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A Cartography of Grief by forsakenphoenix
Chapter 1: You Are The Only Map I Know
of renewal and loss, of us,
meteoric and immovable . . .
Fifteen years ago, he thought he experienced loss in all its crippling agony. Everything was too-loud and too-bright and he felt like a stranger in his own skin. He remembers reading a book on how to deal with death, and everything was textbook clinical, the way that he moved through the stages of grief. Predictable, like the roads marked out on a map, that lead you from one point to another.
Remus stumbles into their flat, rain-soaked and weary; he hasn’t slept all night, and all he wants to do is curl up with Sirius in their bed and take a long nap. His hair is plastered to his face, and he swipes at the dripping strands with a huff. He offers a small smile, an apology, to Sirius, who is lounging on their loveseat in nothing but his boxers, eating a bowl of cereal. Sirius stares blankly at him in return.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come home last night,” he says with a sigh. Sirius’s lack of a greeting sends a ripple of anxiety deep into the pit of his stomach. He tries to peel off his wet clothes that are stuck to him like a second skin. His shirt is caught up around his ears, and he tugs helplessly, almost tripping over the hem of his pants, when he hears Sirius put his bowl down on the table.
“Mission for the Order?” Sirius questions, his voice passive as his fingers find purchase in the soaked fabric, helping Remus push the shirt off over his head. Remus’s affirmation is muffled, but Sirius must have understood his garbled English, for he nods his head once and returns to his cereal.
“I’m just going to jump in the shower real quick.” He eyes Sirius suspiciously, not sure what to think of this stifling distance that seems to have grown between them, an impassable mountain range that has sprouted up overnight. “I’m sure you’ve just woken up, but do you… I mean, will you lay with me for a while?” he asks, uncertainty present in the tremor of his voice.
Sirius is putting the bowl in the overflowing sink. Remus writes himself a mental reminder to do the dishes later.
“Can’t,” Sirius replies, his back to Remus as he strides with purpose into their bedroom. Remus follows him helplessly, unsure of where this is going.
“Sirius?” he queries, leaning against the doorjamb, watching Sirius yank on a pair of jeans.
“I’m going to go visit James,” he says, all casual and indifferent.
“Oh. Well, can I come? I haven’t seen him in a while, and I’d like to visit with Harry.”
Sirius smiles at him, but it looks forced, unnatural. “You look like you haven’t slept all night,” he says instead. “You should get some rest.”
“Yeah… right. Of course,” Remus replies dully. “Might as well get some sleep while I can.”
“I’ll tell James you said hello.”
Sirius pauses in the doorframe, his eyes impossibly wide and dark as he searches Remus’s face. Remus is a map Sirius has never had any trouble reading, but he looks strangely uncomfortable for a moment before he masks his concern with indifference. He hesitates for a moment, and Remus feels the worry gnawing at his nerve-endings, making him hyperaware of every breath, every subtle movement. Sirius’s fingers twitch subconsciously, reaching for his belt loop, and then, finally, Sirius steps forward and pushes him against the wall, pressing a hard, bruising kiss to his mouth.
“I’ll be home late,” Sirius murmurs, his forehead resting against Remus’s. This is familiar, Remus thinks, but it doesn’t soothe the ache that’s burrowed deep within his bones, telling him something is not right. “I’m sorry.”
Sorry for what? Remus wants to ask, but Sirius is gone before he can blink, and then he’s exhaling heavily into the empty space where he had stood.
No one told him how to deal with this unexpected, quiet grief. Everything is strange and slightly out of focus. He watches his footsteps on the parchment pace back and forth and he feels like a giant as he roams the dark hallways of a home filled with ghosts that remain nameless on his map. But at night, he feels like a small child when he curls up on the left side of their bed, careful not to disturb the outline of Sirius’s body on the right. If he peers closely enough, eyes squinted and slightly cross-eyed, he can still trace the echoes of a hand (that belonged to a man who was not quite whole but somehow loved him anyway), fingers outstretched as if guiding him like a compass across this vast, empty space on his map he’s labeled ‘loneliness’. The walls seem to close in on him until he’s gasping for air, each inhale and exhale spanning the length of a lifetime he’s outlived those he has loved.
“Shut up, Sirius,” Remus gripes, straining to listen for approaching footsteps. “You’re going to get us caught.”
Sirius chuckles and nudges Remus with his shoulder.
“Careful!” Remus cries out as his hand jostles the well of ink. He scrambles to right everything before black ink spills out onto the map he is dutifully outlining.
“It’s not like we’re doing anything illegal,” Sirius replies. “It’s two o’clock in the morning, on a Saturday, and we’re making a bloody map. We could be out drinking, or with girls…”
Remus snorts as he eyes Sirius out of his periphery, taking in his easy grin and how the flame from the candle they are using lights up his dark eyes. There is a smudge of ink on the side of his nose.
“You don’t even like girls,” he points out.
Sirius’s grin widens and he waggles his eyebrows, looking ridiculous, but Remus laughs anyway. “But I do like Remuses,” he admits.
Remus flushes as Sirius wraps a hand around his bony, scarred wrist, fingertips tapping a beat against his pulse point. Hope flows through his veins, blossoming under Sirius’s touch. Sirius uses his foot to drag Remus’s chair closer, until they’re nearly nose to nose.
“C’mon, Moony,” he says, and Remus doesn’t have time to wonder what he’s being prodded to do, because then Sirius is there, with his lips wet and sloppy against his own. Remus jerks back in surprise, his hand flying out and knocking over the inkwell.
“Christ, Padfoot,” he exclaims, pulling back and frantically trying to dab the ink off the parchment with the cuff of his robe.
Sirius frowns, and with a casual flick of his wand, the ink has vanished, but there are still ugly blotches of black ink that have soaked into the parchment. Remus whimpers as he surveys the damage, all the hours he spent outlining rooms and tracing corridors, perfecting dimensions, wasted.
“I’m sorry.” Sirius looks at him dolefully. “I’ll fix it, I promise. Besides, everything was too rigid.” He waves his hand at the now-useless map. “Nothing in this castle stays the same. Rooms move. We need to figure out a way to work that into the spells we’re using. Look, this is what I think we should do – ”
The Marauder’s Map took them nearly two years to complete, but Remus knows that it’s reliable. They poured their hearts into that parchment, intertwined their own magic with ancient spells, breathing life into words and walls. Remus wishes for it now, wants desperately to see familiar names (one in particular) walking side-by-side with him through the corridors of a school that tied them all together. In the real world, friendships frayed slowly until betrayal unraveled them all. There is no spiritual manual or self-help guide that tells him how to deal with that. So Remus buries himself in maps, finding comfort in mile markers and boundaries that have been there for hundreds of years. His own map is a work-in-progress, and as he watches the black ink fade into the parchment, he wonders if there’s enough magic in his quill to chart the distance between his heart and Sirius’s.
When he hears the shattering of glass, Remus’s feet automatically lead him up the stairs to Sirius’s bathroom, ignoring the portrait hurling insults at him along the way. He finds the man hunched over his sink, fingers gripping the edge tightly as small droplets of blood pitter-patter onto the floor.
“Sirius,” Remus sighs, and, with a swish of his wand, the glass begins to pick itself up. He gently pries Sirius’s hands away from the sink, leaving bloody fingerprints in his wake.
“I can’t look at myself in the mirror,” Sirius says and his voice is that of a broken man who has spent years paying for his lost faith.
“You don’t have to,” Remus reassures him, as he tends to Sirius’s bloodied knuckles; years of youth running with a werewolf had made them all amateur Healers.
“You are the only thing that makes living in this house bearable,” he admits, as he pulls his hand away and absently scratches at the indigo ink that spans across his chest.
Each tattoo is a new boundary that Remus has to memorize, to mentally file away while his hands explore the planes and valleys of Sirius’s body. They are careful lovers, pressing apologetic kisses to each new scar they find that reminds them both of their transgressions.
Sirius’s breath is hot against the curve of Remus’s neck, hand splayed against his collarbone, anchoring him. The distance between them is bridged by murmured apologies.
Remus is a cartographer.
He spends his days hunched over the small, creaking desk in Sirius’s old bedroom, finding solace in the sound of the quill as it drags along the parchment. Each stroke of ink outlines another room, another hollow space in the eternal emptiness that is Grimmauld Place, like a gaping hole in his chest where his heart should be.
He finds himself in the kitchen, waiting for Sirius’s name to appear as he descends the staircase, moaning about how Remus left bread crumbs on the butter again. Names appear as they should when concerned friends drop by, leaving groceries and condolences, so he knows that the map is working. Sometimes he stands in the foyer and stares at the door, wishing that it’ll burst open and Sirius will be standing there with a bashful grin on his face.
He waits for an apology that will never come.
Remus thinks himself made of stone, with a foundation that keeps him steady, constant. He will mark his place on this map, bury his bones deep in the bowels of Grimmauld Place, and when Sirius returns (because he always returns, Remus tells himself), he will find Remus’s name blinking like a beacon on the parchment.
Here I am, it will say, come home to me.
Author's Note: Chapter title comes from Iain Thomas. Thanks to aiedail for pre-reading and TenthWeasley for her speedy beta job. ♥