Bermuda, Late June 1994
Althea removed her sunglasses and sighed happily as she looked upon the entrance hall, with its high, white walls, the ancient, iron wall sconces, and the ceiling fans carrying the ocean breeze into her plantation home. She closed her eyes as she rested her back against the refreshingly cool, large doors. She was home. I made it in record time, too, she thought, untying the deep purple scarf under chin. Bloody fantastic, those Quodpot brooms. I'm glad I bought one in New York; I'd look absolutely silly on a Firebolt. Taking out her wand, she carefully lowered her trunk onto old wood floor.
"I'll deal with this trunk later," she said, pointing her wand toward the lock. "I want a swim."
Althea knelt next to the trunk and lifted the lid.
"What I need is—oh, Afina, not a bikini," she murmured, holding up the small, purple bikini. "You know I have scars," she continued, twirling the bikini top in front of her, "but I suppose it doesn't matter when you're alone."
Sighing, she stood and kicked off her sandals. I haven't worn a bikini in years, she thought, unzipping her dress and letting it fall to the floor. There was a time I wouldn't have worn anything else. At least it's simple—oh look, a place for a wand at the hip. She's thought of everything. Althea tied the bikini top behind her neck—feeling the bikini adhere to her skin from the Temporary Sticking Charm imbedded in the suit—and placed her clothes into the trunk. I'm aching for the water, she thought as she went to open the door. I am missing something, though.
"A towel," she murmured and frowned slightly. "Upstairs."
Althea quickly climbed the stairs and turned for her bedroom. As she was about to open the door, the door opened for her, and she laughed from surprise.
"Remus, what are you doing here?" she asked with humorous surprise. Suddenly embarrassed and self-conscious at her attire she crossed her arms in front of her. "I thought you had to change your plans."
"I changed them again," he replied quickly and she could sense his agitation.
Althea pulled him forward into the corridor. "What is the matter?"
Remus gave her a pleading look. "I think it best—"
"Moony," Sirius called out, "my spare wand's not in here!"
His voice. It wasn't upset with urgency or tinged with sadness. It was as she remembered when he spoke with his mates. Althea froze—her face and upper body losing all color. Remus had betrayed her…her best friend! He thought it good for her if she would reconcile with Sirius. If the two were to meet, he wrote her, the wounds upon their hearts would heal. She rejected the sentimental junk, but Remus would not falter in his insistence. Once again, someone had decided what was best for her. Now, Sirius Black was in her bedroom, looking around in her things—her very personal things—her wish to remain dead, violated.
Remus glanced over his shoulder before he whispered, "Althea—"
"No, Remus, no," she whispered, shaking her head—her panic rising. Trembling, she slowly started to back away from Remus, not taking her eyes off him. "No!" she repeated and darted for the stairs.
Remus grabbed her arm and Althea struggled to break free. "Please—"
"No!" she whimpered, struggling and falling to the ground in hope he would let go.
Remus fell as well, now holding both of her arms as she fought against him. With every push against him, Remus held her tighter. She was surprised of his strength despite his thin frame. How could he do this to me, she thought as she struggled and started to cry with frustration. Why would he betray me?
"Let me go!" she whispered, arching her back.
"He needs you!" Remus whispered heatedly into her ear.
"You've betrayed me!"
Remus held her close to him. Althea stopped struggling, her chest heaving great breaths. "He has been a wreck this entire week!" he whispered shortly into her ear.
Althea arched her back and attempted to turn her head away from him.
Remus held her head as he continued to whisper, "He's been preparing himself for you! Discovering that you're alive changed everything for him!"
"Moony, my wand it's—" Sirius began, walking into the corridor, but stopped once he saw Althea.
His face pale, Sirius's gaze did not waver from Althea. Slowly, his arms fell to his sides. Quiet, he did not move, but a small tremble started at his fingertips, slowly traveled up his arms, and consumed his entire body. Althea—not taking her eyes off Sirius—stopped struggling and Remus loosened his hold, allowing for her stand. He had changed—at least from the last time she saw him—his hair was clean and short, his clothes new, and he was still very thin, but not as thin as the night at Hogwarts. Sirius lifted his trembling, thin hand to his mouth—his eyes bright with tears. Don't cry for me, she thought—the knot in her stomach overwhelmingly painful. Don't you dare cry for me.
Sirius opened his mouth, and gasped for a deep breath. "Althea?" he managed to ask, taking a step forward.
"No," she replied, holding up her hands, "stand there."
Tears fell onto his cheeks and he awkwardly wiped them away. "There's a lot you need to know," he said, his voice wavering. Sirius took another step forward as he spoke, "Please—"
"No!" she replied firmly, backing away.
Sirius disregarded her request and continued forward. "I love you," he whispered, resting his hand against her cheek.
The words echoed in Althea's ears. Love? It's not possible, she thought, sickened that she enjoyed the way his fingers felt against her skin. He says, 'I love you,' and I am supposed to forget everything? I spent twelve years of my life…I can't. I just can't! I don't care if he needs me! How many times did I need him? How many times was he not there when I needed him? Oh, but you had abandoned him when he needed you! You knew it was a lie, but you did nothing! The panic and fear she felt transformed into anger and disgust at their mutual abandonment. Althea slapped his hand away from her.
"I said to stay away!" she said, looking into his eyes.
She saw the hurt—the brief look of rejection—upon his face, and a small part of her felt anxious and guilty. Sirius lifted his hand to her cheek, the sickening feeling of enjoying his touch returned.
"Don't touch me!" she shouted, slapping his hand away.
Althea, her hand clenching into a fist at her side, backed away.
"Althea, please," he pleaded, attempting to touch her.
"No!" she shouted, punching him in the cheek.
Before Sirius could collect himself, Althea punched him again and watched as he staggered back—cupping the side of his face in his hand.
"Althea, no!" Remus admonished, rushing toward her.
Quickly unhooking her wand, she blasted Remus with a curse. With a shocked look, Remus flew backwards into the far guest room door, and landed with a loud bang. He slumped to the floor. Sirius, horrified, rushed forward, but Althea immediately pointed her wand at his chest.
"Don't move," she warned, but Sirius took a step forward. Althea thrust her wand at his chest, the tip of her wand making contact with his breastbone. "You still don't listen to me," she remarked, her jaw tightening.
Sirius looked from her hand to her face. Althea knew he was thinking of a plan to disarm her.
"Before you do anything you'll regret, I have to explain," he said urgently, anxiously looking into her eyes.
"I already know," she sneered and out of the corner of her eye saw him reach for her wand. "INFLIGO!" she roared, the jet of pale blue light bursting from her wand.
She fell backward from the force of the curse onto the hallway floor. The curse hit Sirius squarely in the chest, and he sought to catch his breath as the curse exploded around him. Althea shuddered at what sounded like a cannon, which catapulted Sirius into the air—his lifeless grey eyes wide as his body bent into a graceful arc—and he somersaulted down the staircase to the entrance hall. He landed with a dull thud onto his back. Althea scrambled to her feet and stood at the top of the staircase, waiting for him to move, but he did not.
"My God," she whispered, covering her mouth, "I've killed him."
Quickly she descended the staircase—her wand still pointed at the motionless Sirius. He is alive, she thought as she approached him, observing the slow and deliberate rise and fall of his chest.
Sirius groaned and brought his hands to his face, wincing as he touched the bruise forming on his cheek. "Bloody hell, Althea," he murmured and removed his hands from his face.
"Stand up," she demanded, motioning with her wand. "I said stand up!"
Sirius's bark-like laughter echoed throughout the entrance hall. "Why? I'll just fall when you kill me," he remarked darkly, looking into her eyes.
Althea tightened her grip on her wand.
"Moony forgave me," he muttered and groaned as he sat up.
Althea's eyes widened. "I am not Remus!" she screamed, sparks flying from the tip of her wand. "You have no idea what I went through! Do you know what happened to me on that night? Do you?"
Sirius remained silent as he shook his head.
"You left me to be tortured!" she said and slipped her fingers beneath her bikini bottom. She lowered it slightly for him to see the oval burn marks. "You left your daughter to be tortured!"
Tears started to stream down Sirius's cheeks.
"Look," she demanded, tears blinding her eyes, "look at what they did to me!"
Sirius cringed as he looked at her scars, increasing her rage—she repulsed him. She repulsed the man she had loved—the man who vaguely looked like his handsome self—the man who should repulse her, but did not. Shaking with fury, Althea cast the Cruciatus Curse and Sirius quickly rolled out of the way, missing the curse—it leaving a small burn in the wood floor. Panting, he looked up at her with a mixture of confusion and sadness. Althea screamed and slashed the air with her wand. Sirius rolled out of they way once more.
"TAKE IT, YOU COWARD!" she roared, her wand arm trembling. "Prudence and I didn't have the opportunity to run away!"
"Do it," he insisted, breathing heavily. Sirius continued to stare at her, waiting for her to hit him with the curse. "What are you waiting for?" he demanded. "Do it."
Althea looked into his eyes as she pointed her wand at his chest.
Do it, she thought, tightening her grip on her wand.
Sirius remained still, waiting.
"I can't," she murmured, losing her nerve. "I can't do it!"
Althea threw her wand across the entrance hall, and it hit the wall, creating a shower of sparks.
"Get out," she demanded, sinking to the floor—sharp pains radiating up her thighs as her knees hit the unforgiving floor. "Get out!" Althea covered her face with her hands as she sobbed.
Sirius crawled next to her and rested his hand on her shoulder.
"Don't touch me!" she sobbed, knocking his hand away.
"Let me explain—"
"What is there to explain?" she interrupted, turning to face him. "Twelve damn years, Sirius. You could have told me about Peter."
"You know, then?" he asked, furrowing his eyebrows.
"Of course, I know," she replied quickly, looking into his eyes. "Remus told me."
"I was alone," she interrupted, "I was alone and pregnant." Sirius remained quiet as she continued, "What was I supposed to think? That you betrayed James and Lily willingly? That everything we had was a lie?"
"It wasn't a lie," he murmured, resting his hand atop hers.
Althea retracted her hand and held it in her lap. "I would think back to every moment, to every conversation, for something that would betray you," she explained and lowered her head. "I finally concluded that it was me. I remembered that you would say you'd do anything to protect me and to protect me no matter what," she continued, and raised her head—looking into his eyes. "I didn't want to believe it, but it was the only plausible answer."
"Oh, Althea," he whispered, lifting his hand to her face.
"Don't pity me," she replied, removing his hand from her face. "Why couldn't you have told me?" she asked pleadingly, new tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
Sirius remained quiet.
"What am I supposed to do?" she asked—her throat painfully constricting—roughly wiping her eyes. "Welcome you back? 'Oh, Sirius didn't betray James and Lily. It was all a horrible mistake.' It's been years, Sirius. Damn it, what am I supposed to do? I hate you."
Althea rested her head against her knees and pulled at her hair, growling with frustration and embarrassment.
"Aren't you going to say, 'You don't mean that?'" she asked, sniffing back tears.
Sirius rested his palm upon her back, causing her to sit upright. "I don't expect you to love me," he replied quietly, stroking her back.
Althea tightly shut her eyes and bit her lip, fighting the urge to rest her tear stained face against his chest—letting him hold her.
"I expect you to hate me," he explained, his fingertips tracing gentle circles into the small of her back. "I left you and our daughter," he continued and Althea opened her eyes to see more tears trickling down Sirius's face. "I saw her grave."
He doesn't know she's alive, she thought, a small surge of hope filling her abdomen. Prudence is safe.
Sirius wiped his eyes with his linen sleeve. "I'll understand if you hate me."
"I don't," she replied, barely audible.
Althea squeaked as she realized she misspoke. I didn't misspeak, she thought, taking in a sharp breath. I don't hate him. I can't hate him. Sirius inhaled a shaky, eager breath. Althea looked into his grey eyes, eyes once full of hope and love, now dimmed and haunted from Azkaban. Don't, she thought, taking a nervous breath, don't tell him that you love him. It will only backfire. How will it end? What can he offer? It will only hurt you. She continued to look into his eyes, agonizing over a response that would—no doubt—hurt him. You and Remus are all he has now. He needs you and you need him. Isn't this what you've always wanted? Sirius innocent and in love with you? Whom else do you have?
His gaunt face softened; the handsome features somewhat returning to his face (at least she imagined it so). His expression reminded her of the first time he had asked her that question on the Potters' sofa fourteen years ago—hopeful, full of love, ready to love her. She only had to say yes. I won't make the same mistake, she thought, guiltily looking at his hopeful expression. I can't make it. I can't follow my heart as I did before. I know it will only end in heartache if I do.
"I can't," she answered, her eyes filling with tears.
Sirius placed his hand upon her cheek. "What?" he asked, furrowing his eyebrows. "You can't, what?"
Althea shook her head as her tears spilled onto his thin fingers. "I can't," she whispered, removing his hand from her cheek. "I can't."
AN: Thank you so much for reading this very long story. I am so sorry for all the edits, but I had never truly been happy with some of the things that happened and I tweaked it a bit. I can say, after all these years, I am finally happy with it.
Of course, the story has not ended here, it is picked up in Shown Like the Sun: the sun, the sand, the sea, and Sirius Black.