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“It was a long time ago,” he said. Not exactly a lie, and Remus was staring hard at something out the window in a way that told Sirius he wasn’t going to put too fine a point on it but he’d better not push his luck. Way up north he could hear a train whistle through the open windows on the sinews of the night air, the sinews of the house rattling with the underground tremors like a pure spinal thrill of déjà vu plucked from the bones of some distant mournful memory, but that couldn’t be right because he’d never been here before. He’d never been here before, and this was not a dream.

“You always were full of shit,” said Remus, still not looking at him. “You wouldn’t be here right now if it was so long ago that it just didn’t matter anymore. And it wasn’t that long ago anyway.”

“I don’t exactly have—”

“You had a choice. You’ve always had a choice.” In the air and in the leaky water-warped grain of the floorboards he could smell rain; if it kept up the river would gouge out of its banks and flood again, drowning everything for miles and trapping them in the house with themselves and with each other for days. “If you weren’t such a goddamn coward—”

“Fucking—I’m not gonna to listen to you of all people lecture me about cowardice.”

At this Remus did turn to look at him. His eyes were greener and brighter than Sirius remembered, and his hair was longer, a bit grayer, a bit softer; he seemed to be daring Sirius to look away, and six months ago he might’ve, but now—a shock, like the bloody burst of cherry juice staining Remus’s collar—he didn’t want to. “It’s always the same,” he said, “you could never think of anything but yourself. Poor you, lashing out because you’re a fucking coward and you’re scared and all you can ever think of is how to get away from that feeling. And then once it’s done all you can think of is how much you hurt and how royally you’ve cheated yourself. Never mind what you took from me. Never mind how royally you cheated me.”

“If I remember correctly—”

“You never do.”

“Fuck you, neither do you. You’ve spent your entire life checking out any time someone has like, one single feeling at you. Or when you have one you can’t blame on the bourbon or whatever.”

“I don’t really drink anymore,” said Remus, “and we weren’t talking about me.”

“We can’t talk about me without you.”

“We can’t, can we.”

“That’s the really fucked-up part of this. Not sure how we’re supposed to like, separate the oil from the vinegar.

Split from the same atom, he used to think. We crawled as one grotesque singularity from the primordial muck but evolution split your lungs from my heart and your soul from my soul and we still only have one shriveled set of guts between us. To which Remus probably would’ve said, that’s a shitty metaphor and evolution doesn’t work like that, dumbass. But Sirius watched his mouth crinkle at one chapped corner in a way that meant he wanted to smile but wouldn’t, so perhaps not, after all.

“We’re some kind of mathematical impossibility,” he said. “What was that project you did for arithmancy, with imaginary numbers or whatever.”

“No, that’s not it,” said Remus. Up this close he smelled different than Sirius had been expecting, greener, sweeter. “I think the problem is it makes too much sense. So of course nothing could ever be that easy.”

“Maybe if we tried.”

“Tried what.”

“Just, I don’t know. Talking maybe, or like, existing. Taking up the same space. I could cook you something or I’ll pick you some fucking flowers or give you ten blowjobs in a row.”

“You owe me more than ten.”

“So do you, then.”

“Suppose so.”

Outside the clouds had broken for a brief spell and the sky was stirring itself towards dusk, a few pinwheel summer stars tearing out of the coming rainclouds like they were keeping some kind of promise, even here, even after everything. Very slowly he pressed closer into the hazy space between them so that his arm rested against Remus’s, soft as new grass; if he held very still he could feel the heartbeat in it, summer-warm, dream-sweet, but whether it was Remus’s or his own, he didn’t know. Perhaps that was the point.

“How did we even get here,” said Remus.

“I couldn’t sleep,” said Sirius. “I called your name.”

“Before that.”

“A thousand things—like, the unbreakable cycle, the once and future whatever. My cowardice and your cowardice and the uncrossable, unknowable gulf between us, et cetera.”

“We had a fight,” said Remus, like he was talking about what he had for dinner.

“You left.”

“You practically dared me to. And then you threw yourself into your precious quagmire of self-pity because that’s safer and more comfortable than facing anything or making it right.”

“I’m facing something right now, aren’t I?”

“So something’s changed.”

“It has to. Or else, you know, death.”

“Or it’s just the end.”

“That’s—I mean, Remus, that’s the same thing.”

“The thought of never seeing each other again?”

“Yeah. And then it was like, I started thinking that I’d have to wait for another life. Another timeline. And anyway it’d be more of the same.”

“You really think we ever get another chance like that?”

“I think we’ve already had more chances than most people get and we’ve blown every single one. Let it collapse like underbaked bread.”

“Not every one,” said Remus. His green eyes, his open mouth. “Here you are. And here I am. And bread can be remade.”

“Won’t be the same.”

“That’s alright. It never could’ve been.”

“I don’t want it to be.”

“Neither do I.”

“I missed you, you know.”

“You also love misery so I think wallowing in it was part of the plan all along. Hurting me, hurting yourself, nursing yourself, et cetera et cetera. It’s exhausting. It always was.”

“I don’t fucking love misery half as much as you do. And anyway it is exhausting. So I’m trying, you know. Not to.”

“Don’t know if I can take your word for that.”

“Then you’ll have to see if I can prove it.”

“Can you?”

“That’s up to you,” said Sirius. “If you don’t want me to or I can’t or whatever I’ll just fuck off.”

“Sirius—”

“But you can’t, Remus, I can’t read your mind. And you wouldn’t want me to anyway.”

Remus turned to him again just as the rain peeled out from the clouds in the high winds, moving his hair and the collar of his flannel shirt with it, and for the first time Sirius wondered what he looked like to Remus. How improbable it was, to reside in someone else’s brain, to be seen by them, to become a part of them like the freckles at their collarbone or the cream in their coffee or the branch of veins skipping under the thin skin of their wrist. Remus occupied so much space inside him Sirius could feel him in the dregs of leaves at the bottom of his teacup, in the lavender he tried to grow, the blood under his fingernails whether he’d been there for the full moon or not, the way he stepped over the creaky floorboards when he came home from a late shift, the match-strike of heat in his gut whenever he heard certain songs, lines of poetry stuck like burnt sugar to his teeth, the gasping, swelling panic of every nightmare that swallowed him whole. He was in the bellows of Sirius’s lungs, down his throat, circulating with every beat of blood through his body, clinging to his hundred thousand capillaries, sewn into the filament at the core of his fucking soul, and still Sirius had snapped his neck and left him bleeding in the gutter so many times it was a wonder he had any soul left at all.

“I missed you too,” said Remus. The brittle cut of his nose to his jaw looked sharper against the turning of the velvet July night than Sirius thought it had before, or else he’d never noticed. There were so many things he’d never noticed, having not bothered to look.

“I felt like a—not like missing a limb but it was like being an amputated limb. I could live, I mean, but knowing what I’d had—”

“Like all the color got sucked out of everything. Like everything would serve to remind you of what you had. Or what you could’ve had. It’s like getting your liver pecked out every night.”

“Makes you wanna dive head-first into a shallow pool, crack your head open, and die.”

“That too.” In the woods, in the twisting trees, the nightbirds called into the sloe-dark throat of the thunderstorm, mournful as a dirge. Like the hand of a clock nearing the hour he could feel Remus’s fingers twitch and strain beside him, yearning, yearning. “You have to mean this. You can’t just—you can’t just leave me here.”

“I never left you. That part was all you.”

“Don’t you fucking leave me here.”

“Remus—”

“If you leave me here I swear to God Sirius I’ll kill you myself.”

“You can,” he said, meaning it, “I’d let you. I’d offer my throat up like a ritual fucking sacrifice. But I won’t leave you anywhere. I won’t. Not ever again.”

“I reckon,” said Remus, “I reckon every good exile needs a return.”

“I’m like the mother of all cockroaches. You can’t get rid of me.”

“For a while I tried. And then it just—well. Look at us,” making a motion into the slurry shadows, the light of him all Sirius could see, blue as an August sky, blue as loss, as desire, as dawn.

“I walked,” he said, “all the way.” There were blisters all over his feet, some calloused over, some bleeding-raw and rimmed scarlet with infection, but he had miles and miles yet to go, and the only way out was through.

“How’d you even find this place?”

“I called your name,” said Sirius, “I told you.”

“How’d you know I was still waiting.”

“I didn’t.”

Against the moonlight Remus’s eyes and his skin brightened like a flower blooming towards the sun, all the old scars Sirius knew and the new ones he didn’t turned to face him, Remus’s smile changing the shape of his face, and at last—at last, across years, across rivers and prairie and marsh, across silence, across blood and fear, across memory, across longing sharp and vibrant as teeth, across promises kept and unkept, across dreaming and waking, across desire crystal and possessing as a spell, across exile, across darkness untraversed, across every wound, across every blistered mile, Sirius took his hand.

Here you are, he thought. Here you are. My only. My every beloved wound. Everything I’ve ever lost, everything I’ve ever found, sucking black hole-horror of my fear and my cowardice and everything I’ve ever fucked up, holiest and most beautiful thing, my wafer and my wine, your name better than language, your every movement better than music, better than magic. Look at what you to me. Turn around. Open your eyes. Look.

“Where are we going,” said Remus, a thread of some unfamiliar fear in his voice catching around Sirius’s wrists. A line of something he used to know or that perhaps Remus had taught him swept like a muscle spasm or a fever-chill into his head, If there is a place further from me I beg you do not go....

“I don’t know,” said Sirius. “I never did.” By now the night had wrapped in full around the electric brim of the sky, the trees and the distant barn pressing up against the deep bloody backcloth of the rain like the horizon of some distant, toothy shore strewn with the strangled bones of shipwrecks. Something had been there once, he was sure, where the lightning tore across the black underbelly of the rainclouds like an exposed nerve, but he couldn’t remember what it was anymore.

“It’s okay. Not like I did either.”

“How do we get out of here,” he said, turning. Thoughtlessly he’d tracked muddy footprints all over the floorboards when he came in though he hadn’t noticed at the time; beside him Remus shook his head, the rain cold now, pounding gently all along the roof like the bright dawning flurry of high notes at the very beginning of a symphony. At last he understood that something was ending.

“The door’s open,” said Remus.

“I didn’t—”

“I think it always was.”

“I never realized.”

“I know you didn’t.”

“I’m not sure what else there is, I mean, outside of here.”

“Are you scared?”

Of what, Sirius thought. Out of the deafening drumbeat trampling of a thousand fucking ancient gut-fears how could you even choose which one to hear. “Are you?”

No answer. Into the shadows cast like a roaring tidal spill of ink Sirius took a step, feeling Remus flow with him, their hands a little sweaty where they’d been clutching each other, fingernails blunt enough to draw blood in places. Remus didn’t wait for him to move before he took another.

“Don’t fucking let go of me,” said Remus. “Don’t you dare.”

“I won’t. I can’t.”

“You can and you have. I can and I have.”

“I’ve got you,” said Sirius, heart lit like a candle wick, meaning it, meaning it always. “I’ve got you. This time.”

Together they stepped out through the door and into the open mouth of the July night, stumbling against the rain and against each other on new legs like a two-headed beast just born, changing shape all along the unreal, untread fields, out of the end, into the dark.