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that’s the art of getting by

Chapter Text

I'm a bad liar
With a savior complex
All the skeletons you hide
Show me yours, and I'll show you mine

- Phoebe Bridgers, Savior Complex  

 

Remus wakes to the thick, metallic smell of blood. It slides slick and slowly from his body. Deep claw marks have wrenched his skin open. The edges flap bare in the cold air of the bunker. His arms are mangled and twisted around him. His legs gnawed to the bone. He can feel his belly exposed to the elements, the way his transformed insides twist and turn back into shape. His eyes are crusted shut with black blood. Every broken patch of him hurts. But he is alive. That is enough for now. He lets himself fall back into darkness. 

*

When he wakes again, his arms have snapped into place and the flesh on his body aches a raw pink new. Blood has congealed and the stitch of fresh skin already itches. He sits up. Inside, the wolf paces angry and fierce. It is not done with him yet. Where is pack, it asks over and over. Where is pack?

Pack is safe, Remus thinks angrily in return. Away from you. And the wolf howls because it can smell pack somewhere, close, why won’t you let me... And so Remus deliberately breaks a finger, the sharp sudden pain of it interrupting any thought. 

Young Remus would have quaked in the face of such an animalistic display. He had cried over every split lip. Queasied at the sight of blood. Frankly, he had been terrified of the monster inside him. But this Remus, who has killed before he could be killed, who has run under the moon, who has bitten, who has fought, who has fucked, who has forgotten... this one knows that the horror of the wolf and the man are the same. 

In fifth year, Sirius (pack pack pack, the wolf howls) led Snape into a dismal tunnel under Hogwarts and the wolf had chased the smell of meat. When Remus had woken in the Hospital Wing it had been with sick, blood and fear in his nostrils, desperation and blind hunger. 

And he had understood that he was no better than the wolf, because in him were the same dark, twisted parts that hated Snape with an equal fury. Who wanted him hurt for the torment he inflicted. Who wanted him scared. Perhaps Peter had been the only one to see the truth of the matter, that inside him was an animal to be used and so he had and it had worked

Now, he feels the wolf bite. Throw itself against his ribcage. Remus snarls in return. As long as he is more... more angry, more stubborn, more animal, more... then the wolf will settle until the moon sets it free once more. 

*

When the battle within him has raged its last, tired howl, Remus lets himself free. He crawls out of the trapdoor hidden in the thick of the forest and slumps onto the melted, snow-covered floor. 

For a moment, he rests. He watches the way the sun arches across the sky, it’s shy beams bounding through the treetops. Every day it rotates, endless and relentless in its mission to drive away darkness. If Remus dreads and fears the moon, then the sun is a welcome refuge that illuminates all the dark places inside him. Already he can feel how each golden spark licks across the new scars on his face. How they twist and curl, owned by the mark of the wolf. 

He could lay here forever, if he wanted. Let the forest floor cover his body, take it back home. Before, he used to. Would ache in silence as he looked at the sky for hours until some hidden urge forced him in search of water. Now he thinks, Harry. Harry. Merlin, beautiful Harry. It is the same moment he wrestles with every month. And every month it is the same answer. This time it is, Harry and Sirius. 

Slowly, he crawls back to the house. He leverages himself up to push against the front door until it creaks open with a long groan. His wand is on the hallway table next to neatly folded clothes. He picks it up and traces the worst of his injuries, muttering well-practiced spells. Just to close them. Just so he can stand. 

He puts his clothes back on. It feels like a mockery, to dress. To hide the animal with a big sweater and frayed trousers. As if he is human and soft. Now, now would be when he would usually apparate to the dark confines of a werewolf clan. And he’d let another animal take all the pretense away again. 

Instead, he hobbles to the fireplace and gingerly floos to the Weasley’s home. There, the fire crackles warm and inviting. He can hear children laughing. He can smell the faint spark of magic that lingers in the air, tea and scones in the oven. It is another world, another life.  

“Remus?” he hears. 

On the sofa are Sirius and Harry. Harry looks tired. So does Sirius. His face is drawn, pale. His hair hangs loosely around his shoulders. Their eyes reflect the flames back at him, and the tall shadow of man-Remus that has stepped into their lives once more.

He forces a smile onto his face. He knows his teeth are bloody. “See?” he says, splays his arms open wide as if to say, I’m totally fine. Blood trails towards the sleeves of his sweater, he can feel the rivulets curve and descend down his forearm. His face stings. 

Sirius does not look reassured. Instead, he is angry. “Yes, I see,” he says with gritted teeth. Harry looks between the two men, his chin wobbles. Sirius takes his hand.

“C’mon, let’s go play outside while Remus properly cleans up,” he says. They leave without a backward glance. Remus slumps. Too human, once more. Not human enough. 

*

Later that night, Harry dozes against Remus’s chest in front of the fire. His head is tucked under Remus’s chin, his socked feet pressed under his legs. Sleepily, the boy reaches up to trace the new scar that curls on Remus’s forehead. 

“Like mine,” Harry says. Remus smiles down at him. He runs his thumb along the lightning bolt scar. Harry closes his eyes and drifts into a sleep free from monsters that haunt those who know the world. 

“It’s not, you know,” Sirius says quietly from the doorway. His mouth is still stubborn and furious. His grey eyes burn. Remus has to look away. “His scar is born of sacrifice and hope and... and love. Yours are...”

“I know,” Remus says quietly. His are animal and hatred and fear. 

“Why won’t you let me... anyone...” Sirius begins.

Remus tiredly closes his eyes. He is young but his body is exhausted. Each bone is broken and cracked. Each piece of flesh stitched and replaced too many times. Is there any of the old Remus left? 

“Not tonight Sirius,” he says. “Not tonight.” 

*

And so it continues every month. Remus sends Sirius and Harry away. Sirius is angry. He bellows and argues and stomps and sulks. When that doesn’t work, he forces Padfoot onto him. Bounds and barks and curls up against Remus’s thigh late at night. A grim companion. A reminder. See, the dog’s eyes tell him imploringly. Pack. See. 

January turns to February turns to March. Harry flourishes under two pairs of watchful eyes. They teach him the curved shape of letters and all you can say with them, the sharp order of numbers and how they organise the world. At the Weasleys, he learns to share and play and imagine. Each week he bounces home with excited ramblings about all he has discovered. 

“He’s a nerd like you,” Sirius says with a smirk at the corner of his upturned mouth.

Remus runs his hand through Harry’s messy hair. “No. He’s like Lily.”

On Wednesdays they take him to a Muggle playgroup at the park. Sirius charms all the mothers whilst Remus hides behind a tree with a cigarette in his hand. He fools neither Sirius nor the women that surround him. Instead he lets the smoke twist in his mouth as he watches Harry learn how to curb the accidental magic that sparks out of him. As he watches Harry understand that his magic makes him no better or worse than any other child. 

Occasionally they go to the pub. Remus pretends not to notice how Sirius presses his leg against Remus’s in the booth. The arm slung around his shoulders. Or his hand on Remus’s thigh, tapping to get out and order another drink. When Gemma joins them, she raises an eyebrow as Sirius slinks towards the bar. 

“Are you...?” She asks. 

Remus shakes his head. He can feel every place Sirius pressed.

“Were you...?”

Remus grimaces and Gemma smirks slyly. It reminds him of friends at Hogwarts, the ones lost to war too early. Their names stacked on top of each other in his memories. They weren't wrong then and Gemma isn't now.

Because late at night, just the two of them, Remus dares to want. Sirius by firelight. Sirius reading to Harry. Sirius crying. Sirius laughing. He is just as loud and vibrant and angry in the rebuild of his life as he was in its destruction and Remus, Merlin, Remus loves... but he can't. He won't. That road is trampled and it hurts. 

*

Time marches on.

Remus celebrates his 25th birthday wrapped in a blanket on the sofa. He is surrounded by the Weasleys, Harry and Sirius. His bones thump and the moon tugs at him. Sirius sings happy birthday ridiculously out of tune until Molly slaps him on the arm and he settles back into his classically Pureblood vocals, a lovingly sarcastic twist to the tone. Remus blows out the candles on his birthday cake and tries not to notice how shallow his breath is. There is grey at his temples already. He aches. 

March to April. April to May.

Sirius continues to have nightmares. The new year has not robbed him of that. He wakes in cold sweats and paces around the room. Remus listens to each footstep until he cannot bear the pain of it anymore and creaks downstairs. 

“Tell me,” he says gently. He presses a cup of tea into Sirius’s shaking hands. He guides him to the kitchen table. Or when Sirius is furiously, justifiably angry he takes him outside so that he can scream without waking Harry. 

Sirius will talk or yell or both. About the dead blankness of James’s eyes. About Lily crumpled next to the crib and the tears and snot and blood that ran down baby Harry’s face. About Peter, who laughed even as he sliced his own finger to drop heavily on the floor, a gavel sentencing Sirius to Azkaban without trial. About the Dementors. The cold flagstones of Azkaban. The prisoners who raved. The ones who gloated. And the awful, slow suck of his memory, the selective misery of his existence on repeat. 

When it’s over and he has talked himself out for the night, Sirius will turn to Remus. Sometimes his eyes will be wet. Sometimes there will be dread. Most often they search for something Remus isn’t sure he can give. “Tell me,” he says. “Remus, tell me.”

And Remus will think blankly of the emptiness and the drugs he took and the bodies he let take him and the moon that ruled him. What excuse did he have? To be so empty without Dementors to take it from him. To be so angry without knowing true injustice. War made him who he was. The silent destruction that followed, well Remus has nobody to blame for that but himself. 

*

The next moon is too much. Instead of flooing to the Burrow, Remus sends a Patronus to Molly to tell them he has an errand and escapes to a werewolf hideout instead. He lets the drugs disappear him, the rolling of bodies, the teeth of sharp, sweaty animals. He lets a wolf with dark hair put his hands on him. 

“What do you want?” The wolf asks. His mouth scrapes against Remus’s neck. His eyes are grey and hungry. “C’mon, tell me.”

Remus flinches. He pushes back from the man and weaves his way through the crowd, where animals rut up against each other and blood has already spilled across the floor. Creatures roar. Remus feels it rise in his chest. He apparates home. 

Sirius is there. His head snaps up when Remus falls through the door. He watches Remus for a long time. The way he scrambles to get himself in some semblance of order. To hide the bruise on his neck and stem the flow of blood from scars that have torn open.

“Are you high?” Sirius asks incredulously. 

“I... I don’t...” There’s no excuse. Remus can barely hold a thought. He is lost and barren. He misses Sirius like he misses the bones in his body when they splinter and betray him. 

“Fucking hell, Moony. Fucking hell.” But his hands are gentle as he helps Remus up. And he’s steady as he leads him to bed. And his voice is soft as he traces his wand along the worst of Remus’s wounds. 

“I can’t do this for much longer,” Sirius says. His fingers brush through Remus’s grey hair. “You can’t do this for much longer. Something will break.” His eyes say, you will.

Remus grabs Sirius’s wrist. He digs his sharp fingers into the bone. Feels the pulse that hammers him home. Is reassured by it. Needs it. They look at each other for a very long time. 

“I still do,” Remus tries to confess, drugs twisting the dark, ugly words out of his mouth. The ones he hasn't been able to say, even to Harry. I still do love you, can’t you see this is for you? Can’t you see you deserve more than this? His throat is thick with unshed tears. “Even when I thought you were... when you’d... I couldn’t help but... Isn’t that fucked up... ” 

“Shhh,” Sirius says. “Okay? Tell me tomorrow. Tell me.” 

*

The next morning there is a letter tucked in with their Daily Prophet. Sirius shakes it loose as he takes a bite of his toast and tries to stop Harry from sloshing milk on the table. Remus surveys the scene before he carefully inches into the room. Harry says, Remy Remy watch this as the dragons in his cereal start to bellow marshmallow fire and Remus smooths a hand down the back of Harry’s head. Sirius gives him a small, tired smile. There’s a promise in his grey eyes. He looks back down at the letter.

Remus swallows. He can barely remember... just the way Sirius had rested his hand on his forehead. And the way his mouth had looked as he formed words. And his wrist in Remus’s hand. He hopes he didn't. He hopes he did... 

Instead Remus settles at the table and picks up the paper. He whips it open just as Sirius, low and angry, says fucking hell. All of a sudden, Remus can feel bile rise in the back of his mouth. Days, months, years-old sick. His body rattles empty. Harry says, Aunty Molly said that’s a bad word but Remus can barely hear it. 

He looks up at Sirius. Between them is their childhood, sunken and dark. The final broken piece flung free. Sirius’s grey eyes are so hard and unforgiving it hurts. Remus looks back down at the stark headline in black and white. He puts the paper down. Isn’t it awful that even after, after, Remus had forgotten him. Peter alone at the pub. Peter alone in a cell. 

Peter Pettigrew to receive the Kiss.