Chapter 2 : Albus: When the Damage is Done
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"The faster we get him home the better," Chris had snapped.
Secretly, I must admit I'm a little grateful; even if the ankle wouldn't having me passing out, the dizziness thanks to a banged up head feels like it's ready to take on the job. I'm just hoping I pass out on my couch, at least.
The house is empty, I know without really registering the thought in my head because I still have Lexi's note about going shopping after she's picked the kids up from school in my coat pocket, but Chris calls out her name anyway to check. Sure enough, silence is his greeting. Mumbling about bad friends and backache, Chris damn near drags me into the living room and drops me onto the couch, stretching his back until it clicks - I know he's a little taller than me and had to bend down a little, but honestly, does he have to be so dramatic?
"Stay," he mumbles at me, his hand outstretched as though you would a pet. I want to throw something at him, and I fully intend to, until I notice that the only things close to me are cushions and that won't hurt him enough for me to bother.
"Are you alright, Al?" Peter asks, concern clear on his face. It's gone the moment I nod my head. "Good. Then would you mind telling us what the hell you were doing?"
"Oh, I know what he was doing," Chris all but snarls in my direction. His glare is one he'd perfected during Auror training and would make many criminals squirm; fortunately, I know him too well for it have any effect because he would never really hurt me, which is the threat you pick up. "He's acting like a fucking idiot with his insane mission. You're going to get yourself killed. And then where would your family be? Your son is already scared of you leaving the house!"
"Do not bring Isaac into this," I warn him, dangerously close to hurting him, genuinely hurting him, for daring to go down this road. I hate this road. "I was following a lead in case and it went a little wrong. Sometimes it happens, but I can't just stop; this is my job."
"No, this is our job!" Chris shouts. "This case of your isn't your case, it's Louis'. You have not being hired by the Ministry, you are not an Auror or a Hit Wizard, you are a bounty hunter. Do your job."
I don't mention that I am technically an Auror, I have the qualifications and everything, left with the third highest marks, but I stop myself for two reasons: one, it would just bring back an old argument and I have no intention of going through that again; two, the front door opens before anyone else can open their mouths and Lexi is calling my name, her tone half hopeful and half disappointed - she wants me to be home, but she doesn't expect me to be.
"In the living room!"
Lexi pokes her head inside, her mouth open slightly the moment she spots me; I just wave in greeting, her hand copies like she's on autopilot.
Pushing past Lexi to get into the living room and shrugging off his coat so it lands in the middle of the floor, Isaac rushes toward me, his arms outstretched once he's close enough for me to reach him. I pull him up onto my knee, ignoring the sharp pain in my side as he balances his knees on top of my thighs and leans into me. I wrap my arms around him and hold him just as tight.
"Hey, dude. How was school?"
Obviously excited, enough for me to guess that he had a good day, Isaac pushes back and turns to rest against my chest, wriggling to get comfortable; I keep my eyes on him, not wanting Lexi and Chris to know that I spotted the look they shared before she leaves the room again, probably to bring in the shopping.
"We did numbers and I did the big sums," he starts, speaking as slowly as his excitement will let him to get the words out, but he eventually gives up and I turn him a little to the left so I can see his hands when he starts to sign about English, art and that he hates sitting out of PE.
"Soon," I promise him, ruffling his hair a little. "When you're feeling better."
His face falls so fast I swear I imagined him smiling.
"You didn't come to the 'pointment," Isaac whispers sadly, his head bowed to hide his face and I remember that I'd promised to take him, but I got a call about an hour before and had to work; thankfully, Lexi had just finished her meeting. I think back and it hits me that I can't remember the last time it was just me and Isaac for the day, or even more than an hour. And now I'm wondering if his excitement before was about me listening to him, not about school.
God, I'm such a dick.
I promise myself to change that when a huffing sound from near the door captures everyone's attention, including Chris' and Peter's - they stop whispering about me in the corner. Craig pokes his head in to wave at me, then turns to Lexi. Over six years we've lived here and he's still the only genuine friend we've made here; sure we talk to the other neighbors, but Craig spends time over here, comes over opfor dinner, and has even been to the Burrow with his kids. We don't even know his wife that well. Lexi always has him helping around the house; I suspect he's just done something for her now.
"That's the last of the bags, I'm going home now. Do not try and stop me," he pleads. Well, that's what it sounds like anyway.
Lexi nods her head. "You can go."
"Great - No, Bobby, come on. We're going home."
Bobby doesn't care about what his father is saying; one look between him and Isaac and my son is off my knee and running to catch up, probably going in the garden. Craig looks as though he's going to shout for them, then sighs and drops his head on Lexi's shoulder, counts to three and gets back up.
"He's your problem now; bring him back when you no longer want him, I'm going home."
"Long day at work?"
Craig starts to nod, seemingly about to agree that it was a long day; he stops and squints at me, and then pats his hand gently over his heart. "My bruises are on the inside," he murmurs, his sarcasm is not hidden well, if he's even trying to hide it. "You can tell me later."
"You can tell me now," Lexi demands the moment the front door is closed. She only looks away once; I follow her gaze and realize that her hand is holding onto the handle of Gracie's pram, which is being rocked slowly back and forth.
Chris folds his arms over his chest and sends his glare my way again; Peter watches Chris, just in case. It's Lexi I want to talk to, to reassure; I can see that's she's angry, that she wants answers, but she can't hide her concern for me as well as she used to when we were kids, even before we were friends. She (maybe) loves me and she's (definitely) mad at me, but she's still worried about me. And probably glad that Isaac didn't ask about my head, or even seem to notice.
Because I am, too.
"I was following a lead, it was mostly just watching a witness. But he had friends and I was spotted," I admit sheepishly, quickly continuing the story before she can yell at me. "I got out of there, I swear, no way would I go up against so many. I Apparated, but my timing was a little off and I fell. That's all."
I expect Lexi to sigh or moan or even yell at me, just as she always used to, I expect everything except what she actually does.
"You're following him again," she states softly. It's not harsh, it's not even mad, it's just a quietly stated fact from a wife who looks like she might break if she hears the truth but needs to anyway... and that kills me more than a fight would have.
"You know why I have to," I whisper. My own voice sounds so defeated that even Chris softens. I know why he's angry; I'm his best friend and he doesn't want something to happen to me, but he understands, deep down. They all do.
Lexi bites her lip, shakily nods her head once, but says nothing more on the subject. "I'm going to put Gracie to bed," she tells me, leaving the room quickly.
"I'll heal you before I go," Chris adds, knowing some pretty useful spells thanks to his Healer wife. I sit as still as I can, wincing when magic brushes over my injuries. "I still think you should get your head checked out, though."
I tell him I'll bear that in mind. We both know that I'm lying; I'll never go willingly, not for myself. Chris leads Peter away and send one last look my way before he's out the door.
He's so disappointed.
Lexi doesn't come down for a while. I think about going up to check on her every few minutes, never plucking up the courage to actually do so; what kind of a husband am I?
A cowardly one. This may come as a shock to some, but my wife comes from a scary family. She is more like her dad than Kieron could ever hope to be; Kieron is a temperamental bastard, he will come for you immediately if you piss him off, but Alexa, like Theodore, will wait it out, will think about the worse possible thing that can be done to you while you shit yourself wondering when your time is coming... and then do worse when it is time.
No, I'm safer downstairs. Lexi will comes down when she wants to.
Instead, I watch the boys play from the kitchen window while I look for something to make for dinner. Lexi thinks I don't know when she orders takeout, but I do and I refuse to give my kids junk food two nights in a row, no matter how much I want to be fast, so I sleep away the headache that still lingers from my fall.
You can see how much I've grown up; at eighteen, I really didn't care what I ate as long as my dad didn't make it... unless he made a full English breakfast. I must admit, he is quite good at that.
"Dad, I need water," Isaac's quiet voice almost echoes in the silence. I turn from the cupboard to find him leaning against the chair, watching me expectantly.
"Normal cup or special cup?" I ask, though I know what he'll say.
Hiding a smile, I search the cupboards, the sink and half the kitchen until I finally think to open the fridge; there, right in front of me, is Isaac's dinosaur beaker. It's medium sized and looks like a T-Rex; the actual beaker is the body, the bottom has a tail and the lid is the head. You have to open the mouth to drink from it and a straw pops out. I can't remember who got it for him, it was over four years ago now, but he freaking loves it.
I shake it once, tip out what's left of the juice and clean it before adding the water, so he doesn't taste leftover orange. Then I hand it over.
"Will you go and get Bobby, come and see what you want for dinner?"
"Okay," he answers me, walking away with his straw attached to his mouth and his cup practically in the air.
The very idea of being fed soon as the boys running back in, Bobby yanking open every food cupboard he can find, as well as the freezer, to try and get something. He jumps up and down to try and see at the top while Isaac stands back and asks what there is. I lean against the counter and wait; Bobby will realize soon enough that I'm tall enough to tell him what is in there and will ask me.
In three... two... one...
"Al, what's there to eat?"
There it is.
Isaac turns to me and smiles like he knew it would happen, and he probably did because this isn't the first time; I grin and wink, moving toward them to go through the food.
I prepare myself for their many denials.
"So, I stepped to the left, then went straight to the right. They didn't see it coming and I scored a goal from far away."
Bobby goes on and on about a gamefowl football he played with some kids in the park the other day, while Isaac stares at him in awe and Lexi hides a laugh between bites of pasta; I bet she's heard this story before and you don't need to hear it more than once to know he's exaggerating.
"Daddy, can we play football?" Isaac asks me, his eyes and smile wide and hopeful.
"Of course we can," I promise him, cupping his chin and squeezing until he laughs at me and pulls away. "Saturday, yeah?"
Yeah, he signs, then picks up his fork and continues eating.
I turn to Lexi when I feel her eyes burn into my back, worry and hesitation and anger all threatening to spill over. How she manages to keep them back, I'm scared to ask. It's her dad finding out I got her pregnant with Isaac all over again.
She says nothing to me; she never does, not recently. She goes back to Gracie, occasionally adding her thoughts when she knows something Bobby is talking about or one of the boys asks her a question.
Bobby talks enough for everyone; Lexi and I stay silent, but it's hard to tell if Isaac understands anything when he's so focused on his friend.
God, I hope he doesn't.
When Bobby has gone home and the kids are bathed and in bed, I stretch out on the couch and flick through the channels while Lexi, changed into her pajamas and curled up in a chair, goes through a large white folder. She looks like she's had as rough a day as Craig did; her hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail, something she only does when she's stressed, her eyes droop every so often and she blinks several times to keep them open, and I know she wants nothing more than to bath and sleep but won't because she still has work to do.
I still think she's beautiful and amazing and however many other adjectives you wanna think of, but if I told her any of them right now she wouldn't believe me.
I'd give almost anything to fix things, but she wants something I just can't give right now. And it kills me to say it, but it's true. I need to end this case first.
I'm hesitant to open my mouth; it takes three deep breaths to do so. What comes out is not what I want to say. "What's the event?"
"A wedding," Lexi answers, brisk and to the point. There's very little warmth in her tone, nothing that even hints that she wants to talk to me or look at me, and the doubts that she still loves me begin all over again.
It's a phone call that breaks the silence next; I almost don't answer it. But I can't sit here anymore, not when we're so damaged and I know it's my doing.
One thing is said before they hang up. "There's something you need to see."
Lexi is watching me as I sit up; we lock eyes for seconds, and then she goes back to her folder.
"Go. I can't stop you anyway."
Nothing else is said.
A/N: Finally, a new chapter. And if you thought things would get better, then I'm very sorry. Things will be rocky for a while, but as we continue more will be explained.
I hope you enjoyed reading. Please let me know what you think. :)
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