Chapter 2 : Breathe
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Chapter 2: Breathe
In the hollowness of war, comfort is a temptation even the strongest can’t resist
Lily rolled over in the bed, tossing with exasperation. She gripped her pillow tightly, yanking it over head to try and drown out the sound. She let her eyes close against the stiff freshly laundered cotton, knowing it would only be a moment before she had to pull it off and take a gulp of air. She shallowed her breathing, desperate to muffle all sounds for as long as possible, a dark place in the back of her mind hoping she might black out and avoid ever hearing anything ever again.
Unable to withstand it any longer, she sat up and chunked the pillow across the room. “Sirius, will you please stop snoring!”
Before she could sink back onto the bed, it came back at her smacking her in the face and causing a red mark to immediately surface where the feathers had hit her.
“I’m not even asleep, you twit.”
She glanced around the tent, her eyes peering closely at each table as she tried to discern the sound. The folding tables were crammed full of medical supplies and magical gadgets, the boxes still lying open as both she and Sirius had been too exhausted to clean up after the most recent influx of wounded. They had been on leave…resting up after near twelve hours of brutal battling with the Death Eaters. Replacement Order members had come to relieve them but the battle had turned worse and, rather than sleep Sirius and Lily had moved to the medical tent to help however they could. Sirius hadn’t slept in nearly forty-six hours and she was pushing near twenty herself.
She pulled the pillow close to her chest, enveloping it in a hug as if it might make the images and sounds go away. James, Peter and Remus were out there somewhere, along with dozens of other schoolmates and she had no idea if they were alive or dead. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping the green pallor of the tent might fade from her mind. She trembled as a muted scream far in the distance carried over the wind and to her ears.
“It’s the protection spell for the medical tent, Lil,” Sirius’ voice filtered above the aggravating gurgling that she had mistaken for his snoring. “That noise means we’re safe. You only need worry if it goes silent. Just relax and try and get some sleep.”
She hugged the pillow tighter to her chest rather than respond. She rocked herself gently, hoping to get a grip on her emotions. She had never been fearful; it just wasn’t in her nature. She worried about things, of course, but nothing had ever really frightened her. There was something about this place, though, something about the stench of blood and death that seemed to hang in the air that just gave her chills. She’d seen many battles with Death Eaters over the last few months but none had gone on this long…none had been so violent with so much at stake. Death Eaters were trying to overtake Hogwarts and the Order would prevent it – no matter the cost.
She jerked involuntarily as Sirius moved, rolling on his side to gaze at her. Although he had managed to pull off his shoes, he remained fully dressed. His black trousers still coated in dried mud, jagged holes scattered here and there throughout the fabric. His pristine white dressed shirt, his trademark since the day she’d met him, was rolled carelessly at the sleeves, splatters of blood turning brown mixing with the dirt so she couldn’t tell which was which. He was physically spent, she could tell by the slow, careful movements that seemed to require so much effort. She glanced questioningly at him and, as if he understood immediately, he scooted further back on his cot, making room for her to lie down beside him. She crossed the room quickly, climbing onto the thin mattress and pressing her back into his chest. His hand slid around her waist, pulling her into a protective embrace. He dropped his head next to hers, sharing the tiny corner of pillow that she hadn’t already claimed. She shivered in his arms as a deafening explosion sounded somewhere outside and she entwined her fingers in his, pulling him ever closer to her.
“Better?” he murmured.
She nodded but tightened her grip on his arm anyway. “Do you ever want to escape, Sirius? Just run away from all this?”
“To go where?” he chuckled.
She shrugged. “Somewhere without the noise and the bodies and the blood –"
He could feel her begin to tremble as she spun herself tighter and he cut her off. “No. If I’m going to die, I’d rather die with my friends beside him than off alone somewhere.”
She rolled over to face him, clasping her hands to her chest. “I’d like to go home…to see my parents and my sister. She has a new son and who knows if I’ll even—" she fell quiet. “I’d love to escape.”
“Commonality of a muggle existence,” he joked but sobered immediately as her eyes clouded to a miserable shade of green. He nudged her slightly. “Would you want to return to the Black family?” he asked seriously. “This is my escape.”
She opened her mouth to speak then closed it again, fingering the hole in his shirt where a missing button should have been as she tried to compose her thoughts. “Regulus is here,” she whispered and could immediately feel him tense beside her.
“I don’t know that. You don’t know that. Speculating about it is worthless.” Although his voice was cold, he refused to meet her gaze.
“Sirius,” she tilted his face down to hers, “I saw him.”
His eyes held hers, his voice a whisper. “What?”
“Last night, when I met the team from St. Mungo’s for the supplies. He tried to intercept the delivery.”
“Was he killed?”
“No, I couldn’t,” she whispered, dropping her eyes. “He’s your brother, Sirius.”
“You’re a fool, then. He would’ve killed you in an instant, Lil. He’s lucky he’s survived this long as it is. Don’t mistake him for me and don’t ever let him walk away just because-"
She lifted her hand to his face, covering his lips with the tips of her fingers to quiet him. “He’s safe, Sirius…at least for today.”
He dropped his eyes away without comment, his body relaxing with the news that his brother was safe. She let out an exhausted breath, causing him to squeeze her hand. “It’s hard, isn’t it? Facing this everyday? You could go home, you know. Live a normal muggle life.”
She sent him a sour look but, in the silence that followed, his words began to sink in. She did have the ability to escape. Unlike he or James or any of the other Marauders, she could flee to a muggle world that offered freedom from the war that seeped into her every being. “Is this life, Sirius? Is this all there is? Pain and anguish and death and destruction?”
He shuffled her in his arms to look at her better, not sure if she was asking him or trying to solve the question her self. He opened his mouth to speak then fell quiet, pulling her tighter into him to try and keep his emotions in check. He lay silently, half dozing and half frightened to sleep for fear of leaving her unprotected. They were safe for the moment – he knew that. But somehow, knowing he couldn’t protect her from the pain she was feeling made him believe he had failed her. His voice was less than a whisper when he finally garnered the energy to respond.
“The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.”
“Lord Byron,” she offered with a half smile and poked him gently in the chest. “My well read lover,” she joked half-heartedly then realized what she’d said.
Her eyes cast away from him, unsure of what had made her say such a thing. It had been years since they’d shared anything intimate, years since they’d felt any pull other than mere friendship. It was as if in growing up they had some how outgrown a need for each other and the thought made a melancholy mood wash over her. Life had been simple and easy back then—homework and detentions their biggest threats; far off dreams and plans for the future coloring their days; lazy Hogwarts weekends when nothing seemed more important that a quick snog session before the chaperones could catch you. Knowing that the school was mere steps away and under siege filled her with grief. It wasn’t as if she regretted her current life. She would gladly do anything; even give her life, if it meant stopping Lord Voldemort. But she couldn’t help but feel all her youth had been wasted just to end up in this one horrid moment when nothing but death clouded the air around them.
She pressed her lips gently into his, one hand sliding to caress the stubble growing on his cheek. She lifted her eyes toward him questioningly but he had nothing more than a tired, vacant expression across his face.
Their movements were slow and wearied, as if exhaustion had slipped into every part of their being. They had been together several times before in years past, products of teenage experimentation and too much drink. But neither seemed to have the energy to put effort in their movements, both moving in silent methodical steps that were more requisite and compulsory than passionate.
He slipped his arm underneath her head, dropping his face into the crook of her neck. Unable to hold himself up, he sank heavily on top of her, his body pressing hers into the stiff sheets. Her hands moved to rest on the back of his chest, not even bothering to move as she felt him come for her. She let out the tiniest gasp…she’d forgotten him and how he moved. Even with his fatigue, nothing and no one felt like Sirius Black.
“Okay?” he asked, lifting his head to eye her closely.
“I’d forgotten you,” she whispered.
He smiled a warm, tender smile that made her weak. He leaned down, his lips brushing against hers as his body moved with a slow, calm rhythm just for her.
Unlike others she had been with, he only moved when she breathed…a hypnotic action that seemed to draw her deeper into him. She had no idea how he managed such serene control over himself but his gliding movement touched her more deeply than anyone else had ever managed. She felt a warmth grow in her lower abdomen and sucked in a breath as he let his fingers trail down her side to crook her leg up toward him. Even in her frazzled state, she could sense her perception becoming more acute—the metallic creak of the cot underneath them; his calloused hands rubbing on the back of her neck; a river a chilled air seeping into the tent from somewhere high up above; the thump of his heart pressing into her flesh; the medicinal stench of bleached sheets being overtaken by his smell of leather and salty sweat; the slight tickle of his long hair as it swayed against her face with his movements; the tremble in his already exhausted muscles as he tried to hold on long enough to get them where they needed to go. She could feel him shift position, moving his arms underneath her shoulders to cradle her head in his hands. He had no energy to kiss her but dropped his face in her shoulder, his labored breathing hovering at the hollow of her throat as he used his new position to entwine them so deeply it tinged on painful.
“Breathe, Lily,” he ordered quietly, his command veiled with a tinge of concern.
How he had noticed such a thing in his exhausted state was beyond her. That he could block everything out and be there only for her made her weak. Tears welled at the corners of her eyes as she tried to ignore him. She didn’t want to breathe. She knew a single breath would cause the feeling to end, oxygen would rush over her and she’d no longer be able to stave off the feelings he had caused to well within her. She wanted to prolong it…to lock out the real world for as long as she possibly could manage, to keep it just the two of them – a tiny sliver of life where there was no war or blood or wounded.
She caught his eye uneasily, his grey eyes looking far deeper into her soul than she thought possible. He knew.
He knew what she was afraid of and what she wasn’t; what she wanted to escape from and what she longed to have. He understood that by holding her breath she was prolonging the sensation of true living that he had welled within her. He had recognized how desperately she feared the lost dreams the war had stolen from her even though he seemed to have no emotional upheaval of his own. Dreams of simplicity…days of sunshine watching her children play in the front yard; a happy marriage not tinged with death where hours were filled with common everyday things like washing clothes and dishes and baking bread…things she remembered her mother doing in childhood. She knew he could see her fear of never feeling this way again – being forced into saying goodbye to childhood and youth and freedom from responsibilities. As tempted as she was to stay here in this place forever, he was telling her it was impossible and that she had to move on. She had a choice but it took his words to convince her to make the decision.
“Lils,” he whispered, pulling her into a reassuring embrace, “just let it come.”
She sucked in a desperate breath, her sobs punctuating by ragged gasps as he quickened and allowed shudders to overtake them both. She clasped to him, unwilling to let him move away. He rubbed her head gently, her body trembling with uncontrollable sobs from both fear and the effect he’d had on her.
She would accept not the inevitable but instead cling to righteous ability to decide what path in life she was willing to take rather than avoid. She would face the war, the death, the stench of unfairness without complaint or fear. He alone had taught her that much.