Tonks had just turned off the faucet in her leaky Muggle shower when she heard something crash in her living room. She stepped out of the tub with a grab for her wand, slipped, and banged her elbow on the sink.
Probably Helga sneaking into the catnip again, which wouldn't be a problem except last time she'd knocked over a box of Honeydukes chocolate and Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes fireworks, the combination of which had left stains Tonks still couldn't get out of the carpet. Or the ceiling. She wrapped a towel around herself and hurried down the short hall, tracking water all over the rug, her hair hanging limp and wet down her back. She rounded the corner into the living room and saw, first, Helga blinking at her quite innocently from her basket, and then Remus crouching near the end of the sofa, scrambling to pick up the mound of books and papers she'd piled on her little end table.
Tonks froze just as Remus looked up, saw her, and turned bright red, his scars standing out in sharp relief.
He lurched to his feet, knocking another sheaf of parchment off the table. "I'm sorry—I shouldn't be—shouldn't have come here—"
"Wait—Remus, I'm—" Tonks jerked her towel tighter and backed a couple steps down the hall, wondering whether she should collapse in embarrassment or laugh. "Let me just put some clothes on—"
Remus was already fumbling for the doorknob. "I didn't—I wasn't planning to use the key, I shouldn't be crashing in on you—"
"Remus, stay," Tonks said, exasperation winning out. "Or I'll Bind you to the couch. Don't think I can't. I'll just be a minute." She hurried back down the hallway and into the bathroom, immediately slipping on the wet linoleum and thumping her knee on the edge of the tub. Brilliant, Tonks, good job. She flung on the patched jeans and old t-shirt she'd dug out of the closet, even though the cheerfully bright-yellow shirt didn't seem appropriate for much anymore. She hadn't worn it since—well, last spring, actually. Before the Department of Mysteries. Before Greyback. Before…a lot of things.
Last spring, she'd morphed her hair short and white-blonde, her eyes bright blue, and laughed with Remus as they wandered around the park with no aim or destination in mind. She'd teased him about nothing in particular, and made him smile like only she could those days, and thought how much younger he looked that way, smile-lines smoothing out the thin furrows in his forehead and wrinkling his scars.
He never did look young anymore, now.
But then, she thought as she caught sight of herself in the mirror, she didn't look so young anymore either. Her hair looked even duller, her skin even paler set against that stupid yellow shirt.
Tonks stuck her tongue out at her reflection and closed the door to her bathroom with a bit more force than it strictly needed.
Remus stood near the window, facing away from her, his shoulders hunched and his arms wrapped around himself as if for protection. He still looked ready to bolt, if his twitching fingers and uncertain stance were any indication.
"Hey," Tonks said, willing a casual tone into her voice. "You stayed."
He flinched, his back going stiffer; glanced at her and didn't relax. "You're good with a wand," he said with a ghastly attempt at a smile.
"Auror training finally pays off, then." Tonks leaned back against the wall, studying him. He didn't look at her.
Why are you doing this? Why are you so bent on killing yourself? Why do you keep coming back and hurting both of us all over again?
She straightened and shoved away from the wall. "Tea," she said. "Or something else caffeinated, at any rate. I've got coffee and hot chocolate too, if you'd like."
"Oh—no," he said, "that is, tea is—tea is fine."
Drinking tea while the world ends, she thought, very British. Hadn't she heard that somewhere? Remus didn't speak as she grabbed tea bags and set a kettle of water on the stove to boil the Muggle way, needing to do something with her hands. To Remus' mug she added twice as much milk and sugar as he usually took with his tea; she couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him so thin.
"Sit," she ordered, bringing the mugs over to her worn sofa. "If you're here anyway you can at least not make me feel like an even worse hostess than usual. And for Merlin's sake don't apologize," she added when he opened his mouth to speak, "and if you tell me you should or shouldn't be doing…whatever, I will hex you. I gave you that key so you could use it, you know."
"Yes," he said, very quietly, settling on the edge of the couch, mug clenched tight in both hands. "You shouldn't have."
She sighed and sat sideways on the couch, feet up near Remus' legs, so she could lean on the armrest and watch him. He still didn't look at her. He took a sip from his mug and didn't react to the taste or temperature, his eyes glazed over and empty, the circles under his eyes dark as bruises; his knuckles showed white and bloodless against the mug, but his hands still shook—no, his whole body was trembling.
And dear God he was thin. His coat had always looked a bit large but now it dwarfed him; his face was hollowed out, down to little more than skin stretched over bone, and she thought she could see the outline of his ribs through his shirt.
But at least he hadn't run away from her yet. Last time she'd seen him, just less than a month ago, he'd been almost too shaken to speak, unable to sit still or meet her gaze, looking ready to be sick any second. He had kissed her then, once, with the despairing hunger of a man starving to death when any food will kill him, and fled down her stair as if demons snapped at his heels. The depth of desperation and brokenness in his eyes had stunned her.
Time seemed to have dulled that pain a little. Only a little, though.
"Remus," she said, lowering her mug. "Remus, look at me."
He did, but briefly, dropping his gaze back to his tea the second their eyes met. He exhaled raggedly. "Dora, I…I'm sorry, I can't…"
Can't what? Can't look at me? Can't sit here and drink tea and pretend the world isn't falling apart?
Tonks set her mug on the side table. "Then why are you here? And I don't need you to apologize again, I want to see you, and—and you need looking after and I want to be the one doing it, but—Merlin, Remus, you keep giving me your litany of why you can't and then coming back again and I don't even know what to expect anymore." And it would be nice, with a war on, to have one thing stay the same…
He looked stricken. "I know," he said, "I know, I…" He glanced at her with another dismal imitation of a smile. "I want to say I'm sorry again. But you don't want me to and that doesn't nearly cover it anyway." He rested his mug carefully on the floor and folded his arms, fingers gripping bony elbows, and stared down at his shoes. "I'm very selfish, Dora."
"You and the whole bloody rest of the human race," she said, but without any heat; she couldn't find it in her to be angry at him when he looked this ill and exhausted, looked like a lost little boy who'd discovered the monsters in his closet were real. "That includes me, you know."
He didn't seem to hear her. "I keep coming back," he said, "because you're the only thing that still makes me feel a little bit human. That's why."
Tonks swung her feet to the floor and leaned forward to seize Remus' hand in both of her own, making him unfold just a little bit; he didn't resist. "What is Greyback doing to you?"
He laughed, hoarsely and a little wildly, and she flinched. "He isn't doing anything. I am."
"Then what is he making you do?" she pressed. "I know you, Remus Lupin, and I don't care what you think you've done, you're letting that bastard twist your mind and I won't have it."
He blinked, and then his shoulders drooped as he let out a long breath. "Oh, Dora."
"Just tell me. Maybe it'll…help, or something. What's been happening, and—last month, just after the full moon—you looked like a ghost. You're worrying me."
He looked at her then, something very like panic in his eyes, and tried to pull away. She held on. "You—I—God, Dora, I can't, I—I can't…"
"No, Dora, please, don't ask me—" His fingers shook between hers, and she could feel his pulse pounding; an almost animal-like terror radiated from him so strongly she imagined she could feel it.
"What are you so afraid of?" she murmured, leaning her head against his shoulder. He didn't reply; she knew anyway. He kept gently, gently pushing her away for her own good, but if she knew what he'd done, he thought she would leave him all alone.
She could guess, though. She could worry it over until the possibilities made her ill—she'd already spent a few sleepless nights since the last full moon—but everything she could imagine (and even an Auror without a Mad-Eye-sized paranoia could imagine a lot) only made her want to do something painful and permanent to Greyback.
A momentary spark of anger at Remus for not trusting her enough withered in a surge of fury at Greyback for bringing Remus to this point—and then the rush of emotion bled away altogether, leaving her brittle and fragile and inexpressibly weary.
Bloody Greyback. Bloody Voldemort. Bloody war. She was so tired.
"Okay," Tonks said, her voice a little muffled against the thin fabric of Remus' coat. "It's okay. Don't talk about it if it hurts more. Just…you'll tell me someday, yeah?"
He pulled back to look at her, every muscle tense, his brow furrowed as if in pain. "Dora…"
And she knew, again, what he didn't want to say (and wondered if that meant she was thinking too much like him, or if she just knew him that well): someday meant a promise he didn't want to give, because it meant she'd be trusting him for something, when he didn't want anyone relying on him at all, convinced as he was that he'd only hurt people—because whenever he'd let himself hope in anything at all, even the undefined future of someday, he'd seen it torn away. James, Lily, Sirius, Peter, Hogwarts, Sirius again, Tonks herself—in fact she couldn't think of a single good thing he'd had and hadn't lost.
The realization made her chest ache.
(The moon always had its way in the end, somehow or other.)
I am not resigned, she thought, I am not resigned to the shutting away—I know, but I do not approve, and I am not resigned!
She didn't realize she'd spoken aloud until Remus' hand shifted in hers and he said, "What?"
"You know," she said. "Been reading your books. Not a proper Black at all anymore, am I?" she added in a half-hearted attempt at lightness. "Muggle poetry and all. Downright shameful."
He stared straight ahead. "Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely…oh God, Dora…"
She let her forehead fall against his shoulder again. She wanted to curl up with him and sleep forever. A long moment ticked past with the old clock on the wall.
Then he said, "Yes," against her hair, barely audible, and Tonks thought she felt him press a kiss to the crown of her head. "Yes. Someday."
She looked up, but he was already pulling away, pulling into himself.
"Thank you," he said, pushing upright, "for the tea, and for…just…thank you."
"You'll come back," Tonks said, feeling cold in his sudden absence.
He hesitated. "Yes. I do love you, Dora. I just…if I ever…hurt you, I don't know what I'd…"
She thought, You already have, but this she understood as well. She had dreamed that, too, night after night. She said, "I know."
He stood in her flat a moment longer, one hand on the doorknob, looking as if he meant to say more; and then he was gone, closing the door behind him so quietly she didn't hear it latch.
She scooted over to the spot on the couch he'd left and pulled her knees up to her chin, staring out at nothing.
Tonks came in very late to work that day.