Disclaimer: Everything recognisable belongs to J.K. Rowling.
A/N: Written for the wotcherwerewolf community's challenge on LiveJournal. My first try with Remus and Tonks, although I couldn't resist slipping a mention of H/G in there, too! I'm thinking of a multiple-chapter sequel for this fic when I finally get through with exams, which will probably be in alternating Ginny and Tonks POV. As ever, enormous thanks to my fantastic, busy beta, Mistral!
The air was thick with incense and the heady beat of drums. Purple smoke slid across sticky spilled alcohol to rise in sinuous coils, winding about the legs of the Incendio club's patrons. Spasmodic light revealed and cloaked the sight of touching hands and lips. At the centre of the dance floor, surrounded by a brand of carnality and hedonism in which only jaded magic folk could indulge, a young woman swayed alone. Lashes lowered over cobalt blue eyes, her head moved lazily from side to side, lips parted in pleasure at the slide of silky, candy-pink hair against bare skin.
Nymphadora Tonks loved to dance.
Under the spell of music, she could display an unexpected grace that promptly vanished in the chill of the street or the light of day. Such unprecedented talent had always greatly astonished Tonks -- and anyone else who had met her, crashed into her or tripped over her. Her own mother held fast to the story that baby Nymphadora had sailed from the birth canal, slipped through the Healer's waiting hands and landed without ceremony on the hospital floor. But with closed eyes and the right rhythm, Tonks could float on air.
Sliding languid hands over her natural-born body -- all brief curves and long limbs -- Tonks surreptitiously scanned the room with a practiced, bed-me sleepiness. The role of seductress made her feel like a total prat, but desperate times and all that. Her hips rolled slowly against her palms, and more than one man noticed. Ben Harlow and Kingsley Shacklebolt, from their positions at and behind the bar, winked and winced respectively. Tonks ignored the disapproving pucker of King's mouth. He might be her superior, but if he was going to act like her damned big brother, he could bloody well go home. Her gaze isolated Hestia Jones in the crowd. The other woman was sprawled at a booth, casually watching her own smoke rings. The bar was like a vacuum, holding fast to the steam and the heat; Hestia's face was even redder than usual, but her intense eyes were alert. Tonks let her fingers stroke down her stomach as she executed a slow turn, following the older witch's brief glance.
The tall, muscular man was leaning against the back wall of the club, one hand curled about his drink, the other drifting over the thighs of a flat-chested blonde. Dirty chestnut hair fell over his handsome, ruddy face. His eyes were locked on the gently swirling firewhiskey, but Tonks knew they were a dull, frightening grey, the colour of dead skin. Marcus Jackson Delltorio, born to English parents in the back alleys of Spain. Known as the 'Jester' on the street, and Bellatrix Lestrange's boy-toy in the bedroom.
At the thought of her aunt, Tonks's nails dug briefly into her hip bones. Bellatrix was currently screeching blue hell in the depths of Azkaban, but it would surprise nobody if she didn't see the year through. In the wake of Voldemort's defeat, the prison was swelling with scum, and the Lestranges had never been picky about the company they double-crossed.
Delltorio's awful, deadened eyes flicked up and latched onto the movement of Tonks's body. A smirk of appreciation twisted his full, pretty-boy lips, and she swallowed on a rise of revulsion. A vision of that gaze lit with sadistic glee, those long fingers dipped in blood, flashed into her imagination with the clarity of a sickening memory. The Jester was a slippery bastard. Both the Order and the Ministry had been trying to pin him to a recent wave of sacrificial killings, so far without success. The few witnesses were afraid to talk, and, though it was frustrating, Tonks could hardly blame them. There was pure evil behind that smooth exterior, she was sure of it. As lovers, he and Bellatrix made a chilling couple.
Had made a chilling couple. One half of the monstrous pairing was rotting in the Dementors' clutches; the Order intended to see them reunited in that particular class of hell. It was so bloody frustrating; Tonks raged inwardly. Just the thought of yesterday's death scene -- a child and his grandmother -- filled her with the whiteness of fury. It would be so easy to pull her wand and curse the son of a bitch where he stood. But, as much as her stealth and dexterity skills were improving, as good as the other agents in the Order were, and as greatly as it pained her to admit it, Delltorio was better. He had the fight-or-flee instincts of a hunting spider, and was twice as fast. Her arms rose sinuously above her head, her knees rocked and her gaze skittered about the club. The place stunk of sin, but so far, none of Delltorio's usual cronies had crawled out from the woodwork. Almost everyone who frequented the Incendio would bust a gut to save their own skin and wouldn't lift a finger to help someone else. Depravity didn't breed heroes, and Tonks highly doubted the prick would find friends here. The moment that the Jester realized he was cornered and outnumbered, he'd Disapparate before his glass hit the floor. And they'd be forced to begin the slow stalk-and-track process all over again.
Ducking her head, Tonks let her soft pink hair -- one of the few physical changes she'd made, needing as much strength in reserve as possible -- hide her involuntary scowl. No, she'd have to hold fire this time. Besides not wanting to be the one to stuff it up, she was about two ball-busting lectures away from probation. And as much as her tired brain was screaming for a break, she really didn't fancy an enforced holiday just now. If Delltorio scuttled into the shadows this time, Moody would have her head. They'd been lucky enough to track him down here; Kingsley had been insistent that he'd have to come above ground sometime, and he'd been right. Apparently, the bastard could only go so long before the lure of liquor and sex meant more than concealment. The Order had sources dotted about every dive in the vicinity, and the network hadn't failed them. Two nights ago, Delltorio had come sniffing into the open; tonight, he was going down.
With that happy prospect hardening her squeamish resolve, Tonks raised her head, pushing her hands through her hair and her mouth into a pout. She truly hoped she didn't look as ridiculous as she felt. Her target obviously didn't think so, as he stood up a little straighter, the wandering fingers falling back to his side, his skinny companion forgotten. That lifeless gaze drifted lazily over her, lingering at her breasts and lips. Then, his face stretched into an actual smile. The effect was so hideous that Tonks's highly prized gracefulness deserted her at a run. One leg stumbled and almost took the other down for the count. Embarrassed and wobbling on her impractically high heels, she took several steps back and promptly collided with a woman who looked as if she'd be more at home with a chair and a pole. There was no screech of outrage, as she'd half-expected; instead, sweaty palms seized Tonks's waist, and a curvy female body ground against her own. It took several blinks and a moment of utter blankness before she realized that she had unwittingly found herself a dance partner. And that their impromptu performance was attracting a great deal of attention. Delltorio, she noticed with revulsion and professional interest, was practically salivating.
The plan, she reminded herself, sighing inwardly and swaying against her new friend, it's all about the plan. Moody's orders had been simple: get the wary bugger outside in the street, get him off-guard, and let the others close in. And keep her butt out of trouble. End of story; enter Seductive Tonks. Her derisive snort hadn't been the only objection to the grand idea. Kingsley had just about wet himself at the notion of clumsy little Tonks luring in the bad boy, and Remus had protested until his voice was hoarse.
She'd been steadfastly ignoring him all evening; their last argument was still vivid in her ears, and her pride still stung. Unable to keep her eyes away now, they swung from Delltorio to the front wall. Remus stood by the door, still in his coat, his hands pushed deeply into his pockets. She knew that one fist would be wrapped tightly about his wand, the other probably white to the knuckles. Like every other male in the room, his eyes were fixed upon her, but they weren't glazed with lust. He looked furious. Standing still, as if he'd been petrified, his lips were tight, and the tension in his body actually visible. His thin body -- he hadn't been eating properly again, she noted with the absent-minded irrelevance of a lover. He was definitely making no attempt to blend in, mission or not, and looked as if a single step taken by Delltorio or one more girly hip grind would send him over the edge.
Tonks didn't care if she was being childish or unprofessional. Let Remus break that blasted control for once. At least it would prove that he actually had normal emotions.
She knew he did. She understood a lot more about Remus Lupin than he'd like to believe, in fact. The man had spent nearly a lifetime on the outside. He was used to being distrusted and disliked, and he refused to believe that anything good in his life could be a permanent fixture. He was a reserved man. While he'd let himself be used in order to help those in need, he always remained slightly distanced to avoid inflicting physical and emotional hurt. She knew that. She admired him enormously for it.
But that didn't mean she had to like it.
And one of these days, Remus was damn well going to be a full participant in their relationship, or...
"Is this a private party, or may anyone join?"
The voice was oily and awful, and a shiver danced up Tonks's spine at the sound of it. Ignoring the serious attack of the heebie-jeebies, she pasted a smile on her face and turned to greet the enemy.
She was never sure quite what to say to murdering sociopaths, but it didn't matter this time. Any and all words stuck in her throat. Evil, indeed. From this distance, a hell of a lot closer to Delltorio than she wanted to be, there was something inhuman about that smirk... She couldn't define it, but every instinct was urging that she kick off her heels, scream like a little girl and run home to bed. Or better yet, Remus's bed.
Auror, she reminded her instincts firmly. I'm an auror. I am a grown woman. I am used to dealing with creeps. Besides, like heck I'm going to give Remus and Kingsley the satisfaction...
As if someone had pulled a cord, a brilliantly insincere smile appeared on Tonks's face. She stroked her tongue over her lips, and Delltorio's eyelids flickered.
"Well." She hoped he would put the breathiness down to lust rather than nerves. "You know what they say, don't you? Three's a crowd." Waiting just a beat was enough -- she didn't miss the dangerous anger that fleetingly touched his features. Tonks turned and winked at her 'dance partner'. "Would you excuse us, hon?"
The other woman considered for a moment, looking from Delltorio's expensive robes to the steady warning in Tonks's expression. Lifting one shoulder in a careless shrug, she grinned and stepped away. "Look me out later."
Tonks wasn't sure which of them she was talking to, but didn't have time to ponder it over. The Jester seized her ribcage in an icy grip, just below her breasts, and pulled her flush against his body.
Don't be sick! These are Ginny's shoes, and they look pricy.
A moist whisper hit her ear. "You didn't have to ditch the friend, you know. The more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned."
Something wet moved against Tonks's neck, and her stomach heaved again. He was tasting her with the tip of his tongue. A strange anger boiled behind her skin. Only Remus had the right to touch her like that. Not that either of them had a neck fetish, especially, but...
Oh, hell. Her gaze had gone instinctively to Remus at the thought. He had pushed away from the wall and looked ready to commit murder. Tonks glanced futilely at the blacked-out windows. They were painted over, but she knew what she'd see in the night sky. Only seven nights until the full moon; she kept an unconscious lunar log in her head. The wolf would be restless, and there was a distinctly feral glint in that glare. Quite frankly, in a showdown between ruthless killer and usually mild-mannered professor, Tonks would put her money on an angry Remus anytime.
Remus was an experienced member of the Order. He wouldn't compromise her position. Yet.
Delltorio danced with her in a slow circle, hips pressed against her own. He was humming a low tune in those deep tones; his mouth was close enough to be heard over the band's bass player. Fighting hard to keep her movements fluid and relaxed, Tonks stared over his shoulder, mentally cataloguing the locations of the other agents. She shook her head slightly. The club was more packed than ever. If things went to hell in this crowded, closed space, Moody would have a shit fit.
Remus had moved closer, she noted warily, and was annoyed by the slight pang of relief at his presence. He was standing before an ambience cauldron, ignoring the gold flames leaping from its belly. Both hands were still out of sight, and his attention apparently on the band, but Tonks noticed that his body turned a fraction every time she and the bastard did. She was being kept under minute surveillance and wouldn't be surprised if he was aware even of her changing thoughts. Two belligerently large wizards to Remus's left were standing nose-to-nose, apparently engaged in a staring contest over a pubescent witch. To his right, an impossibly bronzed brunette with improbably swelled assets -- Tonks considered herself enough of an authority on unnatural body parts to judge -- was eyeing him with the fervour of a hungry alley rat. He hadn't, she realized smugly, noticed her, either.
Tonks's flesh itched beneath Delltorio's long fingers as he played air piano against her bare spine. He was still humming that ghastly little tune; she wasn't sure what it was, but knew she would never hear it again without shuddering.
"What do you do with yourself, Pinky?" Another rush of warm breath hit her ear at the unexpected question.
Tonks's brain seized for a moment, before latching hurriedly onto her cover story. "Can't you tell?" she forced out, with deceptive laziness. "I dance."
His chuckle was shallow; his chest barely moved against her. "Yes, darling, I noticed." He wrapped an arm fully about her waist, effectively trapping her wand hand. She casually tried to free herself, but the vise tightened. "Do you know," he mused gently, "It may not have clicked if you hadn't danced for me. You move like liquid sex, Miss Tonks, do you know that? Spitting image of your aunt for a moment there."
Merlin, bugger and shit.
Before she could twist from his hold, Delltorio swung her into a dramatic dance floor dip. She was effectively trapped, balanced between his arms and smiling face. One booted foot was curved around her ankles, and any attempt to free herself would result in her butt on the floor and a wand at her nose.
"Don't make a sound." His easy grin remained, and scared the stuffing out of her, but the Jester -- the street killer -- had well and truly replaced the pub sleaze. "I can break your neck and green-light the lupine lover in four seconds flat. I'm a very talented man, Miss Tonks."
Tonks toyed with the option of breezy ignorance for only an instant. Looking up into his cold, shrewd eyes, she knew it wouldn't fly.
"You wouldn't make it out of here alive," she returned flatly, dropping the sex kitten act. The role of would-be seductress never fit well; the persona of pissed-off witch was all too real. And it was going to be pissed-off, dead witch if she didn't get it together.
Good thing that nothing fired Tonks's ass-kicking instincts like a threat to the man she loved.
Bracing her body against the inevitable fall, she lurched suddenly to the left, freeing one knee and slamming it toward the heavens. Unfortunately for Delltorio, his privates were directly in her way. Sinister humming became an almost feminine squeal of agony, and his arms immediately loosened, the muscular body folding in on itself. They both hit the floor hard, in a tangle of limbs and a collision of grunts.
And then things really hit the fan.
Pushing away the pain in her newly bruised elbow and hip, Tonks caught sight of Remus coming at them, wand drawn and Harlow at his back. They were still several feet away, and Kingsley was in the process of leaping the bar, when the staring idiots with the baby girlfriend erupted into a full-on, shit-for-brains fight. One swinging fist, one heavy stumble, and the fiery cauldron was cracking into the floorboards, flames spilling out and licking into trails of spilled whisky. Literally in the blink of an eye, a fiery curtain sprang up, stretching toward the ceiling and blocking her view of Remus.
With the heat, the liquor and the near non-existent ventilation, the club was a death trap, and suppression spells could only go so far. Tonks figured they all had about thirty seconds before the Incendio became a bloody inferno.
The crowd might be deadened by life and booze, but they were all possessed of sound survival instincts, and they used them. The place underwent a swift transformation from amoral pleasure den to screaming, seething riot scene.
Tonks rolled to the side and was starting to rise when large hands grabbed her, slamming her head to the ground. Pain burst above her ear, and she cried out. Encouraged, the fingers tightened their grip, pulling her face around and throwing her downward once more.
Battling against blissful blackness and a mother of a headache, she lurched forward, falling against Delltorio and scrabbling for her wand.
"Where the hell is it?"
The weight of her body pushed him off balance, and they tumbled together once more, his own wand slipping from his fist and skittering between drunken, fleeing feet.
A filthy curse hissed from Delltorio's lips, and he backhanded her in the mouth. He was losing control, Tonks realized through her pain. And if there was one thing the Jester hated, it was being at the mercy of circumstances. If the situation hadn't been quite so dire, she might have been able to use that to her advantage.
As it was, the place was quickly filling with black smoke. It was hard to breathe, and she could already feel the heat of the flames on her face. She didn't know where Remus was, she'd lost her wand, and she couldn't see two feet in front of her, let alone where the other Order members might be. She was also lying beneath a serial killer, his limbs twisted with hers in a sick parody of lovers.
It was safe to say that their plan was shot.
Summoning a burst of strength -- or adrenalin, or plain old fear -- Tonks rammed the heel of her hand into Delltorio's chin. It wasn't an action from her elite auror training, by any means, but sometimes nothing could beat classic self-defense. His head snapped back on his neck and gave her the inch she needed to shove free. She was skidding backward like a crab on Ginny's abused heels, hampered by natural clumsiness and possible concussion, when hands caught her again.
Tonks stiffened briefly, before recognizing Remus's narrow fingers as he hauled her to her feet. Coughing through the blinding, gagging smoke, she tried to make out his face. It was hopeless -- if she'd crossed her eyes, she wouldn't have been able to see her own nose.
The last thing she saw through the rising ash, in fact, was Delltorio slithering to his feet. He kissed two fingers in a mocking salute and vanished into the chaos.
Her nerves slick with horror at his impending escape -- again -- Tonks tensed to run after him, prepared to tempt fate with her burning lungs. Remus was not gentle as he hauled her back, sealing her to his chest with one arm and twisting his wand with the other. A familiar sickening sensation rushed across her battered cells, and the Incendio's fiery heat fell away.
When blurry nausea became solid earth once more, it was the cold that Tonks noted first. And 'cold' was a half-assed description, at that. She was bloody freezing.
Letting her lashes part suspiciously, Tonks first checked that the man squeezing her into an hourglass figure was Remus. Then, she looked out dazedly at their new surroundings.
Okie-dokie. Simple questions first.
"Where the hell are we?" Her voice sounded less indignant and more scratchy than she'd intended, but Remus was a smart man. He'd get the point.
"Did he hurt you?" he asked urgently, dismissing her angry query and turning her in his embrace. He was being gentler now, running seeking fingertips over her and checking for broken bones. Tonks responded physically to his touch as always, with a wave of inconvenient desire, but she was still too mad at him and at the whole situation to care. Tenderly sweeping smoky strands of hair from her face, Remus frowned darkly at what she suspected were unattractive bruises and a fat lip.
"I'm fine," she snapped, pulling away awkwardly as he attempted to wrap her in his coat. Immediate dizziness washed over her at the sudden movement, and she staggered, cursing loudly.
"Nymphadora!" She heard both worry and impatience in Remus's tone and didn't especially care for either. "Sweetheart, would you just..."
"Sweetheart" was an endearment that usually had the power to curl her toes, but with a headache the size of Devon, he might just have whistled and called her to heel.
"Bugger off, Remus," she said impolitely, and gazed around in disbelief. "It's nothing that a mild pain potion won't fix. What the devil were you thinking of, Apparating us here?"
No wonder she was shivering in her skimpy top and short skirt. For some reason that was not immediately clear to Tonks, he'd transported them from a burning nightclub to a snowy mountain in Merlin-knew-where. Aside from a dark cabin several yards away, the white-blanketed trees were the only sign of life on the horizon.
Remus was rubbing the back of his neck, a little sheepishly. He shrugged under her piercing stare.
"We were about ten seconds away from a very nasty death. I suppose I was just thinking of somewhere less...hot."
Tonks let her snort speak volumes.
"So, where are we? The ruddy North Pole?"
Remus ignored her rudeness and considered seriously. "Given the typography of the landscape, I'd guess somewhere in Northern England. But I couldn't say for sure; I've never spent extended time in the area."
"Oh, well, quite a treat, then!" Tonks said with sarcastic cheer. "Perhaps we'll have time to see the sights."
He shot her a look and gingerly slipped a hand under her elbow, obviously waiting for another explosion of temper. Her skull was throbbing too badly to oblige, so she settled for a disdainful sniff.
"Let's get you inside before you freeze," he said, eyeing her clothes with disapproval. "You're practically naked, for goodness sake."
Tonks resisted, turning to frown at him. "Inside? Inside there? I don't think so."
"It looks deserted, but I'll leave a note and replace anything we use," Remus assured her.
He was pushing her gently toward the cabin door as they spoke, and she winced as snow squidged around her bare toes. Luckily, she'd lost all feeling in them several minutes ago.
"I wasn't worried about trespassing charges," Tonks said, between clenched teeth. "I would like you to pull out your wand and Apparate us back to Headquarters. Please."
He did take out his wand, but only to point it at the locked door.
The knob turned stiffly in his fist, and he ushered a protesting Tonks into the dark interior, shaking his head.
"You have God-knows-what injuries, and I'm dead on my feet. It would be the height of foolishness to attempt Apparition just yet." He intercepted her speaking look. "That was in dire circumstances. The place was about to fall down around us, thanks to those bloody idiots."
With a rush of horror, Tonks realized what had been nagging at her sore head. "Oh, shit! Kingsley and the others... God, Remus, what if they didn't get out in time?"
He reached out and touched her swollen cheek. "It's all right. When the fire started, Hestia smashed the windows and shepherded people out the front. Last I saw of Harlow, he was dragging our fighting friends by their ears, and Shacklebolt was trying to force their girlfriend outside. I'm afraid she was creating a bit of a scene."
"Did he smack her one?" Tonks asked with interest. It was the tried and true method of dealing with hysteria, and she smirked reluctantly at Remus's expression. "Oh, he did, didn't he? He coldcocked her."
"Actually, I think that was what you did to Delltorio," he shot back, lips curving slightly.
She laughed, despite herself. "Why, Professor Lupin, how terribly vulgar."
"He deserves to be strung up by it," Remus said, deadly serious now. "The man's an evil bastard. I should never have let you anywhere near him."
"Pardon me? Let me?" Tonks said, bristling again. "I was handling it."
It was apparently Remus's turn at sarcasm. "It certainly looked that way, when he had you pinned to the floor. And when you were going to follow him deeper into a burning building! For God's sake, Tonks, you've seen what he's capable of."
She winced slightly. Tonks. Although she'd rather strip naked in the Great Hall and give Filch a lap dance than admit it, she hated when he called her that. He only ever did it when he was cross with her.
At another sickening realization, she abruptly turned her anger on herself. "Bugger it. He'll have gone to ground again, won't he? Because of me. Moody's going to do his nut."
Remus was still looking rather pinched about the lips, but he shook his head at once. "It wasn't your fault. You would have had a fighting chance at bringing him in if the fire hadn't started."
"He'd recognised me." Tonks shivered as a strain of a hummed tune teased her memory, and Remus's eyes narrowed on the telling gesture. "He said that I was like Bellatrix when I danced." The words left a sour taste in her mouth. She never wanted to dance again.
"Well, you certainly didn't look like yourself," he returned shortly, a flare of jealousy reigniting. "You..." He broke off at the slight droop of her shoulders, and sighed heavily, forcing his fisted hands to relax. "You look all done in."
He surveyed the dim, Spartan room. The owners hadn't left much to work with, but there was a stacked fireplace and a narrow cot with a folded blanket. That was all they needed for now.
"Why don't you tuck yourself into bed," he suggested to Tonks, in an overly solicitous manner. "I'll see what I can do to warm us up."
Tonks's face set in a mutinous expression. "I'll light the fire. I'm better at it than you are, anyway," she informed him snippily and none too truthfully.
As far as survival training had gone, roughing it in the outdoors was not her forte. Give her a good fight in a city alley, any day.
But there was no way that she was letting Remus revert to treating her like a child.
Gratefully slipping the borrowed heels from her abused feet, Tonks wavered unsteadily in the general direction of the fireplace. It wasn't the smartest idea. If Remus hadn't swooped in with a muttered oath about "damned, stubborn women", she had the uncomfortable feeling that pride would definitely have come before a fall.
He placed her gently on the cot, despite his irritation, and scowled at her. "Lie down before you fall down, you daft woman."
Tonks glowered right back and waited until he'd turned his back before subsiding onto the mattress with a silent sigh of relief.
She still wasn't, however, above getting a bit of her own back.
As she watched him prowl about the room, inspecting the safety of their makeshift haven, she began to undress, carelessly tossing aside the wet top. Without looking her way, he crouched before the fireplace with his wand and performed a non-verbal "Incendio!" Tonks suspected that both of them could go without hearing the word spoken. She wasn't going to hold fond memories of the decimated club. Lifting her hips, she slid the short skirt down her legs. Remus rose from the fire, brushed off his knees, and turned to speak.
His mouth made it open, but only a slightly strangled sound emerged.
Dressed only in goosebumps and a pair of racy red knickers, Tonks smiled calmly back.
"My clothes were wet from the snow," she said, nodding. "So I took them off."
"Ah," was all that she got in reply. To her amusement, a blush stained his cheeks.
"You look a bit damp, yourself. Perhaps you should remove a few layers, Remus. You don't want to catch a chill."
His eyes widened, and Tonks had to give in. She laughed.
"Don't be so silly. I've seen you in the buff before, remember?"
Remus just shook his head, reddening further.
Tonks sighed in exasperation. "Shared warmth, that's all. As much as I'd like to shag you madly in a mountain retreat, my head hurts like a son of a bitch."
Rolling his eyes slightly at her language and still a bit pink, Remus was able to summon a smile. "A headache? Not very original, love."
He pulled the bed closer to the fire with care and came to sit beside her, hands slipping about her neck to gently knead the muscles there. Tonks gave a small, pleasured moan as some of the pain eased, and hoped he wouldn't notice as she began to unbutton his shirt.
His familiar torso came into view, with the narrow waist and pale, scarred skin that she loved.
They would definitely be taking a rain check on the mad shagging.
She scooted over and, despite his protests that there wasn't room for two, tugged him insistently into her arms. Her breasts rested against his chest, their limbs automatically entwined, and they each released a simultaneous breath. Aches, coldness and failed mission aside, there was never anything quite so comfortable.
"Is your head very sore?" Remus asked softly, his lips at her temple.
"It's a bit better," Tonks replied truthfully, shifting against him.
"I'm sorry. I ought to have Apparated us to St. Mungo's. I'd do a pain relief spell, but I don't trust my abilities when it comes to head injuries."
"Me, either," she said, closing her eyes. "I'd probably do more harm than good. It's all right. I'll have a Healer check me over tomorrow. And you were right. The plan had gone to hell. You acted on instinct and got us away safely. It was childish of me to complain."
Remus hesitated. "It wasn't just that Delltorio got away, was it? You're still angry with me." His hold tightened around her. "You put yourself in danger at the club, acting like that. It was partly to get at me, wasn't it?"
It was a statement rather than a question, and Tonks winced. "Yes," she admitted. "I couldn't -- can't -- stop thinking about the other day."
He remained silent, and she turned to face him, propping herself up against his chest. "At the Weasleys' picnic, when that ghastly woman thought I was Charlie's girlfriend, you never once corrected her. It didn't even seem to bother you when Charlie thought it was so funny and started playing it up. I would have been as jealous as hell. But you just stood there and said nothing, while she banged on and on about what a lovely couple we were."
"It bothered me," Remus said grimly, absently stroking her cheek. "I could have thrown them both up against the wall."
Tonks wasn't listening. "And when I told her that no, I'm not dating Charlie, that I'm in a serious relationship with you, she gave me that awful, pitying look, and you still didn't back me up! She obviously didn't believe that you could ever go for someone like me, and I'm starting to wonder if it's true."
"She believed you, Nymphadora," he interrupted stiffly. "What do you think the look of pity was about?"
She paused in her tirade and looked at him. "Oh, come on, Remus..."
"Most people don't look at us together and wish us well," Remus continued quietly. "They see you with me, and wonder what on earth you're thinking of."
Tonks made a rude noise. "Let me guess. Too old, too poor, too dangerous, yeah?"
"Exactly." He shook his head as her colour rose. "No, I'm not going to keep banging my bloody nobility drum, as you so charmingly put it." His hands rose to cup her face and he smiled without much humour. "I'm a selfish man, God help me. And I love you, Nymphadora. So much. Too much to be the one to walk away again."
Fury swelled and burst like popped bubble gum. Tonks glared down at him. "You won't walk away, but I still could, is that it? I still might?"
Remus couldn't meet her gaze. "I suppose that part of me didn't want our relationship publicly acknowledged because..."
"You're ashamed of me?"
"No!" His eyes snapped to hers, horrified. "Merlin, no." His mouth twisted as he took in her tumbled pink hair, wrathful eyes and bare curves. "How could anyone ever be ashamed of you, Nymphadora Tonks?"
The sincerity that she saw didn't abate her temper. Much.
"Then why? If our love is kept private, unofficial, it'll be easier for me to leave?" Her breath hissed out as he flinched. "God. That's it, isn't it? I can't believe you, Remus!"
"You actually have the almighty gall to think that you love me more than I love you!"
He glanced up at her, startled, an involuntary laugh huffing from his chest. She smacked him with a clenched fist.
"This is not funny, Lupin!"
He ironed out his smirk. "No, I know it's not. We always seem to be stuck in the same old circle, don't we? You believe that I'm rehashing what isn't important, and I think that you're ignoring the facts. That the age difference is never going to be smaller, that I'll never wake one day to find the lycanthropy cured, and that I'm never likely to have more than a few knuts in my pocket."
"And that we love each other."
His smile was rueful. "Yes. And that we love each other. But..."
"No." Tonks didn't think she'd ever been this serious in her life, desperate to make him understand. "No, Remus, there are no 'buts'. I try to prove it to you every day, every moment that we're together, and if I have to, I'll keep proving it for the rest of our lives. Maybe we aren't simple. Maybe we have issues, and they're awful issues, but it just doesn't matter. I don't want some half-assed relationship, where you're holding back and just waiting for me to walk." She was surprised to feel tears in her eyes, even more astonished to see a damp shimmer in his. "I don't want to have to hide how I feel about you. I want people to know that I'm in love with a wonderful man, and, somehow, he loves me back. As much as you and I and anyone else hates it, the wolf is part of you, and, Remus, I love every little bit of you." She sucked in an unsteady breath. "And if anyone has something to say about that, they can take their damn bigotry and shove it up their..."
His mouth stopped hers, as he pulled her face down to his in a deep, wet, hungry kiss. She immediately wound her fingers into his soft hair, holding on, and lost count of how many minutes passed and how many times his lips returned to hers.
Finally, Remus pulled back to nuzzle her nose with his own. "You're wrong, you know," he insisted softly, waiting until her indignation swelled to continue. "I do love you more than you love me."
She just shook her head and smiled.
They lay silently for several minutes, listening to the wind as it howled at the waxing moon and the stars and the empty landscape. Snugly caught between Remus's arm and his stomach, Tonks caught sight of her abandoned shoes, and groaned. They were a rather sorry sight.
"What's the matter?" Remus asked, startled. "Is it your head?"
"No," she said gloomily. "It's my shoes. Actually, it's Ginny's shoes."
"Ginny. She loaned me those heels, and I doubt she'll even recognise them now."
Remus cocked an inquisitive brow at the sexy, ruined shoes. "Good Lord." He grinned. "Harry's a lucky man."
Tonks poked him hard and tried not to smile back. "They were a coming-of-age present from Hermione."
"Good Lord." His shock, this time, was genuine.
Tonks laughed. "Oh, well," she said optimistically. "I can buy her a new pair when she starts Auror training." Her expression turned wicked. "I can't wait. I'm crossing all fingers and toes that she's assigned to me."
Remus blanched. "You and Ginny as partners?"
"Don't you think we'd work well together?"
"I think that Harry and I ought to start praying together."
Tonks snorted, pressed a smiling kiss against his breastbone and settled down to think. The fire was warm, and, for now, she felt lovely and content. The next couple of weeks would be a bitch, with Remus's transformation and Delltorio still out there. She also doubted that she'd heard the last of the bloody nobility drum. But things would work themselves out, she was sure of it. Remus wasn't going anywhere, and the Jester's days were numbered.
After all, Nymphadora Tonks was a very stubborn woman.