This was written for "Favourite Word Tag" on the Slytherin Corner and I am dedicating it to my challenger, Schermionie. It is being given to La Scrunch as a token of friendship – that is to say, it is definitely not an effort on my part to deepen her love of CrossGen.


What can I say? That forum brings out my more cunning side.


Nymphadora Tonks never followed the rules. This alone should have made her a dreadful auror, in his expert opinion, and yet her record was extraordinary – another rule broken, it seemed. Her clumsiness and relentless good humour should have made her the most irritating person he had ever worked with, because Mad-Eye Moody wasn't particularly tolerant of either characteristic. Instead, her companionship was consistently tolerable. He wasn't prepared to consider the possibility that it could be any more enjoyable than that; it wasn't an option. Professionally, Moody was her superior. Personally, Tonks was everything that he shouldn't have bothered – shouldn't have dared – to dream of.

She always followed protocol, and so there was never a cause for complaint made against her, yet it was noted by all who observed her methods on the field that Tonks could often be unorthodox in her approach to a problem, a trait which led to the most exceptional of results. Having Tonks as an ally had turned the tides for many aurors in tough situations, himself included, who had worked with her – in contrast with her usual carelessness, she moved with fluid elegance in combat. She was as close to fearless as once could be before reaching the point of recklessness, which many aurors did.

Therein lay the reason that she was capable of approaching him like she did; like nobody else ever would or could, without incurring his wrath.

Most people accepted that he was not the kind of colleague that once socialised with. His rank and reputation within the department, even within the Ministry, were such that Moody was viewed more as a legend than a man – not that he cared about the opinions of others – and his status, alongside his gruff demeanour, made him less than approachable. His short temper was the final nail in the coffin. Ultimately, Moody was responsible not only for the lives of the civilians he had vowed to protect all those years ago, but also the aurors who fought alongside him. His strategies, his decisions and his advice were taken seriously even by those who weren't particularly fond of him. All of it weighed heavily in his conscience, especially when disaster struck (as it inevitably did).

Unlike her colleagues, Tonks was seemingly oblivious to his cantankerous spells. Always, she had an almost infuriatingly sunny smile ready for him. In fact, Moody had reached the conclusion that – for reasons unknown to him – she actually enjoyed sampling his social skills, which, even Moody was prepared to admit, could be rather limited.

Although the topics of the conversations she initiated tended to be cheerful, upbeat in a way that fitted her brightly coloured hair, it was rarely a superficial issue at the crux of the matter. Only once had Moody considered telling her to abandon the subterfuge, and he had dismissed the idea almost as soon as it had surfaced. She sought out all kinds of professional advice, hidden underneath a casual camouflage. After all, Tonks was far from stupid. There was nothing insipid about her, and she knew that he didn't care about the Weird Sisters' latest release or whether she looked better with pink or purple hair. (Purple. Not that he would have admitted to considering the question...) In fact, the sum of what Tonks did know about him was rather alarming to Moody, who tried not to get any closer to anyone than the necessary camaraderie that went with the job demanded.

She knew that he liked his coffee black and scalding, and would regularly take what was a considerable risk for someone as clumsy as she was in order to bring him a mug alongside her own hideously milky beverage.

She knew when it was that he would be the most receptive to her conversational efforts, and when it was that he preferred silence. Strangely, she chose to stay quiet and remain by his side rather than simply going elsewhere in order to talk. (And people would have gladly spoken to her – she was popular with her workmates.)

She knew that he would let her tag along on most missions with him, even if her presence wasn't, strictly speaking, mandatory. From the beginning of her time in the department, Moody had kept a close eye on her. At first, he had assumed that the bubbly young woman who had first reported for duty with an almost child-like enthusiasm would be one of the weaker ones, as far as combat was concerned. Quickly, Tonks had proven otherwise, although Moody had never thought to stop shadowing her assignments whenever the opportunity presented itself; not before her three years of training had come to an end and not afterwards.

She even knew when his birthday was. Tonks hadn't drawn attention to the date – she knew that Moody hated fuss almost as much as he hated distraction within the department. Instead, she had slipped into his office at the end of her shift with two frosted cupcakes, one with a candle wedged haphazardly into its centre, and kissed his cheek softly while he had still been frozen with shock. Upon reflection, Moody realised that of the few parties he had ever been thrown, hers was easily his favourite.

She knew that after a mission had failed or gone badly, it was an unspoken rule that he would spend the remainder of his shift alone. Or so he had thought.

Technically, Moody was no longer on active the field. Upon his official retirement, he had been offered an advisory position with a name as ridiculously lofty as its salary. He had accepted, deciding that it was better than doing nothing, and donated a sizeable chunk of his income to the project encouraging new recruits to sign up, although Moody had never alternated his pattern of work from what it had been when he was the Head of Department.

He kept the same office and he performed many of the same duties although, thankfully, without the same bureaucratic burden. He hadn't even changed his office, although he suspected that this had only been unopposed because Scrimgeour, his replacement, spent so little time in the building that he didn't actually need a space of his own – the wizard was a formidable auror, the kind that operated best alone, and so it was that he pursued leads without a team.

One trained auror could make an awful lot of difference.

For what felt like the hundredth time that night, Moody wondered how much difference it would have made if he had gone with the team of aurors instead of taking the new recruits out for a test run. Usually, his judgement was reliable; he had thought that he had known the risks that the aurors would face as they went after a group of suspected Death Eaters. The trail had been cold since the Azkaban breakout, and Moody had wanted nothing more than to see them brought in for interrogation, made to spill everything they knew about their precious master – he had been adamant that they would be taken into custody and off of the streets, especially now that the tides were beginning to turn again. He could feel it in his bones; he was certain that the darkness was coming back, and the devastation caused by the failed mission had made it seem all the more inevitable.

Perhaps it was this very drive to counteract the resurgence of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's followers that had led to him making a mistake. Maybe, in his enthusiasm, Moody had been especially susceptible to human fallibility and overlooked some crucial aspect of the situation...

Three aurors were dead. Two more had been sent to St. Mungo's, and Tonks was one of them.

Two good men and a woman had died on his watch, all of whom would be mourned by friends and families. The worst part of it was that it was all going to be hushed up – none of them would be given the recognition that they deserved, because Fudge was too afraid to recognise what was really happening. Those aurors – William Haddow, David Vector and Miranda Tansor – had died horrible deaths in vain, and it was his fault. To add insult to injury, not one of them would receive the public funeral they deserved.

Their passing would be marked by a brief, inconspicuous article in the Daily Prophet, ignoring all of the carnage and bloodshed, perhaps even doing them the insult of suggesting incompetence. Their deaths would be crammed carelessly between an advertisement for a broomstick and a story about an eccentric old woman who believed herself to be a direct descendant of Merlin, or something equally base.

The injustice of it made him furious. It went against everything that he fought for, that he had encouraged them to fight for. The point of it all had been warped and twisted to the point that Moody could barely recognise it.

A light knock on his door caused Moody to cease his pacing and turn to see who it was that had sought him out. Behind the oaken panelling, he could see that it was Tonks. She was supposed to be lying in a hospital bed, as she had been sliced open like a fruit mere hours ago, her insides threatening to spill out along with copious quantities of her blood. Instead, she was leaning against the frame of his doorway, hunched over, one hand pressed against her side as though she could push the injury out of her thoughts by sheer force of will. She knocked again.

"Mad-Eye? I know that you're in there." Despite the certainty of her words, she peered along the corridor as though expecting him to round the corner at any time.

Shaking his head, Moody broke the earlier pattern of his footsteps and opened the door before continuing to pace. Tonks closed the door and lowered herself gingerly into the chair across from his desk, an act that hinted at the severity of her injuries – ordinarily she would breeze into his office and hop up to sit on his desk, often displacing stationary as she found purchase, a routine that had long since ceased to strike him as impertinent.

"Shouldn't you, you know, sit down?" Tonks nodded towards the chair behind his desk, still askew from when Moody had kicked it aside in a fit of frustration after the news had been delivered to him. Any pleasure he had found in the performance of the latest additions to the department had vanished in that one, horrible moment. It wasn't that Tonks considered him to be physically infirm, but rather that she knew he would have been walking back and forth for hours.

"Shouldn't you still be in St. Mungo's?" He spoke both to deter whatever concern Tonks was showing him and out of genuine curiosity. She looked altogether too pale to be healthy.

"I left 'against medical advice', if that's what you mean." She paused, attempting to send him a ghost of her usual smile. It occurred to him that she would have watched her companions die. Moody imagined that, had he gone on the mission, she would not have been hurt so severely. It was a shock to him, knowing that she, like anyone else in their line of work, could potentially have her life snuffed out prematurely. "It's not a nice place to be, and -"

"It's where you go when you're injured, Nymphadora. 'And' what?" He turned on her with an anger that, he knew, extended far beyond her seemingly laissez-faire attitude towards her own health. "Why are you here?"

"I was worried about you – still am, I guess." She toyed with his favourite quill, not quite meeting Moody's gaze. "If you were feeling like your usual self, you would have found me at the hospital in an instant and intimidated the Healers until they told you everything that was wrong with me. Instead, you've been prowling around in your office like a caged lion. You can tell me what's bothering you, if you'd like."

It was this unswerving consideration of hers that allowed Moody to understand why it was that his protégé had been sorted into Hufflepuff house. There was nobody else that he could have believed this of; Tonks had hauled herself from St. Mungo's and back into work in order to check that he, uninjured, was alright. Moody found it disconcerting that she could analyse his behaviour so effectively. Her compassion made the situation all the more unbearable, and Moody felt his temper flare.

"Are you trying to kill yourself? From what I've heard, you came close enough to succeeding earlier today. Three skilled aurors have already died, and you know full well that there isn't enough manpower to sustain yet another loss. You shouldn't be here." The anger left him almost as soon as it had come, and when he saw her tentative smile slip away, Moody could have cursed himself. She would, of course, still be in shock from what she had witnessed the previous day, and it was only natural for her to seek company. Although, as he watched Tonks valiantly struggling not to cry, Moody couldn't help but wonder why she had thought she would find any comfort in his presence.

"You think it's my fault, don't you?" Taking his stunned silence for assent, Tonks pressed on. A lock of her hair, which was now a dull shade of brown, was stuck to her cheek. "You blame me."

"Stop right there – that's enough." Hobbling over towards her, Moody leant against his desk as subtly as he could. She had been right; he should have sat down earlier. "Every other member of that team had a good ten years of experience on you, and they were all capable of holding their own. Ask me, it's a bloody miracle that you made it out there in one piece, or near enough, and I'm glad you did. There was nothing you could have done; especially not after she singled you out."

A shadow passed across Tonks' face as he mentioned Bellatrix Lestrange. Idly, Moody asked himself if having a sadistic serial killer for a maternal aunt had influenced her career plans – Tonks was exactly the sort of person who would try and balance out her family's impact on the universe.

"You reckon?" She looked up at him gravely, as though trying to assess whether or not he was being truthful with her.

"I think so." He gave her a sad smile, wishing that he could protect her from learning firsthand the wisdom that he was about to impart. Then again, nothing so far had dulled her optimistic shine. It was more than the product of youth; it was a disposition, which was why Moody allowed himself to think that it would remain intact. "You know, Tonks, these things can't be helped. Sure, it's sad – it's a damned tragedy, someone dying early – but at the end of the day, it can't be helped. It's the price we've got to pay to keep things right."

It seemed that she accepted his words, because Tonks shifted so that she sat more comfortably in the chair, wincing as the movement ignited a fresh wave of pain in her abdomen, and relaxed. This was just as well, as Moody doubted very much that he could cope with female tears.

"Mad-Eye, do you really believe that?"

"Of course I do." He sighed, growing exasperated. "I just said it, didn't I?"

"Then stop beating yourself up about what happened, you old hypocrite." She smiled teasingly, her usual irreverence returning to the surface – it was a clear sign that Tonks was on the mend, if not in perfect shape.

Moody rolled his eyes, long since used to her boldness, and offered Tonks a gnarled hand. He couldn't very well offer a comeback with his assistance, as she had caught him out and they both knew it.

"Come on, then. I'll see you home." Carefully, he helped the young auror to her feet, wrapping a steadying arm around her waist. For a moment, Tonks allowed her head to rest against his shoulder.

"Actually, Mad-Eye, I'm not going back. Thanks all the same, but I'd rather not worry my mum – she thinks I'm still back at St. Mungo's, you see." After making this admission, Tonks had the good grace to look away. Moody shook his head, incredulous.

"Fine." A man of few words, he escorted her from the office, around which, rumour had it, Moody had placed more wards than there were protecting the entire Department of Mysteries. "We'll go somewhere else, if you're in agreement?"

Tonks nodded, smiling indulgently. She knew better than to ask where they were going in a public location, and, it appeared, had enough faith in his judgement not to question him – that, or she had also disregarded medical advice on how much pain-relief potion to consume.

Tightening his grip on her, Moody disapparated. They were in a deserted alley-way in London, not too far away from the Ministry. A cold wind whistled towards them, bringing nothing more harmful than a greasy take-away bag towards them. Satisfied, Moody disapparated again.

This time, the two of them were in the middle of a Welsh marsh, as damp as it was dark – there were no street lights here and, thankfully, no enemies tailing them. Ignoring his gesture to be quiet, Tonks began muttering under her breath as the murky water went over the tops of her army boots. For a final time Moody disapparated, and they were hidden behind the trees that were lined across the street from his house – a location strategically chosen.

Without waiting to be given the go-ahead, Tonks stepped out from their cover after casting only the briefest of glances in either direction. She crossed the road and walked up the gravel walkway, both of her arms now wrapped around her middle, and opened the front door without waiting for him.

Unwilling for them to be divided into two easy targets, Moody raced after her and slammed the door shut, quickly establishing that Tonks did not share his concern.

"Wotcher Mad-Eye." Tonks waved sleepily from the sofa, where she was already seated in a position that, presumably, didn't put too much pressure on her injury. She had also removed her boots, which had fallen underneath the coffee table, and her feet were curled underneath her legs. That she had experienced so little trouble making herself at home was, strangely, touching rather than annoying.

"Have you checked for intruders?" A soft yawn was his response. Moody's false eye swivelled in its socket, taking in the Spartan decor of the upper-floor as it moved. Thankfully, they were alone. "You hungry there, Tonks?"

"What? Oh, yeah. Thanks." She watched Moody as he walked through into the kitchenette, which was connected to the living room without any door, although clearly they had once been two separate rooms – it was easier to sense an intruder, this way, although his remodelling lacked the polish that he imagined would have been present, had he lived with a woman.

Searching through his cupboards, Moody found that every last one was all but empty. He wished, in a vague sort of way, that he paid more attention to his domestic life, as the best he could offer his guest was chicken noodle soup with toast, as the bread was slightly stale.

He cooked with quiet efficiency, mulling over what Tonks had said to him earlier. She was a compassionate young woman, and a part of him suspected that she would have told him that clouds were made out of candy-floss if it would have stopped him from blaming himself for what had happened. Moody knew that she was good-natured, yet he couldn't help but wonder if Tonks went to such lengths for everyone in her life. The amount of time she spent following him around, Moody doubted that it was physically possible.

It was then that he realised how foolish his line of thought was becoming. Catching himself, Moody internally chastised himself for what could only be age-related softness and poured the soup into two bowls.

As he approached with the soup, Tonks visibly perked up.

"You don't need me to feed you, then?" He smirked as she took the pulled the bowl from his hand and began to eat hungrily, dipping the toast into the soup. Half of her bread was gone before he had even sat down beside her.

"This beats the food at the hospital by miles. I hadn't a clue what they tried to serve me, but it didn't look or smell good – I wouldn't even feed it to a house-elf – so I left it there." Tonks spoke between bites, clearly enjoying her meal, which Moody could understand – potions on an empty stomach were never pleasant. "I hadn't pegged you as the noodle type, though."

Before he could offer an explanation, Tonks continued to fill the room with her easy chatter. Although it wasn't what he was used to, Moody was forced to admit to himself that it was rather nicer than sitting and listening for some unknown enemy trying to force his door open, which was how he ate the odd meal that wasn't consumed over his desk.

Finally, Tonks lifted the bowl to her face and drank the last of her soup. She smiled in a way that made her table manners, or lack of, entirely forgivable. Moody reached out and wiped a stray drip from the corner of her mouth. Having her with him was convenient for Moody as it was Tonks – the idea that he could lose her seemed more real than it had in a long time, and it was bothering him. It was also a pleasant distraction from the burden of his guilt.

"Let's see that wound of yours, then." Before Moody could turn his back to allow her some privacy, she had pulled her t-shirt over her head. Tonks was clad in a black bra and a worn pair of jeans. Moody summoned his box of medical supplies and watched intently as it glided towards him and came to land on the floor by his foot. By the time he could look at her again, Tonks was lying back on the couch and watching him expectantly.

Moving a footstool into place, Moody sank down beside Tonks and began to peel off the bandages that were taped across her front in a diagonal strip. There was a line extending from the waistband of her jeans to the top of her ribcage, its livid red colouring all the more alarming for the way in which it contrasted with her otherwise pale skin. Moody felt his hatred for Bellatrix Lestrange turn doubly personal; what she had done to Frank and Alice Longbottom had been inhuman, but Tonks was, unofficially, under his care, and she had almost died at the hands of her aunt.

They had formed a strange sort of partnership that neither one of them had thought to question – Kingsley Shacklebolt had even possessed the nerve to suggest that Tonks was Moody's favourite, which was true, but it wasn't the kind of thought that most would voice. And so it was that he found her injury to be particularly infuriating.

"It's not as bad as it looks, you know." He grunted in response, pouring an antiseptic onto some gauze and beginning to re-clean her wound. Hospitals were breeding grounds for infections, after all. Tonks smiled in what he supposed was a reassuring manner, although nothing could set Moody at ease now that he could imagine exactly where it was that Bellatrix had cut expertly at that smooth, warm skin.

"You'll probably have some scarring."

Moody was totally unprepared for her response. Reaching out with one hand, Tonks traced the groove of his cheek.

"I can think of worse things than that. Besides, some are pretty cool." She continued her ministrations for another long moment before letting her hand drop, unaware of the various thoughts and feelings that her touch had caused.

It had never occurred to him that Tonks, who was so very pretty, could have such a broad view of what was attractive. Most beautiful girls didn't, but then she was unlike any other that he had met...

"Don't you fall asleep on me, madam." He reached out and squeezed her bare shoulder gently. She opened one eye lazily. "Guess that means I'm not hurting you. It should heal quite quickly overnight – you'll be staying here, and I don't want a single objection."

Content that the wound was clean, Moody began to apply a fresh set of bandages. Without having to be asked, Tonks held the ends in place as he taped them down. The job done, he then handed her a pain-relief potion and helped her into an upright position.

"You're good to me, Mad-Eye." She pulled her t-shirt back on without a hint of self-consciousness. Apparently, it hadn't occurred to her that by keeping her close, he would have to expend less energy worrying about her health. He returned the supplies to the box and stood, putting them away manually in the hope that lessening their physical proximity would stop Tonks from clouding his thoughts. When there was no visible reaction to her words, Tonks continued to speak. "I mean it, Alastor Moody."

At the use of his given name, Moody turned to face her, one eye-brow raised. She had never addressed him in such a fashion before.

"Do you, Nymphadora Tonks?" He smirked when there was no response; the witch really did loathe her name. It actually suited her perfectly, or so he thought, however Moody had never felt inclined to risk a divide in their friendship by voicing his opinion. She blushed slightly, her hair somewhere between brown and auburn, and watched as he put his medical supplies away.

It was bad enough that she had slipped past his defences, but that Tonks made him feel such affection for her was maddening. Never, not once in all his years of service, had Moody allowed anyone to get so close to him – he had witnessed every single way in which such involvements could end up destroying a person – and he had assumed that as the years had passed, he had been increasingly successful at maintaining what he considered to be an appropriate distance from people, if not a healthy one. Apparently this wasn't so, or if it was, Tonks had managed to emotionally ambush him all the same.

"What are you thinking about?" She tilted her head to the side, curiosity written on her delicate features. The slang terms she used, he understood to be a generational thing. However, Moody often wondered how it was that times had changed from the stoic days of his youth to the point at which it had become commonplace for young people to ask such ridiculously personal questions. A worrying notion occurred to him: perhaps Tonks had sensed that she was what was weighing on his mind.

"Nothing that you need to worry yourself about." Moody began to boil some water so that she could have a hot drink before she slept. He may not have been the most practiced of hosts, but for her he would make an effort to be a good one.

He was surprised to hear her approach as he prepared the tea leaves, although he didn't turn around until she spoke; if he saw that smile of hers once more, Moody felt as though he would lose the ability to process a single rational thought.

"You're not still feeling guilty about what happened, are you?" Her tone was laced with concern. One of her hands came to rest upon his shoulder, and in that moment Moody despised himself, because it was then that he realised that no matter how hard he tried to ignore their presence, he would always be plagued by his irrational feelings for Tonks.

He shifted so that the contact was broken, putting the tea through a strainer and into two mugs.

"Not that, no." Moody couldn't help but allow a trace of irony to enter his voice; the cause of his regret, the woman who caused all of his inappropriate, unseemly feelings was trying to find out what was bothering him.

"Then what?" She moved to lean against the counter, looking up at his face and willing him to turn and face her with such intensity that it took every last measure of Moody's self-control not to give in.

"If you only knew the half of it..." He shook his head, deciding against telling Tonks the truth. The shock of it would probably do her more harm than her injury, and there was no telling whether or not she'd be safe travelling on her own. Although she had scoffed at his security measures, Tonks was in no fit state for a fight. "Shouldn't you still be sitting down?"

Steeling himself, Moody turned to face her. His words were a weak parody of their earlier exchange, and the memory caused Tonks to laugh weakly.

"Shouldn't you stop blaming yourself? It's not your fault – none of it is." Their eyes locked, and Moody knew with a sudden, instinctive certainty that as well as his unshakable remorse, Tonks was referring to his feelings for her. She moved away from the counter, moving so that she was leant against him for support. "And caring about someone isn't a weakness, either."

"Tonks..." Having her in his arms was unlike anything that he had caught himself imagining previously, and Moody found that the reality of the situation was what made it so much more delicious than his repressed daydreams. She was slim and delicate to hold, smelling faintly of patchouli, and seemed completely comfortable with their closeness. "Just –just what do you think that you're doing?"

"It feels nice, doesn't it? I thought -"

Moody never did find out what it was that she was thinking, because he succumbed to temptation and leant down, kissing Tonks for what he imagined would be both the first and last time. Their lips met in a warm, lingering kiss that lasted until his conscience kicked in. Forcing himself to let go of the moment, Moody broke the embrace. At the unexpected loss of his support, Tonks staggered back against the counter. There was a glazed look in her eyes, and she was smiling in a way that made him feel as though he had been let in on a secret.

"Sorry... That should never have happened." Moody's brow creased as he tried to work out how, once the initial shock wore off, Tonks would handle the situation. As he spoke, her smile faded. "It was a mistake, and mistakes happen."

"Right. Of course." Tonks raised a hand to her lips, touching them as she had touched her wound – as though to protect them from harm, it seemed to Moody. "I'm sorry."

"Let's not dwell on it, okay?" The room was thick with tension. Moody had no idea what to do or say, or even how he was going to cope with the idea of her sleeping under his roof, in his bed – without him, of course. Before he could worry too much about the details, Tonks responded.

"Mad-Eye? I didn't mean it." She was biting her lips rather nervously. As her hand ran across the worktop, Tonks accidentally knocked an empty inkwell to the ground.

"I know you didn't." He bent to pick up the little pot, which was undamaged by its fall.

"No, I mean I didn't mean it when I said that I was sorry. I wanted to kiss you, and -" What Tonks was saying was simply too much for his restraint to cope with. The very idea that she had enjoyed their one, illicit kiss was full of implications that Moody would rather remain unaware of than fight.

"Tonks -" There was a warning edge to his voice, and yet she interrupted him anyway, her manner becoming urgent.

"- I think that you wanted to kiss me too." Her chin was titled upwards boldly, and her eyes were daring him to deny what she had said. Tonks' defiance did not wither under his scrutiny, which suggested to Moody that she was serious.

"Did you get hit on the head this afternoon as well as slashed?" Instead of agreeing with him that she was being foolish, Tonks shook her head slowly. "Then don't be so damned stupid."

"That's exactly what I'm trying to do, Mad-Eye. Why can't you see that? If it's just like you say it is and one of us could go at any time, I'd much rather die knowing that I'd taken every chance than having no regrets at all." She spoke so convincingly that Moody was momentarily incapable of gathering the threads of his counter-argument.

"You've got the right idea, but you're going about it in entirely the wrong way." Moody sighed heavily, realising that she would accept nothing less than the truth from him. "You're a lovely girl, Tonks; you're pretty, you're brave, you're kind and you're as sharp as a tack, so do yourself a favour – go out there and find some nice young man to look after you, and make sure he realises how lucky he is."

"Why would I want to do that when I've got you?" Tonks wrapped her arms around his middle and returned to her former position, leaning against him. Her breathing was slow and even – she wasn't remotely bothered by the way he stood so stiffly. In fact, when he bent to kiss her again, Moody could have sworn that he felt her smiling.

"This is bloody ridiculous." He placed a steadying hand on her back, feeling her entire frame shake with a yawn.

"Any why is that?" She nuzzled her head against his shoulder, clearly tired.

"Call yourself an auror, girl..." He was irritated that she had managed to work her way into his arms despite his best intentions, yet the words carried no sting. "You know why this isn't wise – you're too young, for starters, and I've made too many enemies as it is. It would be unprofessional, and it would be totally irresponsible."

"So what will we do?"

"You're going to go upstairs and get some sleep. That injury of yours won't heal fast enough unless you rest." Before she could argue, Moody had started to guide her through the living room and out into the landing. Their two mugs of tea remained on the countertop; he had forgotten them in his hurry.

"Unprofessional or not, you certainly seem keen to get me into your bed." Tonks giggled when she saw the stony expression that had settled across his face. "It was a joke, Mad-Eye."

He grunted, refusing to dignify her jest with a proper answer, and began to assist her up the stairs. They climbed in silence, as Tonks was too tired to continue her teasing. There was no way that he could begin to process what she had suggested, even if it had been light-hearted banter; he was still reeling from the last suggestion that Tonks had made. She was under the impression that they could be a couple, of all things, which was making it even harder for him to deny it.

"If that hasn't healed up by first thing in the morning, you're going straight back to St. Mungo's. No arguments." By the time they had reached the top of the stairs, Moody was all but carrying her. It had been a long day for them both.

When they reached his bedroom, Tonks seemed to find a last vestige of energy, because she took a long look at her surroundings before easing herself onto the double bed. Moody lingered in the doorway and watched as her eyes danced over his possessions, wondering what she thought of his bedroom, which was empty save for basic furniture and a mismatched collection of artefacts designed to protect him from his enemies. Apparently her judgement was favourable, because Tonks didn't remark upon her findings – she never had a problem with voicing the more negative of her opinions, of which there were many, a trait Moody found to be refreshing.

Tonks pushed back the covers and climbed between them, wrapping the duvet around her body like a cocoon. One foot, he noticed, remained sticking out of the corner.

"Come here." She patted the space she had left, gesturing for him to join her. Sensing his reluctance, she continued to speak. "Oh, just for a minute or two. I don't really feel like being alone after... you know."

As always, Moody found that he could no more resist her charm than he could leave behind his career as an auror; it was simply impossible. Of course, Tonks would still be upset by what she had witnessed. He sat down beside her on the very edge of the mattress, frowning when she handed over her wand.

"Keep that on you – never know when you might need it." The room was dark, lit only by the moonlight filtering through the curtains, yet Moody did not need to be able to see to know that Tonks was rolling her eyes at him.

"Who's going to attack me, the monster under the bed? It was stuck through my waistband, and I'm lucky that it didn't snap – I'd forgotten all about it." Tonks rolled over to face him and smiled sheepishly, negating the irritation that had threatened to surface at her carelessness.

With a sigh, Moody leaned over and placed her wand on the nightstand. When he turned around again, he was certain that Tonks had moved a little closer to him. However, he refrained from questioning this slight shift in position, as her eyes were beginning to close. He listened to her breathing as it slowed, trying not to consider a future in which he could fall asleep hearing it every night. Just as Moody was preparing to rise from the bed, she draped an arm around him and began to speak, her words slurred by exhaustion.

"If I don't need to go back to St. Mungo's, what happens then?" When he didn't answer, her grip tightened slightly. "Mad-Eye?"

"I don't know. Hush and go to sleep." He brushed the hair back from her forehead, hoping to set Tonks at ease so that she would drop into a peaceful slumber. She resisted his efforts, opening her eyes a fraction.

"Tell me you won't pretend that it never happened – that you won't ignore me. I know you're scared of losing me, but don't let that control every decision you make. Fear's good, remember? It shows we have something worth fighting for."

It was only because of his training that Moody managed not to tense; Tonks had managed to get into his head once more, it seemed, without the use of legilimency, as she had deciphered the strategy that he had planned on implementing. Ordinarily, Moody lived by the truth. He fought for it and was prepared to die for it. This one truth between them, though, was threatening to consume him, and her too. Tonks continued to look up at him in silent appeal, her eyes shining brightly.

Moody couldn't help but marvel at her audacity, using his own beliefs against him. He had once expressed, almost word for word, the exact same sentiment that she had, regarding fear. Losing her would be more than he could live with, because Tonks had come to represent a great many things that were dear to him. He considered her – the young woman who had managed to overturn so many of his expectations – and found himself hoping that Tonks could overturn his assumption, however logically based, that a romantic attachment between them was a bad idea.

"It wouldn't be what you could call conventional – you know that, don't you? I wouldn't bring you flowers or walk you down the aisle. I'm not that man, Dora, and I'm too set in my ways to change." He felt her hand slip into his, as smooth as it was soft. "I'll be damned if I don't try and make you happy, though."

A part of him suspected that Tonks would sit up, rub her eyes and say that she wanted to be brought flowers every day, to take him home and introduce him to her parents. Instead, her only response was to squeeze his fingers.

"You... called me Dora." She yawned again, shifting so that his chest replaced her pillow, and allowed her eyes to close.

"I suppose I did. We'll talk about it in the morning."

"What, my nickname?" She smiled to herself, amused, until the realisation sunk in. "Okay. That'd be nice. 'Night, Mad-Eye."

"'Night." He watched as she drifted off to sleep, her concerns having been taken care of by his answer. Tonks put so much faith in him... Then again, he was guilty of putting the same trust in her, and she was yet to disappoint. It was always Tonks who was there by his side; the way she had sought him out was proof of that.

Leaning back against the pillows, Moody finally allowed himself to relax, soothed by Tonk's presence, which not even his better judgement could cause him to wish away. For a while he simply watched her sleep, committing the scene to memory, but the previous day's events were catching up with him and soon he found that he too was incapable of keeping his eyes open.

Moody was, however, determined to prove capable of keeping the promise he had made to her.


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