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Hope Is Our Four-Letter Word

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Remus thought he had no idea how he got caught up in this whole thing, except that he’s dangerous when he isn’t absolutely calm and that requires supervision and shady government organisations and a safe distance from Sirius and every last one of his things that are rigged to blow up. Tonks – which is an approximation of her name, and a somewhat ridiculous one at that – seems to have arrived at SHIELD even more implausibly than Remus himself.

“It’s Fleur’s fault,” she tells Remus, rapidly spooning sugar into a tea mug, “she’s the one with the science stuff, I was just trying to get some work experience and now I’m here with all you weirdos.” She flicks her gaze to Remus. “Want some tea?” she asks.

At least she doesn’t say “no offense”; Remus isn’t sure he could take that, one more platitude in a life where everyone treads too carefully around him these days. He’s leant against the sink, watching Tonks with her bright pink hair and facial piercings waving her gold-nailed hands around, sharply different from everyone else in their uniforms and impenetrable expressions.

“I would, actually,” he says, surprising himself, because his general reaction to anyone talking to him at the moment is to try and look non-murderous and back away as discreetly as possible. “Thank you.”

Tonks grins. “Try it before you thank me,” she warns, “James says I need to get better at this if I’m going to be a glorified teagirl.” Remus opens his mouth to tell her that James is an arse, superhuman archery skills or otherwise, but Tonks shakes her head. “He’s got a point, you know,” she adds. “I’m really not supposed to be here at all. One sugar? Two?”

“None,” Remus replies, and watches her dump a teabag into a mug printed with the SHIELD logo.

He can’t even remember the last time he saw sunlight, if he’s honest with himself.

-

Sirius spends inappropriate amounts of his life in a giant metal suit that can explode things and also fly, which he’s stupidly gleeful about. It mostly gives Remus a headache, and sometimes it triggers the thing he’s trying not to think about too much. His psychiatrist – who sits behind bulletproof glass for every meeting, panic button in hand – suggests that he take up yoga. He’s not sure he’s ever been that bendy, or if he really wants to start finding out now. It seems a bit late in the game.

“You’re not actually a prisoner,” Sirius says, scotch at three in the afternoon because Sirius is Sirius, regarding Remus over the top of a tablet covered in calculations. Even upside-down, Remus can tell that he’s forgotten to carry the three about halfway through, but not pointing this out is giving him a little too much satisfaction. That’s dealing with Sirius for you.

“Yes,” Remus agrees mildly, “SHIELD have been very careful about their phrasing. Phrases like voluntary confinement crop up a lot.”

“That’s stupid,” Sirius tells him. “They can’t stop you walking out of here.”

They probably could try, at least, and that could only end badly. Remus has hurt people in the past, some accidentally, some what felt like deliberately at the time, and he doesn’t want to make this any worse.

“I was quite happy living away from civilisation and not hurting anybody,” Remus responds placidly. “But for some reason I was called back, and now we all have to make the best of what we have.”

Sirius doesn’t understand, because as far as he’s concerned, he can flick his monster on and off with a switch. He might find one day that he can’t, but by then it will probably be too late. Remus thought he might be able to control this too, back when he was sitting in a laboratory with nothing but what seemed like a good idea at the time and what turned out to be some very harmful radiation.

All Remus gets for his efforts is one of Sirius’ worst raised eyebrows. “Let me know when you need breaking out of here,” he says, “I’ll bring the big guns.”

Remus could argue, but he’s not supposed to be raising his blood pressure at all this week. Instead, he smiles fondly, and says: “as though you need the excuse.”

-

Tonks has a tattoo of a phoenix taking up most of her back, and her hair has become a deep blue that she’s wearing twisted up behind her head and held in place with about six biro pens. Remus only came into the one kitchenette in the entire place because he’s got yogurt in the fridge, and suddenly he just wants to turn around and walk back out again, to where everything is regimented and predictable unless Sirius has got his hands on it again.

“Remus!” Most thinks Tonks says seem to end in an exclamation mark, and this should be irritating, and isn’t. “Did you have a good weekend?”

Remus blinks a few times and tries to figure out what the last few days involved. Shacklebolt asked him to look over some calculations for someone and Lily’s cover got broken at four a.m. on one of the days and everyone had to stop James from getting the first plane to Russia and exacerbating the whole situation. It’s possible that those days were the weekend.

Technically, Remus isn’t supposed to be involved in most of these things, he’s supposed to be sitting in his underground quarters with no windows and thinking about wide, empty oceans, but he lives on the base and it’s kind of difficult to avoid most of what happens there.

“It was, um,” he begins, watching as Tonks gets another mug out of the cupboard without being asked, “are you sure it was the weekend?”

She twists around to give him an incredulous look, and he looks at her cotton dress and wonders if that means that it’s summer.

“You really need to talk to someone about getting day release,” Tonks tells him. “Or conjugal visits. Or something.”

Remus flushes, but Tonks doesn’t.

“I think… that would not end well,” Remus says carefully, thinking about the last time he tried to kiss someone, hearing the monitor he wore on his wrist all the time tick into dangerous territory within seconds. Perhaps he should try to be more like Sirius; if Sirius has ever deeply felt anything for anyone, he’s certainly not noticed it.

Tonks makes a face before she reaches for the kettle to make their tea. “I know I’m just the work experience girl because they need someone to do the filing and make sure the science labs don’t run out of biscuits and they can get me to do it because I know things that I really shouldn’t know and it’s this or have me killed, but I’m still fairly sure you can’t sit in a concrete room for the rest of your life with your fingers in your ears.”

The words sting, which was unexpected, even though Remus thinks she is aiming them more at SHIELD than at him. He takes his tea from her and sits at the little rickety table in here, where agents come to drink tea and fight over the good biscuits in the Fox’s assortment that inevitably arrives in the cupboard every few days. He’d like to go back to his lab, but although he’s a monster, he’s a monster with manners.

“I’m in the kitchen,” he offers instead, mild.

Remus watches the phoenix on Tonks’ spine flex with her shoulders as she doesn’t turn for a long moment, but when she comes to join him at the table her expression is unreadable.

“So,” he says, before she can say anything, “how was your weekend?”

-

The only visitors that Remus ever gets in his lab are Shacklebolt, usually with instructions or orders thinly disguised as requests, and occasionally Sirius. However, Lily just got back from Russia, bruised but alive, so Shacklebolt will be busy all day, and Sirius is making a nuisance of himself somewhere in the Middle East with flammable things and some sense of duty that Remus isn’t asking about. He’s therefore a little surprised when there’s a knock at the door, though hours – weeks – of training have taught him how not to jump, how not to startle, to take everything calmly without his world splitting.

Tonks pokes her head inside when Remus calls come in, hair a shocking orange, eyelids painted to match. “Fleur’s here and yelling,” she says, “and I had enough of that in the months I spent with her before Bill fell out of the sky and nearly electrocuted us all, can I hide?”

Remus’ lab very pointedly only has one chair in it; Tonks misreads his hesitation and adds: “I brought lunch.”

It’s not as though accidentally creating a monster that bursts out of him and tries to destroy anything around him until it satiates itself or is heavily subdued has changed Remus all that much; he wasn’t exactly giving Sirius a run for his money before, and even if he wanted to he couldn’t try now. Not when people’s eyes on him make his skin itch, which is really only the first step before it stretches and alters and things get messy.

He fumbles up a smile and says: “of course, come in.”

Tonks deposits a Pret paper bag on his desk, then carefully moves a sheaf of papers and joins it, wriggling to get comfortable. She’s got droplets of water caught in her hair and she smells like rain; the outside still clings to her and it makes Remus want to shiver and pull away, or perhaps press closer.

“No wonder no one comes to hang out with you,” she remarks, looking around. “You don’t even have a calendar for a splash of colour.”

He did, once. He doesn’t now.

“Well, if you want to renovate my lab…” he says lightly, accepting the sandwich Tonks hands him.

“Don’t tempt me,” she replies, mouth already full. She swallows. “I’ve got a temp now, I can delegate to him.”

Remus frowns. “I thought you said you were basically the teagirl, why have you got a temp?”

Tonks shrugs. “It turns out that even though I only have a job here because I accidentally got involved with you superheroic times, I’m pretty good at the job I have that doesn’t exist, and now I have Colin somebody who is going to help me do my imaginary job.”

“So you got an imaginary promotion?” Remus suggests.

“If you’re going to do a shadowy job for a shadowy government agency that owns basically all your stuff, you might as well do it well,” Tonks explains. She kicks his chair with one booted foot. “You should come and celebrate my pretend promotion with non-pretend drinks. People are coming.”

Remus thinks about alcohol, and people, and outside, and the way Tonks smiles, genuine, nothing hollow behind her eyes.

The polite excuses he was about to make drop away, and all he manages is: “I can’t.”

She screws up her nose, but doesn’t protest, which is maybe the worst part. “I thought you’d say that.”

-

Lily and James are breaking into what is possibly an old Death Eater hideout, looking for either intel or stragglers, and Sirius got himself shot out of the sky last week and is on irritated bed rest, which will probably result with him sleeping with a couple of nurses and putting even bigger guns on an iron suit already creaking with weaponry, and Remus is counting to twenty in his head before he says anything and correcting the latest calculations for a helicarrier for SHIELD because whoever is actually doing their maths is a moron.

He hasn’t seen Tonks for a few days, but it’s expected: he can’t form bonds with anyone, it’s too dangerous. This is his life now: trying not to kill anyone, and being relieved every day that he doesn’t.

Lily calls him maudlin, but Lily knows eighty ways to kill someone with her bare hands, and eighty ways not to. She has the luxury of choice.

He makes his own tea, and steals the good biscuits before anyone else can, and doesn’t jump at all when the door opens.

“So,” Tonks says, her hair violent purple and her expression utterly calm, “you’re very careful. And SHIELD are very careful. But I’ve been here while the world tried to cave in on me several times, and I just file the papers and make the tea and occasionally pick up the dry-cleaning, and I’m not careful.”

“Okay,” Remus says, and he should leave, and he doesn’t.

Tonks is as tall as he is, in her boots, and her hands are cool when she cups his face and presses their mouths together. She’s warm, and her hair is soft under his hands when Remus touches her instead of pulling away, and her kiss is gentle but not tentative, not scared, and he could have killed her but she took that chance anyway. Here, in the little kitchenette that’s the one area that isn’t glass and cold and feels almost like a real building and not like a secret underground base that keeps superheroes and their ilk in check, and Remus kisses her back, a drowning man searching for a source of oxygen.

She pulls back first, just enough, and smiles at him with something delighted and something smug in her expression, and reaches for his wrist.

Remus takes breaths while she holds her fingers to his pulse and her lips move a little as she counts the beats of his heart.

“Well,” Tonks says at last, not letting go, “it’s something to build on, anyway.”

And Remus laughs like the doors have opened and he’s stepping back out into the rain.

-