and pulls him into a hug, face crushed silently into his shoulder. She breathes sorry against his jumper, carefully soft.
The library where Remus works is quiet and dusty and reassuring. He spends most of his time telling bored-looking teenagers to turn their phones off or helping kindly little old ladies find Jilly Cooper novels (trying not to blush as he does so), collecting late fines from people who glare at him resentfully like it’s his fault they can’t be bothered to bring things back on time, cramming battered paperbacks onto the shelves. The pay isn’t brilliant and loads of the people who come in just want to use the internet, but he likes his job anyway.
He’s gone to great pains never to tell Sirius where he works and Sirius has never asked him. It’s a thin line but one Remus doesn’t want crossed; enough hours of his life are already given over to holding Sirius together. Maybe too many, but Remus has never been able to define anything where Sirius is concerned, has never given thought to creating normal parameters. All it ever took was Sirius looking quietly angry, cigarette between his teeth behind the gym block, muttering I had another fight with my parents, and Remus would just walk out of school with him, leaving lessons scattered behind him. It’s really a wonder he got an O Levels at all, actually, a wonder any of them got qualifications in the end.
Remus is trying not to think about all that, because Sirius is stuck in the past and he doesn’t want to be; one of them has to be willing to look forwards instead of back all the time.
Schoolkids start trailing in at around four, uniform ties askew, feet dragging towards their homework with reluctance. Remus keeps half an eye on them but nobody ever comes to riot in a library; even rebels have to do algebra from time to time.
A boy comes up to the desk, a stack of books on Ancient Rome in his arms, library card perched on the top. His dark hair is messy and his round glasses are sliding to the end of his nose, and he’s breathtakingly familiar for a moment. Remus thinks, desperate, James, then switches it to Harry, but he scans the kid’s card into the system and his name is different, unrelated. His gaze skims over Remus’ scars but Remus is used to this by now and barely notices it, trying to stop his hands shivering.
When he’s gone and Remus’ heart is still lurching in his chest, he begins to think that maybe Sirius has it right after all. They’re all wrecked; what’s the fucking point of anything anymore.
“I’m a shitty godfather,” Sirius is telling the burn mark on Remus’ ceiling. “Harry will be in therapy when he gets older, and he’ll tell the therapist what a shitty godfather I am.”
The therapy thing seems to be bothering Sirius more than anything else; he’s said it about six times since he arrived on Remus’ doorstep in the middle of Midsomer Murders.
“I’m sure he’ll blame it on Vernon and Petunia,” Remus replies, neutrally, because while Harry isn’t his godson, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. Of course he cares about the only thing that’s left of James and Lily, the only good thing that’s come out of all this.
“They’re cunts,” Sirius snaps, voice less blurred than it has been up to this point.
“They are,” Remus agrees sadly, thinking of birthday cards returned unopened, telephones slammed down. Lily’s sister and her husband moved years ago, no forwarding address; they can’t get hold of them now and they have no claim on Harry. No one should ever let Sirius near a child anyway, not even a teenager as Harry presumably is by now. “They’re cunts and Harry will tell his therapist this and you’ll be off the hook.”
Sirius presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, hissing through his teeth. He hasn’t shaved in a couple of days and his jeans are torn open in too many places; he looks more like a homeless person than ever. Remus pulls his gaze away, fingers wrapped around a chipped mug of rooibos tea.
“What if he wonders why I never came to find him?” Sirius asks after a while. Remus can’t think of anything to say to him, swallowing hard. Eventually, Sirius laughs, split and sharp. “I’d have fucked him up,” he mumbles. “I’d have fucked him up.”
Remus bites his lower lip and says nothing.
Tonks’ hair is lilac, light and vivid. It makes her eyes look bigger, although that might be because she’s wearing too much eyeliner. She shouldn’t be able to carry it off, but somehow she does.
“It’s going to wash out really quickly,” she complains, picking at a hole in the knee of her black tights. “Needs lots of maintenance.”
“It looks good,” Remus assures her, instead of saying you can get used to maintaining something.
She grins at him and it’s nice here, in her small but well-decorated flat. The furniture is all the cheap stuff from Ikea but she’s young enough to still be able to carry it off (Remus is still young, though he has to remind himself of this from time to time; he feels like he was born old and somehow never really managed to regress) and she has huge windows which let in glossy sunshine.
“You’re preoccupied,” she observes, reaching to curl a small hand over his knee.
Tonks knows bits and pieces, too much and too little, and when they made love her skin was soft and sprinkled with tattoos and she touched his scars with something like reverence. It was a long time ago, or maybe it wasn’t, and anyway Remus has given up a lot more for Sirius than a relationship that would never have worked out anyway.
“The anniversary is coming up,” Remus explains, finally. “Lily and James.”
No one’s sure exactly what happened, but the car crashed and burst into flames and someone managed to get Harry out of the back seat but it was too late for his parents. It was Halloween, and Remus was hungover and dizzy on November the first when he got the call. Sirius started slipping that day, and he hasn’t stopped slipping since.
Tonks’ face creases with understanding, and Remus doesn’t want to do this. She doesn’t deserve this shit in her life. She deserves nothing but happiness with her boyfriend who plays in a semi-successful band and her job in a bookshop and her inability to stop changing her hair colour.
“You can talk to me, you know,” she murmurs, “you know you can.”
Remus does. “I’m waiting for the year he kills himself,” is all he says, brisk and blunt, and he can taste tears but he’s used to this so he swallows it all back down.
“He wouldn’t do that to you,” Tonks says, though he notices she doesn’t deny Sirius’ capacity to actually do it.
“He wouldn’t think about that until it was too late,” Remus reminds her, words curled on the edge of a sigh.
“I could make dinner,” Remus offers.
Sirius’ mouth twists. “I won’t eat it,” he points out.
He has stitches in his left eyebrow; Remus doesn’t ask what he did. He won’t like the answer and it’s enough that he didn’t get a telephone call from casualty at three-thirty in the morning (again), another drunken mistake on the bare pavements at chucking-out time.
It’s going to be a bad week. Remus doesn’t take a lot of holiday – where would he go? Who would he go with? – so he’s saved it up to use this week. He doesn’t want to work, to pretend to smile at people and not care when their eyes scatter across the crosshatched mess of his face. And he needs to be around because he can never tell what Sirius is going to do; and neither can Sirius.
Sirius sighs and Remus looks at the broken man lying on his living room floor and wondered if there’s anything left of that boy with the dancing eyes and the edge to his mouth that he idolised when he was old enough to know better but young enough to be hopeful anyway. Sirius has always been dangerous, will always be dangerous, and nothing’s ever going to change that.
“I’m going to bed,” Remus says, because he’s tired of watching Sirius rip both their lives to pieces. He’ll never walk away; he knows that. He’ll never walk away.
He doesn’t know how much later it is when Sirius slides under the covers next to him. Remus opens his mouth to say something and then closes it again, listening to Sirius breathing in the dark.
They were eighteen and Sirius was drunk, fury peeling off him in waves. “She’s got it all planned out,” he was snarling, low and hard, “all fucking planned out. I don’t even want to marry Narcissa, who even fucking calls their kid that, and she’s like some distant cousin, it’s practically incest...”
Remus was also drunk, but less so, sitting beside Sirius in the garden of whoever’s party this was. He watched Sirius rant in the moonlight, silver shimmering off his eyelashes.
“So tell her ‘no’,” he interrupted in the end, “just tell your mother that you won’t.”
Sirius’ mother was terrifying – not that Remus had met her on all that many occasions; she’d eyed his scars and he could feel her thinking that he wasn’t a suitable companion for her son – and had a variety of ideas of how her sons’ lives were going to pan out. Sirius strained against them as much as he could, flames of rebelling flickering in his eyes, but none of it was ever easy.
Sirius laughed, ugly and cruel in the darkness, and maybe Remus was drunker than he thought because (in the years he’s thought about this since, years and years) he could not work out how exactly Sirius leant sideways and fixed their mouths together. It was an inelegant kiss, too hard and too wet and too confused, and a string of saliva shone between their mouths when they pulled apart, glittering in the moonlight.
“Because you’re so good at saying ‘no’,” Sirius snarled, vicious, like he’d won something.
Remus closed his eyes, heaved out a sigh. His lips felt bruised. “This isn’t about me,” he said, and wasn’t sure who he was talking to.
They’ve never spoken about that night since, not ever. Remus is reasonably sure that Sirius doesn’t even remember.
“Come over,” Sirius says, midnight on the anniversary.
Remus is still dressed and awake, awaiting a call, though he wasn’t sure if it was going to come from Sirius or from the police.
“All right,” he says.
“Get a taxi,” Sirius adds, “I’ll pay you back. Don’t get a fucking night bus, ok?”
Remus sighs but doesn’t bother arguing.
He gets to Sirius’ flat and rings the doorbell for a while, but no one replies. He calls Sirius’ mobile, and Sirius’ breath roars like static down the line.
“Roof,” is all he says, and: “the door downstairs doesn’t lock.”
Remus’ stomach is very heavy and very cold and he takes the stairs three at a time, running until he gets to the top floor, climbing up the ladder someone has considerately left out to get onto the roof. There’s a water tank up here, a TV aerial, and a lot of empty flat expanse. Sirius is sitting on the wall around the edge, legs dangling.
Looking at him, Remus suddenly feels very calm. Maybe he’s been expecting this for too long, as long as he’s ever known Sirius. He walks over and sits down on the edge too, keeping a few inches between them.
“Hi,” he says, aware that he should be panicking and he isn’t.
“Hi,” Sirius echoes, turning to smile at him. He’s clean, hair freshly-washed and curling, beard gone.
They don’t say anything for a long while, and Remus’ voice doesn’t sound like his own when he says: “are you going to kill yourself?”
Sirius looks startled. “I wouldn’t do that to you,” he says, and in that moment, Remus realises that he’s sober. Startlingly, brilliantly sober.
“Tonks said that,” Remus tells him, mouth numb with something like shock, unable to think of anything else to say.
“She’s a smart woman,” Sirius observes. “You have good taste.”
“She’s not...” Remus trails off, doesn’t bother elaborating. He’s not sure what he wanted to say there, but it doesn’t seem important.
Sirius keeps his eyes on the London lights, and after a while, he says: “you don’t remember Halloween, do you?”
“I was drunk,” Remus says; he doesn’t have to ask which Halloween Sirius means.
“Drunker than me for the first and only time in your life,” Sirius agrees, laughing softly.
They sit in silence for a while longer. “James and Lily died that night,” Sirius murmurs, words spilling out in a jumble, “and we didn’t know. They died and we were dressed as vampires at that party and I was really, really sodding happy the next morning because all I could think about was how you tasted like fake blood and I didn’t even care.”
Remus’ breath catches in his chest. He was hungover when he got the call, painfully hungover, and he didn’t even think about the fact the night before was a blur because his everyday life had become a blur.
“Oh,” he says quietly.
Sirius laughs, softly, leaning into him, and before Remus can stop himself he turns his head and presses his face into Sirius’ hair. They’re both shaking, sat too close together, and Remus thinks that finding this out won’t change anything. It’s too late now, and he came to terms with that years ago.
“You know I love you, right?” Sirius whispers.
Something rips in Remus’ chest but he smiles anyway. “Yes,” he agrees quietly, “I know.”