“This sentence is completely wrong, dammit.” Remus muttered under his breath in frustration as he squinted down at his computer, aggressively hitting the ‘backspace’ key until the offending words were gone; his newest novel was not cooperating, and frustration was beginning to get the best of him.
Deciding to take a break he pushed away from the desk, stretching with a low groan as vertebrae shifted and popped down his spinal column. I need to step away more often, he thought as his muscles twinged when he took a step towards the door, intent on refreshing the long-cold mug of tea sat to the left of his keyboard; he couldn’t remember how long ago he’d made it, having been lost in the fantasy world of his own creation for the better part of—he glanced at his watch, eyebrows arching incredulously—eight hours.
Socked feet padded quietly across the chilled wooden floor that led from the study to the kitchen, Remus preparing the kettle on autopilot as he considered his word usage dilemma; dozens of possible solutions warred for dominance in his head, but none of them were quite what he was looking for. Something was missing, a spark of inspiration lying just out of reach of his grasping fingers.
If Remus were being honest with himself, that spark had been missing for a long time; he felt as though his first novel had been a fluke, a one-off success never to be repeated no matter how hard he tried. Sighing and shaking his head to dispel the negative thoughts he finished preparing his tea, grabbing the mug and walking back to his office to continue staring at the blank document on his screen, hoping that the words would come to him.
The doorbell rang just after midnight, soft chimes echoing through the small house and jerking Remus from a fitful sleep; rubbing his eyes he stood from the desk and groggily made his way to the door, squinting at a clock as he passed with a huff of annoyance at the time. I swear, if it’s Sirius or Isaac again, I’ll kick them into next week.
His late-night visitor was neither of the friends he expected; instead Lily Evans stood on his doorstep, auburn hair drenched from the rain yet still shining like a beacon in the dim light coming from just above his door. Her eyes were red-rimmed, making the brilliant green of them all the more vivid and causing him immediate concern; as his own gaze drifted over her and finally landed on the bag at her feet a frown pulled at his lips and he quickly stepped aside to let her in.
“Sorry for showing up like this, RJ,” she apologised with a soft, strained smile, “I didn’t know where else to go, but I-I couldn’t stay.”
Standing there, shivering and sniffling in her wet clothes, shoulders hunched as though to try and shrink herself away from the world, Remus had never seen Lily look so... diminished. With a shake of his head he locked the door and took a careful step towards her, resting a gentle hand on her arm. “Don’t be sorry, Lily; I’m glad you came to me. Come on, I’ll get the spare bedroom ready, you get in the shower and warm up.”
At her nod he lead Lily up the stairs and into the small bathroom, leaving her to it and going quickly into the small guest bedroom that rarely saw use. Remus grimaced as he flicked on the light, taking in the thick sheet of dust covering inch of furniture. “There is no way I can clean this by the time she’s done,” he muttered, standing for a moment before nodding resolutely and setting off for his own bedroom.
Twenty minutes later he was sat on his patchwork sofa, computer open on his lap and two steaming mugs of tea on the table, when a pyjama-clad Lily joined him, giving a wan smile. They sat sipping their tea, only the sounds of their breathing and the clack-clack of his keyboard keeping them company; it had always been easy to be around Lily, never finding himself itching to fill long stretches of silence with words, comfortable simply to enjoy her warmth beside him. That much hadn’t changed in the few years since he’d seen her last, though it seemed to be one of the only things to stay the same about her.
In the soft glow of his fireplace she looked almost ethereal, hair a shimmering, fiery red far shorter than he thought she’d preferred, barely brushing her shoulders; she was thinner, too, cheekbones sharper, the shadows they cast across her face making her seem almost hollow, ghostly. He studied her covertly, though she seemed so lost in thought that Remus doubted she even noticed him staring, gaze roaming over her and taking in all of the small things that had changed—her nails, once long and perfectly manicured, were short and ragged; dark circles stood out in stark contrast to the pale skin beneath her eyes, and when she reached up to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, a large bruise sprung suddenly into view, the dark blue-purple stretching from the corner of her eye and fading into her hairline.
Remus inhaled sharply, breath catching in his throat and turning into more of a strangled half-gasp as his fingers froze on the keys, a wave of nausea washing over him as the implications of that mark hit.
“Lily…” he choked out, causing her to jump as she was jerked suddenly from her thoughts. He shifted the laptop aside and turned to face her as she looked questioningly at him, eyeing his hand warily as he raised it to gently brush the rest of her hair aside. “How did you get this?”
She let out a shuddering breath as his fingers lightly brushed the non-bruised skin of her cheek. “It...it was James.” The words were barely a whisper but she may as well have shouted them, was how forcefully how they struck Remus. “Such a stupid thing, too; I said I wanted to go back to work, I was rotting in that house day after day, barely more than a fucking trophy girlfriend meant to keep his home clean, cook his meals, and let him fuck me when he wanted.”
Remus had always considered himself a nice man: calm, generally kind if not a bit shy, not easily prone to violence; so it surprised him not a little how very suddenly the urge to drive to James Potter’s home and bash him bloody rose up in him, and how ready he was to do it.
Taking a deep breath Remus shook his head, pulling away from her face to grab her hands in his own. “I’m so sorry, Lily, I...no one should ever have to deal with that, no one deserves to be treated that way.” Least of all you, who deserves the world. “Much as I hate the circumstances, I’m...glad you came to me. I know it’s been a few years.”
“It has; I’m sorry about that, and about just showing up, but I don’t have a phone anymore, or your number even if I did.” She shrugged. “I didn’t know where else to go, Tuney lives too far away to travel this late. I’ll be out of here by tomorrow, I don’t want to be an inconvenience to you,” she rambled in that way she did when she was nervous, eyes darting around the room to settle anywhere but on him.
“Lily. You’re not an inconvenience; stay as long as you need. I don’t care that we’ve not spoke in a few years, I highly doubt that was your doing, considering,” he gestured vaguely to her bruised face and she shifted uncomfortably. “I’ve got room, and I’ve honestly missed your company. I’d be more than happy to have you here, for as long as you need.”
“Oh, Remus; you always were so sweet.” A hint of what almost sounded like longing coloured the sigh that followed her statement, green eyes meeting his as a thankful smile curved her lips. Remus felt his heart skip painfully in his chest and shoved the familiar feelings down; this is no time for an old crush to rear its head. She needs a friend right now, nothing more.
“I merely try to do what I can; you were always my closest friend out of the group, and I hate that I didn’t see this of him sooner.”
She sniffled and let out a bitter laugh. “Yeah, well, who would have thought a middle-school bully would turn out to be the kind of guy who’d hit his girlfriend? We were all blind, RJ, it’s not your fault.”
“It’s not yours, either.”
Pulling her hands from his Lily wiped at her eyes with the sleeves of her sweater, which Remus realised with a jolt of surprise was the one he’d lost in uni. Not wanting to read too deeply into it he stood and held out a hand for her. “It’s late and you’ve had a rough day; why don’t you come upstairs and get some sleep? I don’t work tomorrow, so we can catch up and talk more when we’re both less exhausted.”
“That sounds like a good idea.” Taking his hand she allowed Remus to lead her up the stairs, pausing just outside the doorway when he opened the door to his bedroom and turned on the light. “Uh, Rem—“
“My guest room is badly in need of cleaning, and I’ve got some writing to do so I’ll be downstairs anyway; I’ll take the sofa, you can stay in here,” he explained, shifting somewhat awkwardly on his feet as she cautiously stepped into the room and looked around.
“I don’t want to put you out, you’re already doing so much,” she began, but Remus quickly interrupted her.
“Lily. I insist, it’s not a problem at all, and I would just keep you awake downstairs, anyway. I fall asleep down there most nights as it is.”
Biting her lower lip Lily hesitated for a long moment before she relaxed her shoulders and took a seat on the edge of the bed, fiddling with a pillow and giving another soft smile. “Thank you, Remus, really.”
“It’s no problem at all; get some rest, okay? I’ll be just downstairs if you need anything, and I’ll see you in the morning for breakfast whenever you wake up.” Returning her smile he waited until she was settled beneath the duvet, ignoring the pang of something he refused to name that appeared at the sight of her in his bed. “Goodnight, Lily.”
“Thank you for that,” the woman says, turning away from the smouldering carriage to grace him with a smile that steals Romulus’s breath. Even in the dim moonlight he can tell she is beautiful, fair skin a beacon in the darkness; the pointed tips of her ears peek out from beneath a cascade of fiery hair that shimmers gold in the glow of the flames, and her large dark eyes stare up at him in gratitude.
“It was nothing, really; what kind of man sits idly by when a band of thugs speak loudly as to how they’ve just kidnapped a woman?”
Her laughter is soft, carrying on the breeze and he suppresses a shiver. “Regardless, I must repay you somehow; perhaps if you accompany me home, I could arrange a suitable reward from my father, for your troubles.”
“Truly, that is far from necessary; I’m simply glad to have helped.” Wiping his hands on his worn tunic Romulus extends one towards her, offering a shy smile. “My name is Romulus; might I invite you in for the night? These woods aren’t fit for travel until morning.”
She takes his hand with a much firmer grasp than he’d expected, and he is surprised to feel rough calluses on her palms and fingers. “I am Elianna, of Linléa, and I would be more than happy for your company this evening.” Once again she flashes a disarming smile, and he thinks as he leads the elf inside that she may be much more dangerous than the thugs who had kidnapped her.