Chapter 1 : That Which Is Vital
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Had it been any other time and any other place, I would have retreated and moved away from the sound of the soft footfalls. I heard them making their way to my favourite oak, by the lake. The oak was in full green; it's foliage declaring its status as king of the trees. The slowly sinking sun passed laser like rays through it, to the water beyond, the light danced a pattern in the multi-faceted water - it was a distraction. I sat and watched it, though I knew someone approached, I remained facing the water, watching it's rippling motion play with the sunbeams.
This place was so quiet, a grove of sorts, with wild but beautiful smelling magnolia growing with the old oak and buttercups. The footfalls stopped just behind me and I could hear gentle breathing from behind; I guessed someone was making their mind up - to disturb me or not? I could hear a rasping sound, as though they were wringing their hands in indecision, and then a small sigh.
“Remus?” The voice was mellifluous and inquiring, but I knew those timid tones at once. “Are you all right?” I heard a hesitant step forward, an imbalance of air around my shoulder, she wanted to touch me but drew back, and I drew inside a little.
“I’m fine, Hermione,” I turn to face her, already with armed with a reassuring smile on my lips to ignore the imminent pressure at my heart. “Really, I just needed some fresh air.” The smell of the magnolia wafted into my face, from the wake of her approach.
A small smile seeped on to her face, and a knowing look spread across it - though something didn’t quite reach her eyes - there was a distant sadness there, and perhaps a little fear. “You don’t fool me Remus Lupin,” she said simply. “I know exactly what you are doing out here, you are hiding, I don’t know why you are, but you are. You should be with everyone else, enjoying the fun. It is Harry and Ginny's wedding after all.”
“Weddings aren't really my thing, all that revelry and relatives arguing, sometimes it can be a bit too much,” I still smiled. The smile had become wry; I hoped that it looked effacing and calm, not like the pressure cooker in my chest. Why did she of all people have to come and find me?
“You didn’t eat anything either, really you should eat properly, or at least have the decency to pretend to, so we all don’t have to worry,” she smiles, amused at her little joke. I smile too, genuinely, because I know when she says all, she means herself; she was the only one who noticed I was no longer there, the only one to see I hadn’t eaten.
“I looked at the cake,” I defended. “It looked like a nice cake, but I’m not a cake person.” I can’t quite look in her eyes, partly because the sun was shining in mine, but also because the eddy in my chest told me I might not be able to handle her eyes.
“Not a wedding person, not a cake person… what do you like?” she smiles warmly making the observation, moves around to my side, and sits on the log next to me. The gentle vibration of her sitting rocks the log, and my pretence. The wake of magnolia follows her, and again, wafts about in the scent of the lake; it's heady and light. I breathe it in.
“I’m getting old and cantankerous, I’m allowed to dislike things for no reason at all, it's almost a rite of passage,” I continued to smile; she does not. She frowned when I had said ‘old’ and looked to the floor. “What is it?” I ask, fear thumping in my veins, I want to hear what she has to say, but I don’t want to know.
“Your not old, you’ve never been old,” she looks at me, though I avoid her eye line. “You never will be.”
I don’t say anything straight away because I fear my voice might give me away. The one thing I had always promised myself was that she would never know how I felt - how I feel - never. I don’t think I could bear the look of disgust, the disappointment that I would see in her eyes, I think that would kill me a little. I take the time to phrase my reply properly, or at least make it sound like I don’t feel like my heart is beating a million miles an hour.
“You don’t see the grey, or the lines of antiquity that have so rudely formed on my face? I’ve been like it so long I’ve forgotten what it's like to be any other way,” Liar. I know I have felt more alive this last year than I have for the last twenty; I don’t smile anymore, but keep my voice even. “I’m tired, these old bones don’t want to go back and dance.”
“You have never seemed that way to me, you’ve always been open in your time with me, you’ve never been cantankerous, anyway,” the lips of her mouth move into a small smirk at her words, and I realise I have been watching them as she spoke. I pull my eyes away and direct them at the ground again. “Tired or not, I’ve never seen you as someone who wouldn’t have a dance, or join in with the fun.”
I’m not sure how to reply to her, though I can feel my façade slipping, it was becoming harder and harder to be around her. Heaviness is slowly settling on my chest - I’d have to avoid her for a while - she didn’t know and it wasn’t her fault but I couldn’t stand this agony of duality, the agony of loving her and not having her. The silence flows on, and I feel like something important is slipping away. I feel timorous, and I set my face to diplomatic Remus.
Time was my enemy here - in so many ways – it was unmoving and relentless, while it flowed away.
“I do like to dance, and you know I don’t shy away from fun,” I pause, selecting my words carefully. “Sometimes I just need to breathe, things like that can be a bit… claustrophobic.”
She took on a knowing look, which disturbed me – what was she aware of?
“You mean it extenuates the fact that you are alone, pretty much all of the time,” her soft tone could not take away the pain of truth. “I know you are hiding, because you know that you will be alone again,” she rests her hand on my hand, as she finishes her sentence. As she touches me, the gap between us crackles, our auras meet. There is a fire burning there, and as seconds pass, my hand feels as though it’s very blood is boiling away, I want to snatch it away, but I don’t. I’d like to think it was because the very action would draw attention to some deep feeling, I might have. The truth is I don’t want to, and I savour the few seconds that her presence touches mine. I feel the cords that bind me start to stretch in release.
I pat her hand with my other, smile benignly at her, forcing away the tumult of emotion. There is a sickening amount of need in my chest, and I feel that the constriction is too much this time - especially on a day like today – it brought back far too much. I think that’s what she’s thinking of, the memories the wedding inspires, and the pain that goes with it.
“I have spent a long time alone, but that’s not the reason I am out here,” I paused; deciding some form of the truth would be a better idea. “It's hard being in there, sometimes I feel more segregated than integrated, but it's my problem. I guess I should just deal with it.” I go to move my hand away but she pins it there with gentle firmness.
There is a dangerous moment; I nearly look into her eyes but I keep my eyes level with her lips. She bites the lower lip with her upper teeth, leaving a patch of moisture, it glistens in the light, and I feel this urge to sample it.
“Remus, you can’t live in the past forever you know. There has to be a time to move on and shake off whatever it is that holds you back.” She lowers her head a little and tries to capture my eye line; I feel her breath on my face and it's smells of something sweet. I shut my eyes and I tremble, I can’t stop it, she is undoing me.
She grasps my hand a little firmer, I think she thinks I am going to cry – I’m not. I’m bloody well not.
“You miss them still, don’t you.” There was no question in her voice; it stated fact. A fact she believed to be true, because she would never have considered the actual reason I was sitting here. I couldn’t deny the accuracy in her words though; I did miss my friends. Their wedding was the last real time I can remember us all being happy, before the death, lies, and betrayal. But she was wrong in thinking I was out here because of them.
She is still watching my reactions, I can feel her eyes travelling my face, and looking for the answers, she thinks she knows the questions to.
My heart is thudding, my blood is quickening, I can hear it rushing through my head. It's making me feel faint, and I really don’t want to faint. It's particularly unmanly, undignified, and terribly bad form.
My hand is suddenly free, warmth departed, the log rocks again, it distorts my vision for a moment, I look around to see her stand and move around in front of me. She kneels in the soft grass, I watch the blades bend under her weight. I dare not lift my eyes. She grasps both of my hands in hers, and she looks up into my face. I don’t want to look, I am desperate to see her eyes this close, and my dichotomy is destroying my resolve. I shut my eyes, but my head moves up, and I know I am facing her. I can feel her warm breath on my face, I smell it's warm sweetness and I know I am losing the battle.
The exhalation forms the word, “Remus,” and streams over my façade. It fractures rapidly, like a lead weight on a frozen pond. I almost hear the cracking.
I open my eyes.
Her brown is accosting my blue, and although her closeness stops my vision from focusing clearly, I am aware of every detail. I feel total ambivalence. I am so utterly terrified, pessimistic, and so pathetically optimistic. I can feel their duality surging through me, through the incandescence of her unwavering gaze. It burns me from the inside, and I feel the ardent need in me awake, unfurling, increasing in strength and power. I am a master of my emotions, but they are insurgent, and ignore my last desperate attempts at control.
In her searching look, I see something there I had not noticed before, nor ever dared to hope for. Reflection. I am seeing my own need reflected back at me through her studious eyes. My stomach feels as if it is lurching, but it's that fervent yearning, reaching out from within me.
I diminish the distance between us, all fear, vanished. My lips enclose hers, and I feel her hands release mine; they travel my body, and glide their way up my neck. Her fingers weave into my hair and soul. I tingle where she touched me, as though her fingers were still there. My flesh parts and she is inside me, tongue greeting my own need.
My own hands desperately make their way to her upper arms, and force a release between us. Her face is flushed, but the fire in her eyes burns at me, fear encased in her longing. Doubt creeps across her face, as it does in my heart.
“Hermione…” I say, I don’t know if it was a question, but she takes it as such and nods affirmation, to the unasked.
We lean forward, together this time, and I feel her warmth again, spreading over my lips and I can’t stop.
I am no longer deficient, and the struggle has left me whole. The air - on my wet lips - chills them, but they are no longer lacking that which is vital.
A big huge thank you for timeturner for issuing the challenge, and reading through it for me before I posted it :)