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Beyond This Place by Slide
Chapter 10 : Completely Unnecessary Optimism
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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They'd not closed his curtains, so they were woken up by the sunlight creeping through into his bedroom. Tanith woke first as it landed on her face, stirring with a sound of small irritation, then rolled over to burrow her face in Tobias' shoulder.

Nor had they undressed properly, she remembered, because there was still a shirt where his shoulder should be, and she was still wearing the ridiculous and uncomfortable contraption Ariane had foisted upon her the other night.

It had been the least of many evils, however.

'Mm, where's my wand?' Tobias mumbled, moving only to reach out an arm to fumble on his bedside table.

'On the sofa. I took it out your pocket so you wouldn't break it. Mine's in the bathroom,' Tanith muttered unhappily, then burrowed deeper under the covers. 'Make it go 'way.'

'Hang on.' Tobias rolled away and she made another noise of protest, but he only moved to the edge of the bed so he could grab his staff, propped up against the wall. It was a clumsy, languid motion with which he waved it at the curtains, but it was enough, and they were cast into the gloom again. 'And this is why Muggle society will fail.'

'Because they've got to get out of bed when they're in these situations?'

'Pretty much.' He rolled over to face her, propping his head in his hand. '...hey.'

She kept her face buried in the pillow. 'Hey what?'

His smile was soft and languid. 'Just hey. Like, good morning.'

'It's early.'

'You are not a morning person.'

This did get her peeking up, gingerly, at him. 'How're you feeling?'

'Better for rest. But, um. I might have to ask you to go fetch my cane. I don't fancy trying to get up on my own.'

He looked pained, and she reached out to rest a hand on his chest, pushing him back down gently. 'You mean you're trapped in bed with me until I let you out?' She grinned.

Tobias returned the smile, and to her relief she felt him relax. 'I guess I can live with that. I don't have to be anywhere for a little bit, anyway. The Minister absolutely forbade me from coming in before 10.'

She made a face. 'It's a Saturday.'

'And yesterday was a huge day,' he pointed out. 'Besides, you don't get Saturdays off. Don't you have to be in soon?'

'I'm not in this morning,' Tanith said. 'I'm going with Cal to Azkaban later.'

'Oh,' he said, and she felt like an idiot as she considered yet another topic that had gone thoroughly undiscussed. The perils of spending nine months a thousand miles apart.

'So,' she said, giving a smile and leaning over him, letting her hair dangle in his face, 'I'm going to make the most of this time.' His expression turned pained, just like she'd expected, and he went to answer with some apology, as if she cared that he wasn't up to physical exertion, as if just having this morning with him wasn't a gift in itself, and she cut him off with a quick kiss. 'I'm going to find one of your shirts to wear. Something more comfortable than this silly thing. And then I'm going to raid your fridge and make you breakfast in bed.'

He smiled a genuine smile, and she relaxed. So long as she could keep on making him smile like that, he couldn't be that bad. 'I'm beginning to see the advantages of being bed-bound.'

'Oh,' she said, sliding out of bed with a grin. 'This really is just the beginning.' Then she sauntered over to his drawers, taking her time, and smiling a slightly silly smile to herself.

The teasing was turning out to be almost just as much fun after all.


* *


'So you're awfully chirpy this morning.'

'God knows why,' sighed Tanith, peering at the grey skies, the grey seas, and the ominous rock shape that protruded from the waves with an unnatural crudeness. 'Considering we're here.'

'That's what I meant,' said Cal, patting her on the shoulder. 'You're chirpy considering we're at Azkaban.' He kicked at the dirt underfoot, sent pebbles scattering and dancing to the edge of the cliff. 'Does pickup usually take this long?'

'At least it's not Dementor pickup. Let's count our blessings.'

'See?' Cal's grin broadened. 'Optimism. Completely unnecessary optimism. This is what I'm talking about. So.'

She peered at him. 'So...?'

'So, why? Might have something to do with you not being home last night and taking the spare key to Tobias'?' He nudged her with his elbow, and couldn't help but smile even more when he saw colour rise to her cheeks.

'Might have,' mumbled Tanith, unusually coy. 'It was nice, we -'

'I don't need details, God,' said Cal, with self-aware melodrama.

'Nothing happened,' she said, and sighed wistfully. 'He was a bit beaten up after the attack yesterday. We just talked, and slept.'

'Just talked and slept,' he repeated, and gave his own exaggerated sigh. 'Am I going to have to get you two another reservation at the Golden Fork?'

'I won't stop you. Just no more complimentary bottles of champagne, okay?'

'I was trying to help.'

'Do I look like I need your help?'

He paused, eyes narrowing. 'No good way to answer that, is there?' He lifted his hands in defeat. 'Fine. Fine. I won't help. Continue to be sex-less and frustrated.'

'I'm not taking advice from the single man.'

'"Single" doesn't mean "sex-less". Oh, hey, look, our ride.' Cal gave a grin that belied his nerves as he spotted the shapes swooping through the cloudy skies towards them, and was relieved when Tanith returned the smile.

'This isn't over.' She gave his shoulder a squeeze, mock-threatening and reassuring all at once.

He let out a deep, calming breath, and nodded. 'Dodged the bullet for now, though.'

The Azkaban Wardens took them across on their over-sized brooms. He'd never flown into the prison before; the last time he'd been here had been for the breakout, and they had flagrantly disregarded the security protocols by apparating directly to the island. They weren't supposed to do that on official business, apparently. And he hadn't been in a hurry to come to the place legitimately.

He stayed silent through the journey, mostly because he found the flight invigorating and wanted to harness as much of that good feeling as was possible. He was going to need it to get through this visit. And when they landed he let Tanith take the lead, let Tanith get them through the front doors and through the security procedures, where they took his wand off him and made it clear that under no circumstances was he to have physical contact with the prisoner.

That suited him just fine.

The Dementors were gone, but that only marginally improved the spirit of the place. It was still huge and imposing and unpleasant, and he still remembered crouching in this hallway next to Tobias, more scared and defeated than he'd ever felt in his life as the creatures swept down upon them. Tanith didn't look much happier, and he supposed that at least he'd never visited under how the prison had been before - and he'd never been locked up in it.

They were led through, at last, to the visiting room. Minister Shacklebolt had tried to improve conditions, but so far hadn't got much further than removing the Dementors and letting some plaster and paint tidy the facility. In this room, at least, the walls weren't bare stone any more, but a cold, stark white. He wasn't sure if it was any better.

And there, sat behind a table which he was shackled to by his ankles and wrists, sat his father.

Cal wasn't sure if returning to Azkaban or the loss of the war had dealt the bigger impact to Thanatos. Either way he was thinner than he'd been when he'd seen him last, tied up in the hallway at Canary Wharf. He'd grown a beard, thick and bedraggled, which hid his sunken cheeks, but those eyes - the dark brown eyes they shared, though Cal's had been described was "warm" and "chocolate" and generally like a pleasant piece on a dessert menu, while Thanatos' earnt words like "pitiless" and "abyssal" - those eyes, they remained as dark as ever.

But weary, now. Worn. Defeated.

Thanatos straightened with surprise at the sight of him - and then stiffened at the sight of Tanith, who slid into the room behind Cal and shut the door carefully. 'Caldwyn.'

There was only one person in the world he liked calling him by his full name, and it certainly wasn't his father. 'Thanatos.'

'I thought it would be my lawyer. The man was so useless I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't realised I was re-convicted five months ago.'

'It doesn't matter how good or bad he was,' said Cal, brow furrowing. 'You were guilty as sin.'

Inexplicably, Thanatos smiled. It was a small, humourless smile, but it wasn't cold or insincere. 'That's correct. It's good to see you.'

'I wish I could say the same,' grumbled Cal, and he went to sit stiffly in the chair opposite.

'And you, Cole. I see you're still in the uniform.'

Tanith didn't move from the door, leaning against the wall. 'I'm here because Cal asked me to be, Brynmor. Nothing more, nothing less.'

'Then if she's only here because you're here, and you don't want to be here, why are you here?' Thanatos' flinty gaze turned on Cal, who squirmed under it.

'I'm not sure,' he admitted. 'I guess I can't just let you be locked up in here forever and then forget you exist.'

'Can't you?' Thanatos quirked an eyebrow. 'You didn't make it to my trial. I haven't seen you since...' He gave a slow, pained smile. 'Since you shot me.'

'You were going to kill Will.'

'That's right.' He nodded. 'And you stopped me. I didn't expect it.'

'Didn't expect being shot at all, or didn't expect that I would shoot you? Because if you wondered, even for second, what the outcome would be when I had to choose between you and Will...'

'Then I was a fool,' said Thanatos calmly. 'I know that now.'

Cal's jaw dropped. 'Are you saying sorry? Or... or that you were wrong, or - are you crazy? Has being in here finally driven you crazy?' He hesitated. 'Crazier?'

Thanatos opened his manacled hands. 'It's given me time to think.'

'And fifteen years wasn't enough time before?' Cal growled.

'The Dark Lord wasn't gone then.' Thanatos leant forward, palms on the table, gaze darkening. 'I believed. I persevered. I endured. That's how I kept my mind. And then, I was rewarded. He came for us, freed us, and -' He stopped, abruptly, jerking as if the train of thought had pained him. 'And now he is gone. Now, we have lost.'

'Yeah, welcome to the same page as the rest of Britain. What's your point? That now you're questioning your wicked ways?'

'I know you have always rejected this. But I did what I did - everything - for you, and for your future.'

Cal tensed. 'Don't you dare. Don't you dare pretend that this was for my good. And don't give me this "necessary evil" bullshit either; I know the truth. You liked doing it. You liked the killing, you liked the torture, you liked the power it gave you, the control it gave you. Maybe, maybe, if I am feeling generous, I can imagine you joined You-Know-Who out of some sense of idealism, perhaps even including making the world "better" for your family. But that's not where it ended.'

'Are you so sure?' Thanatos lifted his gaze to Tanith. 'She knows the truth.'

Tanith twitched. 'If you think I might help you in this,' she said tersely, 'then you have picked the wrong crowd. He's condemning you and he never even saw you in action. I did. I remember what you were like. I remember the spark of satisfaction in your eye when you tortured someone, or when you killed them.'

'Do you?' Thanatos tilted his head half an inch. 'Was it anything like the spark of satisfaction in your eye when you killed Nick Wilson?'

Cal looked at Tanith, shocked - but then she wasn't by the door any more, she was flying towards Thanatos as if she'd rip him apart with his bare hands, and Cal had to leap to his feet and grab her at the elbow to stop her.

'You made me do that, you son of a bitch!' she roared, but didn't struggle against Cal's grip with more than a desperate tug. 'You know you made me do that, you know you gave me no choice. So don't talk about your necessary evil when you did that to me, and when you killed him - even if he was your enemy, you could have locked him in here!'

'Tanith!' He almost let her go. Almost let her fly at his father and tear him limb from limb, almost thought he'd deserve it. It certainly wasn't out of affection for Thanatos that he stopped her, and after a few seconds she calmed in his grip, though her eyes burnt. 'Do you want to swap with a -'

'No, I'm fine.' She shook off his grip and slunk back to the door, gaze baleful. 'I'll stay. So long as he doesn't say another word to me.'

Cal looked sharply at Thanatos. 'You'll behave,' he commanded. 'Otherwise she's not just gone - I'm gone. And I won't be back.'

Thanatos bit his lip, but lifted his hands. 'So be it. My point was... anything you think that you might know about me, and how I felt about the things I did - you're wrong. Or, you're attributing to malice what is nothing more than a natural, human reaction. We are not peaceful creatures. You've never taken a life. You don't understand.'

Cal thought he saw Tanith twitch again, but he sat back down, letting out a deep breath. 'I didn't come here to debate what you did, Thanatos,' he said levelly. 'I came here to say goodbye. For good. I have my own life now, a good one, and you're no father of mine. You've never been a father to me. You have nothing to do with my existence, and you never have, and you never will.'

Thanatos' head had been bowing slowly as he'd talked, and by the time he'd finished he wasn't looking at him, just staring at the table. At last Cal felt a twist of guilt - and then felt sickened for feeling guilty for hurting a mass murderer's feelings.

'I hear you're playing Quidditch professionally,' Thanatos said at last, in as quiet and defeated a voice as Cal had ever heard from him. 'They let me read the paper a couple of times. I hear you're pretty good.'

Cal swallowed hard. 'First team for Puddlemere.'

'I played Quidditch at Hogwarts, you know.'

'I don't care,' he lied.

'Beater for Slytherin.' Thanatos lifted his head jerkily. 'But you knew that, didn't you. You went through the records. You found a picture. Probably us lifting the Cup back in '70. The one where we're hoisting Vance in the air because he scored so many goals it didn't matter that Hufflepuff got the Snitch -'

Cal's hands balled into fists. 'Shut up.'

'You went looking for it because you were curious, because aside from anything else I am still your father.' Thanatos planted his hands on the table, but his voice was desperate, almost begging now. 'I know Rayner looked after you, I know that... aside from anything else... he raised you to be strong. Principled. I won't argue those principles with you now, but I know you care about him and I know he... he cares about you, but he is not your father.'

'No.' Cal stood so suddenly he knocked his chair over, though he uttered the word as a denial not of Thanatos' words so much as the feelings bubbling up in him. 'You don't get to do this. You had every chance to listen to me, every chance to change your ways. Chances you didn't even deserve, and you didn't take them! You don't get to, now, when you have no other choice, get to pretend like you want to be something in my life on anything other than your own terms!'

He didn't even wait for a response, just turned on his heel and stormed to the door. Tanith had anticipated him and was holding it open, and he marched into the corridor, fists clenched tight enough to whiten his knuckles. The gloom of the stone corridor was inexplicably soothing, though he didn't even relax when he heard Tanith slam the door shut behind them.

'Damn him,' she was cursing, and he remembered she'd had her own anger to bottle up. 'Don't you listen to him, Cal, he is a hateful, hateful man, vicious and vindictive and you owe him nothing - you are nothing like him -'

'Tanith...'

He'd wanted her to stop talking, to stop repeating words he knew were true but burnt within him. And he succeeded, but only because his voice wavered and broke, and she moved from the door to his side.

Just her hand on his arm was enough. He turned to face her, a ball of tension and grief exploding as he pulled her to him. There was a small noise of surprise from her, but then she wrapped her arms around him as his shoulders shook and he bowed his head and wept for the lost boy he'd been - the lost boy still within him - who'd wanted to know his father.

And for the man he'd become who'd gone on to find out who his father really was.


* *


'That wasn't so bad,' said Gabriel as he closed the door behind the departing shape of his friends. But he phrased it as a question, and looked bashfully across the flat at Jen, who was depositing dirty dishes in the sink with a flick of the wand.

'It was nice,' she said, and he relaxed a little, going to help her with the debris of their evening's revelry. 'I would have thought talking politics with Cole was doomed to fail. I thought she'd be voting for Harrigan.'

'She may be, but I don't think that has anything to do with politics.' Gabriel grinned, and went to pour the remains of the last bottle of wine into their two glasses. 'Besides, Tobias has mellowed her out. She used to be much more conservative.'

'I believe you. Besides, she is an Auror. I shouldn't be too surprised the various extended powers for the MLE would meet with her approval. It makes her job easier.' With a sigh, Jen grabbed the half-full glass of red wine and collapsed onto the sofa, the washing up a world easier with a wand to help.

'You must be,' he said, joining her, 'the most anti-government government official I have ever met.'

'I'm not anti-government,' Jen protested. 'I just favour accountability. A fair and transparent and just system. And I don't think, in this world, that one can demand such a thing too strenuously. We might have just come out of a totalitarian dictatorship, but that almost makes people complacent. They won't stand for huge injustices, but they're still scared about outside threats, they still want to feel safe, and after someone could get murdered in the streets for speaking against the government, minor restrictions of liberty don't necessarily seem so bad.'

He watched her as she talked, head propped on his hand against the sofa, more inclined to listen and marvel than engage - as had ever been the case. 'I guess this is why you're working for the Shacklebolt administration, then.'

'He's a good man,' Jen agreed. 'And he's got good people next to him who are fighting for the right things. The balance is tough, and I don't agree with all of it, but he's doing a better job than anyone else could. It's good to talk to Tobias about it; we agree on a lot, and he's got the Minister's ear. I know he got into this to keep him honest.'

'I sometimes wonder if he's still here for that,' said Gabriel, wrinkling his nose. 'I know Tobias. If he gets his teeth into a project he can sometimes not be able to see the wood for trees. You listen to him talk about this policy or that policy...'

'He's got a lot on his plate,' Jen said. 'But no, I didn't think he'd be looking to stick around in government, and then you hear him speak now - he's making plans for the future. It's a shame.'

'A shame?'

'Rumour had it the Clarion would be starting back up again just as soon as they got a new editor. I thought Tobias would be a shoo-in. He'd like it. He'd be good at it. This is the man who kept Voldemort's government on its heels; come Minister Harrigan or Minister Shacklebolt, I can't think of a better watchdog.'

Gabriel grinned at her. 'I can.'

She smirked and shook her head. 'I'm in Prosecution. Which should be renamed "circus show".' Her smile faded. 'There are so many days I'm losing track of why I'm doing what I'm doing...'

'Because these people need to be brought to account for what they've done.'

'For what they've done.' She nodded. 'Not what they haven't done. Or what we think they've done. Like this Lackardy case, it's completely doing my head in...'

Her brow furrowed as her voice trailed off, and he reached out to brush some hair from her face. 'Talk to me.'

'There are so many mishandlings of this case I don't know where to start,' she sighed. 'I get that they didn't want to make Cole wrap up the case since Van Roden died on it, but they should have done something better. Savage isn't interested in the truth, he's interested in a quick arrest. Probably interested in vengeance.'

'But Lackardy has been affiliated with Avery's lot, you've been gathering the proof of that.'

'I have. But the night of his arrest is so fuzzy. I've got Cole's files and they don't shed a jot of light on anything. I don't know if Lackardy's lying about having been chased from his flat by another Auror, but why would he lie? And he stumbled right into Cole and Van Roden; he had to be panicking, he's not an idiot.' She bit her lip. 'A good defence lawyer would rip this to shreds.'

'On procedure?' Gabriel cocked his head. 'I get that you want justice, love, but having the man walk free because the Aurors messed up some paperwork...'

'I don't mean walk free. He still needs to be charged for working with Avery. I mean the murder charge. And there are so many inconsistencies that I can only question what the hell happened that night. I certainly shouldn't be able to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that he killed Jacob Van Roden. But I will, before the Wizengamot.' She sighed. 'Because the truth's being left alone.'

'Why is it?'

'His defence lawyer is sleep-walking through the case; nobody wants to be seen to be trying too hard to protect war criminals. It makes people question their loyalty, because people are... stupid.'

'I know this lawyer,' said Gabriel suddenly, by now playing with an errant strand of her hair. 'She's really, really good. Lots of experience. Stands up for justice, fluffy kittens, that kind of thing. And she's a war hero, you know, so nobody's going to even begin to question her loyalty.'

She smiled at him, and despite her upset he couldn't help but feel better. After all, if she was smiling, the world couldn't be that bad. 'I'm the prosecution. I can't go looking for proof of his innocence, it would be unethical -'

'As opposed to sending him to prison for a crime he didn't commit?' His voice was gentle rather than accusing. 'I'm not saying stand up in court and argue with yourself - though it might be your best chance of getting a good case before the Wizengamot. I'm saying, if you've got doubts, look into it. Don't just sit and worry about it.'

Jen let out a deep, shaky breath, and nodded. 'You're right. Of course you're right.' She sighed. 'It's ridiculous. Of all people - Bernard Lackardy? You know he was on the team... the team that went with Brynmor to Gullsmere?'

Gullsmere. The place where Nick Wilson and Cormac McLaggen had been captured and executed. Gabriel blinked slowly. 'I didn't.'

'He was injured in the fight and taken to Saint Mungo's. So I guess he wasn't... there.' She shook her head. 'The reports on Gullsmere are about as succinct as you'd expect Death Eater reports to be. They fought. They were captured. They were killed.' Jen's breath caught as she inhaled sharply, and looked at him. 'So how's your new job going?'

He never thought that would be a conversation topic he'd be glad of, but any escape from Gullsmere was welcome. 'For the most part I'm just getting the office in order. Getting in some more staff, starting up some advertising, getting the name out there. Doyle & Son has a bit more weight to it than just... Doyle.'

'I'm surprised he changed the company name,' said Jen with no disguised distaste.

'He has to. He needs me, he needs my good name. Then he's got the best of both worlds, the elite status of our breeding, the progressive heroics of his son...' Gabriel's lip curled, and he felt himself tensing.

It was her turn to reach out for him, her hand coming to rub the back of his neck gently. 'If you wanted a job,' she said carefully, 'especially in law, I could have asked around.'

'I didn't want a job in law specifically, I...' He hesitated. 'I know I can't pretend like I didn't want help in getting ahead because working for my father is the very definition of nepotism. And I can't pretend I don't need it...'

'Don't be silly,' she said. 'You're smart, you're capable -'

'My NEWTs are A's or worse,' Gabriel said flatly.

'You had a lot on your plate in your last year -'

'You'd be surprised how few people that convinces, even if I can tell them what was going on.' His voice took on a tart, mocking tone. 'Tobias Grey managed to get all O's in his six NEWTs, and he was working out of Hogwarts as an Enforcer for the last six months and his girlfriend died...'

He wasn't entirely sure who he was mocking. The voices in his head, most likely; he'd avoided his father keenly enough for the topic of his average academic results to not come up, but the shadow of his friends' school achievements had fallen over him long enough for bitterness to rise. Rise high enough that not much was beyond knee-jerk mockery.

And then he glanced to his right and looked at Tobias Grey's dead girlfriend's best friend, her expression going stony. She withdrew her hand and he sat up. 'This may come as a surprise,' Gabriel said quickly, bashfully, 'but there are an awful lot of people who don't like me, and this kind of thing? Is why.'

'I'm trying,' Jen said tensely, 'to remember why I'm not amongst those people right now.'

'I'm sorry,' he said, trying to sound as earnest as he genuinely felt. 'That was a crass thing to say.'

'Are you sorry you said it, or are you sorry you happened to say it in front of me?'

He winced. Tanith wouldn't have given a damn. Cal might have frowned disapprovingly. Either way he wouldn't have thought twice about it. 'That's a fair question,' he conceded. 'I am - I have been trying to get better. To not deflect issues with humour, especially hurtful, to not hide things. They're instincts. They were... survival tactics.'

Jen had been going to stand, but she hesitated at this, expression wavering. Then she sat down, though her gaze didn't especially warm. 'Okay,' she said. 'So what have you been hiding?'

He blinked. 'What, in general, or...'

'There's been something on your mind. I don't know what the history between you and your father is, but I can make guesses, and none of the evidence suggests you'd happily go to him for a job. Not when you had alternatives. Something's going on, and I've been giving you the time to... I don't know. Tell me. But now's the time.' She watched him levelly, cautiously.

'You're right.' Gabriel slumped. 'It is. And I was gearing up to that before I decided to go and be a prick.' He hunched his shoulders, wishing he hadn't pissed her off before broaching this topic, but he didn't want to lie to her face. Evasion was something else, and that had been only a stalling tactic, or so he'd told himself. Either way, it had left a bad taste in his mouth.

No more hiding. Not from her.

'I was late back from the Tibet trip,' he said, 'because I was invited to go and see Daedalus Cole when I got back. I was curious, I knew you'd be in the office for a few more hours, so I went straight there. It took a little longer because I ran into Tanith, but also he had some... interesting things to say.'

She had settled, curious and confused, and stayed silent as he explained it. Daedalus' past. His offer of a job, or at least a duty. The need for access to wizarding high society.

'So that's where my father came in,' Gabriel said tensely. 'If nothing else, this... this job isn't going to pay for a living but it's going to need a lot of time. Working for my father, I have time, and not only will I get a salary but I stay on his good side enough to be able to draw on my family's wealth.'

Jen frowned. 'There are other ways to make the money...'

'Perhaps, but while the Doyle name carries some weight in high society still, my name doesn't. There's a reason my father and I need one another to make the business work - if we care about making the business work. Even his reputation can't destroy the name and prestige, but you have to be on the inside to make the most of it. And that's how Cole made his contacts, got his information. Networking. Communicating. Listening.' Gabriel rolled his shoulders. 'That's a lifestyle I'll need if I'm going to be able to do this as well as he did.'

She still looked a little stricken, and her gaze dropped to her hands. 'This is kind of a big deal to keep from me.'

'I've not made a decision yet,' said Gabriel.

'But you went to see your father. You're working for him -'

'I needed to know if it was possible, and in finding out it was, I was committed. If I don't choose this, I can leave, it's not like disappointing my father will be a novelty.' He looked away, his voice and throat tightening. 'I didn't want to have to explain him.'

'I don't know what's happened between you,' Jen repeated, and then she was beside him, her fingers wrapping around his hand. 'But I would bet the Office's budget that any explanation would reflect worse on him than on you.'

He gave her a wan, not insincere smile. 'You're sweet.'

'And I'm betting the last time you and he had much to do with each other on a remotely regular basis, you were a child - legally and emotionally.' She watched his expression, knowing she was right. 'I was there. I heard how he talks to you as a man, and I'm confident he didn't talk to you any more kindly as a boy.'

His hand twitched, gripping hers hard at the rush of emotion. The tension in his belly and throat, the simmering sense of shame and failure that he'd pushed away for so long, frozen away behind walls of ice. When she made him melt, those, too, came to the forefront.

'I'm still glad that you brought me with you,' Jen continued quietly. 'Because it answers so many questions. And it's why I forgive you for being a dickhead just then about Annie. I get... why you've been like that. Even if I think you're better than it, even if I think you can, and should, rise above it, and even if I'll kick your arse if you don't.'

He gave a short burst of a sad, pained smile, and lifted her hand to his lips as he bowed his head. 'I really am sorry.'

'I know. And I know you'll do better.' Her eyes studied his face as she pressed on. 'So I don't understand why you want to do this job of Daedalus Cole's.'

Gabriel frowned at her. 'It's important. It can help.'

'Lots of things can help, Gabe...'

'I know. But there's not much I can do which can help this much.' He gestured vaguely. 'I barely know how to use my visions still, and even if I do, what am I supposed to do with them to make them help? Run down to the Auror Office every five seconds? Even if they believe me...'

'You're more than just your visions,' she said stubbornly. 'And either way, I'm sure there are ways to use them which won't have anything to do with a way of life so utterly steeped in... deception, in lies.'

Gabriel winced a little. 'You don't approve.'

'Not really. Not of any of it. I appreciate Daedalus Cole might have contributed in the wars, doing what he did. That's spying on the enemy. But this is peace time - who's the enemy, that he needs you to go to dinner parties to keep an eye on?'

'You know as well as I do,' he said carefully, 'that there is political moving and shaking which operates behind the scenes, in the shadows of justice, and that old pureblooded families are the people who'll use those methods the most. The people who'll want to keep the institutions you're fighting to sweep away. And meeting them on that battlefield, being armed and equipped to waylay them or at least just know what they've got up their sleeves, is a tremendous advantage. And that's even setting aside the ones of them who're plopping funding in Avery's pocket, or worse.'

Her lips pursed, and he was confused. He was right, and she knew it, but there was still hesitation and reservation there. 'I don't like it,' she said at last. 'I don't like the idea that there's this powerful information network in the hands of one of the old families being used for whatever good he deems is necessary. I think that such a tool shouldn't just be in the hands of one man, and much as political manoeuvring is a reality, the idea of spying on this manoeuvring for the government is not actually reassuring.

'I trust you,' she continued, meeting his gaze. 'But I'm not sure there's anyone I'd feel comfortable doing this kind of thing. And I don't think it'd be good for you.'

'Good for me?'

'All the secrets, all the lies, all the deceptions.' Jen took a sharp breath. 'You don't put a bottle of whisky in front of an alcoholic.'

'I don't follow.'

She took his hand in both of hers, gaze ardent. 'I think you've spent a lot of your life hiding who you are, what you feel, and what you think. I think that you're getting better, slowly, but I don't think undertaking a duty where leading a double-life will be a basic necessity is a wise choice.'

'I haven't decided on anything yet,' Gabriel said openly, honestly. 'I wouldn't, not without talking to you. I'm sorry I got tangled up with my father before speaking to you, but like I said; that was exploring my options and I can walk out if I don't take Cole's offer.'

'And if you don't, however virtuous this job of Cole's might be, it still throws you into the path of that hateful man.' Jen's expression twisted. 'I am all in favour of families being close and the reconciliation of old differences, but that takes both sides and he doesn't even seem to care about what he did to you...'

He met her gaze and saw a hundred questions in her eyes he knew she wouldn't ask - but she didn't have to. They were there, and so was all of her trust, and love, but though it reassured it didn't make him any more inclined to crack open the vaults inside him and let her see it all.

'I haven't agreed to anything with Cole,' Gabriel said instead, squeezing her hand. 'And I won't without talking to you first. And I haven't even made my own decision yet.'

Jen nodded, though she still looked reluctant. 'I think there are a hundred better things you could do for the world, and a hundred better things you could do for yourself. I think you don't need this.'

'Of course I don't,' he said, and reached for her. 'There's nothing I need, because I have you.'


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