ONE MOMENT IN TIME
There was a knock at the door.
It jolted Sirius Black out of his brooding, pounding and echoing in his head in a disconsolate sort of way even he would not have predicted. He thought he was past all that. He thought he was becoming sane again, or at least something closer to sane. The anxiety just would not end, he thought bitterly. Nothing was ever going to be right again.
"Go away, Remus," he said, hoping the snarl was not too evident in his voice. Hoping the dog- like creature that resided within him was not too close to taking over.
The door opened, slowly, tentatively. Sirius was surprised that he had forgotten to lock it. Buckbeak, who had been sleeping in the corner of the room, raised his head and fixed his fierce, orange eyes on the intruder.
"Please, Remus, I…" Sirius stopped, mid sentence.
It wasn’t Remus. It was Eve. Oh god. What was she doing here? He had thought he had heard voices downstairs, and had assumed it was just the usual members of the Order worrying about the usual Order business, forgetting that she might be among them. He had been startled to see her here, in his house, a few weeks ago, after all these years. It seemed she was involved with the Order now although he didn’t know exactly what role she played. He had long since stopped attending meetings. He just did not have any energy for the uselessness of it all. And, unable to muster any bit of humanity from inside, any decency, any feeling at all, he stayed locked away in his room as usual. Or at least he had thought he was locked away.
She opened her mouth, but did not speak for a moment, as if unsure how to decipher the scene in front of her. "Sirius?"
He looked at her, expecting pity, or timidity, or disgust. He was so far removed from the man he had once been… He couldn’t even recall who that was. The person Eve had known so many years ago.
She recovered quite quickly from whatever shock she had experienced upon opening the door. "Am I disturbing you?"
He didn’t even have the energy to come up with an answer. He just smiled thinly at the absurdity of finding himself in such a situation, and lowered his eyes.
Eve scanned the room, taking in the closed curtains, the darkness, and the reek that came from dead rats and a pent-up hippogriff. The place he went when trying to regain his sanity. His mother’s old room, for god’s sake.
She stepped in, leaving the door open.
"Sirius, this is no good." She spoke firmly, completely in control. She must be here to mother him.
He didn’t reply.
"Come on, I’ve drawn a hot bath for you. You’ll feel better."
He didn’t move. He didn’t react. He was unable to dredge up any emotion at all.
"Please," she said, gently this time. She glanced at the hippogriff that continued to stare unblinkingly, then slowly moved closer. "What are you doing, Sirius?" She spoke softly now, with a touch of pleading in her voice. "This isn’t like you."
"You don’t know me!" he spat. Buckbeak ruffled his feathers at the tone of voice. Sirius was surprised by the anger suddenly surging through his veins. He didn’t care that he had shouted. How dare she come up here, how dare she assume that she was welcome here. In his refuge. "We hardly knew each other before," he said savagely. "Nothing is the same as it was! Nothing."
She didn’t flinch, but turned and moved toward the curtains as if to open them.
"Leave it alone, please, Eve," he said, this time without feeling. He was already spent. Nothing really mattered, anyway.
She stopped where she was, leaving them enveloped in gloom. Perhaps she had decided it was best if she couldn’t see clearly. She turned to face him. "You can’t keep hiding from people who care for you."
He sighed. She really didn’t understand. Nobody understood. The hell he had been through, for so long. It seemed a dream – no, a nightmare. One long, unending nightmare. Even now, having supposedly escaped – well.
She started toward him cautiously. For some reason that he didn’t understand he remained passive as she approached. She reached out to him, where he was hunched on the floor, back against the wall, and took hold of his arms. She began to hoist him up. He miserably followed her lead, and stood. Following directions like a schoolboy. It was easier than shouting and certainly less effort than trying to reason with her.
"Come on, Sirius," she said, firmly again. She took his arm and led him from the filthy room to the bath. Buckbeak watched them attentively but made no move of protest. Sirius wondered fleetingly if even the hippogriff had turned traitor.
"Here we go," Eve said bracingly as they entered the bathroom. "A hot bath will help. At least it will help you look human again, and that can’t hurt."
He looked at her. Her eyes were smiling, but her expression couldn’t hide the truth. He really was less than human. He could clean up, put on a brave face and try to look human, but would he ever feel human, ever again? Twelve long years in Azkaban, soul sucking dementors staring him down every day of those twelve years… My god, it was a fitting sentence, really, for the crime he had committed…betraying his dearest friends…unwittingly, perhaps, but betrayal all the same. And now – well. Now he had proven he was unable even to keep his godson safe. An utter failure at the one bit of meaningful life left to him…. He had tried his best to put up a good front for Harry, but now that was over. What was left of Sirius’ ability to cope had gone right out the door with Harry when he’d left Twelve Grimmauld Place after Christmas. He could not pretend any longer. He had nothing left to pretend for.
Nothing would change with a damned bath!
She stepped closer to him. "Do you need help undressing?" Her eyes were dancing.
He shook his head. Be a good boy, Sirius. "No…no, it’s okay. I can manage." He forced a brief smile. Maybe she was right. Maybe he should just do as he was told. He took off his socks, then started to unbutton his shirt.
"Take a nice long soak and when you’re done, we’ll tackle that hair," Eve said with a critical look at him. "That will definitely help your mood." She turned, business-like, and left the room, closing the door after her.
He sighed. Tentatively, he put a foot into the water. Nice, hot water. Steaming, in fact. He finished undressing, then lowered himself fully into the bath. The heat was a shock against his cold body. Or was it his cold soul… His skin reacted to the temperature with a great shuddering reflex; there was an almost painful, burning sensation but at least it was something. He could still feel.
What is she doing here? Did Remus send her up to try to pull him from his funk? Or perhaps it was Molly. Why can’t they just leave me alone? Miserably, he sank further down in the bath and let his head drift under the water. Perhaps he would just end it all right now. Just stay under the water and surrender…finally give in to it all… The heat moved into the depths of his body. It was welcoming, so comforting, so calming. He was surprised at the sensation. And then the demand for oxygen began…gradually, steadily…and he knew he couldn’t fight it. Rising slowly to the surface, he reluctantly allowed air to fill his lungs. Still here, he thought dully. Defeated, yet again.
Emotion welled up inside and he felt the familiar hardening of his throat, his face and even his heart as his chest seized up. Lock it in, Sirius. Don’t be a bloody fool. But the warmth of the water had awakened his senses. He could no longer shut them out. He could no longer win the battle, could not even manage a struggle. The tears came, slowly at first. He let them come. Suddenly he found he could not stop. Sobs began to rack his body. He let them. He felt them. He gave in to the horrors and anguish that ruled his life, and just let it be.
Outside the door, Eve listened. She didn’t mean to, but she couldn’t stop, either. The emotion coming from the vibrant, devil-may-care man she had once known was nearly unbearable. Her knees buckled and she sank slowly to the floor, her head cradled in her hands, listening, against her will.
He sat on a chair, robed and comfortably warm from the bath. He felt somewhat better from the water, or perhaps from the purging of emotions. He had shaved, washed up and had even agreed to have his hair cut. Eve stood behind him, comb and scissors in hand. She ran her fingers through his long wet hair. She seemed determined, but he didn’t care, really. Why bother with cutting it? What was the point of staying well groomed? He had tried, briefly, after he had escaped from Azkaban and found Harry. He had tried to find an interest in his lost life, in trying to fit all the pieces together again. It had seemed possible at the time. But soon enough he had found himself removed from any semblance of humanity. Again. He had resorted to living in a cave and existing off rats in a fruitless attempt to protect Harry. Some protection I turned out to be. Absolutely powerless to keep him from Voldemort’s grip. He felt the shame, the helplessness, the inadequacy start creeping into his body. Again.
Eve’s hands were running through his hair, gently combing and straightening while she critically studied her efforts. Her hands distracted him. Hands on his head, fingers moving through his hair. The sensation was overpowering. How long had it been… how long since a woman’s hands had touched him? He closed his eyes, in spite of himself. He did not mean to give in, but the feeling was intoxicating… Why had he agreed to this anyway? Anger surged again, unexpected.
"Stop, Eve, it doesn’t matter! Let me up from here!"
She stepped back, startled. He expected her to look hurt. She merely looked perplexed as he wrenched himself away from her touch. His skin tingled where she had touched him. Damn it! Why is she here?
He stood, breathing heavily, staring at her. She said nothing, but waited, still holding the comb. He turned away. "Thank you for your help," he said gruffly. "I’ll dress and be down in a minute. Then perhaps you and whoever goaded you into ‘rescuing’ me will be happy."
"No," she said, firmly. "No, Sirius, you misunderstand me. I’m not here to make myself happy. But I do have a hard time watching you behave like a complete git—"
"Who asked you to come here?" he shot back. "I’m quite capable of taking care of myself, thanks. And I certainly don’t need a woman who hardly knows me to tell me what to do!"
She held his gaze steadily. "That’s not what you said to me before."
He sighed, and turned, his face drawn and weary. "The person you knew before no longer exists. That person died, was murdered actually, along with his best friends, and any hope of a free life. There’s nothing left of him." He stood, waiting for her to walk away. He wanted to strike out at her, anything to make her leave. And yet— his senses were confused. The feel of her hands on his skin…
"I don’t believe that, Sirius. I refuse to accept that."
"I don’t love you Eve. That, if nothing else, is certainly dead!"
She stood, staring at him. Not flinching. He couldn’t even seem to hurt her. She drew a deep breath.
"I’m not here because I have a school girl crush on the charming Sirius Black," she said evenly. "Those days are long gone for me too. You don’t think I’ve been living the life of a nun for the past fourteen years?"
"Why are you here?" He turned toward her with such sorrow, with such hopelessness that she seemed taken aback. He saw the doubt in her face. He was winning. Or was it winning, really? She sees the truth about me…
And then, surprisingly, she walked forward and gently put her arms around him. She held him tenderly, as a mother would hold a hurt and crying child. He stood, stiff and unyielding, as she attempted to comfort him. He was aware of her scent, felt her breath against his neck. Something deep within stirred, and he focused on attempting to master it. She was holding him—he tried to resist but the lure of her touch was dizzying…
He softened, and gave way, and let himself yield to the contours of her body. He seemed to belong there, as if time had not interrupted the feelings that had begun to stir between them, however briefly, so many years ago. He felt the tears welling up again, the emotion trying to burst through but he would not let himself cry in front of her…she could not see him like that. Beaten and brought to his knees by Azkaban perhaps, but not sobbing.
She melted into his body as he pressed into hers, and they clung to each other, both terrified of reality and of what life had dealt. She smoothed her hands over his damp, tangled curls of hair, and he shivered in response to her touch. God, he needed it. He needed human contact. All resistance was gone. His heart was beating hard against her, and he felt he would burst with its force. His hands were shaking. Was there some human feeling left? Could this feeling surging through him be real? Gently, she pulled away and looked into his eyes. He was afraid to return the look, afraid she would see the vacancy in his eyes, see that he really had lost his soul…turned into more of an animal than a man…
And yet as he dared to look, he saw something familiar there, something he had not remembered or even thought about for so many years… In truth, she had not been that important to him then. Sure, he had enjoyed her company, and yes, more than that. Perhaps he thought he had loved her. But he had been so young. The shock of the attack and the loss of James and Lily, the betrayal by Peter had been so strong that Eve had been wrenched instantly from his mind. He had not thought of her again until that day, in this house, several weeks ago…
"Why are you here?" he repeated, as his hands moved to touch her hair. Here he was in this woman’s arms…how or why he didn’t really know.
She paused, as if to consider her words carefully. "I came to help you through a difficult time. Just as a friend to an old friend."
He felt suddenly awkward. "Er…thanks," he mumbled. "I…feel a bit better." He stepped away, embarrassed. What had he been doing a moment ago? What had he been thinking? She couldn’t want this, with him. He was a convicted criminal on the run—not to mention a depressed, utter mess. For all he knew she was married…
She laughed and raised an eyebrow. "I was sure that for a moment you were feeling much better." There was mischief in her eyes. She never had been a shrinking violet, Sirius recalled. She had always been one step ahead of him even back then. He was confused. He knew he should walk away. Yet he ached to be touched, to be held again. Please don’t leave...
She placed her hands on each side of his face and drew him toward her again. Gently she kissed him. Sirius’ confusion intensified. Oh, he wanted it. But not as a charity case.
He reached for her hands and pulled them slowly away. "Eve, so much has changed…I’m not the man you knew. And you just said… you just said that you have…moved on."
She slipped her hands out of his and pulled him closer. "You taste like the same man," she whispered, her lips against his ear. He felt himself trembling as her breath brushed over him, trembling at the intensity of her voice. "You respond like the same man." Her lips moved slowly down his neck and then to his mouth. She kissed him again, long and lingering, inviting him to kiss back, to join her fully. Her hands worked their way under his robe, onto his bare back, his bare chest. He shuddered. How long had it been since he had been touched? She pulled back, gently, to look into his eyes, her hands still stroking his skin.
"Just let go, Sirius. You are the same man. Trust me."
Trust was not something he did well. The idea terrified him, in fact. The dog inside bristled…
And yet… You are the same man… He closed his eyes—and just for a moment—leaned his head back and let her touch him, let her kiss him, let her hold him. Her roaming hands stopped on his shoulders, pushing his robe away. He let out a long, slow breath, trying to gain control. But his senses were fully alive now, feeling, processing for the first time in months…or years… Please don’t leave…
You are the same man… He was conscious only of her hands on his skin, moving, touching… The longing for connection with another human overwhelmed him. Desire poured out of his soul; he could hold back no longer. His mouth gave in to hers, to her lips, to her tongue. He needed contact —he suddenly needed to be rid of what came between them with a feeling that bordered on desperation. He let the robe slide from his shoulders and began to frantically pull off her robes, the blouse underneath, her bra. Bare skin against bare skin. Oh, god. He was drowning in her touch, he was on fire…he couldn’t stop…he would not stop. He kissed her hungrily and moved with such intensity that he was sure she would be frightened. But she yielded to him, to his passion, to his emotions, to his need. Slowly, desperate not to lose contact, he lowered himself to the floor and she followed, willingly, her body in sync with his. He found himself covering her, consuming her, completely absorbing her. He felt madness overtaking him. Is this human? He wondered vaguely, or was his animal nature in control… again…
Yet it must have been human, because they moved together as one, joined in desire, in need, in grief. They held each other as if their very survival depended upon it—tightly, urgently, willing the world to be all right again and their innocence returned to them; struggling to loosen the grip of despair. The passion between them rose to a breaking point and as she moved with him she suddenly moaned, deep in pleasure. In the ecstasy of it so did he, and in that moment everything was changed. There was no sorrow in the world. There was only human contact, a reaching out to give solace to another. They found comfort in each other, in revisiting what they had had so many years ago. Sirius felt the blood flowing through his veins, throbbing in his ears. A sign of the living. It soothed him…completely different from the sound that had pounded ominously in his head when she had first entered into his solitude, perhaps not more than an hour or so earlier. He still did not know why she was there, but he clung to her gratefully, chest heaving, heart pounding. As they lay, spent, on the bathroom floor, stroking and holding each other, towels and robes scattered around them, Sirius felt his humanity fully. He was indeed a man. He was indeed alive.
If only for one moment in time.