Title: Three Words
Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks
Genre: Romance, Introspection, Friendship
Words: 660
Notes: I almost forgot to post this. The final (and rather short and sweet) chapter.

Love was not something that Remus understood well. There had been many people he cared about in his lifetime, and Remus was not the sort of person to feel a light, lingering affection.

He either felt it or he didn't, and if he did, he did not let it go.

It was strange, he thought, that such a feeling could warp and twist into hurt and pity where Peter was concerned, a lingering fondness for the Weasleys, trust with Sirius, and something indefinable with Tonks.

"Remus, wait!" she said just before he turned to disapparate. She came to stand by him, her face flushed and her eyes full. "Before you go," she struggled to say, "I just… I want to…"

She reached out and wrapped her arms around him, holding him closer than he thought anyone had ever held him before. It was different. After being shunned by the majority of society for his entire adult life, here was this young witch with her arms wrapped firmly around him, pressing her face into him.

Confused and conflicted, he gave her a small squeeze in return before she pulled away just far enough to kiss him.

"Be safe," she whispered, and kissed him again. "Be safe…"

He'd tried his three words on her, tried them over and over again, as she was the one he met with for brief periods during his underground mission to turn the werewolves to Dumbledore's side.

But she wouldn't listen to him.

Didn't she understand what he meant? Or did she honestly, truly not care?

"I love you, Remus," she said to him after her display in the hospital wing of Hogwarts.

He noticed a long cut that ran down her arm, but he did not comment on it. Instead, he sat down beside her, feeling a tumult of emotions that he couldn't put a name to.

He didn't say I know, even though he did know. Nor did he say, I'm afraid to love, because everyone who gets close to me ends up dead, even though it was the truth.

Instead, he wrapped his arms around her, held her as tightly as he dared, held her close and didn't dare let go, even when her tears spilled over and mingled with his, and he kissed her and wondered just exactly what it was he was doing, sitting in a dark corridor of the castle with Dumbledore dead and the world a mess.

"I'm too old," he said, his finger pressing against her lips to ensure that she listened to every word, "because I probably won't live very long, and I've been through more, I've seen more, than most. I'm too poor, because I will always be poor, and I make everyone around me poor. I'm too dangerous, because loving me will ruin your life, will leave you as shunned by society as I am. I—"

"I don't care, Remus," she said.

He took in her limp brown hair, the acne across her forehead, and her crooked nose with the freckles smattered across the bridge, and he thought, for an instant, I believe you.

"I want what's best—"

"We always want what's best for those we love," she told him, tear tracks still fresh on her cheeks.

And it was, with a sudden jolt, that he realized something.

He loved her.

Three big words came to his mind, then.

Not, Old, poor, dangerous, for they were little words used to keep bigger words (words that someone old and poor and dangerous might be afraid to speak) at bay.

Remus, emboldened by his newfound understanding, pulled her against him and kissed her salty cheek.

"I love you, too," he said, and as the words left his lips, he felt the weight on his heart lighten.

And he understood, in that moment, that I love you did not have to come with hidden meanings or secrets. It could mean exactly what it says.