Written for the 2007 Metamorfic Moon Winter Wonderland Advent, this is a small follow-up to the fic To the Victor Belong the Spoils. To anyone who's ever asked me to write a sequel, this is for you.
The distance from the book in his lap to the hovering face of his cousin wasn't a long one, but the moment his gaze had taken the trip Sirius found his good-natured "What, no hello?" turned into something closer to a wince. Tonks was far less pale than had been the case over the last couple of weeks, which couldn't be regarded as anything but good. There was, however, a look of determination, of purpose—one could almost say, of single-minded fixation—on those now-rosy features that might be considerably less good given the one-syllable demand she'd just tossed at him. He retreated behind his book again.
It was promptly smacked out of the way. "Hey, stop that. I need some information from you."
"Does it have to be right now?"
"Come on, Sirius, this is important, I've got one day left to find a gift for Remus."
"Ahh. I suppose putting him out of his misery after months of pining and then letting him suck on various bits of your face doesn't count then?" Sirius nearly laughed: Tonks looked rather like a fish the way she was mouthing little incoherent noises of protest, but he'd have been gutted like one if he let on.
"Oh, go on, I livehere. And most of the time I've even got my eyes open when I'm walking down the hallway like I was, say, earlier this afternoon. If he'd been pressing you up against the wall any harder I'd still be patching the hole."
Her cheeks blazed scarlet and she mumbled something he didn't catch.
"I said you don't have to make it sound so…crude."
"Look," the book was laid aside with a sigh. "You both have been moping for weeks. The fact that things worked themselves out is great, I'm happy for you, but that in no way requires me to regard your love life with the same heart-strewn, cherub-hovering, rose-tinted view that you seem to have taken up."
"You think I'm being naive about this?" She flushed a shade darker. "This was…this was hardlya step I took blindly. I'm certainly not going into it with some stupid, schoolgirl notion about romance, or—"
"Merlin's balls, Tonks, that's not what I'm saying at all." Much as he loved the company it had still been a long day; hell, it had been a long week, and now that Harry and the other kids were asleep, or at least quiet enough to put on a convincing show, his body had welcomed the chance to sit and relax. Which in no way involved fighting with a woman whom he guessed to be fueled by a raging tempest of emotions and hormones and little else. "Look, just…tell me what you need and I promise I'll try to pull my head out of my arse. Okay?"
Going the placation route seemed to have worked; the corners of her mouth were twitching in the proper direction anyway. He watched her struggle a moment longer and then all her breath came out in a rush, along with a spill of words that betrayed a deeper anxiety on her part than he'd guessed at.
"I don't know what to do, Sirius, I've never been in this position before. I mean, yeah, it's easy to say, 'Hey, I finally caved after months of saying no, so Happy Christmas!' and leave it at that, but that's kind of a shite thing to do considering all he's put himself through. I wanted to get him…he deserves something nice, nicer than nice, you know? What he did, it's unbelievable, and I got him…I got him a book. A fucking book. Not anything special, something I'd have bought for any friend, but this goes so far beyond friendship now I don't even know what it is. All I know is that I would rather die than give him something so…so…" Her hands clenched, rose, tore through her hair. The gold and green spikes stuck up every which way by the time her frustration had worked itself out.
At least she wasn't yelling, he reminded himself. Or breaking things. Even if she was making his head hurt from trying to follow the torturous line of conversation. Where the hell was all this coming from?
"I want to show him that I put some thought and care into this. Does any of that make sense?" She worried at her bottom lip, continuing only after he'd given her a sign that he was still following along. "I know so little about him, not really, not when it comes to something special like this, but you," the entire settee shifted backwards an inch from the force at which she threw herself down beside him, "you can tell me more. You can help me with this, you haveto help me with this. Will you? Please?"
He had no idea how she did it, but the look in her eyes—those twice be-damned, huge, soulful puppy-dog eyes—seemed to unearth every single crumb of affection he'd ever cherished on her behalf and turn it against him, so that instead of the more cautious "I'll try" he'd meant to offer, what emerged was a solid "Absolutely."
Brilliant, you idiot,he groaned inwardly, but by that point Tonks was simultaneously grinning from ear to ear and trying to hug all the breath out of him.
Death itself might have envied Remus' appearance as he stepped through the front door of Grimmauld. Seeing Tonks waiting there for him, though, a tinge of colour crept over his cheeks and the weariness that weighed down shoulders and the corners of eye and mouth sloughed off like old skin, leaving him looking younger, brighter.
"Hey," he smiled.
"Hey yourself." A few strides brought her close enough to wind her arms about him, heedless of the icy slick of rain that clung to his coat. "Happy Christmas Eve."
"Is it that late already? I'm sorry, I'd meant to be back earlier but Moody needed-"
She cut him off with a shake of her head, mentally cursing Mad-Eye. "Don't worry about it. I work with the man too, I know what he's like. Oh, Remus, you're shivering. Come on, come get your things off and warm up."
She trailed after him into the drawing room, watching him shrug out of coat and scarf, hat and gloves with the spare elegance that she both loved and envied about him.
A quick warming spell took care of the shivering and the wet; physical comfort reestablished, he immediately collapsed onto the settee with a sigh that might have come all the way from his toes. "What a mess."
"Which part of it?" Tonks curled up beside him with her own softer, happier sigh.
His arm snaked around her shoulders and tugged her closer. "All of it. Every single horrible bit of it. And it's only the beginning." His eyes held a sadness that took her heart and twisted it painfully. "You shouldn't have to be facing a war, you're too young, you have so much ahead of you."
"Yes, and you're sooo old, it's criminal that you can't just retire and sit by the fireplace with your blanket and milky tea and drool to your heart's content. Remus," she laughed at him, trying to hide the dull ache in her chest, "this is what I chose for myself. I didn't get pulled in kicking and screaming, I ran straight for it and dove in headfirst. And I only tripped once on the way there."
The clock on the far wall ticked off each second he sat there, regarding her with an odd half-smile that had her wondering what the other half might be—knowing him, anything from mild annoyance to confusion to simple exhaustion. She couldn't tell, though, and it chafed that she couldn't tell, but just when patience had become stretched-thin enough to want to ask he shifted suddenly, and the question died before it could be voiced.
Not even twenty-four hours since their first kiss and instead of becoming more accustomed to the glorious heat of his lips against hers, it threw her increasingly sideways each time it happened. There was no other excuse for how utterly oblivious she'd been to Sirius' presence in the hallway the previous afternoon.
Remus shifted again and further thought slipped away. Later she would remember all the hints she'd meant to drop regarding that little tête-à-tête with her cousin, which had produced an idea that even he seemed enthusiastic about, assuming she could pull it off in time; for the time being, though, her senses were busy being overwhelmed by the downward press of a lean, warm body and the focused attention of a man who seemed far more energetic than when he'd walked through the front door ten minutes earlier.
The mad frenzy of decorating had calmed a bit; at least Sirius was no longer throwing holly and tinsel at anything that didn't move for longer than ten seconds together. Far be it for Remus to deny that the house looked a thousand times less depressing with all the Christmas decorations, but his friend's manic happiness over Harry being in residence for the holidays was less of an opportunity for rejoicing and more a reason to worry over when the inevitable crash would come.
His conscience twinged; was there really a call for that level of pessimism? Sirius was happy now, and shouldn't that be all that mattered? But it had been years since Remus had been able to see the trees for the forest, and the tiny details that used to be enough weren't anymore, not when confronted with the larger picture.
Tonks being the notable exception.
The thought of her brought an involuntary smile to his face, while memories of the early morning, when the hush that falls over the world in the dark hours before every dawn had been broken only by drawn-out sighs and the susurrant whisper of their clothing as they moved together, were enough to set his heart pounding far harder than sitting at the table and drinking tea should have warranted.
"She's good for you."
The quiet observation jerked him to awareness. He twisted in his chair to find Sirius leaning cross-armed in the open doorway.
"What makes you say that?"
"Please." Sirius snorted. His too-thin body straightened itself up and he crossed the room to pull a mug from one of the cupboards. "Unless that cup of tea has some magical properties I've never heard of, there's only one forgivable excuse for the imbecilic grin that was plastered across your face a minute ago."
"Yeah, well, that hardly stops it from being true, now, does it?" The teapot at Remus' elbow rattled as Sirius plunked himself down in a chair, rattled again when the tip of his wand smacked solidly against its side. Steam curled up from the spout a moment later and he busied himself with pouring. "I haven't seen you smile like that since…I don't know when since. School maybe, or when James and Lily were married."
"Is that a good thing, then?"
Sirius considered his drink. When he finally answered, his words sounded curiously restrained, as if he'd weighed each one carefully before letting it go. "I hope so. She came to me last night and we talked for a while. She…"
"She?" Remus prompted after the pause grew long enough for his imagination to supply any number of possible endings, most of which he could have done without. The tone of conversation had taken an abrupt turn downward and he wasn't sure he liked where it was heading. Not that he knew where that was.
Cool grey eyes snapped up, bored into his. "I know you, Moony, or at least the way you used to be. Let a woman get middling close to you and everything's fine. Let her cross that line and you get nervous. I thought it was different this time, from everything I could see you were letting Tonks in, but some of things she said…" He trailed off again.
Remus stared in confusion. "Wait, am I getting the big brother speech? From you? Sirius, it's only been a day.And any reason I had for getting nervous stemmed from me wondering just how loudly the woman would scream and how quickly she'd run the second she found out what I was. Tonks knew about me before I'd even met her." His face darkened. "If this was worrying you, why wait until now to say something?"
Against his wont, Sirius had held back until Remus finished, although the big brother dig saw him shifting noticeably in his chair. "I didn't think there was anything to be worried about until last night. And I don't see anything wrong with being a little protective of her. It's not like I'm telling you two to stay away from each other."
"You just want to be sure of my intentions."
"Thank you, Mr Sarcasm. And you're damned right I do!" One long-fingered, nail-bitten hand splayed across the table corner as Sirius leaned forward. "I'm sure this isn't all your doing, I know she ran like hell for months. Don't know why, but I can guess. Still, none of that changes the fact that you know a damned sight more about her than the other way round, and…I don't like it. I don't like that she feels that she has to come to me to find out stuff about you."
"What?" Sirius' final comment hit Remus like a slap. "I never once tried to… She knows she can come to me, I've given her every possible opportunity. Sirius, I wanther to get to know me better. It's not like I'm happy that the scales are so unbalanced."
Sirius eyed him for the space of several breaths, face thoughtful; abruptly he nodded. "Sorry to have jumped on you like that with no warning. She'd kill me if she knew. It's just…Tonks is one of the ballsiest women it's been my good fortune to know, but…"
Remus regarded him soberly. "I know. There's a lot of hurt in there. I'm trying my best, Sirius."
"You love her."
Their eyes locked. Remus knew this was another sort of test and so he didn't answer immediately; instead, he tried to imagine his life without Tonks in it, of how it felt like heaven when she looked at him and smiled and touched him.
Whatever it was that Sirius read on his face seemed enough of an answer. He clapped a hand on Remus' shoulder and stood. "Right, so…I've got more to do around the house and the kids are going to be swarming in here soon and eating everything in sight. Unless you want to witness the carnage, I'd make a break for it."
"Point taken." Remus rose as well. A thought made him turn around suddenly. "Sirius?"
"Yeah?" A black-haired head popped back in the doorway.
He'd meant to voice his own concerns about Harry and his inevitable departure—and how ironic was it that Sirius had just been asking, albeit obliquely, about when the other shoe was going to drop in Remus' case?—but there was a light in those Black eyes that he couldn't bring himself to quench. Instead he said the first thing that came to mind. "Wh-what did Tonks want to know?"
Sirius flashed a grin worthy of his teenage self. "Not really my place to say, mate."
The children had all been bundled off to St. Mungo's and in their absence the house nearly rang from the quiet. Even Kreacher was off skulking in some dark, cobweb-infested corner, probably munching on the webs' former occupants.
Sirius hated this. Christmas Day and he was completely alone. Again. He prowled through hallways and rooms, his feet treading the well-worn pathways of his prison while he worked himself into such a temper that the decorations, so painstakingly put up, were very nearly blasted down again. The entire house mocked him in its gaiety.
It was the stockings that pushed him over the edge. He took careful aim at the elaborately embroidered monstrosity that Molly had insisted on giving him, knowing this was approaching madness, not giving a damn.
Through the silence jangled the faint sounds of locks being undone, and a voice calling out softly. Tonks.
She was getting closer, too close for him to escape upstairs. Twice in twenty-four hours now that he'd wanted to hide from one of his favourite people. What the hell was wrong with him?
"Hey, there you are! Have you recovered from dinner or do you still feel as stuffed as that turkey you made?"
Guilt added itself to the roil of emotions in his breast. She came into the room, so bright and alive that the Christmas ornaments seemed almost dull in comparison, and while he was grateful for another human presence, he resented her for it all the same.
"Hey, you all right?" Concern crept into her smile, marring it, doing nothing for the guilt.
"Fine, yeah, just a bit of a headache."
"Oh," her brows contracted and the smile fell away a little more. "Well, I don't want to be a bother. I could make tea or something, go up to my room if you nee-"
"No, no, it's fine," he made an effort to sound more like his usual self and succeeded to some extent; at least she perked up and grabbed his hand.
"Maybe what I brought will cheer you up a little. Want to see?"
He didn't, but still allowed himself to be tugged over to the settee and settled into one corner. She sat opposite, and between them laid a stack of glossy, folded-up splashes of colour.
"I think I got all the cities you suggested," she spread everything out, and the stack resolved itself into individual brochures of the Muggle sort, gleaming still photographs of far-off countries, gorgeous architecture, frolicking tourists. "All within Floo reach without having to set up anything special, not too far to Apparate home again. And here," she shoved something at him. "That's the first one, for here in London. I'm not sure when I'll be able to get the others, but at least I'll have that to give him tonight."
Sirius barely heard her. Of all the worst possible times to shove pictures like these in his face, places that he couldn't get to, places that promised, if not happiness, then at least a temporary escape. Bitterness threatened to choke him. "It looks…it looks great, Tonks, I'm amazed you did all that in so short a time. Moony's a lucky bastard, isn't he?" He huffed out a breath of air that might have passed for laughter. "He'll love it."
"I hope so." She'd drawn her legs up, and with head resting against her knees and gaze dreamily fixed on the vibrant scenes in front of her, she looked far too young to be whom and where she was. Dark eyes lifted to meet his. "Thank you. I never would have thought of this on my own."
"Glad to have helped."
"Oh, sure," he lied. "Guess I'm just out of sorts with everyone gone right now."
"It's been nice with all the kids here, yeah? Rough when they leave, though… Will you be okay?" In the space of a few seconds she went from looking too young to too old. Her eyes were so like her mother's, even if they were the wrong colour, and it was embarrassing the way he suddenly wanted to pour out his guts to this slip of a woman who just the night before had been begging himfor help.
"Probably not." That wasn't at all what he'd meant to say. Damn.
One small hand skimmed over the cushions and pile of brochures to where his lay, fisted in his lap. "I'll still be here."
Again the words burst out without permission from his brain. "In between globe-hopping, you mean."
"Oh, Sirius," she murmured and he looked away, ashamed of himself. "I'd take you with us if I could. In a heartbeat."
The sounds of the door opening and a tramp of feet announced that the hordes had returned from their trip to the hospital. Sirius made to rise but Tonks caught his sleeve.
"We'll get you out of here."
She looked so fierce and determined that a laugh, real this time, was startled out of him. "The Sorting Hat made a mistake with you, love. You should have been a Gryffindor."
"I have a present for you," Tonks murmured into Remus' ear.
"I thought you were my present."
She snorted softly and pulled away; his lips immediately set up a protest at being parted from the soft skin of her throat. "All right, then, let's call this the other part of your present. You have to earn it, though."
"Well, that suggests all sorts of possibilities, but-" A gentle cuff across his ear cut off the rest of the sentence.
"Not what I meant. Although now that you mention it, not necessarily a bad idea…"
Distracted, they fell silent, but no one can hear mention of presents and not give in to curiosity eventually, Remus being no exception. "So if this isn't earning my present," he asked after several minutes, propping himself up on one elbow, "what is it I have to do?"
"I want you to tell me a story."
He blinked at her. "Anything in particular, or am I just winging this?"
"Something in particular. It's something that Sirius already told me, but I want to hear your side of it."
Tonight was certainly her night for catching him off guard. "This is sounding significantly less exciting all of a sudden. Sirius' stories rarely paint me in a good light."
"I know that, you goon, that's whyI want to hear your side. Trust me, this all ties in to your present."
The curiosity that Sirius had stirred up the previous day raised itself a notch. Remus rested his head in one hand, smoothed her pale blue curls against the darker blue of his pillow with the other. "So what did he say, then?"
"Okay, bear with me, 'cause I'm not sure I've got all the details right. Apparently you and Sirius and James and Peter," she stumbled over the final name, frowning, "went to London once and got into trouble-"
"Only the once?" he murmured.
"-and ducked into this Muggle place, a travel agency or something like that, in order to avoid the shopkeeper who was chasing after you. And then you all started looking around so that the woman who worked there wouldn't kick you out right away. Do you remember?"
Remus cast his mind back over the years, vague recollections of the day she was talking about came swimming to the surface. "A little. I mean, asking me to remember one specific day when the four of us got ourselves into a scrape is like asking me to remember which days at school I ate toast for breakfast."
"Sirius said that you all started looking around at the brochures and talking about the different places that you'd like to visit. He and James were picking out the biggest, brightest places: Paris, New York, Rio, places like that. And you…you picked up a brochure for Oxford."
Under the influence of her words, the trickle of memories of that long-ago afternoon swelled until he was awash in them. "Right. That I remember. Also the hours of merciless teasing that followed. Did Sirius mention that part?"
"In detail. His powers of recall both amaze and frighten me." Laughter rippled in the deep wells of her eyes. "So, your turn now."
"What else is there to tell? You seem to know everything that happened, including the parts I'd rather you didn't."
"Why Oxford of all places?"
He chuckled quietly. "You know, that's pretty much exactly what they said? Something like 'why hang around dusty Academia more than I had to' and 'didn't I get enough of that already?' I told them that if I went to all those other exciting places I'd just end up at the libraries at some point anyway."
"Because you'd really want to, or because you were uncomfortable anywhere else?"
The shrewdness of such a question was disconcerting. You know me so much better than you think you do.
"That's harder to say," he answered slowly. "Both, I think. When I was young, books were very much a means to an end. Schooling was the only thing that stood between me and a life of misery, so if I didn't take full advantage of the gift I'd been given, I'd end up…well, I didn't much like to think about where I'd end up." Still didn't, if it came to it. Only now, he knew far better just what his life might have been if not for those seven intervening years at Hogwarts. "And they proved an escape as well. Libraries were—are—a sort of haven, I suppose you could say."
"So even now, if you went to Rome or Paris or someplace like that, you'd still hunt down the libraries?"
Something in her tone made him look at her more closely. "Yes, more than likely, but what does that have to do with-"
"Close your eyes."
"Don't argue, just close them." She drew two fingers down over his eyes.
The bed lurched as she rose; there came the sound of her feet padding to the other side of the room and back again.
He gingerly complied and felt a tumble of papers fall into his lap.
"Okay, you can look now." A thread of excitement ran through her voice.
Eyes opened, looked down. There across his legs lay a scant handful of brochures, the names of the cities they showcased printed in large, bold letters across the top of each: London, Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam. His hands brushed over the tops of them, but he didn't honestly understand what it was he'd just been given. "Are you…taking me to these places?"
She sank down, leaned against him. "Look inside the one for London."
A small card was tucked inside. "What is…" He stared in open, growing disbelief. "Tonks, this is a reader's pass for the British Library."
"I don't suppose you have one of these, do you?"
She was all wide-eyed innocence, but he knew better. "No, I don't, I couldn't have. You have to prove that you've got a valid reason to be in there, and I never did, so how in the world did y-"
She cut him off quickly with a hand over his mouth. "Erm…you'll be happier not knowing, I think. It's not a fake, though, so don't think you'll get into any trouble."
He stared at the card, and then at her, then back at the card. "I don't…this is…just…" His gaze strayed over to the other brochures. "And those?"
"Same. But you have to wait a bit for those cards—consider them I.O.U.'s for the time being. I figure that this one will keep you busy for a while." She fidgeted, and he noticed that her eyes were darting around, nervous now. She wasn't sure if he liked it or not.
Truth be told he was still confused. Not to say that it wasn't an incredible present, possible underhanded methods of procuring the pass notwithstanding, but…why?
When he asked her, she looked even more uncomfortable and wouldn't meet his eyes at all. "I just wanted to do something special for you. I'd…I'd gotten you a book that I thought you might like, but it seemed so…pathetic, compared to what you'd done."
"Tonks, no," he reached out for her immediately, gathering her in, "this isn't a competition, I never expec-"
"No, I know you didn't, but it mattered to me. And I went and asked Sirius, because I knew if I came to you, then you'd say what you just did and besides, it would spoil the surprise."
That explained the conversation with Sirius, anyway; his lingering anxiety on that score evaporated. "So instead you're giving me lots of books?" The gentle teasing drew her eyes back up to his, but what he saw there made his heart stop.
"All those ornaments you gave me were pieces of my life, things I love. I just…wanted to do the same thing for you."
What to say to that? He tried; mouth opened and closed, and sentences that sounded nearly adequate floated through his head, but nothing of substance emerged.
None of that seemed to reassure her. "Do you…not like it?"
It took the better part of two hours to adequately convey just how much the phrase "like it" paled in comparison to his feelings on the whole matter, but, he later reflected as he lay there hopelessly tangled up with her, hovering on the edge of sleep, in the end she'd seemed convinced.
Eyes blinked shut, opened, shut again.
"Remus?" Tonks' voice was heavy, drugged with pleasure and fatigue.
"Where did Sirius want to go?"
The room was cold, bleak, and the gaze that swept over the walls and furnishings was even more so. Sirius shut the bedroom door behind him and leaned back against it, taking a sloppy swig from the bottle clutched in one hand.
The morning had seen Harry and the others off to Hogwarts again, leaving only the dubious comfort of Kreacher and half a bottle of Firewhisky. Oddly enough the two didn't mix; Sirius had stumbled up the stairs soon after, pausing only to rip away the garlands adorning the banister.
A flash of colour peeked out from under one of the pillows on his bed, beckoning him over. He pulled it slowly out, willing the pictures to come into focus: a luscious spread of sun-drenched sand and impossibly blue ocean, the neon lights of night clubs and the long, long legs of beautiful women.
This place is supposed to be absolutely perfect come summertime. If you're up for some globe-hopping, that is…read one neatish line on the note stuck to the corner.
I hear the library isn't so bad either,read the scholarly scrawl underneath.
Sirius cursed them both the first time he read it through. The second time he merely scowled. By the fifth he'd grudgingly rethought his decision to torch the Christmas tree and wore something that might, in certain lights, have qualified as a smile.