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25 October 2010 @ 12:01 am
[Kaleidoscope update] One Step Forward  
I can't say enough about how much I have learned about writing from gilpin25. All her work as a mod at metamorfic_moon, one of the two communities that really got me writing fanfic in the first place, goes without saying. But she's also always been so willing to comment on my stories -- and in this amazing way that is always affirming and supportive, while also somehow ever-so-gently planting seeds of ideas for things I could build and improve on. I appreciate that kind of growth-promoting feedback no end. (Not to mention the trenchcoat jokes, the book recommendations, and all the other mischief we've managed these last few years!)

One of the things that I'm very likely to get gilpin25-style encouragement about is when I take a stab at writing Remus's thoughts, motivations, and -- especially -- growth and change. And so, in honor of the day, I really wanted to post a story that took that as inspiration and tried to turn poor Remus inside-out a little. It's not a particularly birthday-ish fic, and (as usual) I'm running short on time at the end, so there may be typos or oddities lurking and it probably needs one more good edit. But I post this with many thanks -- and a heaping bushel of birthday wishes, in the middle of what has been a very hard year -- to gilpin25. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

One Step Forward (3510 words | PG)
The day after some robe-shaking in the Hogwarts hospital wing, Remus goes to have dinner with Tonks, still fighting second thoughts.

Note: My first take on this scene was one of the first R/T drabbles I ever posted, at rt_challenge in January 2007: Second Thoughts. A few lines have survived, and the conflict at the heart of the piece is pretty much the same, but this is essentially a complete rewrite of the original idea.

Patterns (Kaleidoscope, Part III)

~ * ~

One Step Forward

Remus had never been to Tonks’s flat before. He knew where it was, of course—Order members knew how to find each other. But this was the first time he had actually stepped inside the anonymous tower block of Ministry flats, Charmed to look as bland and boring as possible to any Muggles who might pass by.

On the wall in the foyer were several rows of brass nameplates. He located N. Tonks, 308, took a very deep breath, and touched his wand to the buzzer.

The nameplate glowed blue, and then came a tinny but very familiar, “Wotcher!”

He cleared his throat. “Hello, Tonks. It’s Remus.”

“Come i—oh, bugger—security question, right.” The nameplate’s glow dimmed for a second. “Where’s your favourite spot along the shore?”

“Exmoor,” he said at once, wishing he’d thought to come up with a suitably specific, but neutral, security question ahead of time. Too many of the experiences they shared were tied up with memories that only led to grief and regret. “Erm...what did you knit for me last year?”

“A muffler,” she said—and was that a catch in her voice? But the door that led out of the foyer began to glow as well. “Come in, then—I’m on three.”

Remus pushed through the door, bypassed the lift, found the stairs, and began to climb. The echoes of his footsteps filled the stairwell, but they weren’t loud enough to stop the thoughts that chased themselves around in his head.

Last night, finally acknowledging his love, his need, had seemed inevitable. Forgivable.

Was it? Really?

Right before they’d gone their separate ways in the aftermath of the attack, Tonks back to Hogsmeade and he to the werewolf camp one last time, she had made him promise to come for dinner tonight.

If I hadn’t promised, would I still have come?

He tightened his grip on the bottle of wine he held cradled in one arm. He was here now, and she knew he was here, so the thing to do was to go on climbing stairs.

Too soon, somehow, he reached the third floor and found number 308.

He shook his head hard, to clear it, and knocked.

The door opened at once. Warm light spilled out into the corridor. Tonks smiled at him, in a relieved sort of way, and ushered him inside with a hand on his elbow.

He’d missed that so much this last year, the way she touched him without even thinking about it. The way her touch, deliberate or not, warmed him all the way through.

Her hair was short, black, and shaggy tonight—a sombre look, to be sure, but clearly she was Metamorphosing again. On the other hand, he could see traces of tears on her cheeks.

He studied her carefully. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah...” Then, more forcefully, “Yes. Very all right, now that you’re here.” She tried to smile again. “I was just, you know, thinking about Dumbledore, and wondering what the hell the Order is going to do without him—”

“I know.” Remus beat down a fresh pang of the grief, mixed with fear, that he’d been trying unsuccessfully all day to ignore. He reached out with his free hand to touch Tonks on the shoulder, but she took his gesture as an invitation and wrapped her arms around him, bottle of wine and all. So he patted her on the back instead, slightly shocked by how euphoric her embrace made him feel.

With a sigh of contentment, she started to snuggle closer, but he gently disentangled himself and handed her the bottle. “I hope this goes with what you’ve made.”

“You didn’t have to—Oh, Remus.” She bit her lip, looking at the label. “This is an awfully nice wine.” She set it on the coffee table and lifted her hands away, slowly, as though she thought it might detonate.

His smile was wry. “It’s all right. I have a case of that in my Gringotts vault, you see. I kept it when I sold my parents’ house, and I bring a bottle out for special occasions.”

Tonks went pink. “Is this a special occasion?”

He sighed and looked away. “It should be. Maybe. I don’t know.” He forced himself to meet her gaze again. “I’m still not completely sure that I should be here at all.”

The bright colour drained from her face, leaving it pale and pinched.

He winced, wishing he’d managed not to say those last few words.

“Do you want to be here?” she asked, finally.

So many things had changed last night. So many new truths still seemed impossible—that his endless months in the forest with Greyback’s pack were over. That Severus Snape was a traitor. That Dumbledore was dead.

But the answer to this question was a truth that he had known for nearly a year now.

You have to trust me to make my own choices, Tonks had said, last night. I choose to love you. That’s my choice, my right.

Remus looked at the heart-shaped face and dark eyes that he had failed, dismally, to banish from his dreams. He looked at the clenched fists and stubborn jaw of the friend who refused to leave him alone with his grief and his loneliness, no matter how desperately he tried to push her away.

He couldn’t stop looking.

“Yes.” He swallowed. “I want to be here.”

Her eyes closed for just an instant, and she let her breath out in a small puff. “Well, I want you to be here.” She looked at him again, a hint of defiance in her eyes. “Isn’t that enough?”

“I hope so,” he said, unable to forget all the reasons why this might end very badly.

Until her arms went around him again, tightly, and her face pressed into his shoulder. Then he gave in and held her, resting his cheek against the shaggy hair, and he could think of nothing but how terribly much he wanted exactly this.

Something warm and gentle curled around his heart. He thought it might be happiness.

~ * ~

Tonks began to breathe again when Remus finally folded her into his arms.

As far as they’d come last night, in that empty classroom outside the hospital wing, she knew they still had a lot to work out. But the uncertainly in his eyes tonight had hurt. Badly.

Until at last it turned to longing, and she understood that it wasn’t his feelings he was uncertain about.

Reluctantly, she loosened her hold and stepped back. She could probably stand there just holding him all night, but she had promised him supper.

“I’ve made veal piccata,” she said, brightly. “I thought we’d eat in the living room. Let me just go and bring it out.”

He stood there blinking, disoriented—which made her feel secretly triumphant.

“Sounds delicious,” he managed, after a moment. “I can help.”

“Oh—no, really—” Panicking, Tonks held her hands up to stop him. “I’ll be right back.”

She hurried across the living room to the flat’s tiny kitchen. Until his laugh rumbled, just behind her, she didn’t realise that Remus was following.

She spun around, mortified. But the smile in his eyes was warm and fond.

It had been so long since she had seen him look this happy.

“Why the great secrecy?” He leaned a shoulder against the doorjamb and grinned, taking in the pile of dishes in the sink, the ends of vegetables and drifts of flour scattered all across the work surface and even the table. “I know what it’s like in any kitchen where you’ve been cooking. Just as I know what a marvellous cook you are.” For the briefest of instants, his hand touched hers. “We don’t have to forget how well we already know each other, just because now we’re...”

“Yeah.” Tonks knew her face was red—she’d so wanted everything to go smoothly for their first evening together—but she couldn’t help responding to the smile he still wore. Not to mention the fact that he’d actually touched her, unprompted. “I reckon you’re right.” She looked sheepishly around at the mess. “I should have asked you to come half an hour later, though, and I’d have had time to clean this up a bit...”

“Would you have?” Remus’s grin turned impish, and Tonks even found herself laughing—half in astonishment that the old teasing tone she knew from Grimmauld Place was back. “Cooking expands to fill the time available, you know. But here. Allow me.” A few quick spells cleared the worst of the spills and messes. “We could even sit at this useful kitchen table now, unless you’re determined to picnic in the living room.”

“No,” she conceded, still grinning. “I suppose the table is a better idea.”

They ate, and drank Remus’s wine—which was easily the nicest wine Tonks had ever tried. She had a hard time remembering, afterward, what they talked about over dinner. All she knew was that every time she looked across and saw him, sitting at her table in her flat and looking happy, it made her heart pound so hard it hurt.

At some point, though, after they had emptied their plates and their goblets, she caught sight of the clock.

“Did you hear about the special programme they’re having on the WWN tonight?” she asked, quietly.

Remus nodded. “Minerva told me.”

“It’s almost time for it to start.” She fiddled with her goblet, careful not to look at him. “Do you want to stay and listen with me?”

“I’d like that,” he said at once, touching her hand again. She knew her smile was sad this time, but so was the one that he returned.

Tonks led the way back into the living room. She pointed her wand at the wireless, turning it on and searching for the right station. The evening news broadcast was just ending.

When she turned around again, Remus had settled into one corner of the sofa.

Tonks could have sat in the opposite corner, very polite and civilised. But she didn’t. She staked all her Galleons at once and sat right next to him, tucking her feet underneath her and leaning up against him.

He stiffened.

Tonks froze, wondering whether she should lean away again.

And then she felt Remus pull away instead, freeing his arm from the press of her weight against his side.

Her heart had barely had enough time to plummet, though, before he shifted again, leaning back against her, warm and solid. His arm slipped behind her to settle around her waist, fingers curling over her hip.

Panic subsiding, she rested her cheek against his shoulder. She thought she might have heard him breathe a small sigh in response.

“Good evening,” came the smooth, suave voice of Beauregard Belby over the wireless, “and welcome to Charming the Classics. We bring you a special programme tonight, in memory of one of the finest wizards Britain has ever seen. Someone nearly all of us knew as Transfiguration teacher or as Headmaster, although he held many other titles and honours in his lifetime as well, including Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. I’m speaking, of course, of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.”

The arm around Tonks tightened, just a little.

“Tonight on our programme, we will feature the magical and Muggle chamber music that Albus Dumbledore dearly loved.”

The strains of a cello filled the room, followed by a violin or two. Tonks had never listened to much in the way of classical music—partly because she couldn’t stand Beauregard Belby—but the intricate, delicate melody and counterpoint were sad and soothing and beautiful all at once.

“I can see why he liked this,” she whispered, looking up.

Remus nodded.

She leaned against him again and closed her eyes.

For once, Belby managed to keep from running off at the mouth and just let the music play, one piece after another: fast or slow, cheery or sombre, cellos or harpsichords or French horns. The sad pieces tugged at her heart, but it wasn’t until the middle of a bright, nimble violin solo, with a melody that sounded like spring flowers and mountain waterfalls and maybe a handful of sherbet lemons, that Tonks felt the tears well up.

She scowled, from frustration and shame—she had always seen herself as someone who never cried. But of course, that was before losing Sirius. Before spending a year worried sick about Remus, off living alone and unarmed among Greyback’s werewolves. Before facing down dementors and standing guard against Death Eaters for months and months, all the while dragged down by the ache in her heart. And that ache had come from knowing that love and friendship and whatever joy they could have snatched together lay just out of reach, only because Remus insisted on denying it to both of them.

At least now he was here. For no other reason than to spend the evening with her.

She wiped the tears away with the edge of her hand and turned her face into his shoulder.

Remus took a deep breath—she could feel his shoulders rise and fall. He tensed.

And then his fingertips touched her hair.

On purpose.

His touch was awkward at first. Hesitant. But his fingers were gentle, sifting through the shaggy black spikes she’d settled on for the evening.

The music wound its way around the room for a few more bars before she started breathing again.

~ * ~

Remus could count on one hand the number of times he had touched Tonks’s hair before tonight. But he hadn’t forgotten how soft it was—and he was quite sure that was real. Tonks turned her hair all kinds of colours and made it stand up in all kinds of spikes or curls, but the feel of it was something almost no one but she would know.

Except that he knew it. Merely thinking about that fact filled him with something that would probably best be called awe.

It was almost enough to silence the nagging voice in the back of his head, the one that would not stop insisting that he was being selfish and careless and would come to regret putting Tonks—and his own heart—at such risk.

You have to trust me to make my own choices, she had said.

After withholding it for so long, he owed it to her to give her that trust.

Didn’t he?

Or was he only making excuses for his own selfishness?

And what would happen when she finally worked out what a bad idea this was, and left him lonelier than he had been before?

His fingers were still stroking those shaggy, soft spikes. Tonks leaned her cheek against his shoulder, and then her arm wrapped around his waist. He felt a surge of joy that finally did silence the little voice—for the moment, anyway.

Remus suddenly realised that the music had stopped. Belby had been remarkably restrained through the whole programme, but now he’d launched into some kind of speech. The man did love to hear himself talk.

“And now,” came the treacly voice, “before our final musical selection tonight, let us hear a few words of wisdom from the great man himself. This is an excerpt from an interview that was recorded only weeks ago for the WWN Evening News.”

Tonks snorted. “This was never Beauregard Belby’s idea. Orders from above, I reckon.”

They shared a snigger, and Remus felt that wash of joy again. He had missed laughing with her as much as anything, all this long cold year.

But then Dumbledore’s voice filled the room, and neither one of them was laughing anymore.

“There are hard times coming,” said the familiar voice, uncharacteristically grave. “Any one of us may be asked to make sacrifices. It can be very difficult indeed to choose what is right over what is easy, but this choice—if made by each and every one of us—will save us all. And so, let us be inspired by those who have already made the ultimate sacrifice, those who have left this world too soon in order to leave a better world behind them. Let us share in the memory of their courage when our own hour of crisis comes.”

Those who have left this world too soon.

The old parade of faces floated up to haunt him—James and Lily. Marlene. Caradoc. Gideon and Fabian. His parents.

But Remus hadn’t fully appreciated just how much the pain of those losses had lightened over the years until he had acquired fresh ones.

Dumbledore’s murder last night had shaken him to the core, had left the entire Order fumbling in the dark, had brought home to him all too vividly that no one was invincible. But not even that fresh, frightening loss hurt as much as—

—don’t think about it, don’t...don’t—

“Remus.” There was motion on the couch beside him, and then Tonks was holding his face between her hands. “Stay with me. Don’t go off...wherever it is that you go.”

Startled, he looked up and found himself staring, past the tears that hung on her lashes again, straight into her wide dark eyes. He felt her own grief and pain, like a jolt in the gut, and it brought his back in full force. Stop, he wanted to tell her, let me be—I’m trying not to feel anything...

But then she pulled him close, wrapping her arms around him.

Her hands were strong against his back, and her heart thumped right under his ear. And something happened.

It wasn’t that the choking pain of grief went away. But something tight loosened a little; something that had been a lump of ice thawed and warmed.

Perhaps grief shared was grief lessened. Or perhaps it was just that the utter joy that Tonks kept bringing him tonight had mixed with the grief, diluting it.

Whichever it is, I need this, Remus heard himself thinking. I need you.

His arms went around her, and he held on, tightly, until the last strains of the last piece of Belby’s programme faded away.

But then, all too soon, the music turned to jazz. The little clock over the fireplace chimed eleven.

Remus straightened. “It’s getting late.” He managed something of a shaky smile. “I should go. We both have a lot to do tomorrow.”

Tonks nodded. “Thanks for coming over.” Her cautious little smile made him feel suddenly lonely.

After all, he almost hadn’t come tonight.

“Thank you,” he said, reaching out to touch her cheek, “for such a lovely dinner.”

Her eyes closed, and she went completely motionless until his fingers fell away. Remus swallowed. It was hard to believe his touch meant so much to her. Unless, he supposed, he thought about how much her touch meant to him.

He stood, and she did too. Neither one of them seemed to know where to look.

“Can you come again tomorrow?” Her voice was small. Careful.

Remus hesitated, out of habit, but the taunting little voice in his head was barely more than a whisper compared to this new need he had found—or, perhaps, had finally acknowledged.

“I’d like that,” he admitted.

A smile blazed across her face and took away his breath.

“Only—” As soon as he’d said that, the smile dimmed, but he hurried on. “I think it’s my turn to cook. I can’t manage veal, I’m afraid, but how do you feel about lentil soup?”

“Oh,” she said, smiling again. “That would be great. Here—”

Her fingers wrapped around his wrist and she led him to the door. She tapped her wand against a brass plate on the wall—the intercom—and swished it in an intricate design before tapping the plate again.

“Now you,” she said. “Touch your wand just there.”

Remus did as she said, moving slowly. Feeling stunned.

“You’ll be able to open the foyer door, as well,” she said blithely. “Now you can come here anytime you like. Even if I’m still at work, or whatever.”

“Thank you,” he said. He swallowed.

Remus had never been to Tonks’s flat before, but already she had made it feel like home. That odd feeling of joy nudged at him again, and he simply had to smile.

Tonks smiled back. And then she leaned toward him, and he caught his breath. But she stopped.

She was waiting for him to meet her halfway.

And so—

leaning closer, feeling her soft breath against his skin, and then the sweet slide of her warm lips; letting his hands stroke gently over her back, and marvelling as hers roamed over his—

—and so he did.

~ fin ~

"Kaleidoscope" series index

gilpin25: cat in  a boxgilpin25 on October 25th, 2010 10:27 pm (UTC)
I feel as if I should say something very intelligent(?!) after you've given me such a nice and undeserved build-up, but I absolutely loved this story and this moment in the R/T relationship. I've read it twice now and shall be back for a third go in the morning: it's full of those deceptively simple moments and observations, which really aren't at all, and which make your characters real and memorable - and they're always consistent (which must be no small feat over a long series).

Things that will stick in my mind are the start and the magical equivalent of buzzers and Ministry safety flats, Remus realizing he knows how soft Tonks' hair is and what that means, what comes into Tonks' mind about Dumbledore as she listens to the music, the use of 'And so--' and these lines:

Something warm and gentle curled around his heart. He thought it might be happiness.

I don't think I stopped smiling after that one. Thank you, it is such a lovely birthday gift. ♥
shimotsuki: kaleidoscopeshimotsuki on October 26th, 2010 12:23 am (UTC)
Erm. It did occur to me after posting this that the preface might end up making it sound like I was assigning you birthday homework, which -- please believe -- was not the intention at all! Yikes! But if this got you smiling on your birthday then I'm very glad. (And knowing that you've thought it worth a reread has me smiling too. :) )

I'm also glad the characters still seem reasonably consistent to you, because it occurs to me that as of this month, I've actually been working on Kaleidoscope for four years. Good thing I decided not to wait until I was done to start posting, lol.
gilpin25: cat in  a boxgilpin25 on October 26th, 2010 12:05 pm (UTC)
*snorts* The birthday homework idea is a brilliant one! I hadn't even gone there - though you'd probably have keeled over if I'd done a review addressed to Professor shimotsuki? ;) - but was thinking I was bound to make some really embarrassing typo, or say something daft as usual, and thereby instantly disprove all that you'd said, lol.

I've actually been working on Kaleidoscope for four years.

Look, I've already had a small episode of 'OMG, where's the time gone?' when sspring92 said she'd known me three years!* Seriously, it takes a lot of dedication to keep working on a series, and a lot of determination to keep going as RL and fandom circumstances inevitably change, and it's something I've never done so am in admiration of those who do.

* I seem to recall once that I was only going to be on LJ for a few months AT MOST. So, same time next year then? ;)
shimotsuki: hufflepuffshimotsuki on October 27th, 2010 02:35 am (UTC)
Look, I've already had a small episode of 'OMG, where's the time gone?'

I do know what you mean... Yikes.

Same time next year!
bookish_brownie: Remus Tonks IIbookish_brownie on October 26th, 2010 03:32 am (UTC)
This was great! It was such a nice set of quiet moments between them. I think it perfectly fits the scenario of their reconciliation as you've set it up in your series. I particularly liked Dumbledore's recorded message and Remus's eventual realization of how much he needed Tonks.
shimotsuki: kaleidoscopeshimotsuki on October 27th, 2010 02:37 am (UTC)
Thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoyed and especially that you thought it fit in with the series. Sometimes it feels kind of hard to keep the development of the relationship consistent over all those parts...

Remus took a big step here toward facing some facts that scare him. ;)
jobey_in_errorjobey_in_error on October 26th, 2010 03:35 am (UTC)
You didn't have anything better to do with that time these past four years, did you? ;-) You should be pleased; you might have been some lazy sod who's only been thinking of such things for four years, while scarcely getting any of it written and shared!

Anyway this was really really lovely. Even by your standards. I'm deeply impressed by how they sound in this one; some fic dialogue is really fun, but unconvincing -- some is not actually unconvincing, but nor does it grab you -- but this sounds so much like the Remus and Tonks I know from the books. Whew. It makes it amazing -- like the bit of canon you long for. And the whole fic is like that -- convincing in every word and detail. Oh, and shifting POVs in this one? Somehow perfect. Like they've finally come to balance each other. (Taken a while, hasn't it?) And you always managed to shift just when I was dying to know what the other one was thinking. Very satisfying.

Love the chamber music Dumbledore tribute especially.

Thanks so much as always for your crafting!
shimotsuki: writing2shimotsuki on October 27th, 2010 02:42 am (UTC)
You didn't have anything better to do with that time these past four years, did you? ;-)

LOL! Well, if this were the only thing I'd been doing for four years, at least I'd be finished by now. ;) More like four years of snatched moments to write in?

I really appreciate your kind comments, especially hearing that you thought the dialogue fit the characters, because that's definitely something I worry about.

I know that some people disapprove of POV shifts, but I like them just fine, heh. I have rules, though: the shift can only happen between scenes, and time always moves forward even in a shift... I like the way a shift lets us see different perspectives, especially when it's a big turning point, or a canon missing moment.
Still Sleepingetiam_quietus on October 29th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
Sorry I'm so late to comment (it's been sitting open in a browser for over a week now!)

First of all, I remember reading the original!!! And I thought it was lovely then, but this version is infinitely more satisfying :) I think what I love most about this is that Remus doesn't lose his awkwardness - I think it's a very realistic portrayal of someone who has been closed so long that he doesn't quite know how to open up despite his declaration, and yet on the inside, he yearns to. The whole piece is a lovely description of his awakening.

Something warm and gentle curled around his heart. He thought it might be happiness.

love that line :)
Still Sleepingetiam_quietus on October 29th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
ok, just looked at the date and I see that it's only seemed like over a week :P
shimotsuki: kaleidoscopeshimotsuki on October 31st, 2010 02:09 am (UTC)
I remember reading the original!!!

Wow! That was, I believe, the second R/T thing I had ever posted to LiveJournal. And I still remember how nice to me everyone was when I jumped in. :)

someone who has been closed so long that he doesn't quite know how to open up despite his declaration, and yet on the inside, he yearns to

That's a beautiful way to put it, and that is indeed the kind of thing I was trying to go for here.

Thanks so much for reading, and for your kind comments. (And yeah, every day this week has felt about a week long, lol.)
Mannahooves on January 30th, 2012 06:59 am (UTC)
Gaaah this was wonderful. Not too much, not too little-- a perfect blend of emotions and romance. Thank you so much for sharing this one.

The ending, especially, was just perfect. Good on Remus for finally letting go a bit.

Also, thank you for not having them shagging on the first date. Maybe the second? (LOL, kidding. But seriously, this was great. Perfect pacing.)