DISCLAIMER - Harry Potter does not belong to me. Nor does Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, James Potter, or Peter Pettigrew. More's the pity. I could have fun with them. No, they're all JK Rowling's. Juniper Calloway, however, is mine.

ALERT - Order of the Phoenix spoilers, ahoy!

*

It was too warm for a fire and the heat made him sweat, seeing double, seeing shimmers around objects in the dim room. He let the flames dance, though, finally bowing to the heat just enough to peel off his robe. Time might have passed; he wasn't sure. At least he had stopped shaking, he reflected. His tea wasn't featuring shock-wave spirals anymore. Staring down into the mug cradled in his hands, he frowned and wondered where he had gotten the tea, when he had gotten the tea. It was stone cold in his hands.

He was lost, spinning, trapped. No sense of time, of space, of history, of himself. Existance suddenly felt like a decided option, one among many, and he wasn't sure if it was for him. Not that he would do himself harm, no. That would be... Selfish. Though he had always been selfish, he reckoned, so it would be nothing new. He always clutched things too close - his secret, his curse, his pain, his discontent, his opinions... Always his, always close. Then again, he shared with James and Sirius and Peter and... Look what happened there.

"This seat taken?"

Looking up, he blinked, squinting to see outside the circle of firelight. Reflected flames caught gold in his dark eyes; he looked like a lost wild thing, worn too thin, half-starved of everything vital. The grey under and the red within showed a sleepless, tear-fraught series of nights and days. A reproving "tsk" escaped the interloper and she stepped into the wavering light. Fire touched touseled hair, sparking a halo of red-gold around a pale, pointed face. When he didn't answer, she bit back a sigh and peeled off her light cloak, shaking raindrops off onto the hearth. A few fell into the fire and hissed. "Nice little summer storm out there," she commented vaguely. "Something'll be on fire before the night's out."

No answer.

Mouth pursing, she crossed to the back of the kitchen. He heard rattling, scuffling, tiny noises of industry, and he closed his eyes. Why was she here? Wasn't she supposed to be gone already? Back up to wherever? Merlin's bones, he was tired. He couldn't even feel where he ended and the darkness around him started. It was all melting into one gaping hole, one ravenous ache. He wished she would leave; he was still far to aware of her presence at all times. His thoughts fled and scattered while she was there and he desperately wanted the silence and the noise back once more. He had no idea what was in his head anymore or when the empty throb in his chest would leave. If it would leave. For how much he was feeling and how much he knew he should be feeling... He felt curiously insubstantial and dead.

He started when a plate landed in front of him, ceramic clanking against wood. Rearing back, he felt his upper lip curl as the scent of harvest bread and cold ham assaulted him, immediately turning his echoingly empty stomach. With a faint noise of disgust, he pushed it away.

"Just a bite, Remus." She was suddenly at his shoulder, hand warm and burning through his ratty sweater. He twitched away and she sighed, immediately removing it. "I'm willing to bet you haven't eaten in at least two days. You're going to make yourself ill."

He shrugged and refused to look up again. Instinctively, he knew what he would see; after all, hadn't he spent two damn years of his youth staring at her? Her barely-there eyebrows would be quirked downwards, her blue eyes sympathetic and dark with worry, little pink mouth puckered as she searched for just the right words to make him see the error of not eating. He wasn't in the mood. On the other hand... Eyes locked on his hands, he whispered, "You're the first person to talk to me since..."

"Really?" He felt the bench beneath him shiver slightly and he hunched over further. Distracted, long fingers picked at the edge of the plate. "Hm," she murmured. An elbow on the table slipped into his view and he ducked his head more. "Well, then, aren't we a bunch of useless gits?"

Blinking again, he lifted his gaze to look at her with surprise. She sounded so angry with everyone, with herself. Rusty with disuse, he forced his jaw to move. It wasn't her fault; she hadn't even been there that night. In his foggy mind, he couldn't find just where she had been that night but he knew it hadn't been with them at the Ministry. Couldn't let her feel responsible. No, that stole from those who were and... He screwed up his face, an expression more often seen on a hard-thinking little boy, horribly jarring on the tired lines of such a man. "N-no, Jupey," he muttered, slipping into a nickname lain unused for over a decade, "Everyone else has been... Busy."

She appeared to consider this with heavy gravity, pulling absently on her lower lip, and he cringed inside. Of all of the people to walk in on him, to see him like this, oh, Merlin's bones, why her? Every word he spoke felt like a betrayal of how she saw him, his throat coated with bile and aching with held-back sorrow. She, of all those he knew, should never see this, he thought. Why had they even found each other again? Circe take the Order and necessity and... He rested his face in his hands. No, actually, that was all backwards. It was the Order taking things; it was -him- taking things.

"That is a fact, I suppose," she drawled and he risked another sidelong glance at her, half glad for the interruption of his droning mind.

"Shouldn't you... I mean to say," he swallowed and looked ahead into the fire. "Don't you have more important things to do?"

"As a matter of fact, I don't. Colin's safe as houses in Edinburgh, Molly's stolen away my daughter again, paperwork's sorted." Suddenly, her pale face appeared in his field of vision, elven grin but shadowed eyes. "I'm positively ruddy bored. So what'll it be?"

"... Pardon?" He felt like he was choking, drowning in the look in her eyes and her honied-smooth voice.

"Remus, my pet, it's simple." She sat down heavily and tilted her head at him like a curious bird. "Me or Dung, mate, for an ear. Your pick."

The air fell on him and he started back, gasping. She couldn't mean what it sounded like. She couldn't possibly want him to talk to her about what had happened. He was fine, he'd be fine, he just needed space and time and quiet and and and... He couldn't get a full breath. The room spun and closed. He felt the fire at his throat, under his fingertips, the brick walls at his back. Trapped, caught, snared - not to her, not by her.

"You're going to boil yourself, mate." Her tone was mild, conversational still, as she appeared at his side and reached for him, gripping his jumper and tugging upwards. He wrenched away, panting, and snarled at her. She rewarded him with a sharp backhand, gentle and fleeting in its way but firm nonetheless. "Stop -that-," she snapped, temper finally showing. Neatly, she yanked at the end of the bench and slid between him and the table, pinning his legs between hers efficiently as she renewed her attack on his jumper. "I -said- you're going to boil yourself and I'm not having that." Viciously, she yanked the jumper over his head and made a disgusted noise at the state of his wrinkled grey t-shirt beneath. "Honestly, Remus, when you're in pain, you're as selfish as... Sirius..." She gasped softly, blue eyes gone huge in her pointed face, as her own words registered.

Dark to dark, opposite shades of the spectrum, their eyes met and everything shattered. Hands tangled in his unkempt hair, she ducked her head, whispering, "Oh, sweet Circe, I'm sorry, Remus. I didn't mean to say that. Please." He merely choked once more and fell forward, face buried in her stomach. He shook all over, lean frame shivering against her, skin clammy and dead-feeling. Reflexively, she curled around him, head bent, arms tight around his shoulders. In the force of his pain, she lost her words, her power, and could only cling desperately.

Broken, burned inside out, he clutched her back. Oh, hell, oh, Merlin, oh, god... Sirius was gone and that was the end and there was only him left, just him, always just him. Death and betrayal and death and just him, left behind to pick it all up. Just him, all alone. The last of the old group. Standing, left behind, running in place.

He didn't realize he was talking, words slipping out like razors and acid, cutting his heart and soul and mouth, flaying the woman who held him. He didn't realize anything until he felt cooling lips on his temples and a whisper in his hair and slim arms holding him tightly.

Not alone, not alone, not alone.

She wouldn't let him be.