Chapter 34 : The Lesser of Two Evils
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I hope everyone enjoys this chapter! One more to come.
My recovery at St. Mungo's was an uneventful one. Although after everything that had happened, I didn't feel like complaining much. I was fine with relaxing in the hospital bed, listening to the Weasleys and Potter share stories and fill my ward with laughter. There was always someone visiting me, and this made me happy. While my ward was filled with true sounds of laughter and happy words, I could tell there was something beneath all the happiness. While the happiness was genuine, it performed as a mask as well, a mask for their pity.
They pitied me. They try to pretend like I don't notice, but I do. I notice when they watch me try to move, watch me try to adjust my life to my new circumstance: my inability to move my right arm. The healers are hopeful, but still there is nothing.
I've learned to cope. Whether or not I regain the mobility in my right arm, it doesn't matter. I can cope, and it's not what's important. What's important is that Rose is always by my side, holding my left hand and squeezing it. She never lets go. Even when everyone thinks I'm asleep; her hand is still there, holding mine, stroking mine, kissing mine. At least, this is what I tell myself is important, and I'm able to agree until it comes time for me to do other things such as button my pants. I still can't manage that with the one hand. Then I'm just plain angry.
Rose and I haven't had the opportunity to talk much about the aspect of us. Every time we try, someone else barges in. We've shared perhaps a few kisses since my awakening in the hospital, but nothing more.
I am continuing to take a few elixirs, but my day of release has finally come after being in St. Mungo's for a week. My healer helped me sign my sloppy signature - I guess I'm a lefty now, huh? - as I was discharged, and she gave me my final instructions on taking my elixir to help my arm repair the nerves. She left my ward and I was left to my own devices. I used the shower in my bathroom and began to dress myself.
My arm still hung like a limp rag doll by my side. I was able to step into my boxers and inch them up my legs until they sat snugly against my hips. Then I did the same with my jeans. I managed to get both feet through the legs and then pull them up to my waist, but then I fumbled hopelessly with both flaps of the denim as I tried to button them.
I growled and pressed one flap into my abdomen as I fumbled with the button with my fingers, but it was no use. I let out a groan of frustration and resulted in hopelessly holding up my jeans with my left hand.
I hated this. I hated being unable to use my right arm. I felt incompetent and pathetic, and I needed to be able to do this myself.
Sucking in a growl of frustration, I attempted to button my jeans once again. After minutes of trial and error in all sorts of methods, I heard the door to my ward open and knew someone was in my room. Seeing the emptiness of it, the visitor made themselves known. "Teddy? You in there?"
Ugh. As much as I wanted to see Rose, I didn't want her to see me like this: incompetent and useless. It was degrading.
In agitation, I called to her from the bathroom. "Yeah, I'm in here."
She could sense my irritation. Oh, it was a reassuring moment, and I knew that she truly loved me. She knew me like a book from front to back.
"Fine, Rose," I said under my breath.
Fuck, it's like she's a mind reader.
"No, I've got it just - "
But she didn't listen. Of course she didn't listen. The door to my bathroom swung open, and I paused what I was doing. I looked to her from having my waist pressed against the counter with my left hand still desperately attempting to button my jeans. My head shot to her, my body still with my crotch pressed against the cold marble counter.
She took one second to analyze my stance, and then she just giggled and shook her head. Discreetly, she shut the bathroom door and sauntered towards me. I remained still until she snaked her arms around my waist and turned me to face her.
"Let me help," she said quietly and with a grin.
"I don't want help," I said in a throaty voice. "I'm putting on a pair of jeans, for Merlin's sake! I should be able to do it myself."
"Teddy," she said quietly, but it was still in that voice of hers I knew so well for her to be scolding me, "it's okay to accept help."
"Not when I'm simply trying to dress myself!" I snarled, a tad too harsh. I didn't mean to be short or rude. I was just frustrated.
I'm twenty-seven! I can dress myself! It's a daily action that we all have to do, and I can't even do that!
She placed her hand on my chest to silence me. Her warm palm spread out along my flesh, and her fingers crawled over my skin. It came to rest over my heart, and she patted it delicately. In a matter of seconds, she calmed me with just her touch. My breathing returned to normal, and I was able to be still as I watched her move.
"You have basically been paralyzed in your right arm, Teddy. It's going to be awhile before you can use it normally again. You - "
"Exacly!" I blurted out. "This is why I should learn to do it myself! I'm just angry I can't button my fucking pants!"
"Shh," she soothed.
I remained still, just watching her hand as it moved down my stomach. My words were true; I did want to do it myself, but even as I remained a firm believer in this philosophy, I watched Rose's hand get closer to the button on my jeans. Finally I moved my hand without hesitation when she gripped either flap and delicately buttoned them up, tugging up the zipper.
I said nothing. I only remained still and let Rose help me. I watched her grab my belt from the counter and begin to thread it through the loops of my jeans, and she buckled it snuggly.
"Thanks," I finally muttered to her. I pulled my head downward and buried my nose into her hair briefly as she moved past me, inhaling deeply.
Her smile was wide. She was enjoying herself, and I could tell she had some secret thought that even I couldn't decipher. I ignored it as her expression change. Her smirk faded and was replaced by something else, something much more desolate. What was that? Guilt? Her eyes grew sad, and I followed her eyes to discover the source of her sorrow. Her eyes were resting on my arm socket, and I then knew why she grew sad. She stared at my scars, the jagged crosshatch work of the healers to save my arm.
I pursed my lips. Being treated differently due to my condition now was something I was beginning to grow accustomed to. I was getting used to the stares, to the persistent questions on my well-being, but something I had not gotten used to was the sad looks. The looks of pity or guilt. My state wasn't anyone's fault but Peakes' and my own. I did this to myself; why couldn't anyone else see that? Why did everyone have to feel so guilty about what had happened to me? I didn't want anyone to feel this way.
Her fingers moved from my belt buckle up my stomach, across my chest, and to the long line of pink scars. She delicately touched the line of them that circled around my arm socket. At her first touch, she looked to me to see if I felt any pain upon her touch. When I didn't react, she continued. Her fingers traced over the scars that led around the socket, along my neck line to my collar bone, to my back, around to my shoulder blade, and then down the entire length of my arm down into the back of my hand. I stared at the scars she was suddenly so fascinated in; I looked like a patchwork quilt, to be honest. Like bits of skin had been slapped in place and then sewn there again.
I guess I should get used to having my right arm look like a prop from a muggle horror movie, I suppose. I had already been told that while I will eventually regain the mobility in my arm, the scars will never fully fade.
But that's okay. If the Healers had taken any longer than they did, I would have lost my right arm completely. I didn't mind it now; this was the lesser of two evils.
It was chilling. To watch her fingers move across my flesh and to not feel a thing. This was the only thing I hated; I hated not being able to feel her touch. I watched her fingers move along the scars. Finally, when she reached the back of my hand where they finally came to an end, she drew my hand to her lips and kissed the scars. "I'm so sorry," she cried against my hand.
"Don't apologize," I breathed. "You know I would do anything for you."
"Yes, but Ted - "
"But nothing," I said again.
She pulled her face away from my hand, and kindly she placed my limp arm back by my side. With my left hand, I stroked her cheek and brought her gaze to mine. "Now, stop this. Let me see that smile of yours again.
And she did. It returned in an instant, and she was putting it behind her. She moved to pick up my t-shirt.
"Bend over and let your arms hang down," she instructed.
I was grinning now. I ignored my stubborn feeling to be able to dress myself and let Rose do it, for she was certainly loving the moment for whatever reason. I did as she demanded. My right arm was already limp by my side, but I dropped my left and bent over so both of my arms hung to floor. I could hear her shuffling around as I stared at the tops of my bare feet, and finally I felt her slip my hands through the arm holes of the shirt. She cleverly threaded the fabric up my arms, opening for me to slip my head through.
Once my head peaked through the top, rustling my hair, I stood up straight as she tugged it down the remainder of my torso. Then she was just standing before me, gazing into my eyes with her hands planted on my hips. I was aware of her firm grasp loosening into a loving caress. She rubbed my hips, her fingers toying along the line where the rim of my jeans and my t-shirt met. Delicately a few fingers even slipped under the cotton of my shirt and moved gracefully along my skin. I gave a shiver, at loss for words and unknowing of Rose's intentions.
Thankfully, she was the first to speak. Her eyes moved to my immobile arm once again, and I groaned.
"I'm so sorry, Ted," she breathed. "About your arm. It...It wouldn't have happened if not for me. I - "
"Rose, stop it," I said immediately. My fingers flew to her lips where I gently pressed them against the soft skin there. She breathed against my fingers, and as I intended, she silenced. Knowing I wouldn't let her go on about it anymore, she only pressed a kiss to my fingers. "You know I would do anything for you. Anything. I would have killed Peakes in that courtroom right there for you, I would take the Killing Curse for you, I would have taken your place in Azkaban for you. Rose, anything. Out of all the things I would do for you, I only got an arm that is temporarily paralyzed. There are worse things. Things like losing you."
Tears filled her eyes. I know they were at my words and they were happy tears, but I didn't want to make her cry. My strong Rose, one I would have always thought to never shed tears of happiness, was crying. Oh, how we had both changed over this past year. When one escaped the corner of her eye, I moved to kiss it from her cheek. But before I could place my lips there, she rose onto her tiptoes and turned her head. Suddenly she was pushing her lips against mine, and her hands were knotting themselves in my hair.
I was taken aback, but it was a wonderful sensation. I stumbled back with the force of her kiss, and my one working arm wrapped around her and pulled her close.
Kissing because we love each other. Kissing because we want to. Kissing with no lies and only the truth to be shared between us. This was what I wanted all along. This was what I had envisioned. This was the way it was meant to be, and it felt so right.
I melted against her, and we moved with perfect rhythm, bending as one breathed and holding on to the other as we exhaled. We meshed perfectly, and suddenly tears were in my eyes as well.
I had gone through so much. I couldn't believe how this had all begun. It began with a lie. And a huge one at that. Then it had moved to friendship, to infatuation, to love. Then to betrayal and heartbreak, to loneliness. To despair, rejection, and more heartbreak. And now? Now all was forgiven, now Rose understood me, now there was nothing but an understanding of everything we had done together and it was all pardoned, for none of it mattered now because we had one another.
I was quickly embarrassed in front of Rose for my second reason that day. Strange how I had never been embarrassed about anything in front of her, and in one day, there had been two instances. I normally don't care when others see me cry; I don't care if there are rules about men crying. Everyone cries, even if it is only internally for some, but everyone cries, and why should we have to hide it? It's okay for everyone to have weaker moments than others, to break down and just let it all go. Hell, I had broken down and had plenty of those moments in the recent past, but now...? Now I was shedding happy tears, and I didn't want Rose to know it.
But she knew already. We finally broke our kiss, and she made a gasp of surprise as she felt my tears dampen her cheeks. She kissed them away like I had tried to do to hers. I lowered my face to hers, allowing her kisses to shower over me, and I moaned happily as she did so. "Don't you see now how much I love you? I always have, and I always will. Rosie, I love you. I'm him, I promise. That man at the summer house; I'm him, I swear to you."
"Oh, I know you are," she gasped. "I know you are. I see that now, and I was stupid to not see it for so long. I'm sorry it took such drastic measures for me to realize it, but I've loved you all along. Of course I have."
Those words. Rose loves me! Me. Not Scorpius Malfoy me, but Ted Lupin me. Oh, the words were heaven to my ears.
Our lips were all over each other. Hers moved across my cheeks, over my eyelids, to my forehead, to my throat, and back to my lips. Mine were just as busy on her.
"It was just my job, Rose," I kept on ranting. "It was just my job, and I wanted to keep you safe. I had to be on the inside. I never meant to hurt you."
"I know, I know," she cried as I kissed her throat. "I do. I'm so sorry."
We both seemed to be ranting. "I love you," I said quickly.
"I love you too. Did you not hear me in the Wizengamot? When I was holding you?" she asked.
I was reminded of that painful day in the courtroom when I was lying in a pool of my own blood. I remembered not taking in anything except Rose's arms around me and her beautiful face. I shook my head.
She grasped my face and looked me sternly in the eyes. "I was telling you how much I love you. How much I need you. How sorry I am. And then your eyes closed and I thought...I thought I was too late! I thought you had died, and that killed me. I felt my heart go with you, and then I knew it belonged to you long before that. I love you so much, Teddy."
I love you so much, Teddy.
Her love and my name. The perfect combination.
I only breathed out a heavy sigh and pressed my forehead to hers. "You have no idea how long I have waited to hear you say that."
"I'm sure it's felt like a lifetime to you, and I'm so sorry," she moaned. Her tears were now those of pain. "Oh, Teddy, I'm sorry. I can't believe how stupid I was."
"There's no need to apologize," I cut her off before she could rant again. I kissed her delicately before stroking her cheek with my one mobile hand, and I looked to her lovingly. I spoke to her like we would be together forever, like she had no intention of ever leaving me - which she better not. "It's in the past. Now we have each other, and that's all I care about. I am going to take care of you, always. I am going to love you forever."
She molded against me, the clay, and I could feel her tears dampen my shirt.
"I did nothing to deserve you," she muttered into my chest.
"It doesn't matter what you did. It's who you are," I whispered.
She pulled away with a bright smile and knew there was nothing more to say. She rose onto her tiptoes, and while I couldn't feel her touch, I saw her stroke my immobile arm. Being unable to feel her touch sent a temporary panic through me, but her gentle stroking moved from my right arm to my neck, and I breathed a sigh of release when I could feel her touch again. Her fingers dove into my hair, and she pulled my head to hers and kissed me lovingly.
My words were true. I didn't care about what she had done; none of that mattered. It didn't matter to me how she had planted Scorpius Malfoy's hair at the scene of a murder, had tried to kill a man herself. It didn't matter; none of it did. Not now.
Nothing mattered, really. We had been through enough for these things to matter. My arm, what she had done; all of it. I would rather take my paralyzed arm than be dead. We still had a lot of shit wrong with us; looking at us as a pair, we were a pretty messed up lot, but it all really is the lesser of two evils. At least we're together.
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