Brotherly Love (Left on the Shore Remix)
“I don’t know why,
One evening in August something illuminated my body
And I got sick of laying my cold
Hands on myself."
-- James Wright, "The Young Good Man"
"I could help you with that," Lupin offered, eyes on the blood spreading onto the fabric of Regulus' arm.
"There's no need," Regulus said through gritted teeth. He rolled up the cuff of his trousers and sleeve to keep the blood from spreading, and focused through the pain as he healed the small wound.
Remus' soft sigh grated against his nerves. "Whatever suits you," he said, resigned and faintly wry, as if some part of him were laughing, beneath his calm surface. Regulus had heard that tone before, when he walked past his brother and his friends, and they burst out laughing at something Regulus couldn't hear. Remus had always been the one who stopped laughing first and chided, but it was like that - wry and amused. He hadn't meant it.
Regulus had always wondered how many of those moments were Sirius laughing at his little brother, who still lived in Slytherin, and did what his mother told him. Even now, when Remus was supposedly on the same side as Regulus, Regulus had no illusions that Remus would tell him.
When the ache in his leg was gone, Regulus sank back into the low recliner in the muggle home they'd taken refuge in. Remus perched on a table, head turned toward the windows. In the fading sunlight, he looked too tired and too thin. His eyes were bruised and there was a new scar on the side of his neck that curved like a claw. Regulus wondered what the raised skin would have felt like, beneath his fingertip. He wondered what it felt like to be dangerous. "We can't stay here long," Remus said, wryness gone as the hour started to occur to him.
"We won't have to," Regulus answered. "Dumbledore's people don't give chase. I think they consider it beneath them, or they don't think it's necessary." Because the one getting away unscathed was their man, though Regulus didn't say it. The careful look Remus gave him said that he knew what had gone unsaid, and Regulus finished with an artful shrug he'd learned from someone else. "You'll be back playing pretend house-dog for your friends before the full moon," he said, just because he knew, and he wanted Remus to know that.
Lupin's eyes met his, widening just enough for Regulus to read the flash of surprise, the duller hint of old pain and resentment before it walled over and vanished. "You know," he said. Regulus didn't bother to answer, and Remus didn't wait. "How do you know?" he asked.
Because he watched. Because Regulus paid attention and no one cared what he knew because he never told their secrets, and even if he had no one would bother to listen. "My brother doesn't keep secrets well," he lied instead of admitting any of that. "Or at least not the secrets of others." Remus flinched, slight and telling. Regulus ran his fingers over his arm, where the Mark felt like it burned even when it wasn't. "You must not be good at keeping secrets either, if he knows."
Remus shot him a look and a small, grim smile that made Regulus think of bared teeth and the old stories of monsters he would read by the lit tip of his wand, under the covers of his bed. When he was young, Kreacher would read them, and in the dead of night Regulus would imagine howling outside of his windows and flee down dark halls to Sirius' room to crawl into his bed. When Sirius became a name they barely said and a presence Regulus wasn't allowed to acknowledge, he huddled under blankets and sought out the monsters in the pages on his own until he wasn't afraid anymore, and they became like friends to him. Remus smiled, and Regulus wanted to touch the whites of his teeth, press the pale pink of his lips against them. "I've gotten better," Remus said.
"So it would seem," Regulus said.
The distant sounds of spells and clashing turned into nothing, and they both chose the same moment to rise and leave without another word between them.
It was the third mission the Dark Lord had sent him on, and the second with Lupin. Regulus wondered if there was a reason he wasn't seeing. Maybe it was a reason Regulus wished no one else could see why they kept being pushed together when Regulus wanted nothing more than to be far away and forget the things seeing Lupin made him remember.
"Serve the cause, Regulus," Bellatrix said, tone absent and dismissive. "And stop complaining to me about it."
She spoke to him as if he were a dog who'd piddled her carpets, just as she always had. There had been a time, after Sirius left and before the press of the war had come down on their heads and leveled the curves of their complexities into battle-straight lines, when Regulus had thought that might change. But even when Sirius was gone, no one really looked at Regulus. He was dutiful, expected, and forgettable. He resented it, but he never truly tried to change it, either. It was safer this way. "I wasn't complaining, Bella, I just don't see how he can be of any use. We all know he rides my brother's coattails." And more than that, but Regulus wouldn't say so. There were things you didn't speak of in polite company. There were truths you couldn't tell and things you couldn't be in any company at all. "I doubt his loyalty."
Bella looked up, and she tilted her head, dark hair falling over one shoulder and gray eyes holding his until he looked away, as he always did. He wished, sometimes, she was less beautiful. He'd wished the same thing about someone else a thousand times. Regulus wondered why he had always wished for others to be less, instead of wishing that he were more. "You needn't know the reason, just do as your told. Concern yourself with proving your own loyalty by following the orders of our Lord," she said.
Like you do, without question, like a dog, Regulus wanted to say, but didn't. If he'd been Sirius, the words would have spilled over his tongue and into the air and filled up the room until no one could turn away from him and dismiss them.
Instead Regulus nodded, turned and left the room, counting the steps to the door, wondering how many it took before she'd forgotten he'd been there.
"Well, I probably shouldn't have expected table manners," Remus said, tone dry. His hands were flecked with blood, and they shook for just a second before he drew his wand, casting a cleaning charm that left them pale, bitten-down nails reddened at the edges.
Regulus looked away from Lupin's hands, stifled a sharp laugh that bubbled up despite his effort. "Next time we're sent to call on your werewolf friends, you should make it tea, instead of dinner."
Remus grimaced. "They're not my friends."
No, they wouldn't be. Regulus had seen Remus with his friends, head ducked and laughing. The wolf packs were all violence and ritual hierarchy. They were Greybacks, and Lupin was something else entirely. "It makes one wonder just who you do call friend, Lupin."
The silence stretched a second too long to be comfortable. "No one I suppose, anymore," Remus answered. He sounded bitter, and Regulus couldn't tell if it was just bitter enough to be believable, or just enough to be an excellent artifice. "We're just to wait here, I assume."
"For now," Regulus said, as if he knew how long it would be, or why they were meant to wait for Lestrange. No one told him anything, he only knew what he could pick up from watching. It was more than anyone ever realized, but it never felt like enough.
"Next time, I'll bring a paper," Remus said.
Regulus caught himself smiling, and turned away. "The Prophet does have a can't-miss article about Stubby Boardman, I'm told." Remus laughed, and Regulus watched from the corner of his eye. "My brother always fancied he looked like Boardman, you know."
Remus paused in the middle of running his hand along the worn leather of the chair he'd sunken into. The house belonged to someone, though Regulus wasn't sure who. It made him feel strangely cornered, taking refuge in a house whose wards he didn't know, and could only trust because someone else told him to. "I remember," Remus finally said. "I never saw the likeness."
"Neither did I. Then again, I never saw the fascination with wanting to, either. Madmen with instruments they didn't know how to play, the lot of them." Regulus turned back enough that he could watch Remus without seeming as if he were, though he knew Remus was aware, and uncomfortable with it. Regulus took a certain satisfaction in that without really understanding why. "Do I look like him?"
"Not any more than Sirius does," Remus said.
"No, Sirius. I meant my brother. Do I look like Sirius, to you?" Regulus asked.
Remus blinked, and for a moment he looked steadily at Regulus, gaze sliding away from where it met Regulus', looking at him as a whole instead of his face. Regulus felt a prickle of awareness creep along his spine, and didn't quite breathe out until Remus spoke again. "Sometimes," he finally said. "There's a resemblance. Black family genes will shine through."
"Yes well, marry enough of your cousins and that happens," Regulus said, and Remus laughed, a strange sort of startled laugh. He laughed as if it were an old joke, one he'd heard often, and for a second his smile warmed, and his face softened, and Regulus liked it almost as much as he hated it. He looked like Sirius, but a lesser star, to Lupin. Remus had smiled like that at his brother, and Regulus couldn't tell if he still smiled, when no one was there to see where his loyalties truly were owed. Regulus wasn't sure how much it mattered to him.
"You'll be in dress robes, of course. I've scheduled you for a fitting this Saturday," Narcissa said, her long fingers tapping out a pattern on the teacup she was examining as she sorted through sets that all seemed almost identical to Regulus.
Regulus wasn't looking forward to the wedding, but he knew better than to say as much. "I don't think Lucius was planning on my being in the wedding party, Cissy," he said instead.
"He won't put up a fuss, and it's only fitting that I have family there as well," Narcissa answered.
"He doesn't like me," Regulus pointed out.
Narcissa smiled wryly. "If I planned my social schedule and wedding around who Lucius does or does not like, or who doesn't care for him, I'd end up a shut in."
Regulus looked out the glass front of the shop, eyes catching on hair the same dark shade as his own. Some strange bubbling urge to laugh pressed up in his chest. Everywhere he went and everything he did, his brother was there too.
Narcissa followed his gaze, watching as Sirius pulled open the door to Flourish and Blotts, Evans' red hair a stain in the space beside him, Potter trailing her. Regulus expected the shadow of Pettigrew and Lupin to follow, but they didn't. She touched his elbow, hands cool and nails a pointed press against the fabric of his sleeve. "Regulus." She said his name softly, and he turned away. He felt her searching his face while he busied himself with the shelves in front of him. She didn't look at him as she finally spoke again, making the same show of business that he was. "Family is important, and it's all we have in the end. I want you there."
"If it were so important, then Andromeda would have already gotten an invitation." Regulus regretted it as soon as he said it, but couldn't make himself apologize as the silence stretched out between them.
"Andromeda made her choice, mistake though it was. When she realizes that, and comes home, her family will be be waiting for her," Narcissa said finally.
"I hardly think Bellatrix will be so forgiving." Bella never forgave. Regulus didn't think she knew how. She stored up every slight, and held grudges long beyond when everyone else forgot why she hated them, and just knew that she hated.
"I'm not Bellatrix," Narcissa said. She met Regulus' eyes, and then looked across the street, to where Sirius was just a dark speck in the corner of a window, slouching against a bookshelf in the back. "Neither are you."
He wasn't Bellatrix. Regulus bowed his head, he forgave, he forgot. He was weaker, and less resolute. He wasn't Sirius, either. Sirius had never learned how to forgive any more than he'd learnt how to apologize. Regulus spent most of his life trying to do both. "Family doesn't matter to everyone, Cissy."
"To me, it does. I love my sister, but I'm not like her. I'll look after my family above anything. And when they come back home, I'll be waiting." Narcissa watched the window across the alley, and Regulus realized that Sirius was looking back at her. "Some people are born knowing who they are. The rest of us have to carve out our own space."
It was easy for Narcissa to say, Regulus thought. Narcissa was beautiful, and wife and mother were all anyone thought to expect of her, so no one minded when that's all she became. He knew that wasn't fair, but that didn't make it untrue. Regulus sometimes thought his life would have been simpler if Sirius' name had never burnt away, and he was only a little brother that no one needed, instead of the replacement who was needed, but not enough.
Narcissa turned away, heading for the counter, and Regulus trailed after her. He wanted to ask her what happened when they never came back, and what you did when you weren't sure what mattered most to you, but he fell silent, and helped her carry her bags. By the time they emerged, Sirius was gone.
"I never realized you were so good at Runes," Remus said, watching as Regulus' quill scratched out the intricate, careful shapes from the spell they'd been studying.
No one needed it, Regulus was convinced. Someone just wanted Lupin there, and to see where he went afterward. Remus was careful though, and Regulus doubted anything would come of it. He was just glad of the job. It was mindless and simple and didn't involve a wand, or the possibility of someone trying to kill him. "I expect there's a lot you don't know about me." He sounded petty, Regulus knew, but sometimes he couldn't help but resent that he knew so much about those around him, and no one ever knew the little things about him. How he took his tea, and that he couldn't sleep, most nights, or how he knew the lyrics to every Celestina Warbeck song, even the ones he didn't like. The only one who knew anything about him was a house elf.
Remus' sigh reminded Regulus of Dumbledore, and the only times he'd ever spoken to the man alone. He'd always seemed disappointed. Regulus was used to that reaction. "I meant it as a compliment."
"I know," Regulus said. "It wasn't a very good one."
Remus dropped onto the seat beside him, and Regulus was hyper aware of the place where their knees touched, and how narrow the space between their bodies was. "You needn't always be such an impossibly touchy prat, you know. Sometimes, you. . ." Remus trailed off, grimacing. It was two days before a moon, and Regulus could read the frustration of it written in every move Remus made.
He wondered if it was worse because Sirius was miles away, with Potter, both of them following Dumbledore's orders on a task that Regulus wasn't meant to know about. Or maybe that made it better for Lupin. One less person to lie to, even if Regulus wasn't sure which were the lies, and which weren't. "Yes well, if I spent half as much time on my knees as my brother, you'd probably get on with me better, too," Regulus said.
Remus stilled, flush of something hot and angry crossing his cheeks, a bone-deep shame along with it. It was the shame that made Regulus look away. He knew what it was like to be ashamed. "I'm sorry," he said.
Remus looked surprised, and then half smiled. "You're not, but thank you."
He'd meant it, but Regulus didn't repeat himself. He read that surprise as easily as he'd come to read the dozen other tiny signs Remus gave him without knowing it. Apologies weren't expected from Blacks. "There's chocolate in the cupboard, if you want it," he offered. His cheeks felt flushed with the obviousness of that. He'd never liked chocolate. He'd never have bought it for himself.
But then, Remus wouldn't know that.
The same look of surprise, and then Remus stood, crossing to the cupboard with a soft thank you that was too polite, somehow. Regulus remembered his fourth year, when he saw Sirius throw himself down next to Remus when he and Potter sat on the grass near the lake, and pushed a chocolate bar into his hands. Remus had laughed and ended with a bit smeared across his lips when James tried to steal it away.
This was nothing like that. Remus broke off a piece, ate it sedately. He didn't laugh. Regulus wondered why he'd known that would be the case, but was somehow still disappointed. "Am I much like him?" Regulus asked suddenly. "Am I at all like him?"
Remus swallowed the bit of chocolate, pushed his hair back from his eyes. "Sometimes," he said.
Regulus swallowed. "When?"
Remus hesitated, and then finally shook his head. "I don't know."
"What's the same about us?" Regulus pursued.
"I don't know," Remus repeated. "It's just. . . there, sometimes. And other times it isn't."
Regulus knew what it was. They looked at Remus the same way. That was when he looked like his brother. Just not enough like him. Sirius was on the wrong side of a war Remus played at being on the other side of. He might die. He could die, and Regulus could live, and he would look at Remus the same way. Why wasn't that enough to make him equal? Why wasn't it enough to make him wanted? "Why do you want to be like him, Regulus?" Remus asked, too gently, as if Regulus were fragile.
Fragile was just another way to be weak, and Regulus was tired of being weak. "I don't," he said.
Remus snorted once, loud and just unpleasant enough that it made Regulus smile. "Liar," he said.
Regulus looked back at his runes. "You should talk," he answered. Remus fell silent as Regulus' quill scratched across the page.
His eyes burned and his heart thudded too-loud in his ears. Regulus could still smell the acrid smoke from the fires that had burned the night before, hear the screams of muggles who'd died. Just muggles, Bellatrix had said as Regulus had fought not to gag, sick of the smell and the violence that shimmered in the air, turning it thick as oil.
He felt sick now, too, as he stared down the dimly lit alleys of Knockturn, but for different reasons. Regulus was tired of seeing things he didn't want to see, and he'd known that there were lies even Lupin couldn't hold to, as soon as the first muggle screamed and Lupin slipped away in the chaos. He didn't want to know that Remus wasn't on the side he pretended he was, or where he spent his nights. He didn't want to know a lot of things, but somehow he never managed to quite forget.
And somehow, he always ended up here, watching from the outside and wondering what he should do about it.
It hurt in a different way this time, though. Because he could hear the anger, the whispered accusations his brother said, the way Remus shook his head, refusing to answer. Regulus knew all about secrets kept on two sides, and how easily it could all turn the wrong way. He could have set it straight with a word, but he didn't.
Instead he watched as Remus, face haggard and haunted, breathed Sirius' name, and the anger turned into something desperate and hurried. Sirius' hand on Remus' face was the same shape as Regulus'. When they kissed, Regulus saw the tightness in his brother's jaw, imagined the hungry bite of his teeth against Remus' lips, and wondered how they tasted, how many times he'd bitten before he learned how hard it took to make Remus shudder the way he did.
It was stupid, and rash. Anyone could see, and they both had so many enemies, lining up to cut them down as one more casualty of a war that had barely begun, and could stretch out so long. But that was Sirius. Rash and sure. Sirius took what he wanted. Regulus never even knew what he wanted until it was too late.
From down the alley, someone moaned, and Regulus bowed his head, body heating and shame weighting him down because of it. He knew what he wanted now. It just would never matter.
He drifted away, muffled sounds still carrying as he stood vigil at the end of the alley, watching for anyone who might have stumbled on them the way that he had. When it was silent, Regulus left. Even if he'd stayed, he imagined they might not have seen him there. Their eyes were full of each other.