Disclaimer: Not mine. They'd be happier if they were mine.
Thanks to Pandora Culpa for the beta! This was written for the RLNTFication on LJ.
"We'll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet" was originally published on FictionAlley on 14 December, 2005.
The only thing that she remembered clearly about Christmas Day was having to break up a brawl between two drunk young men in the Three Broomsticks, even though she was technically off duty for the week. It was a stupid thing: one of them had said something about the other's sister (or his pet parakeet, or something else entirely; Tonks never really got a clear answer on that point), and it had escalated into shouts of "Oh yeah? So's your mother!" and then into hitting and throwing things.
One of the young men, though, had an air of familiarity about him, which was why she remembered the incident. Possibly it was his hair, which was brown and rather shaggy, or possibly it was his thin, lithe hands. Or possibly it was the fact that she'd already spent most of the day looking for something that would remind her of Remus, just so she could have a valid excuse to miss him.
But whether the familiarity was real or not, it served its purpose. She stared after the young man as he trudged out of the pub, letting all of her pent-up sorrow and worry fill her, and when he was gone, she ordered a drink. And another drink. And then another.
Rosmerta, who knew Tonks well enough to know that she wasn't normally a heavy drinker, ventured to ask what was wrong – and Tonks, grateful in her inebriated state for any shoulder to cry on, poured her heart out into Rosmerta's ear. In return, Rosmerta nodded sympathetically and poured her best mead out into Tonks' cup.
The day after Christmas, she had a massive hangover, the likes of which she hadn't experienced since she was a teenager. So she moped about her tiny rented Hogsmeade flat, spreading marmalade on a bit of bread and calling it a meal, drawing her curtains shut because the startlingly white snow gave her a headache, and vowing never to consume alcohol again.
Two days after Christmas, the hangover had evaporated and left her feeling rather good about things. After all, things can never be all that bad if you can stand up without feeling woozy, or if you can eat an entire plate of roasted potatoes without wanting to throw them up.
Three days after Christmas, she tried turning her hair sky-blue. Her headache came back with the effort of it, but her hair stayed brown.
Four days after Christmas, she went back on patrol duty.
Five days after Christmas, her taste for alcohol had returned.
Six days after Christmas, it was New Year's Eve: a traditional Notorious Night of Mischief-Making, which meant that everyone was back on duty.
Tonks stopped in the Three Broomsticks that night for the first time all week, just to say a quick hello and to warm up for a moment.
"Glad to see you're still alive," said Rosmerta with a secretive smile. "Last time I saw you, you could barely stand on your own."
Tonks' stomach gave a little twinge of remembrance, but she ignored it. "It happens to the best of us," she said, as if none of it had really mattered. "Thanks for listening, though. And for the mead."
Rosmerta nodded. "Anytime," she said in a businesslike fashion. "Give your boyfriend my best."
Tonks blinked. "Boyfriend?"
"Aye, the mysterious fellow on the life-and-death mission. Maybe you'll tell me who he is now you've sobered up a bit."
She felt herself blanching at the vague memory of Christmas and mead and messy tears. And she wondered how much she'd told Rosmerta. At least, apparently, she hadn't named names...
"Oh. He's not my boyfriend." And though she knew she really ought to be kinder, after everything she'd no doubt forced poor Rosmerta to listen to, she left without elaborating any further.
The chilly wind nipped at her as she stepped back outside, and she nodded at Willoughby and McSpoon, who nodded back as they passed on their patrol.
She scowled as she stomped through the snow. She'd been just fine when she'd woken up this morning – afternoon – with nothing on her mind but thoughts of snow and wind and food and her job, but Rosmerta just had to go and say Boyfriend, didn't she. It was amazing how one little false word had the power to turn her entire mood upside down.
(Although the bit about having woken up without him on her mind was also false. He was always there, lurking behind her thoughts. It was just easier, sometimes, to pretend that he wasn't.)
But now was not the time to let herself become preoccupied with thoughts of Remus. She'd already let herself go once that week, and what had that accomplished? Nothing but an embarrassing display in an near-empty pub, and far too many Galleons lost to mead.
And now that she was back on duty, she had far more important things to think about. Death Eaters. Dementors. That sort of thing.
With one hand in her pocket and the other ready to pull out her wand at a moment's notice, she made her way up and down the main street, along side streets, and in and out of alleys. She poked her head into Madam Puddifoot's, which she'd always thought was a stupid sort of place when she was at school – nowadays, she thought it was rather sweet and pretty. She made an appearance in the Hog's Head, where nothing seemed any dingier or more suspicious than usual. She even peered through the windows of the shops, most of which had already closed up for the night, just to make sure nothing was amiss.
And when she was finished, she started all over again.
Nine o'clock turned into ten o'clock, and ten o'clock became eleven o'clock, and midnight, which she'd privately dubbed the Hour of Reckoning, was fast approaching. Soon enough, Tonks had managed to push Remus to the back of her mind again.
Which made it very disconcerting when she saw him walking down the street at twenty-five minutes past eleven.
"Remus?" she said, because even then she wasn't sure it was him.
But it was: he looked up in response to his name, with the sort of expression on his face that made her wonder if he might turn in the other direction and run away.
He didn't, of course. This was Remus, and Remus didn't run away. Not in the physical sense, anyway.
"Hello," he said in a tired voice, and inclined his head in a polite nod.
"What are you doing here?" she said bluntly, and tried not to hope that his response might be, "Why, visiting you, of course."
"I'm not staying," he answered, even though it wasn't an answer at all. And he began walking again, past her and down the street.
Naturally, she followed. "You didn't answer me," she said. "What are you doing here?"
"I don't see that it's any business of yours," he said, and she recoiled at the coldness in his voice. "Is it?"
Fine then. She could be cold right back, if that was the way things were going to be. "It is, actually. It's my duty to report any suspicious activity, as you well know."
This caught his attention; but instead of offending him, as she'd hoped it might, it merely made him raise his eyebrows at her. "I'm suspicious now, am I?" he said. His voice was light, as though her implicit threat had fallen upon deaf or uncaring ears, but she noticed that the coldness was gone, replaced by a mild interest.
"Maybe," she said.
He paused in his tracks for a moment, regarding her with weary eyes. "It's cold out," he said. "I'm going inside. You should do the same."
With that, he pulled up the hood of his battered cloak and stalked off again – but this time, something interesting caught her eye. As he left her behind, he held his arm out ever so slightly, crooking his fingers in a beckoning motion. Intrigued, she followed him again, but at a distance this time, as though she wasn't really following him at all but walking this way for reasons of her own.
She was certain that he'd turn off the main street and go up to the Hog's Head, but instead she saw him go through the door of the Three Broomsticks. As though she hadn't noticed him, she did a quick routine check into some of the nearby alleys and darkened shop windows. Only after a few minutes had passed did she go inside, where she spotted him sitting at a table in the far corner, his hood effectively casting his face in shadow.
Rosmerta gave her a curious look as she made a casual beeline for Remus' table through the considerable crowd, but she dismissed the implicit question with a faint smile.
"I see what's going on now," Tonks whispered conspiratorially as she sat down across from Remus. "You're doing that spy thing, where you pretend you aren't interested in talking to me in public, so we have to talk in the darkest corner of a crowded pub while you hide your face and look as mysterious as you possibly can."
A dry chuckle escaped him, and she saw his shadowy lips crook into a halfhearted smile. "You're more right than you know," he said.
"I never said I thought I was wrong," she replied. "But that doesn't make it any less funny."
"I'm glad one of us thinks so," he said wryly. "I really can't stay long, you know."
"I sort of figured, from the spy routine."
"Oh? And what else did you figure?"
"I figured that you would drop enticing little hints about why you were here, but never actually tell me anything."
"Aha," he said pensively, and began to drum two of his fingers in a pattern on the table. "That'll be the part where you're wrong."
"I am?" she said, not bothering to disguise her surprise. "Excellent."
"Mead, Tonks?" came a voice from above her head. It appeared that instead of sending one of her waiters over to their table, as she usually did when the crowds grew large, Rosmerta had been intrigued enough to come over herself.
"Never again," replied Tonks with a good-natured chuckle. "I'll have a butterbeer tonight. You want one too?" she asked Remus, who nodded. "He'll have one too."
"One butterbeer for Miss Tonks," said Rosmerta slowly, making a show of scribbling the order down on a pad of paper, "and one butterbeer for...?"
"For Miss Tonks' mysterious friend," said Tonks. "Nice try. Very subtle."
With a shrug that didn't mask her disappointment, Rosmerta moved back toward the bar. It was a sour-faced waiter who eventually brought them their drinks.
"You're angry with me," said Remus, after a little while.
Since it wasn't a question, Tonks didn't bother trying to deny it. "Well," she said, "you haven't spoken to me since last October."
(October twenty-third, to be exact. But she wasn't about to say so.)
Remus sighed a tired sort of sigh. "You make it sound like I'm being intentionally hostile."
"Are you?" she said, without malice. It was funny, really, how little malice there was in this entire conversation. She'd spent months fretting over him, getting news of him through Dumbledore or Molly Weasley, and trying not to imagine him maimed or dead at the hands of Fenrir Greyback – and now that he was finally here, she didn't even have the heart to yell at him for it.
Maybe it was just relief.
"That's a silly question, Tonks," he said.
She had to think for a moment to remember what the question had been, but when she remembered Intentionally Hostile, she had to agree that it was, in fact, silly. So she just nodded. "I only wonder when I'd've seen you again if you hadn't been here tonight."
"Not for a long time," he said. She'd suspected as much. "I was only here to drop off my reports at the school, before I left again for..." He waved his hand vaguely, but she understood that the sentence ended with Greyback's name. A wave of unease shuddered through her, and she clenched her fist tightly around her butterbeer bottle.
"Did you have a good Christmas?" he said after a moment, and she detected a note of false brightness in his tone.
"No," she said sourly. "I was..." But she heard the accusation in her voice even as she spoke, and immediately decided not to say "alone," as she'd planned to. So what, then? Miserable? Drunk? Stupid?
"I was here," she finished lamely. A pause. "On duty," she added for good measure, even though it wasn't true.
"Ah," he said, taking a sip of his drink. "So that's why you turned down Molly's invitation. She didn't mention that you had to work."
"Didn't she?" said Tonks, but then blinked as she realized the implications of his words. "You mean you were there?"
Remus smiled tightly. "Yes."
All of a sudden, Tonks found herself wishing she hadn't sworn off mead so soon. It had all been for nothing, then – the isolation, the drinking. She'd thought that he would be forced to spend the holidays amongst Greyback's minions. And she'd turned Molly down because she hadn't thought she'd be able to stand being around so many cheerful people when all she could think about was Remus' safety and her own loneliness.
She'd thought she'd be doing everyone a favor when she decided to remain in Hogsmeade.
"I wish I'd been there," she said.
"We all do," he said sadly. "We missed you."
Ah, yes. The ever-present We. She pressed her lips together, keeping her mouth sealed shut so that it wouldn't ask if he'd missed her.
"I spoke to Harry," he said, and she let herself breathe again. The moment was over; the danger of speech was gone. "He told me something interesting."
"Oh?" she said.
"Your Patronus," he said with a faint smile. "He said it changed forms. Something with four legs...?"
"I... er, yes," she said, feeling herself blush against her will. "He told you what it was, then?"
"No," he said, and she could still hear the smile in his voice. "I don't think he saw it clearly. But I know he had his suspicions." She looked up at him, waiting. "I believe," he said, lowering his voice, "that Harry thought it was Padfoot."
Tonks felt her stomach clench; for some reason that she couldn't quite name, her previous feeling of relief had evaporated, leaving in its place a powerful urge to scream at him. It's a wolf, you bloody idiot, a werewolf. A Patronus is a person's protector, and you are mine, and if you're too thick to understand that...
She took a deep breath.
"Is it?" he said, a drop of sadness spilling into his smile. "I know his death affected you... but I can't even imagine..."
That was when she noticed his hand. It moved away from his bottle of butterbeer and across the table, gently seeking her hand and taking hold of it. Her heart leaped into her throat, and the urge to scream turned into an urge to weep.
"Yes," she said, because it was the thought of Padfoot that made him hold her hand, and because No might make him let her go. She tightened her grip and fixed her eyes on his pale fingers, entwined with hers in a mesmerizing pattern. "Yes, it's him," she repeated.
"I miss him too," said Remus softly, and they spent a moment in silence, remembering Sirius and not letting go of each other.
Tonks frowned at the table, then slowly brought her eyes up to meet Remus'. "Do you remember," she said, "how happy we made him?"
"How happy...?" he repeated vaguely.
"When we," she began, but didn't know how to finish.
A vivid memory wormed its way to the front of her consciousness: a memory of standing in Sirius' kitchen with Remus. Standing very close. Smiling secretively at him, as he brushed the hair away from her face. Her hair had been long and brown that day, the same color brown as his. Sirius had walked in, looked at Remus, looked at Tonks, looked at Remus again, and begun to smile a very knowing sort of smile. "I'll leave you two alone, shall I?" he'd said suggestively, and proceeded to leave the room and listen at the door. Neither of them had bothered to deny the conclusion he'd drawn. They'd only smiled at one another.
"Whenever he saw us together," she said. He didn't reply. So she continued: "He would've been happy—"
"I know," he said curtly.
She stared at him, eyes narrowed, and he drew a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Nym... Tonks. But we've been over this. We can't. Not now."
"Then when?" she said, a bit bolder now that the subject had finally been broached. "If you say Not Now, then that means Later – and you know as well as I do that there might not be a Later."
"That doesn't change the fact that it's too dangerous. I'm too dangerous."
"Yes I am, and I'd appreciate it if you'd stop trying to tell me otherwise. No, I'm not likely to rip you to shreds myself, but those with whom I'm consorting at the moment would not hesitate to do just that. Especially if they happened to find out that I've been—"
Cutting himself off with a quick shake of his head, he dropped her hand and stood up, leaving his remaining half-bottle of butterbeer on the table. "My answer is the same as it was last time. Now I'm very sorry, but I have to go."
"But I love you," she blurted out, then clapped her hand over her mouth in shame. The words had sounded too much like pleading. She hated to plead.
A chorus of voices rose at the bar, shouting numbers of some sort. Tonks wished that they would stop.
An enormous sigh shuddered through him, and he bowed his head under the hood. "I know," he said. "And I love you too. You know I do. But we can't."
"Eight!" shouted the voices, the noise growing as more people joined in. "Seven! Six!"
"I'm so sorry," he said.
He leaned over and planted a chaste kiss on her cheek. "Goodbye," he whispered, and turned toward the door.
"...One! Happy new year!"
All around her, people hugged and kissed and laughed and began to sing – but all Tonks could do was stand there, cheek burning, and watch Remus Lupin walk away. Away from her, and back to Fenrir Greyback.
He opened the door and went out into the night, and she just stared. Only when the door swung shut behind him did she find her voice again.
"It's a wolf," she whispered. "It's you."
But he was long gone.