"Dammit!" Tonks hissed through her teeth as her knees hit the floor -- hard. "Bloody shoes!"
She slapped her palm on the old parquet flooring that badly needed refinishing, blinking against the sting that had tortured her eyes -- but which she'd refused to give in to -- all day.
"Dammit, Tonks!" She gritted her teeth. "Why can't you ever put anything aw--?"
"I'm sorry," came Remus' hoarse voice from across the lounge.
Tonks flicked her eyes up to see him rising from the small, cluttered desk in front of the window. Gingerly rocking back off her knees, which were sure to sport a pair of great ugly bruises, Tonks' gaze fell on the shoes that had tripped her up in the doorway of her flat: Remus' battered, but carefully polished, brown Oxfords.
"I'm sorry," he repeated, offering her a hand up. "I was reading an owl from Dumbledore when I came in, and I apparently took them off without realising…"
The instant Remus' warm fingers closed firmly around hers, she burst into tears.
His grip faltered briefly as he gave a little start, but tightened again so he could hoist her to her feet. "Nymphadora, what--?"
"Don't call me that!" Tonks sniffed, drew a deep breath, reined in the unwanted bout of emotion--
--only to have another sob heave itself from her lungs. Damn. She couldn't stop herself crying.
Remus' arms went around her. He held her tightly against his chest; one hand cradled her head. He kissed her hair -- which was so ugly today, Tonks thought; much shorter than she normally wore it. But try as she might, she hadn't been able to make it longer, not with the image of Amelia Bones, so still and grey and...dead,emblazoned in her mind's eye.
Somehow, without her really being aware of it till they were reclining, Remus had guided her to the settee and pulled her down so that she lay against his chest.
He'd held her this way a lot lately. It was becoming too frequent an occurrence, to be honest. This was the first time she'd cried, though -- at least in front of him. Tonks wasn't a crier, she never had been--
-- but then she'd also never faced the deaths of colleagues...friends...in such rapid succession as Sirius, Emmeline, Amelia…
The damn Dementors everywhere weren't making it any easier to soldier on.
But as Tonks battled for control, she realised Remus had never held her quite like this. There were no soothing whispers, no fingers tracing calming patterns over her back. He was holding her tightly -- so very tightly - and making it even harder to breathe than this whole suffocating mess was already.
It wasn't a comforting touch.
"Your jumper…" With a deep breath, Tonks sucked in her emotions and pushed up from his chest. Twin black blots stained the loose-knit grey fabric. "My mascara…"
"Nothing a stain-removing charm won't mend," said Remus, starting to pull her against him again -- but Tonks resisted. She wanted to look into his face and read why his embrace was insistent, his voice strained.
She barely resisted a gasp as she took him in.
Ordinarily Remus' eyes were so bright, creased at the corners with smile lines, peering mischievously from under his fringe. It was easy for Tonks to forget, even with the reminder of his greying hair, that Remus was fourteen years her senior. Now he looked his age -- which wasn't old at all, some part of her insisted...but the day's growth of beard marked deep fatigue, and made him seem grey all over; the sparkle's absence from his blue eyes faded them.
Tonks glanced at the desk where he'd been working before she tumbled through the door. It was littered with Daily Prophets, thick old tomes, sheaves of parchment, quills, inkbottles. Remus was as strung out with the Order's end of the recent chaos as she was with the Ministry's.
And he was only two days from the full moon.
"I'm sorry," Tonks said. She laid her head against his chest again, giving in to his embrace, even though it was too tight.
"It's only a jumper, Tonks."
"No, I mean…I'm sorry I got so worked up. I know I'm not the only one having a rough go of it. It's just…" Her eyes wandered back to the door, to Remus' shoes that she'd tripped over, and her bag that had spilt as she tumbled. "…I keep getting tripped up at every turn. Amelia…"
She screwed her eyes shut. Remus shifted, turning them onto their sides. It was such a protective position, with the sofa cushions against her back, and Remus' warmth at her front. He slid one knee between hers, tangling their legs tangled together. His worn jumper was so soft on her cheek as he held her head to his chest. The steady rhythm of his heart had a hypnotic effect; the rumble in his chest as he spoke was so soothing that Tonks almost didn't care what he was saying.
"I know," he murmured.
She did care, very much, to hear that.
Sliding her hands under his arms, Tonks tucked herself more snugly under his chin, and Remus spoke again.
"When people who support us…" His tight voice paused, and Tonks felt his heart quicken against her. "The people who we think will always be here…"
He hesitated again, then shook his head slightly. His fringe tickled her forehead. "I know," he repeated.
Tonks wondered for a moment what he'd been about to say, and why he'd decided not to. Before she could ask, Remus' hand slid from the back of her head, the heel of his palm and pads of his fingertips so light across her cheek, and cupped her chin to tilt her face up to his.
She was a bit surprised, considering how he'd looked a moment ago. Light had returned to his eyes once more, and his gaze burned into hers before flickering down to her mouth. His thumb traced her bottom lip. The touch was almost like a kiss -- a gentle, slightly teasing one, that made Tonks crave his mouth. As though fully aware of how he was making her feel, Remus pressed his lips to hers.
It was the slow, warmglide of his mouth that always made her feel as though he were melting her from the inside out, and made her want to make him feel the same way. Between her injury, the fallout from Sirius' death, Emmeline's death, the Brockdale Bridge, Amelia's death, they'd had little time lately for anything more than these kisses.
There was so much to melt through now, before it could reach her.
Remus slipped his knee to rest over her thigh; his fingers trailed down the curve of her neck and breast before he slipped them inside her robes and under the hem of her shirt. His lips still opened and closed softly on hers, but the kiss was more intent now, his tongue coaxing her to open to him. Tonks responded, rubbing her fingers along his stubbly chin and cheek and up to his hairline. His hand drifted up to her breast again.
At his low sound of pleasure, Tonks realised she was not sighing or moaning softly as she usually did as his fingers worked their magic over her body. His index finger was tracing the sensitive skin along the edge of her bra in a way she usually found tantalising; his lips had left her mouth to leave a searing trail of kisses down her throat toward the unbuttoned neck of her shirt.
But she didn't feel it.
She wanted to feel it. She wanted to be engaged in the physical comfort Remus offered, wanted to lose herself in this intimate moment -- they were so few and far between these days. She caught his face between her hands and kissed him deeply. With another sound of approval, Remus shifted to straddle her body, rolling her onto her back.
Tonks did feel that. She loved his weight on her, pressing her into the flimsy sofa cushions. The power and passion of it didn't quite match his mild exterior and had taken her so pleasantly by surprise the first time they'd kissed like this.
Except she wasn't sure they'd ever kissed quite like this.
Private a man as Remus could be, he'd never been tentative about showing her his desire. But this was more than desire. There was a raw emotion in these kisses, an intense need.
What had Remus not said?
Was it about the war?
Whatever the need was, Tonks didn't feel at all up to meeting it.
She slid a hand down to rest against his chest. She intended to push him away, but he pressed into her, kissing with a greater urgency.
He needed her.
Tonks had to at least try to meet that need. Remus deserved that much from her.
It wasn't her way to give up without trying. It would be good for her to think about something other than her own troubles.
Even if the alternative was to think about someone else's troubles.
She traced patterns on his jumper, taking in the gentle rise of his chest, the contours of his collarbones, beneath his jumper. Sliding her hands up to his narrow shoulders, they lingered again at the curve of his neck, revelling in the rapid beat of his pulse. It was pounding for her.
Feeling a corresponding surge of energy within her own body, Tonks pulled her mouth away just enough to tease Remus' lips with her tongue, just as he liked. His mouth curved in a smile, and when she parted her knees, inviting him to settling more fully against her, he gave another low moan and tangled his fingers in her hair.
But her hair wasn't long enough for fingers to tangle in it.
Abruptly, Tonks tore her mouth from his and clutched at her hair. Sure enough, the close-cropped locks had lengthened. They were still too short for her to see the colour, but apparently they'd gone something closer to the length she preferred.
"You changed it," said Remus huskily, smiling as he let her hair slide between his fingers.
"What colour?" It had been Tonks' natural black all day, but boyishly short--
--the hairstyle Amelia Bones always had worn.
Remus' smile fell. A crease formed between his eyebrows, and slowly spread across his forehead. "You didn't morph intentionally?"
Glancing down, Tonks shook her head. "I've had trouble controlling it."
Remus' frown deepened as he pushed up onto his elbows.
"It used to do this when I was a moody teenager," Tonks said quickly, tugging at his jumper to keep him from sitting up. Flashing a grin she didn't feel, she rolled her hips up into his.
Remus inhaled sharply and bit his lip.
"C'mon," Tonks whispered, stretching up to kiss his earlobe. "I'll bet you can make me go pink."
Remus' eyes fluttered closed as Tonks worked her way from his ear to his jaw, progressing back toward his mouth. Just as he reached it, Remus turned his head, and she only grazed the corner of his mouth.
Tonks pulled back. His eyes were shut, the expression on his face one of intense concentration.
He was bringing himself back under control.
He opened his eyes, and the haze of pleasure gone. The blue had dulled again, and the fatigue returned.
"This isn't what you need right now," he said.
"No…" Tonks reached for his collar, and undid the button above the v-neck of his jumper. "I want to…It's what you need."
Remus shook his head, smiling faintly, and brushed a bit of fringe back from her forehead. "Not if we're not in the same place."
"I think we are in the same place." Tonks sighed heavily, and Remus rolled off of her so that they lay facing each other on the sofa once more. "I think that's the problem."
Remus' eyes flicked away.
"I'm sorry," Tonks whispered, gaze dropping to the sofa cushion between them.
Immediately Remus' gaze locked on her again, drawing hers to meet it. He looked so tenderly at her, and he covered her hand with his. "You don't need to apologise. You've just recovered from a serious injury, and you're under tremendous stress." His thumb scuffed her knuckles, and his voice became quieter. "You're entitled to not be in the mood."
Their fingers curled together as he leant in to brush his lips across her forehead. Tonks heard herself utter a very soft thank you, though her stomach twisted sickly that she'd actually made that admission. He needed her. It was plain in his troubled eyes.
"Maybe later," Tonks said.
Remus sat up, stretched and rubbed his hand over his cheek and chin, which were just shadowed with the traces of his beard coming in. He looked at her levelly. "Do you know what we need?"
"To catch all these sodding Death Eaters so we can have lots of uninterrupted sex?"
Grinning, Remus swung his feet to the floor and stood. "A date."
"You want to go out?"
"It's been far too long since I took you to dinner." Smile faltering, Remus raised a hand to play with the hair at his nape. He went on, quietly, "I just thought it might be good for us to get out and be around normal people, who aren't soldiering, and have a drink. But if you'd rather--"
"I wouldn't," Tonks interrupted. Remus stepped back to avoid getting his toes stomped on as she got up. She pecked his lips. "It's a good idea. Just give me ten minutes to get cleaned up?"
When Tonks went into the bathroom, she was gobsmacked to look in the mirror and see that her hair had not only grown, but had gone the same light, greying brown as Remus'
No wonder he'd looked troubled.
To be continued...
A/N: A different approach to Tonks' morphing issues and the beginning of the end of the relationship than I've taken before, but it's an angle I've wanted to explore for some time.
I'd love to know your thoughts about it -- as incentive, reviewers get to choose from several Remuses to help wind you down after a stressful day: intuitive Remus, who's waiting with wine and a bubble bath to take your mind off it completely; sexy Remus, who wants to kiss your troubles goodbye; or sensitive Remus, who knows there are some things kisses can't fix and wants tackle the root of things by talking it out over dinner (i.e., wining and dining Remus).