"Alastor Moody. You're back again," said St. Mungo's Emergency Ward attending. The hefty woman crossed her arms and regarded him sternly.
The auburn-haired Auror glared at her from the hospital bed. "Nurse Ratched. We meet again," he said darkly.
She ignored the slur and clucked her tongue at him. "What is it this time, Moody?" she asked. Near her, a woman in intern-Healer robes set down a thick chart and started the basic diagnostic spells.
"Just a wee run-in with some no-good scalliwags," Alastor grumbled, eyes tracking the blonde as she waved her wand.
"Wee run-in, he says. Scalliwags, he calls them." The matron rolled her eyes, disbelieving, mentally equating 'run-in' with 'battle' and 'scalliwags' with 'Death Eaters.' "So what've we got, Pomfrey?"
The intern started reading off vitals. "And four broken ribs, extensive bruising, and Dark spell-trace."
"Lass has it about right," Alastor said gruffly. "Nothing a little Skelegrow won't fix."
"Let us decide that. Finish up here, Pomfrey. You behave yourself," she ordered Moody sternly.
"Open wide," Poppy told him, waving the Magimometer in his face. He glared. "Gods, she was right. You are a bad patient." She pursed her lips. "Please? I need to get a read on your magical levels."
Seconds ticked by with the tap of her foot. Poppy poked his ribs, eliciting a gasp. She took advantage and stuck the device in his mouth.
"You're feisty," he said around it
"What do people call you besides Pomfrey?"
"Intern." He snorted. "Patient-torturer."
"I'll say," he muttered.
She shushed him again. "Poppy." She finally relented, both giving him her name and taking the Magimometer, noting the readings down.
"Poppy," he repeated quietly.
"Alastor, you shouldn't be here. You have an early meeting tomorrow!" Poppy giggled, though, and wiggled as his hand slipped up and under her bright green robes.
"And you're pulling a double shift," he growled softly, pressing himself against the wall of the supply closet they'd snuck into. "I won't get to see you for days."
"And that's… going to kill you?" she asked, arching her neck to his eager lips.
"You never know, it just might," he said teasingly, but she didn't need convincing; hands were already fumbling at his trousers.
"Look at me, Poppy! I am not a man you want'a stay with the rest of your life! You deserve better!" Alastor shouted, gesturing at himself. He wobbled at the motion, still unbalanced on his wooden leg.
"Do you think I care about that? I love you, leg or no!" Poppy's bun had long since fallen, leaving her hair riotous and messy, and her green Healer's robes were wrinkled and stained from her day.
"No. It's over, Poppy. We're over." He wouldn't look at her as her eyes filled, just snagged his new staff and clumped toward the door, nearly falling.
She went to help him, and he pulled away savagely. "No, Poppy. No."
A crack and he was gone, leaving her crying in the empty doorway.
"Albus, I'm telling you! That isn't Alastor!" Poppy said.
"Now, Poppy. I assure you that he is indeed Alastor." The Headmaster patted her hand kindly. Patronizingly.
"He isn't," she repeated fiercely. "I know Alastor better than anyone, even you. And that. Is. Not. Him." Her bun shook with each word.
"You have been apart for many years now, my dear. He's not the same person you knew."
Poppy seethed. "That may be, but some things never change. That isn't him!"
"I don't want to hear anymore, Poppy. If you'll excuse me." He left her muttering dark imprecations at his back.
Poppy stroked his uneven hair as he lay in her infirmary. "Oh, Alastor. I knew something was wrong. I'm sorry I couldn't figure it out," she murmured.
"Wasn't your fault." The rasping growl startled her. A rough, scarred hand reached weakly for her hand. She gave it to him.
"I'm glad you're all right." The admission came too easily.
Rough, gnarled lips pressed against her knuckles. "I'm glad you're here."
She cried, holding him like he was her lifeline instead of the other way around.
"Alastor?" Poppy turned toward the door of her small Hogsmeade cottage. Instead of Alastor, Minerva stood there. "She sank into her chair. "Where is Alastor?" she asked shakily.
"I'm so sorry, Poppy. He… didn't make it. He... fell."
The breathless sob was the sound of a heart shattering. "Where is he, Minnie?"
"We don't know, Poppy." Minerva hugged Poppy tightly, feeling her pain. "We can't find him, but he's gone."
Poppy went about her tasks mechanically, restocking shelves in preparation for students arriving. Skelegrow… gauze… Magimometers…
Scrape… clump… click
She froze, breath catching. The sound repeated, and she remained as she was, hand upraised. Then silence. Surely she was imagining this.
"Well, aren't you going to look?" The voice was rougher than ever before, but she recognized it. She always recognized it.
Slowly she turned, eyes bright.
Her battle-scarred warrior stood in the middle of her infirmary, leaning heavily on his staff, complete with claw-footed leg, eye patch, new magically-constructed hand, and more scars than she could count. His hair was wiry and stood in all directions.
He wasn't handsome, he wasn't whole – but he was here.
"You're dead." Her whisper filled the room.
"Supposed to be. They keep telling me I should have died a hundred times or more. But I'm here now, Poppy. It's over." She trembled, and he hurried on. "The war's over. All I want, all I've ever wanted, is a life with you."
"Despite… everything?" She gestured, an echo of past arguments. He nodded, watching her with his one eye. "Bout damned time," she said, throwing her arms around him.
Author's Notes: You cannot believe the cutting I did on this. From 1300 words! But it's done. I hope it's still good. Summary and title come from the song Like a Soldier by Johnny Cash.