(A/N) This story started out as a sort of writer's exercise--what can I come up with by simply concentrating on one physical sense at a time? Then it sort of . . . evolved. Thanks to Terry Pratchett for the werewolf's nose.
He smelled her first.
It was the worst week of the month for Remus Lupin. His skin prickled all over, as if the hair was trying to sprout at top speed. His teeth seemed sharper than usual--he had to concentrate hard on not biting a hole in his cheek. And every sense he could lay claim to was on overdrive, but worst of all was his sense of smell.
Tonight was the full moon, his first at Number 12, Grimmauld Place, and the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix was a haze of smells to him. Besides the usual that anyone could smell--cooking, mold, smog from outside--Remus's nose picked out the particular scents of each person who had walked through the front door in the past few days. They were slightly muted, because almost everyone was either still asleep or out of the house, but Remus had no problem picking them out. Molly Weasley's scent was comfortable and warm, like baking bread, but with the biting green edge of worry. Moody's paranoia hung in the air like a murky black haze, but that was nothing new. Darker now, possibly, than it had been fifteen years before, but still familiar. Sirius's frustration vibrated like a twanged harp string, sharp as spilled acid. That was new.
And the woman smell.
He caught his breath.
He knew this scent of old, heavy and dark and rich with mysteries no man could dream of touching. He'd been nearly seventeen before he realized just what it came from. Even now, understanding that the source was menstrual blood, he thought of it as simply the woman smell.
The iron hand of control he clamped down was as old as his recognition of that scent. His reaction was stronger this time than usual. Perhaps because he hadn't laid a finger, or anything else, on a woman in quite a long time. He drew in his breath through his mouth, letting it out slowly, until his mind had wrestled the reins away from his body.
He often thought, at times like these, that anyone who thought humanity was above the animals could never have been within ten feet of a woman in all their dried-up lives, because otherwise they would understand just how idiotic that notion was.
The woman was awake--the smell was too fresh for it to be a leftover from the day before, the way the others were. He couldn't quite tell who this was. She must have been out of the house for the past few days. Or the woman smell was covering up her normal scent.
It strengthened as he padded down the hall to the kitchen, overlaid with the scent of fresh coffee. His blood leapt in his veins, and he wondered if he should turn away and go back upstairs. But he was hungry--for food--and if he didn't deal with it now he'd just have to later. With luck, the woman wouldn't notice anything. He was very good at hiding himself.
Any other time of the month, he would have had to proceed carefully in the greyish dark before dawn, but his wolf eyes were sharper than his human ones. He twitched his shoulders, wishing that it was a week later so his skin felt as if it fit properly again.
As he reached for the kitchen doorknob, a ceramic crash broke the silence, and a soft, "Oh, bugger" reached his newly-sensitive ears. His hand froze.
It was Tonks who was the source of the woman smell.
For a moment, disorientation overtook him as he struggled to reconcile bubbly little Tonks with this ancient woman's scent that was sending his body mad. But why should that be so surprising? She wasn't a child, after all.
Why had he never thought of her as female? As woman?
He took a breath through his mouth and pushed the door open. Tonks blinked up at him. "Morning, Remus," she said. "Just popped in to snitch some coffee after me patrol. I've got to be into work in about half an hour."
He stared down at her. Today, her hair hung to her shoulders in uneven ribbons the approximate color of a radioactive cucumber. She wore a baggy t-shirt with the front witch for the Weird Sisters plastered on, and her jeans had been hacked off three inches below the knee, with ragged strings fluttering clear to her bare ankles. She looked about ten.
He breathed in her smell, which had nothing to do with being ten.
"Watch the floor there," she said, after a few minutes of silence. "I've broken another mug. No great surprise."
He suddenly realized she was barefoot, in the midst of a lake of ceramic shards. "You should take care yourself," he said. His voice sounded rough, and he cleared his throat. "You don't want to get one in your foot."
She shrugged. "Not as if I'm not used to it." She pulled her wand out of her back pocket and flicked it carelessly. "Reparo!" The mug flew together, and she picked it up. "There. Handiest spell I ever learnt, that's for sure."
As she rose from her crouch, she winced slightly. Only very slightly. Only someone with wolf-sharp eyes would have noticed it. Remus said, "Are you feeling . . . quite all right?"
"Who, me? Oh, yeah. Just a little sore, is all. Wanker's protective spells got me last night."
His entire body tensed. "On patrol?"
"What? No. The wizard I was following." She flipped an absent hand. "Auror stuff." She poured herself coffee and opened a cupboard. "You drink coffee, don't--oops!"
His hand flashed out and snatched the mug out of the air an inch above the counter top. "Not today, but thanks." The wolf did not need caffeine. Neither, he thought, did Tonks, but that was her lookout. He set the rescued cup carefully on the counter and looked around for the teakettle.
"Thanks," she said, flushing. "Wish I could do that."
He turned away. He didn't know how much she knew about him, about his . . . condition. "Good reflexes." Wolf reflexes.
"That from the werewolf thing, then?" she asked casually, and took a slurp of coffee.
If he'd still been holding the mug, he would have dropped it. "The what?"
"The werewolf thing," she said. "It's full moon tonight, isn't it?"
He couldn't think of what to say, except, "You know?"
She made a "tuh" sound. "Of course I do. Got a full briefing on the team, didn't I. Just like you." She took another great gulp.
He shifted experimentally toward her. She didn't jolt back or tense up, but only lowered her cup and looked at him. Her eyes were neon green today too. She said, "As long as you're not feeling hungry, I'm not going to run away screaming from the ravenous werewolf."
He said, "Most would." This close to her, the woman smell filled his head and set his blood roaring. He should step back, he knew.
"Yeah, well, I'd probably offer you toast instead. Better for your heart, that." She slapped her rounded hip. "Eating me wouldn't do a thing for your cholesterol."
He thought of a reply for that. If he'd been Sirius, he would have said it, but since he was Remus, he said instead, "I have to say, I never really think of my cholesterol when I have fur and fangs." He looked at her intently. "You've known since you came into the Order."
"Mhm. And to what you're going to say next, yes, I stayed. Not that I had a choice, of course. It's sort of all-or-nothing thing, this." She lowered her mug all the way. "But you think I would have left. Because of you."
He said nothing.
"If Moody or Dung didn't scare me off, why would you?"
"They're not--" He trailed off. He had a lot of words for his wolf mode, but he didn't want to say any of them in front of Tonks, somehow. If she knew what was going on inside him right now . . .
She snorted into her cup. "Right, because being a perfectly decent man who happens to turn into a wolf every full moon is so much worse than being the lightest-fingered sneak thief this side of the Channel, a paranoid looper who'd break your arm if you tried to shake hands, or worse, a chameleon you can never really trust because you don't know what they're going to look like tomorrow."
"I don't think that's a terribly accurate description," he said quietly.
"What, of Moody? He's a total flipping loony, and Merlin knows we all appreciate it, as it's the reason most of us are still alive. Oh, and speaking of that. Don't use the front door for about--oh, half an hour, say. Just until he gets in from patrol."
"Unless you fancy being wet through--" She shrugged. "I figure if he's going to be paranoid, I might as well give him a reason for it." She glanced at the clock on the wall. "Merlin's wand, is that the time?"
He looked too. "I'm afraid so."
"Damn!" Still holding her cup, she spun. "Remus, d'you see a file folder?"
He looked down at the counter, where a coffee-spotted folder rested. "Is this it?"
"Phew. Thanks. The file room are a bunch of tight-arsed bastards if you leave one of those lying around."
The folder said, "Accounting Requisitions, 1978-1979," which didn't look like sensitive information at all. He raised his eyebrows.
She grinned. "Good charm, isn't it? Even if a non-Auror got hold of it, they'd be bored stupid in fifteen seconds." She tucked the folder under her arm, tipped her mug up to catch the dregs, put it half-on and half-off the counter, gave him a quick grin, and Disapparated.
His hand darted out and caught the mug on its way down, but it was total instinct. He stood staring at the spot where she'd Disapparated. Her smell--the woman smell--still hung in the air.
"I thought I knew you," he said to it.
In the next room, Moody--who had refused to Apparate anywhere since he'd been caught in a trap on the arrival end sixteen years before--pushed open the front door. The bucket delicately balanced in thin air dropped. There was a splash and a bloodcurdling scream.