Chapter 13 - Truth In Hiding
As was becoming depressingly normal for him, Xander had barely managed to stay awake long enough to receive a hug from Dawn and an arm squeeze from Faith before tumbling into an exhausted sleep. When he woke, he had an unexpected visitor sitting beside him. Xander beamed.
“Giles, you’re okay!”
Giles smiled, ducking his head. “Better than okay,” he said mildly. “The nurses here handled everything from my broken ribs to my myopia.” He narrowed his eyes at Xander. “While I find myself quite grateful to you and your friends, I must say, you shouldn’t have come.”
Xander blinked. “What, and leave you there? Do you know what Buffy would’ve done to us when she woke up?”
“Reminded you that she’s the one with superpowers?” came a groaning voice from a few beds over. Giles and Xander exchanged delighted smiles. Giles was out of his chair and over to his Slayer in seconds, but when Xander tried to follow suit, the room started spinning the moment he placed a foot on the floor.
“Good to hear your lovely voice!” Xander said cheerfully, pretending he was sitting on his bed because he wanted to be there, not because he was unable to stand up. “How are you feeling?”
Buffy pushed herself into a sitting position and grinned at both men. “Like I had a really good nap… right after a train ran over me.”
“Ah yes, the Lucius express,” Xander said wisely. “We are familiar with it.”
Buffy ignored him in favor of inspecting her Watcher, her eyes serious. “You really okay?” she asked, so quiet Xander barely heard her.
“Quite,” Giles replied, giving Buffy a soft smile. “And you?”
“You know me,” she said airily. “I bounce.”
Xander was starting to feel like a third wheel, when the door to the hospital wing opened and Dumbledore and Pomfrey entered. “Mister Giles, you shouldn’t be up!” the hospital matron exclaimed, making a beeline for him, while Dumbledore headed for Xander.
The sound of Poppy scolding Giles was a quiet backdrop as the two men studied each other. Finally, Xander had to break the silence. Instead of the nonchalant, ‘howdy’ he had intended to say, what came out was, “Where’s Angel?”
The older wizard smiled, apparently pleased by the question. “He, Draco, and Harry are being questioned by Aurors.”
? By who?”
“Aurors are the wizarding police,” Giles replied, apparently having satisfied Madame Pomfrey as she was now examining Buffy. He walked over to Dumbledore and folded his arms. “And if this is regarding their rescue of me, I believe I should be present as well.”
“Me too!” Xander said hastily.
“Me three!” said Buffy from her bed. Everyone looked at her. “What? It’s boring up here.”
“Be that as it may,” Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling, “I think it would be best if we keep all Slayers out of the Ministry’s reach.”
Even Buffy, though she sulked, found it hard to argue with that.
Dumbledore studied the other two men. “I should warn you that the description of events being provided by the others is not precisely what you may recall happening,” he said delicately.
Xander was about to ask what that meant, when Giles spoke. “They’re misleading the Aurors.” He paused, obviously thinking. “To protect Xander?”
“Wait, what?” Xander folded his arms. “Why do I need protecting?”
Giles and Dumbledore exchanged a look, before Dumbledore replied. “You are unfamiliar and powerful, in a time of great unrest. The Ministry does not react well to such a combination.” Xander frowned, not sure he understood the meaning beneath the words. Dumbledore shook his head. “They would take you, Mister Harris, and control you in the name of the common safety.”
Xander blanched. “Just say no to the government in my business, gotcha.”
“As you say.” Dumbledore straightened, becoming even more businesslike. “I believe they are placing the majority of the credit on Mister Potter’s shoulders. Given his habit of performing the impossible, that should limit the number of questions thrown your way.”
“So, to protect me, we’re throwing Harry to the wolves?” Xander asked slowly.
Dumbledore smiled. “Ah, but Harry grew up among the wolves. Do not worry, Xander; he is quite capable of looking after himself.”
Angel, Harry, and Draco were in the middle of lying their asses off when Dumbledore pushed Xander’s wheelchair onto the scene, Giles following behind. “Xander!” Angel said, hurrying over. “How are you feeling?” He reached out and touched Xander’s hand, and Xander’s whole body felt alive at the contact.
“Good,” Xander managed, avoiding Angel’s eyes, all too aware of the two Aurors watching them avidly. “You going to introduce me to your interrogators?”
One of the Aurors let out an affronted huff at the moniker, but the other gave Xander a bright smile. “You must be Alexander Harris and Rupert Giles,” he said cheerfully. “I’m Auror Weasley and this is Auror Turpin.” He glanced quizzically at Dumbledore. “We had been told you were too ill to be questioned.”
“We got better,” Xander said flatly, not liking the way Turpin was staring at Angel while fingering her wand. He got up out of his wheelchair and tottered over to stand beside the vampire. Winded by the exertion, he leaned into Angel, wrapping an arm around his side in a bid to stay upright.
Weasley blinked at them. “Er, right. Well, Angel was almost done with his account of the events.”
Angel’s arm slipped around Xander’s shoulders, stablizing him, as he replied. “There isn’t much more to tell. After we found Giles, Harry stunned Lucius and we managed to escape.”
“And you can’t tell us anything about the grounds, the people?” Turpin asked, her tone rather more hostile than was warranted.
“I assure you, there is no point,” Draco interjected. “My father has doubtlessly moved to another location by now, and any holes in his security have been remedied.”
Turpin glanced at Draco, and Xander cringed. If her look at Angel was angry, when she focused on Draco her eyes showed nothing but hatred. “An easy excuse. You’ve always got one of those, haven’t you, Malfoy?”
Draco smiled at her, his eyes hard. “Just trying to assist the Ministry in any way I can. As the Head of the Malfoy line, I feel it is my responsibility to assist in bringing Lucius to justice.”
Turpin’s expresion was outraged, but Weasley simply laughed. “Pull the other one, Malfoy,” he chortled, his expression dismissive. “Everybody knows your dad is the Head of the Malfoy line.” His face froze. “Wait. Did you kill him?”
“As if he’d have the nerve,” Turpin muttered, still glaring.
“He performed the ritual last night,” Harry cut in, stepping a bit closer to Draco. “The magic found him to be the proper Head.” Ignoring the Aurors’ gaping faces, he turned to Draco. “We should probably stop by Gringotts, see if they’ve moved the Malfoy vaults into your control.”
Turpin drew her wand and pointed it at Draco. “As you are Head of the Malfoy line, I am taking you in for questioning regarding the activity of your predecessor, Lucius Malfoy.”
Xander’s jaw dropped, and he tried to take a step forward only to find himself held tightly against Angel’s side. He looked at Angel, and followed his gaze to Giles.
“Excuse me,” Giles said coolly, “but I must have misunderstood. If Draco were serving his father, the magic of the ritual would not have chosen him as Head. The magic chose him because he was found to be superior to his father in word and deed. Clearly, they are not working together.”
Harry nodded. “And you can’t haul someone in just for being related to Lucius Malfoy. You’d have every pureblood in Britain in a cell.”
“Not just Britain,” Draco commented without looking away from Turpin’s wand. “We’ve extensive relations in France.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Of course, you do.”
He gave Weasley a look of appeal, and the Auror said uncomfortably, “Look, Lisa, put your wand away. You can’t take Malfoy in just because you’re hacked off you were wrong about him.”
Turpin’s wand wavered, as she gave her fellow Auror a look of betrayal. Just as it seemed that things would degenerate even further, Dumbledore finally spoke. “I believe I have spoken on behalf of Draco previously, Miss Turpin. Unless new evidence has arisen against him, the Ministry has no grounds to take him anywhere.”
“He couldn’t have mentioned that earlier?” Xander muttered, and saw Angel’s lips twist in agreement.
“Maybe not,” Turpin said, falsely calm, before swinging her wand over to point at Angel. “But you haven’t completed the proper paperwork to have a vampire here.”
Angel and Xander started to scuffle, as both tried to move in front of the other to block the wand. Weasley stared at them, and snorted. “Yeah, he seems like a big threat,” he commented, sarcasm dripping from every word.
“Not helping, Ron,” Harry snapped.
A feeling of sheer power pressing against his skin made Xander stop struggling. He noticed everyone else paused as well, looking about in confusion, before finding the source.
Dumbledore stood tall, suddenly much younger than he had seemed only a minute before, and the power that poured off him made Xander’s heart race. When the Headmaster spoke his voice was quiet, but unyielding. “I’m certain you aren’t telling me how to run my school, Miss Turpin. If you were, I would advise you that the paperwork to which you are referring is required only when school is in session or children are present; during the summer break I am free to have whatever guests I please.”
Turpin nodded faintly, and Dumbledore smiled. “Now, I believe you have concluded your business. Shall I show you out?” Though it was phrased as a request, it clearly wasn’t.
Weasley cleared his throat. “Erm, we haven’t actually spoken to Mr. Harris yet,” he said meekly.
Xander did not want to talk to the Aurors any longer than was needed, even if Weasley seemed mostly okay. “Went to Malfoy’s, broke out Giles, ran into Lucius, ran away,” he blurted, giving his best, most clueless smile. “End of story.” It was even true, as far as it went. “I’m too sick to tell you any more,” he added, sagging against Angel in a movement that had rather more truth in it than he would have liked.
Weasley eyed Xander and Angel. “We should really—“ he started, only to cut himself short at the sound of growling. “Or, you know, we could come back,” he said hastily, giving a slight bow in Angel’s direction.
The discussion between the Aurors and the others continued, but Xander was too distracted to follow it. “Hey, Deadboy,” he whispered, just loud enough for Angel to hear. “Did you know that you’re growling?”
The growling stopped. Angel ducked his head and spoke directly into Xander’s ear. “Albus promised me you would stay in bed until I returned.” On the last word, Angel’s lips brushed Xander’s ear, and Xander shuddered, letting out a breath. Seeming not to notice the reaction, Angel continued. “It was my one condition for speaking to the Aurors, and he ignored it because it’s more interesting this way.”
Xander closed his eye for a long moment, pulling himself together with sheer will. “Damn Dumbledore,” he muttered, wishing the man had forced him to stay in the hospital wing where it was safe. He found himself leaning closer to Angel, and forced himself to move away. “I think I’ll go sit down,” he murmured, disentangling himself from Angel and hurrying back to his wheelchair.
As he was sitting down, he tuned back into the other conversation in time to see Auror Turpin storm off. Auror Weasley paused long enough to give them all an apologetic look, then hurried after his partner. After they left, there was a long pause.
At length, Giles broke the silence. “Should I be insulted that they didn’t speak to me?” he asked mildly.
“We sort of told them you were unconscious the whole time,” Harry said sheepishly.
Giles lifted his chin. “I can be trusted to protect Xander.”
“You shouldn’t have to lie to do so,” Draco said quietly. “Not when it isn’t necessary.”
Xander let out a frustrated huff of air, but didn’t say anything. He hated this. He hated that anyone had to protect him, that Angel, Harry, and Draco had lied to government officials on his behalf while he was barely able to stand in their defense. He hated feeling weak and out of control, and what he was feeling was so far beyond his ken he couldn’t even joke about it.
He could still feel Angel’s lips against the sensitive skin of his ear, the vampire’s strength pressed against his side. He could feel the echo of Angel in his head, the ghost of what he had felt the day before, and he wanted… He wanted…
He wanted Angel. He wanted everything
. And wasn’t that terrifying?
He gave his feelings a vicious shove, and turned back to Angel, who was watching him quizzically. “Buffy’s awake.”
Angel’s even features broke into a smile that made Xander’s chest hurt, but Draco beat him to a response. “Is she okay?” he asked anxiously.
“Yeah, she’s bouncing back in Buffy form,” Xander replied, a bit surprised that Draco seemed to care so much. He cleared his throat. “So, I’m not being judgemental or anything here, because I get the whole 007 thing, but… were you the one that tortured her? Is that why you’re acting so guilty?”
Draco took a step back, looking as if he had been slapped. “Lucius cast the spell,” Harry said quietly. “But Draco was there.”
“I tried to stop him,” Draco said, his face even paler than usual. “And I left her there for Dumbledore to help.”
“And got punished for it,” Harry added. Draco gave him a mildly betrayed look that Harry met with a shrug of the shoulders.
“Really not blaming you,” Xander said wearily, leaning back. He blinked slowly, tiredly, and when he opened his eyes Angel was there, seizing the back of his chair. “What the hell?”
“We’re going back to the hospital wing,” Angel explained to the room. “Xander needs to rest.” Without any further conversation, they were off.
Xander tried to scowl, but a yawn broke through instead. “Just because you want to see Buffy doesn’t mean I need to come with,” he complained.
“Xander,” Angel said, exasperated, “I can feel
how tired you are.”
“Oh, really? Can you feel what I’d like to do to you?” The wheelchair came to an abrupt halt, and Xander yelped, “Put glue in your hairgel! That’s what I meant!”
Without responding, Angel walked around to the front of the chair, crouching so he was at Xander’s level. He reached out and put a hand on Xander’s cheek, and Xander could feel his eyes get big, all his sarcastic comments floating away. Using all his willpower, he did not lean into Angel’s touch. “I’m glad Buffy’s going to be alright,” Angel said.
Xander blinked. “Me too.”
Angel nodded, his face inscrutable. “She’ll always be my friend, but she’s not the reason I’m going to the hospital wing right now.”
Xander stared, utterly confused. “Okay…”
Angel’s face twisted into a frustrated grimace. “What I’m saying is, I can
feel what you’d like to do to me, and it’s got nothing to do with hairgel.” Xander froze, mortified, as Angel stroked his cheek. So quietly Xander could barely hear him, Angel added, “And it’s nothing I don’t want to do to you, too.”
Xander’s brain shut down for a moment. By the time he was able to respond, they were almost to the hospital wing. “Angel, wait,” he said quickly, not waiting for the wheelchair to come to a stop before jumping out of it. He spun around and grabbed Angel’s hand, smiling as Angel automatically grasped back, before growing serious. “I don’t want you stuck with me just because I latched onto you like a baby with a pacifier.”
Angel’s face scrunched up in confusion and what appeared to be hurt, and he shook his head, dropping Xander’s hand. “I may not know for certain what’s going on between us, but, Xander, I think that’s almost exactly the opposite of happened.”
“Angel,” Xander said helplessly, hating that he had put such an expression on the vampire’s face.
Angel held up a hand. “Think about why I can feel your emotions, but you can’t feel mine. Why do you think that is?” Without waiting for a response, he entered the hospital wing.
Xander sank back into his chair. “Stupid bonds,” he said sulkily. “Stupid feelings. Stupid vampires.”
His sigh echoed in the empty hall. “Stupid Xander.”