A/N: For Gilpin, who's a wonderful friend, and this one's her favourite…. She also (unintentionally) gave me this chapter's title, which had previously been the source of much internal debate, strife and sleepless nights, but I loved the idea, and thought it very fitting...
They sat side by side on the steps leading up to the Entrance Hall, not speaking.
Remus watched a breeze rustle the trees, a bird fly overhead and land on the grass just in front of them, and Tonks shifted next to him, drawing her knees tighter to her chest, staring fixedly at her boots.
He knew he should say something, and there was so much he wanted to –
But he wondered what he could possibly say that would encompass the enormity of what he felt. He had a myriad thoughts – more feelings – how could he possibly put them into mere words?
He could just about feel the warmth of her arm on his – and the one thought that raised its head above all others was that being near her was making him feel alive for the first time in months. And it wasn't something he'd been aware of lacking, but –
He hadn't realised how grey and dark the world had felt without her.
He wondered what on earth Tonks was thinking, if she had the same thought pulsing in her veins he did, that he just wanted this to be over so they could be them again, even though he didn't know if that was possible, or how he'd make it happen. He glanced at her, but her face was turned away, her eyes fixed on her boots and her hair falling across her cheek.
Merlin, he'd missed her.
It was like Molly had said – he'd had other people in his life, but they hadn't – couldn't – replace her; he'd missed what she was to him. He'd missed the way she poked fun at him, the way her eyes lit up in amused annoyance sometimes when she looked at him. He'd ached to hear her laughter – not just because of the sound of it, but because of the way it made him feel to be the cause of it.
And Merlin, he wanted that back.
He wanted, more than anything, to have a conversation like the ones they'd had at Grimmauld late at night, where they'd teased and flirted until they couldn't tell the difference – or one of the ones they'd had when all of that was in the past, because she'd always made it so easy to talk, even about things he normally found difficult.
In fact, he wanted anything other than what they'd had for the last few months –
But how on earth did he make that happen, after everything?
Was it even possible?
He ran a hand over his jaw, trying to ease the tension out of it, but failing, and Tonks shot a glance at him over her arms, resting on her knees.
Remus supposed he just had to say something, and see what happened, because they couldn't just sit and not talk because he was afraid he didn't have the right thing to say.
He shifted a little on the step.
"So how've you been?" he said, forcing casualness, as if he was making small talk with an old friend he was embarrassed about not owling.
Tonks laughed, just a little, and he bit back a smile, not wanting to hope too quickly, even though his stomach churned at the sound. "Awful," she said, her tone a few shades lighter than the word deserved, although her voice cracked, a little. "You?"
"Worse," he said, glancing up at the sky and staring, for a moment, at nothing in particular.
When he let his gaze return, she turned her head to look at him, and he met her eye, offering her half a smile.
He'd meant it as a joke, almost, because it didn't seem entirely wise to launch straight into any of the more earth-shattering things he thought he might say, but after a moment's consideration, he wondered if that wasn't the most honest thing they'd said to each other in months.
And it was the truth, wasn't it? He had been worse than awful without her, and by the look of things, she hadn't fared much better.
Tonks shifted, sat up a little, cradling her hands and her wand in her lap. "I'm sorry," she said, "for what I said in front of everyone – "
"No," he said. "You shouldn't apologise for that."
"I think I should – "
"Well," he said, gently, "I don't want you to."
Tonks let out an amused breath, nodded, smiled a little, and stared at her fingers as they toyed absentmindedly with her wand.
Remus thought that maybe he should say that he was the one who should be apologising for letting things become as twisted and impossible as they had, that although he agreed that the timing of her outburst hadn't been ideal, he understood why the sight of Bill in bed and Molly and Fleur arguing about who loved him most had made her say what she had –
But he didn't even really know where to start when it came to telling her how her words had affected him, the chain reaction of thoughts they had set off, how he hadn't slept for wondering if he could really believe that she meant them.
And so, they lapsed back into silence.
He watched the bird that had landed in front of them hop merrily across the grass, and after a moment, Tonks cleared her throat. "You must think I'm so pathetic," she said, fiddling with her skirt, "pining after you."
"Of course I – "
"I am, though," she said. "I can't even change the colour of my bloody hair."
She tugged a strand down over her forehead and looked at it sadly, then pushed it back again. "You can't – not at all?" he said, and she shook her head. "Why?"
"Dunno," she said, shrugging. "It's never happened before. At first, I just couldn't be bothered, and then when I tried, it just didn't happen."
She was attempting to be nonchalant, he thought, but her voice cracked just slightly, belying the casualness of her words, and so he shuffled closer, resting his shoulder against hers. Tonks swallowed, studying the laces on her boots with entirely false fierce concentration. "It's like – " she said, " – I don't know. Like inside somewhere, I just don't want to. Like I want to look like this, because this is how I feel and anything else would just be a lie."
The word felt wholly inadequate to both what she was saying – confiding – and the knot in Remus' stomach.
"It's all right," she said. "It's not the end of the world, is it? I think some people quite like me less colourful – although Fleur said that if I was going to get stuck with anything, something in an auburn would have been more flattering to my complexion."
Tonks attempted a laugh, but it faltered on her lips, and Remus' chest constricted. It had never occurred to him that leaving would affect her so – intrinsically. The thought that he should have been there for her twisted in his stomach – he should have noticed sooner, he thought, taken Dumbledore's hint that she wasn't herself more to heart – but he'd been so consumed by everything else going on between them –
"I didn't know," he said quietly.
"Yeah, well," she said, meeting his eye with a rather wry smile, "we've been rather too busy arguing about other things, lately, haven't we?"
He let out a short, amused sigh. "Indeed," he said.
He paused for a moment, apologies and proclamations half-formed on his lips – but however he looked at it, he couldn't change what he'd done – he couldn't take it back, however much he thought he'd like to.
He couldn't change what he'd done, he thought, but he could stop doing it.
That's what he'd come here to say, wasn't it? That he didn't want things to go on like this, with awkward glances in corridors when they crossed paths, arguments about things he wasn't even sure mattered, stilted conversation on steps when there was so much more he wanted to say.
He had to at least try, didn't he, to get back what they'd had?
"About that – "
"You don't have to explain, Remus," she said, shaking her head rather wearily. "I know what you're saying – and I understand. I know us being together wouldn't always be easy, I'm not blind to that – but – well, I just think it'd be worth it. But I've said that before and you seem to disagree, so…."
She trailed off into another shrug and sighed, a mixture of resignation, disappointment, and maybe even irritation, and ran her fingernail along the grain of her wand, her eyes fixed on what she was doing.
His blood thundered through his veins.
He'd come here to tell her that everything he'd said – well, he hadn't meant it, not all of it, or he had, but maybe he'd been wrong –
But at the thought of saying that out loud, his heart leapt worryingly and his brain didn't seem to know any words any more –
But if he didn't –
Molly had been right. Tonks wouldn't wait forever, and the thought of losing her – of not even having this –
"No," he said softly. "I don't. I don't disagree at all."
Tonks' fingernail stopped its journey instantly, and she turned towards him more, her leg brushing closer to his. She looked up slowly, raised her eyebrows at him, and in her eyes he saw a flicker of something – hope she was trying to contain because she'd been disappointed so many times, or something else – intrigue, maybe, because he was saying something different.
It had never been a case of not thinking it was worth it, because to him it always had been – he'd just worried that it wasn't fair to her –
But even as he thought it, the importance he'd put on that diminished. She'd been so miserable without him – as miserable as he'd been without her. And that meant something, didn't it?
"I thought – " he said, " – I thought it was for the best. I thought you'd be better off without me."
"Remus, that's – "
"But then, well, you didn't – don't – seem to be," he said, cutting her off and seeing the protest she'd been about to make die on her lips.
"No," she said, and glanced down at her boots again, the tiniest hint of a smile straining where protest had been.
"And I'm – as previously mentioned – worse than awful without you."
He smiled tentatively, wondering why his heart had abandoned its normal rhythm for something altogether more staccato, if it was pounding so loudly that she could hear it.
He waited to see what she thought, wanting to look away, to see what that bird was up to – to look at anything but her to keep his nerves from fraying away altogether, but he couldn't, and the next few minutes passed achingly slowly.
After a moment, Tonks raised her gaze to his, her eyes still guarded, and the thought that he'd disappointed her so many times that she didn't quite want to give in to the hope he saw in there too tugged painfully at his chest.
"Then, why?" she said, and it was such a simple question, and she asked it with such a look of incomprehension, it took his breath away.
For a moment, he stared at the grass, trying to get it all straight in his head – but he'd had nearly a year to think about it and he still couldn't quite fathom it. He flattened his palms on his thighs, thinking hard, but he'd thought about it for so long already, and it seemed obvious that the answer wasn't going to drop into his lap in a matter of seconds.
Why? Why had he done it?
He supposed the simple answer was because he loved her, and because he'd thought of a million different reasons why it wouldn't work, why it was for the best that she find someone else.
And that sounded simple, he thought, but it wasn't, because why he'd thought that was endlessly complicated.
He toyed with a loose thread on his trousers, and after a moment, an idea fixed in his mind, stubborn and resolute. He'd made a snap decision, hadn't he? He'd decided that he just wanted to see her – damn the consequences, almost – and tell her how he felt –
And the thought made his mouth dry and his palms distinctly not – but if he didn't say something –
Remus took a deep breath, flexing his fingers and then settling them back on his thighs. This wasn't the time to think about whether it was the right thing to say, to weigh if it was enough – he just had to tell her how he'd felt, explain, and then maybe they could move on.
"I was confused," he said, with a vaguely apologetic smile. "I want so much for you, and it didn't seem likely – possible, even – that I could be the kind of person who was right for you."
He paused, a little startled how easily the words had flowed from him when he'd spent so long trying to explain it to himself. "And at the same time – " He swallowed, and she looked up, meeting his eye and holding his gaze, even though her brow was tense and he knew she was nervous about what he was going to say. " – I wanted, so desperately, to try to be."
Tonks smiled slightly in understanding, and Remus leant back, running a hand through his hair. "I wanted to do what was right, regardless of whether it coincided with what I wanted – I just couldn't decide what that was. I still can't." He clenched his fist in his hair, feeling on the verge of something that made his insides squirm. "But now," he said, "I'm wondering if maybe the reason I can't make a decision is that – it's not mine to make."
He wasn't even sure if that thought had fully formed in his head before he'd let it out of his mouth – but all of a sudden, everything felt just a little bit clearer.
That was it, wasn't it? If there was a correct decision, he'd have found it by now, wouldn't he? And yet months of thinking had yielded nothing but abject confusion.
"I don't think it was my place," he said, quietly, "to decide what was best for you – for us. I should have trusted you to make your own decision."
He let his hand fall back into his lap, because now he'd said it, it seemed blindingly obvious.
For a moment, he just looked at her, his heart pounding and his blood thumping because he didn't know if he'd said the right thing, if it was enough. He watched her face for any trace of a reaction – but it was impassive, as if she was going over what he'd said, trying to figure something out.
A minute passed – two, perhaps – and dread settled in his stomach. He hadn't said the right thing.
Panic flashed through his veins, and he wanted to get up, walk away –
But just when he was about to get to his feet, make some excuse to leave, Tonks' lips parted, and slowly – far too slowly for how impatient he felt – a smile, slight, but wonderfully real, crept across her face. "Well," she said, "I have been trying to say that."
He sniggered – partly in relief and partly because it was true – and ran a hand over his jaw. "Thanks," he said. "It's gracious of you not to play the 'I told you so' card."
"I know," she said, and her smile broadened.
She bumped his shoulder with hers, and, for a moment, they just smiled at each other.
It was the first proper, genuine smile they'd shared in months, and everything felt new – but familiar, too, and he liked it, more than he had words to say. He was aware that he was breathing a little more quickly than usual, and his lungs felt full of light rather than air, and – he couldn't explain it.
The ache he'd had in his chest, though, loosened a little, and for the first time in months, the future he'd half-imagined started to swim back into focus. "Are you going to call me a git now, or...?"
"I might save it for later," she said. "Besides, I always knew you were a git, so I'm not entirely sure I can hold it against you."
He chuckled, and then reached for her hand, folding it into his. He met her eye tentatively, checking it was ok, and she smiled a little wider, and squeezed his fingers. "Why didn't you?" she said. "Why didn't you trust me to know what I wanted?"
Remus shook his head, trying to put into words what he'd thought at the time – but now, it seemed vaguely insulting that he'd thought he had to protect her, when she was so brave, and capable.
He could make excuses, tell her that what had happened at the Ministry had really shaken him, that when he'd held her in his arms on the hospital floor and thought her fragile it had changed the way he thought about her –
But it was just that, an excuse, and the more he thought about it, the more it seemed that everything that had happened was more to do with him than her.
At the heart of it, he supposed, was that what he'd had with Tonks was something he'd never expected to have. The depth of his feelings – and hers – had taken him by surprise – and at first, it had all felt like a wonderful revelation.
But then, when Dumbledore had asked him to go away, he'd started to question whether what he thought they'd felt was real – and he'd thought that it couldn't be, because wonderful things just didn't happen to people like him.
"I just – I don't know," he said. "It sounds so pathetic to say I thought I couldn't possibly be what you wanted – that I wasn't good enough – but – it's the truth."
"You really are an emotionally-crippled wanker."
Remus almost chuckled – but when she looked at him, even though she was smiling, her eyes were deadly serious. She glanced down at their hands and then back up again, looking at him through her eyelashes. "I don't want to give you a big head," she said, her fingers tightening their grip on his, "but it breaks my heart to hear you say that, because you are good enough."
She held his gaze, and he knew she was utterly sincere. He swallowed, and she smiled, slightly, leaning into him a little, her dark eyes sparkling in a way he'd thought they might have forgotten how to. "In fact," she said softly, "you're better than good enough. More than better than good enough – more than more than better than good enough."
His pulse raced, and he chuckled, looking down at her hand in his. "I don't know how I ever gave you the impression that I wanted anything more from you than what you had to offer," she said.
For a moment, they just sat, her fingers gripping his and his gripping back, and he thought that of all the things she could have said, that was the one, the thing he'd needed to hear, although a moment ago, he wouldn't have known it at all.
He closed his eyes, savouring the warmth – the comfort – of her fingers twined with his, and tried to swallow the surge of emotion – relief and gratitude and embarrassment and nervousness that all became indistinguishable from each other – in his chest.
The more he thought about it –
No, she'd never done anything to make him feel that she wanted anything more – but he hadn't trusted it.
He opened his eyes and stared at his knees, and when he raised the hand that wasn't clutching hers to run it along his jaw, it was shaking.
He'd thought that she was settling, that she liked him enough to sacrifice what she wanted –
Maybe he'd always half-thought she was just saying what she was saying to be kind –
Or maybe he just hadn't dared to hope that she meant it.
He'd thought she'd come to regret the decision to be with him, that she'd made it rashly, perhaps, that he had to think for both of them to do what was right for her.
It had never occurred to him that it wasn't like that at all, that he could be – was – what she wanted, that in fact, he was to her exactly what she was to him.
And he didn't know quite why –
Or maybe he was back to having not dared to hope.
He met her gaze slowly, smiled apologetically, wondering if he had to find a way to explain all that, or if she'd known all along, because she always had seen through him.
She smiled back, and he thought the latter was probably the case, and he almost laughed at the thought, but couldn't, because a lump seemed to have taken up residence in his throat.
It didn't seem possible that she could feel for him what he felt for her – but then it didn't seem entirely possible that any man had felt for any woman what he felt for her –
But that was how it was supposed to feel, wasn't it?
And now he thought about it, his doubts had always been baseless – she'd never given him any reason to think he wasn't what she wanted. He pressed his fingers into his chin, thinking that, at his age, it was a bit foolish to be quite so dominated by his insecurities.
Tonks shifted on the step, knocking the toes of her boots together and letting her eyes dart back to them for a moment. "Anyway," she said, "since we're having a cards-on-the-table moment, there's something else you should know." He looked up, and she frowned a little, as if she wasn't quite sure of what she was about to say, but determined to say it anyway. "It's something about me," she said. "Something that – changed when you left."
"Your Patronus," he said, softly.
"How did you..?" she said, eyes widening, before her frown deepened. "Snape – I bet he couldn't wait to – "
"No," Remus said. "Harry, but – unintentionally. He doesn't know what it means."
Tonks nodded, then swallowed, and met his eye tentatively. "Do you?" she said quietly, and Remus smiled.
"I think so," he said, rubbing his thumb over the back of her hand.
"Scared the hell out of me the first time I saw it," she said. "I mean you think it's something you can count on, don't you, your Patronus? For a moment I thought I hadn't Conjured one at all, and it was someone else's."
"I can imagine."
"Honestly, though," she said, half of her mouth hitching into an uncertain smile, "I don't think I knew, until you were gone, how much I – cared. I mean we'd talked – you know – about the future a bit, and I was starting to – well more than starting to – think maybe…. But it wasn't until you'd gone that I realised…. "
She let her words, and the implication, hang in the air, and her eyes met his. He knew she was waiting to see what he thought, whether he'd agree that yes, they had been heading for something unwavering and wonderful – and he'd say it, he thought, because he had thought that, too – but there was something else he needed to say first, he thought, something she needed to see. In truth, it was something he probably should have shown her a long time ago, but –
He hadn't been ready.
He wasn't even sure he was now, but she deserved to see – to know – because he wasn't sure any of this would have happened, if –
He shifted on the step, and she leant back – surprised, he thought, or wary even, fearful that she'd said too much – and so he smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring fashion and took out his wand. "In the interests of complete honesty," he said, and then closed his eyes.
To his side, Tonks made some kind of noise of slightly startled question, but he tried to ignore it, to focus. He wondered if he'd even be able to Conjure one. He hadn't tried in so long –
He thought of her. He thought of that morning, hung-over, when he'd offered to take her out for Chinese and her eyes had sparkled in reply – and then of them both on the sofa, with her head in his lap, when he'd watched her sleep and later she'd said she thought of the future as something with him in it. He thought of tenacious hopefulness, and her hand, curled into his, a perfect fit, and what it all meant – and when he opened his eyes, in the next instant, there, on the grass in front of them, was a shimmering, but unmistakable, form.
His Patronus. It looked around expecting something to chase off, and, finding only a sparrow on the grass rather than a hoard of Dementors, it turned and faced them, its head on one side, inquiringly.
"Bloody hell, Remus," Tonks said. "Is that..?"
"Padfoot? Yes," he said, and, even though she'd guessed, her eyes widened.
"But wasn't it – "
"It changed," he said. "After Sirius died."
Tonks reached for his hand, her fingers slipping between his, and she raised her eyebrows at him encouragingly to go on. "I'm not sure I knew, either, how much I'd miss him, how much I'd counted on him being there," he said. "I never expected to lose him twice."
"Of course not."
"I don't know exactly how it works," he said. "Maybe I just didn't want to lose the memory of what he and James did for me, and Harry already had Prongs…."
He swallowed, allowing his grip to tighten on her fingers. "So yes, I know what it means. And I'm – " He let out a quick, amused sigh before meeting her eye. " – is flattered the right word?"
Tonks chuckled breathily. "I don't know," she said. "I think it makes us about as pathetic as each other, though."
He chuckled too, shifted closer, pressing his arm into hers – and when she leaned into him too, his insides soared. She shot a glance at the Patronus on the grass, and then met his eye, smiling tentatively, but a little cheekily, too. "He'd have laughed his arse off, wouldn't he?" she said, and Remus chuckled harder.
"Yes," he said. "I'd have never heard the end of it."
Their eyes met for a second that seemed to last forever – and there was so much more he wanted to say – he hadn't even said sorry, or told her that he loved her, and he still didn't know what would happen, if they were together, or not quite, yet –
But as he looked at her, and she looked back, something seemed to flow between them – some silent acknowledgement of everything that had happened, an understanding, maybe, of what and why.
And the air tingled around them.
It made him feel almost nervous –
But he wouldn't have looked away for anything, because there was something too exciting in Tonks' eyes – hopefulness, he thought, as tenacious as it ever had been, and this time, he felt it too.
And maybe they weren't quite together yet, he thought, but they'd never been entirely apart, and somewhere inside him, the thought stirred that they never would be.
Maybe all he'd ever had to do to make his half-imagined future a reality was dare to hope it would happen. And now, he thought, he did. And it was nerve-wracking and terrifying because he didn't know if she felt the same – but exciting, too, because she very well might –
At the thought, he shuffled closer, pressing his leg into hers, and when she didn't move away, he let go of her hand, and put his arm around her, because he couldn't not. He scuffed her shoulder with his thumb, thinking of all the times over the last year that they should have sat like this, talked about the various things they both would no doubt have liked to share –
She turned and buried her face in his neck, her arms fastening firmly round his waist – and he let out a heavy breath, relief and apology combined. She pushed herself closer to him, and when she did, he tightened his grip, because how could he have thought it was for the best for either of them not to have this?
Maybe Molly had been right, he thought. Maybe he'd pushed Tonks away because he was afraid he'd lose her anyway, and he'd wanted it, at least, to be on his terms.
Maybe he had thought that he didn't deserve her, that there was no way someone as wonderful as Tonks would choose him for the right reasons –
Maybe he'd been scared to start believing in forever, in case he was wrong – or maybe he'd just thought that werewolves didn't deserve happy endings.
Did it matter though, now, what his reasons had been?
Tonks was in his arms, and his face was in her hair, and they were clinging to each other, and nothing else seemed to exist, let alone matter. He took a deep breath, winding his arms tighter around her, wanting to reassure himself that this was real, she was real, and he wasn't lost in some fantasy –
He could feel her heartbeat, thundering against his chest, smell her hair, feel her skin on his. Her breath was rapid and hot against his neck, and her fingers splayed insistently on his back –
It was real, he thought, wonderfully real, even though he could scarcely believe it.
For what felt like ages, they just sat, side by side on the steps leading up to the Entrance Hall, not talking –
And they hadn't said everything that needed saying, but this, this felt like what they needed.
For another moment, they just sat, with her head on his shoulder and their arms around each other, his fingers wandering up and down her back –
But there was one thing, he thought, that couldn't wait to be said out loud, implied as it might have been for a long time.
Slowly, he took her face in his hands, drawing her just far enough away from him so that he could look at her. He pushed her hair back from her face clumsily with his fingers –
"I love you," he said.
Her breath hitched slightly – he thought his might have, too, and for a moment, he was just lost in her dark eyes, too lost to even properly register her reaction. But he didn't want to look away, even to let his gaze rove her face – and then she smiled, and let out a rather choked laugh. "Good," she said, and he grinned, and –
He hadn't intended to – it wasn't why he'd said it, he'd just said it because he couldn't not – but she was so close, and he already had her face in his hands –
He leant forward and kissed her, softly, just once, to see, letting his lips linger just slightly longer than he'd intended –
He drew back – but it was only a moment before her lips were on his. They were warm and insistent, and in her kiss was a promise of something – something that meant he couldn't resist kissing her back with everything, everything he'd held back, everything he had.
Her hands slid up his back, over his shoulders, and her fingers twisted in his hair –
And he'd kissed her hundreds – thousands, maybe, even – of times before, but not like this. It was more, somehow, because now he was unafraid to let her see – feel – exactly what he felt for her. And when she kissed him back and her fingers raked through his hair, for the first time, he believed what he felt.
When she pulled away, breathless as he was, and hugged him tightly to her, they both laughed a bit, although in a rather croaky fashion, and so he held her to him. "I love you so much," he said, smoothing her hair with his fingers, "more than I ever thought I'd love anyone. And I'm so sorry for everything – and sorry isn't nearly a big enough word to cover it – and I'd understand, completely, if you didn't want anything more to do with me – "
He half-wondered where the words had come from, because he'd thought he'd struggle for them, but there they were, and when she twisted in his arms to look at him, all the words he'd planned to say next fell away. "I didn't do all this," she said, gesturing vaguely between them, "for us not to end up together. You're stuck with me."
Remus chuckled, taking her face in his hands again, because he couldn't think of anything better than being stuck with Tonks –
"And – " she said, stopping his thoughts in their tracks. She bit her lip and then looked up at him, smiling slightly. " – I love you too," she said. "You know, in case you were wondering."
He laughed, although the noise caught in his chest a little, and he stroked her face with his thumb, trying to concentrate on the sensation of her skin beneath his fingers, her eyes on his, looking at him like that, so he could remember it forever.
So much had happened –
His head span and his heart thumped, but two things shouted out from the swirl, louder than all the others: she loved him, and she thought he was good enough.
He glanced at his Patronus, still sitting on the grass in front of them, and he thought he saw it brighten a little, seem a little more solid than it had before, and as he smiled, the dog nodded, turned on its heel and bounded away after the sparrow.
This time, when he kissed her, the world, and all the worries and doubts and insecurities it held, melted away. And they weren't gone forever – he knew that – but it was nice to be free of them for a while, and he couldn't help thinking he'd banished a few of them for good.
He woke up before she did, and, for a moment, he just watched her sleep.
She had one arm curled under her pillow, and her tiny, fluttering snores worked their usual magic on his insides. Most of the sheets were tangled around her, but he didn't mind. With a scrap of duvet and her next to him, he was warmer than he had been for months, and he smiled at the thought of how he might wake her up, what they might do when he did.
He hadn't expected this to happen.
He'd wanted to stay on that step forever – but she'd still been on patrol, and he'd thought that if he never got up, his former pupils might have been a little shocked at his behaviour.
She'd joked about rubbish timing, and he'd said better late than never, and they'd shared a grin. She'd told him that she was still staying at the Three Broomsticks and he could pop round later, but he'd said he'd wait – that she'd waited nearly a year, he could stand an hour or two, and as she'd walked away, gone back to her patrol, he'd been struck by a thought, which still felt as wondrous to him now as it had when it had first formed.
He'd made her happy.
And it wasn't just that – he hadn't set out to make her happy, even tried – he'd done what he wanted, and it had made her happy. The possibility that the two could go hand in hand, that it wouldn't necessarily be selfish to pursue what he wanted, had almost bowled him over, it seemed so enticing.
Remus had spent the afternoon at Bill's bedside, but in rather more hopeful mood than he'd spent the morning, and at one point, Bill had stirred, woken up for a little while. They'd explained what had happened, and after a moment's hesitation, he'd looked at Fleur's fingers, twined with his, cracked a smile, and said it didn't matter, that Fleur obviously wanted him for his money, anyway.
And Fleur had laughed, sworn at him in French, then cried a little –
Molly had fussed around them both, and Remus had watched as Bill took the women in his life in, understanding, he thought, what had happened between them.
Tonks had appeared soon after, and they'd walked back to Hogsmeade together in the sunshine, saying some of the things they'd clearly both longed to say. They'd talked about Dumbledore, how they still couldn't quite believe what had happened, talked about the future for the Order, for Harry, for Hogwarts – and it was only when they got to the Three Broomsticks, and had slipped up the stairs and into her room, that he'd wondered what on earth they were going to do next.
It was a small room – he'd known, he supposed, that all it contained was a bed and a desk, but once they were in there with the door closed behind them, it had struck him that there really was just a bed and a desk, and for a moment, he'd felt awkward. He hadn't wanted her to think he expected anything, that he thought they could just pick up exactly where they'd left off – even though a part of him had longed to.
He'd looked out of the window, remembering the last time he'd been there, thought that it felt like a different lifetime, a different person, a different world, even, because the things that had seemed important then didn't now, or did, but for different reasons.
Tonks had asked what he was thinking, and so he'd told her, and she'd slipped closer, had stood on her toes to kiss him. And the world had melted away again, and he'd allowed himself a moment to give in to what he wanted, which seemed to include his lips on her neck and her T shirt on the floor. It had only been when she'd started undoing his buttons that he'd pulled away – even as bits of his body protested at his protest.
He'd asked if it was really all right –
And she'd raised an eyebrow at him in amused annoyance, and said that he knew she thought having her neck kissed was very much more than all right, and then had accused him of fishing for a compliment.
She'd looked at him, tentative invitation in her smile, and he'd known that everything hadn't been magically fixed, that the world hadn't really gone away –
But he'd thought, too, that if she was teasing him about fishing for compliments, she was more herself than she had been for ages, and with her, he felt more like himself, too….
He'd liked that they felt like them again.
And so he'd kissed her – and action had lead to reaction… and before long, what he hadn't intended was just happening.
They'd spent most of the night awake, talking, and – doing other things, things that he couldn't quite resist a smirk at the memory of.
She'd told him what it had been like being stationed in Hogsmeade, how sad it had made her to see some of the shops there and more in Diagon Alley close down, how she'd been so very proud of Fred and George for taking a stand and opening where others were shutting up shop. She'd talked about her problem metamorphosing more, too, told him about an incident where she'd tried to brew one of those colour-change hair potions because she was sick of the questions about it – only she hadn't been able to find one for pink, and so had improvised and caused a small explosion, which had brought Savage running down the corridor, expecting the worst.
He'd talked, too, about what he'd been doing. He'd told her about the werewolves, how they lived, what he'd done. In fact, he'd ended up telling her more than he'd imagined he would, but once he started, it didn't feel right to be anything other than completely honest, and he'd known without her saying so that she'd understand. He'd talked about what he hoped would happen, that maybe he'd managed to sew the seeds of doubt in some of their minds, that as time wore on, they'd come to see that Greyback's promises were false, and he'd been right.
They'd talked about them, too, how they felt, how useless they'd been without each other, finally falling silent around the time that the first light of dawn started pricking at the curtains.
He'd just revelled in the sensation of having her nestled against him, her head on his shoulder and her fingers splayed on his stomach, her breath tickling his skin, but just as sleep had been starting to more than beckon, his thoughts had drifted, and one last thing had stirred inside him. He'd shifted a little to look at her, and she'd murmured a protest as he'd asked if she was still awake, but had opened her eyes anyway, and met his gaze with a sleepy raise of one eyebrow.
And he'd asked her – when she thought about the future, was he still in it?
And maybe it hadn't been a fair question, so soon, but he'd had to ask, and the wait for her answer had been agony, even though it couldn't have been more than a second –
She'd swatted him on the shoulder and said, 'of course. It's nothing but you. It never was'.
And he'd grinned, then, positively grinned, and had asked her if she really meant it. With glorious predictability, she'd laughed and said no, although her twinkling eyes had given an altogether different answer, and he hadn't been able to resist pulling her closer and kissing her, trying to show her how very much her answer meant to him.
He thought that was how the sheets had become so impossibly tangled.
He knew it wasn't everything. There was a lot still to say, and so much was happening –
But they were together, without question or doubt or caveat, they were together, and that, he thought, was a start – a wonderful, glorious start.
Remus shifted closer, smiled as the bed creaked a warning of his intentions, and let his fingers drift up over Tonks' shoulder.
When she didn't stir, he inched closer still, pressing a kiss to her lips, and then another to her forehead. Her eyelids fluttered, and she smiled, a sleepy, "Wotcher," tumbling from her lips.
He leant in to kiss her properly, and as he did, he thought that the future he'd always half-imagined was gone.
It hadn't twisted away, though, because he was afraid to try and grasp it – now, it was fully-formed, and so real –
And he still couldn't quite make out the details, whether there was a cottage with roses round the door, and children in the garden and a ring on his finger, or not – but he knew that at the heart of it was the woman lying next to him.
"You're such a git," she said, mumbling her words against his mouth, "waking me up."
He smirked a little at the smile on her lips as she spoke, trailed kisses down her throat, and then moved away a bit so he could look at her. He let his fingers dally in her hair for a moment, and as they did, he thought he saw traces of colour beneath his fingers – golds and greens and oranges – even pinks. And they were still faint –
But they were there.
"You love me anyway," he said, biting back a grin without a great amount of success, and she rolled her eyes at him.
"Apparently," she said, and as her eyes met his, she grinned.
Remus laughed, and pulled her closer, his fingers still in her hair as he kissed her –
And as she ran her fingers up his arm and made his heart skip a beat, he couldn't help thinking that 'apparently' really had always been one of his very favourite words.
A/N: Well, that's it - Over is over. Thank you very much for reading – and all your reviews have been very much appreciated. For my last bribe, I offer werewolves and hand-holding, to get you through Deathly Hallows and whatever JKR has in store.
On that front, it's been a bit of a race against the clock to get this finished, and other things that are less time-sensitive have taken a back seat, so apologies if you're waiting on those.I've got a coda to this story to post this week, and if you'd like to read my idea for what might happen at the start of the next book, it's called Graveside Manna, and you'll find it in my profile. Enjoy Deathly Hallows : ).