Disclaimer: This is J.K. Rowling's world, I'm just writing in it.
Although I've never been much of a "shipper," I was inspired to write this after reading there goes my gun's excellent Remus/Tonks stories, which you should read too. I tried not to imitate her too closely, but some similarities have crept in despite my best efforts. Please regard them as homage rather than theft. ;)
The quotes later in the chapter are from A.S. Kline's translation of Ovid's "Metamorphoses."
O swear not by the moon, th'inconstant moon
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable. - Shakespeare
"HALF-BLOOD, FREAK, SLUT, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE -"
"Oh, go bugger yourself with a rusty tire iron, Auntie." Tonks was trying to disentangle her ankles from a coat that must have fallen off one of the hooks in the front hall. She'd hit the floor so hard that she thought she must've dislocated both kneecaps.
"HOW DARE YOU, YOU'RE NO RELATIVE OF MINE, YOUR MOTHER WAS A SLUT JUST LIKE -"
"SHUT YOUR BLOODY MOUTH, YOU STUPID OLD SLAG!" she shouted.
The old battle-ax gaped, mouthing wordlessly with shock and rage, and Tonks took the opportunity to jerk the curtain shut. She checked her backpack to make sure the vial hadn't broken, and was limping down the hall when Remus appeared on the stairs. He was wearing an overly large white T-shirt which sagged over his skinny shoulders, and a pair of threadbare blue pajama bottoms. "You know Sirius always said to just ignore her," he said.
"Wotcher, Remus. Sorry, I didn't know you were asleep."
"I wasn't, I was just reading. What's up?"
"I've got the wolfsbane potion for you, from Slughorn. It took six bags of that nasty pineapple rubbish and two bottles of mead to bribe him into doing it, can you believe it?"
"I'm surprised that was all it took. Thanks for bringing it." He came down the stairs and took the vial from her. "A rusty tire iron, that's very inventive. I would've gone for a red hot poker, myself . . ." He yawned. "I was just going to put a kettle on, if you're interested."
She limped after him towards the kitchen stairs. "If you have any ice, that'd be wonderful. I think I just fucking kneecapped myself."
"Ah, the sound of a woman swearing is sweet, sweet music to my ears."
"Oh, shut up."
"Tonks, I was joking."
Down in the kitchen, she sipped her tea and clutched a bag of ice over her knees as he opened the vial of potion. She could smell it from across the room: a thick, fetid, rotting smell, like the dead squirrel she'd once stuck under the rug in the Slytherin common room. "Here's to old Slughorn." He raised the vial in a mock toast and gulped the contents in one go. He closed his eyes and set his mouth, and a crease appeared between his eyebrows. It was the expression of someone who is either pondering the secret of existence or making a supreme effort not to vomit.
"Do you ever just puke it back up?" she asked as he guzzled his tea.
"I did once, when I was teaching. I didn't want to ask Snape for more, so. . . " He shrugged. "Made a right mess of my office."
"They're still looking for him."
"Yeah. Shacklebolt's in charge of the search. I don't think they'll find him.." She drew designs in spilled tea on the table top. "Murderous bastard."
He poured more milk and hot water into his mug and sat at the table, stirring it in silence. She edged her chair closer to him and put a hand over his. He turned his hand over so that their fingers interlaced, and said, "Are you still willing to stay tonight?"
"Yeah, of course."
"Thank you. It's just. . . a little easier when I've got some company. Dung used to read to me."
"I didn't know he could read."
"Well, it was usually the letters column from Playwitch -"
"Indeed." He drained the remainder of his tea, gave her hand a final squeeze, and got up to put the mug in the sink. "Do you want anything to eat? I'm afraid all I've got here is pot noodle. . . but I have got six different flavors."
"Nah, I'm not really hungry." The thought of pot noodle made her queasy. She'd eaten far too much of it before she got her job with the Ministry. Pot noodle, chip butties, coffee, and lager. It was a wonder she was still alive.
"Me neither." He leaned against the sink and folded his arms. He had gotten more hairy even since they'd been sitting here, and his ears were starting to look distinctly pointed. "It's starting, isn't it?" he said, noticing her stare.
"I think so. A little bit."
He scratched the thickening pelt on his chest and watched her warily, as if expecting her to say something more. Maybe expecting her to shriek with horror, or flee from the house, or tell him he was disgusting. She had never been here on the full moon - Sirius or Dung had been the ones to keep him company when she was hanging around here last year - so she had no idea what to expect. But she kept her promises, and she wasn't afraid.
"So Harry said you could keep on staying here?" she asked, trying to sound casual as she stirred more sugar into her tea.
"Yes, I talked to him about it last week, after the wedding. I can't go back to the werewolf gang, you know, so I haven't really got anywhere else to go."
"You could go stay with the Weasleys. Or I'm sure there are other people who would take you in." I would take you in, she thought.
"I don't want to impose on anyone." He sounded uncomfortable, and she wasn't surprised when he changed the subject. "How are your knees?"
"Better. I think I ought to start wearing kneepads. I'm going to do some permanent damage at some point."
"Can't you make them more -" He gestured vaguely. "Resilient?"
"I tried, but then my jeans wouldn't fit."
He started laughing, which turned into a coughing fit. He put his hands over his face. "Are you all right?" she asked, trying to get up. The bag of ice slithered to the floor and in picking it up, she managed to knock over her chair.
When he took his hands away, his eyes were bright yellow, the pupils contracted. "Get out of here," he snarled.
"But you said -"
"Out of the kitchen or out of the house?"
"The kitchen! I don't want you to - ahhh -" He doubled over, clutching at himself.
She backed away from him, stumbling over the overturned chair and somehow managing not to fall. Hair - no, not hair, fur - was sprouting out of the back of his neck. He looked up again and bared his teeth - his enormous sharp canines - and she dropped the bag of ice and ran, slamming the door behind her.
She didn't know how much time passed as she huddled there on the kitchen stairs with her fingers in her ears. When she finally took them out, the screaming and crashing about had stopped, to be replaced with a more ominous silence. "Remus?" she called cautiously. Panting and scuffling. "Can I come in? Err. . . one bark for yes, two for no." There was a long pause, and she heard one small yap, which sounded more like a Chihuahua than some vicious man-eating beast. Nevertheless, it still took her a moment to get up her nerve to open the door to the wolf.
Smells of spilled tea, cooking; the smell of his lost friend everywhere, on every chair, on the floor and the walls even, as if his flesh had merged into the house somehow. Black-and-white stop-motion images; the flicker of a nicitating membrane across his eyes. He treads in wetness: the spilled bag of ice is starting to melt. Thirsty from the effort of his change, he laps at the puddle. No sense in being squeamish.
"Wotcher, Remus," she says. The vivid pink of her hair registers; the rest is shades of gray, a substantial ghost. "You all right?" One bark for yes. That's right, isn't it? Short-term memory lapse. She's holding out her hand to him, and for a moment he wants to close his jaws on those fingers, feel bone crunch and blood spurt, taste greasy fat and toothsome muscle. (Dear Remus Lupin: Please don't. Sincerely, your cerebral cortex.) Sniff instead. Good dog. She smells faintly of his human self, and of milk from her tea, and she also smells a bit like Sirius - a variation on a theme. He's noticed that all the Blacks (even that repulsive little shit, Malfoy junior) have a similar smell, presumably something to do with their impeccably pure DNA.
She scratches behind his ears. It feels nice. Nobody's ever done that before. Nobody seems to realize that he's a dog, just an overgrown dog (with the occasional taste for human flesh). His tail is wagging of its own accord. Never can control the thing. "Come on, then, let's go upstairs and we'll find a book for you."
His claws slip on the stone stairs and he stumbles, catching himself just in time. She waits, looking over her shoulder. Is she afraid? She must be afraid. But she's hiding it well, trained in dissembling. It's only a matter of time before the façade breaks.
He locates the book he wants by smell rather than sight, from the bookshelf by the fireplace. "Are you sure? You don't want something less - err, intellectually stimulating? All right, then. . ."
She's gotten a fire going in the grate with her wand. He's curled up next to her on the hearth rug, and it's warm and good here, and though he can smell Sirius' ghost scent more strongly than in the kitchen (he used to kip here on winter nights, where it was warm), it's all right. Comforting, even. The dead are never really gone, they always leave some of themselves around.
"You know," she says as she crosses her legs and settles the book in her lap, "you're really a very handsome wolf. I was expecting something more. . . monstrous, you know? Not that you're not a handsome human, of course."
He snorts. She rubs his belly, and for a moment he's helpless and wriggling with delight. Really now, Lupin, you're at the top of the food chain - have some bloody dignity. He sits up and paws at the book. "All right, all right, hold your horses. . ." She opens the book and begins to read.
" I want to speak about bodies changed into new forms. You, gods, since you are the ones who alter these, and all other things, inspire my attempt, and spin out a continuous thread of words, from the world's first origins to my own time."
The text is comfortingly familiar. He knows this book nearly by heart, having read it first when he was still at school, first in English and then in Latin. He remembers especially the story of Lycaon, punished for feeding the gods human flesh: "His clothes became bristling hair, his arms became legs. He was a wolf, but kept some vestige of his former shape. There were the same gray hairs, the same violent face, the same glittering eyes, the same savage image."
His sense of the passage of time is hazy. Canines must be missing that part of their brain, whatever it's called, the hippocampus? No, that's a kind of magical creature. At any rate, it seems like no time at all before she's telling him that she's hoarse, she needs to sleep for a bit, it's awfully late, aren't you tired too?
He is tired. He doesn't know how many hours remain before moonset, but there must be time to sleep. He rests his muzzle on his front paws and shuts his eyes. He is a wolf, but he keeps some vestige of his former shape: he dreams of walking on two legs.
She was woken by his whimpering. She had fallen asleep on the floor with him sprawled next to her. The fire had died down to embers some time before, and the room was freezing.
"Remus?" He was thrashing around now, his whimpers becoming moans and then howls. She stupidly reached an arm out to him, then jerked her head back as those huge claws came at her and raked across her face before he rolled away.
In the dim light of pre-dawn, she could see him writhing on the floor as his forelegs wrenched themselves backwards and his toes began to lengthen. As blood dripped down her cheek, she crouched on the hearth rug and forced herself to watch as his howls turned to screams, seeing how the fur seemed to withdraw back into his skin, listening to the crack of bones forming themselves into new alliances. When it was over, he lay in a fetal position with his back to her, breathing heavily. He was naked, every vertebra clearly delineated beneath his pallid skin.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm cold." His voice was very small and weak.
She got the fire going again and fetched the coat that she had tripped over on the way in. Leaning over him, she put a hand on his shoulder and he flinched. "Sorry. . . here's something to keep you warm."
He struggled into the coat and just sat there for a while, staring into space with his bare legs splayed out in front of him. She could see a fresh bite on his upper calf, and wondered where it came from. Finally, he shook himself all over like a dog, took a deep breath and let it out, and blinked up at her. "Tonks, you're bleeding."
"Oh. Oh, yeah." She'd forgotten.
"Did I do that?"
"Erm. . . yeah. But it's nothing. . . just a scratch. . ."
"I'm sorry, I really am - I didn't mean to hurt you - I didn't want you to see. . ."
"I'll be fine, Remus. Honestly."
"I knew this would happen."
She didn't know what to say. She reached over and smoothed his disarrayed hair, running her hand down the side of his face. He wouldn't meet her eyes. "Let's go upstairs and get you cleaned up," he said.
He walked slowly and stiff-legged, like an old man with rheumatism, up the stairs, and she followed him into the bathroom. She examined her injuries in the mirror: four parallel scratches, not deep, but still oozing blood. He insisted on cleaning them out with whiskey fetched from Sirius's old room. She rather enjoyed his maternal ministrations - he'd obviously been spending too much time around Molly Weasley - but the alcohol stung horribly. "I'm not an expert in medical spells, so this will have to do. . . I don't think you're a candidate for St. Mungo's quite yet. . ."
"Shouldn't we be drinking this instead?" she asked. The liquor was dripping down her neck and soaking into the collar of her shirt. "Seems sort of wasteful."
"Unless your name is Mundungus Fletcher, it's far too early to be drinking."
"This time of day's a bit troublesome," she said, mimicking his pedantic tones. "You could consider it early in the morning, or conversely, very late at night."
He looked down at her, then at the bottle of whiskey. In the yellow light over the sink, he looked older and sicker than ever, the shadows pooling in the hollows of his cheekbones. He had told her once that each full moon gave him another gray hair. One corner of his mouth quirked upward. "Your reasoning is specious, Miss Tonks. Please see me in my office after class."
She rolled her eyes, took the bottle from him and gulped down one large, burning mouthful. The scratches on her face hurt a little less now, or maybe she just didn't care anymore. She gave the bottle back and he took a small sip. His face twisted. "This is disgusting."
"I know, it's brilliant."
"To each their own. I need to go back to sleep."
"Yeah, me too. . . I suppose I'd better go home."
"You don't have to, you know. You can sleep in Harry's room, upstairs. . . or you can sleep with me." Her expression must have changed, because he flushed a little and added, "Just sleep, I mean."
She bit her lip to keep from giggling. "That sounds all right."
He was staying in her other cousin's room, the cousin who had died when she was small. The room, like the rest of the house, was in a state of genteel decay - the expensive wallpaper peeling, the carpet torn. There was one of Molly's hand-knitted blankets on the bed, its cheery colors contrasting sharply with the rest of the décor. It was very warm, as she found out when she crawled underneath it.
He shucked the coat when she wasn't looking (she was slightly annoyed by this) and crawled under the covers beside her. The first rays of the morning sun came in through the open blind and illuminated the stubble on his cheek as he lay on his back, looking supremely relaxed. He was fighting off sleep; his eyes kept drifting shut and then opening again. "Tonks," he murmured.
"Mmm?" She raised herself up on one elbow so she could see him better.
"For what, love?"
"Being patient. It's a virtue, you know. . ."
She leaned down, and he caught her intention and tilted his head back to accept her kiss. She'd intended it to be a quick peck, the sort of kiss they usually exchanged, but he responded with sleepy enthusiasm and it ended up being quite a bit longer than that. "Sorry," he said after she managed to disentangle herself.
It took her a moment to catch her breath. "Can we do that again?"
"I don't know. I'll have to think about it."
"Get stuffed, old man."
She realized how much she enjoyed seeing him smile, the way his eyes crinkled up and the gauntness of his face was briefly forgotten. "As I just said, Nymphadora, patience is a virtue."
"Oh, go to sleep."
She lay back down, and he rolled over on his side and seemed to fall asleep immediately. It took her a little longer to doze off. It had occurred to her that she was lying in bed fully clothed, with Remus who was naked. The implications were endless, but she was too tired to think about them.
He had extraordinary eyelashes, she noticed now that his eyes were finally shut: long and gingery-colored against the pallor of his skin. She wondered how many other tiny aspects of his person she would be learning about in the days and weeks to come; she would be an explorer setting forth in a new country. She liked that thought. She slept soundly.
to be continued