Chapter 16 - Reaching Out
I've got an apology to make. As twlight pointed out in their review, I've left a pretty big plot hole in this story regarding how Angel is capable of walking in sunlight. This is addressed in this chapter--it should have been explained sooner, but I cut the scene that mentioned it because I didn't like the way it had turned out. Sorry!Chapter 16 – Reaching Out
Feeling the castle walls press against her, Faith headed to her new favorite place—the grounds. As she left the castle, she sensed someone nearby, and turned to see Xander. “Hey Xan,” she said cheerfully, but Xander, deep in thought, gave no indication that he had heard. Faith shrugged. “Be that way,” she muttered good-naturedly, and headed toward the castle gates at a jog.
After a circuit of the castle grounds (except the Forbidden Forest, which she would save for the night), she was surprised to return to the entrance and find Xander still there. This time, Faith knew better than to disturb him—unlike his thoughtful stillness earlier, he was now pacing back and forth, his face screwed up into a frown. Even as she watched, he suddenly stopped and sprinted inside.
Faith let out a low chuckle. She may have no idea what was going on, but she had the feeling it sucked to be a certain vampire right about now. Laughing again at her own pun, she wandered inside. Maybe somebody would be able to fill her in.
If asked, Angel would say he had returned to his rooms to read, but he had spent the last hour staring blankly at the page. Angel sighed. Even he had to admit that he was brooding.
Angel’s reverie was interrupted when the portrait serving as his door informed him he had a visitor. Minerva had been shooting him curious looks on the way back to the castle, so he was expecting her face as he opened the door, only to be nearly bowled over as Xander pushed past him into the rooms.
“Hello, Xander. Do come in,” he said pointedly, closing the door and leaning against it, arms crossed.
Xander ignored him in favor of pacing, seeming to have an internal argument over what to say. A bit more concerned, Angel moved close enough to place a hand on Xander’s shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
As soon as he felt Angel’s touch, Xander stilled. “I talked to Harry,” he replied.
Angel frowned, unable to separate the feelings he was receiving from Xander into anything sensible. He wished he could see Xander’s face. “About…?”
Xander shrugged off Angel’s hand and started pacing once more. “I can’t sense your emotions because I’m not letting you in, he says. Letting you in! As if I could let you in any further when you already know how I feel.” Xander waved his hands as he spoke, gesticulating wildly. “A month ago, you were just a part of my past. Okay, a part of my past I kept dreaming about, but still. You weren’t there
, with your brown eyes and your broad shoulders, and suddenly we’re here and you’re all I think about. You’re all I think about, and you keep the scary away, and I can’t stand the thought that maybe you don’t feel the same way about me. Maybe I’ll let your emotions in, and they won’t be the same as mine.”
He finally came to a stop, slowly turning to face Angel. “I reached out, somehow, you know. That was how this started. I felt these powers, somewhere inside, and I reached out. To you. And yeah, you reached back, but I don’t know why. And maybe Harry’s right, maybe I’m too scared to let you in all the way, but I started this! Don’t you dare say I don’t want it.”
They stared at each other for a long moment, as Angel frantically tried to think of something to say. Feeling as if a wrong movement could scare Xander away, he slowly stepped closer. What could he say, after all of that, except the truth? “I hadn’t thought of you, before this, either. Not often, anyway. But now we’re here, and I know you, Xander, so much better than before. All I want is to keep you safe, to make you happy, to see you smile.”
Xander bit his lip and looked at Angel from under his lashes. Angel swallowed hard. “That’s sweet and all, Deadboy, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now.” He moved in, until they were so close Angel could feel Xander’s breath on his cheek. “You know
what I felt, in Ollivander’s today. You know what I want from you is more than safety or smiles.” Angel froze, faced with everything he couldn’t have, and Xander’s breathing hitched. Xander stepped back. “It’s okay, Angel. I know you don’t feel the same.”
Xander was halfway to the door before Angel recovered. He moved swiftly until he was right behind Xander, and crushed the human against him, his back to Angel’s front. “You think I don’t want what you want?” he whispered hoarsely. “You think I don’t feel what you feel? Xander, I ache
for you.” He placed a greedy, open-mouthed kiss at the base of Xander’s throat, and Xander trembled. Arousal spun between them until Angel wasn’t sure what he was feeling from Xander and what came from himself. “I would take you, claim you, make you mine, if I could.” He kissed along Xander’s throat, unable to stop himself, and, with a moan of his name, Xander spun around. Their mouths found each other immediately, opening to each other as the kiss quickly turned desperate. A hazy feeling lingered in Angel’s mind, the sensation that this was somehow wrong, but it was smothered by taste and feel.
He pushed forward, guiding Xander until his back hit the wall. Xander’s hands were tangled in his hair, and Angel slipped his leg between Xander’s, rocking their hips together in a way that made Xander cry out against his mouth. Angel drank down the sound, his hands tracing patterns on Xander’s chest, until, like a splash of cold water, he remembered what they had forgotten.
“Xander,” Angel mumbled against the man’s lips. “Xander, we can’t.” With a groan of utter reluctance, he leaned back, bracing his hands on the wall and studying the kiss-swollen lips with regret. “The curse,” he managed, and those two words were enough to bring awareness back to Xander’s eye.
“The curse,” Xander echoed, carefully moving his hands from Angel’s hair, caressing his face along the way until they reached a resting place on Angel’s shoulders. “I should probably let go, then,” Xander commented at length.
Angel wanted to say no, to tell Xander to hold on forever, but he stepped back instead, feeling a pang of loss as Xander’s hands slipped away. They stared at each other until Xander looked away. “I’m just going to…” he jerked his thumb toward the door instead of finishing the sentence. “I need to breathe.”
“Right,” Angel murmured. “Go, breathe.” He managed a small smile. “I’ll be here.”
Moving slowly, Xander headed toward the door. He was almost there when he spun on his heel, and walked swiftly back to Angel. Before Angel could speak, Xander kissed him firmly. “Okay,” he said. “Now I’m really going.”
“Right,” Angel agreed. “To breathe.” He almost added, is that what they’re calling it these days?
but managed to keep that to himself.
“Right,” Xander echoed. “So… bye.” He paused, clearly not wanting to leave. “I’ll see you later?”
Feeling a ridiculously fond smile on his lips, Angel nodded. “Yes.”
“Okay. That’s good. Seeing each other is good. So, I’ll just go and we’ll see each other later.” Xander gave a little wave, looked at his hand in disgust as if it made the motion without his consent, and left.
As soon as Xander was out the door, Angel collapsed into the nearest chair with an affectionate smile that slowly turned into a frown. Not five minutes had passed before the man in the portrait cleared his throat. “Ah, sir?” the painting said, sounding amused. “Someone else is here to see you.”
Angel’s head snapped up. “Xander?” he asked, not sure he could control himself if Xander had come back so quickly.
“No, sir,” the painting said, shaking his head. “It’s Professor McGonagall.”
Minerva. Of course.
“And Professor Snape,” the portrait added before he could respond. Angel growled softly, and the main in the painting cowered.
Forcing a smile, Angel replied, “Let them in.”
The portrait swung open, and the professors swept inside. Minerva gave him him a quick look that missed nothing, but waited until they were seated with the door closed before she spoke. “Xander stopped by?”
“How could you tell?” Angel paused, remembering what he had been doing just minutes before. “Don’t answer that.”
Minerva smirked. “Excellent choice.” Next to her, Snape let out a disgusted snort, but she easily ignored him.
Giving Snape a hard glance, Angel pointedly asked, “Is there something I can help you with, Professor?”
Seemingly unaffected by Angel’s glare, Snape replied, “The Headmaster wished I stop by and examine you. He wanted to confirm you have experienced no side effects from the potion you have been using to walk in daylight.”
The sunlight potion was one of the benefits of returning to wizarding society, although Angel sincerely doubted Dumbledore would be willing to spare the considerable expense in peacetime. There had been times in the intervening years that Angel had wished he had a bottle or two, but it hadn’t been feasible. Besides, he considered it part of his penance to be confined to darkness, and only agreed to enter the light to protect Xander.
Angel eyed Snape. “You have been brewing that?” he asked, surprised. The potion was incredibly difficult to make; it was likely that those capable of doing so could be counted on one hand.
Snape lifted his chin. “Indeed.” He smirked. “Does that alarm you?”
Angel smiled, coldly dismissive. “Not in the least.”
Giving them both an exasperated look, Minerva cleared her throat. “Angel does not appear to be suffering any ill effects,” she commented. “Perhaps you should advise Professor Dumbledore.”
Snape turned to Minerva, and they seemed to have a wordless argument. “Perhaps I shall,” Snape snapped, rising from his chair and straightening his robes with sharp movements. He stalked out of the room.
Once he was gone, Angel raised an eyebrow at Minerva. “He grows more charming with each meeting.”
Minerva rolled her eyes. “And you’ve been a paragon of good manners, I am sure.”
Since he couldn’t exactly argue that, he changed the subject. “You’re concerned by what happened in Ollivander’s,” he stated.
“Not just that.” Minerva leaned forward, studying him intently. “I couldn’t hear Xander’s conversation with Ollivander, but I can guess at its content. There is darkness in Xander, a ruthlessness that I’ve only glimpsed. I’m certain you know it better than I. And great power, too. It’s a dangerous combination.”
Angel frowned, surprised by her observation. “Xander will do what he must to protect his friends,” he said slowly, “but he also can be trusted to do what is needed to keep the world safe.”
“Are you certain?” she asked softly. “Even if you, his anchor, were gone? You’ve felt his magic, Angel—a wizard could spend a lifetime dabbling in Dark Arts and not taint his core the way the Hellmouth has.”
“So we teach him control,” Angel argued. “Even now, with no training, he fights the darkness. He had every reason to kill Lucius, and yet when he lost control, his first priority was to get us to safety. Yes, in his first experience with wizards, he killed. If necessary, he would do it again, just as you or I would. But I know how it haunts him. I feel it.” He studied Minerva. “Is this concern coming from you, or from your boss?”
Minerva’s lips thinned. “My concern stems from the actions my boss
would take, should he find Xander to be a threat,” she said sharply.
Angel froze, going entirely, inhumanly still. “And what would you do, Min? If Albus decides Xander is too Dark to save, will you help us, or follow him?”
“It’s not that simple—“
“It’s not that complicated!” he growled, jumping to his feet. “Albus may feel guilty for never stopping Lucius when he had the chance, but he won’t gain absolution by sacrificing Xander! Xander isn’t just a pawn in his games, Minerva, he’s more important than that! He’s everything
Minerva stood, glaring at him. “As Albus is to me!” she shouted. Shocked, Angel paused. Their words seemed to echo in the suddenly silent room, and he could see the moment she realized she had spoken aloud. She paled, swaying to one side, and he moved quickly to catch her.
“Oh, Minerva,” he murmured, guiding her back into her chair. “Albus, really? Does he know?” Angel had always gotten the very definite impression that Albus Dumbledore had no romantic interest in women.
“Who can tell what that man knows,” Minerva commented, sounding defeated. She leaned against Angel’s shoulder as he paused, crouched at her side. “I know nothing will come of it. I know there are many more suitable men in the world. I just…”
“I know,” he said softly, slipping an arm around her shoulders.
They remained that way for a long moment before Minerva stirred. “Still,” she murmured, little more than a whisper, “you can count on me to do the right thing.”
Angel squeezed her shoulders. “I know that, too,” he whispered back to her.
Albus followed Kingsley Shacklebolt through the muggle house, wrinkling his nose at the scent of blood hanging heavy in the air. “It appeared to be an ordinary attack,” Kingsley said, quiet in the face of carnage. “A bit messier than Lucius generally prefers, but nothing exceptional. Until we found her.” He paused at the end of the hall; a piece of construction paper was taped to the nearest door, proclaiming this to be ‘Annie’s Room – Little brothers NOT ALLOWED!’ “I hate the ones with children,” he muttered, then ushered Albus inside.
The blood spatter clashed with the pink wallpaper, Albus noted dimly, his mind focusing on minutiae in an attempt to avoid the mutilated corpse on the floor and the translucent figure in the corner. With a heavy heart, he turned to the newly created ghost. “Annie, my dear girl. I am so sorry.”
Annie looked at him with dull eyes. “Professor. You’re going to ask what happened, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
“I’m afraid so,” Albus said gently. “You may be able to help us capture the ones who did this, and bring them to justice.”
Annie nodded, and Albus felt a pang of loss for this brave girl who would never see her second year at Hogwarts, another child he had been unable to save. He pushed aside the feeling with ruthless efficiency; the last thing Annie needed was to see him mourning her future.
“We were eating dinner when the door exploded,” Annie started, her voice trembling. “They ran inside and hit Mom and Dad with a spell right away. I thought they were stunned, so I slid under the table and crawled to them, but they weren’t breathing, just staring into space, and I knew… I didn’t know it worked like that, a couple words and they’re gone.” She wrapped her arms around herself, and Albus ached to comfort her, but his words were useless and touch wasn’t possible.
“We were all hiding under the table, my sister and brothers and me,” she continued. “They laughed at us, and levitated the table out of the way. We were all too scared to move. Then he
pushed the others out of the way, and started talking.” She looked away. “He knew, Professor. That sometimes I… see things. Before they happen. He knew how my dreams come true.”
Albus blinked, the only sign of surprise he allowed himself. The girl had been under his nose for a school year, and yet he hadn’t known she was a Seer. How could Lucius have known what had slipped past him? He shook himself from his thoughts as she kept on speaking.
“I told him that if he wanted me to help him, I wouldn’t do it, and he laughed. He said I couldn’t be very powerful, if I hadn’t seen this coming, and anyway he had other plans for me. Then he said Macnair, Bulstrode, and Parkinson would help him, and the others could play.” At last, she met his eyes, and the horror in her gaze cut into his soul. “They took me in here, and closed the door, but I could still hear the screaming.”
Albus held her gaze, keeping nothing but sympathy on his face. “What happened then?”
She rubbed her arms as if trying to wipe away the silvery tracks of blood staining her skin. “They held me down, and he
pulled out a dagger. He… he carved runes into my arms and legs, and chanted something in another language. I couldn’t understand him, but it sounded like he was saying the same thing over and over, until he stabbed me in the chest.” A tear ran down her cheek. “Then there was nothing.”
“That’s a very good job, Annie,” Albus said quietly. “Thank you so much for your help.” He paused. “You told me he
was repeating himself at the end. By any chance, do you remember what it sounded like he was saying?”
Annie closed her eyes, thinking. “Destructrice,” she said at length, stumbling over the syllables.
A slight narrowing of his eyes was Albus’ only reaction. “Thank you.” At least, he thought to himself, having Rupert Giles in his castle would prove useful from a researching perspective. He turned to leave, only to hear Annie’s plaintive voice. “Professor?”
“Yes?” he asked, turning back immediately to see her crying in earnest.
“Was it,” she stammered, “I mean, he said I should’ve-- Was it my fault?” She was sobbing, bent over with the force of it. “I didn’t see
this, Professor! Why didn’t I see?”
Albus moved closer, holding out a hand as if to touch her, but knowing he could not. “It is not your fault, never
your fault, my dear Annie.” He took a deep breath, his own eyes filled with tears he refused to shed. “No one can explain the gifts the Sight gives those chosen, but rarely do they see the time of their death. You could not have seen this.”
Looking away, he added in a dark voice, “And I promise you, those who have done this will pay for their crimes. I shall see to it.”