Every single day had involved a headache, Bill found. That day's seemed worse than all the others, where his brain was throbbing and his skull ached and his eyes felt like they were going to burst free with the pressure.
He sat at the kitchen table and pressed his fingertips into his eyeballs, willing the pain away. He knew he looked like a mess with greasy hair, a pale face, dirty clothes and a stinking body. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a bath or a shower. Looking after himself hadn't been his top priority.
Nothing had been a priority, not even his children, and Bill hated himself for that. Louis had been staying at the Burrow since the funeral, and Dominique and Victoire were with their repective boyfriends. In more lucid moments, Bill could stop and wonder at how grown up they were, but then he sank again and then they almost didn't exist to him.
"What kind of father feels like his children don't exist?" Bill murmured to himself.
Moaning, he let his head fall so that his brow rested on the wood of the kitchen table. It smelt of years of family dinners and happiness. Jerking upright again, Bill stared around and decided that his house was slowly killing him. His chair squealed as he pushed it back whilst jumping to his feet.
For the first time since the funeral, he knew he had to get out.
"Hang on a minute," Ron called, wincing at the spray of food which coated his plate and his knees.
He was tucked up on his sofa scoffing down a late dinner. He'd only been in from work for half an hour and his dinner was something he'd bought on the way home from his local trusty takeaway. Tripping over his feet, he put the plate on the coffee table and sucked his fingers clean as he went. By the time he managed to get the Muggle locks open on the door to his house, he was hot in the face and desperate to get back to his dinner. He was shocked by what he found waiting for him, however.
"Bill!" he cried, looking his eldest brother up and down. "I didn't think that you were... I thought that..."
"That I was hiding from society?" Bill said quietly, looking Ron squarely in the eye. "I still am."
Shrugging his shoulders, Ron stepped back to allow Bill to pass, which he did, and Ron set about locking the door up again. Somehow he had the feeling that Bill wouldn't be leaving that evening. By the time he had wandered back to the sitting room, Bill had dropped down onto the couch and was staring dolefully into the fire. Ron said nothing but folded back down into place, picked up his plate again, and began to finish his dinner.
Bill kept up the silence and allowed him to eat in peace, which Ron was grateful for; he'd had one hell of a day. He'd been putting out fires all over the city and hadn't even started on the follow up paperwork for any of the incidents. There were days when he truly loathed his job.
There were other days, though, when he adored it, because it had been a contributing factor to the demise of his marriage, which he had been looking for a way out for a very long time. His illness had been another reason that Hermione had snapped and decided it was all over. Ron had said very little in the decision process; he had said that he would like the children to choose whom they wanted to live with, but Hermione had trounced him, and both their children resided with her. Ron saw them regularly and they even came to stay with him on certain weekends.
They were the only thing he cared about and, if he was honest, the only reason why he was still there, heart beating and lungs breathing.
He stole a glance over at Bill and wondered if the man was feeling the same way -that he was only hanging on for the sake of his children, who needed him even more now that their beautiful mother had been taken from them.
Ron thought on it more as he cleared his plate, the contents of which seemed to have cooled considerably and were therefore less pleasurable. A few mouthfuls from the end he gave up and put the plate on his lap.
"Do you want a drink?" he asked Bill.
A negative grunt was his only answer and Ron fought down a grin.
"I'm fine," Bill said tightly.
"Okidoke," Ron said, struggling to his feet again. "I'm going to go for a shower and then I'm going to bed. You wanna stay the night?"
"Do you mind?" Bill looked up at him.
"I'll set up the spare bed."
Ron tried to sound cheerful, to give Bill a sense of security and warmth, but he wondered, from the look on his brother's face, whether anything would touch him. Walking through to the kitchen, Ron put the plate in the sink and took a moment to look out of the back window. His garden was smothered in darkness. If he looked hard enough, he could see Rosie and Hugo playing in the grass, on tiny childrens' brooms which only hovered a foot from the ground.
The ghosts of the past always seemed to haunt him at night, Ron found.
That's why Bill's here. He doesn't want another night alone.
Swallowing away the sudden thickness in his throat, Ron pushed away from the sink and left the kitchen, padding along the hallway to the bathroom. He pulled on the light cord and blinked in the brightness. His eyes fell on the solitary towel hanging on the rail on the wall and wondered why he had ever thought it had been a good idea to only keep one there. It was like slamming his life's failure in his face.
He began to strip off his clothes, letting them fall to the floor without a care for creases: there had to be some kind of benefit to being alone again.
Ron had not fought to save his marriage, but that did not mean that he did not miss the security and warmth it had given him.
Freshly washed and slightly pink from his thirty minutes under the scalding water, Ron re-entered the sitting room with a slight shiver in his skin.
"Hey, I've made the bed.... up..." he finished slowly, when his eyes settled on the sofa, where Bill had slumped to the side and was asleep, face turned into the seat cushions.
Ron sighed, knowing he would never be able to levitate his brother to the comfort of his spare bedroom without waking him. Instead Ron pulled a thick chenille throw from the back of the settee and threw it open and over his brother's body. He tucked it in slightly, looking at the purpled rings beneath Bill's eyes and the greasy streaks in his hair. He wondered when Bill had last washed.
He extinguished the candles and stood looking down at Bill in the glow from the fire for a few moments, before heading to bed himself.
Bill jerked awake, gasping at the images which still floated in front of his eyes.
He had not been there for Fleur's death, which meant that his mind had forced him to dream up horrific versions of the event which he desperately wanted to escape. He was so focussed on them that it took him a few moments to remember where he was: he saw Ron's living room through a dense fog. The smell of bacon slammed into him and he looked at the drawn curtains. It had to be morning for the light and the food to make sense. Stiffly, he eased up off the sofa and noted the throw which Ron must have put on him.
Rubbing his eyes, he made his way blindly to the kitchen, following his nose more than anything. For the first time in days he was actually hungry.
Little bastard knew what would wake me up.
"Morning, Sleeping Beauty," Ron teased as Bill lumbered through the doorway. "Sit yourself down and I'll get you a vat of tea and a mountain of sandwiches, just like Mum makes."
"When did you become so domesticated?" Bill muttered, doing as he was told and sitting down at the kitchen table.
The whole house had a completely different feel to his own -everything was new and stylish, which he knew Ron had picked to be a complete contrast to the first house he had owned with Hermione. That had been as mismatched as Bill's own. He didn't even want to think about the insane cost.
"How'd you sleep?" Ron asked.
"Like a log," Bill admitted. "First time in a while I've gone out for the count like that."
"It's a good thing," Ron said bracingly. He placed a plate and a mug in front of Bill. "And so is this -get it down ye."
Bill did nothing until Ron had sat down opposite him with an equally big cup of tea but only one sandwich.
"Why aren't you eating more?"
"I don't want any more," Ron said, rather firmly.
Bill narrowed his eyes and looked at his littlest brother, noticing a distinct thinness to his shoulders and wrists.
"You're not eating again," he commented.
As if to prove a point, Ron stuffed a whole half of his sandwich in his mouth. "I'm eating," he muffled through the bread and bacon.
"Not enough," Bill said reproachfully.
"Well you look like shit and you really need a wash, but I haven't told you that because I'm a good brother, you dickhead."
They stared at one another.
"I don't want you to get unwell again." Bill shrugged.
"I never got better, Bill. Why do you think she left me? She couldn't cope with it."
"She left you because your marriage wasn't working."
"No, she left me because she didn't want a defective husband with no sex drive, no smile for her in the morning and no inclination to make himself 'better' for anyone."
"Not even her."
"Fuck off, Bill."
"You had a wife and you threw it away," Bill spat.
He was unsure where the venom was coming from, and even less why it was spouting at the man who had taken him in, given him a makeshift bed and was now attempting to feed him.
"Mine was taken from me and you sit there like it wasn't your fault that your marriage broke up."
"We were unhappy for ages and you damn well know it -she was looking for excuses to get away. She didn't love me, Bill. Would you rather have a wife in your bed that hated you, or none at all and be happier? You have no idea. You fucking adored Fleur. I adored Hermione once too, but it died."
Ron winced at his unfortunately choice of words.
"I adored her," Bill agreed, looking down at his plate. "I really did."
"And you're grieving and that's why you're here, looking for a fight. I won't fight with you, Bill, but I won't be your punching bag, either. I do that well enough by myself."
Ron carried his plate to the bin and threw the other half of his sandwich away. He poured his mug of tea down the plughole.
"I've got to go to work," he announced, folding his arms over his chest. "Stay as long as you want, do what you want, eat what you want. I'll be home about three."
"But it's a Saturday," Bill said dumbly.
"I work whenever I'm needed." Ron shrugged. "And yeah, that's another reason why my lovely wife left me."
Bill looked up at him, standing there in just his pyjama bottoms. Ron's torso was well-defined and freckled. Only then did Bill notice some new additions.
"How long have you had a tattoo?" he exclaimed, squinting his eyes to look at it. "Charlie would be so proud."
"Pierced nipple, too," Ron said, dropping his arms so that the piercing caught in the light.
"Did you have a mid-life crisis?" Bill asked warily.
"You could call it that, only that it happened in my twenties, when I got both of these."
"You've had them for that long? Fuck."
Ron shrugged. "Back at three."
Bill nodded and watched him leave the kitchen.
He slipped another book back into place on the shelf and stood perusing the rest. Bill found himself bored of Ron's house, but only because he was paying attention to it. There was no life in it; it was so tidy and clean it looked like a showhome, and that was not his little brother. Ron had been the bane of their mother's life when they were young, continually messing up his bedroom and leaving toys strewn over the floor of any room that he could. He had never been as tidy as his house was now.
Bill trailed his fingers over the shelf in front of him and found not a speck of dust when he lifted them to his eyes for inspection. It was almost clinical.
There was a big bonus however, in that it was not his house. It was the complete opposite of Shell Cottage and Bill thought, from the clarity in his mind, that it was doing him good. He had no inclination to return to the dark, poky cottage he'd lived his life in with his wife, because her face and her laugh was etched in every feature. Ron's house had none of that, no hidden memories waiting to leap out and strangle him in the middle of every day tasks.
He pulled another book off the shelf and wandered back to the sofa without even looking at the title of it. He knew full well that he didn't intend to read it, but it felt good to have the intention in his mind and the book in his hands, even if he never even opened the front cover.
Water felt odd against his skin; the only water which he'd felt in days was that of his tears. It streamed over his face and shoulders and down the plane of his back. He had no idea how long he'd been in the steamy cubicle. Time had escaped him.
Ron's voice rose above the noise of the water.
"Huh?" Bill called, and pushed open the glass door to the cubicle.
"You've been in here for forty-five minutes, and that's only since I've been home." Ron looked concerned. "I just wanted to... y'know... check on you." He shifted his weight awkwardly between his feet.
"Sorry." Bill reached for the knob and turned the shower off.
He immediately missed the heat of the water. Ron held out a towel to him.
"Good day at work?" Bill asked, wrapping the towel around his waist and stepping out onto the waiting mat.
"Boring shit. Paperwork mostly, but I'll be grateful that I did it come Monday."
Bill couldn't help but notice how pale Ron was, and again, just how thin he looked.
"When was the last time you had a day off?" he asked.
"Fuck knows." Ron laughed. "Top of the department means I have to look after everybody else, too."
"You should look after yourself more."
Ron said nothing but drifted to the sink and looked at himself in the mirror above it. The scarlet colour of his Auror robes washed him out completely. Bill didn't know why, but he found himself overcome with the urge to draw his brother into a hug.
"What did you get up to today?" Ron asked, as if the answer might be something more thrilling than moping about and staring at anything stationary.
"Not a lot. Slept some more."
Bill hastily rubbed at himself with the towel before looking around for his clothes; only then did he realise that he had nothing apart from the filthy ones he had turned up in the night before.
"C'mon," Ron said suddenly, and led the way from the bathroom.
Following wordlessly, Bill noted the plushness of the carpet beneath his naked toes, and enjoyed the sensation all the way up to Ron's bedroom. He waited whilst Ron moved to the chest of drawers and pulled out a pair of slouchy pyjama bottoms and an old Gryffindor t-shirt. He pushed them into Bill's hands.
"If you want, tomorrow I can nip back to the cottage for you and get some of your own things?" Ron suggested.
Bill shook his head dumbly, not really knowing why he was protesting. His wife couldn't be in his clothes, surely?
"Well, I've got plenty of stuff and you and Perce are the only ones who ever wore the same size as me."
Nodding, still mute, Bill stood with the fresh clothes in his hands. It felt odd to have the prospect of something clean against his skin. It was even odder when he found that his hands refused to move, as if they didn't want to dress his body. He shivered, finding the air of Ron's bedroom too cool for his taste.
"D'you need a hand?" Ron asked softly.
Bill didn't answer as the clothes were taken from him again. Ron set them down on the bed before shaking out the t-shirt and holding it up for Bill to slide his arms into. A wonderful sense of relaxation shot through Bill as Ron carefully guided the neckhole over his head and pulled the garment down into place. He waited as the bottoms were shaken out in the same way and then Ron stooped, holding them stretched so that they could easily be stepped into. Bill placed a hand on his shoulder and put his feet into the holes; Ron smoothed the old cotton up over his legs and put them into place.
Bill shivered again when the fabric settled over his cock.
"Cold?" Ron asked. "Weasley jumper do the trick?"
Ron paused for a moment to look at him and Bill began to feel nauseous about the pity radiating from his little brother's eyes.
"I'm sorry," Bill blurted. "About what I said this morning. It wasn't fair."
"It's fine," Ron answered automatically, even though it clearly wasn't. "I know you're going through hell at the minute. You're bound to lash out."
"I know I shouldn't be around people but I couldn't bear to be alone any more, Ron."
"I understand," Ron promised. "I really do."
The urge which had taken him in the bathroom returned and that time, Bill found no way to resist it; he sprang forwards and put his arms around Ron's shoulders, pulling him flush against his own body. Ron responded immediately, leaning into the warmth. Bill could smell him -powdery cinnamon and an unidentifiable sweetness; it was the way Ron had smelt since birth. Bill thought back to that day and almost smiled at how clear the memory was. A pink screaming bundle with a tuft of the finest red hair he had ever seen, with the most beautiful sapphire-tinted eyes.
"I'm glad you're here," Ron whispered.
Bill pulled back to look at him and felt sick at the pain he saw in the blue irises.
"What's really going on with you?" he asked softly. "Tell me the truth."
"I can't, not when you're like this."
"Give me something else to think about, then," Bill pleaded. "Let me think about you rather than how my own life has fucked up."
Ron shook his head and pulled away. "No."
"Tell me," Bill demanded, grabbing one of his wrists.
Turning quickly, Ron snatched his arm away and threw himself on the bed, somewhat like a moody teenager. With more energy than he'd possessed in weeks, Bill followed, bouncing slightly on the mattress as he landed. He put his hands on Ron and turned him over.
"Tell me," he half-growled.
From the way that Ron's eyes widened, Bill realised he must have seemed quite frightening at that moment. His scars had that effect on small children, but when coupled with grit in his voice and steel in his eye, he knew grown men could also quake. Ron licked his lips.
"Things have been bad for a while," he said finally, looking down at his chest. "Not eating. Depression. You know the usual. It's just... I'm so tired."
"You look it," Bill offered bluntly.
"I know I do, and I've been lucky that everyone's been so busy so they couldn't breathe down my neck about it."
"Well, I'm here now."
Ron said nothing further and Bill just stared at him, watching the slow rise and fall of his brother's chest.
"Does it hurt, Ron, that Hermione couldn't cope with your depression?"
"More than anything." The words sounded painful. "Knowing that she was going to leave me because of it, but I couldn't get better to change it... it made me hate her. I was glad when she ended it. It meant that I didn't have to hate myself any more than I already did for what was happening to me."
"Ron..." Bill inched closer, wanting to touch and offer comfort, but his mind was screaming at him that they were both grown men, and grown men, especially those that were brothers, did not snuggle on the bed when someone needed cheering up.
"I shouldn't be telling you this," Ron muttered. "You've got enough on your plate."
"I need something to care about," Bill whispered. "Because I sure as fuck don't care about myself right now, and I don't care about my kids, and that's so wrong. Let me care about you."
"You won't change anything." It was a warning, as weak as the words were.
"I'm not going to try. I just want to be here for you."
Bill noted the redness of Ron's face. He said nothing but laid down on the bed, welcoming the softness of the pillow beneath his head.
Panting, Ron lurched upright from his nightmare, blinking madly at the dark room around him. It felt like he had only just drifted off, but he knew that wasn't the case. His heart thundered in his chest, crashing through his skull in a continual rhythm. He heard a desperate little sound and it took him several minutes before he realised that the noise was actually his own sobbing. He choked at the realisation and when the door crashed open, he jumped.
Bill stood in the doorway, brandishing his wand, his hair in disarray and his eyes darting around every corner of the room.
"I'll fucking rip your spine out," he declared.
"Bill... just me..."
"It sounded like you were being murdered?"
"I was, but in my dreams."
Ron fumbled for his own wand to get some light into the room, but Bill beat him to it by lighting the candles above his bed.
"Merlin, you're a mess."
Bill knelt down onto the bed and reached out to touch his face; Ron saw that as his fingers came away they were glistening with tears.
"What were you dreaming about?" Bill asked, settling down next to his legs.
"Dying," Ron murmured, trying to shake the images from his mind.
"Wanna talk about it?"
"Want me to sleep in here with you?"
Ron felt foolish for the strength of his temptation to say yes. The thought of having someone else in his bed almost sent him delirious. He wondered if Bill felt the same way and that was why he had offered.
"I'll stay," Bill promised, swinging around so that he could climb beneath the duvet and lie down. "Try to relax."
Allowing himself to be coaxed back to horizontal, Ron took a deep, shuddering breath and closed his eyes again. The images that had tormented him awake were burned into his eyelids.
"Fuck," he whispered.
"What did you see?"
"Only something I've wanted to do a thousand times, and yet... I'm still scared of it."
It seemed that Bill didn't need to ask what he was talking about. The sad sigh which escaped his brother's lips let Ron know that he understood, and when the warm arms came, Ron didn't bother to protest against them. He let himself be pulled tight to Bill's chest and be held, losing himself in the comforting, familiar scent of Bill, who had always been there for him, right from the moment of his birth.
"I'm here, and I'll protect you," Bill whispered directly into his ear.
The sound of an alarm jerked Ron awake. As soon as his eyes opened he knew he felt rougher than rough, and he needed to just close his eyes and go back to sleep again. He had lain cuddled into Bill for hours into the night, willing sleep to come and take him again, even if it meant another nightmare, but that luxury had not come until light had begun to brighten beyond the curtains.
"Whassat?" Bill muttered.
Ron tried to move and found himself trapped by the weight of his brother's body. He gave up struggling and listened to the obnoxious sound of the alarm, which he didn't remember setting. It was a Sunday, so he had no reason to. He wasn't even on call for the department.
His thoughts were sluggish and painfully slow, as were his senses. Only when Bill shifted slightly against him did Ron feel the thick rod pressing into his hip; his mind then seemed to fly into overdrive -that was his brother's morning erection.
He desperately hoped that he did not have one of his own, even though he highly doubted it with his limited sex drive. Even self-love had been forbidden to him by the cruelty of his illness. Bill moaned and rocked his hips slightly. Ron stopped breathing.
"Bill," he muttered. "Bit weird..."
"Can't help it. So fucking lonely."
Ron didn't have an answer for that and Bill seemed to pick up the pace, rutting against Ron's body even harder. His face flaming, Ron didn't know what to do. He wanted to give Bill what he needed, but his mind was screaming at the wrongness of the situation. When a damp kiss pressed into the base of his throat, he gasped aloud and tried to wriggle away.
"Sorry," Bill whispered. "I'm so sorry, Ronnie..."
The use of his childhood nickname floored him, Ron found, rendering him flat against the bed with no care for the alarm which was still blaring around his bedrom. Bill continued to rock against him, his face buried in Ron's neck, and there was nothing that either of them could do about the situation. His own body began to respond, much to his shock, and Ron found himself gasping at the ceiling.
"Nnnnnghh." The moan was accompanied by a shudder and the sudden blossoming of dampness against his hip: Ron knew that Bill had come.
He lay panting, unsure of what he should do or say, the alarm causing his head to spin. Bill pulled up slightly and looked down at him, and Ron saw in his face more colour than had been present since the death of the man's wife. Some tension in the pit of his belly eased seeing the lazy contentment in Bill's expression. When the older redhead kissed him, Ron took it, because for some reason it felt so right that protesting would have been wrong. Bill's tongue lapped against his own, expertly massaging it in a way that Ron had never known. More blood pounded down to his cock.
He jerked as a large hand settled over it, squeezing his erection through his pyjamas.
"Does that feel good?" Bill asked, his voice a sultry husk which Ron had never heard from his brother's mouth before. Ron nodded. "Do you want more?"
Who was controlling his actions as he nodded, Ron had know idea. Bill began to kiss down his chest, over his t-shirt, and then on his bare belly where the hem had ridden up in the night. The touches made him shiver. When Bill pulled down the waistband of his pyjama bottoms, Ron held onto his breath. A kiss was pressed onto his pubic bone and in the coarse hairs which grew there. And then --
"Fuck!" Ron swore, as Bill's mouth swallowed the length of him whole. He had never been sucked off by a man before, but from the way his brother's tongue worked so expertly, Ron was sure that Bill was far more experienced.
The idea that Bill might ever have been gay made his cock even harder. Bill slid his mouth right up to the tip and began to suckle there, flicking his tongue back and forth over the head; Ron began to squirm, eager to both gain more of the sensation and escape at the same time. Cool fingers suddenly brushed over his sac and he cried out, pushing his hips into the air.
It took no more than a further twenty seconds of sucking and groping for Bill to unravel him. When Ron came, sparks appeared at the edges of his vision, and he released the most intense orgasm he'd had in months straight into his brother's waiting, open mouth. He watched with horror and fascination as Bill swallowed every gulp down. When he pulled up, his lips were glistening with come.
Their eyes met; the alarm still blared through the room. Ron opened his mouth to speak and Bill threw himself from the bed, and ran.
Bill found himself unable to remember the last time that he had thrown up so violently. It wasn't that Ron had tasted badly at all, but it had been the weight of his actions which had forced his body to react with the stress.
A whole day had passed and yet he could still feel the sting in his throat from the force with which he had thrown up. He soothed it away by taking another sip of coffee. Ron had left early and without a word for work that morning, and Bill was left to the lonely Monday morn with only his thoughts for company. He'd had enough of them already and it was only nine. He gulped at his coffee some more.
He and Ron had barely spoken since the morning before, after Bill had fled the bedroom to go and throw up. Every time that they saw each other, Bill's mouth went dry and Ron blushed, and then they hurried away. Bill hated that it had turned so sour, which he appreciated was his own fault.
He stared at the cooker and held his breath for something to do. For the first time, he felt like he should be back at work –at least then he would be busy.
A knocking on Ron's front door made him jump and Bill dragged himself out of the kitchen chair. He dragged his feet along the hallway and, after a moment fumbling with the ridiculous locks, he managed to pull the door open.
“There's my favourite recluse!” Charlie grinned, throwing him a wink.
“Eee!” The childish cry of Charlie's baby girl rose high on the air. Bill watched as the child, less than a year old, reached out with both arms for him.
“She wanted to see her Uncle Bill,” Charlie said, with an innocent air. “I thought she might do you some good.”
Bill had no chance to protest as Charlie foisted the baby into his arms and pushed past him into the hallway. “Shall I put the kettle on?”
“Not my house, do what you like,” Bill replied, kicking the door shut behind him and drawing his niece close to his chest.
The warmth from the little body was astounding. He allowed himself a sniff of baby scent and then followed Charlie to the kitchen. When he got there, the kettle was already on the hob and Charlie was rooting through Ron's cupboards.
“He keeps the biscuits, unsurprisingly, in the biscuit tin,” Bill offered, sitting back down, making sure to support Ellie carefully in his arms.
He couldn't help the way his eyes were glued to her and her movements, her wide eyes and smattering of fine, ginger hair over her head. It reminded him of Ron.
“You look like shit,” Charlie announced with false cheer, pulling the lid off the biscuit tin. “Biccie?”
“More for me.”
Charlie walked to the table and sat down, his mouth full of crunched biscuits. He worked at them and then swallowed.
“What're you doing here, Bill?” he asked finally. “And how long do you intend to keep on doing it?”
“I don't know,” Bill admitted. “I just wanted to escape the house for a bit and Ron was the first person I thought of.”
“Because he's alone too?”
“Is he okay with you being here? He's become a total recluse as well, you realise? You must be pissing him off.”
“He's not said anything.”
“Well... he wouldn't, not the Ron of today. Ron ten years ago, maybe.”
“He's unwell again,” Bill said quietly. “Hiding it well because nobody's really paying attention.”
“And is that what you're doing, paying attention to him rather than dealing with your grief?”
“Why are you here?” Bill looked up sharply. “To give me a hard time? Because you can take your kid and fuck off if that's the case.”
Charlie glared at him for swearing over Ellie's head. Bill ducked his head and kissed the top of hers to make up for it.
“I'm not here to give you a tough time, I just came to check up on you. Worried about you.”
“I'm fine here with Ron,” Bill said, hoping he could cover the fact that this was not exactly the truth.
“I know that look, William Arthur Weasley, what've you done?”
Bill said nothing and looked down at Ellie, hoping Charlie would let it slide.
“Is it what you did to me when you were eighteen and I was sixteen?” Charlie asked quietly.
Bill winced at the reminder of his past indiscretions; he wondered how Ron would react if he were ever to know that he was not the first brother that Bill had ever slept with. A shiver of disgust rocked through his body.
“Oh, Godric, Bill!” Charlie cried. “What the bloody hell happened?”
“I don't know... I just... it just happened.”
“And how did Ron take it?”
“He responded like he loved it but... it was me... I ran away from him.”
“Because you're a man grieving and completely fucked in the head at the minute.” Charlie's sense of propriety had vanished in his shock.
Bill nodded wordlessly. Charlie was completely right -he should never have touched Ron at all considering his mental state, before anything else even came into the equation.
“And so now I imagine you're living in silence, going red in the face when you see one another?”
Bill nodded again.
“This is his house, Bill. He must feel like the world's gone upside down; I know I did.”
“You were young and you worked it out.”
“And Ron's older and apparently ill again, so as mentally unstable as you are.”
“I get it, Charlie, I'm an arsehole. But it just happened.”
“Well now you need to make it right, mate, before you ruin your relationship with him. I don't mean... well, if you think being with him is helping you and he enjoys it, then you don't have to end it. But look after each other. Don't hurt yourselves more.”
“I hate that you've become the voice of fucking reason,” Bill muttered.
“Well I'm paying you back for all those times in my life that you've told me I was making a mistake.”
“Was I right though?”
“99.9% of the time.”
“Well, I live for the 0.01% now, apparently.”
Charlie just laughed.
Ron looked warily about as he stepped out of the Floo. He tapped soot from his boots and wondered where Bill was. He was eager to avoid him. Sooner or later his brother would want to talk about what had happened, and maybe even apologise, but Ron wasn't sure that he wanted to hear it. He was too mortified to handle the conversation, that he was sure of.
Dreaming of a strong cup of tea and maybe a few biscuits, he headed for the kitchen, all the while hoping that Bill wasn't there. His stomach dropped when he saw that not only was his brother in the room, he had set the table and the smell of dinner pervaded the air.
“Hey,” Bill said, his voice soft. “I made dinner. Was hoping we could eat together and... y'know... Talk.”
Ron licked at his bottom lip and looked at the cutlery and the waiting bottle of wine: it looked like the perfect set up for two lovers.
“I'm not really in the mood,” he lied, panic rising in his chest. “I don't feel very well. I've got a load of work to do.”
“You never were a very good liar, you know.” Bill smiled at him sadly. “Have I ruined things so badly that you can't even bear to sit and talk to me, Ron?”
“What? No! I just... I don't know what to say... what you want me to say.”
“I don't really want you say anything. I want you to sit down, have some wine, and listen. Tomorrow morning I'll be gone from your flat and... well... gone from your life, really. I'll explain.”
He gestured to one of the chairs with a pleading expression. Still inwardly panicking, Ron fell down, not knowing what was coming or whether he could cope with it. Bill poured him a glass of red wine and then sat down opposite him.
“I'm sorry, Ron.”
Ron wanted to open his mouth and tell his oldest brother that there was nothing to apologise for, but the words wouldn't come. Perhaps somewhere deep inside he felt like he was owed an apology for the utter confusion and added turmoil he'd been suffering since 'it' had happened.
“You didn't deserve me using you like that. You've been here for me and let me into your life and let me into your home and I repaid you badly. I'm so sorry.”
The earnest tone to Bill's voice made Ron's stomach tighten. “It's... I don't feel like you used me, Bill. It just came out of nowhere and I suppose what's bloody hardest about it is the fact that I... well, the fact that I liked it.”
A whisper of a smile curled Bill's lips momentarily before he spoke again. “I liked it too. Bet you're a beautiful lover.”
“Nobody's ever told me if I am.”
“And what's insane is that I'd love to find out.” Bill gave a dry laugh and shook his head. “I'd take you up those stairs and bed you quick as a flash. You wouldn't know what hit you.”
“But you're my brother.”
“And my wife isn't even cold in her grave yet.” Bill's face turned solemn. “But I couldn't help myself that morning, so for that, I'm very sorry, Ron. I'll make it up to you.”
“No need.” Ron reached out for his wine glass, even though he knew he shouldn't. He sipped at the rich liquid and almost sighed when it hit his senses. “I know that you're a mess at the minute... so am I. If I wasn't, I would have shoved you off and tossed you out on your arse.”
Bill nodded and stared at the wine glass in Ron's hand. “I'll be gone in the morning.”
“You don't have to leave,” Ron protested automatically.
“I do. I'm going into work, where I'm going to request a transfer back to Egypt.”
“You can't.” Ron heard himself gasp the words. “What about the kids?”
“Louis can come with me if he likes, or he's welcome to visit me during the school holidays. The girls are old enough now... they've been fending for themselves for a long time. I doubt they would want to make the move; they're making their lives here. My life here has ended, Ron. I need to start again.”
Ron stared at him, wondering why devastation was creeping through his veins like poison, killing off every hope he had.
“You've gone pale,” Bill observed.
“I don't want you to go,” Ron blurted. “I don't. I've... I like having you here in the house. The company. Being alone is something I don't think I can do any more. There are a lot of things which I can't do any more. I can barely cope with going to work in the mornings, let alone coming home to an empty house again. Gods, Bill, please, don't go. Just one more week?”
“Why do you want me to stay so much?” Bill seemed deeply surprised.
Ron didn't know how to put what he felt into words, so he just shrugged and begged with his eyes.
“Will it be any easier if I stay another week and you fall further into the safety net and then I take it away by leaving?”
“Probably not. But I don't care. I need you.”
Ron blushed and looked away, ashamed of having to admit that he needed anybody. Since the divorce had finalised he had prided himself on locking his emotions up and never letting anyone else see them -to not see the destruction which was tearing him apart. Bill's arrival into his everyday life had shattered all his hard work, along with the protective wall around his insides, and now everything hurt.
“I'm in agony,” he whispered.
“What?” Bill strained to hear.
“I'm...” Ron sucked in a mouthful of air and choked on it.
Before he knew it, Bill had rounded the table and was kneeling in front of him, looking worriedly up into Ron's eyes. He placed a hand on his cheek and cupped it.
“I know just what you are,” Bill assured him. “You're broken, and you've been broken for a long time. You need somebody to put you back together again.”
“But that can't be you.” Ron shook his head despondently.
“It can if I say it can, and it's what you want.”
“I don't know what I want.”
Ron held his breath as Bill captured his hand and lifted it to his lips. The kiss he pressed there was sweet and warm; it sent jolts of energy up Ron's arm.
“I think you need an early night,” Bill advised.
“But your dinner-”
“It'll keep,” Bill promised. “I can save it all and reheat it. Come on, let's take the wine and go and listen to the Quidditch for a bit, and then bed.”
Ron didn't ask whether Bill meant bed together. He thought he would tackle that mountain when he came to it.
Mountains, it seemed, were easily climbed with two glasses of red in him, Ron thought, as he nuzzled his cheek against the flat plane of Bill's chest. They were huddled together on the sofa, with the match on the wireless over. They were listening to a music show and it was soft in the background, tempting him to sleep with every note. Bill's fingers had somehow ended up entwined in his hair, and were stroking his scalp so beautifully that Ron could have sobbed with pleasure.
Nobody had touched him so gently or as intimately for a very long time, and he had missed it. His body was screaming out for more -more touch, more love, more affection. Bill seemed eager to give all three things as he held him close. Ron tried to stop the voice in his head which kept on repeating that Bill was his brother, that it was incredibly fucked up, and that they were both very wrong in the head.
“You okay?” Bill queried.
“Mm.” Ron closed his eyes. “Amazing.”
When Bill kissed the top of his head, he had to bite his lip to keep from letting out a happy sigh.
Bill panted as he heaved off Ron's body and flopped down onto his back. They were both slick with sweat and there seemed to be no fresh air in the room -only air tainted with the scent of sex. He blinked at the ceiling and seemed unable to stop the grin from twisting his lips. It fought to get out of him. Ron was panting next to him, plastered to the bed, unable to move.
There had been no intention, Bill acknowledged, that on falling into bed together for the third night in a row, that anything more would come of it bar cuddles. Ron seemed to lap up the cuddles like a kitten would milk, craving the affection which Bill found himself falling over to give. When Ron had kissed him, he'd been stunned; he had responded as tenderly as he could, not wanting to push Ron with any form of roughness, even though that was his usual fancy.
They had grown rougher, though, those kisses. They had shared nips and sucks and when Bill had trapped Ron's tongue between his teeth, he had nearly come then and there from the delicious sound his little brother had made.
From thereon in, there had been no chance of them stopping. Clothes came off, private areas were caressed, and then Bill had lubed up his little brother's backside and pounded him into the mattress until Ron had come with a strangled scream, begging for more all the while. Bill had emptied into his body and enjoyed every tingling second of it.
And that saw them lying in bed, panting like they'd run a marathon, and Bill wondered how to break the silence.
“Merlin... didn't think... it could be that good.”
“With a bloke, you mean?”
“No, ever!” Ron laughed, and rolled over to curl into Bill's body. “That was... fucking hell. Amazing.”
“Why thank you, Sir... not so bad yourself.”
Bill bent his head to kiss Ron's lips.
“How many men have you been with?” Ron asked. “Because you were bloody good...”
“Enough,” Bill said, oddly finding himself shy. “I was a bit... promiscuous in my younger days...”
“Yeah, I know, I used to hear you with Charlie.”
Bill froze and his blood seemed to run cold.
“Ah, it was an accident that I found you. And after that first time, well... it was hard to stop listening.” Ron shrugged innocently. “I never told anybody. I didn't dare. You were bigger and faster than I was.”
“I'm sorry,” Bill said automatically. “I wasn't trying to lie to you or anything-”
“Everybody has secrets.”
Ron silenced Bill with another kiss.
“Even you?” Bill smiled.
“Even me, but I won't be telling you any of them.” Ron winked, looking more relaxed than Bill had seen him in months. “What're you staring at?”
Bill grinned at him and Ron looked away, blushing.
“We should try for some sleep... you've got to be up early for work tomorrow.”
“Nah... I think I'm going to owl in sick. I can't be arsed, Bill.”
“Will that cause problems?”
“Don't give a shit if it does, to be honest. They get enough blood, sweat and tears from me. They can do without for a few days.”
“You really could use the time off,” Bill agreed. “You look...”
“Half-starved?” Ron suggested.
“Anorexic,” Bill confirmed. “Mum would go off her rocker if she saw you like this.”
“Why do you think I stay away from the Burrow?”
Ron nestled down against him and Bill hooked an arm around his back. Ron reached up and laced their fingers together.
“Ron... will you do something for me?”
“I want you to go to the Healers and get help.”
“That's a big ask, Bill.”
“I know it is. But I don't want anything to happen to you. You're my youngest brother and I'll always want to protect you, as sickening as that is. I'm the oldest boy, you're the youngest. We're the bookends of the Weasley boys. I just want you safe and well... so I don't lose my opposing end.”
“All right, I'll go to the Healers, Bill, if you go and spend some time with your kids. You're killing Louis. He needs his dad. And the girls too -just because they're older doesn't mean they're not hurting. You can hurt at any age.”
Bill said nothing, knowing that Ron was very right. Between them, they had racked up a considerable amount of hurt, and they were both older than the children Bill had been unable to face since his wife's death.
“Godric, I'm the worst father in the world.”
“No... that award goes to me, who sometimes can't face spending the day with his kids so he pretends to be ill. Most of the time, he actually is, as well, but even when I'm not I don't go. I can't face seeing her, and them, and everything that's gone wrong.”
“Ron, maybe you need to start again as well.” Bill bent and kissed the top of his brother's hair, and said nothing more.
He silently extinguished the candles and let the darkness settle around them. Ron didn't speak again and Bill lay there listening to the sounds of his breathing. They took a long time to even out, and it was even longer before he heard a gentle snore from the direction of his shoulder. Bill relaxed then, knowing that Ron had made it through another day safely. For some reason he was suddenly terrified of finding him gone.
Even the very thought tightened his throat and Bill knew what he was doing was foolish; in his grief he had simply latched onto another soul, one that was broken and endangered, and his fear of that soul completely fading away was keeping him awake at night. He clutched Ron tighter, feeling his naked, cooling skin and the gentle puff of breath onto his shoulder.
Bill clamped his eyes shut and wondered, perhaps, if he could imagine it was Fleur lying so close to him, holding him in her sleep.
He could not. He knew it was Ron.
He wanted it to be Ron.
He wondered when his want for his wife back would mutate into a want for Ron never to push him away.
Eyes watering and throat burning, Bill allowed himself to indulge in everything that was Ron -his frame, his scent, his vulnerable, soft breaths, and longed for sleep to come to him.
It was easy to spot, Charlie thought, when he watched them. He saw the effortless way they moved around one another, and the way nothing was too much trouble for the other. The way they had started to tut with light disapproval at each other.
A slight lingering touch.
A longing glance.
He saw everything. He had no idea whether Bill and Ron were good for one another, but he suspected not, in the long run. They were in too deep, and the vines had curled into them like pestilent weeds, and they were trapped within the comfort the other could give.
“There're worse things to be trapped in,” Charlie reminded himself in a mutter, and left his brothers alone.