Kirschtorte and Confidences
Characters: Regulus, Gaius, Serenus, Etienne, Serafino Summary: A simple dinner turns into an occasion fraught with nuances
Gaius called out a farewell to Miriam as he left the shop and headed upstairs to his flat, tired after a long day of consulting with various customers who wanted him to work on their houses before the mad rush of the holiday season began. He was pleased that his business was taking off so quickly, but it was absolutely draining at times as he struggled to find just the right things to please his customers. As it was, he had two parlors, a dining room, and one whole house renovation on his plate to be finished by Christmas, and that was before he added in whatever he was going to do for the memorial center for Sirius. It didn't leave much time for relaxation, however, and he supposed the word of mouth about Regulus' shop was what he had to thank for his success.
He'd not even seen Regulus in the last few days, and he sighed as he stripped off his clothes and stood under the shower, enjoying the play of hot water over his skin. As far as he knew, Regulus was still at Azoth House, and he grinned as he decided that a little family visit wouldn't be out of order. And if Regulus happened to be there, so much the better.
Stepping out of the shower, he dried off quickly and then strolled into the bedroom naked, opening his closet doors and peering in, trying to decide what to wear. It probably didn't matter, really, since Regulus barely seemed to notice him at all, but he had his pride to maintain. After a few moments, he selected a pair of snug black jeans and a silvery silk shirt that reminded him of Regulus' eyes, donning them quickly and drying his hair with a charm, suddenly in a rush to be gone. He stepped into a pair of black leather sandals he'd picked up in Egypt, and within moments, he was stepping through the Floo and into the parlor of Azoth House.
Serenus was curled up on the couch with a book in his lap, enjoying a few rare and precious moments of peace; dinner was ready, keeping warm with the help of charms, and Regulus had taken the twins off his hands, and so he had indulged with a little down time. He wasn't expecting visitors, thus the flare of green flames startled him, and he glanced up, surprised but pleased to see Gaius emerging. Unfolding his legs, he put his book aside and stood, moving to greet Gaius with a hug and a kiss.
"This is a pleasant surprise," he said, smiling warmly. "What brings you by?" He looked Gaius up and down and raised his eyebrows, his smile turning knowing. "Or do I even need to ask?"
Gaius smiled, returning the hug and kiss with warm affection. A telltale hint of color stained his cheeks, but he raised his chin in a haughty imitation of Severus. "What, your baby brother can't drop by just to tell you that he's been contracted to remodel an entire house for a frightfully stuffy old Pureblood family? I'm hurt, terribly hurt, that you would believe there could be any other motivation on my mind other than sharing my good news."
Serenus replied with a Severus-like snort. "If you were just coming by to share good news, you wouldn't be dressed like that," he said, not fooled in the least. He heaved a mournful sigh. "I see how it is. Regulus moves in, and suddenly I don't matter. You only come over to parade around in tight jeans."
"I do not! I also come over to mooch off your wonderful cooking and weep on your shoulder about my unrequited crush," Gaius protested, wrapping his arms around Serenus and hugging him again. He rested his head on Serenus' shoulder, figuring that Regulus must not be around for Serenus to have teased him so freely. "Am I that hopeless, then? How is he doing?"
Sliding his arms around Gaius' waist, Serenus held him close and pressed a kiss to his temple. "Better, I think. It seems being here is doing him some good. He says the nightmares are diminishing in frequency, and he and Etienne have bonded. The boys call him 'Uncle Regulus' now."
Gaius lifted his head, looking up at Serenus in surprise. "They do? Well, that's unexpected. I'm glad about his nightmares, though." His voice became soft, the memory of Regulus thrashing and crying out in terror all too clear in his mind. "Anything that helps him get rid of those is a very good thing. It sounds like you have been able to do what neither I nor Sekhmet could."
"It seems having something - or in this case, two very active someones - to focus on is what helped," Serenus replied. "He hasn't had much time to be alone in his own head and fret about things." He paused, giving Gaius a searching look, and then he added, "You should know that we agreed his stay here would be an indefinite one."
That was another surprise, but Gaius wasn't quite certain how he felt about it. He supposed it was a good thing if it could help Regulus heal, but then if Regulus ended up becoming more like another brother - and feeling that way about Gaius as well - it might put a stake through the heart of him ever feeling more for Gaius. Then something else occurred to him, and his eyes widened, before he cleared his throat and deliberately tore his mind away from that line of thought.
"I'm sure that's a good thing for him," he said instead, smiling and stepping away from Serenus. "Where is he, by the way? I suppose I ought to go and say hello. Just to be polite."
Catching Gaius' expression, Serenus chuckled and shook his head. "Don't worry. We're engaging in what Tybalt calls 'immersion therapy', not sex therapy. I like Regulus, and Tybalt likes him, but neither of us are particularly interested in shagging him. He's still all yours, little brother," he said with a wink. "Now then - as for where he is, I shall direct you to the back yard. So you can go and be polite," he added dryly.
Gaius couldn't help feeling relieved, although he was a little chagrined that Serenus had read him so easily. "There are no secrets in this family," he complained, but there was no heat in his words. He hugged Serenus again. "Thank you, mein bruder. It's just that you are not an act I would wish to follow, although he is a long way from being mine - if it ever does happen."
He pressed a kiss to Serenus' cheek, then turned and headed toward the back yard. The afternoon sun was bright as Gaius stepped out of the kitchen door, and he held up a hand, shading his eyes as he scanned the yard.
The sound of shrill shrieking pierced the air, and after a moment, two small blurs streaked by. Etienne and Serafino were running as fast as their little legs would carry them, and the reason became apparent when Regulus rounded the corner of the house in hot pursuit, his arms outstretched as if he was trying to grab one or both of them.
"Here I come!" he growled fiercely, making them shriek again, but he stopped abruptly when he spotted Gaius and approached at a slower pace, breathing hard, and he brushed a stray lock of hair out of his face. He was dressed with unusual casualness in a pair of jeans and a charcoal grey jumper, clothes borrowed from Serenus and altered to fit him until he could make a trip to Cairo for a new, more casual and child-friendly wardrobe, and his features were relaxed, not tense or pensive. "Gaius! Hello. Come to see the little hellions, have you?"
Now that they were no longer being pursued, the twins whirled and ran back to Gaius, each one clutching one of Gaius' legs and babbling happy greetings to their uncle.
Gaius' eyes widened, and he wondered faintly how many more surprises were in store for him. Not that Regulus didn't look wonderful - edible, even - but Gaius couldn't recall ever having seen him in jeans, especially ones that clung so lovingly to his hips or in a jumper that made his pale eyes stand out dramatically. His breath caught, and for a moment, he couldn't speak, although he reached down automatically to pat his nephews on their heads.
"Who are you, and what have you done to Regulus Black?" he asked, his voice coming out a bit more husky than he would have liked, and he chuckled to cover it. "Sorry, but I feel rather as though I've fallen down the rabbit hole. You, dressed in jeans and running? Sweating, even?" He tilted his head to one side, and suddenly, his eyes danced in wicked amusement. "You even have a smear of dirt on your cheek."
Chuckling, Regulus swiped half-heartedly at his cheek. "I understand how you feel. I felt a bit like Alice myself for a time, but as you can see, I've adjusted to domestic life rather well." Lunging forward, he grabbed Etienne and slung him over his shoulder, grinning as the little boy kicked and squealed with delight. "These two have taught me to loosen up."
"You certainly have," Gaius said softly. "You look... happy. Unreservedly so. I don't think I've ever seen you look that way before." Nor, he admitted to himself, had he ever seen Regulus look more handsome than he did in that moment, smiling with as much unfeigned delight as the child he held. It made Gaius ache for something he knew he might never have.
"To be honest, I haven't felt this way in..." Regulus paused and shook his head. "Well, I don't know that I have ever felt quite this way." He tickled Etienne mercilessly for a few seconds before finally relenting and lowering him to the ground. "This is all quite new to me in more ways than one, but I like it."
Gaius crouched down, hugging Serafino and giving himself a chance to try to sort out his feelings. It was obvious that Regulus was doing much better, which was incredible and made him very happy, but at the same time, he was having to remind himself firmly that just because Regulus was enjoying the proximity of others, that didn't mean he was ready to enjoy being more than friends. He was caught in an agony of indecision, not wanting to move too fast and yet fearing not moving fast enough and being left behind completely.
Serafino hugged him and kissed his cheek, his bright blue eyes searching Gaius' face, then he hugged Gaius back. "I wuv you, Unca Kitty," he said.
"I love you too, my little Serafino," Gaius said, then straightened and faced Regulus once more. "I'm glad you're enjoying it. Family life is definitely wonderful, and I think ours is better than most - although I admit to a bit of prejudice on that score. It seems to have done you a world of good, and I'm very glad to see it. It's nice to look into your eyes and not see shadows in them."
"Thank you." Regulus smiled and moved closer, reaching out to ruffle Serafino's hair. "It feels good not having shadows haunting me. Or not as many, at least. This is what I needed, I think. To be around people, to have something outside myself to focus my time and attention on, to see love and happiness and be offered it as well."
Gaius longed to blurt out that he would offer Regulus all the love and happiness he could, but that would likely be the best way to send Regulus fleeing for the hills rather than hurling himself into Gaius' arms. He was very glad for Regulus; he just felt a bit of a pang that he couldn't have been the one to help Regulus find the surcease of pain he needed.
"There can never be too much love or happiness shared, can there?" he said instead. He chastised himself severely for being a selfish bastard and wanting more than he could have, and he smiled at Regulus ruefully. "What do you say to dinner out tonight, then, to celebrate your emancipation? Unless you are so spoiled by Serenus' food that you find restaurant fare to be far too common to be enjoyed."
Regulus glanced at Gaius, surprised by the invitation, but he nodded. "Serenus is an excellent cook, but I haven't become that spoiled yet," he said smiling. "Actually, now you know the other reason why I am running: to avoid a rapidly expanding waistline."
"Italian cooking will do that," Gaius agreed, chuckling and reaching out to pick Serafino up. He was incredibly pleased by Regulus' acceptance of his invitation, and he was in a hurry to go before Regulus could change his mind. "Why don't we get the young gentlemen returned to their Papa, and then we can go? And do you have a preference for where? My treat tonight, you know. Not just to celebrate how far you've come, but also because I owe you for all the business I've gotten in the last few days."
"You've been doing well, then?" Regulus was pleased by the news. "I'm glad to hear it," he said as he held out his hand to Etienne, who clasped it readily. "Come along. Time to disrupt your papa's idyll." He glanced sidelong at Gaius, his expression questioning. "I don't have a preference, but wherever we go, should I change clothes? You look nice, and I wouldn't want you to feel compelled to sit at another table because I don't measure up," he said, teasing.
"You look great to me," Gaius said honestly, heading into the house. He bounced Serafino in his arms, making him laugh. "And you could never not measure up, no matter what. You're like Serenus and Severus in that regard; everyone else is always over or under dressed, while you set the tone just by your presence."
Regulus smiled, pleased by the compliment. "As long as you don't object, then I will not worry about it," he said. Once they were in the house, he led Etienne through the kitchen, down the corridor, and into the parlor, and he smiled wickedly when he saw how comfortable and cozy Serenus was. "They're all yours again," he said, releasing Etienne's hand, and as soon as he was free, Etienne ran to the couch and leaped onto Serenus' stomach. "I am going out to dinner."
Letting out a sharp "oof!" when Etienne pounced on him, Serenus grabbed Etienne and hoisted him into the air, grinning as he kicked and flailed. "Oh, really?" Serenus glanced at Gaius, smirking slightly. "Well, you aren't missing anything much here, just goulash and fresh bread."
"And cake?" Etienne asked hopefully.
"Perhaps," Serenus replied playfully. "If a certain pair of boys are very good."
"I be good!" Serafino said, then ran over to Serenus as Gaius placed him on the floor. "I be very, very good!"
"I'm sure you both will," Gaius said, answering Serenus' smirk with a serene expression rather reminiscent of a certain feline catching an elusive bird. "And I've decided to give poor Regulus a night off from the trials and tribulations of family life. As wonderful as it has been for him, a little indulgence doesn't hurt from time to time either. Especially since he's earned it!"
"I couldn't agree more," Serenus replied, smiling at them both. With any luck, Regulus would be relaxed enough to see Gaius - really see him - and perhaps realize he was a potential romantic match. "Go on, then. Have fun and don't worry about us. We won't wait up," he added with a wink.
"We haven't yet decided where we are going," Regulus said, turning to Gaius. "There is the pub, of course, or we could go somewhere in London, if you prefer."
"I promise to have him home at a decent hour, Papa Snape," Gaius said, tongue firmly in cheek. He thought for a moment, then inclined his head. "Well, if you're up for something a little different, what do you say to a nice German Hofbrauhaus? Schnitzel and spaetzle and the best beer anywhere in the world. And we don't even have to go to Germany, either; there's one run by a lovely old couple from Munchen just outside of London."
German food wasn't something Regulus had tried before, but he wasn't afraid of new experiences, and he nodded agreement to the plan. "Why not? I have never tried German food before, but I trust your judgment. You may have to order for me, however."
"No worries," Gaius said, then moved up beside Regulus, lifting a brow in inquiry. "If you don't mind, I'll Apparate us close by. It's a Muggle place, but I know an alley just around the corner where we can go safely."
"Certainly." Regulus stepped closer, and from his vantage point on the couch, Serenus had to force himself not to snicker evilly. Instead, he merely waved back when Regulus waved good-bye to him and the twins, and he tried very hard to look innocent.
Gaius caught the look Serenus gave him, and he dared to wrinkle his nose at his brother before sliding one arm around Regulus' waist. He couldn't help but notice how nicely he fit against Regulus' side, before drawing his wand and Apparating them away.
It was a bit dim in the alley where they landed, and Gaius looked around quickly, making certain they hadn't happened upon some unwary Muggle. "Coast is clear," he said, before stepping away from Regulus reluctantly. "We just turn right and head down half a block, and we're there."
"Very well." Regulus nodded and set off, turning right out of the alley and setting off at a leisurely pace. "I assume you've eaten there before, so what do you recommend that I try?" he asked.
Gaius considered the question, happy to walk along at Regulus' side, in no rush to actually reach the restaurant. "It depends on how adventurous you feel. Schniztel is fried veal cutlets, tender and very tasty, and can be eaten with either spaetzle - a buttered noodle - or fried potatoes. Then there is hassenpfeffer, which is roasted rabbit, or sauerbraten, which is a roast seared in vinegar and sugar with raisins. Schenken is ham steak, and of course, there are about a hundred different kinds of wursts - bangers to you woefully sausage-challenged Brits. I do highly recommend the dumplings; forget what the Chinese call dumplings, these will fill you with a single bite!"
The description of the food made Regulus' stomach rumble, and he chuckled, pressing one hand against his midsection. "It all sounds good at this point," he said. "Perhaps I will try the dumplings since you recommend them especially. I don't suppose they have sampling plates?"
"I know the owners. Why don't I see if they'll indulge us in that?" Gaius said. They reached the restaurant, and he opened the door for Regulus. They were greeted by a wave of delicious odors and a riff of cheerful music, and Gaius grinned. "After you. I think you'll like this."
Regulus entered the restaurant and glanced around curiously, taking in the details. He spotted an empty booth and gestured to it. "Shall we sit there?" he asked. "I have no doubt I will enjoy it, if the food tastes as good as it smells."
Gaius nodded. "Go on and have a seat, and I'll speak to Dietrich, and arrange for the food - and most importantly, for the beer!"
At that moment, a big blond man came up to hug Gaius, greeting him in booming German and smiling as he clapped Gaius on the back with a hand as big as a ham. Gaius answered him, then launched into a spate of rapid comments, while Dietrich glanced over at Regulus and smiled in a friendly way. "Ja, ja," he said, patting Gaius on the back again and almost sending him reeling. Then he turned and started toward the kitchen, bellowing out something to be heard over the lively tune playing over the speakers.
Gaius made his way over to the booth, sliding into the side opposite Regulus and giving him a somewhat chagrined smile. "Dietrich and Anna, his wife, were friends of my mother's long ago. They came to England when their daughter married so that they could be near their grandchildren. They aren't Wizards, but our village was mixed, so they aren't strangers to magic. Dietrich will bring our beer, and he's agreed to serve us up a nice little sampler of all the best dishes. So that my good friend can have a taste of real food, not the swill the English call edible." His eyes danced with amusement. "His words, not mine."
"Never fear," Regulus said as he took his seat. "My patriotic pride is not stung. I enjoy my homeland's cuisine, but I am well aware it is not always the most exciting fare in the world."
"German food is very filling," Gaius said, his lips twitching. "You were worried about Italian food expanding your waist? Well, you'll need to have the twins chase you for at least an hour to work off what you're about to eat."
Dietrich came out of the kitchen, clutching two huge steins in one hand and with two bowls balanced on a tray in the other. He put the steins down on the table, then served them each a bowl of thick, meaty looking stew. "Gulash soup," Dietrich said in his booming voice. "Will put meat on your bones!"
Gaius drew in an appreciative sniff, his mouth watering at the familiar scent. "Beef soup with garlic, paprika, potatoes, and red wine," he told Regulus. "I've not had it in ages, and I'd forgotten how good it smells."
"Ja, good," Dietrich said, then waved his hands. "Eat! Eat! You're both too skinny!" With that, he turned and headed back toward his kitchen.
Regulus breathed in deeply, savoring the rich scent. "It does smell good," he agreed, picking up his spoon and tucking in. He ate a few spoonfuls and looked at Gaius, smiling. "It is good. I like it," he said.
Gaius smiled, resisting the urge to wriggle like a pleased puppy. "I'm glad," he said, taking a bite of his own soup and sighing in pleasure. "I need to remember to come here more often." He reached for the stein and took several long swallows of the rich, foamy beverage. "Wine just doesn't go with this kind of food nearly as well as a good beer."
"Fortunately, I have a new-found appreciation for the simple pleasures of a pint." Regulus eyed the large stein. "Or gallon, in this case." But he picked it up and took a deep swallow, noting the differences between this and the kind of beer he was used to. "Excellent!"
Happy that Regulus was enjoying the meal, Gaius relaxed, glad that he had suggested this. Perhaps a few simple dates that didn't seem like dates would help ease Regulus into thinking of him in ways beyond mere friendship. "A toast," he said, raising his stein again. "To the joys of family and pleasant sleep and good business - and good company. All things that life would be poorer without, yes?"
Regulus lifted his stein as well. "Yes," he agreed. "I'll drink to all of that." He took another swallow of beer and set down his stein, returning his attention to the soup. "I'm very grateful to your family," he said as he continued to eat. "You've all been very helpful, more than I ever expected. I'm sure you are aware that Severus and Tybalt staged an intervention, and Serenus has invited me to stay with them indefinitely." He glanced at Gaius. "And you gave me Sekhmet and helped with my shop. It has helped me realize I was lacking close connections, but I feel as if I am developing them now."
"Good!" Gaius' smile widened, and he was glad that Regulus thought that he had been helpful to some degree in helping him feel more connected. "I think the connections have been there all along, or at least the potential, and you're just now realizing it." He shrugged slightly. "Maybe you weren't ready for them before? It does seem that at different times in our lives, we need different things. I know it's true, because I feel that way myself."
"I think perhaps there is some truth to that," Regulus mused, mulling over what Gaius had said. "I was not in the right frame of mind before. It took being overwhelmed by mud and toddlers for me to break free of my cycle of fretting. Now I am more able to accept the potential and let it grow." He pushed his bowl aside and took another swallow of beer, finding it was already having a pleasantly relaxing effect. "What about you? Why is it true for you?"
Gaius had finished his soup as well, and he sat back in his chair, giving thought to Regulus' question. An idea was forming in his mind, a somewhat risky one, but perhaps it would be a way to sound out Regulus in relative safety, to find out where his own feelings lay without pressuring him.
"Well, I've just been doing a lot of thinking myself lately," he said slowly, sipping his beer and then looking down into the thick foam floating on top. "I've realized a thing or two about myself, and... well, a thing or two about my relationship with Sirius. I've decided that I don't want what I had with him ever again; I want more. I'm not going to settle for just being someone's lover, no matter how strongly I feel about them. I want what my brothers have. I want a family."
Regulus sat back and regarded him with growing surprise. "I can't say that I blame you," he said at last. "It is difficult to keep from feeling a certain kind of longing when you see them with their partners and children. Sometimes, it is almost enough to make me think I could be a family man," he said with a little laugh. "But I admit I am surprised to hear you talk that way. I remember you said you intended to become involved again, but it sounds as if..." He frowned slightly, not wanting to insult Gaius with what he was about to say. "It sounds almost as if you were unsatisfied, and I thought you considered Sirius your soul mate."
Gaius flushed a little at that, but before he could speak, Dietrich appeared, placing a huge platter of steaming bits in front of them. Like all good tavern keepers, however, he sensed the seriousness of their conversation, and he withdrew after collecting their empty bowls with only a polite smile.
Drawing in a deep breath, Gaius flipped a mental coin and decided to take the plunge. "I loved Sirius, and I'd never been in love before him. I loved him for his beauty and his recklessness and his joy in life, and I think he loved me the same way. With us both being Animagi, there was a connection there as well, one that is hard to explain, but... well. I knew from the moment we met that it wasn't forever. It still hurt when he left, but it was something I'd known all along would happen. Oh, not that he would die, but that it would end. He stayed because I didn't hold him, you know; if I'd told him I wanted forever, it would have been over very quickly. I accepted that, because that is what I could have of him, and it was enough. Then. But that was before I found my brothers and saw that there was so much more, a more I want. I loved Sirius, and he was my lover, but he wasn't my soul mate, nor was I his." He gave a wistful smile. "One only had to hear him talk of James Potter, I think, to know exactly where his heart really belonged."
Regulus remembered the connection between Sirius and James Potter all too well, and he nodded, understanding Gaius' point completely. "I am inclined to agree with you on that," he said. The thought suddenly occurred to him that perhaps knowing he would be with James again was one reason why Sirius didn't try to find another means of mending the tear, but that, he thought, was uncharitable, and he certainly wasn't going to voice it aloud. "So... you want more, and you have made decisions about what you want in your next relationship. What now?" he asked, curious about Gaius' answer since he had been toying with ideas along the same lines himself. He still wasn't ready to commit to the idea of romance and trying to rekindle his sexual spark, but he wasn't against the idea either.
Surprised and pleased at how Regulus took his admission, Gaius smiled slightly, feeling almost giddy. "What now? Well, now I try to see if the right person is there for me." He looked down at his beer again, drawing in his courage. "Would it shock you very much to know that I think I might know who it is? In that kind of Road-to-Damascus, scales-falling-from-eyes sort of way?"
Regulus sat up straight, surprise shifting into shock. "Yes, it does shock me, actually," he admitted, picking up his fork so he could try his food before it got cold. "Not that I begrudge you any chance of finding what you want, but it's so soon..."
Gaius flinched; he couldn't help it, and he mentally berated himself for having gone too far, wrecking things before they even got started. He gave a thought to laughing it off as a joke, but to him, none of this was a laughing matter. "Sorry," he murmured, not lifting his gaze from his stein. "You must think I'm a horrible person."
"No, not horrible." Regulus gazed across the table at him intently. "I am merely surprised, that is all. I certainly do not expect you to weep and mourn Sirius forever; he would not have wanted that, and neither do I." He paused, trying to figure out why this was surprising and unsettling him so much. "I suppose part of it is that I assumed the relationship was more than it was."
"It's all right. Please, just forget I said anything," Gaius replied, reaching for a dumpling even though he now had no appetite. "I was being insensitive again. You're his brother, and it's only natural you would think that way. Don't worry, I won't shame his memory by shacking up with someone before time."
Frowning, Regulus put down his fork. "For Merlin's sake! I haven't said anything about shaming his memory. You asked if I was surprised, and I answered honestly. I am surprised, but I am not passing judgment on you. I am not the one who can decide when you are ready to move on. That is your decision to make, not anyone else's."
"You said it's so soon. So did Serenus and Severus, for that matter," Gaius said quietly, although his throat was tight and sore. "It's all right. It's hard for people who aren't Animagi to understand how time is... different, when you're in your animal form. How days seem like weeks, and weeks like months, and how the emotions are distant things, almost like there is a wall between you and the pain. I hurt you as Anubis, but the horrible irony is I managed to heal myself." He smiled, but there was no humor in it. "Ironically, Sirius would have understood, but I think he's the only one."
Regulus paused, trying to imagine what it must be like to be an animal and have a less-than-human perception of the world. Animals lived in the moment, that much he knew, and he could well imagine that time seemed meaningless and emotions became more basic, not the complex tangles that humans were prone to get caught up in.
"I believe I see your point," he said slowly. "At least a little. It is difficult for someone who is not an Animagus to understand, but... it makes sense." He studied Gaius for a moment, thinking about what Gaius had said. "If being Anubis with me helped, then I am glad. It helped me too, for a time."
All Gaius could do was nod, not trusting his voice not to break. He'd really made a hash of it this time, for all that Regulus was being very understanding. He just wished he'd kept his mouth shut and not made that admission.
He swallowed the rest of the beer in his stein, but not even the alcohol could warm him. It did, however, loosen his vocal chords enough to allow him to speak. "Thank you," he said, then sighed and shook his head, his lips twisting. "I shouldn't have said anything, though, and for that, I'm sorry. The awful thing I've had a hard time admitting to myself is that my interest is not at all reciprocated, and most likely, it never will be. Still, I suppose I can admire from afar. No harm in that, right?"
"None at all." Regulus regarded him silently for a moment, and then he reached across the table to capture Gaius' hand, squeezing it gently. "I've upset you, and for that, I apologize as well. I did not mean to cast a pall on your hopes - and you should keep up your hopes! After all, what idiot would not reciprocate your affection?" He paused, then nodded resolutely. "In fact, I will help you, if you like and if you think there is any way I can."
Gaius froze, the warmth of Regulus' hand on his a shock, almost as much as Regulus' words. It was the first time since he'd been Anubis that he could remember Regulus reaching out to touch him spontaneously, and as if his heart wasn't hurting enough, it squeezed painfully in his chest at the bitter irony of it all. "Apparently there's one idiot who doesn't reciprocate, and it's become obvious to me that he won't ever do so. If his interest isn't already caught elsewhere, it no doubt soon will be." He returned the pressure of Regulus' fingers, unable to resist that tiny intimacy. "Thank you for the offer, but I don't think there's anything you can do, really. I suspect anything I or anyone else tries will just send him running in the opposite direction, screaming in horror."
Regulus released Gaius' hand and stared intently at him across the table, frowning again. "I thought you were a Snape," he said in a challenging tone. "I am not seeing any evidence of it at the moment, however."
"I am a Snape," Gaius replied, pulling his hand back and lifting his chin proudly, his pride stung. He wondered if perhaps there might be reason to hope, after all, if Regulus was willing to acknowledge he was a Snape, and Regulus had an admitted attraction to the Snape men - or at least Severus and Serenus. He summoned up a wan smile and decided to go for broke. What did he have to lose, really? "All right, fine, I'll let you help me win my man. So... how do I go about attracting the attention of someone who doesn't seem aware I exist? Or at least not as a potential partner, that is. We're on friendly terms, but all overtures I've made toward something more don't seem to make any impression on him."
"Hmm..." Regulus' frown turned pensive as he considered the question, and he ate a few bites while he thought. "Perhaps the reason he hasn't noticed you that way has nothing to do with you but with him," he suggested, thinking about himself. Surely he wasn't the only poor sod whose interest had dwindled for one reason or another. "Either way, we need to find a way for you to get his attention. Do you spend much time with him?"
Obviously Regulus hadn't connected Gaius' "man" to himself, but Gaius wasn't going to take any chances. "Not as much as I'd like. We both have jobs, but I get to see him at least once a week, sometimes more." He considered for a moment, then decided to add just a little more information. "He did go through a painful separation in the not too distant past - " Sirius' death was a separation, after all, if not of the romantic relationship kind in Regulus' case " - but while it hurt him, I don't believe it broke his heart."
"That is a positive sign, then," Regulus said, and he paused again, collecting his thoughts while he ate a dumpling. "I suggest spending more time with him and trying to do subtle things to get his attention. Touching him while you talk to him, standing close - that sort of silent flirtation. If that doesn't work, then we shall move on to more blatant tactics. Hopefully, he isn't the sort who needs to be bludgeoned over the head, but if so, then we will find a way to do it."
The fact that Regulus was giving him tactics to use on himself was amusing, but Gaius' feelings were strong enough that he didn't feel the urge to laugh. Instead he nodded, then reached for a dumpling of his own, not because he was hungry, but because he wanted to be social. "That's good advice," Gaius said, taking a bite of the dumpling and chewing thoughtfully. "I don't know if he'll need to be bludgeoned or not, though. Hmmm... Is something like this too subtle?" Reaching across the table, Gaius laid his hand on top of Regulus', pressing it gently.
"No, I don't think it is too subtle," Regulus replied. "In fact, you could probably go a little further. Like this." He tugged his hand from beneath Gaius' and switched their positions so that his hand lay atop Gaius', and he brushed his thumb lightly against Gaius' skin. "Intimate, but still something you can brush off as being casual."
Gaius' eyes widened as he suddenly found their positions reversed, and he had to hold back a soft gasp of pleasure as Regulus' touch sent an electric current of desire up his arm. Regulus - Regulus - was touching him in a way that made his toes curl, and the problem was that he didn't even know what he was doing.
Swallowing, Gaius reached for his stein, only to discover it was empty. His mouth was dry, but he managed to nod. "Quite effective, I should think," he said, unwilling to move his hand from beneath Regulus'. "But what if he is oblivious? How much would be too much?"
Unaware of what he was doing, Regulus continued stroking Gaius' hand lightly; the contact felt good, and he had gone without contact for quite some time. "It depends, I suppose," he mused. "You could start off slowly and see if he wakes up, so to speak, and if not, then being more obvious will be necessary if you wish to get through to him."
Gaius felt as though all his senses were awakening, eager for Regulus' touch. He wasn't certain why Regulus was still caressing him; maybe it was the familiarity, as he'd stroked Anubis, or maybe, just maybe, he liked touching Gaius himself. Either way, Gaius wasn't about to look a gift horse in its proverbial mouth, and he willed himself to breathe slowly so as not to give away his physical reactions to Regulus' touch.
"Start slowly, right," he said, wanting to touch Regulus in return but desperately afraid to break the moment of tenuous contact. "I can do that. Hopefully he would notice, and even better, he would reciprocate. My worse fear is that he would recognize what I'm doing and reject me outright."
"Perhaps he might," Regulus said pragmatically. "It is a risk you will have to take. The only other option is to do nothing and wonder if you might have succeeded had you tried. If you honestly believe he is the right person, then by that logic, the two of you are meant to be together, despite whatever obstacles you must overcome first. If he is the right person, then eventually, you will be together. If he rejects you, then it must follow that he is not the right person after all." He paused, considering what he knew of Gaius' brothers and their relationships. "Or you have greater obstacles than you thought."
"Would you be that persistent, if you were in my shoes?" Gaius asked, tilting his head to one side. "If you truly believed that you were meant to be with someone, would you never give up, no matter how hopeless it seemed, or how many times he might reject you?"
"If I truly believed that, yes," Regulus said, releasing Gaius' hand at last, although with reluctance. "But you must remember I'm the one who doesn't believe in such a thing as romantic destiny. I realize your family are big on the concept, but I'm not sold on it. Still, that is me, and if I were you, who does believe in such a thing, I would be as persistent as I needed to be in order to win the person I wanted."
"I don't know if I believe in romantic destiny, exactly," Gaius admitted slowly, feeling a loss as Regulus removed his hand. "I do believe that people can be right for each other, perfect even. I'd have to be insane not to believe that, seeing my brothers and how they are with their partners. But I've also seen a lot of unhappy people who should never have been together. I think it's a matter of finding someone where you feel so connected to that you simply know it's right. Perhaps only one person fits for any other, or maybe there are a few people who would, somewhere in the world, but I'm only interested in the one here, close at hand, whom I think is right for me and I for him. I don't care to search the world over on the possibility of finding someone else."
"Well, then you should do whatever it takes to get him," Regulus said with a little shrug. "You are a Snape. It shouldn't be that difficult to figure out a plan and make it happen."
"I'm glad you have so much faith in me," Gaius chuckled. Apparently they'd managed to eat more of the food than he'd thought, and he tapped the plate lightly. "How about dessert now? Schwarzwalder kirschtorte, with some of the most heavenly coffee you've ever tasted?"
Smiling, Regulus leaned back in his seat. "That sounds most tempting," he said. "By all means, give me more food so I will have to be rolled out of here." He glanced around, taking in the restaurant's warm atmosphere. "I would like to come back here. I intend to get out more, instead of remaining cooped up inside, and going out to eat more often seems like a good place to begin. I would like to return to that restaurant that you, Severus, and I went to some time ago. I have not been back since, which is a terrible shame."
"Really?" Gaius beamed, feeling like a golden opportunity had fallen into his lap. "Vesuvius? I'd love to go back there, too. If you'd like, I'd love to go with you. It's a place that should be savored in good company."
"I agree." Regulus tilted his head quizzically. "I think the pleasures it has to offer would be diminished if I went alone, but wouldn't you rather go with the man you are interested in instead?"
It was on the tip of his tongue to say something about he would be going with the man he was interested in, but Gaius knew that was out of the question. Instead he shrugged lightly. "I don't think it's time for that yet, at least not in the way I'd like," he said instead. It was true, in a way, and he found he didn't like lying to Regulus even in the interest of getting closer to him. "Perhaps someday I can take him there and take part in all the hedonistic pleasures Vesuvius has to offer. In the meantime, however, I'd love to go with you. What are you doing this weekend? I think I can mortgage my soul and get us a reservation."
"I haven't any plans for the weekend," Regulus replied, chuckling at Gaius' remark about the reservations. "If you are certain it doesn't infringe on the siege you plan to enact on your hapless victim who will no doubt be in your thrall shortly, then I would be pleased to go with you."
"Excellent!" Gaius beamed, feeling almost giddy at the thought. Vesuvius would give him the perfect excuse to get closer to Regulus, to brush against him. In fact, he knew exactly what he wanted to do - the full Roman bath. If nothing else, perhaps Regulus would notice him, and he could have a very good time noticing Regulus. "I'll contact them and get reservations for Saturday night. And on a more plebeian note, I do hope that you will come back here, and I'm glad that you've enjoyed it. If you'd like, I can teach you enough German to be able to order knowledgeably. Or at least if you tell me the types of food you dislike, I can tell you what to avoid."
"There is little I dislike," Regulus said, reaching for his stein and finishing the rest of his beer. "It might be best if you teach me a little German." He paused, a sudden thought occurring to him; he knew he probably ought not voice it aloud, but learning that Gaius intended to start spending a lot of time with someone else made him oddly determined to schedule time for himself. "I intend to take a quick trip to Cairo next week to shop for clothes that are more suitable for playing with children in. I thought perhaps I might take a side trip to Luxor because I have not been to the markets there in quite some time, and I want to see if I might find something for the shop. You are welcome to come along, if you would like to shop for new merchandise as well."
Somewhere, Gaius thought, an angel was smiling down at him, he felt so blessed by the way Regulus seemed to be making things easy for him. It made up for the rocky start of the evening, but still, he shouldn't seem to eager, lest Regulus get suspicious. He frowned in thought, as though thinking over a non-existent schedule. "Let's see... I have something Monday, but I'm free after that," he said, then smiled. "What day were you planning to leave?"
"My schedule is flexible," Regulus replied. "What about Tuesday? Or..." He paused, frowning as he contemplated the possibilities. "If we leave later in the week, we could remain through the weekend. Say Thursday or Friday through Sunday? Does that suit?"
"That should be just fine," Gaius agreed, having to subdue the urge to shout in joy. "I'd love to see Luxor, and I know that you're the perfect person to show it to me. Have you thought about your first entertainment for the shop? This might be a good time to see about dancers or snake charmers or something. It's not as though you can find them in England very easily."
"Very true," Regulus said, nodding. "I will have to meet with some of my contacts and see what I can arrange. It shouldn't be too difficult to find willing performers."
"I think you could cause quite a sensation; it will be the talk of Diagon Alley," Gaius replied. He signaled to Dietrich, who nodded and picked up a tray, carrying it over to them. On it were two steaming cups of coffee and two plates of chocolate cake covered in luscious cherries and thick whipped cream. "Ah, yes, that looks perfect! Thank you, Dietrich."
"My pleasure," Dietrich said, loading up their plates and steins on his tray. "Would you care for a nice Reisling to follow up?"
"What do you think, Regulus?" Gaius asked, lifting a brow. "Care for a sweet wine for after?"
"Why not?" Regulus said, spreading his hands and shrugging. "After all the food I have consumed, what is a few more calories?" He studied the plate of cake and licked his lips. "This looks quite hedonistic. No wonder you like it!"
Gaius nodded to Dietrich, who gave him a broad wink and left them to their dessert. "It really is good - one of my favorites," he said, watching the way Regulus licked his lips with fascination. He knew he'd better distract himself from thoughts of where he'd like Regulus to use that tongue, and he took a sip of his coffee. "Hmmm... going back to the trip to Egypt, perhaps you can help me select some clothing, as well. My man likes the exotic, so perhaps a change in wardrobe would help him notice me, and your taste is impeccable."
"Thank you." Regulus smiled and took a bite of cake. "I am glad you have such confidence in my taste. It will be easy enough to find something to suit you." He studied Gaius for a moment, peering closely at him. "Jewel tones, I think. Something that flows with your movement. You should look for accessories, as well. Perhaps a gold cuff or a choker." He lifted his chin. "If that isn't exotic enough to attract his attention, he really is an idiot," he said with more vehemence than he expected. He wasn't certain why he was so adamant, but he found himself feeling rather strongly on Gaius' behalf.
"Hmmm... that might be good," Gaius said thoughtfully, taking a bite of his cake and savoring it. He was aware of Regulus' eyes on him, and he resisted the urge to preen under that silvery gaze. "I haven't worn much in the way of jewelry, but I'm certainly willing to give it a try, if you think it will work. I suppose accenting my best features would be a good thing to do. What do you think, perhaps a pierced ear?"
Regulus tilted his head, considering the question. "If you like, although I would not say it is necessary. You can achieve an alluring, exotic effect with temporary jewelry."
Gaius nodded, and he chuckled. "I could ask Severus if I could borrow some of his; he has more jewels than anyone I know. You should see the chain and charms Remus bought him when he was pregnant with Gaia. Of course, I suspect most of his jewelry is more feminine than I would care for; I have never had any desire to appear effeminate. Well, we could look in Egypt, I suppose. Sekhmet's earrings are quite fetching, I think."
"They are, yes," Regulus agreed. "You could take a look at my collection to give you an idea of what you like and what you might want to look for. I have pieces that were worn by men." He lifted his arm and pushed back his sleeve to reveal a wide gold cuff. "Like this. It is a little worse for wear because Winslow stole it off my arm once, but it is one of my favorites."
"He did?" Gaius' lips twitched in amusement, then he held out his hand and took Regulus' wrist, deciding to take the golden opportunity to put Regulus' advice into action. He pulled Regulus' hand toward him, studying the hieroglyphs on the cuff and using the opportunity to run his fingers over it, while he clasped Regulus' fingers, his thumb caressing lightly over Regulus' palm. "It's stunning. I think I would like something like it."
Regulus resisted the urge to fidget, unsettled by the odd sensation caused by the simple movement of Gaius' thumb, and he cleared his throat. "It has the added benefit of being a protection against evil. Supposedly," he added with a wry smile. "It made me feel safer to wear it after my encounter with Bellatrix. But there are plenty of cuffs that are purely ornamental. You will have to come by my flat so I can show you the rest before we take our trip."
Gaius turned Regulus' wrist over so that he could look at the other side of the cuff, then reluctantly released Regulus' hand, smiling and nodding. "I can understand why you would want protection, and anything that helps is worthwhile. I'll be satisfied with a normal one, however, and I would love to see the rest of your jewelry. You have such fascinating things."
"Thank you." Regulus reached for his coffee and took a deep swallow to fortify himself. "It will give you an idea of what to expect, and it will give me motivation to pack up more of my belongings to take to Azoth House." He paused and shook his head. "I still cannot quite believe it is home now, but the integration is not proving as difficult as I thought it might be."
"I'm not surprised. Serenus has a way of making people feel welcome as no one else can." Gaius ate more of his cake, savoring the rich flavor of the cherry schnapps set off by the dark chocolate cake. "I'm glad that you have found a sanctuary there. Serenus helped me so much when I needed it, and he's very nurturing. I think you need that in your life; it certainly sounds like you were deprived as a child."
"I was, yes." Regulus took a few more bites of rich cake. "But it seems I am making up for lost time, even though they are not my true family. They are more open and accepting than most of my biological family, so who is to say one cannot create one's own family, blood or no blood ties?"
"Precisely," Gaius agreed, nodding firmly. "Tybalt isn't blood kin, but he fits, and neither is Remus, but I can't imagine the family without him. Family is where you find love and belonging, and if you've found that, who's to say they aren't more truly your family than the people who gave you birth?"
"Tybalt and Remus are connected through marriage and children," Regulus pointed out. "I am more in the position of an adopted child, I suppose." He paused, considering this idea. "Which is not a bad position, considering it implies I was chosen to be dragged into the chaos that is life among the Snapes."
"And we wouldn't have chosen you if you didn't fit, or if you weren't accepted for who you are," Gaius said with a smile. "So let's not hear you say that you don't have any family, Unca Weg'lus, or I know two little boys who will be very sad."
"I suppose you are right," Regulus said, chuckling quietly. "I have been adopted, which apparently entails becoming Etienne's personal manservant," he said dryly. "He wants me to do everything with and for him, it seems."
"And he has you wrapped around his little finger, doesn't he?" Gaius' lips twitched, as he suspected he knew the answer already. "My own little namesake owns my soul, I must admit, and I'd lay down and die if it would make her smile. Children are odd creatures, aren't they? Helpless, maddening, fragile, and probably the most dangerous things in the universe as far as what they can do to us."
"You have that right," Regulus said fervently, raising his coffee mug in a toast. "I never imagined I would become the willing thrall of someone who isn't even half my height or weight and does not speak in complete sentences yet. And he is not even my child or related to me. That is the oddest thing of all."
"Again, a matter of the heart not knowing or caring about blood." Picking up his cup, Gaius sipped his coffee. "You can make the family of your heart, and that's a good thing. And it will last forever, too, because what the Snapes have, they keep."
"I have indeed noticed a tendency to possessiveness and loyalty," Regulus said as he finished off his cake. "Fortunately, that does not bother me, given the Black tendency to pride and possessiveness. We do not like anyone encroaching on what we consider ours either."
"Is that so?" Gaius considered that, wondering if he would be lucky enough for Regulus to feel possessive of him. "It doesn't bother me, either. I think I rather fancy the whole fiery 'mine' thing, which is a change from my youth, I must admit. I wouldn't mind one bit if my man wished to chain me in the bedroom and have me all to himself." He smiled, thinking about just how arousing he found the thought of being Regulus' "prisoner". "Hopefully I'll get the chance to find out if he'd indulge me in that."
Regulus realized he was frowning, and he wasn't quite certain why; instead, he turned his attention to the remains of his coffee, finishing it off and toying with the mug. "If you follow through with your plan, I imagine you will. Who could resist the offer of an exotic lover who is willing to surrender so completely?"
"Hopefully there is one man who can't," Gaius said, tracing a circle on the table top with one finger. "I have a decided preference in that regard, actually. Hmmm... I wonder..." He let his voice trail off as he wondered what Regulus' preference was.
Regulus raised one eyebrow and folded his arms across his chest. "You wonder what your man's preference is?" he asked, a slight edge to his voice that surprised him. He had to resist the urge to burst out with a barrage of questions about this so-called Mr. Right and see if the man really did deserve Gaius after all.
"Mmmhmmm." Dietrich delivered their Reisiling and silently withdrew, and Gaius picked up the glass, looking at the glowing liquid with an almost dreamy expression. "He doesn't come off as an aggressive top, but I harbor a secret hope that he prefers that."
Regulus reached for his glass as well and took a swallow of the sweet wine before answering. "What if he is not?" he asked at last. "Will that be a problem?"
"No, not really," Gaius said, giving a little sigh before sipping his own wine. "I'm flexible, I just have a preference if given the choice. What about you?"
For some reason, it took effort for Regulus not to sound sulky when he responded. "I am flexible. I do whatever feels good at the time. However, I do lean more toward topping than bottoming."
Perfect. I think I've died and gone to heaven. Gaius smiled, and raised his glass. "Here's to flexible men who prefer exotic partners and to doing what feels good," he drawled. He could almost think that Regulus sounded a wee bit jealous, but it was probably wishful thinking on his part. "With my charm and your help, perhaps I'll be able to seduce him before he knows what hit him, then burrow my way into his heart. Hopefully, he will appreciate having a Snape of his own, right?"
"If he has any sense, he will," Regulus said flatly. Disgruntled by the turn of the discussion, he finished his wine, hoping it would help rid him of his odd sense of unease. "At any rate, I am at your disposal. I will help in any way I can." And hope I don't regret it.
"Thank you," Gaius replied, finishing his own wine and then beaming at Regulus, feeling almost as though he could float away from hope. "We make a good team, don't we? Oh, I know the challenge is not yet done, but you've made me feel that it's possible - more than possible. I'd nearly decided that there was no way he would ever want me, but you've given me hope, Regulus. Consider Vesuvius to be my treat, out of gratitude for you reminding me that I am a Snape. Prepare to be royally thanked."
At that, Regulus felt chagrined for not being more charitable; Gaius was his friend, and he wanted Gaius to be happy, thus it wasn't very sporting of him to begrudge Gaius the happiness of wooing this mystery man, no matter how odd it made him feel in the process.
"You're welcome," he said, smiling warmly. "I hope things work out as you wish them to."
"I have a good feeling about it," Gaius replied, resting his chin on his hand and looking at Regulus with a dreamy smile, imagining what it would be like to be able to lean across the table and kiss Regulus leisurely. "I'm looking forward to trying. I'm looking forward to it very much indeed."