It wasn't often that Remus Lupin could be caught very far off his guard. Having once been a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he'd gotten more practice by dealing with students just as clever and reckless as he himself had once been years ago than he'd ever had in working for the Order (though, admittedly, a great deal of that practice had come in defusing the works of pranksters extraordinaire, Fred and George Weasley). He'd spied among underground werewolves, fought Death Eaters on more than one occasion, and even this past summer assisted in the planning and risky implementation of the "Seven Potters" maneuver, for transferring the Boy Who Lived to the safety of the Burrow.

It just happened to be one of those rare occasions when absolutely none of that would do him any sodding good.

Auror Nymphadora Tonks, his wife of about ten months, had been in labor for the past eleven hours.

And he was at a loss for anything to do.

She'd endured his insufferable hovering on top of contractions and trouble breathing for at least seven of said eleven hours before gritting through clenched teeth, "Merlin's pants, you great bleeding git, this is all your fault! The least you could do is pretend to do something about it!"

"But what—?"

The look she shot him screamed the blue murder denied her voice the honor of expressing.

"Boil some fucking water."

Tonks had immediately regretted the suggestion when she realized he'd thought it would actually serve some purpose. "Forget it!" she'd growled when he whipped out his wand, and for the first time since he'd known her, he found himself fearing for his hide.

So here he was, atoning, and doing his best not to wince at the vice grip she had on his hand, when he knew she was feeling twelve thousand times worse at the moment. Every so often between clenching her jaw and squeezing his hand Remus would hear her gasp, never more than the slightest whimper of pain; she was too stubborn to let on how badly it hurt. Regardless, he would smooth back her sweat-soaked pink fringe and she would glare daggers at him, though the tears collecting in her eyes whispered of gratitude.

He was just thankful she hadn't wanted to chase him out of the room. The last couple of months he'd been afraid Tonks would want nothing to do with him when the day finally came for her to give birth. Heavens knew he'd have deserved it for putting her through what he had over the course of their fledgling marriage; it would've been fitting punishment for abandoning her just four or five months ago, and still not enough to make up for the havoc it'd wrought on her heart. Nymphadora was a strong woman, remarkably so, but no one was that strong.

She called for him after some time, a weak, pain-riddled voice breaking the tense silence crackling in the air. "Remus—" Her breath hitched, the sharp inhale hissing through her teeth. "I'm not ready for this—"

He squeezed back the hand wrapped around his, slipping an arm behind her neck. "You have to be," he said, the smile he offered bordering on a grimace, "I don't think we've got a choice."

"I could've—" –hiss-- "bloody told you that!" Tonks gave a watery smile of her own, biting back the pain. "This is all your damn fault, Remus. Next time you're—" –hiss-- "looking to get me in bed with you—" He could see a muscle working in her jaw— "—remember these last eleven hours when I'm hexing you to Spain and back!"

He had no choice but to grin, and kissed her cheek; her skin there was flushed with the effort of catching her breath between contractions. A little humor was definitely in order now. "Your face is starting to clash with your hair, 'Dora love."

"I hate you," she gritted, and squeezed his hand one more time.

Another excruciating six hours later, and Remus Lupin held in his arms the most perfect child he'd ever seen.

Tonks had fallen back against the pillows, the corners of her mouth twitching, laughter spilling from worn-out, dark eyes. He could only imagine how doltish he must've looked sitting beside her, slack-jawed and utterly stunned at the sheer impossibility if it all.

"Well?" she asked.

Merlin, she sounded so tired…But then again, she'd been awake and in pain since two A.M. It was now what would've been past dinner.

"How'd we do?"

The voice that replied sounded dazed even to his own ears. "I'll get back to you when it sinks in…" He whipped his gaze from the sleeping boy before him to Tonks and back again; after so long (he was fourteen years her senior, after all), after having watched James and Lily have a child of their own, Remus still couldn't escape the awe. It was a sweet intoxication filling his every breath, every glance that fell upon the baby, every beat of his heart aching with pride and love and something like relief when he looked back at his wife. The poor, lovely, utterly astonishing girl was exhausted; he couldn't even imagine how she, or any woman for that matter, could endure seventeen hours of such mind-boggling agony. It was certainly a feat he himself would never have survived.

She reached out to lay a hand on his arm. "Let me see him."

Slowly, with a deep reverence he'd never seen before alighting on her face, she let him lay their son in her arms.

For a moment or two he couldn't see her face, couldn't tell what she was thinking as the child's tiny hand wrapped around her finger. He braced an arm around her shoulders, steadying her while she held the baby in her trembling embrace. "'Dora? Are you al—?"

He never got the chance to finish that thought.

"Gods, Remus…" she whispered, stroking their son's cheek with a finger, tracing his wisp of dark hair. "He's so…fragile."

Remus could've sworn there was a trace of…of something like fear threading through the wonder in her words. "How am I going to…I can't…What if I…?"

He pressed a kiss to her temple, hoping she could feel the smile he left against her skin. It was so like her, the brilliant, courageous, scrappy young auror, who'd fought against and beaten everything from dementors to Death Eaters, to worry about her terrible balance at a time like this. A warm laugh vibrated through his chest.

"You won't drop him, love. Trust me."