a/n i really don't know why i've seen it necessary to continue this story... but for some reason winter put it into my head again, and it's going wierd places. slightly a/u, disjointed, various pairings. painful to write :/ unsure how much i like it, but here we are again.
Not here, but later, is that man. In a sweater vest, mild, calculating. There is a handkerchief in his pocket.
Mr. Lupin: several sunshowers wiser, perhaps with a few more white hairs than grey, and he's at someone's kitchen table (a secret is a good thing) pondering the words that reflect on his eyeglasses.
There is a steady thrumming behind his breastbone, as his heart never slows but waits.
There are two words dangling at his mouth -- or perhaps thrust through the lip, like a hook.
"Oh no," he mutters inanely. "Oh dear."
Sirius is across the table, decidedly less grey. In a moment the paper has passed from Remus to him, both their hands raw and worn from practise duels and parchment and old books, and all Sirius can do is wet his mouth and make a funny huffing sound, as if someone's knocked the breath out of him with a rolled up newspaper. Or perhaps unrolled, much like this one: decidedly more effective what with the moving images and screaming text.
"Let's be realistic," Sirius says to him, very slowly. "This is a breakout." And then he laughs, so...
"Oh fuck," Mr. Lupin corrects himself, daintily. It's not about being a werewolf so much as fighting next to someone you adore, or even --
Someone you love.
Still, there comes a time when Remus is nowhere again, much like before: before returning to Hogwarts, tutoring, questioning, before Sirius, grief, before Cho's sweet red mouth, before knowing Harry, before spying on werewolves, before London, the Alley again, the Order again, before loving Harry, his only true son, his James again, dreaming, the fighter, the poet --
Remus is nowhere. As insubstantial as the breath he thought he saw, escaping from numb lips to number air; so very hard to believe there could be anything there, when he is certain his lungs haven't worked for weeks. Werewolves can hold their breath longer than humans, it's true; but eventually the water seeps in, whether cold and black or fresh and calm and good. Then the burning starts.
Mr. Lupin is burning, burning up.
Not fever. But a question.
Where was I? Where was I when...
But it's not even that simple. It never was. And it's not as if Sirius hasn't been dead to Remus before. Really! Who did you think he was? The only reason he could ever hate Black is if he knew he'd never speak to him again.
Though perhaps it might have been self-induced, by principle. If it had to be.
I want you, if--
If silence were ever possible, for a werewolf. He could hear the spells whistling past his head that afternoon, the shuffle of clothing, callous against wand. And he heard the teardrops even before they hit the ground, the dark sleeves; before they ran down softish boy wrists. Harry's tears, which were poisonous, and smelled of fear: all the fear he hadn't been able to scream out, not really, because the veil was so much more than that.
Remus felt the memory of James turn and twist in his heart as if on fire, and Lily with him.
"Get away from my godson!"
If it did not mean anything, to sit outside on the brighter days: the sun glowing crisp and forever and so stark, stark in the way only winter knows. Only winter knows such a lot of things.
"If I died," says sixteen year old Sirius, "I'd want you to kill me."
"What?" Remus is disturbed; he pushes his Charms assignment away, and for a good moment they are all looks, evenly matched. One pair of eyes to the other until one -- guess who -- looks away, picking at the hole in his best pair of trousers.
"Yeah," Sirius continues brusquely. "Fuck, not even hypothetically. I want you. You know. To tear me apart, all that. It'd be brilliant. I mean. When I'm old and haven't got any options left."
Remus wets his lip thoughtfully. Of course, he's never torn anyone apart, so he wouldn't know -- but a feral side of him can imagine it might be brilliant, if only for the redness, the sweetness, the stench. There is such a lot happening, inside of Sirius; there is the whisper of it every time they are alone, speaking to eachother like this, and Lupin aches only slightly for the ease at which his friend can share everything. He would share himself on a base chemical level, if he could. And... Well, mostly he does. So --
"Then what?" he asks, carefully. "I mean, I shouldn't like to tear you apart. I do like you."
"Shut up," Sirius says. "I don't like you, you know. Not all the time." He grins doggishly.
"No," Remus admits. "Come to think of it, I don't like you very much either. You're too loud, and you smell of --" goodness, cologne, warmth, goodness, goodness, blood and goodness and heavy warm woods "--Blacks."
"You are, you're very disgusting. But you might've asked Marlene, you know, and she'd say the same. Or James. James can always manage honesty for a friend, especially one as pitiful as you."
"But -- fuck -- wait -- Marlene thinks I've got a Black smell?"
"Marlene thinks you're an idiot. There's no such thing as Black smell, unless you're thinking of dry rot and that horrid perfume Andromeda wears."
Remus has ways of knowing, of course. And of course there is such a thing as a Black smell, just as much as there is a James smell, a Lily Evans smell.
He remembers scents as though they were vocabulary words, statistics, factoids. Even after twenty years he remembers the smell of young Sirius: more citric than calm, rude, blatant, boyish. Pulsing. Like dog fur, a frantic musk, something that makes his temples ache after too long. It's a scent that accosts Remus, like a friend who has too much to say, too many jokes to tell, too many girls to harrass; the sort of friend who can leave and come back and you notice the difference, because there's twenty times more to him than the scent or the essence. No secrets with Sirius. No secrets on his breath, under his tongue. Nothing will go with him to the grave, not ever, not even his own dignity.
I want you, he'd said. I want you, I want you, I want you.
And Remus didn't forget.
He can count on one hand the number of times in his life that he has felt his heart stop. Cease and desist. It quivered, drew knives. Then it ate itself, one sparkling drop after another, until there was nothing but wild and fear and blackness (Blackness?) where it should have been, could have grown, might have beat out sonnets or hard driving beats like the ones Sirius threw his body into when young. Real. Because speaking or not, silent or not, there was a line; after Sirius crossed it the first time, even accidentally, he was never entirely real to Remus ever again.
Even if it meant nothing.
That is a theme, lately.
"So what do you say?" Sirius asks, leaning in to copy the charms assignment. Perhaps this was the alterior motive; he knows that even the most meaningless comments will have Remus thinking carefully for hours, distracted by meaning and context. It's true. Even now Remus is thinking, eyes heavy and blank; they've settled on the line where wall meets ceiling, though the rest of him is alive and electrified, dancing.
"I say I still don't like you."
"And... I you. Neither I you? Myself neither. I... Something." Sirius pauses, considering. "You know what I mean."
"Yes," Remus agrees sleepily. "I usually do."
And then, for what seems like forever, forever and ever after, everything he does is through a haze: tasks for the Order, important business. Even tasks he plans out weeks in advance. It all seems to fold and melt and quiver under the weight of his eyelids, which droop, and his sagging shoulders, and the ever-grey of his demeanor. His heart is greyer still. Remus has not ever looked or felt young, except for when he was; he can't remember the last time he didn't appear ill, toppling over, weak and misused. The wand in his hand -- capable of considerable damage -- does nothing for his appearance, his intimidation factor. For the most part he appears harmless, and... Perhaps he is. The full moon is simply another white space in his memory, lost to the passage of time, the tearing of skin. If only Remus could figure out how to lose everything else in there, bury it like a time capsule. He could be a snow drift, a mine shaft, set it all free in the white and the black -- every polar opposite left behind. Then perhaps he'd be the duelist he'd once had the potential to be when the Phoenix first found him, which was what they needed more than ever.
After all... If being a werewolf does nothing for your freedom, it does little but make you monstrous and putrid. Now Remus can only feel free when he is asleep, and even then he dreams of pulling Harry away from the veil. Again. Again.
He only eats dry toast, orange marmalade, apples, lemonade. Often food seems to awaken the fatigued dizziness in the back of his head -- humans need to sleep, and Lupin has resolved not to be human any longer -- and he nearly vomits, unable to hold himself together for the last page of leftover notes. Dark Arts, runes, sociology. All out of context. His stomach holds liquids better, just not the logical ones. Scotch would bring him closer to Black. He could babble, sing, curse. He could be anything, but alone he's likely to sulk and make up some sort of alternate history: the never-magical Mr. Lupin, the doctor, the golden man, who loves no one and helps all. The frightened child swallowed by Fenrir Greyback, never to be seen again. Not even when he gets spat out like Pinocchio months later, left suddenly real and defenseless and just as flammable as before.
But Remus does not drink. And he is not depressed.
It's all a part of growing older, he reckons. Settling in one's skin. Remus had always had a talent for feeling out of place, uncomfortable, unprepared for human contact. It is only logical that this is how he will settle, even in a life where he is depended upon constantly by friends who are -- and will stay -- decidedly human.
It's only Harry that makes it worthwhile. Without Harry, Mr. Lupin forgets the cause and can be found curled up with a book, forgetting to drink the tea Ms. Tonks kindly made without his asking.
She does that quite a lot.
She waits for him, after he wakes, to talk together -- about anything. She seems taken with anything he has to say, and anything he takes interest in himself. His odd books, his muggle academics, the history of the clothing on his back. Not that it isn't an interesting history, mind; only a typical one. She doesn't mind the slight stutter he's beginning to develop, or how he flinches from bright lights and loud noises. She doesn't mind that he can spend forever simply sitting quietly, rigid with thought. She doesn't mind his dirty spectacles, or the holes in his loafers, or the charms holding his best quill together. She simply doesn't mind.
He sprawls, stretching, then yawns and continues his tirade against Slughorn.
It is less seething than teasing. The boy finds everything hilarious in the end, after all,
and that's how his tongue grows so brash. Insensitive. Because: truthfully nothing can cling to it, and so there's no fear in simply spitting it all out.
And yet Remus hangs on every word, as though one day Sirius will spout all the wisdom in the world, and for a beautiful time in their adolescence he nearly believes it must be true. Beautiful could easily be too strong a word, however -- while beauty is impatient, it certainly isn't logical,
and here is where beauty and Lupin part for now. As a teenager Remus is awkward, skinny. He is good-looking, but in an inconsequential way, and it hardly matters when he is with his friends. But at least he's got something on Peter. He's aways got something on Peter.
This is what he's thinking about -- how cruel it really is, his simultaneous enjoyment and dislike of Pettigrew -- when his insides give a kick, a howling, merciless kick, and all at once he is aware of Sirius watching him.
Yes -- only watching. His chatter has ended in a smirk, or something like one; Remus is embarrassed he hadn't noticed. Still: slowly, very slowly, though he feels dizzy and somewhat shaken, he begins to smile back. Even through his questioning. He's not sure if it's normal to feel like this, out of breath and nervous; but then again he feels this way nearly all the time in varying degrees, and that's likely why he's got a few grey hairs in the fringe over his eyes.
There is a heat radiating from somewhere inside of Sirius -- deeper than his heart, and more honest.
They stay like this.
The worst part is: all these things. The comb he let Sirius borrow, and the blanket, and the expensive gloves. All of this world. All of it has history now, from the floorboards to the useless window overlooking nothing, and the grey skies, and the dusty smell of wherever Remus is staying now. Is it Grimmauld? It is another house entirely? He isn't even sure anymore, and he doesn't care. He does what they ask, and Ms. Tonks is his frequent Order partner, and once in a while they look at eachother with whatever sarcasm they have left. Ms. Tonks is the kindest girl he's known in years, except that she won't let him call her Nymphadora -- the respectful name to use! -- and her changes are too much for him at first. Her metamorph, his nauseous psyche. He cannot handle her experiments: Harry, Weasleys, an old man, a young black girl. It unsettles him and buttons his lip to see her prance about with different legs. You know -- Mr. Lupin does not like surprises in familiar places. He would like to wake up and know that at least in one aspect of his life all remains the same. Still, in time he finds himself liking Ms. Tonks, if only because she is a distraction. Nevermind that he is so old, and he knows what it's like to kiss someone who's too young already. Cho seemed to morph enough on her own without it ever happening at all, and perhaps Remus has seen this trick before.
It's an easy trick, when it belongs to Nymphadora. Her body is very much hers; so much so that when she changes it maintains itself, a trickle of an echo, as if she is leaving a trail behind. A startling trail, but nevermind -- in a way, Remus is fascinated. The scent remains: strange, silver-white at the top of his palate. Frightening. She is like a jack-in-the-box, confetti. One moment every drop of her lies still, and in the next it shimmers. It shocks.
And yes: it is almost fun, when he grows used to it. Perhaps he laughs, or even smiles; once in a while he makes a request. And always, immediately, there are results.
Together again. It's easy.
Watching eachother, and thinking -- silently -- together. So easy. Like breathing. A mathematic equation.
But, still, oh: difficult to try. Difficult to master again, the presence of someone like Sirius. Dirty, wild Sirius. A black dog lolling under Mr. Lupin's old hand, daring to lick its palm happily, sleeping in the dust they share after a night of planning. The table is weighed with paper, books, magic. Remus is weighed, and Sirius floats -- he is not patient, he will not wait, and he'll never do a thing wrong again. That is the promise. He'll never trust anyone that doesn't deserve it.
So: a list of names ensues.
"Poor Remus, poor old professor," he adds afterward, "What have they done to you? You're much older than I remember."
"I don't know, honestly," Remus admits. "I've been like this all of my life." Always admitting something, to Sirius. If Sirius has no secrets, neither does he; but secrets are different to someone like him, and that is the fundamental difference. It's no secret, for example, that Mr. Lupin is attentive. That he can recite poetry, blocks of text, from books he read fifteen years ago. Mr. Lupin would like order and peace. Mr. Lupin is often only looking for one thing: a connection. To the world. To logic. Something human, wrought of chemistry outside of the chemical.
It is a secret, however, how badly Mr. Lupin wants this connection to occur with Sirius. The way it did when they were younger, better. Because... Another no-secret is that they are different now, different and un-different, and in some ways they will never really be what they want to be.
"What do you want to do, Black?" Remus finally asks, taking a deep breath in.
Sirius is a cloud of bitterness. The smell of him is storm-like, volatile. "I want to help Harry. I'll take care of him. It's what I should have been doing, all those years."
"All those years." The echo.
"You know what it's like."
Remus pauses, and suddenly Sirius is a cloud of cigarettes instead.
The ensuing nightmare has a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors and sounds: a whispering voice that grew louder, hoarser, until it could only be his, saying over and over --
Here is what it looks like the first time Sirius is gone, the betrayal:
Anger paralyses Remus until he cannot breathe, and yet a part of him is guilty at the fact. Questioning. A part of him remains distant, detached, analysing the sensation. Soon his muscles -- tiny ropes -- burn raw from clenching, unclenching, winding up. They steam like the back of his throat from yelling out again and again, all of him blaring Sirius! Sirius! Sirius! And it is the last time Mr. Lupin ever screams like this, as if he is dying, as if he has been torn apart. The only way he can calm himself is to imagine what James might say, how James might laugh if he found him this way.
Put yourself together, Moony. Hey. Get yourself straight, it's not like anyone died.
So he crawls away and when he wakes up nothing is different, only numb. He can't have a proper conversation for weeks, and when he does it's with someone who isn't there.
Standing on the edge.
The edge, all the time.
He wonders vaguely if he is a wanted man now; perhaps by some still-outraged parents, some obvious enemies. He's much different today, though, than he was after first leaving Hogwarts again. He is, but in the same instant he's not; there's a hole in him now at least the size of the one he had at... Oh, what age? The horrible age. The age when everything went inexplicably wrong.
Or -- not even inexplicably. Perhaps inevitably. But fate isn't the same as chance, obviously. There are multiple definitions to prove it, and one remains superior in its mechanics.
"I'll never be the same," he says to Tonks one afternoon. "But I don't think you really noticed when it started."
This is after some things have happened, an absurd and fleeting timeline. Remus can't remember all of them. All he really knows is that one afternoon he looked down to find her hand tightly wound in his -- colored faintly orange at the fingers -- and since then it's apparent that something is different, but it's hard to name exactly what. Not from the haze settling in his eyes, his tired tender ears. Could he smell his way out? No... No.... Ms. Tonks smells like everything all at once -- all at once! -- and her blood is simultaneously color and pulse to him, as if it changes every moment she does. All potential and strangeness. A muggle light machine.
"I notice a lot of things," she insists. "Especially you."
Mr. Lupin can't hear things like this, not so lightly -- so casually. It makes his throat go dry, and he shakes his head quickly, nervously. "No, no."
"Please! What should I do, to make you laugh? I haven't heard you laugh in a very long time."
"I'm sorry. You see, I have a delicate ribcage," says Remus inexplicably. It's not a very Remus thing to say -- or it wasn't once, but he says funny things to Nymphadora sometimes. He doesn't mean to exactly, but it always seems to happen; then he smiles at her, if not somewhat woodenly. Better than nothing."The wind gets knocked out of me, you see, and then it's not really laughter."
"Oh," Ms. Tonks responds, flickering with blue at the roots of her hair. "Well. ...Would you like to see Snape tapdance?"
"No, I would not," says Remus, teetering weakly in a nonexistent wind. "That is something I would never, ever like to see."
She is quiet. Contemplative.
"Well." Here she is suddenly sour, but watching him carefully, doe-eyed. "Would you like to see Sirius?"
He vomits afterward. Strange thoughts flit through his head like birds of prey, fireflies, aeroplanes, migratory beasts.
"How do you want to die, Remus?"
He struggles for a moment, clutching his stomach desperately; the smell of sick makes him nauseous again, and then he is simply floating, unable to think, unable to keep from buckling at the knees. It's ridiculous, Mr. Lupin is sure, to react so strongly to something he knows is completely innocent. He never meant to be so easily affected by anything, let alone her, let alone... Let alone. Please let me alone.
"I could oblige."
But then there it is, the ridiculous always seems to happen, and what is a man supposed to do?
Apparently: lean against the wall, breathing heavily, laboriously. There is a helpless attempt to think of something worse, something worse than Nympha-not-Sirius, and his mind lurches back to the hotel. To vacation. Somehow here his heart centers, slowing, in the memory of Cho's featherweight pressed against him -- her easy transfer, from one light to the next, one mood to another -- and here is his something worse.
The kiss that blooms wet and sweet with tears, forever. Remus suddenly realises that the shame is more real than his disgust. More real than it could ever be.
And there is a world of it, a world full of worse.
"For the look on my face. I'm sure you'd find it priceless."
"All right. If I don't, you owe me ice mice."
Ice mice -- and Remus opens his mouth to laugh, but Sirius is there before he ever can.
I don't know what it takes, anymore.
I haven't got the means.
I haven't got the mind for it.
It's not like war. Not like a fight.
But I'm not really fighting anymore, anyway -- there's no one left.
What I mean to say is
I can't do it anymore.
I can't be the way I am without you, without any of them. I was never ready to be on my own. I don't have a family apart from you. Merlin. Even Peter, I'd settle for Peter -- I just need someone to know what's happening, someone to know that I am worth something if I try. I am not a number. Or a monster.
All I want is to read, study, learn. Sit in a quiet place. Somewhere warm.
And I don't care what you've done. I don't care if they're dead.
I don't care about anything but you. It's all I think about: where I should have been, what I should have done. Now that I'm alone, it's unreal -- it's even illogical, the amount of poor choices I've made. It's funny that none of them have really had anything to do with you, though I see you've enough poor choices for the both of us. You always had. You can scarcely manage anything else, can you?
I've gone and left Caroline, and she hasn't the slightest.
No one knows who I am anymore.
People we knew --
People from school --
It's as if I never existed.
But then, I've encouraged it. I have. I am nearly forgetting English, with how little I speak.
I cannot stand having to think of this anymore. But it will be years, I know. I will never stop.
That's how it will always be. I will always be a mind, never a body, not like you. I am cerebral.
But you aren't going anywhere.
You haven't gone anywhere for months.
And you have betrayed me, I know.
You have betrayed me.
I want you, I want you, I want you.
"Hi," says Sirius. Thrill lights his face -- his not-face -- and suddenly he laughs: bubbly, girlish. His not-hands lift up, as though forgetting themselves, and he touches Remus soundly on the shoulders. "Hi there, mate."
Remus vomits a second time, and then again. "Please -- please leave," he gasps.
I like you. I do.
"Please. I can't look at this."
The body is an intricacy, a work of art; it is not meant to be played with, not meant to be shifted like a puzzle, repainted. It is not a puppet. It serves its purpose, and it gives Mr. Lupin his only hope at understanding anyone -- through insight, and instinct. And it's one thing when it's Snape, someone anonymous, a new toy. But no! No, he knew Sirius, he knew Sirius, and Sirius could only be Sirius. Four limbs, one mouth, two eyes. No one else. No room.
Oh, the smell was all wrong. "Help," mumbles Remus. "Help me. I can't."
So wrong, though he is sure Sirius smells of air now, not acid.
Department. The Department.
They must go, and they know within the minute -- the minute! -- they are needed.
Something pulls at Remus between the eyes, at his temples. An urgency he doesn't
understand. At first he can only think it's for Harry, because it is all for Harry: all, always, ever. And as always, a good part of it is. That's not a question. It had always been a question of how long he had, to be what Harry needed.
But there's something else, and he feels it swirl and claw gummily in the pit of his stomach, as if
growing desperate -- needy. He and Sirius watch eachother carefully, calmly, as if this is routine; then they stand shoulder to shoulder with for the last time before they are gone, fingers brushing, and something electric jumps from one body to the other. A sign?
A warning. He should have known.
Remus is silent for days. Not because he's offended -- no, of course Ms. Tonks was too earnest for that. She'd meant well. She'd thought it would cheer him, somehow, and of course she couldn't have known. Lycanthropy isn't the most well-documented affliction, really; most of the books have been written by people who no real experience in the matter. A human can really only go so far, in his studies; to know a werewolf, you have to be one. And to know the effect of the human body on a werewolf -- all the secret knowledge, good and bad -- you likely have to die, as Remus does.
And Remus is dying now. He is sure of it. His days are numbered, as Sirius would say: slipping past, like jewels on a slick ribbon, feathers from a wing. (All we are is dust in the wind--)
But he isn't sure how he knows. Something in the look on Bellatrix's face -- something in the air, hanging -- something dark and evil is hunting him now, and he knows without question that one day it will find him. That is science, almost; perhaps every aging man could say the same, though he can't say for certain any have ever felt as he does. As he will. Always.
You see: the haze doesn't lift, it only deepens. It only blooms.
Remus lies in the tub for hours, forgetting himself. To ever look at Nymphadora the same way again, he has to forget what it was -- what it looked like -- as Sirius met the veil. As Sirius melted into the veil like vapor, a ghost. Insubstantial floss. A brief cloud of white and red, as tissue faded and vaporised. If he remembers correctly there was a moment their eyes locked: one pair dead, the other frozen. Remus had wrapped his arms tightly around Harry, mumbling -- it hadn't been enough to quiet either of them. In the end he'd pressed his mouth against the boy's hair, the back of his sweaty head. The scent made him weep harder, as it was all James and something smaller, sweeter. All James.
But it was the lack of body that made Remus lie awake for days, nights afterward. He'd paced, and cried. He'd cried to the point of heaving, innards twisted for lack of nourishment: the abuse of such genuine grief. He'd burned things -- what few photographs and letters remained. He'd let Nymphadora hold him close, cradling his sleepless skull, the eyes that could only continue staring.
Now he is better, of course, but there are moments. There are memories, still, and there is guilt -- always that guilt. Sirius came back to life once, but only once; that was his trick, and it was the end of the act.
But Remus cannot imagine anything so dependable -- capable of surviving starvation, torment, his own best friends -- never rising from the smoke again. Of course, Sirius had never been a phoenix, even if he fought hard in the name of one; the truth was that if he had ashes they would only seethe and burn, a powder for vengeance. They would only hurt, and they would hurt Remus.
But still he searches: for scent, hair, patches of leftover warmth and cells and presence. But it seems that every trace of Sirius is gone now, every last whimper and goodness of him, and that will be all. Remus is left to question where he was, where he'd been -- and why he couldn't have gone through the veil instead, to a place where being alone meant being alone.
Tonks kisses him once, after time has passed.
Her face is sweet, plain -- an oval he does not take in his hands, but rather strokes lazily, long fingers wanting to feel it shift, spin. He wants to be anywhere else in the world, but he is here, and he can offer nothing; only cold brains and some slight, pleased hum in the back of his throat. Nymphadora tastes of something milky and calm and alive.
She smiles at him, bravely. Mr. Lupin does not want to disappoint; the haze has not lifted, and lately there is only one pair of eyes that pierces through to find his. Sometimes it is blue, sometimes green, purple, gold. Sometimes the plainest of browns.
"Why?" He asks.
"I just like you," she confides. "I don't think there's much more to it."
"You're young, my dear. And I've never been young before."
But in the memory, Remus is crying -- just never really crying, no, tearless and bewildered and boyish.
Sirius kills him in one blow.