The bed beside him was vacant. It had been another of those nights of guilt and pleasure that had erupted into something worse. They always ended worse than they began. That’s the way it was with her. She couldn’t put aside the ring on her finger and he couldn’t put aside the face of his best friend looming at him from every angle of the room. The perfection of the moment their bodies touched was lost too quickly – too tragically – in the weight of their baggage.
There were some things that just could not be put aside, even in the most perfect of moments.
He closed his eyes, pulling the thin sheet over his head. They blocked out the light, the reminder that another morning had come without her waking up beside him. They had never lasted that long together. She had always left, never waking him to say goodbye. Morning brought remembrance of their shared words, shared passions, the shared bed. She would have called it lust. He called it love.
The light came through the sheet, preventing him from falling back into the arms of Morpheus. Arms that would not push him away after too long of an embrace, after too many kisses, after things had once again gone too far. How many times had she come to his doorstep in the middle of the night, in tears, asking if she could stay the night? It had begun before her marriage and had continued through the nights when her husband – it was a stab in the heart to say that word – was away battling the shadows that plucked apart their world. She could have gone to her friends, to her parents, to anyone else. But no, she came to him.
They would sit on the couch and talk about nothing. They both knew what would happen and how it would happen and how it would end. That knowledge could not prevent the same thing from happening over and over again. They were unable to resist the power that brought them together and tore them apart in a single night.
This night had been different. It had been his own fault that she had left, and now she would not return to his doorstep again. He had chased her away with a single, not-so-innocent question, the question that had brought out all the guilt and all the pain and all the things that were wrong about those nights they spent together. He had said many idiotic things in the past, things that never came out the way he meant them to, things that made her sigh with the saintly patience she showed only in the worst of times.
Lying in the bed, he thought of the question and slammed his hand against the headboard. He heard the cracking of bones and felt the sharp stab of pain through his hand, but how could it rival the gaping wound in his heart? He had lost her time and time again. This time, there would be no way of saying sorry, no way of explaining himself with a grin and a joke, no way of getting her to ever return to where he waited for her.
Tears, actual tears, slipped out from under his eyelids. He wiped them away with a corner of the sheet. Weakness meant defeat, and as he lay defeated, all the weakness poured out in the meagre tears that dripped down his face. He could see her face still, how she had lain beside him, her head on the same pillow as his, her hair a scarlet stain upon the pristine sheets. Her eyes were closing as drowsiness led her towards sleep. He had stroked her shoulder and she had blinked to look up at him. She had almost smiled....
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I wish it could always be like this.”
She stiffened under his touch. “You know that’s not possible.”
It all came out of him, all the guilt, all the pain, all the longing. No matter how many times he had tried to justify it, make it seem real, it had always come down to the truth – she had married his best friend, the one that she liked best, but did not love. Not love in the same way that Sirius knew it, though she called what existed between her and James “love”. But if that was love, then why did she always end up at Sirius’ door, in Sirius’ bed?
“Why not?” She moved away from him, as though she were going to rise. “No! Please, Lily, you know what I mean.”
Her glare silenced him... almost. He sat up, leaning on the pillows.
“If it’s not possible, then why did you come here? Why do you do this to us when you’ll just go back to him?”
She held up the sheet to her chest, as though in search for some scrap of modesty in the stark nature of the words they spoke.
“You don’t understand what it’s like–”
“You can be damn sure that I do.” He was no longer able to keep his voice lowered. “I’m his bloody best friend, in case you’ve forgotten.”
She fell against the pillows, keeping her back to him.
“You don’t have to live with him everyday, knowing what I’ve done....”
“Just leave him, Lily! It’s not worth all this–”
“You don’t understand....”
“And he would forgive us. I know he would. James always forgives.”
“It’s not as simple as you think.....”
“We could get away from all this mess. Maybe even be happy.”
“There’s no choice here, Sirius. Nothing we can do....”
“There’s everything, Lily! We can do anything! If you could just–”
“I won’t leave him.”
He crossed his arms, frustrated that he could not see her face, see the thoughts and emotions written across her face, see them etched in her eyes. “Why the hell not?”
“I love him.”
With a snort, he brushed imaginary dust from his knee. “You always say that. How can you be sure that it’s true?”
She sat up and swung her legs off the bed. “I just.... I just know it’s true. It’s not something you would know, Sirius. You with your rich things and pretty girls hanging off your every word and the history that you represent. What we have here isn’t love. Love is more than... than this.” Her arm swung to point to the room, the bed, the clothes on the floor, the moonlight coming through the window.
The words came to him slowly, like how they did when he was drunk. So this was the payment for all the pleasure, all the brilliance, all the perfection of being with her. She was going to leave, and there was nothing he could do, nothing he could say, to take back his fatal mistake. He had pushed the wrong button and now his machine – the one of the love they shared – was falling to pieces before his eyes. And, through it all, he was powerless, to be left with nothing when the dust settled, nothing but pieces.
Simply saying sorry would not put them back into place. Sorry was just a word – a word he could not speak and a word that would not be strong enough to keep her from walking out that door. She would take the word as an insult, just as it would be an insult for him to say it. To let those two syllables escape his lips would be the ultimate defeat, the waving of the white flag that screamed to the opposition that his emotions, his guilt, his pain, meant nothing.
The lie that they had lived for the past year had been a veil between them... like the veil a bride would wear so that the groom could not see her face... Sirius had been blinded by perfection, a perfection that was now marred, broken, stained.
“Just go, then.” It took all his effort to maintain a steady voice, the voice that had infuriated some and caused others to fawn over his shadow. “You’re soiled goods. Another man’s tart.”
He heard her choke on his words. The words that held no meaning for his heart.
“You only came to play me up, didn’t you? Or did you enjoy watching me squirm in front of James each time we met?”
She whispered something, but he continued, his vision filling with red.
“You made a mistake when you came here, Evans. Traitor! You betrayed James, you... you...” He rose up on one elbow, voice becoming sharper with every word. He watched as each stab hit her heart, letting the blood pour onto the bed, staining it with the colour of her hair.
“Stop, please.... Sirius....”
She bent to pick up her clothes, hardly able to breathe through her tears. He expected her to collapse under the weight of his words, but she did not fall. She stumbled, but did not fall.
His head was throbbing as the blood rushed through his veins. He wanted it all to go away, all his words, all his anger, all his endless suffering, everything that made him hate her and love her all at once. His heart wanted no more than to mingle with hers – heal the wounds he had given her – but his mind pushed the thoughts and memories of their happiness, however limited, to the bottomless depths of his soul.
“Just go,” he said with the words of his heart. “It’s too late now.”
He slipped back under the covers, hearing only the click of the door as she left....
Reliving the scene was worse than experiencing it first-hand. He wanted to take red ink and scrawl it across the script of their words, their actions, removing the statements that had damned them both to Hades. It would be far easier to be a writer, to write out all the anger and hate and make it all go away with a crumpling of paper and a mind at rest.
He glanced at the telephone near his bed. She had insisted upon him getting it and now he wondered that, if he called, she could pick up and listen to his apology. Probably not. He would be lucky if she recognised his existence whenever he went to see James. If he ever went again. Would it be hard to change his mind, to tell James that he was not the best choice for Secret Keeper? He had betrayed his closest friend, the comrade who had stood beside him through thick and thin, through all the mistrust and danger, all the rumours and lies. What punishment could there be for such a person as he? The lowest of low, the scum of the earth.
If Voldemort himself strode through his door, he would offer himself up like a turkey on a platter without worry, without shame, without pain that someone would miss him, that someone would mourn his death, that someone would long to have him near. She would certainly not care, not after... not after what... those words... those terrible, terrible words. The words that he had never meant to say and the word he never said but had meant to say.
It was not “love”. He had passed that around like a bad flu, sharing it without knowing what it meant, what it stood for, all the things that made it into something real. He thought that he knew the tiniest scrap about love now, now that it was too late for it to mean anything.
No, love was a stupid word and it was not the word he needed to tell her most.
He turned over and threw the sheets back over his head. How much time passed, he didn’t care to measure, didn’t care to know. Time meant nothing now. A quick owl to James was his only task in the coming days. Summer had long faded into autumn and the phone rang and rang without being answered. It would not be the same without her on the other side of the line. Hell, it would not even be the same with her speaking to him through an impossibly long wire through which words could travel without looking into the person’s eyes and seeing the life, the emotion, behind them.
Someone was at the door, but Sirius had not gotten out of bed for days, maybe weeks? He didn’t know. The person kept on for too long before using force. The porter wouldn’t be too happy with a broken door in the hallway.
“Sirius! Gods, what’s wrong with you?”
Remus raced into the room, all his usual placidity gone.
“They’re dead! Haven’t you heard? Hades, Sirius, why haven’t you been answering the phone? She was so worried about you, and now... now....” He sat down on the corner of the bed, face drained of all colour.
And Sirius knew.
He had wallowed in self-pity, hating himself, hating her, hating everything, and now it was too late. There truly was nothing now, nothing but the emptiness that would eat at his mind, heart, and soul for the remainder of his life.
She had never heard him say that one, little word. The one word that was tossed around by some, carefully handled by others, and never spoken by the rest. The one word that meant everything and nothing, that was a lie and the truth, that was filled with all the love and hate that he felt for the pieces of a love that had died because he had never spoken it. And now she was dead.
He looked over at Remus, meeting his friend’s eyes with renewed strength, a strength that some would call madness.