1. Through the trees, between the lattice of green-and-brown smells, I could hear them running. They were coming toward where the gray twisted and warped into itself, they were catching up. I could hear their breath.
"Here," said the one that could talk, and I sang back so they could find me. And the one that could talk, he sang, and we two sang, a great noise that was not ourselves and the other two, they didn't understand. I could smell their cannot-understand. We sang, and they caught up with me and the Large Prey and the Little Prey didn't know how to, but they came anyways.
And then, he told me, "Hush," but I didn't hush, and he didn't sing with me. It was so long, so long, the whole world was this song and I didn't hush, and they couldn't keep up. How could he tell me they weren't prey, when they were so clearly prey? But he. He bit me, like he knew, and I couldn't see how he didn't notice that we were running with prey. He had to be as hungry as I was, we never ate, not in our whole lives. We never ate because when I caught something he would bite me.
He wanted me to starve, so I did not hush.
Large Prey lowered his rack fast. Then I hurt. I snarled at him: how could he let them get away with this? Insubordination. Intolerable. I yelled and growled and told him just what I thought of running with this ramshackle pack, had he no standards, and he. Impudent, he bit my snout. Like he was in charge, like he could hush me like that, but then I smelled him.
Padfoot smelled like trees.
Out of the tree, all over I was red and open, and he told me to hush, and I did not hush. My snout bumped his but it was wrong, our faces were shortened and distorted, his ears were strange and too low and round and I growled, scared. He was red and open, too, near his neck and down. I smelled Large Prey before I saw Large Prey, and I saw Large Prey before I felt Large Prey.
Who was carrying me. Out of the tree. Little Prey was ahead, and I looked, and they were very red, but they were carrying me, and I put my nose into Padfoot's shoulder and did not hush. I waited for him to bite my snout again, but he made a sound that was not a sound, and his paw was long when he put it on my face. His paw came away red, too.
There were rocks, and the air was yellower and awake. They carried me into the rocks, and it smelled not like a cave at all, but like lots and lots of prey. They carried me, and they left me, and the last thing before it was all white was there, him.
2. I hated the mornings after, when we could never figure out whose blood was smeared on whose face. I hated it for all the same reasons I hated seeing, dealing with, talking about, thinking about, tasting, or touching blood. Anyone's blood - somewhere along the line I got convinced that blood was like acid, that it could eat through my skin and make me sick, and that mine could do the same to someone else. When I was six, and he was four, I jumped down the stairs and cut open my knee, and bled everywhere, and he jumped after me and instead of his knee it was his head, and before he screamed, before he did anything else, he sat up and put his hand on my knee where it was cut and he took it and put it to his head where he was cut.
This is back when I had a brother. Father found us like that, me bloody from the knee down and him bloody from the neck up and before he would heal us he told us to look, look, this is why you are here.
When we were sixteen we jumped down the stairs together and both cut our knees and then, laughing, I put mine to his and told him, look, look, this is why you are here. I hoped our blood would make each other sick, so that we would be in the Hospital Wing together at just the right time, but instead of getting sick we got a new brother, each. We got healed up and sent out before the really bloody bits, and the next morning the sunrise was perfect and yellow though I regretted it, because sunrise should always be red, blood red.
Did you ever have a brother, I once deemed to ask him, and he laughed funny and said, you know I don't, you're all I've got. It was before that, before the blood, but we were already, and I didn't know then if I had two brothers or none at all. When I was fifteen and he was thirteen we snuck out into the real world (that's what they call it, I like to think) and I bought six posters of scantily-clad females who did not move or wink or flirt or jiggle, but who were just frozen on the shiny paper like glass or plastic figurines and he bought six floppy-backed books badly-written about scantily-clad females being ravished in unlikely ways and we snuck back in and we snuck all the way up those (bloody) stairs and into my room where we sat on my bed and affixed the posters to my walls and affixed our eyeballs to his pages to see how it was done in the real world, and when I was thirty pages into one and he twenty-two pages into another we stopped and looked up and did you ever have a brother, I once asked James, which was a stupid question, because that's me, that's who I am is James Potter's brother.
On the bed with the books beneath the posters we looked up and I did not think to myself, I am James Potter's brother and I did not think to myself, Regulus Black is my brother but what I thought to myself was, We can do better than that. I said to him We can do better than that and he, of course we can; and I, But I write for crap. He, That's not true, and I. When his lip was bitten right through I discovered that it tasted just the same, blood, and I thought to myself, I am no man's brother, but I know some boys who might be mad if they heard me say that.
When we were thirteen and I was in a state of fraternal chaos I woke up to find the moon glaring down at me so I went for a walk in the night to soothe my troubled soul, because how better to brood but in a moonlit castle, and that's the first time I heard him howl.
When we were sixteen I went running in the night again but this was not brooding but rather a new step in the long poetic revelation that I am only really alive when I am running for my life. He was trying to eat him which was very unusual as usually he accepted that while he was stronger and meaner than me he was also not nearly as hungry as I was scared. Which meant I could bite his nose and he'd piss off, so I bit his nose and he growled and snapped at me but pissed off but then he started howling, oh how I hated that sound, nothing sounds more like Need and Blood than a werewolf howling right in one's oversensitive ear and Prongs had to whack him a couple times but still he would not stop, he didn't stop that whole night nor the morning after. One of those rare times when it actually sets at sunrise so we had our lovely little party-of-four climbing out all bloodied (whose was whose, I couldn't say) and all of us battered and limping but he, he was still howling, like he didn't know how to stop, but it sounded so different, so tiny and raspy and broken and he coughed up blood just once in a great staccato spat, and then they went away and I stayed.
When I was sixteen and he was fourteen I looked at his lips and did not want to bite them or taste his blood and I wanted nothing to do with that blood ever again, that blood repulsed me, that blood roiled my stomach, and that was when it was time to find some bridges left to burn so I found father in his study (where he never studied, though what else he did there we never knew) and I told him.
He did not hit me nor did he curse me and I did not know what to do because I had told him for the express purpose of getting hit or cursed and hitting or cursing back because I was big enough to do that now, but no, he stood up and said I don't believe you. I assured him it was true, I said father I have committed the sin of, and he stopped me with, there is no such sin. I said again father I have committed the sin of incest and he stood and walked to me and touched my face and said there is no such sin. I, there is so, and I have done it, with my brother, and he, there is no such sin. I, I am leaving and he, are you taking my brother with you and I, no. (The resulting bruise was spectacular and nowhere visible but despite my noble plans I did not strike back that time.) When we were sixteen I carried him up to the castle with equally spectacular bruises and I made them all leave and I looked at him and I put my face in his hair my lips to his ear and asked him, did you ever have a brother, though I knew the answer.
When we were sixteen and not ourselves I bit him on the nose to inform him that it was not Quidditch to devour one's friends and pack-mates. He did not eat me though I regretted him starving in my presence. He howled and sang and keened and yelled and begged and said how hungry he was, and he would not eat me and I did not know why he was so willing to devour his two other best friends in the world but not me, was I not tasty enough? True wolves have been known to kill dogs, there's no reason why he had to listen to me when I bit his nose and I had to bite hard enough to make him bleed a little and I tasted it and licked at it and he whined that canine whine that is nothing but perfect want.
3. I don't know how much more of this I can take. They've been at it for months, and Padfoot's going to absolutely lose it soon if something doesn't happen. And it can't be me that makes it happen, 'cause I'm his brother, or close enough so as to make some weird rule about where hands can and cannot go. (And Lily. But she's not what this is about, you know.) He keeps going off, I can see little hair-thin cracks around that brain of his. He gets weird, the morning after. This morning after he got really weird, which I guess would be 'cause Moony got really weird, wouldn't stop - crying's not the word for it, but something like that. Moaning. Makes me want to hit him when he does that, which I know is so completely out of line but I can't help it, it's such a "please smack me" sort of noise, like a little kid that won't hush. But Sirius, it does weird things to him he got all intense and kept licking the blood off his fingers while I carried Remus back up. Dunno that he even noticed he was doing it, he was too busy staring at Remus, who had this big gash across his nose where Padfoot had to bite him last night to keep me from getting eaten. And Moony was scary last night, for the first time in a long time, but I wasn't surprised. I'd been waiting for it, it was building, we were all tensed, all knew something was going to eventually snap.
Maybe that wasn't it snapping, though, maybe that's just the prelude. In which case, we're all mightily buggered when whatever it is finally snaps. Sirius sucked the blood off one spot on his thumb and bit into the fleshy pad of it like he wanted more. He's been doing this for maybe a month, maybe more, I don't know when I noticed this but he's obsessed. He'll get some little cut or scrape on his hands and suck on it, without thinking. I don't think he knows he's doing it, and he always does it when I'm doing something with Moony. Like this morning, me carrying Moony up to the castle (he's so light, it scares me sometimes, must remember to feed him later) or like a few weeks ago when Remus somehow talked me into actually studying, the nutter, and Sirius sat on the other side of the table in the library just flat-out staring. Not looking back and forth between the two of us, or focusing on either of us, but his eyes a little out of focus, so our figures could've merged.
And Regulus came back from summer hols with a black eye and the Slytherins formed an immediate protective wall around him. Never seen them do that before, even Snivellus was playing nice with his little chums, and Sirius punched a suit of armor. And Regulus came back from Christmas hols with a new broomstick, and the Slytherins immediately lost spectacularly to us at Quidditch, and Sirius punched a stone wall. His hand's been broken six times this term alone, and I so want to ask who he'd be punching if it weren't the wall. But there's always the possibility that the answer is me, which is a horrible new possibility. Not as horrible as the possibility that it would be Remus, but Sirius asked me if I ever had a brother, which had to be the stupidest question he's ever asked me, since he knows all the possible answers I could give to that. He knows perfectly well the all the possible answers to any question he could ever ask me, which begs the question of why he keeps asking.
This morning he kicked me and Peter out of the Hospital Wing. I let him, because sometimes you have to let him boss you around a bit or he gets snappish. And I saw him, when we were just leaving, I thought for a moment that he was going to punch the wall again, but instead he stopped and put his head down to do something to Remus I couldn't see. But I left, then, because I don't think one ought to watch one's brother doing stuff like that.
4. The early-morning sunlight was peculiarly yellow, and lit the whole Hospital Wing in an odd, apocalyptic sort of way. Time, being the reductio ad absurdum of all human existence, hung patiently in a corner while Sirius put his bloodied lips to Remus' ear and murmured something. Remus was not asleep, but nor was he entirely lucid enough to respond with words, so he lifted one bloody hand and put it on Sirius' bloody cheek. Sirius sighed, and turned his head just so to suck Remus' forefinger into his mouth. Remus gasped, softly, his eyes still shut. The only sound in the ward was their altered breathing, and the faint almost-electric hum which might simply have been the sunrise.
Staring intently, Sirius withdrew. Remus opened his eyes, the hurt showing clearly there, but Sirius gently brushed the backs of his knuckles over them to close them again. He drew back further, only to hitch up onto the cot, straddling Remus' lap. Remus opened his eyes again with a soft, startled noise, only for Sirius to close them for a second time. He leaned down, then, and brushed his lips across the bridge of Remus' nose, where he'd bit him last night. Remus gave a soft whine, just like he'd done last night, the same high-pitched almost-inaudible tightening of the throat. Sirius did it again, to each of Remus' softly-flickering eyelids, then moved down to his cheeks.
When Sirius worked his way down, finally, to Remus' mouth, Remus' eyes flew open for the third time to find Sirius staring straight back at him, slightly cross-eyed. Remus opened his mouth to say something, but Sirius took the opportunity for what it was, tongue darting out quickly to deepen the kiss and shut Remus up. It worked remarkably well, and Sirius' hands fluttered nervously at Remus' sides for a moment before settling to cradle his face. Remus whimpered when he bit rather fiercely at his lip, but his own hands remained suspended in mid-air, halfway between him and Sirius, entirely too distracted to bridge the gap. The weird yellow light in the Hospital Wing was getting brighter, more sane, something closer to real sunlight, and it cast dramatic black-and-white relief on their faces as they stared each other in the eyes, unfocused, and kissed.
Finally, Sirius pulled back, breathing heavily. "Did you ever -”" he began, but Remus cut him off. He hushed.
"No," he said quickly, voice soft and careful, and he caught Sirius' wrists. "I never did. And," he kissed Sirius' palm, then the other one, then sat up, and pushed Sirius off, so that he all but tumbled to the floor, setting one of his scrapes bleeding again, "I'm not your brother."