I promise this will be really very short -- three chapters or so. Much simpler than anything I've embarked on recently.
Thank you to Annie, Gina, Ash, Rachel, Helena, Jordan, Mary, and everyone else who helped in the development of this.
Thank you all very much.
P. S. According to myth, Dido founded the ancient city of Carthage.
Quiet did not mean that she couldn’t hear him.
He was there.
He was watching her.
She let him.
“I never liked you,” he said from behind her.
She resisted the urge to turn around. She was better than that. There were dying embers in the grate to attract her attention. “You never had to.”
“But I did.” He sounded louder. Not because of volume, but because of proximity. “Your name was constantly on his lips. Your face was behind his eyes. I had no choice but to like you.”
“But you just said you never liked me. That’s a choice, isn’t it?” she asked. “Isn’t disliking someone a choice?”
There was a displacement of air from when he shook his head. She didn’t see it, but she heard. “Not always. I didn’t have a choice. I just never liked you.”
“I don’t think I understand.”
“I don’t expect you to.”
“Then why tell me?”
“Because I want to.”
“No, you don’t. You want to see what I’ll do in response.”
“I can’t see you.”
She turned around.
“Show me something, Lily.”
She would not smile. She was better than that.
Her face was composed.
“I never liked you, either,” she lied.
“So we’re on the same page.”
She watched him go.
He let her.
James ignored that his best friend watched her.
But he saw it.
“We need to get you settled down.”
Sirius grimaced. “Old people settle down. I’m not old.”
James rolled his eyes. “Clearly. But you’re not going to let your youth go by without one meaningful relationship, are you?”
“Our relationship is one of many meaningful ones I have had in this time of youth.”
“Many?” James could count them on one hand.
“Meaning is overrated,” the other said. “Meaning implies there’s something deeper to a person.”
“And you don’t care enough to go under the surface.”
He paused, then said, “You know me very well.”
Sirius knew exactly how well.
“So besides me, Remus, and Peter, you’ve never cared much about anyone?”
“That’s not true,” he murmured. “I’ve cared about people. I’ve tried to understand them.”
“And then? You couldn’t? Or they didn’t understand you?”
Sirius shrugged. “It depended on the person in question.”
He couldn’t help himself. Her name was on his lips before he knew what he was saying. “There’s Lily. I try to understand her for your sake.”
“Try?” James asked, amused. Perhaps upset. Probably not upset. But… at the very least, he was amused. He recognized that. “You failed?”
“Trying. I’m still trying. But you know what I think of her, James.”
Ignoring the looks was easier than seeing them.
James hadn’t spoken to her in days.
She missed his voice in her ear. She liked the way he said her name.
She liked meaning something to someone. She liked knowing what she meant to someone. Sirius never told her what she was, and she felt like he never would.
“Do you still not like me?” she asked him.
He looked at her from across the table, not to watch her but to see her. There was a difference. She felt it. “I’ve never liked you.”
“Could that change?”
“I doubt it.”
“Could I change?” she asked. Out of pure curiosity. She wanted to know what he would say. “Could I do something to change that?”
“You can try if you want,” he said.
So he didn’t believe in her.
Of course he didn’t.
He didn’t want to see her. He only wanted to watch. From the shadows, the beyond. He liked watching her because it brought the sun to his netherworld.
She liked showing it to him.
“What if I don’t want to?”
“Then don’t. I’m not asking you to change just so I could like you.”
“You like not liking me?”
His grimace was wry, his eyes quiet. “It’s a comfortable pattern of behavior.”
Hers was bright. It was perhaps drier than usual, but it was bright. She knew he liked that. “You never struck me as the type who falls regularly into a comfortable pattern of behavior.”
“I can see the appeal in it.”
“You don’t want to challenge that pattern?”
“You do?” There was disbelief in his tone.
“I don’t like being disliked.” There was sincerity in hers. But sincerity was not always disingenuous. She had an agenda.
“But you don’t want me to.”
“Lily, you’re spinning me in circles. I have no idea what you want.”
“That makes two of us.”
He patted her hand. He was warm and she was cold, and they shivered at the touch. “When you’ve decided what you want, let me know, yeah? This moral vacuum needs to be filled.”
She felt brighter when he withdrew his hand and withdrew back into himself. Brighter and warmer. “A moral vacuum would by definition attract morality. It would suck us dry of it.”
He stood up. Looked down at her. But she was looking at him, not his face or his eyes or his mouth, and he said, “So do we personify immorality?”
She stood as well. She couldn’t match him in height but there was something in the way she held herself that seemed to indicate to him power. Not fragile power, like his own. Something bigger, stronger, brighter.
“No, not immorality. Amorality.”
“I like that better.”
“So do I.”
What was the difference between immorality and amorality?
Lily had never struck him as one with an explicit moral code. She didn’t live by rules. She made some, enforced some more; however, she didn’t especially play by them. But he wanted her to have one.
He wanted her to break it.
Not necessarily for him.
But he wanted her to make one and then break it. He wanted the satisfaction of knowing that she had done it.
He still didn’t know if she had made one, but she was certainly breaking some rule. Of decorum, propriety, something. He’d done it already. Not for her, but he’d done it. So it wasn’t too much to ask, was it?
“He isn’t here, is he?”
It didn’t sicken him to know that she missed her partner. That was natural.
It disappointed him.
“Some Quidditch emergency,” Sirius intoned. “I think Cooper’s on Skele-Gro for the next day or so.”
She didn’t know who Cooper was. She didn’t care about what had happened to him.
“So he’s in the infirmary?”
“I should think so.”
She collapsed next to him.
As always, he let her.
“Is he avoiding me, Sirius?”
She felt awfully coy asking, but the words slipped from her tongue before she could take them back. “Do you know why he’s avoiding me?”
She cocked her head to the side, intrigued by the monosyllabic answers. She didn’t like them. She was used to hearing more from him. She didn’t want to hear more, but she was used to it.
“Feel like sharing?”
“Not particularly, no.” He grimaced again. She was used to that as well. She couldn’t remember him smiling. Certainly not at her. How could he if he had never liked her? “You should know why.”
Oh, she did. “I wanted to confirm my suspicions.”
“And have you?”
She crawled on top of him.
He found himself embracing her before he knew what he had done.
“How about now?”
She shook her head.
He kissed her forehead. It was a chaste move, but he did not want to go further. He couldn’t. He wanted her to know that.
“You told me to let you know when I figured out what I want.”
His chuckle was hollow, as was his heart. He didn’t have anything to give her. “What, not who.”
“I want you to show me something, Sirius.”
His smile was as shallow as the desire in his eyes. He wondered if she could tell, wrapped in his arms as she was. “What did you have in mind?”
Her smile was mischievous. Her attitude was as reckless as he was reputed to be. There was an element of detachment in her expression even as her eyes bored into his, as if she didn’t know what was happening and didn’t care.
He knew she did.
She knew he would.
It should have stopped there.