DEAD or ALIVE
She was rocking side to side in slow undulation. She cracked her eyes open and was greeted with the stars above that shone in a dazzling kaleidoscope of lights. They left blurry streaks in their wake.
Her head throbbed. She quickly shut her eyes and tried to be still, but her body continued to sway. She could smell a faint hint of fresh hay, a touch of cinnamon, and a twinge of soot wafting around her in the crisp night air. She was cold, but her side was pressed against a warm, sturdy chest.
"It hurts." She groaned, reaching up to touch the back of her head.
"I got you, Darlin'." His arm pulled her closer.
She drifted away as they trotted steadily into the black.
The pain was steady, swinging like a pendulum in her head.
The room was still and quiet except for the crackling of wood burning nearby.
She whimpered as she sat up.
"Easy, 'Mione." A familiar voice whispered.
"…George?" He smiled kindly at her as he brought a tin cup of water to her lips.
A moment passed before her mind started functioning.
"What are you doing here? Is this real?" She whipped around and instantly regretted the pain that followed.
"Watch it." He hissed quietly at her, cradling her carefully as he adjusted her pillows so she could sit up comfortably. "Fred said you hit your head somethin' fierce—"
"Fred?" She whispered. "Where—"
"He stepped out just a second ago. We were all out of medicine, but we had some stashed nearby." He sat back down in the wooden chair beside her. She glanced warily around the room.
At first glance, she had thought she was in a cabin, but the walls were made of stone. A small fire roared nearby in a makeshift fire pit. She was laying on a smooth, flat rock that was elevated above the cave floor. Hay was poking out of the animal skins beneath her. Tucked neatly over her lap was a thick blue flannel blanket. At her feet lay Grimace, George's hound dog. He was on his back snoring, his floppy ears flipped inside-out. Scattered around were familiar belongings- books, clothes, and papers- that looked out of place in the cavern.
"Do you feel sick, Hermione?" George said carefully.
"Sick?" She felt of her head, which was wrapped tightly in a piece of cloth.
"Your stomach. Do you feel like you might throw up?" He reached up and stilled her hand as she fiddled with the knot in her bandage. "It's important," he added.
"No." She put her hands back in her lap. "I don't feel sick, but my head—"
"You hit it when you fell."
Boots echoed loudly from the mouth of the cave. Her eyes widened when Fred appeared suddenly- out of breath with a small leather satchel clutched at his side. "I got them, George. Is she—" He came to an abrupt halt when he saw her. She could feel the frantic fear pouring off of him. His shoulders were tense, and there was blood smeared against the cream linen of his shirt.
"Hey. Hello. Hi," He quickfired in short, awkward staccato. He reached up and scratched the back of his head uneasily.
She watched him quietly, her muddled mind sputtering at the sight of him. He looked nervous- like he was surprised to see her, which was ridiculous. Hermione had spent months wishing he would come back. He had left her without a word- without a goodbye. He had forgotten about her, while she had worried about him. He had left her and ripped across the state from town to town, causing havoc.
He had sullied his name and her own. She had spent so much time and effort and tears denying everything that the two were accused of. They weren't criminals- they weren't thieves. She had faced the accusatory stares of the citizens of Deadhaven with that one singular truth fueling her heart.
But they were criminals, weren't they?
She had seen them rob a bank.
All that time spent worrying. The days she wished and wished as hard as she could bear. The nights that she sat up, trying to hold on to hope. The air had grown heavier around her as the weeks trickled by. The tether keeping her from slipping away had grown thinner and thinner.
And now suddenly, in a fashion that was so clearly Fred- he had torn back into her life.
How he had the audacity to stand there and look like he was surprised to see her, she would never know.
George coughed loudly. "I should, uhhh," His eyes darted from the full pitcher of water sitting atop an old barrel to the roaring fire frantically. "I should go get, uhh.."
"Firewood." Fred said quickly.
"Yep." George stood up and shuffled out of the cave without another word. Grimace snapped awake, flopped over, and shook his body forcefully before trotting after him.
Fred's eyes swept over her as he quietly made his way over to the makeshift bed she was lying on. He laid the leather satchel beside her before taking a seat beside her.
"How are you feeling?" He asked quietly.
"My head hurts." She narrowed her eyes as he leaned closer to her. He pulled back quickly.
"I need to look at your head, Darlin'," he muttered.
He opened the satchel and pulled the very limited amount of medical supplies out of it. Clean cloths, a pair of scissors, some smelling salts, and oddly enough a half empty bottle of whiskey. It wasn't much. He gently cut away the bandage on her head and lay it down on the bed beside her. She noticed it was his black bandana from the robbery.
"It's not bleeding anymore."
"What happened, Fred? Where are we?" She nervously fidgeted with the folds of her blanket.
"This is..." He sighed as he leaned away from her. "This is home."
"This is where you've been all this time?" It made sense. The caves that cut through the mountains were labyrinths. Not even the natives knew the caves as well as the twins.
"I've been a lot of places."
"Yeah. I've heard."
He winced visibly and then ran his hand down his face in exasperation.
"Why am I here, Fred?" She could feel the fight draining out of her.
"You fell—back in Deadhaven. A lot was happening-"
"After you and George robbed the bank." She raised her eyebrow.
He nodded. His shoulders slumped. "Yeah, after that. You chased me to the edge of town, and there was a lot of commotion. A gun went off, and then you fell. Fainted, I think." He paused. "I thought you had been shot for a moment there, but you didn't have a bullet wound, and I—You hit your head on a rock. There was some blood."
"So you brought me to a cave in the mountains? Why? Am I your prisoner?" She seethed.
"Prisoner? My god, Darlin'. No!" He threw his arms up and stormed across the room. "You were bleeding," he said loudly. She winced at the volume. He looked apologetic, shuffling and running his hand through his messy hair before continuing in a lower, more soothing tone. "You were hurt—"
"You were hurt, and in an alley at the edge of town. And it was just chaos. I could hear people yellin' and someone must have been shooting at George— There was no way- just no earthly way I could have got you back to the Doc's with all that was happening." He met her gaze, his blue-green eyes looking desperately into her own. "I couldn't just leave you lyin' there."
"Of course," she said softly. "You couldn't possibly have left me." She looked at him pointedly.
He swallowed harshly and nodded, looking away from her critical stare. He quietly picked up a candle that was sitting on a crate nearby. "I need to check your eyes," he said quietly.
"You could have hurt that big brain of yours when you fell. Luckily for you-"
She snorted loudly.
He continued, "George and I have had every sort of injury over the years—I've seen your father check our heads a great number of times." He tilted her chin upwards and leaned in close. "Look straight ahead."
He let the candlelight hit her eyes and examined her silently.
His thumb absently rubbed along her jawline. Her heart raced wildly as his calloused fingertips rubbed small circles across her skin. She watched the candlelight flicker across his face—across his freckles and his scars. She watched him watching her with the unwavering intensity that he always seemed to carry with him.
She knew it was senseless, completely irresponsible really, to let the pull that he had over her take the reins again. But being near him made the room feel heavy somehow. It made her feel like the air was too thick to breathe, like her heart had jumped the tracks, like she was on a racing train that was bounding towards a collision.
It was frightening and exhilarating and she had missed that feeling so damn much.
He was Fred, and he was right in front of her. Finally. After waiting so long for him. He was looking at her like he always had—like she was air and water.
She could feel the welcoming warmth pouring off of him, could smell the lingering scents of spices and gunpowder.
He sat the candle back down with shaking hands.
He smiled gently at her.
He trailed fingertips up her arm carefully. He was breathing hard and searching her eyes for something. She could feel his pulse beating rapidly near her own. His hands shook as he brushed her hair over her shoulder. He gulped audibly as he trailed the edge of his thumb along her neck and across her collarbone.
She felt like she was his again. Like she was waking up from a nightmare.
Her anger from only a moment ago had been washed out of her under his scrutiny. She laid her hand on his chest and let her fingertips trace down to his abdomen. She felt an unrelenting, magnetic tug easing her forward into his embrace.
This was where she belonged.
And then just as suddenly as it had begun, the moment was gone.
His brows furrowed as he glanced down at her necklace. His eyes widened, and then his breath hitched. A grim, stony mask washed over him.
He pulled away from her quickly- like he had been scorched by hot embers. The air had shifted, and the world was cold.
He stood up suddenly, facing away from her. "I think your head is okay." He was tense again.
"I still need to clean the wound." He rambled, a shaky breath tearing out of him.
She nodded and looked down at the supplies he had on hand. "There isn't any antiseptic—"
"I know, Darlin', and I'm sorry about that." He picked up the whiskey, uncorking it with his teeth as he gathered up some of the clean scraps of cloth. "I promise you, if there was any other way…" He trailed off. "I'm sorry." He said again.
He drenched the cloths and sat down close to her again, looking guilty.
She watched him warily, her mind reeling. "What are you-"
He placed her arms around his waist. "Wrap your arms around me, Darlin'."
"Because this is gonna hurt." His voice shook.
Her eyes started watering. She held onto him tightly.
He pressed the cloth to her head.
A hot, white pain ripped through her. She could hear a woman crying after that.
If he closed his eyes, he could pretend they weren't in a hidden cave near the summit. He could breathe in her scent, bask in the warmth of her loving arms, and get whisked back to her tiny house. He could let her hold him tightly and imagine a world where he hadn't decked the mayor in front of an entire town, a world where he hadn't destroyed his entire fucking life in one brash moment of rage.
She had cried for a while. It was understandable. With a doctor as a father, Hermione had never had to resort to raw, pure alcohol to treat a wound. Leonard Granger had never let anything bad happen to his beloved daughter. There was a time when he had wanted Fred to carry on this job- trusting someone so undeserving to take care of only person Leonard loved. It was funny how things turned out.
Whispering that it was going to be okay and just how sorry- just so, so incredibly sorry he felt to her as she sobbed into his blood stained shirt hadn't eased his guilt one lick. After a while she had quietened down, sniffling now and again. She hadn't allowed him to leave. She had clutched him tightly until he had settled down beside her on the makeshift bed. He had wrapped his arm around her small waist and held her close to him. She had stared blankly darkness of the cave and only gave up her fight against sleep when the first birds began to warble their songs signaling the dawn of a new day.
His mind was racing, and the comforting haze of sleep wouldn't overtake him.
His ears perked up as he heard muted footsteps from the cave mouth.
George poked his head around the corner carefully.
"Everything settled in here?" He whispered.
Grimace walked up to what remained of the fire, huffed, and flopped down.
Fred sat up, easing her arms from around his chest and pulling the blanket snugly up to her chin. He sat in a chair momentarily, lacing up his worn leather boots before silently taking his coat and walking towards the first signs of morning.
"I didn't want to interrupt. I forgot my coat earlier—it's been a long night out in the cold." George explained.
George grabbed his coat off the back of a chair and trotted along behind him. Fred hiked up the hill away from their home and settled down on the ground with his back to a tree. He pulled his legs up against his chest, crossed his arms, and settled his chin down on top of them.
George shuffled behind him, pulling his light brown coat on over his flannel and rubbing his hands together, breathing hot air between them. George pulled out rolling papers and some loose tobacco from his pocket, rolling a cigarette as he watched the light with a narrowed gaze as it cascaded across the horizon. His eyes flickered back and forth across the area, looking for anything out of place.
"Want one?" George said, licking the edge of the rolling paper. He settled down on the ground beside Fred. George crossed his ankles in front of him.
Fred shook his head. "No thanks. Did you sleep?" He asked quietly.
"Sorry. If it helps, I didn't either."
"It's fine. I was happy to get outta there." George glanced at him carefully. "She okay?"
"She's alright now. Might take her a little while to heal up though."
"You two looked cozy." George waggled his eyebrows.
"Wasn't like that." Fred ran a hand through his ragged hair.
A silence fell between them. George smoked his cigarette and waited.
Fred suddenly sighed loudly. "You know, for some reason I thought that as soon as we got this whole mess figured out—everything would be the same." He ran a tired hand down his face. "I mean, obviously you and I would be different, but everything with—"
A harsh breath ripped out of him.
"With Hermione?" George flicked his cigarette near his feet, knocking the ashes off with the sole of his boot.
"Do you reckon anyone new came to Deadhaven while we were gone?" His voice creaked. He rubbed the pocket of his jacket. He felt numb.
"Doubtful," George said. "Even some clueless yank would know not to settle down in these parts during a damn drought."
"That's what I was thinking." Fred could feel the uneasiness settling back in him—that damn necklace. Where did it come from? Who did it come from? He clenched his jaw.
"You alright?" George snuffed out his cigarette and flicked the remnant at a pile of rocks.
"She's wearing this necklace—delicate, real fancy thing…. Maybe some rich fool did move to Deadhaven, some man that wasn't worried about the rain. Maybe he treats her real nice, better than—" He paused, taking a shaky breath, "better than I could have. But I just keep thinking how unlikely that is- that someone would come here when the whole area is turning to dust."
"Then what are you thinkin'?"
Fred turned to look at his brother, knowing as soon as their gaze met that George already knew the answer.
"I'm thinking that there's only one man in town that has that kind of money."
Notes: It's short, sure, but it was good place to stop. You should know that writing this story is like offering you a piece of my soul. I'm carving it out and giving it to you. The two of them crack my heart wide open. Also- go listen to Mumford and Sons – Reminder, because it gives me feels about this story. (Follow me on tumblr to get updates and snippets. When I'm writing, I post on there often.)