Last Light

Remus wakes to bright sunshine. He groans and squints and resists the urge to snarl at the cheerful helper who has pulled back the blinds. He feels that familiar disorientation, and cannot find the quiet necessary to gather his thoughts as the helper chivvies him out of bed.

"It's a fine day today. I'm so glad spring is almost here," the boy is saying cheerfully. "Would you like to sit on the lawn today? Catch some fresh air?"

No, he would not like to sit on the lawn today, Remus wants to grumble but cannot find the breath, and why must the helper move so fast? Doesn't he know that Remus aches?

"I can dress myself," Remus snaps when the helper tries to take off his night shirt, and the boy backs off and apologises immediately, but Remus' hands shake when he attempts the buttons and he scowls at the helper angrily. The boy is apologetic and deferential, and doesn't gloat at all as his young, steady fingers dress Remus. Remus stands there passively and stares out the window. What does one more humiliation matter, anyway? Fighting takes energy Remus cannot spare.

Oh, Lily, do you see what old age has done to me? Far better to have died gloriously in a blaze of green light.

Once Remus is dressed, he is offered his walking frame and shepherded out to the communal dining table. He walks slowly, concentrating on each step. He aches, oh, how he aches, and he must lean heavily on the frame. His legs are frail and unsteady, even more so than the rest of his body.

No, this is not his body. His body is young and strong, if scarred. His body can run and jump and fight. On moonlit nights, his body becomes a wolf in the prime of his life, ferocious and cunning. This frail, pathetic thing he is cursed with is not him.

Twenty years ago, Remus would not have thought that he could miss lycanthropy, but he does. He misses Moony's power, his wildness, if not his violence. He was so grateful for the cure when it was offered, but it was too little, too late. It couldn't turn back the years, erase the damage that the Changes wrought on his body.

Oh, Lily, how I rue those wasted years of youth. When I had strength and freedom enough for anyone, I valued only consideration and restraint. Now, when I am as restrained as one can be, I wish desperately for freedom and strength.

Remus eats at the dining table with other inhabitants of this nursing home. He nods to a few acquaintances, but doesn't speak. He focuses on eating. He can still control his spoon, though it is a struggle. He will not surrender this fight, not willingly.

The worst part of this half life is not the constant indignity, or the constant weakness. The worst part of his infirmity is that he is not so far gone that he cannot see the path ahead of him. He can see, as surely as he sees the pattern on his bowl, the long, slow failing of mind and body. As much as he hates this pastel pink room, this quaint crockery and these ancient compatriots of his, he hates even more the knowledge that one day soon he will not know them. He will be fed breakfast in his bed, and travel no further than the soft chair in his room.

Perhaps he should sit on the lawn today, before he is entirely confined to this plush prison, Remus thinks, but when the helper returns he asks to return to his room. He hates this muted prison, but fears the brighter world outside.

You would not fear, would you, Lily. You were always fearless and bold. You died young, but by God, when you lived you lived.

Before he is settled back into his bed, he is helped to use the toilet. It was not so long ago that he did not need help; months, at the most. Now he must close his eyes and endure.

He lies back in his bed with relief. Every day the trips to the dining room for breakfast and dinner grow more exhausting. He has already compromised on lunch, having it brought in, but he will not compromise on the other two meals. He will not be an invalid, not if he has any say in it at all, and damn the helpers' worried looks.

Remus Lupin is not dying. He hates old age, he hates his weakness, some days he even hates himself, but he will not die. He will not. Many of the patients in this home have given up. He can understand that. They have all lost everything that is worth living for, but Remus didn't live properly while he had the chance and he will not go gentle into that long night. He clings to life even as it slips through his fingers.

He is gasping for breath. His doctor says he shouldn't get worked up like this. It's bad for his heart.

Lily, my Lily. What would you make of me if you could see me now? You are all gone – James, Sirius, even Peter, young Peter, my boyhood friend. And your son, and all his friends. They are gone too. I have outlived everyone, and I don't know whether to be glad or sorry.

There is a picture of Lily on his windowsill. She is, oh, twenty, beautiful and vibrantly happy. He doesn't remember when it was taken – he might have been there, but probably not.

Emmeline Vance gave it to him fifty years ago. Remus doesn't know why. Pity, probably. A kind whim. He had burnt all of his photographs, even then. He had smiled weakly, and when Emmeline died and he no longer had to display it, had thrown it to the bottom of his trunk. It hadn't meant anything then. He was still young himself.

Remus is glad it's a Muggle photograph. If it were Wizarding, Lily wouldn't recognise him, and Remus doesn't think he could bear that.

There is no mirror in his room. He made one of the attendants take it away – when was it? Years ago. He thought he could lie to himself, but Remus has never been a good liar, and it is hard to believe that his bones don't ache and his hands don't shake.

They are all gone, anyone who once cared for Remus has gone, he has made no mark on the world, left no footprint on the metaphorical sands, and soon he will die.

Soon he will die, and oh, how he wants to live.

Lily was never his Lily. Remus knows that, and doesn't regret it. They were never especially close, and Remus never desired to become closer. He had not loved her then.

Red haired Lily Evans, all temper and courage and life. Remus had liked her, the wife of his friend, but he had disliked her loudness and the way she filled the room with her presence. A quiet and scholarly young man, he had prized selflessness and restraint above all else.

She had not even been a friend. Just James' crush, then his girlfriend, then his wife. Remus had shaken his head in amusement, but he had been pleased for James. James was his first friend, perhaps even his most prized friend, but Remus cannot even remember his face, while Lily haunts his uneasy sleep.

Oh, Remus, you fool. What twisted madness is this?

He knows the answer. I do not want to die, his mind whispers, a constant refrain whether waking or sleeping. I am Remus Lupin. I survived three Wizarding Wars, two Wizard-Muggle wars and various natural and unnatural disasters. I am a warrior and a scholar. This weakness is not me.

The day stretches on, long and hot and heavy. It leaves him sweating and it seems harder than normal to breathe. Remus ruthlessly suppresses that first jolt of panic, and calls for water and help sitting up. It eases his breathing somewhat. This is merely a temporary discomfort, he reminds himself. Today is not the day.

The day passes, whether Remus wills it or not. He is bored as always, but when he tries to read his mind drifts and his eyes hurt. Today has not been a good day; all days are bad days, but this one seems exceptionally trying.

That is the problem, he knows. He cannot go backwards and he will not go forwards, not willingly at least, but the present is a trial in itself. There is no way out, and Remus feels helpless. It is not even a matter of endurance. The days pass whether he wishes them to or not.

Lunch is delicate white sandwiches, which he eats with ill grace. At dinner time, he asks that it be brought into his room. This isn't the start of a pattern, he assures himself. He just doesn't feel like walking today. He'll eat at the table again tomorrow.

That night, Remus falls asleep quickly and does not wake.

Remus is chasing Lily up a grassy hill on a fine autumn's day. She is always just ahead of him, running and skipping and throwing coy glances over her shoulder.

At the top of the hill, he catches her and pulls her to him. He kisses her, long and slow and sweet. She tastes of grass and sunshine.

When he releases her, she smiles at him and takes his hand. She begins to pull him down the hill, and Remus sees that they are going towards Hogwarts. Remus feels a surge of joy at the sight of his old school. Down on the lawns he can see James and Sirius and Peter, playing Quidditch and mock wrestling. They are laughing and happy and young. So is Lily.

So is Remus.

Albus Dumbledore stands on the steps, eyes twinkling merrily, and Remus sees more and more people he knows. They are all laughing and joyful, and Lily leads Remus to join them. He follows with delight.

Remus wakes the next day. For a moment, for a very brief moment, he wishes he hadn't.

It passes soon. Not yet, Lily, he thinks grimly, and begins to marshall his strength for the new day. Not yet.