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Devil and the deep blue sea behind me...
by Rio, dancing on the sand (hotspur18)
at August 6th, 2006 (06:01 pm)



"I think you killed it."

"I think I /murdered/ it," Edrington agreed, looking at the hapless chilli that he had been told to chop up. Elizabeth poked at the sadly mangled strands of what had once passed for a vegetable.

"I wanted it cut open so it could be - um. For the sap? To put on some of the knives. It's more effective like that...."

"It is!" Edrington gestured at his swollen, red-rimmed eyes - he had not realised that rubbing chilli-covered fingers over them would be quite so disastrous - and sniffed loudly to add to the effect. "It really is!"

"No, it /was/. Now it's -"

"Dead?"

Elizabeth just nodded. "And completely useless," she added.

They stared at the chilli in silence.

"Maybe I could chop another one?" Edrington asked eventually. "And. Um. Make something with this?"

"Like /what/?"

Edrington shrugged. "Chilli wine? Chilli whisky? Chilli -"

"You're all obsessed," Elizabeth said grumpily, and stalked out of the kitchen. Then she howled from the hallway - "Oh, bugger the lot of you!"

Edrington got painfully to his feet, and hobbled after her. "What?"

Elizabeth sat on the stairs, and put her head in her hands. "Carr just left," she sighed. "Damn it."

*

Hal decided that even if Guido ended up at the bottom of a river somewhere, he was never going to take command of the intelligence service. It was them or his sanity, and while the latter might occasionally be in doubt, he was damned if he was going to place it in the class of 'irreparably lost'.

The safehouse was, as usual, chaos. Admittedly, Hal had only himself to blame for this, since the Rupert Street buildings were supposedly his domain, but still...

"Where's the bath?"

"Why?"

"I think we lost it."

"You lost a /bath/?"

"It had snakes in it."

"Of course it did." Hal really, really wanted a drink. "So you lost a bath full of snakes. /How/?"

Carr came in, frowning. "Uh, Trevelyan? I just went to the cellar to check on the barrels, and there's - um - "

"Snakes?" Hal suggested wearily. "Go and get them back, Mr Carr. Apparently they live in a bath."

Carr blinked, shrugged, and went. Hal, belatedly, shouted after him -

"And why are you /here/?"

"I was bored!"

Hal decided he was going to use the gunpowder barrels and blow everyone up. It would save time.

The sounds of Carr herding snakes, with the so-called assistance of Flanagan, who had gleefully returned from Addington-duty, drifted up from the cellar, along with the rather worried query from someone else,

"Um...Carr? Do they bite - ow!"

Wonderful. Hal hoped, with some viciousness, that the poison caused paralysation, and went up to Guido's triple locked room to look for an antidote.

*

Guido returned to the carriage, looking completely fed up, his hair sticking up in wet and ragged clumps.

"Hislop's around here, " he said, sticking his head in at the window. "At least, Flynn's man saw him an hour ago, going into the warehouse off the Brunswick docks...Christ knows what he thought he was playing at."

"And we're going after him?" Bush winced. There were few things that seemed less appealing than the concept of going into a warehouse that might or might not have people waiting to kill him in it, and almost certainly had a large population of rats.

Guido sighed. "I don't see another option," he agreed, opening the door and pulling a battered leather bag out from under the seat. "Here. Dark lanterns."

Bush took the proffered light, and shrugged. "And skeleton keys?" he asked, receiving a confused look from the Conte in return.

"No?" Guido answered tentatively, obviously wondering what on earth skeleton keys were. “I don’t think using bones would help.”

Bush wondered exactly how this man’s mind worked, shrugged, and got out of the carriage, following the flickering light down the dark lane to their destination.

*

James and Stephen were river trawling, using their familiar routine as a way of focusing their thoughts on their future plans.

“Anything?” It was Stephen’s turn to scull, while an unenthusiastic James dredged. The other man shook his head, sighing.

“Westminster Bridge…never gives much.”

“No, s’pose not. Mud-banking, then? Check for lost political documents?” Stephen grinned upwards, knowing that this was James’s least favourite part of the daily trawl.

“Urgh, God. Do we have to?”

Stephen simply quirked an eyebrow. “Can go back,” he pointed out, and James sighed.

“So then yes,” he said, and lowered himself back into the bottom of the boat.

They drew closer to the bank, James staring up at the night sky and wondering what this waiting was accomplishing, when Stephen suddenly stopped rowing, far out enough that they were definitely going to get wet if they tried to moor at this point, but apparently not concerned by that.

“The /hell/?” he muttered, staring at the far bank. “Hey! HEY!”

James turned around quickly, nearly upsetting the boat, and rose to a crouch. “What the bloody hell…!”

On the far bank, an evidently drunken man stumbled to the water, apparently aiming for the shelter of the river wall, two dark figures following him at speed.

“Footpads, damn them,” growled Stephen, drawing his pistols. “James…”

“On it, Phen.” James vaulted over the side with a splash and a curse as he hit the muddy bottom with his new boots. “And I am aiming at your /heads/, you bastards!” he shouted, holding his own pistol level as he waded towards the river edge. “So GET OUT OF HERE!”

One of the cloaked figures swung a club, unheeding, and the man who had been stumbling along fell into the mud. The other turned to stare at James, eyes glinting in a masked face.

“Not your business…”

James fired, hearing the report from behind him that meant Stephen had found the right target distance.

“Christ,” Stephen swore, as the shot went wide, and the figures ran off, one of them clutching their shoulder where James’s shot had gone true. “James? Salvage.”

James nodded curtly, and waded to the river wall, hoisting himself up, and leaving Stephen to manage the boat.

He bent over the man in the mud, and turned him over, wincing at the ugly contusion on the side of his head.

“Hey, Phen?” he called. “Problem.”

“The lack of mooring?” came the irascible response.

“No, the lack of alcohol-smell. This one ain’t drunk.”

Stephen sighed audibly. “Ah, hell. Any documents on him?” The boat apparently successfully docked, he joined James, holding their lantern up and whistling through his teeth as he took in the man at their feet. “Christ, what happened to you, mate? Think they were after him for something more‘n money, James-boy?”

James nodded. “Get him dry?” he suggested.

“Get him /home/.”

“Documents.”

“Right.” Stephen crouched down with the lantern, and opened the man’s filthy jacket. “Nothing…”

“Lining?”

“Oh - right.” Stephen felt it carefully, and was rewarded with a crackle. “Gold,” he said with a smile. James handed him a knife, and Stephen cut into the lining quickly, pausing to note that this had already been done once, and mended badly. He pulled out the battered paper, and hissed.

“Oh, Christ…we’re in trouble…”

“Hm?” James peered at the paper, and froze. The seal of the Conte, crumbling in the wet, was still recognisable, the eagle flying, defiant and one-winged, amidst the broken wax. “Shit. What’s it say?”

Stephen unfolded it, and stared at the salutation, holding it out wordlessly so that James could see the familiar spiky writing.

“If ever you have need of me, wherever you are, send a paper with this seal on it to Whitehall, and I will come, no matter what. You have - the word of an assassin on it. Fiat justitia, gentlemen. Your friend, Guido.”

Their eyes met across the page, and James knew that Stephen‘s look of horror was reflected on his own face.

“Oh, my God…”

*

Hal sat in the study, wondering if he could get away with pretending to be asleep and coming to the rueful conclusion that it was simply not going to be possible. The agent had been given the antidote, and was sitting on the stairs complaining about the pain in his arm. Carr was fending off his worry by capturing the last few snakes, and Flanagan was building boxes for them - something that he seemed to have a surprising skill for. Hal added that to his notes, and rubbed his hand over his eyes, cursing as he realised that he had forgotten his glasses yet again.

“Industry suits you,” came a teasing voice from the doorway, and Hal jerked his head up with a smile of real pleasure.

“Kate, my favourite little shrew, what are you doing here?”

“Oh, news travels…” Kate came into the room, unfastening her cloak, and peered over Hal’s shoulder. “Flanagan can build boxes? How on earth is that going to be useful?”

Hal sighed and shrugged. “The way we’re going, so he can build his own coffin,” he said wryly, and closed the log book. “News travels? What news?”

Kate dropped the cloak on a chair, and averted her head, smoothing the material. “Someone said the Conte’d taken the carriage out to the docks…I thought that might mean trouble. And - well, I wasn’t playing tonight, so I thought this might be more fun than watching someone else get the applause for a part I’d kill for.”

“I told you…I’ll buy off the manager…”

“Thanks, love, but I’ll get there by my own merit, or not at all.” Kate smoothed her dark hair, and grinned. “Not too old and ugly yet.”

“I’ll give you a few years, then, shall I?”

“Thanks, much appreciated.” Kate sat on the desk, arranging her skirts so that her ankles showed to good advantage. “So, what’s the trouble?”

“Hislop’s gone missing.”

“Oh, no! That little Scotsman? What happened?”

Hal gestured helplessly. “No idea. Guido’s taken the ‘Renown’s’ lieutenant to help him look, for some reason, and I’m - well, as you see, stuck here. With Carr.” He grimaced. “And snakes.”

“Joy.” Kate made a face at him. “What can I do to help?”

“Herd either snakes or spies.” Hal looked ruefully at her. “Me, I’d choose the snakes, but -”

“No, thank you.” Kate pushed herself off the desk. “Where do you want them?”

“Nowhere special. Just so I know who’s here tonight, and who’s out doing what…you know the drill.”

Kate frowned. “You’re expecting something to happen?”

Hal sighed. “No. I’m very much afraid that it already /has/.”

Kate nodded, and went over to the cupboard on the far side of the room. “Best get changed, then, hadn’t I?”

*

Edrington sat on the stairs with Elizabeth, watching the door.

“Is it always like this?” he asked after a while.

Elizabeth shook her head. “No,” she said, and stretched, making her back pop. “Usually it’s me on my own, and believe me, that’s even more boring.”

“You aren’t bored?” Edrington raised his eyebrows, and Elizabeth rolled her eyes.

“With your scintillating conversation to entertain me? Heavens, no.”

Edrington snapped his mouth shut, and began twirling his cane between his hands. “Do you think Guido has a swordstick somewhere?” he asked after a while, and Elizabeth shrugged.

“We could look…” Elizabeth didn’t sound very interested, but then she brightened. “Oh, wait! He was making a prototype for one! He must have meant it for you…”

“A prototype?”

Elizabeth grinned. “He /likes/ making things,” she explained. “C’mon. We can raid his workshop…”

*

Outside the warehouse, Guido motioned Bush to the door. “I’m going in via the second floor,” he murmured, scanning the drainpipes. “Take the front way. And do /not/ shoot to kill, if you can possibly avoid it.”

Bush nodded, and watched as Guido began his climb, before entering the dark of the warehouse, the smells of water, mould, and old spices assaulting his nostrils. He stayed very still, letting his eyes focus into the gloom, before taking his first tentative steps into the echoing room, the creak of the wooden boards heralding his approach as clearly as if he had shouted his arrival.

He half-expected someone - or some/thing/ - to leap at him from the shadows, but he could sense no other presence. Cautiously, he unshaded the lantern, and began to look around.

There were footprints in the dust, and he followed them to the stairs, taking a deep breath before beginning his creaking ascent, the lantern’s wavering light populating the landing above with hidden monsters that loomed and faded against his acclimatising eyes. A small, barely-heard thump from above heralded Guido’s arrival, and he quickened his climb towards the sound.

“Mr Bush!” It was a shout, and Bush forgot caution, and ran up the remaining flight to see Guido bent over not one, but two huddled forms.

“Who -”

“Hislop.” Guido was ignoring him, down on his knees by the larger shape, lifting it from the floor, his face strained and too-pale in the dim light. “Flavian! Wake up, damn it…”

Bush went over to them, seeing Guido’s head drop downwards abruptly, and the dark wetness on the floor beneath the two. Guido held out his hand to the light, and hissed in agony as he saw the blood coating it. “He’s breathing…oh, hell, hell…Flavian, open your eyes. Look at me!”

“Conte…” a breath of a voice, but not from Hislop, and Bush turned, raising his doctored pistol and aiming towards the sound. “Too late again, Guidino mio?”

“Boulestin…” Guido’s voice was a ragged gasp of fury. “Show yourself…”

Bush turned in a slow circle, holding the gun steady. “Di Cesare, I can’t /see/…”

“/Boulestin/!” Guido shouted into the darkness. “What have you /done/!”

“You taught him well.” the laugh that followed made the hairs stand up on the back of Bush’s neck, and he felt a brief tremor run along his arm. “Don’t worry. He’ll live. But aren’t you worried about the child?”

“The - “ Guido’s head whipped to the side, and he looked down at the smaller figure. “You would not /dare/!”

“Oh, no, don’t worry…” Again the laugh, thin and truly insane. “Only drugged. But you have other things to worry about than saving the innocents, di Cesare. Rupert Street, isn’t it? I think you’ll find that Hal’s gunpowder can be an - excellent weapon….even in my hands.”

Guido stepped forward, his own gun raised, and there was a whisper of fabric by the window.

“Make your choice,” said Boulestin, stepping into the light. “You /always/ do the right thing, after all…” And then he moved, as quickly as ever the Conte could have done, and the report of a pistol deafened Bush, even as the lantern he held exploded into painful light.

He heard Guido shout something, and felt him move past, even as he dropped the fragments to the floor, cradling his burnt hand in agony.

*

“Hal!” Kate came back into the room at a run, dressed in the men’s clothes she kept at the safehouse, and her knife in her hand.

Hal’s head jerked up. “What -”

“Trevelyan!” A shout from the cellar. “Trevelyan, we’re under -”

The following explosion rocked the room, and knocked Hal backwards against the desk, while Kate was flung sideways against the door, cursing fluently. Against the ringing in his ears, Hal staggered over to her.

“All right?” he called.

Kate nodded, rubbing at her ears irritably. “Carr…”

“Mr Carr!” Hal lurched out into the corridor. “Mr Flanagan! Can you hear me?”

Two very dirty spies emerged from the smoke beneath him, coughing.

“Only,” said the one who was presumably Flanagan, judging from his height and build, “if you shout /really/ loudly…”

Carr just snorted, and wiped at his face.

It was then that Hal noticed the flames beginning to lick upwards from the cellar.

*

“Let me see your hand.” Guido sounded oddly calm, considering the fury with which he had been kicking the wall beneath the window from which Boulestin had dropped only a few seconds earlier.

“It’s -”

“Damn it, let me see!” The calm was obviously not even surface deep as Guido yanked it from beneath his other arm, and inspected it, frowning. “Good. You can take over the carriage. Get Hislop back to the house.”

“What about…” Bush gestured to the smaller form, which had scrambled into the corner when Boulestin fired, and Guido winced.

“Yes…” he said ruefully, and began to cross the room, when Hislop stirred.

“Conte..” it was a pain-filled croak, and Guido turned without breaking stride, dropping back down to the filthy floor.

“Flavian, what have you done to yourself now?”

“Scratches, ‘s nothing…listen. The boy - the boy…” his voice dropped to a whisper, inaudible to Bush, but he saw Guido flinch, and stand up again.

“Mr Bush. Get this idiot to his feet and out of here. I’ll be down in - give me five minutes, please?”

Comments

Posted by: (formerly eclecticmum) (katsie)
Posted at: August 6th, 2006 08:17 pm (UTC)
Hee!
Hal!

You're actually going to leave us there, aren't you?! I was breathless as you skillfully bounced us all about the place, kudos :) It's difficult keeping track of each storyline once you split them all up like that.

Snakes... in the bath... or cellar... *snorfles*

Who is the man on the riverbank? Who's the boy? What does Boulestin think he's doing blowing up my Hal? I can't wait to see what Guido has concocted for Edrington's use. And Kate! *grins in anticipation*

More! More! Now wouldn't be too soon!

Posted by: Rio, dancing on the sand (hotspur18)
Posted at: August 6th, 2006 08:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Hee!

*s* Well, there's only one question I can even sort of answer, and it's not going to come as a surprise...

Boulestin really, really hates Hal...

And how do you get under Guido's skin? *rolls eyes* Oh yeah. Threaten Trevelyan.

Good plan, Boulestin...

Posted by: (formerly eclecticmum) (katsie)
Posted at: August 6th, 2006 08:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Hee!

Someone dislikes Hal? Not possible! ;P

You know, I really don't think that--in the long run--this plan is going to turn out particularly well for Boulestin. I can't help but think that making Guido extremely angry is one of those Very Bad Things. Can't figure where I might get an idea like that from...

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