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Chapter 15: These Soul Wounds
Tanith didn’t make Gabriel scream with surprise when she was discovered as a pile of blankets on his couch. Because it wasn’t Gabriel who discovered her, it was Jen, and she swore loud enough to wake the dead when the bundle on her sofa moved.
‘Merlin fucking wept!’
There was a whimper from the pile of blankets, and Tanith pulled them up over her head. ‘Nrglebargh.’
‘Cole?!’ Jen clutched at the counter. ‘What the ever-loving hell are you doing here?’
‘You’re in my flat!’ Jen seemed more astonished than indignant, but her outrage at seven in the morning was enough to summon a bedraggled Gabriel from the bedroom, wrapped in his girlfriend’s dressing gown.
‘Are you insulting the toaster again?’ He stood in the doorway and blinked at the couch. ‘Morning, Tanith.’
‘Can you get me a coffee, love? Looks like I’m up anyway.’
Jen narrowed her eyes at him, but went to the kitchenette anyway. ‘You knew she was here?’
‘Nope. But I do want a coffee.’ Gabriel went to sit down on the armchair next to the sofa, and Tanith tried to burrow into the couch’s stuffing. ‘I’m a Seer. You have to practice not looking surprised when things happen so people believe you’re all-knowing.’
Jen eyed the sofa suspiciously. ‘Did Katie bring you here?’
Gabriel leant back in the chair. ‘Did she then kick you onto the sofa for snoring?’
‘I think you deserved that one.’ Jen folded her arms across her chest. Tanith still hadn’t so much as lifted her head. ‘Are we going to get an explanation?’
There was a pause as the undead bundle that was Tanith Cole tried to summon coherent words for the first time in many hours. ‘Try again,’ she slurred, ‘after lunch.’
Jen rolled her eyes and set about making hot drinks and breakfast, and Gabriel slunk over to perch down by the sofa, nearer her head. His voice dropped, legitimately concerned. ‘What happened?’
One brown eye popped open, baleful at the intrusion into failing efforts at sleep - baleful at the world in general. ‘I broke up with Toby.’
‘So you decided to kill your liver?’ Gabriel reached out to squeeze her shoulder. ‘Come on. You can sleep in our bed for a few hours. This’ll do you no good.’
Jen kept her expression studied as Gabriel half-helped, half-dragged Tanith to her feet and ushered her into their bedroom. But when he emerged she had a mug of coffee waiting for him, and his expression was sombre.
‘I’ve never seen her like that before,’ he said quietly, taking the coffee.
‘What, hungover out of her skull?’ Jen hesitated. ‘Sorry. I should be more sympathetic.’
‘It’s nice we take turns being petty one,’ Gabriel said, leaning over to kiss her on the temple. ‘No, there’s more there. I know they’ve rowed, but this seems serious.’
‘Well, Katie’s not emerged, so it looks like they tried to drown the world’s problems with alcohol.’ She managed a wan smile. ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Go to work and not worry?’ Gabriel grimaced. ‘If Tanith’s here then I bet Cal’s with, or has at least seen Tobias, but if you could check up on him...’
‘I’ll find an excuse - at least, if he’s in the office. What’re you going to do?’
Gabriel glanced over his shoulder towards the bedroom door. ‘Send a note to my father, take the day off, and buy a shed-load of orange juice.’ He let out a deep breath. ‘And take the chance to repay some old favours.’
‘A little bird told me you might need this.’
Tobias looked up as the door to his office was pushed open by Jen. He looked like hell, and knew it; bags under his eyes, pale and drawn face. He’d not slept a wink, and was beginning to feel the physical effects of his stress almost as badly as the stress itself.
And, most infuriatingly of all, he couldn’t concentrate on his work. Work, which was the entire reason he was in this mess. Without it, what was he supposed to have?
Certainly not breakfast, but even though it was eleven in the morning Jen was still brandishing a paper bag which smelled convincingly of bacon.
His expression twitched. ‘Thanks, but I’m really not hungry.’
‘Have you eaten?’ She sat down in the chair across from him anyway, putting the bun on his desk.
‘No. I can’t.’
‘Just try. You’ve got to eat something.’
Without much enthusiasm, Tobias reached for the bun and took a mouthful. Even though he recognised it as being from the rather-good stall in the Ministry cafeteria, it tasted like cardboard to him. Without much relish he chewed and swallowed. ‘How’d you hear?’
‘Cole was passed out on our sofa when I got up. Gabe’s with her.’ Jen made a bit of a face. ‘I really am sorry. I knew you guys were struggling, but you seemed pretty happy when we had dinner, I thought you were past it.’
‘So did I.’ Tobias stared at the desk. ‘But I guess I’ve fucked up one time too many.’
Jen’s expression pinched. ‘I feel for Cole, too. I really do. But I know there’s no such thing as it being all one person’s fault in relationship troubles. At least, most of the time. Not in real life.’ She sighed. ‘And yet there seems to be something of a propensity for treating that girl like a sacred cow.’
‘It is a two way street,’ Tobias agreed. ‘Just my side’s got four lanes and a higher speed limit.’
The pureblood Jen Riley squinted at him, but seemed to get the gist. ‘Most of your friends are her friends too. But if you want to offload on someone who’s not going to ask you to be fair...’
He gave a wan smile, and tried another bite of the sandwich. ‘Thanks. I appreciate it. But I’m just... going to have to try to get on with things. With life.’ He gave a forlorn sigh. ‘It all seems so pointless.’
‘Nobody’s going to expect you to be full of vim and vigour. But at least you have things to do, things to focus on. The election’s probably going to take up a whole bulk of your time anyway.’
Tobias laughed humorlessly. ‘Isn’t that typical? We break up because of work, and now, I couldn’t care less about it?’
‘You will,’ Jen said gently. ‘You’ll remember why it matters.’
He picked at the bread of the bun. ‘You know, I think you’re the only friend I have who really understands why I’m here, why I do this. Oh, Cal’s supportive, and I’m grateful, but I think he kind of views this as... one of my mad-cap things.’
‘You and I have always been bigger picture kind of people.’ She tried for a reassuring smile. ‘I know it’s hard. But you’ll get through this, Toby. You’re smart, you’re capable, and once the worst of it’s over, you’ll remember that you’ve got a job you love, people around you who care about you, and every reason to keep on getting up in the morning.’
Tobias’ expression twisted. It wasn’t that he couldn’t intellectually see her point - but the words rang hollow, and he wasn’t sure that was just because he was still reeling, that some day he’d see her point.
I don’t want to go back to just living for my work. At least last time there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
I’ve just snuffed that light out.
‘Christ, we’re sounding like someone died.’ He set the bun down. ‘I appreciate the food, Jen, and the talk, and the thought. But I better finish off proof-reading these statements for the Minister.’
She stood, not entirely convinced but at least seeming like she’d accept it for now. ‘Okay. I’ve got court prep to do anyway; we finally set a date for Lackardy. You know where to find me?’
‘Sure.’ He forced a smile. ‘I’ll be fine, Jen.’
She looked a little reassured as she left, like she knew he wasn’t, but at least like she believed he could be.
That made one of them.
‘A trip to Azkaban! That makes everyone’s day brighter!’ Cal squeezed Tanith’s shoulder as they walked down the corridors of the illustrious institution. ‘You know you don’t have to be here.’
‘I do. Because you’re coming here, and I owe you that much.’ She gave him a wan smile, which was the most she’d managed over the past four days. ‘It’s fine. It’s not like there are Dementors here any more. I admit they’d stand a good chance of finishing me off.’
His gaze softened. ‘You’re still here.’
‘It’s a start.’ Her expression set.
‘How’s work been?’
‘We’ve got some leads. The apparition trace gave us a time-frame in a part of Diagon Alley, which is a bit like a needle in a haystack but we’re canvassing the area, trying to turn up something specific. We had a psych profile sorted, and we’re comparing it with old records... it’s a lot of annoying legwork for not as many results as we’d like.’ Tanith’s face twisted. ‘I just want to beat the next body.’
‘You think there’ll be one?’
‘If this is a serial killer lunatic, there’ll be another. If this is a vigilante lunatic, there are still plenty of targets left.’ She squared her shoulders. ‘But I’m okay. We’ll do the job.’
Cal chewed his lip. ‘Last time we were here,’ he said delicately, ‘Thanatos said something.’ She remained silent, and he took a deep breath. ‘Was it true?’
A long silence met his question, and when she spoke, her voice was more dull and empty. ‘I didn’t have a choice.’
Somehow it sounded less like an excuse, and more like an even greater condemnation.
He exhaled heavily. ‘Holy hell, Tan - who knows about this?’
Tanith’s eyes flashed. ‘Me. Vaughn, a few others in the MLE - there was an inquiry for all of us who were in the office during the war. You. And that’s it.’
She didn’t need to say the rest. And that’s how it’s going to stay.
‘Did Jacob know?’
‘Jake was there.’ Her shoulders hunched in a little.
They turned the last corner before the visiting room, and he stopped, grabbing her by the arm to pull her to face him. His expression went earnest, gaze searching her face for some sort of reaction, even though he knew she’d learnt a long time ago how to bluff him. ‘You do know the war’s over, right?’
‘I’m not an -’
‘So why’re you walking around almost as tightly buttoned-up as you were when we fought?’ She looked indignant, but despite his sympathy he didn’t have the patience for it, and surged forwards. ‘Jesus, Tanith, you might have a leg to stand on with Tobias not sharing things with you, but - you want an honest relationship? You don’t walk around with these soul wounds hidden from someone you love.’
She yanked her arm back. ‘That’s incredibly rich,’ Tanith sneered, ‘coming from you. When did you tell Nat about what happened during the war? About Perkins?’
Cal clamped his jaw and forced himself to calm down before answering. She was hurt, he knew that, and this wasn’t about him. And even if her accusation was a punch in the gut, just as she’d intended it to be, he could use it. ‘I didn’t,’ Cal said. ‘And she’s gone. Bit of cause and effect going on right there - use me as a damn cautionary tale, if you want.’ His expression twisted. ‘And Perkins was drugging me with a low-dosage love potion, and fuck you for using that one against me.’
So maybe he wouldn’t entirely take the high road.
His words had struck home, he knew, but he also knew Tanith was in no state to apologise. She looked away. ‘Tobias never asked what happened.’
‘And I bet anything you never offered.’
‘Just as well, isn’t it?’ Tanith scowled. ‘Because he was only going to let me down anyway.’
‘Let you down. Or leave you. Or die. That’s what people do to you, isn’t it?’ Her eyes flashed, and so again he pushed on to cut her off. ‘I know I did - you couldn’t trust me because of what happened with me and Tobias, and then you couldn’t trust me because of Perkins, and I did let you down. And then there was Jacob, and you could rely on him, but he died. And Altair. And maybe even your father let you down by getting locked up. But the war’s over.’
‘Tobias still -’
‘I’m not talking about you and Tobias, I’m talking about you. If you can’t trust Tobias to put you first in his life, that’s your right, and God knows he’s had a bucketload of chances to blow. But you - I know the world has lashed out at you a lot, but it’s lashed out at all of us a lot. And if you keep living like you’re bracing yourself for the next blow, then that won’t be living.’
She hesitated, and despite her adeptness at lying he knew his words had struck home, knew they’d leave an impact.
And knew that if she turned to someone, it wouldn’t be him.
‘Where’d you learn that kind of fortune cookie wisdom?’
‘From a friend of mine who ripped me to shreds one night for being a fucking idiot. She kicked me when I was down, and I both deserved it and needed it. Where the hell did you learn what a fortune cookie is?’ The last question came tumbling out alongside his vehemence, full of bewilderment.
Tanith looked down the corridor and he knew he wasn’t going to get an answer. ‘We’re using up appointment time.’
‘That’s fine,’ said Cal flatly, though he did resume heading for the door. ‘You come above Thanatos on my priority list. But shit like that little bit of evasion right there? That’s exactly what I’m talking about.’
She didn’t answer, and he knew she didn’t need to, because then they were at the door to the visiting room and he had to think not about her, but about Thanatos. About himself.
He wasn’t even sure why he was here again.
Thanatos was sat as he’d been before, still in his shackles, hands resting on the broad table in the visiting room. His gaze was numb, unseeing for the split second before he registered their arrival, and the transition in his eyes was noticeable. Like there was a spark in emptiness.
It would have been warming if he knew he wanted to make Thanatos Brynmor feel better.
‘I wasn’t sure you’d come back,’ his father said.
‘Neither was I,’ said Cal, and went to sit down as Tanith leant against the wall. He silently prayed she wouldn’t be antagonised again; if nothing else, if she really wanted to hurt Thanatos he wasn’t sure he could hold her back. ‘How’ve you been?’
It was a stupid, mundane question, but he thought he saw Thanatos’ lips twitch under his beard. ‘In Azkaban.’ He leant back. ‘Now at least there’s Albert Nott to keep me company. Shakes things up when there’s someone new. Though he was always a miserable git, and recent events haven’t improved matters.’
‘I would think not.’
‘How’ve you been?’
Cal hesitated. ‘My co-Beater and mentor got Player of the Match last Saturday.’ He’d been proud to have helped Sam get there. ‘We’ve got a game in Norway next week. Trondheim.’
‘The old rivalry?’
It burnt him that his father would know about the traditional game between Puddlemere and Trondheim, played once a year, dating back a thousand years. He didn’t know if Thanatos would have known normally or if he’d shown a greater interest in Puddlemere because he played for them. Either way it felt intrusive, even if he’d volunteered the information. ‘That’s right.’
‘Good luck. I’ll have to sweet-talk my way to a copy of the Prophet, read the match report.’
It was too much. Too much like normalcy. Cal lifted his hands. ‘I didn’t - I didn’t come here to talk about Quidditch.’
‘All right.’ Thanatos planted his huge palms on the table. ‘What did you come here to talk about?’
‘What do you want from me?’
The question came tumbling from his lips, almost unbidden, and certainly not with the poise Cal had hoped for. He’d thought about this for days, thought about how he was going to handle it, and in his head he had always been far more composed, had always come sidling up to try to coax the truth out of Thanatos. Not just bluntly, clumsily asking him.
And yet his father cocked his head. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Me. Here. You clearly want to see me. Why?’
Thanatos blinked. ‘Because you’re my son. Because you are the last link I have to the world. Because I love you.’
Cal made a small noise of frustration in the back of his throat. ‘That’s it? You just want me to... to stop by, every once in a while, and tell you about my Quidditch games?’
‘And anything else you want to talk about,’ Thanatos said mildly. ‘Girls. Family. Friends.’
Cal worked his jaw noiselessly, bewildered. ‘Why?’ he said again.
‘For good or for ill, every endeavour I committed my life to is ashes and dust,’ was the calm reply. ‘Except for you. So long as you, my flesh and blood, remains in this world, I am never defeated, I am never undone.’
He associated Thanatos so thoroughly with the worst of principles, motivations, and moral codes that the idea his sheer existence meant those were not dead made him sick to his stomach. ‘You are defeated,’ he snapped. ‘Nothing that you fought for means anything to me. I thought I had made that abundantly clear.’
‘You did. You have.’ Thanatos looked away. ‘You might understand, one day. When you’re a father yourself. I know you don’t carry my principles with you, my thoughts with you, my goals with you.’
‘I carry nothing of you with me.’
‘But you do.’ His voice was so mild as to be infuriating. ‘You stand like me. You walk like me. You sound like me. You look like me.’ Thanatos looked across the room at Tanith, who was stood with her arms folded across her chest. ‘You’re trained to look for these things. You know I’m right.’
Cal looked at her with a start, and Tanith jerked as she was addressed - but even though she didn’t answer, her gaze met Cal’s. Her silence spoke volumes.
‘And it’s more than that. You have that same fire in you that kept me alive for years. You have that same drive in you which saw me through the darkest days. It saw you through the darkest days. You might hate me, and you might hate the things I did in my life, but you cannot deny I was good at what I did.’
This time Tanith did make a sound, a sort of strangled objection which she swallowed. Cal couldn’t deny he was glad of the interruption, the distraction, but still Thanatos kept talking.
‘The lessons etched in your heart might have been put there by Rayner, and might have been hardened by experiences which have nothing to do with me - which are the antithesis of everything I thought and fought for. But your potential to achieve all you could achieve?’ Thanatos’ smile was small and achingly, achingly sad. ‘A part of that is me.
‘That is how I can never be destroyed so long as you live. And that is enough for me, it truly is.’ Thanatos opened his hands. ‘But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like it if you could find a place in your life for me. However small and fleeting. However occasional. Because accepting, properly accepting, that I’m your father doesn’t mean you have to accept anything that I did - nor does it undermine the people who shaped who you are.’
For the second time Cal found himself just bursting out of the room without anything resembling a farewell, and for the second time Tanith tore out with him. But this time there was just silence in the corridors, a silence filled by the ringing of Thanatos’ words in his ears.
This time there was nothing which either anger or tears could dismiss.
‘I don’t know how a single person could have believed I wanted to be there,’ said Jen, carefully tugging out her dangling earrings the moment she and Gabriel were through the door. ‘I haven’t stood in a room with so many closed-minded, conservative bigots since... since...’ She waved a hand. ‘Since we broke into Canary Wharf.’
‘So they only let you visit Death Eaters by the dozen in Azkaban?’ Gabriel said mildly, closing the door behind him and looking around the flat. ‘Looks like Katie’s not back.’
‘She’s an Auror on a high-profile investigation. I expect we’re going to see a lot of late nights from her.’ Jen made a noise of frustration as she set her earrings down on the kitchen counter. ‘I should have been having a late night.’
Even though Gabriel had not expected the evening to be a thrill a minute, he couldn’t help but feel a small stab of insult at her dismissal. ‘I know the Lackardy case is coming up, but are you really that busy?’
She made a face. ‘I wouldn’t be. Except that Tom has been outright useless lately. It’s like he’s lost absolutely all enthusiasm now we’re done with the Inner Circle cases. He keeps saying he’s going down to the MLE to go through their records, and I would expect that to take a lot of time if we’re to get the nuances of each minor accusation just right...’
‘But he’s not getting it just right?’
‘No. I don’t know what he’s doing down there. Dossing off with friends, I can only assume.’
Gabriel quirked an eyebrow. ‘Not behaviour I’d expect from Tom Everard.’
‘The war changes everyone.’ Jen sighed, leaning against the kitchen counter. ‘Even Tom. He’s just been quieter, surlier. More antagonistic. So, so angry every time we’ve had to make a compromise in any case. He doesn’t understand that sometimes sacrifices need to be made to get to the end.’
‘He never did,’ Gabriel reminded her, padding over. ‘He was always one of the loudest voices in favour of doing something morally righteous and incredibly stupid. And he always knew you’d stop him.’
She paused, and he knew what she was thinking - that he’d not always been one of the loudest voices. He’d only taken on that mantle when Nick and Cormac had died.
‘I’m sorry tonight wasn’t great,’ he said, keen to change the subject, even if it wasn’t to an ideal subject. ‘I guess the Bulstrodes weren’t ever going to throw the kind of party which would be your scene.’
‘It shouldn’t be your scene, either. You don’t subscribe to all of this pureblood rot, Gabe! These ridiculous “I’m-not-a-bigot-but-they-should-all-go-back-to-where-they-came-from” diatribes. The idea that our traditional wizarding values are being undermined by Minister Shacklebolt’s new, improved equality laws. These -’
She was in full flow by then, hands in the air, voice raised, a full-on righteous rant the kind of which he could usually just kick back and admire, because watching her in full swing was like watching a battleship launch and he loved her for it. But she also wasn’t too lost to not recognise it in herself, and subsided, sagging. ‘You know what I mean.’
‘I do,’ he said, and stepped forward to catch her hand. ‘But Daedalus is right; these are exactly the kind of people who need watching. Some of the old families have lost their prestige from sailing too close to Thicknesse, but some of them haven’t, and some of them have slipped out of the way, and plenty of them will try to use their influence - influence that Muggle-born and half-blood families don’t have - to maintain the status quo that keeps them on top.’
Her lips twitch. ‘You really have learnt to speak my language, haven’t you?’
‘If it convinces you, yes.’ He gave a nod that was half a self-mocking bow.
‘It doesn’t,’ she said. ‘I mean, Daedalus might be right, but I still don’t think you should do it. Not just because our democracy might be flawed but it is still their right to do these things without being spied on - but I don’t think you should live this kind of double life. Pretending to be the good son of Abidan Doyle, the good pureblood boy, with the good pureblood attitudes.’
‘I don’t care, especially, what people think about me,’ said Gabriel, shrugged. ‘I gave up on that a long time ago. My reputation would be a small price to pay.’
Jen hesitated, biting her lip. ‘I don’t want to do it.’ She finally looked sheepish and dropped her gaze. ‘I don’t want the kind of life where we put one face on in public and another one on in private. I don’t want to go to parties with these people, act like I at least don’t disagree with their bigoted rot, and then remember what they say to use it against them. I think we fought so we didn’t have to spend our lives in the shadows any more, and so nobody had to watch their words in private.’ She stared at him for a long moment, worried and apprehensive, and her expression only shifted towards confusion when he gave a small nod.
‘Okay?’ She frowned.
‘Okay.’ He stuck his hands in his pockets. ‘If you don’t want it, we won’t do it. Because I fancy that reluctance would also extend to not wanting to have me off doing these things, not wanting that to be a part of our relationship, and you wouldn’t be wrong to not want that. So I won’t do it.’
She drew a sharp, cut-off breath. ‘You’d just... decide to... not.’
‘It’s called compromise, love.’ He gave a lopsided smile. ‘I know you don’t approve of Daedalus Cole’s offer in general. And you’re right - if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it my way. If he wanted to do it by putting up with those people and living a lie to everyone, including his own daughters, then that’s his choice. But I’m not him; my life’s not his.’
Jen hesitated. ‘It’s not mine, either.’
He stepped in, hands coming to her waist, touch warm, possessive. ‘It really is.’ He smirked as he saw her breath quicken, unable to not feel a surge as he saw the effect he could have on her. ‘There is one thing I won’t miss from those parties, though.’
She cocked her head slightly, awkwardly, clearly not having expected this direction. ‘Oh?’
His smile became more devilish. ‘I could do without half the men in the room being unable to take their eyes off you.’
Jen gave a small, genteel snort. ‘Hardly.’
‘Oh, please. You don’t even need to open your mouth to out-shine other people at these sorts of parties, but when you do, you blind them.’ She shivered as he lowered his head to kiss her jaw, just under her ear. ‘You blind me.’
‘Just as well... we don’t need to go to these parties any more,’ Jen managed to say, rather distracted from keeping up with the banter.
He grinned as he leant forwards, pinning her against the kitchen counter. ‘There was still something satisfying about seeing them look at you like that and knowing that, at the end of the night, it’s my bed you’ll be in.’
‘I do believe,’ she murmured, fingers burying themselves in his hair, in his shirt, defiant despite it all, ‘you’ll find I paid for that bed.’
In the end they didn’t even make it that far.
They did crawl there eventually, because Katie being late didn’t mean Katie wouldn’t show up, and Gabriel still didn’t know what “heteronormative” meant and he didn’t like having words thrown at him he didn’t understand. And Jen had protested, at some point, that her dress was expensive enough it couldn’t just be left in a pile on the floor, though he thought that was an excellent place for it under the circumstances.
‘Fine,’ he said, once they were lounging back on the bed in a tangle of sheets and limbs. ‘But I paid for the sofa.’
She patted his hand, sleepy and content. ‘That wouldn’t make for as good a pick-up line, love.’