seedee: (Lee2)
[personal profile] seedee

Title: Lost in Reality - Part 10
Characters: George/Lee
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~8,000 (~40,000 for all parts)
Warnings: Violence, drug use
Summary: Reality is the state or quality of being real. But what is real? And more importantly, what is not real?

I can't thank you all enough for reading, commenting, encouraging, giving me valuable and treasured feedback. [livejournal.com profile] tree00faery and [livejournal.com profile] thimble_kiss edited this part, and I thank you both for being awesome. At this point, I want to thank everyone else who betaed, test read, held my hand and offered opinions and suggestions. You know who you are, and I love you all.

Special thanks to [livejournal.com profile] secretsolitaire for prompting this little 'ficlet' almost a year ago. It's funny that this story is longer than the one you betaed (and that one was 30,000 words of deadly disease).


Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five - Part Six - Part Seven - Part Eight - Part Nine - Part Ten




back and gone and on. long.

The pair of jeans that covered Lee's legs was clean and without holes. He wasn't wearing the tattered ones he'd pulled on before he'd watched Wheezes go up in flames. He wasn't barefooted. He wore a shirt, and his wand that he'd left in a burning building was lying next to him on the floor, as if it had never seen a single flame.

George's hand was clammy. Lee let go of it as he realised that his shoulder was throbbing with the dull rhythm of his heartbeat. His back hurt from sitting on the hard floor for what felt like a long time. His stomach was rolling; his eyes were stinging; he was dizzy with disorientation.

Reality had looked brighter when it had still been an illusion.

The backroom of George's shop - not burned down - was the same as the one he'd entered weeks earlier and where he'd found an unconscious George. As if woken by the mere thought, there was stirring on the couch behind Lee.

"You okay?" George asked. His voice sounded scratchy.

Lee wondered how he was supposed to answer. It was impossible. He closed his eyes, wishing childishly that it could make him disappear.

George prodded Lee's shoulder.

Lee flinched and said, "Just stop it, George." He was tired and exhausted. "It hurts."

"Still?" There was more rustling as George sat up and slid off the couch to sit next to Lee. "You're still hurt?"

Lee laughed quietly.

There they were. Back in their old clothes, back in the old shop, no grime on their faces, no come on their bellies, but Lee's body remembered; and George remembered, too. "You've been real, after all," Lee said.

"Yep."

Lee rubbed his hand over his eyes as if he could hide behind it. "I'm glad you punched me. I deserved it."

"Yep," George said again.

There was nothing Lee could say to that. He couldn't think of an apology that would suffice or an excuse that would make it better. Instead, he offered, "Go on and poke me. Hip hurts more than shoulder."

George nudged him. "I don't like hurting people. Not even you."

"Then I got nothing," Lee said.

"How 'bout we fix you so I can yell at you without feeling guilty?"

As long as Lee didn't have to move, he'd appreciate some healing. "Sounds like a plan," he said. "Charm me up."

"No." George did the unthinkable: He got up. "We'll go to St. Mungo's. And if I hear one complaint, I'll get your mother."

Lee blinked as he thought about his mother for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. "My mother," he said. "I need to floo her. I just disappeared for two weeks. Oh God. She..." His exhaustion was forgotten; Lee struggled to get up. After what had happened to his dad, he didn't want to think about what his mother had gone through while he'd been away. She'd probably contacted everyone from the Aurors to Kingsley Shacklebolt himself.

Hang on.

Lee, standing now and using George's shoulder as a crutch, looked around. "No one's been here."

"The wards are set," George answered. But he was frowning as well.

"Come on. As if your family wouldn't be able to come in here if they really wanted to. Two curse breakers, a dragon tamer, two Aurors, Ministry connections, and Merlin knows what else. They had two weeks. Don't tell me they wouldn't have turned every stone the minute they found you missing."

"Time's different," George said, still frowning as if trying to remember how it all worked.

Lee sat down on the sofa with a grunt. "We should find out how big the difference is."

"Stay here, I'll be back in a minute," George said and left. He was too fast for Lee to reply.

Lee closed his eyes again, and with nothing to distract him, the exhaustion came back. He dozed off, snoring softly, the lines on his face relaxing.

"Hey," George said and nudged Lee awake. "You can't sleep through the big revelation." George looked pale around his nose; the freckles were a good indicator.

Lee yawned. "And the big revelation would be?" He was wary.

"We've been gone for less than a day. We spent the night cozied up here, and now it's around noon." George sat down next to Lee. He stared at his knees, voice wavering as he said, "Isn't that great? Like it's never even happened. All made up. Nothing real."

Lee swallowed a bout of hysterical laughter that built up high in his chest. He was only half aware that he'd grabbed George's hand. "It was real. We were both there."

George pulled his hand away. "Yeah. Of course," he said, not meeting Lee's eyes. "And now we can just forget about it."

"What if I don't want to forget?" Lee asked.

"Then you're a fool." George gripped Lee's unharmed arm and pulled him up. "Let's go."

"No, wait. There's no-"

George apparated them both without further discussion. They arrived at the busy reception area of St. Mungo's a moment later.

Lee was dizzy from the unexpected transportation and unsteady on his feet. George ushered him into the elevator. Years of product invention, product testing and handling dangerous explosives had given him enough experience with St. Mungo's to be able to navigate to the right floor and healer without having to talk to the Welcome Witch.

"What are we going to tell them?" Lee asked.

George pressed the button, and the elevator went upwards with a merry tinkle.

"Like you said. There was a dragon and a knife, and you bravely saved a child. They won't believe it. But if you back me up, there's nothing they can do."

Lee snorted and then winced. "And what if I won't back you up?"

"Suit yourself. Tell them you were lost in a made up reality for a couple of weeks. I was there, but I wasn't real, except I was. There was Fred who is dead but appeared out of nowhere a few times. There were Inferi, self preparing food, invisible forces. You had a flying accident that somehow never really happened, but the injuries are still there. Then I punched you in the face after we had sex. Which was good, but boy do you suck at sweet talking after the act." George gave Lee an exasperated look. "Honestly, I'd go for the story with the dragon."

Lee perked up at the only thing that seemed important. "The sex was good, eh?"

"Do me a favour and shut up for a month or twelve," George said, and then dragged Lee out of the elevator that had opened its doors to reveal a busy hospital hallway.

Half an hour later, Lee was drugged and pain-free, and he signed the papers that allowed George to take him home. The healers had repaired muscle and sinew damage. Only one bone had been slightly fractured; a couple of potions and a few days of rest would take care of that.

They took the elevator back down. Lee felt drunk and enjoyed the mellow wobbling of the world around him. He wasn't sure how they got to his tiny, tidy one-bedroom flat, or why George was undressing him yet again, but lying down was nice, and his bed was lovely and soft. He made a mental note to ask for that potion next time he was at St. Mungo's. The stuff was better than Firewhiskey.

When he woke up, he was alone, and his head hurt. The magic potion didn't come without a hangover, and thus, he decided, wasn't as shiny as he'd thought. Lee staggered to the small bathroom, avoiding looking into the mirror. He didn't want to see.

Lee went through his bathroom routine, his mind filled with images and memories of wild flights over a deserted town, of waking up with George wrapped around him, and of being cared for and nursed through the last hangover he'd had.

He stepped into the shower, remembering what they'd done on their last day before George had blown up the shop. It sent a shiver through him and made him ache in a way that had nothing to do with falling off a broom.

Lee changed the temperature with a whispered word, gasping when the water that came down on him went from hot to ice-cold in an instant. It chased the thoughts away, and it numbed the soreness in hip, shoulder and in that place he couldn't locate.

When he was dressed in boxers and an almost clean t-shirt, he talked to his mother through the fireplace - the only luxury he'd not wanted to live without - making sure not to flinch every time he shifted as he knelt, and making sure to turn his head so she wouldn't see the swollen side of his face. She didn't ask - maybe because as a Muggle she'd never really got the hang of using magical communication. It was hard for her. She hadn't just lost her husband of twenty-three years; she'd also lost the magic she'd become used to during their time together.

His boss was the next person Lee flooed. She accepted the apology for missing his shift when Lee explained that he'd had an accident and had been at St. Mungo's. It wasn't a lie, but Lee felt that he didn't deserve the genuine worry he heard in her voice as she told him to stay at home for the rest of the week.

The rug in front of the fireplace was soft. When the calls were done, Lee rolled to his back, wondering what George was doing, and why he'd just left. The thought was insistent and wouldn't go away. As he lay there on the rug, looking up at the ceiling, feeling the wool against his palms and bare legs, Lee couldn't think of anything else that mattered.

What if George decided that he'd liked the explosion?

Lee unconsciously shook his head and started to move. His muscles protested, but he didn't listen.

What if George was doing something stupid in an effort to move on?

Lee rolled over to his bed and pulled his bag out from under it. Then he got up and filled it with random clothes, put on a pair of jeans that was as tattered as the t-shirt he wore, found socks and boots. By the time he was ready to go, he'd talked himself into a frenzy.

What if George had already done something stupid? Why would he have brought Lee to his own flat and not to WWW if he hadn't planned anything?

Lee cursed under his breath, hoping that the time he'd wasted sleeping, calling people, lying around and then packing hadn't made the difference between being able to stop George and being too late.

The crack of apparition rang through the room. Lee disappeared with his bag and his worries, concentrating on George's living room. In his haste, he left two fingernails behind.

He arrived, clutching his bag, wincing as he saw his left hand and remembered how easily apparition could go wrong.

"It's rude and inconsiderate to apparate into another wizard's home uninvited. Didn't your mum teach you any manners?"

Lee struggled to keep his balance while looking around for the source of the voice. He found George in the kitchen, sitting at the little table with a quill in his hand and an empty sheet of parchment before him.

Lee exhaled, trying not to choke on relief. His bag fell to the floor as he sagged against the wall.

"What?" George asked, frowning.

"Nothing. Just thought you blew up the place," Lee said.

"So that's why you come barging in? Clever, Lee. Apparating into the middle of an explosion."

That thought hadn't even crossed Lee's mind. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"Not blowing anything up. You can go back home now and do what the healer told you to do. Lie down and don't harass others." George rubbed his eyes. He looked tired and worn, much like before they'd left and lived through an adventure.

Lee picked up his bag. "Do you mind if I use your couch for a nap?" He limped over without waiting for the answer and sat down.

"Yeah, I mind," George said while Lee healed his hand as best as he could.

"Just checking." Lee lay down and kicked off his shoes.

"Lee, what are you doing here?"

Lee repeated what someone else had said not long before. "Keeping an eye on you."

George scowled, and Lee saw that he was close to losing his temper. Lee wasn't fazed. "Let him care," Fred had said. Lee didn't know if 'pissed off' was a way of caring, but he supposed it was better than indifference.

"I'm trying to-" George started but interrupted himself. "Look, just leave me alone for a while. We've seen enough of each other lately."

Lee nodded. "And we'll see more of each other from now on. I just moved in."

"No, you didn't," George said. He appeared to be calm, but Lee knew him better. He watched his oldest friend through almost closed eyes, sighed contentedly and wriggled into a comfortable position on the couch.

"D'you have a beer?" Lee asked, knowing that he was toeing the line. But they'd been better, and he was desperate, and maybe all it took was being less understanding and more obnoxious, or more understanding and less obnoxious, which was more or less the same thing just from a different angle. They needed that different angle; the old one hadn't worked.

George looked at Lee as if he was struggling with the same thoughts. Emotions flickered across his face: sadness, anger, frustration, exasperation. He looked hollow, and when the corners of his mouth moved, the smile didn't reach his nose, much less his eyes. "You have the constitution of a house-elf. A beer on top of those potions would make you puke all over my sofa."

George was trying. Lee swallowed against his tight throat. He was glad that his eyes were almost closed and George couldn't see them. "At least I don't look like a house-elf," he countered.

"At least I don't smell like one," George said, crumpled up the empty parchment and threw it at Lee's head.

"At least I look good in a pillowcase."

"That why you're wearing one?" George's answer came without the slight pause that had preceded the others. It was automatic. It was familiar. It was a petty insult and a cheap shot, and Lee couldn't remember the last time he'd heard something that beautiful.

*

Physical wounds were easy to heal, and the soreness that was left disappeared within days.

Other wounds were deeper, harder to find. There was no easy remedy.

Three days after Lee had moved in, George sat at the kitchen table, a quill in his hand, a blank piece of parchment before him. An empty glass next to a half-empty bottle of Firewhiskey emitted one last whiff of smoke.

"What are you doing?" Lee had asked the same question three evenings in a row.

"Not blowing things up," George said for the third time. It was always the same answer.

"Hungry?" Lee opened random cupboards.

"Why d'you ask? You force me to eat something no matter what I say." There was a little smile hidden somewhere in George's accusation.

"Your mum would be so proud of me," Lee said.

"Not if she knew the smell of your socks."

Lee ignored him and sighed at the emptiness of the kitchen. He was hungry. "I'll go and get some food. Wanna come?"

George shook his head.

Lee hadn't expected it to be easy - that's what he told himself. But in reality, he had. Shouldn't it be? They'd been through hell and back, fought a war, fought themselves, fought a fantasy. Shouldn't they be done fighting? Shouldn't this get better after what they'd been through? Hadn't that been the whole point of their adventure?

The questions rattled through Lee's brain as he stood in the open door with a bag of groceries in one hand and a smaller bag of hot food in the other, staring at George who wasn't sitting at the table anymore but lying in the middle of the living room, gagging. Both bags fell to the floor, where they tore open and spilled what they'd held.

Lee rushed over to George who threw up, the rug soaking up the foul stench of the almost liquid contents of George's stomach. It smelled faintly like beer and rum. Bile rose in Lee's throat, and he tried not to throw up himself. With a flick of his wand he got rid of the mess. The rug still smelled, and it would keep smelling for the rest of the day - Lee knew it from experience.

"That means a cold shower for you," Lee grumbled as he picked up a weakly struggling George and dragged him to the bathroom.

With angry movements, he undressed George, threw sweaty clothes into the corner of the room.

"I've been gone for less than an hour," Lee said. "What happened?"

George wasn't helping; he lay on his back on the floor, giggling as Lee pulled off his jeans. "Who's taking advantage now?" he said, his words slurred. He pointed at a place to the left of Lee. "Knew it. You want into my pants. 's the only reason you're here."

Lee snorted, grabbed the naked - and far too thin - George around his middle and hauled him up. "'Course. I come home, find you drunk and probably drugged, vomiting all over the floor, and the only thing I can think of is your shrivelled cock. Glad to hear you haven't lost your confidence." He pulled back the shower curtain and shoved George inside. Warm water started to flow automatically. It was a nifty spell, and Lee knew how to turn it cold.

George yelped.

"What happened?" Lee asked again.

"Nothin'," George said. Lee heard the anger. He used his body to keep George from getting out of the shower. Cold water was good for him, Lee decided, feeling more and more like George's mother. He hated it.

"Tell me what happened."

"Nothing," came George's anguished reply. "Absobloodylutely fuck-a-pygmy nothing. Not a bit. I keep tryin' but there's nothing. I'm empty. Like the bottle. Did you buy more booze?"

Lee stopped the water and pulled back the curtain. George stood there like a wet kitten, dripping and shivering, looking old and resigned. He wobbled.

"What are you talking about?" Lee asked and handed him a towel.

It fell to the floor when George didn't hold on to it. "'m talking about Wheezes. Tried to come up with something. Anything." He made a big gesture and grimaced as he almost lost his balance. "Nothing."

Lee blinked. "You tried to invent something?"

George nodded.

"What?" Lee asked.

George shrugged. "Dunno. Can't think of anything. I'm out of ideas." Naked as he was and still unsteady, he stepped out of the shower. Water dripped onto the floor as he walked past Lee into the bedroom, plopped down on the bed and pulled the covers over himself.

Lee watched him fall asleep, dried him with a charm and put a bucket next to the bed. He closed the door behind him when he went back outside. The groceries were lying on the floor; oranges had rolled under the table; spilt milk had made a mess; eggs were cracked.

*

The sofa was exactly the same as the one Lee had slept on in the other world. It was colourful and comfy, and the cushions were big and plush and perfect for when there was no bed available. He'd slept on it more times than he could count. Since the day he'd left Hogwarts, he'd been a regular guest at WWW. He thought of this sofa as his sofa more than he thought of his little flat as his flat. And yet, he couldn't sleep.

He was back in the kitchen, sitting on the counter, his heels thumping against the cupboard below in a slow and dull rhythm. It was a different kitchen. It was a different world. He was a different man. But the worries were the same, and they kept him awake.

George hadn't stirred once since he'd gone to bed the previous evening - proof of how drunk he'd been.

Lee waited until the sun came up, and then made tea. He found hangover potion, and took both to the bedroom.

There was a groan when he opened the door.

"Morning, sunshine," Lee said and put tea and potion on the bedside table.

"Hey," George said. "You're still here." He looked up at Lee through puffy eyes. His hair was a tangled mess; his pillow lay next to the bed.

"You know me. I'm stubborn. I'll hang around until you let me into your pants."

George groaned again and closed his eyes. He pulled the covers over his head and his words were muffled as he said, "I was hoping I hadn't said that out loud."

"You did."

"Any chance we can pretend I didn't? I'd obliviate you, but I don't feel like I'm up to it right now."

Lee sat down. Then he reconsidered and stretched out beside George. "Thing is, you weren't far off the mark."

George turned his head to look at Lee, re-emerging from under the covers. The expression on his face was an almost comical mix of confusion and understanding. "You're just here because my underwear fascinates you?"

Lee made a face when he smelled George's breath. "Do us both a favour and drink some of that tea."

George snickered and followed the advice. Then he took Lee's wand - he wasn't able to spot his own - and cast a quick charm. "Back to my underwear."

"This talk would be easier if you were wearing any."

"This talk wouldn't be necessary if you weren't wearing any."

Lee exhaled. "I'm not here to start anything. You're too messed up even for my taste." George huffed a half-hearted complaint, but Lee ignored him. "I'm just letting you know that my thoughts aren't all that pure."

George rolled to his side and blinked at Lee through thick eye-lashes. "Like what?"

The effect wasn't as strong as it would have been without the puffy eyes and wrinkles from the sheet on George's cheek, but the slight shrug of one shoulder made the covers fall down and reveal George's chest, and that was effective.

Lee knew when he was being manipulated. Two could play that game. He rolled to his side as well so that they were front to front. He came close without letting his body touch George's. His skin prickled where he could feel George's body heat, and Lee tilted his head to press a soft kiss on George's lips. George didn't move, but he sucked in a breath. Lee lingered with his eyes closed, the tips of his fingers itching to touch. He intensified the pressure of his lips, touched George's bottom lip with his tongue.

When George opened his mouth to kiss back, Lee pulled away. He cleared his throat. "Like that," he said.

Lee had meant to tease. But he realised that it had backfired, and the joke - that hadn't been a joke to begin with - was on him. He got up, not looking at George. "Any chance we can pretend that didn't happen? I'd obliviate you, but I don't feel like I'm up to it right now."

George stared at him, dumbfounded.

"All right then," Lee said, wiped his hands at his jeans and left the room.

*

More than an hour went by before George emerged from the bathroom, dressed and looking like a human being.

Lee was holding a letter and waved it at George. "They're gonna throw you out if you don't pay rent soon," he said without preamble. "Are you planning on re-opening the shop?"

"Why, Jordan, don't skirt around issues. Just come straight to the point, why don't you?"

Lee shrugged. "No reason not to talk about it."

George sat down on the sofa, pushing Lee's pillow to the floor. "Why do you never talk about your dad, then?" he asked.

Lee put the letter back on the table and walked over to the sofa. He stood behind it with his hands on the backrest. "Because not talking about my dad won't get me thrown out of the flat."

"Just maybe it does," George said, looking up at him. "Let's make a deal. We talk about your dad, and then we have breakfast, and then we talk about the shop."

Lee hesitated. He wasn't going to be blackmailed into talking, and he wasn't going to defend wanting to help George. His dad had nothing whatsoever to do with the issues at hand. The situation with his dad had no resolution and no exit; it was just there. Talking would only make things worse. Lee shook his head. "I don't like your terms. Either talk to me or don't. Up to you. If you want to throw me out, go ahead."

"Look at you in all your glorious hypocrisy," George said. His voice was soft and he sounded tired. "It's getting more complicated by the minute here." He sighed and closed his eyes. "Stop trying to be my mother. I don't need a second one, and you can't compete anyway. I'm trying. I open my eyes in the morning and I miss him. I keep breathing, but every second of the day, I miss him. I close my eyes at night, and I miss him."

Lee bit his lips, not wanting to interrupt him. George talked in a matter-of-fact tone that made things even worse.

"I'm trying, Lee," George said again. "Do you think this is easy just because we had some great adventure? I'm breathing and living. That's all I can do."

George's fingers closed tightly around Lee's wrist. Lee winced and followed the tugging. He climbed over the backrest and sat down next to George.

"I'm trying," George said. Then he was silent for a long time, and just as Lee decided he was supposed to say something, George opened one eye. "The least you can do is get naked and do some consolation work."

Lee wasn't sure if the noise that followed was a sob or a snicker. He supposed it was a little bit of both. He shook George's hand off and wrapped his arm around him. "Why now?" he asked, pulling George close so that his back was against Lee's chest, and Lee could hug him from behind. "We've been joking and teasing, but we managed just fine all this time. What changed?"

George swallowed; he was trembling just enough for Lee to feel it. "Don't make me say it. I feel like a traitor for even wanting it."

"I can't follow your thoughts," Lee said. It wasn't the truth, though; he had an idea where this was going.

"'Course you can follow. But you need me to say it." Lee nodded with his cheek against the side of George's head, and George continued. "Tell me again why it didn't work between us."

Lee cleared his throat, resisting the urge to untangle himself from George and this conversation. "We decided not to risk our friendship."

"I'm not a radioman; I'm a potion maker. You need to be more precise," George said.

"We weren't ready to risk breaking the two of us," Lee said reluctantly, giving George the starting point he needed without touching the issue. He wasn't ready for that.

George snorted. "No," he said. His voice was quiet but determined. "That's not true. It's what we told ourselves when we were sixteen. But it's a lie. And you know it."

Lee closed his eyes. "George-"

"Shut up and let me say it. We'd have risked it. We believed - true or not - that we could have worked. But we weren't two. We've never been two until recently. And we were not ready to risk breaking the three of us."

Whoever said that words couldn't hurt was a fool. Lee hid his face against George's neck, wondering how George was able to voice these things.

"So if you ask me what changed, Jordan, my answer is obvious." George's voice was so quiet that Lee could hardly hear him. "Fred's dead," he said. "There are only two of us, and it's foolish to keep living as if we were still three." He took a deep breath. "We can't pretend nothing changed. I tried. It almost killed me. Hell, it almost killed us." George reached up to slide his fingers into Lee's long dreads. "We can risk it now."

"But how can we do that?" Lee asked. His lips were touching George's skin. Resisting had been easy when there had been a clear understanding between them, a reason and a decision they'd both followed. Now, it was impossible.

"How can we not?" George asked back. There was a hint of breathlessness to his voice. "Unless you're not interested anymore."

Lee laughed softly, and George shivered at the breath tickling his skin. "Interest is not the problem," Lee said.

George pushed back against him. "What's the problem? That loser you were seeing? How serious is that?"

"You know how not-serious that is. Don't tell me you're jealous." When there was no response, Lee pulled back. He looked at George, watching his profile. "You are," he said, half amazed, half stunned, running his hand through his hair, catching George's hand in the process. "How can you go from zero to one hundred within days?" Lee shook his head when he saw George's raised eyebrows. "Yeah, I know, it's what you do. Just... Give me a moment to catch up."

"You heard Fred talking about the lube? That's as much permission as we'll ever get." George tangled their fingers.

"He wasn't real," Lee said. His lips were back at George's neck, and he drew in a sharp breath when, as if by accident, their joint hands landed in George's lap. He let himself explore, seek out the warmth and trace outlines.

"He wasn't real, huh? How sure are you about that?" George asked. He arched his back, making a throaty sound when Lee squeezed him through thick denim.

Lee was close to losing control. The scent of George, the feel of him, the taste of him was overwhelming. "Very sure," Lee whispered, opening the button of George's jeans and pulling down the zip.

"You still don't get it, Jordan," George said just before Lee's fingers found their way into his bright yellow pants.

Conversation ceased to matter.

*

There was something about cold water that was soothing and numbing. As it ran down Lee's face in rivulets, tugged at his hair, gathered at his nape, it made the world appear clear and easy. His dad had always said that there was magic in cold water. His eyes had twinkled, so Lee'd never known if he'd been talking about real magic, or if he'd just meant the way it made one feel. Just another thing Lee'd never find out.

With that thought, the moment of clarity was gone.

He grabbed a towel and roughly rubbed himself dry. A charm took care of his wet hair. He remembered how much trouble it had caused not being able to do that one simple act, and he smiled humourlessly.

George was still in bed, still sleeping.

Lee looked up into his own face in the mirror but averted his eyes quickly; he couldn't stand it.

Something about this situation was utterly wrong. They couldn't just go and fuck, and expect everything to work out. They'd land on their backsides hard as soon as the novelty wore off. They weren't stable enough to soften the blow. They'd break. Lee didn't want to think about what that would mean for either of them. At this point, Lee needed the friendship just as much as George needed it. Or maybe he needed it more.

Or maybe he was the only one who needed it, said a nagging voice in his head.

What he didn't need, was a quick shag. Lee had done without it for years, and he'd gladly keep going without if that meant keeping George as a fixed point in his life.

Lee chanced another glance at the mirror, and then summoned random clothes from where they'd been dropped on and around the couch. The crease in Lee's forehead grew softer, and the tension in his shoulders eased when he remembered how they'd ended up naked and sweaty, making it to the bedroom only afterwards. He caught himself before he could follow that train of thought for too long, hoping some fresh air would help him to regain clarity.

It was crisp and cold outside, more so than he'd expected. They'd spent two weeks in spring, and now Lee was startled every time he left the flat and found himself in the middle of winter. Lee pulled his coat tighter around himself, blinking against the cold wind. It was late morning, so the pubs weren't open yet. There was a coffee shop down the Alley that was too posh for his liking. The Leaky Cauldron was open, but at this time of the day, it was like a train station with people passing through from the Muggle side of town in a constant, trickling flow. Lee didn't want to meet anyone he knew.

The only places he could think of that could provide some warmth and anonymity were the various bars in Knockturn Alley. They were dark and dingy, and open around the clock.

Lee crossed the street and turned left into Diagon Alley's naughty sister, shivering as he passed Gringotts and remembered their encounter with the Goblin Inferi. He still wondered what would have happened if one of them had died there, in the dark tunnels and endless passage-ways. The world had been almost too real to have been fake; the people in it; the injuries he'd taken home.

There was a heavy wooden door, and above it a sign in a language Lee couldn't read. He'd been there before, and knew that it was a pub full of smoke and grumpy people. He'd fit right in.

He blinked for a moment when he pushed open the door and stepped into the dark room, letting his eyes adjust. The room was bathed in shadows. It was almost empty, with only a few patrons scattered around a handful of tables, nursing various drinks in various dirty mugs and glasses.

Lee walked to the counter and ordered a butterbeer. He earned a derisive snort from the bartender, but when he put money on the counter, he received a dusty bottle. Under the gazes of the other patrons, he chose a table in the far corner of the pub. There was an uneasy feeling in his guts, and he wondered whether this had been such a good idea.

Less than half a bottle of butterbeer later, someone sat down on the chair opposite of Lee. "Long time no see," the man drawled. He looked familiar, but Lee couldn't place him.

Lee nodded at him without answering. Talking usually got him into trouble, and he wasn't looking for a fight. He wanted to be left alone.

The man - about Lee's age - was not as tall but more broadly built and heavier. He was unperturbed by Lee's silence. "It's rare to see one of you come to this side of town. What's the occasion? Did your mummy throw you out?"

Lee bit his lip, but in the end, he couldn't help himself. He took a swig of his beer and leaned back in his chair. "Are you projecting? Is your little heart hurting because you can't show your face in the daylight without people sicking up all over your boots?"

The man got up - had he played Quidditch at Hogwarts? - turned his chair around and sat back down, straddling the seat with his elbows propped up on the backrest. He grinned. "I've dreamed of meeting you alone somewhere in the dark. It's like a late birthday present."

Lee leaned forward and cocked his head. Suppressed anger replaced unease; it was sensing an outlet. "I hear that often. I like it better when the blokes that dream about me are a bit more appealing, but there you go." Lee widened his eyes with feigned curiosity. "Did you touch yourself? Did you come all over yourself when you thought about me?" His voice had gone from neutral to bitingly sarcastic. "Did you try to suck your own cock because no one else would do it? Did you use your stunted magic to make a hole in the mattress so you-"

He never finished the sentence, and he never saw the blow coming. The dirty fist hit his jaw with a sickening crunch. Lee saw stars and heard odd noises, and he sluggishly gathered his wits to react. A stunning spell followed too soon and prevented him from launching himself at the other man. He'd aimed for his throat, but Lee was frozen mid movement, his jaw throbbing viciously as he was suspended somewhere between sitting and standing and jumping over the table. His eyes watered, and now that he'd been hit full force, he could appreciate just how much George must have pulled the punch a few days earlier.

Lee stared through open eyes at the ugly face grinning back at him. The man didn't move. He must have been stunned as well.

Lee's field of vision was limited. So when someone started to levitate him outside, he only guessed that it was the bartender. Very efficient, he had to admit. There was a reassuring routine in the way the situation was handled. He was dropped on the ground, the hard stones bruising him as he couldn't use his hands or legs to soften the fall.

"Don't come back," the bartender said before he lifted the spell. "Next time, I'll let Flint have his fun."

Lee clutched his jaw and his hip that hadn't liked being dumped. "Flint," he repeated and started to laugh despite his aching jaw as things fell into place. "He's still sore because of what I said during Quidditch games at Hogwarts?" Lee was caught in fits of hysterical laughter. "He does have a thing for me."

"You better go now, boy. This isn't a safe place for you." The bartender spat on the ground, a few inches from Lee's head. It would have been humiliating if Lee had found a second to care. He was busy laughing, aching and struggling to his feet.

One apparition stop later, Lee fell onto his own bed in his own tiny flat and crawled under the covers without taking off his boots. There had been some potion left from St. Mungo's and he'd gratefully used it. The metallic taste in his mouth worried him only on a subconscious level; if any bones were broken, they'd have to wait. It was barely noon, but Lee was tired and wanted to sleep. If possible, for at least a week.

The last thought before blackness covered his senses was directed at Fred. Lee apologised for not punching back yet again.

*

"I thought you moved in," George said. His voice was loud and startling in the small room that had been blissfully quiet before the intruding sound of apparition.

"I thought my mere presence annoys you," Lee mumbled. The pillow was pulled over his head, hiding his face from George's view.

"It does. But I got used to it, and I'm not good with change. Especially because you left without a word and were gone the whole day." There was a pause, and then the mattress moved as George sat down. "What's with your voice? Are you drunk?"

Lee shook his head. Alcohol wasn't the reason that he was slurring the words. The potion had worn off, and his jaw was back to throbbing and hurting. "'m okay."

George pulled away the pillow, and Lee groaned at the sudden burst of bright afternoon light. The sun was low on the horizon and shone through the window into Lee's face.

"Either you have a new job and work as a punching ball, or you found someone else to annoy," George said. "What the hell happened to your face?"

"There was someone who's uglier than me. He didn't like that and decided to take action. Looks good?" Lee squinted up at George and saw him frowning.

"If you were a girl, I'd have to go and kill them now. How's that with blokes? Do I have an excuse to unleash ungodly anger on someone? I could do with an explosion."

Lee sighed as gentle fingers pushed back his hair and traced his jaw. "Since when do you need an excuse to blow up Marcus Flint?" he asked

"You messed with Flint?" George spoke a charm and tingling warmth washed over Lee's face. "I'd say you've had it coming," he said after the incantation.

Lee stuck out his tongue in the only defiant gesture he could manage at that moment. "He messed with me. Not the other way round."

George snorted. "I'm sure you didn't say a word that could have angered him. He walked up to you in the middle of Diagon Alley and punched you in the face out of nowhere."

Lee nodded. "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

"You're just as messed up as I am," George said. "So if you're looking for an excuse to run out on me, don't use that one."

"I'm not running out on you."

George gave him a look that said he knew better. "You disappeared just when I thought that maybe, just maybe there's a chance things might get better. You panicked, put your tail between your legs and ran." George sounded bitter.

"What's with that holier-than-thou attitude?" Lee asked, scowling.

"What's with your hypocrisy?" George countered.

"I'm not hypocritical," Lee said.

George gripped Lee's upper arm and hauled him up. "Then come home with me and start talking. You're so repressed, I'm constipated just from looking at you."

Lee put an arm around George's shoulders for support. "You're constipated because you insist on cooking, mate."

*

They talked that night.

Maybe for the first time, they didn't pretend and didn't try to avoid or distract or gloss over. It hurt. It was agonizing to see each other hurt.

Lee talked about his father - and about his mother. George talked about Fred. Both talked about expectations. They talked about the future, and about plans and wishes.

They didn't drink anything more potent than butterbeer. From late afternoon until early morning the next day, they ate their way through take away fish and chips, homemade soup, crisps, a bowl full of apples, a bag of Molly's biscuits, rolls and jam, a tin of cold beans, and George's last Hippie Hair Hazels.

There was laughter and tears and sadness, and a couple of times it was all of them rolled into one big emotion.

There was no desperation. That one had got lost somewhere along the way. Lee didn't know where, and he wasn't going to go back to find it.

They talked about drinking and falling, and at one point, they both undressed and counted scars and cuts and bruises.

They found out that rainbow coloured pubes looked better on Lee, and George remembered that he and Fred had talked about adjusting the ingredients so one could choose if they wanted to have all their hair changed or just parts of it. George made a note on his empty piece of parchment. Lee saw his hand shake as he wrote.

They made rules.

"I don't follow rules," George said at first.

"I'll make sure you will," Lee answered

"How?"

Lee ticked off on his fingers. "Encouragement, setting a good example, threatening to owl your mother, owling your mother and," he waggled his eyebrows, "adequate rewards."

"I'm in," George said with a grin, and it was settled.

One rule said that in any kind of emergency situation, they were to alert the other - especially when Inferi were involved. Another rule said that drinking and potions were to be used for fun and never to forget. A third one prohibited solitary trips to Knockturn Alley. There was a rule about not avoiding family - unless it was really necessary for one's sanity.

There was a rule about remembering and dealing.

They talked about what was happening between them, while refusing to define what exactly it was. They decided not to tell others what had happened during the weeks in the fantasy and the time afterwards. It was hard enough to live up to their own expectations and answer their own questions. They were moving on paper-thin ice and living within macramé walls. There was no tolerance for more pressure.

When they started talking in the evening, Lee sat on the couch and George on the floor with his legs under the table. When they were done in the morning, they were piled on top of another in a bed of crisp crumbs and apple stains, exhaustion painting deep shadows on their faces. Lee's head lay on George's bare chest, and he was listening to the soothing heartbeat.

There was silence.

Lee's thoughts circled around the topic they hadn't touched yet. It was there with them; it had been there for days.

"You know what happened," he eventually said.

"When?" George asked.

"When we got lost." Lee was tracing circles on George's chest, connecting freckles with invisible lines.

"I don't know," George said. "I suspect."

"You don't think it was a memory that took over, like you thought at first." Lee was talking slowly and quietly, almost as if to himself.

"No."

"You don't think it was a potion gone wrong."

"I could brew that potion with my eyes closed, hanging from the ceiling and Snape shrieking at me," George said.

"You don't think anyone messed with the potion," Lee went on.

There was silence.

"Anyone who came into the shop and holds a grudge or something," Lee clarified.

"No," George said, "Nothing of that kind. The wards would have told me."

Lee nodded and closed his eyes, tilting his head so he could smell George's skin. "Logically, nothing should have gone wrong. The potion was sound, the magic was sound, no stray memories, no human interference."

"You said it," George confirmed.

"The question is, what - or who - would be insane enough to barge into two people's minds when they are lost in a reality that doesn't exist, keep them there, make them walk through half the country, chase them with invisible monsters, provide food and shelter, and only let them home when they blow things up and are on the edge of their sanity?"

George put his hand in Lee's hair playing with it, tangling and twirling it around his fingers. "That's a good question."

"It would have to be something - or someone - who can mess with reality. Someone with a purpose who wants to achieve something." Lee let out a breath before he continued. "A nutter who thinks the world belongs to him; someone who doesn't care about the laws of physics or magic, who thinks his good intentions are excuse enough to do whatever he wants."

There was a smile in George's voice as he said, "That sounds about right."

Lee smiled as well, with his lips against George's skin, tightening his arms that were wrapped around George's waist. "It would be someone who can figure out how to break the rules, and who'd laugh while doing so."

George swallowed. "Yes," he said. "He'd laugh."

*

"... therefore the world will be divided in Life and in Death.
No soul staying in these halls shall touch the other side of the veil.
It remains seen but untainted; it is known but never experienced.
Once you are here, you shall never go back.
For soon, the Living will follow the Dead.
They will not be lost. They will not be alone.

This has been the law since the beginning of time.
Few dare to break it.


*

The End



Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five - Part Six - Part Seven - Part Eight - Part Nine - Part Ten


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Thank you for reading.


on 2010-05-09 12:04 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] tania-sings.livejournal.com
Congrats on getting this finished, hon. It's been a great read all the way through.

on 2010-05-09 08:25 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vanseedee.livejournal.com
Thank you for your help ♥

on 2010-05-09 09:42 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] annafugazzi.livejournal.com
Oh my God. Actual tears in my eyes at the ending. I just...

::flail incoherently::

on 2010-05-10 09:13 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vanseedee.livejournal.com
Hugs you.
It's been a long story. Thank you for reading. ♥ &hearts

on 2010-05-10 02:52 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] secretsolitaire.livejournal.com
Wow! This was so amazing. I am thrilled that my little prompt inspired this gorgeous fic. *twirls you*

The ending was unexpected and beautiful. I adore the thought of Fred bringing these two together from beyond the grave, and laughing while doing so -- what a perfect last line! ♥

I really like that things aren't easy after they get back, even though they both remember what happened (thank goodness!). And I like how you make it clear, especially in this last part, that George isn't the only one with issues...that they both really do need each other.

I just went back and reread the whole thing, and am so impressed at what you've done here. Thanks for writing this! ♥

on 2010-05-10 09:18 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vanseedee.livejournal.com
*is twirled and twirls back*

Thank you for your lovely comment. I'm so glad you like the ending. I knew how I wanted it to be from the start, but I wasn't sure if I was ever going to make it work. (Still not so sure now, but it's done, and I'll step back from it now. Maybe I'll come back in a few weeks and find out if I still like it)

They'll have to do the real work now; they both have lots of issues. They've at least decided to try, though.

Thank you for prompting and reading and patiently waiting all those months. This got slightly out of hand. ♥ ♥

on 2010-05-13 04:19 pm (UTC)
ext_60929: concept art for the princess & the frog (Default)
Posted by [identity profile] ravenclawbest.livejournal.com
Oh my gosh. This has been an immensely wonderful read. I loved it!

on 2010-05-13 10:16 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vanseedee.livejournal.com
Thank you. I'm glad you liked it.

on 2010-05-15 01:51 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] asadaa.livejournal.com
Wow! BLOODY 'ELL THIS WAS A BRILLIANT READ.
although I am very sad this is all over, I know i'm definitly going to read this one over and over... and enjoy it again and again.
I'm checking out your other stories at the moment too - BRILLIANT. THANKYOU SO MUCH - AND PLEASE KEEP POSTING! :D
LOVE <33333

on 2010-05-16 03:04 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vanseedee.livejournal.com
Aww, thank you. So glad you liked it. Hope you have fun with the rest. ♥ ♥ ♥

on 2010-05-17 09:47 pm (UTC)
besamislabios: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] besamislabios
Oh wow, that was so fantastic. I loved the plot, the beginning was so intriguing, utterly riveting, and a bit creepy, I was holding my breath sometime. I loved that scene in the kitchen when George finally cries, and Lee's hugging him. The bit about framing George's laughter because lately it's a rare thing. Sorry for badly paraphrasing. :D
The ending was beautiful, the idea of Fred playing matchmaker from the beyond was gorgeous.
I loved everything, I had a wonderful time reading. ♥

here via hp_weekend_fics

on 2010-05-18 08:06 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vanseedee.livejournal.com
Thank you! I'm so glad you like it and that you had a good time. And I'm very glad that the ending worked for you ♥

on 2010-05-21 04:15 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] la-george.livejournal.com
Okay, so you deserve a novel for this novella, but I can't find the words to describe the utter scope and magnitude and magnificence of this.

The salient sentence in the whole thing, to me, was this:

"We'd have risked it. We believed - true or not - that we could have worked. But we weren't two. We've never been two until recently. And we were not ready to risk breaking the three of us."


It encompasses the entire story, the whole point. They were three, and they loved being three and refused to do anything, even look at terribly important possibilities for fear of ruining something pure, and perfect and only found when one is very young.

They were three. And George was never whole by himself. And the reason they don't fall immediately into each other's arms and live happily ever after is the lingering feeling that the secret wish they each had must somehow have tempted fate, have set in motion the circumstances that finally made them two, by taking one away.

Seems to me that was the whole point, that Fred is trying to tell them 1) it's not true and 2) even if it was it doesn't matter, and it's okay, and he expects them to take care of each other. George needed to feel needed and Lee needed to know he was noticed and both of them needed to set the entire world to one side, with nothing else in the way. So there you have it. Monsters and hunger and sickness and zombies and fire....

It's entirely possible that George should burn down the shop. Maybe they need to move to Thailand or something. I love the fact that the future isn't certain. I love the fact that Fred showed George how to say farewell for now, how to let go..... by doing it first.

"Did you figure out what I want yet?" Fred asked.

....

"I can't stay."

"I know."

"You can't stay either."

George nodded; his words were barely audible as he said again, "I know."

"You can't keep using vanilla scented lube. It's just bad taste."

George laughed and closed his eyes, forcing tears to spill down his cheeks. "I know," he said. "I miss you."

Fred hugged him. After a long moment, he let go and stepped back. "I know," he said.

George's smile was sad. "You won't come back."


Funny and heart-wrenching, permission and closure and 'never say never' at the end.

So they come back full circle, and nothing has changed. And everything has. So no, there are no flowers, no daisies, no sudden perfect springtime.

They talked about what was happening between them, while refusing to define what exactly it was. They decided not to tell others what had happened during the weeks in the fantasy and the time afterwards. It was hard enough to live up to their own expectations and answer their own questions. They were moving on paper-thin ice and living within macramé walls. There was no tolerance for more pressure.


Just a beginning. Moving from the ashes that are more real than the ones left by the fictional fire at the make-believe store in the more-real-somehow world.

It was beautiful, well-crafted, subtle, brilliant. Fandom doesn't deserve you, you should write books.

I love you. This was utterly amazing. Thanks for sharing, and for putting up with the fact that it took me two weeks to even begin to say (badly) how talented you are.
Edited on 2010-05-21 04:17 pm (UTC)

on 2010-05-22 08:23 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vanseedee.livejournal.com
So far I've refrained from printing and framing this reply. But only just. Thank you, sunshine. So much love to you.

(OT. In that sentence you quoted, did I mix up 'before' and 'until' again? I swear those two words will drive me insane one day.)

Of course, you've discovered the point of the story, and the quote you picked is probably where I wrote it down most plainly.

Grief is one thing. George lost the most important person in his life. But that's not the only thing he lost. He also lost every bit of stability. Everything in his own life was tied to Fred. Now take that away, and things start to tumble down - and there's not much to hold on to, as pretty much everything is affected.

Then there's the fact that George - and we know that much from canon - is a fairly independent person, and someone with a lot of energy. He's someone who does things. Otherwise they'd never have managed to invent things no one has thought of before and have their own business. That, too, however, was tied to Fred.

So you have all this baggage and obstacles and walls. All of these things standing between the two friends, pushing them apart, even as Lee tried to take care of George, and George tried to be the same person he'd been before. That didn't work all that well.

The new reality took all that away. George left the baggage behind and more or less went on a trip to find out who he was and what he expects from Lee. Lee was more or less the catalyst, and made it possible to reverse the roles when George was suddenly the one who had to take care of him. He took over responsibility all by himself - and realised that he can.

The next step was the feeling between them. I think they could have spent a whole life without ever being more than best friends - if Fred had never died. Take him away, and things start to rearrange themselves. And yeah, you pretty much hit the nail. They both felt (still feel) guilty for not only losing things, but possibly gaining something from it. That's something they'll have to work through.

That's where Fred comes in. Even though, they intellectually both know it, they have to hear it from Fred that he's still having their back whatever they're going to do, as long as they do something. As he's Fred, he doesn't write a letter, he sends zombies.

Who knows what happens now. Personally, I believe they're too stubborn to give up. And they might just use vanilla scented lube forever just because.

I'm stopping now, because I've already written too much.

Love you :X:X:X:X
I want some of those brownies.

on 2010-05-25 07:03 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] slantedknitting.livejournal.com
YAY!!! Finally got the time to finish reading this. It's so good! I loved all of it, especially the parts that made me want to weep for DAYS. Them not being able to be together when they were 16 because they were three... ooh. SAD. You're so repressed, I'm constipated just from looking at you... amazing. This story was perfect. Thank you so much for writing and sharing!!

on 2010-05-26 01:02 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vanseedee.livejournal.com
So glad you liked it. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

on 2010-05-26 05:59 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] mavoorik.livejournal.com
I don't think I can give an eloquent comment to describe how much I love this fic. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Thank-you so much for writing this! I enjoyed it immensely. <3 <3 <3

on 2010-05-26 01:03 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] vanseedee.livejournal.com
Thank you lots! I love your comment ♥ ♥ ♥

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