Disclaimer: This is this house that JKR built. I am merely squatting. :)
This fic contains HBP spoilers. If you are one of those not lucky enough to have read it yet, be warned - at least one major occurrence and one ship is exposed below.
A/N: In spite of the fact I have never in my life taken part in a fic challenge before (I rarely have ideas that are short enough to tolerate a word count! ;)) I took the plunge and wrote this for the SugarQuill challenge on Remus and Tonks' post Hospital Wing discussion and I thought I'd post it here too. All reviews and feedback are welcomed. :)
Adrift by Jess Pallas.
Nothing felt real.
His feet seemed to skim over the stone floor of the corridor as though it – or he – was barely there, the air that touched his face an imaginary whisper, the colour bleached from walls, from tapestries, from the glow of the rising sun over eastern mountain peaks beyond the window pane. The grass waved dream-like in a gentle breeze as he drifted out between the toweringly insubstantial front doors and down the steps into the hazy grounds, moving quietly and silently until he reached the grey and lapping waters of the lake. He teetered a moment on the edge, gazing out at the unreal play of dawn light against the rippling water before allowing his body to fold in two and slump against a rock.
Nothing was real. It couldn't be. This had to be a dream. A nightmare.
But deep down in his heart, Remus Lupin knew that he was not going to wake up.
He had felt somewhat this way for almost a year now, pulling back, detaching himself desperately from his life, from the scenes he witnessed and was forced to share, from the dripping fangs of Fenrir Greyback and the howling pack at full moon and from the mousy hair and yearning eyes of the young woman whose feelings he'd dared not allow himself to share. He loved her, yes, but love would tie him all too hard and force him to face the horrors that he lived with, force her to share his pain, the strife he would inflict. And he could not do that to her. He could not.
And so he had drifted.
The Dementor's mist had played its part, but he knew with all clarity he could muster that it wasn't entirely to blame. But however the distance had come upon him, he now seemed unable to surface, to face the world, to comprehend what had happened. A parade of faces danced before him, his ties to this life, vanished one by one: James and Lily, his parents, Sirius, even Peter in a twisted way and now – Dumbledore.
It seemed impossible that he should be gone. The man who had given him an education when no other would have dared, who had trusted him to be prefect, invited him into the Order, offered him the job of which he'd always dreamed. Dumbledore, the final tie; it seemed that he would always be there, that no force on this earth could drag him away and so there would always be a rock for him to cling to.
But he was gone. And Remus had never felt so adrift.
Aside from his initial shock, he had mostly managed to hold himself together in the company of others. But now he was drifting alone.
The world swirled, colourless and distant. He couldn't focus. He couldn't think.
And nothing seemed real anymore.
Nothing. But the hand.
It was a gentle touch, soft against his back, small fingers running along his shoulder-blade before twining slowly around his left arm and tugging him softly to earth. Waves pounded softly and clearly on the shore. The light of morning vividly pierced the sky.
Remus looked up.
Tonks smiled. Wanly.
"You looked so far away," she said softly as she settled down beside him. Her arm tightened around his.
He smiled, slightly bitter-edged. "I wish I was."
He caught and forestalled the flash of hurt within her eyes before it could congeal.
"I don't mean you," he added wearily. "I just mean…"
He gestured hopelessly in the direction of the Astronomy Tower. Her arm tangled more firmly around his. Their shoulders touched.
"I know," she echoed. "I know what you mean. It just feels like we'll all just wake up and he'll be standing there, smiling at us with that twinkle in his eye. It doesn't feel…"
"Real." He finished her sentence, his voice tailing away into the breeze. "Nothing feels real."
She smiled slightly and squeezed his arm, her fingers warm and strong. "You feel pretty real to me."
He looked at her. He smiled back.
Their eyes met. And held.
And the rest of the world faded away.
"I'm sorry I shouted at you in the Hospital Wing last night." Her voice was barely more than a whisper. "I know it wasn't the right time. But I just couldn't stand it anymore." She drew a deep breath. "I love you. You know I love you. I've told you enough times." They shared a brief, wry smile as memories of a thousand painful conversations flashed across both minds, too worn to feel their sting anew. "But I'm tired, Remus. So tired of waiting for you to realise what I've always known; that's there's a hell of a lot more to you than years or money or full moons." She shook her head, her fingers seeming to burn against his skin. "Why can't you see the wonderful person you are? And why can't you let me show you?"
She laid one finger across his lips, her smile bitter edged. "Let me guess," she said softly. "Too old. Too poor. Too dangerous."
He smiled against the stroke of her fingertip. "And let me guess. You don't care."
Her eyebrow quirked. "You said it."
He stared at her, the dawn light playing across her heart-shaped face in swirling patterns of pale gold, her fingertip still pressed against his lower lip, her other arm entwined with his and seeping its warmth into tired bones. Her touch was like a lifeline. And she felt so real.
"I love you." The words had left his lips almost before he was aware of them.
Her hair seemed to lift and spike almost visibly, shot with hints of colour. Her smile was brighter than the sun. "I should bloody well hope so. Honestly, Lupin, it's taken you long enough."
The fragility of the conversation, of the world about him shattered. He felt himself smile, heard the gentle wash of the waves, felt the cool stroke of the breeze, the warmth of the light against his cheek, the whisper of the grass and the cool stone against his back. He felt emotion stirring, sadness yes, but not despair, tiredness, yes, but not despondency and a flicker of something he had denied himself, that he had almost managed to forget.
Love. Companionship. Hope.
And for the first time in many years, Remus could almost see a future. A real future.
He smiled. She smiled.
Her fingers tightened. Her shoulder pressed gently against his.
And then she leaned forward and replaced the fingertip with her lips.
The lips felt very real. And they grounded him in ways that nothing and no one else ever had.
And Remus knew as long she was there, he would never drift again.