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Sangria 12 [Divide and Rule]

Title: Devil’s Bargain
Author: lost_spook
Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): Sangria #12 (Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.)
Toppings/Extras: Chopped Nuts, Malt – Truth or Dare x2 (Time travel AU - what if one (or more?) of your characters could go back to the past and change something? How would it go dreadfully wrong and how quickly would attempts to rectify it multiply? Would the end result be a world that any of your characters would even recognize anymore? and One of your characters is offered their dearest wish but it comes at a steep price. This can involve a genie or devil or other magical means or just a set of logical circumstances and opportunities., both from shayna611), Gummy Bunnies (also for hc_bingo square “deals with demons” and Trope Bingo square “Trust and Vows.”)
Rating: PG
Word Count: 4274
Notes: 1960; Edward Iveson/Julia Graves. (It was this or have Arran, Liesa and Arran on a mission to assassinate Hallam before he came to power, but I’m pretty sure that would have turned into a novel of its own.)
Summary: Edward gets a chance to go back in time and fix his and Julia’s most fatal mistake, and he’s not sure he even cares about the consequences...

***

Edward hadn’t had such a strange meeting in this office since someone had threatened to shoot him and that had at least been understandable in its own way. The man who had come to speak to him today might look the picture of the perfect civil servant with his understated suit and his bowler hat placed on the desk in front of him, but he’d just offered Edward a means of travelling back in time. Edward wouldn’t have believed him, but he’d demonstrated his abilities by stopping time around them for a moment. The clock on the wall had ceased to move and the secretaries in the outer office were frozen in position. It wasn’t a trick: either it was true, or the strain of the last year had finally driven Edward mad. And if he was mad, it was at least an interesting madness with more possibilities than sanity seemed to have to offer.

Edward watched the dark-haired man warily. The stranger was currently sitting there, staring back at him with a bland expression on his unremarkable face, giving nothing away. “And what,” said Edward, “is the catch? It’s a little too much to swallow – you coming in here and offering me a way out of my current difficulties at the right moment. You must have some ulterior motive.”

“Consider me your fairy godfather.”

Edward raised an eyebrow. “Or the devil, after my soul? Although if so, you only had to wait another week or so.”

“It doesn’t matter in the end, does it?” said the man. “I don’t believe you can refuse.”

Edward gave a slight nod, because he had made so many devil’s bargains in the last year alone that worrying about one more seemed ludicrous, especially when this one promised to actually solve his problems. All his other options were desperate, next best thing solutions. “Still, I’d like to know what the catch is. There must be one.”

The man placed the small metal cube on the desk between them. It glinted in the light for a moment. “The catch, then. It can only be used once by any one person, so choose your destination carefully. It exacts a great toll on the user – the further you go back, the worse the effect. Once you arrive at the time chosen, you will have twenty-four hours before you are returned to the present time. If you change anything in any way, the results cannot be predictable or controllable and you might come back to an unrecognisable world, if you’re not careful. Of course, the reverse journey also takes it toll – it’s not impossible that you might simply die at that point. It puts considerable strain on the human frame, you understand. At the very least, it’s guaranteed to take a few years off your life.”

Edward raised his hand to his mouth, hiding his smile. That really would not be a problem in his case. “But why me and not somebody else?”

“I’ve had my shot,” said the man. “And I think you might make the change I’m after. I also think you’ve little enough to lose that you’ll take the opportunity. Doesn’t that make sense? I don’t have to be a demon.”

Edward picked up the silver-coloured box and turned it over in his hands. It was polished but plain. The only thing on it was the dial for the date, not unlike a desk calendar. “I’m not up to date with current research in the field of physics, but I’m fairly sure that this at the very least makes you a magician and not a scientist.”

The man gave a small shrug. “A matter of semantics, some might say.”

“Isn’t it by default demons or devils who offer temptations such as this?”

The stranger tilted his head to one side. “And yet, Foreign Secretary, despite the risk, despite my possibly demonic nature – you’re going to use it, aren’t you?”

“As devils go,” said Edward, tightening his hold on the box, “you’re just the latest and far from the worst. I’ve sold my soul several times over by now. I am a politician. It’s a professional hazard. So – my wife, my country, my own sorry neck – yes, I think I’ll take that over something that’s past hoping for and may not exist.” He shifted in his seat, still at a loss to make out the other man at all. “Of course, perhaps you merely want it used by anyone – enough times, perhaps, and the effect upon reality itself is catastrophic.”

“What a fantastic idea.”

“I have read some science fiction. These things rarely end well.”

The man held out his hand. “Shall I take it back? Just in case.”

Edward set the date and time he had in mind. He didn’t even need to check. It wasn’t one he would ever forget. If this didn’t work, he would never get the chance to live long enough to even try. “It seems to me that reality is getting worse by the minute.”


There was only one option in Edward’s mind: two years ago, after Fields had told him about the planned raid on Paris, and before he’d told Julia. Of course, other wilder thoughts had drifted through his head as soon as he’d started to believe in the possibility of changing the past – that he could save Julia’s family, or go after her in Berlin, or propose a more sensible arrangement in Paris, or even further back, stop his mother from leaving – but any of those might result in drastic changes. Even if he thought that failing to marry Julia might prove better for her, he was selfish enough not to want to lose her, and, in any case, he couldn’t contemplate anything that might erase their daughter Emily from existence. He didn’t know what Julia would think about this expedition, but he knew without question that she’d be rightly furious at risking Emily.


Edward arrived where he’d started out from, in his office in Whitehall. Luckily, his 1958 self having already left for Carlton Place, it was empty and there was no one there to see him as he gasped out from the pain of the experience and clutched at his chair to keep from falling. After a moment of standing there, breathing in and out, waiting for it to pass, he found he could open his eyes again and straighten up. He put the box in his pocket and looked at his watch. He needed to hurry if he was going to get to Chalcot Crescent and catch Julia in time.

He almost didn’t make it, having to take the Tube, keeping his head down, and feeling distinctly out of place – ever since he’d had a Cabinet position he’d been driven about most of the time. Well, that would go too, if he succeeded. The idea was a relief, he found.

Edward arrived in the hallway just as Julia was pulling her coat off the peg, ready to go out. He caught hold of her arm. “Julia.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked and then frowned at him. “Goodness. Edward, are you all right?”

He had to bite back instant irritation at the implication that he’d aged that much in only two years, however difficult they had been. “Yes, yes, of course I am!”

“Well, you look ghastly,” said Julia. “Are you sure you’re not coming down with something?”

Edward forced himself to ignore her. He couldn’t waste this chance on a ridiculous argument, like the couple in the folk tales who had lost their three wishes by means of a disagreement over a string of sausages. “Never mind that. Can you come out for a walk with me – and maybe a meal after?”

Julia pulled her coat against herself, slowly, hesitating before answering. “Something is wrong, isn’t it?”

“I think it could be,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with me, or anyone else, as far as I know. State business, I mean – the future. Yes.”

Julia raised her eyebrows and then let him help her on with her coat, flicking her hair out from under the collar as she turned to face him. “I see. Or I don’t, rather. Have you run away? Will your entourage come chasing after you?”

“I shouldn’t think so,” said Edward, thinking of his 1958 self at his official residence at Carlton Place, oblivious of his future self trying to run off with his wife. It was a very peculiar thought. “Officially, I’m not here – I’m busy drafting out my resignation and a final speech for the Commons tomorrow. Over Paris. Fields is going ahead with it.”

“Oh, no,” said Julia, following him out the door. “Damn him! Damn all of them. I don’t see why you have to do that! Now they’ll just do what they want.”

Edward took her arm. “I must. And, believe me, they’ll do what they want anyway. Julia, I have to resign tomorrow. Whatever happens, whatever you think – even if I change my mind, I must.”

“Edward?”

He led her along the street towards Primrose Hill, the same route they must have taken a hundred times over the years, together and apart. “You must have learned by now that I have a bad habit of backing out of these things. I want you to make sure I don’t.”

“Yes, but what about Paris?” said Julia. “And you know what Fields is – you said yourself he’ll appoint some wretched yes-man if he can.”

As they reached the parkland, he pulled her round to face him. “It’s not solely his decision. That’s just an excuse. And I’ll speak to someone at the French Embassy, perhaps. I still have one or two contacts. I don’t mean for us to give up on anything.”

“Yes, but what about the organisation?” said Julia, and despite the fact that she was saying it to him and not to the other Edward, he felt his heart give a small, sick lurch at the memory of all the trouble that idea had caused, both in the wider world and between them. “I expect I could still get in touch – perhaps they could do something.”

Edward shook his head. “No, no – at least, not now. It’ll be an option again once I’m not Foreign Secretary, but you know it isn’t now. Just make sure I resign and give that speech. Julia, promise me.”

She raised her head slightly to look at him more closely, her blue gaze shadowed by wariness. “Ned, what is this? You’re shaking. Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Just promise,” he said.

Julia frowned. “What I don’t see is why you need me to, if you’re so set on it. Are you planning to bump your head and forget everything before tomorrow?”

“You never know,” he said with a grin, and then became serious again. “I don’t trust myself – it’s always too easy to come up with plausible excuses, and I cannot be part of this government any longer. But I do trust you – so, please promise me that. We’ll fight in other ways – better ways.”

She laughed. “All right. And finally have our house to ourselves again – and you’ll be around more often.”

“Yes,” said Edward. “I hope so.”

Julia nodded. “Well, then. That’s agreed – now can you stop being so odd and take me to dinner?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’m sorry. It’s only that this might be the most important thing I’ve ever asked you.”

She caught at his coat, tugging him nearer. “I have known you rather a while, darling. I can tell when you’re in deadly earnest. I don’t understand, but I promise. Although I do think you’re worrying too much as usual. You can be very determined – and very underhand – when you make up your mind to do a thing.”

Edward laughed, and couldn’t keep from kissing her, despite the public spot. He couldn’t be sure what he’d return to, or even if he would return. He was within an ace of suggesting they return to the house instead, no matter how unwise that might be, when she pulled back.

“You’ll get us had up for making a public nuisance of ourselves,” she said. “And then you won’t need to worry about speeches or changing your mind – you’ll be asked to resign in no uncertain terms.”

He took her hand. “Well, that might work. I’m sure Harding would count it as an achievement, if nothing else.”

“Come on,” said Julia. “Let’s go to dinner. Where do you think – the Apple Tree again?”

Edward smiled. From his point of view, they hadn’t done that for at least two years. It was difficult to stop being a public figure, especially in London. “Yes, let’s.”


Afterwards, he sent her off in a taxi to Carlton Place, bundling her in as he promised to follow – he merely had one telephone call to make first.

“I could wait,” said Julia, clearly puzzled at his behaviour yet again.

He shook his head. “No, no. Go on. I won’t be long.”

It drove off and he realised that he now had a long night to fill before he was returned to 1960, with nowhere to go and nowhere he ought to be. He walked about for as long as he reasonably could, and then, having made his way down to the Embankment, sat on a bench, hunching into his coat and staring out at the river, the lights of London reflecting in the water.

He moved benches every so often before any police came to ask him to do so, and as it got light, amused himself by going through his pockets to find out how much of the remaining money he had with him had a pre-1959 date and decided, with some relief, that it amounted to enough to allow him to buy a cup of coffee. That done, with various places opening around him, he walked about the streets, lost in a crowd of mostly suited and behatted commuters, and then headed for Charing Cross Library and disappeared into the bookshelves for a few more hours. He wondered, when he looked up from his reading, if he’d done enough, or if his strange appearance in two places might distract from the central issue and cause events to take an unexpected turn. But Julia had promised, and he trusted her to see that through and, besides, heading off to confront his past self would likely only derail everything. Arguing with himself had never got him anywhere.

As it drew into the afternoon, he set off, heading northwards towards Primrose Hill, stopping at a pub before he reached Regent’s Park, scratching together a few last coins for a sandwich, making it last as long as possible as he listened out for the news on the radio with increasing alarm until he was jolted out of a train of despairing thought by the sound of his own voice on the radio. His heart thudding, he got up and left, glad to get out into Regent’s Park. He’d succeeded, but who knew what sort of life that would leave him with, or what other hidden costs there might be? He would have been broken all the more if he’d failed, but it was a victory that meant his life would become a terrifying unknown in one irrevocable swoop – and that was if he really was transported back, as promised. Maybe his visitor had come up with a far more novel way to be rid of the Foreign Secretary than the man who had tried to shoot him, and he would be trapped here.

He concentrated on the scenery and the other passers-by instead, and on the need to get to Chalcot Crescent again before he was returned to 1960. He didn’t want to suddenly appear out of nowhere in the middle of a London street, especially not when people might still know him as the former Foreign Secretary. He checked his watch again and reassured himself: he had a well over an hour left by his reckoning, and he was already over halfway.


The house was empty, so Edward crept inside and hid in his study, pulling the magical box out of his pocket and waiting for it to work, all the while wondering what the hell he would to do if it didn’t. He needn’t have worried: he felt the tug of it, almost like a magnetic pull before its powers kicked in and shifted him out of time. The world blurred dizzyingly and, as a wave of pain hit him, he knew that the more likely problem was as his visitor had warned him – that he might not survive the journey.

He found himself in a study that had changed in multiple small ways; all the piles of paper and books having shifted themselves around him, and he caught at the desk as he doubled over in pain, before crashing to the floor. There was a buzzing in his ears and the pain was everywhere, racking through him. He found it hard to breathe for a moment, before the worst of it cleared, and Julia reached him. She threw herself down beside him and caught hold of him, her hand gripping his shoulder.

“Edward!” she said. “Dear God, what is it – what’s wrong?”

He could not yet manage to answer, leaning in against her. The pain was almost gone, but he was too much shaken to try and move or speak.

“Ned,” Julia said in his ear, trying to sound calm but he heard the tremor in her voice. She hadn’t let go of him. “Is there any pain? Did you eat or drink anything you shouldn’t?”

He shook his head. “No – nothing like that. It’s all right, Julia.”

“No, it isn’t,” she said. She pulled back and squinted at him. “You look dreadful! I’m phoning the doctor.”

She moved away from him, leaving him to try and struggle up from the carpet, but she had the phone on the desk in her hand before he could manage it, and the next thing he knew, he heard her speaking into it, her words drawn out in an incomprehensible way that puzzled him, until he saw the carpet looming much too close again and let himself pass out, almost gratefully.


“Yes, you’re perfectly all right,” Julia was saying, kneeling beside him again as the room began to right itself. “No need for me to call the doctor! Well, I have. Hold on, darling – I’ll get you some water.”

As she left, Edward shifted himself cautiously across the carpet and then leant back against the wall. He felt groggy enough to justify Julia’s fussing, but he needed to find out what had and hadn’t changed. He and Julia were still here, still together, and that was a start, but, despite the fogginess in his mind, he was already worrying over the other possibilities.

“There,” Julia said, suddenly back again and handing him a glass.

He took it and drank the water, glad of it. “I am all right,” he said. “I’m sorry, Julia.”

“You gave me such a fright,” she said. “I was heading down the stairs – and then I saw you. I thought you must be having a heart attack or something.”

Edward shook his head and then regretted it. “No, no. It wasn’t that. Just – my own fault.”

“You really do look awful,” she said again, much as she had two years ago. He still managed to feel irritation over it. She frowned then. “And, Edward – your suit – why have you got your coat on – and haven’t you shaved? I thought you never forgot to do things like that! If the world was ending, you’d still be turning yourself out as neatly pressed as possible.”

He caught hold of her arm, but he was unsure what to say, or if he wanted her to continue or stop this train of thought.

“And you looked exactly as usual just now,” she said, and their eyes met. “Not like this.”

Edward held her gaze. “Julia. Do you remember – the evening before I resigned – we went out for a walk and a meal together –”

She froze. “That’s impossible – you always said it never happened – you weren’t there –”

“Because it was me,” said Edward. “Me now; not me then, I should say.”

Julia swallowed. “But how could that be? Edward! I never dared speak about it again, once everyone said you’d been at Carlton Place. You see, I knew it was you, there couldn’t be any doubt about that – I could only think it must have been your ghost. I thought something awful was going to happen to you! All this time!”

“Sorry,” he murmured and leant back against the wall again. He put the box down between them. “But something would have done if I hadn’t. To all of us. Julia, Emily is all right, isn’t she?”

She nodded. “Of course. She’s staying at her friend Lucy’s.”

“Thank God. And everyone else?”

Julia sighed. “Well, how do I know? Nothing’s particular has happened to any of your family since the raids, not that I can think. Harding is Prime Minister at the moment – Fields was forced to resign not that long after you. Oh, but Diana resigned, too, I’m afraid.”

“Well, that all sounds like a start,” he said, including the part about Diana, although he couldn’t explain that to Julia. Then he caught Julia’s movement, as if to touch the box, and hastily leant forward, putting out a hand to stop her. “Don’t! Don’t touch it. Once was a risk, but perhaps a justified one – change things again and it’ll all come tumbling down once more.”

Julia touched his face, running her fingers over his stubble, as if to prove to herself that something had truly had been altered. “This is all quite impossible, you know. We can’t tell the doctor you did this to herself by travelling in time. It doesn’t even sound real when I say it. How did you get this thing?”

“A devil or a demon,” said Edward, almost drunk with exhaustion. “Or possibly a magician, persuasion unknown.”

“And what did you change – your resignation? Am I supposed to take your word for it that the alternative was worse?”

He put his hand in hers. “I’m afraid so. Much too bad to tell you when none of it is real any more.” He was shaking, he realised, his throat constricting as tears threatened. He was too badly weakened to deal with any of this, and still suffering from a year of strain that had now never happened. He’d even brought himself to the point of being ready to take his own life, and now he was going to have to live. “But you’ll have to tell me everything – something must have gone wrong somewhere, I’m sure.”

“Well, Mr Hallam is still around. And you’re halfway through a book that I should think is going to be a lot harder to finish now.”

He was too drained to even smile. “I’m sorry. I seem to have displaced the Edward who got up this morning. I’m not sure how this business works, but I don’t think my memories are going to change. Perhaps you’ve got a bad bargain out of it.”

“Darling,” said Julia, squeezing his hand. “You’re you, in all the ways that matter. That much I do know. I couldn’t possibly be mistaken, after all, not on that subject. And why should I complain when now I can tell you that you did promise we could have new curtains, and that it was you who arranged to go to dinner with Diana and forgot and just you’ll have to take my word for it.”

He mustered a ghost of a smile at that.

“Or are you thinking that I’m the bad bargain?” she said. “Am I not as good as the Julia you left behind this morning? Because I already have enough trouble with Caroline and Marie – I refuse to compete with myself!”

Edward hadn’t even thought of that. She was Julia; he hadn’t even questioned the difference that the two alternative experiences made. He understood what she meant about him, then, immediately. She hadn’t lived through that awful period beside him, and they hadn’t nearly broken apart under the strain, thank God, but she was Julia, and that was all that mattered.

“I’ll get you a cup of tea,” she said. “I’m sorry – I meant to before, but then you started talking about time travel and I forgot.” She looked at him again, as if to prove she wasn’t imagining things. Then she moved forward and hugged him tightly, not quite able to leave him. “I thought you were dying and, oh, Ned, you still look – I don’t know –translucent at the edges and I don’t like it.” She drew back, and then kissed him, before pulling him against her.

Edward let himself bury his head in her shoulder for a moment, before he said, “Tea would be rather a good idea.”

“Yes, of course,” said Julia, drawing back, and wiping her eyes with the heel of her hand.

She paused in the doorway, on her way out, and turned back. “How do you know this person wasn’t an angel in disguise, anyway?”

“Now, that would be impossible,” murmured Edward, even though Julia had already left; he could hear her footsteps fading away down the hall as she headed towards the kitchen. “It’s always one sort of devil or another. One merely has to choose between them as best as one can.”

On the floor beside him, the box vanished.

***

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
roisin_farrell
Mar. 30th, 2017 11:43 pm (UTC)
Oooh, I like this idea. Hope you continue with this AU (like you need anymore. :P).
lost_spook
Mar. 31st, 2017 05:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks! And I think it may be one AU that begs a little more, really. (Some of them are sufficient, some of them have to be hit so as not to escape into whole other things. :-D)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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