Written for Gamma Orionis in the Gift Giving Extravaganza. It's also her fault this is set where it is, though that's not related to the Extravaganza, just to our weird conversations and the way my muse latches on to everything she says. Hope you enjoy it, lovely :D

Thanks to Sam for giving me a hand when I got a bit stuck in the middle :D

"Fear is only a verb if you let it be" is a quote from the poem "I do" by Andrea Gibson, and if you've never heard of her go look her up right now because she's flawless.

A point: this isn't exactly born of my beliefs about the afterlife — rather about my beliefs about what's important in life. So please, don't review just to tell me my perspective is stupid. Thanks :)


"This isn't hell."

An out-breath that is almost a laugh.

"No, it isn't."

He turns around and he can't keep the contented smile from spreading across his face as he catches sight of his brother.

"But it isn't heaven, either," Rodolphus points out.

"No, it's not." Rabastan repeats.

A beat of silence, and then, "How long?" Rabastan asks.

"Two years, eleven months, and fourteen days."

Rabastan's head snaps up. "You know exactly?"

"It's been two years, eleven months, and fourteen days since the last of my world crumbled. Of course I know."

Slowly, Rabastan says, "You measure by the date of the Ministry riots instead of the Battle of Hogwarts?"

Rodolphus takes a step forward. "The Battle of Hogwarts lost us the war. The Ministry riots lost me everything I had left."

"What happened? It took me a while to learn how to see the living. First I saw you were already running."

A bitter laugh escapes. "First time I've ever been grateful that people have a tendency to overlook us." He swallows. "I watched you fall. It was before they'd found the master switch to the cells — mine wasn't open." He swallows again. "You were so close, Rab."

Rabastan feels like this is the point where he would have looked down, before. But things are different here. "I know," he says. "But you got away."

Rodolphus shrugs. "Nobody cared about me. Not the rioters, not the Aurors. All I did was slip out a side-hallway and wander the Ministry for a bit until I walked right out the Atrium." Another huff of breath that's almost a laugh, and he says, "They realised eventually. But by then I was already running."

Another beat of silence. It should be awkward, but it isn't.

And abruptly, Rabastan flings himself at his brother, gripping desperately at the back of his robes and, in a voice so soft it almost doesn't exist, he says, "I missed you." It's the sort of thing he wouldn't have said, before.

But things are different here. Doubt and shame and fear don't matter here.

After a moment, Rodolphus wraps his arms around Rabastan's shoulders until he is gripping just as tightly. After a moment, he murmurs, his voice barely above a whisper "I missed you, too, Rabastan."

Rabastan takes a deep breath through his nose and still, almost three years later, he marvels at the fact that he can.

"So, a bit like heaven, then," Rodolphus says as he pulls back, nothing the depth of the breath, noting the healthy flush of Rabastan's cheeks and the actual flesh on his bones. It's a far cry from the gaunt, sickly façade he's used to.

A huff a breath that is halfway to a laugh from Rabastan. "A fair sight closer than it was last week, anyway, now that you're here." A slightly bitter sigh. "Before that it was closer to hell."

Another beat of silence, and then, "I'm sorry." Rodolphus takes a step backwards, half turning away.

Rabastan's voice is almost insolent as he replies, "For what? Living?"

"No. Leaving."

"I was dead, Rod. You can't feel guilty for that."

A breath shudders through Rodolphus. "Merlin, I've never actually said it out loud. Or heard it said."

"Don't you understand, though? It doesn't matter. Death, pain, they don't matter."

Rodolphus takes a step forward and his voice drops an octave and he says, "What does matter, then?"

And Rabastan takes a deep breath and pauses for long enough that it should be awkward but it isn't. "I love you," he says, and it could be a non sequitur, but Rodolphus can tell it isn't.

"I love you, too," Rodolphus says, but Rabastan is shaking his head.

"That isn't… Rod, I don't mean… as a brother."

And Rodolphus looks at him so seriously with his dark, dark eyes and he repeats, "I love you, too."

Because things are different here. Because they are what matters here. Because if they weren't, they wouldn't be together. Rabastan has spent two years, eleven months, and fourteen days figuring out that shame and cowardice are just different forms of fear, and fear doesn't — shouldn't — matter.

Because fear is only a verb if you let it be.

Their eyes meet across the small space between them and the moment is infinite. Neither one of them is sure who moves first, but then their lips meet and it doesn't matter anymore. Nothing matters but this.

Because things are different here.

When the air is gone and Rodolphus pulls back and rests his forehead on Rabastan's, he cannot help but chuckle. In response to the question in Rabastan's gaze, he says, his voice tinged with humor, "I'm damn glad this isn't heaven."

And Rabastan laughs, and then his eyes flash with something deeper than humor and he murmurs, "In some ways, it is."

Because this, them, could never happen in so many places, because it should be wrong in so many ways.

But things are different here.