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Chapter 42: Balancing Act
author's note: Rihanna's hair is just wild, you know? I'm listening to Unfaithful right now and I think it's kinda funny because, you know, considering this chapter. Eh. Anyways, I hope you all enjoy, you beacons of light and joy. By the way -- this is like my favorite ending to almost any of the SIHE chapters. I really do love the ending of this chapter and the beginning of the next. I like how SIHE is kind of episodic. It keeps it fresh for whenever you want to jump back in. I also like the continuity and -- is this being braggy? I don't care y'all. SIHE is my child and I will show you its wallet pictures. Man, I need a dog.
Scarlett was very, very fortunate that she learned early and rather comprehensibly when she wasn't trying to block information out. If she did not possess such a quality, the problem would have grown and festered and eventually lead to two confrontations even uglier than the ones she had already experienced.
All she needed was time and peace.
Her peace could always be found alone, and that was where she was now, perched beautifully on a branch from Rowena Ravenclaw's incredible tree. The glow around the tree was a neon green, mixing together like a perfect recipe of emotion: the green represented nature as well as youth, inexperience, and peace, but the neon contradicted it. The neon was only present because it was the outlook's way of telling her that she didn't have much time to be peaceful or inexperienced.
She had to think.
Think without any regard to what she was supposed to do and what she wanted to, because she needed the bare facts. She had been around Tenereus plenty of times, and every time she spoke to him he told her that she always had to observe to find the future. He told her, every time they spoke about making her talent more precise, that the easiest way to predict the future was to observe the simplicities, the things that she had blocked out so nicely with her ignorance.
Today, Scarlett was given the task to observe herself— a task that was proving to be easier than she'd thought. It was so easy to learn things that were already there, things that she had always known subconsciously.
She did not want Sirius mad at her. That was the first conclusion she came to, followed by the fact that she did not want Theodore mad at her either. The two statements were so simple and so obvious, but they had to be recognized properly before she could make any progress.
From there, things became slightly blurry. It was hard to define everything that was going on clearly, but that was what she had set out to do. She had to learn. She had to know.
She also realized that Sirius had been not only right but had demonstrated his knack of knowing things about her that she didn't know herself when he said that she avoided and ran away. He was entirely right, of course; it was so easy to see. She had run away from her responsibilities. She had run from Theodore after their kiss—she had tried to act like it hadn't happened. She did not talk about what had happened the night she woke and felt pain, but instead pretended it didn't exist. Even at the beginning of the year, she had refused to acknowledge fully that she was going to get married, because she had rationalized that there was always a later date.
She wanted to try and prevent something from happening that she didn't want to happen. She wanted it all to be okay.
As for Theodore, Scarlett had come to the realization that she did not feel for him the same way she felt for Sirius. There had always been a bond between Scarlett and Theodore especially, and she cared about him always. It would just not be a bond of deep and passionate love. She loved him, but he would never... compare to Sirius.
It was difficult to think, and it was even harder to swallow, but once she had, her resolve strengthened and she brooded again in her thoughts.
She did not want to be married, but she knew that it was an inevitability, something she shouldn't struggle from. She knew that society was always going to have a heavy stranglehold on her life and she had accepted it. That was her purpose, wasn't it? She was meant to be society's puppet; it was her sole purpose.
She had just strayed with her outlandish opinions, some inherited from Sirius, some coming from her own head.
She would be okay. Society was the rock she had to lean against, and if she ever needed it it would always be there. Being with Sirius was making it easier and easier for her to get away from the support and to walk right into the arms of harsh reality.
She was beginning to believe what they were doing was wrong. The arranged marriage had been the spark—an archaic practice for what?—but her doubts were delving deeper. Even that the mark on her wrist was wrong.
Scarlett shuddered as she jumped from the tree, instinctively putting her thumb where the tattoo was as it burned.
It was another problem to be concerned over. It was another problem for another day, and it was something that Scarlett couldn't think about without recoiling. There were so many problems, so many puzzles to solve, that Scarlett had to save those for another day. She had to wait another day, because she couldn't even begin to think of how many consequences there would be if she even thought about that aspect of her future. She knew that much.
She promised herself, though, that she would confront it. She could confront it... she promised. Her problems had to be faced some way.
She did not know, however, how sturdy her promise was.
It was a hard habit to kick; in the face of learning something she didn't want to know Scarlett tended to do whatever it took to achieve peace of mind. She ran away and she ignored and she made her thoughts stray somewhere else entirely to forget. It was the way she had always been. It was the way of self-preservation. Yes, she had grown to trust her curiosities more...but after waking up with Sirius she was worried with where her curiosities would take her that her society hadn't. It was the unknown.
She just hoped she would keep her promise.
But, as the Mark prickled again and she walked towards the outlook, she could feel that hope evaporating until her promise seemed unlikely to survive. With every step she took, she could feel whatever impulsiveness she had inherited from Sirius be attacked by how alluring the prospect of ignorance was. She could feel self-preservation leech onto her promise.
And as the tree left her eyesight she could feel the regression begin, though that fact only disgusted her.
Sirius was there when she entered the outlook.
He was not angry, but he was not overjoyed to see her. He was not sitting; he leaned against a tree with his arms crossed, a sure sign that he was as ready to leave as he was to stay. His face was expectant, because he didn't have to apologize for anything. He just needed to hear what she had learned. What her choice was.
Scarlett took a deep breath and took a step closer, and Sirius raised his eyebrows as if she had already said something. "So I learned something," she started, taking another breath. "I learned a lot of things, actually."
"All right," Sirius said approvingly. "What?"
"You were right," Scarlett pointed out. "I run away from everything. It happens and then I try to forget about it and pretend it never happened. I run away from everything, including you." She sighed and combed a hand through her hair. "And I'm sorry."
Sirius nodded, though it seemed like a subconscious action, designed purely to show she had his attention but he was not satisfied. "And?" he asked, smirking slightly in a way that made her stomach contract.
She smiled shakily. "I don't fancy Theodore," she informed him, and it was true. "I... fancy somebody else. Someone I never want to hurt again."
Sirius looked much more confident than Scarlett felt as he took his weight off of the tree and took a step closer to her. "Really?" he asked, as if they were talking about irrelevancies. "Well, who do you fancy?"
He was challenging her, and she could feel it. They were still feet away from each other, the snow making a thick shield that separated them, but she could feel the challenge as if he'd stated it himself. She could feel the challenge in a way that made the butterflies in her stomach spread to her legs and hands and head.
But, she couldn't turn down a challenge. Even when she was so mentally overwhelmed, as a Slytherin she knew that to turn a challenge down from a Gryffindor was a mistake. Turning a challenge down from a Gryffindor was morally unacceptable.
And Slytherins had an edge. Gryffindors were all loud words and strong emotions and passion, but Slytherins worked cleverly and beneath the surface. Gryffindors made their intentions clear; Slytherins liked surprise.
And, even though Sirius was unintended, even though Sirius had surprised her, she knew she could do the same. Being a Slytherin made her perfectly capable of doing the same, and, what was more, she could do it better.
She smirked and fervently shoved the nervousness aside. "He's bloody insufferable," she said, and it was barely louder than a whisper. "He's full of himself. He's irresponsible... he's loud... and very headstrong...
"But," Scarlett said, and she took another step closer to him so that they were only inches away. "he is a charmer..."
She could have kissed him then; they were that close and she knew she wanted to. Their torsos were mere centimeters away. She could have entangled her fingers in his hair; she could have traced his defined chest. Every one of those options came to Scarlett's head as she examined where she was, but she restrained herself, ignoring the butterflies as they swarmed around her heart.
"Well," Sirius said, his breath leaving goosebumps on her neck, "what's his name?"
She could have kissed him then, too.
Instead, she reluctantly turned her body away from his and took a seat on the outlook's floor. "Eh," she said, though it was hard to contain the jitters that her nerves created, "I'll tell you later, I guess."
Sirius looked gobsmacked; his mouth was slightly open, though it was quirked into an appreciative smile—his indication that she had beat him at his own challenge. Taking a seat next to her and still slightly shaking his head as if he couldn't believe what she had just done, he said, "We have all night, beautiful."
Scarlett turned to him and smirked but didn't say anything.
"So," Sirius said casually, "now that we're past the guilt—are we past the guilt?" he asked, and she nodded. "Now that we're past the guilt, you have to admit... It was good, wasn't it?"
"It was... nice," Scarlett said, her smirk becoming smug. "It was nice enough."
Sirius laughed. "It was the best you've ever had," he assumed.
"It was the only I've ever had," Scarlett retorted. "And, as far as it goes, it was pretty good."
"Pretty good," Sirius quipped back, "is not the same as nice."
"Prove it," Scarlett challenged, raising an eyebrow, because she knew that Sirius wouldn't turn down a challenge. Gryffindors didn't turn down challenges, especially when Slytherins were involved, and that fact opened the floodgate of feeling that she had contained in an attempt to keep her composure.
And then Sirius kissed her, and it was nice, so nice that she could not help but kiss him back. And it was so sweet, so amazing, because this time it was not accompanied with the sharp edge of guilt. Instead, it was laced with desire, desire that flooded through her body like molasses and made her body lean in closer to Sirius—
He broke the kiss. "That was nice," he said. "That was nice. If you were trying to distinguish the difference."
"Well, that's bloody fantastic," Scarlett said, annoyed and aware that he'd bested her, "but I can't distinguish nice and pretty good if I don't remember what pretty good feels like."
Sirius leaned in closer, but just as she was getting ready to kiss him again he smirked and turned away. "Pretty good is... pretty good," Sirius said, as if she was stupid. "Does that confuse you?"
"Oh, I hate you so much," Scarlett said, shaking her head. "Ass."
Sirius laughed. "Doesn't feel good, right?" he guessed. "Except if you're doing it to me?"
"Doing what?" Scarlett asked. "I didn't do anything to you."
"You're a tease," Sirius stated matter-of-factly. "You're a damn good tease."
"I'm a tease?" Scarlett asked skeptically, though there was a tone of amusement and pride in her tone. "Really?"
"Yes," Sirius told her. "It's hard to ignore when you're actually trying to be. It's even harder to resist," he confessed, and the words sent a shock of energy that twisted and turned throughout her body.
"Really?" she asked again, but it contained the same desire that she felt throughout her body, as if it was so strong it had even overcome her words. The question, the one word, held so much quiet power that it made Sirius look at her the same way the words sounded.
He turned away quickly, though.
"Like when you do that," he explained, "even though you weren't trying to, it's..."
"Pretty good?" Scarlett said sarcastically.
Sirius grinned and turned towards her, and this time he did not hesitate to kiss her and she did not hesitate to kiss him back. His fingers trailed her waist line, and her fingers traced his cheekbones. They moved in tandem, moved like they had been doing it for ages, and their bodies fit together so smoothly. So right, but so very, very wrong.
Time passed; whether it was minutes or hours Scarlett was not sure. She kept the time by the snow, which evolved from strong flurries to an even stronger blizzard, and when the winds became unbearable she recognized how much time had slipped through their fingers. Though it was just as unbearable, she unwillingly loosened her grip on Sirius, even though she felt as if she had left everything with him.
He seemed to realize what the end of their kiss meant, but he was just as unenthusiastic to end their embrace as she was. Keeping their hands fiercely intertwined, Sirius leaned towards her, and she surrendered, letting her back rest against his chest as she caught her breath.
"I don't want you to go," Scarlett said vaguely, her eyes closed. "I don't want to have to wait..."
Her words hung in the silence for a while, and for a couple of minutes all they did was listen to each other's breathing. Finally, though, and with utmost reluctance, Sirius stood, giving her a kiss on her lips that ended far too soon.
"Sorry, beautiful," he murmured, his voice rough. "But we always have tomorrow, don't we?"
And as he walked away Scarlett sighed and stood herself, looking downward. Waiting for his exit to be final and absolute so she wouldn't run after him, she walked slowly towards where Tenereus resided, feeling as if she was in a trance.
It was a part of her promise, but frankly she wasn't contemplating her promise. She was only contemplating Sirius... oh, Sirius...
It was understandable, then, that she was in a bit of a trance as she walked towards where Tenereus was—past the tree where they had just been, past the place where she had located her blouse the day she had woken up in his arms, past the cherry tree where they had looked up at the stars together and exchanged intimacies. She walked past the outlook, past their outlook, until she could see the small bonfire in the clearing Tenereus always had, welcoming her back to reality.
The first thing reality showed her was Tenereus, and, more notably, Tenereus's expression.
And, with that, Scarlett was not only welcomed to reality—she was harshly pulled into it.
"Tenereus?" Scarlett asked hesitantly. "Are you all right?"