Author's Note: This piece was unabashedly inspired by Mindy Smith's lovely song "One Moment More". Do listen to it or watch the video (bit of filmmaking brilliance!) if you find the time.
When he says, "You know we can't keep on like this", Tonks only half believes him.
And when he takes his leave and gently kisses her forehead, and disappears out her door, there is no fight, no hurling of words back and forth against the walls of her tiny, cluttered kitchen. She knows him too well for that. It is in Remus' nature to do things quietly and carefully, and she loves him too much to attempt to shock her way through that nature for her own selfish benefit. But she makes him take the key to her flat anyway, pushing his fingers shut over it when he turns at the door and attempts to give it back. (She should be thinking Remus Lupin, you stubborn prat, but she can't help thinking instead how much she loves the feel of his hands, rough and worn, and knobbed with years of unnatural wear, but very warm, fitting comfortably beneath her palms, and there are arbitrary ink stains on his fingertips.)
She says, "If you get hungry or need a place to—recover, please drop in and make yourself a sandwich." She means, I'm not going to let you just walk off like that. It comes out all wrong, stiff and sort of heartless, not the thing you say in parting to a man whose hand you cannot stop clasping at the door; who tells you he really should just go away. She smiles a little to make it seem more real, but her mouth isn't much made for smiling these days.
He says, "Only if I need to," and tries on a smile of his own. He, too, is abysmally out of practice.
But he does keep the key.
And she waits, in between fits of trying to help save the world.
The first moon afterwards, she finds him at her door, worn and exhausted and heartbreakingly old-looking. He says, "I'm sorry. I haven't got anywhere else to go."
She says, "Please don't be sorry." And when she makes him soup it insists on staying benignly in the pot. She sloshes a bit on the table to make herself feel better.
He doesn't sleep much that night, just sits carefully on the end of the sofa not reading the book in his lap. He looks so grey, staring at her oddly coloured rug, but she can't make him laugh her even talk much. So she stops trying (it's the night after a transformation; maybe he just needs humanity), and sits on the other end of the sofa, twisting a corner of the sofa pillow in her hands.
Finally he says, probably for the third time, "I'm sorry—this is making things ridiculously difficult, but I really—thank you."
She just wants to hold him and tell him that everything is going to be okay, but she can't, and it won't, so she watches him slowly coming apart on her sofa. She wants to say that she misses Sirius too, but she's only missing Sirius and watching the world unravel, she hasn't felt herself unravel for over thirty years, so when she tries to form words in her head they are painfully, hopelessly empty. When he falls asleep, curled almost childlike against the armrest (she finds this oddly endearing), she watches. She hears him cry out softly in his sleep, and suddenly she can't watch anymore.
In the morning, she makes breakfast for both of them and doesn't even burn the toast. He knows her well enough not to comment on it. He confesses that he doesn't feel exactly honourable, sleeping in her flat on her sofa, and she finds a smile for her face and says that it's okay, she trusts him. They eat toast and eggs silently.
He ends up showing up at her doorstep after the full moon more often, and sometimes in between, because as he tells her one evening over tea, he doesn't want to go back to Grimmauld Place even if he could, and with the inheritance up in the air— She understands. There are too many ghosts in that house. He is always very full of apologies that she tries hard to ignore (stop being such a bloody gentleman, Remus; you're killing yourself over it), and she doctors him with soup and quilts and books and makes him a place on her sofa and listens to him talking late into the night and is vaguely honoured that even despite everything, he can't help but confide in her. This is her way of showing him, in her relentless sort of way, that she loves him and she means to look after him. After a while, he stops apologising so much, but they still step carefully around each other. Sometimes, she catches him looking at her longingly when he thinks she isn't watching, and she feels like aching if she wasn't so damn bent on keeping herself together. She almost thinks what if, and stops herself in time. What if never changes anything. What if is too dangerous.
And once, at the door, she says, "I love you", without meaning to, and wishes she hadn't. He looks too grey and shabby and longing, and she wishes he would take her words like a standard instead of folding them carefully and gently and hiding them away. He just says, "I know", and he and the wind drift together from her door.
He comes back early.
When she opens the door and finds him standing there apologetically (eyebrows raised just slightly beneath the pale brown hair falling into his eyes, hands in his threadbare pockets—this, too, is endearing, but it hurts), she wonders for a moment if she wants to be thrilled or worried. He doesn't even ask to be let in; he speaks without crossing the threshold. "I'm going away for a while."
"How long?" She is ridiculously calm.
"I don't know. Six months at the least, I would think."
(Six months—six moons—six lonely moons—who's going to help you there?)
"May I ask where?"
He shifts a little, shoes scuffing against the cold wooden floor. "It's an Order assignment. I'm going to be staying with—my folk for a while." He sounds somewhat bitter. She hates the sound; bitterness is not part of her Remus.
"Werewolves," he says, very quietly. "Greyback's...pack. Dumbledore wants information on—well, on what they might decide to do for Voldemort if he asks them properly."
She feels very tired suddenly, as if she has gathered his fatigue from him. "Be careful," she says. The words sound so empty and trite.
"He recruited them for the last war."
"Don't worry too much." He smiles a little, and some of the old fondness is there, somehow. She feels idiotically like crying, and takes his hand.
"Please come in," she says softly. "Just for a little while."
She makes tea and they sit on the sofa together. She sits closer this time, and for once he doesn't try to discourage her. She asks about his mission and he tells her what he knows, and he stares over the rim of his teacup at her with the steam rising and darting over his narrow, weary features. She rests her head on his shoulder, feels his breathing and distantly his heartbeat and is suddenly overwhelmed by how powerfully, how madly, how utterly and completely she loves this man. After a while, when they have drifted into silence, his cheek falls to rest on top of her head and she thinks about the warmth, his hair tickling her cheek, the steady sound of his breathing, and how intensely she wants to wake to this every morning, how she wants to drown in this warmth, how she wants to spend the rest of her life making him dinner and tea and brewing the Wolfsbane every month and scolding him cheerily after a transformation and she knows that he will laugh then because she will find things for him to laugh about. But this borders on what if and she is falling too much in love with his breathing and the warmth of him beside her, and she can't help it: her mind flails through what if, what if, what if until she aches with some dark ghost of joy.
Evening brims in the sky, and he gets up to take his leave and they walk to the door, saying things that don't mean much of anything just to fill the empty air. She thinks, stay, stay, stay, childishly.
In the doorway, he suddenly takes hold of her shoulders and kisses her, searchingly, longingly, sadly, and he does not stop; he goes on, very tenderly, until she feels that they ache in unison, like a long, slow chord. She clings to the taste and smell and feel of him, feels his lips brush away the tears she didn't know she let fall. Just as tenderly, he takes her in his arms and holds her, as if all at once he is trying to comfort her and draw strength from her; holds her, as if he is trying to make up for the rest of forever.
When he draws away, he doesn't say the apology in his eyes; his fingers touch her cheek once, and he murmurs, "I love you, Nymphadora." The name feels like a caress coming from him. "Just don't—please remember, I love you. I love you."
"I know," she says, and manages to find him a smile. "Come back to me, hmm?"
His eyebrows rise infinitesimally in that apologetic gesture again.
"If it weren't—if you didn't—would you—?"
She wishes she hadn't mentioned her what ifs. Tenderly, he kisses her fingertips, then sets her hand down at her side, as if trying to undo things. "I would stay. And you could burn toast for me."
She laughs through her tears. "Come back anyway."
He doesn't say anything, but she thinks—she prays, she prays—that his eyes mean yes.
Remus disappears into the chill English fog, and Nymphadora Tonks watches him go. And she waits. She is good at waiting, and watching, and loving, and she thinks, maybe this is enough; just to love.
Oh, it's got to be.