A shiver racked Lupin's body as he made his way down the street. Ironic, he thought, that the only time it seemed he didn't feel cold was under a full moon. Just another one of life's little quirks.

Finally giving up his destinationless wanderings, he ducked into the nearest pub. Stamping his feet on the mat just inside the door, Remus clapped his hands together softly to restore circulation. Shaking most of the snow off his threadbare coat, he quietly weaved his way through half-drunk bodies to the bar. The barkeep was a stout wizard, a full beard of lush, black hair gleaming in the candlelight. Remus waited for the man to catch his eye.

"What'll ya have?" the barkeep bellowed in Lupin's general direction.

"Firewisky, if you please," Remus said. Soon a moderately clean glass filled halfway with the amber liquid sloshed to a stop in front of him. Tossing two of his last few coins onto the bar, Remus turned and scanned the room for an empty table. A lone stool rested next to a forgotten table in a corner. Drink in hand, Remus made his way over to it. He sank down with a low groan of pleasure. It had been more hours than he cared to think about since he'd sat, and his weary limbs were near shaking with fatigue.

The first sip of his drink burned down his throat and brought tears to his eyes. "Good stuff," he murmured to no one.

The candle on his dusty little table was sputtering. Faintly familiar swirls of wax covered the holder and spilled out onto the tabletop. Remus simply sat, enjoying the comfort of bended knees and sturdy stools. His posture was hunched over his glass, radiating keep-away vibes in case any inebriated pub resident got overly friendly ideas. But his eyes continually scanned the patrons, the doors, the windows overlooking the street. One sip of his whiskey and the rest would remain in the glass, undrunk - a convincing prop if needed and a glaring icon of what his life had come to if it wasn't.

Lupin shook his head. He was getting morose in his old age. "Old age," he thought suddenly. "That's another reason. I'm nearly twice her age, well old enough to be her father. Age. That's a good one. She can't argue with that."

Even as he thought it, he knew that Tonks would argue that point. As she'd argued all his other points. As she'd continue to argue until she realized what he'd known for years. Sighing, Lupin looked down at his glass. The first drink was already a dim memory of warmth and a faint glow. His nose twitched at the heady scent of the firewhisky. Sighing again, he pushed the glass away slightly and studied the room. Again. As he would continue to do until he was nearly thawed enough to feel his toes. Then back out into the streets, walking up and down the sidewalks, until exhaustion or the dawn would drive him back to his shabby little apartment. His hard cot. Nearly stale bread and seven cans of condensed soup - his larder's entire contents.

Remus rubbed the back of his hand against his grainy eyes. For fun, he tried to remember the last time he'd slept a night through. With a bitter laugh, he realized it was sometime slightly after Harry was born. Sometime before that night, before the long nightmare began.

Ironically enough - Lupin found that his life was a huge attractor of the ironic - he'd often thought that Sirius Black's death would end the nightmare. If only Sirius' smirking face, his manic laugh, could be snuffed out, then Remus could find peace. The feelings of helplessness, of utter betrayal and failure, would end and he could crawl into a hole somewhere and just be. Stop being the one who'd survived, the only one left, the one who had been too weak and unimportant to die. He'd just be Remus Lupin, werewolf. Sometimes, in the darkest part of the night when all he could do was shiver beneath his thin blanket and watch the shadows on the wall, he'd wished that he could kill Sirius himself.

And then, miracle of miracles, Sirius was restored! Not as the traitor, but as the betrayed. Remus wasn't alone, he wasn't weak, he wasn't forgotten. He was needed. He could, in fact, help avenge all the wrongs that he had let get by him the first time around. All would be well.

Except for a damn archway. They found the one room in the whole sodding Department of Mysteries that studied death itself and thought it a great place for a duel. Remus ran a shaking hand through his hair. Once again, he hadn't been fast enough. Hadn't been smart enough or quick enough. Even Harry had seen what was happening before Remus had a chance to react. All those years of burying his face in books, and he'd still been too stupid to save his best friend. He'd been left behind. Again.

Remus' eyes darted around the room. A particularly rowdy bunch of wizards were laughing, slapping one another on the back. Apparently one had just told an enormously funny story regarding the selling of toads. They called for more pints and more glasses and more more more. Their voices were booming and Remus had to struggle not to physically wince at their onslaught.

Drawing a shaky breath, Remus traced the rim of his glass with one long finger. He longed for another drink, and another, and another. He wanted to drown his pain, slam it away in drinks and food and laughter at inane stories told by strangers. But he knew full well that the guilt would still be there. Guilt coiled in your stomach like cold lard; it couldn't be drunk away. Besides, Lupin told himself firmly, he needed a clear head. He was a member of the Order. One never knew when one would be called on.

He stifled his laugh with a cough. The Order needed him, all right. They needed him and Mundungus Fletcher to be their eyes and ears in places that respectable wizards wouldn't dream of going. Dung to the thieves, him to the werewolves and the hags and the vampires. To all the non-wizarding kind. Because that's what he was. Not quite human.

Tonks didn't understand that. She didn't understand a lot of things - didn't or wouldn't, Lupin was never quite sure. She just came at him with her expressions of undying love and expected that to be enough. She didn't realize, she could never know.

Lupin stood suddenly, his stool scraping loudly against the rough wooden floor. No one noticed. He drew his cloak back about his shoulders and strode toward the door. His unfinished firewhisky gleamed in the firelight. It would soon be drunk by some inebriated bar patron who would be long past appreciating the quality or tossed away by the barkeep with muttered protests at 'the waste'. Lupin found he didn't particularly care which.

The cold was still lurking outside the door, waiting for him. Barely three steps down the street and it had settled back down into his bones, gnawing away at them in the crystal black. He shivered, a futile gesture.

What Tonks couldn't understand, what Lupin knew he'd never be able to convince her of, was that he was cursed to be alone. And it wasn't because he was a werewolf, as easy as it would be to blame the condition. No, it was him. Something was horribly wrong with him. Everyone he'd ever loved, everyone he'd ever felt close to, was gone. Lily and James, killed while he sat at home, reading. Peter turned Judas under Remus' very nose. Sirius. He had died not ten feet from where Lupin had stood, helpless to save anyone. Now something was troubling Dumbledore - what, the great wizard didn't trust Lupin enough to say. But Remus knew, just the same. Something was coming, something worse than they'd all imagined. And there would be nothing, again, that Remus could do to stop it.

Harry Potter was their only hope. Harry, whom James had begged Remus to protect. But Remus had thought that there'd always be James, always be Sirius. And then there was no one, but Remus still couldn't help. Couldn't save. Couldn't do anything but stand on the side and wait to pick up the pieces.

Remus trudged through the blessedly deserted streets. If only the sun didn't have to come up, if only the day didn't have to begin. He'd wander the streets until he'd pounded his bones into blessed dust. Then the wind could have him.

In a few days, he knew, there'd be another assignment. Another few months spent in the company of werewolves who'd given themselves over to the moon. And at the end of it...what? Tonks? Love? Happy endings?

Remus snorted, shoved his frozen fingers further into his pockets. She'd burst into his apartment last night, spouting of love and sacrifice and dreams. As if she knew. As if she could understand.

As if he hadn't loved her from the moment he saw her. As if he hadn't dreamed of her every night for years. As if he was deserving of even one ounce of her love, one drop of her emotion.

As if he wouldn't fail her in the end. Wouldn't watch, helpless, as she died. As they all died.

Because he would be left alone again. It was inevitable as the next full moon. He would fail, she would fall, and all that would be left was the grief and the guilt and the pain.

Remus Lupin trudged through the streets, his head down against the wind. He knew, really, that true love meant he had to content himself with glances from afar, with conversations snatched in hallways. He had to push her away. She'd forget him. She deserved to forget him. He, however, would treasure the memory of her eyes, her smile, her spark and her courage. Because that's what he got. Memories. Glimpses. Drops.

The cold was still biting, but the wind was lessening. Just on the rim of the horizon, the sun began to rise. Remus stared up into the greying sky and longed to howl, to cry, to break open his chest and let his heart fall to jagged pieces. Instead he sighed softly and trudged his way back home. Again.


Disclaimer: All situations, characters, and alcoholic beverages within this fic are sole property of JK Rowling. The idea came via my plot bunny, Hubert, who enjoys a nice snack of reviews with his morning tea. I simply play in the verse.

A/N: Just a little bit of musing. I hope you enjoy.