"Fenrir, slow down, please."
Sighing, he backpedaled a few steps and waited for her to catch up. "I thought you said you were doing better with traversing these woods, now."
Hermione frowned, shaking her head as she scowled at him. "I said I was getting more familiar with our surroundings, that doesn't mean I'm ready to chase a werewolf through them."
He barked out a laugh and pulled her close, dropping his forehead down to press lightly against hers. "You considered that a chase? I was barely even walking fast."
Smirking, she lowered her voice to a whisper. "Liar."
"Prove it . . . ." His voice trailed off as the grin faded from his lips. Holding a silencing finger against her mouth, he turned his head slow to scan the area behind him.
She looked at the ground, picking her way carefully through the brush and forest debris to put herself behind Fenrir without creating any extraneous sounds that might distract him. Placing a gentle hand against his back, she gauged the tension in his muscles. Taut as metal cables . . . .
He was ready to fight something. Not good.
She could hear the soft rush of air as he inhaled deep, trying to catch the scent of whatever it was. After a moment, the tension in him began to ease and he let out a breath. "Just some deer."
Nodding, Hermione exhaled, herself, barely aware she'd held her breath that entire time. As she dropped her hand back to her side, he turned toward her so that she found herself staring up into his face quite unexpectedly. He wore a curious expression that prompted her to ask, "What?"
A smug half-smile playing on his lips, he said, "You moved behind me."
The witch arched a brow. "So?"
"So? You were actually letting me protect you. 'S a big step for you."
She uttered a scoffing sound in the back of her throat. "Well, excuse me for not having a wand! I've no real way to defend myself. Did you think, perhaps, hiding behind you only made sense, then, on an instinctive level?"
"Well, now . . . talking to a werewolf about instincts. You do know my sweet spots." Humor edged his growling voice.
Hermione laughed, slapping his shoulder lightly. "But you know . . . ." Her expression sobered as she held his gaze. "At some point, we're going to be found. They're going to throw you in Azkaban, and they might lock me up in the mental ward at St. Mungo's for not wanting to leave, but . . . I don't. I don't want to leave. I know that sounds so mad. Worse, though, it feels so selfish."
Fenrir's brows drew upward. "Selfish?"
Shaking her head, she turned a little, letting her attention wander about the trees while she spoke. "It's so unfair. I'm out here 'playing house' with a wanted criminal while our world repairs itself from the aftermath of war. I should be helping, and you should be—"
Her shoulders slumped as she snapped her gaze back to his. "No! I was going to say you should be as far from me as you can possibly get."
He threw back his head and let out another of his rich, barking chuckles. "Get away from you? What, on purpose? Not going to happen."
"But that's what I'm saying. You don't think clearly when you're around me. I mean . . . you did whisk me off the battlefield, knowing what it would mean for you if you got caught."
The werewolf sighed. Slipping one arm around her waist, he pulled her close. With his free hand, he tapped his finger against the tip of her nose and then started combing through her wild locks with surprisingly delicate strokes. "I knew perfectly well what I was doing—I was saving your life."
"Not the point. You barely knew me, but you were willing to risk imprisonment if you were caught, or the wrath of the other Death Eaters if you failed. Something about me makes you go just a little bit mad, Fenrir Greyback."
"Oh, but in the best possible way."
She smirked in spite of herself. "Still. We should at least have some sort of plan for when we're found."
"I plan on taking you and running again. Sound good?"
Her eyes drifted closed at the feel of him raking his fingers through her hair. She liked these little wolfish things he did for her—he was seeing to her like a true wolf might groom their mate. "It would, but chances are when that day comes, I'm going to have to leave here. I'm going to have to leave you."
Scooping her up, he held her against him and assisted her to wrap her legs around his hips as he said, "Well, that day's not today."
Hermione let him take her worries away as he carried her back to the cabin, undressing her and capturing her mouth in rough, hungry kisses as he walked.
He couldn't lie to himself. Creeping along amongst the trees, just close enough to keep an ear on them, Fenrir had no way around listening to their conversation—no way around hearing her voice.
He couldn't pretend hearing her laugh, hearing her speak in that girlish tone—the one edged with a hint of flirtatiousness—as she chatted away with that thing he'd bitten wasn't the most wretchedly painful feeling he'd ever experienced. Honestly, the pair was hiking through a forest they were well aware contained a notoriously savage werewolf, why weren't they more cautious, rather than acting as though they were on some ruddy, casual nature stroll?
Sinking back against a nearby tree, he inhaled deep of the earthy scents surrounding him. He needed the grounding of that action. He had to stop working himself up like this; a temper flare would only cause him to act thoughtlessly, and then this entire effort would be wasted.
Though, now that he was stopped, now that he was giving himself a moment to really let his environment sink in, he noticed the foliage was getting thicker. The forest, itself was growing denser and darker the further along they moved, and there was some scent buried beneath the smells of soil and wild life that didn't quite fit.
Here? In the midst of all this?
A grimace marring his features, Fenrir shook his head. Starting back on his path trailing them once more, he felt a coil of unease wind in the pit of his stomach.
What, exactly, were Hermione and this . . . Bucky creature searching for?
"So . . . you know something about my past heartaches, I suppose whatever really happened with Fenrir, there was a point at which I genuinely—or, at least genuinely believed—I cared for him." She gingerly picked her way through a particularly messy tangle of tree roots that had broken up through the forest floor as she spoke. "What about you?"
Bucky halted midstride, his mouth pulling to one side as he considered how to answer that. He could certainly lie about his past, but he didn't want to lie to this girl; as far as he was concerned, the omissions and minor misdirections he'd had given her, already, felt like too much.
His pursed lips twitching side to side, he made a gesture that was half nod, half shake of his head before he started. "No judgements, right?"
The witch uttered a wicked-sounding snicker. "Oh, I don't recall agreeing to that . . . but seeing as you've not judged me for what may, or may not, have happened between myself and a possibly-mad werewolf, I'll graciously say 'yes, no judgements.'"
"Well," he said, gesturing toward his metallic arm with a wave of his other hand, "before this, I was, um, a bit of a ladies' man."
"Oh, really? Should I fear for my virtue?"
He couldn't help but laugh—loudly—at that. "The girl who was shacked up with a werewolf? Not sure you've got any virtue left."
If he hadn't said that with genuine humor in his voice, she might've been insulted. As it was, she let out a laugh of her own in response. "Low blow, sir!"
Shaking his head, he shrugged. "You did kinda bring that one on yourself."
"I suppose I did. Point, Bucky."
"But, um . . . ." She followed him around a particularly thick stand of trees to what looked like a thin path—not visible unless one was standing directly in front of it, and even then, only barely. "And no one after? I mean, you know, besides me, since I think we've already clearly established you and I are, well, something."
A relaxed grin lighting his features, he stepped into the path and glanced over his shoulder at her as he reached back to capture her hand in his and lead her along behind him. "We definitely are something. But, after what happened to me, there was Natasha."
"Natasha? Is she . . . is she dead?"
He frowned, but kept his attention in front of him as he swatted a low branch out of his way. "No, why?"
Hermione shrugged, careful to watch their footing as they went. "You speak her name with a certain amount of reverence. That's usually reserved for lost loved ones."
"Well, then that fits. I did lose her, but more because I let her go. I had to, for her own good." With a weighted sigh, he hurried on before she could wonder. "She was someone in my past, taken and trained by the same people who took me. In fact, I helped train her, that's how we met. Witty, fiery." He paused to laugh. "Pretty much all the traits someone expects to come with red hair."
Her eyebrows shot up as she laughed. "Oh, I do know about those gingers. Used to fancy one before all this happened—Ronald. My best friend Harry is dating Ron's sister. But well, it's sort of an awkward situation, him being head over heels for a redhead."
"His mum was a redhead, too. Died when he was little, but according to some photographs we've got, the two even look a little bit alike . . . ."
"Oh." After a moment, Bucky halted, glancing back at her over his shoulder with a cringe. "Oh."
Crinkling the bridge of her nose, she nodded. "Yeah, we don't bring up the resemblance much. As I said, awkward."
Shaking his head, he looked forward, and started them moving along, once more. "Yeah, remind me to tell you sometime about my best friend. He's dating the niece of his first girlfriend."
At that, Hermione clamped her lips together and simply nodded. She was familiar enough with pure-blood society, and she doubted anyone in Wizarding Britain would bat an eye at that type of relationship, even if she was weirded out by it, a bit.
In the middle of the thicket was a small, but unexpected, clearing. Relinquishing his hold on her hand, Bucky directed her attention to circular grate in the center that nearly blended with the forest floor around it. Reaching down, he gripped his metal fingers into the grate and wrenched it loose.
She winced at the whine of tearing metal, though could not help but be impressed at how he easily hefted the grate and tossed it aside. Nearly like the bloody thing weighed no more than the average frisbee.
As she watched him straighten up, showing no sign of strain whatsoever, she cleared her throat. "So I've got to ask . . . that strength, is it just the arm, or . . . ?"
"Huh?" Looking down at his hands, he laughed and shook his head. "Oh, yeah, no. That's me. Part of the experiment. Somethings still hurt, though, so it's just easier to do those things with the metal hand for obvious reasons."
Nodding, she stepped over to the grate, curiosity getting the better of her. Slipping the fingers of both hands around it, she tried to lift even one side. It barely budged more than a few millimeters—despite putting all her strength into it— and she let it drop with visible reluctance. Not that it was very much of a drop.
When she turned back toward Bucky, she found him watching her with an amused grin on his face. "Really?"
She shrugged. "Well, I had to check." Hermione gave him a once over, ignoring the sensation of her cheeks flushing as she found a new appreciation for his build; something she hadn't thought possible given how very much she'd appreciated it, already. "Okay, let's go."
Snickering and shaking his head, he gestured toward the metal rungs that led down into the bunker. "Ladies first."