A/N: This is desperately emo. I was in an odd emotional place when I wrote it. Please forgive.
I have no idea what the hell happened with it, by the way. I just kind of wrote what came out. As for the Pop-Tarts… I was hungry, and I had Pop-Tarts, but I'd already brushed my teeth, and… and… and…
This whole thing moves in a very non-linear, non-logical kind of way, but I hope that you can derive some enjoyment from it.
A bit of "The Bear" by Faulkner, inspiration-wise. And more than a bit of the usual insanity.
Not beta'd, because I didn't want to force poor Eltea to read this crap again.
As the water lapped placidly against the porcelain walls, Remus took one scissor handle in each hand and drew the blades apart. He examined them momentarily, considering the glint of the fluorescent light on the keen edge.
To be terribly honest—and wasn't there always something slightly terrible about honesty?—he didn't like baths very much at all. Perhaps some of it was residual resentment from childhood, when he'd fled the hot water and the eye-burning soapsuds and his mother's fingernails gouging at his scalp. Largely, however, it was simply the fact that bathing was a matter of intense disappointment. A hygiene-minded individual took great pains to ensure that the water was the perfect temperature, and then, as he reveled in it, the water cooled. The bubbles popped. The whole thing just petered out until there wasn't much left. It was depressing.
It was a metaphor for life, was what it was.
Lukewarm water breathed softly against the sides of the tub. The smooth veneer was cracking in places, betraying the age of this particular Black relic. As if the nature of the thing wasn't obvious from the sneering opulence of the curling silver snakehead feet and the arrangement of the room itself—narrow, with an expanse of marble tiles leading up to the tub, which perched on a dais like an altar.
The water slupped quietly as he raised his left hand to the mass of scar tissue that had painted his right shoulder since he was seven years old. There was no need to look; his fingertips related that nothing had changed in the pattern he'd memorized in the mirror a thousand times. Crossed ridges of knitted skin spanned the curve of his shoulder and encroached downward near his collarbone, lines upon lines, the white of maggots, of corpses, of flowers that wilted too soon and of those tiny butterflies that looked like something you'd imagined.
Absently he felt along its expanses. Symbolic and so forth. Wounds that wouldn't heal; marks that wouldn't fade. His personal brand of stigmata, permitting him to act like the martyr he sometimes thought he was.
It was vain, though, that train of thought. Self-aggrandizing. And for all his personal agonies, Remus Lupin eschewed the limelight. He was a background figure. James and Sirius had been the type to frolic around the stage, delivering lines with abandon and destroying the scenery, and Peter had always been more than happy to tag along behind, but Remus loitered in the chorus.
Funny, wasn't it, how the chorus always came through unscathed? How being a personage of no consequence saved you again and again? How you blended into the back curtain so long as you kept your tragedies small and your torments internal?
Faintly Remus smiled. He was so self-indulgent about misery. All talk and no action. A thoroughbred wallower.
He ran the scissor blade along the pad of his thumb, and a wide cut opened obligingly behind it. The blood swelled, rising to the surface and to the occasion, and ran down his arm like a carpet unrolling. Tendrils of it spiraled into the water, diffusing slowly, like curls of pink smoke.
He leaned back against the edge of the tub, the drain plug's chain impressing its contours into his back, and closed his eyes. His pulse throbbed insistently, as if it couldn't understand why he'd seen fit to do more damage to his battered skin.
One afternoon when he was seven, he and his father went into the woods behind the house for a bit of bonding time, ostensibly so that John Lupin could teach his son about tracks, twigs, tree moss, and navigation. The rifle propped on his father's shoulder smelled faintly of lacquer and gunpowder, of murder and of mystery, but the little smile on his lips and the reappearance of a long-absent spark in his eyes assuaged Remus's doubts—smoothed them down, soothed them away, tucked them out of sight.
John even whistled a fair amount. Remus hadn't heard him do that in a long, long time, which was a pity, because the birds in the trees couldn't touch John Lupin when it came to whistling like the world was going to end.
They tried, though, and the serenade soared around the figures of a tired man and a tentative boy as they ventured into the dark wonderland of the wood.
It didn't take them long to get lost.
With night falling fast, John's face had taken on a familiar expression of hopeless exasperation, though there was some mercy to be derived from the fact that its source seemed to be this particular mistake, rather than the catalogue of errors that had hammered out the shape of his undervalued life.
"It figures," he remarked, acridly.
Remus mostly just tried to stay consistently two feet back—not close enough to be blamed; not far enough to be distant. He hadn't given up. This was a temporary impediment, wasn't it? They'd find their way again, and they'd go home, and his mother would scold them a little for being careless men (men, not boys; this was a crucial distinction; men were careless where boys were irresponsible), but she wouldn't mean it, and they'd share a conspiratorial little smile when she turned her back, and she'd warm dinner back up—
In the depths of the shadows, something shifted.
There was something so fundamentally wrong embedded in that moment that even a seven-year-old boy who preferred fairytales to football could sense it.
John Lupin cocked the rifle, his face closed and his eyes dark.
Remus looked up through a gap in the latticework of leaves to see a fat, round moon, the white of blind men's milky eyes.
Football wouldn't have told him what to expect.
"Dad," he whispered, reaching for his father's arm without taking his gaze from the pit of shadows that yawned before them. "Dad—"
Something burst from the foliage, and the world blurred and shattered as Remus screamed, the gun fired, and something gave a howl that rent the very air.
All Remus remembered after that was the stretching away of the forest as it dwindled piece by piece, as he saw it pass at a jolting run from over his father's shoulder, as he felt like his internal organs were being forcefully rearranged by the pounding of his father's stride. Labored breathing laced with panic. The gleam of moonlight on the scarred wood of the gun. The pressing ambiance of the pines, their invasive fragrance sinister now. The leaping of his heart when he watched the edge of the forest fall away, as he turned to look over his own shoulder and saw salvation and sanctuary in the warm yellow light that poured from the windows of the house. It was safe here. It was safe within the realm of humanity. He thought he could know that, at least, for sure.
There was a tightness to his father's face and a stiffness to his stance that frightened Remus, but when he buried himself in his mother's arms, he couldn't see it anymore, so it went away.
It took him many years to realize that John Lupin hadn't been so much angry as afraid.
Twenty-nine days later, he learned why his father was so scared. Human establishment, as it turned out, was no guarantee of safety.
It must have been very late indeed that it happened—or, rather, very early. The Lupin household was quiet, subject to the soft tyranny of sleep. Remus still had nightmares—frequently, no less—but he liked to think they were getting better.
He thought at first that this was just another.
The cracking of the windowpane woke him, and he sat up, knuckling at his eyes. Moonlight streamed into the room, only to be obscured as something appeared on the rooftop. Claws scrabbled momentarily on the shingles, and then a shoulder bristling with coarse yellow-gray fur slammed into the window, and glass sprayed everywhere like so much water.
It must have been seconds. It felt like seconds—long ones, punctuated by the resonating drumbeat of his pulse in his ears. He scrambled back against the headboard, opened his mouth to scream—
The bedsprings squealed; claws ripped into his comforter; his exposed bare feet were cold, so cold, but the sweat beading along his spine was colder—
Hot, fetid breath bathed his face; the claws sank into his arms—
For a fragment of a moment, everything stood still. The creature crouched there before him, weak moonlight glinting on yellow eyes. It reeked of dark, and dog, and death. Warm blood trickled down Remus's arms. The clock on the wall ticked, the sound like another gunshot. The wound near the creature's ribs oozed something pale and viscous.
"Please," Remus gasped.
Malformed features twisted into a smirk. Then the creature sank scimitar teeth into Remus's right shoulder.
By the time his parents had heard the scream, stampeded up the stairs, and thrown open the door, the creature had darted out the broken window, clattered down the roof, and bounded off into the night.
The breeze tugged the ragged drapes to wave goodbye. Remus lay panting, sobbing, wishing he could stop, because the motion jarred the shredded wreck that remained of his shoulder. There was blood everywhere, agony in everything, and the last thing Remus saw before consciousness abandoned him was the pink creeping up the white bed-sheets.
Remus Lupin touched the point of the scissor blade to his wrist.
His father had lasted almost two years with a monster for a son before he had redeemed his latest prescription of sleeping pills and then employed them to usher himself into a much longer, more restful period of dormancy.
And didn't every man aspire to be like his father?
With blood still drizzling lackadaisically from his thumb, he arranged the edge of the scissor better against a vein. He estimated that he had one shot at this before his touted Gryffindor nerve left him high and dry.
Well, low and wet, really, but that was semantics. Idiom problem. To add to his other problems, of course, various and sundry and wretchedly exaggerated as they were.
That was part of what he wanted to end once and for all—the stupid self-pity. He really had nothing to justify it. Things weren't that bad—weren't bad enough to merit the way he moped about them.
Better to remove himself from the gene pool before it was too late.
It was at that moment, just as he applied pressure, just as his skin gave like elastic beneath the scissor's edge, that Nymphadora Tonks opened the door.
There was an excruciatingly, extraordinarily, almost impossibly long pause. Then the astonishment on her mutable face vanished, replaced smoothly with a closed calm.
"Wotcher, Remus," she said coolly. "Not doing anything rash and violent, I hope."
He didn't know how she was standing despite the staggering awkwardness of the situation; his knees would have long since given way. He dropped both hands, sending water splashing, as if she might forget what she'd seen.
"Certainly not," he replied, his voice shaking.
Her smile was colder than the tiny sphere of sweat that gathered on his spine, a thirty years' later descendant, and it seemed that the vibrant bubblegum pink of her hair faded even as he watched.
"Good," she said.
She stepped out and drew the door shut. The click of the mechanism echoed.
Jesus. A pair of scissors?
That was just embarrassing.
It figured that she'd be the one to catch him. Sirius wouldn't have been fazed. It was only Sirius now who knew, who had borne witness to the twisted muddle of his adolescence, and who consequently understood just how thin and precarious stretched the veneer of composure—of sanity—that he projected nowadays.
He was the only witness, Remus heard his inner cop drama musing hoarsely, cigarette smoke trailing idly towards the ceiling—which was fractured, moldy, and possibly splattered with unlucky customers' cranial matter. The only recourse was to kill him. Destroy the witness, destroy the evidence. It was just that simple and just that desperately complicated. Wasn't it?
He sighed. Then he balanced the scissors on the soap dish, worked up a lather in his hair, and washed it out. He dried off, dressed, tucked the scissors into his back pocket, and returned to the room Sirius had allotted him. He sat down on the bed, which creaked, and looked at his hands, which trembled.
Like a coke addict in a back alley, his inner cop drama muttered, tapping the end of the cigarette against the side of the ashtray. Like a gambler who knows the game's up and there's no place to run. Like a man who knows what's really waiting at the end of the rainbow.
He reflected that he really ought to see a professional about the mental narration. There was only so much melodrama an almost-forty-year-old down-and-out failure of a werewolf could handle.
Sirius came in, before too long—or perhaps after very long; time felt shapeless and relative, and Remus lost track of it. Sirius sat down as well, not far away, and folded his hands.
"She didn't want to tell me," he announced, "but she looked like hell, and I got the reason out of her."
"I doubt she liked that," Remus replied equably.
"Oh, not in the slightest."
Destroy the witness, destroy the evidence.
"Remus," Sirius said, "I know what you are. I know who you are. I know everything there is to know about you, and I'm still here. I care about you. I care about you a hell of a lot." His voice hardened like hot metal plunged into water, hissing steam as it went. "And I'm not going away, so don't you dare try to leave me here."
"For trying to be consoling," Remus said, "you mostly just sound like a selfish bastard."
"That," Sirius responded, "is because I am a selfish bastard. And so are you, for putting your pain first."
Remus looked at his hands. "I guess we'll just have to be selfish bastards together."
Sirius ruffled his damp hair. "I'm glad we understand each other," he said. He got up and sauntered out, his hands in his pockets, and clomped audibly down the stairs.
They always kind of had, though—understood each other.
It was to Sirius that he'd gone when just sixteen years had been too much. A year before, he wouldn't have done it—wouldn't have sought out the notorious Mister Black to coax out the tangle in his throat, the nettle shifting angular, pointed elbows, seeking its release. But there was something new in Sirius now—now that the complete and categorical split from his family had carved into him a seething wound. There was something cold and tight and angry and afraid, and that Remus Lupin could understand.
So he stood, poorly feigning nonchalance with loose limbs and a straight face, in the middle of the rug and looked at the boy bent over the motorcycle book, fat sections of long, dark, thick hair trailing.
"What do you do?" Remus asked.
Sirius glanced up, ink-hair rippling. "What do you do what?"
"What do you do," Remus clarified unsteadily, "when you can't take it anymore?"
As Sirius stared at him, something stirred in the depths of his storm-cloud eyes. His tongue moved over his lips, and then he pushed them into a brittle smile. "You take it just a little longer," he said.
"That's it?" Remus prompted weakly, waiting for the Just kidding!—praying for it.
"That's all any of us can do," Sirius confirmed, his smile wry now, shaking his head absently. "That's all any of us knows how to do."
It was then that Remus started to cry, hollowly and hopelessly, and Sirius held him until he ran out of tears.
There had to be something more, didn't there? An easy out, a back door, a secret passageway—it'd blend into the wall, but if you probed the stones long enough with your fingertips, you'd detect the outline, and if you pushed hard enough, it'd give way, and then you'd be free, and—
He went down to the kitchen. Tonks was sitting at the scuffed round table, staring at the small, rectangular, pastry-looking object on her plate, which had white frosting and pink and green sprinkles.
Remus swallowed a few times, and then his voice worked. "What's that?" he inquired.
"That," Tonks answered evenly without looking at him, "is a Pop-Tart."
He sat down across from her cautiously. She didn't strike him dead on the spot, which was a good start.
"Do you eat it?" he asked.
That got her raising an eyebrow at him. Even as he started going a little pink, he decided that skepticism was better than the dismissive rage that had been emanating from her in pulsating waves.
"You were looking at it as though it was a particularly complicated puzzle," he explained sheepishly.
She returned to her scrutiny of the would-be, could-be, might-be edible, her arms folded tightly across her chest. "That would be you," she announced.
He blinked at her.
"Seeing a guy trying to kill himself really fucks up your day," she informed him, vituperatively. She snatched the Pop-Tart thing from the plate and bit into it viciously. Crumbs pinged on the plate.
Remus didn't know what the Pop-Tart had done. Perhaps it was taking a bullet for him. The poor, hapless Pop-Tart.
"Sorry," Remus said.
Tonks pushed the plate at him so hard that it almost skidded off the table, shoving her chair back even as he fumbled to catch the flying dish.
"Like hell you are," she muttered.
And then she was gone.
He looked at the pasty-ish object for a moment, and then he picked it up. More crumbs fell, spiraling down to the tabletop. He admired the ragged edge a little, and then he touched to his lips the part caressed by hers.
It almost felt like it meant something.
He set it down again.
Sirius wandered in.
"What's that?" he wanted to know.
"It's a Pop-Tart," Remus answered.
"Is it edible?" Sirius asked.
Remus shrugged. Sirius came over, plucked it from the plate, and took a tremendous bite. A few more crumbs yet sprayed outward like shrapnel.
"Decent," Sirius concluded with his mouth full.
Remus was mostly just amused by how many different people's saliva had now graced the frosted expanses of the thing.
Sirius swallowed. "She wants you to realize," he declared, "first that you're not the only one with problems, second that she wants to fix you, and third that snapping at you is her way of elaborating on points one and two."
One of Remus's eyebrows crept dangerously close to his hairline. "Eavesdropping is a bad habit, Mister Black," he said.
Sirius shrugged. "Damn useful, though." He proffered the Pop-Tart.
Remus accepted it, sighed, and set it on the plate. "I didn't know you spoke Girl," he noted.
Sirius's shoulders rose again. "I'm a man of many talents." He strolled out, adding over his shoulder, "Ta-ta, Moony, dear. Think of something for dinner, won't you?"
While Remus didn't have any brilliant revelations on that particular subject, he could think of a few things to shove up Sirius's… nose.
Maybe, he reflected, watching pink and green sprinkles glint halfheartedly, they should have Pop-Tarts for dinner and make themselves dreadfully sick.
The pastry-ish prototype, flimsy thing that it was, had a bit of a fissure going down its middle.
She thought he was a puzzle, did she? He did find himself in pieces, more often than he would have liked. But she wasn't a blameless party here—oh, no. Far from it.
He wondered if Nymphadora Tonks had any idea just how many hearts she'd broken along with all the plates and cups and vases. She was rather clumsy that way.
In her defense, however, his case was slightly different. His case wasn't just a matter of a bit of obliviousness to her own breathtaking beauty and the men who would trip over themselves trying to chase it. There was that—that was at the heart of it—but there was also a great deal more. She had done something singular to him—she had shown him. She had given him a momentary glimpse of the warm world behind her eyes, let him marvel at the way the room lit up for just a second when she flashed a reckless grin, displayed just enough of the fire and the steel and the Nymphadora at the core of the varicolored Tonks for it to root in his chest and strangle him. And he couldn't pluck that flower, couldn't trim that hedge, couldn't curl that vine around his hand and watch its leaves spread wide, because there was far too much at stake. So he let it grow. It was a grievous error and a monumental triumph, and it ached.
He tore the Pop-Tart gently along the line and began absently to eat one half of it. It was a bit too much concentrated sugar, which he had expected, and he sort of liked it anyway, which he hadn't.
When that escapade was over with, he took the plate to the sink, which was currently overflowing with every manner of serving dish and utensil known to mankind. Remus rolled his eyes, then his sleeves, and started remedying this hostile takeover to the best of his ability.
His sleeves persisted in sliding down and getting soaked, and he persisted in pushing them up again, albeit with wet fingers that only exacerbated the state of things. Fabric heavy with soapy water rustled against the white crests of old scars.
More old scars.
The first few years at Hogwarts hadn't been easy. There were many, many times that he came spinning back, his knees giving way and dropping him carelessly to the carpet of dust on the floorboards, only to discover that he'd gnawed his own arm almost beyond the point of recognition. Only to drag himself to his feet, pull himself together, cradle it to his chest, and head for the Hospital Wing. Only to sit in class, bandages chafing, wounds leaking, trying to focus, trying to learn, trying not to let the others' airy laughter get under his skin.
There was already a mortifying creature under there; he didn't think he needed to add anything more.
"You're good at that," Tonks reported, apparently back and ready for more.
"What?" he asked without turning. "Melodrama?"
He sensed that she nodded, so he nodded as well, scrubbing at the ornery crusted coating of food on a plate that had seen better days than this one.
He sympathized with it, too.
"Sirius says," he informed her, "that you want to fix me."
Chair legs scraped on the linoleum as she selected a place at the table. "Sirius," she replied, "shouldn't put words in my mouth." She paused. "Even though he tends to be right." She gave it another moment. He scoured at a patch of pan that was already clean. "I'm not too bad at fixing things," she said cautiously. "You have to be, when you're so good at breaking them. You have to make amends that way."
He set the pan down, letting it sink and disappear beneath the layer of suds riding on the water, and turned to look at her. "What do you do if you can't find all the pieces?" he asked.
She chewed on her lip and tilted her head a little. "You make new ones," she answered.
"Out of what?"
She shrugged. "Whatever's available. Love, hope, that sort of thing."
He ran a hand through his hair and promptly got his scalp wet. "That sounds a bit melodramatic," he reported.
She raised her shoulders again. "I like a little melodrama," she decided. "Every now and then."
He smiled. She smiled back, and, briefly, the whole room glowed pink.