Written as a gift for Wildmagelet for Winterval at pulped_fictions.
The Delicate Art of Present Giving
Tonks thought that buying a present for the man who has everything must be positively simple in comparison to buying for one who hasn't very much at all. Not that Remus Lupin would ever class himself as such, of course.
And the worst thing about it was that was only half the problem. The far less emotionally complicated half as she was finally admitting to herself with only three days to go to Christmas. Solstice day: the longest night of midwinter. A time to face the shadows and the dark – and yourself - head on?
Tonks threw down her quill, with which she was supposed to be describing why this afternoon's pursuit of the masked goose thief had taken so long (departmental memo: Beware Stunned geese not entirely sure who is kidnapper and who is rescuer. Nor are they always Stunned), and decided to give up recording the somewhat unglamorous life of an Auror at Christmas. The rest of the office seemed far more occupied with consuming Kingsley's famous eggnog recipe anyway, and in sending mistletoe bombs up to Fudge. Nothing like a group of law enforcers for letting their hair down. Or, in what looked like one unsurprising case, their underwear.
Meanwhile, it was time to face a few facts. Which was that she was seeking a gift for a man with whom she was both a friend and a secret colleague, and maybe, just maybe, there were an increasing number of moments when they seemed much more than either of these things. Therefore she must not spend too much and embarrass both of them, but a pair of novelty reindeer socks wasn't going to rock anyone's feet. Not only that, but he'd got to be able to open it in front of everyone else. Not only that, but it had still got to be something very personal. Not only that, but she, gulp, would like it in some way to show how she felt about him.
At least possibly she would...
All right, almost certainly. Perhaps.
Oh crap. How many not only that's was that to contend with?
Help was needed here.
The appointed help was halfway up a ladder with streamers on each arm, and was apparently intent on covering Grimmauld's kitchen floor in magical snow when she arrived. While it was lovely to see Sirius brimming with energy again at the prospect of a full house for Christmas, getting him to slow down and pay attention wasn't easy.
"Oh, I always thought that sort of thing was simple for you girlies. It's us blokes who have the headaches trying to find manly and meaningful. That's why a bottle of Firewhiskey normally solves all problems. Here, hold these." Sirius passed her an armful of Father Christmas beards from the box he was delving into. "What do you think about putting them on the house elf heads? I don't want to do too much though, thought I'd wait till Harry and everyone got here so they can all join in."
"Good idea," Tonks unwound her various scarves and layers – it was bitterly cold out there again tonight – and sat down on the nearest chair. Both she and it started to sink slowly sideways into the snow. "Sirius. What do you mean it's easy for us?"
"You know. Girly stuff. You buy socks, gloves and new underwear for us because you're somehow scarily aware of the holes in them. You knit, you bake, you stick your hands up turkeys and all the while emit a warm, womanly glow that reminds us of our mothers." Sirius paused for a second. "Scrap that last bit. Just give me the warm, womanly glow."
"Not all of us can do that." Tonks remembered the gloves she'd bought on day one of the Remus present hunt, and promptly returned as boring, impersonal and what-on-earth-was-she-thinking-of on day two. "I'm not very good at any of those things. At least not knitting and baking."
"You could ask your mum or Molly?"
"I am not asking my mother to bake gingerbread biscuits for a man I've never mentioned before!"
"Oh." Sirius peered over the top of a garland at her and grinned. "Do you know how high-pitched your voice gets when you're all defensive? And why haven't you mentioned him if he's such a pal? That's very interesting. Okay, okay," he threw his hands up in mock surrender at her expression. "What about Molly?"
"Yes, what about her?" Tonks rolled her eyes at him. "You haven't forgotten about Arthur and Percy, have you? The one person I am not bothering is her right now."
Sirius swore. "Stupid of me. Here," he suddenly jumped down from his ladder, grabbed a chair, turned it round back to front and sat on it. He grinned irrepressibly at her, leaning on his elbows. "Mind you, I'm not sure you are either."
"What do you mean?"
Sirius hesitated, seeming to change his mind over what he was going to say. "Just that Moony will appreciate anything. He'd be happy with a squashed mince pie because it's you giving it to him. There's no need to tie yourself up in knots."
Except there was every need to, Tonks thought miserably, aware this was turning into a right festive bauble of a conversation. But then it was hardly fair of her to expect Sirius to provide an answer when she couldn't herself.
"Thanks a lot," she said, standing up rather gingerly in her snow drift. "You've been a big help. I'd better go – he's going to be back from tree ordering with Dung soon and the shops are open till late tonight. I'll try and get something and put an end to this."
"Mmn. My advice: forget the shops, young Nymphadora. Give him what you'd want for yourself. Moony's the bravest man I know over many things but this will be difficult for him."
She nodded, only half listening. Sirius had no idea how difficult it was for her too. Perhaps a dinner out was the answer. She could make it sound casual and friendly, give Remus a little invitation card to open, which shouldn't be too embarrassing in public and then—
"Of course you still haven't asked the most obvious question of all." Sirius' voice stopped her as she was half out the door.
"Huh?" She looked back at him, still thinking of dinners and men with slow, devastating smiles that they didn't use quite often enough.
"You haven't once asked what he'll be giving you?"
At the front door, laden with bags and a sprinkling of frost, she met the owner of the devastating smile. For some reason, it always made her feel like she was the only person who could make it happen.
They were friends, she reminded herself sternly. She might well be imagining the moments when they were alone and she saw sorrow and longing in his expression.
Besides, you could never have too many friends, and they'd be perfectly happy with a nice pair of socks for Christmas. Especially if there was a receipt to return them attached.
"Hello Tonks," said Remus Lupin, and smiled at her.
Her traitorous heart, thundering like a mad thing, loudly proclaimed they were not friends, never had been and never could be. The fact that he had a red nose from the cold, and might well be in with a chance of successfully auditioning for Rudolf at the moment, made not the slightest difference to her apparently.
If this is love, I simply can't bear it if he doesn't feel the same.
"Hi there," she said rather too brightly. "Sorted out the tree problem then?"
"Dung has promised to surpass himself. Which is a frightening prospect for us all." Remus looked at her. "Not on your way out? Have you got time for a drink?"
"Must fly." Tonks looked vaguely in the direction of her watch, which she couldn't actually see under her gloves. "I'm not at all organized this year and haven't even hung my stocking up yet- What are you doing?"
"Sorry. Bit of fluff in your hair." Remus held it up with amused fingers. "Why no, it's a small feather."
"Right." Tonks hoped she hadn't jumped about a foot when he'd touched her, but knew there was no hiding the colour flooding her face. "Funny story about a goose. Remind me to tell you some time, it's a good laugh. But I must get going."
"All right." He looked disappointed, which did nothing for her heart rate. "I know how important these rituals are."
His turn to look uncertain now. "Hanging your stocking up?"
"Oh! Yeah, I like to leap out of bed at six in the morning and run downstairs because inside I'm still only about eight years old and proud of it." What was she saying? "When I really was little, I always got to stay up late one night, when it was very clear and icy, and Dad would take me outside to look up at the stars and we'd eat a baked potato out there. We had a pond you see, and sometimes it even froze right over like everything is doing now and I got to skate on it. Dad called it our midwinter night, said it was the start of the long journey back to spring again."
"Yes. I know."
"I haven't thought about this for ages." Tonks, aware she was not being entirely truthful because she had thought of it quite a lot of late, and, even worse, was babbling like an idiot, took what was intended to be a steadying pause. "Tradition's reassuring, sometimes, isn't it? When you're a child it makes you think things are in their rightful place, that all is well with the world and everything will work out okay."
"And sometimes when you're an adult as well." He nodded, and there was that smile again, full of understanding and warmth, and suddenly all the things they'd never said to each other hung there in the air between them.
She saw the longing in his eyes. Then the sorrow.
"I must go," said Tonks, and fled.
Remus found himself in the kitchen, with no clear memory of quite how he'd got there. His head was full of Tonks, standing there with her green and gold scarves clashing wonderfully with her pink hair, her dark eyes sparkling with life and fun, and wondered why it was that whenever he was with her he found himself thinking there were better times ahead.
How he wanted to share them all with her.
If this was love, he didn't think he could bear it. Not if she didn't feel the same and such as he would hardly be top of anyone's wish list.
He realized Sirius, wearing what looked like a Father Christmas beard and a quizzical expression, was watching him from the top of a ladder, and had probably been doing so for some considerable time.
"Before you ask, I still haven't thought of the right gift to get Tonks," he said. "It's driving me mad."
Sirius laughed so hard Remus thought he'd never stop.
The note had been most mysterious. Be ready for a cold broomstick journey at 10 tonight, it said. Ask no questions but follow your guide. She'd recognized the handwriting of course, and almost burst with anticipation and nerves, and never had an hour's wait passed so quickly or so slowly. And then he was there, with a slight smile on his lips, followed by a swift finger to them as she opened her mouth.
"Here," he said, and did a Warming Charm on her, and then what felt like another on them both for good measure. "Follow me."
So she did, except that he rode alongside, their legs almost touching and their hands only inches apart. The expectation for whatever was going to happen, whatever he had planned, was so great that she almost forgot to notice where they were going. She was conscious of how cold it was but only on a remote level, of how fast they were travelling while seemingly standing still, and of how, if she reached up high, she could probably touch a star.
When they landed, he made her shut her eyes and then guided her forward a few steps. "There," he said, the word a warm touch against her ear, making her shiver.
She opened her eyes.
The broad sweep of the moonlit valley below made her catch her breath. The trees stood majestic and bare in silver and blue, their branches fringed with a lacework of frost. The long, curving pond, frozen like a shield to a metallic shine, reflected the moon above while their breath made clouds that lingered like tiny ghosts in front of them.
"Merry Christmas, Tonks," said Remus softly. She felt the warmth of his body through the layers of clothes that divided them, his hand on her waist as she leaned back against him, and wondered how long and how hard he'd searched to find this place.
She looked again at the valley and was a child once more, as well as a grown woman with the world laid out before her. One who felt that everything would be all right, somehow, because this world was still beautiful despite the fear and sadness in it, and all possibilities were endless because she was in love with the man who'd shown it to her.
"I couldn't think what to get you," she said at last, turning to face him, and now it was her turn to shake her head as he started to speak, needing him to hear her out.
"I didn't really gift wrap it," she added, and quickly leaned forward, taking his face in her hands before her courage failed her.
She kissed him and he tasted of longing and need, and it felt like coming home, like finding a safe harbour in a storm. One kiss wasn't nearly enough, however long it lasted, but now he was leaning forward, pulling her tightly into him, and his mouth covered hers as his fingers tangled in her hair. It was soft and fierce and wonderful.
Eventually, they drew back a little and stared at each other. He cupped her face with a hand that wasn't quite steady while she stood there on legs that felt decidely weak. She thought she could stay like this forever.
Perhaps they would. All those possibilities to choose from now.
"Merry Christmas, Remus," she said.
A belated Merry Christmas/Happy Hols if you're reading this, but I am in time to say Happy New Year. I didn't think I'd be writing any more R/T fics but one more Christmas get-together felt like old times. Which were very much fun times. :) I hope you enjoyed it.