Team: Sirius
Title: The Northern Line
Author: [personal profile] ceredwensirius
Rating: R
Warnings: Sirius' fantasies daydreams, a few swear words, and the vulgarities that come with boy culture.
Genre(s): Humor/Fluff/Mild Angst
Word Count: ~25,000
Summary: Every morning before work, Sirius dodges his mother's barbs, runs the family business, sorts his brother's blunders, and trades insults with his best friend. He also falls in love.
Notes: Liberties taken with the profession of corporate raider, the London Underground, the area of Angel, Islington; the details about the shops are a mix of fact and pure fiction. This is a non-magical AU set in the year 2014. Muchas, muchas gracias to my beta [personal profile] whitmans_kiss. Also, many thanks to the mods for putting on another fantastic R/S Games and an extra big hug for Team Sirius. You guys are the best. Originally posted here at [community profile] rs_games.





"What? No, Mother, I don't believe I look like - hold on."

Sirius pauses to step out of the way of a group of young school boys in grey coats and short trousers barreling out of the entrance to the Northen line. They run screaming past him like the hooligans they will one day be, their shrill, young voices too loud for this hour of the morning. A man, fifty-ish, hair white and well receded from the point of departure, huffs and puffs after them, looking a few harried breaths from his last.

"What is that noise, Sirius?" comes his mother’s voice. He holds the phone to his ear and waits just long enough to hear the impatient, irritated sigh.

"The sound of unfettered freedom, Mother, of loosened shackles, and scruffy jaws, and pure, unencumbered joy. In short, nothing you have any idea about."

"My dear boy; do shut up," says his mother, amused now, and Sirius imagines he can hear the twist on her too-red lips.

"Remind me why I talk to you?" he asks as he jogs down the stairs to the turnstiles. He slips a hand inside the breast of his coat and finds the thin, calf-skin wallet there.

"Because you love me," she says simply.

Sirius doesn't respond, because he does love her, they both know it, but that is no reason to admit defeat at half past seven in the morning. He balances the phone between his shoulder and ear, head cocked to the side as he flips open his wallet. Master Card, Visa, Discover – ah, there it is. Sirius pulls out the blue and white Oyster card and slides into the queue behind a tiny, frail blue-hair, a teen with rows of spikes on his head that call to mind a tragic mating disaster between a hedgehog and an Amazonian tree frog, and a tall (though not quite as tall as himself) man, who must be close in age to Sirius with light, wavy hair.

"Should I expect you for tea?" says his mother when enough time has passed to call Sirius' stand off a draw. Her words are less of a question than they sound.

"Not sure," he says, getting back into the game. "I do have to work. I'm not Regulus, you know."

The blue-hair is fishing in an enormous, dusty-orange bag that is an example of all things wrong with the world. The green-haired youth surprises Sirius by asking politely if she needs a hand. She turns her face up to smile at him and Sirius really wishes she wouldn't have. The teeth she does have are a dingy yellow and the whites of her rheumy eyes are equally jaundiced.

"Regulus is Regulus," says his mother and Sirius has to grit his teeth against the favoritism.

"What was that, Mother?" says Sirius. "I think the Underground is interfering with reception."

Ahead of him, the teen woots softly. He holds up an Oyster card like he just found a winning Lotto ticket. The card flashes brightly under harsh fluorescent lighting. Sirius is amused by the glove covering the teen's hand. It is black, faux leather, and the fingers are crudely cut off.

"Have a lovely day," says his mother and Sirius would pout if he could because he's lost this round. The Underground hasn't been a problem for mobile reception since the 2012 Olympics, and she just called his bluff. He shoves his phone into his trouser pocket with disgust.

The tiny blue-hair has swiped her card over the magnetic reader and then so has the teen and light-haired man in front of Sirius. Sirius follows suit as a man somewhere behind him says an exasperated "finally." Before he can get a seat, Sirius' phone rings again.

"Black," he says, crisp and abruptly, like he knows the value of his time down to last half-pence – which, incidentally, he does.

"Morning, sunshine. Want to meet for--"

"Can't, Potter," says Sirius as he follows the light-haired man onto the tube. Sirius finds an empty seat and so does the man. Sirius gets his first look at him and is drawn in by the man's eyes. They are a honeyed-hazel, wearing lashes indecently, thick and long, set in almond-shaped lids. "There was a delay this morning. Tiny thing with blue hair lost her card in-"

"As fascinating as I know you think this all to be-"

"Arse."

"Pretty words, Black. I'll call in a couple of hours, see what you think about lunch."

"Right," says Sirius, and snaps his phone shut.

The train speeds along for two minutes and then stops, speeds along for another two minutes, and then stops again. Sleepy Londoners board and depart, and as Sirius waits for his destination, he watches the young man two seats down and across.

In addition to really lovely eyes, he has a full, almost pouty, mouth. He is worrying his thick lower lip, pulling it between his teeth, nibbling and releasing, nibbling and releasing. Sirius would rather he stuck it out, strike a post-modern emo moue, but telegraphing his wants would have no effect. Sirius finds himself drawn in, wondering at the internal drama fueling the abuse of the now delightfully puffy lower lip. The man is… Sirius can't put his finger on it. Something is on this beautiful man's mind. Not that he seems the type to know he is beautiful. He is unassumingly dressed in cheap grey slacks, an almost-pressed white oxford, and a tie that is about five years out of fashion. His shoes are clean but not new, worn over threadbare socks, and the pièce de résistance is an almost-cream-but-could-just-be-dingy cardigan with tiny knots of fuzz holding a gathering at the elbows.

Sirius has no idea where his fascination for this man comes from. The man is remarkably unremarkable, and yet Sirius is helpless to do nought but watch, entirely fixated.

The train jerks to a stop and his phone rings again. It is both an annoyance and a welcome reprieve.

"Black," he says, and despite his desire to do elsewise, he continues to watch his pretty not-companion. Sirius feels a stab of self-directed irritation.

"Sirius, good morning." It is Regulus. There is a pause. "I need a favor."

"Of course you do," says Sirius, knowing he is taking his frustration out on his brother and not caring in the least.

Regulus sighs on his end and still Sirius watches, enthralled as the young man fidgets, crossing one leg over the other, tiny flush dots pinking on the apples of high cheek bones. Sirius allows himself the conceit that it is his attention causing the man's flustered reaction even as he is irritated that he cares.

"Do you have to be difficult?"

Sirius snorts. "Yes."

"Why do I bother?"

"Oh, please," says Sirius, finally allowing some of his focus to redirect. "As if you're doing me some great favor here. It’s the same as it always is, Regulus, and-"

Sirius pauses in the middle of what was going to be a very lengthy explanation regarding what all is wrong with his brother. The train has pulled to another abrupt halt and apparently Angel station is the man's stop. He rises from his seat and Sirius can't remember how to use words. If the clothes make the man, no one has bothered to explain that to this man. The cheap trousers and worn cardigan hang loosely from a frame that is too thin, shoulders and knees and elbows are sharp, jutting angles, shifting points in space as he gathers himself up. Sirius wonders what the man would look like nude, spread across his dark sheets. He imagines uncovering diamond-sharp hip bones wrapped in a delicate, skin-pale shroud, soft to the touch and yet masculine enough. The man's coloring is a beautiful contrast to Sirius' olive-toned Roman heritage. A sudden hunger overwhelms him, a desire to take this man apart, piece by raggedy piece, undo him utterly and then put him back together. He has never felt so much with so little provocation.

As the man moves toward the doors Sirius' eyes roam liberally, moving up the man's body until they are trained on his now thoroughly pink face. He is studiously looking away from Sirius, Adam's apple bobbing with several convulsive, nervous swallows. Sirius feels like an orbital body trapped in a magnetic pull, which is ridiculous because there is nothing magnetic about this man.

With a hand on the long steel pipe that rises from floor to ceiling, the man pauses. His eyes flick to Sirius', just a brief flutter of thick lashes and flash of hazel, then quickly looks away. A small – dare Sirius call it demure – smile dashes across those full lips and then he is gone. Any objections Sirius had been harboring against the pursuit of this quarry (all wardrobe related) are drowned in that brief, sly, coquettish smile. Just as quickly, the man exits the tube and the doors shut behind him with loud, hissing finality.

"Sirius? Weren't we going to have our weekly 'what is wrong with Regulus' chat?"

Sirius is surprised to hear his brothers voice, realizing belatedly that the pain in his ear is the phone mashed against thin skin over cartilage.

"Huh?" he says, his mind slow to return to the here and now.

Regulus sighs again.

*
*
*

"No, no, no," says Sirius into his phone as he pushes his way onto the train. He briefly wonders if Americans have taken over the Northern line. Everyone is too loud and pushy this morning. These bastards aren't behaving like Englishmen. "This is exactly why Mother and Father allow you to do whatever you like. You're too bloody soft. Now, offer the man tea and don't say another word to him."

"That isn't why!" insists Regulus, voice high and dramatic and offended. "And they don't let me do whatever I want! They-"

"Shut. Up," snarls Sirius. "I am not going to have this argument with you. Do as you're bloody told. Tea. No talking."

Sirius snaps his phone shut, irritated. He sits and is about to make another call but in the seat across from him is the beautiful young man. Sirius hasn't seen him for the last three weeks and honestly forgot he existed. It is no slight against the man, it is simply the speed at which Sirius' life moves.

This morning the man has left the wool-gathering cardigan at home and has exchanged it for a perfectly ghastly tie. The tie is primary yellow and blue striped, seventies-era wide, and absolutely unavoidable. For several seconds Sirius can't drag his eyes away from it. He has never seen anything so singularly objectionable in all his life.

The rest of the man's attire is more or less acceptable. The white oxford has had more attention paid to its pressing, the slacks are still cheap and too loose, but have changed their color to black and come with a matching business jacket, also cheap, which hangs off the man's frame like skin on a Shar Pei. The shoes are unchanged but the socks are healthier, less thread-bare.

A glance at the man's down-turned face reveals cheeks that are dotted with pink once again. Has he noticed Sirius watching him? The man's long lashes dust dark shadows on milk-pale skin and he has his lower lip pulled in. Sirius really wishes he wouldn't do that.

As much as he might like to continue staring, as it clearly flusters this gorgeous stranger, Sirius has a disaster to manage. He snaps his phone open and rings his father.

"Orion," says a voice, heavy and deep with an extra long roll on the 'r'.

"Where are you? Regulus is at the office playing hostess," says Sirius without preamble, his tone knife sharp. "I don't need to explain the many ways that could go wrong, I hope."

"Sirius?" asks his father's deep, rolling voice.

"No," snaps Sirius. "It's Aunt Elladora calling you. Of course it's Sirius."

A smile flickers across the young man's lips. It is little more than a twitch at the corners of his mouth, but it seems to reach all the way up to his eyes. Sirius would know if he would only look up. Despite his current crisis, Sirius feels something tight and knotted loosen in his chest.

"Don’t you give me cheek," his father warns.

"Then don't ask stupid questions," Sirius retorts. "If you like, I could sell you my part of the company and retire on some idyllic, tropical isle," he goes on, acutely aware that he is showing off. Hazel flashes in his direction and then away. Sirius is emboldened by the attention. "Then you and Regulus can play house with-"

"Enough!" says his father. "I'm five minutes from the office."

"I'm twenty," says Sirius, his eyes rapt on the contents of the seat across from him. "I told Regulus to serve tea and then shut up."

"Very well," says his father and hangs up.

The train stops to let on a large group of what are clearly tourists and several schoolchildren. The man across from Sirius doesn’t look up, but a smile curves across his face as young, bright voices fill the compartment and then settle almost-quietly into their seats.

"Cheeky little buggers," says Sirius fondly. His apparent affection is a complete lie; the only child he likes is Potter's. He isn't sure what to make of his eagerness to capture this man's attention, but that is what fuels his expressed appreciation for the diminutive, uniformed monsters at the far end of the compartment.

The man across from him stops interviewing his lap to look up and smile. Sirius is dazzled, returning the gesture with a too-wide grin of his own. He wonders at his total loss of the situation as the man licks his lips and pulls in a quick breath. The cultured suave Sirius employs in most business and social situations has abandoned him entirely. He is glad there aren't any mirrors in these compartments. It would be a tragic blow to his ego to have empirical proof that he is grinning soppily where anyone can see. Sirius finds himself leaning forward as it appears the man is going to say something. He would love to give himself a sound smack on the back of the head, but if he did he might miss what the man has to say. Privately, Sirius is horrified with himself. Not only has he surrendered all vestiges of his considerable charm, he is also holding his breath in anticipation and that is just not on. Loud and sudden, his phone rings, jolting Sirius back in his seat and breaking his internal tension with all the subtlety and grace of a sledgehammer. The man looks back down at the book in his lap, his smile spreading wide across his face. Sirius huffs an irritated sigh at the interruption

"Black," he snarls.

"Oh, dear. Did someone not get their beauty sleep?"

"Potter," says Sirius, neutral, and then sighs. "Reg decided after being a great, useless waste-"

"He's an artist," says Potter.

"Like I said," Sirius goes on.

"My wife is an artist," says Potter.

"Your wife is Lily Evans and could kick both our arses before breakfast without breaking a sweat."

Sirius hears a soft laugh and looks up. The train has stopped at Angel station; the man Sirius almost chatted up (he is resolutely ignoring his previous pathetic display; this is his story and no one will convince him otherwise) if it weren't for stupid, stinking Potter and his phone call is on his feet. Had he laughed? Sirius isn't sure; he's never heard the man speak.

"Point," says Potter. "So, your brother did what now?"

Sirius' eyes follow the man out of the train. He sighs heavily over the lost opportunity. He isn't sure when he turned into the sort of ponce who sighs but a lack of witnesses offer plausible deniability. Potter doesn't count; Sirius knows where all his bodies are buried.

"He's decided to try his hand at my job," says Sirius, finally.

Potter laughs so loud Sirius has to pull the phone away from his ear.

*
*
*

"He is a menace," says Sirius into his phone, decisive. He takes his seat on the train with a wide yawn. He is tired, not bored. This conversation has his full attention. He has to win, but all his arguments are recycled. "A brush-waving, paint-spattering menace," he adds meanly and wishes he'd had time for coffee this morning. "Having him come to the office isn't going to change that, Mother. He doesn't have the teeth."

"He's a Black," says his mother with irritating calm.

"So is Bellatrix," retorts Sirius. "Would you like for her to help out from her room at Bethlehem Royal?"

"Are you suggesting that Regulus is mentally ill?" His mother sounds amused which means she thinks she has Sirius where she wants him. This is not good news.

"No, but now that you mention it, mental illness would explain so much about my brother," says Sirius with loaded sarcasm. It is a faulty salvo on his part, though truthfully, he is just buying time until he thinks of something better.

A quiet snort across the aisle grabs his attention. The man with the hazel eyes and full mouth is dressed exactly the same as he was the previous day, the blue and yellow tie on full offense. How had Sirius not noticed that tie?

"I do so enjoy these little sparring sessions of ours," says his mother. Sirius pictures her lips curving up in a smug, victorious smirk. He hasn't flatly told her no. He knows he can't, not yet; not if she has Father in her pocket, which she does.

"Yes, yes," says Sirius. He doesn't think he can win his mother over this morning and doesn't want her to believe he is conceding victory to her. Of course, success and failure in these matters is entirely subjective, each side claiming what they want. This begs the question of whether their verbal contests even matter. Sirius decides that yes, they do matter. "We must do it again soon," he continues, carefully dismissive.

"You aren't trying to get rid of me, are you?" There is an infuriating lilt to her tone.

"Of course not," says Sirius and snaps his phone shut. He (or she) who hangs up first, wins. Right? Nothing subjective about that. Sirius turns his attention to more pleasant diversions, namely his unfortnately dressed compartment companion. "Good morning." Sirius leans back in his seat and offers a wide smile. He is charming, smooth, and suave, Sirius reminds himself. The smile he is wearing is a favorite from his bag of tricks, flirtatious and slightly sardonic, but giving nothing away. He is in control; so far, so good. He is not going to behave like a besotted fool. He doesn't do besotted.

The man looks up, the corners of his mouth quirking in a way that makes Sirius think this chap would be a real sarcastic bastard if given the chance. Sarcasm is a finely tuned art in Sirius' opinion and when well-executed, a sign of intelligence. He refuses to believe he could be interested in someone who is both wardrobe-challenged and dim-witted.

He still can't quite believe he is attracted to the poster child for fashion victims everywhere, but there is nothing for it, really. His is attracted and suspects (hopes) his interest is returned. Something sly shines from the man's eyes, confirming for Sirius his belief that there is more than a pretty face here. He holds in a weary sigh for the man's attire. The sight in the seat across the aisle from him is glorious in its incongruity. Anyone this good-looking should really dress better.

"Good morning," replies the man as the train comes to a halt. "Sorry, I couldn't help-"

The man is interrupted by Sirius' phone ringing once again. He holds a finger up and flips it open.

"Black," he says, curt and forbidding, his attention diverted away from his friend.

"Morning, gorgeous," sings Potter. "Regulus still trying to take your job from under you?"

"Mother is behind it, I think," says Sirius as the train begins to take off again. He looks up and notices they are at Angel station and that the man is gone. He sighs.

Potter chortles merrily on his end.

*
*
*

"Morning," says Sirius, smiling across the aisle as he sits. He takes a sip of his coffee, relishing the warmth as it goes down. He loves tea in the afternoon, but there is nothing quite like a cup of coffee to give his morning a necessary jolt. "This is becoming a regular thing between us."

Including this morning, the abhorrent tie and cheap suit have made an appearance for the third day in a row. This must be some sort of required work attire and Sirius thinks he'd quit first. A smile nudges the edges of the man's lips. He really has a gorgeous mouth. It would look fantastic around Sirius' cock.

"What thing between us?" asks the man, and then adds, "Good morning."

Sirius feels his mouth dry up like a desert. He'd thought that was a fairly smooth salvo on his part. He admires the man for batting it back so neatly, putting the burden squarely back on Sirius to explain what he meant. He would dearly love to come to the point; his comfort zone is a mix of playful innuendo and direct assertiveness, but there is no concrete proof of a mutual attraction, just a wagonload of circumstantial evidence. It is enough to encourage him, but still shy of what he needs to close the deal. Sirius' obvious loss for a response nudges the man's smile up even further. That is more for the wagon, but not what he is hoping for. He has forged ahead with less and been successful, but something is holding him back. He isn't sure what that might be, but all of his suspicions point to something real and completely terrifying. It is ridiculous, seeing as he hasn't even had a proper conversation with the man. Sirius nearly weeps with relief when his phone rings while simultaneously giving thoughtful consideration to crushing it under his Ferragamos. It is a strange mix of emotions, this desire to run both away and toward his feelings. It leaves him exhilarated and exhausted. He has never been so confused.

"Black."

"Lily wants you for dinner Friday night."

Sirius smirks. "I thought you explained to her that I'm queer." It is not his bravest moment, really, taking the side entrance to a declaration of attraction. The man would have to be a genius at inferences to connect the dots, not to mention mind-reading, but speaking loudly about his orientation at least gets it out there.

Potter is quiet for a moment. "Oh. Funny."

"I thought so. Took you long enough."

There is a patient sigh. "Can I tell her you're coming?"

"Is there a particular reason you're making this easy for me?" The train comes to a halt and Sirius knows instinctively they have reached Angel station. He looks up and sees his pretty not-exactly-a-total-stranger-except-that-he-actually-is rise to get off at his stop. There is an amused grin on those lovely lips.

Another long pause follows while James catches up. "Oh, for. You're a pervert."

"And?"

*
*
*

"Good morning," Sirius greets, pleased. He hasn't seen the man he's been pursuing for two days. He has been harboring a worry that the open admission he's bent scared the man off. It forced him to look at just how invested he is which led to self-recriminations because he barely knows this stranger. Not that these recriminations worked as any sort of deterrent. Sirius is far too stubborn for his own good.

Now that he finds himself in the same compartment again, that fear eases into objective rationality. They don't cross paths every morning, though he had allowed himself to believe (hope) that the man makes the same effort Sirius does. Sirius is blessed with a brief but warm smile that melts the last of his concerns. At the very least it means the man knows Sirius is queer and it doesn't bother him.

The man is wearing the same attire this morning, the horrible tie and cheap black suit, and Sirius gives up hope of seeing him wear anything else. Nothing would delight Sirius more than to rip those clothes off, and not just to save the man from the fashion police. He would take great delight not just in undressing this man (very great delight, actually), but also in adorning him with clothes that would flatter his slim, lithe physique.

Sirius tries to remember if he has gotten the man's name and thinks he must have but was distracted with his mother, brother, father, or best friend like he is most mornings. He hesitates to ask for it because that would prove he wasn't paying attention. He thought he did little besides pay attention to this man, but knows his mind takes frequent diversions into fantasy.

"Got plans for the weekend?" he asks, hoping the answer is no. He doesn't think he's going to get further on their morning commute and has decided to see if a companionable dinner between two potential friends will lead to the concrete proof he is after. He'll navigate the unknowns (trivial things like the man's name and whether or not he likes cock) on the fly.

"Good morning," says the man, directing a smile to the book in his lap. He pauses on the question, his smile faltering into a rueful grimace. "Yes, actually. Friday is date night. My mate Peter is determined to see me settle down. I always meet Pete's latest victim at Tas in The Cut."

Sirius frowns. That is a disappointment and takes his idea of a date right off the table. In light of this information, even an invitation open enough to be taken as mates grabbing a bite together is slightly suspect. Sirius will have to wait until next week to try again and not on Friday, either. Not that this is his only concern. Is this Peter bloke setting Remus up with women or men? What does that mean for Sirius' attraction to Remus? He isn't sure, but he is less confident. The lack of concrete proof is tipping all his circumstantial evidence toward a dissatisfying conclusion. He toys with the idea of inviting Remus to a match instead, plying him with alcohol and then leaving himself wide open to receive any passes. It is slightly pathetic and not his usual style. He much prefers being the aggressor in sexual situations but he's never had a potential, ah – conquest isn't the right word but will do for lack of another. All Sirius knows is that this man really must like Turkish.

"Oh. Well. Good luck with that, then."

The man shrugs. "Pete hasn't learned my type. I have told him, repeatedly."

"Oh?" says Sirius, an irritating hopeful lilt drawing the word up into the stratosphere. "What's your-"

Before he can get the question out his damn phone rings. Everyone he knows has the absolute worst timing. He should send out a strongly worded memo followed by a loud explosive rant. Alternatively, he could throw his phone under the train and be done with it.

"Black."

"My darling boy."

"Good morning, Mother," says Sirius, sour, wondering what she wants now.

"You could sound happier to hear from me."

"I've always been a terrible liar." Disappointed for a variety of reasons, Sirius watches as the man rises for his stop. It is Angel station again, the same as always. The man curls his fingers, jerky, and Sirius wonders if it is an aborted attempt at a wave goodbye. Before Sirius can do something foolish like wave back, the man turns away from him and toward the compartment's doors. Sirius feels unsettled and has more questions than answers. Normally, he is more certain of orientation before becoming invested in another man, not that he has become invested so many times. Presented with the possibility all of the perceived attraction between himself and this man was just wishful thinking, he remembers why. Being queer doesn't present as many physical dangers as it used to, but all of the clichéd heartaches are still waiting to be experienced.

"Tosh," says his mother. "You lie almost as well as I do."

"Are we coming to the point of this call anytime soon?" he asks wearily, his mind far from the conversation with his mother. He wants to spend the rest of his commute getting his thoughts together, not trading insults with his mother. A hollow ache settles in his chest as he watches the man slip past the tube doors and head off to wherever it is he goes every day.

"I wasn't aware I required one."

Sirius sighs, his sudden fatigue unjustifiable.

*
*
*

"You did what?!" Sirius snarls into his phone. He must have misheard.

"Your mother thought-" Orion begins, but Sirius sees red.

"You do remember we specialize in hostile takeovers, yes?" he asks, cutting his father off as he sits heavily. His eyes are drawn to the tacky motif covering the empty seat next to his. The geometric patterns remind him unpleasantly of hotel carpeting.

"He deserves a-"

"He deserves a lump of clay, a potter's wheel, a paint brush, and some bloody glitter and sequins if that is what his heart desires. He doesn't deserve this. These are the same bastards that nearly white-knighted out of our grasp. I can't believe Mother thinks Regulus can handle firing the current board of directors. He doesn't have the stomach for it, besides which, this was my deal.”

Orion sighs. "I know, but your mother-"

"Oh, for. Her judgment is clouded. Fix this, Father, or I will." Sirius snaps his phone shut, closes his eyes, and lets his head fall back. There are days when he doesn't know why or how he gets up to go to work. If he isn't navigating the land mines of interfamily relations, he’s putting out the jealous fires created by saboteurs within the company that he isn't related to. He thought that the challenge would be enough, but days like this make him wonder if anything is. "I hate my job," he mutters softly.

"No, you really don't."

Sirius glances up; the man is dressed the same as he is every morning, his finger holding a place in one of the books he is forever reading. "I'm good at it, but I don't like taking people's lives apart. That is the definition of what I do."

It is only a partial truth. He does take vicious satisfaction in taking apart corporations that are failing due to mismanagement, usually because of outdated models of top heavy corporate structures. Those are becoming fewer and fewer. This had been just such a deal and he was looking forward to it. He sometimes thinks he should have gone into corporate law and gone to work for the Ministry. Pressure from his family coupled with a natural ability to strategize put him on his current path.

"You enjoy the thrill." The words are said without censure, more matter-of-fact, and the hazel eyes peering at Sirius don't hold any sort of judgment. The words sting nonetheless, particularly right at this moment.

"You don't know me," says Sirius, cold, and leaves his seat to stand and hold onto a pipe near the door, his back turned to the man. Potter has been saying nearly those exact words for years with the addendum that if Sirius wanted, the world of finance could find other ways to make use of him. It is irritating that a man he longs to know, whom he knows nothing about, already knows him so well.

Not fair. Not fair at all.

*
*
*

"I'm hanging up now," says Sirius, even though he actually isn't. He is enjoying the groveling and thinks it his due. Twisting the knife a little just makes it more enjoyable.

"Please hear me out, Sirius," pleads Regulus. Sirius smiles as he steps onto the train, but says nothing. Sweating a little will be good for his brother.

All of the seats in the compartment are taken this morning save one. He should have peered in before boarding but was too caught up in enjoying Regulus' misery. Sirius is aware of the man sitting across the aisle, but doesn't acknowledge him. He doesn't stare until pink dusts the tops of the man's cheeks, or even take surreptitious glances. Sirius employs simple, cold indifference, still smarting from yesterday's too accurate assessment.

"I don't want to discuss this now," says Sirius. He doesn't want to give anything away to the man and doesn't want to air his personal grievances to a compartment full of strangers.

"Will you meet me for lunch?"

"I suppose," says Sirius and snaps his phone closed.

"Good morning," says the man across from him. Sirius does not acknowledge him. Instead he reopens his phone and considers calling Potter, taking peeks at the man from under his lashes. He suppresses a grin as the man takes in their fellow commuters, clearly embarrassed by Sirius' lack of response. It serves the man right, Sirius thinks, and depresses the speed dial for Potter.

There is a heavy indrawn breath, a pause, and then, "I was out of line. I really thought you enjoyed your work-"

"Even if my work makes me the vampire of the business world?" snaps Sirius, shutting his phone closed with a loud 'clack'. A man sitting next to him, older with dark salt and pepper hair, looks sharply at Sirius. His dark glare turns the gentleman's head away just as quickly, retreating behind the headlines of the Times.

"Oh," says the man across from him. He runs a hand through his light, wavy hair. Sirius' mind pauses momentarily to question whether it is as soft as it looks. He stomps the traitorous thought viciously under the heel of his Italian loafers. "The vampire," the man continues, his lush mouth quirked up in an inviting grin. "Not a vampire. Quite telling."

Sirius' burst of laughter catches him by surprise. He wanted to appear angry for at least one more day. He quickly stifles his amusement behind a cough, though from the man's smile he knows it is too late.

"How was your date?" asks Sirius, apology accepted. He doesn't want to dwell, well, yes he does, or did. It is a moot point now. Best to just change the subject.

The man shrugs. "Peter is never going to get it right."

"Why is that?" Sirius can't put his finger on it, but he thinks (hopes) there is more to this than the man is saying.

"Some details can be overlooked and others can't," says the man. He flashes a swift glance at Sirius and then turns his gaze down to his book.

"Particularly when the detail isn't a detail at all?" asks Sirius, hope unfurling in his chest. He wants so much to believe they're talking about the same thing.

"Something like that," says the man, evasive, and then rises to leave; Angel station beckons.

"At least the Turkish was good?" asks Sirius.

"Indeed," says the man, and then he is gone.

*
*
*

"Black."

"Is he there?" Potter's voice is far too eager for quarter to eight in the morning.

Sirius glances at the man seated across from him. He has been subdued this morning despite having an empty compartment to themselves. The lurid yellow and blue tie hanging from his neck mocks Sirius, though the man himself is quietly reading.

"Oh my God, Potter. Have you actually grown a vagina?" Sirius is regretting his disclosure at the Potter's Friday evening, although all things considered it is a minor miracle Potter waited until Tuesday to grill him.

There is a soft snort from across the aisle. Past their usual exchange of morning greetings, it is the most Sirius has heard from his companion. He glances up and sees a small, down-tilted grin.

"What?" says Potter, all innocence.

"Why do I tell you anything?" asks Sirius, though the question is mostly rhetorical.

"Masochism?" suggests Potter, sly.

"I hope you realize that at this moment you have more in common with twelve year old girls than you do with me."

Sirius is enjoying the battle the man is waging against laughter. He is currently winning, though it appears to be a near thing.

"Whatever says Potter, forging on. So is he?"

"Bye, Potter," says Sirius, droll.

"Wait! squeaks Potter. "Lunch?"

"Yeah. I'll call you in a couple hours." Sirius flips his phone shut and smiles across the aisle. "Morning."

"Good morning," says the man pleasantly.

Sirius is going to have to come up with a name since he is too much of a coward to ask for it at this late stage.

"Best mate?" the man asks.

"Yeah," says Sirius, fond. "He's an idiot."

"They usually are." The man smiles down at his book.

"Mm," agrees Sirius.

"What has he done to cross over to the female persuasion?" There is little quirk up on one side of the man's mouth.

"Being nosy about a potential dating prospect," says Sirius, advancing a cautious salvo at his companion.

"Really?" The man sounds interested but not suspicious. Suspicious would be better. Sirius doesn't think he can add that to the wagon of circumstantial evidence he carries around with him. "Nice bloke?"

Sirius raises an eyebrow.

The man laughs. "You talk on that phone of yours every day and you aren't a very secretive sort."

'So you've been listening, have you?' Sirius wants to ask. He can't help feeling smug, but restrains the urge to smirk and relaxes into a genuine smile. He's not good at his job for nothing. He thinks that might be his first bit of concrete proof. It is certainly more than circumstantial if the man is paying attention to his phone conversations. "I suppose not."

"So...?" says the man, the question in his voice is leading.

"What?" says Sirius, unguarded, still enjoying his first bit of positive proof. "Oh." It is telling that the man is now pressing Sirius for information. It is only one data point, though. He needs more to go on. "I don't actually know him that well." Sirius offers the man his most charming smile. "He's drop dead gorgeous, but a bit private."

"Is that a fact," says the man as the train comes to a halt. "Well, good luck with that."

"I appreciate the encouragement," says Sirius warmly. He allows his gaze to slide up and then down the man's body. He revisits the fantasy about slowly undressing the man and hopes it shows in his eyes.

"Somehow I get the feeling you get on fine with no encouragement at all," says the man, cheeks pinking as he leaves the train.

Sirius hums pleasantly to himself as the tube doors close and the train leaves Angel station behind. He considers the possibility the man is playing hard to get.

Sirius has always enjoyed a good chase.

*
*
*

"No, Mother, I like my hair this length," says Sirius as he takes his seat. He is elated to see that the man is sitting across the aisle from him this morning. Sirius has had to go in early for a week straight and missed their all too brief encounters. The man looks up and smiles, and Sirius smiles back. He points at his phone and rolls his eyes. The man nods minutely and turns his attention to the open book on his lap. "It makes me look roguish," adds Sirius, and grins as the man chokes back a snort of laughter.

"Roguish?" says Sirius' mother, dry. "I see. Is that what they're calling it these days?"

"Indeed, Mother," says Sirius, and now he's playing to his audience of one. "The ambiguous they are. I really should take you out of doors more often, but I fear you'll burst into flames in the sunlight."

Sirius is enchanted with the way the man is struggling to contain his laughter. His eyes crinkle warmly at the corners and his mouth is mashed into a thin, quivering line.

"A vampire, Sirius? Really? says his mother, bored. "I'm disappointed. I expected more creativity from you."

"Pale skin, weird eyes-" says Sirius with mock solemnity; the thin line is broken as the man's lips twitch violently.

"Don't forget beautiful," adds his mother.

"Vain," says Sirius, without missing a beat. "I'm sure you can understand my confusion. Plus, it would explain what all that red lipstick is trying to hide."

Red-faced, a hand covers the man's mouth; instead of laughter he coughs as though a sweet has gone down wrong. Sirius would worry if he hadn't been avidly watching the man's every reaction.

"Remind me why I bother with you," says his mother, sour, and Sirius could crow because he's hit a nerve, finally.

"Because you love me," he sings, saccharine-sweet. There is a sharp snap and the line goes dead.

"Ha!" chortles Sirius. "Got her this morning!" He doesn't think she can claim a victory even if she did hang up first.

"You have an odd relationship with your mother," says the man, though he is smiling as he says it.

"My entire family is odd," says Sirius. "It's all love and hate occupying the same space. Best not to dwell; it will only confuse you."

The man nods and then quiets for a moment, pulling his lower lip into his mouth. Sirius watches, fascinated, as the man's brows furrow down, nearly low enough to settle between his gorgeous eyes. He is clearly contemplating something and Sirius is dying to know what.

Sirius has had a week to consider his strategy. He has concluded that if the man is interested, he is the sort who wants to be wooed. He wants to feel desired, pursued, and Sirius is happy to oblige.

"Penny for your thoughts," he offers the man, his voice pitched as gentle and luxuriant as he is able. It isn't his seductive purr; he is holding onto that as his closer.

"On Mondays," says the man, his voice cautious, like he is second guessing himself even as he is speaking. "On Mondays," he says again, this time with more confidence, "I like to browse the bookshops. Charing Cross has a surprising number of charming little shops."

"Oh?" says Sirius, and even though he has no idea where this is going his heart is pounding its way into his throat. If he didn't know better he would think the man was working himself up to asking Sirius out. That can't be right because the man wants Sirius to chase him. He is sure of it. All signs point to a long courtship-type wooing with a satisfactory conclusion, though Sirius would prefer to get the man naked sooner rather than later, and then thereafter as often as possible. He is willing to put his own more immediate physical want aside, at least for a little while, in favor of satisfying the man's deeper emotional needs. It is also entirely possible he has given all of this far too much thought. "Yes?" Sirius encourages, deliberately dropping his tone an octave, rolling the single word out softly. 'I'm interested' is the message he is trying to get across while still giving the man opportunity to escape. He's got at least a couple more weeks of chase in him before it becomes necessary to pounce.

"Yes," says the man, and offers Sirius a smile. "So, I was wondering," continues the man, finally. Hysterically, Sirius notes that today is Monday. Is the man trying to ask him out? Sirius is going to have revisit his plan if this is the case. He can easily bump up his timeline for the pounce. Tonight works great for him.

The man pauses again, long enough for the train to slow down. Sirius feels panicky and wants to shout, 'Just ask me, already!' However, that is rude no matter where you're from, and so he desists, feeling sweat pop across his brow. Is it really so difficult?

"Damn," says the man softly as the train slides to a halt. "Never mind," he continues as he gathers his things.

Sirius feels a protest begging to leave his lips in a screaming, theatrical tantrum that would make a two-year old proud. This is just completely unfair. Does this bloke have any idea how much torture he's just put Sirius through? It's inhuman.

"Wait," says Sirius, amazed that his voice manages to come out sounding so calm. He is anything but. "You were saying?"

"I have to go," says the man. "Have a lovely day."

Sirius pouts as the Angel station claims his man. He isn't going through this twice. The next time he sees the man he is done playing games. He is asking – no, not asking, telling. He is going tell the man that he has a date with Sirius Black. Then, just in case, Sirius is going to woo his socks off before taking the man home. Somewhere along the way, learning his name is a priority. He is done with the mixed signals, Sirius fumes silently. Done.

Sirius slumps in his seat. He knows he's feeling sorry for himself but he reasons he's entitled, dammit. The man was obviously trying to ask him to go book shopping. A little unconventional as first dates go, but Sirius could work with it. As the train takes off, Sirius falls into a proper sulk. His phone rings.

"Black."

"Did you ask him?" It is Lily.

Sirius glares at his phone as he snaps it shut.

*
*
*

"I think the past week and a half show just how much damage that little piker is capable of," says Sirius as he jogs down the stairs. It is a quarter after seven and miraculously there is no line. Sirius wonders why he never sees the man in the queue. He had been here that first morning, but not since. Sirius flashes his Oyster card in front of the magnetic reader and pushes through the turnstile.

"How long are you going to refer to me in the third person?" asks Regulus, weary. "I get it. I duffed up. I lost-" Regulus pauses and a moment later there is a gusty sigh of defeat.

Sirius snorts as the doors to the train open. "That little tosser doesn't even know how much money he lost Black, Black & Black. Typical."

It is Thursday; Sirius hasn't seen the man since Monday, the day the man almost asked him out, but the tie shouts at Sirius as soon as he steps on the train. The man's attention is turned down to the book on his lap; he doesn't look up to smile as Sirius boards.

"Okay, this is just weird, Sirius," says Regulus. "I've already promised never to listen to what Mother says about the company. What more can I do?"

In his thoughts, Sirius has started referring to the man as 'Angel' after the station Sirius loses him to each morning. It is on the overly precious side of things as names go, but since Sirius will never admit to having dubbed another man 'Angel', he's reasoned it is better than what he had before.

Angel glances furtively at Sirius and then quickly back down to his book. Their last conversation has been on Sirius' mind; he's been mulling over the words, the hesitation, the lack of self-assurance. Not that it matters any. Sirius is informing the man that he has a date with Sirius Black. He has plenty of time to make all the arrangements this afternoon.

"Yeah," says Sirius into his phone as he sits. "You're off the hook. I'll call you later." He snaps his phone shut and turns on his most charming thousand watt smile. "Good morning."

"Good morning," is the mumbled reply.

Sirius notes that the enchanting, thick-lashed eyes are turned down and a heavy, tomato-red flush is spreading up from the hideous yellow and blue tie.

"How were the bookshops?" asks Sirius easily. He figures this is the quickest way to cut through the discomfort - attack it head on. Sirius is done sulking about the botched effort at asking him out and reasons the man shouldn't be bothered either.

Sirius' efforts are rewarded with Angel bouncing the leg he has crossed over the other, and all but one finger curls into the book on his lap. The stray finger taps the book like he's using it to send out an SOS in Morse code. Sirius finds the nervous twitchiness utterly charming.

"Fine," squeaks Angel, and then clears his throat. "Fine," he tries again, his voice marginally smoother. "Nothing noteworthy."

"Mm," says Sirius, voice smooth. Silky, even. "I'll have to keep the location in mind. Charing Cross, was it?"

"Yes," replies Angel without looking up.

"Have I offended you?" asks Sirius, and now he's amused. Whoever this man is, he is delightful when he's trying to pretend something didn't happen. "I'd apologize profusely if I have; throw in a meal to ensure I've groveled properly."

There is a long, slow sigh and a slight twitch of the lips.

"There, that's-" Sirius is interrupted by his phone. He holds up a finger but in his gut he knows this morning is a wash. The train is already slowing for the Angel station stop. It is irritating, but he'll do the thing properly the next time they meet.

"Black."

"Oh, not very friendly," chirps Potter. "Haven't worked up the bollocks to ask your fair maiden out for a pint?"

"Only you would think a pint is romantic," says Sirius as Angel flees the compartment.

"Oo-ooh," says Potter. "Romance, eh?"

"I am seriously rethinking our friendship," says Sirius, mock-irritated.

Potter just laughs.

*
*
*

As Sirius steps onto the train the following morning he is disturbed to find the man has a companion, a chubby straw-haired chap dressed in jeans and a green oxford open to the third button. His shoes look new and his socks show no wear at all. Angel and this new entity have their heads close together and are talking quietly. Sirius instantly hates the blond.

"No, Father," he says into his phone. "I don't think that's the right tack."

"Father?" says Potter, puzzled. "Oh! Are we talking in code? Wait, why do I have to be your father? I'd much rather be dear old mum." Potter raises his voice to a ridiculous falsetto and says, "Sirius Orion Black! Why can't you be more like Regulus? I really think I ought to have two prissy wankers for sons!"

"Father," says Sirius firmly and then adds, "I can clearly see why you were at the top of your class."

"I meant to ask," Sirius hears the blond say quietly to Angel, "how did the meeting go last night? You did go, didn't you?"

"Sarcasm will get you nowhere," says Potter cheerfully. "Now, then, why are you talking in code? I can only surmise it has to do with that man you've been mooning over. Am I right?"

Angel throws a glance at Sirius and then turns back to his friend. "Of course I went," Sirius hears him say. "I have a responsibility to the group."

"There's been a new development," says Sirius. "Another player is trying for a merger."

"Competition, eh?" says Potter, and Sirius swears he hears his best friend of twenty years giggle. "That ought to step up your game. It's been embarrassing, quite frankly. You've never taken this long to close."

"I can't get any good intel," says Sirius, and hates the whine in his tone. He never whines. "Believe me, I've been trying for a merger for weeks."

"Meeting still held at Providence Place next to Screen on the Green cinema?" Sirius hears the blond ask.

"That's the one I go to most regularly," says Angel. "I like the seven o'clock open meeting. There's a lot of familiar faces."

"I bet you'd like to merge all over your flat, you filthy degenerate," says Potter, gleeful. "And that's not a slur on your orientation. You'd be a degenerate regardless of who or what you chose to shag. Especially if it's a what. While we're on the subject of what, if you ever dip into those dark, unseemly waters - never tell me."

"I agree, there is little to be gained from tarnishing the company's reputation," says Sirius. "Getting back on topic, I'm going to have to do some research. I don't want to have our legs cut out from under us before we can launch the takeover."

"Everything all right otherwise?" asks the blond. "Anything I should know about?"

"Just a hiccup in my personal life," says Angel, and then adds, "such as it is."

"Mate, you couldn't tarnish that company of yours any further with hydrochloric acid and the hammer of Thor. You work for the most dog-eat-dog corporation in London. Possibly all of Britain," says Potter in all seriousness. "I keep telling you your family's not worth it. You should be able to sleep at night when the day is done, and I know you can't. The offer to come work for Dad is still on the table."

"Do we really have to have this conversation again, Father?" says Sirius with full exasperation.

"Then I have good news for you, my friend," says the blond, and Sirius swears he sees Angel grimace. "This girl you're seeing tonight is perfect for you. Her name is Mary-Agnes Ashbury; she's CoE, darling little thing with short brown hair and doe eyes. You'll adore her."

"Peter," says Angel wearily. "I've told you what I want."

"Oh," says Sirius into his phone, though he didn't mean to.

"Oh?" Potter parrots questioningly.

"I just think that the right girl could turn it around for you," says Peter.

So this is the chap who keeps setting Angel up on blind dates. Peter is the best mate! He's no threat at all. This is fantastic!

"When did any girl become the right girl, Pete? You're going to have accept me for who I am someday or-" Angel breaks off, looking away, and for a moment, his expression is remarkably sad.

"Sirius? You still there?"

"I think we'll have to pick this discussion back up when there is more data," says Sirius and snaps his phone shut.

The sharp click of Sirius' phone snapping shut gets Angel's attention. Sirius gives him a little wink and then whistles a few salient measures of Keep It Gay from the Broadway production The Producers. A full smile breaks out on Angel's face; his friend Peter gives Sirius a curious look but doesn't seem to be putting the pieces together.

Sirius has solved the entire bleeding puzzle and now he's just dying to learn Angel's real name. He holds Angel's gaze for a long moment, his pulse jumping wildly, and smiles slowly. He's making dirty promises with that smile, and when Angel swallows, Sirius knows he's made his point. The chemistry is definitely there and it leaves him feeling hungry. If only they could have a morning free of interruptions.

"This stop is me, Peter," says Angel, breaking the weighted moment. "This was nice, meeting you by chance."

"Have a good day!" sings Peter, clearly unaware of what just transpired between his best friend and Sirius. The moment Angel is gone, Peter whips out a cell phone.

Sirius suppresses a smile and calls his mother. They haven't harassed each other since the 'vampire incident' and he misses the motherly sound of her cold, calculating voice.

*
*
*

Nearly a week goes by with no sight of Angel. Sirius has had a lot of late nights at the office and as a result has run about thirty minutes late each morning. He woke this morning with just enough time to make it to the station in time to see Angel if he hurries. He practically flies into his Armani suit and Ferragamos before racing out the door to catch a taxi.

Once he's in the station he checks his watch like a nervous mother and is eternally grateful Potter takes the tube an hour later than he does. Potter would tease Sirius into a small, angry puddle of virulent goo if he saw him in the same compartment with Angel. Bastard.

There is a line this morning, of course, five well-dressed and equally harried businessmen. They each flash their Oyster card with mechanical efficiency. Thank Christ for small favors.

Sirius finds the compartment he and Angel always share and takes a moment to compose himself before entering. It is half past seven which means he's probably in luck. Quick fingers comb through his hair and then smooth down his suit. It occurs to him that he is going to a lot of trouble for a man dressed like Rowan Atkinson portraying an unusually unflattering version of Mr. Bean.

Sirius steps onto the train and is immediately assaulted by Angel's yellow and blue tie. It shouldn't still come as shock but it nearly always does. Angel looks up at Sirius' entrance, and there is a smile that says 'I've missed you.' Angel is quick to tuck the smile away and look down at his lap. He turns a page in his book, and Sirius thinks he's never seen a poorer display of nonchalance. It is delightful.

Once his heart is finished with its embarrassing gallop around his chest, Sirius is able to notice that Angel looks a mite pale this morning and that he's been injured. His left hand is bandaged; sheets of gauze are wrapped around the long, finely shaped fingers Sirius is only just realizing he appreciates.

"What happened to your hand?" says Sirius, alarmed, and without thinking, he kneels in front of Angel, fingers fluttering around the bandaged hand like butterflies that don't know where to light. He's forced to stabilize himself with hands on the floor of the compartment as the train takes off.

Angel looks at Sirius with a chagrined smile. "Oh, yes," he says. "On Wednesdays I volunteer at DogsTrust on Bolton House. It isn't far from Angel station. I like the work, helping out, but on occasion, accidents happen."

"Oh, my God!" says Sirius, aghast. He pushes off the floor and takes the seat behind him. "You were bitten?!"

Angel laughs weakly. "I'll survive. The bite wasn't the worst of it, though."

"There can't be more," says Sirius. He notices once again how pale and sickly Angel appears.

"The poor little blighter hadn't his rabies vaccination yet." In Sirius' opinion, it is disturbing that Angel sounds more indulgent than angry.

"Rabies isn't in the UK," says Sirius flatly, as if this will retroactively negate the rest of Angel's story.

"There didn't used to be rabies in the UK," Angel corrects. "Pandora's box has been opened."

"Please don't tell me you had to get a long series of painful shots. I couldn't bear it." Sirius would bite his nails if he hadn't just had them manicured.

Angel gives Sirius a quick searching look and then turns his eyes down to his hand. "Okay," he says. "I won't tell you."

"Oh, my God!" exclaims Sirius for the second time this morning. "And this happened yesterday? Why aren't you at home in bed?"

"We can't all work for our families," says Angel without rancor. "I've only just got this position. It will only last a few weeks more and then I'll have to find something for the summer months."

Seasonal employment? In that tie? Sirius cannot begin to fathom what sort of work necessitates abominable ties.

"Believe me, working for your family is not the sweet deal it appears. Even worse if it's my family you're working for," says Sirius. He releases a long sigh. Not for his family, he is used to that bunch of mad hatters. His determination to ask Angel out this morning must be put aside in light of this development. What the man needs is a nice long rest in a soft bed, not the meal and a shag Sirius had planned.

"You don't have to, you know," says Angel, and then he blushes a little. "Only, your family's company is in the papers now and again. I might have read an article or two."

'Might, my arse,' thinks Sirius. He offers Angel a smug smile, and the pink deepens into rose.

"Fine," says Angel, tacitly admitting defeat. "You are quite accomplished. Almost anyone would snap you up. You could write your own ticket, as they say."

"Maybe," says Sirius. "I have a standing offer at J.H. Potter & Company."

"That is a well-respected brokerage firm," says Angel, impressed. "What's stopping you?"

Sirius shrugs. "Angel Station," he says, and is amused as confusion washes into understanding when the train stops.

"I have to go," says Angel unnecessarily. Sirius helps him gather his things together and sees him off.

He lets out a long sigh as the train lumbers forward, unable to enjoy his phone's rare morning of silence.

*
*
*

"You've done excellent work the last few weeks," says Sirius' father.

"Thank you, sir," says Sirius, too tired to offer a snappy retort about long hours and damage control acrobatics. As he boards the train a thin, horse-faced woman in magenta hot-pants, a black, sequined halter, and impossibly tall pumps with clear spikes for heels (which remind Sirius of medieval torture devices) plants an elbow in his side as she pushes her way into the compartment. Sirius would complain but he's just too exhausted.

"I know you had a fair amount of clean up after--" His father pauses. Sirius knows his father doesn't want to address Regulus' cock-up because the fiasco was a result of his mother's meddling. "Well, regardless, you've been putting in a lot of long hours. I've got a relatively easy project for you."

Angel offers Sirius a smile as he sits, and Sirius returns it, albeit without much enthusiasm. Sirius thinks between that awful tie Angel is wearing and the magenta hot-pants the horse-faced woman has on, it is entirely possible he's going to go blind out of sheer self-preservation. "What would that be?" asks Sirius.

"Mrs. Weasley's Biscuits and Pastries is a bakery wholesaler," says his father. "It started as a home-based business and-"

"I'm familiar," says Sirius. "J.H. Potter & Company is assisting in underwriting them, yes?" Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius sees Ms. Hot-Pants giving him an interested eye. He sincerely hopes her stop is between here and Angel Station.

"Precisely," says his father. "Poor management has forced them to go public. They're in desperate need of capital to keep afloat."

Sirius does not like where this conversation is going. "This isn't the sort of venture we typically-"

"True" says his father, cutting him off. "This is less about business and more... personal."

Fuck. "If it's so personal why can't-"

"I've been hearing some disturbing whispers about you, Sirius," says his father. "Consider it a test of your loyalty." Any other morning, Sirius would be highly amused by the glare Angel is sending Ms. Hot-Pants. She is hardly being subtle, and Sirius hopes she doesn't start blowing kisses.

"You just finished saying what excellent work I've been doing. I'm your damn son, and you need a test of loyalty?!" says Sirius hotly. He can't believe what he is hearing. His father has obviously gotten wind of J. H. Potter & Company's offer to hire him, but Sirius has repeatedly turned the offer down. This is insulting.

"We want you to keep doing excellent work," says his father. "For us."

This is the final straw. Sirius knows only too well how easy it would be to get control of Molly's business. One, maybe two calls, an exchange of funds, and he'd own the notes to all her debt.

It is one thing to employ these tactics against major corporations that have landed themselves in trouble, either by over-extending themselves and devaluing their stock or simply run aground because of top-heavy management with over-blown salaries, but this... this is too much.

"You'll have my resignation by the end of day," says Sirius, curt, and snaps his phone shut. He blinks, stunned that he actually just did that. "Oh, God," he says, and buries his face in his hands. He'd like to say he feels free, but mostly he just feels scared.

"All right there, love?" says Ms. Hot-Pants. Sirius ignores her.

A body settles into the seat next to his, and after an eternity passes by, an arm settles across his shoulders. Sirius leans into Angel's warmth and borrows his strength for a moment.

"I'm proud of you," says Angel quietly.

Sirius is going to have to meet with Potter and the Weasleys and let them know what his father has planned. He never expected his father to let an old grudge against Arthur Weasley reorganize his priorities this way. It’s vulgar.

"Thanks," says Sirius. "I think this has been a long time-"

His phone rings. The caller ID tells him it is his mother. Sirius depresses the red button on his phone and then turns it off.

"-a long time coming," he finishes as he slips his phone into his trouser pocket. "Looks like I'm taking that position at J. H. Potter & Company after all."

"Let's celebrate tonight," says Angel. "Do you know The Green in Islington? It isn't far from Angel Station."

Sirius smiles. He would like nothing more. He is very familiar with The Green. It is primarily a gay venue, but not with any sort of prejudice. Sirius has taken dates there for drinks and met James and Lily on weekends for brunch. On Tuesdays they offer a choice of grilled chicken breast or steak and play magnificently awful eighties music.

"I would love to," says Sirius, "but I can't, not tonight. I've got too much to do. I own a sizable percentage of Black, Black, & Black but I'm going to have to hire a lawyer if I intend to see a dime of it. Not to mention I've got to meet with the Weasleys and Mr. Potter and half a million other things I'm not thinking of because I'm still in shock. Did I actually just threaten to hand in my resignation?"

"That is what you said," confirms Angel. His smile is proud. "That name is familiar, Weasley. That isn't Weasley of Mrs. Weasley's Biscuits & Pastries, is it? I love her chocolate strip biscuits with the icing drizzled on top and raspberry jam tucked inside."

Sirius laughs. "The same, yes. The baking side of things belongs entirely to Molly, but it’s her husband, Arthur, my father hates. We have to keep apprised of any new legislation affecting the stock market, corporate buy-outs, etc. Arthur is an MP with a hard-on for companies that specialize in corporate take-downs. He's made it easier for struggling companies to seek shelter from other, more solvent companies. It's called white-knighting, and it has forced sneaky bastards like me to be even sneakier."

"Ah, and were you sneaky?" asks Angel with a mischievous smile.

Sirius grins. "The sneakiest. I inherited a large percentage of the company when my Uncle Alphard passed away, but the rest I bought. A controlling interest has been invaluable, but now I just want to unload it."

"Will they buy?"

"Most definitely. Arthur Weasley would be only too thrilled to own forty percent of Black, Black, & Black. If they don't play nice, I'll take a hit and sell my part to Arthur for a song. It isn't as though I'm hurting for money, but... more is always nice. I'd rather sell to them than give it away to Arthur." Sirius sighs. "I'm really sorry about tonight. I've been trying to ask you out for weeks."

Angel ducks his chin and grins. Sirius is charmed by the rosy glow flushing up into apple-round cheeks. He lets the silence grow between and finds that he isn’t uncomfortable at all.

"How's the hand?" he finally asks.

"What?" Angel holds up first his right hand and then his left. "Oh. It's fine, thank you."

"That's good," says Sirius, eyeing the faint semi-circle of raised pinkish dots. "No rabies, then?"

"No rabies," says Angel with a small smile.

Sirius meets Angel's eyes and they fall into another silence. It hangs between them like a live wire, charged and taut. Sirius swallows as a trickle of sweat races down the back of his neck. The temperature controls in this compartment must be failing because Sirius is feeling much too warm.

"I'll take you up on your offer as soon as my life settles down a bit, yeah?" says Sirius, which doesn't do much to diffuse the intensity between them. Rather, it is a confirmation they will pick this up another time.

Angel nods but doesn't say anything. Sooner than Sirius would like the train is slowing for the Angel Station stop.

"See you tomorrow, then?" asks Angel.

Sirius nods and offers him a smile. Angel gathers his things and then he is gone.

"What seems to be the trouble, love," coos Ms. Hot-Pants. She is directly across from him in the seat Angel just vacated.

Sirius takes his first good look at her and notes that she is far too old to even consider hot-pants, much less ones that are magenta. Her shoes are a crime at any age.

"I'm in love with a man who doesn't know I exist," he lies, letting his voice catch pathetically. "I simply don't know how I'll go on."

Ms. Hot-Pants sighs and says, "Tell me about it."

*
*
*

"I still can't believe you finally gave Evil, Inc. the axe," says Potter as he and Sirius enter King's Cross Station. "How did they take your letter of resignation?"

King's Cross is busy this morning. Potter and Sirius are on their way to finalize the buy-out of Sirius' part of Black, Black & Black and have to push their way through thick crowds of busy, oblivious Londoners.

Sirius shrugs. He has taken companies away from good, honest people, and greedy, self-absorbed people. Sometimes he could justify it to himself, other times he couldn't. He won't miss the sleepless nights, but he will miss his family, dysfunctional though it may be.

"Not very well," says Sirius. "Not that I expected any better. I won't miss the long hours at the office," he adds.

"I know you miss them," says Potter, hearing what Sirius won't say. "But you needed to leave a long time ago. I want you to be able to live with yourself, mate. That business your parents are in has never been you. Tell me you see that."

"I know," says Sirius and checks his watch. He'll be glad when this is behind him and he can go back to ignoring how he feels about losing his family.

"Seen your mystery man recently?" says Potter. Even though Sirius knows Potter is changing the subject to offer him some relief, he doesn't much care for Potter's amused smile.

"No," says Sirius. "Angel takes an earlier train than I do these days."

"Angel?" says Potter with a huge grin. "You don't know his name so you dubbed him 'Angel.' I absolutely cannot wait to meet him."

Sirius groans. He had not meant to let that slip out. "If you breathe a word, one word, so help me Potter, I'll- I'll-"

Potter grins. "You'll...?"

"Shut up," says Sirius.

He is saved from whatever Potter had in retort by a giggling yellow and blue blur that attaches itself to Sirius' legs.

"Uncle Sirius!"

"Hey, kiddo," says Sirius cheerfully, if surprised. "What are you doing here?"

Harry's primary yellow shirt and blue shorts are fantastically out of place at King’s Cross in the middle of day, like tropical fish swimming in a veritable sea of black, white, and grey.

"Last day of school, mate," says Potter. "They're off to the zoo."

"Come meet my teacher, Uncle Sirius," says Harry, and tugs on Sirius' arm.

"Hi, Daddy, so nice to see you," says Potter facetiously.

"Hi, Dad!" chortles Harry, unrepentant.

"Always a bridesmaid," says Sirius to Potter as he is dragged away.

"Mr. Lupin! Mr. Lupin!" says Harry.

A lean figure in a cheap, black suit is bent over talking to a tiny girl with wet cheeks. There is something familiar about the way he moves as he pats the girl's head and rises to his full height. He is saying something to her as he turns, eyes focused on her.

Sirius feels something warm bloom in his chest. He looks around and sees a woman in a black skirt and jacket sporting a tie in bright yellow and blue. She is bringing a group of children to order with another man, also in a black suit and hideous tie. Angel works for Moreland Primary School! Why hadn't Sirius put this together before now? He is usually so good at connecting the dots.

Lupin looks away from the girl and grins at Harry. As his gaze slides up, the smile slowly grows wider. Sirius feels certain an equally stupid grin is on his own face. Time seems to slow down; the train station, the other children and teachers, even Harry holding onto his hand, all fall away.

"Mr. Lupin," chirps Harry, breaking their interlude, his bright, green eyes shining up from below Lupin's knees. "This is my Uncle Sirius."

"It's nice to see you again," says Sirius, pitching his voice low, thrilled to finally have a name to go with the man. He feels like he is floating, no longer connected to the station floor.

"Hi," says Lupin, flushing pink.

"Ready to take these wild monkeys to the zoo, Mr. Lupin?" says Potter, startling Sirius out of the private zone he was enjoying.

"Most definitely, Mr. Potter," says Lupin with a smile. "So, this is the famous Uncle Sirius I hear so much about?"

"Yup!" says Harry grinning up at Sirius.

Wait just a minute, Sirius thinks. "You knew," accuses Sirius. "This whole time, you knew."

Lupin's cheeks flush further with color and he looks around nervously at his co-workers. Sirius is aware of Potter looking from him to Lupin and back again. Then Potter suddenly laughs.

"As much as I would like to allow this touching reunion to continue," he says, clapping a hand on Sirius' shoulder. "We have a meeting to get to."

"Can't you come to the zoo with us?" says Harry hopefully.

Sirius kneels to eye level with Harry. "Sorry, mate. I really do have an important meeting and it can't wait." He ruffles Harry's already wild hair. "But I'll see you tonight, yeah."

"Okay," says Harry without sounding like Sirius' answer sits well with him at all.

"Children! Form a line," says the woman in the black skirt and horrendous tie.

"I have to go," says Lupin regretfully.

"Me too," says Sirius, rising. "But I'll see you on the train."

Potter uses the hand on Sirius' shoulder to steer him away. "Places to be," he chortles. "You two will have to catch up later."

Lupin looks like there is something he wants to say, but Sirius is already being pushed along by Potter.

"Until later," says Sirius to Lupin and then Potter pushes him onto a train.

*
*
*

"And Sirius still hasn't said how all this is affecting him?" whispers Lily. She isn't as quiet as she thinks she is.

"Not a word," confirms Potter. "There is one bright spot. We ran into his mystery man at King's Cross. You should have seen them. They're completely stupid for each other."

"What are they talking about?" asks Harry, not bothering to quiet his voice.

Sirius pushes two LEGOs together and then attaches them to the fortress he and Harry are building. He is viciously pleased by the sudden silence from the sitting room and spares a brief glance at the hallway outside of Harry's bedroom.

"They are gossiping," says Sirius, loud. "Most unbecoming of parents and upstanding members of the community."

"Mummy says he who gossips with you will gossip of you," Harry says sagely. Sirius doesn't for a minute imagine Harry actually knows what the old saying means.

"The Irish are very wise," says Sirius solemnly. "Also, they make excellent whiskey."

"Yup," says Harry and attaches a wall to the fortress.

There are heavy footsteps heading toward Harry's room. Potter appears in the doorway and lounges against the jamb, arms folded loosely across his chest.

"Whatcha up to?" he asks, giving Sirius a hairy eyeball.

"Pondering the ills of gossip and the virtues of whiskey," says Sirius.

"Right-o," says Potter. "Harry, time for your bath."

Harry sighs as though the weight of the world is on his shoulders. "All right. Uncle Sirius, will you put away my LEGOs for me?"

Before Potter can protest, Sirius chirps, "Sure, kiddo."

"You're going to have to talk sometime," says Potter, once Harry has scooted out the room. "You can't just keep it all bottled up."

"Keep what bottled up?" says Sirius as he puts away Harry's LEGOs.

"Black."

"Potter."

"You haven't turned your phone on since you resigned, you walk around in a fog wearing an expression like someone just killed your cat, and you haven't said one bleeding word about how you feel about losing your family."

"I don't need to talk about it. I'm gay, not a girl," says Sirius. "Unlike some vagina-toting, pseudo-males in this room."

"I heard that," says Lily as she passes by. "There's nothing wrong with being a girl."

"You're not a real girl, though, Lils," says Sirius. A red head and glowing green eyes poke into the room. Sirius swallows.

"Would you like a shovel?" asks Potter solicitously.

Sirius glares at him. "You know very well what I mean. You were never one of those simpering creatures that falls to pieces because they've chipped a nail."

"No," says Lily. "I left that to you." Potter snorts and Sirius narrows his eyes. She was sworn to secrecy about the manicures. "Behave yourself, Sirius. My son thinks you're a god; heaven only knows why."

"I'm not his parent and therefore cool," says Sirius.

"He's crying on your shoulder, not mine, when this bubble bursts," says Lily to Potter. "You've got about three more years of being magic, Sirius. Then you'll be just as uninteresting as his parents."

"Never!" says Sirius and throws a LEGO at her.

"Why is it always my shoulder," complains Potter. "He's ruined so many shirts."

"Arse." Sirius throws a LEGO at Potter next.

Lily rolls her eyes and disappears from the doorway. A moment later Sirius hears her talking with Harry in the bathroom.

"Look," says Potter. "She's going easy on you because she thinks your ego took a bruising today, but sooner or later you're either going to have to talk willingly to me, or have it dragged out of you by her."

Bruised? Sirius' ego has been beaten by highwaymen and had all its goods and gold stolen. He's miserable about today.

"Just for tonight can we talk about something else," says Sirius. "I'm not ready to sick up the contents of my soul just yet."

"Bit of a surprise today at King's Cross," says Potter as he slides down the door into a squat, resting his weight on his heels. "I had no idea the bloke you were interested in was Harry's teacher."

"He did."

Potter laughs. "Caught that."

Sirius smiles fondly. "Secretive bastard. In the morning I'm taking the tube and doing what I should have done months ago."

"Didn't he get off at Angel Station?" Potter's lips are quivering and Sirius knows it has everything to do with the moniker 'Angel.'

"Yeah," says Sirius. "It all makes sense now. The bad tie is Moreland PS's colors. I should have put it together sooner."

"I wholeheartedly agree, but you're going to have a problem catching him on the tube."

"Why's that? He rides every morning." Sirius closes the lid to Harry's box of LEGOs and stands up, stretching.

"School's out for summer, mate."

"Oh, bugger," says Sirius. He's quiet for a moment and then brightens. "He asked me to steak night at The Green. I'll just bet he's there next Tuesday!"

"Good," says Potter. "Hopefully a steak and a shag will pull you out of this funk."

In retaliation, Sirius opens the box again and throws another LEGO at Potter.

*
*
*

Sirius arrives early to The Green, two hours early, in fact, hoping to get a table in back before the crowd arrives. The Angel area of Islington is popular with gay Londoners, and it had always struck him as odd that this is one of only two gay bars in the area.

Sirius gets his coveted table to the rear of the bar and has perfect access to the eighties-style, multicolored squares that make up the dance floor. He orders a mojito and has a look around. There are essentially two halves to The Green; the front area, where the two long expanses of windows are found, is very designer conscious - Sirius likes the clean stylish decor; the rear of the bar where Sirius is located is more...well, gay. From the dance floor to the drag queen DJ, the bad lighting to the loud, somewhat obnoxious music, this part of The Green embodies everything a gay bar is perceived to be. In a word, ‘camp.’

Despite that, The Green does have a lot going for it. For one, it is very popular and well-known for its helpful, friendly staff. The crowd here is always laid-back, fun and free of ego. It is not unusual to see regulars bringing their parents for lunch or a drink. Sirius' favorite feature is the tiny television screens attached to the beer pumps at the bar. He and Potter think that's ace.

In general, this is a place to bring a date, not go cruising. The food is quite good and there is a large selection of drinks to choose from. They make the best mojitos in north London and their peach quesadilla is a must. Essentially, The Green is a much toned down version of its SoHo sister, The Edge, and very well suited to Islington. There is the occasional fruit fly, but the atmosphere doesn't encourage harassment. It is blessedly free of pretension, which Sirius embodies in his faded jeans, boots, and a plain black button down.

A lot of events are held here, including the musical sing along evening which is camp as hell, but sometimes Sirius is in the mood. He's been here once or twice to experience that insult to music lovers everywhere and had a great time.

The one drawback to The Green is the loo. The unisex toilets are located down a very steep flight of stairs, which can get interesting if you've had one too many drinks that night. Sirius suspects this is actually an early warning system to couples thinking about having a quick and dirty shag up against the bathroom wall. There is no policy against it, but neither does The Green want a visiting mum to be scared right out of her knickers.

As he waits, Sirius picks at his peach quesadilla and nurses his mojito. Every time he hears the front door open, he leans back in his seat to see if it is Lupin. He knows he's being a bit eager here, but they've been playing a slow game of flirtation for months and he's anxious for the payoff.

Grilled chicken and steak night is a big mid-week draw, and as the bar fills, it becomes harder and harder to see who is coming through the door. The DJ is currently playing Karma Chameleon by the Culture Club, and a few adventurous couples and even some singles have made it onto the dance floor. He's been here about four hours and Sirius is starting to lose hope of seeing Lupin tonight.

"Is this seat taken?" asks a tall, rather attractive man.

Sirius' heart jumps; he looks up into an unfamiliar face and feels his spirits settle somewhere in the region of his boots.

"I'm waiting for a friend," he says and looks across at the empty seat.

"Just for the record," says the man - a blond. "I'd never keep someone as good-looking as you waiting." He pauses to smile charmingly and then adds, "I'm with friends, just over there." He points to a table full of people laughing and enjoying their meal. "You're welcome to join us whenever you like."

Sirius brightens a little and smiles at the blond. He enjoys the ego-stroking and the invitation is a very nice gesture. If he wanted to, Sirius could take this man home for a night.

"I appreciate the invite, I do," says Sirius. "But I think I'll give my friend a little longer."

"My name is Alec," says the man. "Anytime you like you're free to join us." He gives Sirius a last interested smile and then leaves him to his cold quesadilla and barely-touched mojito.

An hour later, the bar is packed which is amazing for a Tuesday night at any bar on Upper Street. It occurs to Sirius that Lupin might have come in and not noticed Sirius at the table close to the dance floor. He leaves his table and politely pushes his way through the crowd. He canvases the bar from one end to the other. Lupin is nowhere to be seen.

It isn't all that late, only half past eight, but Sirius stands still in the middle of the busy bar, caught in his indecision. Does he leave or return to his table? A glance toward the dance floor answers his question for him. Two men have taken his table and are placing an order with a member of the wait staff.

Sirius sighs and turns to leave. Before he can take a step toward the door, a hand on his arms pauses him. He half-turns, hopeful, but sees Alec, smiling cautiously.

"Leaving so soon?" he asks and lets go of Sirius' arm.

"I wasn't stood up," blurts Sirius and has no idea why he just said that. He sighs. "We talked about meeting here sometime, but nothing definite." Sirius shrugs. "I was hopeful."

"I hope he's worth all this effort," says Alec and looks back at his table.

"That's exactly what I'd like to find out," says Sirius. He smiles wistfully. "Any other time, Alec, and I would have been all yours. It's Sirius, by the way." He looks toward the door and then back to Alec. "Have a nice night, Alec."

Sirius wanders around Islington after he leaves The Green, turning onto unfamiliar streets and following his whims. He's conscious of the fact an illogical part of his normally reasonable brain is hoping for a sight of Lupin. So much of Lupin's life seemed to center around Angel Station. That made sense when he taught at Moreland Primary School. It makes little sense now that the term is over, but it is all Sirius has to go on. When he's finally ready to call it a night and admit defeat, he takes the long way to Angel Station. As he turns onto Wakely Street, he hears dogs in the distance. The further he walks, the louder the barking becomes, until he is confronted with a large yellow sign with blue lettering. The sign says DogsTrust with a little dog's head logo beside the name. Isn't that where Lupin volunteers on Wednesday evening? Tomorrow is Wednesday!

Sirius gets a little spring in his step as continues on to Angel station. He has a fool proof plan for making contact!

*
*
*

"His first name is Remus," says Lily. "Why don't you just ring him up?"

"I dunno," says Sirius as she hands him a dish to dry. He considers protesting slave labor but she did feed him dinner. It has nothing at all to do with being terrified of her wrath. "Thanks for the name, by the way. I just-- I was always on the phone. I want to prove I was paying attention."

"You fussed all night about his having been bitten," she says as she scrubs a pan. "I can only imagine what you were like with him," she adds under her breath.

Sirius ignores her and continues with his dish drying. He knows if he waits her out she'll crack and bring out the criticism she is barely holding in.

"It's just," she begins, smothering a laugh. "What are you going to do? Adopt a dog?"

"Maybe I will," says Sirius, obstinate. "I don't have to hear Mother say it is too hairy, or too smelly, or-"

"I'm fairly certain that was just you, pumpkin." Sirius turns to see Potter lounging in the doorway.

"Did you hear that, Lils? He called me 'pumpkin.' I'm telling you, if it weren't the for the fact he is completely not my type-"

"Admit it," says Potter, wrapping his arms around Lily's waist. "You've wanted my very desirable arse since year seven."

Lily steps towards Sirius and puts her hand over his mouth, Potter's arms sliding away.

"Yes, yes; you secretly want him, he secretly wants you. Somehow I ended up in the mix and if it weren't for your six on Kinsey's scale I'd be sharing the both of you." She rolls her eyes at Potter's harrumph and turns her head to look at him. "Now that we have that out of the way," she says pointedly, "James, are you aware he plans to go to DogsTrust to find Remus Lupin instead of, I don't know, using the book to look him up and give him a ring."

"Don't ask me to explain Black's wooing tactics," says Potter, hands up in a gesture of surrender.

Sirius coughs. "Highly successful wooing tactics," he says and coughs again.

"Wooing is not the same as pulling," says Lily, exasperated. "He's going to think you're a stalker."

"Nah," says Sirius; laughs. "He's really not."

"Uncle Sirius," says Harry from the doorway. "Is Mummy done with the inky question?"

Lily looks confused for a moment as she attempts to decipher 'inky question.' Over his shoulder, Sirius hears Potter stage whisper, "inquisition." Her gaze narrows darkly on Sirius. In return, he offers his best 'who, me?' sheepish grin.

"Yeah, sprog," says Sirius, and then with only a trace of irony, adds, "All done and I feel loads better." He grabs Harry's hand and beats a hasty retreat.

*
*
*

At half past six on Wednesday, after a full day of not plotting to take over someone's business at J. H. Potter & Company, Sirius takes the Northern line to the Angel Street Station and walks briskly over to seventeen, Wakely Street, where he is greeted by the bright yellow and blue sign of DogsTrust. This must be some sort of theme, and Sirius is not amused.

He doesn't want to raise the 'stalker' flag, so Sirius just wanders past the runs and keeps his eyes sharp for any sign of Remus. Pen after pen of sad, hopeful eyes watch him walk by. He finds it is remarkably strange that he is calling the man Remus in his head. Unlike Potter, who never made it past Mr. Lupin, Lily has known the man's first name for months. There is something unfair in all this, and the blame is squarely at Sirius' feet for always being preoccupied with his phone. He ignores this disquieting fact, distracting himself with cold noses and friendly licks.

Sirius was never actually going to adopt a dog. Not that he can't adopt a dog. His flat allows it for a sizeable deposit, but he just wanted to shut Lily up. She is right that a simple phone call would solve his problem, but going to the places where Remus lives his life offers insight on a man Sirius barely knows.

As he turns a corner to the next row of runs, Sirius is met by a pair of honest brown eyes, a wet, glistening nose, and more hair than any dog has a right to own.

"He's a Newfoundland," says a pleasant female voice.

The voice belongs to a diminutive brunette with startling blue eyes and plain features. She is wearing a DogsTrust smock over her clothes and kneels in front of the chain link fence separating the Newfoundland and freedom.

"Poor old fellow," she says as the dog licks her hand. "The older ones never find homes."

"They don't?" says Sirius and is annoyed to discover he cares.

"Most people are interested in puppies or younger dogs," she explains. "Isn't that right, Padfoot."

Padfoot responds by licking her hand as an enormous gloop of slobber drips to the concrete flooring.

"He leaks," observes Sirius, and the brunette laughs.

"Well, yes," she says affectionately and scratches between Padfoot's eyes.

"How did he get a name like that anyway?" asks Sirius and suppresses the urge to pet Padfoot.

The dog needs an entire day at a doggie spa. He needs his coat brushed out and his tangles removed. Then he needs a bath and a nail trim. If anything can be done for his breath, he needs that, too.

"He's a favorite of one of our volunteers," she says. "Remus would have taken him home but he can't afford the pet deposit."

"Is he here?" asks Sirius a bit too eagerly. The brunette looks at him sharply. "He's an acquaintance of mine," adds Sirius. "I haven't seen him since school concluded for the summer. We sort of lost track of each other."

"Oh," says the brunette. She relaxes and smiles at Sirius. "Yeah, since school let out he changed his hours. He still comes in on Wednesday, but now he volunteers from ten to two. He had to change his hours for work."

Sirius sighs quietly. Maybe Lily had the right of it. Perhaps he should just look Remus up and give him a call, ask him to dinner.

"That's a shame," says Sirius. "I was hoping to bump into him."

"You could try next Wednesday," offers the brunette.

"Maybe I will," says Sirius. "I guess I'll be on my way. It was nice meeting you...?"

"Charlotte," she answers brightly.

"Sirius." A hand disappears behind the breast of his jacket. Sirius pulls out his wallet and extracts one of his new business cards. "Here," he says. "Would you give that to him in case he drops by before Wednesday?"

The brunette smiles and takes the card. "Of course. Nice to meet you--" She reads the card. "--Sirius Black." Her eyes widen. "You wouldn't be the same Sirius Black that's been in the papers recently, would you?"

"The same, I'm afraid," he says, plastering on a self-deprecating grin, wondering how fast he can get to the exit.

"You did the right thing, you know," she says solemnly, hastening to add, "Not that's it any of my business."

"Thank you," he says, kindly but firmly. He has managed to avoid Lily thus far; this tiny slip of a girl isn't going to draw out his feelings. "I really must be going."

As he turns to leave, Padfoot jumps up, placing his two front paws on his prison door. His bark is deep, loud, and ringing.

"What's the matter with you?" scolds the brunette. "I'm sorry. He never does this."

"Quite all right," says Sirius, taking another step away.

Padfoot's barking becomes even more insistent. He throws his shoulder into the door to the run, causing the entire pen to shudder. When Sirius only hurries to turn the corner, Padfoot sits on his haunches, and the saddest, most mournful sound Sirius has ever heard rises up into the early evening air.

Sirius halts and takes a deep breath. Then he turns around and walks back to Padfoot's run. He kneels in front of the chain link and presses his palm against it, fingers splayed. Now completely calm, Padfoot pushes his face against Sirius' hand.

"I am so going to regret this, aren't I, Padfoot?"

Padfoot answers by covering the palm of Sirius' hand with thick, slippery slobber.

"I've never seen him respond to anyone like that besides Remus," says the brunette, a little awed.

"Where is the nearest dog grooming parlor?" asks Sirius, resigned. He isn't adopting the dog for Remus. Really. He wants a dog, he even told Lily as much. "This fellow is getting the works before he steps foot inside my home."

*
*
*

"What?" says Sirius, loudly, so he can be heard over the handheld vacuum. Thick, long hairs are sucked off the sofa and into the Hoover. Potter snatches the vacuum attachment out of Sirius' hand and turns it off. Sirius makes a grab for it but Potter holds it out of his reach.

"I said," says Potter, annoyed, "I don't think getting a Wookie is going to solve your feelings of loss. It's obvious what you're doing."

Padfoot rolls over onto his back, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. A massive dollop of slobber drips onto Sirius' hardwood floor. Sirius snatches a rag from the back pocket of his jeans and wipes up the slobber and then Padfoot's mouth for good measure.

"He's a Newfoundland, git," says Sirius. "Not a Wookie. And he's not a substitute for anything. Padfoot and I never trade insults for fun, he always says thank you... in his way--"

"--slobbery kisses?"

Sirius ignores Potter. "And I never have to clean up-- well, okay, I do have to clean up his messes, but they are much easier messes." He retrieves the handheld from Potter with a triumphant smile.

Potter sits back against a fur free portion of the sofa. "Lily thinks you're bottling up your feelings."

Sirius recognizes the apology and sits on a de-furred chair across from Potter.

"S'alright, mate." He's quiet for a moment as he gathers his thoughts. "I'm dealing with it, okay? I'm just dealing with it my way, which does not involve a night of hair-braiding and make-overs."

Padfoot lumbers to his feet and pads over to Sirius. He insinuates his head under Sirius' hand and gets a scratch for his efforts. Sirius smiles down at the huge shaggy head.

"He's Remus' favorite," he says fondly. "One of the workers there told me. He's the one who named him Padfoot."

"You adopted him because he's your lady love's favorite?" Sirius has no appreciation for Potter's grin.

"That's not the only reason," says Sirius defensively. "Padfoot here is eight years old. He had practically no chance of being adopted. I couldn't just leave him there. Besides, I've thought about getting a dog before now." It might be a lie, but it is also the official Sirius Black Party line.

"So was he there?"

"No," says Sirius. "He's changed his hours, but I know he's going to be at a meeting right next to the Screen on the Green cinema tomorrow night. I'm going to surprise him with Padfoot."

"You're going to an awful lot of trouble for a bloke you know almost nothing about," says Potter. "You realize you're approaching stalker behavior."

"I am not," says Sirius dismissively, though he carefully leaves out that he knows where Remus will be thanks to an overheard conversation. He has no idea what sort of meeting, but imagines perhaps a book club or some sort of scholarly soirée. "You're listening to Lily too much. There're all these blanks in what I know about him. I'm just filling them in."

Potter gives him a dubious look. "And how are you going to explain what you're doing there?"

Sirius grins. "Why, taking my dog for a walk, of course."

*
*
*

Sirius holds Padfoot's leash between his camel brown Gucci cargo pants while he pulls his wallet out of the inner pocket on his Dolce & Gabana washed jean blazer. Padfoot sits quietly beside him, a puddle of drool forming between his massive paws. Sirius swipes his Oyster card and when his wallet is back inside his jacket, he wipes Padfoot's mouth with a towel that is now as much a part of his ensemble as his Versace, high-top, black leather boots.

Once they exit Angel Station, Sirius checks his watch and wipes Padfoot's mouth again. It is quarter past seven in the evening, which gives them plenty of time to casually run into Remus as he leaves his meeting.

They stroll along Upper Street until they find the cinema Screen on the Green. Remus' meeting is next door at Providence Place. It turns out to be a building with a high set of wide concrete steps and since there is no one around to tell him 'no dogs allowed,' Sirius and Padfoot scramble up and slip inside. Sirius isn’t sure where they’re supposed to be, so he and Padfoot simply start looking.

It doesn't take them long to find the closed door; Sirius presses his ear close and listens. He has officially entered stalker territory, but he reasons it isn't so bad because he has a dog with him. He forces this to make sense because it's all he's got.

As he listens, he hears a man talking about steps and how they changed his life. This makes absolutely no sense but Sirius keeps listening because he's come too far to give up now. The man drones on for what seems like an eternity and at some point during his reconnaissance mission, Sirius loses the point. Not that he ever had it in the first place. He checks his watch and sees that it is half past seven. He's hoping this is an hour long meeting and that soon he can parade around on Upper Street like he just 'happened' to be there.

The man finally finishes speaking and several voices thank him for sharing his story. Once that all dies down, Sirius hears a familiar voice say, "Good evening." Sirius would whoop for joy, but contains his excitement and wipes Padfoot's mouth. Then Sirius hears the voice say, "My name is Remus, and I'm an alcoholic."

For just a second Sirius freezes as his brain tries to process this information. If he were to point out a random stranger and think, ‘there goes a drunkard, replete with all the telltale signs’ (whatever those might be, Sirius isn't sure), Remus would be last person he would think to fit his admittedly poor description. Remus' knobbly cardigan and threadbare socks didn't scream 'I am the ensemble of a wino' so much as they did 'please incinerate me at your earliest convenience.' Neither did he smell like he'd just stepped out of an Irish distillery. Even if Sirius knew what that would smell like, though he thinks his point still stands. Then again, the reason Remus is here and not out thinning his blood is because he doesn't drink any more.

Sirius scrubs a hand over his face; his thoughts feel slow and thick, like cold honey. The problem is that the facts don't fit his idea of who he thinks Remus is, though he supposes the point of the last several days is that he doesn't really know who Remus is.

This discovery is huge and horribly invasive and not at all what Sirius had in mind. He thought maybe it was a book club or some quasi-scholarly discussion group. It is Remus' business and the decision to share or not share should have been left to him. A fat, foamy dollop of drool drips from Padfoot's heavy flews onto the tip of one boot. Sirius is pulled away from his distracted musings and encroaching horror to wipe it away. The low, almost lilting cadence of Remus' speech washes over Sirius. He very much wants to get to know this man better, so much that his behavior has taken a questionable turn. It isn't just his half-measures after the fact that are troubling. If Remus knew he were out here... truthfully, Sirius isn't sure how to complete that thought. He doesn't think Remus would be overjoyed to find Sirius in front of the building where his recovery group meets. With Padfoot. Looked at objectively, Sirius sees just how blatant and obvious this maneuver actually is. If Remus doesn't conclude that Sirius is a nosy stalker then he lacks the necessary survival skills to cope in the modern world.

Another drop of drool reaches for his boot, stretched thin under the pull of gravity. Padfoot has apparently recognized Remus' voice, tail wagging furiously which causes the drool to wiggle and sway. Sirius suddenly realizes this is a disaster waiting to happen, and all of his thoughts run hysterically into 'escape' and 'now,' preferably before Padfoot decides to woof a greeting to Remus.

"C'mon, boy," whispers Sirius as he wipes the dancing drool away. "We have to get out of here."

Padfoot resists the pull of the leash and whines too loudly for Sirius' peace of mind. He can have his melt-down once they are back home. He cannot fall to pieces outside Remus' Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Not acceptable.

Padfoot relents, finally, but just as they reach the double doors, his booming bark reverberates along the halls of Providence Place. Sirius tugs desperately at Padfoot's leash, pulling him out of the building and down the wide steps. Sirius is sweating profusely with the strain of a dead panic strumming along his nerves, dragging Padfoot as fast he can force the elderly pooch to go. As they hurry down Upper Street, Sirius questions what insanity made him think bringing Padfoot was a good idea. Charlotte told Sirius that Padfoot had an identical reaction to Remus. Sirius could have predicted Padfoot would be eager to see Remus, but Sirius' eagerness short-circuited his thinking.

Hindsight being the perfect aid it is touted to be does not make Sirius feel any better about not realizing Remus' meeting was a private matter. He'd glanced uncertainly at Sirius – nervously, even – when Peter had asked about the meeting. In his infinite wisdom, all Sirius had done was file the information away under 'Facts About Remus (formerly, The Gorgeous Man On The Tube).'

Sirius only relaxes marginally once he gets himself and Padfoot onto the tube and headed home. He's in far too much shock to rationally think about what he's just learned. He's intruded on Remus' privacy in the worst way possible. He feels like a worm.

As the train takes off, Sirius buries his face in Padfoot's thick fur.

"I'm sorry, Remus," he says quietly, though there is no one to hear him.

*
*
*

"You've given up stalking?" says Potter, leaning into Sirius' office door. "I didn't think you were going to lose interest so quickly."

Sirius shrugs and turns away from Potter to look out the window. The London Eye spins slowly in the distance, far less impressive by day. Or maybe it is just his mood. Sirius isn't sure.

"What's with you?" says Potter. He steps into Sirius' office and closes the door. "Something happened last night. You've been a moody beast all day and now you tell me you're not going to gate crash your damsel's date?"

"He's gay, not a woman. Quit it with the female comparisons," snaps Sirius, and regrets it instantly.

"Oh ho ho," says Potter archly. "Something did happen. Did he spot your amateur stalker act and tell you to leave him alone?"

Sirius doesn't answer. He doesn't want to have this conversation. Ever. Besides which, what he knows, he isn't supposed to know. Isn't it that much more of a betrayal if he tells Potter?

"Hm," Potter muses. "No, that's not it. I didn't get the impression he'd mind being stalked by you; two besotted fools, the both of you."

Sirius sighs and hates the drama of it.

"Let's just say I found out something he should have been able to tell me in his own time and his own way. Or not at all. Whichever. I took that choice away from him."

"So he did see you," says Potter. "Rotten luck, mate. Lil is going to be insufferable."

"No, no, no," says Sirius, irritated. "He didn't see me. That isn't the point. The point is - what?"

"Blimey. Only a couple of weeks away from Evil, Inc. and you've already grown a conscience." Potter wipes a mock tear away from his eye. A slow, devious smile crosses his face. "And you have the nerve to say I'm the one with the vagina."

Sirius picks up a silver letter opener with a sharp point and a determined edge. He takes careful aim, but Potter already has Sirius' office door open.

"Now, now," sings Potter. "Offing the boss' son will surely get you canned."

"Your mum likes me better," is Sirius' parting shot as his office door is firmly shut.

*
*
*

Sirius is distantly aware that Potter is up to something and Lily does not approve. Her compliance in whatever Potter is scheming with little to no sign of resistance would normally send alarm bells ringing in Sirius' head, but Sirius' head is far too occupied with melancholy and self-pity to do more than acknowledge the fact. He notes it and continues on with the business of being morose.

He doesn't know if Remus recognized Padfoot's bark at Providence Place, but Remus doesn't strike Sirius as a stupid man. These dots are easy to connect. Charlotte will give Remus Sirius' business card and tell him about Padfoot's adoption. Then he will realize the bark sounded awfully familiar. The day Peter rode the morning tube with them will come back to Remus and all the pieces will fall into place. It isn't even much of a stretch. Sirius can't face what he's done head on, can't face Remus. His imagination supplies all he needs to see the look of betrayal in Remus' eyes. Sirius can't even fault Remus for his anger. It could have been something special, but that's all over now.

"Almost there," chortles Potter, either oblivious to Sirius' mood or purposefully ignoring it. Sirius looks up in time to catch Lily's glare and the way she worries her bottom lip nervously.

Sirius can't bring himself to care. Potter had insisted that Sirius needed a night out and Lily had reluctantly joined in. He could have told the both of them to bugger off, but they're his friends and have his best interests at heart. He'd rather be at home tallying his Sins Against Remus, but the fight wasn't worth it. Besides, resistance only seems to galvanize Potter's will. His marriage to Lily is proof of that.

The train slows to a stop at Waterloo Station and the three of them debark, pushing through crowds of people to finally emerge on the other side of the Victory Arch.

Potter leads them down a leisurely walk along Waterloo Road and then makes a right on The Cut. There is something familiar about the area, but Sirius can't put his finger on what it is. If he were in a sharper frame of mind he would know where he is being led, but as it is, he is as meek as a lamb to slaughter.

Potter keeps up inane, endless chatter which has the effect of giving Sirius something to focus on other than his self-mutilated heart. It isn't until Sirius sees the plant bejeweled restaurant proclaiming itself to be Tas, the Turkish restaurant Remus frequents, that Sirius balks.

"You didn't," he says, planting his feet on the sidewalk a scant three feet from the doors to the restaurant in question. "Did you even listen when I said I'd already gone too far in invading his privacy? He will know this is no coincidence."

Potter turns to face him, his self-confidence unscathed. "Weren't you the one who said Remus hates these dates?"

"Well, yes, but--"

"And he doesn't know about your ill-fated foray into the world of stalking, right?"

"It's really only a matter of time before he puts it together. I said that, too. Not that you were listening."

Potter waves his hand like this is a tiny, inconsequential concern. "You clearly have a thing for each other. It isn't unreasonable that you would go to the one place you knew he would be to establish contact." Sirius snorts in self-derision because he hasn't gone to 'the one' place, he's almost hit them all, and what he has to show for it is a drooling, black, four-legged yeti and a new set of regrets to keep the other ones company. "It isn't as though you're expected to make yourself at home at his table," Potter presses on, "and you won't be sitting alone. Now, find your bollocks, act like a man, and make yourself available."

Sirius glances at Lily, takes in the thin set line of her mouth, the arms crossed tightly. Clearly she thinks this is as bad an idea as Sirius does.

"This is a really bad idea, Potter."

Potter crosses his arms. "Better than moping around. Look me in the eye and tell me you don't want to see him."

Sirius cuts his eyes away, finding a crack in a paving stone to be of remarkable significance. Of course he wants to see Remus, but what would Remus see? Sirius knows he doesn't hide his emotions well. Remus isn't a client Sirius doesn't care one way or the other about. Certain games of flirtation he can play like a professional sport. But to look at Remus' face, knowing what he isn't supposed to know, knowing he took that knowledge without consent; Sirius isn't convinced he could hide from Remus, and what's more, he doesn't want to have to.

"Come on," says Potter, clearly thinking he's won, oblivious to Sirius' inner turmoil. Sirius knows his best mate is likely chalking it up to nerves and yes, a mild sense of guilt. "Let's see what hideous date that friend of Lupin's foisted on him."

There is really no point to fighting. Not when they are three feet from Tas's front doors. Sirius gives a slight nod and allows Potter to guide him inside the restaurant. After all, what's one more regret?

*
*
*

If Potter's expression is anything to go by, the food here is truly exquisite. Sirius can barely taste his own meal. This is not because he has seen Lupin and his date, but because he hasn't. Lupin is a no show to his own standing social obligation.

If Lupin is railroaded every Friday night into a date with a woman he has no interest in, why isn't he here tonight? The possibilities are endless and terrifying.

What if something catastrophic has happened to Remus? A fatal accident with a Border Terrier with an attitude? Or maybe he was mugged, beaten, and left for dead. Remus could be lying in an alley, body broken and bloody with no one to come looking for him.

"Somalia," says Sirius, apropos of nothing. "Remus is a good sort. What if he went to Somalia on a humanitarian effort and was captured by pirates? They have pirates on the African coast, you know."

Potter pauses mid-chew, the expression of gastronomic bliss sliding off his face to be replaced by a look of complete and total confusion.

"What?" says Potter as soon as he's swallowed.

"For the summer hols," says Sirius impatiently, a note of hysteria creeping into his voice. "He likes to volunteer. What if he volunteered for the Peace Corp or, or--" Sirius waves his hand, the one holding his fork, gesturing wildly with a piece of kebab. "--some other bunch of do-gooders." He points at Potter with his kebab. "He's a do-gooder," says Sirius, making it sound the very worst of all possible accusations.

"Of all the reasons Remus isn't here tonight, you come up with kidnapped by pirates?" says Lily. Under the circumstances, Sirius finds her obvious amusement highly inappropriate.

"Somalian pirates," he iterates forcefully, giving her a black look.

"Or," says Potter, his eyebrows waggling gamely, "he might have taken up with a swashbuckling Blackbeard type. That ruddy bastard is probably bending your Lupin over the--"

Lily's firm hand over Potter's mouth saves Sirius from learning what part of the ship Remus is currently bent over as Blackbeard has his way.

"Hold on!" says Sirius, as something important occurs to him: Blackbeard lived during the age of sail. He gives them both a hairy eyeball. "You," he says, pointing at Potter, "are not clever."

"And you've dove off the deep end, head first. No water," says Potter as soon as Lily removes her hand from his mouth.

"At DogsTrust, didn't they tell you Remus had changed his hours?" offers Lily reasonably. "He's probably at work."

Clearly, Lily does not take Remus' safety seriously. Sirius pouts, his fantastical worst case scenarios looking pale next to her rather plausible postulation. He pushes his food around his plate as he is forced to consider her suggestion.

"Maybe," he grumbles after a moment. "Doesn't rule out Somalian pirates."

"Of course not," she says smoothly. He can hear the amusement she is trying to hide.

"I hope Lupin knows what he's getting himself into," says Potter under his breath to Lily. "Love turns Black into an idiot."

Lily just looks at him with fond, resigned exasperation.

*
*
*

Sirius is spending his Saturday checking the internet for news of British citizens seized in third world countries over the past two weeks. Mid-morning has given way to early afternoon and all his searches are fruitless. British citizens aren't finding themselves in unlikely adventures with Somalian pirates. In fact, Somalian pirates appear to be a bit thin on the ground as well. Uncle Alphard's grandfather clock chimes, announcing the arrival of two o'clock. Since Somalia is disappointingly pirate free, Sirius just types in pirate and sends Google on its way. Surely somewhere there are brutish seafarers with a taste for the young and British. A light knock at the door pulls him away from his humanitarian efforts. He looks over at Padfoot to gauge his reaction.

Padfoot, it turns out, is a failure as a guard dog. He barely twitches a whisker in the direction of the door. Sirius gives him an annoyed glare, more for the glop of drool sliding down the front of the couch than Padfoot's disinclination as a guard dog. Padfoot is eight, which is practically dead in human years. Allowances must be made for the aged and infirm.

Sirius' mind flickers over his usual house guests. It isn't Potter. He never knocks, forever waltzing in thanks to the key Sirius gave him. Lily rarely visits without Potter and besides, the knock was soft, far softer than Lily is capable after five years of marriage to Potter.

It has to be Remus, Sirius rationalizes as he dashes to the door. Before opening it, he smoothes down the Gucci tracksuit he'd been lounging in and runs quick fingers through his hair. After a deep, steadying breath, Sirius opens the door.

Standing in the hall is a rather determined looking Lily. Her fluid red hair has been pulled into a pony tail and she's wearing faded denims and a seen-better-days Joss Stone tour tee-shirt under a polyester jacket from the Manchester abattoir her father works for. If Sirius didn't know better, he'd swear she is here to clean just from her attire.

"Lily?" says Sirius, confused. He steps into the hall and looks left and then right. There's no sign of Potter. Sirius turns his confusion on Lily once again, puzzled by her unannounced, unplanned appearance. In her sharp green eyes he finds grim resolve, and instinct tells him Potter is as far from this scene as he could manage.

"Sirius," says Lily, and smiles politely, though the look in her eye doesn't waver. "May I come in? I was in the area."

"Oh?" says Sirius, stepping aside and holding the door wide for her. "I was unaware they were holding auditions for band groupies in this part of London."

"I'm so sorry," says Lily sweetly as she saunters over to his computer. "I forgot about Kensington’s dress code. Will the Fashionista Gestapo be taking me in for questioning?"

Sirius ignores her.

"So, just in the neighborhood?" He allows a hint of doubt to hang on the word 'neighborhood.’ "Would you like something to drink?"

Lily doesn't answer. She is frowning down at his laptop. Sirius clears his throat to get her attention.

"Sirius, you know very well that Remus has not been captured by--" Lily pauses, like she can't believe what she is about to say. "--pirates!" She looks up at him, her finger pointing at the screen. "This is just more avoidance and you know it. We are your friends, Sirius. We care a great deal about you and hate to see you hurting so. James is worried. I know he laughs it all off and tries to play along but it's only because he hates to see you in pain--"

"Lily--" Sirius tries.

"Dammit, Sirius! In one phone call you lost your family! That isn't something you just shrug off!"

"What do you want me to say?" Sirius shouts, flashing one hard, angry look at her before focusing his gaze out the window behind her. "That I miss my mummy?" he goes on mockingly. He has more to add to that but reigns it in when her eyes flicker warningly. He was prepared to rant and rave but Lily is a lot scarier than he is. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other and doesn't meet her eyes. "Should I tell you that it hurts?" he asks quietly. "What good will that do?"

"Because it's the truth," she replies and takes a few cautious steps toward him. "Sirius, you can't bottle it up. I think this whole thing with Remus has been one giant avoida--"

"No," Sirius interrupts. He isn't the bottle it up sort, and maybe that's the problem. Sirius has never been one to hide, and the change is throwing his friends off. It isn't that he doesn't know how to express himself, it's just that with his family, less has always been better, easier to bear. They trade insults and fight for control of one another to express how they feel. That isn't how families are supposed to interact and yet that interaction has been such a large part of his life that the void feels like a cannonball has punched a hole right through him.

If he were just angry he could face it, but the anger has passed and in its place there now resides... he isn't sure. He feels... unmoored, adrift.

"No?" says Lily. One crimson eyebrow arches over a narrowed eye.

"Fine, I'll give you the pirates," he mutters. That was pretty ridiculous. "I'm not avoiding--" He stops, because his isn't sure he's telling the truth. "All right, yes. I'm avoiding it, but Remus is separate from that. I didn't go to The Green, or DogsTrust, or--"

"Or?" says Lily.

"I just wanted to learn a little more about his life," he continues, ignoring the giant ‘or’-sized elephant. "I missed a lot of opportunities to get to know him." He scrubs a hand over his face, feeling the day’s growth he wears by noon. "I'm always going so fast; things tend to slip by me unless I'm deliberately looking for them."

"Are you talking about Remus now or your family or something else?" asks Lily quietly.

Sirius resents the question because of the deeper implication he doesn't want to be held accountable for, and Lily will hold him accountable. She is annoyingly resilient in the face of some of his better glares. She isn't going to be satisfied with his unanswered "or," will make him sick up all of his messy feelings that he doesn't know what to do with. He doesn't want to examine each piece carefully, feel it, own it, carefully catalog, assign genus and phylum, or whatever it is Lily and other artists do to get in touch with their feelings. He knows he is being small and petty now, but being cornered brings this out in him. He'd like to be one of those hard bitten detectives that water-cooler gossip informs him are so good at compartmentalizing. He isn't. There are no neat boxes in his brain where he can tuck his pain away. He isn't that disciplined. Oh, he knows it isn't all that healthy to box himself in, but it would be so much easier. He isn't dealing with his pain because he doesn't know how, not because he can shove it aside. Sirius knows damn well he wears his feelings on his sleeve. He just doesn't think he can add to his current miseries and keep his sanity. He crosses his arms and lifts his chin, sliding his gaze back out the window behind her.

"Sirius?" she questions, soft but also firm.

His jaw clenches, resolute. He doesn't want to think about this, or deal with this, unless he wants to. He doesn't care if he is being immature. He does plenty of mature things to make up for it. He has a fantastic job, a great flat, the best friends a bloke could ask for (even if they were annoying busybodies). If he wants a companion he can get a companion. It doesn't have to be Remus. Which isn't the point, but it is damn close. If he admits that the larger problem led to the more immediate one he has to deal with them both. There is nothing he can do about Remus at this point. At the very latest, Wednesday, Remus is going to learn about Sirius adopting Padfoot. Charlotte will disclose the adoption and hand over the business card. There is no escaping it. He might as well cut his losses and move on. As to the larger problem, Sirius isn't even sure if he can change.

"You've been coasting for a while," says Lily. Sirius is familiar with her change-up routine and isn't surprised or unprepared. She is trotting out the kinder, gentler Lily Evans Potter and not the ball-breaker that makes Potter weak in the knees. Idiot.

"You think so?" he says, injecting a heavy dose of genuine interest into his voice. She doesn't usually use this tactic on him because it is a waste of her time. If she is resorting to this, maybe she's nearing the end of her efforts. He can only hope.

"I think-- don't get me wrong, your family never deserved you--"

Sirius resists the urge to roll his eyes.

"--but I think without their constant pressure you can finally take stock, think of where you want to go, make plans." She pauses. "Slow down."

Sirius genuinely hates Lily for the ease with which she dissects him. "You're reaching. Just because I--" Sirius can't find the words to finish that thought. He's already told her that he goes too fast, misses important things another man would have paused to enjoy. "Potter has a big mouth," he grumbles instead.

Lily crosses her arms. He wants to feel annoyed but can't because he knows that was just as pathetic as it sounded. "It's a symptom of a bigger problem," she says.

"Fixing it only made the problem worse," he points out. She is going to see right through the holes in his argument, but not arguing goes too far against the grain. He can't concede without the pretense of a fight and maybe a concession from her not to hound him endlessly. He can hope.

"You weren't even working on the problem, Sirius," she says, some of the kinder, gentler Lily sloughing off and a glimmer of the ball-breaker peeking through the clouds. "Snooping around Remus' haunts is not equivalent to taking time to enjoy the moment."

"You know there wasn't very much to enjoy," says Sirius defensively. "I would have paid more attention to Remus if I wasn't fixing the thousand and one things Regulus breaks before breakfast or fielding my mother's insane phone calls that--" and here he lifts a finger for emphasis "--have some ulterior motive but damned if any sane person can figure out what it is she wants."

"Well," says Lily, grinning pleasantly. "Since they aren't a problem for you anymore, you shouldn't have any trouble slowing down."

"I thought you wanted me to deal with losing my family," says Sirius sullenly.

"Oh, I do," she agrees. "With all that time you'll have not rushing off to whatever is next."

"It's my life," Sirius bites out. "I'm not very sedentary."

Lily snorts. "Yeah, no, don't even try that with me. Talking a mile a minute and not paying attention to a bloke who is clearly crazy about you is not the antithesis of sedentary. Apples and oranges, Black. And flirting while insulting your mother is-- I don't even know what that is."

"He was laugh- hey!" Sirius narrows his eyes at her. "You know him."

Lily's eyes widen. She takes a step back.

"He's Harry's teacher," she replies with a dismissive sniff. The angry flush staining her cheeks tells another story. He's hit the mark.

"Oh, no," he says, crossing his arms again. "You know him as more than Harry's teacher. I never told you or Potter about that conversation. You're friends! Did Potter know all this time?!"

Lily puts her hands up in a gesture of peace. "Yes, we're friends; no, James didn't know until last night. Look, Remus mentioned meeting someone new and when he learned your name I said you and James were best mates. I didn't have a hand in this, I swear."

"You could have said something," he growls.

"Who flirts for weeks on end without exchanging names? How was I supposed to know you were serious - don't you dare say it - I thought maybe it was just casual, and I really don't need the details of your sex life."

"I thought maybe we had exchanged names and I just forgot," he says, scratching the back of his neck and looking anywhere but in Lily's eyes.

"You are so--" Lily stops and gives him the same fond but exasperated look she is always tossing at James. "This is exactly what I mean! Don't you see?"

"I--" Sirius tries to marshal a defense. Sadly, nothing springs to mind. "Yeah," he concedes. "Fine."

"Have I accomplished anything here?"

"Well, given it's me--"

Lily laughs and then throws her arms around his shoulders to pull him into a hug.

"What am I going to do with you?"

Sirius shrugs. "I miss them," he says into her hair. He feels small as he says it. Or young. Vulnerable, and that isn't something he does well or often. "I miss sparring with them because it was the only way we ever managed to--" say that we loved each other "--communicate."

"I'm frankly amazed you're as sane as you are," teases Lily as she pulls away. Sirius nods, looking down but grinning, too.

"Leaving was the right thing to do," he says to his trainers.

"I know. It still hurts."

"Yeah."

Sirius moves away, discomfited by their ‘hair-braiding,’ and grabs a couple of orange sodas out of the fridge and pours two glasses. Lily nods her thanks and takes the drink he offers.

"Thanks, Lil."

"Of course, ducks."

Lily takes her soda over to the kitchen table and sits in front of his laptop. She takes a sip, then swallows. "Ready to stop chasing pirates and deal with the real world?" she asks with an impish grin. "I think Remus would love to hear from you."

"I'm not going to pursue him," says Sirius softly. Sitting in Tas last night with Remus nowhere in sight, Sirius needed something, anything to focus on besides the very real breach of privacy he had committed. Somalian pirates kidnapping Remus, while ridiculous and far fetched, had done the trick. "I, well, I witnessed something I shouldn't have. I'll just confess the whole thing, I just know it, and that isn't fair to him."

"No, that would be you trying to clear your conscious and in the process, selfishly foisting your troubles off onto him. Man up and keep your trap shut. Is it sexual? Because you have no--"

Sirius puts his hand up to forestall whatever she has to say about his sex life. He has heard it all before and isn't in the mood for a reprisal. "If it were sexual, I would feel jealous, not guilty."

"You were bound to blunder, Sirius. That's what happens when you go about things all wrong."

"I got Padfoot, at least," he offers. "That wasn't a total disaster."

Hearing his name, Padfoot slides off the couch and pads over, sticking his wet muzzle into Sirius' face. Sirius pulls the slobber rag out of his back pocket and wipes Padfoot's mouth and then scratches behind one ear. Padfoot leans into the touch, eyes looking up at Sirius, smitten. Nothing loves quite the way a dog does. Sirius smiles down at him and then shifts his gaze back to Lily.

"Isn't he Remus' favorite?"

"Yeah," says Sirius fondly. "Oh! And I left my card with someone on the DogsTrust staff. I asked them to give it to Remus."

"Which means you have four days to behave like a coward before Remus rings you up."

"Bugger."

"Or, you could admit you made a mistake – to yourself, mind, no need to traumatize Remus – and then call the man yourself."

Sirius knows she's right. A confession will only serve to assuage Sirius' conscious, which is purely selfish. He can't predict how it would affect Remus, but shame and betrayal are safe guesses. There is still the possibility that Remus will put together it was Padfoot barking in the hall at Providence Place. If he does, if he brings it up, Sirius supposes he'll have to find a way to explain himself.

"Okay, except for the calling part. He tried to ask me out once; terrible at it, incidentally. Every Monday he peruses the bookshops on Charing Cross Road."

"Everything has to be the hard way with you."

Sirius supposes she is right. He would still enjoy surprising Remus. There are a lot of book shops in St. Gile's Circus. It is no safe bet they would even run into one another but the romance of it appeals to something in Sirius he will never admit to, even under pain of death.

"If I don't see him, I'll call."

"Promise?"

Sirius grins. "I promise."

"My favorite shop is Henry Pordes. I recommend it highly."

"Insider secret?" he asks, just to tease her about the friendship she kept concealed.

Lily cuffs him gently on the side of his head for his cheek.

*
*
*

Sirius ignores Potter's smirk as they ride the lift down to the ground level. Potter is bouncing forward and back on the balls of his feet. And humming.

"So," says Potter. "Got plans this fine Monday evening?"

They've been in the same building all day, have offices right across the hall from one another, had lunch together and now, just as Sirius' nerves are kicking in, Potter wants to play the comedian.

"Nothing special," denies Sirius as the lift doors slide apart, not wanting to open himself up to Potter's needling. It is obvious that Lily has caught Potter up to speed on Sirius' love life, but to admit he is following through on his plans is only going to give Potter ammunition. The polished marble tiles in the lobby catch refracted light, momentarily blinding Sirius. He turns his head away, blinking rapidly and as luck will have it, Potter interprets this as guilty deflection. There is a merry, gleeful snicker.

"Nothing special, eh?" says Potter, nudging Sirius' shoulder. "So you're not on your way to St. Giles' Circus, then? Not off to find a good book?"

How Potter, who is normally so clueless about innuendo, managed to make 'good book' sound dirty Sirius will never know.

"Good evening, Mr. Black," calls the receptionist from behind her mahogany fortress. J. H. Potter & Company frames her silhouette in onyx inlaid in glass. She smiles flirtatiously and tosses her golden brown hair over her shoulder.

"Oh, poor Moira," says Potter with expansive sympathy and volume, grinning like a leprechaun. A tall leprechaun with stupid hair. Sirius glares at Potter and is summarily ignored. "You're too late, old girl. Black here is off to meet with his lady love."

Moira sighs. "The good ones are always taken," she laments.

Sirius offers her a sympathetic smile and then turns a matter-of-fact look on Potter. "I'm telling Lily that you're harassing the staff again." Sirius pauses a beat. "And your mum."

"Dirty pool," accuses Potter as he waves a good night to Moira.

"Enjoy your evening, Moira," says Sirius, a hint of apology in his tone, and then, as he is officially done with Potter for the day, strides with purpose toward the glass double doors.

"You wouldn't really...?" says Potter, testing, hurrying to keep in step with Sirius. "I was just having a bit of fun."

Lily is the best thing that ever happened to Potter, decides Sirius, smug, as he steps out into the warm, sun-heated air. Londoners flow past him in both directions, taking no more notice of him than water in a stream takes notice of rocks in the creek bed.

"Maybe I'll tell Moira you're holding a torch for me instead," says Sirius. He flashes Potter a smile full of gleaming white teeth. "It would explain why you're always trying to put her off me."

Potter brings a dramatic hand up to cover his heart. "You mean you've finally noticed?" he bleats with exaggerated feeling and then bats his eyes at Sirius. "I never thought this day would come." A few of the previously disinterested Londoners glance wide eyed at Potter and Sirius and then hastily look away.

"Right. I'm off," says Sirius and heads off in the direction of King's Cross.

"No one will ever love you like I do," warbles Potter. Sirius doesn't turn around; he doesn't need to. He is quite familiar with Potter's repertoire of smirks.

*
*
*

In addition to nerves that can't decide between excitement or anxiety, Sirius is uncomfortably squeezed between a large, loud gentleman sporting a proper English moustache and a hollow-eyed young woman holding herself so stiff she gives all appearances of equating her too-close proximity to Sirius with a lewd proposition. The mustachioed gentleman is currently expostulating on the differences between German and Italian opera, leaning favorably toward the former. His voice rises steadily to stay ahead of the din and the woman keeps glancing nervously about the compartment. When her eyes occasionally land on Sirius, she looks at him as if she'd seen his police sketch on the telly. He is respectfully attired in the same suit he wore to the office and is the best dressed man in this compartment, and yet somehow he's the potentially dangerous sexual predator.

Sirius' jittery nerves find an outlet in one knee which bounces in place and earns him an alarmed look from his neighbor to the right. Sirius ignores her, pulls his phone out of his pocket and flips it open. He has to say 'Remus Lupin' three times before the operator hears him over the opera aficionado. He declines the offer to have him connected and when the information is texted to his phone, he adds the number to his list of contacts. Then, in a fit of optimism, he adds Remus to speed dial.

The compartment fills and empties, fills and empties. By the time he reaches the Charing Cross station he's alone, and his nerves, which have settled on excitement despite his better judgment, are Sirius' only companions.

The short walk gives him time to collect his thoughts, consider strategy. He pauses beside a busker playing a guitar and singing about love. It isn't any song Sirius is familiar with, but he appreciates the tune and the sentiment. He listens for two songs and then places a five pound note in the open guitar case. The busker nods in thanks and Sirius continues on his way.

As he wanders, he discovers there really are a lot of bookshops here. He's never paid much attention despite having lived in London all his life. He isn't sure which shop to start with and so he picks randomly.

A bell on Quinto's door chimes Sirius into the shop. Behind the counter a girl with a tattoo on her neck and a piercing through her bottom lip acknowledges him with a bored flick of her eyes. A single lock of electric blue hair falls into her face as she looks back down at the book she's reading.

"Welcome to Quinto's," says the clerk. Her tone says she has said this a hundred times today and isn't particularly concerned if Sirius actually feels welcome or not.

Sirius ignores the absent greeting and presses onward into the store. The scent in the air reminds him of his Aunt Druella's mansion in Cardiganshire: dry, stale, and dusty, much like Aunt Druella herself. The walls are lined in books, creating a patchwork in dull whites, black print and the occasional splash of color. As he descends deeper into the store he is reminded of a maze. Left, right, right, left, left. Sirius should have brought bread crumbs to find his way back. Regulus was lost once on the grounds of Aunt Druella's estate, the hedge grown into an intricate maze. Sirius thought it was a wonderful place to hide but after getting lost and stuck out in a spring rainstorm, Regulus developed a phobia of mazes. Naturally, Sirius capitalized on this at every opportunity.

At the junction of wall and ceiling, exposed wires run hither and thither, some ending in panels of lighting hung haphazardly, others in grounding strips. It has been put together without much forethought and is likely a fire hazard. A narrow set of stairs leads down into a basement with more walls of books. Here Sirius has to stoop slightly as his six foot three stature is simply not accommodated. The walls press in narrowly and he begins to wonder how he'll run into anyone, much less Remus, if he doesn't even know who is in the shop with him. He begins to think of getting out and makes another turn right into a hefty stack of books. Sirius trips, taking the stack with him and the attendant who was shelving them. They both yelp as they crash to the floor.

"Ow," says Sirius. The attendant has landed with her face in his crotch and an elbow trying to make a home between his ribs.

"Oh, god," whimpers the girl. She can't be a day over sixteen, which is just awkward.

"Up," Sirius commands. "Before you make a eunuch of me."

"Oh, god," she bleats again.

Sirius rolls his eyes and gives her a heave-ho. As they get to their feet he notices curious onlookers have stationed themselves with a good vantage point of the crash. Sirius hadn't seen any of these people on his way down here. Where did they all come from?

"Here," he says impatiently, and helps her get the books back into a neat stack. "No more hiding around corners," he scolds. "It's all fun and games until someone loses the ability to reproduce."

The attendant snatches a book out of his hands.

"I've got it," she says, and then adds, "sir."

"See that you do."

He probably should have gone easier on her, but it was just too much fun to resist.

Once Sirius is safely on the street, he takes a moment to rest against a wall and just watch the people passing by. He searches all the tall, thin men for any sign of being Remus, but they all disappoint. He's as an impatient as he's ever been; life-long habits don't die after a single heart to heart with one's best mate's wife, after all. He had hoped for easier, for finding Remus quickly and talking him into possibly having an overnight at Sirius' flat. This isn't easy, this is frustrating.

The narrow corridors in the next shop dead end quite suddenly and without warning into a sex shop. Sirius doubts he will find Remus in there; he just doesn't seem the sort, though he didn't seem the sort to have once had a drinking problem either. Still, Sirius has had his own name in the papers and on the telly recently. The last thing he needs is for someone to recognize him and do a write up complete with photo for the tabloids. Sirius turns around to go back up the way he came. As he enters the narrow hallway once again, so does another man.

"Sirius?"

Sirius takes in the tall, good-looking blond and racks his brain for a name.

"Alec?"

"You remembered." Alec's rows of perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth flash in a genuinely pleased grin. His eyes dart toward the exit Sirius has just left. "Just leaving?"

In order to get past Alec, Sirius is going to have rub up against him like a horny mugger.

"Ah, sort of?" says Sirius, a stall to give him time to think of another way, any other way, of getting past Alec. It isn't that Sirius doesn't find him attractive; he does, but what if at the very moment Sirius and Alec are getting familiar, Remus sees him? It is all innocent, his mind protests, but he'd rather not have to defend his virtue.

"Sort of?" parrots Alec and moves into Sirius' space.

Oh, Jesus. Alec is going to the sex shop. He thinks Sirius just came from the sex shop. Well, isn't this a fine mess?

"Never been here before," says Sirius, his protest faint. "Didn't, ah, know." He waves vaguely in the direction of the shop.

"You didn't know Soho had a sex shop in the basement?" says Alec, amused and disbelieving. He steps closer to Sirius.

Sirius swallows. "No."

"Mhm," hums Alec. "Say, did you ever meet up with your friend?"

Oh, right, the night he met Alec. The night Alec invited him to his table. Oh, bugger. He's going to have to let Alec down again. This is the last time Sirius does anything this unconsidered in pursuit of Remus.

"Remus," says Sirius. "My friend. Yes. Meet up with him did you say?"

"Remus Lupin?" says Alec and his face falls.

"You know Remus?"

Alec places a hand on Sirius' hip, his body sliding past in what Sirius believes to be an intentionally seductive full-body rub. He is only a man, for fucks sake; not a saint!

"Might as well get a cheap thrill while I can," murmurs Alec. "It really is true what they say; all the good ones are either taken or gay." He chuckles throatily as he slips past.

"Bloody hell," declares Sirius.

Alec grins back at him, one hand on the edge of the wall that leads to the sex shop.

"Remus is at Henry Pordes, but then, I suppose you already knew that. Come down here looking for something to keep things interesting?"

Henry Pordes, the same shop Lily mentioned. Why didn't he go to that one first?

"Sorry, what? Keep what interesting?"

Alec laughs again. "Best not keep him waiting, eh?"

"Right." Sirius' eyes squeeze shut as his brain catches up. "Right," he repeats.

Alec shakes his head and disappears around the corner. "Off you go," he calls back.

Sirius obeys.

*
*
*

Henry Pordes is filled with chattering patrons when Sirius enters. He has to slide past several people to get a bit of free space to look around. This shop isn't as uncomfortably laid out as the others were. There is more room for customers, and they take advantage of it. It seems that in addition to ringing customers up, the attendants here are knowledgeable and available to answer questions. Sirius can just make out that there is a long counter in front of a wall, and behind it are the attendants.

Both Lily and Alec told Sirius that this was the place to find Remus. A sign points the way to a reading area, but when he pokes his head in there, he finds no sign of Remus.

Sirius decides that if Remus is so well-known here, he might as well ask one of the attendants if they know him. He takes a place in line and waits for his turn at the counter.

As the crowd thins in front of him, Sirius catches a glimpse of light, wavy hair and hears a lilting voice that makes his heart catch in his throat. There, behind the counter speaking with a middle-aged red-headed hausfrau, is Remus.

So, this is his evening job. Remus works as a book seller. Sirius can't think of anything Remus would enjoy more. The man tore through books like Sirius has never seen. Every morning on the tube he’d had a different selection.

Sirius is suddenly impatient for his turn at the counter. He studies Remus intently, watches the way he focuses on each customer's question, engaging them with his quiet smiles and his pleasant personality. By the time he reaches the counter, Sirius has figured out something very important.

"Oh," says Remus. His face lights up with a brilliant smile. "Hi."

"Hi," says Sirius intelligently and then just stares, caught in Remus' aura like a deer in headlights.

"Did you need something?" prompts Remus with a quick smile to the person behind Sirius.

"Very much so," says Sirius without thinking.

Remus blushes and smiles, his chin ducking for just a moment. It is so charming and endearing that Sirius considers hopping up onto the counter and pulling Remus in for a kiss.

"I'm off at nine," Remus says. A worker standing next to him grins first at Remus and then Sirius. "I don't suppose you need help with a book...?"

Next to Sirius is a cart full of books that need to be re-shelved. He doesn't even look at the title; he just grabs one from the top of the stack and plops it onto the counter.

"Tell me all about this one," he says. He isn't willing to let Remus go, not just yet.

"This book," says Remus. His lips tug up further at the corners.

"Yep."

"The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex: For Women?"

Sirius closes his eyes. The next time Lily tells him to call Remus, he is listening to her.

"Oh, why not," says Sirius nonchalantly. In for a penny and all that.

Remus coughs.

"Right, right,” Sirius fumbles, “Fine. Nine, did you say?"

"Nine," Remus confirms.

"I'll just... be in the reading area," says Sirius. He takes a long look at Remus before turning away.

"Sirius?"

He turns around. "Yes," he says, breathless and hopeful. Remus’ wide, wicked grin isn't promising.

"Don't forget your book."







End Notes: Liberties also take with Moreland Primary School. I didn't want to give away what Remus' job was in the header. I couldn't find any pictures of the staff in their attire on the internet so I just had fun with it. All apologies to the staff of Moreland PS. I have done you a grave injustice. The school colors for Moreland PS are indeed primary yellow and blue.

The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex: For Women by Tristan Taormino - Yep, it's a real book. I received a copy as a gag gift from a friend. I enjoy reading excerpts out loud at parties.

I once knew a Newfoundland. Dear, sweet thing. I didn't exaggerate the slobber.

Much.

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