La Belle Reve
"They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at--Elysian Fields!"--
Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
Part One: The Setup
It was the sort of day where the sun rose early and startled even the birds in their contented feathers. Loneliness was not a factor for breakfast, tea and toast and butter and sweet jam, the early rays of sunlight falling into his teacup, the bright day dawning against his eyes, all of it subtracted from any misery he might have gone to sleep with, tucking him in. As in moving out of the tight web of a cocoon, he pushed free from his blankets and felt alive enough not to breakfast alone, hiding skeletal in his own room. That day, he preferred to take his tea and that sweet jam and that perfectly golden toast with the comfort, the solace of friendship. It had been a long time since he sought out any companion at all, but a wolf cannot live forever alone. A wolf is a beast of the pack, and all beasts are drawn to their nature, and in the cycle of the sickle moon, Professor Remus Lupin had tea with Professor Severus Snape in the early morning, and tried not to smile sadly, as if condescending, when he caught the remnants of wounded pride festering into bitter hate in his old friend's dark eyes.
"I wonder," Remus said while sipping his tea, in which he had added a light dash of milk, one cube of sugar, making the final product just sweet enough to start him off smiling, for however little that curve to his lips may have ended up being in the end, at least it was there, "how it ended up being this, as opposed to anything else."
"I didn't know that among your many talents and professions you are also a philosopher," Severus said as he buttered his toast, contemplating the smooth movements of the knife, whether it was subconscious contemplation, or whether he acknowledged how enjoyable he found the glint of that blade was when it caught the sunlight, and you knew how harmless and how deadly it was all at once, carefully crafted yet now, all it was doing was spreading butter upon toast, "but it only serves to make sense, after all. Contemplating the meaning of life, are you?"
"I'm afraid so," Remus said, feeling that sad smile come familiarly to his lips, and though he hated it he clung to it, also, for it was the only smile he had, however ragged it may have become, "but at my age, you end up doing that quite often, I've found."
"It's the unfortunate part of aging, I'm sure," Severus replied, and there was the darkest quality to his voice, like good breakfasts gone sour, laughter over good breakfasts turned to rust in his throat, love made raw and then bitter with no tea to soothe it, no chocolate to sweeten it again. Remus had a sweet tooth for he had so many cavities the rich chocolate always managed to fill; it was obvious to see that Severus had filled no voids and healed no wounds. Each of them nursed their hearts in their own way, but they had the common ground of hearts that needed nursing.
"The unfortunate part of aging," Remus corrected softly, his hands falling still before him, "is finding that you are suddenly very old. I find I can't help looking back and wondering, perhaps, where I would be now if I had done this differently, or perhaps changed something so small as that"
"Don't bring up such sore spots with me, Professor," Severus murmured, and perhaps he had intended originally to be cold, or bitter, but the bitterness had fallen short and the chill was warmed by the sun, and outside in the rain a dog pressed his snout into the dirt and let the sunlight fall thick upon his scarred, thickly furred back. And someday, the sun promised, summer would come. It was hard to be sharp-tongued or give cruel replies when there was no need to be. It was friendly between them again, though they kept up this formal and somewhat stiff politeness in order to forget all the familiarities there had once been shared in their conversation, the juxtaposition of their relations.
"If only," Remus sighed after a moment had passed and the interstices his folded hands had made, little spaces of air between his twined fingers, did not change the folds of shadow or light or light or shadow, and reminded him of his own lack of change, the theory of change which did not destroy youth, but was what made it youthful, pliancy which was youth itself, malleable hearts that had yet to fall prey to their brittle destiny, "I had been a physics professor."
"Then I might now have your job," Severus muttered, yet still it was that all his bitterness was coming up short, the sharp edges worn down to blunt and clumsy attempts at wounding a man he did not truly want to wound, at least, not any longer, "and you might be able to understand the consistency, the weight, the truth and the uncontrollable, miserable nature of time. It rules us all, Remus, so it's quite impossible that theories or equations or even philosophical understanding could ever aid you, once time has caught hold." It was then that Remus began looking very old and Severus was sorry he'd said anything at all, for while they understood each other, Severus understood those weary lines ingrained in Remus's face as if they were his own.
"I suppose," Remus acquiesced, shrugging, finishing off his toast, for on a morning like this where destiny was quite clear and 'what if's had long since died out as a species, no longer grew on the branches of small saplings, just within your reach, just against your palms, it was easier just to give up, and let age claw its bestial hands at you. Improbability ran rampant. You let it, did not try any longer to cage it, for half of you understood and pitied its age-old nature. Remus felt as if he'd lived a thousand years when he was not even an old man. It is the nature of your years that make them long.
"You are well read," Severus pointed out, trying to smooth over Remus's wounds with a tenderness, albeit awkward, that he could never give to his own aches and pains, "and you know, therefore, all the intricacies of time. You can change nothing of the past. Even humoring the possibility, even thinking about it, even letting your mind linger upon controlling or altering time, is the same as becoming a dead man. At least you can say you are still alive." He drummed his fingers against the table, fwunk fwunk fwunk, making his tea earthquake, little ripples flowing outward from the center of the cream.
They met each other's eyes.
"We cannot all of us harbor the childish misconception that living is anything more than drawing breath after breath." There was bitterness in that statement, bitterness with no direction, all the more chilling for the fact that it pointed towards no one and sent bullets of ice ricocheting throughout the room.
"I must stop living in the past," Rmeus murmured, feeling the flow and call of memory behind his eyelids, only a whimpering creature at its beck and call, madly in love with all things past, grasping out helplessly at them and coming up with empty hands and an empty heart every time, "or at least, I must stop trying to."
They finished their tea and spoke of other things. Touched upon no memories. Let the sunlight rule, and the sweetness of the cream, the butter, the jam, savored upon their tongues, fill their life with fleeting pleasure, easing their bruises, smoothing out their scars. Outside a dog whined in the only soothing shadow he could sniff out, along the border of trees, the bars of the forest. Time moved onwards like a lonely but proud creature, the last of its kind, devastating the world left in its wake, peeling skin, freezing heat, warping bone, melting ice. Its footsteps left little wormholes in the continuum, through which little bugs fell, and occasionally, the edge of a human shadow had the chance of seeing that which might have been, where the winds of the wings of a butterfly changed by the measurement of one baby's breath.