A/N: Alright, the final chapter. I figured this one would be the easiest to update, since it's now finished.
A big thanks to Amy, who looked this over for me & who has been my inspiration for over 2 years now.
Part Three: I Need You Now
Cool cubes clinked within a bottomless glass, slowly dissolving into the familiar amber liquor, embracing the swirling liquid like and old friend.
Eyes once so vibrant, filled with blazing intellect and mirth stared dully at scattered photographs, irises the colour of tarnished silver. With unfocused and watery precision they stared in tortured reverence, reliving every memory, every perfect moment, in vivid detail within his whirring mind.
Mechanically a large hand wrapped around cool crystal, drops of condensation slipping over his fingers to splash like teardrops on the glassy parchment below. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed hard, his eyes following the drop as it slid away to absorb into the table's worn and wearied grain. His eyes returned to that photograph, to the unspeakable sadness in the hazel that stared back, tear-stained cheeks pale and sallow and honey curls dull and tangles over stooped shoulders.
It had been so long; so long since he had seen her face like that, her eyes like that, her body like that. Almost five years and even in that time, he could not look away. Even as his last captured moment of her haunted him, he could not part from his collection of heartbreaking reminiscences; a montage of their descent. From sun-drenched laughter to empty-eyed melancholy, every moment was captured and he relived it over and over and over again.
He had only caught sight of her for a moment earlier that day, as he was walking aimlessly through the trafficked streets of London. He hadn't been sure at first, but then she turned, the light hitting her perfectly and he knew at once. She had seen him too and in a breathless moment they had locked eyes. In that glance, every frame of their life together had flashed before him, reminding him why he had spent the past five years searching for love and forgiveness he knew he could only get from her. But then he blinked, and she was gone.
Their last moment together was the only one he had tried too hard to purge from his mind. The only one he would have laid down his life to relive; the one that brought two years of untold ecstasy to a crashing halt, replacing it with blinding misery. But he remembered every detail and found no solace from the imprinted, flickering repetition of that cold, rainy night…
A chill passed through Sirius's body that had nothing to do with the weather as he clambered out of the Grimmauld Place floo. The library was dark and as he waved his wand to light the lamps, he noticed it was unusually tidy.
Hermione never kept the library tidy.
"Hermione!" he called as he stepped into the hallway, wondering whether they were expecting company and he had forgotten. It wouldn't have been the first time in the past two months that he had forgotten things. There had been a lot on his mind since Hermione left the hospital, not the least of which was getting a new job while simultaneously taking care of his grieving fiancée.
Tonks, Ginny, Harry and Remus had all begged that he stop working for awhile. Merlin knew he didn't need to.
But Hermione wasn't the only one who was grieving. He needed the distraction more than anything.
"Sirius?" a soft voice said from the first floor and Sirius walked down the steps, sliding out of his outer cloak as he went. He stopped short, however, when he saw Hermione in front of him wearing her travelling cloak, two suitcases by the front door.
"Going somewhere?" he asked mildly, resuming his journey down the stairs but not taking his eyes off her as a coil of panic started to form within him.
"Yes," she said softly, her eyes slightly red from what he assumed to be earlier tears. While that was nothing knew, he did know that she hadn't mentioned travelling plans to him.
He liked to think that he would remember a salient detail like that.
"Where are you headed?" he asked, trying to sound casual, "And…er…when do you think you'll be back?"
She looked down at her folded hands for a moment before looking back at him.
"I'm going to stay with my parents for awhile," she said, looking past him as if looking directly at him would make her lose her nerve, "And then…I don't know. I was thinking of doing some travelling on my own. Across Europe. Maybe into Asia. Study magical cultures and different metaphysical theories."
His eyebrows knit in confusion.
"I…I don't think I understand, love. How long are you planning on being away?"
She looked down at her hands again.
"I couldn't say, Sirius, I…I'd rather not put a time frame on it."
Sirius felt like he'd been punched in the stomach.
"You'd rather not…Hermione, what's going on? Where did this come from?"
"You've known I've always wanted to travel. See the world and learn…"
"Yes, but I assumed we would be doing that together," he interrupted.
She looked up at him.
"Perhaps you shouldn't have assumed," she said quietly.
"Hermione, I don't understand. Really, I don't. How can you just…just decide to leave without warning…"
"It's not without warning, Sirius. You can't have been so caught up with work that you've missed us pulling away from each other."
"Darling, I don't work any more than you do and for the past few weeks, I've probably been working less than you so I could be home with you but you've been working late—" He stopped abruptly and looked at her closely. "Is…is there someone else?"
She looked like he had slapped her.
"Of course not!" she nearly shouted and in a moment of insane cognitive thought, Sirius enjoyed the quick glimpse at the fiery attitude of the woman he had fallen in love with.
He hadn't seen it recently and he missed it.
"I would never cheat on you," she said, eyes blazing. "How dare you think…"
"Do you blame me?" he asked simply, "Do you blame me, considering all this? I've been here, every night, wanting to be with you and you've been gone. You talk of pulling away…but it isn't me whose doing it, is it? It's you. I've been next to you, holding you, trying to get you to at least talk about what happened…"
"Stop. Please," she said, and all at once the fire and life that had filled her face vanished and she was once more the shell of the woman he loved.
"Hermione, what's this all about? Do you want me to stop working? I can do that. I can be here for you, however you want me to."
"Why?" she asked. "Why are you so willing to upend your life for me?"
He gave her a bewildered look.
"Because I love you," he said, as if it were the easiest answer in the world. "Because I want to give you what you need, give you space if you need it, or companionship, to let you be who you want to be because that's what I love most about you."
"I can't do this anymore," she said abruptly.
The chill in her voice left him breathless.
"What?" he managed to choke out.
"This," she said. "Us. It's…it's not working. I need…I need more space."
"More space? What have I done?"
"Nothing. And…and everything…God, Sirius, why haven't you left me yet?"
"What?" he said incredulously.
"You…you've moved past everything so quickly…you take care of me and you don't complain…you say the right thing at the right time, every time. You've created it so that I rely on you and depend on you and what can I possibly have to contribute? I can't even give you a child…"
"I don't care about that!" he shouted, taking a step forward and clutching her hands. "I never cared about that!"
There was silence for a moment and she pulled her hands away.
"You…never cared about that?" she asked softly.
"I…I didn't mean it that way," he said desperately, trying to take her hands again. She took a step back.
"I love you, Sirius. Desperately. And…and that's the real problem."
"How is that a problem?"
"Because I love you and need you more than you need me."
He shook his head, tears welling in his eyes.
"That is not true."
"Sirius, you are able to wake up every day and go to work. You're able to smile, and laugh, and enjoy your day. You're able to come home and take care of me. We both just lost a child…our ability to make life…and you soldier on as though…as though it didn't affect you at all."
"Of course it affected me. Yes, we lost a child but I almost lost both of you. I wasn't going to fall apart while your health was so fragile, so I decided I needed to be strong for you…for us…but that doesn't mean I don't grieve over what happened."
"Who has been strong for you, Sirius?"
"That wasn't important to me…"
"It was important to me," she interjected, the tears starting to fall down her pale face. "I needed to know that there was something I could still be to you, Sirius. I needed to know that you wouldn't just…leave."
He took a step back, aghast.
"Do you think I'd do that to you?" he asked softly, nausea starting bubble within him. "Do you honestly think I would be that cruel?"
She looked into his face, her own full of tired resignation, and simply shrugged.
"I would rather not find out," she said simply. "Especially now that you don't need me for anything."
"How can you say that when you know I love you more than anything else in my entire life?" he shouted.
"I know you love me, Sirius," she said quietly. "But do you need me?"
"Yes! Every minute of every day for the rest of my…"
"Why?" she asked.
All at once, every answer he could possibly give flooded his brain and he wracked his way through the list, desperate to find the right one.
But in his silent desperation, Hermione saw hesitation.
And it was then Sirius knew why he had gotten that chill when he had entered the library; why there hadn't been books strewn around. She was pulling away for good.
And there was nothing he could do about it.
"Please," he whispered, his own tears falling freely now. "Please don't leave me. I need you. You're my world, my life. I can't…"
"Stop," she said, looking into his eyes with the chocolate orbs that had once sparkled but were now dull and empty.
She pressed her lips to his softly before pulling away and turning to pick up her suitcases.
"Wait," he whispered, and she turned slowly, an unreadable look on her face. That, more than anything, made him certain that he wouldn't see her again and he felt a pain, sharper than anything he had ever experienced, rip through his heart.
He took a deep breath, "One more photograph?"
She paused, then nodded silently. He summoned his camera, but the wait for it was too short as it zoomed down the stairs almost immediately after he said the words.
Swallowing hard, tears blurring his vision, he brought the instrument to his eye, and snapped.
He didn't need to hear the click of the door to know that she was gone before he had even removed the camera from his face. He had felt it in his bones, in a place mere anatomy couldn't explain. He hadn't needed to go up to their cold, empty room to know that she had been planning this escape for a long while. It became all too clear, all too late.
Life had ceased to interest him after that night. He had quit his job and mounted his own escape; an escape to the bottom of a bottle. On a daily basis he warred with himself to just end it all. Only Tonks, Remus and Harry's pleading had pulled him from the ledge.
Tonks, belly swollen yet again with child, had chastised that suicide was the final, selfish act of a truly selfish man.
Remus had reminded him of his duties as godfather, not just to Harry but to the other little metamorphmagus that toddled around the Lupin household.
Harry reminded him that he was a stronger man than the type of man who resorted to drastic measures.
All three had blissfully left Hermione's name out of the conversation.
So he had survived. A despondent, shell of a man, beaten down to an empty existence, in constant search of a love that could not be replaced. And that was how he'd lived until that day, when he had walked out into the world and with one glance rediscovered the meaning in his life.
He had gone through all five stages of grieving in one afternoon:
Denial that anything significant had happened; it had just been a little glance. Nothing truly important.
Anger with the world and fate and God for allowing his life to turn out the way it did.
Bargaining with whatever deity that would listen for the chance to take it all back – all five years he had wasted.
Depression, seeking solace in glass after glass of firewhisky.
Acceptance had been the slowest of stages and had involved him digging out the boxes of photographs he had shoved in the cellar five years earlier. They had been destined for cobwebs and decay, but there they were, beside the kitchen table, their contents strewn upon the nonjudgmental wood. It had taken really looking, really seeing, the descent the woman he loved had gone through and accepting, wholeheartedly, that she did what she felt she needed to do at the time.
Now, five years later, it was his turn.
He wrote four words on a parchment and sent his owl into the stormy night, hoping the missive would reach the hands for which it was intended.
That had been an hour and a half earlier. The owl had returned without a response. Sirius wasn't entirely sure he had been expecting one. The minutes ticked by and for the first time he feared that the tiny, almost nonexistent spark of hope he had been nursing since the day she left would finally be snuffed out for good.
Then there was a knock at the front door.
Sirius couldn't remember a time when he had moved so fast.
Hermione stood there, five years older but still has beautiful as she had ever been. She was soaked from head to toe but he didn't care as he pulled her to him and kissed her as though he wanted to crawl inside her. She responded with equal voracity, the desperation between them causing wild, frantic abandon as they ripped at each others clothes and sank onto the dusty floor.
Afterwards they lay in silence, her head on his chest and his hand playing with the halo of curls that lay tumbled around them. It was as if no time had passed at all; no heartbreak or tragedy, just pure, simple love, free from complications.
But, of course, there had been complications. And they couldn't be ignored forever.
"I don't know if I can forgive you that easily," Sirius heard himself say.
"That's okay. I haven't forgiven myself yet either."
He looked down at her.
"Where did you go for five years?" he asked.
"Everywhere," she replied. "Through Europe, China, India, America…anywhere I thought I could forget about you." She sighed. "But of course, I couldn't. It got to the point that I pushed all emotions away just so I wouldn't feel the pain. I was numb. I thought I was fine until I saw you in the crowd today. And the pain, I can assure you, was acute."
"Good," he said, "Because I've been in nothing but pain for five years."
"I heard. Harry and Remus felt the need to tell me at every opportunity. Tonks was a bit better, but I knew."
"They told me nothing about you."
"I asked them not to. I thought it was kinder that way."
They lay for a few more minutes before he took a deep breath.
"Was there anyone else?"
There was a pause.
"Not in the way you thought. Not while we were still together. And not for awhile after we…we weren't. Then a fling here and there. I lived with a man in Chicago for a year. A Muggle. He asked me to marry him. I left for England soon after." She paused again before saying, "And you?"
"A few nameless and faceless one nighters. No relationships. One fling, right after you left."
He felt her tense and after a moment of silence, he knew there was a question burning in her mind. He waited, half-knowing what it was.
"Was it with her?" she asked softly. "With Celestina?"
"To get back at me?"
She looked at him then, hair dishevelled and eyes glowing with an odd mixture of pain…and relief.
"Is it too late for us?" she asked softly.
"I don't know. I still love you, but it still hurts."
"It still hurts me too."
"So…now what?" he asked.
She looked at him in silence before taking a deep breath.
"Guess I'd rather hurt than feel nothing at all."
The grandfather clock struck. Quarter after one. He was still a little drunk but he felt the loneliness in her voice. He knew he had it too.
He kissed her softly and they lay back against the floor again, muted thunder rolling overhead. They knew the sun would bring the reality, the pain, the resentment, but in that moment, they needed each other.
They didn't know how they could do without the other.
Thanks for reading.
Hope you liked it.