(A/N) Please note: this chapter contains sex. Granted, there are FOX TV shows that are more graphic, but I thought I'd warn you anyway. Turn away your eyes if you don't like that stuff.
Through the window, Remus could see the moon. Waxing half-moon, he thought. My old enemy.
When he'd been a boy, old enough to understand what the moon did to him but young enough to hope it wouldn't, he would watch the half-moon with his heart in his throat, praying that this month, it wouldn't ripen to full, but instead dwindle back down to a fingernail.
It never had.
That had been many years ago . . . how many? He couldn't remember.
Getting old, Remus.
How old was he now? He couldn't think of a number, offhand. Thirty-seven? Thirty-eight? Harry was fifteen--no, sixteen in a few days. God. He couldn't even use that, because he couldn't remember anymore how old he'd been when Harry was born.
The first sign of losing it, he told himself. Watch yourself, old wolf, or you'll buy up a fancy new broomstick and charm your hair. You're already half-mad with wanting a woman who's a generation younger than you.
Remus knew that if he turned his head just a bit, he would see her, curled in a ball under the covers on the single bed.
He didn't turn his head.
He twisted against the nubby, harsh fabric of the sofa, trying to find a comfortable spot. A spring, annoyed at all the shifting, jabbed the small of his back, and he winced. This inn didn't put its money in its furnishings, that was for certain. But the Order couldn't afford to cover anything fancier. This was good enough for one night.
He'd made sure she had the bed by stretching himself out on the couch under a blanket before she'd got back from the bathroom, rendering any debate academic. At least one of them would sleep.
Had David Blair been asleep?
They'd found him in his bed. They'd found the whole family in their beds.
Had he slept, and dreamt of his own death as it happened?
Or had a noise woken him, the hush of a shoe against carpet, or the squeak of a floorboard? Had he been blinking into the darkness when that green flash of light had ended his life? Or had it been worse? Had he heard the words in the rooms next door--twice for his parents, three more for his younger sisters, before they'd gotten to him?
Had he felt it? Had it been like an arrow, piercing his chest and stopping his heart? Or had he felt nothing right up until the moment the world had ceased?
They said it killed instantly. But how long was an instant when it was your last?
The family had planned on going to Diagon Alley the next day, their first sight of the world their son would now never step into. There had been two book lists on the electrically-powered icebox, one for David and one for his parents. A book entitled Wizard Children and Muggle Parents: You Poor Sap, You're Really In For It Now had been carefully highlighted.
Nathan Blair and his wife Dianna would never read it now.
Hours. Minutes, maybe.
Their orders had been to take the Blairs into protective custody. Somehow, Death Eaters had got names and addresses of Muggle-born first years. David Blair and his family were far from the first casualties.
Tonks had been white and silent on the walk back from the Blairs' house. They'd found a red metal telephone box on the way. Remus had made the call to the Muggle police, the plastic reciever cold and slick against his ear as he reported a prowler around the neat corner house with its nodding forsythia bushes.
It wouldn't do any real good, of course, except that the bodies would be discovered before they started to rot.
The Muggles would undoubtedly declare a carbon-monoxide leak. There had been a real rash of those over the past month or so, all over the country. Unfortunate.
Tonks had leaned against the outside of the telephone box with a two-way mirror, calling Number 12. She'd given her report in clear, concise terms, but even from inside, he could see the way silent shivers racked her frame.
Too late. Too late.
He thought, I could have talked to Sirius about this.
Pain welled up, but not with the vicous broken-glass edge it had once had. Ever since that evening in Tonks's flat with Chinese takeaway and samosas, the edge had dulled. It would never leave him, of course. That would be impossible, and insulting to Sirius's memory. But he thought he might be able to live with it now.
That night had left him with more than comfort, though. She'd reached out and taken his hands, pleaded with him to let go, to let her see and share his grief. And then he'd realized that he could.
Of all the people in the world, she was the only one he trusted to share such emotion with.
There was something terrifying about that kind of intimacy. As if you shouldn't, somehow, be able to know that much of another person. A lifetime of protecting himself had left Remus ill-equipped for such closeness. He wanted it and feared it at the same time.
If he'd thought was in a state before . . .
She was under his skin now, ever-present. He dreamt of her--the smell of her hair (whatever color it happened to be), the sight of her smile, the sound of her voice, and the taste of her mouth under his.
His fingers itched with the need to touch her.
That way leads madness. Put it out of your head and close your eyes.
"Can't you sleep?"
He turned his head to look at her, the cushion's material scratching his cheek slightly, and the vindictive sofa-spring struck again. He winced. "No."
The mattress creaked slightly.
"You know," she said, "sometimes I really hate this job."
He almost smiled at that. "Only sometimes?"
"Well," she said, "occasionally we get it right."
"Not tonight," he said.
The mattress creaked again, more loudly, and then came the hush of cloth sliding against cloth. And then the soft slap-slap of bare feet on floorboards.
She came out of the moonshadows, a curving figure in thin summer pyjamas, and sank to the floor at his side. He didn't dare move. The warmth from her arm, lying alongside his torso, seemed to reach all through his body.
"Remus," she said. "Why is it always children?"
His heart twisted in his chest. "Because they can't fight back." He thought of David Blair's first Hogwarts letter, stored under his pillow as only the most precious of treasures were. "And that's the way they like it."
Her hand came up, stroking his hair away from his eyes in a touch as light as a breeze. He closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of her hand thaw the chill in his heart. He opened his eyes again and looked at her face.
He wondered who was comforting whom here.
"We'll get them," she said. "For David and Molly and Nita and Chirag. For the Blairs and the Higginses and the Sotos and the Patels. We'll get them."
He reached up and caught her hand, sliding his fingers through hers. She had wand calluses along her thumb and first two fingers, but other than that, her palm was soft and warm in his. The way he remembered from that night at her flat.
Her smell wrapped around him, sliding into his blood where it had been for over a year. Moonlight silvered her hair--an exceedingly tame blond for the purposes of undercover--and turned the sweet curve of her shoulder to a statue in marble. The sound of her breath whispering past her lips rose to a roar in his ears.
Need swamped him--not just need for a human touch, to remind him that he was still human himself, but for hers, to remind him that he was still Remus.
Touch me. Touch me until I forget everything but you.
He shifted barely an inch and found her mouth.
Half a second into it, the kiss deepened beyond the sweetness of the one that had haunted him since June, down into dark-chocolate hunger. His hand slid into her hair, soft as duckling down, and pulled her closer. She came eagerly, her free hand closing around his shoulder to steady herself. "Remus," she whispered against his mouth. "Please make it go away. Make it all go away. For just a little while."
He pulled away, gasping. "Tonks," he said unsteadily. "Not that I won't take anything you offer, but--are you sure you want this with me?"
She put her hands on either side of his head and looked down into his eyes. "Only with you."
She leaned down and kissed him, and the iron control he'd worked so hard to maintain broke into pieces. The world outside of her warm hands, her soft skin, her tender mouth, dissolved. His thoughts melted away like snow under sun. All he could feel was her.
Later--much later--Tonks stirred.
"Well," she said, and trailed off.
Not that she'd never touched a man before, but never quite like this. It was true really, what they said about older men. Not that Remus was ancient, she hastily corrected herself, but he certainly wasn't seventeen, and he'd proved it.
"Are you all right?" he said.
She stretched, already missing his weight on her. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"We are on the floor here." His voice was very dry. "A rather hard floor, I might add."
"Are we?" She realized that the surface against her back was hard, flat, and slick, rather than scratchy with hidden springs--wooden floorboards rather than sofa cushions. "Huh. When did we fall off?"
"I think about the time you--"
Heat washed up her cheeks. "Oh. Right. Um--I didn't notice."
He grunted slightly as he sat up. "I did. Old bones."
A cool draft snaked over her, catching the drying sweat on her skin, and gooseflesh erupted. He was doing it again--pushing her away. Reminding her how different they were. She sat up, wrapping her arms around herself. "Why do you always do that?"
She floundered, then seized on the one thing she could put her finger on. "Call yourself old all the time!"
"I've a fair few years on you, sweetheart."
"Not that many. You talk as if you're bloody Methuselah and I'm some fresh-faced seventh year! How many years is it, really? Ten?"
"Twelve," he corrected. "And that's a conservative estimate."
She scowled. "I'll have you know I'm twenty-five."
He looked at her.
"In October," she admitted, "but the point is, do I look as if I care?"
His eyes made her catch her breath. "You look," he said, "magnificent."
She flopped backward onto the floor, not even wincing when her head bounced. She had a hard head. "That's unfair."
He leaned over, but didn't touch her. "It was meant to be a compliment."
"I know. That's why it's unfair. I'm mad at you."
"For saying I'm old?"
"For thinking it matters. It doesn't," she added just to clarify, rolling up on one hip to glare at him. "Why are you natteirng about it so?"
He looked startled. "Look at you," he said, as if it were perfectly obvious. "You're--"
"If you say young," she threatened, "you shall get such a thumping."
He smiled briefly. "Beautiful."
She stared at him a moment. Then she propped herself up on her elbows like a magazine centerfold and reversed every alteration she'd made to her appearance. Dull hair, plain features, too-small breasts, too-round hips, a variety of odd scars, the latest set of bruises, the weird, ugly birthmark on her stomach--she let them all show.
Remus watched the transformation in silence.
When she was done, she said, "Look at this. Look. I'm about as beautiful as you are old, Remus."
He said nothing for a moment, and she bit her lip, holding his eyes with an effort. This was a million times worse than when he'd seen her real face at St. Mungo's. Right now, she was more naked than she'd ever been with another human being since the age of ten.
He reached out and cupped her face with one hand. Warmth seeped through her body from his palm. "No matter what face you show to the world, Nymphadora Tonks, you will always be beautiful to me."
She closed her eyes and turned her face into the faint roughness of his palm.
"It's all on the inside," he said. "Everything that's you--all that fire and light. No transformation can possibly change that. I need that. I've been in the dark and the cold too long."
She opened her eyes to look at him. "And no matter how old you think you are, you'll always be young enough for me. When you're a hundred and I'm a sprightly eighty-eight-year-old, I'll still need you to anchor me when I fly and catch me when I fall."
He went still. She held her breath.
Then he came over her, the hair on his chest and legs brushing her skin as lightly as a whisper. Their mouths met, and she put her arms around him, spreading her hands possessively over the smooth skin of his back.
"Remus," she said against his mouth.
"Let's try the bed, shall we? This floor really is bloody hard."
He jerked away. "Oh, my god."
She sat up too, alarmed. "What? What is it?"
He caught her by the shoulders, his grip so hard she knew she'd have to hide the bruises in the morning so he wouldn't realize he'd hurt her. "Are you protected?"
She blinked at him. "Protected? I'm an Auror."
"No, I mean--I mean from me. I'm healthy," he said quickly. "And I can't give you my condition unless I bite you. But, Tonks, listen, I can't have children."
"Then there's nothing to be--"
He let go of her and rubbed his hands over his face. "I'm sorry. I didn't say that right. I mean--I mustn't. It cannot happen."
"Oh. Remus." She put her arms around him, kissing his cheek and neck to comfort. "No. No. I'm fine. We're fine. That's what I meant. I'm an Auror, of course I'm protected against everything possible. I've a Barren Charm. No chance of--erm--puppies in nine months, believe me."
He pulled away slightly. "You can never say no chance, not with contraceptive magic."
She backtracked. "Ninety-nine point five, then. It's a damn good charm, I promise you. Auror standard." She tried out a smile. "Can't have a bun in the oven while you're on the job, after all. And if you're still worried, I know a good Prophylactic Charm for you."
He relaxed finally. "I'm sorry I panicked. I forgot. It's been so long, and I wouldn't do that to you for anything."
She took his face in her hands, pulling him down for a kiss. "I know."
He rested his forehead on hers. His hair, longer than hers, fell down and brushed her cheeks like silk. "You're taking on a lot with me, sweetheart."
She put her arms around his neck, pulling him close so she could feel every inch of warm, strong, male body, so different from her own. Bony where she was soft, angular where she curved . . . yet already so wonderfully familiar. Her Remus. Finally hers. "That's all right. I get you in the bargain."