How It Ends
"Flesh and blood, see? Touch me."
He closes his eyes, squeezes them shut. There will be no escape from this, whether it is heaven or hell, or some strange interlude in between them. He is going to have to face it.
"There's nothing wrong with you," it insists. "Touch me."
His eyes open, slowly, to see if it is still there.
"Touch me, Remus."
Hesitantly, he stretches out a pale hand to gently brush a shirt sleeve, firm, solid material and miraculously warm.
"Still not a ghost," it jokes. "Come on, try a little more."
So he takes a deep breath and lets his hand roam gingerly over the familiar rumpled jacket, the long hands with their calluses. Can he really be imagining the texture and scent of the cloth and the roughened pads of the fingertips, any more than he can be imagining the perfect arch of the eyebrows and the crooked, confident half-smile? Those hands—long-fingered and aristocratic, despite their wear. He'd know those hands anywhere; they must trace back through generations of the Black family.
The apparition with the beautiful hands rolls up his sleeve, holds out a pale, gaunt forearm. An old scar glistens near the elbow. "Remember? Third year, playing Quidditch with James, and I had to go to the hospital wing?"
Remus' fingertips trace the scar delicately. He is still trying to decide whether this is real or not.
Defiant with impatience, the apparition jerks his arm back, unzips his jacket, and begins to unbutton his shirt. There it is, just below the collarbone, a small brown birthmark, Sirius always said it was shaped like Africa.
"See, it's right there, Remus. You're not imagining it. What more proof do you need—what more do you want to see?"
He wants to undo the rest of the buttons, slip those pale and lovely arms out of the sleeves; he wants to see everything, run his mouth over every scar and birthmark and familiar indentation of bone. He wants to give into his ancient longing and find out how warm, how surprisingly soft that skin is. He wants to see if it still smells the way he remembers. He wants to feel the warmth of blood pulsing through veins beneath the flesh, to know that this is real.
Sirius, who vanished into a world where Remus could not follow, without even leaving behind a body, says, "Come on, Moony. Flesh and blood."
He pulls Remus into a sudden embrace—rough but tender, just as it had been years ago when they were young, gruffly showing affection that was only a small sign of the truth depth of their feelings. Only now that they are older, they have less to hide, less to hide from in some ways.
"You died," Remus says at last, his voice muffled in Sirius' shoulder. It feels and smells exactly as it should—too bony still, though. He never did gain enough weight back after Azkaban.
"A trifle," Sirius replies, chuckling. "You were always one for details, dear Moony. It made you such a good student."
Remus pulls back at length to study the face before him. "You're just an illusion."
"An illusion, my friend," says the apparition, "can't do much harm now, can it?"
"I suppose." Staring intently, Remus runs his hands with more confidence over Sirius' shoulders and then slides them beneath his unbuttoned shirt. He is too overwhelmed with the sudden ability to touch and feel Sirius again to wonder why he has appeared so suddenly. For now it is enough to fool himself, to pretend, as he did all those years ago, that the self-assured smile, the story grey eyes, the elegant movements of those beautiful hands are all his to possess.
This apparition of Sirius, beautifully unreal, closes his eyes in pleasure as Remus' hands run over his skin. A small sigh of pleasure. It feels so much like a dream, and Remus is afraid to look away, to break contact. He wants to believe, but part of him already realizes the truth. It is a dream, spun from the most fragile belief, and he clings to it desperately.
"I didn't want to leave," Sirius says quietly, "without saying goodbye."
Remus nods, too afraid that his illusion will shatter to contradict. You've already left. He is flooded, drowning in this fullness, this sudden overwhelming happiness, and like a blind man healed he stumbles about in the bright light.
"Nothing could have stopped me," Sirius says, cradling Remus' head in his hands.
No. It hurts too much. Remus opens his mouth to speak, but suddenly Sirius' lips are on his, and in that moment the spell breaks, because no this never happened and you aren't really here I saw you fall through the Veil with my own eyes I watched you vanish I felt your death like the world had tipped and left me falling, not you, me, it was me falling but it was you who fell through that Veil.
So how does it end? he wondered. Does this beautiful, tragic apparition vanish into nowhere? Does he take Remus back with him? Does the future become the past, or does the past become the future? Is there ever a way to go back?
The kiss ends and Remus steps back, blinking to see past the hazy white light that blurs his vision. Sirius is still standing there with a sheepish half-smile, almost regretful, somehow sadder than the last time Remus saw him alive, only a few weeks ago. Remus thinks, I would give anything…
Remus looks at him curiously, questioningly, and Sirius smiles. "You already know how this will end," Sirius says gently, his beautiful, elegant hand stretching out to grasp Remus'.
"Yes," Remus whispers.
"As anything must."
Sirius walks over to the window, where the hazy morning light streams through him, as if he is not really there, and Remus knows. Sirius lifts his face so that his eyes, with all that beauty and pain, find Remus', and he gives one last smile, full of sadness and so much more that Remus will never know, because it didn't happen and it never will now.
"Goodbye," Remus says to the stranger who is Sirius and yet isn't quite Sirius. The ghostly figure smiles; already the light from the window is beginning to dissolve it around the edges. Remus stares into the deep, beautiful eyes, the only part of Sirius that remained unchanged, before they too begin to fade.
"Lupin? Who are you talking to?"
Remus turns around to face Arthur Weasley, but he hears an almost inaudible noise like rushing and when he turns back around, there is nothing but a pattern of sunlight coming through the dirty window pane onto the dusty floor of No. 12 Grimmauld Place.
"Nobody," he says.
A/N: I hope my readers enjoyed this one, and I hope it didn't confuse anyone too much. I wrote it to be kind of purposefully vague and open to interpretation—what happened, what didn't happen, and why… It wasn't really Sirius, of course, and it wasn't his ghost, and it wasn't a memory—it was just in Remus' head, something he needed to see and realize. Closure, I suppose. And then it had to end when he realized it was hurting him. If you read it and are very confused, I apologize. I hope you enjoyed it anyway, though. Please review!