Disclaimer: HP isn't mine, yo.
Beta'd by Nimbirosa, who is amazing and wonderful and all-around nifty. Snazzy, even.
The little things kept him sane. Little things, like memories of rainy Saturday mornings spent solving the week's crossword puzzles with Remus and Lily - because Remus was a walking encyclopedia and Lily's mind was as twisty as a Slytherin's, and Sirius himself was gifted with sporadic sun-bright bursts of insight.
He remembers those mornings wistfully, bitterly, and wishes he could turn back time somehow, put things right.
Sirius Black in six letters: fucked.
He manages to safeguard his mind for the first few weeks - maybe even months. Time loses all meaning in Hell, and he stops caring before long. But for a while he clings to his sanity; he becomes Padfoot whenever the Dementors approach, and the cloaked bastards only feed off of humans.
Sirius Black, eight letters.
Then the cure becomes the cancer, and slowly he begins to forget himself. He spends more and more time as Padfoot, until he can barely remember what it means to be human. All he remembers are rainy mornings and crossword puzzles, and the feeling of a mystery solved, of a job well done.
And he spirals down, down and deeper down, forgetting and forgotten, but always - always - something brings him back. The rich, heady scent of rain in the air, stealing through the dank and chilly stone corridors; a glimpse of amber eyes or red hair or a mischievous smile (but always an auror's eyes or hair, always a fellow prisoner's insane smile, and it's never them, never Remus or Lily or James come to take him away).
A few times, he even manages to beg a crossword puzzle from the human guards, and if he closes his eyes he can hear Lily and Remus arguing over some minor Greek god's name; he can pretend that it's Saturday morning, that the rain will end.
And they save him, restore his sanity, make him human again - the little things. The things the Dementors can't touch, can't destroy; the memories he won't let them have.
The little things keep him sane, and he doesn't give up, doesn't let himself be broken, because Sirius Black is a synonym for strong, for unyielding, and no matter how much time he spends as Padfoot, he's still him where it matters.
And despite the despair, despite the Dementors and the pain, there's something left in him that struggles on, that brightens his days from a black midnight nothingness to a dim gray monotony. There's something left in him that casts rays of light - feeble, yes, but still there - into the unrelenting darkness.
Four letters - hope.
Eight letters. Survival.
He remembers rainy mornings and crossword puzzles. He remembers the golden warmth of love and friendship.
And he doesn't give up.