He can't kill her. The realisation hits him, and Regulus doesn't know what to do. He's never been one for initiative. He stood, frozen, just looking at her with his eyes and wide and his mouth slightly open. She's cowering, sobbing, and still whispering about her daughter.
He can't kill her. That's his job, the reason he'd been sent here, the reason he'd spent a full hour lurking in a dark alley waiting for her to pass. The reason he'd raised his wand. The reason she'd started sobbing and saying she had a daughter, a little baby girl, and please don't kill her, please, her daughter needs her. And suddenly, though he'd believed he could kill her, he found the words wouldn't come to his lips.
"Bella?" He asked hesitantly, unsure how his cousin would react to his question. "When you kill...do you feel anything?"
"No." She replied flatly. "You feel nothing, Regulus. It's much easier than you think."
She'd been telling the truth – for her. But Bella isn't like other people, never really has been. He'd stupidly believed he'd feel nothing as he ended an innocent life, foolishly believed murder would be easy.
And here he is, with his wand pointing at a young mother's heart, frozen as the seconds ticked by.
"Please." She whispers. She doesn't seem to have noticed, in her terror, that he hasn't spoken, hasn't moved. That there is no cruel glint in his eyes, but sudden horror.
He can't kill her.
How has he got himself into this position? How? He hardly remembers, as he stands here powerless and frozen and unable to kill, what drew him to the Dark Lord. What made him think joining the Death Eaters was a good idea. What made him go to the cousin he'd always feared and ask her to take him, to let him join.
How has he ended up here, with a dark mark burned onto his arm and a woman sobbing before him?
He feels like a ten year old. Like a child who's just realised he doesn't want to be here, doesn't want to be doing this, and yet doesn't know how to get home.
He just wants to go home.
He can't move his arm. He tries to lower his wand, but his arm won't move. His tries to step backwards, but he doesn't move.
He can't kill her! He can't, and the Dark Lord will be furious. And Bella – Bella might kill him out of the shame – he own cousin, the guy she introduced to the Dark Lord, unable to kill one little witch? When Bella herself has already killed so many, one would assume he'd be able to kill one. They share the same blood, after all.
But he can't. He tries to grip his wand tighter – he will kill her, he will – but he can't move. And he's suddenly cold all over, and he feels so pathetic.
He thinks, in that moment of shame and fear and cold, that he deserves to die. If the Dark Lord kills him, he wouldn't blame him.
Why is he like this? Little Regulus, not as brave or clever or charming or funny or good-looking as his brother? Regulus, who's only talent had ever been as a seeker, and even then Hogwarts had better. Regulus, who isn't as reckless or violent or able as Bellatrix?
He has, for as long as he could remember, felt like lesser than everyone around him. And now, in his stupid Death Eater robes and mask, he can't even kill the whimpering witch in front of him.
He tries to grip the wand – this time, this time his fingers tighten on this handle, and for a moment he thinks that he can, after all, kill her – but the words still won't come to his lips, and he knows, in his mind, his heart, his soul, that he can't kill her. He's just not capable of it.
He can't kill her.
"Please..." She whispers. "My daughter...my baby...what will happen to her without me?"
It isn't the child's fault her mother is a mudblood. Isn't the child's fault the Dark Lord wants this woman dead. The child doesn't deserve to starve to death – or else grow up without a mother's love – to suffer at all.
"Go." He snarls it, before even thinking about it. "Get out of here - out of the country – take your daughter and leave." She looks at him in shock, obviously unsure if he means it. "NOW!" He yells, and she staggers to her feet and runs. He gives her a little head start, then follows her, because he doesn't want to die yet, and he has to make sure she leaves.
He waits for her to finally exit her home, a small child on her hip and a bag swinging from her arm. She's still sobbing, as she runs down the street. Regulus leans against a wall, breathing heavily and shaking all over.
He isn't a killer. He's a Black, a Death Eater, but not a killer. How is he supposed to be one of the Dark Lord's servants if he can't kill?
The Dark Lord will be waiting to hear if he's succeeded or not. Regulus breaks out in sweat, because the Dark Lord knows when he's being lied to. He'll have to tell someone else – anyone else – and get them to pass on the message. He doubts he'd be allowed to see the Lord himself anyway.
Shakily, he stands up straight, and pulls off the mask, wiping the sweat from his face. And he turns on the spot, apparates.
"Regulus?" It's Narcissa in front of him. Good – he'd come to the right place.
"Tell Lucius," he whispers, not wanting her to hear the tremor in his voice, "to let the Dark Lord know I've done it. K-Killed her." He cursed himself for the stammer, and he sees the way his cousin looks at him.
"Of course." She says, then lowers her voice. "Are you OK?"
"Yes. Fine." He replies. She knows he isn't – she must think he found it difficult to kill. "Goodbye, Narcissa." He says, then leaves.
He goes home, and showers, desperate to feel clean again. Then he goes to bed, and takes a long time to fall asleep.
And he dreams of blood.
He stands back as the others storm the place, carelessly killing the occupants. All around him, people crumple to the floor, like puppets who's strings have been cut. He finds it horrifying, and yet fascinating. Death, he thinks, is fascinating. One day, he'll know where these souls go, what happens to them. For now, however, he has to hope no one notices he isn't joining their killing spree.
There is no blood. The curse leaves no trace, doesn't break the skin; doesn't even bruise.
It just ends life, quick and clean.
(But if it's clean, why does he feel so dirty?)
They are dying, one by one, and if he isn't careful the other's will notice none have died by his wand. He should kill one. Just one.
But he can't. He can't kill. It isn't easy, like Bella said – it's much harder than he thought. And he can't.
Finally, it's over. They're done. And Regulus pretends to be just as delighted, pretends to be pleased by the sight, the smell, of death. Really, he's struggling to not start shaking again. He makes some excuse to go home; and he showers in silence, goes to bed. And, several hours later, he finally falls asleep.
And dreams of blood.
He feels sick. He watches the Dark Lord's snake devour a body, and feels sick. At least he wasn't asked to kill this man – Nagini herself gets that pleasure.
"I need an elf." The Dark Lord tells him. "You have one, I believe?"
Regulus nods. "If you – if you require his services, I will be glad to -"
"Good. Bring him to me. Tomorrow." The Dark Lord interrupts him.
Regulus nods, then leaves. At home, he tells Kreacher about it, then goes to bed.
And dreams of blood.
He listens, horrified, to Kreacher's story, and wonders how much longer this can go on. The Dark Lord, the blood dreams.
He leaves the traumatised elf, and goes to his bathroom; showers and thinks.
Then he goes to bed, and falls asleep.
And dreams of blood.
That's what really undoes him. What really makes him realise he can't go on like this. Not only is he unable to kill – he's now unable to stand back and let the Dark Lord take over. Not when he dreams of rivers of blood.
It's only a matter of time before it's all too much for him, Regulus thinks. Before he embraces death. Or death embraces him. Does it matter which way round it is?
His time is running out; he can feel it. He rolls over, in the bed. Sleep, now, and think of it tomorrow, he tells himself. Just sleep.
And dreams of blood.