He knows how he will break the moon, white and old through his cell window, a shriveled scrap of bone pulled tight. He will take her as his lover, when she is full and round, when he is huge and fierce, and the blood will run down between them. The earth will be stained with their love, and then he will eat her, throwing the remains to the seas that drag and scrape at the prison walls.
Thirteen days more. The waxing, the pregnancy of his ambition. No food since last the moon was full, when the screams rang out in the stone corridors, then fell still. Remus runs the edge of a dirty fingernail down one cheek, smears the droplets of blood into the matted hair, and licks his hand, just to see.
By the turn of the year the graveyard was full to bursting, ancient urns and marble statues crowded by acres of crude wooden markers, some with names, some without. The rye grass was brown and thin, showing in places the hillocks of loose earth or the corner of a plain, pine box. Beyond the crumbled remains of the stone wall the trees were gone, cut down to ragged stumps or blasted away to nothing. The sun would have shone on the exposed grounds, had any light been able to break through the thick green haze.
In the first months her corner of the graveyard was shady and unremarked, with wide expanses of thick, close-cropped grass between the sparse plots. Her people were long-lived. Her arched white headstone was dwarfed by an enormous willow and a still-larger yew.
There was a bench close at hand, a comfortable, well-carved bench that seemed meant for a quiet mourner, one who might spend a contemplative afternoon beneath the grieving trees, hidden from the sunlight. No one ever saw such a mourner there.
The grave was small, even smaller than her lithe form would have suggested. It held so little, those pathetic remnants of a woman. The mourners who, on a muggy August morning, heaved fistfuls of dry earth onto the oaken coffin had been spared a last look, and were the better for it. None had seen how easily the line between parts and their sum could be erased.
Beneath it all Nymphadora -- what was left of her -- slept on, blind and deaf to the changes above.
He attended the trial, of course. A public tribunal, really, held out-of-doors, very careless. Enemy morale could only be heightened by seeing them turn on one of their own, but they never thought of that, the fools. There was no one left to think of such things, no cool heads or wise eyes, just cornered, fearful people who let their terror turn them into thoughtless sheep. Delicious.
The betrayer was very pale, very calm as he stood on a raised dais in the center of the field. Civilized, even wearing those draggled grey robes and kept wandless, shoeless. It made the watcher smile, hidden in the shade of a spreading oak at the edge of the green. This faithless one, keeping his vows to the cold gods of propriety and manners, even as he believed his well-trimmed nails stained with the blood of his lover. This too was delicious, even more than the hot flesh of that mutable, abominable female had been.
A short, heavy woman with the gleam of the fanatic in her eye was reading off the list of crimes, longer than even he could have hoped. It seemed they had chosen to attribute several of his own frolics to the man shackled on the dais, and Fenrir grinned again, showing teeth. She, too, was stupid and blinkered, like all the rest, and Fenrir imagined she would taste sweet and bland, an unseasoned dish with all of a child's ignorance and none of its innocence. He would leave her to the younger wolves.
When the moon rose again, bellying up slow and serene over the low ridge of aspen to the south of the house, all was changed. Someone had taken away the glass from the shattered windows, and drawn the pink and white curtains over the gaping holes. She could no longer see that square of bloody, checkered tile, nor the outstretched hand, all its nails broken.
Many nights she had watched the woman through those windows, pouring water from a kettle, chopping vegetables at a board, making magic with wands and words. Some nights he was there too, an arm around her waist, a hand on hers, leaning down to press his lips to the nape of her neck. She rode high above them, casting a dispassionate eye downwards, face set on the inexorable goal always before her.
And on a handful of nights, he was hers, running wild and ragged through the woods as he was meant to. Those nights she had no eyes to spare for any human, any woman drinking tea alone at the breakfast table. She felt the drunken tides, the men who were beasts who were hers, running over the rough face of the earth below. A sort of communal madness for her and for them, her children and her lovers.
She passed over the house without pause, through no choice of her own. Something greater than herself pulled on her, always, and there was no answer but yes.
He stood there an age, in the door. He was made stone, he thought, or wood, or any unthinking, unfeeling thing, rooted and immovable. Only an hour before he had been in the heart of the forest, a wild thing among wild things, with no human thought for the woman who lay on the kitchen floor before him. The twigs had cracked beneath his feet like bones or small bodies.
Perhaps, in kindness or in love, the woods had enfolded him again, despite his man’s skin. She had lain like this, years ago, on that narrow cot in his old flat, her smile curving and her green eyes narrow, nervous. She had never been so still in her life as now. Someone’s blood was on his hands. But no, stones were innocent. Animals were innocent. Men were --
The stone left him, his limbs becoming flesh, his tongue loosened and his eyes a man’s, without tears. In this he was still stone.
Remus touched the skin of her thigh; a soft, clean place, very white.
She died slowly. This surprised her, that such a thing could happen, that her blood could paint her own floor so bright, that the pain could come and go, and still she laid there, her whistling breath like a wild beast under shattered ribs. Perhaps it was surprise that kept her alive so long.
There was a smell, she thought, her hair going shades of green and blue as her hand moved, quite on its own, in a slippery puddle. Rank and wet, as he never smelled. His scent was spicy, she thought, as her breath became liquid, catching in her dry throat. Spicy and warm, with a touch of… something… She wished she could remember.
Her vision had little spots. They were like fleas, spiders, crawling everywhere. She felt them on her skin and tried to brush them off with an unmoving hand. It was a moment before she saw why her hand was still, her arm bent away from it at an angle, strips of silver cloth torn to expose her skin.
She was cold, hot, shaking, teeth clenched. There was something wrong with her neck, one of her legs. He had left her. His teeth had been in her, sinking deep, hot wet tongue and hot wet breath, and he had licked, and he had swallowed and he had, oh, god, he had eaten…
One foot twitched, then her whole body. He had left her unfinished, alone. Her eyes rolled back, pale grey now, hair a sodden red that was not of her making. The pain was sharp, crushing, and then soft as the fading light, like little moths alighting on her body. As she closed her eyes, she saw a face through the window, skin tight, skull-white. No mouth, only dark eyes, as the moon stared back at her.
The house was full of her scent, sweet and rich, a faint musk beneath flowery soap. A woman’s scent, not a girl’s, and he grimaced, thinking of tough muscle, long bones, fingernails. He came in through the front door, like a guest, and wiped his feet on the mat with a smile. A courtesy extended to the civilized wolf.
A new musk in this next room, full of books and shabby clothes, and there was no need for memory to tell whose chamber this was. He would have known that smell anywhere, like a poem learned by rote or brother’s face. He scented kin, , and growled low in his belly at the remembered betrayal. It had gnawed at him long enough; revenge was not lingering for his kind, who lived most richly in the fleeting moments of the hunt.
But here was another door, the flickering yellow light spilling onto the floorboards. He stayed in the shadow, close to the stair, listening. She muttered the words to light another candle, her voice dull and lifeless. He had wished she might be cheerful in this moment, a tune on her breath, something for him to savor, but he heard her defeated shuffle as she pulled the cork, squeaking, from a bottle of wine.
No time for further regret, for the moon was inching the last degree over the horizon, and every hair on his body stood up, his teeth aching, his cock swelling. Fenrir bit back a howl as his skin rippled and split, bones growing, and as he leapt forward his last human thought was that he hoped the bitch would scream.
When he leaves her, he never kisses her; this is the rule. There is always one more unclaimed kiss left, she tells him – something he has to come back for.
The touch of her hand is like a kiss, though, and he’s struck as always by this strange thing, this freak of her benediction. Her hair is soft violet tonight, the way she likes it best. He’ll be home before dawn, he tells her, and asks her not to wait up.
She never listens, he knows, and he can’t quite regret it. When he staggers in tomorrow morning, barely strong enough to climb the stairs, he’ll relish her hands plucking leaves from his clothes, her smothered smiles at the state of his hair. And then to bed, sleep a hard-won comfort for both of them.
She’s running her hand down his face now, smoothing the stubble. He hates to shave before the change, hates the slide of the blade on his sensitive skin. He promises her he’ll shave tomorrow.
He’s touching her face now, skin smooth and warm, and the memories come of other full-moon nights, other faces he’s touched. Hers is the softest by far, and he shivers, thinking of the long, cold year he lived in the north with the wolves. Remembering it feels like a betrayal, that once he was almost happy living an animal’s life. He takes her in his arms, his embrace rough, but she is not as fragile as he thinks.
After he leaves her, the warmth of her arms still lingering, Remus looks up to the bare, darkening sky, moonless yet, and shivers again as he enters the forest.