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Chapter 26 : Halfway Down the Slope to Hell
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Emerald flames twisted, twirled, and faded. The Old Rectory’s living room burst into fresh life before Scorpius’ eyes, and he let out a deep breath. The moments he took to brush soot from his shoulders were prolonged like the last breaths before a plunge, then he lifted his head and tried to give Rose and Albus a smile that wasn’t strangled. ‘Please tell me your parents aren’t in.’
‘Dad’s in Macedonia. Mum doesn’t manage mundane challenges like leaving the office.’ Rose got to her feet. ‘And you need to explain.’
He met her gaze only for a heartbeat, and saw barbed wire wrapped into a coiled spring. It was the same taut accusation as last night, the same guarded air she’d held since the start, but now it was joined by apprehension. She could see a change like a shift in the wind, smell the storm even if she didn’t know its nature yet.
Before he could speak, Albus stood like he was to sally into a breach. ‘What’s the matter? Did you two find something in Niemandhorn?’
‘That’s not what this is about.’ Scorpius stared out the living room window, because the dying autumn was easier to look at. Vibrant green life had rusted, but the seasons, at least, would be reborn anew. ‘I need to tell you both something. You should sit down.’
They did, and still he watched over their heads. ‘Rose knows there are things I haven’t said. Some of those things aren’t secrets so much as… so much as I’m not sure how to explain everything that happened and everything I did working with Thane. But there’s one thing I haven’t told you because I didn’t want to hurt you, and it’ll make everything make more sense.’
He looked down at them to see Albus taut with apprehension, Rose’s expression rather blank, like she could see the oncoming train and could do nothing. He closed his eyes. ‘My return is not permanent.’
When Scorpius opened his eyes again, Rose’s expression had barely changed; he could see the furrow of her brow, the bracing of pain, but he knew that all he’d done was confirm a deep, unspoken fear.
Albus, however, was back on his feet. ‘What do you mean “not permanent”; you mean you’re going to die -?’
‘I mean my soul is tethered to the Chalice of Emrys. I wasn’t brought back; the Chalice was, and I’m just along for the ride.’ Scorpius forced his voice low and flat, calm and factual. ‘When the Chalice of Emrys is destroyed to end the Lethe Plague, nothing will tether me to the world of the living, and I will return to the Otherworld.’
‘Who says we’re going to destroy the Chalice of Emrys?’
‘Experts, Al. People who know that this is the most effective way to destroy a weapon the Council are killing hundreds of people with.’ Scorpius’ jaw tightened. ‘Right now, they’re unleashing it on people in southern Africa. Witches, wizards, Muggles; they are creating an army of corpses that will leave more devastation in their wake. The Chalice must be destroyed. Thane knew this, Matt knows this…’
Albus staggered back like Scorpius had punched him in the gut, ashen-faced. ‘I can’t believe this - you didn’t tell us? Tell me?’
Scorpius’ expression twisted. ‘I didn’t - I’m a weak coward, Al. I didn’t come back because I knew my return was only temporary, so I tried… I tried to make the most of the time I had. If I was a dead man walking, I could be a dead man fighting monsters. As coming back was otherwise just… just doing what I’m doing now.’ He tossed his hands helplessly. ‘Tormenting you.’
Rose looked up at him, and her voice was low, rasping. ‘This is the secret you hid from me in Legilimency?’
He nodded, throat trying to close up. ‘Maybe I should have lied on the Naglfar, or run away, or got away sooner, but I - I was weak. I was so happy to see you both again, after all this time, and then I didn’t want to twist the knife. If you’re wondering what my plan was, then you’d be assuming I had a plan…’
‘I can’t…’ Albus brought his hands to his head. ‘I can’t do this, Scorp, I just got you back…’
I’m here, right now, he wanted to say, but that would be twisting the knife, that would be denying the whole reason he’d stayed away in the first place. So all Scorpius could say instead was a throaty, ‘I’m sorry.’
Albus stormed over to grab him by the shoulders. ‘There has to be another way. Some alternative to destroying the Chalice -’
‘To somehow destroy or contain all sources of Lethe in the world,’ said Scorpius, not pulling away. ‘Or to spend time studying the Chalice to find a different way to use it to end Lethe, when we know the route of research we should take. Or to capture or kill every single Thornweaver and Lethe-based Inferius. How many more people will die while we piss around with those alternatives, Al? You saw what Lethe did to Hogsmeade, has done to so many parts of the world. It is killing people, and it needs to be destroyed.’
‘Whatever the cost? Even at the cost of you -’
‘My life has already been bought with the deaths of everyone the Council killed with Lethe!’ Scorpius grabbed Albus’ arms, the words thudding through them both like knife blows. ‘Every single person they murder with an Inferius or by unleashing that Plague, that is a person who is dead because I am alive!’
Rose was on her feet now, hurrying to them. ‘That’s a person who’s dead because they killed them; you can’t take responsibility for this. You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t do it -’
‘No,’ Scorpius agreed, gaze moving between her dark eyes and Albus’ blazing green. ‘But if I do anything but support the most effective means of stopping them, even if it means my death, then it is on me.’
He felt Albus’ hands curl in his jacket, grip iron-tight. ‘So you’re giving up?’
‘Al.’ He grasped his best friend’s arm, met his eyes. ‘I’m not supposed to be -’
Albus pushed him away, and had it not been for Rose’s hand at his shoulder he’d have fallen. Like a beaten dog Albus stalked away, shoulders hunched, face twisted. ‘Not supposed to be here. Right. I get it. So everything goes back to -’ His voice cut off, and he turned to the fireplace. ‘I’ve got to go.’
Scorpius sprang forward. ‘Al -’ But he was too late, and Albus disappeared in a puff of green flames and smoke, leaving him there with Rose’s hand on his arm. They stood in silence for a long moment, until he dared turn to her, gut tense. ‘You knew?’
She shook her head, and oddly he was relieved to see the crease in her brow, the anguish in her eyes. He didn’t want to hurt her, but if he’d met that blank mask he’d seen in Rotterdam, that would have been worse. ‘I knew you were hiding something. There was the Legilimency, and just your behaviour, and…’ Her voice caught. ‘Like it would ever be so simple as you’d come back and everything would be okay.’
He closed his eyes. ‘I’m sorry. I should have said sooner.’
‘Yes,’ said Rose, voice shuddering, and when he opened his eyes, hers shone with unshed tears. ‘You should have come back and told us. You should have admitted it in Rotterdam, or to the DMLE. You should have admitted it last night. You should have absolutely not have hidden it until you were found out.’
Scorpius turned, reached out a hand. ‘I didn’t want to hurt you -’
She pulled back, jaw tight. ‘You bloody idiot. It’s the secrets that kill us; it’s always been the secrets. Were Albus and I supposed to think we’d got you back right until you keeled over? Would that have hurt us less, or was that just a pain you didn’t have to look us in the eye for? Like staying away?’
‘And you say this like it’s fact, like it’s unavoidable.’ She folded her arms across her chest, tilted her chin up a half-inch with that defiant blaze he knew and loved. ‘So you tell me you’ve changed. I guess you have. Because the Scorpius Malfoy I knew, the Scorpius Malfoy I loved, never gave in, never accepted defeat, and always looked for the way out.’
‘You think I haven’t looked? You think we didn’t go over and over this? You think I should try to dodge death at the expense of someone else’s life?’
‘We’re not there yet, Scorpius! We don’t even have a means of destroying the Chalice and you’re acting like it’s inevitable! You remember what you used to do when faced with an unwinnable situation?’
‘Yes,’ Scorpius thundered. ‘I died.’
That made her step back with a taut jaw, then draw a slow, quavering breath. ‘I was going,’ she whispered, ‘to say that you cheated. When you died, you cheated, as proved by the fact we can have a bloody conversation. You never cared for the rules in your life, Scorpius. Don’t start now.’
She turned away, towards the bay window beyond which her parents’ front garden wept gold, and he took a step forward. ‘I don’t want to peddle in false hope -’
‘Then go,’ Rose said in a strangled voice, not looking at him. ‘If you’re just a walking dead man who’s not going to fight, go.’
Scorpius stopped short, heart thudding in his ears. ‘That’s… well. That’s exactly my point, isn’t it?’ He stalked to the Floo and left, and the swirling chaos of blazing green fire was somehow more soothing than the thudding accusation and loss of her words.
‘I have only two questions for you,’ said Matt as Reynald de Sablé walked into his office, ‘and the answers don’t need to be long. Have you read the briefing packet, and what the hell was in Greenland?’
De Sablé stopped in the doorway, eyebrows raising. He looked bizarre to Matt’s eye, for even though he’d learnt twenty-first century fashions, he didn’t look like he belonged. He should have done; his black hair fell to his shoulders raggedly but in a modern cut; his tanned, weather-worn face sported stubble now, not beard. Perhaps it was his eyes, nut brown and gleaming with more caution and awareness than anyone Matt had ever met; perhaps the jacket hung from his shoulders wrong, perhaps Matt just knew better, but the world still fit the man poorly.
‘Yes,’ de Sablé said, voice with that slow, mellow accent. ‘And I hear it is from you I should now be taking orders. Much has changed in my absence.’
‘If you want to continue fighting the Council of Thorns, undermining their work, then yes,’ said Matt, and stood. ‘You work for me.’
‘I heard of your injury. And your father. You have my commiserations.’
‘Neither of us is dead. I’ll take that. And I say again, Greenland?’
‘I had heard reports,’ said de Sablé, moving to the chair across from Matt’s, ‘of a dig-site managed by the Gringotts of America. An underground cave network which contained decorated stonework and masonry. The first tales spoke of carvings akin to the markings of the Chalice itself.’
‘It proved inaccurate.’ De Sablé slid a folder across the desk. ‘Similar, but different. I do not understand the relationship.’
Matt frowned, and flipped the folder open rather than picked it up. Photographs of stone and ice leered up at him, but the swirling patterns were not the same. He shut it. ‘We’ll put that on the back-burner. We have work to do.’
‘Yes,’ said a fresh voice at the door, and Matt’s heart lurched into his throat when he saw Rose there. ‘We do.’
He’d expected her to be worn, grieving, reduced. That collapsed figure he knew so well after all these years. But although her hair was still tied back tightly, although she still looked tired, there was a fire in her eyes he hadn’t seen for so long. He didn’t know if he was pleased to see it, or anguished that he’d never been able to summon it. ‘Rose, you’re -’
‘Here, and here to work.’ She took a few steps into the office, then inclined her head with a hint of deference. ‘If you can use me, that is.’
De Sablé looked between them. ‘I shall take my leave -’
‘Not on my account,’ said Rose quickly. ‘If Matt wants to talk shop, he’s going to need you, isn’t he?’
Matt drew an apprehensive breath. Because this isn’t awkward at all. ‘Are you sure you want to be -’
‘I’m sure. At least let me catch up on what you know. I promise I won’t go spreading it to the papers.’ She gave a wry smile.
It was de Sablé who broke the détente with a hint of impatience. ‘I hear we are granted the Chalice, at last. We must shatter the Council’s power.’
‘That’s right,’ said Matt, trying to not stare at Rose. ‘We need to find a way of severing the Chalice from Lethe -’
‘You have the way,’ said de Sablé. ‘The reports said so. All research is focused that way. The Chalice must be destroyed.’
Matt paused, and filled the silence by picking up one of the folders of the latest reports and handing it to Rose. If she was going to be here, she might as well be brought up to speed. ‘I thought you’d hate that -’
‘Because I have spent so much time protecting the Chalice? I protected it because I knew it was capable of great evil. I spent a century watching it warp Ager Sanguinis. It fed on a site of great tragedy, on a place where so many of my brothers-in-arms perished. Yes, great good has come from that Chalice, but I have concluded that it cannot be the Lord’s gift to us.’
To Matt’s surprise, Rose just looked intrigued when she glanced up from the folder. ‘Why not?’
‘Because of that great evil,’ said de Sablé simply. ‘Only one being is capable of both such extremes: man. The Chalice is powerful, truly, but it is the work of men, and nothing more.’
Matt said, ‘What if I told you a man has to die to destroy it -’
‘Then I would call that man a hero, and be sure he will receive his just reward.’ De Sablé stood again, and Matt had to look up to meet the tall, broad-shouldered knight. ‘We do what we must to fight evil.’
‘No, we remain good people to fight evil. If I have to kill a man to save the day, then what am I?’
‘And if a man clings to his own survival over the lives of hundreds? What is he?’
Matt let out a deep breath. ‘This is all hypothetical -’
‘He’s right,’ said Rose, and Matt stared at her. She shrugged, and leafed through the folder some more. ‘This is looking like the most logical way forward. You can’t afford to ignore this line of research.’
‘You know what we have to do. We’ve talked of the Chalice many a time.’ De Sablé walked to the corkboard on the wall, and shook his head. ‘You know the Caribbean is not the answer.’
‘Really?’ Matt’s jaw was tight. ‘Tell me more of what I already know.’
He faltered when de Sablé looked at him, eyes blazing. ‘Either you have the conviction I know burns in your heart, Matthias, or you do not. You are one of us, a keeper of knowledge, but knowledge must be used. Speak of our next step.’
Matt hesitated. ‘Emrys,’ he said at last. ‘We have to look into the Chalice’s creation. If we know how it was made -’
‘Then we may discover how it is unmade.’
Rose flipped the report shut. ‘There would have to have been a power source, a creation ritual, to weave all of that magic together. If we find that, or at least more on the construction of the Chalice itself, then we can use it to unravel that same magic.’
Matt pursed his lips. ‘Okay. I’m just going to have to blunt. Rose, why are you here?’
De Sablé frowned. ‘I would presume she is lending her expertise to -’
‘I can help you with this stuff,’ said Rose, waggling the folder. ‘But no, I’m not planning to commit to destroying the Chalice. You should, though. You’re the ones who can do this, and you can save lives. But the more we all learn, the more we all study… the easier it’ll be for me to find the other way.’
‘Oh,’ said de Sablé, and then looked a little ashamed as apparently the knut dropped. ‘Scorpius Malfoy will die if we destroy the Chalice.’
Rose’s lips thinned. ‘He has made it clear that he doesn’t want this team to look for another way, because more people may die in the meantime. And I understand his choice. I ask that we all respect his choice. But I refuse to treat him like it’s a done deal, like he’s already dead, and that’s my choice.’ She straightened, tilting her chin up half an inch. ‘And I don’t care if you disapprove -’
‘I do not disapprove,’ said de Sablé, blinking. ‘I do not see why you think I would.’
She raised an eyebrow. ‘All that talk just then about how a man is a hero if he sacrifices himself, and a coward if he doesn’t…’
‘I should have spoken more plainly. If you asked me whether I would lay down my life to avert the bloodshed, I would agree in a heartbeat. If you asked me if I would slay another, an innocent? If I would sacrifice a kinsman for such? It would never be so simple.’ De Sablé inclined his head. ‘I respect your choice, Rose. And I respect his, and I agree that Matthias and I should hold to our purpose, and pray that God grants us another way.’
Matt watched as Rose’s expression softened throughout the conversation, even as she held the folder close to herself. When de Sablé was done, all she managed was a low, quiet, ‘Thank you.’
‘It is no ill thing to wish to live,’ de Sablé said. ‘I have spent centuries on this Earth, even though I slumbered, and now I am returned I regret that wasted time. There is never enough time. There are wonders to be seen, people to know and love, glories to behold and kindness to bestow. We should save as many as we can, but you do right to not accept Scorpius as already lost. Else there would never be hope. This world deserves the best we can give it.’
‘The world is a fine place,’ murmured Rose, ‘and worth the fighting for.’
‘Said one wise man,’ Matt added. ‘Another once added, “I agree with the second half.”’
She looked between them, and he saw her breath catch. ‘Destroying the Chalice - does it endanger either of you? It brought you back, or kept you alive…’
‘Matthias, at least, will be safe.’ De Sablé looked at him. ‘The Chalice saved you, but your heart is your own, your blood is your own.’
‘And you?’ said Matt.
‘I have not drunk from the Chalice in seven centuries. Neither one of us faltered when the Chalice was lost through the Veil. I believe my longevity is now my own, just as your life is your own. Scorpius never drank from the Chalice, and so his bond is different. But if it comes to it, we must sacrifice. There is never victory without sacrifice.’
‘I don’t know about never,’ said Matt, ‘but I take your point. The bit which bothers me about sacrifice, though, is making sure there’s something left to be victorious.’
De Sablé looked between them. ‘I will speak with Nejem and Lowsley, take stock of our resources,’ he said, and turned to the door. It was clearly a flight to let them talk, but when he was gone, only silence reigned for a few long moments. Matt fiddled with the straps on his prosthetic, but she was the one to speak first.
‘I’m sorry for bursting in,’ said Rose, lips thin. ‘I should have probably opened with that. But de Sablé was already here…’
‘It’s okay. Are you okay? I mean, of course you’re not okay…’
‘I will be.’ She put the folder down and wrapped her arms around herself. ‘I’m genuinely trying to not be in denial, here, Matt. He doesn’t want anyone to “waste” time trying to save him when it might come at the cost of lives, and I understand that. But I have to look for a different way…’
‘I understand. And I’ll do what I can. You’ll have full access to all of our research. I know that if there’s anything to be found, you’ll find it.’ He perched on the edge of the desk, still not quite able to look at her. ‘I know this sounds crazy, but you look better.’
Rose drew a slow breath. ‘I have something to fight. And fight for.’ She shifted her weight. ‘I, er, I’m moving everything out of the flat. It’s your flat. You shouldn’t be sleeping on a cot in here.’
Matt closed his eyes. It wasn’t that he’d expected her to come back, or even indulged the idea that she might. He knew he wouldn’t take her back even if that happened, not now. But there was a finality to her words that twisted his gut nevertheless. ‘Thank you,’ he said quietly.
‘No, I… thank you, Matt.’
‘If you’re going to thank me for the breakup,’ he blurted, eyes snapping open, ‘or thank me for helping you these last two years, please - don’t. I couldn’t have ever done anything else. For you. For me.’
She gave a small, apprehensive nod. ‘Then - and please don’t reject this… I’m sorry. I’m sorry it couldn’t be different. I’m sorry I couldn’t be different, because you deserved better than I gave you, and don’t look at me like that, like you’re going to tell me I had a right to my grief.’ Her words picked up momentum as he opened his mouth. ‘Maybe I did. But I still hurt you. And I’m sorry for that. I really do want the best for you.’
Matt nodded slowly. ‘I want the best for you. I don’t want you… clinging to false hope with this, Rose. But it’s good to see you fighting.’
‘I’d be lying,’ she said, ‘if I said I knew what I’m doing. But I have to try.’ She hesitated, and her eyes landed on a spot above his head. ‘Are we - I know we’re not okay. But I’d like us to get to be okay.’
He smiled, and to his immense surprise, found it to be a genuine smile. ‘Bloody hell, Rose. We broke up only days ago, and now we’re pooling resources so you can try to save your ex-boyfriend from death while I work at killing him to save the world. How can we not be okay?’
But she laughed - a bitter, sincere laugh, and he had to join in. Even if he’d never been able to make her laugh like that on lighter matters, more jovial matters.
They had not, Matt supposed, been as important.
‘So I went through all of Toby’s records, the ones he dug up legally and… apparently less-legally.’ Selena spread the paperwork across the coffee table in Eva’s flat. ‘It’s been easier to figure out which corporate buy-outs we examine, because we now want the companies the Council used to smuggle Lethe abroad.’
‘The ones we’ve identified,’ said Eva, chewing on a pencil. ‘Are we seeing anything particular from this?’
‘You mean, does it include a bank account, in the vault of which we’ll find a treasure map leading us to Draco Malfoy?’
‘I’d settle for a clue.’
Selena huffed, blowing a lock of golden hair out of her face. She was less of a state than she’d been the previous day, but then, that wasn’t hard. Eva had never cared for her looks; so long as she could be taken seriously, being pretty was not the priority, and her scar had long ago made her give up on vanity. But she could see how Selena used her appearance as a mask - a shield, and now, in the evening light with a job in front of her and all scrubbed up, Eva wasn’t sure she could tell something was wrong if she didn’t know better.
‘The guy who handled this is one of the Minister of Magic’s own staffers,’ said Selena. ‘Amadeus Candlestone. It was his job to specifically make sure nothing like what happened, happened.’
‘Draco Malfoy buying a dozen companies under multiple false identities. There are complicated monopoly laws in Britain, and then there are complicated trading rights for these non-British companies operating in Britain, and basically it’s all there to try to cut down on tax evasion. It’s riveting stuff.’ Selena wrinkled her nose. ‘This is why I buttered up the accountant.’
‘But this Candlestone didn’t notice anything wrong?’
‘Why’s nobody seen this since?’
Selena shrugged. ‘Because Draco Malfoy’s a proven traitor? And nobody’s that excited by how he bought out the companies, or if he was dabbling in tax evasion. This is incredibly boring stuff and if I hadn’t been sniffing into it for smuggling, I could not care less about it. So Candlestone fucked up -’
‘Or he let this one slip by.’
Selena made a face. ‘Oh, bollocks. That would make sense, wouldn’t it. I suppose I’m too used to Minister Halvard’s office being painfully bloody useless.’
‘You people don’t seem to have much faith in your head of state.’
‘Let’s face it; my mother is the head of state. Minister Halvard was only in power for a year before the Phlegethon Crisis, and Hermione Granger handled most of that while my mother handled the international reactions, especially when the Council of Thorns went public. Halvard won the election with lots of talk about economics and very little talk about a strong defence plan in the face of international crisis.’
‘An international crisis he didn’t really have the power to combat,’ Eva pointed out. ‘The Council managed to do pretty well for itself because wizarding states were too busy bickering about their own sovereignty, or insisting that investigating suspects too deeply would be a breach of their individual freedoms, or -’
‘I’m really not here to debate global politics,’ Selena said. ‘I leave that to my mother, and I really don’t care so long as we all make it through this in one piece. So, what do we do with this? Report Candlestone?’
‘To who?’ Eva rubbed her chin. ‘Director Potter and Captain Weasley are in Macedonia. I don’t -’
Then the door was thrown open to show the tall, ashen-faced shape of Albus Potter. Eva jumped to her feet instinctively, but she stopped short at the sight of him. His expression had collapsed, the glint in his eyes faded away, and while his hands were clenched into fists at his sides, she could see he was shaking. ‘Al…’
‘Holy shit.’ Selena got up, raising her hands. ‘Al, what’s happened -’
‘Scorpius,’ said Albus, and his voice sounded like it had been flogged. ‘He - he’s going to die, he’s not come back properly…’
Eva felt absolutely no surprise, but her gut still clenched as she saw how even the admission tore chunks out of him. ‘He’s on a time limit?’
Selena took a step towards Albus, but he shrank away, slinking around the edge of the room. ‘The Chalice needs to be destroyed to destroy Lethe,’ he said. ‘But destroying the Chalice will kill him.’
‘I see,’ said Eva, and she didn’t, but she’d never been the expert in these things. ‘So that’s why he stayed away.’
‘Why come back,’ shuddered Albus’ voice, ‘if you’re just going to go away again?’
‘Albus,’ said Selena quietly. ‘Where is he?’
‘He’s - I don’t know. He was at Rose’s. Bet he’s not there any more.’
Selena gave Eva a look, and she nodded. I can handle this, she tried to say with her eyes, and Selena hurried towards the door, closing it behind her. So now it was just Eva and Albus in the close, bare flat, and he was quivering like he’d been frozen and staring like he’d just plunged into the abyss.
At least, I think I can handle this.
‘Al…’ She kept her gait slow as she padded towards him. ‘Is nobody at home…?’
He flinched. ‘I - Mum, probably, but I… I don’t know, I had to get away, I just couldn’t…’
You ran, because that’s what you do when you’re hurt, Eva realised, lips thinning, and she tried to calm her thudding heart at the next revelation. And you ran to me. She reached out, a quiver in her touch as her fingers brushed against his taut knuckles. ‘It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.’
He didn’t react to her touch, but his eyes lifted to lock on hers, voice hoarse. ‘How?’
Good question. ‘Because it’s not over. Because nothing, nothing in this world is certain. Because…’ Her mouth dried up, and she licked her lips to no avail. ‘Because you’re not alone.’
Then he moved, and so quickly it was her instinct to flinch back. But he was faster, like his grief had wound him into a coiled spring ready to strike, and she was helpless when he snatched her wrists, dragged her to him -
And kissed her.
It was a kiss unlike any before, even if they didn’t have many for comparison. There was none of his gentle hesitation, his careful affection, his caring warmth. His lips were chapped, his stubble was a sandpaper scrape on her chin, and his grip was iron tight, refusing any escape. But there was one thing in the kiss she’d never felt before: need. It rushed across her, humming through her every inch until it was met with the echo of her own, resounding in her emptiness, and for thunderous moments all she could do was clutch at him, let herself be helpless, let herself be washed away.
Her mouth opened under his, desperate, hungry, and she felt a fresh shudder run through him as his hands moved to her hips. He did not surrender one inch of control, pressing forward, backing her into the kitchen counter with a thud that rattled the washing up and would have hurt if she cared.
He could hurt her. He could hurt her, use her, just so long as he needed her, just so long as he could reach inside and find that gulf she’d thought would never be filled. There was no more quaver to her touch as she slid her hands under his t-shirt, no hesitation from him as he hoisted her onto the counter, and she wrapped her legs around his hips, pulled him against her.
Albus’ lips tore from hers to trail across her jawline, lingering at the scar for just one moment that made it feel like he’d healed the wound, then his mouth was hot against her neck, his breathing ragged and desperate. She gasped at the scrape of teeth on bare skin, a throaty mumble that might have been his name, or begging, or just a wordless sound of need.
His body was solid and warm against hers, flesh hot under her hands, and she could feel the shuddering rise and fall of his chest with every breath, every gasp; felt it rise before one word tore past his raw lips, one word, one name. ‘Lisa…’
The abyss howled inside her, alone and unanswered, and now she was freezing cold. Her hand on his chest was firm, not needy, and she pushed him as she drew back, scrabbled away, spider-like, until her back hit the kitchen wall. ‘No - no -’
He stumbled, eyes wide, breathing ragged - and then realisation flashed in his eyes. ‘I - shit…’
‘This is wrong.’ Her heart thudded in her chest, echoing into the emptiness within her. ‘You’re running, Al, and you’re running to me and you don’t even mean this…’
He lifted his hands, expression folding up. ‘Eva - I’m sorry -’
‘For which bit?’ She had to clench her jaw for a moment so her voice didn’t waver, and she slid off the side of the counter, keeping her back to the wall. Old instincts were rising, the old, familiar mantra of don’t touch me, don’t touch me, that rule which had never applied to him until now. ‘For being so hurt you forget I’m not her? For being so hurt you were willing to use me? Even if - even if I was, for just a moment there, so happy to be used?’
‘It wasn’t about using -’
‘You were running.’ She was on her feet, now, still with her back to the wall, and despised her instinct which noticed he was between her and the door. ‘Like you ran years ago, only this time you ran to me, and you can’t keep doing that, Al.’
He didn’t move, hand at his temples, breathing still deep. He couldn’t look at her.
She wrapped her arms around herself, and stared at the window past him. ‘You need to be somewhere else. With your family. With Rose, maybe, I bet she needs you. But you sure as hell need to be not here.’
Her voice betrayed her on the last, quavering and almost choking her, and that he couldn’t look at her served only one good purpose, because it meant he didn’t see the tears rising. He just mumbled something, turned on his heel and fair ran out the door, and once he was gone, once the door slammed behind him, she let herself fall.
Eva Saida couldn’t remember the last time she’d cried. She’d thought she was beyond tears, too hollowed out, too broken, but now her legs collapsed under her, she slid to the floor in a corner of her bare, barren safehouse, wrapped her arms around herself, and sobbed alone in the fading daylight.
‘The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for (and I hate very much to leave it),’ is a Hemingway quote, from For Whom the Bell Tolls. Matt’s addition of, ‘I agree with the second part,’ is a commentary on the quote as offered by the film Se7en. Apparently Rose vomits Hemingway all over my works (I DON’T EVEN LIKE HEMINGWAY THAT MUCH) and Matt indulges in edgy Muggle films. I’m weak with my quotes sometimes.