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The Barista, the Burglar, and the Sofa

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     It had been two months since Remus Lupin had been unceremoniously and perhaps even illegally kicked out of his ex-boyfriend Alex’s place — two months since he’d found himself homeless with no money in the bank and no clue how he was supposed to afford lodgings in London by himself on a barista’s salary.

     It had been a month and a half since he’d moved into the Flat From Hell.

     But somehow it felt much longer than that.  Remus had started developing theories (late night, can’t sleep, back-too-sore-internal-monologue-too bitter-type theories) about how time passes differently depending on one’s current situation.  Much like how there were dog years and cat years, there were bored hours and Hell weeks.  A bored hour equals six regular hours equals eighteen fun hours.  A Hell week equals two normal hours and so on and so on.  Some of his late-nightiest, bitterest, most philosophically miserable musings led him to the conclusion that the souls of the dead probably only spend a year or so in Hell (actual literal Hell, not Flat from Hell Hell, which is actual figurative Hell) but time just passes so slowly they confuse it with eternity.

     The flat itself had been Peter’s suggestion.  He’d been happy to convince Remus to move into this “great place not far from campus” with “cheap rent” because “the landlady’s a friend of my mum’s.” 

     “And sure,” Peter had noted anxiously, “it isn't in the best neighborhood, but who could complain about the price?”

     Of course, by “great place not far from campus,” Peter meant one only a fifteen minute walk, three stops on the underground, and five minutes on a bus away from campus.  By “cheap rent” he meant only two paychecks.  By “friend of my mum’s,” he meant a grumpy lady his mother had gone to uni with who was desperate to get tenants in the shitty old building she was too cheap to have demolished.  And by “not the best neighborhood,” he meant a five block area so uniformly and openly depressing and the first time Remus went to see it he thought he’d walked onto a film set.  He’d gotten into the habit of playing “kick the needle” on his daily commute.

     So no, Remus couldn’t quite complain about the price.  But, he thought as he crawled off of the old duvet he’d been using as a bed, he could bloody well complain about everything else.

     Remus’s morning ablutions were conducted with a sense of unease.  Pipes groaned and clicked as they processed his morning piss, and water sputtered from the faucet in weak and uneven spurts.  Remus couldn’t help but imagine the entire building collapsing one day.  One day he was going to pull the lever on the old yellowish toilet and the thing was going to fall through the floor and the floor beneath that and all the way down until it hit the bottom.  Then the whole building would fall apart around it and the pipes in Remus’s bathroom would be spurting water and piss and shit like fireworks across the neighborhood and Remus would just be there with his pants down and his cock in hand staring at the building that he destroyed that morning because he had to pee.

     Fortunately, that didn’t happen (not that day, at least).  Eventually the pipes went silent and the building still stood.

     Remus sighed and closed his eyes.  Even the stupid thought of his toilet blowing the building up made his heart race.  He ran through his breathing exercises quickly, and tried to recite the mental affirmations from The Books.

     Shortly after Remus’s mother learned that moving to London had not cured her son of his various neuroses and ills, mysterious packages from Amazon started appearing at his door step.  The boxes contained books with titles like Mindfulness Techniques for Depression, How to Cure Anxiety with Meditation and Chakra Healing for LGBT Youths.  Gift receipts inside featured messages from his mother like “Please just try the technique on page 67” and “My circle enjoyed this one, I think you should give it a go.”

     He’d thought they would all be stupid, but some of the techniques were actually pretty interesting.  Mindfulness especially.  He’d been working to get into the habit of paying detailed attention to everything around him.  It was fascinating— when you paid a great deal of attention to all the tiny reasons why something is shit, the shitness feels less shitty and more magnificently shitty.  And magnificent shitness is still magnificence.  Even if it’s also shit.

     Remus mindfully rummaged through his clothes heap and found something like an outfit in the confused tangle of jeans and socks and jumpers.  He pulled his coat on with intention and left the flat.  Wind smacked him across the face as he walked out the building.  He noted that.  He trudged to the underground stop as old cans and used wrappers of every imaginable origin rolled around him like little urban tumbleweeds.  He noted that.  As he sat on a bus stop bench he tried to pay loving attention to the patterns at the edges of stickers people had tried to peel off of the lamp post.

     But then the bus arrived and Remus reached for his wallet and remembered that it was pay day and remembered his rent was due in a few days and remembered the payment on his credit card and remembered his bank account and anxiety spread across his body abruptly with a familiar but still unbearable tingling sensation and his mindfulness practice ended for the day then and there and the whole bus ride was spent crunching numbers and wincing.

     When he made it to work, the only light on in the coffee shop was the one illuminating Lily as she readied the till for the day.

     “Morning, Remus,” she said as she opened the door for him.  Remus was met with the familiar scent of baking pastries and brewing coffee.  His stomach growled.  Remus closed his eyes and let the warm and calm envelop him.  His heart was still beating too fast.  He was too young for heart attacks, he knew.  But there were always exceptions.  Maybe he should start taking an aspirin everyday…

     “Morning,” he replied a little later than he probably should have, slipping by her on his way to make his usual tea (barely steeped at all, a dash of cream, three sugars).  He had no real business working at a coffee shop.  He wasn’t a morning person.  But then, he wasn’t really an afternoon or evening person, either.

     “How was your day yesterday?”  Lily asked.  She was one of those relentlessly chipper people who felt the need to impose her happiness on others.  It was almost aggressive, really: Remus was going to make small talk and he was going to like it, dammit.

     Remus shrugged.  “Dull.  Homework.”

     “You know…” she began slyly— no, not slyly, blatantly.  “I still have this really cute friend I think you’d like…”

     Remus rolled his eyes as he dipped his tea bag into the hot water.  “Lily,” he said, not actually looking at her but instead watching the water turn from clear to brown, “how many times do I have to tell you?  Not all gay men fancy each other.”

     “Yeah,” Lily continued, “but I think you’d be good together.  Just one date, that’s all I’m asking.”

     Lily had been going on about this friend of hers since Remus had accidentally outed himself during his first week of work at the coffee shop.  At the time he was still dating Alex, but Lily was absolutely certain that Remus was destined to be with her friend.  After Alex had kicked him out, she brought this mysterious friend of hers up with increasing frequency, but by then brushing the guy off had become a matter of principle, a lesson to his straight coworkers that just because two men are gay that doesn’t mean they should date.  Besides, blind dates never ended well for Remus.  The last one he’d been on had resulted in him dating Alex.

     But Remus was starting to seriously consider taking her up on the offer.  After all, Lily was alright, her friend would probably be okay.  And he was starting to get desperate.  And lonely.  And so very, very horny.  And it can be really hard to get laid when one is a skinny nerd with very little free time and scars all over one’s body from a car crash when one was young.

     “And besides,” Lily went on, “you’d be doing me a favor too, he’s been sort of listless recently… he’s between jobs… he doesn’t really know what to do.  I think he just needs a good man to sort him out.”

     That was a negative, then.  Remus didn’t know why (alright, he did know why— it was the woolen jumpers and the 3.9 GPA and the yes-darling-of-course-I’d-love-to-meet-your-mother haircut) but people always assumed that he was the sort of guy who would just fix everything and everyone.  The result?  All of his friends tried to set him up with their pet queer fuck ups.  A few dates later, and Remus would have a broken heart at best and a few missing pieces of furniture at worst.  Or he’d end up homeless.  There are breakups, Remus thought, and there are breakups where you end up homeless.

     “Look, Lily…” Remus said, lifting the bag out of his mug. He swung it like a little pendulum and released.  He watched as it sailed through the air and into the bin. “I’m sure he’s lovely.  I’m sure he’s a great guy with a wonderful personality and a pert arse and I’m sure I’d fall in love with him if I just gave him a chance…”

     “But,” Lily replied.

     “But,” Remus confirmed.  He tossed his stirring straw at the bin like a mini javelin.  It hit the rim and did a little backflip as it fell to the floor.  “But I’m just not interested right now.  I need to focus on my studies and… I don’t know… something.  It’s too early for me to make a compelling argument.”

     “So say yes,” Lily said, arms crossed.

     “Here’s my counterpoint,” Remus replied, eyeing her as he picked the straw up off the floor and threw it away properly, “no.”

     Lily smiled.  Or smirked, maybe.  With Lily the two were pretty much interchangeable.  “One of these days, Lupin.  One of these days I’m going to have the pleasure of introducing you to the love of your life.”

     Remus was about to make a reply he was sure would be so snappy and clever he’d be spending the rest of the day repeating it in his head and chuckling to himself, but the bell on the door rang and he had to hold his tongue.  There were overpriced vehicles for caffeine and sugar to concoct.  The people of London needed their neurotoxins so they could deal with the other people of London.  The conversation got lost in the mess of syrups and espresso shots and whipped cream that followed.  Two o’clock came around and it was time for Remus to leave.

     As he hung his apron up and grabbed his coat, Lily said, “don’t forget, Lupin.  I know your soulmate.  Say the word and I can probably have you in bed with an Adonis tonight.”

     This was starting to get annoying.  “Are you fucking serious?”

     Lily gave him a strange look, then thew her head back and laughed so loudly that a few nearby customers stopped their conversation and looked at her in confusion.  “No,” she managed to choke out between bouts of laughter, “but you could be.”

     Remus didn’t have time to question her.  He was already running late.  “Bye, Lily,” he said, leaving the laughing woman behind.  Crazy ginger…

     The rest of Remus’s day passed in a narratively irrelevant blur.  A bus and two underground stops later, and he was at campus.  Six hours and two bus rides later, he was at the grocery store.  Thirty pounds and yet another bus after that, and Remus was back home.

     Upon his arrival, Remus noticed four things:

  1. The door to his flat was open.
  2. The light was on.
  3. There was a man in his flat.
  4. The man was very, very sexy.

     He was wearing traditional (stereotypical? cliché?) burglar clothing: black trousers, a black turtleneck (rolled up at the forearms) and black gloves.  Silky black hair reached down towards his broad shoulders. His features were delicate and well sculpted — aristocratic, a writer would probably say, except aristocrats weren’t usually that good looking — and his skin was luminous as it was flawless, like polished marble.  He was also clearly shocked to see Remus as well.

     “You live here?” the burglar asked, incredulous.  His voice was smooth and somehow even more sexy than his face. It was the sort of posh usually reserved for period dramas about giant manor houses and unfortunate daughter to son ratios— the sort of poshness that existed for the sole purpose of reminding everyone else just how posh they weren’t.

     Rather than barking out the “who the fuck are you?!” or “I’m calling the police!” he was likely supposed to, Remus felt a lump develop in his throat.  He coughed.  “Uh, sorry?”

     The burglar glanced around the room.  “You’ve got… nothing.”  He looked pensive for a moment then he smiled suddenly.  Remus felt light headed.  “I’ll be right back,” the burglar said, breezing past Remus, who hadn’t left the doorway.  As he brushed by, Remus caught a whiff of expensive-smelling cologne.  The fucker even smelled sexy.

     And with that he was gone, leaving nothing but confusion and a sharp musk in his wake.

     Actually, Remus realized as he came to his senses and started to inspect his flat, he left everything.  Nothing had changed about the place since Remus had gone to work that morning,  from the laptop resting on the milk crate he’d been using as a chair to the cardboard box he was using as a table to the small heap of clothing in the corner to the stack of books by the old duvet he slept on.  Nothing had been touched.

     Remus finally forced his legs to work and put his groceries down on the small chipped formica counter.  What had just happened finally started to sink in.  Remus thought he should have felt angry, or maybe violated.  After all, someone had broken into his flat.  Instead, his cheeks felt hot and his stomach tightened.  He was humiliated.

     Quite possibly the most attractive man Remus had ever seen, and he was a burglar.  A burglar who thought he was so pathetic he didn’t even bother to take anything.  Hell, he hadn’t even seemed scared when Remus walked in on him.  And Remus fucking apologized.

     Wait… shit, Remus thought as he put his groceries away.  Was I supposed to call the police?  He somehow even fucked up getting burgled.

     He pulled his phone of his pocket instinctually, but didn't move to make a call.  What was he supposed to say?  “Yes, hello, I’d like to report a crime.  This pretty posh boy with eyes like storm clouds and a mouth like sin just appeared in my flat.  He didn’t take anything, but he made me feel embarrassed.  Actually, please send an ambulance.  I think I may die of humiliation.”

     Remus sank to the floor and let his head fall back against the fridge.  It made an audible thud.  What did one do in this situation?

     He glanced over at the pile of textbooks in the corner.  Study, he should just study.

     So Remus spent the next hour trying to replace thoughts of sexy burglars in tight black trousers with thoughts of 16th century battles.  He was starting to achieve something like success when he heard loud shuffling and shouting coming from the stairwell outside is flat.

     “Pick up your end, you git!” 

     “I was taking a rest, you just shoved me into the wall!” 

     “I’m not holding this thing on the middle of a fucking stairwell!  Move!”  

     “ Fine, fine” 

     “To the left!  No, your other left!” 

     “That’s my right” 

     “Well, it’s my left!” 

     “Well, it’s my right!” 

     “Prongs, I swear, if you don’t start moving I’m going to drop this thing on you.  Then you’re never going to get to go out with Evans and you’re going to go to the afterlife not knowing what she looks like naked.” 

     "… your left, then?”

     The conversation got steady louder because… well, they were themselves getting steadily louder, but also because they were moving towards Remus’s door.  There was a  thud right outside his flat and Remus’s doorbell rang.  It sounded disturbingly innocent and normal when compared to the conversation that had proceeded it.

     Remus scrambled up to answer the door.

     On the other side stood the sexy posh burglar and a tall man with messy hair and glasses.  In between them was a large leather sofa.

     “Hi,” the burglar said, a wide grin on his face.  “I brought you a sofa.”

     Remus stepped out of the way instinctually as the men picked the thing up and brought it into the flat.  The man with glasses moved the cardboard box/milk crate system Remus had set up gently out of the way with his foot as they set it down in the middle of the room.

     The burglar wiped some sweat from his brow and looked over at Remus.  His cheeks were slightly flushed from the effort.  Remus tried really hard not to think of it as a post-sex face.

     Remus couldn’t meet the man’s eye, so instead he looked down at the sofa.  It dominated the room, standing taller than just about anything other than the fridge.  It was clearly expensive, and actually looked like an antique.

     “Er… where did you get that?”  Remus asked.

     The burglar and the man with glasses exchanged a look.  The burglar smirked.  “Nicked it from Buckingham palace.  The Queen hasn’t used it in years, don’t worry.  You won’t get in trouble.”

     “Ah,” Remus replied, “right.  Well, if she’s not using it…”  He probably should have pressed the matter further.  No, he definitely should have pressed the matter further.  But he was afraid he wouldn’t like the answer and would have to do something about returning the thing.  And it looked really comfy.

     The man with glasses shot Remus a smile.  “We figured it was going to waste, so…”

     “So,” Remus parroted.  “Well, uh, thank you.”  Yeah, thank you worked.  He would just stick with thank you.

     The man with glasses turned to the burglar.  “I’m parked illegally.  We should get the rest before I get a ticket.”

     The rest?

     The burglar nodded.  “Good point.”  He glanced up at Remus, his stupidly pretty grey eyes filled with mirth, “be right back.”

     Remus was left standing there dumbly and wondering why burglars wouldn’t be worried about getting in trouble over breaking into someone’s house, but would be worried about getting a parking ticket.

     But he didn’t have long to linger on the thought, because they had returned.  The burglar had a coffee table tucked under his arm, and the man with glasses held a television in one arm and a cardboard box in the other.

     The burglar placed the coffee table down in front of the sofa and the man with glasses set his things down beside it.

     “Right,” the burglar said, “we’ve got to run.  But I think I’ve got you a bed too… that’ll be a few days.”

     Before Remus could think of a reply beyond “uh, thanks?” the pair were gone, and Remus was left alone yet again with the smell of the burglar’s cologne.

     Remus examined the box that had been set down.  In it was a Playstation (the new one, he noted) along with a few controllers and some games.  He briefly considered setting up the system, but decided he was far too tired.  He sat down on the sofa.  It was very soft, and accepted his weight readily.  He ran his fingers over the smooth leather.  It was very finely made.  He’d never lived somewhere with something so nice in it.  Wherever it had come from, there was money.  Lots of it.

 

-/-

 

     Remus would have loved to tell people that that night he couldn’t sleep, that he was consumed by guilt and came up with a plan to return the sofa to its rightful owners.  He would have loved to say that he went right to his duvet and slept there.  He would have been lying.

     The truth was, that night Remus Lupin slept better than he had in months, and when he woke up his back didn’t hurt.  And when he went to work he was chipper— Remus Lupin was not a chipper man.  He had never been chipper.  He had initiated conversation with Lily that morning and she was so shocked she actually dropped the croissant she was putting out on display.

  When he went home that day, the television was on a stand and plugged in and there was a small table with some chairs by the kitchen area.  Atop the table was a small bouquet of flowers in a Chinese-style vase.  A note on the table read: From a back room in Parliament.  They won’t miss it.  You aren’t in trouble. in elegant script.

     Remus felt strangely giddy because one, a beautiful man brought him flowers, however odd the delivery; two, he wouldn’t have to eat while sitting on a milk crate anymore; and three, the burglar came back.

     Maybe Remus shouldn’t have been that excited about continuing a relationship that was comprised entirely of a beautiful man entering his home without permission and leaving him expensive and suspiciously sourced pieces of furniture, but he was.

     The table was clearly an antique and appeared to be a particularly nice one.  Intricately carved wood made up the back of the chairs and the table itself had a smooth and glossy top, shining from a hundred years of regular polishing.  Parliament, the note had said.

     Remus felt a slight jolt of anxiety in his stomach.  Intellectually, he knew the situation was wrong, but he couldn’t bring himself to call the police.  Instead, he decided to consult The Books.

     Bibliomancy, his mother (who yes, is exactly as New Age-y as one would expect anyone who wrote Remus on her son’s birth certificate would be) had taught him years ago, was the art of divining information by opening a book to a random page.  The first thing you read is something you need to know.

     Though Remus was an avowed skeptic (well, as much of a skeptic as someone riddled with anxiety can be — he’d once been able to convince himself that fairies did in fact exist and existed solely for the purpose of ensuring that he was never able to find a seat on the underground after a long shift at the coffee shop), he never quite lost the habit of consulting books when he needed some sort of guidance.  Since his mother had started sending him all the self help books, he’d taken to using them for bibliomancy.

     He gathered The Books on his lap and closed his eyes, allowing his fingers to run along their spines.  He felt a slight tingling warmth in his fingers as he moved over one (or at least he thought he did) and picked that one out.

     The Little Book of Mindfulness was a purple and gold number with small lotus blossom embellishments on the corners.  Remus closed his eyes and opened the book at a random page.

     Fear of the Unknown.

     Remus felt a small jolt go down his spine.  He hated it when these things seemed relevant.

     Humans have an inherent fear of what we do not know.  In reality, this fear is not of the Unknown itself but rather what we think we know about the Unknown.  Surprises and mysteries have a natural allure.  Next time you encounter an Unknown, rather than try to solve it or avoid it, savor the fact that you do not know.  Romanticize it.  Rather than trying to invent something in the void, breath into it.  Know that it is okay to not know, and live in the space of not knowing.  Love the Unknown.

     Remus closed the book and put it aside, rubbing the back of his neck.  He wondered if the person who wrote the book was a mental health professional.  He wondered if he ought to take the advice.  He wondered if he was crazy for wanting to.  He wondered if wondering if he was crazy was good for his mental health.

     Eventually, the spirals of his thoughts drove him to bed (or, as it was, sofa) and he fell into a fitful sort of sleep.

 

-/-

 

     Wednesday, Remus came home to the burglar in his kitchen. There was a new island with two stools beside it in the middle of the kitchen, and the burglar was in the process of putting away a large assortment of small appliances.

     “Oh,” the burglar said with a smile, “you’re home.”

     It was like this was the most normal thing in the world.  Like Remus lived with this man.  Like they were together.  Remus liked it.

     Remus nodded towards the new things on his counter: a microwave, a blender, a new kettle, a food processor, a rack of frying pans, a set of cooking utensils.  “Let me guess, from some posh restaurant in Soho.”

     The burglar’s eyes widened.  He apparently hadn’t expected Remus to make a joke. His lips (his plump, red, almost girlish lips) quirked up. “Yeah,” he replied shortly after, “want to know which one?”

     “Nope,” Remus replied, popping the p and remembering the advice of the Books.  He approached the box.  Maybe if he acted cool enough the burglar would come to accept him.  After all, though stealing was objectively bad there was still a prevailing idea in society that people who stole things were cool.  The burglar was wearing a t-shirt advertising a band Remus didn’t recognize and his hair was unironically pulled back into a manbun.  He was so stereotypically cool that his comfort with being stereotypical launched him into a whole new strata of coolness.

     “Good,” the burglar said, chuckling.  “So, how was your day?”

Remus blinked once in reply to the strangely normal question.  “Uh… good, actually,” he said, and it wasn’t until the words were out of his mouth that he realized like he sounded surprised, like he wasn’t the sort of person who normally had good days.  Which he guessed he was.  He paused.  “Yours?”

     “Long,” the burglar replied with exaggerated exhaustion.  “I started by trying to break into this mansion, but I couldn’t get past the dogs.  So I went on a sprint through the city and ended up jumping into another manor where I saw this island.  Unfortunately, the police followed me in, so I had to take it for a ride.  It has castors, you see,” Remus looked down.  There were, in fact, wheels on the bottom of the island, “so I took it out to the back garden and rode it down the hill.  They followed me on foot, not being able to fit their cars into the garden, so I quickly lost them.  Of course, I then ended up on the street, where I was forced to proceed at a very rapid pace to avoid being hit by a car or bus or cyclist.  Eventually I was run off the road and crashed into the restaurant.  The staff was taking a break so I took advantage of the situation and collected some fine kitchenware.  I was rolling along the street when I came into your neighborhood and decided that you could use it more than me.”

     Remus blinked.  “Sounds exhausting.  So is that how this works?  When you encounter something, you just take it and deposit it somewhere else?”  He tried to keep the accusatory note out of his voice, and he wasn’t sure if he was successful.

     The burglar didn’t reply immediately.  Instead, he just made very prolonged, very uncomfortable eye contact with Remus.  His eyes were a dark sort of grey, Remus thought, like storm clouds rolling in just before it rains.  Mother of fuck, he needed to get laid.  “Things have been known to … find their way into my possession,” he finally said.

     Remus knew the burglar was being purposefully evasive, but decided not to push it further.  He was going to try to follow the Book’s advice.  To love the fact that he didn’t know.  Infinite possibilities surrounded the elusive burglar, and Remus suspected the answer might not be something he wanted to know.

     “Right… so… thank you?”

     “Don’t mention it,” the burglar said.  “Seriously,” he added, his lips quirking, “don’t.”  He returned to setting up the new things in Remus’s kitchen.  “Do you like Mexican food?”

     Not where Remus thought the conversation would go.  “Yes?” he replied, like he was asking permission.

     “Good!” the burglar said.  He pulled a grocery bag up from the floor and set it on the island with a heavy thunk.  “Because I’ve been wanting to make guacamole for a while.”

     And that was how, less than half an hour later, Remus and the burglar were sitting on the expensive old sofa watching a movie and eating nachos. 

     “Oooh,” the burglar said at one point, grabbing Remus’s arm.  “This is my favorite part!”

     Remus tried to pay attention to the movie, but all he could focus on was the fact that the burglar was touching him.  The tiny little part of him that thought that maybe the whole thing was a giant hallucination was finally cast aside.  The burglar was touching him, he had physical form and could touch him and oh my god he could touch him….

     Remus jumped when the burglar started laughing.  The burglar looked over at him, but his face fell when he realized that Remus wasn’t laughing as well.

     “I uh… I’ve been watching this movie since I was a kid, so I always just found it funny, you know… for nostalgia’s sake.”  A slight, gratuitously attractive flush came to the burglar’s cheeks, and Remus realized that he was self-conscious.  The burglar, for all his posh-ness and cool-ness and manbun-ness, cared whether or not Remus thought that scene was funny.

     Remus felt nervous tingles running hot and cold across his skin.  “Can we watch it again?” he asked.  “I was distracted.”

     The flush on the burglar’s face deepened.  “Yeah,” he said, picking up the remote.

     When he put it down, he leaned forward to grab a nacho off the top and dip them in the guacamole, as the burglar moved back onto the sofa, he scooted ever so slightly closer to Remus.

     Remus took some food of his own and did the same sneaky scoot over.

     The scene rolled around.  They both laughed.  It was funny.

     Neither acknowledged the closeness or how their legs fell together and were touching.  Neither mentioned the strangeness of the situation.

     And half of Remus’s willpower was directed at trying not to get any closer to the burglar, while the other half was focused on trying to love not knowing.

 

-/-

 

     The next day was Thursday, the day Remus met with his study group.  He didn't come home until late.  His heart sank when he got home and saw no strip of light under the door.

     The burglar had come and left.  There was a wardrobe in corner now.  It also looked like an antique: there were silk screens running across the two front panels on the wardrobe’s doors featuring images of cherry blossoms.  Remus opened it.  His clean clothing was neatly hung on new hangers or folded up in the drawers.  His dirty clothing was in a wicker hamper at the side of the wardrobe.

     Remus smiled, then felt his stomach drop as he remembered the fact that he didn’t really separate his dirty clothes from his clean clothes.  He just used the sniff test to determine if they were available for use.  He grabbed the sleeve of one of the shirts hanging up and took a whiff.  Clean.  He checked a garment in the hamper.  Dirty.

     Remus groaned as his head treated him to a vibrant IMAX-quality mental movie of the burglar smelling all of his clothing.  It was perhaps the strangest, strongest, and most indirect intimacy he’d ever shared with another person.  He slumped onto the floor.  This was his life now.  He had burglars sorting his pants.  He had criminals sniffing his socks.  A man who looked like an underwear model and talked like the unholy love child of a phone sex operator and a 19th century duke had smelled his sweat.  He was probably laughing about it with all of his posh burglar buddies.  He bet there was a clubhouse somewhere where they all sipped expensive French liquor he’d never heard of and discussed in intimate, glaring, bracing, scabbing… everything-ing detail the precise nature of one Remus John Lupin’s underwear collection.  The old grey-ish pair he was too cheap to throw out.  The Batman pair his mum had bought him last Christmas because she either didn’t understand that her twenty-three year old son didn’t want his mum buying him underwear anymore or because she understood perfectly and enjoyed the embarrassed look on his face.  Or, fuck, the joke pair Peter had also gotten him last Christmas that were covered in glow-in-the-dark pickles and said Tickle My Pickle all over in green text.

     A moment later, he realized that he’d missed something in his embarrassed mental tangent.  There was a sticky note on the inside of the wardrobe’s door.

     From a mansion in Kensington.  Don’t worry, they won’t miss it.  P.S.  What brand of deodorant do you use?  It’s very nice.

     Remus banged his head against the wardrobe, and a small avalanche of clothing came down on him.  It was quite some time before he moved from under the pile.

 

-/-

 

     On Friday, the bed arrived.  Remus had opted out of drinks with some of his classmates to get home as early as possible, but the burglar wasn’t there.  Instead, there was a monstrosity of a bed in the corner where his lumpy old duvet had been.

     The bed itself was not terribly big, but made up for its small size with ridiculous elaborateness.  It was four posters, with intricately carved wood.  Gossamer curtains hung from the top.  It looked like something a fairy princess would sleep in, honestly.  There was a thick new duvet on the bed and a deeply impractical assortment of pillows and cushions.  Remus had never seen such a set up outside of one of those out-of-date decorator’s magazines he’d flipped through while waiting for a doctor’s appointment to begin.

     For all the disappointment, small bouts of giddiness fluttered around in his stomach.  A bed.  A real bed.  It had been quite some time since Remus had last slept in a real bed.

     He hesitated for a moment because he didn’t want to disrupt the masterful way in which the bed was made, but eventually his impulse won out and Remus flung himself backwards onto the mattress.

     Immediately, he realized he had made a mistake.  The bedding gave off a distinct scent— the cologne the burglar used. The burglar had been all over this bed.  Remus imagined what he must have looked like while making it, bending over and showing off his tight, round arse.  He closed his eyes and giddy butterflies in his stomach gave way to heavier sensations further south.  The burglar lying down among the sheets.  The burglar naked and bellow him.  The burglar reaching down for his cock…

     Remus slid his hand into his trousers at the thought.  He squeezed his hardening prick, imagining that his hand was that of the burglar.  Those elegant fingers wrapping around him…

     He started stroking himself in earnest then, undoing his trousers and pulling his cock out, now fully hard.  He imagined the burglar on his knees in front of him.  Sucking him, kissing up his length, letting Remus fuck his face.  He imagined the heat of his mouth, the burglar’s hands all over whatever he couldn’t get his lips on.  He started thrusting up into his hand.  The burglar was amazing at giving head — as all fantasy partners are — and took everything Remus gave him.  Remus imagined threading his fingers through that long black hair… was it as soft as it looked, he wondered?  Could he make the burglar’s back arch if he pulled back on it?  In his head, the burglar gasped as Remus tugged on his silky hair, lips swollen and wet.

     Remus gasped as he came.  In a moment of panic, he wondered if he got any jizz on the new duvet.  Fortunately, Remus saw, it appeared his old t-shirt had taken one for the team and was the only casualty of the impromptu wank he’d had atop a stolen bed to the scent of a criminal.

     Later that night, Remus noticed a small crumple of paper on the floor by bin in the kitchen, tinged blue at the creases like it had been in the pocket of a new pair of jeans.  He straightened the wad out, and found that it was two long slips of paper.  They were both receipts from earlier that day.  The first receipt (from an expensive department store Remus recognized by name but had never personally entered) listed pillows, sheets, cushions, curtains… bedding of all sorts.  The total came up to a few hundred quid.  The second was for a mattress, valued at well over a thousand pounds.  Remus stared over at the fairy princess bed as the realization slowly settled in.

     The burglar may have stolen the bed, but he’d bought everything on it.

 

-/-

 

     It’s weird, how people become suddenly aware of where the line is.  Like Remus’s mother with bugs.  Hope Lupin didn’t like large bugs.  Small bugs, fine.  Large bugs, oh motherfucking no get that away from me fuck fuck fuck.  But Remus could never tell exactly where the line is.  One day, he asked her what separated a big bug from a small bug in her mind.

     “You know,” she’d said, “I couldn’t tell you without seeing one.  When I just about jump out of my skin and start throwing profanity around like it’s confetti, that’s how I know.”

     For Remus, the line was apparently when the burglar started buying things from him.  It didn’t mean he was no longer okay with the situation (weirdly, potentially accessory-to-burglary okay with the situation), it more opened a floodgate of questions he’d been ignoring for days, like the Book had told him.  He didn’t want to think about where those nice things had actually come from, but now the questions had arrived and they didn’t want to shut up. 

     Maybe the man was a criminal, but he apparently had a considerable amount of money at his disposal.  Maybe he’d actually bought everything?  How much money had he spent on Remus’s flat?  What did he want in return?  Wait, shit, was this a scam?  Was Remus going to come home one day and have a bag thrown over his head?  Was he going to be tossed in a shipping container and sold into slavery?  Was he going to be working in a gulag this time next week?

     “Remus, the mochas!”  Lily shouted.

     “Uh, right…”

     But maybe that’s not the case, he thought as the steamed the milk.  What if the burglar was actually the good guy?  What if he was some furniture-based Robin Hood who stole unused furniture from rich pricks and gave it to poor baristas?  Fuck, what if that sofa was from Buckingham Palace?  He’d had a wank on it the other day.  Did he masturbate on a sofa the Queen had sat on?  Was that illegal?  Wanking on something a royal arse touched was probably illegal. He was going to jail, there was no question.  His mother and father were going to watch the news one day and his face would be right there and he was that pervert who had a wank on an antique stolen from the palace.  Maybe if he pled guilty, they’d let him request the death penalty.

     “Two iced lattes, one vanilla and one hazelnut, and a dirty chai!  Keep up!”

     Muscle memory guided his hands to all the right pumps and bottles, but his mind was very far away (somewhere near Pentonville).  What if he did get arrested for all of the things in his house?  Despite what the notes said, someone must have noticed that the things were gone.  He was going to get in trouble.  How would he even defend himself in court, “well you see, the burglar was very attractive and I hadn’t slept on anything comfortable in a very long time, so I just didn’t question where the items came from…”?

     “Do you have the water for the tea?”

     Yes, he was going to be in a lot of trouble.  He had to figure something out.  He had to contact the police or do something.  With his luck, this would all blow up in his—

     “Watch out!”

-/-

 

     “What the hell is wrong with you?”  Lily asked.

     Remus didn’t reply.  He studied the hand he had submerged in ice water.  The tingly pain of the burn was dancing its way across his skin.

     “You’re lucky you only spilled it on your hand, you could have gotten it all over yourself.”

     “Yes,” Remus grumbled, “I know.”

     “What has you so distracted?  I’ve never seen you like this before.”  Lily studied him from across the table in the break room.

     Remus searched for the right words.  Finding there weren’t any, he went with the first ones he could come up with.  “There have been some… strange developments in my life recently.”

     “Oh?”  She raised a perfectly manicured red brow.

     “Yes,” Remus continued.  “It’s been very confusing.”

     “Confusing like how?”  Lily’s eyes brightened.  “Is it a boy?”

     Remus was frustrated and in pain, he wasn’t in the mood to gossip about the burglar with Lily.  “The person in question is male, yes, but it’s not ‘a boy,’ a boy, like you’re implying.”

     “I was implying something?”  She sounded very proud of herself.  Remus’s life wasn’t usually interesting or layered enough to merit implying anything.  This was a rare opportunity.

     “Yes,” Remus gave her his best accusatory glare, which he knew was probably not very intimidating.  It felt good anyway.  “You were implying that this male person my be in some way a potential romantic partner. A boy.”

     “So who is he, if not a boy?”  Lily asked, placing the same dramatic emphasis on the last two words as Remus had.

     “He’s…” what was he?  “He’s just an acquaintance.  I find him… confusing.”  And beautiful.  And sexy.  And I want to do unspeakable things to him on a sofa that may or may not belong to the Queen.

     “Riiiiiight,” Lily looked him up and down.  “Well, if you ever want a real date, I do have that friend I’ve been meaning to introduce you to.”

     Remus rolled his eyes.  “Lily—“

     She threw up her hands.  “I know, I know.  Not all gay men fancy each other.  But I still think you’d like him.”

     Remus didn’t bother replying.  He had enough boy drama without having to worry about a blind date.

     Shit, Remus thought, he was considering a criminal breaking into his house “boy drama.”  What as next?  Maybe if the cashier at the grocery store asked him about his day, he’d be stunned by his vibrant social life. If he found 5p on the ground, he’d probably be amazed by his new windfall.  When did he get so pathetic?

     Maybe he’s always been pathetic, he thought.  Maybe he’s just noticing it more now.  Or maybe he’d been slowly becoming increasingly more pathetic as time has wore on.  He wondered if there was a metric by which one could measure one’s own pathetic-ness.  He wondered if self monitoring was the best method to go about doing that.  He wondered if maybe it was better if it was measured by someone else.  He wondered who would be the best person to measure that.  He wondered if anyone would ever bother to do something like that.

     Remus sighed.  He had always been given to mental tangents, but usually they were about problems he’d invented in his own head.  Now that he had an actual strange thing happening, it was getting worse.  He had the burns to prove it.  Maybe it was time to do something sensible.

     “You’re spacing out again,” Lily said.  “Thinking about your acquaintance?”

     “No,” Remus said, “I was wallowing in self pity.”

     Lily frowned.  “Remus —“

     Remus could sense a lecture coming on, no doubt a glorious lecture filled with empathy and loveliness about how Remus was a wonderful guy and brilliant and magnificent and angels sang when he entered the room and so he should never feel bad about himself because every gay man he walked by on the street probably creamed himself when they saw Remus and Alex was an idiot and there are plenty of pretty gay fish in the Queer Sea and he just needs to get out there and go on a date with her gay friend who by the way can play guitar and speaks French and has a beautiful body and she would have totally fucked him if he was straight but he’s gay so Remus should fuck him and they would be perfect together and it would be perfect Remus with her perfect friend and it would all be beautiful and Remus please stop getting down on yourself you’re such a great guy.

     He was very much not in the mood for that lecture, so he pulled his hand out of the water and examined it.  He’d been on the wrong end of an espresso machine before, but this was definitely one of the more nasty burns.  It wasn’t going to be a pretty sight in a few hours.  The shift in temperature brought a whole new round of unpleasant tingling to the hand.  He wiggled his fingers experimentally and gasped.  Experiment a failure.  Abort.

     “How’s the hand?”  Lily asked.

     “Not great, but I should be fine in a moment.”

     Lily looked down at the hand in question.  Her lips were pursed in concern.  “Maybe, but you’re done for the day.”  Remus was about to protest, but Lily held her hand up, “don’t worry, as far as corporate is concerned, you worked your full shift.  See you Monday.”

     Remus smiled.  “Thanks, Lily.”

     Lily just gave him a warm grin and a nod in acknowledgment.  “Have fun with your not boy male person acquaintance thingy.  And remember — my friend has a six pack.”

     “Yes, Lily,” Remus replied.  “I’m sure he’s lovely.”

     “I’m not kidding,” Lily replied as she straightened out her apron.  “Six pack,” she whispered, gesturing at her stomach.

     Remus grumbled to himself as he tried to put his coat on without hurting himself (he failed).  Fuck “loving the unknown” and the pretty burglar.  This silliness needed to end.

 

-/-

 

     Remus walked through the front door to his building, and knew exactly what he was going to do.  Remus was going to set everything straight.  He was going to call the police that night.  He was going to ensure that all of the things went back to their rightful place.  He was going to go back to his old apartment with its pathetic lack of furniture.  He was going to do the right thing.  He was going to do the right thing.  He was going to do the right thing.  He was going to…

     Holy Sweet Everloving Mother of Back Muscles…

     “Oh,” the burglar said.  “You’re home.”  He turned around, clutching the towel he had wrapped around his waist.  “Did you know that you have terrible water pressure?”

     Remus could not think of a reply, all he could think was… washboard abs, he actually has washboard abs… who the fuck has washboard abs?  Only models, Lily’s friend, and the burglar.

     “What happened to your hand?!?!”  The burglar grabbed Remus’s wrist and started down the mess of red skin and blisters in stunningly attractive horror.

     Remus blinked.  This was not how his evening was supposed to go.  He was supposed to be angry, instead every single nerve in his body rejected its post and rushed towards the area where the burglar was touching him.  Had anyone ever had an orgasm from having their wrist held?  Had he just discovered a new erogenous zone?  Had sexual frustration actually changed his anatomy?

     “Well?”  The burglar pressed.

     “Huh?”  Remus asked.

     “What happened to your hand?”

     “Oh,” I was too spaced out thinking about how I was going to go to jail because I’d wanked while thinking about you on a piece of furniture that may or may not have been from Buckingham palace so I spilled a venti sized cup of boiling water on my hand was too lengthy and honest an explanation, so instead Remus just said, “I punched a dragon in the face.”

     The burglar looked down at the burn, and then up at Remus.  “You punched a dragon in the face?”

     Remus nodded.  “Yes.  The dragon was trying to mug me so I punched it in the face.”

     The burglar cocked an eyebrow.  “There was a dragon out on the street mugging people.  It confronted you… and you punched it in the face.”

     “Where do you think they get their hordes of gold from?”  Remus asked.  “Mugging people,” he answered for himself, as a sort of after thought.

     “Do you usually have gold in your pockets?”  The burglar asked.

     “Well… not anymore, because I was mugged.”

     “By a dragon?”

     “Yes.  As I said.  A dragon.  And I punched it in the face.”

     “And it still got your gold?”

     Remus rolled his eyes.  He wasn’t sure who he was more annoyed with: himself, for making up stories, or the burglar, for indulging them.  “Of course, it’s a dragon.  I know I may ooze masculinity from every pore, but even I have a difficult time when it comes to melee with a dragon.”

     “Fair enough…” the burglar conceded, his lips quirking slightly.  “Though you’d think mugging people would be a pretty slow way to build up a horde.”

     Remus shrugged.  “It takes them a long time, yeah.  But they’re dragons.  They’ve got time.  Honestly that one probably won’t mug anyone for a year or two.  If they were around too often the government would probably do something.”

     The burglar bit his lip to prevent himself from laughing.  When he released it it was all pretty and red and swollen.  Remus wanted to lick it.  “I don’t know what I would have done if I’d encountered that ruffian on my way home.  I have an irrational fear of lizards.”

     “And dragons have an irrational hatred of people calling them lizards,” Remus added gravely.  “You would’ve been a dead man.  You’re welcome.”

     The burglar grinned.  And Remus remembered that he was alone in a room with a man with washboard abs and nothing on but a towel.  “So, sorry about the water pressure.”

     The burglar seemed unfazed by the sudden change of topic.  “Yes, you should be.  Any responsible tenant would have had the pipes and water heaters replaced years ago.  How dare you let your land lady down like that?”

     While most of Remus’s attention was still geared towards the V of the burglar’s hips and how the towel was slowly sinking down that V, the small part of him that was still capable of intelligent thought wondered how the burglar knew that the person who owned his building was a woman.

     “I’m… I’m sorry,” was all Remus could get out once he realized it had taken him an abnormally long amount of time to reply.

     “It’s okay, I’m sure she forgives you.  Anyway, I was mostly just stopping by to drop off some towels and other bathroom things.  Unfortunately I was attacked by zombies on my way over here — and not those boring gray hobbling zombies you see in some movies, I’m talking those really gross half decayed zombies.  Super juicy.  I had to break out all of my advanced mixed martial arts skills to get by them and keep them off of the towels.  I knew London could get dangerous, but dragons and zombies in one day?”  The burglar liked to talk with his hands, and the rest of him moved with his arms.  The towel was slipping down at a gloriously alarming rate.  Remus was trying very hard not to look at it.  So very hard.  “What happened to the good old days, when all you had to do was watch out for goblins in the underground and try not to accidentally kick a fairy in Hyde Park?”  The burglar gripped the knot of the towel and quickly tightened it.  Remus’s attention returned to the conversation.  Or whatever this exchange was.

     “Could just be the time of the month,” he commented.  “The full moon’s tomorrow.”

     “Is it?” the burglar asked.  “I guess that makes sense.  Do you generally keep track of the moon?”

     “Yeah,” Remus nodded, and decided not to elaborate further.  Since his mom was the New Age type, and full moons had always been a “thing” in the Lupin household.  He still had a moon tracking app on his phone, though usually the only way he celebrated it was by buying himself more chocolate than normal.  It was a special occasion, after all.

     “Must be frightening,” the burglar noted, “I’ll bring you some silver tomorrow.  Keep the werewolves at bay.”

     “Only if you take it from the British museum,” Remus insisted with a small smile on his lips.

     The burglar frowned slightly, like he didn’t understand what Remus had just said.  “Oh…” understanding flashed in his gray eyes, “yeah, of course.  I’m sure they’ll have something nice.”  He shifted awkwardly on his bare feet.  “Well, I really ought to get dressed,” he finally said.

     Or you could just stay naked.  If you’re cold, I’ve got some very cozy blankets on my bed… Remus fortunately clamped his mouth shut before his brain words became his mouth words.  “Oh, right… didn’t even notice…” he mumbled noncommittally, his cheeks growing red.

     The burglar shot him a weak smile and ducked back into the bathroom.  When he emerged, he was wearing a pair of distractingly tight black jeans and a flannel shirt rolled up to his forearms.  Remus wondered how it was that seeing the forearms of a man who’d been half naked moments ago could be so damned erotic.

     “I guess I’ll see you later,” the burglar said as he walked out the door.  Remus stared dumbly at the old, cheap front door.  He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had said something wrong.

 

-/-

 

     After running some errands Sunday, Remus came home to the burglar sitting on his sofa (not my sofa, he mentally corrected himself, the sofa of Undisclosed Victim Number One from whose misfortune I am currently benefiting) and eating toast.  He raised one slice by way of greeting and Remus slipped happily into the seat by him, pushing down any feelings of apprehension and/or guilt.  Apparently he was back to “loving the unknown.”

     “You’ve… ah…” Remus gestured at his mouth.

     “Hmm?  Oh,” the burglar said as he wiped his hand across his mouth, which only resulted in the Nutella that had been under his lip spreading slightly.

     “Uh, you didn’t quite get it,” Remus said.

     “Could you?”  the burglar asked, leaning forward slightly.

     You bet your beautiful sweet arse I could, Remus thought.  He ran his thumb across the area under the burglar’s lips before he had time to get nervous.  Remus and the burglar made semi-hot semi-awkward eye contact as Remus gathered the spread up, relishing in the feel of the burglar’s skin — both smooth and rough with a few days’ worth of stubble.  Remus glanced around for something to wipe his hand with, and, finding nothing, decided to just lick the spread off his thumb.  The burglar stared at him openly, mouth slightly ajar.  Remus was so shocked to see a man so gorgeous look at him with such open lust that he fell into a sort of autopilot and his lips closed around the thumb.  The familiar sweet taste of the spread made his mouth water.  It took him a moment to realize he was literally sucking his thumb, and he let his hand drop to his lap.  The burglar’s eyes didn’t leave his lips.

     The burglar leaned in slightly, and Remus’s heart started pounding in his ears.

     “Get away from my man you bleeep!”

     The two men jumped at the shout that had come from the television.  Some loud daytime program where people yelled at each other about paternity tests was on.  Remus watched dumbly as some fight between a wife and a babysitter broke out.

     “I brought you some silver,” the burglar said.

     “Oh,” Remus replied, remembering their conversation the day before.  “Thank you.”  Because “thank you” was the only think he really could say.  He glanced down at jar of Nutella on the coffee table, which had a knife he didn’t recognize sticking out of it. 

     “It’s part of a set,” the burglar explained, handing him the butter knife.  “The box is on the counter.”

     Remus examined the knife.  It, like everything else the burglar had brought him, was of exceptionally fine quality.  The silver of the handle flowed in a design reminiscent of ivy.  At the end of the handle was the letter B.

     “It’s… beautiful,” Remus commented.

     The burglar smiled.  It was a gentle, fond sort of smile, the kind people usually reserve for old friends or young children.  Since Remus was neither, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  His mind was too occupied with the fact that the burglar was about to kiss him.  Or, at least, he was moving in the way people generally did when they were about to kiss people in movies.  But that wasn’t possible.  Even if the burglar was gay (which… yeah, maybe) he couldn’t have been attracted to Remus.  That just didn’t happen.  People like him simply didn’t shag people who were so desperate for attention that they allowed a burglar to hang around their house for the better part of a week and report nothing.  He couldn’t get his hopes up.  He could not get his hopes up.  He…

     His hopes were up.

     Dread sank down to the pit of Remus’s stomach.

     “So how’s your hand doing?” the burglar asked.

     “Huh?”  Remus’s neck snapped up so quickly and at such a strange angle that a bolt of pain stabbed into his neck’s side.  He winced slightly.

     “Your hand,” the burglar repeated, jutting his chin towards the bandages on Remus’s hand.

     “Oh,” Remus studied the wrapping as if he’d never seen it before.  “It hurts like a bitch.”

     “Is there anything you can do or take…?”  The burglar trailed off as Remus shook his head.

     “Not really,” he said.  “I’m just sorta used to it… burns and scrapes and stuff,” he explained quickly in response to the concern on the burglar’s face, “I was a clumsy child.”

     The burglar narrowed his eyes slightly, but seemed to decide against further questioning.   

     The people on screen continued to go at each other.  Remus watched with a sort of disappointed apathy as some woman screamed at a fourteen year old dressed like a vampire.  He generally avoided this sort of programming.  It had a sort of soul sucking property, he’d always thought.

     “I don’t really like this stuff,” the burglar said eventually.  He was staring forward with glassy eyes, and Remus couldn’t tell if he was talking to him or himself.  “But this time of day it’s this or soap operas.  And after a while it’s almost addictive, like cheap sweets or oddly flavored crisps.  I don’t like it, but I can’t really stop.  But it feels like it’s sucking out my soul.”  The burglar tore his eyes away from the screen.  “Does that make sense?”

     Remus nodded.  “I try to avoid them, but sometimes I get caught up on a day off.  I start to care about who the father is and then there’s the day.”

     “There’s the day,” the burglar repeated to himself quietly. “So how do you like to spend your days off?”

     Remus hadn’t been expecting the question, so he gave the generic sort of answer: “reading, I guess.  Maybe wandering around.  Since starting the master’s program days off haven’t really been much of a thing… you?”

     The burglar’s lip quirked.  He didn’t really look amused.  “Watching rubbish on the telly, apparently.”

     Remus nodded, and the conversation fizzled out again.  Two men on screen started exchanging blows at one point and they both leaned forward with a primitive kind of interest.  Remus then made an executive decision and pressed the power button on the remote.  Unfortunately, the angle was wrong or he wasn’t using the right remote or the Universe just hated him and wanted to make everything he did just that much more difficult, because it took him a few tries and some fumbling to get the damned thing to turn off.

     The burglar was observing him with an affectionate sort of amusement, and Remus felt the heat in his cheeks.  Maybe he should grow it out like the burglar, then he could hide behind it like a curtain and let the whole world think whether or not he really had cheeks, never mind ones prone to sunburns or blushing.  Yes, that would be far better.  He could be like a cartoon character, like the emo kid in the back of a classroom.  Maybe he’d dye it black, no one will question hiding behind a curtain of black hair, but everyone would question his own hair color at such a length.  Was it just the emo thing that made it so it was only acceptable to have black hair covering your face?   Because that was hardly fair and…

     “You okay over there?” the burglar asked.

     “Fine,” Remus squeaked.  He cleared his throat, and repeated himself: “fine.”  Except when he did it his voice was deeper than normal so now he sounded like he did while his voice was still breaking.  But Remus had gone through puberty and it was bloody awful and he fucking earned his deep voice and dropped balls and old acne scars and good God the burglar was staring at him and he was thinking about acne and shit what to say —

     “Do you like art?”  he asked.

     The burglar looked only slightly taken aback.  “Sure.  I guess.  You?”

     “Sure… I guess?”  Remus closed his eyes.  Breathe.  “More of a lit guy, to be honest.”

     “I’m more of a music guy, to be honest,” the amusement was clear in the burglar’s tone.  Remus was glad he could make the man laugh.  He just wished it was intentionally.  “But since you brought up art… do you prefer more classical styles or modern art?”

     “Classical.  Modern art makes no sense to me, really,” he leaned back in the sofa, and perked up slightly as a story came to mind, “I have a friend in the arts program at my university, and she spent all of last semester working on a piece for a building on our campus.  They were having a competition among the students to see who could create the best piece.  They would buy the winner’s work.”  Remus’s smiled as he forgot about the fact that the most uncomfortably attractive man he’d ever met was within bone-jumping distance and recounted an anecdote he’d told dozens of times over pints or coffee.  “You know what she came up with?”  He paused.  He wanted to hear a response.

     “A statue of a urinal with ‘Capitalism’ spray painted on the side?” the burglar suggested.

     “Nope,” Remus chuckled.  “Dots.  Three of them.  On a white canvas.”

     “What color were the dots?”

     Remus grinned at the blank screen in front of them.  He could see their reflection: him, staring ahead with a rare smirk playing on his lips, and the burglar facing him, anticipating a punchline.  Remus paused for a moment.  It was a nice scene.  He was mindful of it, or at least thought that he should be.  Even after all those books, he still wasn’t 100% sure what mindfulness was.  “White.”

     The burglar laughed.  “No, no.  She didn’t.”

     “Oh, yes,” Remus replied.  “She did.  She put a new layer of white paint on it every day for the whole semester, and by the time she submitted it, the dots were raised fairly highly off the canvas.”

     “Huh,” the burglar said.  “That’s almost cool.  Did she win?”

     “No.”

     “So who —” there was a ringing sound.  The burglar took his phone out of his pocket.  “Shit,” he said, looking at the screen.  “I’m sorry, but I have to take this.”

     Remus nodded and tried not to let the disappointment show on his face.

     “Hello?” the burglar said.  “Yes, I’m away right now, I — what?  Are you serious?!”  Remus glanced back at the sudden shift in tone.  The burglar looked very annoyed.  “Yes, I know, I know, ha ha.  You think you’re the first person who ever made that joke?  Right, I’m sorry, just — okay.  Can it wait?  You close at… what time is it?  Fuck.  Right… I’ll, uh, I’ll be there.  Yes, yes.  Thank you.  Yes.  Tuesday.  Yes.  I’ll be right there.  Yes.  Bye.”  The burglar slid his phone back into his pocket.  “I’m sorry, but I need to run.  Something’s just come up.”

     “Okay, no problem,” Remus said, trying to put on his best okay-no-problem face.

     The burglar quickly cleaned off the silver knife he’d been using and grabbed the coat he’d left draped over the side of the couch.  “So what did the winner do?”

     “I’m sorry?”  Remus asked.

     “Your friend didn’t win, what was the winning submission?”

     The real answer was a rather boring abstract sculpture made of wrought iron, so Remus had long since invented a much better conclusion to the story, one he told everyone who hadn’t gone to his university: “Stripes.”

     The burglar was still laughing after he closed the door.

 

-/-

 

     The next day, there were several oil paintings hanging on his walls.  They looked older, beautiful landscapes and detailed still-lifes in finely made frames.   One had a sticky note by it saying They may not be white stripes, but I thought you might like them.  They’re fine, don’t worry, you aren’t in trouble.  Promise.

 

-/-

 

     On Tuesday, Remus opened the door to a trail of rose petals leading around the corner to his bed.  For a moment he got excited, only to then find that the burglar had written the words you’re out of toilet paper in petals on his bed.  It wasn’t until he went to bed that evening (after carefully removing all of the petals) that he noticed the burglar had brought him a bedside table, which, like the chairs and table, was intricately carved from some sort of dark wood.  A beautiful old lamp with a stained glass shade sat on top of the table.  Remus clicked it on and then off before slipping under the covers, hit again like he was on every night by the scent of the burglar’s cologne.  He closed his eyes and his mind wandered, as it always did, to the burglar.  Unanswered questions flowed into vague sexual fantasies (loving the unknown indeed, he thought).  In moments, Remus was both confused and hard (an annoyingly regular combination over the last week or so).

     He reached down into his pants, squeezing his erection lightly.  Shit, he suddenly realized, did he have something to jizz in?  He flicked the light on and was about to go over to the bathroom to grab a wad of toilet paper when he remembered that he had no toilet paper.  The rose petals had told him so.  It was then that he noticed that the drawer of his nightstand was slightly ajar.  He opened it the rest of the way.  Inside, there was a brand new box of tissues, a bottle of lube with the seal still intact, and an unopened box of condoms.

     Remus sighed, waiting for the humiliation to show up.  It didn’t.  Maybe he’d run out, he thought, though he doubted it.  He grabbed the lube and a few tissues.  He tugged at himself quickly.  A strange slideshow of the burglar’s face and body ran through his head, and even the thought of the burglar himself buying Remus wanking/fucking supplies made an appearance.  Remus was quick and efficient.  It wasn’t long before he was done.  He guiltily placed the wadded tissue on the no doubt priceless antique furniture and turned over.  The bed sent another cloud of cologne up in response and Remus groaned.  He was so fucked.

 

-/-

 

     Wednesday, the burglar brought him a bookcase.  It had a similar pattern carved into it as the nightstand and coffee table, which added to the theory Remus was developing that all of the furniture came from the same house.  He felt a little stab of guilt in his stomach.  His righteous plans a few days ago to put an end to this silliness had been thwarted by the intervention of those beautiful back muscles.  He should have called the police long ago.

     But if he was being completely honest with himself, he really didn’t want to.  He didn’t want to get the beautiful and weirdly considerate man in trouble, and he didn’t want the furniture to go away.  He didn’t want the game to end and he didn’t want the weird bubble to pop.  Because that’s what it felt like, a weird bubble.  “Loving the unknown” had given way to a weird pressure system in his mind.  When he started to think about the larger implications of the burglar’s presence in his life, he could feel an almost physical pressure in his brain, like a bubble or something… he didn’t know what to call it, and he didn’t know whether he wanted to keep the questions unanswered or not.

     So for then he wasn’t going to do anything.

     Because the bookshelf was stocked.  Remus felt the pressure in his head turn into pressure behind his eyes as he looked at the beautiful sight.  The burglar had made him a personal library based off of the books he’d already had.  Some of the new books were old leather-bound copies of books connected to some of Remus’s.  He had a beat up copy of Jane Eyre for an English class, and the burglar had given him a complete leather-bound set of the Brontë sisters’ work.  Some of his current-events focused books were mixed in with newer books on relevant topics.  The few novels he’d brought over from Alex’s sat old with their spines cracked next to brand new copies of the authors’ most recent work.  The Books from his mother were neatly lined up together and accompanied by several new books with titles like Meditation Techniques for Students and Writing Therapy.   There were also a few other books that didn’t seem connected to any of Remus’s.  Maybe they were favorites of the burglar.  He stood there for the better part of an hour reading the descriptions on the backs of all of the books.  It had been a very long time since he’d let himself buy any new books, and he hadn’t read for fun in a while.

     He pulled one of the more interesting titles off of the shelf and headed towards the bed.  His chest was tight.  This was quite possibly the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him.

     Remus stopped.  There, resting on his nightstand was the tissue he’d used for “cleanup” the night before.  It wouldn’t have seemed so suspect, except this particular piece was resting right beside the plastic shell of the safety seal that had been on the lube bottle.  Remus almost collapsed in despair.  He was actually going to die of embarrassment.  He would be the first person who’d ever done so.  Not just from a single isolated incident, no, from prolonged exposure.  This would be his claim to fame.  He would be featured in medical textbooks. Some university would pickle his head and put it in a jar.  It would be titled “The Man Who Just Discovered that the Sexiest Man He’s Ever Met in His Life Has Seen the Tissue He Came in while Giving Him a Large and Thoughtful Selection of Books that May or May Not Have Been Stolen,” and students were going to laugh at it and dare each other to touch it and he was never going to get his homework done and he was going to fail the class because the class was with McGonagall and she would never accept death as an excuse to not complete an assignment… and … and… and…

     Remus somehow managed to climb his way into bed as the thoughts continued their assault.  It still smelled like the burglar’s cologne, which was really just adding insult to injury, he thought.

     He turned off the lights and stared at the ceiling for about twenty-six and a half hours.  At some point the cardiac arrest was going to kick in, he was sure… but eventually, sleep overtook him.  And he dreamed of beautiful burglars and antique beds and a world where he wasn’t a complete and utter disaster.

     Later, he would thank his barista skills for teaching him how best to get caffeine into his body.  He’d been positively jittery all morning from the franken-coffee of espresso shots and Red Bull he’d downed when his shift started.  Lily was looking at him with genuine concern.  “Did something happen last night?”  she asked.

     Remus shook his head.  He fiddled with the loose bit of bandage on his hand.  He was going to have to change it soon.  Bandages were annoying, but especially annoying when one’s job involved constant contact with steam and washing one’s hands fifty-fuck-illion or so times a day. “Nothing,” he replied, “I’ve just been sort of busy with a project.  Haven’t been sleeping well.”

     “Have you seen the not-boy male person recently?” 

     Remus’s stomach tightened.  He wished she wouldn’t ask about the burglar.  She’d been bringing him up constantly since the burn incident.  “No, I haven’t.  And I wish you’d stop referring to him that way.”

     “Well, you haven’t told me his name, so I can’t really refer to him as anything else, can I?” 

     He felt his face grow hot.  He decided to blame it on the milk steamer.  “I… I don’t know his name,” he mumbled.

     “Come again?”  Lily looked up from the pastries she was stacking in a display.

     “I don’t know what his name is.  I keep forgetting that I don’t know his name… I… I should know his name.”  Remus’s skin was tingling.  He could feel the bubble of pressure reforming in his head and pressing against his skull as fresh anxiety coursed through his veins.  His name.  He didn’t even know the burglar’s name.

     “How do you know him, again?”

     “I… I guess I don’t,” Remus said quietly.

     “Remus, are you okay?”

     He didn’t have a chance to reply because the bell on the door rang and the bubble popped.

     “Evans!”  A vaguely familiar voice said.  “I told you I’d figure out what coffee shop you worked at!”  The man with glasses who’d helped the burglar bring the sofa to Remus’s flat strutted into the shop.

     Lily’s back tensed.  “James Potter,” she said dramatically to the man with glasses, a strange sort of expression on her face.  “So you’ve found me at last.”

     The man with glasses grinned.  “It took me a month, but I’ve done it!  You know what this means?”  Lily was about to reply, but then the man with glasses noticed Remus.  “Holy shit,” he said, laughing, “it’s you!”

     “Huh?”  Lily looked confused.  “Oh, have you two met?”

     “Uh…” Remus said, cheeks hot.  “Not exactly.”

     “I never quite caught your name,” James said, leaning against the counter.

     “I never gave it,” Remus replied.  “It’s Remus,” he said, holding out his hand, “Remus Lupin.”

     James shook it.  “So you’ve also got one of those bullshit names,” he said, smirking.

     Lily smacked his arm.  “Be nice!”

     James waggled his eyebrows at her, which looked strange since the rim of his glasses ran across them.  It looked like they were popping in and out of existence.  “I will if you go out for that coffee date with me.”

     “James…”

     “It was the deal, remember?  I figure out which coffee shop you work in, you go out with me.”  He had one of those self-satisfied smirks that Remus had always wanted to punch off the face of every posh git he’d ever gone to school with.  And yet, on him it was somehow endearing.

     “Bets aren’t legally binding if you’re drunk!”  Lily snapped, but she was smiling.

     “Ah, speaking of getting drunk,” James segued, “we’re going out for drinks tonight, you two should come,” he looked over at Remus, “there’s someone who I’d love for you to meet.”

     “I.. uh… I don’t think…” Remus started mumbling, but Lily grabbed his arm.

     “Would you excuse us for a second?” she asked James as she pushed Remus towards the break room.

     “What—” Remus started.

     “Please go out to the pub with us,” Lily pleaded.

     “I… what?”

     “Please go out with us, I don’t want to go alone, and I think you’d enjoy it.”

     Something clicked into place in Remus’s head.  “That’s the James, isn’t it?”  he asked.  “The James you went to school with.  The James who you find annoying.  The James who's always asking you out.  The James who plays football and has a nice bum and who you like but not actually but maybe a little bit… that James?”

     “What’s that about nice bums?”  came a voice from the counter.

     Lily’s face flushed.  “Yes,” she whispered urgently, “that James.  I don’t want everyone to think that I’m going just because he asked me, if I bring you…”

     “I’m a buffer.”

     “Yeah…” Lily said, “and that guy I’m always telling you about will probably be there… the gay one, remember?”

     Remus rolled his eyes.  “For the millionth time, Lily.  Not all gay men fancy each other.”

     “Yeah, but I think you’d like him.  Could you please just come?  Just this one time.”

      Remus sighed.  Fine.  But he was sort of nervous.  What if the burglar was there?  He knew James.  What would it be like to see him outside of the flat?  What if it turned out that the man really was just an elaborate hallucination?  What if Remus was actually the one going around and stealing stuff?  What if this was some weird gay version of Fight Club?  What if… what if?

     “Remus?  Remus!”

     “Huh?”

     “You spaced out again,” Lily said, concerned.  “You okay?”

     “Yeah,” Remus said, “I’m okay.”  He wasn’t, but he wasn’t about to explain it to Lily.

     “Okay,” Lily said, not convinced.  She glanced over at the clock.  “Your shift’s almost over.  See you at eight, yeah?”

     At 7:56 that evening, Remus’s felt that his stomach was somewhere around his throat as he waited for Lily a block away from the pub.

     “Is this completely necessary?” he asked as she ran over, wearing a skirt and a completely different shade of lipstick from the one she was wearing earlier that day.  Remus glanced down at his usual ensemble of shabby jeans and pilly jumper.  Was he underdressed?

     “You look fine,” Lily said, answering his unasked question.  “And no, it isn’t but I don't want to see him before I’m… you know… prepared.”  She linked her arm with his.

     “Aren’t you a bit worried about him seeing you come in with another bloke?”

     “Huh?”  Lily asked.  “Oh, no.  He knows you’re gay.”

     That was interesting.  “Does he, now?”

     “Uh, yeah…” Lily said, “you may have come up in a conversation or two he was present for.”

     Remus didn’t get a chance to go down that particular line of questioning because they’d arrived at the pub, and suddenly there were much more important things on his mind.

     “They’re probably in the back,” Lily said.  “They have a favorite table.”

     “Right,” Remus said.

     Remus and Lily pushed their way through a crowd of patrons and made their way to the table.

     And there he was.

     He was surrounded by other people, laughing.  The scene was so perfect and natural that Remus felt a tightening in his chest.  He didn’t want to disturb them.  He also didn’t really want the last of the bubbles to pop.  But Lily was pushing him forward and he knew there was no going back now.  He tried to swallow the lump in his throat but he failed.

     “Evans!”  James shouted from his seat at the burglar’s right, “you came!  And you brought your friend!”

     The burglar looked up at James’ exclamation and froze when he and Remus made eye contact.  The color drained from his face.

     “Yeah,” Lily said, putting her hand on Remus’s shoulder.  “Everyone, this is Remus Lupin, my coworker.  James invited us earlier today.  Remus, this is Alice and Frank Longbottom, Marlene McKinnon, James Potter but you’ve already met him, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew.”

     Sirius Black, the burglar’s name was Sirius Black… and… wait—

     “Peter?”  Remus asked.  He hadn’t noticed the man in the corner.

     “Remus?”  Peter asked, equally confused.  “I didn’t know you knew Lily.”

     “I didn’t know you knew Lily!”

     “Wait,” James interjected, “you know Lily and Peter and somehow we’ve never met?  How’d you manage that, mate?” 

     “I… uh…”

     “Are you okay, Sirius?”  Frank asked.  “You look pale… well, paler than usual.”

     “Huh?”  Sirius asked, “uh yeah,” he took a sip of his pint, “fine.”  He glanced up at Remus.

     Remus tried to smile.  He wasn’t sure he succeeded.

     “So…” Lily began awkwardly, “do you two know each other?”

     “Not really…” Remus said.

     “I’ve been trying to introduce the two of you for months now,” Lily continued.

     Remus finally tore his eyes from Sirius.  “Wait, is this the gay friend you’ve been trying to set me up with?”

     Sirius made a similar connection.  This is the cute coworker you’re always on my back about?”

     Lily made a guilty little shrug.  “Uh… yeah.”

     The entire table went silent.  Smugness radiated off of James in waves so thick Remus felt like he was choking on them.  But maybe that was just the nerves.  He was really regretting the amount of caffeine he’d had that morning.

     Lily made some realizations of her own… “wait… is this the non-boy male person you were talking about?”

     “Uh… yeah?”  Remus replied sheepishly.

     “Non-boy male person?”  Sirius repeated, his voice almost inaudible over James’s laughter.  “What the hell are you two talking about in that little coffee shop of yours?”

     Lily smiled at him.  “So where on earth did you two meet?”

     Neither Remus nor Sirius supplied her with a ready answer.

     “Wait,” Peter said.  “Is Remus the man you've been going on about these last few weeks?”

     “The one with the pretty eyes and nice bum?”  Marlene chipped in, looking excitedly between a very red Remus and a very, very red Sirius. 

     “The one with the hair and the sexy West Country accent and all the books?”  Alice added.

     “Remus,” Sirius looked as though he was trying very hard to stay in control of his facial expression, “may I speak with you outside for a moment?”

     Remus tried to ignore the little thrill that ran through his body from hearing the burglar — Sirius — saying his name.  “Of course,” he said.

     Sirius slipped off his barstool and took him gently by the elbow (the tingling elbow) outside.  It was a cool, damp sort of night (not that there really was another kind in London).  They ducked into an alleyway.  Cars drove by, their headlights seeming to run in the water on the roads.

     “I’m… sorry you had to hear all of that,” Sirius began awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck.  “My friends… they, er, they like to tease me, you know?”

     Remus cocked an eyebrow.  He’d been encouraged by the revelations inside the pub, so the overwhelming anxiety he had been feeling was now lightly seasoned with excitement.  “So you’re friends were making up all the stuff about the pretty eyes and the nice bum?”

     “They… uh… you see… er… no.”  Sirius leaned against the back of a nearby building.  “Jesus Christ,” he eventually said, banging his head against the brick wall, “do you mind if I smoke?”

     “Not at all,” Remus replied.  Of course Sirius smoked, he thought.  Remus had a weird complex about smoking.  On the one hand, he knew it was super bad for you and disapproved of it on principle.  On the other hand, it was hot as hell.

     Sirius pulled a pack of cigarettes from the inside of his black leather jacket.  The flash of his lighter briefly illuminated the beautiful lines of his face, but disappeared quickly.  Remus watched the red ember at the end of the cigarette move from Sirius’s mouth to his side with a meditative sort of focus.  The cloying, sickly scent of burning tobacco gave the situation a weird sort of feel, like everything was more grown up.  But Remus still felt like a lost school boy, almost queazy with the excitement of learning that his crush might just like him back.

     “So,” Sirius said after a long pause, “this is not quite how I wanted this to go.”

     “Wanted what to go?”  Remus asked dumbly.

     “You learning that I fancied you like mad.”

     “Oh,” Remus said weakly, “that.”  He could barely hear his own voice over the choir of angles singing in his head.  Sirius liked him.  He fucking fancied him.  He fucking god damn mother fucking honestly sure as shit fancied him.

     Sirius took another drag.  His eyes were completely shadowed in the dark of the alleyway, but Remus gathered that the man was looking at him.  “So… what now?”

     “That’s a… good question,” Remus said.  “It’s… er… nice to finally know your name.”

     Sirius chuckled.  “It’s nice to know yours as well.  Remus Lupin,” he said, drawing the name out and doing unfair things to the other man’s trousers, “I like it, it suits you.”

     Remus felt his cheeks heat up, and he was happy for the darkness and the cold.  “Thanks.  I like yours too… Sirius Black.  James was right,” he mused, remembering the man’s comment earlier that day, “we do have bullshit names.”

     Sirius laughed.  “I prefer to think of them as unique.  There are a million Jameses and Lilys and Peters.  We may be the only Remus and Sirius.”

     Remus liked how he put that: we and Remus and Sirius. Like they were some sort of unit.  “You’re probably right,” he said. 

     “Can we make a deal, Remus?”  Sirius asked.

     “Uh, maybe?  What do you have in mind?”

     “We’ve been joking and sarcastic and strange for more than a week now.  And I know most of that’s been me.  But… can we just agree to be really super honest from here on out?  No bullshit, no nothing?  I want to get to know you.”

     Remus blinked.  He was terrified.  The thought of having a conversation with Sirius that didn’t have a protective coating of bullshit made him want to vomit in the corner behind the bins.  But almost in a good way.  “Yes,” he said at length, “I’d like that.  So… can I ask you a question?”

     “Sure.”

     Remus took a deep breath.  “Did you actually steal that sofa?”

     Sirius let out a little sound, somewhere between a choke and a laugh.  It almost sounded like a dog barking.  “No, Remus, I didn’t steal any of the things I gave you.”

     It was almost painful, really, the feeling of all that pressure in his head being released.  The bubbles popped left and right.  So many questions were left unanswered, but the biggest one was out of the way and Remus felt like he was treading on safer ground.  He didn’t say anything, though.  He waited for Sirius to continue.

     “I’ve wanted to tell you about it for a while now,” Sirius said after a brief pause. “but I never knew how to bring it up.  I didn’t want to acknowledge the strangeness of the situation, you know?  Like if I tried to explain anything about what was going on, you would suddenly realize how weird this all was and you’d tell me to leave and never come back, I mean, I was walking into your flat on a daily basis, while you weren’t even there!”

     So Sirius was thinking of thing the same way he was.  That almost made Remus feel proud, in a weird way.  But that did bring up one additional question.  “How did you get into my flat, anyway?”  he asked.  “I locked the door every day.”

     “Oh,” Sirius replied, somewhat surprised.  “I thought you knew.  I have a key.”

     Remus blinked.  “How do you have a key to my flat?”

     “Peter used to live there,” Sirius replied simply.  “A few months before you moved in.  I didn't know he’d moved out until after that first night.  Peter had been getting on my nerves so I nicked his keys one night when he was drunk and staying over at my place and went to what I assumed was still his flat.  I was going to… I don’t even really know what I was going to do.  I just got it into my head that I was going to go to Peter’s and mess with his stuff or something.  I got really into it too— wore all black like some prick from a spy movie.  Anyway, I got there and I was taken aback by how little stuff Peter had.  Then I heard someone behind me.  You can imagine my surprise when I turned around and instead of seeing… well, Peter, there’s… there’s you.”

     Remus didn’t know what he was supposed to be more surprised by: the story itself or the fact that Sirius said “you” in the reverent voice people usually saved to say “Freddy Mercury,” “David Beckham,” or “Beyoncé.”

     “Okay,” Remus said, trying his best to take it in stride after a lifetime of being completely shit at taking things in stride, “so where did all of the stuff come from?”

     “Well, that’s a long story, can we walk?  This alley sort of smells like piss.”

     Sirius’s dropped his cigarette and smushed it under his boot.  Without the smoke overpowering Remus’s nose, he realized that the alley did, in fact, sort of smell like piss.

     “Uh, yeah,” Remus said.  “Of course.”

     Sirius shrugged off of the wall and started to stroll along the street.  He was illuminated once more by the street lamps.

     “So…” he began, looking up at the murky clouds above, glowing slightly from the city’s light pollution, “a few months ago, my uncle died.”

     “Oh,” Remus said.  That was unexpected.  “I’m sorry.”

     “Don’t be,” Sirius replied, a rueful smile tugging at his lips.  “I barely knew the man.  But he was pretty much the only family member I could stand.  My… my family is sort of horrible.”

     Remus nodded.  He didn’t think it would be a good idea for him to say anything.

     “So, anyway.  My uncle died.  And, well, Uncle Alfie had never really gotten along with any other members of my shit family, so he left everything he had to me: a reasonably large amount of money, some stocks, and a completely furnished old house in a disgustingly posh part of London,” he lit another cigarette as they walked, smiling a little apologetically at Remus, “I smoke when I’m nervous,” he explained.

     Remus didn’t know how to reply to that either.  He didn’t usually make people nervous.  Or maybe he did, but was just too nervous to notice.

     “So anyway,” Sirius started again after taking a deep drag, “I was landed with this huge house full of stuff and nothing to do with it.  I didn’t want to move in, but I also didn’t want to sell the whole estate.  There was a rebellious part of me that wanted to dissolve the collection, break up the Black estate, you know?  My parents disinherited me, so I won’t get to do it with their things.  I just wanted to tear it apart.  It’s been cathartic, in a way.”

     Remus walked beside him in silence, absorbed in the story.  He’d never imagined this when he thought of the burglar’s background.  It was both more and less dramatic than he’d imagined.  He wondered why Sirius had been disinherited, but decided that was far to personal a question to ask of a man whose name he hadn’t known an hour ago.

     “And then I met you and saw how little you had.  It just clicked.  You needed furniture you didn't have, I had furniture I didn’t need.  So I got James to help me bring you a sofa.  And it felt good.  And I decided that I wanted to bring you other things.  It felt nice to have something to do.”

     Remus quirked his eyebrow.  “Something to do?”

     “Yeah,” Sirius replied.  “I had this really shitty job that I hated and when Uncle Alfie died and I became… well not rich quite, but… I just quit.  Haven’t been employed since.  Bringing you furniture and buying you things and maybe seeing you sometimes was really fun and kept me going.  I felt like I was actually useful for the first time in a while, not just some lazy ex-aristocrat who gets to be useless because a man he’d met maybe five times died.  I was helping you and it was fun.  And… and you know, you had those pretty eyes and that nice bum and that West Country accent and I just liked seeing you and joking with you and…” Sirius cleared his throat.  “So… yeah… I like you.  And I wasn’t sure if you liked me, so I kind of started doing things… like spraying my cologne on your pillows.”

     “I knew it!”  Remus shouted before he could stop himself.  The couple walking just in front of him looked back, startled.  Remus apologized, then turned back to Sirius and continued in a quieter voice: “I knew it was weird for those sheets to smell like you for so long!”

     “Uh… yeah…”  Sirius stared at the ground as they walked.

     Remus was so high on the utter strangeness and wonderfulness of his present situation that he didn’t think twice before bluntly reassuring Sirius.  “Don’t be embarrassed, do you have any idea how many times I wanked to that smell?”

     Sirius stopped walking abruptly, and the couple in front of them seemed to speed up.  “Really?”  Sirius asked.

     Remus blushed.  The high was gone.  “Uh… yeah… I mean not every night just most nights… and oh shit I can’t believe that I said that.”

     Sirius smiled.  “This has got to be the messiest way I’ve ever asked a bloke out in my life,” he said, chuckling.

     Remus laughed.  “You honestly want to go out with me?  The guy who wanked on a sofa he honestly thought may have come from Buckingham Palace?”

     “Did you really?”  Sirius asked.  “And you thought of… me?”

     Remus bit his lip and nodded.  “Can you blame me?  Have you seen you?”

     “Yes,” Sirius replied, “I have seen me.  I’ve also seen you.  And let’s just say that you’ve cost me half a box of Kleenex.”

     That little piece of information went directly to Remus’s crotch.  “Well… that’s… good to know.”

     Sirius smirked.  “Well, since we’ve established our mastabratory habits, would you like to come back to my place?”

 

-/-

 

     Sirius’s flat was astoundingly cosy looking.  It was messy and somewhat cluttered, but there was an air of comfort and hominess that seemed to radiate from the very walls.  There were blankets strewn across the sofa, books and movies stacked everywhere, and even a guitar in the corner.

     Not that Remus really noticed at first, because the moment the door was closed, they were kissing.

     Or rather, they were trying to.  The angle was slightly off and the movement was so sudden and jerky that their noses bumped rather painfully.  The two men chuckled awkwardly then moved together in a slightly more coordinated effort.

     And then Remus was kissing the burglar.  He was kissing Sirius.  Sirius who’s lips were so soft except for the small line of chapped skin where he tended to gnaw at his mouth.  Sirius who tasted like beer and smoke and something else.  Sirius who wrapped his arms around Remus’s waist and brought their bodies closer together.  Sirius who’s body was hard and strong and so, so perfect.  Who was a bit shorter than Remus.  Who’s hair was as soft as it looked.  Who ran his tongue along Remus’s lips.  Who Remus gladly let in.  Who knew how to kiss.

     Who really, really knew how to kiss.

     Sirius broke the kiss.  “Bedroom?”  he asked.

     “Bedroom.”  Remus replied.

     It was the most productive conversation they had ever had.

     Sirius led them into a small bedroom which was dominated by a large unmade bed.  The two men tumbled down onto it.

     Sirius was above Remus, and he supported himself on his arms as he kissed down Remus’s neck.  He was undoing the top button of Remus’s shirt when Remus remembered something important.  Something he had to tell him…

     “Wait,” Remus gasped.

     Sirius looked up at him, his silver eyes full of some strange mixture of lust and confusion, and maybe hurt?  “I’m sorry,” he said hoarsely, “am I going too fast?”

     “Uh… no… it’s just… when I was a kid, I was in an accident.  There are scars.  A lot of them… don’t want you to be surprised.”  Don’t want you to be disgusted, he added mentally.

     Sirius smiled.  “Thank you for telling me.  May I take your shirt off?”

     Remus was fairly sure he’d never been asked that question before.  He nodded.  “Also,” he said, remembering the other important thing, “I’m clean.  I got tested last month and I… I haven’t since then.”

     Sirius was working on his buttons, but he looked up at Remus when he replied.  “I’m clean too.”  And then he had the buttons of Remus’s shirt undone and pushed the fabric off his shoulders.  Remus studied Sirius’s face as the other man took in the scarring on Remus’s torso.  He’d almost died in the accident, and the scars that remained were extensive.  They curled and dashed and dipped in every direction.  They ran down his arms, across his chest, and all over his stomach.  Some lovers had called them fascinating, others had said they were beautiful, and others still had found them disturbing.  He never quite knew what to expect.

     He tried to read Sirius’s expression, but he found he couldn’t.  “May I touch them?”  Sirius finally asked.

     “Uh, yeah… go ahead.”

     Sirius traced a finger along the various different scars, his touch leaving a strange tingling sensation on Remus’s skin as it went.  “It must have been a hell of an accident.”

     “It was,” Remus replied.

     “The healing process must have been difficult.”

     “It was,” Remus agreed.

     Sirius kissed his chest, his stomach, his lower abdomen, down, down, down, until his lips were right above Remus’s trousers.  He glanced up at Remus, his silver eyes asking a silent question.

     Remus’s nodded, his lip caught between his teeth.  Sirius undid Remus’s jeans and pulled them down his legs.  He pressed his lips to the bulge in the front of Remus’s briefs.  For a moment he stayed there, nuzzling into the cloth covered cock, but eventually he pulled the waistband of the pants down and sent them flying somewhere into the room behind him.

     Sirius sat back and raked his eyes over Remus’s body, his gaze eventually coming to rest on Remus’s cock.  “Gorgeous,” he whispered.

     Remus felt his cheeks grow hot.  He didn’t like direct scrutiny, even if the person liked what they saw.  He sat up and grabbed Sirius by his shirt, pulling their lips together.  By all accounts, it shouldn’t have worked.  Remus was not a coordinated man and to pull a lover up towards one’s own face with that much precision required a certain amount of skill.  Fortunately, however, Remus seemed to manage it.  Sirius gave in to the kiss happily.  He nipped at Remus’s lips and opened his mouth with a gasp when Remus started palming his cock through his jeans.

     Remus tried his luck in yet another maneuver: he tried to reverse their positions.  He was not so lucky that time around and the two ended up stumbling on the bed.  Remus recovered quickly, however, and immediately started removing Sirius’s clothes.  He pulled the man’s grey t-shirt over his head and kissed down the firm, toned chest and stomach.  He eased his skinny jeans off and let out a little gasp of surprise when he was greeted immediately by a hard, thick cock.

     “You go commando?”  Remus asked hoarsely.

     “Not all the time,” Sirius replied, somewhat breathless.  “Only when I’m wearing — ah!”

     Remus had run his tongue across the head of Sirius’s cock.  He let out a little sigh at the pleasure of the weight of Sirius on his tongue and started licking at the head, which was already starting to release a small trail of salty pre-cum.  Sirius’s fingers went to his hair as Remus bobbed his head up and down.  After a few tries, he managed to take Sirius’s entire length.  Sirius let out a long, low moan as Remus swallowed around him.  Fuck…

     Remus sped up his ministrations.  Sirius’s hips thrust upwards instinctually, and Remus gagged on his length.  He immediately released Sirius with a pop and took in a few breaths.

     “Aaah — sorry.” Sirius said, his cheeks flushed.  “That doesn’t… I’m usually a bit more…”

     Remus shook his head.  “Just took me by surprise is all.  You can fuck my face if you want.”

     Sirius’s eyes darkened.  He crashed their lips back together and flipped them with much more grace than Remus had managed. Sirius straddled Remus, their cocks rubbing together agonizingly with every move they made.  Sirius started kissing down Remus’s jaw and neck.   “Much as I’d love to do that,” kiss, “I would much rather,” kiss, “come with that glorious cock in my arse,” kiss.

     The words were like sparks running across Remus’s skin.  “I think we can arrange that,” he said in a weak voice.  “Do you have…?”

     Sirius reached over into a bedside table, giving Remus a lovely view of his lovely backside.  He fumbled around for a bit before tossing a bottle of lube and a condom at Remus.

     “Do you want me to prepare myself or do you want to do it?”

     Remus imagined what Sirius would look like readying himself for him.  A fresh shot of arousal went straight to his groin, but he knew now wasn’t the time.  “I’ll do it,” he said.  Maybe he’d let Sirius do it next time… if there was a next time.  He hoped to hell there would be hundreds of thousands of next times.

     Sirius smiled, and laid back on the bed, spreading his legs.  Remus was fairly sure the image of Sirius splayed out like that would be permanently burned into his retinas.  Every time he closed his eyes from then on, he would see Sirius.  And while he did appreciate the glorious image that it was, he figured there would be considerable downsides to going through life with a permanent erection.

     Sirius smirked that smirk unique to incredibly attractive people who know exactly how attractive they are.  “Are you just going to sit there gawking, or are you going to fuck me?”

     There are very few phrases that inspire immediate action whenever they are uttered.  In that moment, Remus could only think of three: “fire”; “oh look, a rainbow”; and “fuck me.”

     Remus applied some lube to his fingers and pressed one into Sirius, who let his head fall back at the initial penetration.  Remus sighed at the tightness around his finger and started moving it gently in and out of a very squirmy Sirius.  Definitely not the lay there and take it type, it appeared.

     “Another one,” Sirius rasped as he pushed himself down on Remus’s finger.

     Remus complied immediately, and started curling his fingers as he looked for the…

     “Agh!  Fuck…”  Sirius’s hips thrust up.  “Right the fuck there.”

     Remus figured it was about time for finger number three.  Given the euphoric groan he received in response, Sirius was in agreement.

     Remus started fucking Sirius with his fingers in earnest, sure to hit his prostate as often as possible.  After a moment or two of fingering, Sirius had had enough.

     “In me.  Now.”

     Remus was not about to deny him.

     Sirius pushed Remus down onto the mattress and pulled the condom from somewhere among the sheets.  He rolled it down Remus’s shaft with certain fingers and straddled his hips.

     Remus watched as Sirius sank down on his length, his eyes fluttering shut.  He bit his lip as he adjusted to Remus’s length.  Remus, who was trying to focus on anything other than the tight heat around him and how it made him feel like he was going to come in about three and a half seconds, ran his fingers along Sirius’s thighs.  Remus wasn’t small, the half-pained expression on his face wasn’t new to him.

     “I’m sorry,” he blurted before he could stop himself.

     Sirius’s eyes opened.  He chuckled, though it sounded a bit breathy and forced.  “Did you just apologize for having a huge cock?”

     Remus slid his hands further back, clutching Sirius’s adorable, round arse.  “You know what I mean.”

     Instead of answering, Sirius started rolling his hips up and down and Remus about lost his mind.  It took him a a few moments of bone-melting bliss before he realized he was doing absolutely nothing.

     He reached down and wrapped a hand around Sirius’s stupidly pretty cock.  He ran his thumb across the swollen red tip and Sirius let out a little mewing groan.  His hips stuttered slightly as Remus started to stroke him.

     Sirius changed his pace slightly and started grinding down on Remus’s cock.  “Fuck,” he breathed as he found an angle he liked.  He started circling his hips and Remus felt hot jolts of pleasure run across his body.  He started jerking Sirius at a faster rate, and things started feeling like a race.  Maybe he should have tried to be more impressive.  Maybe he should have started imagining dead kittens and maths lectures and Peter in drag, but more than a week of sexual frustration was coming to a head and Remus knew this was not going to be his best performance.

     He grabbed Sirius’s hips and readjusted himself under him, setting his feet on the mattress and thrusting up into the tight heat.  Sirius let out an appreciative gasp and nearly fell on top of him.  He propped himself up on his arms inches from Remus’s face.  It made the encounter all the more intimate— Remus driving up into Sirius as the two made eye contact, shared air, the space between them hot and damp and heavy with their gasps and moans.  Sirius’s cock was trapped between them.

     Sirius pressed a kiss to the side of Remus’s neck.  He started matching Remus’s pace.

     Their hips met over and over, desperate and almost wild.  Remus started to loose his rhythm.  His movements became erratic and he chased his release.

     Sirius came first.  His cock erupted between them, warm and hot between their two bodies.  Remus was barely even seconds behind.  The clenching around him was too much, and he held Sirius’s hips in a vice-like grip as he howled.  Sirius collapsed on top of them.

     The two men laid together in a tangle of limbs, their breath heavy and their hearts racing.  Eventually Sirius eased Remus out of himself and got up to grab a towel from the bathroom.  They cleaned themselves in silence, then Sirius tossed the towel somewhere on the floor and nuzzled into the crook of Remus’s neck.

     In the quiet that followed, Remus realized there was something he had yet to say.  “Thank you,” he whispered, his lips against Sirius’s neck.

     “For what?”  Sirius asked.

     “Everything.”

     “I’m so glad I broke into your flat,” Sirius laughed.

     Remus couldn’t help the smile that broke out on his face.  “Me too.”

 

-/-

 

     Remus woke to a surprisingly bright morning and an empty bed.  The sheets were tangled tightly around his legs and the blankets had fallen to the floor over the course of the night.  He rubbed his eyes and rolled over.  The bed’s scent was an interesting and debauched blend of Sirius’s cologne, sweat, and sex.  He rather liked it.

     He untangled himself from the sheets and searched the floor for his clothes.  Everything was rumpled and messy.  He wasn’t looking forward to the walk of shame he was going to have to do.  At least he didn’t have to go to work that morning, he thought.

     Remus walked out into the main room, smiling slightly when he heard the sound of a shower through the bathroom door.  Then he heard a shuffling behind him and turned to see what it was.

     “Lily?”

     His manager was scrambling out of another door he hadn’t noticed the night before (not that he had been in a position to notice much).  She was tugging at the outfit she’d worn to the pub.

     “Remus,” she’d said, trying to sound casual.  “Good morning… I’m, er, I’m gonna be late for work… so…”

     James came to lean against the doorframe Lily had just emerged from.  “Morning Remus.  Do you have to go to work as well?”  Overnight James appeared to have evolved like a Pokemon and attained a whole new level of smugness.

     “Er, no,” Remus replied.  “You may want to get going,” he said to Lily.

     Lily jumped and nodded.  She went over to give James a kiss goodbye when the bathroom door opened up.  It sent warm, steamy air and the sharp, deeply masculine scent of Sirius’s body wash wafting throughout the room.  Remus felt a stirring in his pants.  It was possible he was starting to be conditioned to get hard at the scent of Sirius Black.  That could be a problem, he thought.

     “James, you little whore,” Sirius said fondly.  There was a towel wrapped loosely around his waist as he leaned against the doorframe.

     “Could say the same for you,” James replied, gesturing at a red faced Remus.

     Lily made a quick retreat with a simple, “bye,” and Sirius didn’t break eye contact with James.

     “You, good sir, have some explaining to do,” Sirius said finally, “why didn’t you tell me he was going to be coming to the pub last night?”

     James shrugged.  “Because you not knowing was funnier.”

     Sirius opened his mouth as if to reply, but shut it after a moment and shrugged.  “Fair enough.”

     Sirius turned his attention over to Remus.  “Morning,” he said softly, standing on his tippy-toes so he could peck the slightly taller man on the lips, “did you sleep well?”

     James walked away with a muttered, “I’ll make coffee.”

     “Yeah,” Remus replied with a smirk.  “No thanks to you, though.  Did you know you’re a cover hog?”

     James snorted from the kitchen.  Sirius ripped off his towel off and threw it at James’s head.  The other man made a little shrieking noise.  “Ahhh!  Dick germs!  Gedditoff!!!”

     Sirius turned to Remus.  “Breakfast?”

 

-/-

 

     “Breakfast” turned out to be doughnuts at a local bakery with cups of cheap coffee and hundreds of tiny, insignificant questions back and forth.  What’s your favorite color?  What music do you listen to?  Where are you from?

     Slowly, naturally, they got to know each other.

     On a Monday over a curry by Remus’s campus he told Sirius about how his parents never had much money and always emphasized how important education was.  How he worked hard every year at school, how he’d been so obsessed with his A levels that one day he just broke down and cried.  How he approached his schooling with an almost warrior spirit.  How he wanted to be a teacher.

     On a Wednesday while shopping for groceries, Sirius made mumbled, awkward mentions of a childhood of nannies and tutors and cold, unaffectionate parents.  Of how embarrassingly rich he had been.  Of how his father always smelled like brandy.

     On a Friday while washing dishes Remus told Sirius about coming out in a small town.  About everyone going quiet whenever he entered a room because of course the son of the eccentric academic researching some obscure bird unique to the region and some woo-woo Welsh lady turned out to be the town queer.  About secret boyfriends and bullies.  About cowards.  About the boy who kissed him one night in the back of a car only to punch him in the back of the school the next day.  About how “I’m moving to London when I graduate” started to sound less like a plan and more like a prayer.

     On a Saturday over candles and expensive steak Sirius told Remus about secret, shameful thoughts in the dormitories of prep schools.  About stolen kisses in dark corridors and fumbled hand jobs under school uniforms.  About fear.  About slaps across the face and screaming and silent dinners.

     On a Saturday over bar pretzels and pints, Remus learned about James and Sirius and Peter’s silly nicknames for each other: Prongs, Padfoot, and Wormtail.  About a Christmas pageant in which they each portrayed a different animal.  About the delicious irony of a boy named after the Dog Star pulling the “dog” slip of paper out of an old hat.

     On a Friday over birthday cake Remus gave Sirius a collar.  That evening, over the coffee table, the phrase “good boy” was simultaneously ruined and enshrined. 

     On a Saturday Remus came home to a leash draped across the back of the sofa.

     On a Wednesday over pizza Sirius asked Remus if they were boyfriends.  His lips tasted like pepperoni.  It wasn’t until later, when they were lying naked on the bed and waiting for their hearts to slow down that Remus even remembered to say, “yes.”

     On a Tuesday night over wet pillows Remus whispered about boyfriends and being kicked out of his flat.  About Alex.  About religious parents and threats about heirs and wills.  About taking back months of kissing and fucking and I love yous because Alex couldn’t possibly be gay.  About camping on Lily’s sofa and feeling about five inches tall.

     On that same night over those same pillows Sirius told him of the same threats.  Of being written out the most Noble and Ancient of wills.  Of being burned off a family tree.  Of leaving home at sixteen.  Of James Potter and real family and hope.

     On a Saturday they got in their first fight.  They yelled at each other until they couldn’t remember what they were yelling about anymore.  They spent a sleepless in separate beds, ruminating over their guilt and fear.  Both realized that they’d never been with someone they’d wanted to be so gentle with before.  By noon the next day all was forgiven.

     On a Friday at a laundromat Sirius mentioned a gay bar he’d been wanting to check out.  Later that night while covered in glitter and a spilled drink, Sirius revealed that he was never very good at dancing.  Remus laughed with him, not at him, and revealed that the only time he was anything like graceful was after two or three fruity drinks.  Remus felt a strange satisfaction he’d never really felt before when he walked away from a crowd of appreciative glances with his hand in the back pocket of one Sirius Black.  He squeezed his arse as they left, for good measure.  Let them be jealous, he thought.  I know I would be.

     On a Wednesday Remus asked Sirius to come to his family Christmas.  On another Wednesday Sirius met Mr. and Mrs. Lupin.  On a Thursday they were kicked out of a local pub when Sirius punched the man who had been Remus’s first kiss in the face.  By Saturday his parents were joking about it.

     On a Friday Remus accidentally said “I love you.”  Moments later, Sirius said it back.  On purpose. 

     On a Tuesday Sirius declared he was going to quit smoking the following year.  On that Wednesday Remus promised to cut down on the chocolate.  A bit, at least.

     As a Sunday turned into a Monday, surrounded by friends new and old-ish, Remus spent the very first moments of a new year doing his favorite thing: kissing Sirius Black.

     At 3 AM on a Sunday Remus held Sirius while he told him about a brother.  One that had only been a series of fragments during that first breakfast (“One sibling.  A younger brother.  Regulus.”).  Of falling outs and shouting and tears.  Of losing touch.  Of worry.  Of a single text (“I’m sorry”), a bathtub, and a razor.

     On a Tuesday Remus looked at a display of red and pink heart shaped boxes and chewed his lip nervously.

     On a Wednesday Remus came home to a trail of rose petals ending with a very naked Sirius Black on the fairy princes bed.  “Happy Valentines Day.”

     On Thursday Remus was still finding rose petals in… places.

     On a Tuesday Sirius handed Remus a glass of water and told him to just breathe.  Please.  The exams will be over soon.

     On a Monday over a broken plate and a business paper about Orion Black’s latest merger, Remus put his hands on the shoulders of a shaking Sirius Black and told him that maybe he didn’t have to stay angry forever.

     On a Friday the sale of Sirius’s uncle’s house was finalized.  Remus watched Sirius take the deepest breath he had since he’d quit cigarettes, then they smirked as the new owners ran their hand along a wall Sirius had fucked Remus against the night before (“to see the old place off,” Sirius had explained, already deep inside of his boyfriend and past the point of having to explain anything).

     On a Saturday Remus discovered that Sirius couldn’t actually play guitar.  He just told everyone he could and they believed him.

     On a Monday night over a half empty bottle of whiskey and a half finished pack of cigarettes, Remus learned the exact date on which Regulus Black died.

     On a Friday over Chinese Remus celebrated the end of a school year, and Sirius revealed that the last educational decision he’d ever made was to not go to Cambridge.

     On a Monday Remus smiled a big smile when he found a small stack of applications on Sirius’s desk.

     On a Thursday Remus came home to a nervous Sirius holding an acceptance letter.

     On a Friday, Remus glanced at a calendar and noticed something.

 

-/-

 

     “Any suggestions?”

     “So to get this right, this isn’t the one year anniversary of you… dating, or something.  This is the one year anniversary of him breaking into your flat?”

     “Yes,” Remus confirmed as he poured the latte into the cup, running the last of the foam along the center and forming a only slightly wonky flower.  “And I want to do something romantic.”

     “Nothing says romance like a little B and E,”  Lily muttered.

     Shortly after Remus and Sirius started dating, Remus was forced to tell Lily the exact nature of their meeting.  In the year-minus-ten-days that had passed since then, Lily had yet to let Remus live down the fact that he’d allowed a criminal (or at least, someone he thought was a criminal) to waltz into and out of his house for a week and a half.  “Remind me not to get stabbed in front of you,” she’d said.

     “I’d like to think it makes our story unique,” Remus said with a little shrug.  Lily rolled her eyes and Remus chuckled.

     The fact that Remus, Sirius, Lily, and James all coupled up around the same time added an interesting element to their group dynamic.  Now that the one year mark was coming up, things were getting almost… competitive.

     Remus eyed the diamond ring on Lily’s finger.  When she’d shown up to movie night with it a few days before, Remus had honestly been thrilled for her.  But that night as he and Sirius slept, he couldn’t help but wonder if it was time for them to make a similar commitment.  What sort of timescale were they supposed to be operating on?  And how did it work with two blokes?  Who was supposed to ask?  Was he supposed to buy a ring?  What kind of engagement ring do you get a man?  He was gay, he was supposed to have considered these things before….

     “Remus!  You’re doing it again.”

     “Sorry.”  Remus wiped the counter down with a rag.

     “So did you have anything in mind?  To do, I mean.”

     “I don’t know,” Remus said.  “I was thinking maybe dinner or something, but I’m not sure.   It isn’t a normal anniversary, as you like to keep reminding me.”

     “Maybe… maybe you could cook for him, you know, in your flat.  Where it all began.”

     “Mmmm.”  Remus hadn’t actually been to his flat in a few days.  Lavishly furnished as it was, it didn’t have the homey feel Sirius and James’s place did.  In fact, Remus was fairly sure more than half of his wardrobe was currently located in the drawer Sirius had cleared out for him in his bedroom.  He really ought to check back in at some point, if only to clear out whatever food was likely decomposing in the fridge.  Maybe an evening back in the old place wasn’t such a bad idea.

     Lily handed him a cup with some letters sharpied onto the side.  “And flowers are always a good idea.”

 

-/-

 

     As Remus walked back to his flat, he sent Sirius a quick text.  Dinner at my place?  I’ll cook.

     A moment later he got his reply: Sure.  I just got out of class so I’ll be there in a bit.

     Remus smiled, and a bright flash of color to the side caught his eye.  Someone was selling bouquets out of a little stand.  Remus remembered Lily’s comment, and decided to buy a particularly colorful arrangement.

     “You do something naughty?”  the flower seller, a gruff looking middle aged woman, asked.

     “Er, no,” Remus replied.  “It’s our anniversary.”

     “Ah,” she said.  “Well, she’ll love them.”

     Smile and nod.  Smile and nod.

     He’d almost forgotten how shitty the neighborhood was.  God, it must have been something like a week since he’d been there last.  He’d gotten into the habit of avoiding it.  Maybe it was time for him to move away.  He didn’t have much money but maybe if he got a roommate… he and Sirius had been bandying the idea of moving in together about ever since Lily and James got engaged.  Maybe they could look at flats at some point.  He practically lived with him as it was.

     Remus scaled the squeaky old stairs to his floor and knew immediately that something was wrong.  The door was open.

     Had Sirius gotten there before him?  He supposed it was possible, but a tight knot of dread formed in his stomach as he pulled his door the rest of the way open.

     Remus dropped the bouquet.

     Moments later, he heard footsteps behind him.

     “Hey babe I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave your door open like that, and — Oh, shit.  I think you were robbed.”

     Remus looked over at his boyfriend in panic, then back at his empty flat.

     “We need to call the police,” Sirius said, pulling his phone out of his pocket.  There was a squishing sound as he stepped on something.  “Aww,” Sirius cooed, “you bought me flowers?”

 

-/-

 

     “So do you think there’s any chance you’ll get your stuff back?”  Lily asked as she handed Remus his tea.

     Remus shook his head.  “Probably not.  I haven’t been there for a while and none of the neighbors said they noticed anything.  I’d never really talked to them before so I don’t know… maybe it was one of them…”  He still felt very jittery.  He and Sirius had spent the afternoon talking to a few police officers.  The officers themselves seemed rather unconvinced that someone living in a neighborhood like Remus’s would own so much expensive stuff.  But the real shock of the evening had come when Sirius helped him list off all of the things that had been stolen.

     Remus had been too out of it to contribute much, so Sirius had made most of the report, “A large collection of antique furniture… a sofa, a bed and nightstand, a dining room set, a coffee table, a wardrobe, a bookshelf, a flatscreen TV and a Playstation.  Several 19th century landscape oil paintings… oh,” he glanced at Remus before his eyes darted awkwardly away, “and a diamond ring.”

     Remus still hadn’t really gotten a chance to talk to Sirius about that, since somehow James and Lily had become aware of the situation before the police even left and were whisking their two friends across the city in a veritable whirlwind of protection and comfort.

     Remus hadn’t spent more than ten minutes without a cup of tea in his hand since the whole debacle had started.

     Sirius was sitting beside him and rubbing his hand along his boyfriend’s back.  Remus sort of collapsed into his side.  Sirius wrapped his arm around him.

     “I’m sorry about your things,” Remus said for probably the hundredth time.

     He could feel Sirius shrug around him.  “It’s fine.  The paintings were insured anyway.  I’m just glad you’re alright.”  He glanced up at their friends, who were hovering over them, ready to strike with blankets or more tea at a moment’s notice.  On the coffee table between the two couples was a slightly trampled bouquet of flowers lovingly arranged in a vase.

     “Let’s go to bed,” Sirius murmured into Remus’s hair.

     The two retreated into Sirius’s room.  Remus took a sip of his tea and was thankful yet again that virtually all of his more personal possessions — his clothes and books and laptop — had been living in his boyfriend’s flat for quite some time.

     “So,” Remus began.  “The ring… I don’t remember having a ring.”

     Sirius chuckled as he kicked his shoes off and fell backwards onto the mattress.  “I was wondering when you were going to bring that up.”  He splayed himself across the bed like a centerfold.  “Today’s our anniversary, you know… well…”

     “The anniversary of you breaking into my flat,” Remus replied with a smile.  “I know.  Why do you think I suggested dinner at my place?”

     Sirius smiled.  “I was actually going to suggest the same thing.  I’d stashed a ring in there a few weeks ago, because…” he trailed off.

     Remus felt tingles running all over his skin.  “Because?” he prompted.

     Sirius looked at him for a moment, then said, “because I was going to ask you to marry me.”

     He knew he was going to say that, but the words still sent a thrill through Remus’s body.  “Were you?” he asked with a small smirk.

     “I was,” Sirius replied, “and I am.”

     Remus let a silence fall between them and savored the moment, like The Books said he should.  The tension.  The love.  Their own little bubble, just the two of them and the unanswered question.

     Remus downed the last of his tea and set the mug down, then joined Sirius on the bed.  He took a final breath, smiled, and let the bubble pop.