Sirius needs to make a cake. This is, and Sirius would be the first to admit that, A Very Unusual Situation. In the seventeen glorious years of his life, Sirius has never encountered this specific need before; at least not with such immanency. And how the hell do you go about making a cake anyway? The question is a new one to Sirius, because Sirius Black usually considers himself to be right at the other end of the cake food chain; the sole purpose behind the existence of cakes is for Sirius Black to eat them, and Sirius rarely or never indulges in thoughts about the mysterious ways that cakes come into existence in the first place. Cakes exists, and Sirius doesn't think it has to go any deeper than that. Only now, he needs to make one, and the possibilities are perplexingly puzzling or perhaps puzzlingly perplexing. Sirius Black has never bothered to get acquainted with the finer points of kitchen sorcery; Sirius Black has never even bothered to get acquainted with the very large dots of kitchen sorcery. Two eggs, butter, a pan and stealing Remus's sandwiches very much summon up the kitchen skills Sirius Black has managed to amass in the seventeen glorious years of his life. Not that this presents any problem whatsoever; Sirius is very much satisfied with the situation as it is, thankyouverymuch; omelets are tasty, and so are fried eggs, scrambled eggs as well, boiled eggs, eggnog, not to forget Remus's sandwiches, which are terrific by the way, magnificent, godly, and oh so easily available. The problem has nothing to do whatsoever with Sirius's skills at cooking, but everything to do with Sirius's big mouth, which would have served him better if he'd stuffed it with eggs. And, of course, the problem has everything to do with bloody Remus.
“I'm going to make you a cake,” Sirius tells Remus one week before Remus's 18th birthday, “it will be ever so sumptuous-scrumptious.” Sirius never for one moment intends to really make Remus a cake. It's just one of those things Sirius says, to kill time, to fill the silent spaces. Only then Remus looks up, and looks at him, eyes bright behind the messy fall of hair, the strands of which just almost tickle his nose. Remus looks at him with eyes so rare and so hopeful, it makes something in Sirius's chest constrict sharply.
“Bugger,” Sirius thinks. There is no way he can get around it now.
How do you go about making a cake? Sirius cannot for the life of him figure out how to begin. So he goes and buys chocolate; after all, the cake is for Remus. Sirius buys heavy, dark, luxurious chocolate bars of the sort that are wrapped in thick gold foil and make an expensive sound when you break them. Sirius buys cocoa in large boxes, chocolate fudge and nougat sticks, star-shaped chocolate sprinkles, sprinkle-shaped chocolate sprinkles, chocolate cookies and chocolate frogs by the dozen. He ends up with a whole drawer filled to the brim with chocolatey this and chocolatey that and he still can't figure out what to do next.
So, at 8 am next morning, Sirius's walks into Flourish and Blotts and heads straight for the cookbook section. In between frustrated mothers with screaming children and screaming mothers with frustrated children, Sirius squats on the floor and reads about apple-cinnamon muffins and buttermilk-cranberry scones, about cups of flour and teaspoons of soda. There are books detailing to him the 101 secrets of the perfect dough and the right way to flick his wrist to whip cream, if he ever feels the urge to. Sirius reads the whole of How to Bake for Dummies, twice. If anything, it leaves Sirius more bewildered and more unhappy than he was before.
In the end, he asks Lily for help.
Lily has this bemused look in her eyes, as if she knows a secret Sirius hasn't figured out yet, but in the end she does copy out something from a worn booklet.
“It's from my grandmother,” Lily tells him while she is nonchalantly rummaging through an old box, not quite looking at Sirius. “A Muggle recipe. She called it Chocolate Seduction. Might just be what you're looking for.” And whatever is that supposed to mean?
On the morning of Remus Lupin's 18h birthday, Sirius alarm charm goes off early and he sets out to his task with the determination of a conqueror. He weighs and pours and mixes with a dedication he didn't really expect and discovers that making a cake is actually not that bad, once you've reached the stage where you can lick dough from sticky fingers. This doesn't mean Sirius now will turn into a kitchen fairy, twirling a whisk and smelling of cookies and homeliness; it doesn't mean Sirius will ever stop stealing Remus's sandwiches; it only means Sirius has much more fun making a cake for Remus than he expected, imagining Remus's surprise, the little twitch in the corner of Remus's mouth, the way Remus's hair falls into his eyes when he doesn't know what to say, the rare flash of uncomplicated and pure happiness in Remus's eyes. It really is as simple as that.
The cake turns out to be a masterpiece. It lodges on the kitchen counter in Sirius's flat, three-tiered, looking ever so splendid and sumptuous and scrumptious; the air around it is thick and gorgeous with its heavy smell; it looks fit for an emperor.
Sirius is pleased with himself; the cake is perfect. Only, he thinks, it lacks something a bit idiosyncratic, a personal touch, something that tells the world, and Remus in particular, that Sirius Was Here and even more that Sirius Bloody Made A Bloody Cake For Remus Lupin's Bloody Birthday.
He has an idea.
Unfortunately, it all goes downhill from there.
The door to Sirius's flat is closed, but unlocked. Remus tries it after he's knocked for what must be close to ten minutes and he feels that soon either the door or his hand are going to give way. “Sirius,” he shouts into the hallway, easing himself into the flat, feeling intrusive and tired, “Sirius, are you there?” If Sirius forgot his birthday, Remus tells himself, if Sirius forgot he invited, no ordered him here, five o'clock sharp, Moony, no excuses, if Sirius is somewhere out there, frolicking in the mud, or getting pissed on ginger beer, or flying his motorbike off a cliff, then Remus will kill him. At least, this is what Remus very adamantly tries to convince himself of. Remus doesn't exactly have the natural proclivity for killing. If Remus is honest, he knows he won't even manage to be angry at Sirius for long, if Sirius will look at him with that crooked grin, half apology, half rogue, and throw an idle, warm arm around his shoulders. The point that Sirius should be killed, however, adamantly remains.
Remus moves further into Sirius's flat, edging around piles of smelly clothes and dung bombs and stuff Remus doesn't want to look at long enough to determine what it could be. This is not messy, Sirius explained to him once, it goes all the way into messy and comes back from the other direction as a new and brilliant world order. It's art. Remus tells himself it's just the common behavior of the teenage male, although deep down he wonders what that implies for him, folded socks and alphabetized bookshelves and everything. At least he won't have to ask Sirius's opinion on the implications, because the one thing Sirius always does without prompting is tell him his opinion on the implications, eager and loudly and often.
Remus pops his head into what must be the living room – one couch, two thousand empty soda cans, no Sirius – and is about to go take a peek at the bathroom, when he hears someone whisper his name. Remus freezes, the muscles in his back automatically tightening in animal response, and then he looks again to find the scene very much as before. He wonders whether this means he's loosing it. Of course, this also might be some sick joke of Sirius's, as the direct result of Sirius having lost it. Which is, admittedly, the far more likely option.
The sound of Sirius's voice startles Remus into looking up, and there, on top of a large, ancient wardrobe Sirius sits, wearing a kitchen apron and looking insane. This shouldn't come as such a surprise, Remus thinks, but he stares anyway.
“You're sitting on your wardrobe,” Remus says, stating the obvious, hoping it will not seem so absolutely insane once someone's said it aloud. It still does, though.
“Shhhhhhh,” Sirius whispers frantically, hands waving no no no no no, “it'll hear you.”
Remus feels something cold and unpleasant shiver down his spine. His muscles stiffen in anticipation, not knowing what to expect, what thing, what monster. What is it, Remus mouths at Sirius, but then he hears it himself, a low growling sound, coming from under the kitchen table through the open door, reverberating off the walls, ringing with dreadful implications. The sound circumvents Remus's brain and goes directly into his bones, the ancient parts of his brain remembering at once with full force every danger, every predator since the first caveman stood facing the first saber-tooth tiger; the growl talks directly to Remus's diencephalon, telling him the end is nigh.
“Moony, your wand,” Sirius is mouthing intently, waving his hands in spell-weaving pantomime; for some reason, Remus is reminded of a mad saint, raving and throwing blessings down his column, but at least the thought brings him back to himself and he hectically gropes for his wand in the back pockets of his pants, amid all the chocolate wrappers.
Merlin's spotted socks, he thinks. Remus has only been eighteen for a few hours and he feels he hasn't gotten enough yet of the possibly glorious implications of eighteen-hood. It's unfair; it's ironic. Against all odds, Remus has managed to survive his teens, despite being a werewolf, despite spending his critical years in the immediate propinquity of James Potter and Sirius Black, despite his chronic and potentially fatal incompetence at Potions, despite that one incident in fourth year, which James referred to as “an unfortunate case of mistaken identity” and Sirius as “friendly firecracker”. All this, and now, when he was thinking he could finally retire and enjoy old age, some beast of mysterious origins is about to eat him in Sirius's flat.
Things like that just never happen when he's visiting Peter.
In the kitchen, to his left, Remus hears the growl subside a bit. If only he knew what he was dealing with, that would make it so much easier. He edges a bit further into the room, wand drawn, breathing heavily, hoping he won't trip on Sirius's collection of soda cans. Remus promises himself that when this is all over, he'll force Sirius to clean it up, and if it takes a month, if Remus has to stand on this spot for the rest of his life with his arms crossed and watch Sirius Black pick up his trash, he'd be oh so ecstatic to do it.
“It ate my wand! Moony, it ate my wand,” Sirius is rambling somewhere to his right, and up. “I wasn't–- I didn't expect it to–- Moony.”
Sirius, Remus realizes, isn't going to be much help. It puts them in unexpected places, reverses their positions, because isn't Sirius the brave one, the daring one, the glorious and dashing hero? In all the long years he has known him, Remus has always been happy to play the Watson to Sirius's Holmes, to orbit the greater brilliance of his friend's sun, to do the paperwork and clean up any unexpected mess. It's a role that fits him well; it's a role he usually is happy enough with. Only now, Sirius is hiding on a wardrobe and there's a monster in the kitchen and it is up to Remus to save them all.
Alright, Remus thinks, this one is for all the other large-nosed, anal-retentive werewolves out there. He moves forward a little, hoping to emit the air of someone very brave and very confident and, possibly, incredibly muscular.
“Don't look so frightened,” Sirius calls to him from where he's sitting in safety, suddenly very eager to help now Remus is the one more likely to be eaten, “I think it can smell it when you're shitting your pants.”
Peering around the door frame, Remus gets a glimpse of the kitchen. From what he can see, it looks very much like a war zone or maybe a place where some exorbitantly large animal has rampaged. Remus is aware, though, that this is not the place for hasty conclusions. This is Sirius's kitchen; there is the possibility that it looks like that naturally.
Something dark, however, and definitely not kitchen-y, is moving under the table. Remus notices it from the corner of his eye, and the thing notices him, too, and instantly propels itself forward from its hiding place, throwing itself at Remus with a savage snarl.
Remus acts before thinking, his friendship with Sirius and James at least having endowed him with incredibly good reflexes, and his defense spell hits the thing with an accuracy that would have Remus earned top marks in Alastair Moody's DADA class, the one Remus had almost failed hadn't it been for that one essay on lycantrophy.
Only then, unexpectedly, the thing explodes in a flurry of moving matter, dark blobs flying across the room, splashing against the windows and leaving a dark spot on the floor, hitting Remus on his sweater, hitting Remus on his face. Remus can feel it wet on his cheek, soft and substantial and with a smell like--
That smell, that familiar smell; like a thousand hours spent curled up in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room; like the soft, well-worn pages of his favorite books; rich like the light of the full moon and calming like the rhythmic cadences of poetry. He knows that smell as intimately as each crescent scar on his belly, but Remus cannot, for the life of him, figure out what it's doing here.
“That's chocolate,” Remus wants to say, flabbergasted. Only, Sirius is faster and cuts him off.
“Your cake,” he babbles, from his vantage point atop of the wardrobe, “that was your cake. Your cake was trying to kill us.”
Sirius's explanation, as far as Remus can follow, goes like this:
1. I made you a cake.
2. I thought it would be nice, you know, if it would, I mean I thought, I didn't really think and at that time -
3. Stop looking at me like that, Moony.
4. I wanted to have it sing “Merlin's Magic Wand”, all thirty dirty verses.
5. It could have been brilliant, you know.
6. Sorry, Moony.
7. James gave me the hex, said he got it from his uncle Bernie.
8. In hindsight, I recognize now that this might have been a mistake.
9. Then your cake attacked me.
10. It ate my wand.
11. Oh God, Moony, it ate my wand. And there were teeth in there, I swear, somewhere in the icing, and then it jumped off the counter and it came after me and I didn't know what to do and it was making that sound like it wanted to rip my heart out and I screamed like a girl and then I threw a chair at it and it bit right through its leg like it was made of candy and then it looked at me with those eyes --
12. Ohmygod, those eyes. I will have nightmares about those chocolate-frosted eyes for the rest of my life.
13. Then I hid on the wardrobe.
14. Then you came.
15. You know the rest.
16. I just wanted to make you a cake.
17. Sorry, Moony.
18. Happy Birthday, Moony.
Remus makes tea, because if any moment is a moment for tea, this is a moment for tea. The familiar motions of tea-making calm his nerves, the brittle feel of the leaves and the sharp aromatic fragrance, the rolling sound of boiling water, the unexpected heat, the steam curling in the cold-ish air like ghosts. A habit is a wonderful thing; the way it removes you from the immediate circumstances, the way all tea-making moments melt into one calm, safe place.
Almost makes you forget Sirius's cake wanted to kill you.
Almost, but not quite.
Sirius is sprawling in a chair across the room, legs propped up on the table, rambling about the relative values of farting fudge over nosebleed nougat. Sirius has this particular talent for tailoring his version of events to his emotional needs, Remus thinks; only minutes ago he was hiding on a wardrobe and now he exudes nothing but blissful insouciance, leaving Remus to feel out of place and unnecessarily prissy.
“–- and then Snivellus made this sound like a rubber boat losing air, and then James said–”, Sirius says, wiggling long fingers in the air and tut-tutting happily under his breath. Sirius is one of the most experienced sprawlers Remus has ever known, he's perfected the art beyond art, the way he takes up space, the way he fills up room. In its familiarity the motions tug on something in Remus's chest, fusing into countless memories of Sirius sprawling in the high-backed chairs in the Gryffindor common room, giddy after a gloriously successful prank, or twitchy after a Quidditch match with damp hair curling around his ears, or just tired, dark eyes watching Remus from the shadows. Remus remembers this, Remus's body remembers this and it automatically angles itself relative to the longer lines of Sirius's. This is almost like it used to be, Remus thinks, and the thought comes so bodily and so visceral that it knocks the breath out of his lungs. This is almost like it used to be, only it's not, only it's so not. They are too old for Hogwarts now, these are their last and final summer hols, they'll never board that train again. Remus tells himself it's for the best, that growing is the way of the world, things ever moving and a-changin', but he feels a faint sickness rise in his stomach. The thing is, Sirius is Sirius is Sirius, and Sirius is sprawling in his kitchen chair, and Sirius almost got Remus killed by cake, and Sirius will never again copy an Arithmancy essay from Remus, and Sirius will never again come and fetch Remus from the library (you'll grow damp and musty, Moony, like those books, and then I'll have to burn you) and perhaps one day, Sirius will never come to Remus again. At all.
“Sirius,” Remus says, uncertainly. His fingers are cramped around a teaspoon, his knuckles suddenly white and very cold and Remus looks at them intently, like he's never seen them before. “Sirius, I–-”
“C'mon Moony-man,” Sirius cuts him off, “you're not still angry with me, aren't you? After all, I made you a cake. I don't think it's fair to blame me for any unexpected complications. We could still eat that cake. It's still here after all, just a bit spatially distressed. A bit mm-mm-mushy.”
“Sirius,” Remus stubbornly prods on, not knowing what to say, but knowing he has to say it, now when there's still time.
“There is, for example, a rather tasty looking bit of cake smeared in your hair,” Sirius says giddily, but there is something unreadable and dark, flashing for a moment in his eyes.
“Sirius,” Remus says, “we're going to be strangers someday.”
“Moony,” Sirius says, unfolding casually from his sitting position, “there's chocolate on your face.”
Remus feels unhappy, and too young, and too old also, and Sirius obviously is not listening. “No, Sirius, please listen, I said–-“
“There's chocolate on your face,” Sirius repeats, suddenly very close. Remus can see each single hair curling too long over the nape of Sirius's neck. Sometimes, Remus forgets that he is not the only one who is stubborn as hell, too stubborn sometimes. Whatever Sirius is about now, talking about cake, ignoring Time that tugs at their sleeves, dragging them apart; it makes Remus want to curl up and die.
Remus turns to draw back, only in that moment Sirius moves in to kiss him and their noses bump painfully against each other. “Moony,” Sirius says, sound muffled against Remus's cheek. “Moony, Moony, Moony.” For one breathless moment, Remus freezes and then he feels something inside him melt and fuse together again. Sirius wants to kiss him; Sirius Black wants to kiss him; Sirius Black, who is awe-inspiring and often stupidly impulsive and often very trying also and his best friend in all of the world, wants to kiss him.
Oh my God, Remus thinks, and then his right hand moves to Sirius's cheek of its own accord. When Sirius kisses him again, properly this time, Remus doesn't think anything at all for a very long time.
“I want you to be in my flat all the time,” Sirius tells him afterwards, when they've cleaned up most of the cake debris, “even with you blowing up cakes and all.”
So, Sirius made Remus a cake. It didn't exactly go, and Sirius would be the first to admit that, Right As Planned. A whole lot different from Right As Planned in fact, in a whole lot of different and unexpected and sometimes painful ways. But Remus has fallen asleep on Sirius's couch and there's chocolate in his hair still.
They didn't even get to eat that cake.
Ask Sirius how much he cares.