From Boys to Men

Epilogue

Screaming, kicking, thrashing, guns forgotten on the ground, pleading, crying. Nothing. Then there was just nothing. No sound, no ringing in his ear, no colours. The dull landscape had become even more so, and devoid of all meaningful life. A bleak, painful void.

More than once George had wondered what it would be like to throw himself off the deck and into the cold, dark and yet inviting waters below. How soon would the icy cold numb the pain? How soon would it take him away from the new, more terrible kind of hell he was forced to endure now?
Home…that was where they were going now. Well. England, anyway.
Across the ship, close together, were Bill and Charlie. Their eyes equally wet and faces equally grief-stricken. Charlie, usually upbeat and brave, was still crying silently, his arm in a sling and tears falling slowly down his freckled cheeks. Bill was watching George who was sitting limply against a crate, a blanket that was supposed to offer a little warmth and comfort draped loosely over his heavy shoulders. Like his brothers, his eyes were sunken and devoid of light and he too, like them, looked older. But unlike William and Charles, George had no desire to go home, he had no hope left in any bone in his body. Nowhere was there room for comfort in his mind.

He couldn't even close his eyes without seeing it all again. The blood, the ruined face, the glassy eye and the shuddering as Fred's last breath left him. He would never forget clinging to his twin's dead corpse and screaming as someone tried to pull him away from him and then hours later being told they were going home on the next ship in a few days.
He hadn't slept, couldn't bear to, and probably wouldn't for a long while.

Almost blankly he let his eyes drop from the railing of the ship, pulling out of his blissful thoughts of being with Fred again and met Bill's eyes for a moment. He wished he hadn't. No sooner had they made eye contact then Bill was up and coming over to him, wrapping a long arm around his little brother.
Unwillingly the sobs returned, frantic, painful and short, wracking George's whole body as he dropped his head onto his brother's shoulder.

At the same moment Charlie had broken into sobs again, drawing his knees up, cradling his wounded arm between his legs and stomach, forehead dropping forward onto his knees and good hand gripping desperately at his unkempt hair. He had made a promise to himself and to his family that he would keep the twins as safe as he could, prevent any serious damage. In some ways losing one was worse than losing both would be. If both had died instead of only one then the other wouldn't feel the pain. Wouldn't have to live with looking like the other and losing half of himself. Wouldn't the pain be lessened?
He had failed. He'd failed their family, he'd failed himself, he'd failed Fred and especially failed George.

It took every ounce of Bill's being not to start shaking and sobbing along with his brothers. But George at least needed someone to be strong for him, at least stronger. A shoulder to cry into which he was finally making full use of.
Unwittingly, the oldest son's mind drifted back to first finding out. Fred hadn't even looked the slightest bit like he had in life when he saw the body. His face was more blood than skin, the eyes closed looked as though even if he had survived, it would never have opened again.
That was when Bill had broken. He had collapsed against the wall of the trench as his legs gave out and refused to hold his weight. A strangled cry of horror that could barely be considered human had fallen from his lips and he had fought not to faint as he dissolved into sobs.
There it was again, falling from his mouth now as he supported George, blue eyes focussed on the sky above as he tried to hold in the tears.

Just one jump. That's all it would take. Just one jump to end the pain, to be with Fred again in another life if one existed. One jump, one splash, take no breath.
George didn't even realise what was happening when he had one foot on the edge of the ship, hands on the railing. All thoughts had been driven from his mind, all awareness of what he was doing gone until the frantic voices and footsteps broke him from his suicidal urges.
Charlie was swearing and on his feet, Bill beside him again as two other men pulled him back from the brink of jumping into the ocean and onto the deck again. He landed heavily on his side, the bad side of his head hitting the deck with some force as he wrenched himself out of their grip. Groaning and whimpering, he curled in on himself, trembling as his heart beat frantically in his chest and a dominant part of him was still yearning to jump.

x

There was no parade now. There was no music or cheering as the ship pulled into the quay and the gangplank was lowered. Nobody cheered, they just stood and stared as once brave, eager soldiers slowly returned home. Some were legless, one was armless, and some missed single limbs or hands. The way that almost everyone, older men, women and children turned their faces away from the sight was a moment that not one of the weary, war-torn and prematurely aged men would ever forget. Wives, children…families torn apart were pushing their way through the crowd as they saw their loved ones. Or worse…didn't see their loved ones return. George recognised Remus Lupin's wife, a small bundle of blankets in her arms as she searched desperately for her husband who he knew was not coming for her.

George's eyes rested on Angelina in the crowd, she was there, probably waiting for Fred. Her dark eyes lit up when she saw George and he shook his head firmly to say he was not his brother.

A scream, long manes of red hair and Molly Weasley was upon her sons, kissing every inch of their faces she could reach, analysing Bill's scarred face and Charlie's sling. Ginny was there following her mother's example. Ronald and Arthur beaming and hugging. But it was Percy who first noticed George standing a ways back. Alone.
"George?" At first George couldn't tell if he was looking at the torn side of his head or the fact he was alone. Both were likely.

Slowly the sobs of joy and sighs of happiness died down as everyone turned to him. Arthur finally noticing the look in Bill's face that was mirrored in Charlie's and accentuated in George's.
"Georgie, dear?"

He took too steps back as she stepped forward, her husband beside her, reaching for their son.
"Darling? Where's Fred?"

No answer was necessary. George's face. There was no light there, only heartbreak. There was no Fred beside him.

Ginny was the first to sob, pushing forward and running to hug her brother, tears streaming as Molly sank to her knees on the ground, sobbing as they slowly realised.

x

On the other side of the docks, still near the ship, a woman with a newborn baby named Teddy still waited for her husband. An older woman with red hair and her son with messy black hair waited with her. Both women knew they would never stop waiting.


I know! I'm sorry I said it wouldn't take this long and I'm sorry it ended that way (please spare my life). It killed me to write this, but the good news is that in a month my exams will be over and I'll be finished school and have more time for writing (hopefully). I'm open for suggestions, in fact I'd love them. Thanks for reading!