Author: SullenSiren (adena(at)direcway(dot)com)
Summary: "He watched it bleed its color day by day and remembers that once, his world hadn't been so blank."
Pairing/Characters: Sirius, slight Remus/Sirius
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Suing would be pointless, as I've nothing to give but an overabundance of dogs and my collection of Tweety Bird dolls. So please don't. I like my Tweeties.
Feedback: Greatly adored.
Notes: This morphed from just a character study and some scattered thoughts to this. I'm not certain it works, but I am rather fond of bits of it. It is, however, unrelentingly depressing. I felt you should be warned. Thank you to musesfool for the beta!
"You know Atlanta
never looked the same
after she burned to the ground."
- Jeffrey Foucault, "Secretariat"
The first thing Azkaban's guards took was the bike. The soaring freedom of his motorbike as she drifted through low clouds, engine humming beneath him, vibrations flowing through his thighs and up his back to settle at his spine like a purr of sex and flight and abandon. Bodies warm and laughing behind him, long and lean or soft and rounded, hands around his waist. They'd helped him make her fly, his friends, and on her there was no catching him. The ground fell away with his family, with the war, with all the dark thoughts that cluttered his brain when his feet touched the earth.
They took it away and he remembered only that once, he'd had a motorbike, and it flew. It was grey toned and minor in his memory, the joy of it sucked away. Most days, he forgot he'd ever had it.
They took the house next. Bought and paid for, a million secrets hidden behind its walls, under its floors. It was *his* and it was *theirs* and it meant a home that wasn't a transient dorm, or Grimmauld Place, where his youth had been caged in between school terms that set him free. It wasn't a borrowed bed in James' house where some part of him always wondered if maybe today they would remember that he was a Black and close their doors with him outside.
It became just a place in his memory. A bed and walls and people who moved through it with steps that did and did not mirror his own. It was just a house. No different from any other, though grey and not the red hate color of Grimmauld Place, because the Dementors don't take your hatreds, they take your loves.
They took Peter next. Because Peter was tied up with hatreds and pain and betrayal, and it was easy to rip away the good and the friendship and the awkward way he'd rub his face when he was nervous. Peter, who'd stayed in the shadows but made them look brighter through the reflected light of his eyes. Who'd tried so hard to be what they were. Who'd always held a trace of the boy he'd been in the shape of the man he became.
He remembered betrayal now. He remembered a skulking rat that echoed their footsteps and stole their joy and took away all that they'd been. He saw cunning and treachery and felt hatred and violence when Peter's face rose to mind. He counted his fingers in the dark and laughed, because there'd been a finger left, and he'd never have believed Peter capable of destroying his own body to destroy Sirius.
They took Lily next. Stripped away the shine of her smile and the glow of warmth they'd had between them, at the end, when their truce had been set in place. Took away the way she'd laughed when he tried to make dinner, and the delight they'd shared when she let him put his hand on her stomach and feel it move. Took away the days he'd taught her to dance before her wedding and she'd teased him for the secrets he tucked away where she couldn't see.
She became just a girl he'd known who married James. Flashes of memory held colors of bright red and forest green, but they bled away with the Dementor chill and he could never put them back together again to form a picture of what he knew had been there, but couldn't remember.
Hogwarts was long and varied, secrets tracing through the synapses of his mind like the hidden passages they'd put on the map they made together. They bled it away moment by moment, step by step. Pranks in crowded classrooms and silent walks beneath a cloak too small to hide them all while Peter stifled giggles and Remus rolled his eyes. They went away, slowly, like the water that trickled down stone prison walls. Eroding in fine lines, as inevitable as time.
They couldn't take it all, but there are great spaces in memory where he remembers the movement of feet and arms to and from, and the dashing away, but the laughter and the smiles and the feeling of youth and invincibility is gone. There are grey spaces in the colored castle now, drabness amongst the splendor. He watched it bleed its color day by day and remembers that once, his world hadn't been so blank. The water dripped-dripped-dripped down the walls to puddle heavy and sluggish on the floor and each drop was a tick tock of the clock in his head, dripping his life away with the colors and the slowly diminishing stone.
Remus they picked away in pieces, bird beaks pecking into crevices in his grey and pulling out brown eyes and long scars and days of too much whiskey and too little sense. They took the nose bent in a book and the fall of hair in front of his eyes and the way he'd never been able to keep from laughing when Sirius did something ridiculous, no matter how mad he was. They took away moon-nights, when Padfoot threaded between Prongs' legs and crashed into Moony's sides before skittering away, joy in the bark and the beat of paws on damp ground.
He remembers suspicion now. Remembers watching for signs he'd found when they hadn't really been there. Remembers Moony-eyes watching him with the same expression. Remembers cold silences and awkward moments and locked doors that made scars. He remembers confessions and strain and that one day nothing fit together anymore, not as it should. He remembers everyday that Prongs is gone, that Wormtail betrayed them, and that Moony believed the lies, and left him here. He can't even hate him, because he would have done the same. To Moony, or to himself. (When Padfoot curls up away from the cold and hides his mind, he thinks that Prongs would have come for him. Sometimes he forgets that he can't, and when he remembers the sorrow hits anew, a fresh open wound because a dog's mind forgets easily, and that is the price of hiding as Padfoot.)
They are pulling away James when he escapes. Tendrils of cold seeping away to tug free his brother in all but blood. To take away that James had opened his door without question, when he’d had no other home. Pulling away long nights in too-hot rooms where they'd been side by side and spoken of nothing that meant everything because it was them saying it. Take away comfort when someone he hated to love died and Prongs stood next to him and knew not to speak, because he didn't have to.
They left the Dark Mark hovering sick and clear over Godric's Hollow, left the weight of guilt that said it was his fault. Left the hatred for himself, for his mistake, for a world that took away someone like James, who was better than he could ever be. But bits of brothers and love and silent adventures in the darkness were gone. Prongs was gone, and the memories of him were drifting out of reach. No one would remember.
When he first escaped, he sometimes wondered if that had really been the reason he'd done it. Because he couldn't bear the thought of James vanishing from his mind and turning grey, like the rest he knew had once been color-bright.
He was, he knew, somewhat mad now. Perhaps he'd always been. He'd never been as good as James and given a chance, he would have killed Wormtail in the Shrieking Shack. He would have shown no mercy and given him pain that went on for years. But Harry had his father's look and his mother's eyes and when he said no, Sirius remembered James' arms holding him back and a million muttered words in his ear that made him a better man than it was his right to be, and he listened.
The hippogriff's flight is choppy and uncertain, and there is a trace of fear in both of them. Sirius has never been afraid of anything – but he is afraid of the Dementors. Afraid of the cold walls of Azkaban and the promise that should he see either again, there will be a Kiss and an end and all the traces of lingering color will fade along with anything – good or bad – he might have ever been. He remembers that once he loved this, or something like it, but he forgets what it feels like to love anything that isn't dead, and he is only glad that the wind is not stopped by stone walls, and the cold comes from rain and air, and not Dementors. The sound of the breeze sounds nothing like the tick of time, but he hears it anyway, tick tock beneath his skin in time with his heart, separate but the same.
He hides as Padfoot because it is what he knows. Buckbeak wilts in the caves that deny him the sky, and he takes him out to fly, on the days when he remembers that he is Sirius, and not Padfoot, and that Sirius was not always a thing of shadows and hiding.
He hides the hippogriff in the most obvious place – among his own kind – where he'll not be found when he goes to find Remus. Buckbeak doesn't fit with his own kind anymore, the kinship faded, but he stays and waits for Sirius to come back.
Remus was waiting, and they both knew he would be. He lives in a cheap flat where the heat never works and the cold reminds Sirius of Azkaban. He wakes up shivering and waiting for another color to drip away, but finds only a lit fire battling the chill, and a threadbare extra blanket draped around him.
He does not sleep often anyway.
During the days he prowls the house, restless and strange. He is not used to talking anymore, and it comes hard and strange and too cold from his lips. He growls with Padfoot's voice, even when he has Sirius' body.
When he first sees a mirror he does not recognize the face that looks back at him. He is haggard and grey and broken, all hard thin planes of face and his eyes are the grey of the blank places in his mind. The grey of Azkaban. He thinks they weren't always grey, but he can't remember. He asks Remus, but the answer always slips away before he can remember it.
Remus shows him pictures, letters, keepsakes – stored memories of the life that Sirius had once had. He stares at the boy he was and in the mirror he tries to find some memory of the way he'd laughed in the face that looks back. In the blackened teeth and greasy hair. (Greasy. Snape Greasy. Traitor, hated. He remembers how to hate. It boils his blood and he throws his fist at walls that don't break the bone, as Azkaban's did, but dent and break instead. And Moony smiles without feeling it and says that there goes his security deposit, and Sirius remembers that there was a world that went on when he was in Azkaban.)
He calls Harry James, sometimes, and Remus corrects him with a sad tone that holds pity and regret. Sirius is cruel, because he remembers cruel, and knows that he always could be. He tells Remus that Prongs would have come for him, and looks at Moony with accusation. Because he'd left him there. When Remus looks away, Sirius says he's sorry, and he means it, because the trace of color in his head reminds him that he wasn't cruel *always* - he was sometimes kind - and he realizes he doesn't want to be now.
He forgets what he's told, from day to day, and the news they hear tangles with the news he remembers and he rages too often and drinks too much, because hate is all he remembers how to feel most days, and drinking numbs the hate he feels bubbling up like acid to claim whatever is left of him.
He remembers that once Moony wanted him, because it wasn't a happy memory, and they left the ones that hurt. It hurt because it had torn apart and isolated and gone wrong. He asks Moony if he loved him, and then can't remember the answer he gives.
Dumbledore comes and he remembers that once, he would have done anything if Dumbledore asked, and he remembers that once, he thought Dumbledore knew everything. Twelve years in Azkaban and a rat who betrayed them all taught him otherwise. He remembers the house he thought he loved, but can't remember now through the grey, and the house he hates, and Dumbledore tells him only one is his now. He gives it to them, knowing it means he need live there, and feel the hate and the memory of his mother. He never saw her face in his when he was young. He sees it now. Ravaged. Hate filled.
He is a Black. Sirius Black. He chants his name in the dark when he doesn't sleep and Moony kneels beside him and says "Padfoot" and Sirius remembers that he was more than Sirius, and changes, curling around the too thin angles of Moony's body and letting him pet him until the grey takes on a hint of color and he remembers something he'd forgotten.
Grimmauld Place is what he remembers, and he hates it for that. They speak to him as if he isn't there, and the hate of the house bleeds into his voice, his body. He rages and yells and when Harry comes he expects, somehow, Harry to fix it, because James would have. He remembers that Harry isn't James and hates that he is disappointed. He would do anything for Harry, but he isn't his father, and Sirius *misses* his father.
He tries to tell Harry he's sorry, once, but Moony pulls him away because he is drunk, and because Harry wouldn't understand. He tells Sirius he has nothing to apologize for and Sirius laughs because Moony has always been a good liar, but he didn't even bother to try, then.
They come and go, the others, and he paces the bars of a cage no better than the last he'd been in, save that there are no Dementors. He sleeps in his mother's old room with Buckbeak – some spiteful part of him taking grim joy in the knowledge that his mother would have hated both of the animals that dared invade her room - and at night he shreds things that were once his mother's and burns them on a fire so bright it scars the rug in front of it. When Kreacher skulks in, wringing his thin hands and hissing of the blood traitor who burns his mistresses' fine things, Sirius hisses at him and flings something burning at him until he pops away. He hates himself as much as the house for doing it, but James is not there to stop him, and Sirius cannot stop himself. Remus puts fireproof charms around the room and thinks he doesn't notice.
They debate giving him a wand in quiet voices they assume he can't hear. The word "mad" flits about unsaid between the quiet phrases. Moony argues on his behalf, but Sirius can hear the word between his sentences too, hovering unsaid. He is shuffled and sheltered like the children, but distrusted far more. When Remus finally hands him one it feels wrong in his hands, and he wonders if maybe they were right, and maybe the mad Black shouldn't have a weapon. Mad, mad, mad Mister Black. Family inheritance harder to get rid of than this tomb of a house.
He can feel the clock ticking beneath his skin as he rots in Grimmauld Place. The others wander in and out and he hears the ticking clock. Ticktockticktock. Molly harps and glares at him and sometimes he lets it slip. "Tick Tock, Tick Tock." She doesn't understand, just looks at him with the mix of disgust and pity he sees so often on her face and bustles away.
He tells Moony tick tock and Moony smiles sadly and Sirius thinks maybe it's beneath his skin too. The tick tock change of the clock. The beating of time. The inevitable "over" that yawns in front of him like a grey chasm. He thinks maybe once he thought he would never die. Now he ticks and he tocks and he knows that the seconds are measured and he can't remember whether or not he should mind.
Moony comes and goes and the door shuts behind him and Sirius stays and hates it. When Remus returns, he weathers the storm of hate with a tired placidity that grates on Sirius' nerves. He remembers when he could make Remus angry. They didn't take that away because he'd never liked to see Remus upset, so they let him remember it.
Remus smells of wet streets and cigarette smoke one night when he returns and Sirius corners him against the stairs and kisses him. The colors turn vague and strange and Remus pulls away, something that might be surprise and might be disgust in his eyes. Sirius catches sight of his reflection in a picture frame over Moony's shoulder and remembers that he is unbeautiful now, and that Moony wanted someone he didn't remember ever really being.
Moony tries to explain but Sirius pulls away, hate bubbling up and laughs with a voice he hates knowing is his own. "Tick tock, Moony. Passing the time." He sits beside his mother's covered portrait and whispers threats to a dead woman as Remus troops tiredly upstairs. He uses the wand that isn't his to set the cover on fire and watches Kreacher put it out, shoulders shaking with laughter.
He is not stupid, but he feels it sometimes. He cannot keep the threads of his life separate. They knot together in a mass of color-tinged grey and when he unravels it, it twines around him until he is lost. He cannot get used to his own face, to waking up in this house, to the sight of grey-haired Moony with his heavy walk and tired eyes. He cannot quite separate Harry from James, though he knows they are not the same. He loves them both, would do anything for them both. But one is beyond help and the other doesn't need a broken dog.
And then he does. Sirius can't quite focus on what's happening. The sudden rush of color in his head tells him is to go, to help, to be there. When he sees Bellatrix – as harsh and diminished as he is, the shadow of Azkaban over her heavy eyes, he grins at her. "Tick tock, Bella." She smiles back and there's no beauty left in her, either. She understands. She is the red of hate and the grey of Azkaban, and he hates her, even as she gets the better of him.
The surprise of the fall is a flash of color in his grey. He hasn't been surprised, not for a long time. He sees Moony's face as he falls, sees Harry's that is like James, panic in his expression. He wants to tell him it's alright, but the veil flutters his voice away, and he falls.
Falling is like flying. He remembers, now, as he falls, that once he loved to fly. He remembers flying. He remembers the colors of flight, until the tick tock beneath his skin stops, and all is still.
This was one of the backlog of stories from Boston, which I have yet to make a dent in. I swear they're not all this depressing!
In other news, I saw the trailer for Brokeback Mountain. Good God I want to see this movie! Pretty gay cowboys. Pretty gay boys on horses. It might well be Utopia. And if you Firefly people haven't looked around at Session 416 then you should. It's very interesting, and that first clip is heartbreaking.