FANDOM: Harry Potter
PAIRING: Remus/Sirius, James/Lily, Tonks/OC
SUMMARY: A number of chance encounters with an intriguing man named Remus Lupin sets Sirius off on a path to fall in love, and to learn what it is to fight for the people he loves.
NOTES: Thank you to h4yleyg for making me sound less like an American. Many, many thanks to theemdash for being my sounding board, alpha, and beta as I've fought this fic since the start of the year. Written for the 2009 bigbangblackout. Visit the main archive to see the wonderful artwork mavoorik drew for this story!
Sirius's head smacked against the pavement as he fell to his back, stars dancing in front of his face and a terrible pain radiating from his skull. He lay there for a moment, not entirely sure how he'd managed to get into such a state, but from what he could tell, he was still wearing trousers and couldn't smell vomit, so things couldn't be too bad, could they?
"Hey there, are you all right?"
Ahh, a kind soul, a pitying gentleman! He felt a quick stab of guilt, knowing that if the situation were reversed, he'd probably just keep walking past rather than stopping to help.
"Um. . . ." He pushed himself up on his elbows gingerly, trying not to rattle himself too much. "I'm fine, sure. Yeah. Ow."
The other man chuckled softly. "You never saw that courier, did you?"
Sirius blinked, and turned his head in the direction of the invisible beastie that ran him down. "Er. No, I didn't. That was a courier?" He mimed holding handlebars. "On a little bike?"
"Don't worry, I'll tell the story with a motorbike instead. Perhaps a small car." There was a smile in his voice, and Sirius turned to see shaggy brown hair and a small grin teasing at pretty lips. He swallowed.
"Much obliged," he replied, nodding carefully. "I think I can get to my feet now."
The man stood up and offered a hand back down to Sirius, who took it and quickly pushed himself up, letting go before his palm started sweating profusely. Sirius had long wished his stomach would just simply flutter when someone caught his fancy, like everyone else. (Everyone except that kid in school, the one who could go from floppy to raging erection in mere seconds if a bird with red lipstick and a healthy bosom so much as caught the edge of his vision. Sirius knew he was in much better shape than old Martin Finchey, that was for damn sure.)
Sirius nodded to the helpful man as he brushed himself off. "Thanks for making sure I wasn't concussed. Or dead."
The man—whose eyes managed to sparkle even on a dreary London day such as this—just waved off the thank you. "Consider this your reminder that not all of humanity is in a terrible state these days."
"Well then, count me among those with faith in my fellow man." Sirius smiled, a dangerous smile that was soft and welcoming without being cheeky and flirtatious. Lily once confessed, albeit drunkenly, that Sirius would be more successful catching people off-guard with that smile. He didn't entirely agree—after all, he'd done quite fine for himself with his trademark Bad Boy Grin for many years now—but in this one case, he conceded in his mind that there might be something to it.
The man chuckled. "You think you're okay to continue on by yourself? Don't need to see a doctor?"
Yes, I think you should take me home and examine me. He gave himself a look over, brushing off his elbows. "No, I should be fine," he said, just a little reluctantly. "I was heading home, anyway." He gestured down the road. "Just a few streets more, actually. I think I can make it."
"All right then." He nodded, smiled once more, and began to turn away. "You'll take care to look both ways now, won't you?"
Sirius laughed. "I will, yes. Thanks again." He began to walk down the road towards home. After a few steps, however, he stopped and turned around, shouting back towards the man, "Oi! What's your name?"
The man stopped and turned, waiting a few beats in consideration before he shouted back, "I'm Remus! Remus Lupin!" And with that, Remus Lupin went back on his way, leaving a crowd of curious people staring at him in his wake.
"He didn't ask yours?"
Sirius shook his head. "Nope. S'pose that means I ought to just leave well enough alone." He leaned into his hand braced on his elbow, his other hand holding his fork and poking at the pasta on his plate, twirling it around the prongs and then letting it slide back onto the plate.
From across the table, his godson chided, "Don't play with your food!"
James nudged Harry with his elbow. "Don't tell adults what to do, little man." James then looked over at Sirius and winked. "But you really shouldn't play with your food, mate."
Lily looked at Sirius, concerned. "You sure you don't have concussion? Not like you not to make a huge mess with spag bol when you eat it."
"I'm fine, really." Sirius sat up, taking a deep breath. "Bit of a headache, but that could just be from work, too."
"You can stay here tonight, if you'd like," James offered, before taking a forkful of pasta and slurping it up into his mouth, making Harry laugh and imitate his father, with far messier results.
"Harry, eat like a—well, I suppose given the grown-ups around here, you don't have much of a role model, do you?" Lily said, sighing. "Eat neatly, please. I just did the washing yesterday, I don't want to do another load to get tomato stains out of your school shirts."
Harry pouted, but he picked up his knife and began to cut his spaghetti into bite-sized strands.
Sirius shook his head. "No, I'm fine to go home, honestly. Should probably go a bit earlier, get a good night's sleep."
James nodded. "Probably should, yeah. And I don't imagine you'd have an early night with your fan club hanging around, would you?" He reached over to ruffle Harry's perpetually-messy hair.
Lily leaned closer to Sirius. "Hey. If he wanted nothing to do with you, he could've pretended not to hear, right?"
"True," Sirius agreed, nodding a bit. "You'd think . . ." He trailed off, not actually knowing what he was supposed to be thinking.
Lily squeezed his arm. "Sounds like he gave you a breadcrumb. You just have to follow the trail now, Gretel."
"Oh ha ha, I see, I'm a girl. Very clever, I've never really heard that from anyone before, certainly not that toe rag you call a husband."
Harry piped up, waving his fork in the air. "Sometimes Mum calls Dad the lady of the house 'cause she's the one that wears the trousers!"
Sirius cracked up, as James glared at his son and Lily dabbed at her mouth with a napkin, unsuccessfully hiding a smug smile.
Life, Sirius considered, was a funny old thing. His beloved bike, his Sweet Mae with a tear in the leather on the seat and enough dings to divert a beam of light right back to where it started, was on her last legs, and Sirius had been in the careful process of deciding if his love for her was worth putting enough cash into restoring her back to her former glory, or if it would be kinder to lay her to rest when she made the decision for him.
Her tragic passing was why he was traveling on foot that fateful day when a piss-ant little bicycle nearly cost him his life.
When he met Remus Lupin.
The same Remus Lupin, he was fairly certain, who was currently chatting with the owner of Sirius's favorite bike shop. The shop Sirius had just entered, hoping to see if that same owner had any leads on used bikes for sale.
So yes. Life was indeed a funny old thing.
If it had been any other patron, Sirius would have been an arsehole and gone over to poke his nose in to let old Fletch know he was there, but Sirius just swallowed and—for one of the first times in his life—made the decision to behave himself and wait patiently. He browsed over the merchandise, poking and prodding at doo-dads and thingamajigs, wondering just how well a cup-holder on a bike really worked and pondering the image of having a lavender leather seat cover.
He circled the room slowly, moving as he saw the pair move, trying to stay opposite, stay out of sight. He wasn't sure why, but for some reason he felt as though Remus Lupin would not approve of Sirius looking into buying a new motorbike. Though that thought did summon another, the question of why Remus Lupin was here in the first place if he was so disapproving, but Sirius didn't care about logic at a time like this.
So thorough was his concentration on ignoring the others, that he completely missed that they had stopped speaking, that Fletch had gone into the back, and that Remus Lupin was suddenly at Sirius's elbow.
"You were able to track me here just based on a name? That is impressive."
Sirius started and looked over at Remus, who was picking up a side mirror and examining it. Sirius could see a small smile reflected his way.
"I was . . . what? Wait. No. No!" He shook his head quickly. "I didn't track you anywhere. This is just where I come for all my . . . bike stuff." So much for keeping that a secret, then.
Remus Lupin almost seemed to deflate a little, just the slightest drooping of his shoulders. "Well, I can certainly appreciate a happy coincidence for what it is then." He put down the mirror and turned to face Sirius properly. "So if you've a means of transportation, why were you risking life and limb on the courier-filled streets of residential London?"
Sirius felt his lips quirk, quite independently of any conscious thought. "Well, I don't actually have such means currently." He sighed, letting sadness and grief overcome his features. "My beloved, she has . . . passed on."
Remus Lupin nodded slowly, every bit the well-meaning sympathetic man who doesn't really know the love of a man for his metal and leather and rubber mistress. "I'm very sorry for your loss."
Sirius took a deep breath, then smiled and winked. "I'm sure I'll get by. Just looking to see if Fletch knew of any good deals. A new lady in my life would certainly help with getting to that acceptance stage of grief, I'm sure."
"I'm sure. Well, I should probably head out. Nice—"
"I'm Sirius Black," said Sirius suddenly, not wanting another encounter to end without evening the score a bit. "Well, Sirius, I mean. No need to be so formal. Not, not that you asked. But now if I run into you at my favorite curry house, at least I can ask you if you've tracked me down."
Remus Lupin smiled slightly. "Well, I prefer the curry from my local, so I don't think there's much chance of us running into each other there, Sirius Black." He nodded. "Sirius."
Sirius bit his cheek hard, just barely keeping the question of where he lived inside. Wouldn't do to seem so keen, not yet. "Well that's good to know, I won't have to keep looking over my shoulder, then." Oh, but he can't let this end without planting the seed for something in the future, just possibly. "I suppose you'll have to keep a weather eye open on the Tube, though? I'm all over the city for work, so you never know when I might find myself in your neighborhood."
There's a long, measured look from the pair of soft brown eyes, and Sirius got the impression that he was being sized-up and considered. He swallowed and tried to discretely wipe his palms on his jeans.
"I don't take the tube, much," said Remus Lupin, finally, "but maybe I'll watch out the next time I'm around Canary Wharf." He nodded again and turned. "Nice to see you again, Sirius."
Sirius grinned. "Same to you, Remus Lupin!"
Remus Lupin paused with one hand on the door, ready to push out, then looked back. "Remus. No need to be so formal." He grinned, then, a wide cheerful grin with teeth, and pushed open the door and walked out, not looking back.
Sirius watched through the windows as Remus Lupin—Remus—crossed the street at a jog against the light, hands stuffed in his jacket pocket and bag slung over his back. He sighed. "Oh, bollocks."
It was warm for late September, and the heat wasn't helped by the suit Sirius would kill to strip off. He winced and ran his finger under his collar, wishing he could at least take off his tie.
"Remind me again," he murmured to James, who looked just as uncomfortable as Sirius did, "why I've been dragged along to a wedding for one of Lily's old school mates?"
James shrugged, whispering back. "Buggered if I know." He waited a beat, then added, "Oh, and I wanted to have a mate to bother so Lil wouldn't have to wear her elbow out nudging me all day?" His nudged Sirius's arm and gave his friend a stupid grin.
Sirius rolled his eyes at James's sense of humor. "Cheers." He sighed and looked around, surveying his fellow guests. Most people were chatting in comfortable groups, looking as though they belonged and were happy to be there: the opposite of Sirius, then. "This isn't some insane plan to get me a shag tonight, is it?"
"Ha! Oh Sirius, my friend." James squeezed Sirius's shoulder. "If we wanted to get you a shag, we would be a lot more obvious." Sirius laughed, and from a few feet away Lily called over to James. "Right back," James said with a wink, before turning to his wife with a broad grin. "Yes, my darling girl?"
With a shake of his head and a soft snort, Sirius turned away, deciding it was time for a easy stroll around the edges of the party, to smile at some of the birds, nod at some men, show himself off as the attractive and generally easy-going man that he undoubtedly was. Maybe he could snag a bridesmaid for a shag. If he got desperate, that was.
"Okay, now this is just getting weird."
Sirius turned quickly at sound of the soft voice behind him. "I . . ." His mouth flopped open uselessly for a moment and he pointed at Remus, who seemed to be holding in laughter. "This one's not my fault! I swear! I was dragged along!"
Now Remus did laugh, a soft, calming laugh that made Sirius want to lean in close to hear all the nuances. "Well I suppose that's just a coincidence, then."
"It really is." Sirius relaxed a bit, glad that Remus wasn't thinking of him as some mad and clumsy stalker. "Are you crashing as well, or were you actually invited?"
Remus looked over Sirius's shoulder, nodding. "I'm friends with the groom." He looked back at Sirius, arching an eyebrow. "I was the best man, actually. You didn't notice during the ceremony?"
Sirius blinked, then laughed and shrugged. "You've caught me out. I only came for the party." He hung his head, hoping to communicate deep shame. "You're not going to have me chucked out, are you?" To his surprise, Sirius heard that come out with an honest plea, rather than the flirtatious whine he would normally have used on a line like that.
"It's fairly tempting," Remus admitted, "if only to see if you'd go quietly or pitch a fit." Sirius's eyes widened. "But I won't. I'm mates with the groom, but I think his new wife is a cow and only after his money, and practically everyone here came for her."
Sirius coughed, deciding discretion was the better part of valor and not mentioning that his friends were here for the new cow-wife. He looked over his shoulder, seeing that the groom and his bride did look a bit mismatched. "Just for his money, you say?"
Remus nodded. "Mm, yes. Not that she's told me or anything, but I can tell. She certainly doesn't love him, and—he's my mate, but I can't deny it—he's certainly not particularly attractive."
Sirius looked again, shaking his head. "No, not particularly."
"So if it's not love, and it's not for his looks, then it must be for his money." Remus paused, then added, "Which is strange, because he's almost destitute. . . ." His face was set in a deadpan expression, but his eyes sparkled with humor, and Sirius chuckled.
"Sex, love, and money are pretty much the only three reasons to get married, I'd say."
Remus gave him a strange look, but nodded slowly. "I suppose."
Sirius swallowed, suddenly feeling as though he'd said something wrong. "Then again, I'm not married, so what do I know?" He gave a half-hearted chuckle and a small grin, hoping he hadn't completely offended the other man.
There was a moment of vaguely awkward silence, which found Sirius shifting nervously and trying not to stare at the light freckles over Remus's nose.
"So when you're not crashing wedding receptions," Remus asked, with a wry grin, "and not looking for motorbike accessories, what do you do?"
Sirius laughed a bit. "I, uh, I have a very dull job. Paper pusher, mostly." He shrugged. "I hate it, but it's stable and it pays decent money so I can keep my godson properly spoiled." Now he grinned at the mention of Harry. "What about you? When you're not helping strangers who've been run over by demented couriers, or chatting with nice older shopkeepers, what do you do?"
Remus raised his hand, waving it slightly. "I'm a writer, but it's not glamorous like you're about to think."
Sirius arched an eyebrow. "You know what I'm going to think?"
"Well, that's what everyone thinks when I tell them I'm a writer. I think they imagine it's romantic, me and a typewriter in a sparse flat, the floorboards bare except for discarded pages." Sirius thought that sounded wonderful. "But I live in a three-bedroom house with all the proper furniture and belongings, I put my discarded pages in the bin, and I don't write romantic novels."
"You know, you should let people make their assumptions. It's nice thinking of the other thing."
"But it's not real," Remus said. "Which maybe is odd coming from someone who writes, but then again, I never said I was a creative writer, did I?"
Sirius nodded. "Point there. So what do you write?"
Remus smiled a bit. "I'm mostly freelance, writing articles for magazines or newspapers. Sometimes I get hired to write copy for businesses. I'm flexible. Can't afford to be a starving author who slaves away at his lifetime masterpiece."
"Never wrote a short story?"
"Oh, sure, I have a few ideas. I do even have a thought for a novel, but that's a hobby, that's not a career." Remus scratched at the back of his neck. "I've never really felt very creative. I can string words together well enough, but storytelling is not my strength."
Sirius shrugged. "Does it need to be? Sounds like you get along just fine."
"Oh," Remus chuckled, "sometimes it would be easier if I could tell a story, absolutely."
A sudden movement in the corner of his eye caught Sirius's attention, and when he looked he could see James waving him over. "Damn," he muttered, then smiled apologetically to Remus. "I've got to, um, go." He shifted his weight, unsure of what to say, then quickly blurted out, "Maybe next time we could accidentally bump into each other during lunch? Say, Tuesday at that chip shop near the Charing Cross tube? By St. James?" He stood very still, reminding himself that it was just lunch, mates did lunch, it didn't have to be a date.
Remus tilted his head slightly. "Maybe we could, yeah." He smiled just slightly. "It was nice to see you again, Sirius. Even if you did have to crash my friend's wedding reception to do it."
Sirius grinned. "Oi, don't be getting a big head about it, I had no idea you'd be here!"
Remus winked. "You keep telling yourself that. Cheers, then." He turned and walked back towards the main group, hands in his trouser pockets, which pulled them a bit tighter across the arse, and Sirius found himself jumping at a touch on his shoulder.
"You're really rather shameless, mate," James said softly. "Staring at a bloke's arse like that? I don't think you'll get a bridesmaid to go home with you now."
Sirius scowled, embarrassed at having been caught out. "Like I really wanted twat anyway."
"Oh that's classy," Lily said, coming up behind James. Sirius groaned. "Though the sentiment is far from surprising." She looked up at him, her green eyes sparkling with mischief. "Meet anyone interesting then?" she asked, not quite hitting an innocent tone.
"You knew he'd be here?" Sirius asked, his voice a loud whisper. "What . . . how?"
Looking entirely too smug for her own good, Lily explained. "I stopped by Bertha's place a week ago, to give her some moral support in the last bits of planning, and he was there helping Peter to not kill her." Lily chuckled. "Seems like a good man, Sirius."
Sirius sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "So you thought you'd, what, set us up by sneaking me into the reception?"
"Did it work?"
He sighed again, then admitted reluctantly, "Yeah. I think. Maybe."
Lily's smile grew wide. "Well there you have it then! Sirius's love life: sorted." She made a show of dusting off her hands, then slipped one through James's arm. "So now what? Any reason to stay on, or shall we head home?"
James shook his head. "You're the one who's friends with the bride, Lil."
Sirius nodded. "I think we should get out of here before I make a massive arse of myself and blow any slight chance I may have."
"Well isn't that a mature response?" Lily poked Sirius's side. "Someone's got it bad. We can go, I don't think she should have married this bloke anyway. Let's go say our goodbyes, then. We can use the babysitter excuse if they beg us to stay."
Sirius patted James's shoulder. "I'll make myself scarce. Meet you back at the car?"
James nodded. "Yep." He leaned closer to Sirius and whispered, "I didn't know he would be here, I swear."
Sirius smiled and shook his head. "It's fine, don't worry." He squeezed James's shoulder, then turned and headed back towards the exit, hoping his escape would go unnoticed. Once back at the car, he took the opportunity to quietly freak out.
"What," he murmured to himself, "did I just do?"
Truth be told, it had been years since Sirius dated anyone, and even longer since he'd considered making any kind of move on a man when he wasn't sure the man would appreciate those moves being made by another man. When Sirius was first exploring his attraction to men on an emotional level—that is, once he'd decided to do more than just fuck them—he fancied himself armed with infallible gaydar and would walk the streets of London mentally labeling the men he passed as either hopelessly straight or open to a nice bit of cock. He learned the hard way that snap judgments rarely worked, and two black eyes later he considered his lesson learned. Since then he only picked up men from gay bars or clubs, or on one occasion he tried very hard to forget, a gay sex show in Soho. (Though really, was it a pick-up if they never actually left the cinema to fuck?)
Remus Lupin wasn't setting off any particular warnings about his sexuality, and Sirius had to admit that flying blind like this was a right bastard. He was scared, plain and simple, and he spent most of Tuesday morning convincing himself that Remus was laughing at Sirius's attempts to chat up a straight man, and that he'd never show up to bump into Sirius for lunch.
Lily called him about an hour before he planned to leave, trying to reassure him, reminding him that she'd met Remus as well, and that if she thought Sirius didn't have a chance, she would never have encouraged it. This made Sirius feel a little better, until he remembered after hanging up that she was the one to try and set him up with Gil Lockhart, who was in fact the ponciest straight man to ever live. Sirius didn't know which was more offensive: that Lily thought Sirius would like a man like that, or that Gil thought being a fucking ponce would attract women.
Still, Remus gave no indication of offensive ponciness, and Sirius didn't think that he had been entirely subtle in any of their encounters (though he would never admit that aloud). That, at least, seemed to tip the scale just over into the chances that Remus at least wasn't completely put off by the idea of shagging a man. Sirius hoped lunch would result in some solid information on the topic.
After all, it was just lunch. Dinner would be a date, but lunch was just lunch, and they would just happen to bump into each other.
Assuming the other man actually showed up.
Sirius checked his watch; it was going on one o'clock, and the anticipation had lead to a number of shredded napkins, victims of his unexpected nerves. Every time he heard the bells at the door jingle as another patron entered, Sirius's head was snapping up, only to be disappointed when it wasn't Remus. He did realize that he hadn't specified an actual time, but he honestly thought that when people planned on lunch, they planned on about noonish. At the very least, he would have thought that if Remus didn't generally take lunch around noon, he would have been the one to ensure that Sirius was on the same page.
When one o'clock came and went with no sign of Remus, Sirius figured it was time to stop mooning around and give up. He finished the last of his soda, licked the chip grease from his fingers and stood up to chuck his rubbish in the bin. He was bent over slightly, reaching for one of the shredded napkins, when someone bumped into his hip. He looked up sharply to find Remus at his side, looking wind-blown and apologetic.
"I'm so sorry," Remus said, running a hand through his hair, which really made it look messier. "Something came up at home, and . . . well, I ran to the tube and I missed it by seconds, so then I decided I should just leg it over, but it was further than I realized and . . ." He took a deep breath. "Anyway, I'm so sorry I kept you waiting."
Sirius blinked a few times, then smiled softly. "It's fine. Really. We still bumped into each other, right?" Oh god, he was hopelessly gone. It occurred to him that Remus could have confessed to robbing a bank as his excuse, and Sirius would say it was fine.
Remus smiled, a little unsure-but-hopeful smile that twisted Sirius's guts in a funny way. "You, you don't have to get back to work, do you? Only I've practically run here, and I'm starving. Think I could get some chips, then we can, er, maybe go over to the lake in St. James's?"
Nodding slowly, Sirius said, "I'll head that way. Maybe we'll bump into each other there?"
The smile became more sure and relieved. "Maybe we will." He gestured towards the queue. "I better wait my turn. Suppose that's what I get for waiting for the late lunch rush, don't I?"
Sirius tapped his nose and grinned. "That'll teach you. Well, nice to see you again." He nodded once, smiled quickly, threw away his rubbish, and headed out the door, needing a few minutes to gather his wits.
He crossed the road, running his fingers through his hair and taking a deep breath. This . . . suddenly this had become more than simply lunch. Simply lunch wouldn't require rushing to meet up or apologies for being late. Being so keen to make amends meant that Remus didn't want to burn bridges, didn't want Sirius to give up.
He wandered slowly towards the park, weaving his way through the crowds, trying to take the most direct route so Remus could find him easily. He nodded at the guards he passed, smiling a bit to himself as they remained motionless, remembering school days with James when they tried everything short of physically harming the guards at Buckingham Palace to make them move (all to no avail).
The temperature had fallen since the day of the wedding, and while summer was still clinging to the city, the grip had loosened slightly. It was a rather nice day out, thankfully; it had occurred to Sirius that foul weather might keep them both inside today, but clearly that fear was unnecessary.
He'd strolled for about fifteen minutes, skirting the edge of the park, not wanting to venture too deeply inside, not until he had company. The idea had just started to form in his mind that maybe Remus had changed his mind, or had simply thought of something that would pull him away, when he heard his name shouted over the din of the traffic. When he turned he saw Remus walking up to him, smiling brightly, a bag that seemed to hold more than chips held in his hand.
"Well isn't this a nice surprise, bumping into you here?" Sirius asked, waiting for Remus to catch up.
"Saw you as you left the chip shop," Remus replied, a sparkle in his eye as he improvised the new beginning to their meetup. "Thought I'd follow you. Would've caught up sooner, but I created a fuss by asking for some rolls," Remus explained. "They couldn't quite grasp the idea of having the rolls with nothing on them. I may have rather rudely asked if they'd never had people come by wanting to feed the ducks in the lake."
Sirius grinned, nodding. "And what might they have said to that?"
Remus proffered his bag. "I have rolls, don't I?"
"Indeed you do," Sirius agreed, taking the bag and opening it enough to peek inside. "A few day-olds?"
"I don't suppose the ducks will be too put off, do you?"
"Oh no, I'm sure not. They'll rightly be grateful for the crumbs they can get before it all sinks."
Remus gestured forward. "Onward, then? Charitably we shall go, into the throng and bearing bread?" Remus started walking without waiting for Sirius's agreement, but Sirius found himself following him, feet moving almost without instruction. He felt his lungs let out a terribly smitten sigh, and the image of himself trailing Remus around all day as a puppy clamored around his mind for a moment; it took a conscious effort to stand up straight and pick up his pace to walk at Remus's side as an equal.
They were silent as they approached the lake. Sirius wondered what Remus might be thinking about, his own mind wandering through a number of reasonable and decidedly unlikely possibilities before he decided Remus might simply be considering how to distribute the bread to the needy knob of waterfowl. They came to the water's edge—or rather, the edge of where people were allowed to stand—and still without a word Remus lowered himself to the ground, crossing his legs and looking up at Sirius.
"Going to join me?" he asked. He clenched his hand briefly, and Sirius wondered if Remus had stopped himself from patting the grass next to him.
"Sure," Sirius said, flopping down as well, tossing the bag of rolls into Remus's lap and stretching his legs out in front of himself, leaning back on his elbows. "So. Er, nice day, yeah?"
Remus ripped off a few chunks of bread and threw them out towards the water. He was quiet for a long moment, and Sirius was just wondering if he'd made some huge faux pas and offended the other man, when he finally said, "Look, I don't want to . . . I don't think it's fair to either of us to avoid this."
Sirius raised an eyebrow. "This? 'Feeding the ducks' this?"
"No. 'Bumping into each other for lunch' this. Or, rather, wondering how long we're just going to . . . bump into each other."
"I swear, Remus, I never followed you or knew you were going to—"
Remus shook his head quickly. "No, I know. I know that. I'm not accusing you of anything. You've done nothing wrong. Neither have I. I just think it would be better if we were . . . honest. Got a few things out in the open."
Sirius swallowed. This was it, this was Remus trying to let him down gently, but let him down all the same. Remus was straight, and he didn't want to be trailed around by a twitterpated poof anymore.
"I . . ." Remus looked up, turning towards Sirius, making sure they were making eye contact. "I think we're both feeling something here." He gestured vaguely between them. "Am I right?"
Looking back at Remus, Sirius noticed a touch of nerves in his usually calm brown eyes, and for some reason that eased his own worries considerably. He nodded slowly. "I think you're right." He smiled a bit. "At least, I know I am, quite a bit. It might just be wishful thinking that you do, too."
Remus smiled back, looking just the slightest bit relieved for the briefest of moments. "Not just that, no." He looked down, tore off another small piece of bread and threw it to the growing team of ducks. "Right then. Would it be fair of me to assume that this is not the first time you've . . . I mean, you are . . ." Remus looked over again, a faint blush on his cheeks, and Sirius couldn't help but chuckle a bit.
"I am," he said, sitting up and scooting closer to Remus. "I really rather am. You?"
"Oh yes," Remus said quickly. "Undoubtedly. Well." He frowned slightly. "No doubt in my mind, anyway. And really that's the important part." He smiled again. "Sorry, that makes me sound like I'm just coming out or something."
Sirius shook his head, though he really agreed a little. "You don't have to prove anything to me. I've been every kind of orientation possible, I think, before I really understood myself."
Remus laughed softly. "I don't mean to turn this into a discussion of sexual fluidity. I just wanted to get . . . to get past that whole is-he-or-isn't-he part."
"I can get behind that," Sirius murmured, bumping his shoulder into Remus's. "So what part comes next, then?"
Remus checked his watch and sighed. "Unfortunately, I don't have much time. Think we could speed through the basics?" He looked over at Sirius, his eyes wide and hopeful.
"I think so. Quick and vague, mysterious to pique each other's interest? Cliffhangers, perhaps?"
Remus chuckled, nodding. "Maybe not cliffhangers, but the other stuff, yes." He tapped his chin. "Can I ask your age?"
Sirius tutted and shook his head. "A lady never tells, and a gentleman never asks."
"Mm, that is vague and mysterious. Well played. What about family, then?"
"Oh, I can be quite vague and mysterious there." Sirius raised his hands, using a finger to tick off points on his other hand as he continued. "My mother didn't want me, my father considered me a terrible disgrace, and my brother once set fire to my school uniform." Remus looked taken aback, and Sirius laughed softly. "So how did I end up so normal, you ask? Got myself adopted into a better family. I'm a lovable stray, you see, and they needed someone to guard the house."
Remus nodded, smiling. "You have a gift for piquing interest, Sirius Black. I'm really quite disappointed that I only have a few more minutes, which is clearly not enough time to discover the full story there."
Sirius put his hand on Remus's arm. "Oi, you're not getting off so lightly here! What about your family?"
Remus twisted his lips a bit. "My parents passed a few years back. Only child. Not really close to their families, my mother's side being mostly filled with arseholes and my father's side living in France and Italy."
Sirius smiled softly. "I hope you have good friends to make up for that. It's not good to be all alone in the world."
"Don't worry," Remus said with a wink. "I'm very much not alone in the world." He checked his watch again, then looked at Sirius apologetically. "And on that mysterious note, I really will have to go now."
"Oh," Sirius said, nodding quickly and trying to not look completely devastated; at least Remus had given him that warning. "That's, that's fine. I understand."
With a shake of his head, Remus reached out to touch Sirius's hand. "You don't. Not yet." He took a deep breath. "Look, before I go, let's make a plan to actually meet up properly. No bumping into each other?"
Sirius smiled more easily, the promise of a next time buoying his mood. "That sounds great. Lunch again, or...?"
Remus was already pulling out a notepad and a pen. "Here, give me your number. Once I clear some time in my schedule, I'll call you and we'll make specific plans." Sirius took it and scribbled out his phone number while Remus kept talking. "But I'm thinking maybe dinner?"
Handing the pad back, Sirius nodded. "That sounds great. Really great, actually." He gave Remus a bright grin, then pushed himself to his feet, reaching one hand out to help Remus up. "Thanks for taking the time to come down. I'm really glad you did."
Remus squeezed Sirius's hand just slightly, and held on a little longer than necessary to regain his balance. "I'm glad, too." He slid his hand out slowly, and Sirius could feel calluses dragging along his palm, sending a thrill along his spine.
And then Remus was walking away, his pace quick as he headed for the nearest Underground station. Sirius sighed to himself, then looked down and noticed the half-torn roll and bag sitting on the ground. With a smile, he picked them up, tore the roll into a few more chunks and tossed them as far as he could into the water, then tucked the bag and remaining roll into his pocket, and turned away from the ducks diving competitively for their treat, sighing as he began to make his way back to the office.
When his doorbell rang on Friday evening, Sirius took a deep breath, took a look around his living room to make sure everything was tidy enough, then opened his door and grinned.
"Hi Sirius!" Harry said, stepping into the house past Sirius without being properly invited. He immediately ran upstairs, his bag bouncing along behind him.
Sirius shook his head and laughed, shrugging at James, who looked as though he thought he should do something parental, but really didn't want to. "I suppose he knows the way by now, yeah?"
"I should hope so," James said. "Look, you're sure you're okay with him the whole night? We can come get him once we're done. . . ."
"Don't be daft," Sirius said, reaching out to touch James's arm. "He's always more than welcome here, you know that. And after a night on the town, it'll be nice for you and the missus to have the house to yourself." He winked and smirked at his best friend, whose eyes did have a particular little gleam giving away his thoughts.
"True enough, mate. Oh, here." James reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wad of folded papers. "Emergency numbers, all the basic stuff that you probably know by now, but you know Lily."
Sirius took the papers and tucked them into the back pocket of his jeans. "Don't worry, we're just going to eat pizza and too many sweets and suffer sugar rushes and crashes and bellyaches."
James nodded. "So just a regular Friday night, then?" The car in the street honked lightly; James rolled his eyes. "I am summoned," he intoned. "Suppose I better get us there before the first act starts, yeah?"
Sirius tapped his nose. "Have a good night. Don't do anything I would do." James had already turned back towards Lily—"Just coming, my darling girl!"—and raised two fingers at Sirius over his shoulder, at which Sirius just waved back laughing, before he closed the door and called up the stairs. "Oi, I'm starving! Come tell me what kind of pizza you want, sprog!"
There was a thunder of footsteps from above, and then Harry was bounding down the stairs, jumping the last three as he always did. "No vegetables!" he demanded, looking quite sternly at his godfather.
Sirius raised an eyebrow. "No? Not even . . . broccoli?" On the last word he lunged, grabbing Harry up in his arms and starting to tickle him mercilessly, causing Harry to squeal loudly.
"Euurgh! I hate broccoli!"
Sirius grunted, taking a few quick steps over to the sofa to drop the boy onto it heavily. "Cor, maybe you should have veggies, you're getting so heavy!" He braced his arms on the back of the couch, leaning over to look at Harry. "Meat lover's, then?" Harry nodded happily, hands up in a defensive position, ready to react should Sirius make another aggressive tickle attack. "Right, kiddo! You can watch the telly, if you want. I'm going to call in for the pizza." He wandered into the kitchen to get the menu and phone number, wincing as the volume on the television suddenly skyrocketed. "Turn it down, or I can't call!" he shouted, and the television obeyed immediately, returning to a tolerable decibel level.
He ordered the food quickly, writing the total on the notepad next to the phone as he hung up. Next to this new scribble was a slightly neater note, and Sirius couldn't help the grin that spread across his face as he looked at it, just like he had every time he saw it since he'd written it down two days prior.
Michaelson's, 7:15 TIE?? OH GOD.
Lily had, very kindly containing her snickers, assured him that he did not need a tie, though a nice shirt and jacket wouldn't be out of place. He bit the inside of his lip, trying to push back the insistent feeling of panic that was still trying to escape through his esophagus every time he thought about his date with Remus tomorrow night.
Oh god. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.
"Sirius! D'ya have any crisps?" Harry called from the living room, breaking Sirius out of his panicked moment. He pulled a bag from one of the cupboards, taking it out to the living room and flopping down onto the sofa next to Harry.
"Here you are. Don't go spoiling your dinner, though," he said in a higher-pitched voice that managed to sound completely unlike Harry's mother. The boy laughed and dug into the snack, lifting his feet up onto the cushions, an act which Sirius felt absolutely no urge to discourage. After all, he was the boy's godfather—if he didn't let the lad get away with murder, who would?
Two hours later found them lolling on the floor, pizza box open and showing the last remaining sliver that neither could manage to eat.
"So then Susan ran to the teacher and told on me," Harry was saying, as he heaved a great sigh to show just how much he'd suffered, "and Ms Sprout called Mum at home that night and then Mum asked me why I kicked Susan in the shin and Dad laughed and asked me if I fancied her!" Harry paused for a breath and to make a face to share his displeasure. "I. Don't. Fancy her."
Sirius raised his eyebrows and grinned. "No? Girls still full of bogies and lurgy?"
Harry rolled his eyes, then pushed himself up to sit cross-legged. "Girls are just . . . eugh. Who needs 'em?" Harry tilted his head. "You know what I mean, though, right? I mean, you never fancy girls, either."
Now Sirius coughed in surprised. "Erm. Well, no, not really. Not as such. But your old dad fancies your mum, fancies her rotten!"
"Yeah," Harry said with a snort, "and look where that got him. Out at the stupid opera instead of watching the match with me."
Sirius reached over with his foot and poked Harry's side. "But that means you got to come spend the night here!" He pouted a little bit, not really meaning it. After all, he'd been in Harry's place before, missing his best mate when James started to date Lily. James had a way of making people miss him almost physically.
Harry smiled. "Yeah, I s'pose." He started flicking Sirius's toes with his fingers. "So. I mean, why don't you have a girlfriend or a wife or whatever anyway? You're cooler than my dad is, and he got my mum!"
"Well." Sirius sighed, resigned to the fact that he'd really been quite lucky that his clever godson had taken this long to bring it up. "It's sort of like you said, really. I don't fancy girls anymore."
"Oh," Harry said. He went quiet a moment, turning this over in his mind, then looked at Sirius and asked, "Do you fancy boys then? D'you have a boyfriend?"
Sirius smiled, more than a little relieved that Harry got there on his own. "I do. Well, I like men, but I don't have a boyfriend." He felt his face warm just a bit as he thought of his date the next night. "Not right now, anyway."
Harry nodded. "Okay." He crawled across the floor and snagged the last slice of pizza, then sat with his back against the couch, putting his attention back on the television. Sirius hesitated, unsure if he should let the subject go, or . . . well, or what?
"What time was that match starting?" he ended up asking, just a little bit of hesitance in his voice.
"I think it's on now," Harry said, his mouth full of pizza. He didn't move to change the station, apparently entertained enough by the quiz show that was on at the moment. "Mick O'Malley's sister is a lesbian, y'know," he added.
Sirius did not know. "Is she? And how do you know?"
Harry wrinkled his nose. "One of the older boys was shouting at Mick about it. He was a bastard about it." Sirius raised his eyebrow at the foul language, but he didn't correct the boy. "Calling her all sorts of mean names. Like it was Mick's fault." Harry looked over at Sirius, his nose wrinkled. "I don't think she'd like him even if she did like boys."
With a smile, Sirius reached over and ruffled Harry's hair. "I think you're right." Harry ducked away, giggling a bit. "Did that kid get in trouble?"
"Nah. Wasn't even at the school, it was in an alley on the way home. Mick just let the boy shout, eventually he went away."
Sirius thought back, remembering the first time a peer had given him grief about his attraction to other boys. He'd given the boy a couple of black eyes and a broken nose, and he'd earned three days of suspension for himself, but he'd never been called a poof as an insult in school again. "I hope that's the end of it."
"Yeah. I think it is. Want to watch the match now?"
Sirius grinned back, thinking that his godson was pretty fantastic to handle that so easily. "Absolutely."
Sirius had wanted to get to bed early, have a good long night's sleep and be well-rested for his date with Remus, but the match had gone into extra time, and Harry had been so hyper afterwards that they got to bed very late indeed. So Sirius woke up at nearly ten in the morning, to the sound of Harry dropping something in the kitchen. Sirius loved the boy, with all his heart, but sometimes he was very glad that he was able to pass him back over to James and Lily and have some peace restored.
When that peace was returned, it occurred to Sirius that he might start panicking—he realized he had no idea what to wear that night and called Lily, frantic and almost incomprehensible in his state. Lily advised him to wear his nice blue shirt and a blazer, with smart pants. No tie, though, that part he remembered. She teased him slightly about what kind of a gay man he was who couldn't figure out what to wear on a first date, but he took it in the spirit intended, thanking her profusely until she hung up on him.
He had a small tea, not wanting to spoil his appetite—or make himself queasy right before they were to meet up—and when he finally allowed himself to look at the clock again, he realised it was time to shower. He felt the fear start to ebb, being replaced by careful excitement, a weird sort of optimism that played at being real confidence, though he knew it was merely bravado.
"He likes me," he muttered to his reflection in the mirror. "He won't suddenly hate me."
The last hour before he had to leave was a blur of false self-confidence and fixing his hair. He soon found himself walking to the Underground station, double-checking that he had his wallet and money—money! Who was going to pay tonight? Should he insist? Let Remus insist? Should they split? What if Remus assumed Sirius would pay?
For a brief moment, while the tube shuttled him under the city to the restaurant, he considered not getting off, just staying on and never leaving. But when his stop was called, he got to his feet without even thinking about it, and his legs carried him up to the street. He relaxed slightly, glad to know at least some part of him was certain about what he wanted.
He glanced at his watch as he approached the restaurant—about quarter-to; early, though not ridiculously so. Quite likely that Remus was not there yet, so when it became clear that Remus was not, Sirius stamped down on the flicker of panic and doubt that threatened to set him off running. What would James say if he knew that his best mate was in this kind of state? For years James had been jealous of Sirius's easy way of thinking about sex and love, which didn't really leave room for nervousness. Sirius wasn't too surprised himself, though; there was something here, he knew it in the nucleus of every cell in his body, and even if everything went fantastically tonight, that was a fairly scary idea.
There was a bench outside the restaurant, presumably for people who were waiting for a table to open up, so Sirius sat, trying to keep himself from constantly looking down the road and watching for Remus. Even harder to resist was the urge to check his watch every few seconds, his heart beating faster as the time approached seven o'clock, then passed it, and ticked onward to quarter-past with still no sign of the other man. What if he stands me up?
Oh, and what was the protocol if their reservation time arrived before Remus? Should he go in to get their table, let Remus find him later? After all, Remus had been late before, what if he was just the chronically late sort of man?
His wondering and concern was all for naught, though, as just then someone slid onto the bench next to him. "I think we'll get better service if we go inside, don't you?"
Sirius grinned and turned to look at Remus. "Probably, that's true. I just wanted to sit out here for a bit longer." He looked over his dinner companion, appreciating the man's dark green jumper and neat chinos. He looked gorgeous, and Sirius was more than slightly tempted to suggest that they skip dinner entirely and go back to his place for dessert.
"Want to go in now? I'd hate to lose our table." One eyebrow arched, lips quirking, and Sirius was fairly certain he wasn't completely imagining the teasing glint in Remus's eyes.
"Sure, let's go. I could use a drink, too." He stood, waiting a moment while Remus stood as well, and together they walked inside. It was a few minutes while the maître d' made sure their table was ready, but soon they were sitting at a small table in the back corner. They ordered drinks and a starter to share, and when the waiter had left them alone, Remus let out a soft sigh.
"It's nice to be able to relax, finally," he said, sipping at his water. "It's been a busy few days, and I felt so rushed this afternoon trying to meet a deadline."
"Were you successful?" Sirius asked, hoping he wasn't keeping Remus from important work.
"I was," Remus said, "mostly because I told myself that if I didn't finish by three I'd have to call off tonight, and I really didn't want to do that." He smiled at Sirius, then looked down with a hint of bashfulness. Oh, but Remus was adorable.
"Then I'm even more glad that you were able to meet it," Sirius said, grinning back. "I've . . . well, I've really been looking forward to this."
"So have I." Remus took another sip of water. "So, you never really explained what it is you do for a living. Other than it being dull with a good wage, that is."
Sirius chuckled. "Didn't I? Oh, that's probably because it really is dull. I'm in finance, I help businesses that are in financial distress turn things around."
Remus's eyes widened. "Is that so? That's not dull, I imagine that would be quite interesting, actually. Is it the sort of thing where you give them a tighter budget, or do you do more than that?"
Pleased that Remus was at least faking the interest, Sirius smiled and explained. "The tighter budget is definitely an important part of it, yes. But we also help to pay things off to their creditors and get out of debt, help them understand how to invest in the company with personal funds, how to make better business decisions even before the wallet comes into play, all of it."
"How often do businesses you help end up back in trouble?"
Sirius laughed and rolled his eyes. "More often than we'd like, that's for certain. I mean, ideally we'd never have anyone come back to us for help again and continue being successful forever, but we've taken probably half of our customers back a second time. We look at what happened, if it was a problem with our plans, or if they just ignored what we said. If it's the former, we re-do the job for free. If it's the latter, we go over it again with them at half the price, but after that they don't get to come back to us."
Remus nodded. "So you never have customers come back for a third time?"
Sirius shrugged. "It's happened on occasion. Big changes in the market in a particular business will require changes that some places think they need us for. But ultimately they learn that one bad way to spend money is to be told how to spend money, so they figure it out or fail."
"Sounds reasonable. I can see how it might get dull after a while, especially if you keep seeing the same mistakes being made."
Sirius tapped his nose. "That's really it. That and the lack of common sense. People who give their executives control of the credit cards and then are afraid to call them out on wasteful spending, all that sort of thing."
"What would you be doing if you weren't doing that?" Remus asked, tilting his head slightly. "I mean, is that what you went to school for, or did you really want to do something else?"
"Oh, I don't know. I might like to run my own business one day. I have a nice list of Don'ts I can use if I ever do."
"That's true, you do. What kind of business?"
"Well, that's really why I haven't done anything with it—I don't know! There's nothing I really know a lot about that I think has a gap that needs to be filled."
Remus nodded. "I'm sure once the inspiration hits, you'll be able to run with it."
"So, you said you had a deadline you had to meet? I'm guessing it's something you had to write?"
"Oh, yeah. Actually, it was something I was re-writing. I'd submitted it about a month ago, and I got it back a couple days ago with edit notes all over it and suggestions for material, so I had to fix it up and write entirely new parts and make it all flow together. . . ." Remus sighed. "And of course they gave me seventy-two hours to do it, with no warning so I had to work it into the three other deadlines I'm working to meet this month."
Sirius looked sympathetic. "Was it at least something interesting you were working on?"
The waiter arrived then, depositing plates and starter, and took their orders for their main course, before Remus was able to respond. "Luckily, yes. It's an article for a magazine, a subject I have a lot of experience with, so I don't mind being told to write more about it. It's the deadline that kills me though, you know?"
"Yeah, I understand. We don't often have deadlines to contend with. Well," Sirius shook his head, "I shouldn't say that. We'll often get told our customer has to submit a budget in a certain amount of time, and if they waited too long and are coming to us in a panic, sometimes that time is quite short. But we make no guarantees under six weeks, which is usually more than enough time, so if they come to us with two weeks to go and they start up a fuss, we can tell them to go scratch." He grinned, taking a bite of his prawn cocktail decisively.
Remus laughed. "I sometimes get lucky and can tell people who are waiting for my stuff to shove it, but only if I don't need the money and am willing to never work for them again. It doesn't happen often, but occasionally it's a nice feeling."
They continued talking as they waited for their food, sharing stories from their university days and other silly things that had happened over their lives, though at times Sirius got the feeling that Remus was talking around something, as though he wasn't sure if it was appropriate to bring up at this point, or if it was best saved for some other date.
Sirius had had the feeling once before, about two years ago, and as such it made him nervous. That time, his date had waited until the third date to come out with what had been on his mind: he'd been positive. It might have been easier to understand the other man's reticence to share . . . but Sirius had given him a blow job after the second date, and the next year had been hugely stressful as he took a number of blood tests until he was convinced that he was safe. It had been a bad scare, and since then Sirius was more careful about not assuming that positive men would be so open about their health.
He really, really hoped that wasn't what Remus was dancing around tonight.
Dessert—proper dessert, not a euphemism—was finally served, and as they shared a large slice of chocolate cake with raspberry filling, Remus took a deep breath.
"Look, I know it's the time of night when we're both wondering if this ends here tonight, or if it'll continue, or thinking about next time, which . . . I think that's good, and I'd really like for there to be a next time." Sirius just nodded, his stomach clenching slightly, unsure if he should be hopeful or expect something terrible to be said next. "But I do need to tell you something, and I don't think anything should happen until you've thought it all over."
Sirius held up a hand. "Remus, I'd really like for there to be a next time, too. I haven't expected anything more tonight, so you won't be letting me down. . . ."
Remus shook his head. "Just, let me say this? I don't date very much, and when I do meet someone I like it usually doesn't work out because of this one thing. So I'll understand if it's a deal-breaker for you." Sirius nodded, not saying a word as he'd been asked even though he really wanted to say there wasn't anything Remus could say right now to put him off for good.
"Sirius, about five years back I was married. We're divorced, have been for the better part of the time since then. I wouldn't have married her at all, wouldn't have been with her even. But we have a son, Sirius."
To his shock and slight dismay, Sirius actually made a slight choking sound in response. Of all the things he never expected to hear! "You . . . you have a son?" Remus's face, which had been holding a carefully hopeful look, suddenly dropped at Sirius's question. "No, no, that just . . . that just surprised me." Sirius laughed a bit. "I was expecting something a lot more . . . dire."
Remus bit his lip. "I'm sorry I didn't say anything before, only it's not an easy subject to just randomly bring up."
Sirius shook his head. "Trust me, I've had things that were held back for multiple dates, and they were a lot worse."
"Okay. I didn't say it before because I didn't . . . well, I didn't want it to possibly stop this before we even gave it a shot. And I didn't want you to think that I was expecting anything from you."
Sirius nodded. "I understand. Honestly. So, uh, why did you bring it up now?"
Remus poked his fork into the cake absently. "I think we had a really nice night, and I think . . . I think this could really go somewhere." He looked up at Sirius through his eyelashes. "And you'd have to find out about him eventually, even meet him, and if the idea of getting into something where there's a child involved bothers you, then I don't want us to go through all that effort just to . . ." He sighed and shrugged.
Sirius licked his lips, then put down his coffee and reached over to touch the back of Remus's hand. "Remus, I like kids. I adore my godson. Being honest, I never thought about having my own, and I never thought I'd want to date someone who happened to have children, but it's not a deal-breaker." He smiled and raised his eyebrows hopefully.
"Good," Remus said, his shoulders dropping as he relaxed. "That's good. I'm glad. But, you know, I don't know if you should decide this right now. We did have a really nice dinner, and I'm sure the cake is going to your head," he teased, turning his hand so his palm lightly touched Sirius's. "Take a few days, really think about what it could mean. Think about what it might mean if we don't work out in the end. And then you can call me." He reached with his other hand into his back pocket, pulling out a small scrap of paper, which he held out for Sirius to take.
"Ooh, I can call you next time?" Sirius took the paper, confirmed that it was, indeed, a phone number, and slipped it into his own trouser pocket. "How long would you like me to wait before I call and tell you exactly what I said just now again?"
Remus chuckled. "Give it until Monday night, and act like you've really put a lot of thought into it?"
Sirius smiled and nodded. "I will, then. But for now, let's finish this date—after all, I might yet muck it up entirely and turn you off me forever!"
Forty-five minutes later they left the restaurant, smiling and laughing, heading towards the tube station together, fingers linked and spirits high.
» Part 2