AN: Written for my friend, Dove on her birthday with the following note: I think one of the most important things we can take away from Ron and Hermione's relationship is that no matter what happens, there's always hope. As long as the love is there, the rest can follow. It's possible. Just remember that...

lyrics by Staind

Right Here Waiting

She sat in the threadbare chair, hands in her sleeves, and arms wrapped tightly around her. She shook almost violently from being out in the cold, wet weather, but she didn't care. She could only feel her heart ripping slowly over and over again. The tears falling down her cheeks felt like the raindrops from her hair, only they were warm and left a salty trail on her cheeks. She barely registered that Harry was still there. In fact, she barely registered that she was in the tent at all. The only thing she could see was his pained expression and the sloping of his shoulders as he walked away from her.

Hermione fell asleep trying not to imagine what he might be doing, and where he might have ended up and succeeding in the opposite. She woke surrounded by his scent, only to find that his blanket had been thrown across her chilled body.

Things were never going to be the same again.

I know I've been mistaken
But just give me a break and see the changes that I've made

The cold air clung to Ron's wet clothes like a layer of icy skin. As he followed Harry back into the tent, his body still trembled at all he had seen. Images flooded Ron's psyche unbidden. Images of Harry immersed in an icy pool, of a ghostlike Hermione slicing him open with every word, and of Harry's welcoming eyes as Ron silently begged his forgiveness distracted Ron from what he was about to do. However, the moment the final step creaked on his way into the tent that had become a home for so long, Ron was hit with the present like a blow to the stomach that knocked the wind right out of him.

There she was. Hermione. Bathed in shadow so that Ron couldn't even make out the milky caramel tone of her skin, but Hermione nonetheless. He could trace the outline of her hair, a wild blur of curls and flyaway hair jutting from her petite form. She appeared even smaller than when he left, and his heart broke at the thought that she was slowly wasting away under the stress and pressure of their situation. He couldn't help but wonder: If he would have been there, would she be better, feel better, even sleep better? She came out of the shadows and Ron could feel his entire body shake in anticipation. He felt like he wasn't even worth being looked at, but his hopes rose as she moved closer and closer. He held his arms up, waiting to feel her against him again.

When her fists hit his chest, it was surprisingly painful. He looked up and found her hurt, betrayed eyes swimming in tears, and every hit afterward seemed like attrition. He of course put up attempts to stop her, but he didn't want her to stop. He deserved it. He craved her soft touch, needed to hold her, and needed to hear everything was going to be okay. He was foolish to think he would have that after what he did. He let her hit him until Harry put up the shield, and then he watched sadly as she slinked away to the worn out chair near the woodstove. He would do whatever it took to make it up to her, to prove to her that he could be depended on.

He promised himself:

Things were never going to be the same again.

I've got some imperfections
But how can you collect them all and throw them in my face

Weeks started to merge together, and still Hermione wouldn't utter a kind word toward him. She wouldn't walk near him. She wouldn't let him touch her even lightly when they were walking. Ron had never realized how much he needed those little moments. Before he left, he didn't really understand how much he needed her. However, the time spent away from her…away from both of them… had shown him that his heart was nothing but a gaping hole without her presence. He shouldn't have been surprised that it was her sharp but melodic voice that drew him back to them.

Seeing her face come out of his worst nightmares, hearing her voice screech his most terrible fears in that horcrux had changed Ron in a way no one could have guessed. When he raised that sword and killed his own demons, he had killed the crushing self-doubt that seemed to linger in him like a close friend for as long as his short life could remember. Ron knew what he wanted, and knew what he needed. He went to sleep every night with her name on his lips, even as she slept with her back turned to him in their small tent.

Ron and Harry readied themselves for bed, as Hermione was taking the first watch. The weather was becoming warmer, and so they didn't need to have winter wear ready for their shift. Ron set an alarm to wake up in four hours, and walked over to the kitchen to put his tea away. He accidentally brushed Hermione's arm, her bare skin touching his bare skin, and a chill was sent up his spine. In that small moment, Ron took a deep breath and smelled the sweet, flower scent of her hair as he walked by. Ron was struck at how incredible she smelled, despite the very obvious lack of any showering facilities. Did Hermione shower outside in the creeks when he wasn't looking?

That thought alone sent a thrill directly to Ron's cock, which twitched happily at the image of Hermione: her tawny skin glistening with cool water against the diamonds of the moonlight, her hair falling down to her round bum, lengthening heavily under the weight of the water, and her eyes closed peacefully as she washed herself. Ron looked back at Hermione, fully clothed and exiting the tent, and he reached out his hand. He knew he'd never reach her from where he was standing, but her warmth was so close to him that his arm moved unbidden of his mind.

He could hear the pages rustling on her latest book as he drifted off to sleep. Harry's deep, heavy breaths could be heard above him. The tent was so quiet, that Ron could hear his own heart pounding in his chest. The picture in his mind of Hermione washing herself in some outdoor stream had turned into him washing Hermione, touching her softly and listening to her moan in pleasure as the flannel was pulled over her impossibly smooth skin. That vision had lead to an image of Ron laying her on the banks of the fictional stream and making love to her, his cock going in and out of her warm heat as they both cried each other's names. Ron's body would not relent to his mind, and his erection strained painfully in his pajamas. He needed to do something.

But you always find a way to keep me right here waiting
You always find the words to say to keep me right here waiting

And if you chose to walk away I'd still be right here waiting
Searching for the things to say to keep you right here waiting

Regardless of how she was currently acting, hearing Ron's breathing along with Harry's in the tent had given Hermione more peace than she had in recent memory. He was safe, he was near her, and he wasn't leaving. However, she couldn't be sure of that last part, and his betrayal still cut across her like a knife. She believed him when he said he had tried to come back immediately, but the knowledge that he could actually walk away from her, that his will wasn't strong enough to fight for her against his own mind, was an open wound that stung at her chest as she breathed. She took another pained breath just as the flap of the tent opened up and Ron stepped out.

"Usin' the tree," Ron murmured, and Hermione hid a smile behind her book at the disheveled appearance of his hair. It was currently as messy as a lion's mane, wondering if maybe Molly's curls had found their way into the roots of Ron's hair after all. She listened to his footsteps until his shuffling grew distant.

It had been quite a few minutes when Hermione began to get worried. She carefully marked her place in her book and tip toed down the path Ron had taken into the forest. She quickened her pace when she heard Ron grunt heavily. Her heart began to race, fear gripping her at the image of their entire operation unraveling and Ron being taken from her. A flash of pale, freckled skin stopped her dead in her tracks, stilled her voice in her throat, and made her dive behind the first tree she could.

Ron had discarded his shirt, hanging it on the branch hanging low over his head. His right hand was splayed above his head, a pale, peach contrast to the dark brown bark of the tree. His body was turned slightly, giving Hermione a view of a few of his rib bones, as well as a firmly muscled abdomen that was currently clenching and seizing. She tried hard to avoid his left hand as her eyes traveled down his bare legs, hid jeans pooled at his ankles. Her hands ran absent-mindedly up the tree she was hiding behind as she let her eyes rake over his long, lean thighs and down over his firm calves. His round arse clenched in time with his stomach muscles, and Hermione could almost feel the warmth of his flesh underneath her hands.

"Ohhhhhh Gods," Ron moaned, and heat flared up in Hermione's face and in between her legs. Ron was biting his lip, and his face had taken on the same sort of color he always turned when he was angry or embarrassed. Hermione couldn't help but let her hand toy with the waist of her own jeans.

As her body became more desperate, she finally let her eyes to drift to Ron's hand, currently moving quickly over his cock. Hermione bit her lip and her mouth watered as she saw his hard, pink erection. He was long and thick, larger than she could have imagined, but then again unsurprising considering his relative size. She looked at the patch of leaves in front of his body and closed her eyes, wondering what it would feel like to drop to her knees and take his leaking cock into her mouth.

Her hand drifted lower, dipping into the waist of her jeans easily. She didn't want to dwell too long on her own well being at the realization her jeans were fitting so loosely. She let her fingers wander under the elastic of her underwear as she imagined her legs wrapping around Ron's body. He was moaning quite openly now, his hips thrusting forward in time with his fist and his other hand becoming white-knuckled against the bark.

Her fingers parted her lips and began to dance along her clit and she wondered what Ron's beautiful mouth would feel like pressed against her centre. Her fingers rubbed lightly against her sensitive parts in time with Ron's movements. When he began to thrust more erratically, Hermione slipped two fingers in her entrance, using her thumb to continue teasing her clit as her knees dug deeper into the forest floor. She wanted him inside of her so badly, wanted to look up into his eyes as he came, and wanted to feel her body quake just for him. The energy began to coil inside of her, and she knew she was close.

"Hermione, Hermione, Hermione," Ron whispered over and over again. With one final moan, he came, shooting rivulets onto the leaves below. At the sound of her name, Hermione's body clenched and waves of pleasure washed over her. She kept her eyes opened, focused on Ron's face as her own orgasm rolled through her.

He stood there, panting, his head resting against his arm on the tree. When he leaned down to lift his jeans back up, Hermione could see that his face was wet with tears, and her own body shivered with sobs. As he reached for his shirt, she leapt up and scrambled to get back to her small seat near the entrance of the tent before he could catch her. She clenched her fists and willed her tears no to fall, even as her heart broke with the need to just pull him into her arms and never let go.

Things were never going to be the same again.

I hope you're not intending
To be so condescending it's as much as i can take
and you're so independent
you just refuse to bend so I keep bending till I break

He waited there in the woods until he was sure his tears had been stymied. Then, he slowly made his way back to the tent; steeling himself for the hurt, haunted look Hermione was sure to give him. He walked into the clearing, hands in his pockets to try to look as nonchalant as possible, and eternally grateful that Hermione wasn't apt at practicing legilimency.

Her face was flushed and her eyes were red, and Ron couldn't help but rush over to her when he saw her.

"Hermione, is everything okay?" Ron asked, wanting to brush the tear that was falling from her eye.

"It is now, Ron," Hermione whispered.

The look on her face was warm, and not cutting through him like the stone looks she had been giving him over the past few months. The sound of his name on her lips was enough to send him into shouts of happiness. He kept his hands firmly in his pockets to keep from scooping her into his arms. He didn't want to break the delicate truce that was forming between them.

Hermione looked back down at her book, and Ron knew the moment had passed. He could feel his delicate countenance threatening to break when she turned away from him, but he amazingly kept himself glued together. She looked at him, she said his name, and her eyes didn't cut into him and crush him under their gaze. Something was changing and Ron could feel it. He hoped he was strong enough, patient enough to ride out the rest of the storm. He knew she needed to come around in her own time, and he just had to cling to what he could until she finally came back to him.

Things were never going to be the same again.

I've made a commitment
I'm willing to bleed for you
I needed fulfillment
I found what I need in you

Every day brought her closer to him, and Hermione delighted in the way his hand would find the small of her back, and his smiling blue eyes would capture hers in a small stare. It had been weeks since she saw him in the woods, and they were building on something. It was a slow start, but every second got warmer and brighter in her mind. She finished making tea in the small kitchen of the tent, and placed her hand on his shoulder as she set his extra-sweetened tea down in front of him. When his hand closed over hers, she couldn't help but sigh out loud.

Then, everything shattered. Harry said HIS name and the Deatheaters and Snatchers swarmed around them. Before Hermione could blink, before she could even find Ron's hand to grip in fear, they were taken to Malfoy Manor, and put on display for Bellatrix Lestrange herself. Hermione silently begged for Harry and Ron to make it out. She begged for her death if it meant they could go on. They needed to go on. Harry needed Ron, and the world needed Harry. Hermione closed her eyes as Bellatrix screeched and hoped for her own death to be swift, painless, and the only one that they would suffer that night.

Bellatrix requested that Hermione stay behind, and while fear gripped her, relief that it wasn't Harry and Ron also floated through her body.

"No! You can have me, keep me!" Ron's voice floated in between Hermione's jumbled thoughts. Before she could cry out to him, a hard blow to his face silenced his pleadings, and she was once again alone with her fate.

As the pain ripped through her body, Hermione heard him screaming for her. She could hear Ron's voice through the ringing in her ears, through the yelling of Bellatrix's strident voice, and even through the hard walls and floors that separated them. She clung to that voice like air, lying when she needed to, begging when the pain became too much, and always keeping Ron's face in her head should it be her last thought before death.

As her world faded to black, Hermione let his blue eyes swim in front of her consciousness.

Things would never be the same again.

Why can't you just forgive me
I don't want to relive all the mistakes I've made along the way

"Please be okay…Please be okay…. Please be okay"

Ron whispered the mantra over and over again as he held Hermione close to his chest. He was jogging along the sandy coastline and up the dune-like slope to the front door of Shell Cottage, and Hermione's limp form was curled tightly to his chest. She felt so small in his arms as she stayed curled and immobile against his body. He could hear a small rush of air near her nostrils, but after hearing her scream in agony, Ron feared the worst. His entire world was threatening to collapse around him, and it was all he could do not to fall to his weakening knees and sob.

Bill answered the door even before Ron could knock, obviously alerted by the wards.

"Please, Bill! She's been hurt!" Ron cried out desperately, worried that if he did say it loudly, he would choke on his words.

"Jesus, Ron! Let's get her upstairs right now! The room at the top of the steps," Bill commanded, bounding up the stairs after Ron. When they had laid Hermione down on the small bed, Bill began to call for Fleur.

There wasn't much that could be done in the way of healing spells for someone who had been tortured. Fleur healed the cut across Hermione's neck and the wounds caused from the glass of the chandelier. She healed wounds on Ron he didn't even realize he had, and even mopped up some blood from his face as he continued to stare into Hermione's impassive features. When the cuts on her hand were faint pink scars, Ron wound his hand tightly around hers and brought her fingers up to his lips. He was never letting go of her again…he couldn't.

"I need to wake her up so she can take a pain potion," Fleur said gently, placing her small, ivory hand on Ron's shoulder.

"That's about all we can do for her now, Ron, just ease her pain and hope for the best," Bill said, leaning down closely to Hermione's comatose form. Ron had never said she'd been tortured, he didn't know if he could utter the words, let alone if he should, considering their situation. However, he should have realized Bill was too smart to just let the telltale signs fly over his head.

"Ennervate," Bill whispered, and Hermione eyes shot open.

She began screaming in pain immediately, exactly how she had been at the manor when Ron was a few floors and a hundred miles away from her. He reached out and wrapped his arms around her convulsing body to keep her from flailing off of the bed, and he buried his face in her neck. He couldn't speak, couldn't whisper with all the choked sobs caught in his throat. He could hear Bill and Fleur calling out her name as she continued to cry, and continued to try not crying.

"Please! Don't hurt them!" Hermione screamed, her nails digging into the tops of her thighs through her tattered jeans.

"Hermione, it's okay. We're okay. You're safe now," Ron said soothingly in her ear. He took one of the hands currently holding her tightly and began to run it up and down her arm to comfort her.

"It hurts so bad, Ron, make her stop," She said, gripping his shirt and burying her face in his chest.

Ron was horrified and shaking with anger. "She's not hurting you anymore, Hermione, it's done," He said, trying to get the images of that murderous bitch out of his mind and focused on Hermione. He whispered more soothing sounds into her ear, and her sobbing lessened slightly.

"Take this, ma chere, it may help," Fleur said. Ron took two glass bottles from her hands.

"Hermione, love, you have to take these. One will help the pain, and one will calm you down a little," Ron whispered, tipping her chin back. Her eyes were puffy and bloodshot, but they met his with a clarity that gave Ron a small amount of relief. He pressed the first vial to her lips and she tilted her head back, even as her body continued to shake and spasm. The shaking stopped almost instantly, and Hermione was able to take the calming draught with no difficulty.

Ron put his arm around her shoulders and laid her back carefully on the bed. "You need to rest," Ron whispered, pulling his arms carefully out from under her.

Suddenly, Hermione shot up and gripped Ron's arms so tightly that her fingernails dug into his skin. Ron froze, worried that the pain potion wasn't working, and met Hermione's eyes with the same frenzied gaze she bore into his.

"Don't leave me, Ron! Don't leave me," She begged, tears falling freely from her eyes as her body began to shake. Ron's heart ripped open at her pleas, and he blamed himself for her fear and desperation.

"I'll never leave your side. Never. I promise," Ron said, pulling her into his lap on the bed. He buried his face in her hair and pressed her body to his as tightly as he could. She still smelled of the sweet flowers she always did, and Ron was soothed slightly by the familiarity.

"Never…never…" He whispered over and over again, rocking her and kissing her temple.

Hermione leaned back and placed her icy, shaking hands on either side of Ron's burning face. He turned his lips into her palm, reveling in the life that seemed to pulse in her narrow fingers.

"And I'll never leave you, Ron. Never," Hermione whispered, something indescribable glinting in her eyes.

Things were never going to be the same again.

But you always find a way
To keep me right here waiting
You always find the words to say to keep me right here waiting
And if I chose to walk away would you be right here waiting
Searching for the things to say to keep me right here waiting