Author's Note: Written for a challenge where Remus & Tonks are separated from the Order on a mission. I took that and ran. Dedicated to mercutio-rane, because I love your stories THIS MUCH. For real. Feedback is appreciated. I may be a wee bit tipsy, but I still love feedback. And dislike the fact that a)I had to repost this and does not allow paranthesis in titles. Dag, yo.
We make plans for big times
Get bogged down, distracted
We make plans for big times
All neon, all perfect
So kiss me before it all gets complicated
I've got a taste for blood
- Bloc Party, "Plans"
Of Apples and Oranges (It's About Progress, Baby)
As far as missions went, this one was turning out to be a complete and total disaster.
Molly Weasley obviously does not do well in Muggle London. Tonks can tell by the way she presses her lips together, like she's holding back some scathing remark or even a disgusted sneer. She imagines what it might be like to live your life entirely in the wizarding world, disdainful of Muggles even though you rarely venture out among them. She wonders if those years married to Arthur Weasley merely solidified her distaste.
Anyway, they really need to get moving or she's going to get knocked over.
They're standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk at about 4pm on a Tuesday, her and Remus and Molly, because they are on an official Order Mission, the purpose of which is to restock the dwindling Order supplies. They need to go to Diagon Alley to get parchment and quills and some books that Sirius wants because he's acting cagey again. They also need food because people like to eat. It's February and cold and she hugs her arms to her chest - she's so cold.
She thinks Remus must have noticed Molly's hesitancy because he's talking to her in his calming Professor voice.
"Molly, why don't you go to Diagon Alley?" and he takes one piece of parchment out of her hands, "Tonks and I will handle the rest."
Molly seems relieved, and Tonks admits she is too, because she gets to go with Remus and not Molly. Because that's the way it is, or, rather, the way it should be.
"Yes. Do be careful, dears, it's-" Molly starts but Remus cuts her off.
"We'll be fine, Molly," Remus says with a reassuring smile. He glances at Tonks. "Come along, Nymphadora. We'll meet you back at the house."
Her sudden relief comes crashing down. She feels ten again and wants to kick him in the shins but she settles for sticking her tongue out. He laughs and starts down the street. Molly turns and heads into the Leaky Cauldron.
Remus manages to be more than a few paces in front of her. At first she hurries to catch up but then gets tired of that. She's not going to lose him, she thinks as she slows down, not only because she's an Auror and she's trained in tracking (though not in stealth) but because Remus will turn around soon – like now – and notice she's not there. And then slow down his long, quick strides so that they're walking side by side.
There's something to be said for knowing someone so well that you can anticipate their moves. She wonders if Remus thinks about her this way, if he knows she'll fall behind; or if it's an annoyance but she doesn't want to think about it that way. She's happy that he remembered her, even if he made her feel so young. She likes being around him for reasons she's not sure she can name.
"Where are we going?" she asks. "What are we doing?"
"Muggle grocers," he says. "Getting food - people like to eat, you know." His hand brushes against hers as they walk. Her stomach jolts like it does when she Apparates, and heat spreads out through her chilled fingers.
"Why there?" she asks, trying to maintain some sense of control.
"Because I like shopping in relative anonymity," Remus says. "Something about wizard grocers bothers me. And Muggles have better produce sections."
"Oh." Oh because wizard grocers are like every other wizard business, family businesses passed down generation to generation and so they know everybody – even men in shabby black wool coats, and young girls in oversized army jackets and ripped jeans.
If she was younger, she'd wonder if it was because he didn't want to be seen with someone like her, but she knows better. She knows that, aside from the black hair falling into her face, she's no one but plain Tonks today. She doesn't feel like changing, it wouldn't be safe anyway, that they wouldn't be practicing Constant Vigilance and might give something away.
She doesn't think it would be too bad to be seen in public with Remus, because he's handsome in that older-man sort of way despite (or maybe because of) his scars…and oh look; the Muggle grocery.
"We'll just get some fruits and perishables here," Remus says, "and perhaps head to the butcher down the street." He pauses. "Still have the money?"
She nods; the wad of Muggle currency that Dumbledore gave them this morning still in the pocket of her jeans.
He gestures that she should go in first, and places his hand on the small of her back, in a gentlemanly manner. Just as she becomes comfortable, he removes it and she's left feeling childish and silly for mistaking intimacy in the gesture.
Remus picks up a basket, and hands her one, and starts to look at the fruit in the front of the store. He scrutinizes the apples and oranges and she chooses to watch him. He pays attention to the fruit, searching for the least bruised specimens with the skill of someone who values his money and doesn't want to waste it on shit.
He glances up, and she looks away, ashamed that he's caught her. He smiles and she mirrors his smile instinctively, because he doesn't smile nearly enough and whenever he does she does too. Seeing him smile makes her happy, which is not what it's supposed to do as much as convince her that everything's fine when it most certainly is not.
She really needs to stop fucking this shit up.
They had kissed, less than two months ago, and as per usual she had fucked it up something marvellous. It was New Years Eve and she was tipsy and he was across the room, laughing at something that Sirius had said. The way the light caught his face, the way he looked when he smiled, made her cross the room and, before the stroke of midnight, place her lips against his.
Remus, in a state of truly wretched nobility, let her kiss him. He even let her open his lips with her own, let their tongues touch sloppily because they both had been drinking, but pulled away. He had smiled a sad smile, bowing his head in something that might have been embarrassment. They both knew he thought she kissed him out of pity, because Remus Lupin was everyone's friend and no one's love interest and Nymphadora Tonks was an attractive young witch. As she watched him walk across the room, a solitary retreating figure in a crowd of partygoers, and she bit her lip to stop from crying so hard it bled for twenty minutes.
Luckily for them, she woke up the next morning with a wicked hangover and he had thought that she must not remember anything from the night before. For her part, she had done nothing to correct the misunderstanding, because she didn't want things to be awkward between them.
Not like it mattered. Remus was still pleasantly cordial to her, which told her that he had forgiven her momentary indiscretion. He was treating her like had when he first met her, which was in a sort-of detached way that Sirius had told her meant he thought she was attractive but he was too old and too set in his ways for that sort of nonsense. Sirius had then quoted a Welsh proverb that she was sure he found in a bathroom stall about rabbits and bones and something else pathetic and she smacked him before leaving the room.
They round the corner, Remus placing a few oranges in her basket. Apparently the apples weren't good enough.
"Canned vegetables, instead of fresh," he says. "They last longer."
She nods. He's right. But is it right to wonder these things, to be constantly reminded about a kiss that happened two months ago that seems to be lodged in her brain and squirming it's way into her daily schedule? Wake up, brush teeth, think about kiss. Wash face go to work kissing Remus paperwork Death Eaters Grimmauld Place Remus Lupin dinner nightcap Remus…bed.
She blushes at the last thought and concentrates on the rows of canned vegetables before her, angry at herself and tired of being so hopeful. She knows he sees more to her than just a twenty-something, but that does not mean any of the confusing feelings bubbling within her will ever have any outlet. Even if he does notice physical attractiveness (which doesn't mean a thing to her because she can change her features at will), he's still far too mature to become involved with someone like her.
And she respects him for his maturity and his kindness, but she's twenty-four and a trained Auror and she's caught some of the most notorious wizards…and yet Remus Lupin treats her like a tag-a-long child whenever they're out on missions and when they're not, she's an occasional dinner guest and sometimes he'll indulge her in a game of chess. They're partnered together often enough and she spends at least four of the twenty-four hours allotted to her a day with him and yet…some lines seem to be drawn that she'll never erase, despite the elbow grease she puts into it.
"Sickle for your thoughts?" he asks, and she doesn't know what to say. Or, rather, she knows what she wants to ask and before she knows it, it comes rushing out of her mouth.
"Why do you insist on treating me like I'm ten years old?" she asks. She doesn't look up; instead, she studies the ingredients on the back of a can of peas, taking it off the shelf and turning it over in her hand.
"I don't treat you like you're ten years old," Remus says. She gets tired of reading about artificial colouring, and puts the can back on the shelf.
"Yes you do. 'Come, Nymphadora' this and 'Listen, Nymphadora' that. You didn't even ask me if I wanted to come with you. You took the list and started down the street. And you insist on calling me by that name, unlike everyone else who calls me 'Tonks'."
She realizes that she says this with the arm not holding the basket pulled up into her old military jacket so that the sleeve touches her fingertips and that she looks like she's younger than ten. She glances up to look at him.
Remus is standing not five feet from her, his brow furrowed.
"I do call you 'Tonks'," he says.
"Not all the time. When you remember, you do. Sometimes you fall back into that 'Nymphadora' shit."
"Still…I just…I assumed, since we always do things together…"
"We don't always do things together, Remus," she says softly. "We used to, but then you got all fussy over me kissing you."
It's that statement that seems to cause the tension that has been hovering in his tall frame to snap, and he turns away from her. His head dips, the way it always does when he's embarrassed, and Tonks feels fleeting guilt for one moment before she remembers what this is about.
"We better finish the shopping," he says, and she stands there, surrounded by canned fruits and vegetables, realizing that this is the moment and she has to decide between making a show or being a mature adult and waiting until they get to the frozen foods before bringing up the topic again, since that's in the back away from the cashier.
She chooses maturity and follows Remus, who's already started on the next aisle, and wonders how she can phrase any of the thoughts that are going through her head. She studies the cookies and the crisps and throws some into her basket. They say nothing, and it's not a pleasant silence, because each is waiting for the other to say something.
They head to the back, where chips are stacked next to freeze-dried cod and it's Remus who speaks first. An elderly woman with a walker is pushing past them and they're close together, pressed up against the freezer window so that she can get through. She moves so that her hand rests on his waist – or where his waist would be, underneath his coat and jumper and shirt. Her palm feels hot.
"Is this a situation of the more I ignore you, the closer you get?" Remus jokes.
Her cheek is resting against the collar of his coat and the wool scratches her when she replies "That joke isn't funny anymore."
Remus laughs, and his breath is warm on her nose and he smells of the cinnamon drops he favours, warm and spicy and she steps back because the woman has moved on.
"You started it," she says. "I never knew you liked Morrissey."
He shrugs. "I do. I happen to have an extensive collection of what you kids call 'vinyl' and us old-timers call 'records'.Why? Am I not allowed to have layers?" he asks, the left-hand corner of his mouth curling upward in a smile. She shakes her head.
"No," she says, "it's just…you're like an orange. Lots of layers."
Remus laughs, shifting on his feet. "I think you mean I'm like an onion, because oranges have only a thick outer skin instead of multiple layers with tear-inducing properties."
The first thing she thinks is that if he only knew how very much he is like an onion, and how very often he makes her want to cry…but she doesn't say that.
Instead, she says "So I'm supposed to be thinking of you and your thick skin and fleshy insides?" She is unable to keep a straight face and bursts into giggles, bringing her hands to her face to try to cover her mouth but it's no use, the thought of Remus' head on the body of an orange is too funny. Remus starts laughing as well and their laughter stretches out across the frozen food aisle and into jams and jellies.
She prefers this much more than the silence five minutes earlier, even though her comment has brought about some not-entirely-unwanted thoughts which float through her mind about what exactly would be under the layers of clothes he wears like a thick skin.
"In theory, I'm not sure I want anyone thinking of my fleshy insides…but you can think whatever you like," Remus says finally.
"Good," she says. She looks him in the eye. "I will."
She hopes that everything which is clear in her heart is communicated in that one look. It has its desired effect, as he looks away and she swears she sees colour, faintly, on his cheeks.
"You're right, though," he says, studying the frozen goods. "I have been treating you like a ten year old. I'm sorry."
"I guess I accept that as an apology," she says, glancing over at him. "But what I really want to know is why."
"Why are you doing it? It bothers me." The eyes of the frozen cod are freaking her out.
Remus laughs, a short, tight laugh that makes her stomach sink. "I noticed."
She doesn't say anything, and so he says, "I don't know. It makes it easier."
"Makes what easier?" Now she feels like she's ten, begging for answers because she doesn't get it.
"Everything," Remus says; voice barely above a whisper. "It makes everything easier."
"Not for me it doesn't," she protests. "And it'll always be like that, won't it? Vague answers, because Nymphadora isn't able to handle responsibility, Nymphadora doesn't know what she's doing, she's too young and even though I thought we were close, you-"
She stops, unable to finish her sentence because there are tears ready to be shed; and she wants to be anywhere but here so that she can just cry all this out. She doesn't even know what she's crying about but it involves Remus and she's fucking sick of it.
"Finish shopping, I'll meet you outside," she says without looking at him, placing her basket on the ground and ploughing through the small store and out onto the street. She storms up the sidewalk angrily and stops. She knows that she has to wait for him, because they're playing a stupid game of 'maturity' right now and she's not going to be labelled flighty and young.
They're playing more than that game – no, she is – no -
When did everything get so shitty? When did what Remus Lupin did or did not act upon regarding her begin to matter?
She fumbles in the pocket of her jacket and finds the pack of cloves and pulls one out, lighting it and taking a deep drag.
"I am hated for loving," she sings softly, exhaling, because she loves him as a friend, maybe as more than a friend, but somehow that's not in the cards. "I am haunted for wanting." She is nervous.
She hears a throat being cleared and it's Remus, so she grabs the wad of notes of her pants and presses it into his hand, unable to look at him. She knows all this is her fault, because she has this stupid childish crush on someone who should only be a friend. When he returns, he'll tell her something that's meant to be reassuring, like how he thinks she's very mature and intelligent and how he admires her courage and then she'll take a final drag and stomp it out on the sidewalk and they'll walk home together in companionate silence.
Or not. Because when Remus returns with arms full of bags, he gestures that she follow him into an alley, where they shrink the parcels into tiny ones and place them in her carry-all. They head to the butcher, in silence, and get meat and repeat the behaviour and walk home and she's on her second cigarette because she can't stop shaking.
"You shouldn't smoke," he says, the first words he directs at her since the outburst in the grocer and she shrugs her shoulders.
"Aurors have a short life span anyway, and with this war…" she trails off, starting rather cavalierly but when she looks over at him she sees a look that makes her stomach drop. Obviously, Remus doesn't like hearing her talk about death, especially her own.
"It's just…I'm a nervous person," she says. "My job's not easy. Sometimes, a smoke is comfort, you know? Everyone needs some form of comfort," she finishes, realizing how true her words sound.
"You're right," he says softly.
They walk another block, and she gets the nerve to ask "So what's your comfort, Remus?" because she wants it to be like it once was before she fucked up. She wants to creep back into his consciousness again, wants to be his friend, wants to retain important information about Remus, wants him to trust her.
He says nothing for two blocks, and then says "You," just like that. Like it's the most obvious thing in the world and her head's spinning as everything falls into place. Suddenly Sirius' comments make more sense, as much sense as the distance that Remus puts between them without realizing it (so she thought): self preservation tactics learned too young because of too many fears.
And then it suddenly occurs to her that maybe both of them have misinterpreted the kiss. She thinks about the flippant remark she made in the store, about how he got all fussy when she kissed him and about how he reacted, realizing not only that her words sound casual and remove any meaning she might have felt, making her seem like a slag, but that maybe that casual manner removed anything Remus might have felt. What if he felt that kiss meant something and didn't want to own up to it and her thoughts race through her head.
But she brushes her hand against his once, twice, and on the third time their fingertips intertwine and she smiles and Remus laughs. Her fingers feel so warm, touching his, and she never wants to let go and apparently, he doesn't either and so they walk, fingers barely touching, held together by strength of will and probably something else.
They do not speak until they reach Grimmauld Place, and then it is to greet Molly, who is arriving at the same time.
But when Remus helps her out of her coat in the hall, and sits closer to her at dinner, she thinks maybe something's changing. He takes out Violator that night, and they drink gin and tonics out of coffee mugs because Molly was angry with the twins and a funny report from Hogwarts so she didn't wash and they're too lazy to bother. Sirius comes down from his room and makes fun of them for listening to "whiny" music and Remus teaches her to shoot chewing gum at him with a few carefully-chosen words. And when she collapses into a giggling mess on his lap, and he strokes her hair softly, she smiles.
But it's when they go shopping again, a month later, and he kisses her in the frozen food section, that she knows everything has changed. He tastes like cinnamon and his lips are softer than she remembered. He whispers something in her ear between kisses, oh my love for the first time in my life my eyes are wide open, and there's something endearing about his hands on her waist even though her back is against the cold freezer window, hands tangled in his hair, baskets dropped on the floor and oranges rolling around at their feet.