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Title: Sent To Coventry
Author: lost_spook
Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide and Rule)
Flavor(s): Chocolate #23 ((in)security), Passionfruit #20 (Scratch a lover, and find a foe)
Toppings/Extras: Malt – Relationship Challenge Prompts #3 & #4 (first fight, first make-up).
Rating: PG
Word Count: 4161
Notes: late 1949. (Edward Iveson/Julia Graves).
Summary: How not to pull off a marriage of convenience.

***

Julia sat down at the dining table with the intention of planning a dinner and writing out some of the invitations, but she got nowhere, her thoughts straying every time she tried. Chiefly, it had to be said, they were straying to Edward, who was working from his study this morning, but who had barely spoken to her since last night.

“This can’t go on,” she announced to the empty room, but then she only sighed. She couldn’t storm into the study, because he might be doing something important, and it could wait a little while longer. Besides, she had to admit to herself, she was scared that she might cause them to lose even what they had if she wasn’t careful. Everything was so terribly awkward.

She glanced down at the magazine she’d brought in with her to prevent any chance of damaging the polished table, and flicked through it. It must have a problem page. Perhaps, she thought in rueful amusement, somebody else was also having the same difficulty: what to do when you marry a stranger who turns out to be (probably) in love with you, and then you find yourself also falling in love with him. Especially when Party A is either regretting the whole thing or politely trying not to trouble Party B too much, while Party B is trying to find a way to explain her feelings that he’ll believe because, oh, yes, Party B is also technically a spy, so Party A knows she’d have reason to lie.

Funnily enough, the problem page didn’t have anything like that. In fact, most of them seemed to be having more trouble getting stains out of the tablecloth and keeping up with the latest hairstyles.

Julia heaved another sigh and rested her chin on her fist, propped up on the table, as she frowned over it. Of course, she thought, Party B – being her – should get on and tell Party A – being Edward – how she felt, but the thing was, she wasn’t doing that until she knew for certain that, having achieved marrying in haste, he wasn’t now repenting at leisure. And to do that, they needed to have a proper conversation, and that brought everything back to the root problem again.

“Julia,” said Edward suddenly, opening the door behind her, and causing her to start violently. “Do you know when lunch might be? I will have to leave quite soon and –”

“Oh!” she said, turning abruptly in the chair, and leaning against the back. “And is that all you have to say for yourself?”

Edward halted and looked faintly alarmed. “Have I forgotten something?”

“Good morning, Julia,” she said pointedly. “And how are you? Well, I trust, since I’ve hardly spoken three words together to you since last week!”

“I merely asked a question.”

She sighed. “Yes. You did, didn’t you? You know, even when I was at school, at least they bothered to tell you why you were being sent to Coventry. You didn’t just find yourself there one morning with no way of escape.”

“Julia, I have spoken to you today,” he said. Then he put a hand to his head. “I’m sure I must have done.”

She pulled herself up from the chair. “Yes,” she said, with mock sympathy, “and it was exactly that memorable, wasn’t it?”

“Well, anyway, I’m not sending you to Coventry. Don’t be silly. And if you’re busy – what is it, another event? – I’ll ask Mrs Crosbie instead.”

Julia leant against the wall. “Then I don’t know why you didn’t just do that in the first place!”

“I really don’t understand –”

She glared. “Yesterday, you did say good morning, but then you were out somewhere all day. At dinner, I believe you may have commented on a news article – or perhaps that was the day before? Perhaps yesterday was the time you merely asked for the salt? And then you were back in your study all evening.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, sounding very stiff, which presumably meant he was angry, because when he was he tended only to get more distant and polite, which was extremely frustrating to a person trying to have a decent argument. “Things have been very busy.”

Julia moved forward. “Well, then, tell me that. Don’t just disappear.”

“I can’t give you details,” he said. “You know that.”

She closed her eyes. “I didn’t mean state secrets, Edward. I know what we agreed as well as you. I meant, you can at least tell me that’s all it is and not –” She cut herself short and threw up her arms. “Oh, go away! Go and ask Mrs Crosbie about lunch. You don’t trust me. Of course. Why would you?”

“I didn’t say –”

Julia stormed out past him, and then swung back round. “You didn’t have to! And, no, it’s not ‘another event’, it was just supposed to be a dinner, but there probably isn’t much point! I’m sure you’d only manage to ignore me at it.”

“Why should I do that?” said Edward.

She shrugged. “You did at the reception.”

“I didn’t ignore you, Julia. I said at the time I thought it all went very well.”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Yes, you did, but you still left me standing in a corner by myself!”

Edward took a sideways step away from her. “You were playing your part as hostess rather admirably. You were not standing in a corner!”

“Maybe you didn’t notice, but that Colonel did. He talked to me for nearly an hour, all because he felt sorry for me!”

Edward backed further away, and ducked the issue. “Whatever it is, I don’t have time to discuss it now, but this evening I promise – well, as long as you’re a little more reasonable!”

“I’m not unreasonable!” said Julia and stamped back into the dining room, slamming the door behind her, and leaning against it. “I have reasons,” she told her invisible audience, and then turned and put her face to the door, furious more with herself than with him. “Damn,” she said, muffled into the wood panels. “Oh, bother and damnation.”

She’d thought at the start that it should be easier this way. They both knew what the arrangement was, and there didn’t have to be any of that ridiculous rollercoaster of emotions one got in the course of a stupid infatuation. Here they were, already married, before she finally decided that she must be in love with him, and she even already knew what his feelings were, but it turned out that the ups and downs weren’t optional.

Now she worried that he’d changed his mind, or that he might not believe her. And whatever the case, the idea of a marriage where they both were in love with the other but maintained the illusion that it was a marriage of convenience as hard as they could, scared her. That way surely lay a kind of madness. It was bad enough now – there were times lately when she’d almost said it without thinking – I love you – and stopped herself, because she didn’t know how he would respond. To go on silencing yourself like that – where did it lead?

It was all very well when he was around and he was talking to her; most of the time they enjoyed each other’s company, but that was no good when, every so often as if afraid of pushing his luck too far, he retreated into some place she couldn’t follow.

And, she thought, when he finally came to ask her a question, and she could have raised the issue, she just lost her temper and shouted. She drew in her breath, deciding it was no good hanging onto a door for comfort, when someone pushed it open from the other side, catching her off-balance.

“Julia,” said Edward, sounding even more puzzled and no less wary. “What on earth are you doing?”

She raised her head, instantly annoyed again, because obviously it was completely unreasonable of him to try and use the door in a regular manner when she was busy venting her feelings at it. “I was going to leave,” she said, folding her arms. “What did you want this time?”

“I was only going to say that lunch will –” said Edward, and let his voice trail away on seeing her expression. “Yes, well, perhaps it isn’t –”

“Oh!” said Julia, and marched past him down the hallway, turning back at the first step, holding onto the end of the banister. “Lunch! Is that all you ever talk about?”

Edward edged back into the dining room, evidently giving up on the hope of rational conversation from her.

That enraged her further, because it was his fault in the first place, after all. He was the one who’d asked her to marry him; he was the one who’d said she should continue working for the organisation, and he was the one who’d fallen in love with her. She hung onto the banister, and, wanting a reaction out of him, said the worst thing she could think of: “I’m not surprised your first wife ran away!”

The only response she got was the quiet closing of the door.

Julia stayed where she was, torn between running back and apologising, or doing something more drastic. She hesitated, but thought again, not of being sent to Coventry, but that time the Sixth Form hadn’t sent her to Coventry, because Sixth Formers didn’t stoop to such childish measures; they were just terribly, awfully polite to her for well over a week, and it had felt like dying some secret death inside. Julia had a feeling that dinner tonight would be something like that, even if she did apologise. And, as she’d said to herself earlier, they couldn’t go on like this, could they? She set her face, gathered up the remnants of her anger, and ran up the stairs, away from him.



Iveson returned to his study to try and finish some notes before his meeting with Mr Morley and Mr Harding, but he failed to get anything useful done in the time. He wrote one or two lines, but had to cross them out again. The movement wasn’t really enough to vent his feelings, so he screwed up the paper and threw it in the bin.

He wanted to go and find Julia, worried about what was wrong, but he decided it was probably best not to until she’d calmed down. What had got into her this morning? It really wasn’t like her. Perhaps she was feeling unwell?

He put down his pen, pushed aside his plate with the half-eaten sandwich that Mrs Crosbie had found for him, and went in search of her. He stepped out into the hallway, and crossed to the dining room to peer in, but she wasn’t there, though her notepaper and invitations were still lying on the table where she’d left them earlier.

“Julia?” he called up the stairs. “Julia!”

Mrs Crosbie came out of the kitchen with her coat on – she only came in three mornings, and she was about to head home as usual. “Mrs Iveson’s gone out,” she told him.

“Oh,” said Iveson, and tried to stifle irrational panic. Of course Julia could go out; it would be silly to be alarmed about it. No doubt she needed something down at the shops, or had wanted to walk off her temper. “Did she say where?” he asked.

Mrs Crosbie headed to the door, having other places to be herself. “She said you knew, Mr Iveson. I thought she was going to stay with that cousin of yours – she had a small case with her.”

“Yes,” he said, managing not to give away the stab of fear he felt on hearing that. “Yes, of course. Thank you, Mrs Crosbie.”

Iveson shut the door behind Mrs Crosbie, and then turned back, having to check before he could believe it. Julia’s coat was gone, and when he looked in the closet, he thought there was an overnight case missing.

His next reaction was to hurry to the phone, to call Amy, but he stopped himself on the point of calling the operator. Julia hadn’t said anything to him about going down there. The last thing he wanted was to ring up Amy and tell her he didn’t know where Julia was. He hung onto the receiver, though, and then asked to be put through to Crispin Morley, the Foreign Secretary.

“Sir,” he said. “About this afternoon. You see, something’s come up and I was wondering –”

Crispin sounded puzzled. “Iveson? You know it’s important. Could be useful for you, too. Surely whatever it is can’t be that urgent?”

“No,” agreed Edward, regretfully. “Of course not. Sorry. I shall be there as soon as I can, sir.” He put the receiver down and looked at the wall. He supposed he should have been able to invent an excuse; anything other than telling Mr Morley he seemed to have misplaced his wife – again.

What was more, he thought, taking his coat down off its peg and shrugging it on, he shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Julia had once said to him that she promised not to run away, and he should show a little faith in her. If she’d walked out in anger, then most likely as soon as her temper passed, she would turn around and come back again. He knew by now that her anger didn’t last; she was the sort who flared up quickly, but then it was over and done with.

He hurried out of the house, catching a cab into Westminster, but he didn’t look at his notes, still too busy trying to work out exactly what he had done to provoke such a reaction. Julia had said he’d been ignoring her, but that wasn’t true. He tried to keep his distance sometimes, not to expect too much, because he knew her feelings weren’t engaged in the same way, and he’d known that would be part of the bargain. He’d somehow gone too far with that, perhaps? Or was it all about more practical matters? Maybe, despite what they’d said at the start, she’d expected useful information from him already, and he had failed to oblige.

Once he arrived at Mr Morley’s office, it was easier to put it all out of his head as they worked through the details of the inquiry, but once they finished, he immediately started worrying again about where Julia was, if she had come home by then, or not, and what he would do if she hadn’t. When Mr Harding suggested that they could tie up some of the loose ends over dinner, he couldn’t help letting his reluctance show, though he wasn’t in a position to argue with the two senior ministers.

“Iveson would rather not,” said Crispin Morley, observing his reaction in amusement. “Ah, well, that’s the trouble with letting people get married – it’ll wear off soon enough, Iveson.”

Iveson merely said, “Sir,” because he never understood why people thought it was so amusing to make that kind of comment, and he found it even more uncomfortable than usual today.

“Oh, perfectly understandable,” Amyas Harding said with a smile, as he gathered up his files. “I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs Iveson last week. I’m sure I’d feel the same. You go on, Iveson. There’s nothing here we need you for, not now.”

Iveson didn’t argue. He thanked Harding and left as soon as he could, having first to return the papers to his office. That done, he hurried out to hail a cab, although his relief at finally getting out of the building was rapidly unseated by anxiety at wondering what he might find – or not find – when he got home.

In the end, he stopped the taxi a couple of streets short of the house, and walked the rest of the way, mostly to delay the moment of truth, although it was as well, anyway, after hours in spent in smoky rooms, not to mention Harding’s habit of finishing up the proceedings with scotch.

It was dark already, being November, and a traditionally foggy London night. The clammy fingers of mist curled around him, chilling him, and blurring the orange lamplight. When he reached the house, he stopped outside, holding onto the railings as he looked upwards, trying to see if there was a light on inside. It took him a moment to accept it even after he realised there was, and he breathed out in relief: she had come back.



Julia had been waiting inside, on the sofa, only she must have dozed off, listening for a car stopping outside, because suddenly Edward was there, right beside her. She sat up, giving a small start.

“Julia,” he said, kneeling by the sofa. “Thank God. I thought you’d gone.”

She couldn’t look at him yet, not proud that she’d resorted to scaring him like that.

“Where did you go?” he asked. “And why, Julia? Surely not because of this morning?”

Julia shook away her sleepiness, and sat up properly, looking at him now, holding up a hand to stop his questions. “I wasn’t leaving,” she said. “I promise. In fact I – well, I went to the bus stop, and I did think of going to see Aunt Daisy, but I wasn’t sure how I would explain, and then I realised I didn’t even have the fare on me. So I went down to the shops and back.”

“With a suitcase?”

She had to smile. “Only a small one. I don’t think anyone even noticed.”

Edward pulled himself up to sit on the other end of the sofa. “Yes, but why?” he said. “Am I really so impossible to talk to?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “No, it’s fine when you’re here, but when you’re not –” She waved a hand, not wanting to restart the argument. “None of that is really very important. It’s just that you don’t trust me, Edward. And I wonder if you ever will, and that scares me.”

He leant forward. “But I do –”

“Oh, in some ways,” she said, and coloured. “I didn’t mean it to sound quite like that. But it is true. You’re not sure of me – what I want, why I’m here. Are you?”

It was Edward’s turn to look away.

“I understand,” she said, though she had to swallow back hurt that he hadn’t denied it. She knew it must be true, but she wished it wasn’t. She did understand, though. She wondered about him sometimes, why he had asked, what he wanted, if she’d misread everything, and it was especially easy to do so when he was avoiding her.

And, Julia thought, it wasn’t even just about trusting each other. For her at least, it was also about mistrusting happiness. Of course, what had happened to her had been nothing to what had happened to many people during the war, but it still made her wary of having something else to lose. Edward hadn’t suffered the same thing, but he’d effectively lost both parents as a child, and his first marriage had abruptly turned into a disaster. He might well feel the same way, and it didn’t help.

She had to finish this, though, and see what ground she could gain. “I wasn’t trying to quarrel again. Of course, you could just be regretting marrying me in the first place –”

“Julia!” he said, and sounded genuinely shocked. “You know what my feelings are. You didn’t even need me to tell you.”

She leant her head against the side of the sofa. “Well, it could have been that,” she said. “It’s very lonely, being in Coventry. It makes it hard to tell.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Edward. “Honestly, Julia. I’ve only been – well, I have been busy these last few days – but I was only trying not to forget that you don’t necessarily feel the same. If you think that comes easily –”

Julia turned her head back towards him, and then gave a slight, sideways smile. “I think you can rely on me to tell you if you’re being a nuisance, Edward, don’t you?”

“After this morning, I feel certain of it,” he said in mock-solemn humour.

She knew she had to go on. “Well, the thing is, I do feel the same. To go on pretending otherwise while we both tried to hide our feelings – what would that make of us, in the end, do you think?”

“Julia –”

“Apart from it also being entirely ridiculous,” said Julia. “I think as marriages of convenience go, ours is hopelessly inconvenient, don’t you?”

Edward looked back at her, and failed to say anything.

“And, you see,” she said, forcing a smile. “There we are. You can’t quite trust me because, if I was any use at this spy game, that’s what I would say. But I never did before and, despite everything, I’m not awfully good at lying. Not like that, not between us, always.”

Edward was still watching her, the worried crease back in the middle of his forehead. “But when did you –?”

“I couldn’t say,” Julia told him. “Somewhere between four days and four months – longer than it takes some people, apparently.”

He only looked at her, still wearing that anxious frown, and Julia had to bite her lip, wondering why, when he looked back at those four months or so, the truth of her statement wasn’t the most obvious thing in the world to him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, eventually. “I don’t mean to be so –” He failed to find an adequate word and gave a disconsolate shrug. “I want to believe you, of course. Too much, you see.” He moved nearer to her, leaning forward in his earnestness, though when he spoke he looked down, as if talking more to himself than to her. “What sort of trap would I have made for myself?”

Julia pressed her hands into fists, staying where she was. She couldn’t give him further reason to doubt her when he thought back over this conversation at any point. “If you can’t believe me, if you can’t at least pretend to believe me, then at some point I will have to leave. I can’t live like that.” Then she gave way to frustration. “It was your idea, not mine! Imagining some complicated double bluff all sounds rather self-important, if you ask me!”

“So it does,” he agreed, looking amused again. “Sorry.”

Julia closed her eyes. “Well, then,” she said, and closed her eyes, as she screwed up her face, waiting for a proper answer out of him. “Edward.”

To her surprise, he only laughed, and she opened her eyes again, as he took her hand. “You looked as if you were waiting for the roof to fall in on you,” he told her by way of explanation.

Julia gave an uncertain smile. “Well, I am,” she said. “I don’t seem to be the sort of person who can manage a marriage of convenience, after all.”

Edward laughed again, and gave her a quizzical look. “You’re saying you’d fall in love with anyone you happened to marry?”

“No,” said Julia, and then thought about it. “Well, let’s say that I don’t think I would under any circumstances marry someone I didn’t at least think I could fall in love with.” And she rather thought now, that she couldn’t have married anyone else at all, but her feelings were busily engaged these days and her conclusions were unreliable. Love worked backwards as well as forwards, and coloured everything in retrospect. “If you look at it that way, is it easier to believe?”

He tightened his grip on her hand, and pulled her in nearer. “Oh, God, I’m sorry, Julia. I’m being insufferable, aren’t I?”

Julia would have agreed with him, but he didn’t give her chance, kissing her, and she returned the favour, holding onto him tightly. She could smell the smoke on his jacket, and feel the rough thickness of the material under her fingers as she dug them in, not wanting to let go.

“Julia,” he said, after a while, and she drew back to see the amusement lighting his face. “Julia, there is one thing.”

“What?” she asked, wary of an inevitable oncoming joke.

“Well, I can’t help being curious – just what dreadful things did you get up to at school to get sent to Coventry?”

Julia moved closer against him. “Nothing!” she said. “It was all a terrible miscarriage of justice, and I nearly broke my heart over it.”

“Poor Julia,” he said, sounding amused again. “A little melodramatic, though, don’t you think?”

She shook her head, concentrating on removing his tie. “The occasion called for it,” she said, and then glanced up with a smile. “And what I’ve been trying to say is that you are entirely unreasonable, thoroughly impossible, and I’m afraid I seem to be quite horridly in love with you, though I can’t imagine why.”

***

Comments

fachefaucheux
Mar. 16th, 2015 07:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'd have to agree, Edward is sort of impossible in his awkwardness. But it's so endlessly amusing...I have to say, I really do like this couple. Which is really quite the accomplishment, considering I can count off all the het couples I find endearing on one hand. XD
lost_spook
Mar. 20th, 2015 01:36 pm (UTC)
Aww, well, that's a lovely compliment to get then! I'm v glad to hear that it's not just getting all very irritating by this point, what with the misunderstandings and things. :-)

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