Emilie, this is all your fault! You got me thinking about the centaurs. And Erikskitty! You too. Still. It's all good, because they're worth thinking about. So thank you both. Enjoy, everyone.
Disclaimer: HP, and Severus, aren't mine. Thanos is.
A bitter frost drew layers of delicate crystal across the forest, lending a crisp, strangely eerie air to his home. Thanos walked sedately through it, delighting in the silent majesty of his world, despite the ache the cold sowed in his aged bones. The old centaur loved nights like this, loved the clear air that drew the diamond stars into sharp relief against an utterly black sky, loved the layered contrasts between white earth and black sky and all the wandering shadows in between that lived on these nights.
He stepped into a clearing, enchanted, and found one of his more beloved shadows waiting there. The human child was silent, as he ever was, and waited with such grave patience that he seemed planted there, like the ancient oak behind him. Thanos smiled, walking over to stand beside the child, sharing what warmth was in his aged form. The child laid a hand against his flank silently, looking out at the frost-strewn forest with an air of grave wonder. Thanos gazed fondly down at him, at the shadowed face that nevertheless was infinitely expressive. He ranged his solid form beside his young companion's slighter one in support, and let the child ponder, waiting for him to voice his latest question.
They stayed that way for some time, content to simply watch the stars. Finally, the young one tipped his head back to look up at him. Thanos noted the bruise decorating one pale cheek, and frowned, but said nothing. The child came to him wearing such marks from time to time, more often than a child should, but it never seemed to bother the little one unduly. Perhaps he was simply used to it. It saddened him, though, that one who had seen only seven winters should already be so accustomed to pain.
"What does beauty mean, Thanos?" young Severus asked softly, bright curiousity in his dark gaze. The old centaur cocked his head to one side, considering.
"Why do you ask, ana aiert?" The child turn back to stare at the forest, thinking how to answer. Thanos waited. Severus was young, but such deep thoughts entertained the grave child that it was never wise to assume you knew his mind. A simple question could mean something very important to him, so it was the centaur's habit to discover exactly what was meant before answering.
"I ... feel things, sometimes," Severus confided slowly. "I look at things that happen, and they seem ... dark, ugly. I look at other things, like this night, and they seem ... lighter, less ugly. Beautiful, I think. But ... sometimes the ugly things seem a little bit beautiful too. My father, sometimes. Sometimes he seems so dark and fearsome, so ugly, and when he's like that, he makes other things seem ugly too. Fear. Fear seems ugly to me. But then, once in a while, when his anger fades a bit, I can see a little bit of the fear in him, too, and it doesn't look ugly there. It doesn't make him seem more ugly. Instead, it makes him look a little bit beautiful. I don't understand. Where does beauty come from? What makes things beautiful? What does it mean, Thanos?"
The old centaur stared up at the stars, at their tiny, fierce lights in the blackness of the sky. "Beauty," he said finally, "is something that means something different to everyone. What beauty means to you is not the same as what it means to me. You have to understand yourself before you can understand what it means for you. So you already have the answer to your question. You only have to see it. Try to think, ana aiert, what seems beautiful to you."
There was silence for a long time as the little one thought about this. After a little while, Thanos noticed that Severus was shivering badly, though the child paid no heed to his own discomfort. Shaking his head slightly, Thanos scooped the fragile form up into his arms. The child stiffened momentarily in shock, then relaxed back. Turning, the centaur placed the child on his own broad back, where the young one could nestle into his warmth. Severus lay against his human torso, partially shrouded in his long white hair, and hugged him briefly in gratitude.
"Beauty makes me cry," the child said finally, after deep consideration. Thanos blinked.
"What do you mean, Severus?"
"For me, beauty is the thing that makes me cry," was the grave answer. "I don't cry at the ugly things. I think I did, once. I can't really remember. Maybe there weren't so many of them once, and they made me cry when they came. Now I know there's lots of ugly things. There's lots of fear and anger and pain. There's lots of hurtful, ugly things. They don't make me cry anymore. I can't cry all the time, and I don't really need to. The ugly things are just the way they are. But beauty is something different. I can't help but cry at it. It seems so fragile, you see. It comes, and then it disappears again so fast that I can't help but cry."
Thanos stayed silent. The child wasn't finished, he knew. "I saw that little bit of beauty in my father today," Severus went on. "He looked different. He usually looks so ugly, and sometimes it's so ... big ... that he seems to fill the whole world with ugliness. He makes mother, and me, seem ugly too. I feel bad when that happens. I wonder if maybe the ugliness will stick to me, and I'll be ugly like him forever. But today I saw something different. He hit me, and for a moment, he wasn't angry. He was afraid, and a little bit in love. It made him less ugly, and I cried. I don't usually. I think he saw beauty too, you see. I think, for him, things look more beautiful when they're a little bit broken. I think it's because he's a little bit broken too. I think he wants to see beauty so he can feel a bit beautiful too. I saw it, and then it went again."
The little one paused, thinking again. Thanos was glad he'd put the child behind him. He didn't want him to see his tears.
"Beauty makes me cry, Thanos," Severus continued softly. "I want it to stay, but I don't think it can. Father finds beauty in things that are broken, but it makes him afraid. Maybe he's afraid that it leaves because he's so ugly. Beauty hurts him. It hurts me a bit, too. But I can't help but want it. I think I love beauty. But I love it more when it comes in something ugly. I love it more when things that seem ugly suddenly seem beautiful too. Maybe everything ugly has a little bit of beauty in it. What do you think, Thanos?"
The old centaur swallowed. He turned and picked the child up gently, holding him in his arms in front of him so he could look him in the eyes. Severus looked gravely up at him, curious and confident in his safety. Thanos was glad of that.
"I'm going to tell you something, Severus," he told his young companion seriously. "I want you to understand this, because it is very important. Okay?" Severus nodded, then followed Thanos' gaze as he looked towards the heavens. "Do you see the stars, Severus? For us, for my people, they are the most beautiful things in the world. They mean so much to us, though few understand why. It's different for each of us, you see. Some think that the stars show us the future because they are divine beings. Some think their beauty frees our minds and lets us intuit what will come. But that is not what I think." He looked down at the grave child, at the wonder in the tiny face.
"Do you want to know what I think, Severus?" The child nodded eagerly, and a shadow of a smile flitted over the old centaur's features. "I think the stars are souls. I think they were once great souls here on our world, or others like it. I think they were souls of such great compassion and valour that they chose to remain with us after they passed on, to guide us through our troubles. I think that is the fate of such souls, for even in life no shadow can hide their fierce light. That is what beauty means to me. Beauty is a soul that endures and shines despite all the darkness and ugliness of the world. Beauty is a soul that can see the glimmers of light in even the darkest of hearts. And sometimes, beauty makes me cry too, because such beings of great love must eventually leave this world, and move on. But then I look to the stars, and I realise that such beauty never really dies."
He placed Severus gently on the ground, and brushed away the tear that glimmered in one black eye. For a moment, he simply gazed down at the small, weary face, at the ugly bruise that marred it, and at the light of understanding in those young eyes, and he was glad that the beauty he saw there would never die. He was glad that the soul he saw behind those dark eyes was was bright enough to know beauty even in the darkness that surrounded it. The souls of children always shone brightest. That was the sadness of it. Souls of such love to make the brightest stars never stayed too long in this dark world. He wondered what fate would lie in store for this grave, serious child, and selfishly hoped that it would be long, for truth be told, it was the dimmer stars he loved most. Those souls had shone in his world longer.
"Thank you, Thanos," Severus whispered.
"For what, ana aiert?" The child smiled at the term. Ana aiert. Beloved one. Severus deserved someone to love him as he was, deserved someone who would care even if he wasn't 'a little bit broken'. He was, of course, and always would be now. Such hurts to the soul could not be healed. But the bright wonder of the world lived on. The beauty lived on. Such beauty could never die.
"For showing me the stars, Thanos. For showing me the souls. Thank you."
"You're welcome, ana aiert. Always."
I'm getting all mythical. Forgive me. R&R?