Fic kindly beta-read by avendya and saraswathi-rani (there should be an underscore there, but I can't type one with this editor) over on LJ. Any coherencies you see are probably due to them; any typos are mine and mine alone.
'I'm not afraid to die' was shamelessly inspired by a line in the Bright Eyes song, 'Poison Oak'.
On the first night he lies on the damp, muddy, tufted grass outside the shack, ignoring the scraping, snuffling, eerie night-noises, rustles and murmuring tremors from the thick bristly hedges nearby.
He lies on the grass and watches the stars, remembering nights and nights of gazing up at them before, lying with his head on Sirius' too-thin bony shoulder, hauntingly similar faces next to each other, naming.
Al-de-bar-an. Rigel. Be-tel-geuse.
Vega? Procyon, Procyon. (Sirius always knows.)
(Sirius always knows.)
In the day, on the first day, he stays inside and looks through the tiny cracks in the wooden wall, little gnarling knotholes making small dark eddies in the poorly-cut pine, watches and waits for death. In the day he thinks, The longest anyone ever survived was five days.
Five days, says Sirius, and he is thirteen again, smudged and proud and laughing. Five days. Bet you won't last one.
I will, Regulus declares fiercely, childishly. And I'm going to live forever, you'll see. Pah, Sirius replies gravely, adolescent scorn, flicking dark hair out of his face, leaning casually against the wall. Living forever is boring.
I will, Regulus declares fiercely, childishly. And I'm going to live forever, you'll see.
Pah, Sirius replies gravely, adolescent scorn, flicking dark hair out of his face, leaning casually against the wall. Living forever is boring.
On the first day, he sits in the oppressive silence he sits still and straight and unconsciously keeps his posture impeccable, and thinks until he has lost his thoughts.
In the day he watches and waits, but in the night he lies with his head propped up by his right hand (because his left arm burns), and forgets the night noises and tries to ignore fear and death. In the night he looks up, always up, and names the stars.
Sirius, Sirius, Altair. Arc-tu-rus.
Regulus? (Vega, Vega, says Sirius in his head, laughing proud boy-laugh. That is Regulus. This is Vega.)
(Vega, Vega, says Sirius in his head, laughing proud boy-laugh. That is Regulus. This is Vega.)
On the second day he wonders if he should write to Sirius, write to Sirius and tell him something, anything, say I stole a Horcrux, say I miss you, you great daft git, say something, something, anything. The words swirl around his mind and he tries to grasp at them but they slip away maddeningly, elusively, like his life.
In winter they would slip outside early in the morning to watch their breath steam in front of them, to listen to the little crunching sounds their feet made in the snow, to look at the iron-grey sky and the trees gnarled by the winter as the spidery shivery sunlight crept slowly upwards.
They never spoke. Talking ruined it. "It's fantastic," Regulus had declared once, when he was five and knew no better. A long slow look, tiny snowflakes caught in black eyelashes (like a girl's, Regulus remembers later). "It is." But after that, it wasn't, at least not that day or the next. Eventually time softened transgressions, and the still solemn graveyard beautiful silence returned, until the snow wetly melted away into disappointing brown.
They never spoke. Talking ruined it.
"It's fantastic," Regulus had declared once, when he was five and knew no better.
A long slow look, tiny snowflakes caught in black eyelashes (like a girl's, Regulus remembers later). "It is."
But after that, it wasn't, at least not that day or the next. Eventually time softened transgressions, and the still solemn graveyard beautiful silence returned, until the snow wetly melted away into disappointing brown.
On the second day he writes, and thinks Sirius, Sirius, turning traitor is a maddening thing. Nobody tells us how to do it, there is no convention we may follow to keep ourselves from thinking, and we must simply muddle and flounder and do and die.
He writes Sirius, you were right. You were right about our parents, you were right about the Dark Lord. You were always the smart one. You were right.
You were right about the others. You were wrong about me.
You were right about the others.
You were wrong about me.
He does not write any more, because his left arm burns, burns, burns, and he cannot write with the other.
On the second night, he watches the stars.
Ah, there is Regulus.
Ah, there is Regulus.
On the third day he begins to wonder if perhaps nobody has noticed, perhaps they have noticed and not cared. He wonders because three borrowed days is three days too many, he wonders because he is in hiding waiting to die, and death has not found him.
Most of them are killed within hours.
He knows they must have noticed; he felt the tingling shivering feeling of being watched when he entered the cave, bleeding from a thin slicing cut in his right hand and the burning in his left armrising sharply to a searing crescendo. He felt it again when he left, wand still blazing fire and arm still blazing, blazing thick dark black serpentine lines, and Kreacher still screaming, screaming madness.
They have noticed. The Dark Lord must have noticed.
They have noticed. They have not come.
On the third night he watches the sky for a telltale flash of green, for a green-starred skull with a green-starred snake-tongue. On the third night, by the flickering light of a dying candle, he writes. Three days and still they have not come. On the third night, he writes They have never been late in matters like this.
On the third night he thinks, but he does not say, does not dare to say for saying is believing and believing is death, Perhaps they will not come.
On the fourth day, again he remembers Sirius, remembers sitting with him silently in his dark room, looking at the flood of orange glow from the streetlights pooling on the bedroom floor and swallowing the shadows, looking at the light and trying not to feel afraid of the dark.
He remembers Sirius laughing triumphant in the summer sun, remembers Sirius taking a quick-running-jumping-flying leap to victory, and then turning and calling, Come on, now, or I'll leave you behind. He remembers his own answering shout, running-running-leaping to catch up, because Sirius was always older and taller and faster, and Sirius was always better then. (Sirius was still the good son, then.)
He remembers golden summer's days.
I wish we could live for ever and ever.
I don't, Sirius answers, scorn. I'm not afraid to die.
I don't, Sirius answers, scorn. I'm not afraid to die.
On the fourth day in his wooden shack, writing and thinking and waiting to die, Regulus remembers Sirius at sixteen, dark and angry and rebellious. He remembers how Sirius was always thinner after the holidays, always sharp angular planes and thick black eyebrows and carefully studied elegance, thinner on a diet of anger and rebellion and injured pride and dark, gloomy, formal meals around the family dining table where the house-elves served delicacies on silver platters and nobody had the courage to eat, not even brash Gryffindor Sirius.
On the fourth day he remembers a curt note from Sirius the day after he left the house for good, turned away from despair and anger and Regulus.
At the Potters'. Do not expect me back. Tell your mother I do not apologise. Sirius.
His mother had raged and seethed and shrieked in impotent fury (she had started, then, already, to grow mad). Regulus had climbed the stairs slowly to Sirius's room and looked at it, at the forlorn empty dustiness of it and the picture frame hanging askew on the wall, with Phineas sniggering quietly somewhere out of sight. He looked at the torn draperies, the bedspread on the floor, looked at the bright red and gold scarf lying forgotten on the bed.
He had told himself that Sirius was a blood traitor, had forced himself to hate him But he stayed awake nonetheless, late into the night, in the pool of streaming golden-orange light from outside, wishing inside just a little bit that he had been Sirius, that he had been brave and impudent and ready to give up a family for his principles.
He sat there, in the light with his back to the darkness, holding Sirius's forgotten unwanted unmissed blood-traitor red-and-gold scarf in his hand, and he stayed simply looking at it and trying not to think long after the last grumbling inhabitants of the house had fallen into uneasy shuddering sleep.
On the fifth day Regulus wonders who will be sent - for it is surely a matter of time now, only a matter of minutes or hours before he falls at last. Perhaps it will be Snape, and he will catch him unawares, perhaps slipping an insidious poison into Regulus' meagre supply of drinking water.
(Snape made the potion that surrounded the Horcrux, the potion that drove Kreacher mad.)
Perhaps it will be Bellatrix, Bellatrix who will not seek, could never seek subtlety or painlessness or poison. Bellatrix will simply torturewith perverse, horrifying joy, and then Bellatrix will wait for him to moan and beg and plead for death, wait for him to beg so that she may deny it; she may leer over his face and smile and taunt her cousin like she has always done.
(Last night Regulus dreamt that someone came, and that it was Bellatrix.
He woke up.)
He woke up.)
Perhaps - and here he laughs at the irony - perhaps it will be Sirius. Perhaps Sirius will come to finish his Death Eater brother once and for all, and instead will remove all knowledge of what might be the greatest service for Dumbledore's - for Sirius' own cause.
Perhaps Sirius will come, sending the door flying open and striding in. They will talk, for a moment. They will remember to remember to forget, for a moment. They will duel, for a moment.
For a moment, in a moment, because he is no match for flamboyant brilliant Sirius, in a moment he will die.
He thinks that perhaps it will be better to die a tragic hero, a betraying, betrayed hero. He thinks that the irony would be beautiful.
But he is afraid of death, because he is not a Gryffindor, and he has never understood how to face death unflinching. He is afraid of death, because he does not know how to die.
Sirius, Sirius, death is a difficult thing.
I do not understand how to die.
I do not understand how to die.
The sky tonight is clouded, fading from black to a murky violet at the horizon; the twisted trees whisper in the wind, murmuring half-heard nothings that ring in his ears until they are a constant litany of his own regrets.
He treads the floor, ten paces this way, a quick sharp turn, eleven paces that, turn and back again. It is the sixth night, he thinks, as the floorboards creak. It is the sixth night. Nobody has come. It is the sixth night, and he wonders whether he should not simply go, walk out of here and find a new name and a new face.
Perhaps in five missed days a war can die.
He wonders what his family would think of him now, tries not to think of his mother or Bellatrix or Narcissa. He tries not to think of Sirius.
He does not entirely succeed; a memory slips out, ofbeing nine years old and ill and afraid, watching a shadow-dog creep against the wall, watching Sirius start and stretch a hand out, timidly, rubbing the dream-dog behind the ears. The dog stretches, arches in pleasure. Sirius grins, delighted, in the dark.
What are you doing here? Sirius asks, softly. I've never had a dog before. Are you mine? Are you for me?
The dog twitches and vanishes, black, into the creeping corner-shadows. A curtain in the hall streams out suddenly, caught in a buffet of wind, he thinks, because he sees its fluttering shadow black on black.
He tells his mother the next morning; Feverdream, she tells him, and strokes his hair. It will be all right. (It was one of the last times she ever held anyone close, because she was already growing mad, or growing old.)
Now, with the cool logical certainty of growing up, he knows. Grim, he thinks. Grim, for me.
His candle dies. It is the last.
He watches the sun edge over the horizon into the seventh day, spilling gold and orange into the sky, and thinks today it is Saturday, the twenty-fourth.
He laughs, the first sound he has made in days. It is the twenty-fourth of October. It is his nineteenth birthday.
Today would be a fitting day to die. The tragic hero always dies on his birthday.
He opens the cabin door. It is damp, chill and misty outside, a frosted fogged grey.
He does not see the face of the person wearing the hood, but he hears the voice and thinks yes, that is what I expected. He has known, he has always known.
Birdsong fills the air. There is lavender growing by the side of the hut, and its scent fills him as he slowly, elegantly, languorously falls.
(fall, fall, fall.)
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