|The Christmas Waltz
Author: Lady Bracknell PM
As Christmas approaches, Remus and Tonks dance around the idea of togetherness, wondering if either of them is leading, or know where they're going at all.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Remus L. & N. Tonks - Words: 5,203 - Reviews: 44 - Favs: 45 - Follows: 2 - Published: 01-20-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4022503
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Anything you recognise remains the property of JK Rowling. I'm just taking them out for a Christmassy spin ;).
A/N: Unfashionably late, owing to having been written for the Metamorfic Moon Advent, using the prompts: ice-skating, and "It's that time of year/When the world falls in love/Ev'ry song you hear seems to say/Merry Christmas." - The Christmas Waltz - Frank Sinatra.
It's not just him, that sometimes he's cautious around her, seems to be weighing every word, every gesture, as if he's being careful not to make a mistake, it's her too, the way she does the same in response because she's not quite sure of him, of herself, of what they'd be, together.
Friends or more, not that at all –
It's a dance, of sorts, two steps forward, one step back; side, together, side – only sometimes she wonders if either of them is leading, or knows where they're going at all.
These last few months she's felt as if they're hovering on the brink of something, perilously close to teetering into togetherness, because sometimes he flirts with her, words and gestures loaded with the promise of something more, a glint of hopeful longing in his eyes. She's never certain, though – not sure enough to make a move herself, because sometimes the longing flickers and then is gone, and other times he's distant, afraid he's said too much, when in fact it's the opposite and he hasn't said nearly enough.
His gloves look nice gripping onto her arms, though, and she laughs, almost nervously, glancing down at the ice beneath her feet, unsure why she thinks that'll help. The skates look ridiculous on her, feel even more so, but she's glad she came. Things have been a maelstrom – Arthur in hospital, endless questions from a house full of worried teenagers, but here, it's quiet and cold and somehow feels almost like the eye of the storm.
Maybe it's the place, she thinks. Maybe it's him.
She doesn't know how he found it, this ice-rink in the middle of nowhere, but it's like stepping back in time, and if she squints a bit, the women clustered around the edges, nestled between fake plastic Christmas trees and neon adverts, look like they could be from Dickens, all buttoned up in their coats, with scarves in various colours that at a distance look like nothing but red and green and gold.
Remus meets her eye and lifts a brow in question. She nods, smiles a little, not really certain she's ready for him to let go, but willing to try, and after a moment to really make sure she's sure, he does. She misses his hands, the way they feel warm and solid and dependable on her arms, but she doesn't fall flat on her face, is a touch surprised, although her knees shake with the effort of just staying upright.
She holds her arms out a little for balance, and Remus smiles – which is a dangerous thing for him to do because his smile nearly makes her lose her footing at the best of times. For a second, she just looks at him, giving not a thought to quavering knees and the children dashing round in ear muffs and mittens, not caring if she falls over, because hell, that look in his eyes, that sparkle of life, is worth it. She adores his smiles, covets them and guards them jealously because they're precious; when he chooses to share one with her it makes the world light up.
It's hard not to read things into moments like this, to think of them as romantic, eyes meeting and something unsaid in the air. She tells herself that it's just association, that it's the season to fall in love and everyone looks adorable all bundled up against the cold, their nose slightly red and life reflected off the snow and into their eyes. But still, this –
They're friends, she thinks. That's the only thing between them that's concrete –
Although sometimes he looks at her across the table, wanting and sorrow mixed in his gaze, and she thinks they're not friends at all, never were, never could be.
"Ready?" he says, and her thoughts make her hear other questions in that one word, see invitation and almost sceptical hopefulness on his face.
She meets his eye, knows that he's just talking about her putting one foot in front of the other instead of flailing and grabbing onto him again. Even so, she can't help but wish with every inch of herself that he means something else. Fleetingly, she pictures them twirling endlessly through time and space, her clinging to his arms and he to hers, stars in their eyes and clouds at their feet, and then she wobbles and the image is gone, and even though he reaches for her to steady her, it's not the same.
"We'll be fine once we get going," he says, and she laughs a little, because she's not sure she – they – will be at all, but he sounds calm, and certain, and so she believes him.
She looks to him for approval as she pushes forward, inches across the ice towards him, and he offers her a smile of encouragement, holding out his hands for her to grab, just in case, liking that she trusts him.
He's not sure why he brought her here. He tells himself that it's because they've both been busy, things have been hectic, that they've barely had a moment between them to soak up the festive atmosphere and he wanted to give her that in place of a gift, but it's nonsense. He brought her here because he saw the place and thought of her – so bright and lively and –
It was nearly Christmas and he couldn't contain the impulse, although part of him tells the rest of him that he should have, that he's just setting himself up for a fall.
Friends is good, he tells himself. Good enough for the likes of him anyway, and it seems odd to want more when he already has so much, someone who'll take his hand without a moment's thought and trusts him so completely. He's torn between settling for that – and it's not settling, not really – and wanting more, much more, although what that might look like still eludes him a little, as if it's too big a thought, a hope, to fully contain.
Tonks shuffles forward a little, arms poised at her sides, a frown of concentration on her forehead. He smiles, but wants so much to tell her how he feels, and yet there's something in the way – there always is – and he's not quite sure what it is.
Sometimes, when he's alone, snatches of something – some image of her, and him, and them – form in his head, and cause his stomach to twist sharply and squeeze. He never wants to think about it,possibility, too hard in case it disappears entirely, and he hasn't pictured more than this, one step at a time, in case –
Tonks grabs his hand with both of hers and clings, doubled over almost in a quest for balance, and he moves forward on the ice, hooking the fingers of his other hand underneath her arm to hold her up. She laughs, meets his gaze with palpable relief, and then her eyes widen and he feels it before it happens. He's too close, and –
She loses her balance, tips backwards, still clinging to him – he to her to try and help – and they both land on the ice with an ouff, a tangle of limbs and scarves and startled expelled breath.
Her body shakes with laughter beneath his, and he looks down at her, ignoring the pain in his elbow and one of his knees, the cold, everything but her. She looks –
Beautiful, but she mutters that she's useless, and even though he thinks she's nothing of the sort, Remus laughs with her, because he can't resist a chance to hear how their voices sound, mingled, blended, together.
As they lie on the ice, shared breath and laughter dancing between them, he thinks that in wanting more with Tonks, believing it's not beyond his having, he's setting himself up for a fall just as surely as she did when she agreed to come here with him.
And then, with a pang of something that's not quite painful, he realises that she must have known that she'd end up sprawled on the ice, and yet she came with him anyway, because she wanted to, because she trusted him, because she thought it would be worth it.
Lately, his life has been made up of these little moments, connections with her, and nothing else. Not that he needs anything else, because she's filled him so completely, the things she's said in his head, a dozen tiny chances dancing in his veins, and he never dreamed that a girl like Tonks would share her thoughts, her laughter, her precious time with him.
They've been ice-skating, and today shopping – or window gazing, more precisely, in Diagon Alley. She'd said she wanted his help with a gift for Harry, that teenage boys were a foreign country and she wanted to get something he'd like, although something in her eyes when she suggested the trip told him there was more at play than simple last-minute shopping.
He was only too glad to oblige, and yet he can't quite trust that her invitation meant what he longs for it to, can't trust, either, the way her arm brushed his as they walked, peered in window after window and wondered, because it could be accident, coincidence, nothing more than slightly frosty pavements and unsure footing as the evening drew in.
He'd needed something more concrete, had asked if she fancied coming back for a cocoa to warm up, and she'd said yes, that it would give her a chance to wrap her presents and leave them under the tree, and something about sitting here with her feels like progress, though he can't tell quite why, because they're still not anything more than they were before.
These intricate steps – he can't quite fathom them, doesn't know if they're going round in circles and will end up exactly where they started, or if they're on a course to somewhere new. Whatever it is, though, something's changed, did on the ice when they looked into each other's eyes and laughed, solidified a little when they found that miniature Firebolt and silently agreed that that was the gift, although he's still not sure –
The fairy light is soft on her face, though, and he thinks he could look at her forever.
"Thanks for coming with me," she says, dunking her biscuit, her knee just pressing, lightly, on his leg, sending some aspiration rioting through him. "I'm sure you had better things to do today."
"Not at all," he replies. "Sirius threatened me with a feather duster earlier so I was glad of the chance to escape."
She smiles, lets out a tiny sigh of amusement, goes back to her drink. "I never thanked you for the other day, either," she says.
"No thanks necessary," he says softly. "It was my pleasure entirely, although I apologise whole-heartedly for any residual bruising that may last well into the new year."
She laughs a little, meets his eye, and he smiles, wondering if he should press on, say something else, how much he's enjoyed this, spending time with her, how much he wishes they could go skating again, stay all night and wobble on the ice underneath the stars, or give in to the idea of falling, and lie on their backs and gaze up and count the clouds.
He wants to say so much – she always makes him feel like verbosity wouldn't be a big enough word for all the things he'd like to tell her, and yet he only ever finds the nerve to scratch the surface, because he's not certain, at all, that she wants to hear any of it, wants him to nudge them irrevocably over the blurred boundary between friendship and a chance at something more.
"What's a little bruising between friends?" she says, and as the last word leaves her lips, she bites the lower one, as if she's uncertain about suggesting that that's what they are.
The gesture makes his insides surge, the boundary fade, and he inches closer, half-pretending to be going for another biscuit, half hoping she sees through the ploy entirely. "As long as you won't hold a grudge," he says, finding the nerve to give it a playful spin, or as much as he knows how, anyway.
He meets her eye, and she looks at him, returns his slightly flirtatious gaze. "I'd never been skating before."
"No?" he says, and she laughs.
"I'd have thought it was obvious why," she says, "takes a brave soul to let me anywhere near them with blades strapped to my feet."
Remus smiles, some tingle way down at her words, even though he knows they're meant in jest. He can't resist shifting closer, and she looks hopeful, keen, so keen that his heart thunders. "I'd – "
He stalls, stops pretending to reach for a biscuit and lets his fingers rest against hers on the carpet, unsure if he's about to tell her that he'd like to believe he's a brave soul but knows he's anything but, or simply that he'd like – love – to take her out again, be more than what they are. Half a dozen phrases twirl on his tongue, each one almost but not quite right –
"Moony, do you know where – "
Sirius freezes like the words on Remus' lips, silhouetted in the doorframe as he takes them in, sitting together in front of the fire, cocoa and cosiness, eyes locked, fingers touching, something unsaid in the air. "Sorry," he says. "I was just wondering where the cake was. Molly wants to ice it and I haven't the foggiest – "
He trails off, gaze skipping between them, the hint of something knowing playing at the corners of his mouth. "I see I've chosen a poor moment, though, so – "
"No," Remus says, a little too quickly, perhaps. "We were just – it should be in the pantry."
Remus clears his throat and mutters something about it maybe being hidden by the Butterbeer, and Tonks moves away a little, shifting on the patchy carpet, her cheeks pink as she avoids his gaze. "It's getting late," she says, "so I should probably be going anyway, leave you to it."
Remus meets her eye, at once a bit relieved and aching with disappointment, and she smiles back in a way that he can't help but think feels a little forced, a little regretful, too. "I'll see you after Christmas?" she says, getting to her feet, and he nods, watches her walk away with the ache becoming more acute with every step, until she disappears from view and he hears the front door close behind her.
"Sorry," Sirius says, frowning. "I didn't know she was here."
"Just popped in to see how Molly and everyone was doing and to drop off her gifts," Remus says, gesturing to the tree and the boldly-wrapped presents underneath it as he gets up, avoiding Sirius' gaze.
He gathers their mugs, the clink as they knock together sending a shiver right through him, and tries not to think, not to picture, what might have happened if Sirius hadn't blundered in with a misplaced enquiry about cake.
"Seriously," Sirius says, "sorry if I interrupted something."
Remus runs a hand over his face, shaking his head against the snatched images that form. He tells himself that it was just fairy light and cocoa getting to him, that interruptions were probably for the best because he'd never have had the nerve to do what he wanted, and now at least Tonks doesn't know how wrong she was in saying he was a brave soul.
She's not afraid of falling, he thinks, but he –
He's a different matter entirely.
He moves over to the window and watches the snow, setting the mugs down on the sill and half-heartedly raking the street for Tonks' footprints. "What would there be to interrupt?"
"I don't know," Sirius says, faux dramatically on a sigh, "you telling her how you feel about her, maybe?"
"I don't have any – "
Remus looks down, wondering when it had become so apparent that someone as blinkered as Sirius could see it. "All right," he says, then swallows, fingers the chipped handle on the mug Tonks was drinking from, the one he'll always now think of as indelibly hers. "I do – like her," he says, and the word sounds utterly hollow, much as it scares him to hear it out loud, because he knows it's the wrong one.
"Well that much is obvious to a blind man, Moony," Sirius says, coming over to the window and joining him, gazing out onto the deserted street. "You should go after her," he says.
The words linger in the room, but Remus shakes his head, watches the snow come down, flake by flake, the fairy light dancing in the reflection of the glass. He's been nothing but her lately, doesn't quite understand why in spite of that, the thought of her knowing, asking if she feels –
He has no idea if he's more afraid she'll say no or yes.
"What's stopping you?" Sirius says, and Remus finds he hasn't quite got the words to explain it.
The question more than outstays its welcome, and Sirius sighs, taps his fingers lightly on the sill, the rhythm of that Christmas carol he's been humming all week. "I talked to Tonks about you once," he says. "Just after you met. I told her that you've made your own prison, that even though you've never done anything wrong, even though what happened to you wasn't your fault, you lock yourself away in fear, as a kind of punishment. Sometimes you let people visit, but ultimately you think you deserve to be alone, so you lock yourself in."
Remus looks down, some kind of twisted wry smile reflected on the glass. "Wisdom," he says, "from Sirius Black. There's one thing I never thought I'd live to see."
"I'm dead on, though, aren't I?"
"Don't make me swell your ego by telling you what you already know."
His gaze flickers over the snow, and he wants to be irritated that Sirius has him pegged so precisely, has figured out what he's longed to keep hidden, and yet it's almost a relief to hear it, to have it not be some figment of his imagination.
"I can't claim I get it, Moony," Sirius says, "why you'd keep her at arm's length when you could be so very happy."
Remus swallows heavily, because sometimes he doesn't quite get it either, sometimes thinks that all he needs is time, but he's had that, and –
It's something else.
"It's – " He grips the edge of the sill, watching as his knuckles turn the colour of the snow. "It's just not easy," he says, "when everyone I've ever loved has left me."
The words quietly creep out of his mouth before he registers them, and Remus stares at the snow, wondering if each flake is truly unique, what he's just said resounding in his head so loudly he can barely hear it. His heart pounds, and he's not quite sure where those words came from, why he's confessed them, but he knows that's it, that's why he hasn't done anything about this thing he feels for Tonks, why he feels so paralysed, unable to do anything but inch when he wants to run.
It's the idea of yes he's afraid of, far more than making a fool of himself, being rejected, losing a friend, because yes would mean risking it all, making himself vulnerable to things he's not sure he can stand –
If he keeps her at arm's length, inches not strides, if they never quite commit to anything, continue to dance, then –
He waits for Sirius to say something, to tell him he's being a petulant child, a fool, to scream at him to stop making excuses and get on with making a life for himself, to hit him, maybe, try and knock some sense into him, all of which he knows he deserves.
None of it happens, though, and he watches as Sirius lays his hands on the flaking paint of the windowsill, flexing, then relaxing his fingers. He meets Remus' eye, his gaze unsteady, some glimmer of something unfamiliar in it, as if they're strangers, weighing each other up for the first time. "Not by choice," Sirius says, voice wavering between the anger of the misunderstood and something like a plea. "We didn't leave – we were taken, and I know alone is alone, but – "
Remus runs a hand over his face, trying to batten down whatever is flailing inside him and making him feel sick and excited and terrified at the same time. "Do you have any idea how unbelievably lucky that makes you? How unbelievably rare that is, to never have had people you care about walk away from you willingly?"
A snowflake settles on the glass in front of him, and Remus watches as it melts, turns into nothing but liquid, and winds its way down the pane. Then, there's another, and he watches that too, the same pattern, land, melt, drop, then another and another until he sees two merge together halfway down and race towards the frame as one.
"Sorry," he murmurs. "I didn't – "
"I'm not looking for apologies," Sirius says, "just trying to make you understand. Is that what this is? You're scared that if you let her in, she'll take your heart and run off with it?"
He meets Sirius' eye in the reflection, grins nervously, beyond nervously –
And yet something inside has melted like a snowflake on the glass, and he's not sure where it'll run to, but –
Out loud, that sounds so small, so pathetic, such a little thing to have let stand in the way –
"Sometimes I don't think I could do it again."
"If something happened to her I don't think I could bear it."
"You don't know that anything will."
"I don't know that anything won't."
Sirius flattens his palms on the paintwork, sighing a little. "I can't argue with that," he says, "but if you're honest it's just an excuse, because love always gives you more than it takes – you know that as well as I do, and even if something happens, what you have – could have – won't it be worth it? I mean, if you had the chance to go back in time, not know us, not love me and James and Lily, and therefore be spared the pain of what happened, you wouldn't take it, would you?"
"You already know the answer to that."
A minute passes in silence, and they both watch the snow melt on the pane, trickle down, join the growing puddle on the window frame. The quiet is –
Stifling, he thinks, yet necessary, and somewhere inside something uncurls, some sense that maybe Sirius is right, that he shouldn't be a coward any longer, that Tonks thinks he's a brave soul and maybe it's time to prove her right, even though he hopes she'll never know how very afraid he is.
Sirius nudges him with his shoulder, and Remus turns towards him, eyebrows raised in question. "Can't you see where I'm going with this?" he says.
"Only you can let yourself out of your little homemade prison Moony," he says, a smile tugging on his features, "but maybe she's the key to the door."
"Poetry as well as wisdom," Remus says, running his fingers over his mouth. "I'm honoured."
He looks out into the snow, thoughts mulling in his head, too many to really consider, but a lingering feeling, a feeling that tingles with possibility, underlies them all. "You've got to do this," Sirius says, "got to take a chance."
"Because if you don't, you'll regret it."
"I – "
"For all of us, then," Sirius says. "For all of us who never got to try."
A quip about emotional blackmail dies on his lips, and Remus meets his eye. "You think it's that easy?"
"I think it could be."
"You always were such a bloody optimist."
Sirius laughs, collects the mugs and gestures at him with them. "It's Christmas Eve," he says, "snow is falling and there won't be a better chance than this."
Remus nods, although he's not sure that Sirius has him convinced, still isn't sure when he's standing outside in the snow, with his coat pulled up around his ears, and Sirius shooing him on from the window.
"Come outside," he says, smiling tentatively, stretching his hand towards her, eyebrows inching up in invitation.
She swallows, because there's some look in his eyes that's beyond anything she's seen before, reaches for her cloak and pulls it quickly around her shoulders, then takes his hand and joins him on the street, watching as snow settles in his hair and sparkles. "Are we – do you want to go somewhere?" she says, and he shakes his head gently.
"There's just something I'd like to say," he says, "and I've no idea whether or not you want me to say it, whether it's presumptuous and misguided – " He glances up at the sky, frowns a little. " – whether you'd rather I didn't press the matter, let things continue as they are – "
She squeezes his fingers, and he looks down, a little startled, but pleased none the less, she thinks. She wants to say something, that of course she wants to hear anything that he has to say, but –
There's something in the air that catches her words.
Remus smiles, hesitates, and in that second she loves him for it, because if this, it, she didn't matter he wouldn't care, wouldn't weigh thought and gesture carefully, afraid to make a mistake. He steps closer, and she thinks that the last time he was this close, they both ended up falling, wonders if this time it'll be the same.
He watches her face, still unsure, as if he expects any second for her to whip out her wand and hex him to oblivion just for existing. "I like you," he says quietly. "In fact, the word like does it rather a disservice – " She smiles, because he's said just enough, and his face relaxes a little, evidently relieved. "I wondered if I might persuade you to – "
She shakes her head, and before she knows what they're doing, her fingers are tracing the edge of his coat, easing him just a little bit closer. "No persuasion necessary," she says, and he grins.
"You don't know what I'm going to suggest."
"I don't care," she says. "If it's you and me then that's all – "
She can still feel him smiling when their lips meet.
He cups her cheek with his palm, and it's perfect, warm and soft and aching. There's something unsaid but wonderfully real in the air, and she knows they both feel it, that they've felt it all along and that's why it's taken them so long to get here, because what they have, could have, needs careful thought, and consideration, and for neither of them to make a mistake.
He pulls away and his eyes sparkle in a way she's never seen before, and her chest flutters at the thought of being the cause. "See?" she whispers. "You were right."
"You said we'd be fine once we got going."
He smiles, and the world lights up around them, and when he draws closer, kisses her again, she thinks that the steps have disappeared, that there's no more side, together, side, no more two steps forward, one step back.
They're still dancing, though; twirling endlessly through time and space, his hands on her face and hers on his arms, clouds at their feet, and stars in their eyes, and nothing but each other in their hearts.