A/N: Angst warning...
The liquid in the phial shimmered, a baleful star come to rest in the darkness of her kitchen. She sat on the edge of her chair, chin cushioned on her forearms and weeping softly as the luminous bottle regarded her with brutal indifference.
How had things gone so wrong? Why had her life become so complicated? It used to be so easy, so simple, with him. They'd loved each other. What else could they possibly want?
She was so sick of this. Too many emotions seethed inside her; it was a wonder she could contain them all without physically being ripped apart. 'I need him' warred with 'He doesn't want me' wrestled with 'But I know he still loves me.' All of them were ultimately silenced by 'This can't go on. It has to stop.'
"Just make it stop," she moaned aloud. Painful, wracking sobs took hold, and she slithered out of the chair to the floor, curling up to cry out her despair to the tiny bottle on the table. They built in intensity, tearing at her raw throat until she was gasping for air, her lungs unable to sustain her through the terrible paroxysms of grief.
Merciful oblivion beckoned a finger, and she fell into its waiting arms.
The meeting had already begun when Tonks crept into the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. Some guiding angel carried her from the doorway to the nearest chair without mishap, but her silent wish to enter unobserved went unheard. Almost every eye turned to watch her, welcoming glances shifting to blatant stares at her bloodless complexion.
Arthur rose and took hold of an arm to ease her into the seat. An effort to smile reassuringly up at him resulted only in deepening his frown of concern; it was clear how perilously close she was to breaking down again.
Coming to on her kitchen floor had been terrifying; her first reaction had been a soul-deep regret over waking at all. In that instant before the shroud-like darkness had wrapped itself around her, she'd recognized it, welcomed it. Never before had she entertained the possibility of ending her pain, permanently, and now she found herself shuddering away from the yawning chasm that opened up before her at the whispered suggestion in her mind.
A clatter of chairs roused her from her stupor; she'd daydreamed through the entire meeting. Daydreamed? Nightmared would be a more accurate description. Her empty gaze drifted aimlessly over the Order members now rising to leave, coming to a halt only when it encountered him.
He was standing a little way off, quietly holding a private conference with Arthur but flicking worried glances in her direction. Her jaw clenched against a rising tide of bile and she turned away, clutching her bag to her chest.
Somehow through the panic of recalling her obligations here tonight, she'd managed to grab the bottle off the table and thrust it into the purse, blearily latching onto one thought: the potion spelled out her salvation from this hell. She wouldn't contemplate her actions further than that.
Just make it stop.
The last few people remaining pushed through the door; Remus had walked out with Moody sometime earlier. She staggered to her feet before she could lose her nerve, and reaching the cupboards grabbed the first glass in reach. Her hands feverishly searched through her bag; now grasping the phial; now pouring some of the contents into the waiting cup; now raising it to her lips and tossing the bitter liquid back.
No going back now, she thought, wondering how this was going to end. And then she was weeping again.
Remus found her sometime later, shivering on the floor beside the cabinets. He'd wearily accepted that she'd stayed, resigning himself to the inevitable argument, but he hadn't expected this. His eyes widened in alarm as he took in the tremors that shook her too-thin frame, stark white against the darker backdrop of wood.
He crossed the distance in a few long strides and knelt down, making as if to gather her to him, but she reacted suddenly, violently pushing away his reaching arms with a hiss.
She scuttled backward along the wall of cabinet doors. "Get the hell away from me."
He blanched and pulled his hands back to his sides in hurt silence.
She felt a certain amount of grim pleasure in seeing him off-balance for once. Reaching up to take a grip on the counter, she forced her exhausted body to stand and turn, leaving him to stare in confusion at her back. A twinkle on the counter reminded her that the phial still lay in plain sight; trembling fingers closed over the evidence before he could notice and she hid it in the open bag beside her.
"Tonks?" His voice had roughened further over the last six months since he'd gone underground, and now it grated on her raw nerves. She cast an icy stare over her shoulder, effectively cutting off anything else he might have said.
He searched her face, trying to puzzle out this inexplicable behaviour, but his heart stopped when her eyes deadened, her mouth twisting in revulsion. Her expression pierced through him; burning hatred was transforming her beautiful features into something dredged up out of his deepest fears, a monster mask of implacable rejection.
He made no attempt to stop her when she walked out the door.
The desperate plea stopped her hand on the front door handle. He'd thrown himself up the kitchen stairs and come hurtling through the hallway before even registering the fact that he'd risen, and now he was again confronted with that unforgiving stare. It was so utterly devoid of the warmth he'd always found in her eyes, the love which had dwelt there even when he'd wished it gone. Now its absence produced a searing pain within him that dwarfed the worst transformation he'd ever experienced.
His gaze faltered and dropped to the floor. "Please...don't go like this."
The hammering of his heart was the only sound that met his whispered entreaty. Working up his courage, he lifted apprehensive eyes to meet her midnight dark regard. He tried again. "Don't go."
If her face had been hard before, now it turned to stone.
"What would I stay for, Remus? You?" Apart from the movement of her bloodless lips, she resembled a statue, cold and emotionless.
No, that wasn't quite right, he realized. With her eyes burning, blackened coals that set off her deathly pale visage, she looked more like an angel of death.
"Stay. Go. I love you. I can't be with you." She threw his own words back into his face. "Make up your mind, you pathetic bastard."
"You told me to move on," she viciously overrode him. "You told me to get over you. You told me to stop loving you." Her voice dropped to a cruel whisper. "Be careful what you wish for."
He frantically tried to wrestle down one coherent thought among the legion that screamed through his mind; he latched onto the one that voiced itself the loudest. "So you...don't...love me anymore, then." Immediately wishing it unsaid, he trembled as her mouth opened to answer.
"I hate you."
The three words fell like an executioner's axe, leaving him reeling, searching blindly for a way to escape what was happening. He sank into a crouch, long fingers reaching up to cover his face, as if to shield him from the malevolence directed at him.
She watched him struggle, one side of her enjoying his visible torment, the other desiring nothing more than to leave him there, broken on the floor, as he'd left her too many times since last fall. The latter won, and turning she opened the front door.
The door slammed itself shut, and she whirled around to see Remus half-standing, propped up against the wall with one hand while the other held out his wand.
She sneered at him. "Excuse me?"
"You're not leaving until you tell me what's going on." His wand hand shook as much as his voice, but he didn't lower his arm.
"Remus, you've done nothing but give me lame excuses this whole time, walking out whenever your martyr complex decided to come out and play, and suddenly I'm the one required to give an explanation? Sorry, but I'm done making this easy for you."
"Easy?" he spat out, his thin veneer of control finally cracking. "Yes, you've made this experience one long walk in the park. When have you ever respected or paid any heed to my reasons for ending things? And you went and involved most of our friends as well, turning what should have been a personal matter between the two of us into a three-ring circus, inviting everyone to come and gawk at the spectacle." He took in a ragged breath. "I realize I never should have let myself get attached in the first place, but-"
"Dear God, will you for once let go of that? No one fucking cares that you're a werewolf, or that you haven't got two sickles to rub together. The only one who's ever given a damn whatsoever about that was you." She savagely scrubbed her fingers through her hair. "Damn it, I told you, I'm not doing this anymore. You want me gone? Fine, I'm leaving. I'll find some pretty rich boy to take care of me just like you want, someone who will buy me fancy gifts and screw me senseless, and you can take your scrawny ass and find a hole to crawl down, somewhere deep enough where your nasty lycan instincts won't hurt the people you claim to love."
He flinched as the caustic words burned into him like acid.
"Now open the door."
"Not until you tell me what's wrong with you," he stubbornly insisted. "Something isn't right. This isn't you."
She angrily abandoned her spot at the door and stalked past him, heading for the drawing room. A sudden urge to scream at him had arisen, and given her current state of mind, waking the portrait of her aunt would probably end with the whole wall going up in flames.
Part of her expected him to linger in the hallway, avoiding the rest of the confrontation, but he followed almost on her heels. She crossed the length of the room to get away from the feeling of his breath on the back of her neck. Turning, she was glad to find that he'd stopped by the fireplace instead.
"So how is it that suddenly you're the expert on who I am, enough to say that I'm not myself? You're the last person in the world who can make that claim." She stabbed a finger toward him to emphasize her next words. "You don't know me anymore."
He swallowed painfully. "I understand your anger. I deserve that, after everything we've been through. I can even see why you'd hate me, though I won't pretend to be happy about that. I'd hoped that you would move on and perhaps even come to regard me as a friend again."
"Friend?" Her laugh was as dry and barren as a desert. "Why the hell would I consider you a friend now? A friend is someone you like, someone you trust. You honestly think I feel either of those things anymore? I trust you with myself as much as I would with a Death Eater. In fact, there are currently Death Eaters out there who have hurt me far less than you have. So take your offer and shove it up your arse, because it's never going to happen again in your lifetime. Your long, long lifetime. The one that could have included me."
His eyes squeezed shut, blocking out the sight of her hate-filled stare; a hand groped out to find the mantel over the fireplace. He leaned heavily onto the support, looking for all the world like he was fighting back tears.
Good, she thought. He'll have to cry a river to catch up to me.
"I don't know what to do, Tonks. I just want what's best fo-"
"If you finish that sentence, I'm going to kill you." She almost believed she could. "You hypocrite. You bloody fucking coward. This has never been about what's best for me. Just because you've convinced yourself that's the case doesn't make it true. Once, just once, listen to yourself and hear what you're actually saying: that what's best for me is ripping my heart out, throwing it on the floor and walking your big muddy boots across it before telling me to get over it and risk myself on someone else. As if, after experiencing heaven with you, and hell without you, I'd want to put myself in the same position with some other man? And where do you get off telling me to move on, when you've never made great strides in that area yourself?"
"I've tried. I'm trying."
"Really." She'd spied a book on the armchair beside him, something tucked into the pages. She moved to grab the book and flipped through it, knowing what she'd find – a marsh marigold, dried a dark brown now and fragile, but almost perfectly preserved. The sight of it enraged her further – how dare he have a physical reminder of such a happy time when he would deny her everything, even her memories.
She pulled the flower out of its home between the pages and cast the book back toward the chair. The thump made him look up, and she held up the damning evidence. "You call this trying? You're so unbelievably selfish, carrying this around in one hand while shoving me away with the other. You think you're so undeserving. If that's true, then why should you get to keep something so precious?"
"Tonks, no!" The words were desperate, pleading, but it was too late. Her hand has already closed around the delicate thing and ground it to dust.
He rushed over to her and grabbed her hands, roughly forcing them open to spill the shattered petals into his palm. She wrenched her fingers from his, but he was no longer trying to maintain a hold.
He stared heartbrokenly at the remains of the little flower, fingers curling protectively around the destroyed memento.
"You're right," he spoke quietly, somehow betraying none of the anguish that he felt. "I don't know you anymore. Perhaps you should go."
"Fine." She started to turn, and in so doing knocked her bag into the armchair; it slipped off her shoulder, scattering its contents on the floor at Remus' feet.
Muttering a curse, she bent to collect the spilled items. Something drew his attention and he too leaned over, picking up a wrinkled, faded square of parchment; on the back he read, 'Looking for this?'
Sorrow flared to rage in an eye blink. "So you're going to tell me I'm selfish when you've been carrying this around the whole time?" Startled by the sudden rise in volume as he yelled at her, she raised her head to meet his accusing glare.
It took a few moments before she recognized what 'this' was. "Oh, hell...I didn't even remember that was in there. I haven't deliberately kept it or treasured it this whole time like you did with that stupid flower."
"You didn't think it was stupid at the time. You were pleased that I saved it."
"Of course I was!" she shouted. "I was in love with you! Do you even realize what you're doing? You're showing more regret over losing that bloody flower than you do with me! You cling to memories of the past and deny me when I offer you a future. I wish now I'd never taken you to Salisbury."
Remus stirred the crumbled fragments in his palm with a finger, thinking back to when she'd given him the flower. He remembered her saying that the flower was deceptively innocent looking, that it could be used for-
His head snapped up. She couldn't have done, not that. It fit, though – her behaviour tonight was proof enough, wasn't it? But she hadn't been this way the whole time, it was only after he got back to the kitchen...
He pulled out his wand. If she'd taken it here, the bottle would still be around. Looking straight at her as if daring her to stop him, he cast the summoning spell. Hard glass smacked into his arm as the phial flew up from among the miscellanea on the floor. It fell again at his feet, and he picked it up, gaze still locked onto Tonks. He held it up between them to wink in the firelight.
She thrust her chin out, trying to ignore the sudden clenching of her stomach. His eyes bored into hers, demanding her to justify her actions, but she would not. Let him think what he wanted.
Another twist in her gut made her gasp, and her hand moved to her abdomen as the pain shot through. The third one dropped her to her knees.
Remus stared at her. "What's wrong?"
All she could manage was a head shake, her lank, unwashed hair falling into the sweat that now bathed her face.
He sank down beside her, wary of another repulse, but she involuntarily clutched at his arm as waves of intense nausea washed over her. The pain redoubled, and she suddenly knew that her body was rejecting the potion.
Remus too seemed to understand what was happening and conjured a basin on the floor in front of her, supporting her about the middle when she abruptly leaned forward onto her hands and retched violently. The heaving of her stomach gradually quieted after a minute of wracking spasms, and she sank onto the floor, pillowing her head on her forearms.
His arms released their hold and he banished the basin. "Why?" His voice rasped out the question. "Why did you do this?"
"I'm so tired, Remus," she whispered miserably. "I just want this to be over."
"But to go this far... Tonks, this stuff is dangerous, you told me that yourself."
She struggled to push herself up, weakness making her arms shake. "I was trying to do what you wanted. The end justifies the means sometimes."
"You think this is what I wanted?" He reached over to snatch the bottle off the floor and shake it. "For you to poison yourself?"
"I didn't know what else to do! You're killing me, can't you see that?" She was trembling all over now. "All this time, I've fooled myself into thinking that you would come to your senses, but you won't. And I'm sick of it. I'm sick of you. I'm sick of who I am and who you've made me become, not through your love but through your own damn fear." She tried to shift her aching body around to face him, but her limbs refused to obey. "I refuse for one more second to have my life dictated to by a coward. There have been enough casualties in this war, Remus, and you've pushed me so far..." Her voice cracked on the last word.
She felt hollow inside, drained of almost every emotion, even the hatred, and giving in to the demands of her body, sank back to the floor. "I'm so tired, Remus." She closed her eyes.
"I know," he whispered sadly, and this time when he reached to gather her into his arms, she didn't resist him; but neither could she resist the tears that filled her eyes at his gentle touch, spilling from under the lids to course down her pale cheeks.
He brushed them away. "Sleep, Nymphadora,"
She woke the next morning in her own bed. As the promise of a beautiful sun-filled spring morning flooded in the window, she tried to remember how she'd gotten there; the last thing she remembered was Remus softly whispering her name. Remus. She sat up and looked around, but an inner voice told her that he was gone.
A flash of colour caught her eye, and there on the bedside table sat a small yellow flower, as golden and bright as the day outside. She slowly picked up the marsh marigold, fingering the petals that still had tiny droplets of water clinging to the edges.
Not knowing whether to laugh or to cry, she sank back onto the pillow. In the end, she did both.
Heav'n has no rage like love to hatred turn'd, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorn'd. - William Congreve
A/N: Okay, take a deeeeep breath. Deep breath. Count to ten. Think very hard: "I'm not going to stone the writer." Repeat. All right. Now you can leave a review.