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Author's Note Eek, sorry for the delay! It turns out that moral ambiguity at this level is very difficult to write at speed. I know I said that this would probably be three chapters, but looking at where the end of the chapter leaves us, I can't say this is the end. I have no idea how much longer it will be, but hopefully it's all worth the wait.

Scipio Africanus was a Roman general, nicknamed "the Roman Hannibal."

-- scipio

Lily walked up to him and stole another kiss.

“Do you love me?” he asked her.

She closed her eyes. She pondered the question.

“I don’t think so,” she admitted.

He bowed his head. He had expected this.

It didn’t disappoint him.

“Do you want me to?” she asked.

Sirius shook his head. “I was just curious.”

“You weren’t being serious?”

There was an easy joke here that he didn’t want to make. “I wanted to know, Lily, that’s all.”

She kissed him again, celebrated the push back. “Was I giving off the impression that I loved you?”

He took her in his arms, the same way he had that day–he wasn’t sure which in particular, but he was sure there had been a day when he held her that way–and kissed her. Once on her left eye, once on her left cheek, three times along her jaw, and then once on her lips. “I wanted to know, Lily,” he repeated as earnestly as he could fake. “I wanted to know what I am to you.”

This statement puzzled her.

“Do you know?”

“I never know,” she said brightly. “I want you, Sirius. Isn’t that enough?”

He ran his fingers through her hair. “It’s never enough.”

She laughed, a lilting sound.

It sickened him.

She didn’t like the idea of him thinking. That wasn’t what he was for. He was supposed to be shallow entertainment, hollow desire. She was supposed to take her fill of him and move on.

But there was a problem with hollow desire.

It could never be slaked.

“Sirius,” she said, bare in his arms, “how can I make you happy?”

“I didn’t think you cared about that.”

“I don’t want you to be unhappy.”

“Happiness in general is… overrated.”

She didn’t think so. “So if it came along, you’d ignore it.”

“Depends on what form.”

“Another girl, for instance.”

His lips scraped her shoulder. “I thought you didn’t love me.”

“I don’t have to love you to want to make you happy. Or to be happy myself.”

He rolled on his back and stared up, almost dead-eyed but for the enigma she thought engulfed him. “It all boils down to desire.”

She knew that. It was why she pursued him in the first place. The fascination of someone alien to her, who never liked her, who she knew was attracted to her. It was all a study.

It had nothing to do with anything deeper than attraction.

But now she feared that she wanted it to be.

“What about desire does it boil down to?”

He sighed. “Like you said. You want me. I want you. I don’t need to be happy, and I don’t need you to try to do that.”

“What if I want to?”

“We’ve talked about this, Lily.”

“What if I want to, Sirius?”

“I don’t see the point.”

“Why not?”

“It won’t work.”

“Do you want me to fail?”

“I want you here. Nowhere else.”

“Where else could I go?”

There were many possible answers to that question.

Sirius thought about them. So did Lily.

Then he embraced her. And kissed her bare shoulder. And then kissed her lips.

Her lips were not bare, though.

They had the taint of an idea on them.

He didn’t taste it, but he was sure it was there.

He would have been disappointed if it weren’t.

James was still bold. His love had been stolen from him, but not his boldness. Nor his ability to watch her.

She was languishing, he could see that. She brightened at Sirius’ touch–and he touched her. Oh, how he touched her. But James was beyond being upset about that. His blood didn’t boil anymore. His heart didn’t leap out of his chest. He did not challenge his best friend. He wouldn’t. All he would do was watch.

He saw her dying.

“Is he always like that?” she asked one time, when Sirius had left them both. He left her a fleeting kiss. Her fingers were on her mouth but her eyes were on James.


Lily quieted.

“He doesn’t believe in change.”

Her fingers fell. “I know.”

He didn’t think she did. “You could marry him one day, Lily, and he’d be no better off than he is now.”

She recoiled, an unspeakable horror appearing in her features.

It suited her.

Her fear spurred him.

“You can’t fix him.”

She didn’t question how he knew.

“Can I help him?”


“Is there–anything, James, anything–”

He didn’t pity her.

She didn’t deserve it.

“He’s yours.” He stood. Her eyes followed his. He let them without looking at them. “That should be everything to you, shouldn’t it?”

He left her. He knew he left her desolate, terrified, despairing. But he left with a smile, because he knew now what it felt like to have power. He’d had it before, but in different incarnations. In what now felt like different lives. Nothing good enough for what he now understood. Reality required a different power, one expressed and dealt out with more than mere symbols and charisma.

He’d once been in love. Perhaps he still was.

But with her?

How could he be?

She didn’t cry. She had nothing to cry about. James was right. She had what she wanted, she had Sirius. And yes, she had him. She had him around her finger, wrapped around her waist, slung across her hips, hanging like a dead man over her heart.

But that heart of hers–it didn’t seem to be working.

It beat for him.

For Sirius.

But it did not love him.

“I love you.”

He glanced at her, a withering, awful glance. His expression pierced her in the gut. She felt delightfully sick. Gorgeously twisted. But in love?

“I thought you didn’t.”

So had she. “Can’t I change my mind? Can’t I fall in love with you?”

His expression softened. Melted, almost, as if his face were made of wax. She stroked his face: it was warm. “It isn’t a question of can you.”

It was a question of have you.

“I love you.”

Sirius took her hand. He kissed it.

“I love you too.”

When he kissed her lips now, he tasted something. Not the idea from before. At least, not exactly. The idea he thought was there before had crystallized by now into something solid. Something loud. Something that pounded in his head like a hammer, like a drum, like a heartbeat.

He smiled into her kiss.

He felt her desperation. To be loved. To be happy.

But of course, she had chosen him.

God, she was a fool.

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