For Sam for GGE, for so many reasons. Because this pairing is her baby. Because we were having a discussion about the lack of 2nd person CharlieDraco in existence. Because Bill.
Also for Camp Potter: Event: First Aid. Cabin: Lestrange.
Mandatory prompts: hourglass 2. "you never know what you have until it's gone", 3. rain
Warning for potential medical inaccuracy because I have no idea what I'm doing here.
The sand slips through the neck of the hourglass at a steady pace.
His heart beats to the same steady rhythm, and your ear pressed against his chest can sense the subtle vibration.
It is times like this — times when he is asleep, and you can tell from the pacing of his breaths — that you feel your confidence begin to crumble.
You are so afraid of this. You are so afraid of what you feel for him. You are so afraid of caring. You are waiting for the day when he realises that you are not good enough for him, that you are a broken man who grew up in a family known for crime, that while his father was teaching him to ride a bicycle yours was teaching you how to hold a gun. You are waiting for him to realise that you are a monster pretending to be a human being, waiting for him to realise that he deserves so much better than you.
Because your Charlie is a firefighter, a man who spends his days risking his life so that other people can live, a man so noble and good that no normal person can measure up, let alone someone like you. He is an adrenaline junkie who loves as fiercely as he lives, and you can't help but wonder if this love is a flash fire — burning brightly, but then gone.
You feel the time slipping through the hourglass, and you can't help but wonder when it will run out.
People have a stupid saying — you never know what you have until it's gone. And maybe, for most people, that's true.
You've never been like that. Probably because you learned from the beginning how easily things could be taken away. You learned how to value what you had while you had it, because odds were you wouldn't have it for long.
Father said tools were a handicap that taught you to rely on a something too deeply, that trinkets were a sentimental weakness you couldn't afford, that packing up and leaving in an instant could become necessary at any time, and lingering over things could get you killed.
So you learned quickly to value what you had and live with the expectation that you would lose it.
You know that Charlie is valuable. He is everything you never knew to ask for, and he claims to accept you unfailingly despite your background. Despite the darkness of your knowledge base, despite the lessons in your head. And you are trying, for him, to rewire but rewiring the brain isn't easy, especially not with the way your father ensured every lesson was ingrained five layers deep.
No, you know exactly what you have. And you will value him until he slips through your fingers.
The hourglass is broken. Sand tumbles to the floor so much faster than it should. Tears are slipping down your face for the first time in you-don't-even-know how long. This isn't… this isn't what you expected. This isn't fair, and god dammit you know life isn't fair, but you didn't expect the balance to be this fucked up.
He is your brave, good, beautiful firefighter Charlie, and he is dying. Not the way he'd want to, either. He's not going to die attempting to save someone no one else would attempt. He's not going to die by fire.
He's going to die slowly and miserably as his own body fights to kill him.
He has cancer.
He has cancer, and it has already metastasized, has already spread throughout his body, and the doctors have given him two months to live.
You sit numbly beside him as they explained options — chemo, basically — and Charlie refuses. Charlie would rather have two months of slowly crumbling health than four or six where he was miserable. You respect that decision.
While they speak you are numb, so numb as you watch everything you might've dared to hope for slip away, as you watch the hourglass shatter and the sand tumble to the ground, leaving so little left.
And after the doctor leaves you manage to choke out the words, "I… need a minute," before whirling about and vanishing before he could see the tears.
You hear your father's voice in your mind, criticising you for being so weak but you don't even care what he thinks right now, because it is your life and your love and your Charlie, and if you want to damn well cry at the thought of losing him then you will, because Lucius doesn't get to have a say in your life anymore. He lost that right when he let one of his associates beat you black and blue and left you there to die. You nearly did die. It was only lucky chance that you hadn't — one of the security officers at a nearby bank had taken an unusual route home in order to pass by the post office on the next street. He was attempting to mail a letter to his French girlfriend. Instead he wound up sitting on the wet pavement, cradling your head in his lap and waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
The man had listened patiently to what little of your story you were willing to share — which wasn't, isn't much — and offered to let you stay at his place while you attempted to get your feet under you.
You repay the favour by falling in love with his brother.
That was almost four years ago.
Bill, you think. You should ring him, let him know, but you can't bear to say the words right now. God, you can hardly think them.
Why did it have to be him? Why did it have to be Charlie?
Of all the people you know, he is the one who deserves this the least. You would take it from him and bear it yourself in a heartbeat were such a thing possible. It is not. Instead, you can only stand by him when he wants you, leave him when he wants to be alone, try to be everything that he needs but won't want to ask for because he is a proud man. This will kill him.
Literally. You thought people were being overdramatic when they mentioned pains of the heart, but there is an actual twinge there.
Charlie had initially gone in for sheer exhaustion and muscle aches. Charlie is not unfit — he's several times stronger than you, easy, as a product of his job — and he usually sleeps fine. Neither exhaustion nor muscle aches were common, and having both persist for weeks told him that something was wrong enough for a consult. He dozes as you drive home from the hospital and you want to tell him to sleep when you get home, but he sits at the kitchen table and gestures for you to take the seat across from him. You do so without hesitation.
"I want to make something abundantly clear," he says very deliberately. "You are not obligated to remain. If at any point this all feels like too much, I want you to tell me. If at any point it is too much, I want you to walk away."
"I would not—"
"No, Draco. Promise me." His blue eyes stare into yours fiercely, and you can do nothing but agree.
"Fine. But it's not going to happen, Charlie. I'm not leaving, not for anything."
A tired smile flickers across his lips. "I appreciate that. But I won't have you staying out of misplaced guilt or something stupid like that. All right?"
You nod. He finds out he is dying, and his first thought is to look after you. It is not fair.
You want desperately to plead to God, the universe, anything, to take anyone else, just not this man, not your selfless, brave Charlie.
But you don't do useless gestures. Instead, you ask, "Are you going to tell them?" He knows that you mean his family; you don't need to specify.
He sighs. "I will." A yawn so big his jaw cracks. "Tomorrow."
You rise, round the table, and take his hand. Pull him up, wrap your arms around him, rest your chin on his head. "I will be here every step," you murmur softly.
He clings to you like a drowning man to a lifeline and isn't that ironic? Your man of fire is drowning, and it is all you can do to keep him afloat.
It is agony to listen to Charlie's stuttered conversation with his mother as you sit on the couch beside him, your side pressed against his, your fingers tangled in his. Charlie's voice hits a note that is raw and pained and God, you just want to take it all away. And Molly, of course, Molly is sobbing; Molly, who already lost one son to your father's men (and who accepted you anyway and where the hell do you even find people like that?) and who shouldn't have to face the loss of another.
You've never been one to question the way the universe works but in this moment you cannot help but wonder why such terrible things have to happen to such good people.
Before Charlie is even finished speaking, Molly hurls herself at him, clinging tightly and desperately. Charlie clings as desperately in return. "I'm scared, Mum." The admission is a whisper.
"Sometimes it's okay to be scared, baby," she murmurs back.
A bitter half-laugh half-sob. "I'm twenty-seven, Mum. I haven't been a baby in a very long time."
"You'll always be my baby boy."
When they finally release each other both of their faces are streaked with tears and you feel like you're intruding until Charlie reaches for your hand again, grabbing hold of it tightly. Molly gives you a watery smile.
"Are you going to tell your siblings?"
Charlie nods heavily. "Told Bill and Fleur we'd be over after this."
Charlie falls asleep in the car on the way there. You seriously debate leaving him there — he's tired and emotionally drained, and you feel confident enough in your standing with Bill that you could manage the conversation, but it's a bit too chilly today to remain in the car without the blasting heat.
A barely awake Charlie leans heavily on your shoulder as he stumbles up the stairs to the door and you wind up depositing him in the guest room before even responding to Bill's questioning look.
The fact that he falls straight back asleep without protest screams at you how very sick he is.
Bill offers you coffee but you ask for something stronger and he complies without question, his face sobering as he fishes it out of the cabinet. He knows you, and he knows that you don't do casual drinking. You hated your father even more than usual when he was under the influence, and you refuse to become him.
But this… this is a situation that calls for a bit of dissociation from reason.
Bill sets the glass in front of you and you down a swallow.
"What's wrong?" he asks, his voice soft and serious.
The words stick in your throat and you wind up taking another swallow before you manage them. "Charlie has cancer. They…" Your voice cracks. "They gave him two months."
You watch as Bill's face transitions through shock and straight to pure agony.
You knew from the beginning that Charlie is Bill's favourite brother — you heard the way he spoke about him. Bill is proud of Charlie, of what he does. Bill adores all of his siblings, but he has a soft spot for Charlie.
Watching Charlie, strong, fearless Charlie waste away because of a disease he cannot fight will hurt Bill almost as much as it will hurt you.
"Where's Fleur?" you ask, trying to change the subject.
"She's looking for a bigger bed for Vic, so that the new baby can have the crib when it's born."
You manage a tired smile. "Two more months, right?"
Bill looks like he wants to smile, but he's still thinking about Charlie, still fighting back tears.
"Yeah," he says. "Two months."
"Vic'll love having a little sibling," you murmur softly. "She's such a social creature."
And Bill seems to realise that you're trying to get your mind of things and he shakes himself and starts talking about this little girl, the little girl that he loves more than anything else in the world.
Fleur comes home. Bill tells her in the kitchen in whispered tones while you carry around 16 month old Victoire, bouncing her easily on your hip.
"Day!" she yells at you — the closest she comes to managing the sound of your name. You grin at her with your mouth, if not your eyes. She pats your cheek. "Day day."
"Hey, Victoire. Did you get a big girl bed today?"
She nods happily at you, and then she yawns. You ruffle her hair automatically and she scowls at you before yawning again. "I think it's bedtime, baby girl."
"I think you are sleepy. I think you just don't want to go to bed. But I think it's bedtime."
Balancing her easily on your hip, you venture into her bedroom, where Fleur has already assembled the new bed before joining Bill in the kitchen. Vic is already falling asleep, so you brush her teeth for her and gently help her into pyjamas, the movements natural by now. You've known Vic since the day she was born, and you and Charlie often stay with her when Bill and Fleur need time to themselves.
Vic falls asleep moments after you start her favourite story and you flip off the light as you travel to the kitchen.
You find Fleur weeping inconsolably at the kitchen table, Bill behind her with his arms wrapped around her shoulders.
"Vic is asleep," you murmur. Bill nods at you thankfully.
Fleur notices you, wails, leaps out of her chair and throws herself at you. You catch her — barely — and attempt to pat her back soothingly but you're not sure you're doing it right because you don't really ever deal with crying girls.
"I'm glad he has you," she whispers through choked tears and you just rest your chin on the top of her head and allow her to cry.
"I'm not dead yet, you know." Charlie is leaning on the doorway as you whip your head around.
Fleur releases you and flings herself at him and you watch the pain flicker across his face as he catches her — she doesn't see it, but Bill does and it causes an answering flicker of pain across his.
You try desperately to scrap the sand off the floor and shove it back into the hourglass through the hole but it seeps out faster than you can put it back. Your hands are bleeding from the fragments of glass and sand is getting into the cuts and it burns like the fires Charlie puts out but you don't care because you have to save him, you have to buy him time because you don't know what you are without him anymore.
When you wake up your shoulders are shaking with real sobs and you extract yourself carefully from his arms and make your way to the kitchen, your hands automatically putting the kettle on for tea.
You sit at the kitchen counter and allow the tears to fall because you can, now — because you can't, usually, because you've been so busy being strong for him that in the past three weeks you haven't cried at all, not since the diagnosis.
He is dying, and you can see that. He's been having trouble breathing since the cancer reached his lungs. He sleeps almost constantly, his energy levels almost entirely depleted. He has near-constant headaches. He can't seem to swallow food, and recently developed occasional difficulty in keeping it down.
It is agony, watching him. Watching someone so strong be laid so low by something he cannot control, cannot fight.
He quit his job not long after the diagnosis and now he is listless, bored. When he's awake, that is. He spends long periods of time staring off into space absentmindedly.
You don't know what to do; you don't know how to help him. You can't fight this for him, you can't take it away, and that is the hardest thing for you.
All you can do is stand by his side and watch as he wastes away. You tell him that he is beautiful (still); you tell him that he is so strong (still, more so); you tell him that you love him forever and always.
He tells you he doesn't understand why you stay but you aren't sure how to explain to him that he saved you, he made you so much more than you were before, that you owe him everything and you love him with all that you are and that you couldn't leave at this point.
One day, the last of the sand runs through the neck of the hourglass.
He is gone.
His heart stopped beating — the cancerous cells imitating the cells of the heart without performing the function.
And just like that, he is gone.
He slips away in sleep and you wake up cold — he has always been a furnace, putting off insane amounts of heat. You notice the lack of it, roll over. Your heart — still beating a rhythm that sounds oddly like not fair not fair not fair — skips a beat when you catch his hand in yours and feel the temperature. Your fingers scrabble at his neck for a pulse that you know in your heart won't be there.
Your shoulders shake with silent sobs as you cling to him. Knowing in advance doesn't make this any easier. Your brave, strong firefighter Charlie is no more.
Turns out your love wasn't a flash fire like you'd thought. It was a blaze no rain could dampen, but all fires run out of kindling eventually.
You tell his mum, let her tend to funeral arrangements because you can't bear it. You make your way to Bill's but you don't remember the drive.
Bill isn't home but you pull the spare off the top of the frame and let yourself in anyway because you can't be in the home you shared with Charlie right now, you simply can't.
You collapse on his couch and eventually you fall asleep to the gentle murmur of the television playing some crap show you've never even heard of before.
Bill wakes you up hours later, his face drawn and tired but happy, very happy and you realise abruptly why he wasn't home on a Saturday night.
"Draco? What are you doing here?"
He sees your face draw and his face falls. "No," he whispers.
It's all you can do to nod.
His legs seem to fail him and he collapses on the couch beside you. "Oh, God."
"And Fleur?" you ask slowly. Your voice is a dry rasp from sleep and tears.
"She's fine, yeah. Er, a girl. Dominique. Dom."
"That's good," you manage and he looks at you and says,
"Don't… do that. You don't have to do that."
"Bill, life goes on. That is a fact."
Your statement is stripped of any power it might have had by the rasp in your voice.
He opens his arms and God, you thought you were done crying but as you fall into the familiar circle of your surrogate brother's arms you start crying again.
"Who am I without him, Bill?" you can't help but ask, and he grips your shoulders fiercely and pulls you away, forces you to look him in the eye.
"Draco, you are you, with or without my brother, with or without anyone else. You are who you have made yourself, all right?"
You merely curl into the shape of his arms and allow the tears to fall. You feel like you are seventeen again and he is the man who saved you and who taught you that not everyone was like your father, not everyone built relationships upon fear, not everyone who claimed to care about you would leave you to die if it became more practical.
Bill taught you what it meant to have a family and Charlie taught you what it meant to be in love and Bill, Bill is wrong this time, because you are nothing without them.
The cracked hourglass is taunting you.
Your untamable wildfire love has been extinguished.
Your firefighter is gone.
You stare at the hole in the ground and you have no more tears to cry because they are burying the man who showed you that you, too, could be loved. He was your everything and you can feel your world shattering just as the hourglass did two months prior.
You are ashes.
People tell you it will get better; they tell you you will eventually move on; they tell you the cracks in your heart will seal up and you will learn to love again.
You aren't sure you believe them because you are the man who knew what he was losing before it was gone and you have never been normal.
You're sick of their platitudes. Can't it just be acceptable to be entirely not all right?
"One year, Char." You set the flowers in front of the headstone. "I miss you every single day. I miss coming home to the smell of smoke. I miss waking up to you beside me. I miss you.
"Vic called me Uncle Draco the other day — you know, as well as she can — and… God, Charlie. Damn near broke my heart in two. That should've been you, you're her uncle, and I just…" You suck in a deep breath.
"I'm too often grateful, Charlie, and I don't think you knew that. I'm grateful my father was a bastard who didn't give a damn about his son, because it means I met you, it means I met your family, and God, Charlie, no matter how much pain I'm in it's worth it, having known you. Having loved you. Having been loved by you."
A sigh. "I still don't believe it was fair. You didn't deserve this. You deserve to watch Vic and Dom grow up. You deserve to watch Percy get married in a few months. You deserve to see Ron with his new girlfriend — this one actually likes him, if you can believe that. And Harry's dating your sister, not that we didn't all see that one coming. You should be here, Char. I feel like I'm doing a crap job in your place."
"I think Vic would say otherwise."
You spin around and Bill is standing there, leaning against a tree carelessly. He pops himself up, bouncing off his shoulder, and walks toward you.
"Draco, I know you doubt it sometimes, but you are as much a part of this family as he was."
You look down at the dirt beneath your feet.
You start to speak but the words stick in your throat. You want to tell him that he's wrong, that you can't be, that you can't shake your past.
"I'm not him," you finally say.
"We don't want you to be. We want you to be you."
He comes to stand beside you, faces the headstone. You turn with him.
"Miss you, Char," he says easily. "Wish you could see Dommy — she's just like you. No idea how that one happened."
He places a hand on the stone lightly. "Don't worry, Char. We're taking good care of him for you."
He steps back, puts an arm around your shoulders. Unlike Charlie, Bill is actually taller than you. "Come home, Draco. Vic's been babbling on about you all day."
A small smile flickers across your face. You kiss the tips of your finger and press it to the stone, showing the sentimental side Charlie has always brought out in you. "I love you, Char," you say. And you let Bill lead you home.