Summary: In his search for a job, Remus stumbles into something else entirely. Set four years after the death of Lily/James. Slash.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Fic contains references to Lupinslittlesister's Accidentally In Love through Ch 9; all those things belong to her and are used with permission. You do not have to have read AIL to read this story.
Author's Note: Written for Lupinslittlesister for WolfStar's "Lost Years" fic exchange/challenge: Write about something Remus did during the period between Halloween 1981 and when he reappeared in PoA. Since it's a WolfStar challenge, prior S/R relationship presumed. LLS requested that Remus be out of the country, or at least out of London and not in America. She also asked that there be other people for Remus to interact with, but that the fic not be PWP.
Fic contains Remus/Male!OC. Never done an OC before. And before you run screaming, recall that Remus has lost pretty much anyone he ever cared about and now he's in another country - all that's left are OCs. ;-) Many thanks to my heroic betas, Liss and Merin, who both managed a 36-hour turnaround so I could meet the deadline.
Remus opened his eyes and immediately blinked against the bright sunshine streaming in through the cave's opening. Well, at least it will be a nice day for riding around, looking for work, he thought, kicking himself free of his blanket. He got to his feet and stretched tiredly, working out the lingering stiffness and pain from his transformation two nights ago, then retrieved the last of the bread he'd been saving and sat down on the cave ledge to eat in the morning light.
He wasn't entirely sure where he was going to go today. Word was starting to spread in more of the wizarding communities that he was a werewolf. Astute people noticing he only stayed to work a few weeks before disappearing? Suspicious folks looking his name up in the international werewolf registry? He didn't know. He only knew that work was getting harder to come by. He'd been run out of one small village or another more than once, and others simply shook their heads and claimed he wouldn't do for whatever job he applied for, no matter how menial. The more remote places were more likely to not yet have heard rumours, and he'd worked just enough to eat - well, at least not starve - but even those opportunities were getting more limited. A lot of opportunities involved helping folks remove complicated hexes, stubborn Boggarts, and the like, and those things could usually be handled in a day or two at most. He'd be paid for his trouble, but it wasn't steady employment, even by his standards.
He knew what a rare thing it had been for Caradoc to hire him and keep him, knowing who and what he was, where he could be absent a few days each month without causing a problem. Even Fabian had grudgingly hired him and allowed him to shift his schedule as necessary. But out here in rural Austria, he was on his own; any chronic full-moon absences would be just too obvious, and would put his livelihood in even further jeopardy. It was safer to present himself as a traveling, temporary hire, and hope no one noticed his timing. Sometimes it worked, and, well, obviously sometimes it didn't. The 'didn't' was becoming more frequent now. He wondered how long it would be before he'd have to move on. Maybe Switzerland next. His German was getting a bit better now that he'd been through West Germany and Austria already.
His bread finished, he dressed and retrieved his bicycle. It was old and battered and had needed a bit of magic to return to working order when he'd first found it, but it provided a more practical means of transportation than Apparating sometimes. There were a lot of Muggle villages and mixed regions near his cave, and it was often safer to go about on such a familiar device than to simply pop in somewhere and risk terrifying some fräulein hanging her wash. He wasn't entirely sure where he was going today, but he needed to eat and there was always a chance that he'd come upon work somewhere, so he turned toward the south and headed out.
The sun shone pleasantly as he rode the region's rolling hills. He stopped briefly in one village, but his inquiry about work was met with a quiet shake of the head. Whether it was true or not Remus did not know, but he didn't argue. He simply got back on his bike and kept going. Around midmorning the landscape gave way to several fruit orchards. He passed a man attempting to juggle two heavy boxes of peaches, then abruptly decided to circle back. Perhaps if he offered a hand, he might be able to ask for a peach or two in exchange.
"Darf ich helfen?" May I help? He pulled up alongside the farmer and gestured toward the boxes.
The man set the boxes down and took a moment to wipe the sweat off his forehead. "Can you balance a box on your bicycle? I don't want these crushed."
"I can," Remus said, nodding.
"All right, then. You see the gate up there?" He pointed a ways up the road. "Take this box there and give it to the man in the barn." The man grinned. "I seem to have picked more than I could carry and the truck's already gone. I thought I'd be faster, but my ego's apparently bigger than this box."
Remus nodded again, not grasping every word the man said, but knowing enough German by now to get the general idea. He hoisted a box up and balanced it on the front basket, then slowly started off; magic would have made his job easier, but he decided not to risk even a quietly muttered charm. Besides, his target destination wasn't so far. He dispatched his task as directed, then looked around. Fruit trees spread far and wide, with workers carrying heavy boxes or loading them off a handful of flat-bed trucks before hurrying back into the fields. Remus turned back to the man who had relieved him of his burden - he seemed to be the general supervisor.
"Do you need more help?" It wasn't much to hope for, and it was Muggle work, besides, but it might keep him going until he found something else.
The man eyed him a moment. "You look a bit reedy. Are you sure you can handle the work?"
Remus could tell by the tone and the glance that his less-than-impressive physique was under question. Of course, he looked even worse now, only two days after the moon. He tried to look casual. "I try. If you don't like me this evening, I not come back." He gave his best winning smile. "But I think I can do it."
The man thought a moment, then nodded. "All right. We'll try you out today and see how you do. I'm Herr Schmidt. And you are ?"
"Remus Lupin," he replied, mentally praying that there weren't any wizards at the farm. He wondered absently if he'd have to resort to a pseudonym soon if he wanted to keep working.
Herr Schmidt raised an eyebrow at the name, but it seemed to be more in response to the foreign sound than to any alarm or prejudice. "Very well, Herr Lupin." His eyes roved over the handful of workers who were bringing in the latest truckful of produce. "Andreas!" he shouted, and a young man with blond hair detached himself from the group and came over to them. "This is Remus Lupin - he's on trial today. Get him a box and show him what to do." Then, without further word, Herr Schmidt turned on his heel and returned to the barn.
Remus smiled a bit uncertainly at the young man in front of him. "I never try this before. What should I do?"
Andreas' warm smile eased some of his uncertainty as they walked together into the orchard. "It's not hard. Just pick the fruit carefully, put it into the crates we keep by the trees, and carry them in or load them onto one of the trucks if there's one nearby. If you drop some fruit, leave it - once it's bruised, it's no good." The smile widened. "But try not to do that too much."
Remus returned the good-natured grin. "I can do that."
He spent the rest of the morning following Andreas and doing as he said, learning how to get into the high branches, how to tell which fruit was ready for picking without bruising it, and how best to arrange the boxes so the peaches would be minimally affected while in transport. By noon he was in a full sweat, but rather surprised to find he'd enjoyed himself. It wasn't glamorous work and certainly not at all what he'd spent seven years at Hogwarts for, but there was something satisfying about doing something this physical, with no danger from hexes or dangerous creatures. He swiped a few fallen peaches from the ground after seeing other workers do the same, and sat in a quiet shady spot to eat them as the others pulled out their lunches. The fruit was juicy and sweet and refreshing after the hot work, but he wished he had something more substantial. Well, at least it was food.
The afternoon passed much as the morning had, and when evening came, he stood in line with the others to receive their day's wages. He could see Herr Schmidt speaking quietly with Andreas in the line ahead of him, and when his own turn came, he was told, "Andreas says you are a hard worker. You can come back every day until the harvest is done, if you like."
"Thank you," Remus stammered as a handful of schillings were pushed at him. He counted the money as he walked away. As he'd predicted, it wasn't a high-paying job, but it was a job. And a guaranteed one, for at least a few more weeks. He couldn't afford to turn anything down these days, and who knew when he'd next find a wizarding community who hadn't heard of him yet? Pocketing the cash, he decided he'd keep his eyes out for a better prospect, but at least he had something to fall back on for now.
Arriving back at his cave in the hills that evening, he checked his wards and repelling charms. After ensuring his solitude, he took down the wards and the glamour which made it appear empty, stepped inside, and reset them. A small container had been knocked over in his absence; he'd need to fine-tune his protections to keep out the local animals. Especially the rats, he thought, morosely. He didn't need any more reminders of dead friends; the deer in the hills were bad enough. Still, this place cost him nothing, kept him dry and - with the help of magic - warm, and out of the way of humans on full moons. It lacked the dignity of even his first flat, but it worked well enough for his situation in the moment. He ate his last peach, then undressed and wearily prepared for bed. He was pushing his post-transformation body more than he liked, but he knew he'd get used to it.
The thought made him even more maudlin. It was just the fatigue, he told himself. He climbed onto the bed he'd transfigured from a rock and tried to settle down with a book, but his thoughts intruded. The first few months he'd had to transform alone, without parents or Madam Pomfrey - or Lily - to patch him up, and no one to keep him company had been the worst in his memory. Always in his past, ever since he'd been bitten, someone had been there, either during or after, to at least marginally soften the nightmarish and unstoppable event. He'd always felt alone in the experience, no matter who supported him, but now he was truly alone; as a boy, he'd often believed it couldn't get any worse, but now he knew it could. Everyone who had ever been there for him was dead - or . He resolutely turned his thoughts away, and opened his book with more force than strictly necessary. He would not think about the person who had curled against him for so many years, who had claimed to love him, and who had then betrayed the last remaining people who mattered. No, not tonight.
He read with determination until his eyes drooped.
The next morning, Remus stopped in one of the villages on his way to the farm and bought a loaf of bread and some sliced meat from the previous day's earnings. He picked up a small wedge of cheese, too; last night all the shops had been closed by the time he'd been released from the farm and he wanted to make sure he had something on hand for an evening meal.
His morning passed much as the previous day had; he worked quietly and steadily, listening to the banter of those around him, but not participating more than the minimum. Working with Muggles meant he was not as likely to be discovered as a werewolf, but he still wished to avoid discussing more of his personal life than he had to. He took the same shady spot at lunchtime, supplementing his makeshift sandwich with another peach, and relishing having a more substantial meal for a change.
A deeper shadow fell over him, and he looked up. Andreas stood over him, his own lunch in hand. Remus had seen the man from a distance as he worked, but hadn't spoken to anyone other than to exchange general pleasantries. "No, don't get up," Andreas said, gesturing for Remus to remain where he was. "I was only coming by to see how you were making out today."
Remus shrugged. "As well as every new person, I think." He frowned slightly. "There is no problem, I hope?"
"Oh, no, not at all," Andreas assured him. "You're already one of the best hands we've got here - very diligent." He smiled again. Remus was starting to notice how that smile lit up his whole face. "But I wanted to be sure you were all right - a lot of people get sore at first."
"I am - but it's okay," Remus replied. "I'm used to discomfort."
A light laugh bubbled out. "You must be, to wear long sleeves on a day like today!"
"Oh, well ." People usually noticed this sooner or later, if the weather was warm. He shrugged. "I've always preferred them." He gave a light laugh. "Got banged up a bit when I was young - I think I'm doing a civic duty to spare the world from my ugliness." He gestured to the space beside him. "Please sit? I will hurt my neck if I keep looking up, and how will I pick peaches, then?" He wasn't sure what was making him crack small jokes with this man he barely knew. Normally he preferred to just remain quiet and observe until he knew someone really well. Like well, like before.
Andreas laughed again. "All right." He eased himself down on the grass and took another bite of his food. "So I take it you're not from around here?"
Remus finished his sandwich and began brushing his peach off. "No. Sorry if my words are not always right."
The blond man waved that away. "You do fine. Where are you from?"
"I England," he finished; there were things he had to lie about, but he tried to limit them; it made it easier to keep track of his story. He forced himself not to glance sideways, instead biting into his peach casually. If there had been word of a British stranger to watch for, he'd probably hear it in Andreas' tone when he next spoke.
But there was nothing amiss in the next words as far as Remus could tell. "Ah, long way from home, then. I've wanted to go there, but it hasn't happened yet. Well," he continued, standing and brushing crumbs off his lap, "I suppose we should get back to work, eh? Oh, and hey," he went on, as Remus rose next to him. "A bunch of us often go for a beer after we're done here. Want to come?"
"What?" He felt stupid that it was the only thing he could think to say; Andreas' invitation had caught him completely by surprise.
"You seem a decent fellow, and I hate to see a decent fellow keep to himself so much, so why not join us? Beer and some darts and a bit of food that didn't come from a tree." He grinned again. "Come on, it'll be fun."
"Oh well, that's very kind of you," Remus hedged, not wanting to reveal how little spare cash he had. Sure, he could probably afford a meal out after today's pay, and save the cheese for tomorrow's lunch, but what about next time? If he went once, would he be expected to do it every evening? He needed to save whatever he could, against future dry spells. Of which there were far too many.
Andreas' smile slipped a little. "You don't have to," he said, "if you'd rather not. I'm sorry - maybe you have other people to get home to. I shouldn't have assumed."
The thought of his empty cave, compared to an evening of warmth and laughter - even just one - made up his mind. He tried to tell himself there was no re-creating the past, and that he'd most likely be setting himself up for some bad memories afterwards, but he shoved it aside. He found himself reacting as he had long ago, when he first realized someone wanted to spend time with him. It was a rare and heady feeling, one you didn't throw away without at least cautiously seeing where it might go. He'd once taken a chance on three boys and, yes, he had suffered a lot in the end. But while it had lasted, at least some of them had been true friends.
"No - it's okay," he said, smiling in an attempt to restore the other man's own warm expression. "I just I can't go a lot. But I would like to come tonight."
The other man's face lit up. "Excellent." He gave Remus' shoulder a casual slap. "Well, we'll meet up after pay, and we'll head over to the pub with the others."
They walked back into the orchards and returned to their tasks. All throughout the afternoon, however, Remus found himself sneaking glances at the blond man as he made his way through the trees. Despite his little-boy desire to return the friendly gesture, a lifetime of past betrayals made caution a necessity. Was he about to be lured out to a dark field somewhere and beaten to a pulp? Honestly invited to the pub but sated with beer until he made a fool of himself? Yet what little he knew of the man seemed to indicate his suspicions were unfounded. Andreas seemed genuinely warm to everyone around him, making jokes or trading stories with his regular compatriots as they worked. If he was in on some plot to do Remus harm, he was hiding it well.
Then again, look who had hidden something far worse, and now sat in prison for it. He'd initially lost countless nights of sleep, wondering if there was any chance it was all a mistake, but he knew all evidence pointed to the contrary. In the end, he'd had to admit that he'd been fooled, just like everyone else.
Remus sighed. He couldn't use Sirius as an excuse to mistrust people forever. He knew he could still back out and Andreas would likely let him go. But he didn't want to. He had his wand, after all, so even if things turned ugly, he knew he'd likely still manage to escape. And maybe he just might have a nice evening after all. Stranger things had happened.
"Have you always worked on a farm?" Remus ventured, taking a sip from his heavy beer stein. He knew the outgoing Andreas was unlikely to let him get away with being a completely silent observer tonight, but he'd long ago learned that if he asked the questions, often people forgot he wasn't speaking much, himself. He and Andreas were sitting at the end of a long table; other workers from their orchard crowded in along the benches. It was, he reflected, not unlike the arrangement in the Great Hall - just with shorter and more numerous tables.
"Oh, no. I just help out in the summer. My family has known the Schmidts for generations, and each batch of kids gets dragged along and taught the ropes of the harvest as soon as they're old enough." He grinned. "I never really minded though. The work's not bad, and it made for nice pocket money when I was young. Not that I'm doing it for the money now," he added with a snort. "It certainly doesn't hurt to have a bit extra, but mostly I just do it because I like the people and it gets me outside for a change."
"You work indoors the rest of the year, then?"
Andreas nodded, his blond hair falling around his eyes. He pushed it back absently. "I'm a teacher - maths." He took a bite of the sausage on his plate, then swallowed. "What about you?"
Remus looked studiously at his beer. Now the lies started. He was used to it, but he was still getting so tired of having to choose between preserving his life or enjoying it. Secrets had gotten him into school and had made a host of other things possible in the short term, but it also meant keeping things from people he wanted to trust. Secrets had also cost him his only friends. He took a sip of the potent Austrian brew to cover up the pause in the conversation. "I do odd jobs," he said vaguely. He hesitated a moment, then offered, "I once thought it would be nice to be a teacher, though." The admission surprised him; he hadn't let himself think of that dream in a very long time. Why was he telling this stranger?
But Andreas simply nodded. "It's a very rewarding profession. Why don't you?"
"Oh I have some matters that require attending to on a regular basis and people aren't eager to employ someone who sometimes can't report to duty when he should." He shrugged. "It would be hard to teach that way, so I have never tried."
"But if you really wanted, couldn't you arrange your other-"
"Unfortunately, no," Remus interrupted, before the conversation could go any further. "So, tell me more about your teaching, instead." He leaned forward in a show of interest, and smiled. Not that the latter was much of a challenge; he found Andreas' own frequent smiles were causing him to reciprocate more in the past day than he had in ages. His face was probably going to hurt by morning from the unfamiliar gesture.
By the time people were filing out, some walking more steadily than others, his face not only hurt, he wasn't sure he recognised himself, either. Who was this Remus who fell in so comfortably with a Muggle man he'd only met the day before? Every instinct told him to be more cautious before something slipped or he was otherwise hurt, yet every exchange, no matter how trivial, seemed to just invite him to laugh a bit more, or be more at ease. He couldn't think the last time he'd been able to honestly enjoy an evening, without being at war or harboring fear, memories, hunger, loneliness or strong suspicion. As Andreas walked him to his bicycle and slapped him genially on the shoulder in farewell, Remus realized that the blond man was looking more than a little attractive, too. It must be the alcohol, he told himself. He'd drunk with restraint, but it had been awhile since he'd had the luxury of a beer, and the local stuff was always pretty strong. Well, if it meant he'd been able to relax for a change and relive a moment of his youth before returning to reality, then there was no real harm. And he was still sober enough to know he'd have his wand out in half a second if trouble cropped up after all.
But his trip home was uneventful. He arrived at the dark cave, then undid and resealed his wards as usual. What would Andreas think if he saw my charming 'flat'? he thought with bemusement. He knew he'd never find out. The lighthearted thought raised a more serious one, though. Trust. He'd been astonishingly trusting so far, even if he'd revealed as little as possible about himself. It was still more than most people learned in a month, if he spoke at all. He'd mistrusted Alex back at Hogwarts, and he'd trusted Sirius with all his heart for most of the time they'd known each other - and he'd been wrong both times. Alex had later sacrificed his job to save him, and Sirius had betrayed him, betrayed them all. He was no longer sure he could trust his own judgment. It was safest to keep to himself, no doubt about it. That had always been safest. But he would not be the person he was today if he hadn't learned to leave 'safe' behind.
He bundled yesterday's cheese with some remaining bread and headed out to the orchard next day, deciding to simply take things one day at a time. What more did he have? He could be discovered tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that. His bike could be run down by a passing car. He could fall out of a peach tree. All there was was today.
The ride cleared the last beer fog from his brain and he arrived a few minutes early. After parking his bicycle in the shade of the barn, he joined the group of workers preparing to head out to the fields. Andreas was already there; he smiled warmly when Remus came into view.
He was consternated to find the attraction he'd felt creeping up last night had not lessened. Well, it didn't really matter. He was used to keeping himself apart, and keeping his desires a secret. Besides, he'd been attracted to a few men since leaving England and they'd all been nothing more than a surface crush. It was never anything to get too wound up over, especially since he could only assume the other person was straight and thus far more likely to punch or hex him than respond in kind. Nor did he ever allow himself to get close enough to anyone in the first place to the point where divulging such interest would even be possible. Even if he'd wanted to - which he rarely did - moving on from place to place every few days didn't really allow more than a simple appreciation of physical appeal. Admitting Andreas was easy on the eyes was unlikely to change a thing.
However, below all that, if he cared to dwell on it - which he usually tried not to do - was a stubborn part of his brain that felt an attraction to anyone was a kind of betrayal to the man he had once loved. It was stupid, he knew. Sirius' betrayal had been far worse; he owed nothing to the memory of their relationship. His brain, however, was not always so easily controlled. At least Andreas looked nothing like Sirius. It helped. But only some.
Still, he allowed himself to smile as he returned the morning greeting before striving to focus on the morning's work, rather than the blond man who worked with him.
Two nights later, Andreas invited him to dinner again.
"That's very kind, but I don't think I can."
"I know it's last minute but, really, there's almost always someone going to the pub, most nights. Would another night be better?"
"No, it's just ." Remus sighed. Here was a case where the truth was necessary, before Andreas tried to invite him out every night, or believed Remus simply didn't like him. Absently, he wondered why it mattered what the man thought. Still - "I need to be careful with money at the moment."
"Well, come have a drink and a sandwich on me, at least," Andreas replied, undeterred.
He gave a small smile at the man's persistence. "I can't let you do that," he said, shaking his head.
The other man snorted. "Why not? I'm not buying you a Mercedes. Just a light meal. You need to eat something."
"I have food," he replied stubbornly, pointing at the paper bag in his bicycle basket.
Andreas eyed the small bag doubtfully. "Very well," he said with a small sigh. He looked back at Remus. "Would you come if I said I just enjoyed your company?" He raised his hands defensively, a small grin reappearing. "I promise not to buy you even a mouthful of beer."
He smiled, despite himself. "I cannot think why I am so interesting, but - very well."
It became a pattern - Andreas would mention a group meal every two days or so, and Remus would accept. The other man had once pushed a bit of sausage on him under the guise of exclaiming how good it was and how it would be criminal not to taste it; Remus suspected it was a thinly veiled attempt to give him more to eat; aside from that, however, Andreas seemed to respect his desire to avoid charity. Remus occasionally siphoned a few schillings from his savings for a small beer to appease the pub owner but, otherwise, he simply ate his thrifty morning purchases en route and nursed a glass of water while the others ate and drank.
He sometimes wondered at the looks he thought Andreas slipped him, when he thought no one was watching. His imagination, most likely. Perhaps just curiosity - he was still doing his best to let Andreas do most of the talking, to avoid uncomfortable questions about his own life. His own attraction remained tamped down where it belonged, except in those rare moments when Andreas would accidentally bump him reaching for his stein, or when he'd give him a goodnight touch to his shoulder. The friendship was enjoyable, as untainted by his previous life as he could manage, and there was no need to spoil that.
"Another bonus of doing this work, despite the lousy pay," Andreas commented one evening. "The chance to go out with someone."
Remus ignored the unintended phrasing. "It is nice to visit with friends," he agreed neutrally.
"Yeah. My ex dumped me a few months back, and although I could have still gone out for a drink with my fellow teachers, most of them are attached and it only reminded me of the empty house waiting for me." He nodded at the other workers, most of whom had left the table in favor of the dart board. "Most of these fellows are single, so it doesn't matter so much." He shrugged. "Then again, I suppose I'm mostly over it, anyway."
"How long were you together?"
"Oh, a few years. I guess these things sometimes just come to an end. I didn't really want to see it, though.
"I know what you mean," Remus mumbled.
"Happened to you, too?" Andreas asked sympathetically.
"In a way. The other person turned out to be not what I thought."
"But by then it was too late and you loved them?"
"I guess so. I never really told them out loud." He shook his head. He had never really been able to. Perhaps it was just as well, all things considered. "But - yes, I did."
Andreas was silent a moment, as if considering. When he spoke next, his voice was casual, but quiet. "It sounds a lot how I felt about Franck." He darted his eyes over to gauge Remus' reaction.
It took him a moment to find his voice. "Why are you telling me this?" he murmured finally, one eye on the crowd to make sure no one was overhearing them. "How did you know?" His heart was in his throat. Was Andreas spying on him after all? He'd recently cursed the wariness that had become second nature after so long - was he about to be proven right?
Andreas' posture relaxed fractionally. "I didn't know - not at all. But I know how many times I have used 'them' or 'it' to avoid pronouns and names. It sounds dreadful in this damn language, but I'd rather not use specifics unless I have to; it's a good thing I don't teach grammar." He smiled weakly. "But I noticed that you did it, too, that same avoidance. I took a chance that you did it for the same reason I did, that you would understand me, and that you wouldn't immediately knock me senseless for being a well, you know."
Remus shook his head. "You guessed right," he admitted quietly.
"No one knows about me," Andreas cautioned, pushing his leftover cabbage around with his fork. Remus got the impression he was making a deliberate attempt to look casual, to reduce attention. "Not my parents, none of the farm hands, no one. I like my job and can't risk this getting out, especially since I work with kids. And my parents would just tell me I'd be going to hell and that God would strike me down with that new disease as punishment."
"I understand the need for secrets." Hell, almost his whole life had been built on them.
Andreas ventured to actually take another bite of his food. "Yeah, I guess you would, if you're in the same boat. I trust you." He grinned a bit sheepishly. "Sorry for seeming a bit paranoid back there. I'm a basically happy man, but underneath, I'm always worried about someone finding out and ruining everything."
"I understand, more than you know," Remus assured him.
A week later, Herr Schmidt called everyone together before they made their first run out into the orchards. "You've probably noticed that pickings are getting slimmer out there," he said to the assembled group. "This'll be the last day most of you are needed. A few of our more permanent hands will stay to finish the last bits next week, but for the rest of you, this will be your last day. Thank you for all your hard work."
Remus sighed. He knew this day would come, and soon, but it still didn't change the fact that his early-morning and weekend scouting hadn't turned up anything useful elsewhere in the region. Well, he'd just have to keep searching tomorrow. At least then he'd be able to devote more time to it; the two weeks' steady employment had granted him enough money to allow him to eat for a week, maybe two if he was careful, and get more thread so he could patch the hole he'd snagged in his shirt the other day.
"Join me for dinner?" Andreas had murmured when they'd passed each other in the orchard around mid-morning. Remus quickly nodded his assent as he hefted his box of fruit onto the truck. One last pub night for everyone before they all scattered to other jobs.
But after collecting his final pay that evening, he noticed most of the other men had already left. Andreas stood just inside the barn door, waiting for him as the last few stragglers took their money and headed off.
"The others seem to be getting a head start without us," Remus joked as he joined the other man.
Andreas smiled. "They'll be without us all night, unless you had your heart set on another evening of darts and water."
He frowned in confusion. "I thought we were going to have dinner."
"We are. Just somewhere else. I told the others I'd made plans ages ago to dine with my grandmother - you never mess with a grandmother!" He shrugged. "They won't be looking for me, and you can make up anything you like if you ever bump into them again."
"So, where are we going?"
"It's nothing fancy. Actually-" at this, Andreas looked marginally embarrassed. "It's completely unfancy. I assume you've brought your usual food with you?" He nodded in the direction of Remus' bicycle.
"Er, yes ."
Andreas held up a bag that had been sitting in the shadows. "I did the same tonight," he said a little sheepishly. "I knew this would probably be the last day for most folks, and I well, I thought maybe we could just find a place to sit and eat where it wasn't so noisy and crowded. Just to talk," he added hastily, as Remus raised an eyebrow.
He felt decidedly uneasy at the unexpected turn of events. It was likely that Andreas meant just what he said - a last chance for them to sit and talk as friends, where Andreas, at least, wouldn't have to guard his words quite so carefully. He hadn't shown any interest in Remus aside from his usual friendliness and warmth, which had always included casual, throwaway touches here and there. He did much the same for everyone. So, it didn't seem likely that he was proposing anything else. Remus wasn't sure whether to be thankful or the faintest bit disappointed. He still found the blond man infernally attractive, though he hadn't harbored any greater delusions about what would or wouldn't happen even after their mutual confession the previous week. Nothing was different - he was still a wizard and a werewolf, and now their reason for daily contact was over. So - all the more reason to take Andreas up on the impromptu picnic, and just enjoy the camaraderie one last time. Tomorrow was soon enough to return to his wholly solitary life.
Andreas had his own bicycle, so tonight they rode together, away from their usual pub, in an aimless search for a suitable place to sit and eat. Remus felt a modicum of his childhood absurdly bubbling up as they contemplated the merits of a swamp, a briar patch, and a cow pasture, debating each place in all seriousness while laughter threatened to escape them. It was a bit like the fun he'd had as a boy, creating the Map. No, he immediately decided. No, he was not going to spoil this with maudlin reminiscing. James and Peter were gone and Sirius was not in his life anymore, and it wouldn't change if he spent the evening content or drowning in memories. So - he might as well be content.
They finally settled on a copse of shade trees, a kilometer away from the nearest village. They leaned their bikes against the sturdy trunks, then sat in the shelter of the roots to eat their modest dinners. They talked much as they had in the prior two weeks, casually and comfortably, with Remus attempting to steer as much of the conversation away from himself as he could manage and, regretfully, lying where he had to.
But he felt something different. Despite Andreas' assurance that they were just spending /a normal evening together, only in a quieter location, it seemed to Remus that an electric current was hanging in the air around them. Maybe it was just because of the sense of privacy their little nook afforded them. He kept to his own space as much as possible, but accidental - and noticeable - touches were inevitable, given how close they were sitting. He knew he could move, but it seemed like it might be rude to do so. Despite his enjoyment of the evening, part of him was going to be glad when they finally parted, and he could return to his solo life. Lonely, but less emotionally complicated.
"Remus?" A soft voice pulled him back from his thoughts.
"I want you to know that I didn't lure you out here to seduce you or anything." Andreas gave a slightly awkward chuckle, absently crumpling a few prematurely fallen leaves in his hands.
"I know." He felt there was more he should say, but he wasn't sure what it was.
"But now that we're here, and I probably won't see you again, I have a confession to make."
He kept his tone light, but he felt a prickle slide down his spine. "Oh?" There was no way he was going to say what it sounded like he was going to say.
"I like you. A lot." Another chuckle, this one self-deprecating. "I hardly know a damn thing about you - you're so good at effacing yourself, you could be an axe murderer or an incognito rock star, or an escaped felon - but there's just something about you." He looked up from his leaf, pushing his hair from his eyes as he did so. "I know, it sounds insane. Maybe I am. Too many peach fumes."
"I swear I am none of those things," Remus said, without addressing Andreas' confession directly; he'd been seventeen the last time someone had expressed new interest in him - he didn't remember what to do. The evening sunlight snuck below the leaves and cast a golden glow on Andreas' face, setting his hair alight, making him all the more appealing. He couldn't think. All he suddenly wanted was to diffuse some of the tension that had surged up. "I kill with magic wands, not axes."
Andreas laughed, briefly easing the moment. "Fun-nee. I'll remember that the next time I need a fairy godmother. Or godfather, in this case." His laughter quickly died away, however, as he shifted in the dirt, turning toward Remus. One hand lightly brushed his knee, then remained.
Remus forgot to breathe. "Andreas, I-"
"Do you want this?" The whispered words brushed against his cheek.
He turned to reply, but no words came out. As if pulled by a string he found himself leaning in, eyes closing automatically as their lips met. Soft. Warm. His brain seemed only capable of sending him the most basic messages. Andreas' tongue sought entrance and he complied. Sweet. Savoury.. His turn to explore. How long had it been since he'd done this? Four years. Shut up, he told himself. Andreas was not Sirius. But it was better that way - the way Andreas sucked on his bottom lip, the way he cupped the back of Remus' head, the feel of his fine blond hair under Remus' hands - all different. He needed it to be different. Sensations were building in him, both familiar and alien, zinging down into his gut as Andreas nudged him back into the grass, sprawling half atop him as he began to work his way down Remus' throat.
A tug on his shirt collar brought him back with a snap; he suddenly realized where and what he was. It was still daylight out. He had a number tattooed on his arm, not to mention all the scars which covered him. There was no way to explain them. He couldn't be doing this, not here, not now. Maybe not ever. Abruptly, he sat up.
"Andreas-" He paused to catch his breath. "I-"
The other man looked away. "I pushed you, didn't I?" His tousled hair was once again in his face but he made no move to push it away. "I said all those things and never let you say how you felt, I just kissed you and-"
"No!" It didn't matter if he had to put a halt to this now. He couldn't let Andreas go on berating himself. "No - I I wanted it, too," he admitted quietly. "I have for a very long time; I just never allowed myself to think it might turn out this way. You surprised me." He brushed a strand of hair back from Andreas' face so he could see him better. "But I can't do more. Not now. I know it sounds stupid, but I can't."
Andreas blew out a breath, nodding silently. "All right." A thought seemed to occur to him. "Is it the AIDS scare? I can get something if-"
Remus shook his head. The disease had only barely cropped up in his world, but he'd passed enough newspaper stands over the past few years to know what Andreas referred to, and to also know that no one had yet found the right charms or potions to either prevent or stop it. Rather like lycanthropy. "It's good to be careful, but no, that's not why."
"I probably won't see you again." There was a wistful tone to his voice. "I don't suppose I could call sometime?" He gave a snort. "I sound desperate, don't I?"
Remus shook his head again. "I don't have a phone." He leaned in to give Andreas another kiss. "But no, you don't. It would have been nice to explore more, had circumstances been different."
Andreas snaked an arm around him and pulled him in for an embrace. "How about if we just sit and enjoy the evening a little longer, then. I promise to behave."
Remus decided he could put off his departure a little longer.
Four nights later found him slogging wearily home on his bicycle in the gathering dusk. He'd managed to come across a small village overrun by dugbogs, one willing to let him help in exchange for some money. He got the impression the people had heard of him and knew what he was, but were willing to hire him for the short-term work in hopes that he'd go away with a favourable impression and therefore make a point of being far, far away the next full moon. He found he honestly didn't care what they thought, as long as they paid him. The whole situation sometimes made him feel like the Pied Piper, but at least it was money.
The road was quiet except for an occasional passing car. Their headlights gave him plenty of warning to make sure he hugged the sides of the narrow streets. At least he was finally used to pedaling on this side of the road, and was no longer continually surprised by the direction the vehicles came in.
A small truck passed him, veering across the center line to avoid hitting him. He watched the taillights go by, then pull over abruptly. His brow furrowed. Was he about to be mugged or did the driver simply need to consult a map? He pedaled on, looking casual, though his right hand came to rest in the pocket where he kept his wand. He passed the truck without a sideways glance.
"Remus? Is that you?"
His head turned sharply at the unexpected voice and he nearly went off the road. He quickly stopped so he could turn to look at the figure getting out of the truck. Glaring headlights in his eyes made it hard to see, but the voice was familiar. "Andreas?"
"Hey, it is you!" There was no mistaking the happiness in his voice. "What are you doing out so late?"
"Work," he said simply.
"You found something else already? Excellent." Andreas was right next to him now.
"It's just a few days," he said, shrugging. "What about you?"
"Oh, last minute run for the Schmidts, but I'm done now. I was just going to drop the truck off and head back home." He paused. "I don't suppose you'd come keep me company? I can drop you off at your place, if you like."
Remus knew he should say no. They had said their goodbyes already. Nor did he really want to reveal that he lived in a cave. But he didn't have to accept the ride home, and bicycling back from the farm was still a shorter journey than the one he currently had ahead of him. "I don't need a ride home - but I'll come with you to return the truck."
Andreas' face was in shadow, but Remus could still see him smile brightly. He darted in to plant a quick kiss on his cheek. "Excellent."
They stowed his bike in the back and were soon underway.
"So, you're still helping the Schmidts?" he asked as they rumbled along.
"Only another week - then I need to start getting ready for the new school year."
"Ah, yes - that's coming soon, isn't it?"
Andreas nodded, pleasure colouring his voice. "I always look forward to meeting new students and trying to find new ways to capture their interest so they don't just pass their exams, but enjoy what they learn. I don't want it to just be fun for me, but fun for them, too."
"Your kids are lucky to have you," Remus murmured.
"Are you sure you don't want to try to find a way to do it?" Andreas spared a glance from the road to flick his eyes over to Remus. "Teaching, I mean. Every time I mention it, I see something wistful in your expression."
"Do you?" Remus gave a small awkward laugh. He was usually more careful at containing his feelings.
"Maybe it's just because I was sneaking looks at you so often," Andreas said, as if echoing his concerns. "Worse than a schoolboy - but I'm sorry if it makes you uncomfortable."
"No, it's all right." He wasn't sure if it was, but did it matter? Their meeting tonight was a fluke. "I suppose one always thinks highly of something he can't have," he added. "I'd probably feel differently if I had to be the one to create daily lesson plans and discipline unruly children."
"Perhaps," Andreas replied with a slight shrug as he turned to pass through the gate and pull alongside the barn. He pulled Remus' bicycle from the back, then retrieved his own from inside the barn. "What sort of work are you doing now?" he asked, pushing his bike down the lane.
"Pest removal. At least today, anyway."
Andreas shook his head. "You're obviously intelligent, yet you pick peaches and clear out vermin. Were you ever at university?"
"It wasn't an option," Remus replied, choosing his words carefully. "And there were other issues at the time. I've always done whatever work was offered, even if it didn't really match my skills. I've learned to appreciate any job, no matter what it is." And to not be bitter at a world which allows everyone else to work as they please and take it for granted.
He caught the faint shape of Andreas' wry smile in the dark. "You know, I once thought maybe you envied me my teaching job, but I think now the truth is - I envy you."
"What for?" He wondered if anyone had said that to him before.
"For being content with your situation - at least you seem to be. I think a lot of people would be more upset by the loss of opportunities, as you've described them. At least, if I'm understanding you correctly."
"I've learned that it's best not to dwell on things you cannot change. There's no use being angry for long. Things just are, so I make the most of whatever I have."
"If only everyone was so wise."
Remus snorted. "I'm not wise. Far from it. Just a realist." He stopped and looked around. By now they'd walked a fair way down the road, and were currently alongside a cornfield. "I'm sorry - you'd probably like to get home sooner than walking pace." He made as if to mount his bike.
"Wait." Andreas reached out and grasped his arm. "Wait," he repeated, more quietly.
The unexpected touch made him gasp. Everything he had tried to tamp down after their dinner the other night bubbled up immediately; the world narrowed to the one small point where their skin made contact. "Yes?" he managed.
A thumb brushed reflexively over his arm. "I just I'm sorry. I just - before you went, I-" Andreas' voice trailed off and he let go. "No, you're right - it's late." Remus heard him swallow. "It was good to see you again, Remus."
Slowly, almost disbelievingly, he reached out and found the retreating hand, grasping it surely before pulling the other man closer with it. Their noses bumped in the dark, then realigned before they settled into the intended kiss. It was, Remus reflected, just as addictive and confusing as it had been the other night, the inexplicable intimacy of such a relatively minor point of contact, the feel of another man against him - not one he knew but one he wanted, despite everything.
They parted a moment to breathe. "Was that what you wanted?" Remus murmured, touching his forehead to Andreas'.
"Yes." It came out as a hiss - or maybe that was him, reacting as Andreas slid over to suck on his earlobe.
He closed his eyes, enjoying the flood of sensation before tugging the other man's head back to center and exploring his mouth more thoroughly. The moon wouldn't be full for another week, but something primal and familiar was welling up inside him all the same. He heard his bike fall over, but disregarded it; he didn't even realize his hands had tugged at the hem of Andreas' shirt until he felt the same being done to his own. He broke the kiss, stepping back slightly to look into the darkened shadow of Andreas' face.
"You said you didn't want more, and I want to respect that," the man rasped. "But when you started touching me, I couldn't keep from doing the same."
A number of things flitted through Remus' mind; he flicked his gaze to their surroundings, then made a decision. "Come with me," he said, backing up a step and pulling Andreas after him. The tall corn began just a few meters behind him. Slowly, slowly, they stepped off the pavement and onto the dark field until the neat rows of stalks swallowed them and the road disappeared.
"Remus, are you sure?"
"No," he replied, tugging the man down to the ground with him. "But I want to share this with you anyway. Just this once."
Andreas did not ask again. In silence they pushed clothing off each other, letting their hands serve as their eyes. Remus knew some of his scars would be felt, but it was still better than their visual impact. Fingers caressed his wrist as a sleeve was pulled off, but the tattoo remained safely hidden by the night. And after that, he did not care for much besides what Andreas was doing to him, what he wanted to do in return. In the cloak of darkness they brought each other to completion, then curled together on their discarded garments for a short time before admitting the ground was a poor place to spend the night.
"Come back with me," Andreas asked as he rebuttoned his shirt.
Remus shook his head, before remembering the gesture could not be seen. It was even darker in the cornfield than it had been on the road. "I'm sorry - I can't."
Andreas sighed. "You're always going to remain a mystery, aren't you? No, don't answer - I already know the answer." He paused in his redressing efforts, a faint smile ghosting across his face. "I don't know your middle name or anything," he joked before sobering again. "But somehow, that's all right. Whatever you're hiding, it doesn't seem to be because of something bad."
"You don't know that."
"Well, if you were going to kill me or rob me, you would have done that ages ago. What's left? No - I know I'm right."
"I wish everyone had your trust and confidence," Remus murmured as he finished tying his shoes.
The response was quiet. "Only for those people who seem to deserve it." He stepped forward, brushing unseen dirt from Remus' shirt. Then he tucked a small slip of paper into Remus' pocket. "I know you don't have a phone, and you won't show me where you live, but if - well, if you ever want to look me up again there's my info." Then he pressed a final kiss to his mouth and stepped back. "I suppose we should see if anyone made off with our transportation while we were occupied."
They threaded their way carefully through the corn until they came back to the road. Their bicycles lay in a heap precisely where they had fallen. "Well, at least we won't have to spoil a perfectly nice evening walking home," Andreas joked. He looked up at the rising moon. "We'll even have a little bit of moon to see by."
Remus glanced at the half-circle of light just peeking above the eastern hills and mentally sighed. Here was the reason he could not stay with Andreas, even if he wanted to take the emotional risk. He'd likely soon be moving to another region to keep ahead of overly-astute wizards, and - yes, there was always Apparating, but when Muggles were involved that just meant one more complication. Was it worth it? In the past, some things had seemed worth risking everything for. He wasn't sure he was ready to do that just yet.
"Pfennig for your thoughts?"
He turned his attention back to the man beside him. "I was just thinking about the uncertainties of life," he said, sliding his left hand down Andreas' arm until their fingers twined together. "It makes it hard to move forward sometimes, but I was glad for this opportunity with you, even if it is just for a short while." He smiled a little. "And it's 'John'."
The other man frowned slightly, then smoothed it out. "Remus John Lupin?"
"Thank you," he said simply, "for all of that." He leaned forward to press a brief kiss to Remus' lips, then they each mounted their bikes and headed off in their opposite directions.
Remus replayed the unexpected evening in his mind as he rode home. It had been both painful and freeing to be with someone else, to know he could. Pain and anger still ate at him if he thought too much about Sirius, although some of that had lessened over the past four years. But that was over now, and even if he accepted that his life would be largely solitary, it was still a pleasant surprise to find even a brief reprieve in that solitude, to see that someone else could still enjoy his presence and want him. It was cheating a little bit, since Sirius had already known almost everything about him, whereas Andreas knew very little, but still. Life went on. It always did.
After the dugbogs were cleared out, the little town, as expected, gave him a handful of schillings with a nervous glance to the sky, then politely but firmly sent him on his way. He chose a new region to scout around, enduring a few all-too-familiar days of fruitless searching. He was feeling the pinch more; it was all right to skip a few meals here and there, but he needed to have some food laid in before the full moon to help him regain his strength after he awoke and for the day or so after until he could more reasonably go back to job-hunting. He was low on a few of the healing potions, too. In the end, he found an elderly widowed witch who accepted his help in strengthening the wards and supportive spells on her home. She couldn't offer much, but it all helped, especially as she insisted he stay to share her modest meals with her.
Riding home that evening, he decided to take a slightly different route, in hopes of shaving a little time off his trip; fatigue and irritability were beginning to set in and he just wanted to get home. But when he passed the welcome sign for a small village, he stopped. Where had he seen that name? He didn't think he'd been this way before, or looked for work here. He eyed the darkening streets - no, no matter how much some of the picturesque towns resembled each other, he would have remembered a purple building like the one he now spotted. Perhaps he'd seen the name on his map when he'd planned his return route? He pulled it out of his pocket, dropping a small slip of paper in the process. "Bugger." He dismounted his bicycle so he could retrieve it. "Oh."
It was the card Andreas had given him. This was his town. Remus turned the bit of paper over and over in his hands. Now was really not a good time. But he was here. Maybe just a short visit? He glanced at the address, stuffed the card back in his pocket, and, after asking directions from a woman out walking her dog, set out again. In less than ten minutes he was pulling up in front of a modest duplex; Andreas' card indicated he lived on the left-hand unit. Unsure what he planned to say or what he wanted to happen, exactly, he walked up and knocked on the door.
He double-checked the card in his pocket. Maybe it was a ruse? No, there was his name stenciled on the small letter-box by the door. He did a double-take. There was a tiny folded piece of paper sticking out of the box; the letters RJL were just visible.
Curious, he pulled it out, shook it open and read.R -
I really have no right to think you might stop by, but I'm taking a chance and leaving this here while I'm out of town on an unexpected family emergency. I know this was just a passing thing, but you made an impact on me just the same. I'd like to say 'I hope you feel the same,' but I wouldn't fit my hats if I let my ego get that large, so I'll just say I hope you are happy, wherever you end up.
I have a small gift for you. Don't argue with me; I know you don't like to accept things from others, but this was a spare and something I was going to give away anyway. Why not give it to someone I like instead of my irritating cousin Helmut? And, besides, perhaps it will inspire you to try something more interesting than 'odd jobs' someday, and see if it's feasible after all. You'll find it on the back porch behind the potted plant. I hope you'll take it and use it. Assuming you come by at all, which you probably won't. Remember what I said about peach fumes causing insanity?
Be well, and thank you for showing me how to appreciate what I have, however much or little, grand or ordinary. Thank you.
Remus pocketed the note, frowning slightly. What had Andreas given him? Well, he didn't have to take it - he could just leave a polite 'no thank you' note. He could even return the letter to its spot and pretend he'd never been here at all. Still, he was curious; he walked around the side to the back.
A large green plant in a larger pot came into view, as stated. Behind it was a small, slightly worn suitcase. Puzzled, he pulled it out. Why would Andreas give him a suitcase? Then he saw it. Along the side of the case, in new, bright, adhesive lettering, were the letters "Professor R. J. Lupin". A smile broke out. Ever the optimist, he thought, shaking his head slightly. Still - the thought touched him, even if he knew it was unlikely to ever happen. He pulled Andreas' note back out of his pocket, along with his quill, and scratched a simple "Thank you. - R" on the back. Somehow, he felt Andreas would understand the full message in that. He carried the case with him to the front of the house, dropped the refolded note back into the letter box, then, with a quick glance up the darkening street, shrank the case down and tucked it into the bike's basket.
Tomorrow night he'd seal himself into the little side niche in his cave and try to destroy himself. And after that, he'd patch up as best he could, and he'd go on alone, as usual. He glanced at the miniature case as he pedaled home. But knowing that someone out there still had faith in him might make it a little bit easier. Maybe someday there would be a means to control the wolf; maybe someday he could put Andreas' gift to proper use.
Then again, in a few short days, Andreas had given him a lot more than just a suitcase. It didn't erase the past. But gave him something a little more positive to carry into the future.
Feedback would be greatly appreciated. Long, short, positive or concrit - I enjoy hearing from my readers.
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