"I can't do this, Ron! We keep having the same fight! I can't keep having the same fight!"
Her voice was high and out of control, and hearing her out of control made Ron feel out of control. When he looked into her eyes, all he could see was the naked panic that lay there. Cool, composed Hermione Granger was going into freak-out mode. He had never seen her like this. She was always the calm one in their relationship. It was that realization that cued Ron in to what was about to happen before it did. Even so, he had to ask.
"What are you implying?"
She looked at him through her tear filled eyes, and he knew that his heart was not the only heart breaking in that moment. But she couldn't not say it. She thought that hurting the both of them was the best for everyone. And so she walked up to Ron and pressed her forehead against his. He attempted to not break down, but it was moot point. Tears splashed down the front of Ron's face and onto hers.
"I have to leave."
The whispered words floated from her mouth and into the air, circling Ron as if unsure what to do with themselves. Ron tried to ignore the salty tears falling into his mouth, tried to prevent the wail that he was sure must be coming.
"I love you so much, Ron," she said, and from the way her voice broke, he knew it was true. "But I can't stay."
They were both crying now. Ron engulfed her in his arms and she pressed her nose against his chest. She inhaled the way he smelled and let out another sob.
"Why? Why can't we make this work?" Ron asked quietly.
"Haven't we tried hard enough?"
"I love you. That should be enough."
"Then why do we keep arguing about this? You know I love you, Ron, not him."
"But he wants you!" Ron yelled, pulling back from her. She fell to her knees and watched him as uncontrollable rage consumed his being. His hand flew across the table and everything on it fell to the ground with a loud, satisfying noise. She winced, and Ron felt a grim satisfaction. He was falling apart. So should the rest of the world. Little by little, the flat, their flat, flew into disarray.
"Please," she begged, but it wasn't enough. She hid her head in her hands as his fist broke the glass table.
"FIVE YEARS!" exploded from Ron's mouth, and she finally got up and grabbed his arm.
"Ron, STOP IT!" she screamed. "Don't destroy this home. Don't destroy our home. Our place."
"Why shouldn't I?" Ron roared, and she winced again. "It so obviously means nothing to you. NOTHING!"
"No, no, Ron, stop! It means everything! You mean everything."
"Then why are you leaving?" Ron croaked, letting his guard down for the first time.
"Because you need to grow up a little bit! You need to learn to be able to see the gorgeous, talented, sensitive human being that I see every single day when I look at you."
Ron didn't say anything. A thousand words entered his mind, but none of them seemed good enough to describe that shattering of his heart.
"You promised you'd never leave me."
It took all of his strength and self control to sound as impassive as he did in that moment.
"And I'm so, so sorry to break that promise."
Tears splashed down the front of her shirt, and Ron could already see her beautiful brown eyes getting red around the edges. The part of him that loved her with every bit of his soul wanted to rush up to her, to tell her not to cry. It had always hurt him to see her cry. Tears did not belong on her angelic face. But the other, more vindictive and masochistic part of Ron wanted her to hurt like he was hurting. What she could do to him. That one girl had more control over Ron then he had over himself, and he'd readily- happily, even- given it to her. Ron slumped onto the couch and burrowed his head into his hands, letting the feeling of horror wash over him. She sank onto the couch next to him and placed her chin on his shoulder. Together, they mourned the end.
"This can't be... it," Ron whispered, turning to face her.
"It's not, Ron," she said, her tone matching his. "Somehow, when the time is right, we'll find our way back to each other."
"And what if we don't?"
"Then I'm a sodding idiot for letting you go in the first place," she answered. "But I think this break will be good for both of us."
"Where are you going to go?" Ron asked, praying that the name that slipped from her beautiful lips would not be his. His, the worst of all of them.
"I'm going to take the job that the French Ministry offered me. It's a good position. I'll stay with my cousins and I'll try not to spend every single moment I'm there thinking about you."
His mind flashed back to the night that she'd first told him about the position. He'd been so happy for her, but she'd shaken her head and shrugged her shoulders.
"I'm not going."
"I can't leave you."
"You mean I'm the only thing keeping you here?"
"Well, yes. You're more important to me than any job."
He was snapped out of his reverie as her lips moved to his ear, and Ron waited hungrily for the words to come, suddenly savoring every last precious second they were able to spend together.
"You're jealous and insecure, and sometimes you can be a total, complete prat." she told him. Ron swallowed. "But you're my prat, and I'll always come back for you. Unless you fall in love with someone else while I'm gone, I will be back."
Her hand slipped from his shoulder and fell onto her own hand. Slowly, she twisted the ring off, seemingly savoring every last second with it on.
"Don't," Ron said, his intense vulnerability drenched in his tone and haunting his face. "Keep it. Please. We're only on a break."
She looked startled, but she twisted the engagement ring back onto her finger nonetheless.
"Thank you," she whispered. She seemed glad not to part with it. Glad that she could still claim that she was Ronald Weasley's fiancée, even though they technically were not together. "When I come back, we'll set a date and actually go through with it."
"Two years," Ron's voice cracked. "Two years."
"It's not that long." came her pleading response, even though they both knew that it was. "And by the end of two years, you'll have realized that you are the most amazing man on the planet, the only one I could ever even consider giving up my surname for, and that I could never cheat on you with a hot-shot lawyer, or stupid Viktor Krum, or any other man, even if he got onto his knees and begged me." She released a hollow, bitter laugh. "It's always been you. No matter hard I tried to move on with someone else, it was always you. Always. There was no way around it."
If Ron had been strong enough, he would have screamed to her that he loved her, trusted her. He would have kissed her long and hard, savoring the taste of her lips, the scent of her skin, and the feeling of her body pressed against his. But Ron wasn't man enough at that moment. He didn't kiss her, tell her he loved her, or that he trusted her. Instead, Ron did what any man would do when he'd just gotten his heart stomped on and insides torn out by the girl he loved. He got up and followed her over to their- his, rather - room and wordlessly started handing her clothing to pack up. She took everything. By the time she was done, there was no sign that the woman he'd loved since he was fourteen had ever stepped foot in this place, much less lived there. Ron knew, without a doubt, that later that night, before he went to sleep, he would scavenge the whole flat for anything, anything at all that carried her scent. He would press the object against his nose and thank it a thousand times for existing. He would hold it as he fell asleep, mentally berating himself for anything and everything he had ever done wrong in his entire life when it came to her. And Ron would regret everything that had happened that day, hoping to god that he would wake up and realize that everything had been one sick dream. He'd tell her all about it, and she'd cover him in kisses and tell him not to be afraid. That she'd never leave. Just as she'd done so many times before. Just as he'd done for her so many times before.
He realized she was looking at him, and he was looking at her. And, as Ron stared into her amber eyes, drowning in his sorrow, in the pools of devastated brown, only one thought entered his mind. Two years. This is the last time I see her for two years. What do I do? Knowing the after almost instantly after he asked the question, he bent down and pressed his lips against hers, kissing her with everything he was worth. Ron wasn't sure if he'd ever pressed her so hard against him, or kissed her so furiously, so hungrily. So passionately, so urgently. He poured everything into that kiss, and she did the same for him. Neither of them wanted to pull away, knowing that this was that last kiss for two years, that this was goodbye. They had both nearly blacked out from lack of breath before she untangled her hands from Ron's hair, removed her lips from his, and backed away down the hall.
She opened the door. She took a step out. One, then two. Desperate for just a few more seconds with her, Ron spoke.
"I always knew you were going to break my heart."
She turned around, as Ron knew she would, and traitorous tears glistened in her eyes.
"It's funny. I never thought I'd break my own."
She turned around again and started walking.
"Hermione," Ron called out, and she turned around, smiling softly at the sound of his voice saying her name for the very last time. "I could never fall in love with anyone else."
And then, gathering all the courage and strength he had so lacked when simply fighting for her, Ron raised his hand and closed the door. It slammed shut with a satisfyingly loud noise, and he stared at it for quite a few seconds before turning away and leaning against the door.
What had he done? How could he have brought this upon himself? It was understandable, though. He'd always been jealous where Hermione was concerned. She was his blind spot, and a part of him would never know what to do around her. So much had changed since they had been innocent adolescents, but sometimes Ron felt like he had remained almost completely the same, unchanging and unmoving. He was still a slob. He was still a pig. He was still jealous. He still made demeaning jokes on the odd occasion. He still had severe confidence issues.
Then again, so did Hermione.
They were constantly reassuring each other that they did, indeed, have feelings for the other, constantly reminding the other why they loved them, and for how long. When one of them woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, they were sometimes surprised to find the other one there for them. It was as though neither believed that they were good enough for the relationship, for the other person.
For Ron, it was how intelligent Hermione was, how successful, neat and put together. It was also how beautiful she was- he always felt that his looks never measured up to hers.
And then there was Hermione. Hermione, who didn't think she was funny enough to be with Ron. She thought she was too nerdy, too different. She was always working too hard or too late, and she thought that one day Ron would get sick of it and take off while she was gone. And, of course, she thought that Ron was much better looking than she was.
They were a mess, weren't they? Each had some severe issues that the other had to deal with, and yet they still worked. They still loved each other, and the fact was that no one was going to randomly wake up in the middle of the night and realize that they wanted to chuck the other, despite their worst nightmares. But Ron and Hermione being a couple... that didn't come easy. People needed time to change, and, while five years should have been enough, it wasn't. They had too many ghosts of the past, too many scars, both physical and emotional. War wasn't easy on anyone, but couples and families always seemed to have an especially difficult time. War could make or break you. And five years later, the second Wizarding War was still defining their lives.
Why had they thought they could do it, Ron wondered. Surely, he reasoned, their history wasn't enough. How had they thought it could be? And surely the present wasn't enough, either. Yes, they loved each other. But they both had flaws, flaws that they needed to grow out of before they could grow together. For he recognized, he had recognized long ago, that with Hermione around he had thought he didn't need to grow. Hermione had stuck with him when he was an obnoxious sixteen year old, she had forgiven him after he'd left her and Harry, she had seen him cry over Fred. Did he really need to change? She understood him, she was his other half, his soul-mate. It was selfish, he knew. Ron had been using the fact that he had known Hermione since he was eleven as a scapegoat. He had used it to be lazy, almost. She hadn't deserved that. But then, maybe she had somehow been using that too.
His head hurt now, worse than it had been before. Giving up on thinking, he walked over to their room, sat on the bed, and stared at the wall, where an array of photos of the happy couple lay. Unknowingly, they beamed at Ron, looking free and happy as they laughed and danced and kissed. Some of them were pictures of them from school, not yet as a couple but nonetheless as two teenagers in love. Ron wished that his younger self had known when he was taking the photo that it would later hang on the wall of his and Hermione's bedroom, site of many things a younger Ron could only dream of. He wondered how he would have felt, knowing that. Probably a little alarmed at the idea of such a large commitment, but happy at the prospect of everything else.
A time period that was obviously missing from the pictures was the one straight after the war. No one had been in the mood to document anything until almost two years had passed. The pictures had started up again after that. Photos of Ron and Hermione at the weddings of all his brothers, holding babies of Ron's family, and standing awkwardly in a still photo with both of their parents, Mr. Weasley looking hilariously enthusiastic. There were several pictures of them kissing, a picture of them hugging, a picture of Hermione saving a goal that Ron tried to get past her during a game of Quidditch. Hardest of all to look at was the one where he proposed. He'd done it a year ago, but they'd never actually bothered to do anything about it. It figured that Ron and Hermione would be one of the couples to get engaged and have it go nowhere. He never would have pegged himself for that kind of person, but, then again, he'd never pegged himself as the type of guy to fall for Hermione, either.
His favorite photo was a black and white one he had taken himself, playing with Hermione's muggle camera one day. It was set in a field behind Hermione's house, and you could see dandelions galore in the background. She was smiling serenely, her eyes focused on a book that she was reading. She was laying down on her stomach with her legs up in the air, bent at the knees, and a colorful summer dress flowing freely to her knees. A stray bit of hair hung down her face, and she looked relaxed, beautiful and peaceful. It was taken from the side, trained for Hermione to be the subject, so that the flowers in the background were a bit of a blur. And Ron loved it. Hermione said it was the pride that he took it, but Ron knew that it was more than that. It was a different type of pride, in that not only had he taken it, but the subject, the beautiful subject, was all his, and this was how he saw her. Now he was finally able to show her that.
Just like Hermione had always known that there was a side of him that could be soft, gentle and tender, Ron had known that there was a side of her that could be playful, happy, and passionate about something other than house-elves. Him. She could be passionate about him, and she had always been so proud of the way she could let herself go around him and just exist as a person in love and not as a student or an employee of the Ministry of Magic.
And now they'd lost that. For two years, Ron would never be that sweet, empathetic person that Hermione had seen in him. And for two years, Hermione wouldn't be able to let loose at all. No matter who she was with, she was always stressed about something. Except Ron. He made her forget. In some way, he felt that for the next two years, they were kind of screwed. He always liked himself best when he was around Hermione, and she liked herself best when she was around him. In one way, this break was exactly what they needed. In another, it could potentially be fatal.
What exactly was a break, anyways? Ron wasn't sure what it entailed, wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. Hermione had told him that she would be with him when she came back, given that he hadn't fallen in love again. Did that mean that he was supposed to start dating again? But then he had let her keep the engagement ring. That meant that they were still engaged, meaning that dating would be cheating, in spite of the fact that he wouldn't be seeing Hermione for two years. Besides, who would want to get into a relationship with someone that would dump them in two years no matter what? He would always want to be with Hermione more than anyone else. That was just the way it was.
There was a sudden knock at the door. Ron leaped up, hope and excitement blooming in his stomach. What if it was Hermione? It was Hermione! He knew it. It had to be Hermione. She had come back. But when he flung the door open, he was faced with disappointment. Never in his life had he been so annoyed to see Harry Potter.
"How'd you hear so fast?" Ron asked dully, his face morose.
"Hermione's staying with me and Gin until she leaves."
Somehow, hearing Harry say Ginny's nickname, hearing Harry bring up the fact that the two lived together, remembering that they were married... it only deepened Ron's wound. It made desolation wash over him all over again.
"When's she going?"
"A week," Harry said, walking in. Ron noticed beer in his hand, and felt grateful. He really wanted to be drunk at that moment. "Apparently, the French Ministry was extremely eager to take her."
"Of course. She's bloody brilliant," Ron said, almost defensively. Harry rolled his eyes. He plopped himself into a squishy armchair and let out a long sigh.
"I have a headache from all of Hermione's hysterical sobbing."
It seemed wrong to know this fact, like he had just barged into Hermione's personal files and found a love letter to him that he had never seen before. It almost seemed as though he was cheating at the game of love, the idea that he knew something about her that he had not been meant to know. He suddenly understood why two people dating was bad for the third party in the friendship. He was almost enraged at Harry for telling him this, rather than hearing it from Hermione herself. But instead of saying that, he plopped down onto the couch and grabbed a beer from Harry. They drank in silence for a while, as they were so good at doing now, having gotten used to the awkwardness of their relationships. Hermione was like Harry's sister, and Ginny was Ron's sister. Ron wondered if Harry felt like hitting him, but figured that he probably wouldn't, since this wasn't really his fault except for the fact that he was a jealous asshole. Finally, after about an hour of doing nothing but drinking and staring at the wall, Harry spoke.
"So, you have one week."
"One week until she leaves."
Harry looked at him pointedly.
"Are you going to go after her?"
Ron hadn't even considered this, but he felt absolutely vexed now that the option had been suddenly introduced to him. Are you going to go after her?
"No," he said, shaking his head. "I'm not."
A/N: Hey, guys, welcome to War of the Exes! This is something I've been working on since February, when I finished writing Because I Love You. It's 25 chapters long (including the epilogue) and I have to say was extremely fun to write. I hope you'll review and tell me what you think for this chapter andthe next twenty-four. Thanks for reading! ~writergirl8