Chapter 17 - Lessons
A/N: Sorry for the delay, y'all! We're reaching, if not the final stretch, definitely the curve before it. I may have taken some liberties with the details of Angel's curse, but if you can bear with me I'd appreciate it.Chapter 17 - Lessons
The feather leapt from the desk and hovered a foot from Xander’s head.
“I did it!” he shouted, waving his wand for emphasis…, which caused the feather to shoot upwards and slam into a ceiling beam, puffing into pieces.
He glanced at McGonagall; her expression of thin-lipped impatience was not encouraging. “I did it for a little while,” he said, giving her his best puppy-dog look.
“We discussed extraneous wand movements, did we not?” she asked, sounding a bit exasperated.
Xander sighed. His first lesson was not off to a promising start.
“If we had Angel here to assist you in regulating your emotions and magic—“ McGonagall started, only to be cut off.
“No, no, no, we don’t need to bother him!” Xander said, not even bothering to hide his desperation. After their kiss the night before, he was in no hurry to see the vampire. “We’re good without him! No, we’re great
! Look, see? Wingardium Leviosa
,” he chanted, waving at a nearby book.
In stony silence, McGonagall flicked a shred of paper out away from her glasses. She waved her wand, and Xander blinked as a silvery-gray cat seemed to erupt from the tip. Turning to the cat, McGonagall said calmly, “Angel’s presence is requested in my classroom, at his earliest convenience.” The cat bounded away.
Xander grinned despite the way his stomach swooped at Angel’s name. “That was cool.” He thought about asking if he could learn how to do it, then decided he didn’t want to press his luck. That looked a lot fancier than the Levitation Charm he kept bungling.
The faintest hint of a smile touched McGonagall’s eyes, though her mouth remained a thin line. “It is one of our more visually appealing spells,” she agreed. Shifting back to business, she added, “Your problem is one of focus, Xander. You must learn to control the magic, rather than letting it do what it will.”
There was no censure in her observation, but Xander hung his head. “I know,” he said, frustrated. “It just keeps slipping loose.”
She nodded. “You are at a disadvantage, discovering your magic so late in life. Control usually develops as a wizard matures, and that opportunity was taken from you. It is a singular problem.”
Their conversation was interrupted by Angel entering the classroom. His arrival was so quick that he must have run the whole way, though he wasn’t even the slightest bit out of breath. Xander thought he saw relief in the way Angel’s shoulders relaxed, and was surprised to realize Angel had been worried by McGonagall’s message.
“Ah, Angel,” Minerva greeted him. “Xander is having some difficulties with control. Might you be able to provide some assistance?”
“Of course,” Angel agreed instantly, trying to meet Xander’s eye. Xander looked away, and saw McGonagall and Angel exchange a look in his peripheral vision. “On second thought,” Angel said slowly, “I think there is something Xander and I need to work out. Can he resume his lesson this afternoon?”
Xander gave McGonagall his best pleading face, which she utterly ignored. “Of course. Half past noon would be best.”
“Of course,” Angel echoed, before seizing Xander by the arm and practically dragging him out of the room.
Angel was glad his rooms were close, since Xander seemed determine to pretend he didn’t exist. The sheer nerve to do so, after what had happened the day before, caused Angel’s demon to shriek with rage.
The moment he had the door closed behind them, he grabbed Xander’s shoulders and pushed him into it. “What the hell?” Xander yelped. “Deadboy, watch it!”
He finally met Angel’s eyes, and the fear Angel saw made him pause. He had been concentrating so hard on the shame he was getting from their bond, he hadn’t even noticed Xander was afraid.
Ashamed of himself, he laid a hand on Xander’s cheek, and the man’s protests stopped as suddenly as if he had flipped a switch. They stared at each other for a moment in silence before Angel spoke. “You were acting like I did not exist. As if I’m nothing. Worse than that, something to be ashamed of.”
“Oh, you mean because the thing where I kissed you and you turned me down? I’m way shame-having over that, thanks!” Xander retorted, but his voice was uneven.
Angel gave his head a shake, trying to make sense of that. “I turned you down?” he asked incredulously. “When did that happen?”
“You said, ‘We can’t!’”
It took a moment for the penny to drop. “Are you kidding
me?” Angel roared. “You think I rejected you because I told you I would lose my soul if we continued? Because being with you was so perfect it would certainly cause a moment of pure happiness and break the curse?”
Xander paused, scrunching his face in a half-hearted scowl. “Well, you didn’t say
all that,” he pointed out sulkily.
Angel sighed, resting his forehead against Xander’s. When he continued his voice was calmer, almost plaintive. “After everything that happened between us you still doubt my attachment to you?”
Xander bit his lip. “Kinda?” Now guilt was pulsing across their bond, and Angel pulled back enough to look Xander in the eye.
“You shouldn’t,” he said simply, leaning close and giving Xander a short, almost chaste kiss. “And if we do this right, maybe you won’t.”
Of course, Xander took the bait. “Do what right?” he asked cautiously.
Angel stepped away, and pulled Xander toward the sofa. “Have you ever meditated?”
Unable to keep from snorting, Xander shook his head. “I’m not big on discovering my inner… whatever,” he commented.
Angel rolled his eyes, and manhandled Xander until they were seated on the floor, Angel with his back propped against the sofa and Xander somewhat awkwardly nestled between his legs, his back resting against Angel’s chest. His demon purred, approving of the position. “That’s not exactly what we’re doing today.”
“So what are we doing?” Xander asked, craning his neck to look at Angel.
“Just turn around and trust me, alright?” Angel said, impatiently grabbing Xander’s chin and pointing it forward, guiding Xander’s head until it rested on Angel’s shoulder. He allowed himself a moment to breathe in Xander’s scent, before continuing in a voice so soft it was barely a whisper, right into the man’s ear. “Just relax, Xan, and breathe. In and out, nice and slow, okay?”
He continued speaking, guiding Xander into a light trance until the man melted against him. The bond between them, normally humming with energy, slowly calmed until all Angel felt was peace and the gentle throb of Xander’s heartbeat. “Good,” he murmured. “Now I want you to look for me, Xander, inside your mind. Find the place where we’re connected by your magic.” With the ease of long practice, Angel looked inside himself for their bond and reached out to Xander with everything in him. “Look for me. Can you feel me reaching for you? Feel how much I care for you, want to protect you.” He took a quiet, unnecessary breath when he felt the tentative touch of Xander reaching back. If he were honest with himself, he hadn’t expected any success on this first try.
Knowing that this sort of mental work could be tiring to the uninitiated, he didn’t press Xander to go further. “You’ve done such a good job,” he praised. “Now I want you to wake up for me, but remember that place. Remember how I feel inside your mind. Remember how I belong there. Remember, and wake up for me, Xander.”
Long moments passed as Xander came back to himself. Other than a slightly more rapid heartbeat, Angel would not have known he was awake, as Xander didn’t move. Finally, he spoke.
“You care about me.”
“Yes,” Angel said, his voice still soft and gentle.
“Like, a lot.”
“Yes,” Angel repeated patiently.
“Oh,” Xander breathed, and relief and awe colored his voice. “Okay.”
After Xander had left, proclaiming his plans for a quick lunch before he was to return to Minerva, Angel headed for the library. He was surprised to find such a crowd; Harry and Draco had joined the Scoobies in their search. Even Faith was there, unhappily flipping through a book, which told him things were serious. He sat down across from Giles. “Any luck?”
Deep in thought, Giles did not react, so Angel reached out and covered his current page with a open hand. He waited until Giles looked up in confusion and repeated, “Any luck?”
Giles removed his glasses to rub his eyes tiredly. “I’m not certain that’s the best way to phrase it.” Angel frowned. “You’re just in time. Albus should be here any second to discuss what we’ve found.”
“And here I am,” Albus announced, right on cue. He glanced around the table, taking in the grim expressions, and his eyes sharpened behind their glasses. “As your charges would say, Rupert, what’s the what?”
Giles responded with a pained look, but otherwise ignored the interesting choice in language. He stood, leaning across the table to retrieve a particularly dusty book. Opening it to a page marked by a piece of parchment, he hesitated, staring at the spidery writing, before asking softly. “Voldemort… he was powerful?”
Angel shook his head with a feeling of dread as the others grew still, hanging on Albus’ reply. The wizard’s lips thinned. “That is an accurate assessment. I gather this is not an idle question?”
Giles laughed humorlessly. “I’m afraid not.” He pointed at a diagram in the book before him. “There is a demon known as la Destructrice, the Destroyer,” he started. “The last known summoning was in France in the fourteenth century, by a wizard named Gaston Tasse. Mourning the loss of his master, Tasse became obsessed with the thought of avenging his death, and believed the answer lay with la Destructrice. After a series of ritualized killings to summon her, the demon appeared, rewarding Tasse with the power of his master.” Giles sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Tasse lost control, and la Destructrice broke loose. Provence was obliterated in the ensuing fight between wizard and demon before they killed each other.” A bit dryly, he added, “I assume Lucius plans to skip that part.”
Angel winced, able to piece together Lucius’ plan. The wizard had strength of his own, but nothing compared to what he would gain from Voldemort. The combination would make him more powerful than Dumbledore or Harry, by far.
Harry slammed his fist into the table, earning a shhh!
from the librarian. “I won’t see any part of that bastard back again,” he vowed. “He’s dead, every bit of him, and he’ll stay that way.” Dawn edged her chair closer, looking worriedly at Harry.
A few seats down, Faith gave a quicksilver smile. “What would we call him then? Voldius? Lucimort?” Save for Harry, everyone rolled their eyes, and tension dropped.
“How do we stop him?” Angel asked, refusing even to consider there wasn’t a way.
“There’s a list,” Willow piped up. “Of what he has to kill? And the order, and everything. Since he just killed a Seer, he’ll want a werewolf next. It has to be done during the full moon.”
With effort, Angel kept an encouraging look on his face, but he didn’t have high hopes for their success in stopping Lucius at that step. There were a lot of werewolves in the world.
He could tell Albus had the same thought. “I’ll warn Remus Lupin. He can spread a message of caution among the werewolf packs.”
“At least we have three weeks until the full moon,” Buffy added.
“Indeed,” Albus agreed. “We have time to prepare Alexander.”
Angel asked, “Prepare him for what, exactly?” He tried to keep his voice even, but he could tell he hadn’t been successful from the way all the humans leaned away from him.
Albus smiled, genial on the surface with steel underneath. “To fight Lucius, of course.”
Something in Angel snapped. He had Albus by the throat before anyone could do more than blink. “I would rethink that plan,” he growled.
In typical, infuriating fashion, Angel sensed no fear from Albus. The wizard was motionless, a placid expression on his face, not even making a move toward his wand. Everyone else had frozen in shock. After a long pause, Giles cleared his throat. “Yes, well, we have three weeks to come up with something better, do we not?” he said, mild and unflappable.
“Yeah,” Buffy quickly agreed. “So how about we let go of the nice wizard, okay, Angel?”
Angel stared into Albus’ blue eyes that suddenly seemed so alien. “I’ve always thought you were wise, and kind,” he said softly. “I’ve counted you as a friend.” He paused. “You don’t want me as an enemy.”
Albus twitched a hand, and Angel found himself sailing through the air. He landed in a crouch. Albus turned and smiled at the group. “Perhaps we should continue our discussion once tempers have cooled,” he said, and left without looking at Angel.
“Holy shit,” Faith whispered in the silence following his exit. Angel straightened and closed his eyes, trying to find calm. “Hey Fang?”
“What, Faith?” he snapped, glaring at her.
She grinned insouciantly. “Wanna go beat the crap out of each other?”
Angel felt a dangerous smile tease at his mouth. “Absolutely.”
Xander left Angel’s rooms feeling like a whole new man. He was calm and centered, aware of his power in a way he hadn’t been before.
Plus, Angel cared about him. Like, a lot. How cool was that?
Unsurprisingly, his second lesson with McGonagall went much better than the first. Feeling his power the way he’d felt his connection with Angel, Xander found himself in control for once.
Unfortunately, McGonagall didn’t have time to work with him for too long. As he bounced out of her classroom, flush with the success of his Levitation Charm, he almost ran right into Harry.
“I floated a feather!” he said in greeting, smiling stupidly.
Harry smiled back, but his smile had a brittle, dark edge that made Xander nervous. “That’s brilliant. Do you need a break, or would you like to continue working?”
Xander hesitated, studying Harry. “Might as well keep on while I’m on a roll!” he said, his cheerfulness a bit dampened.
Harry nodded. “Follow me.” Without waiting for a reply, he spun on his heel and headed toward the staircase.
Xander frowned. “Aye-aye,” he muttered, before following obediently.
He quickly found himself in the dungeons, which he hadn’t yet explored, mostly because he didn’t want to. Glancing around dubiously, he commented, “Nice place. It’s very… dank.”
Harry snorted. “It suits him.”
Wait. “Him who? There’s only one person I’ve met that really seemed dungeony, and I’m really hoping you don’t mean him because I kind of threw him into a wall with my magic, and…” They entered a classroom to find Snape and Draco waiting. Xander gulped. “Oh, this is not going to go well.”
“Do not fret, Mister Harris,” Snape drawled, fingering his wand. “I am under oath not to cause undue harm, provided you can manage to control yourself.” His tone made it clear that he found the idea extremely doubtful.
Xander gave him a bright, fake smile. “I can control myself around people who aren’t assholes. Are you an asshole?”
Harry choked, and Draco said smoothly, “What Xander means is—“
“I know exactly what he means,” Snape snapped. He studied Xander with cold, black eyes, while Xander tried his hardest not to fidget. “Do not let my presence mislead you. I would be quite happy never to see you again. Indeed, should your inevitable battle with Lucius have an unpleasant end, I would not be distraught. However,” his lip curled mockingly, “Albus seems under the impression that you are important
, and thus I find myself giving up precious free time to provide you with instruction.”
“Okay, but why?” Xander asked, trying to control his temper. “If you don’t want to help, I’m doing just great with McGonagall. Why are you so important?”
Snape smirked. “You are in the presence of the two wizards who know Lucius Malfoy best,” he announced dramatically. “Professor McGonagall is a skilled witch, but she has little experience with the darker aspects of magic.”
That explained Snape and Draco, anyway. Xander turned to Harry. “You’re here to keep us from killing each other, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
Harry looked away, shifty-eyed. “Maybe.” Draco rolled his eyes. “Well, someone has to,” Harry commented.
“Fun,” Xander muttered. He met Snape’s gaze with a challenging look. “Alright, what’s first?”
They started with Protego
. Much to Harry’s surprise, the lesson started quite well. Xander learned the shield quickly, and seemed able to ignore Snape’s jibes about Angel as easily as he deflected the minor curses they sent his way. Unfortunately, as the curses increased in complexity, Snape’s comments grew worse and worse, until Harry was having flashbacks to his most unpleasant Potions classes and even Draco seemed close to hexing the man.
After about an hour, Xander was staggering slightly. “Perhaps we should end this session,” Snape sneered. “Poor Mister Harris seems quite exhausted. Real work is difficult, is it not?”
Xander rolled his eyes. “I’m fine,” he panted. “Keep ‘em coming.”
“It’s important to know your limits,” Snape said coolly. Before Xander could respond, he sent off a powerful cutting curse that shattered Xander’s shield and left a thin red line along Xander’s arm. Xander bunched up his sleeve against the cut, trying to stop the bleeding, while Snape continued speaking. “Were this a real battle, you would be dead right now, Harris. You seem unaware that actions have consequences, which is utterly unsurprising given the company you keep.”
After ignoring his taunts all session, Xander finally rose to the bait. “Angel knows more about consequences than anyone,” he said quietly.
“If he truly understood consequences, he would kill himself and spare the world the trouble,” Snape said, dismissive. He had his wand raised to cast another curse when he suddenly froze.
Harry’s gaze swung quickly to Xander, but he saw no signs that the man had lost control. In fact, Xander seemed entirely focused, his magic drawn close, as he stalked up to the professor. Harry readied his wand, but Draco grabbed the tip and pushed it down. “Wait,” he whispered.
Harry shrugged, and didn’t cast, although he aimed his wand. Xander’s power beat against his skin, dark and unnatural.
“People like you gross me out,” Xander commented, as matter of fact as if he were discussing the weather. “You stand there and you brag about your dark magic, and then you tell me Angel should be dead. You glory in your clan’s past, unable to let things go, when it never occurs to you that you did something even worse to an innocent soul.”
The door banged open, and Angel and Faith ran in, coming to a sudden stop as they tried to make sense of what they were seeing.
“Yeah, innocent,” Xander repeated. “Liam was hardly a prize, for sure, but he had no blood on his hands. You took his departed soul and you chained it to a demon, and you congratulated yourself on a job well done. Meanwhile, Angel was trying not to walk into sunlight over deaths his soul had nothing to do with. Did it even occur to you guys that torment for the demon meant torment for the soul as well? Or did you just not care since it came from outside your clan?”
Harry looked at Angel, expecting him to go to Xander, but the vampire appeared too poleaxed by what he was hearing to move.
“And don’t even get me started on that out clause! Of all the idiotic, Xander-level stupidity there is in the world, that really tops it. Because that’s for the soul, isn’t it? I mean, I doubt the demon was real psyched about Angel getting a happy with the Slayer. But now Angel has to live with the knowledge that if he ever gets too happy, gets too close to anyone else, he could destroy everything. And then the demon would get what it wants.” Xander leaned closer to Snape, lowering his voice confidentially. “That’s a mind-fuck that Angelus would envy, my friend.
“So, yeah. You stand there and tell me Angel should dust himself, and you know what I hear? A little boy crying because he’s losing big in the second chances ball game. Angel’s helped stop apocalypses. Compared to him, you’re in the minor leagues.”
The sense of power rushing through the room stopped as Snape stumbled, suddenly released from his paralysis. He and Xander stared at each other for a long moment. “Get out,” Snape whispered.
Turning to leave, Xander stiffened when he saw Angel. He lifted his chin and strode out without a word. Snape hurried into his office and slammed the door, while everyone else stood stupidly.
“Bloody fuck,” Harry swore once he was sure both men were out of earshot. “That wasn’t like the other times.”
Draco shook his head. “No, Xander was quite in control here. Impressive, really.”
“That’s why you didn’t want me to stop him,” Harry realized. “You were curious.”
Draco lifted a shoulder in a one-sided shrug. “We need to know what he’s capable of.”
“Hang on,” Angel interrupted. “Xander knew what he was doing?”
“And what he was saying,” Draco replied, cutting to the heart of the matter.
“Boytoy’s got a way with words,” Faith said, impressed. She glanced at Angel. “How’s it going, Angel?”
Angel turned to her with a perfectly blank expression. “He was standing up for me,” he told her, as if she hadn’t been standing right there when it happened.
Faith nodded slowly, giving him an odd look. “Yeah. I noticed.”
“I should…” Angel gestured vaguely toward the door, and wandered out.
“In a fair world, those two would be making the beast with two backs right now,” Faith commented. Draco made a face, and Harry could feel himself blush. She put her hands on her hips, and gave both wizards a speculative look. They shifted uncomfortably.
“What?” Draco snapped, earning a wide grin.
“Just enjoying the view,” she said sweetly.
Harry exchanged a look with Draco, who muttered something about checking on Snape and all but ran into the office. Faith’s grin grew toothier. “And then there were two,” she said.
“I’ve got to go talk to Albus,” Harry lied, and fled.