Well, this is the end! Thanks to everyone who has reviewed for your support and the boosts to my flagging ego. Your feedback is so very much appreciated!
Thanks to the couple of hundred people who are reading and not reviewing - saving your review for this last chapter, I'm guessing!
Extra special thank you to: DragonDi, purplepanties, PopstarJ01, alleycat, abigail, clio, Av3322, arantxabarrera, els and Sophia Lobato (nee Weasley) for reviewing EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER. If I forgot anyone, I'm so sorry!
DEDICATION: For DragonDi - for too many reasons to name here but mainly for talking me off the ledge, telling me what I already knew but couldn't pull out of my head, and sending me pics of David-the-GOD to inspire me. Love ya lots!
Disclaimer: If it were all mine, this chapter would have gone a whole lot differently. Although, I suppose I should thank her as I've lifted some of this chapter from 'Half Blood Prince' (the hospital scene).
Ten months later
'I'm sorry, Tonks,' he repeated then left the quietly crying woman, exiting The Burrow under the weight of Molly Weasley's glare.
God, why does she keep doing this to herself? To me? Why can't she just accept my decision?
Guilt lay heavily on his chest, knowing his drunken actions of several months ago were partly responsible for her persistence.
The day after he'd run from his bed at Grimmauld Place, he finally mustered his legendary Gryffindor courage and gone back to the house to face Tonks. It had been a tense and brief conversation - Remus apologising for his behaviour and trying to explain that he had been very, very drunk when he'd slept with her but he was interrupted by her declaration that she was in love with him, had been for several months now, and was convinced after their night together that he also harboured feelings for her.
Remus had been dreading this, hoping against hope that those three little words had slipped meaninglessly from her lips but …
'I love you, Remus.'
He did care for her, he told her as much but insisted his feelings were platonic, his words sounding a lot more confident than he felt inside. The fact he wasn't oblivious to her frightened him a little. Watching her stalk the room as she argued with him, he realised that she reminded him of Kate, of what he'd seen in her and fallen in love with – her life, her energy, and her ability to look at him and make him feel as though he was the only person on earth that mattered.
But he and Tonks weren't right for each other, they didn't fit and he wanted to let her down gently, to be able to preserve their friendship as much as they could. He had tried to be kind, to make her see the sense in his reasoning but she just kept persisting. For months and months she kept telling him that she loved him, that she wanted him until he and the wolf had lashed out - not physically, but with words that struck an even crueller blow.
Remus sighed. He had just hurt her badly by telling her that he hadn't realized it was her in bed with him that night; that she had been just a faceless woman that he used to forget. Pain had shot through him when he saw the devastation on her face and he immediately regretted his words, particularly as they hadn't been entirely true.
She wasn't faceless.
As he walked down the path from the house, he tried to convince himself that he didn't have a choice, that he wasn't really as hurt by her pain as he inexplicably seemed to be.
She's a lovely woman and she'll find someone more deserving of her in time. She would be wasting her life loving a man like me…someone who is too old for her, too poor, too dangerous and too broken.
A man who wasn't even sure he was capable of love anymore.
Remus apparated to Hogwarts from The Burrow, trudging up the path to the castle. The war was close – he could feel it in his weary bones and he now often found himself wishing for the end. He was so tired, drained right down to his core, and didn't think he could make it through another battle - not when this time, he didn't have all that much to fight for.
He walked through the halls of his old school, whispering the password to Dumbledore's office before dragging himself up the stairs. The older wizard answered his knock with a cheery 'Come in' that grated on Remus' last nerve.
'Good evening, Remus,' the bearded man said pleasantly as the werewolf closed the office door behind him.
He mumbled a greeting and sat down in the indicated chair, Dumbledore moving around his desk to sit in the opposite armchair.
'When did you get back?' Albus asked, offering Remus a lemon drop from a small, round bowl.
Remus shook his head in refusal and said, 'Last night. I stayed at the Burrow with Molly and Arthur…and Tonks.'
He saw Albus pick up on his hesitancy but he didn't comment on it, just popping a lolly into his mouth then placing the glass bowl carefully down on his desk.
'Tell me about the werewolf pack.'
They talked for nearly an hour about Remus' latest visit to one of the werewolf packs that were scattered around the country then as Remus was preparing to leave, Dumbledore surprised him with his next comment.
'It will be seventeen years soon, will it not? Since Kate's death?'
Remus had been rising from his chair but with the Headmaster's words, he sank back down, a little shocked the man had remembered. Dumbledore seemed to understand his surprise.
'Kate was so vibrant, so full of life. She was not someone who could be forgotten easily.'
Remus frowned, not comfortable talking about Kate when his emotions were already so close to the surface but he shook his head.
'No, she's not,' he murmured in agreement, wondering where the man was going with this trip down memory lane.
'But no matter how unforgettable she might have been, you can't spend your life grieving for her, Remus,' Albus said gently, his bright blue eyes sympathetic. 'Kate would not have wanted you to stop living.'
Remus' frown deepened. He thought this might have been it. 'Albus…' he began but the man cut in.
'I have watched you slowly self destructing for the last seventeen years, rejecting all extended hands of the people who want to help you. I cannot be silent any longer, Remus. As one who is facing the end of his life much sooner than he would have liked, believe me when I say that a life lived without love is a life with little purpose.'
Remus lowered his face to his hands, scrubbing at his eyes. 'I had a life, Albus,' he said, voice muffled. 'I had love and it all got taken away from me. I…can't do that again. It hurts too much.'
'It hurts because it's all you allow yourself to feel,' Albus told him. 'You won't forget Kate or what you had together if you allow yourself to be close to someone else.'
Remus looked up at the man quizzically then understood. 'Nymphadora,' he muttered, for a moment resenting the woman for telling all and sundry about what should have been kept private.
'She loves you, Remus,' Albus said softly. 'She would be good medicine for you. I know that you are concerned about the age difference, the lycanthropy but Kate didn't care about those things. Why is it so difficult for you to accept that Nymphadora doesn't care about them either?'
'I don't feel the same towards her as she does for me,' he said, biting his lip. 'I've loved before, Albus, and this isn't it…I don't love her…'
He stopped, realizing that his chest didn't hurt as much as it usually did when he talked about Kate. The idea of someone loving him again had taken away some of the ache.
'But…you are not indifferent to her either?' Albus asked and Remus knew that was true.
He laughed with Tonks, he had talked to her about his lycanthropy as he'd done many years ago with Kate. But…
'She's so young and…well, I guess she makes me feel young again when I'm with her but that's not a good enough starting point for a relationship.'
'You care for her?'
Remus hesitated then nodded. 'I do,' he admitted. 'I care for her but…'
'You are not honouring Kate's memory by hiding behind your grief. She cared about you too much to want you to live your life shying away from an opportunity to be loved or to love again.'
'I know. I know she'd want me to move on but…it's not the same…'
'First love, Remus, deep love like that you had with Kate is something unique, something special that can never be replicated but the love that can come after the first bloom can be equally as satisfying, as fulfilling. Could you learn to love Nymphadora?'
Remus frowned then shrugged despairingly. 'I…I don't know. I don't know if I'm capable of it after all this time,' he said haltingly then ran his hands through his hair. 'God, I can't do this. I can't risk this doing this again, loving someone and losing them. Kate had the right idea, Albus. Keep yourself at a distance so no one gets hurt…I'm too old for Tonks, too dangerous…'
But even as he said the words, he could hear Kate's voice echoing them and his voice trailed off. He'd told Kate it hadn't mattered to him, that the age difference, the danger, meant nothing to him; that he only wanted her. His assurances were almost word for word what Tonks had had been telling him for almost a year.
Startled to realize the similarities in the situations, he didn't notice that Albus was staring at him appraisingly. When he looked up at the silent man, Albus leaned forwards and looked at him with a somber face.
'If you had listened to Kate's objections, all the reasons she gave you that you should not be together, you wouldn't have had that time with each other,' he said, leaving Remus to wonder if the man had read his mind. 'Remus, if I told you I could take all the pain of Kate's loss away from you but in exchange, you had to give up the memory of all the time you had together, would you do it? Would you choose to forget every moment you spent with her if it meant no more pain?'
Remus stared at him, his blue eyes filling with tears. 'No,' he said softly, not needing any time to consider it. 'No, I wouldn't give up a single second of the time I had with Kate. Not for anything.'
'So it was worth taking the chance? Being loved, having Kate love you was worth taking the risk that it could all go wrong?'
Remus nodded and felt a tear escape as he said, 'I still love her. I feel like I'm betraying her every time I'm with another woman…'
'You will always love Kate. She was part of you, she was your mate,' Albus interrupted. 'But the human heart has no limitations on who or how it loves. It is your head that is placing restrictions on you. Loving Nymphadora would not mean you no longer love Kate.'
Remus worried his lip with his teeth and Albus smiled. 'I think you know what my advice would be, Remus. We are on this earth for too short a time to live without love. Make the most of having someone who loves you. Let yourself learn to love her too.'
Remus walked away from the castle a few minutes later and apparated to the first place he thought of - the graveyard where he'd buried the love of his life. He wove through the headstones, able to follow the too familiar path even in the near darkness.
Stopping beside her grave, he gave her his usual greeting, 'Hi sweetheart,' as he ran his hand over the curve of the marker that was engraved with her name.
Sinking down, he felt his old bones creak in protest as he took up the position he usually did when he came to visit Kate.
'Baby, I don't know what to do,' he said softly then closed his eyes as he told her about Tonks.
'God,' he groaned, resting his head against the cool marble of Kate's tombstone. 'Tell me what to do, sweetheart. Tell me if I should take the chance. I…I don't trust myself. I don't know if I can let you go yet.'
In many ways, he wanted this to end…he didn't want to have to face this pain every day. It was just…if he let go of the pain, it would mean letting go of Kate, and he still wasn't sure he was ever going to be able to do that.
A month later
Dumbledore dead? What hope is there for us now?
Despair rose in Remus' chest again and he rubbed a still shaking hand across his eyes. The fight tonight at Hogwarts had claimed the most significant life of all – Albus Dumbledore. Their leader, their mentor, their strength…he was gone and he had taken with him the last of Remus' connection to Hogwarts, to his childhood and he suddenly felt inexplicably old. Not in age, not in physical endurance but in spirit, in his heart. He felt…finished.
'Remus?' came a soft voice and he squeezed his eyes shut tighter.
'I…I can't do this now, Tonks,' he murmured as he felt her sit beside him on the bench outside the Hospital Wing.
The others were still inside with Bill Weasley but Remus had needed space to dissemble the happenings of the night.
All of them.
Fleur and Molly Weasley were embracing next to the bed of Bill Weasley - their fiance and son respectively. Fleur's declaration that she loved Bill despite him suffering what would be horrendous physical scarring had been touching but had poked at nerves too close to the surface for Remus' liking.
'You see!' cried a strained voice.
Remus turned and saw Tonks glaring at him. His heart sank – he knew what was coming and that he was powerless to stop it exploding from her.
'She still wants to marry him, even though he's been bitten! She doesn't care!'
'It's different,' he said, feeling a little resentful that she'd raised this very personal issue here in front of everyone. Surely this wasn't the time…
'Bill will not be a full werewolf. The cases are completely –'
'But I don't care either, I don't care!' she said, seizing the front of his robes and shaking them, pulling him closer to her. 'I've told you a million times…'
'And I've told you a million times,' he said, unable to meet her eye, fearing he'd give in to her if he saw the same desperation there as he could hear in her voice, and he wasn't ready to do that. 'That I am too old for you, too poor…too dangerous…'
Molly broke in, telling him how ridiculous he was being and he tried to stay in control as he replied.
'I am not being ridiculous,' he said, happy to hear his voice was steady, betraying no signs of his confusion or frustration. 'Tonks deserves someone young and whole.'
'But she wants you,' said Arthur Weasley with a small smile. His mouth kept moving but the rest of his words went unheard as Remus' eyes accidentally met Tonks'.
His breath was snatched from his lungs when he saw the look on her face. It was the look he had so wanted to see on Kate's face all those years ago – that look of longing, of trust, of love, and his resolve wavered - just as it had that night so long ago when Kate finally gave in to him.
It felt good to see that look on a woman's face again.
He wanted to see that look on a woman's face again.
A little startled by the realization, he looked away from her, Arthur's voice becoming clear again.
'…do not necessarily remain so.' He gestured to his son, lying ravaged on the hospital bed by the same man who'd infected Remus when he was but a child.
He could feel the others' eyes on him, uncomfortable that everyone now knew about the situation between he and Tonks.
'This is…not the moment to discuss it,' he said, avoiding meeting anyone's eyes. 'Dumbledore is dead…'
'Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world,' said Minerva McGonagall curtly.
Remus had a moment to acknowledge the woman was right; that Dumbledore had told him this himself - once many years earlier and again much more recently - before attention was taken away from him as a distraught Hagrid entered the Hospital Wing. No one noticed Remus slip out of the room…no one except the last person he wanted to see right now.
They sat quietly side by side for several moments before Remus said haltingly, 'You…don't care? About…the age difference or the…lycanthropy…'
'No, I don't,' she told him, brown eyes watching him closely. 'I care that you are gentle and kind, and that you make me laugh when I've had such a bad day that I'm sure I'll never smile again, and I even love the fact that you loved someone so deeply, so completely that you can't bring yourself to contemplate a life with anyone but her - even after all these years.'
Remus was startled and looked curiously at her.
'Sirius once told me that there was someone a long time ago that you just…can't let go.'
Remus looked away, surprised that Tonks had known all along why he was turning her away yet she still persisted. Wouldn't most women just give up if they knew a man was pining after someone else?
'Why do you keep…? I mean, if you know…?'
'Because that's exactly how I love you. Wholy and completely and I would never forgive myself if I gave up without one hell of a fight. Didn't you have to fight for her?'
He gnawed at his lip and nodded. 'She kept refusing me - even after we came together, she held herself back…'
'Yet you still loved her? Even though she hurt you? Kept refusing you?'
Remus closed his eyes and nodded. He saw the irony. Kate eventually gave in to him, to his insistence that nothing else mattered except how much they loved each other. And she had made him so happy…could he really have another chance to feel that again?
'I…I've got to go,' he said, standing abruptly. 'I've got to think…'
'Remus, I know that there's someone else in your heart, someone you love very much but…please, can't you try to make room for me too?' Tonks said, brown eyes shining with unshed tears.
Remus took a long, shaky breath. Did he want to try? And it was with a bit of a jolt that he realised he did. He wanted to be loved again. He wanted to see if he was capable of love again. It was that simple.
And this is what Kate would want.
'Would you come with me?' he asked, suddenly knowing what he needed to do. 'Now? There's someone I want you to meet.'
He apparated them to the now dark cemetery and led her through the stone markers until he reached Kate's.
Lighting his wand, he pointed it at the words he'd so often traced his fingers over and he heard Tonks' gasp before he said quietly, 'This is Kate.'
'You…you were married?' she asked softly and he shook his head.
'Not technically,' he told her. 'We were living together. We were engaged. She was killed just a couple of weeks before our wedding day.'
Tonks stared at the words then turned back to him. 'I'm sorry,' she said. 'Sirius just said there was a woman. I didn't know…'
'Not many people do…' he said, realising it was true. 'Most of the people who knew Kate and I back then are gone.'
He took a deep breath. 'I want to be honest with you, Tonks. I…I don't love you; I'm not in love with you.'
He saw hurt shoot across her face and he continued quickly, wanting her to stop looking like a wounded animal.
'But…I care about you. Very much. I don't know if I can ever love anyone the way I did Kate but…you're the first woman since her that's made me want to try.'
Her face lit up with her smile and he couldn't help his own. Even the wolf made no objections as if to say, 'Well, it's up to you this time.'
She wasn't his soul mate but she loved him unconditionally and he wanted to try to do the same for her.
'You really want to try?' she asked and, after a slight hesitation, he nodded.
'I do,' he told her then looked down at the marble headstone. 'I want to try.'
Now that he'd made this decision, some of the heaviness had left him, he felt a little lighter and he knew that he had finally begun to let the pain go…and that allowing himself to care again; maybe to love again, would not mean he lost Kate. He would never be without Kate, no matter who else claimed a piece of his heart.
He reached over and took Tonks' warm hand and felt her squeeze it.
'Could…could you tell me about Kate?' she asked tentatively and Remus glanced over at her in surprise.
'You want to hear about my former fiancee?' he asked and she smiled.
'Strange as that may seem, I do,' Tonks said. 'You loving Kate helped make you the man you are. She was a big part of your life; she still holds a big part of your heart, and I'd like to get to know her through your eyes. Will you tell me about her?'
Remus smiled broadly and nodded. 'Yeah,' he said softly. 'I'd love to.'
Thank you to all who've reached this point with me. I don't think I've ever been so attached to a fic as I have to this one and I'm sad to see it end. If you've read along, I'd love to hear from you now it's over.
I'll be posting a Remus and Sirius slash fic soon for those who are slash fans. I'd love to hear from you all when I do. Put me on alert if you're interested in reading it.
Thanks again! This is the last time I'll ask you to review this fic, I swear. :)