This story follows Into the Fire in the Transfigured Hearts series, and is set in March of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Special thanks to Gilpin, whose wonderful constructive criticism helped me improve this story from the version originally written for the April 2006 R/T Challenge at LiveJournal, and to Godricgal, without whose tireless encouragement I would not have been brave enough to try some of the things I tried in this, and without whose mad beta skills this would be a mess of typos and incoherent sentences.

As always, concrit appreciated.


Steal, Kill, Destroy

The crack of Apparation reverberated, stifling Remus' groan as solid ground leapt up beneath his feet and jarred joints still tender from transformation. For a moment, he thought his knees might give beneath the sudden pressure of his weight but, remarkably, his feeble, trembling legs held.

He stood still, drew shallow breaths, waited.

When the night air was still and silent again, he took the first halting step toward the main street of Hogsmeade.

He is thirteen. Thirteen, and a third year, making his first weekend visit to the Wizarding village. He is allowed to be here, just like every other third year with a parchment signed by a parent.

"What a joke, mate!" laughs Padfoot, clapping him on the back and nearly sending him sprawling. "You're excited about Honeydukes, Three Broomsticks, and bloody Zonko's when you're the Shriek in the Shack."

Though Moony laughs and continues through town with his roughhousing mates, it is all he can do not to bolt back down the road to Hogwarts.

Chocolate, Butterbeer, and prank merchandise have lost their lustre.

What would the citizens of Hogsmeade think if they knew?

He holds his breath as he crosses the Honeydukes threshold, and is surprised when no one gives him the boot and says, "This world is not for you."

He was thirty-eight. Thirty-eight, and an outcast, making a social call in a Wizarding village. He hadn't a Sickle to spend on sweets, a drink, a joke.

They would run him out if they recognised him now, the most undesirable of the undesirables. They all knew he was werewolf Remus Lupin, an eccentric decision and controversial appointment of Albus Dumbledore.

Occupational hazard of being a werewolf…I'm not a very popular dinner guest.

Why had Arthur and Molly insisted he come? Hogsmeade was too clean, too civilised, too…

Circling the cottage, the ferals hunker down to wait.

By the time he, lingering at the edge of the forest, realises why, it is too late.

The moon takes him.

His warning howl only salutes that the werewolves have come, like thieves in the night.

Realising that he had stopped walking and was gaping at a cottage, he shoved his hands into his pockets and shambled on, lest he be taken for a thief.

Bruised and bloodied, the human female lying half-unconscious on the floor whimpers pathetically.

Speech is incomprehensible to lupine ears, but the wolf instinctively recognises a mother's plea for her offspring.

They would send for the Werewolf Capture Unit if they recognised him.

At least his destination was the Hog's Head Inn – the one place in Hogsmeade dodgy enough that he might slip inside unnoticed.

Of all the places for Tonks to be accommodated during her assignment as Hogwarts guard. Being denied the comfort of her cosy London flat must be one more unfortunate contributor to her depression.

Selfishly, Remus was glad not to have to see her there. But her world was less for him than—

"Oof!" Air fled his lungs as a figure hurtled into him.

Arms tightly wrapped around his waist kept him upright. A head of brown hair nestled against his shoulder.

Tonks.

What in Merlin's name was she thinking, greeting him so familiarly in the middle of the street? She'd be under suspicion too, if anyone saw her with a Dark Creature for any purpose other than arrest and interrogation.

But as his gaze darted wildly around, his fears were alleviated by the realisation that they were not in the street, but at the corner of the Hog's Head, cloaked in shadows.

He berated himself for not being more aware of his surroundings.

Tonks' body trembled as she clung to him. From the cold? With fury? No, if furious, she wouldn't be hugging him.

She could not be crying. He was not worth tears. Least of all her tears.

"Merlin, Remus," Tonks said hoarsely, voice not precisely sounding choked by tears, though her breathing was laboured and erratic. Her heart palpitated wildly; it alarmed Remus that he could feel it through their layers of winter clothing. He wished he could see her face. Her cheek was icy against his neck. "I thought I'd never see you again."

"You are seeing me now." His voice sounded so detached that he was not entirely sure he had actually spoken.

But he had done – he felt her wince at his tone. With her this closed to him, his arms literally ached to enfold her. They remained hanging limp and useless at his sides.

It was just as well.

Two months ago they had seen each other. They had fought, really fought, and said things they did not mean.

"Remus, I'm so sorry," she breaks his day's enforced silence on the matter. "Damn it, I hurt you, and that's the last—"

"We cannot see each other," he interrupts, looking over the top of her head, unable to meet the eyes bright with tears, which will only tell him that somehow, even though she is apologising for hurting him, he continues to wound her. "It seems as though we are no longer capable of saying anything to each other that does not hurt, and it is not fair."

Not fair to her. Not fair to him. He only means to do this one thing right.

"We must limit contact, and maintain professionalism."

Blinking, she draws a deep breath, then nods, once, compliantly.

Submissively.

Beaten.

Now she drew back, lifting a pale face with red-rimmed but dry eyes. The dark irises hardened on him, glittering like polished black stones. Not velvet, not anymore, not for him.

Good.

"You bastard!" Tonks hands shot upward, and Remus flinched. But instead of the sting of her palm on his cheek to underscore the sting of her words, his collar tightened around his neck as her fingers clutched the lapels of his coat. She would have pulled him flush against her, had he not resisted. Even so, she was too close.

"Why didn't you send word you were all right?" she demanded. "I knew you'd never let Greyback hurt a child if you could help it, and when we heard about…"

Remus screwed his eyes shut.

The Daily Prophet is written in blood: 'Theodore Montgomery, aged five, died this morning at St. Mungo's from wounds inflicted by a werewolf suspected to be the infamous Fenrir Greyback…'

"…about the Montgomery boy, we could only assume…"

Tonks' voice broke, only to return forcefully as she twisted his lapels in her white-knuckled fists, "No one knew where you were! I went to the school! I went looking for Dumbledore, because I was frantic not knowing whether you were hurt or…or dead…or captured…And all I could think was that he'd put you in danger, and that you felt like a failure…"

She seemed to shrink slightly as her gaze turned inward. "…because of me."

But the guilt clouding her eyes was almost instantly dispelled by a sudden, accusatory flash as her grip on his coat tightened. "Good job I couldn't find him, since you're the one who made me go mad with worry! Merlin, Remus, how could you?"

Dizzied by her rapid speech, Remus found his mind unable to move beyond the first question. Why hadn't he sent word that he was all right?

Because he had not been all right.

He is naked in the woods in winter, but fire consumes him within as he retches on the forest floor. There is nothing inside him, nothing except a foraged –

stolen

rotten potato, but he cannot stop vomiting.

He was not all right.

Empty. His belly is empty.

He never would be all right again.

Trembling, he heaves.

There is nothing. His body wants to purge itself even of nothing.

If he ever had been at all.

Nothing. Empty.

"I'm sorry," Tonks' subdued voice prised gently into his thoughts. One of her hands moved to brush his scraggly fringe out of his face. "God, Remus, I'm sorry. You've been to hell and back, and I—"

"Don't." Remus shrugged away from her touch. "I don't want your pity."

Tonks' hands fell to her sides, but the look on her face was far from defeated. "I've never pitied you. I hate how you've suffered—"

"Don't look at me like that."

Remus Lupin was not a creature that deserved human sympathy.

He should have fought to save the boy.

He should have died fighting.

But he could not save, because that impulse was restricted to the human mind. When it counted, he had been a werewolf. And werewolves had no impulse to save.

Selfish bastard. He might as well have carried out the ravaging himself.

"You're looking at me the same way," said Tonks. Deep frown lines etched her face. "And you're hating yourself because I still can't morph."

Remus' shoulders slumped, and his head fell forward. Tonks' arms encircled him again, and this time he could not resist clinging to her. His head slumped against her shoulder. Her collarbone pressed against his gaunt cheek. She was even thinner than the last time he'd seen her.

Yet somehow she felt solid beneath him. She supported him completely.

She was doing her job. Both jobs. Above and beyond the call of duty.

"I am a failure, Nymphadora."

The statement encompassed so many things, and he knew Tonks must be able to guess them.

Did she realise he counted her his greatest failure of all?

Her hands cradled his head, fingers stroked his hair. "Let it go," she whispered.

Dear Merlin, he'd never heard words he wanted to obey more. He turned his head, and his chapped lips just touched the curve of her neck. He felt her pulse fluttering. Her fingers stopped stroking, pulling at his scalp as they tangled in his hair.

He should move. He could not let go of his self-control. He possessed so little as it was, which was one of the reasons he had argued with Arthur and Molly about coming.

Every time he saw her, it became harder to resist, and now…

Sickeningly sweet, a tang pricks the wolf's sense of smell. Tail bristles. Hackles rise, as the scent of blood wafts and curls into his nostrils. He salivates.

…now he was thoroughly dehumanised.

It would be so easy to go looking for himself – if any of himself as he once had been remained – in her.

A single paw lifts off the ground. Join them.

But the next thing he knew, he was in Tonks' room at the Hog's Head Inn. His coat hung on a peg by the door. He sat on the edge of her bed.

"Earl Grey, two lumps, milk," said Tonks, offering him a steaming cup.

Remus blinked.

"I haven't forgotten your favourite tea," she stated, "or how you take it."

"Bloody hell, mate, how d'you sit there drinking tea, after the night you just had?" Padfoot asks. "Let me introduce you to my bosom mate, Odgen?"

"Oy!"

"Sorry, Prongs. Shot with Ogden and me, Moony?"

"I prefer the company of Earl Grey, thanks."

"That's Moony," says Prongs. "Quintessential tea-drinking English gentleman."

"Quintessential appreciator of irony," Moony corrects. Padfoot and Prongs gawp at each other, and he explains, "The English consume more tea each year than anybody in the world. It's our national drink, but it's not indigenous to England. It was, in fact, first imported here from China and India in the seventeenth-century."

"Blimey," says Padfoot, pouring Earl Grey for himself and Prongs. "Tea's bleeding new by Wizarding standards. No wonder the Blacks are so fond of their sodding wine."

"Yet nothing makes me feel more English," Moony replies, mentally adding, "Or more human," and raises his cup. "To irony."

The Earl Grey's aroma was unfamiliar, and Remus did not recognise the warm, smooth weight of the china teacup.

With a scavenged tin can, he dips rancid water from a pool. Just as he lifts the rusty implement to his lips, an arm clad in a sleeve even thinner and more ragged than his own swings into his peripheral.

Throbbing cheekbone. Torn mouth. Sodden shirt. Empty hand.

"Bloody wizard airs and graces," a fellow werewolf sneers, smashing the rusty implement he has knocked from Remus' hand. "Practicing for teatime with Um-bitch?"

"There is no legislation," Remus says through clenched teeth, resisting the itch in his fingers to reach for his wand and instead touching them to his split lip, mingling blood and grime, "that prohibits lycathropes drinking from cups."

"Piss off, ponce!" The other cuffs him again.

Choking, and sickened by the taste of blood, Remus squats on the ground and laps water from his own filthy palms.

He will have to learn to fight…

"I somehow doubt Aberforth stocks the rooms here with Earl Grey," Remus said.

Tonks sank beside him on the creaky mattress with her own cup of tea. "This is leftover from when you lived with me."

"Don't—"

She glared. "I drink it sometimes – and don't look at me like I'm pathetic."

"You always called it weak and flavourless."

Their gazes locked in a duel of wills, then Tonks' eyes dropped to her steaming cup. There was the faintest tinge of pink in her cheeks.

"I think of you when I drink it," she said. "Always with your books and your tea. The English gentleman, who somehow fell for me."

Looping his fingers awkwardly through the delicate handle, Remus raised the cup to his mouth. His hand trembled, and he sloshed tea onto his jumper.

Holding the cup in both hands, he tried again.

He scalded his tongue.

"Earl Grey comes from India," Remus said. "It is not English at all."

Out the corner of his eye, he saw Tonks' forehead wrinkle in the expression she wore when Metamorphosing.

Only Tonks was not Metamorphosing now.

She could not do.

His fault.

She was troubled. Always troubled these days. She had enough trouble without adding him to the mix. Her knuckles were very white as she clutched her teacup.

"Talk to me, Remus. Tell me." Pleading, impossibly deep eyes darted up to him. "Share it with me."

Could he share the desires he had recently felt with anyone, least of all her? Was there a gentlemanly way – she still bizarrely thought he was a gentleman after all – to tell her about the flashes of memory, obtained he supposed, by Wolfsbane Potion lingering in his system, or some measure of control which he trusted no more than he trusted Fenrir Greyback – which came to him if he closed his eyes?

Feathers swirl about the ransacked room, settling like snowflakes on the floor and furniture. He's seen this before. A boy's room, during a fight – a playful fight, roughhousing – with pillows.

Maybe he's done this, in some other life, with human mates?

The child shrieks…

but not with laughter.

Smashed furniture and shredded bloodstained sheets are not part of pillow fights.

Blood. So much blood.

Sweet, young blood.

The wolf's mouth opens. The salivating tongue lolls out.

A paw takes one step toward the bed.

"No." Suddenly overwhelmed by awareness of sitting on her bed, with her, he leapt to his feet.

Near the bed, the thick odour of blood turns the wolf's stomach.

He runs.

"No?" She grabbed his hand and tried to pull him down beside her again.

He awakens, alone and retching and naked, and is ashamed. Too ashamed – and too weak – to cast his Patronus so that the Order will know where to find him.

He does not want to be found.

He is lost.

"I don't remember," he said.

Thick silence, then her low voice: "You're lying."

He jerked his hand away. He almost wished he had no control whatsoever, so he would not remember at all, so he would not have to lie to her.

"It comes in flashes," he admitted. "I will not share them with you."

God, how could she expect it? They could not even discuss as innocuous a topic as tea without tension underlying every word.

For an instant her eyes flashed fire, but it was extinguished by mist. "Remus, please. I want to help—"

She had reached for him again, and as he dodged, the teacup slipped from his grasp and shattered on the floor.

"Damn it, Tonks…"

Remus bent to deal with the mess, but Tonks had already drawn her wand and swept away it away, along with her own un-drunk cup of tea. She gazed steadily at him.

"Haven't I taken enough from you?" he asked, straightening stiffly.

"Yeah. You have. But now I'm asking you to give to me."

He turned away. "I have burdens, Tonks. Not gifts."

Remus ignored her stare, her heavy sigh, and searched the room – uncharacteristically tidy, with the bed made – for an alternate place to sit.

His eyes settled on the door, and his pulse raced.

He really ought to leave. Molly and Arthur had sent him to show Tonks he was all right…She had seen him. He had nothing left to do here.

Except apologise – for frightening her.

And for how he'd treated her just now.

The cubby-hole of the room had two chairs. Both were piled high with books and parchment. Probably because the table was strewn with a cauldron and ingredients for a potion. A familiar odour wafted from the steaming brew.

Oh come and stir my cauldron…

"You are still learning to brew Wolfsbane Potion, then," he said hoarsely, a lump lodging in his throat.

And if you do it right…

It had been her birthday gift to him last year, her intent to learn the art of brewing the potion so he would not have to depend on imperfect brews from Knockturn Alley apothecaries.

I'll boil you up some hot, strong love…

Because she wanted to marry him. Because she thought a wife would do that for her husband.

to keep you warm tonight.

As if brewing a potion to tame a husband-turned-monster was a perfectly normal wifely duty.

"I told you to stop," he said.

"I lacked certain necessary qualities to be a prefect," Tonks replied. "Obeying orders I don't like was one of them. Especially when the person giving them wasn't an authority figure."

"You're wasting your time and your money."

The bed screeched and creaked as she stood, and her heavy shoes scraped against the floor as she stepped around him to check the contents of the bubbling cauldron. "I've got it now."

Surprised that she had not rejoined with something about him being worth every Knut, Sickle, and Galleon – and even more startled at the steadiness of her response to what he knew had to have rankled her – he turned to see a ghost of a smile flicker across her haggard face.

"Snape can't find a single fault with it," Tonks continued, mouth twisting wryly as she turned to him expectantly. Her eyes, however, looked grey, as though she had erected a self-protective wall. "Except that he's still not a member of your fan club, and he gets off on mocking me for loving a werewolf."

Remus should have praised her for mastering one of the most complicated potions known to Wizardkind. He should have lavished her with grateful affection for thinking of him, for not giving up. Snape had no doubt made Tonks miserable…

"Please…Please no…" whimpers the mother, reaching helplessly for the screaming, bleeding child…

the bleeding child…

Blood is a language the wolf understands.

Snape was right about the unsuitability of Tonks' choice.

"Perhaps I should have taken it this month," said Remus. "Then I'd have had my own mind to stop Greyback."

"It's no good thinking in what ifs. Greyback might have discovered you were a spy and killed you, too."

"Better me than the child."

"Both of you, I said," she ground out. "You both could have been killed."

Maybe it would have been better. For her. Her problem seemed to be that she held onto hope for him. Maybe the finality of death—

"You can start the Wolsfbane regimen again, can't you?" her voice broke in, tremulous with hope. "I mean – you won't be going underground again?"

Remus' eyes bent. He could resume his mission. His cover was not destroyed, even though he had run from the attack instead of participating.

But Dumbledore had declared an end to it. Remus had done all he could, but now was needed elsewhere.

He had failed.

"Show me what you got there – a Sickle to your sodding name, a decent looking bird what ain't afraid of fur and fangs, a bloody scrap of damn pride…maybe I'll think about listening…"

"I could not convince a single one that there is a life for us here."

Cold fingers wrapped tentatively around his. Remus did not close his over them, but he did not pull away.

"They've bought into Voldemort's empty promises," Tonks said softly.

"This world is not for us. I could not argue a point I no longer believe."

Tonks inhaled sharply, and Remus cursed himself for his careless speech. He had not meant to voice those thoughts, those bitter, hopeless thoughts that were best kept to himself.

Grip tightening on his hand, Tonks' robes rustled against his trousers as she moved to stand impossibly close to him. The strong fingers of her free hand caught his chin and drew him to look at her. Remus could not avoid her piercing gaze, even though he knew she would read in his eyes every implication and unspoken word.

He was utterly naked.

"This world is for you," Tonks said firmly. "I am for you."

Her hand opened, and she slid her palm over his unshaven cheek; the other released his hand and caressed his neck.

Against his will, Remus tilted his face down toward hers, gaze dropping from her dark eyes – dear Merlin, they were so soft now, and shining, touching him as tenderly as her hands did – to settle on her mouth, the full, sweet lips he had not felt in months.

Claws click on the hardwood floor as the wolf puts another paw forward.

God – how could he resist?

She knew what he was, knew what he wasn't, yet still wanted him to kiss her.

"You're too good for me." There was no conviction in his voice. His hands settled on her waist, fitting perfectly in the curves of her hipbones.

"I love you," Tonks murmured, so close he could feel her breath. Her fingers traced hypnotic, soothing patterns on his skin. "You haven't failed with me."

Was she a Legilimens?

Her lips were a hair's breadth from his chin as she said, "This is one thing you can go back and try again."

He kissed her.

Run away, you damn selfish monster. Run now, before you damage—

Her sigh, her whisper of his name as she pulled back briefly before coming back more insistently, opening to him, silenced his conscience.

Remus held her face in his hands, stroking the soft skin at the curve of her jaw, and her arms twined around his neck as she tangled her fingers in his hair. She wanted this – wanted him. She was pressing herself – oh God, her small, lithe body – closer to him.

Desire surged, ignited by months of dreams and unfulfilled longing; and before that even, the interruption as they had finally been at the brink of consummating their relationship. The strength of his response would have alarmed him, if the heat of her mouth, the darting of her tongue had not communicated that she felt exactly as he did: she, too, had dreamed and longed.

For him.

He could never hurt her.

He realised how desperately they were kissing and pulled his mouth from hers. She made a sound of protest, but it died as his lips feathered her neck with kisses.

Needy, intense as his instincts were, he found it no hardship to hold back – indeed, there was something intoxicating about it, especially the way she was dragging her fingernails along his scalp – as he eased her gently down onto the bed. There was no question that their kisses were leading to much more, and he must not allow fraught circumstances to dictate their path.

He could do this properly, for her.

Lowering himself onto the bed, stretching his longer frame next to hers, lying on his side, he cupped her heart-shaped face, beautifully flushed, and trailed kisses across her high cheekbone. It had been so long, but he remembered all the sensitive spots he had used to love to kiss, that she had loved for him to kiss. When he tentatively draped a leg over her, she murmured his name again and curled into him.

Nymphadora Tonks needed him. Remus' hand slid down her neck and shoulder, stopping to rest on her hip as their legs tangled together. She needed him, and he could satisfy.

He loved her, and could never hurt her.

She kissed him more eagerly as he rolled her onto her back, propping himself on his elbows to hold his weight off her frame. He was the one saying her name between kisses when her hands found their way under his jumper, callused fingertips tracing his skin and sending delightful shivers up his spine. The swell of her chest against him drew his attention to the gently rounded fabric of her robes beneath his palms.

But apparently his wandering hands had not put her off in the least; her legs parted, inviting him to rest his full weight on her, and she was tugging at his jumper.

Reluctant only because he was forced to momentarily leave the warmth of her body, Remus sat up and peeled off his jumper. He was a human wizard, and Tonks knew he would work magic upon her body.

His hands hovered over Tonks' buttons in a self-conscious moment when he saw her brows slant sharply and knit together. Following her gaze, he glanced downward at himself. He was alarmingly thin. His collarbones and ribs jutted more noticeably than he'd realised; baggy jumpers hid a lot from Molly's appraising eye.

But happiness bloomed again on Tonks' face as she sat up. She wrapped her legs around his waist, drawing herself into his lap. Remus' eyes fluttered closed as her hands slid over his chest, but he opened them in time to see her pink, swollen lips part as she tilted her face up to kiss his jaw with an urgency that matched the flash of desire he'd caught her eyes.

"You're making this difficult," he said huskily, fumbling with the closures of her robes.

"Want me to stop?" she asked against his throat.

"Stop, please…"

"Merlin, no."

Remus was still a man. Tonks' lips and tongue were treating his collarbone as though it were delicious to her. It was to him. Yes, he was a man, and this woman wanted him as a lover.

Sliding her now unbuttoned robes over her arms, he smiled at the contrast of her red bra and knickers with her fair skin.

"Underwear to match your Auror uniform, hmm?" he whispered in her ear as he laid her down again.

He stretched over her, dipping his head to give attention to her thus far ignored cleavage – but he was thwarted by a quiver of laughter that tightened her lower muscles excitingly, and made him look up with her with an arched eyebrow.

"Socks match, too," she giggled.

He glanced over his shoulder; sure enough, at the end of her fit legs, extending from the tops of her sturdy boots to the bottoms of her knees were a pair of red striped socks. He chuckled.

"I'd have worn something sexier if I'd known we'd end up doing this," she said, just a touch of sheepishness in her voice. "Fishnet stockings and stilettos, maybe."

"To patrol Hogwarts?" Remus asked, shifting on the bed so that he could reach her feet.

"Don't you think I'd be rather dangerous in stilettos?"

He opened his mouth with a ready quip, but Tonks' head fell back on the pillows. "Don't you dare say I'd be a danger to myself. Even if it's true."

Their laughter mingled, making it difficult for Remus to untie her shoelaces, or to restrain himself from abandoning the task in favour of returning to the matter at hand.

They'd found their old bantering ways. After all the horrid awkwardness of even their small talk being restrained and weighed down with anger, they'd got back to where they used to be.

It was heady, and so freeing to let his mind wander into such frivolous problems as Tonks' ability to maintain her balance in a pair of high-heeled shoes. This was exactly the sort of hilariously ridiculous thing that should happen to them during foreplay. He had always imagined their first encounter being as relaxed and fun as it was romantic.

Even in his nightmares, it began joyously.

His hands faltered with the laces as hazy images from his dreams – brown-haired Tonks, heart-broken, victimised – loomed, spectral, in his mind's eye.

But no – this was no nightmare, or even a dream, unreal as it felt. He forced his fingers back into action; a second later her boots clunked to the floor and, after kicking off his own shoes, he made swift work of her socks so he could lavish this young woman – God, she was so beautiful when she laughed, whether her hair was brown or any other colour – with the love and affection she deserved.

Which she asked for.

From him.

How could he have given her up, this remarkable witch who hoped for him, who had filled lonely hours learning to brew a potion because she believed he could come home and live once more among wizards?

That he could live with her.

He'd been a fool – but he wasn't such a fool that he would refuse the heart she offered again, as fully and freely as always.

Lifting her bare foot, he lowered his head and pressed his lips to her ankle. She was still laughing, but it changed when he trailed kisses up her legs and lingered at the back of her knee. He loved the breathy sound that evoked similar low chuckles from him. He kissed her a little more intently as he stretched over her, working his way up her lean thighs.

He would make her hair go pink again. She believed he could.

"Remus…" Her hands pressed over his as he traced her hipbones whilst his mouth continued its work a bit lower down.

He raised his eyes, but didn't remove his lips from her skin. She smiled hazily, with glazed eyes. Encouraged, Remus went back to kissing. At every gasp and squirm and utterance of his name, he became more deliberate, even as it became increasingly difficult to maintain this tantalising pace.

But he was determined to do this properly.

He could give pleasure, and not prey.

"Remus…" Her legs shifted to nudge him upward, and her hands, still covering his, pulled them upward, over the dip of her taut stomach and the ridge of ribcage – Merlin, the feel of her, every angle and curve and inch he'd missed – toward her breasts. "Please…"

He froze.

"Please, please no…"

Human speech makes no more sense to the wolf than the squawking of a bird, but he recognises eyes narrowed in hatred, lips curled in revulsion.

The wolf snarls.

"Nymphadora," he groaned, searching her eyes. They shone with joy and trust. Her lips parted with expectation.

Settling himself once more against the cradle of her thighs, he kissed her, revelling in the heat radiating from the curves around which he cupped his hands. There was a trail of warmth as one hand slid over her side, slipping under her back. Fingers trembling with excitement unfastened her bra. Her shoulders warmed his fingers as he slid the straps down and kissed the soft, flushed skin he slowly revealed.

"Remus…" She arched into him. "Please…"

"Please, please no. My little Teddy's innocent. It's me you want. Please…"

"Please, Remus…"

Remus fell back from Tonks like a man burned.

"I can't."

Heat seared through him, no longer desire, but shame. What in Merlin's name had he done?

Dizzy and breathless, Tonks sat up, and her bra slipped off completely. Before Remus, his lungs heaving for air in time with hers, darted his gaze away from her nakedness, he caught a glimpse of her face. It was more pallid than he had ever seen it as the flush of passion drained away and huge eyes blinked uncomprehendingly. Her hair, too, now suddenly lying limp against her head, seemed to have gone mousier.

How could he have thought his kisses had the power to change it? He was a selfish bastard, using her to feel like a man, to mend his shattered ego. It might have felt right at the moment, but in the morning he would have woken and realised that the laughter had only temporarily drowned out a cry of desperation.

"I'm sorry." His voice hitched as he rose shakily from the bed. He found his jumper crumpled among the dishevelled bedclothes and turned his back to her, taking the few steps to the door as he pulled it on. "You deserve better." He stepped into his shoes without bothering to tie them. "Forgive me."

Rustling and creaking indicating she was getting up. "Do you still love me, Remus?" she asked, voice hoarse and high-pitched.

Hand on the doorknob, his head bowed and his shoulders hunched as if her words had taken physical form and settled as heavily upon his shoulders as a pair of Thestrals. If only he had never answered that question the first time she asked it, last summer in St. Mungo's, he could have spared her this heartbreak.

"Answer me, Remus." Her voice was steady. Bare feet scuffed on the rough planks of the floor, bringing her to stand behind him. "Look at me."

Remus released the doorknob, noting the smudge his sweaty fingers left on the tarnished brass. He turned, slowly, to face her. He did not lift his head, but his eyes darted up just slightly that he saw Tonks had donned her bra again, and slung her robes over her shoulders, though she had not fastened them.

"Look at me," she repeated.

Without further hesitation Remus obeyed, not because of any authority in her tone, but because the shaky note was conspicuously absent. It was unlike her to be in such control of her emotions at times likes these.

Then again, he had never put her through anything quite like this.

"Do you love me?" she asked again.

Her cheekbones made her eyes look so sunken; the hollows beneath were deep and dark. She was tired, too tired now to fight. Tonks needed something to hold on to.

Just as he needed affirmation of his humanity, she needed affirmation of his love.

Why? Couldn't she see by now, after he'd rejected her in the worst possible way, that his love did nothing for her? The reality of the thing was that I love you would not make her Metamorphose again any more than engaging in the human act of love meant Remus was one.

And it would not have been a human act, anyway. It would have been monstrously selfish. Thank God he had stopped himself. The weight of guilt was not as great as it might have been.

Wouldn't it be just as selfish to give her false comfort by speaking words she wanted to hear?

Yet even as he backed against the door, Remus heard himself blurt, "I love you. More than ever."

At the blaze in Tonks' eyes, he scrambled to regain control of himself. She stepped toward him, but he held out a restraining hand.

"There is no hope for us, Tonks. I am a broken man. There is nothing left. Nothing."

For an instant, Tonks' features were lined in the familiar expression of sorrow and compassion and hurt she wore whenever he expressed hopelessness about his situation, though more acutely so than he had seen before. But then her eyes went unnaturally bright, and Remus knew he must leave before she troubled to find words to reach him.

He could not be reached.

"Please don't go," she said as he grabbed his coat, tearing it as it caught on the hook, and fumbled for the doorknob.

Without turning to her, he said, "I do not belong here."

In a single motion he turned the knob, slipped into the corridor, and Disapparated, before the werewolf could steal, kill, or destroy more than it already had.

The End


A/N: Yes, this is the darkest R/T fic I've ever written. The bad news is, we're three to four (don't hold me to those numbers; fiction doesn't tend to take much heed of mathematical estimates) fics away from the Post-Hospital fic yet, which means you'll have to soldier through a little more angst with Remus and Tonks. The good news is, this is as dark as it gets. At least as far as the current plan indicates.

Many thanks to you all for your continued support of the Transfigured Hearts series, and for your reviews of the previous fic. Those of you who comment on this one (it's awfully hard to come up with a bribe after something this serious) will be cheered up with a flashback-free Remus who will joke with you as he helps you off with your shoes and socks, or a husky-voiced Remus who will let you try to fluster him with kisses as he tries to unbutton things.