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If you could save me
From the ranks of the freaks
Who suspect they could never love anyone
Thursday, July 12 • Evening

Nymphadora Tonks had argued with herself all day.

You know you're going to throw yourself into this and be in over your head before you know it. Why not go slow this time? Because it's Bill, and I know him and ... What if he's just being gentlemanly and "sure, I'm interested in you" because of the moon and now it's "oops, I seem to have spent all night shagging you, so the polite thing to do is go for a bite to eat"? ... How about you stop worrying and just have some fun? Because that's what got me in trouble last time. ... Yeah, but we're both older now, smarter, and we're not going to end up not-friends over this.

All in all, dwelling over Bill, what had happened and what might happen if things went well tonight was definitely more interesting than spending all day worrying about the inquiry, which had gone surprisingly OK if "saying exactly what you thought and maybe torpedoing your career again, but pfft, this time you didn't do anything at all wrong, so suck it, Scrimmy" was going OK.

So Tonks was chuffed by the time she got home to get ready, her customary optimism in place. Heck, even the charms to keep her stocking seams up and straight seemed to be working, which was a minor miracle in and of itself.

Until she hit a roadblock.

Her hair.

Ideally she wanted something new ... but Bill'd seen everything. The pinks, the purples, the brown. The checkerboard pattern she'd tried once or twice in school, the shade of green it had turned that time Dung had showed up before an Order meeting with a pot of "stew" he'd cooked himself with ingredients nicked from who knew where and she'd lost the bet to sample it.

"This is what comes from always going for novelty. Never satisfied, are you?"

Tonks told her mirror to shut it and frowned at her reflection, picturing an image in her mind's eye.

Blue. But not as bright as I've been going lately.

Her hair lengthened and became a deep midnight. Some more concentration added an iridescent sheen to the whole of it, and Tonks nodded with satisfaction and pinned it up in the back.

Right, Weasley.

Bring it on.
What the fuck are you nervous about, Billy Boy? It's not like a normal first date. You like Tonks, she likes you well enough. At least she did the night of the moon. Several times. That was nice.

I wonder if I can even do that one thing again, or if it was a one time thing?
Bill realized he was standing outside the door of her flat, staring off into space, remembering.

That's classy.

He shook out his arms, popped his neck, and took a deep breath before knocking on her door.
Even ready with plenty of time, Tonks was slightly startled by the knock and caught her foot on the settee getting up to go answer the door.

Oh, for fuck's sake.

Andromeda's oft-repeated advice — disturbingly similar to Moody's, although Mum didn't intend it for combat situations — came to mind like a mantra. Be in the moment. Plan ahead, but stay calm. Be in the moment. She nodded to herself, drawing one breath to calm down again and present a cool, calm facade ... which was dissolved instantly with a wide, involuntary grin when she opened the door.


Tonks' eyes twinkled and she blinked in pretend confusion.

"So, whatcha you doing here, Stretch?"
"Har-de-har-har, Nymph." He had to admit that some of the edge of apprehension had disappeared.

He looked down at his empty hands, realizing he probably should have remembered to bring her flowers or some candy - No, not candy. Fleur nearly ripped you a new hole when you brought her that box of chocolate, remember? Never candy. - or maybe a bottle of wine. Or a plate of chips.

Instead he offered her an arm, holding his elbow out in case she wanted to take it, making an effort to at least pretend he was a gentleman. For the moment. Later, all bets were off.

"I thought I was here to pick up my date, but if you've made other plans?"
"Ohhh, right. Well, since there's a reservation and all ..."

Tonks picked up her clutch from the side table and extinguished the lights, stepping out to lock the door.

"So, let's see. How's this supposed to go?" She asked as she slipped her arm under his. "I laugh at your jokes, you buy me drinks, there's going to be food so that part's covered, and here I am being arm candy."

She was also still a bit fluttery-nervous-anxious in the stomach region, but those were the breaks when your date was this ... jumpable.

"I think we can handle this."
"Oh yeah, we'll handle it just fine," he drawled as he lead her toward the stairs.

It was a little difficult to sound confident when you were a bit afraid that your date was going to suddenly realize how much better she could do than dating you, but Bill was making an effort.

He had taken the initiative to stop in and talk to Daphne the day before, and she'd helped him pick something from tonight's menu that he'd be comfortable eating and that wasn't unpronounceable. Better safe than sorry, after all. Wouldn't want to end up with something squidy or eyebally and then have to choke it down to save face.

"So, what happened with the hot mess that was supposed to be the Lestrange bust? You didn't get reprimanded, did you?"
"Nope, not at all! They didn't agree that they mishandled the bust, though, and I think if I put a toe over the line on any regulation the next few months I'll be out on my arse again."

They left the building and began walking down the block. By the time they'd reached the corner Tonks had relaxed more — she was was just talking to Bill, which Merlin knew she'd had enough practice at.

She just couldn't gesture along with the story as much with her arm tucked under his, that was all.

"... Meltings says the local nondisclosure forms were properly filed well before they went in and there was no attempt at a cover-up, but I don't buy it. Kingsley doesn't, either, but after it was all over he had this strange smile, and I'd give a month's pay to know what he's got up his sleeve."

Tonks laughed, remembering the look on Scrimegour's face. The Minister would give more than that, she figured.

"Anyway, so officially the Ministry handled everything completely aboveboard, and there won't be any charges for anyone trying to help her escape, which burns my hide but ... I guess it came out all right."

They passed a few people out enjoying the evening, and caught a few admiring glances, which Tonks' noted with a hint of apprehension.

Definitely, inarguably dating going on here. Dressed like a date, going to a date-type place, feels like a date ... maybe I should have gone along with the London suggestion, instead.

Word of this would be around town by tomorrow at the latest, and Tonks wasn't sure yet if this was something to get Molly's hopes up over, because if anyone could be counted on for some premature excitement, it was Bill's mum.

Yeah, and what are you hoping, here? Don't forget yourself, now.

"Anyway. Speaking of the joys of bureaucracy, it sounds like Egypt was fun. And, I'm assuming, sandy."
The more she talked, the easier it was to fall into their old pattern. The longer they walked, the less it seemed like some awkward production and more like Tonks and Bill hanging out and having a good time.

He liked that.

A nice dinner with his friend, good conversation, a few laughs.

And then amazing sex.

He knew there was no guarantee the night would end that way, but Bill was a guy and he would have to be completely insane not to be a little hopeful.

A lot hopeful.

They had reached the restaurant, and Bill opened the door and held it for her. "You get used to the sand pretty quick, as long as you remember to cast a Bubble Head charm so you can breath when the winds pick up, and stop to shake out your shorts every once in awhile to keep from chafing."
Tonks offered the hostess a brilliant smile, just managing to hold in the giggles until they were safely (no tripping!) seated and waiting on a server.

She couldn't help herself and leaned forward slightly.

"I never realized keeping your shorts in order was a full-time job, Stretch."
"Keeping the bits safe and in working order is serious business," he replied, his grin at odds with the words.

Bill leaned forward as well. "Assuming I even bother wearing any shorts in the first place."
"This might be why we're more often seen in pubs, you know."

It wasn't that she didn't know how one behaved in a place like this. She was Andromeda Black Tonks' daughter, after all.

But if you could get away with more, why not?

Tonks winked and opened up her menu.

"If I went on an investigation of that statement now, in the Hog's Head I might be able to get away with it, but here ... mmm, maybe not. And then we could never do this again, which would be bad."
"You're free to check for yourself after dinner."

Just like that, the elephant in the room was suddenly doing it's tap dance on the table between them. It was out there, in the open, as plain as he could make it without blurting out "So, can we have some sex for dessert, please?" and he had no idea - hopes, yes - how she would react. Too much, too soon?

Bill cleared his throat and picked up his menu. "If you'd like, that is."

At least the Boeuf Bourguignon was on the menu, just like Daphne had assured him it would be.
Tonks sat back in her chair with a smile playing on her lips and raised an eyebrow.

"I was wondering if you'd made after-dinner plans."

She really had no idea where to go from there — make it clear that sex was a "yes, please" sort of thing sure, but there were other considerations and it was just as well that the server chose that moment to come take their orders.

Tonks really had no idea what she told the waiter, but as long as it wasn't something like snails that required careful handling she'd be fine. She was more involved in figuring the odds she'd slip off her chair and make a fool of herself if she tried to run a foot up her date's leg.

"So tell me, Bill ... what sort of girl do you think I am?"
He wasn't sure how to answer that, but he suspected "Extremely bendy" was right out.

It didn't look like she was offended, which was a good start. Was she teasing him? Or trying to gently tell him that what had happened the night of the moon wouldn't be happening again any time soon?

Women are so hard to understand.

"I think you're an intelligent, beautiful and incredibly sexy woman, who will hopefully be willing to forgive me if I managed to put my rather large foot in my mouth before we even managed to get our food."
"No, you haven't done that." But I might be about to. Tonks picked up her wineglass for the extra courage it contained.

"I do want to take you to my place after this and ensure we're both very tired at work tomorrow."

Here goes nothing.

"But ... you know bedhopping isn't my usual M.O. Despite what some of my knickers might say."

Some women had matching lingerie, but Tonks had a fondness for the novelty pants that proclaimed her a "Saucy witch!" and similar regrettable phrases. But even if she did get rat-arsed drunk and end up in someone's bed — she knew herself. She wouldn't have been there under any circumstances if she didn't want to be.

"And I'm not going all psycho on you and demanding some sort of crazy commitment or anything, gods no. I just ... Remember how the other night I said I'd been thinking if there could be an 'us' and figured not?"

Hideous memories of asking Remus completely different and yet at the bottom of it all the same questions made her stomach twist.

"The consensus is now that I was wrong, right?"

That was why they were here, and not a pity date, because of the other night, right?
She wanted him.

Not that he'd doubted it - and boy, didn't that sound conceited when he repeated it in his head - but it still eased a lot of his tension to hear her actually say it out loud.

"I'm not sure what you may have heard about me, and that includes any crap I may have blurted out after the seventh or eighth beer in the pub one night, but I'm not the guy I used to be when we were younger, Nymph. Even before I ended up with these." Bill gestured to the scars on his face.

"Other than Pansy - and you can't fault me for her, you were right there at her feet too, if I remember correctly - there hasn't been anyone since Fleur, before you. I figured I'd just get old and fat and miserable, never letting anyone get too close but you sort of snuck up on me, Nymph. I like to think we're friends, above all else, but lately I've started to think there was a good chance we could have something more. And Merlin knows I'd be ecstatic to help tire you out tonight. Or tomorrow night. Or all weekend. Whenever, I'm really not that picky."

He shrugged. "I'll be honest. I'm not in love with you right at this moment, and I'm not egotistical enough to think one night in bed would make you fall in love with me, but I think there's a chance that someday... And I'd really like to find out if it's possible. Even if I have to wait to find out if you're always going to be that flexible or if we were just particularly inspired that night."
So they were agreed — not love, but a maybe, and a chance that the maybe would be allowed to stick around for a while. She'd take that.

The immense grin that had blossomed on her face indicated that clearly.

"Do you know why I've always let you get away with calling me Nymph when I should have been hexing your arse for not calling me Tonks?"

They had sort of an agreement now, so she felt free to reach across the table and put her hand on top of his.

"Because no matter how much you teased me — and you were a big flirt, Stretch, one of the best in the school — you never went the easy route that nearly all blokes do with a metamorphagus. No questions about breast size or hair color or if I could mimic someone on request ... you always were flirting with me and not my ability, and I liked that."

Tonks shook her head, mock-disappointed.

"But now the flexibility question? I guess that only sort-of counts, and anyway now that we're both friends and dating and all I can just let you know ... yes. I always am."

An older couple bustled by the table, the man putting a cloak around the woman's shoulders despite the warmth of the summer evening, and the swirl of fabric distracted her; she blinked and shifted the focus back on him.

"Turnabout time — I have to admit I'm a little curious if you're always that intense."

Honestly, the only thing she didn't much like in what Bill had said was the reference he'd made to being old and miserable, which reminded her of the talk they'd had in his kitchen. She thought of that, and her voice softened.

"And ... why did you leave in the middle of the night?"
"Intense?" A horrible thought occurred to him. That night he had been rather enthusiastic, but it wasn't usually like that.

"Erm, about that." He tugged on his collar, and tried not to look as embarrassed as he felt. "Don't get me wrong, I've never had complaints, or anything, but having you around and within reach and wanting me while I was ready to come out of my skin... It may not always be like that. And by may not, I mean probably won't. I'm getting old, you know, would probably kill me to do that every night, but I'm willing to try if you are. That was - definitely the best moon I've ever had."

He threw in an eyebrow wiggle for the hell of it, then became serious again. "First time in a long time I hadn't spent the night needing something I couldn't have, because I had exactly what I wanted, but the moon still drew me outside. The old urges were still there."

He looked down at her hand, still atop his. "This time, I had something to come back inside for."
"And I'm very glad I was there."

Their entreés arriving ended the moment — until they did Tonks was content simply to sit there and smile kind of daffily across the table at Bill.

The best moon he'd ever had. Was it weird, or somehow inappropriate, to be proud of that? Because she was. A lot.

The plates of Boeuf Bourguignon that they'd been served required hands and forks and the proper placement of napkins, so she'd had to pull back, but as soon as the waiter turned left them to their meal ...

"Anyway, between you and me, too many nights like that in a row would actually be a bad thing, Stretch. I wouldn't object to taking it slower every once in a while."

A hopeful expression crossed her face.

"Oh, like how about, maybe ... after we're done here?"
Thank the gods.

Bill picked up his knife and fork and happily began to tuck into his dinner. "Sometimes you have the best ideas, Nymph."