This is it, the last chapter! Thank you for sticking with me through it, thanks again to my fantastic beta Irononmaiden, thanks to BranowynIvy for giving me the idea to start. Enjoy!
At first, Hermione didn't notice the change. She was used to Severus' mercurial moods and his black temper. He showered her with compliments and attention one day and then pushed her away the next. It wasn't until his appetite started to be affected that she realized that something was wrong. When she tried to broach the subject, he snapped and snarled at her. Then a few hours later he kissed and cossetted her until she felt like a queen.
As time went on, his mood swings became worse and worse until she couldn't handle them. She had reminded him about a few potion ingredients they were running low on that he would need to replace before the next week's batches were brewed, and he flew into a rage. Instead of just ignoring him as she normally would, Hermione matched his temper.
"Stop screaming at me! Next time I'll just let you forget the ingredients, and then you'll be out of luck when you go to brew and realize you're out of basics like boomslang skin!"
"What do you care? I'll have to remember them on my own after next week anyways!" he thundered angrily.
"Damn right you will! And for that matter you can do the grocery list, too! What do I care if you forget to buy marmalade?"
"Well I won't need your stupid strawberry shite anyways, will I?"
"No! You won't- wait, what? Why? Don't be a berk. If you forget mine on purpose because we're fighting-"
"Are you having fun tormenting me? You won't be here to eat the fucking marmalade. Should I have it in the house just to remind me that you're gone?"
"Gone?" By now, she was truly confused. They hadn't made any plans for trips. Why would he think she would be leaving?
"Yes! Gone!" He shoved both hands into his hair and looked at her starkly. She felt the desolation in his eyes all the way to her bones. Slowly, she approached him until she was close enough to lay her hands on his arms. He was trembling.
"Severus, what are you talking about?"
"The contract-" he choked out.
"What about the contract?" It wouldn't be done for months. She tried to recall exactly how much longer it had left and realized she didn't know. The ever-running tally she had always kept in her head had stopped, forgotten.
"Next week...it's done. You'll be free to leave. You haven't even told me where you'll be going. I thought- I thought-" he stopped, shook his head and stepped back. "It doesn't matter what I thought. You don't have to tell me what your plans are."
Hermione stepped close to him again and brushed his protests aside when he tried to put her at arms reach once more. "I don't have any plans. I'm not going anywhere."
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is that I hadn't even realized the stupid contract was almost done until you mentioned it just now."
"But you always keep track-"
"I used to, yes, but that was before. When things were different between us."
"Before this." She gestured between them. "Us. I haven't kept track of the contract for a long time." She went up on tip toe and kissed the corner of his slack mouth. "If I'd known this was what was bothering you, I'd have put your mind at ease earlier. Of course I'm not going anywhere."
"But why?" Severus stared down at her, his heart pounding wildly.
"Why would I leave?" She gestured around her. "This is my home. My life." She laid her hand over his heart. "My husband."
"Only for show."
"We both know that hasn't been the case for some time."
"But we never talked about anything...more."
She shrugged. "I just assumed you didn't like to talk about those things. You're not overly sentimental with words, unless you count when you've had a few too many firewhiskeys, and I respect that. I don't need declarations from you."
"What if I need them from you?"
"You need me to tell you how I feel about you?" When he nodded, her eyebrows rose in surprise. She never thought he would want her to talk about such things. It had always just been implied between them. But she wasn't shy. "Of course I love you, you stupid, wonderful man."
"Oh thank Merlin," Severus breathed before wrapping his arms around her and crushing her to his chest. "I love you, too," he whispered into her hair. She smiled against his chest and hugged him back.
"You really thought I was going to just up and leave?" She pulled away and looked up at him questioningly. When he showed assent, she shook her head. "What a daft twat you are."
"Watch your mouth, wench," he growled.
"Why don't you make me?" she challenged.
"How about I put it to better use, instead?"
"I think that can be arranged..." He scooped her up in his arms and headed up the steps to their bedroom. On every stair, he dropped a kiss on her hair and listened to his mind repeat the words he'd longed to hear from her so desperately. I love you I love you I love you. "Say it again," he asked her as he laid her on the bed. Hermione didn't need to ask what he meant. She pulled him down against her and wrapped her arms around him. The man who'd become her whole world.
"I love you," she whispered, and kissed him.