a/n: for julianne (howlsatthemoon).
everything we do in life is based on fear – especially love.
His breath is hot over the soft skin of your neck, the turquoise of his hair a vivid contrast to the flush of your cheeks and the freckles that are spattered across your nose. His tongue flickers to caress your pulse and you tighten your hands on his back.
He smiles against your throat and raises back up to kiss you full on the lips and you think, not this, not you, not now—
Why are we even—
And then his mouth is moving against yours, breathless moans heaving from your tongue to his, and you remember, you remember that you suggested forgetting and this was the best way he could come up with.
"We shouldn't have," you tell him in the morning. You are dressed in his shirt drinking coffee out of her mug and you shouldn't have but you did. He doesn't answer. You know that doesn't deserve an answer so it's whatever.
"I'm late for work," he says abruptly, and he's twenty-nine and you're kidding yourself so you finish your coffee and you put the mug back in the cupboard with your lipstick stain still on it because you have wickedness boxed up in your heart and you want her to find it, just a little bit.
You've got your pain, it's rolling in – you suppose it's only fair that you share it out a little.
"You ruined my marriage," he screams at you, and his hair is red and you don't know why you're finding it so hard to care, "She's gone, she saw the mug and she asked and she's gone and this is all your fault."
You don't point out that this is half him, too, that he was the one who bridged the distance, he was the one who put a hand to your head and kissed away your tears and said she won't find out and just once can't hurt and I love you I love you I love you LILY I love you and you realise that everything is a lie when it's groaned into your ear like that.
"There's always me," you tell him with the flicker of a smirk, lips lifting at the corners, "Now there's no girlfriend in the picture you could be with me."
"With you?" he repeats, and you suppose it's hurtful that the idea is so ridiculous to him that he starts laughing, laughing despite it all, "No, Lily, we could never be together."
You could challenge him but you don't because he is twenty-nine and you are eighteen and men lie when they want sex, you learnt that the hard way. Learnt it over and over and over again.
This boy remembers your birthday and brings you flowers on your month-of-dating-anniversary and you love him but TEDDY there's always going to be someone else, for you.
His name slips through the cracks in your mind, cropping up in the middle of places it has no right to be—
You can't ignore it. If you ignore it, well, it just gets worse. So you let it, every now and again. You breathe through it as it screams in your mind TEDDY and hope that it goes away again. Sometimes it does.
Mostly it doesn't.
The boy breaks up with you when you call him Teddy in the middle of the night when his hands are all over you and his breath is at your neck. TEDDY. His eyes are bright when he pulls back from you uncertainly, "What did you say?"
You don't even try to lie. TEDDY. It will just happen again.
"How's life as a singleton, then?" James asks Teddy, and you meet his eyes over the top of your glass of wine and he dives his gaze aside before a bare second has passed and you smile into your drink as he pretends to James. You suppose you should be thankful that Victoire is too sweet to drag you down with the truth. How would these people look at you, you wonder, if you told them that Teddy and Victoire broke up because you slept with him?
Teddy, it always comes back to Teddy. He gets away with it, you realise. He is allowed to break hearts because he's Teddy and his parents are dead and he grew up with the Weasleys so it's practically mandatory and you suddenly want to scream—
IT'S NOT FAIR. "It's not fair!"
Everybody turns to look at you then, like they are expecting something more than this revelation. So you tell them more.
It would be worth it if he didn't look at you like that.
"Had to," you tell him pre-emptively before he can get a word in edgeways, not even shifting as he approaches where you are sitting on the rooftop, "They'd have found out. Couldn't do it to Victoire."
"This was never about Victoire," he says, and there is a note of malice in his voice that you have never heard before, "This was about you. This was always about you, like everything has to be about you. You are selfish, Lily Luna Potter."
You smile because what else is new? New insults, please.
"Ditto," you respond with a slight lift of your eyebrows. A challenge, maybe. Whatever. You don't even care any more.
"So how's this self-destructive thing going for you?" he asks, leaning his forearms against the sill of your bedroom window to watch as you kick your legs back and forth in the empty space between the gutter and the ground three storeys down.
You grin and down the rest of your bottle, "I'll let you know when I figure it out."
He smiles into his hands and TEDDY and he doesn't say another word as you sit and watch the day die. There's something calm about it, something beautiful and serene and unusual.
It sickens you.
You slip a note under the front door of his flat one morning. It is early, too early for sane people to be awake, and there are monsters in the corners of your eyes as you turn to walk away. He will pick it up and he will know it is from you instantly; the coffee-cup stain and the impatient spike of your 'd's will give you away. You amuse yourself for an hour that day imagining how his face will contort when he realises that this is from you (TEDDY, TEDDY, Teddy I'm scared) and you smirk into the depths of your coffee cup and your colleagues chose not to comment on the fact that you've topped your mug up with whiskey and that your eyes are a little bit crazy today.
He rings you, and you have to hand it to him – you're a little bit surprised.
"Lily," he says, and his breath over the telephone line is harsh against the soft taut skin of your eardrum, "What the fuck?"
You play dumb and answer with a cute, "What?" and you imagine the impatient twist of his lips and smile to yourself. This is more fun than you were expecting, you decide, as you knock back another mouthful of your alcohol-laced coffee.
"Got your note," he informs you, and you smile and this should probably hurt more, "What the hell are you trying to tell me?"
You think back to the piece of paper, the words I'M AFRAID and HELP ME underlined and then crossed through so many times they're unrecognisable and then just a picture of a Tyrannosaurus Rex eating a sheep at the bottom. He will probably spend days reading into that, trying to work out what metaphor you're angling for here. You want to laugh, suddenly, because the whole point of it is that there isno point, you felt like drawing a T-Rex eating a sheep and so you did.
"Insanity," you murmur to him, and hear his breathing still, as though you are imparting great wisdom, "I'm trying to tell you about insanity."
"You're mad, Lily Luna," he says finally, and you grin even though he can't see it.
"I know," you whisper, eyes bright with the strange delight of it all, "I know."
"It's like she's possessed," you hear from the top of the stairs, and yeah that charm you cast on the glass you're pressing against your ear is probably helping, but whatever, you like pretending you have extra-special supernatural hearing, "She's just – all this stuff with Victoire and me and then this note and the drinking… if I didn't know better I'd swear something had taken control of her. Is that – is that even possible?"
There is silence now, and you are awaiting the answer as eagerly as Teddy clearly is, waiting for your father to be great and wise and have all the right answers like he always has.
"Maybe she is," you hear finally, in a low tone, and the disappointment is so acidic you almost retch. You're not possessed, you want to scream, I'm not possessed TEDDY I'M SCARED I'm not possessed this is me this is me this is us TEDDY please TEDDY I'M SCARED. You don't stay to hear the rest of the conversation. Instead you chuck the glass from your ear as hard as you can to shatter against the hall floor one storey down and it feels so good to hear the noise and watch the shards explode outwards and you feel, suddenly, you feel like this feeling is the best thing ever and you determine to feel it some more.
Three minutes later your parents are tumbling through the doorway to your bedroom and finding you sitting in the middle of your destruction, skinny legs embraced by skinnier arms and TEDDY you are crying so hard you are shaking I'M SCARED and you don't even really know what happened.
"Oh my God," your father whispers, and you cry harder, face pressed into scabbed knees, and CAN'T YOU HEAR ME you can't fathom why you are so cold until you realise that you have smashed the window somehow and PLEASE I'M SCARED then there are a familiar pair of arms around you and it just makes you cry harder.
"Mum," you choke out, "Mum. Help me, Mum, please, help me," and she probably can't understand the tangle of words and then she's crying too and you're not sure why but that is really not helping and TEDDY I'M SO SCARED you are scrabbling at her body with too-long nails, desperate and insane and raving.
Your father takes your mother's place, levies you up into his arms and carries you through to the bathroom. You cry the whole way—
TEDDY PLEASE I'M SCARED—
And you knock his glasses askew with a chance blow and when you meet his eyes you realise there are tears glittering there too I'M SO SCARED and then he is placing you down in the bath and your mother is back, shutting the door to enclose the two of you in this porcelain world before you can think about your father and the tears in his eyes and why that makes your heart hurt the way it does. She tugs at your clothes, careful of the splinters of wood and glass buried within them, until you are sitting naked in the tub and she is running hot hot water from the shower head over you and you are still crying and I'M SCARED the water is too hot but it feels so good you don't care.
Afterwards she towels you dry and dresses you in your comfiest pair of pyjamas and then tells you to get into bed. You do that halfway, clambering onto the bed like a zombie, and then you sit in the middle of the bed like you are marooned there, arms back wrapped around your legs, and you stare at nothing.
They call the doctor. He pokes and prods at you and TEDDY you just stare at him like he is totally alien and he looks a bit sad when he finally turns away from you. He talks rubbish to your parents about post traumatic stress disorder and repressed shock and other things you don't care about and you're not in shock, you want to tell him, you're not in shock; you're scared, you're scared, you're so scared.
I'M SO SCARED—
"I'm scared," you mutter, trying the words aloud because might as well, now seems a good time, "I'm scared."
Your parents are by your side instantly, gabbling nonsense like "what did you say darling?" "why are you scared?" "what is there to be scared of?" and you wish they'd stop and—
"Teddy," you say, more clearly than anything you've yet said, "Teddy – I'm scared."
They witter on about how Teddy isn't there and they make you feel a bit safer but you're so scared and TEDDY this is not how things were supposed to go, not ever. Finally something is forced into your mouth, placed on the back of your tongue, and you swallow out of instinct and as your world darkens you murmur, "Teddy," and you wish the insanity away.
You wake up and the first thing you realise is that there are still blips in the edges of your vision where the monsters are lurking. The second thing you realise is that your parents are standing looking down at you, holding hands, somehow looking terrified and disappointed and distraught all at the same time. You spare a moment to be impressed at their ability to display so much emotion at once.
"I—" you croak, but your mother cuts you off before you can get any more than that out. You're half-grateful. Your throat feels like hell.
"Why didn't you tell us," Ginny demands with tears in her eyes, squeezing her husband's hand so hard he winces slightly, "You were attacked, Lily, you should have told us!"
Your breath catches in your chest and you twist over instantly and bury your head in your pillows, almost attempting to burrow into your bed as though this can delay the inevitable, until it's there—
Right there in the back of your mind—
"Teddy told you," you mumble, voice muffled by the bed, "He promised me he wouldn't tell."
"Of course he told us, Lily," your father bursts out, like he could not possibly stay silent for even a single second more, "He told us everything and — Merlin, Lily, why didn't you tell us? You must have been terrified."
That sounds about right, andMerlin you could do with a drink.
"I was embarrassed," you whisper, finally rolling over to look at them, not quite daring to meet their eyes, "I mean, he was there, and he was – oh, God, we killed him. We actually did, we killed him, oh God, I'm so scared—"
You cut yourself off before you can blabber any more and I'M SCARED the horror of the day comes rushing back, the pounding of your heart in your ears and Teddy's hand on your elbow as he yanks you around corner after corner, footsteps sprinting along behind you TEDDY and the too-slow thud of your feet hitting the ground I'M SCARED. That moment where the whole world went silent and you realised the alley was a dead end and Teddy dragged you to a halt and stepped in front of you like he would actually die for you—
"It was self-defence," your father tells you firmly, but he doesn't move from his stiff standing position even as your mother drops to sit on your bed next to you, smoothing your sweaty hair away from your clammy forehead with trembling hands, "Self-defence, Lily. You shouldn't feel guilty—"
"But it was us," you insist, because he has to understand, he has to understand why there are evils in your heart, "He didn't even get a spell out, we killed him before he even said anything."
"He was stalking you," your mother reminds you, and you shut your eyes and breathe through the horror, "You had every right—"
You cut her off, too, because you can and because why the hell not, "But he didn't even have his wand out, Mum," you say, and then you start crying again and you hate that because it makes you look weak and you're not weakyou're just Lily I'M SCARED and, "We murdered him. We're supposed to be the good ones and we murdered him."
Your dad sits down then too, and you get the lecture on morality and good people doing necessary bad things that you've expected since the beginning and you reckon you don't absorb more than six separate words of it.
"Okay Dad," you say when he is finished, and they both sit there and they look at you so sadlyand you want to start screaming, to take them and knock their heads together and scream and scream and scream I KILLED SOMEONE oh god oh god I'M SCARED I'm not your daughter anymore TEDDY I am a murderer I'M SO SCARED don't be sad be scared I'M SCARED why aren't you? You want to scream but you don't. Instead you give them a tight smile as they rise to leave with murmurs of, "Sleep, darling, get some rest," and you don't tell them that sleep doesn't really equal rest these days. But whatever. They mean well.
Albus creeps into your room that afternoon so quietly it's like he's afraid one wrong footfall will send you crashing into the depths of insanity. You're probably already there, but you let him tiptoe because he looks fucking ridiculous doing so and it makes you happy.
"Lily," he whispers when he close by your bed, and the minute he has spoken and broken the spell of the silence you open your eyes and meet his and I'M SCARED the remembering knocks the wind out of you.
"Hey, hey, don't cry," he says, and of course that just makes you cry more because Albus shouldn't be being kind to you, he should be avoiding you and fearing you because you have 'murderer' branded on your forehead or something now. But instead he lifts up the covers and snuggles down next to you and you make that special noise of annoyance you have reserved just for the itchy grandpa jumpers he likes to wear and he laughs and puts his arms around you and for the first time in months you sleep without a single dream.
You start using Albus shamelessly as your own personal dreamcatcher. He probably has a girlfriend to get back to or whatever but for as long as you can get him to you will sneak into his bed at night and curl up against the curve of his spine and feel the rise and fall of his breath and mimic it and nine minutes out of ten you don't think of anything at all.
Growing up, you and James were the ones who most often got along, loud and competitive and mischievous with quiet, odd-one-out Al withdrawn to the side, watching and laughing at your antics but not really getting involved. But it was always Albus who you ran to when you fell and cut your knee, Albus who got you the best Christmas presents, Albus who you bought itchy grandpa jumpers for even though you thought they were the biggest crime against fashion since jeggings.
"Thank you," you whisper to him at three AM one time, when you think he is asleep. You have your forehead against the base of his neck, breathing in his solidity and the reassuring familiar scent of him and feeling sleepy.
"You're welcome," he whispers back, and you start slightly and then smile and snuggle closer and say another, private thank you to whatever else is out there, a thank you for my brother, thank you for this brother who could be disgusted by you or annoyed by you but instead just chooses to be kind to you.
You shift and press closer so the calm quiet solidity of his presence will keep the nightmares away, but still there's that lingering in your mind, I'M SCARED, the monsters in the periphery of your vision.
I'M STILL SCARED.
Teddy has not been here through any of this and it doesn't occur to you to care until Al points it out. You have been awake for some time in his bed, your spine pressed against his, your hair twisted between the pair of you as you watch the sun rise over his window sill.
"Teddy should be here," Al says, startling you a little since you hadn't been aware he was awake.
"I'm not scared," you answer automatically, because that is your go-to when people suggest you talk to Teddy, "I don't need him. I'm not scared."
"He should be here anyway," Albus insists stubbornly, and it feels a bit weird to be holding a conversation with someone whose back is pushing back against yours while you're staring at a blank white wall, but hey, weird is your normal these days. That doesn't make sense but it's okay because you've got post traumatic stress disorder and whatever, you can be as weird as you like.
"Can we not talk about it, please," you say in that way that makes it painfully clear that it is not a question, brows slanting down into a frown and I'M SCARED what right does Teddy have to be the one who makes things better for you anyway?
"He should be here," Al repeats, and can he just stop, he doesn't have an off switch so he's not allowed to have a repeat one. You don't reply this time, because you don't know whether you want to agree or tell him to shut up. Maybe Teddy should be here—
TEDDY I'M SCARED—
But maybe actually he won't be any help at all so it's better that he just stays away.
He comes one day. You are beginning to recover, that's what the doctor says, and you would like to believe him the way your parents do but I'M SCARED you can't, so there's that. You are still in your pyjamas when he comes into your room, and you would like nobody to comment on the fact that you have given into temptation and stolen one of Albus' grandpa jumpers to wear. There's something unbearably snuggly about them, basically.
"Hello," he says from the doorway, and you don't even dignify that with an answer. He broke his promise, he sold you out, he's going to have to do a whole lot better than 'hello'. He doesn't try, though, just crosses the carpet and slips his shoes off and clambers up onto the bed next to you.
"What do you want?" you ask after a long silence, not removing your gaze from his face. He shuffles around a little uncomfortably and looks down at your hands where you are fiddling restlessly with a biro, and things are becoming a bit surreal – well, a bit more surreal – as he rolls up his sleeve suddenly and extends his forearm towards you.
"I'm not a vampire, Ted," you tell him in mild apprehension, "I'm not about to 'feed' off you or whatever angle you're playing here."
"No," he says, and he actually laughs, "When you were younger you always used to draw on me when you wanted a serious talk. Kept you from thinking too much about what you were saying. So go ahead, draw. And talk."
For a while you hold your biro poised over the soft tanned skin of his underarm but then you press the nib down, harder than necessary, and to his credit he shows no sign of discomfort, just studies your downturned face and waits.
"I'm scared," you admit as you begin to shape an animal, "All of the time."
"Scared of what?" he inquires, not watching as you add a spine to whatever it is you're drawing. You frown slightly in concentration, the focus helping to blur the monsters lurking just out of sight.
"I don't really know," you say with an air of revelation, because actually you don't exactly – you're so scared but of what, of what, "Could be… I think a lot of things. I'm scared that there are more men like him. I'm scared he's not actually dead and he'll come back. I'm scared because we did that, Ted, I did that, I killed someone and I just walked away from the body and if I'm capable of that then, God, I could be capable of anything and—"
"Lily," he interrupts, pulling his arm out from under your pen and taking you by the shoulders and giving you the most tender of shakes, "Lily, calm down. You're not a bad person. You – you're actually quite a good person, deep down."
"I'm a freak," you argue, but you argue it in a whisper because you don't really have the energy or inclination for this, "I feel all of this and I just…"
"I feel it too," he informs you more firmly than you were expecting and you meet his eyes in surprise and you jump as you realise that he is feeling all of this but he has no monsters playing in the colours of his ever-changing irises.
"I just want it to stop," you tell him desperately, "I'll do anything, I just want it to stop. I want to forget. I'm scared. I want to forget."
And he says, "Okay," and his bad idea for forgetting is the same bad idea as last time and you console yourself that at least this time you aren't doing it in the bed he shares with his girlfriend.
You lie side-by-side on your bed an indefinite amount of time later and your ribs are rising and falling with your breaths. You have replaced your knickers and bra and that silly baggy grandpa jumper of Al's and Teddy is back in his trousers but you are naked to each other, now, in every sense other than the physical one.
"Did it work?" Teddy asks finally, his voice too loud in the small room.
"Yes," you reply with a slight air of surprise, as though you hadn't been expecting that, "I feel…" you trail off because you don't know what you feel. You are still scared and confused and lonely but knowing that Teddy is close enough that you could twitch your little finger and touch his makes you feel calm, somehow.
"I'm sorry I did this to you," he ventures after another long silence. You turn your head to look at him, and you find him staring down at you with an infinite amount of something in his eyes.
I'M NOT SO SCARED—
"You didn't. Creepy stalker man did," you correct, "I did. S'not your fault."
"But still," he argues tiredly, hooking his little finger into yours, "I should never have got you into that situation. Do you – d'you think we'll ever go back to normal again?"
You consider that for so long that he is nearly asleep by the time you finally reply.
"No," you say, voice gaining confidence as you accept your own conclusion, "We're totally fucked up. But don't panic," you reassure him hastily, rolling onto your side to press up against him, putting your lips to the delicate pink shell of his ear and tracing your fingers against the biro T-Rex on his arm, "We've got lots of practice at it. We'll survive."
"Survive," he repeats, his head flopping back to stare blankly up at the ceiling, a slight smile curving his lips upwards at one side, "S'pose that's something at least."
"Yes," you reply on a gentle exhale, pressing a kiss to the shifting line of his jaw, "That's something at least."