A/N: Hello peeps. :) As per the results of the viewer poll and for the convenience of both myself and my beta, I WILL be changing my posting day from next week. That means that the chapter after this one will now be posted on Friday 31st March - ie a week this Friday. Much as I would have loved to have started from this Friday, that's just not possible without running out of chapters as soon as I get back from holiday and leaving you hanging then instead. So instead I shall thank you all in advance for your tolerance of the wait and assure that in the long run, it is for the best. :)
Anyway, here we go with the final part of the chapter-I-never-intended to split...;)
38 – Moment of Truth – Part Three
There was an agonising silence. And Remus waited.
Gods, he was tired. The weight of little sleep and frantic tension seemed to shiver in his bones as the too-close moon seemed to steal away what little strength he had left– he was all but sure that only a mixture of adrenalin and sheer bloody stubbornness were keeping him from keeling over on the spot. And that weight seemed to redouble tenfold as he stared at Tonks in terrible anticipation, as he waited for the disgust to stain her features, waited for repulsion to flare in her eyes as she recoiled from him in horror as any sane witch or wizard would have done.
But she didn't.
Her head tilted slightly. One eyebrow rose. Her fingers stretched out and then tightened around his.
"I know," she said softly. "Remember?"
She… what? At the expression on his face, she laughed slightly, not humorous, not cold, but a simple laugh that touched the air almost because it was expected. "Remus, I was there when Daniel Arden made his little announcement, you know."
Remus had almost forgotten Fenris – that day on the Resident's level seemed an eternity ago. "But that was nothing," he insisted. She doesn't understand, she can't understand… "That was the mildest of what I've faced, if it was a true incident at all…"
"As apposed to you attacking Mad-Eye in 1981? Or nearly going for the kids when Kane invaded Hogwarts?" It was the matter-of-factness with which she extolled his greatest secrets that shocked Remus the most. "Like I said, Remus. I know. After we reported what happened on the Residents Level, Dumbledore took me aside and told about them. He felt I ought to know why you were likely to be sensitive about it."
It took a moment for the reality of this revelation to sink in. Dumbledore told her? Dumbledore just went ahead and told her my biggest secret as though it was nothing, as though…
He told her. He told her before she…
"You knew?" His voice cracked slightly at he spoke, heart suddenly torn between racing out of rhythm or stopping altogether. "You knew and you still…"
"Loved you?" Tonks grimaced irritably. "How many times? It doesn't matter to me, Remus."
He shook his head once more, fighting to clear it as the imminent moon tugged at his body once more. "Well, it should," he retorted shakily, his voice wavering with a combination of shock and disbelief. "Because it matters to me. And Dumbledore - he had no right, it was mine to tell, I…"
Tonks shrugged slightly. "Well, he did and I listened and there's not much either of us can do about it. I love that old man like a grandfather, but he does like to interfere."
Remus took a moment to breathe, filling his lungs with precious air as he fought to battle down the frantic pounding of his heart. Gods, it's getting close… "Still…" he all but stammered. "He shouldn't…"
"Oh for pities sake!" Tonks' retort was a whiplash. "Dumbledore is not the issue! Remus, do you trust me?"
"What does that have to do with…"
Yet again she cut him off. "Do you trust me?"
"Then why does my knowing matter?" Her hands closed almost vice like over his. "Simple answer – it doesn't. And why should my knowing matter when I've already told you I don't care about it? Again – it doesn't. I don't care if you've crawled on all fours and barked at the moon! You're still…"
"A werewolf!" With a violent jerk, Remus snatched his hand away from hers, sudden rage coursing through his veins once more at her blatant, foolish assumptions. "I'm a werewolf, a werewolf who has turned feral, who could turn feral again! Do you even understand what that means?" He did not give her chance to respond, dared not as he felt the last precious minutes of time that had left to make her see reason ebbing too quickly away. "It means that at any moment, I could turn on you, I could kill you, I could rip you to pieces for nothing more than the kicks! It means I would become a monster that I have battled to escape all my life! It means I would be Kane!"
"No!" Her voice slapped against him. "You could never be like that!"
His voice shivered darkly. "Then you don't know me."
"I'm starting to think I know you better than you know yourself. You say it as though it's inevitable!" Tonks hurled the words back at him, her voice rich with furious passion. "As though you're almost waiting for the wolf to win!" Her tone dropped to almost a whisper, low but vibrant and strong. "But you're stronger than that, Remus. You're the strongest man I know."
How can she think that? How can she be so naïve?
"I'm not. This is real, Tonks, it could happen, it could happen tonight…"
"I know." It was almost a shock when her hand curled up around his once more, her suddenly solemn eyes meeting his. The swell of their furious argument almost seemed to tumble away, to settle suddenly into a kind of uneasy resignation that chaffed and tugged at them both against the pull of the unavoidable change, close, so close to coming. "And I meant what I said upstairs. If it comes to it, Remus, I know that you would rather be dead than a feral." Her fingers shook against his skin. "And I'd be the one to make sure you got your wish."
And he could almost see it. He could almost see the look on her face, the horror in her eyes as she…
"No." He expelled the word sharply. "No, Tonks. I can't let you do that, don't you see? You say you know me, but I know you too! You'd blame yourself for the rest of your life!" He lowered his head, staring passed their now joined hands to the crushed glass and potion that covered the floor between them. "And I can't ask you to do that. How could I claim to love you and then subject you to that kind of pain?"
"Remus…" He heard the protest in her voice, the beginning of well meaning lies about knowing it was necessary and forgiving herself for it, and forestalled them before they could bitter the air.
"The wolf will always be there, Tonks," he said, his voice soft and low but filled with intensity as his eyes drifted towards the ceiling to avoid the inevitable pain of her gaze. "It's almost here now. You should be with someone whole, someone so much younger and better than me. A normal man who can provide for you, can guarantee a long life and a home without the prospect of having to slay him if he turns into a feral lunatic…"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake!" Fingers clasped his chin, dragging his face back down to confront her relentless eyes. "How many times? I do not care. How can you promise me that a nice, normal man won't fall off his broomstick or blow up a cauldron and scatter himself across the landscape? Anyone can die, Remus! Nothing in life is certain! But I know for sure that one thing a normal man could never do is be Remus Lupin." Her eyes glowed. "There is nothing normal about you, Remus, and I wouldn't have you any other way. Yes, fine, you're a werewolf – but being a werewolf is what has made you the man you are. And you're a good man." She squared up to him almost aggressively. "And if I have a choice between trusting in your strength or running away from the wolf, I'll trust you every time."
He stared at her, stared at the determined creases that her frown cast across her otherwise smooth features, aware that her fingers still lightly touched his chin and stroked the skin there softly. And he knew.
She means it. Dear Merlin, she means it…
And therein lay the problem.
All his reasons, all his excuses – all were real and valid fears that tore at his soul whenever he dared to contemplate a future in her arms. But now she had touched deeper, brushed upon the edges of his deepest fear, his final, irrevocable doubt and unknowingly tried to dismiss it. But it would take more, much more, to dislodge the one pure reason that he could not allow Nymphadora Tonks to waste her life on him.
But to his astonishment, he found he wanted her to try.
I'm so weak. And that's just one more reason why I shouldn't let her in…
But I want to tell her. Merlin, I want to tell her.
"You shouldn't trust me." The words crept out, hesitant, uncertain but distinct. "Because it's not just the wolf I'm scared of, Tonks. It's not just the thought that I could hurt you." He took a deep and steadying breath as he braced himself for one final admission, one final thing that she really should have known all along. "It's that I'm just not good enough for you."
He could see immediately that she had not grasped the entirety of what he was trying to confess. "Being a werewolf doesn't mean…"
"No." Yet again, he cut her off, unable to face the idea of dragging the misunderstanding out further. "I'm not talking about being a werewolf. I'm talking about being a man. I'm not good enough. Not by a long way."
The silence was deafening. Her incredulous stare burned his soul.
"That's it?" Her voice, when it came was hushed and disbelieving. "Sweet Merlin, that's it, isn't it? That's why you've been pushing me away. It's not your wolf or your age or any of those other excuses you've bandied about." She almost risked a smile as the dawning of realisation washed across her face. "It's insecurity."
Having his innermost and profoundest fears distilled into one easily dismissible word was more than a little galling but Remus was rather too distracted to allow himself to dwell on it. "It's a little more than that," he began to protest. "It's…"
"Oh, no." The abrupt squeeze of her fingers against his chin rather effectively cut off the rest of his sentence. "I'm not going to let you complicate this again, not now we're actually getting somewhere." She eyed him thoughtfully for a moment. "Do you trust me?" she repeated abruptly.
Remus frowned. "Haven't we been through this?"
Tonks sighed. "Just answer the bloody question, Lupin."
"Fine. Of course I do. But what does that have to do with anything?"
She smiled then, a wicked, secretive smile filled with her previously absent sparkle. "And you trust my judgement?"
Remus had an unpleasant feeling about where this was going. "Yes," he admitted cautiously. "But…"
Her finger slapped his lips shut. "So you trust my opinion on people?"
The feeling solidified. "Tonks…"
But the Auror seemed determined to hammer home her point. "Well, my opinion is that Remus Lupin is a wonderful man and that if anything, I don't deserve him." She raised an eyebrow pointedly. "So. Are you going to tell me you don't trust my judgement anymore?"
Now there was a no-win situation. "You're biased."
She all but smirked. "Of course I am. But didn't it ever occur to you that I'm biased for a reason? Partiality doesn't come out of nothing, you know."
He shook his head. "Tonks…"
The gentle creep of her fingers across his cheek silenced him once more. "I love you," she said softly. "And you love me. There's nothing to be afraid of."
He could hear his heart pounding in his ears, feel the blood racing round his body at a frantic, furious pace that seemed to scour him from the inside out. The world around seemed to shrink away into insignificance until he could see nothing but her.
Dark eyes gleaming. Heart shaped face, close, so close to his.
"I might hurt you," he whispered hoarsely.
She smiled slightly, her face inching closer. "I don't care."
He could feel her breath against his lips, brushing his skin in soft and rapid exhalations. "I might let you down…"
Her eyes shuddered closed but somehow he could still feel her stare. "I don't care."
He felt her lips brush his as his own eyelids dropped down. "I don't think I'll ever deserve you."
"Think that if you want." He sensed the words rather than hearing them, felt the shape of each one as she teased his lips with hers. "But I don't care if you do."
And then there was nothing but her.
He had never known that it was possible to feel so much. Her lips against his, her kiss, their kiss, her hands roaming through his hair, tangling, stroking, his hands sliding down her waist as her body pressed against his and then suddenly the kiss deepened and all hint of rationality vanished into nothingness.
How long he spent lost in the world that was her, Remus couldn't possibly have guessed. But somehow, it just didn't matter.
But then finally, inevitably, the real world began to intrude once more. Awareness flooded back to Remus, the shiver and shudder of his body so deeply pre-moon, the weight and exhaustion that teetered him against the brink of falling, the crackle of glass beneath their feet and suddenly her lips were gone and dark eyes stared into his, lost and fulfilled all at once.
And he knew. They both did.
It's so close. It's too close. The moon…
"You have to go," he whispered softly.
"I know," she breathed in reply. "But that doesn't make this any easier."
He shook his head. "Tonks…"
She smiled almost desperately as she stepped back out of his arms, eyes abruptly glistening. "You'd better survive the night, Remus Lupin," she exclaimed shakily. "Because if you don't, I'm going to kill you."
He actually managed to laugh. "I'll bear that in mind."
He could tell that she was battling tears, her emotional sturdiness rocked by the outpouring of passion they had shared. "I'll be just up there," she said, gesturing to the lift shaft. "I'm not going to leave you."
He acknowledged this defeat wearily. "It's probably too late to get out now anyway," he admitted with a sigh. "But be careful. If you die, I won't be very forgiving either."
Tonks managed a watery chuckle. "Imagine if we both die. The repercussions will be…"
"Professor Lupin! Tonks! Up here!"
Remus felt his stomach plummet. Oh Gods no! He should have gone, why hasn't he gone?
By the look on Tonks' face, her reaction was much the same as his. "Harry!" she roared furiously, rushing into the lift shaft and barely managing to keep her balance as she waded onto the spongy surface she had left there. "What the bloody hell are you…"
"I've got Wolfsbane!" Remus felt his eyes widen even as Tonks gasped in shock – it took him a mere moment to stagger to her side and gaze up at the dark, dishevelled head that gazed down at them from the storey above with an expression of outright triumph. "The bottle that Death Eater had – that's what it was!"
Much as he was tempted to wax lyrical on that particular statement, Remus knew that there were more pressing matters to hand. "Are you sure that it's…"
"I know the smell!" Harry's voice was distinctly impatient. "And the bottle's just like Zelia described. I saw it when I was sealing them that room in and Accio'ed it! Now come on!" Abruptly a rope slapped down against the side of the shaft. "We don't have much time!"
That was indisputable but if Harry was wrong, if it wasn't Wolfsbane and he transformed in the corridor…
"Drop it down!" Remus roared. "Drop it down to me!"
"Do it!" Tonks' commanding shout of affirmation nearly shook the walls. Harry's shadowed, distant features looked unconvinced – but thankfully, the teenager nonetheless extended the bottle out over the void and on a three count, let it go.
Remus caught it easily. He turned it over in his hand, staring in near disbelief, a small black bottle engraved with a wolf's head, different only to the shattered remains in the room behind in that it was actually whole. Grabbing the stopper he yanked it free and took a hefty sniff.
He almost choked. The aroma was unmistakably foul. Wolfsbane!
Never in his life had he been so pleased to smell a stench quite so disgusting.
"Is it?" he heard Tonks whisper. And he smiled.
"Yes," he simply replied. And then steeling himself admirably, he lifted the bottle and downed the contents in one.
And the change was almost instantaneous.
With a howl that echoed throughout the silence of his mind, the wolf retreated, whining and whimpering back into the deepest corner where it could do no harm. The instincts that had plagued him, the desire to hunt, to kill, to fight, to bite all evaporated into nothingness as the part of him that was Remus finally secured the purchase it needed to dominate once more. The wild urges of the werewolf were closed away once more behind the humanity of the man.
His mind felt so clean, so fresh, so gloriously him. His body however, ripped of the energy and strength of the wolfish mind, was rather less than perfect.
The last of his strength melted into nothingness like burned off mist.
He almost collapsed. Only Tonks quick reflexes kept him upright as shudders raced through his thin frame, shakes and chills that rattled his bones and set his veins ablaze. He felt weak, sick, bone-weary, the sleeplessness of the last two days combining with his own stressed exhaustion and sudden lack of adrenalin to render him all but broken. He was vaguely aware of Tonks' voice shouting in his ears, of a sudden lightness that lifted him, drifting and weightless upwards to where a green eyed face hauled onto the ground once more and stared at him in horror. He heard mutterings – was it poison, was I wrong? – and Tonks' vague reply about exhaustion and then suddenly a voice cried "mobilicorpus!" and he was floating light once more, shoved by two pairs of hands at speed down passed flashes of grey walls.
The shuddering was intensifying. The change was close, so close…
And then suddenly there was an opening, a trapdoor beneath a chair. He heard more muttering, more spells, his hands clamped and magically bound around a pole that had been a runged ladder just moments before and then he was falling, rushing downwards, the air searing passed him as it whistled in his ears. And then came softness, familiar softness like a cushion or a sponge and he heard from somewhere shouts that were both immediate and infinitely far – "It's Professor Lupin! Ron, quick! We have to help him!" – and another voice – "No! It's too late, come back!" -and then two new faces gazed down upon him, red hair and freckles and brown bushiness and anxious eyes that he seemed to know so well from a life that seemed a thousand years away. But they barely registered beneath the weight off one single realisation.
The moon. The moon has come.
And then came the pain.
He could feel his bones contorting, his skin stretching fit to burst as agony blossomed throughout his body. He fought not to scream out loud as hands grasped him, lifting him, dragging him, anxious voices all around him as their names swam through his head – Tonks, Harry, Hermione, Ron, you shouldn't be here, you should go... He caught a glimpse of a dark opening in which a grey robed woman – Rebekah, my cousin - stood, beckoning desperately as sirens began to blare, but it was too far away, too late for him to reach. He longed to scream at those around him, scream at them to go, to run, to leave him and save themselves, but his voice was gone, lost to a canine howl that could not convey his warning. He caught only a brief, momentary glimpse of a metal door slamming emphatically down and blocking his cousin from view before the pain of his transformation grasped him once more. He vividly caught one last sight of the four remaining faces, pale and horrified as they stared down at him before agony burst through him for the final time and swept all awareness away.
A/N: Many thanks to my lovely reviewers this week: pstibbons, phoenixtear19, Rel Fexive, NaturallyInsane, Camilinha, Nienna Telrunya, Godricgal, Bardlover, Mandalen, Howling-wolf, Snowfall, Mollycoddles, wizardelfgirl, krumfan, thee-unknown-factor, TheJazz, hesterlester, Kailin, Potter's Muse, silvanelf, Pickledishkiller, JamieGlasgow4, Tarfiniel, Gyllenaly, Gilpin, purebristles, MeriTrells, Paloma, anonymous, aurelie1, felixgirl, morgan, sylthian, Libeku Taganashi, EO and WMG! Thank you all muchly. :)
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