Witch, 27

Bottling up Your Emotions Is not Healthy

Ao3 Link

“It’s nice and cold.”

“It’s a river.”

“It’s a cold river.”

“I guess so.”

“You guess so?” Ron asked, one foot in the river, watching James consider the water. “Aren’t you going to get in?” he asked, though he would have been perfectly happy had James decided to just stand there all day, naked, arms crossed, thinking.

Maybe Ron should get in the water, though, before it got too obvious that he thinking that.

James looked at him, and raised an eyebrow, looking down. It was already obvious what Ron was thinking. “Something on your mind, Ron?”

Ron smiled sheepishly. “Just that you’re pretty.”

James coloured, but he reached out and gave Ron a bit of a push to get him in the water. “No. I’m not letting you distract me today. You need a bath.”

Stumbling, Ron managed to keep his footing and keep the basket with the soap, rags and scissors upright and afloat, kept secure by the short rope James had tied around Ron’s waist so it wouldn’t float off. “You saying I smell bad?”

“Yes.” Ron wasn’t sure why he’d expected James to flirt back. “And I probably do too. And you need a haircut, and you’re not worming your way out of it.”

“We bathe plenty often,” Ron protested. James made it sound like he always tried to get out of it.

“And half the time you distract me.”

“Just looking at you distracts me.” Ron grinned.

“Me too. Now get in the water.”

Ron did as he was told, wading out into the river up to his waist. The basket bobbed in front of him. James followed after him a little more slowly. The water was very cold, even if it was nice that it was a break from the heat.

“I’m going to cut your hair first,” James told him, and Ron nodded, reached into the basket for the scissors and passed them back to James, who was behind him. “Hold still.”

Ron did, and James used a tin cup to wet his hair, which definitely took the rest of the heat off Ron always forgot how cold the water got.

“You know, if you don’t want to do this, I could do it myself,” Ron told James, as James combed out his hair. He’d done it himself the first few times he’d needed his hair cut.

He’d been cutting his own hair for several years now.

“Do you want to do it yourself?” James asked, him, pausing with his hand on Ron’s shoulder. He sounded uncertain.

“No,” Ron said quickly, because he didn’t, and because he liked having James do it for him. “Just saying you don’t have to.”

“I like doing it,” James said, resuming combing. When he finished, he handed the comb to Ron to put in the basket and raised the scissors. “It’s a way of taking care of you.”

Warm inside, Ron nodded, then froze when he realized what he was doing.

“Don’t move your head.”


The only sounds for a while were snipping and the rush of the water. Ron watched his hair fall in the river and float away. “Do you like it?” he asked after several minutes. “Taking care of me?” It was something he’d been wondering for quite a while.

James was silent for a minute. “Yes, I do,” he said softly, snipping some more hair.

“Why?” Ron frowned. “I’m obnoxious and I take up so much of your time, and for no reason. If you didn’t have me here, you’d be able to…”

“Stop,” James told him, hand coming to rest firmly on Ron’s shoulder. “None of those things are true, Ron.”

Yes, they were. But Ron fell silent, let James to back to his hair.

“Do you like it?” James asked, moving around to cut the front.

“Yes.” Ron wished he could have not said that so immediately, but he felt it so immediately. “I really do.”

“Why? Isn’t it weird to be taken care of like this? You could do all of this yourself if you wanted.”

Did James want Ron to be doing all this himself? Well, their year was almost over. Maybe he was just trying to remind Ron that it was almost done. That he only had to put up with it for a few weeks longer. Ron didn’t want that, he wanted more than a few weeks, but he couldn’t change how time worked.

“It’s nice,” he said after a minute. “To know that someone is looking out for me. And thinking about me. It’s nice that someone cares about me enough to make sure I’m taken care of.”

James nodded, measuring Ron’s bangs with his fingers as he snipped. “That’s why I like it,” he said. “I like making you feel that way. I care about you and I want you to always know that.”

Ron smiled at that, and it turned into a strange little noise as he bit his lip to stop his face from doing anything too weird. He kind of wanted to cry. James finished cutting his hair, putting the scissors in the basket. “It looks nice,” he said, hand on Ron’s cheek.

“Thank you.” Ron whispered, and despite himself he let some tears fall.

“Ron.” James stepped into a hug, holding Ron firmly in the flow of the water, staying like that until he got himself under control. “Are you okay?”

Ron nodded. He didn’t want to leave.

“You’ve never told me about your parents,” James said, quiet, still holding him. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I just realized when you mentioned your mother the other day that you’d never said anything to me about them.”

Ron nodded again, loosening his grip on James. They broke apart, and James grabbed the soap and held it up, waiting for Ron to nod again before he started lathering Ron’s chest.

“My parents, um. Well, there was nothing wrong with them. They were great, I loved them—I still do. My mom was really nice and always seemed happy. She was always taking care of us, me and my dad. She taught me how to read and told me stories and made sure I knew to be kind and help people when I could. My dad laughed all the time and carried me on his shoulders and taught me and my cousin how to use swords when we were old enough. They never fought in front of me.”

James finished with Ron’s chest, moving on to his arms, and reaching around to do Ron’s back. “I guess they did it when I wasn’t around. I don’t know, really. I just know that…one night me and Owen camped out in the woods because it was warm and when I came back the next morning, she wasn’t there. I asked my dad where she was, and all he said was that she’d left.”

“I’m sorry,” James told him quietly, moving the soap down to get Ron’s legs.

Ron shook his head. It wasn’t anything compared to what James’s parents had put him through. “I think she ran off with another man. My dad…he didn’t take it well. I didn’t either, I guess. I kept asking Dad what he’d done, what we’d done to make her leave, and he just…wouldn’t talk to me. I couldn’t get him to talk to me. So I stopped trying. And after a few weeks, he just got up one morning and went out to work in the fields like normal, and he just kept doing that, like normal. And someone had to take care of the house, so I did that, I just did that. I took care of him, and I took care of myself. And we never talked. And when we did, we were strangers. I’d cook meals and he wouldn’t say anything, half the time wouldn’t eat them. He’d go away on hunting trips without telling me. I went out to get supplies in the bigger markets, be gone for a week or two, without telling him. He never said anything. One time I apologized for being gone so long, and he told me not to worry about it; that he hadn’t noticed I’d been gone.” He could hear it, now that he was saying all this, Ron could hear the suffocating silence in his house, see his dad sitting in the chair by the fire, not paying any attention to Ron at all.


“He only ever talked about Mom leaving once,” Ron interrupted, looking down at the water. “At least that I heard. He’d had a lot to drink. My aunt and uncle had come over for supper and Owen and I were outside talking, and I overheard him inside. He said that…the night Mom left, he’d asked her to stay. And she’d asked him to give her a reason to stay. And he couldn’t. And that was when I realized that…I hadn’t given her a reason to stay either. I’d never done anything for her to make her want to stay with us. I’d never even…”

“Ron, you were a child,” James told him, taking Ron’s hand firmly. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know.” Ron nodded, emotions oddly dull. “I know that. Now, anyway. Not as much when I was younger. About a year before I came here I was sitting at home and it was so quiet. I was in the room with my dad and it was so quiet, just like it always was. And I thought, you haven’t given me a reason to stay either. And so I left. I got up right then and I packed up my bag with him sitting right there and he didn’t say anything, and I stood in the doorway and I told him I was leaving, and he just…he looked up at me and he said ‘all right.’ And I left him there,” Ron sobbed. “Just like Mom did.”

James pulled Ron into a hug again, pressing Ron’s head into his shoulder. “Okay. I’m so sorry, Ron.”

“No, I’m sorry.” Ron shook his head. He’d barely thought about his dad since he’d left. He wasn’t sure why it was upsetting him so much now. “I’m sorry, it’s not nearly as bad as what your parents did to you, James. I shouldn’t even be…”

“No. It doesn’t work like that, Ron. Just because your dad didn’t try to kill you doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.”

“Okay.” Ron sniffed, letting James hold him. “I didn’t even care. Until right now, I never even cared that I’d left him all alone. Because he didn’t care about me. But…he probably did. He…he was hurting too, more than I was, probably. I should have tried to talk to him more, to do something…”

“You were a child, Ron.”

“I didn’t try to help him. He needed help. And I left. I helped myself instead of helping him, but…he didn’t care that I left. Why didn’t he try to stop me from leaving?”

“I don’t know, Ron.” James patted the back of his head. “I don’t know why.”

“Neither of them cared. They didn’t. And I didn’t either. I’m the same as they are.”

“No, you aren’t,” James told him, pulling back and tilting Ron’s head up to look him in the eye. James was crying too. “No, you are not, Ron.”

“I am, though.” James didn’t understand.

“You’re not. My parents are monsters, Ron. And I’ve been worried for such a long time that I was a monster too because of that. We’re not responsible for the ways our parents taught us to be, Ron. We’re only responsible for who we are now. You care. You care about them, even now, I can tell. You aren’t like them, not at all.”

Hiccoughing from all the crying, Ron watched James’s eyes swim. And he nodded. “Okay.” If James said it, Ron could know it was true. “Okay, James. Thank you.”

“Thank you for telling me. You’ve never told anyone, have you?” Ron shook his head. “Not even your cousin, about how you were feeling?”

“No. I didn’t want to make him feel bad.”

“You have to stop pretending your problems don’t exist, Ron. Trust me, I did that for a long time—it doesn’t work.”

“I know.” Ron did know that. He just didn’t think it was fair to burden other people with his crap.

James nodded. “Good. Now get in the water and wash all the hair and soap off, and then we’re going to go inside and I’ll make lunch.”

“I can do it.”

“No, you can let me take care of you.” It was clear from James’s tone that that was final. “You’re not feeling well and you’re my responsibility. I’m going to take care of you, Ron.”

Tears coming back, Ron closed his eyes and nodded, so grateful, more than he’d been for anything. “Thank you. I’ll keep taking care of you too. Promise.”


Ron did as he’d been told, and when James made him lunch he felt so much better even if it was full of ginger. It wasn’t until later that night that he started to worry again, about what would happen when he wasn’t James’s responsibility anymore.

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