Remus looked old.
He caught sight of himself in the tarnished antique mirror- one of thousands that seemed to fill Grimmauld Place like a plague- as he left the meeting-room, and stumbled to a halt, allowing the rest of the Order to file past him. He took a step closer towards the man he saw, partially obscured by the black spots that covered the mirror's surface, and noted lines, grey hairs, a thinning of lips. But it was more than that. He thought of how Harry looked at him, there was an innate respect, a determination to at least try to agree with him whatever he said, because- because what? He was older than him? He didn't feel like he deserved it. He didn't feel old.
No, that was wrong. He hadn't felt old. With Sirius back, he had been Moony again, only in private, or on the inside, but that boy had been there nonetheless - getting so indignant his sentences devolved into intricate jumbles, with words overlapping and switching places and piling up like a car crash, chewing his bottom lip and furiously twiddling the sleeve of his jumper between finger and thumb, going pink around the ears whenever Sirius looked at him like that from down the table in the middle of a meeting. Now he had vanished without trace, leaving only Remus Lupin, sage and cynical and an old man. He felt withered, his eyes dry. Moony would have cried. He remembered how Moony cried, before transformations or just after them, crying until his horrible nose was irreparably bunged up, until his whole face was red and sticky, and muttering things to himself like 'stupid bloody stupid' and 'unfair what are you bloody talking about bloody bollocks' and 'NOT a girl, Sirius'-
A movement in the corner of the mirror drew his eye- he was not alone in the room. He turned around. Tonks was sat huddled at the table, clutching a cooling mug of tea with both hands. She was staring dully into the fireplace, her eyes unfocused. As he turned, her head came up and their eyes met. She made a small, choked sound in her throat, like a twig snapping, and a tear welled over her lower eyelid and streaked down her face, followed by another, which she brushed hurriedly away with a shaking hand. Within seconds, there were too many to wipe away and she was sobbing, making little hiccupy noises as she tried to control it and pawing uselessly at her face, smearing it with tears. You are too old to grieve like that, Remus thought. But Moony was not the last young person to love Sirius.
Remus crossed the room and sat awkwardly beside her on the hard, narrow bench. She looked up at him, and he saw that her eyes were redly swollen, the tip of her nose glistening and raw.
He shook his head. She couldn't understand what it was like for him, seeing the sort of grief he wished he could have, the sort of grief Sirius deserved. She drew near to him and buried her face in the shoulder of his shabby robes. He put his arms around her and as she shuddered violently in his grasp, dragging in ragged gasps of air, her fingers grasping the back of his robes as if for dear life, he felt something lift, a tension he hadn't even known was there. Closing his eyes, hardly knowing what he was doing, he lowered his head and rested his forehead on her mousy hair.
Tonks made a noise like a gasp and a sob combined and Remus withdrew with a pang of regret. For the second time, their eyes met. Her eyes searched his face, pleading- for what? Her hand, the nails bitten to the quick, traced across his shoulder and up to his jaw, then across his cheek, her fingers searching as though she were blind. Her swollen eyes locked on his, defiant, daring him to tell her to stop.
He unstuck his dry lips, but found he could not speak.
Her thumb had reached his lip. She made another tiny sound, a barely audible intake of breath.
She leaned forward, ever so slightly. Her hazel eyes were wide as her gaze flicked down to his mouth, then back to his eyes.
That was a question, Remus. Answer it. Tell her you can't- you don't deserve- you can't-
He could not answer her. He could not move.
They were so close he could feel her breath, hot from her tears. She was less than an inch away. All it would take was the tiniest of movements.
Tonks closed her eyes. She tilted her head upwards a tiny fraction.
Hot and damp met cracked and dry like a breath.
Remus found that his eyes were tightly closed. Tonks' lips moved over his, begging him to reciprocate, searching for solace.
Why would she come to me? What can I offer her? Being old and broken doesn't make me wise…
But she cried the tears he could not. And as she tried with mounting desperation to elicit a response, he realised-
She thinks that she's alone in this.
Remus wound his fingers into her hair. Tonks' grip tightened on his jaw. His lips were no longer dry, dampened by the tears that ran between them. He had no idea what he was doing but he didn't think he could stop; he badly needed air but couldn't see a way to let go. The voice of reason had been completely drowned out.
Tonks made a sound that might have been a slightly watery giggle, although it was difficult to tell. She broke away momentarily and met his gaze, hazel eyes blazing with hope and joy and love-
She ran her calloused thumb tenderly over his cheek. She looked so wildly happy, absurdly so, the eyes that had stared so blankly before were shining and not only with tears.
She's got it wrong.
Why did she look so trusting? From the way she was gazing at him, he could have been a god, she was blinded by something, she had to be, what had he done to her?
I will disappoint her. I cannot disappoint her.
Remus pulled away. Something vanished from Tonks' eyes; a shutter fell and obliterated the light.
A mistake. She'll see it was a mistake, she'll find someone better. It's better to hurt her now…
Even so, he didn't think he could bear to see her like this. He stumbled wildly backwards, tripping over the bench, averting his eyes from her pleading, disbelieving gaze.
She looked crumpled. Her mousy hair had fallen in her eyes and she made no effort to push it away.
'Remus, I love you…'
Tell her she's wrong, tell her, let her see how much more she deserves-
Author's Note: I really want to write more of this, although I think- hope- it works as a somewhat bleak oneshot. If I do, it is simply going to be the story of how Remus and Tonks' relationship develops, but I'm struggling a bit with what to do next, and whether to just pick out the most important bits and have gaps of weeks or months in between the chapters or tell the whole story. I would love to tell the whole story, even if it ends up being crazy long, I don't mind, but I don't really know how it should develop from here. Obviously I'm still going to think of most of it myself, but if anyone has any suggestions- things they'd like to see, etc.- that would be much appreciated. The title is a working title that may change, I just need something to publish it under. I am aware it's a bit rubbish.
Illustration(s) (by me) on my profile. Currently only one, for this story- I'm working on more, both for this and for The Last Days.