Title: Drive To Desperation (Part I)

Disclaimer: Art Work is Comfort by emilyjzb ( emilyjzb. deviantart art/ Comfort- 36004792)

Warnings: AU; bit of gore and slightly disturbing.

Rating: M

Part I: Crippled

"Tick tock.' The voice jeers. 'Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock! Which will it be? Which will it be? You have ten more seconds to guess before I take away that chance and Avada Kedavra you to hell.'

Scabior stares at the two vials in front of him, hands shaking and his nervous feet beating a staccato rhythm into the floor. He glances towards the door, praying for someone (anyone) to barge in; anyone to distract this lunatic enough for him to escape. He is trapped: the tip of the man's wand digging into his jugular, not bothering to ease the pressure or the stray sparks that licked his skin. If Scabior makes the wrong decision, a wand bruise will be the least of his concerns.

If he is to be honest with himself, the wand at his throat looks ever bit capable of finishing him no matter the decision he makes. It looks lethal: obsidian as its intent with intricate silver patterns carved into the handle. There are no fingerprints or abrasions that come from years of use; this wand was bought for the sole purpose to kill. It is brand new.

'Tick tock, Scabior. Six seconds. Which will it be? The decision isn't so hard. If you choose right, one vial will keep you alive for the rest of your miserable life. I believe in fair chances, even for scum like you, so choose, choose, choose…'

Scabior feels tears of desperation sting his eyes as his mind wracks desperately to find differences between the two vials; anything that could be used as a clue. 'Why are you doing this?' he sobbed. He doesn't understand how things have spiraled to this, when only minutes ago he was sitting back in his new loveseat – wine in hand and waiting for his latest fuck whore to Floo through.

The laughter that follows his question is harsh and cruel, reflecting clearly the insanity that shines in the man's eyes. 'If you survive, I will tell you why, though the reason should be as obvious as that Mark on your arm.' His eyes map the tattoo on his forearm with disgust, and he pushes the tip of his wand further into Scabior's neck. 'Three seconds, Scabior. Tick tock, tick tock.'

Scabior slowly reaches for the vial on the right, the liquid sloshing erratically as his fingers tremble. The droplets that fall on his skin burn like fire and he immediately lets it go. His yellowed teeth spread to a slow smile as he realises that he's finally managed to outwit the monster that stood before him. He grabs the one of the left and quickly downs it, just as he hears the final countdown to one. He breathes a heavy sigh of relief when the man clucks his tongue and removes his wand tip from Scabior's neck.

'Pity you didn't choose the second,' the man tuts, 'your death would have come much quicker.'

'Wha-' Scabior is just about to ask when he feels a sudden pain shoot through his spine. He cries out, doubling over. The man comes closer and Scabior can now see his own pained reflection on the surface of his killer's shoes. He had been so sure; so very, very sure that he'd chosen right. Where had he gone wrong?

He doesn't want to die.

He forces himself to sit up, making one last vain attempt to cause damage. His knees rattle against his will and they give up entirely, when Scabior's eyes rise to meet the face of perpetrator, now unmasked. 'Y-You…' his mouth fills up with blood and he feels himself falling off the sofa, his bones crunching under his weight. He tries to scream but all that comes out are violent gargles that choke him. His fingers dig into the carpet, scrabbling for hold as he tries desperately to breathe. He regrets it. In that last moment, he regrets everything he's done to put himself in the mercy of this mad man. He should have known better.

Please, he wants to beg, please, please, pleaseI'msorry.

'Did you really think I'd spare you? Have your sick little band of DeathEaters ever spared anyone? You laugh at suffering, don't you?' A mad laugh breaks out in demonstration, seemingly echoing in Scabior's ears, mocking him. 'Ridicule your victims till every bit of laughter for the rest of their miserable lives sounds like a threat.' Another cruel laugh as the footsteps slowly started to move towards the door. 'They were bothpoison, you miserable little fuck.'

'We find ourselves terrorised by You Know Who's threat. We have tried to negotiate. We have tried to seek peace. But the brick wall of futility has landed heavy on the Wizarding nation. The safety of our people has been compromised and the Ministry is fighting to rightfully return it. As of today, I, Kieron Bagsby, order a strict curfew for all wizarding civilians. Shops will close by six in the evening and all civilians are expected to return home by seven. Anyone found outside the curfew will be penalised for compromising his or her own safety. All wizards and witches are recommended basic security and identification spells on both residences and other institutions. In this grave time, we ask for your full cooperation, bravery, and belief in the Ministry of Magic. Peace shall be restored.'

Sirius turned off the radio as the announcement ended and the station resumed back to its program. Even the music was becoming sparse these days; the same track repeating again and again for months on an end.

He turned towards Remus, pretending not to notice the tremble of his hands within Sirius's. Remus's fingers felt impossibly frail, thick green veins running across his arms like gnarled roots of aged trees. Sirius's thumb traced them gingerly, his fingers feeling clumsy and large against Remus's.Toothin.

'Breakfast is getting cold,' he said with a weak smile, his eyes darting towards the plate of soggy toast and eggs. Just one plate – that's all they needed these days. 'My cooking's barely edible to start with.' He chuckled humourlessly and reached for the fork again when he felt a tug on his hand from Remus.

'Padfoot, I'm afraid,' Remus whispered, looking up at Sirius, his amber eyes reflecting the turmoil of emotions that he was probably feeling.

Sirius sighed, shuffling his eggs along the plate. 'I won't let anything happen to you, Moony, I promise.' Never again.Not even if I have to put mylife on the line.'I'm here, always.'

Remus shook his head. 'There's more at stake than my own life now. Things aren't getting any easier and…' He bit his lip hesitantly, '…and I can't do anything to help. What use am I if I can't even protect the people I love; if I can't protect you?' He let his head fall forward to Sirius's shoulder, letting out a soft noise of content when Sirius's hand reached up to stroke his hair.

'This isn't forever, Moony,' Sirius assured, though as he watched the tremble of Remus's body and the awkward slump of his legs, he wasn't quite sure himself. 'We'll get through this.' He kissed the top of Remus's head and then pushed him upright. 'Now, eat up before these eggs become even more disgusting.' He returned the shaky smile Remus shot him and picked up his fork.

But it seemed breakfast was never part of Sirius's fate this morning as the fireplace roared loudly, spitting out sparks of green flame. There was a cloud of soot and smoke and James, looking every bit like a pub magician, tumbled out of it with flourish. However, his characteristic grin was missing as his eyes surveyed Remus first, then Sirius. 'There's been another one,' he informed them gravely. 'Possible suicide case. However, I use the word suicide very, very lightly.' He swallowed heavily and motioned Sirius to get up. 'Moody's got us on call, so you'd better get ready. We'll catch the scene before they try to cover it up with weak excuses.' When Sirius cast a hesitant glance towards Remus, James assured, 'I've got him. Go on.'

Sirius nodded, getting up and walking towards the bedroom. They watched as the door closed with a soft click and the sounds of running water filled the silence. Remus was looking at his and Sirius's abandoned plate with something akin to distaste. James had a feeling Remus was partially glad he didn't have to eat Sirius's weak attempts at cooking. Lily would have to send them food more often.

'What do you think happened?' Remus asked quietly, shuffling his legs slowly to the front.

James waited out of respect for Remus's pride, until the werewolf extended a hand for him to come. Carefully, he swung Remus's left hand over his shoulder and pulled him up. If it had been left to James, he would have simply volunteered to carry his friend to the living room couch. Remus's entire weight fell upon James's side like a dead body and his legs moved like a rusty wheel. It was simply painful to watch.

'Forced suicide,' James answered after a bit of thought. 'We've dealt with enough suicide cases to know the signs to look for. This guy was too complacent with his life to attempt anything of the sort. Too much of a coward, too.'

'This is the second identified Death Eater, isn't it? Do you reckon it might be You Know Who?' Remus asked. The name seemed foreign on his lips since only months ago Dumbledore had claimed that, 'Fear of a name only increased fear of the thing itself'. But the hateful name had a trigger now; they found you if you uttered it.

James shook his head. He slowly unwound Remus's arms from around his shoulder and helped him fall back into the couch. The pillows flopped under the sudden weight. 'Why kill one of his own: an integral part no less?'

'Perhaps he was trying to get out? Like…' Remus lowered his voice, 'Regulus?'

James was just about to tell Remus how thin the possibilities of that were when Sirius walked out of his room. He was still trying to put on his shoes as he hobbled towards them, but it was enough to close the conversation about Regulus. It was still a sensitive topic for the former Black heir and no matter how much Sirius denied it and called Regulus an idiot, both James and Remus knew that Sirius was suffering terribly at his brother's loss. Remus and James exchanged a look among themselves that promised to continue the conversation at a later date.

'If you need anything, you'll let me know, won't you?' Sirius asked, once he'd done up his boots. He looked up at Remus with worry in his eyes and then emptied a pocket full of sweets onto Remus's lap. 'Eat,' he said simply and James couldn't help but let out an amused laugh at the slight gleam in Remus's eyes. Some things never changed. 'And, keep your wand with you.' Sirius clenched the wand in his hand tightly before handing it over to Remus. 'Only necessary magic, all right?'

Remus nodded smiling. 'You worry too much,' he replied, holding the wand experimentally in his hand. It was very different from Remus's old wand, which had been red instead of black – something the Marauders had always made fun of in school and successfully nicknamed as The Scarlet Woman. 'I'll be fine, I promise,' he leaned up to press a hand against Sirius's cheek, his movements agonisingly slow.

Again, James was hit by how much things had changed. Before this whole debacle, it had always been Sirius complaining that Remus worried too much. James hated this; hated how things had changed and how much his friends were suffering as a consequence. He looked away, feeling like a stranger in his own friend's house. 'Padfoot, we need to go.'

'Yeah, sorry,' Sirius muttered distractedly. He kissed Remus lightly on the forehead before quickly following James to the Floo. James heard Remus's gentle, 'stay safe' as he was engulfed by bright green flames and subjected to borderline nauseous spinning. He tumbled into the crime scene meeting point – an isolated area set up behind the house to manage the inflow and outflow of Ministry officials. James brushed off the soot from his clothes and straightened up to look back at Sirius, surprised when he found Sirius's back towards him as he surreptitiously tried to wipe his eyes.

'All right, mate?' James asked, placing a hesitant hand on Sirius's shoulder.

Sirius nodded, turning and smiling. 'Soot in my eyes, I suppose,' the crack in his voice disproved his theory.

'Moony still hasn't told you what happened?'

Sirius shook his head. 'He doesn't need to. He talks in his bloody sleep, screams sometimes, and it's like I'm living through everything they did to him, Prongs. It's…if I ever find out who is responsible for this, I'll…' His fists clenched tightly on his sides, jaw clenching and unclenching in suppressed anger.

James hummed, slowly starting to walk towards the crime site. He felt the beginnings of guilt surface within him again. He's beaten himself about it a million times – his inability to save one of his best friends or even realise that it wasn't at all normal to be late from a mission. Remus had dismissed his concerns and insecurities time and time again, but like Sirius, he couldn't help but dwell on the 'what ifs'. 'He isn't getting any better, is he?' he asked softly, not quite looking at Sirius. They were already late, it seemed, as he saw Moody waving violently and presumably screaming from a distance. Even in mittens and a bulky coat, Moody looked menacing.

Sirius started to walk faster. 'Not by much, but I can tell he's getting frustrated. He hates it when I try to help, but what am I supposed to do when every time I let him walk on his own, he falls? He can't even feed himself without his hands shaking like a leaf. So what the fuck am I supposed to do? Just sit back and watch?'

James wasn't sure what to say in reassurance. They walked in silence the rest of the way, snow crunching under their feet as they steeled themselves to be subjected to Moody's tirade of constant vigilance.

'About bloody time! We're going insane trying to keep away the press. No fucking names, I have to keep yelling.' Moody grouched when he was within hearing distance. 'Walk with me quickly while I fill you up on the details.' He didn't wait for either of them to follow, hobbling on his wooden leg at a pace that seemed extraordinary. 'Body was discovered this morning and identified as Damien Scabior. His last contact was a prostitute he'd employed the servicesof, presumably around seven in the evening. She's the one who found him when she came back for her coat.' Moody pointed a gnarled figure towards a young woman under interrogation. She was crying quite hysterically while she presumably explained her version of the events. 'Very distraught,' Moody continued, 'which is more than I can say for Scabior's wife.'

James raised an eyebrow. 'She has an alibi?'

'She's been on holiday since last week, visiting family members in France. She didn't try to hide the fact that she despised him or that she couldn't care less if he was alive or dead. I expect she'll shed a few customary tears during the funeral.'

'And the poison?'

'Unidentifiable – both of them,' Moody growled in obvious annoyance. 'We've sent them to the lab for a breakdown, but so far, we've got nothing. It could have easily been crushed glass; preliminary body examination charms are giving us nothing.' Sirius and James looked at each other, a bad feeling progressively spreading within them. 'Prewett,' Moody beckoned Fabian Prewett, an officer from their forensics team.

The body has already been packed in a black bag and was being levitated to the apparition grounds. All four of them watched it leave, as if in a trance, before finally speaking.

'We're in a bad spot, Moody,' Prewett started, taking off his glasses and tucking it into his breast pocket. 'That body isn't going to last long enough for half the tests we have in mind. That poison – it's degenerative.' He looked at Sirius and James's confused faces and explained further, 'that body is being destroyed from within. Half his organs are already gone – eaten, destroyed, who the hell knows. I give it two hours for the bones, then muscle. Few of us think it wasn't poison at all but some kind of organism.'

Sirius frowned. 'Is that even possible?'

Fabian ran a hand through his hair. 'Times like these, Black, anything is possible.'

'If the spell on my wand moves at point-o-o-three to the power of twelve meters per second, and you run for your life at two-point-five meters per second, how long till my spell hits you.'

Rookwood looks back, his eyes stinging from the salt of his sweat that runs waterfalls down his face. The man is twirling his wand lazily between his fingers, barely bothered at Augustus's frantic attempts to get away. His mask is nothing but a blank obsidian canvas but those eyes glitter with madness. On any other day, Rookwood would have considered them enchanting, beautiful even; but now he only sees malice and a sick sort of satisfaction. Rookwood wonders why.Why is he being chased? Why is this man so intent on killing him? Why is this happening to him when he has the Dark Lord's power on his side?

'Do you have an answer, Rookwood?'

Augustus did have an answer.

The Rookwood estate is built over ten acres of land, complete with a well trimmed garden, a stable, and a house that stood two storeys tall and eighteen bedrooms wide. On wonderfully sunny days, Augustus drives his car impossibly slow so that he makes most of the weather. He moves through the front gates, a casual circle around the fountain and then towards the front of their house where he parks his car for their chauffeur to later take away. The whole ride takes him eight minutes and forty two seconds.

Augustus has no chance in hell to get out of this alive.


The pain that hits him is excruciating. He's read about it before of course in the same books that he's used to learn them - books with black covers and illustrated demons that talk of a pain that makes the strongest of men fall to their knees and beg. He is begging now, not on his knees but flat on his back, his body wracking with spasms as he cries for it to stop. The snow numbs his face and hands. His arms try to wind themselves around his body, protect him, but there is something forcing his hands to the sides of his head and it settles its weight on his knees. He's always found that the thrashing his own victims do under the Crucio is pointless, but as his pain peaks to pure agony under the forced stillness of his body, he understands.

The relief that floods through him when it stops is immense. He pants, his mouth moving but unable to get beyond pathetic whimpers to actually form words. A wand digs into his throat and Augustus flinches as it crackles with residual magic. He wants to scream but knows it's pointless; knew from the very beginning by the calculated gaze that fixed upon him. The rest of his house is either asleep in a cocoon of silencing spells or dead. A sick, dirty part of him wishes them dead through the same pain he is feeling.

'What do you want?' he rasps out finally, looking up at those horrible, horrible eyes. The man is sitting on top of him now, his heavy weight forcing Augustus's knees into an awkward angle. 'Anything you want to know about the Dark Lord, I can tell you. Just tell me what you want.' The laughter that follows echoes in Augustus's ears and makes him cringe from residual pain.

'What will I do with your worthless information?' Augustus can hear the sneer in his voice. 'You think I don't already know the sprout of useless coordinates and plans that will come out of your mouth? You think I haven't heard it already?' His wand digs further into Augustus's neck, threatening to draw blood despite the blunt end. 'Don't you worry; I'll kill him too. In time, I'll kill you all.'

And then it starts again.

Stops…just long enough to breathe. Augustus's body is burning despite the freezing weather.

'If I needed to modify a spell to magnify the amount of pain it caused each time I cast it, what would I use, Augustus? Answer me, what would I use?'

'I-I don't know.'


'Relief,' The man leans down and whispers when he finally stops the forbidden spell. 'I would bring you relief so you knew exactly what it felt like before I took it from you again.'

'No,' Augustus pleads. 'No, no, no, please no-aaahhhh!' His own pained screams are echoing in his ears, making his head pound and his throat raw and scratchy. He can't breathe, can't move, and with every hit of the Cruciatus curse, he feels his nerves burn and disintegrate. The pauses between each forbidden curse gets longer and longer, but the relief he feels from it shortens. Dread fills him as the tick tock of his wristwatch reverberates in his ears. He is counting down the precious few seconds he has before it will strike again and strip him of his last bit of sanity. Augustus wishes for it to end. Whatever it is this man wants with him, Augustus wishes he would simply take it and be done with it. If it is his life that this man wants, then he can damn well take it. Augustus doesn't care anymore. Anything is be better than this – this torture.

'Are you wishing you could die?' The man asks, chuckling at the sight of Augustus lying in his urine stained trousers, humiliated. 'Do you wish it would simply all end?' Augustus does not humour him with a reply, mostly because he can't. He can't speak from the terror that is spreading through him and making his knees shake; can't protest because he fears that the wrong words will simply make it worse. 'Sometimes,' the man leans down to whisper, 'death is easier…'

This is it, Augustus realises. This is it. He is going to be free at last.

'Pity I have no intention of making things easy for you.'

'Stay there.'

Sirius raised a curious eyebrow but stayed poised at the Potter's front door. He shrugged when James peeked over his shoulder asking what the holdup was. 'Moony asked me to stay,' he replied, sticking his tongue out childishly when James muttered, 'whipped'.The two of them watched as Remus got off the couch, Sirius's heart beating abnormally fast as his lover's knees trembled. Lily stood not too far away, her arms folded across her chest and her eyes pinched together as she watched Remus with just as much concentration and worry. Just like Sirius, her eyes followed the line of Remus's hands as he hooked both arms into a pair of dark grey crutches and closed shaky fingers around the handle below.

Sirius's heart stopped the second Remus's right leg moved forward for his very first independent step since the incident. His breath caught in his throat and almost by instinct, he was moving towards the other man. Remus wouldn't make it; he was just going to hurt himself again and Sirius would be damned if he was going to just stand and watch.

'NO!' Remus cried, startling all three of them. 'No, Padfoot, I can do this. Lily and I have been practicing. I can do this.'

Sirius hesitated, still not entirely convinced until James put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. 'Let him,' James whispered, pulling him back slightly.

Sirius nodded hesitantly, watching as Remus moved forward step by step. He was shaky at first; each step he took was carefully measured and slow. Remus's face was screwed in concentration and every time his steps faltered or he looked like he was about to stumble, Sirius's muscles jumped, ready to come to his aid. He wanted to give Remus a chance; he wanted this so, so badly, but he couldn't help the nervous twitches or the frantic beating of his heart. He worried. He always worried nowadays because Remus just wasn't the same; he was weaker, quieter, lonelier…

'Come on, Moony,' Sirius urged when Remus had already made it midway. He could see Lily biting her nails nervously. 'Come on.' Remus had begun to gain a little bit of speed as his legs coordinated their movements with the crutches. 'You're almost there.' He hastily dropped his shoulder bag to the ground, unconcerned when a few of the documents fell out. Even James was cheering now as Sirius held his arms out. 'Come on.'

Remus grinned, hobbling the last few steps clumsily before falling against Sirius's chest. 'I did it,' he panted, 'I did it.'

Sirius hummed, wrapping his arms tightly around Remus and kissing the top of his head. 'You did it,' he whispered, finding an odd bubble of joy threatening to burst through him. It was hardly much, but after almost an entire month of watching Remus suffer with absolutely no progress, Sirius felt like he and his lover had just conquered the world. 'Good job, Moony. You did it.'

'I'll get you a change of shirt. You must be soaked,' James offered, moving past Sirius.

Sirius shook his head in reply. 'He's fine,' he assured, checking Remus's back and neck with a quick swipe of his hand. 'No sweat.' It did strike as Sirius as odd, given the way Remus was panting against him but he dismissed it. It was proof how much Remus had improved; when he'd first got out of the hospital, just a simple task as dressing himself or moving across the couch would have Remus unable to breathe and sweating profusely. This was good. This meant that Remus was getting better, and very soon, Remus would be Remus again and Sirius could lay in peace at night.

'Are you two lovebirds going to stand at our front door all day or actually going to come in for dinner.'

Sirius grinned at Lily and in a moment of elation, scooped Remus up in his arms and carried him inside. The crutches clattered to the side, joining Sirius's bag.

'I told you I could walk!' Remus protested, pulling at Sirius's shirt.

'I know you can,' Sirius laughed, kissing him swiftly on the lips to shut him up. 'This is me being romantic.'

Remus pouted. 'What about your things?' he asked, squinting over Sirius's shoulders. 'Lab Analysis,' he read slowly and frowned, 'is this about the murders? Have you found any leads yet?'

'Not yet,' James answered for Sirius, picking up the scattered papers and stuffing them back in the bag. 'Whoever this is knows what he's doing. Everything just leads to a dead end. The body we found is gone – destroyed while our lab team tried desperately to find some clues. The last one is the only one out of the three who survived but it's no mistake. He was kept alive by choice but he might as well be dead. He's gone completely off his rockers. Sirius-'

Sirius shot James a warning look. He was meant to keep these discussions vague, mentioning no names whatsoever. It wasn't a matter of trust; Sirius trusted both Remus and Lily with his life. But he had pointed out to James early on in the investigation that every piece of information they entrusted their partners with became a liability that their enemies could hold and torture out of them. A large part of Sirius's paranoia stemmed from recent events with Remus and he would be damned if one stupid slip up from James put his lover in danger again.

'I just wanted to double check,' Sirius finished for James, adjusting Remus in his arms so that his shoulder blocked Remus's view. He reminded himself to hide all investigation related papers in the future. Remus's curiosity was becoming a hazard. 'Make sure we've covered everything and that there aren't any loops that we've overlooked. Anything that can help identify the criminal really.'

'Fabian is thorough,' James argued for the fiftieth time that day making Sirius roll his eyes for the forty ninth.

'And I told you, I just want to make sure. Don't sour the mood, James,' Sirius plopped Remus onto one of the dining chairs causing him to cry in alarm. He chuckled as Remus punched him lightly in the arm. He pulled his own chair closer to Remus's, moving the large round dinner plate between them to make eating easier. Achievement or not, Remus's shaky hands weren't doing anyone any favours. His thighs bumped with Remus's playfully. 'We're having a celebratory dinner tonight, right, Lily?'

'I don't have much to offer then,' Lily joked, setting down a perfect roasted turkey on the table.

Sirius's stomach lurched loudly and he and Remus exchanged embarrassed laughs. Merlin knew it had been a while since they'd had a decent meal. Sirius's cooking was barely edible at the best of times. He attacked it with vigour, carving out a generous helping. He shot Remus a dark look when he tried to reach for his own fork. 'What time are the two of you setting off for Frank and Alice's wedding?' Sirius asked conversationally. 'Moony and I were thinking of going in a little late to avoid having to talk to Frank's mother.' Both he and Remus shuddered simultaneously at the mention of her.

'Enough to scare anybody's nightmares away, if you ask me,' Remus added, before Sirius shoved a forkful of vegetables in his mouth.

'Especially that vulture hat,' James affirmed, 'I swear, sometimes it feels like its bloody staring at you, alive as day.'

Lily laughed, 'don't be rude, lads. James mentioned he might have work that day.'

James nodded. 'Moody mentioned putting me on the night shift - something about scoping out the next target for our killings.'

Lily sighed, taking a sip of water. 'As if we didn't have enough problems with murder to start with. Now we have people on both sides butchering each other.'

'Honestly, I can't bring myself to feel sorry for them,' James commented, surprising Sirius. 'You can't deny that the Death Eaters had it coming. One of the reasons we can't narrow down a suspect list is because they had no lack of enemies. How many families have they murdered – wives, children, parents? Did they really think they were going to get away with it?'

Silence reigned over the dinner table as neither of them knew what to say. It was the first time James had voiced a personal opinion over the matter. Sirius scraped his fork across the plate awkwardly.

'That doesn't make this right, James,' Lily said softly. 'If we stoop to the same level as them, then there's nothing to set us apart.'

'I agree with Prongs,' Remus said quietly and for a few seconds, Sirius was sure it was just his imagination. 'They deserve this. They deserveeverything that's coming to them. We've played fair long enough and it's not winning us any wars.'

'Moony…' Sirius started but wasn't quite sure what to say. He stared at his lover and saw someone he barely recognised. The old Remus would have never said such things; would never have allowed such thoughts to even cross his mind. This is what they had done to him. They had broken him, changed him, made him into the mess of a human being that sat before Sirius, spitting out praises of vengeance. Sirius had wanted to protect him. Ever since this war started, Sirius had only ever wanted to protect him.

His fists clenched as he watched Remus's eyes mist up.

Remus looked away, hiding behind his hand as his voice broke. 'Whoever this is, if they're only targeting Death Eaters, then I hope they never get caught. They're brave enough to do what needs to be done…'

Remus was sobbing.

Not knowingly. Remus never cried in front of others no matter how much Sirius sometimes wished he would.

Remus was sobbing in his sleep, mumbling incomprehensible pleas and groaning in pain. His body thrashed side to side, the covers pulling away from Sirius's body and tangling around his feet. His skin glistened with sweat, dripping down the side of his face and mingling with his tears. 'No.No, no, no!'

Sirius didn't wake him. He watched as he did every night for the past few months. He watched Remus suffer and cry and scream, until finally Sirius would have enough pieces to finally complete the puzzle of what happened with his lover. He felt horrible doing this; like he was betraying his own. He was Remus's other half, wasn't he? He was supposed to take care of him and save him from his nightmares, yet he was doing the exact opposite. He was letting Remus live through his nightmares every single night because Remus refused to talk to him otherwise. This was the only way he would ever know what happened. Some nights, if he were lucky, there would be names. Those were the nights Sirius himself would spend sleepless, trying to calm the fire that raged in his blood and suppress the tears that threatened to fall.

'No, please don't. Don't hurt themdon'tI won'tno…'

Sirius rubbed his face tiredly. His hands itched to touch his lover but he held them tightly against his chest.

'I'm not….I'm not…stop…NO!'

Remus shot off the bed and Sirius immediately reached for him, wrapping both arms around the Remus as the werewolf struggled wildly in his arms. 'No! I'm not a monster! I'm not a monster! I'm not!'

'Moony, it's okay. It's just a dream,' Sirius forcefully pulled Remus to his chest and locked his arms to his side. It was a necessary precaution; Sirius had learned this from multiple injuries on nights similar to this. 'Shh, love, it's okay. You're home now. You're home now…you're safe…'

'I'm not a monster,' Remus cried against his chest, fisting Sirius's shirt tightly.

'You're not a monster,' Sirius affirmed, stroking Remus's hair softly. It was damp with sweat, just like the rest of his body. 'You're Moony – the smartest Marauder and my sexy boyfriend.'

Remus let out a weak laugh.

'I love you,' Sirius continued, his words muffled into Remus's hair. He kissed Remus softly behind his ear. 'I love you. I love you so, so much. I love you.' He felt Remus burrow further into his neck and a tell tale wetness dampen his skin. Remus's legs wrapped around him, straddling his waist in an almost childlike embrace. 'I'm here now. I won't let you go, I promise. You're safe now…'

Remus said nothing for a while and Sirius was sure he'd fallen asleep again, probably exhausted from his ordeal. Inwardly, he worried how he would change Remus out of his soaked clothes without waking him. Sirius was just about to get up when Remus suddenly spoke, startling him: 'I want to go out for a walk…'

Sirius groaned, 'Moony, you've only just begun to-'

'I want to walk,' Remus repeated adamantly, 'How much ever I can go without falling over…' He pushed himself off Sirius, rolling over to the other side and reaching for the crutches that were now Remus's constant aid. Sirius had to admit that he was thankful to Lily for them; they had given Remus the independence he'd wanted for a very long time. It had also provided Sirius with renewed hope. Remus had only been using the crutches for a week and he was getting swifter, though his speed was achieved at great expense to Remus's well being. Remus pushed himself hard and Sirius lost count of the number of days he'd returned home to Remus collapsed on the bed from strain or a pulled muscle.

He watched as Remus hobbled to their cupboard, tossing two pairs of jeans, a well worn coat, and Sirius's leather jacket on the bed. Knowing a lost cause when faced with one, Sirius sighed heavily and got off the bed. 'Wait; let's get you cleaned up first. You'll catch a cold like that.' He ignored Remus's protests and summoned a dry towel from their bathroom. 'Sit,' he commanded, already starting on Remus's chest, wiping the back of his neck and his damp hair.



'You're not getting tired of me, are you?' Remus let out a small sound of protest, right eye closing as Sirius rubbed his face a little too hard. 'Having to put up with all this…' He dutifully lifted his legs so that Sirius could help him with his jeans. 'Having to take care of me all the time…' He held Sirius at the wrists, stopping him momentarily, 'You won't leave, will you?'

Sirius frowned; looking down at Remus's questioning amber eyes. They were wide with trepidation and Sirius would have laughed at the absurdity of the question had it been under any other circumstance. 'Don't be stupid, Moony,' he admonished, fingers combing through Remus's damp hair. It stuck to his skin and Sirius reckoned he was making a bigger mess of it than it already was. 'Remember James's stag night? Did you leave me to drown when I'd convinced myself that toilet water was actually champagne?'

'I wasn't going to kiss the mouth that had just drunk out of the toilet,' Remus laughed when Sirius placed a chaste kiss with said mouth. 'I took pictures of you trying to snog Elphias Dodge.'

Sirius shuddered. 'Don't remind me.' He held out his hand, helping Remus stand shakily. 'Look, Moony, when I promised forever, I meant it. I'm always going to be here for you, no matter what.' He squeezed Remus's fingers between his, smiling before handing back his crutches. 'Let's take Padfoot out for his walkies, shall we?'

The smile on Remus's face was worth it. It was worth the worry he put himself through as Remus tried to descend the stairs by himself; and worth all the patience his Animagus counterpart put in as Remus hobbled down the streets too slow for an energetic dog. Padfoot wagged his tail wildly, circling Remus enough times to make him dizzy and barking in encouragement every time Remus stopped for breath. He did tricks on his hind legs like a common dog, just to make Remus laugh and toss his favourite doggy treats as reward. Pride and fur were inversely proportional in ways that Sirius had none when he was a dog. Padfoot would chew on Remus's scarf, brush against his legs, and tug at his coat for an ear scratch, tongue lolling out in happiness when Remus obliged him every time. Sirius was as insatiable as a dog as he was human.

In that small moment, just a few blocks away from their tiny little apartment, Sirius felt free again. He felt like they were back in the old days when the two of them would go out for walks in the middle of the night just so that they could hold hands without anyone seeing. Remus would laugh every time Sirius changed into Padfoot to chase an alley cat or play in the fountain, and then complain about muddy footprints when they got home. Things had been good for them. Despite the war, they had been happy.

'Sirius,' Remus croaked out suddenly, stopping Padfoot mid play. 'Sirius, let's go home.'

Padfoot looked up at Remus curiously and he didn't miss the stench of fear that was now emanating from Remus's skin. He followed the direction of Remus's gaze but saw nothing but shadows and darkness. He blinked back at Remus, expecting some kind of explanation but Remus seemed unable to speak. His legs were starting to shake and Sirius transformed to human, just in time to catch him falling. The crutches clattered to the ground noisily and Sirius was sure he saw something in the shadows stop momentarily.

'Let's go home, Sirius,' Remus pleaded, leaning heavily against Sirius and clutching his jacket tightly. 'I don't want to walk anymore. Let's go home.' Remus's fearful eyes were looking past Sirius's shoulder towards the darkness. His hands were trembling more than ever, scrabbling to keep close to Sirius and move away at the same time. 'Please, Padfoot, please,' he whispered, tugging at Sirius's arm to distract him when Sirius tried to look back.

Sirius ignored him momentarily as he squinted behind them. There!

Suddenly, Remus pushed him away, falling to the ground with a loud thump.It was the sound of retching that pulled Sirius out of his stupor and he quickly kneeled beside Remus, holding his hair back as vomit splattered on the road.

'It's okay,' Sirius tried, rubbing Remus's back gently. 'It's okay…'

Remus shoved away Sirius's hand roughly. 'It's notokay.' He coughed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Sirius could see droplets of blood spreading across Remus's jeans where his knees had hit the pavement. 'It's not okay, Sirius!' Another cough and dry retch. 'I hate being like this! I hate it! I hate what they've done to me. I hate them!I hate them!' Remus pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes. 'I'm tired, Sirius. I'm so tired of being afraid. I'd do anything to stop being so fucked up….anything.'

Sirius was too stunned to reply with anything more than silence.

Remus inhaled shakily. 'I want to go home, please.'