The sounds of snow crunching echoed through the silent wood, sending a pair of wood doves flying in alarm. A raven cawed derisively at them, one beady eye cocked to their flight, the other to the witch and wizard who were picking their way carefully through the drifts. Little clouds of steam issued from their mouths as they advanced on the raven, but other than the labored sounds of their breathing and the crunching of the snow they made no sound at all.
Just beneath the raven's tree, however, the young witch stopped, assuming a somewhat belligerent stance with her hands on her hips. "So," she said loudly, shattering the silence, "where's the pond?"
The wizard turned back to her in surprise. "I thought you knew," he replied in a hoarse, tired voice.
The witch threw her hands up in the air. "Great. So I've been following you, while you thought that you were following me, which means that we're both lost and I still don't have my wand. And I'm cold."
"You were a lot colder last night, after you'd been dunked in a pond and were being snowed upon. I expect that you will survive this discomfort as well." The wizard brushed graying brown hair from his eyes, and stifled a yawn. "Right now, we need to figure out where we were last night when you lost your wand."
"We should have brought brooms," she grumbled, running a hand through her spiky orange hair until it stood up in tufts. "Remus, I've got no idea. I was just Apparating in leaps and bounds, I wasn't really watching for landmarks…"
"Moody would never let you hear the end of that."
"Moody can get stuffed. I was watching a werewolf, thank you. That was plenty, when I still had my wand on me."
Remus grinned, obviously enjoying her discomfort. "So I suppose that wand sheath wasn't all it was cracked up to be, hmm Nympha-?"
"It's Tonks, Remus," she said, grinning back at him, though her face was so tight that the grimace made it look as though she were about to bite. "And you can get stuffed too, if you can't get it straight. The sheath worked fine. It's probably still working fine. The bloody strap broke while I was reaching for it. Which just happened to be about the time the ice I was running on also broke."
"Yes, that part I remember."
There was silence between them again for a while as they trod along immersed in their own thoughts. A breeze had picked up, and they both shivered as it nipped at them. Ahead, a small flock of birds lifted from a copse of holly trees as they approached it, and Remus stopped to catch his breath.
"I've got to rest for a moment," he panted, and she nodded, still scanning their surroundings. She had been surprised when he had insisted on joining her today; the day or two after a full moon were typically days of convalescence for him. Transforming into a werewolf was not at all an easy business; it played hell with his physiology on a monthly basis, and it sapped most of his energy while he recuperated. Still, he had kept up with her gamely (although she would be the last to admit that she'd held her pace remarkably slow for once) and without complaint, which was more than she could say for herself.
Remus sighed, settling down on a fallen log after brushing snow off of it. His face was worn and pale, but he seemed surprisingly chipper; she had expected him to be furious with her for disobeying him last night. He had hardly even scolded her that morning, instead waking her with a warm, hearty breakfast and hustling her off to St. Mungo's to have her frostbitten extremities treated. And to top it off, he had come out with her to search once she told him that her wand was still at the bottom of the pond; he'd even made sure that she was the one wearing his thickest jumper, along with a heavy, patched cloak and a gray scarf that was long enough to wrap around her head twice and still hang to her calves. The pique she'd been feeling as they wandered aimlessly through the forest began fading as she thought of all he'd done, leaving behind the prickling of faint shame.
Sitting down next to him on the log, Tonks hunched her shoulders, letting her face slide down behind the muffling layers of scarf until only her eyes were visible. "So what should we do now?" she asked, the meekness in her voice only partly masked by the wool over her mouth. Remus glanced over at her, his eyes twinkling at her implicit admission that she was at a loss, but he passed over the opportunity to needle her.
"Well, I suppose your comment about brooms wouldn't be amiss, only I haven't got one."
"You could Summon mine," Tonks offered. "It's no Firebolt, but it couldn't be worse than slogging through this."
He produced his wand, studying it for a moment. "It's a shame we can't simply Summon your wand, and save us all this trouble."
"You break my wand by Summoning it through a sheet of ice and I promise to be a thorn in your side for the rest of eternity, Lupin."
"Instead of part-time, like you are now?" He chuckled to take the sting from his words, lifting his wand. "Mind your head. Accio Tonks' broom!"
At first, nothing happened, but about five minutes later they heard jays calling shrilly, and a slim broomstick burst through the trees to hover in front of Remus. Tonks' Comet Two-Sixty showed a little bit of abuse for its plummet through the forest, but nothing worse than what she had given it in the line of duty; the broomstick's battered shaft was already marred from tip to tail with scratches and gouges of various sorts. She pulled at a twig sticking awry on its tail as Remus mounted it shakily, obviously far more in need of the ride than he'd been letting on.
"Got to get a new one sometime," she muttered sourly, but climbed on behind Remus and wound her arms around his waist. "Okay, I'm on."
Remus kicked off and the broom rose slowly, quivering just a little from the additional weight upon it. "No need to go high," he said, allowing the broom to skim along so that their boots dangled just a few feet off the ground. "Just something to make the travel easier. Keep alert for anything that looks familiar."
They cruised along for some time, but the pristine blanket of snow made it difficult to recognize any landmarks from their adventure the previous night. Tonks was beginning to despair of ever finding the lake again when a large cedar tree caught her eye.
"Remus!" she cried, patting his shoulder. "Set down over there!"
He obediently turned the broom and angled over to the clearing she was indicating. Sure enough, beneath the cedar was a depression that, while partially filled with the snow that had fallen overnight, was clearly where someone had sat.
"I remember this!" Tonks slid off the broom, and waded awkwardly over to the tree. "I fell under this tree; I thought I was going to die here!" She turned back to him, brimming with excitement, but was surprised to see an odd look on Remus' face as he dismounted from the broom. His brows were knit, and his usually clear eyes were clouded and stormy, holding in whatever he was feeling, and not even giving up her reflection.
As he met her gaze, she realized that she was seeing him shuttered, closed up entirely. His normal, quietly guarded attitude was gone, and all that remained was a purely defensive posture. Dropping his eyes away from hers, he said very softly, "I almost killed you here."
Tonks didn't know quite what to say. "Well," she answered slowly, "you didn't. So I suppose that you're stuck helping me get my wand back."
"It's not funny, Tonks," he said, staring fiercely at the depression in the snow. "It's nothing to joke about."
Surprised by his abrupt turnaround in mood, Tonks held her tongue for a moment, observing the way that he studiously avoided looking at her. Remus was circling the edge of the clearing, examining several tall oaks nearby and pushing aside the undergrowth to peer behind. He moved slowly and deliberately, as he always did, and yet his gestures still seemed oddly frantic. "Remus," she began, and his head snapped up at the sound of his name. His eyes were filmed with brief anger, but he turned away from her at once and remounted the broom.
"Come on," he said, rather brusquely. "Now that we've got our bearings, let's get on with finding the pond."
He still wasn't looking at her, and with a great deal of discomfort, Tonks trudged back over to where he waited astride her broom. Throwing a leg over it, she tried to hang on and yet not cling to his back as she had before, for she had the distinct impression that she had just stomped through something that had been bright and beautiful, but was now only muddy and hopelessly damaged.
Once she was on the broom, Remus kicked off again and they flew over the snow without speaking; occasionally one or the other would point to a particular tree or rock and Remus would adjust the broom's course accordingly. It was an uncomfortable silence, the kind that gathers and grows, until its presence is as intrusive as an unsightly and somewhat menacing stranger standing at one's shoulder.
Finally Tonks could stand it no longer. Patting Remus gingerly on the shoulder, she said, "Set the broom down, please. I need to get off."
Remus glanced over his shoulder at her, but let the broom drift downward until Tonks could slide off to the ground, sinking to her calves in the powdery snow. As she wound the scarf around her head and shoulders once more, he watched her, frowning just a little. "Is everything all right?" he asked, without any of the bite in his voice that had been there earlier.
Tonks shrugged, her mouth twisting into a wry smile. "You know me," she said. "I can't hold still for long…" She floundered a few steps through the snow, arms waving, and then turned back to him with something close to her previous good humor. "Besides, we can't be too far from that pond, right?"
"Nymphadora…" Remus was still eying her with concern, his brow deeply furrowed.
"Merlin's sake, Remus, stop doing that!" She stomped one foot angrily in the snow, a little cloud of white wisping from her lips as she huffed angrily. "You know good and well that all it does is piss me off."
The tired werewolf climbed off of the broom, leaning it against a snow-dusted fir and speaking to her without turning. "Tonks, then. What's the matter? I'm not making you uncomfortable, am I?"
With a small sigh, she rolled her eyes skyward. "It's not like that, Remus…"
"I wouldn't blame you for it, after last night."
"What?" She cast him a look that was first surprised, then slightly disgusted. "Last night has nothing to do with it. I was perfectly all right until you nearly took my head off back there."
She sensed, rather than saw, his immediate emotional withdrawal again. Clearing his throat, Remus said, "I'm sorry to have offended you, but I would think it was a reasonable reaction given the circumstances. Almost killing someone isn't the sort of thing I joke about."
"I wasn't joking about it. And you didn't kill me, so what's the point of borrowing trouble?"
He stared at her for a long moment before he spoke. "It was too close- that's the point. It was closer than I like to think about. And for you to speak of it so casually…" Remus let the words go, dropping his gaze to the bracken pushing up through the snow. His usually mild face was set in unfamiliar, stiff lines, like a wooden mask, but he swayed and shuffled in the snow restively, the movement quite at odds with the utter passivity of his expression.
Tonks watched him fidgeting with some discomfort. This wasn't a Remus she was easy with; she didn't think she had ever seen him so obviously agitated before. He seemed to be clamping down harder and harder on his emotional responses as his anxiety mounted- a sure recipe for an explosive result if it wasn't defused. Only she wasn't sure how to soothe him from this state; humor, her usual way of calming tense situations, was obviously only going to make matters worse, and tact had never been her strong suit.
Back on topic, then, she thought to herself, and stepped up to take his arm. "Do you think we're closer to finding my wand?" she asked him, and he frowned at the change of subject.
"I would hope so," he replied, but his eyes were still cold and alien. "Are you walking?"
Tonks nodded, hoping that he would recover his good humor as they continued their search. "Could be some sign that we'd miss from the air," she said, and even meant it; just because she wasn't very good at moving stealthily didn't mean that she was unable to read a trail, especially one that she herself had left. Remus quickly remounted the broom as though afraid of continuing the conversation, and sent it aloft, leaving Tonks to trudge through the drifts in silence.
They went on in this manner for some time; Remus occasionally redirected her course from the sky, and sometimes she'd point out signs of passage that he'd missed. It seemed to Tonks that they were finally making headway, and hope began perking within her. Maybe they'd find the pond soon, and her wand, and then this hunt through the forest with her strangely troubled friend would be over, and things would reset to normality. Ever the optimist, Tonks fixed that idea firmly in her head like a banner to follow: find the wand, go home, and things can go back to how they were.
Except... except for the one niggling detail, which stuck in the back of her head and refused to go away.
I'm going to regret this, she thought, even as she opened her mouth to call him down. "Remus? Can I ask you something?"
The broom floated down from the treetops, where he'd been scanning for breaks in the canopy that might indicate a body of water hidden beneath. Remus glanced down at her, his expression almost relaxed, and she breathed an inward sigh of relief. "What can I do for you?" he asked, letting the broom hover at her shoulder as she pushed through the drifted snow.
She paused, taking a moment to collect herself before looking at him inquiringly. "What about next month?"
"Next month?" The wariness was back; though Remus gave no sign of it, Tonks fancied she could almost smell the tension rolling from him.
"Next full moon." This was in all probability the wrong time to bring it up, but some uncooperative part of her mind refused to let go of the question. Remus appeared to be deeply shaken by the events of the previous night, even if she herself was hardly bothered by them. To an Auror, the night she had experienced would be challenging, but hardly worth worrying over; most of Moody's tales were so harrowing that she thought he'd take a night on an iced pond with a werewolf as a holiday.
Remus let the broom drop without a word. Climbing off and letting it fall to the snow without looking back, he stared at her through wide, incredulous eyes. "What are you talking about?" he asked her, a snarl in his voice. "Don't concern yourself with that. Let's just find your wand."
"No, wait." She lifted her hand to stop him, but he stepped back, evading her touch. "I've been a part of your life almost every moon for close to a year; what makes you think I wouldn't have an interest in continuing?"
He stood as though pole axed, his mouth opened as if to speak, but no words came out. His jaws clenched, unclenched, and finally he managed to say, "No," in a deep, hollow voice. "No," he repeated, stronger, his hands in fists at his sides.
Planting her hands on her hips, she glared at him. "No? What do you mean by that?"
The sun picked out glints of silver in his hair as he suddenly walked toward her, hard eyes on fire with all the feelings he'd been suppressing earlier. "I mean no, Nymphadora! No, no, and finally, no!"
"Remus..." she began shakily, but he wouldn't let her speak.
"You really don't have any idea, do you? You don't have the slightest idea how close I was to killing you back there!" Remus' eyes were ablaze, and his face was set in implacable lines of anger as he raged. "If it had been any other full moon of the year, you'd be dead. It's only by sheer, dumb luck that this happened when the need for a pack was great enough to outweigh the werewolf's vicious instincts!"
Tonks stood her ground before his fury. "I don't believe that. There've been other times when you could have killed me, or bitten me at very least. I fell asleep half inside your cell one night, for Merlin's sake! And yet I'm alive, and I'm still Tonks on full moon nights. You won't hurt me."
"You can't be sure of that."
"No, I can't. But I am."
"But I'm not."
"Remus, for Merlin's sake, you take the Wolfsbane Potion. Any Auror worth their job knows that it calms the bloodthirsty impulses of the werewolf, making it controllable. And as you are one of the most controlled men I know- and I mean that in the best way! – I honestly feel that you pose very little threat to me, or anyone you care about."
"That's insane!" Remus exclaimed, but Tonks raised her voice, speaking over him.
"Now, if it was someone else, my feelings would undoubtedly change," she continued. "Snape, for instance, is about as calm and coolheaded as one could hope for under normal circumstances, but when you throw certain factors at him, he goes irrational off the meter. And Molly Weasley; she's focused, but about as emotional as they come. I don't know if this is how you would have turned out without being bitten, or if it happened because of the disease, but you can control the werewolf. You've proven it time and time again, and it will keep on happening that way because you have the will!"
His face was white. "You're mad," he said, in a choked voice. "You're going to get yourself killed in the worst possible manner, and you're going to make me do it to you."
"Remus," she said insistently, "you won't."
"I might. Merlin, Tonks! I couldn't live with myself if I hurt you, or anyone else."
"Nothing has happened!"
"One mistake!" he snarled, taking a step forward and raising one hand. "One mistake is all it would take. The werewolf doesn't think like we do, Tonks, it doesn't care that you're my friend, or that you're young and happy and filled with life…" He looked away from her suddenly to stare into the trees, his profile etched in angry relief against the wooded backdrop. Taking a deep breath, he raised his eyes to her again. "And so I can't allow you around me on any more full moons."
Tonks recoiled as though struck. "What?"
Remus' face was wooden, his glare unyielding. "You heard me," he said, gritting his teeth around every word. "I won't have you putting yourself in danger any longer. It was unconscionable of me to allow it to go on this long, but it can't continue."
Her stomach clenching around a small, cold ball of pain, Tonks nevertheless managed a steady voice as she said, "That's ridiculous. Okay, I'll concede that letting you run loose might not be the most prudent course, even if it is unfeeling to lock you up. But you aren't a danger to me, Remus."
Shaking his head, he growled, "Don't you get it yet? It's not that simple; take the Potion, and turn into a tame werewolf. Rubbish! Even sedated by Wolfsbane, during the full moon the werewolf is impulsive, dangerous, and hard to control. Hard for me to control; I'm not thinking like a human then. And what it wants- what I want- on the full moon, is to bite, and tear, and kill…" He advanced on her, his eyes gleaming and tension curling his body like a spring, menace flowing from him in palpable waves. "It's evil, Tonks. Evil." He looked very much like a wolf at bay, turning to make some last-ditch fight, and for an instant Tonks thought, so this is how he thinks people see him…
Instinct took over. Moving quickly, she stepped inside his reach and snaked her arms around him, catching him off-guard as she pressed her cheek against the rough wool of his jumper. She could hear the wild pounding of his heart beneath her ear, and his body was tight and wary against hers. He had frozen at her touch, stunned as she hung from him in an awkward embrace, with his hands held out at his sides as though he were afraid of touching her.
Burying her face in his shoulder, Tonks spoke very slowly and clearly, "You are the werewolf. You don't become evil just because your body changes shape."
His breathing was becoming erratic again. "That's the definition of a werewolf, Nymphadora. We're called Dark Creatures for a reason."
"You're a werewolf, not a Death Eater. Evil comes by choice, by decision."
He tried to pull away from her, but she clung to him tighter. "Tell that to a Dementor," he growled. "Explain to it that it can reject its foul nature."
"That's a different matter entirely. A Dementor comes into being feeding on positive emotions; it's necessary for their survival. They don't know anything else. You weren't born as a werewolf; it's something that happened to you. And I don't believe that cruelty can be grafted onto a person's psyche."
He was trembling now, still rigid against her. "Unnatural or not, a werewolf exists only to kill. There's no reason, no rationality behind it at all, just a sheer, bloodthirsty urge to…" He broke off, his face pale, and again he tried to withdraw from her embrace. "They may as well be the same."
"How can you say that?" Now it was Tonks turn to draw back so that she might look him in the eye. "You don't even resemble the stereotype you keep describing. Why do you work so hard to convince everyone who wants to be close to you that you're some evil, untrustworthy beast? Remus, why are you so desperate to push away anyone who might care about you?" A pleading tone had leeched into her voice, but in her desperation Tonks couldn't be bothered to care. What she saw was the same withdrawal she had sensed in Remus earlier, and it frightened her even as it strengthened her resolve.
He kept watching her through those flat, unfamiliar eyes. "I don't want to push away friendship," he told her carefully, "but I can't allow anyone I would call a friend to get close enough to the werewolf to come to harm."
"That never stopped you when you were younger!" She knew they were a mistake the instant the words left her lips. Remus' shuttered face grew stormy and even more distant.
"I was abysmally stupid then, and very nearly paid the price for it more than once. That only strengthens my resolve to keep you and everyone else away from my transformations!"
"Even Sirius?" Tonks demanded, her face pale and tears welling in the corners of her eyes. "Or does your prohibition not extend to him?"
"Sirius…" Remus looked nonplussed; she had obviously caught him off guard with the question. "That's entirely different." Tonks made a rude sound, and Remus had the grace to look slightly abashed even as he continued. "After all, he's an Animagus and can accompany me without any danger."
It took every ounce of courage in her Gryffindor heart to look him in the eye and ask, very calmly, "So really, it's me then, isn't it? Because no one else seems to care enough about you to ignore these stupid barriers you put up around yourself." Again, she immediately regretted the words, but once they were spoken she had no choice but to drive onward. "You know damn well that I'm around because you matter to me, and knowing that you suffer through this every month only makes me want to help you any way I can."
"I never asked for your charity, Tonks," he told her severely, once more trying to extricate himself from her tangling arms, but she had a death grip around his chest.
"And I never offered it!" she snapped back in response. "It's about friendship, and doing the right thing!"
"The right thing would be for you to stay away from me- far away!- when I transform. It's criminally careless, the way you've been releasing me."
"And it's heartless cruel to lock you up for something that's not your fault. Especially in that horrible cell! Remus, the Wolfsbane makes you safe- you don't have to keep living like a pariah!"
Ceasing his attempts at escape, Remus glanced down at her with a look she couldn't interpret. "I doubt very seriously that most people would agree with your assessment. I surely do not."
"But I do. And when it's my life supposedly on the line, I can make the decision of what risks I choose to run. Your happiness and comfort is worth it to me." As she spoke she felt Remus rumbling deep in his chest, and when she had finished he exploded again.
"It's not just your decision! Not when the repercussions could be as drastic to me as to you!"
"Then why did you ever allow it in the first place?" Tonks shrieked, finally releasing him and stepping away. Her voice continued to build, rising in volume and desperation as she ranted. "Why did you ever let me think it made you happier about your lot? Why didn't you just tell me off the first time I ever tried to get close to you if this is how you've always felt?" Passion was breaking roughly through her words, leaving her throat feeling raw and torn, as though the words had lacerated her as she spit them out. Tonks was trembling, and unaware of the tremors shaking her as she faced the werewolf, fists balled at her sides, and tears leaving silvery trails through the blotchy patchwork of color in her face.
His emotions were finally stealing into the granite planes of Remus' face; sadness and weariness seeping through the cracks in his anger, though the look of resolution held firm. "I had no business allowing it," he said hoarsely, his eyes dark and fixed on hers. "Tonks, it did make the transformations easier, having your presence there. It humanized me in a way I hadn't known since Hogwarts. But the risk is too great. I should have stopped it when it began, but I was weak. Part of me wanted to forget was I am, what I'm capable of, and to just enjoy the company as I did when I was a teenager, but I can't Tonks, I just can't do it. I can't put you in danger any longer."
"I never asked for your charity, either!" Tonks shouted, her voice breaking. "I'm hardly defenseless, Remus, and I've no doubt I could handle you, Potion or no. You're not doing this to protect me, you're doing it to protect yourself!"
"And what if I am?" he roared, sending a flock of blackbirds to chattering flight in alarm. "What if I don't want to wake up after the next Moon with your remains scattered around me? What if I don't want to attend your wake, like I've done with James, and Lily, and…" He broke off, wheeling in the snow as if he were about to charge into the trees to escape the battle of words between them. Tonks could see him trembling, from anger or exhaustion; she couldn't tell which. Despite his hardened face, he looked so desperate that Tonks' first impulse was to rush over to comfort him, but she couldn't move. She could barely think. Remus glanced back to her, and his head dropped to his chest. "I don't want you to die," he murmured. "I don't want to kill you."
You're killing me now, she thought, knuckling her eyes and feeling the tear-stiffened lashes scrape her skin, but the words hung in her throat. Without looking to see his reaction, she turned and began walking away, ignoring his calls at her back. The burning cold that had settled in the pit of her stomach earlier in the argument was now swelling, numbing her and filling her with a sense of empty dread, and she couldn't think at all for the pain of it. Stumbling with a drunken lurch, Tonks began to run as best she could through the drifts of snow.
I never asked for your charity, Tonks...
There was a retort behind her, echoing in the woods, and then Remus appeared just ahead and to the right of her; with a cry, she darted to avoid his outstretched hands, and the way her name launched from his lips. Tears were beginning to blind her again, but she pumped her arms and legs, fighting through the deep snow at a pace she knew the exhausted werewolf couldn't match.
You're going to get yourself killed in the worst possible manner, and you're going to make me do it to you...
She didn't exactly know why she was running, but she couldn't bear to be around him when his feelings had been made so plain. She was an imposition, a liability to him- and she'd thought herself so clever for her disobedience! What a complete ass she'd been! What a...
So caught up in her desire for escape was Tonks that she hadn't noticed when the trees had thinned to bushes, nor when the bushes themselves had disappeared entirely. However when another sharp 'crack!' filled the still air her attention returned with alacrity; Remus was nowhere in sight, and the sound had originated at her feet.
That was all she had time to realize before the ground opened around her, and cold water was swallowing her just as it had the night before.
"Wingardium leviosa!" she heard Remus shout, and then something caught her like a kitten by the scruff, hoisting her from the frigid pond she had run into, before she could completely submerge. When her boots were dangling more than a foot off the water she slowly began drifting toward the shore, dripping little pockmarks into the snow beneath her. A stiff breeze sent a shock through her as it lapped along her soaked garments, and Tonks immediately began to shiver uncontrollably. The shock of immersion had stunned her flood of tears to a halt, but she could feel her heart thudding against her ribs like a tympani and she took a long, shuddering breath as she wafted down to the snowy bank of the pond where Remus waited for her with a frozen face and haggard eyes. She clamped her own eyes shut, unable to face the pained stare trying to penetrate her soul as she was settled, shivering, practically at his feet.
"You little idiot," he breathed, and then she could sense his wand flicking the air, drying her where she stood as dumb as a mime, eyes still screwed as tightly shut as she could manage. She could feel the warmth that his wand generated, beating back the wintry fingers that had been stroking her skin, but it did nothing to soothe the cold spot inside her heart.
"What the hell were you thinking?" His voice was rough, but there was fear in it as well, and something else that finally made her open her eyes to him. All of the resolution that had stiffened his face earlier had been shattered, and Remus' grim expression seemed to hang precariously from features that had gone as fluid as her own. For some reason, the gray seemed far more prominent in his hair as he leaned in toward her almost threateningly, his fists clenched at his sides, and Tonks couldn't help the small gasp that escaped her as he suddenly swept forward, enfolding her into his arms in an enormous bearhug.
"Merlin, Tonks, you could have frozen yourself all over again..." He was trembling- she could feel it even through her own shivers- and he clung to her as though he had been the one pulled from an icy pond.
"M'okay," she managed to mutter against his chest, and he released her only to clutch her by the upper arms, shaking her gently in emphasis.
"You could have hurt yourself; weren't you even watching where you were going- Tonks, what came over you?" Through the tumble of words that spilled from him, she suddenly realized that the other thing she had heard in his voice was guilt. Guilt that despite his efforts to keep her safe, despite the horrible argument that they had just been through as he tried to protect her, he had still almost hurt her by driving her across the ice once more. Just as he had the night before.
The little kernel of ice still lodged in her gut thawed in amazement as the connection flashed through her brain like lightning across a summer sky, a burst of intuition that almost made her gasp aloud. She remembered the tug at her arm, the way the ice had struck the back of her head as the werewolf towed her to shore… remembered the way his spell plucked her from the frigid water moments earlier…
"Thank Merlin I was able to get you out…"
"Like last night," she sighed, and he stared at her in astonishment, only a little wildness remaining in his eyes. As though he were remembering a plunge into icy water, she imagined, and his grip on her arms tightened.
"Last night…" he repeated with a hint of the former wariness in his voice, and she nodded solemnly.
"Last night, when you rescued me from the pond instead of killing me." She lifted her chin to stare defiantly into his face, which had gone slack with shock.
"Tonks," he said softly, but nothing followed; he seemed quite unsure of why he had spoken, or what he intended to say next.
A strange, lucid feeling was stealing over her, and without thinking she whispered, "You'll always save me, won't you?"
For a long moment they simply stared at one another, neither of them moving a muscle. All the color had bled from his eyes, and for a terrifying moment Tonks thought that he was going to retreat from her again. His entire body appeared tense, almost as if expecting a blow to fall. Then, an expression of tragic acceptance weighing his face, Remus nodded once slowly, his eyes locked on her own.
Sighing deeply, she broke the gaze they had held. "Thank you," she murmured.
With a slightly nervous chuckle, Remus drew her in again, holding her close and kissing the top of her head. "Thank Merlin you're safe," he spoke into her hair. "Thank Merlin…" He laughed again, a little shakily, but with a growing note of relief and he pressed another kiss to her temple. Tonks looked up at him with wide eyes as he lowered his head to hers once more… and suddenly his mouth was on hers, his lips pressing with a hesitant tenderness against her own. Tonks' gut did a complicated tango at the unexpected kiss, but her hands had more wit than her brain; after only a moments pause they were framing his face, and playing amid the gray and brown strands of his hair as they'd always yearned to.
An uncontrollable moan of longing escaped her throat, and he abruptly drew his head back as though only now realizing what he was doing, and who it was he held so possessively. As his eyes cleared, she saw fear and guilt return, along with something else…
"I… I'm so sorry, Tonks," he stammered, ducking his head so that he didn't meet her gaze, but he continued to hold her in his arms. "That was completely inappropriate, and I must apologize…"
He fell silent as she spoke his name quietly, one hand seeking his face, but his eyes were regretful as he captured it and pulled it down to rest over his heart. She imagined she could feel his heartbeat beneath her fingertips, strong and rapid, even through the layers of clothing he wore, pounding out its rhythm in time with her own frantic pulse. Staring at Remus, Tonks felt something twist inside her, and she recognized the change with grim, hopeless certainty. Her longstanding, half-serious crush on the werewolf had fled, and what was remained was something both stronger and more fragile.
Something that had caught her completely unprepared.
She had fallen in love with him.
He must have seen the pleading look in her eyes, for he shook his head slowly. "I can't," he replied to her unspoken request. "I had no right."
Her throat felt as though it were closing; the only word she managed to push through the constriction was "Please…"
His grip on her hand tightened, but he dropped his gaze aside; not far from where they stood, the snow was dented with delicate little depressions, quite obviously their filled foot and paw prints from the night before. His face was somber as he answered, "You deserve better, Nymphadora. I have nothing to offer you but problems."
She was shaking her head vigorously in denial before he had finished speaking. "That's not true!"
"What business does an Auror have with a werewolf, other than through the Ministry or on complaint? Perhaps it's not illegal, but it wouldn't make you any friends and might even earn you some enemies."
Tonks' lips stretched in a thin, humorless smile. "I'm part Black, remember?" she told him in a cool, sibilant voice. Closing her eyes, she concentrated hard for a moment. Her bright orange hair abruptly deepened until it was black as jet and the spiky tufts had flowed down her back, curling and coiling like vipers. Her face had changed subtly, too; it was sharper and craftier, with piercing blue eyes like glacial ice. She smiled at him coldly, but it was a smile laced with self-mockery as she said, "Enemies come with the blood."
His eyes had flared in alarm as she shifted faces- perhaps he had recognized her mask as her grandmother, Cassiopeia Black- but he didn't release her. The resolve had returned to his face, though thankfully not the stiff anger that had painted it earlier. He simply looked tired, and a little sad.
"I can't," he repeated gently, finality ringing in his voice.
Tonks closed her eyes again, morphing quickly back to the form she'd worn all morning- short, crazed orange hair standing up in spikes, and eyes the color of new leaves. Her face had rounded out to its usual pleasant features, but it was filled with hurt and confusion as she insisted, "But…you kissed me."
The ghost of a smile played around the edges of his mouth. "I did," he admitted. "I shouldn't have, but… you're quite a temptation at times."
"It's okay, really it is…"
He laid one finger over her lips, shushing her. "It isn't. We've already discussed this once before, and I haven't the strength to go through another argument. Please, Tonks." He did indeed look weary, enough so that her determination to fight on wavered.
Raising a hand to her lips, she started to say, "But…" then cut it off.
He nodded, seeming to understand. Squeezing the hand that he still held over his heart, he murmured, "A memory to warm the long nights," before shaking his head as though to clear it. "But you've better things ahead of you, I've no doubt."
"Nevermind," she said dully, feeling utterly wrung-out herself. "I'm ready to go home."
He chuckled and finally let go of her; she swayed as his arms left her, and silently cursed the longing for their return that immediately welled up. "Aren't you forgetting something?" he asked her, humor returning to his face and voice. She only stared at him without comprehension, until he pointed to the pond. "I believe we came out here to retrieve something."
"My wand?" Amazement shot through her that she had forgotten something so important as the focus of her magic, and she moved a little closer to the ice as he headed back along the path she had ploughed toward the pond. "Are you sure you can get it?"
He nodded, taking a cautious step onto the remaining ice rimming the edge of the pond and squatting down to point his wand at the hole she'd broken in the ice sheet. Glancing back over his shoulder at her, he gave her a wink. "One way to find out. Accio wand!"
The water bubbled for a moment, and then a brownish lump rose to the surface, the slender shaft of a rowan wand pointing toward Remus' hand from within a clump of leather. Tonks' troublesome wand sheath trailed its broken straps in the water as Remus plucked the secured wand from the air, lifting it free and passing it back to her. "Good sheath," he commented, grinning at her muttered curses as she received it. "Your wand never slipped."
"Street garbage," she growled, snatching her wand from the soaked leather and looking it over carefully. "I should have listened to Kingsley. I swear, Remus, I'm going to make that man pay!"
"The vendor. The smarmy old bastard who sold me this worthless rig." Finally reassured that her wand was unharmed, Tonks drew back her arm and pitched the sheath as far out onto the ice as she could. It skittered along, finally coming to a stop somewhere near the center of the ice. She nodded decisively. "That'll put it back on the bottom the next warm day, right where it belongs. And good riddance!" For a moment she stood stiff-backed, staring out across the pond with an aggressive tilt to her chin, but when she turned back to face him it all fell away. He was watching her with quiet interest, with a look she'd seen on his face before now, but had never really understood. But now she did- and before she could stop herself, she blurted out, "Damn it, Remus…"
A shadow passed over his eyes, but it was quickly gone, and he gave her one of his familiar wan smiles. "I know," he said quietly. "It's not fair, but you can't wish the world different."
She couldn't think of any reply. He obviously wouldn't be persuaded at this time, and was looking as though he was near collapse besides; with a pang, she realized that it would be unkind to keep pestering him over something he thought settled, no matter how much she wanted to.
But it wasn't settled. Not by a long shot, not after today.
Frustration bubbled up inside her, making her want to shout out loud the injustice of it all. She wanted to batter down his reticence and proper behavior through the force of her affections for him, to throw his caution to the winds.
And yet somehow, miraculously, she was willing to wait. A newfound patience had awoken in her, soothing the pain of new love and bitter disappointment even as she silently railed at his refusal. She drew a deep breath and held it, watching the tired werewolf pick his way back through the snow to her broom. For him, she would be patient. He was worth it. Now she simply had to make him see that as well. Letting go the breath she held in a deep, longing sigh, Tonks began jogging to catch up.