Author's Note: I own nothing but the plot; the rest belongs to J.K. Rowling, who graciously allows fans to interpret the characters in our own way. Written for the June/July Kiss Quote Challenge at thehplove with the following prompt: 14. Kissing is like drinking salted water: you drink and your thirst increases. Chinese Proverb. As always, feedback and con crit appreciated.

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Carry On In Hope

It's the night after the battle at Hogwarts, and Ron can't sleep. He only sees Hermione's stunned face, moments before she had thrown her arms around him. And then the feel of her lips on his.

He'd felt emotion sweep into him, under the fear. It had filled him, warmed his soul. He'd kept it in his mind as they joined the battle, and he'd been able to block his fear. Fear for her, more than for him. But as he'd stared at Fred lying in the Great Hall, the feeling had disappeared.

He rolls over, away from the wall. Moonlight shines through the window, and he can see the entire room. The cot on the other side of the room at Shell Cottage is empty—Harry isn't sleeping, either. He briefly wonders where Harry disappeared to, and then someone knocks on his door.

The door opens before he can reply, and he's surprised to see Hermione. She's wearing her dressing gown, and her feet are bare. He's glad to see her, but doesn't quite know what she's doing in his doorway.

"Can I come in?"

"Yeah." He sits up, and she walks into the room, sitting next to him on the bed. He moves his hand toward hers on the bed, but she wraps her arms around her waist before he reaches her. She doesn't look at him.

"What's wrong?" He wants to pull her into his arms and kiss her, wipe the look of worry off her face, but he senses she needs something else. He suppresses a grin at the thought, as he remembers Harry yelling if it was the right moment. Hermione picks up his hand.

"What happened earlier," she begins, still not looking at him, "before the battle. I need to let you know I don't know what came over me. I mean, I had no right to kiss you, and I—"

"Hermione," Ron interrupts, "I wanted you to kiss me."

"Really?" The lines between her eyebrows smooth, though her face is still worried.

He takes the hand holding his and pulls her closer.

"Yes. In fact, I've wanted to kiss you. Forever, it feels like sometimes."

Her arms wrap around him, and she snuggles into his shoulder. "Why didn't you?"

"I don't know," he admits, running his hand down her hair, which flowed around her shoulders. He'd always loved her hair.

She doesn't say anything, and he worries she's going to leave. But she stays, and her arms tighten around him.

"I want to kiss you again. I haven't thought of anything else," he says, and she looks at him, surprise in her eyes. "Not even Fred. I shouldn't want to. My brother's dead, George is in shock, and all I can think about is how much I want to kiss you again."

Guilt rushes into him, through him. He shouldn't want this so much. He wants to wrap his arms around her and make her swear she'll never leave him. But she can't promise it, for the battle isn't quite over. Voldemort's followers—the ones who weren't killed or captured—are still out there, and they still have fighting left to do.

He sees Fred's lifeless body, George's vacant expression as they sat in the living room after dinner. And knows he should be mourning Fred. But he can only think about Hermione. And how much he wants to kiss her.

His eyes sting, and she brings her hand up and wipes tears off his face.

"There's nothing you could've done, Ron," she says, and he closes his eyes against the compassion in them. "Nothing would've stopped Fred from fighting. Nothing. And it could've been you or me lying there."

His heart jumps as the image of Hermione, lying still on a cold stone floor, flows into his mind. Agony floods through him, and he tightens his arms around her.

"Please be careful," he whispers, as he knows tomorrow they'll both be back in the fight. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

"I'll be careful," she says, and leans into him, tucking her head under his chin. "I want you to promise it."

"I promise." He lies down, bringing her with him. She sighs, and then she's lying next to him, head on his shoulder and one hand on his chest. He sighs, runs a hand over her hair.

Kisses the top of her head, and closes his eyes.

He sleeps.