Hey, guys. It's oneshot time. In case you haven't noticed (for instance, if you've not read any of my fics but this one), I've been trying to capture emotions in my writing. This is yet another practice in trying to portray reluctance, sorrow, guilt, and all of those lovely angsty feelings. Since the point of practice is improvement, I'd really appreciate it if you could tell me how you think I did! (cheesy grin) Have fun reading, and thanks for picking my fic.

Pairing: RL/NT (but does it have slight RL/SB flavors? I can't tell...)

Rating: K+ for substance use, mild relationship shtuf, mild language, and overuse of the words "melancholy," "irony," and "ah."

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She took my hand at Dumbledore's funeral. Though it might have seemed trite to those who noticed, it was terrifying to me. For years I had kept everyone away. I didn't touch anyone at all. It was both a conscious and unconscious decision: touching and comforting is a human trait, and since my youth I have not deemed myself worthy of being called human.

But she touched my hand, and held it long.

It is hard to describe the pangs of mixed resentment and panic as her smooth fingers ran slowly over my own creased palms. I'm sorry to admit that I paid very little attention to the service and the mourners around me; the instinctive desire to wrench my hand from hers was far too strong.

I now sit in the darkened parlor of the Burrow, long after everyone else has gone to bed, pondering. I find myself pondering quite often. Idly swirling the now-warm glass of Firewhisky I hold in my hand, I decide that I should have been a philosopher. I'd be just as poor but at least I'd have a job.

Ah, the alcohol has taken a bit of an effect, I see. The world seems a bit softer now, and
I can feel the irony in everything. For instance: the most attractive woman in the Order has taken a liking to the werewolf. Isn't that funny? No? Well, I suppose not.

Mechanically, my mind starts down its usual train of thought. Every thought of her inevitably brings me to the same argument. It is a familiar and well-worn path I now travel, but it brings me little comfort.

I don't love for a reason. Everyone I have cared for—truly cared for—has been cruelly taken away from me. I don't believe in such an immature thing as a curse (in the Muggle sense of the word, of course), but I certainly have ill luck when it comes to keeping my friends alive. This, of course, is the reason I avoid Harry as much as possible. He's a good person, and I'd hate to hasten whatever demise is in store for him.

What a dark thought. Huh. But back to the woman in my life.

She is cute, in her way. Very chipper. Well, I correct myself mentally, was very chipper. Now she's a bit more like...er...like me, I suppose. I wonder if melancholy is contagious? It must be. I do feel badly about that. But really, I reason, it's her own fault for taking a fancy to me in the first place.

Tapping the rim of my glass against my lips, I begin to wonder why she never gave up. Is it that she knew I'd give in eventually? I certainly do have an obliging nature. I was always obliging James and Sirius at school. I really should have grown a backbone. I could've kept so many tragedies from occurring.

Now there's no one left. C'est la vie.

With the death of my last true friend and the man who could beat some sense into my lupine form come full moons over a year ago, I was alone. I still am alone, as far as I'm concerned. Let her say we're together. Let her say she loves me. It means nothing to me. A sudden pop rouses me, and I realize that my jaw is clenched uncomfortably tight.

Downing the rest of the tepid liquor in my glass, I glance around to see my Achilles' heel stealing into the room. How does she always manage to find me? Then again, the Burrow isn't really the best spot for hiding.

Ah, the alcohol hasn't dimmed my ability to study her. Her hair may be pink again, but her skin is still grey beyond her age. My melancholy, I suppose, is to blame. Poor Nymphadora, you can't catch a break, can you? You find our relationship funny, yes? Then why aren't we laughing at the absurdity of it all? Her eyes catch mine in the gloom and she slumps down beside me on the couch.

"Look at us. We look like hell," she mutters, voice hoarse.

I contemplate what I can make out of myself in the darkness. I am thirty-seven years old, but I might as well be deep into my fifties. I feel old. The constant misery has spread to my joints like arthritis; I no longer hope, but slide from grey day to grey day. Losing everything crushed what remained of my damaged youth, and living with the werewolves for the past year has made sure that it never comes back. All I have left is irony and some very tattered robes. Speaking of which, I need to take them in once more. I've gotten too thin for them again.

When I say nothing, she glances at me. More than a decade my junior, I can't understand why she chose me. Maybe she likes hopeless cases. That I most certainly am. No income, no future, and one hell of an incurable disease.

Finding my voice, I ask, "Do you pity me?"

For a moment an angry look takes possession of her features and she looks as though she is about to reply. Then a contemplative expression takes its place and she doesn't speak.

After perhaps two minutes' silence, I stand to leave. No point waiting for an answer. I want to go to bed, though I know I won't sleep. Her hand catches my sleeve and she rises.

"Yes. But that's not why I love you." The look I gave her must have been skeptical, because she hastily continued, "I love you because life has dealt you a hard hand and yet you still manage to live. But you aren't ever happy. Even your laugh could break someone's heart."

Is that true? I don't remember the last time I laughed. I suspect it was ironic, though. No matter, I'll just remember not to laugh again. Shouldn't go around breaking people's hearts, right? Ah, but that brings up another question.

"So you want to fix me." My voice is flat, but I feel a twinge of guilt for being so brutal. Drat. I hate feeling more guilty than I have to.

Without missing a beat, she counters, "Yes and no. I don't want to change you, but I want you to change. Don't think I don't notice the reluctance to touch anyone, the straining to be distanced from friendly gestures."

I am sure that my look says "so what?". That's the way I feel, anyway.

"I can never be Sirius for you, I know that," she chokes out, staring at her feet. "So I won't try. That's something I can never heal. But please, please, let me love you. If not for your sake, then for mine."

I contemplate for a long moment. Even in the dark I can see her chewing on the inside of her lips, a trait I've watched become more pronounced over the past year. It breaks me. I open my arms, ever so slightly, and she moves forward into my embrace.

So I don't love. I don't touch. If she wants to hold on to me, if she wants to make herself feel better, then fine. I'll let it happen. And maybe, maybe...I'll learn to like it. Maybe someday I'll want to embrace someone again for my own purposes. Perhaps one day I'll stop being terrified of being close to people I want to care about. And maybe someday I won't need a few stiff drinks before letting the woman who loves me get close.

Then again, maybe not.

Because I feel her heart beating against my chest and every muscle in my body screams to get away from the shivering girl clinging to me. My mind races for some reason to excuse myself. My mouth is dry, hands are cold, and spirit is dead. I suppose old wolves just can't learn new tricks, no matter how hard they try.

"I love you," she murmurs.

"I know." It's all I can truthfully say.