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Title: Proposition
Author: lost_spook
Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): Prune 4 (one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration); Lemon-Lime Sorbet 9 (in your dreams)
Toppings/Extras: Gummy Bunnies – also for hc_bingo square “asking for help.”
Rating: PG
Word Count: 3821
Notes: 1949; Edward Iveson/Julia Graves. (Magic AU of Edward and Julia’s meeting in Paris.)
Summary: Julia has been asked to spy on one of the government magicians, but she has a rather different idea in mind. So does he…

***

The fairy lights and music inside seemed to belong to another world, unconnected to the still-battered and bleak one outside. Julia had also left her mundane self behind in this borrowed dress, a long grey silk frock with a silver embroidered bodice. It put her in mind of her mother, who, in Julia’s memory, was forever going to dances, looking like a fairy princess.

Of course, formal receptions and even dances were frequently tedious, as Julia knew well, having often attended as one of the catering staff at the American Embassy in Paris. Today, though, she was a guest at the British Embassy, here with Edward Iveson, one of the court magicians who’d accompanied the Foreign Secretary to the conference. She glanced up at him, even as he turned back to her from a conversation with a small, nondescript man whose name she hadn’t caught.

“I’m sorry,” Mr Iveson said, and seemed to interpret her look as a request, leading her onto the dance floor as the musicians began to play a waltz.

Julia caught her breath, wanting to let the illusion take over, but she must remember that it was all very unreal indeed. She was only here because she had been asked to keep an eye on Mr Iveson by the Common Front organisation, who hoped she could coax some secrets about the ongoing negotiations out of him. Why he had seemed to go out of the way to encourage her was a more complicated question. She felt sure he had guessed what she was, but he had asked no questions and made no accusations, merely asking her first to the theatre and now to this ball. Perhaps he was intending to give her false information to pass on, but he didn’t seem to have talked much about anything that wasn’t personal.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, shifting his hand on her waist.

Julia nearly laughed. Where to begin? The whole situation, following the war, or the loss of her family – though, that, he knew already – or the phial she had in her handbag or her puzzlement as to his intentions?

“Miss Graves?” he said, evidently troubled by her silence.

She raised her head and knew that it was time to come to a decision: two years of the Common Front, three encounters with Mr Iveson, one phial that was making her uncomfortable, and no time left to ponder her options.

“May we talk?” she said breathlessly. “Alone, I mean.”

Mr Iveson merely nodded and without creating any fuss or colliding with other dancers, guided her back across to Elaine and Crispin Morley, where she reclaimed her bag while Mr Iveson picked up two glasses of champagne, passing one to Julia.

She took the champagne, raising the glass to her lips, but she watched Mr Iveson as he murmured a vague excuse to Elaine – someone else was already busy talking to Mr Morley – and ushered her away from the crowds, into a long hallway behind the ballroom and on, into an empty office. It couldn’t have belonged to anyone in particular, even in office hours, as there was nothing inside it but a bare desk and chairs, plus a small, long table with two more wooden chairs on either side of it.

“What is it?” Mr Iveson asked. He showed no surprise or annoyance at her request, merely awaiting her explanation.

Julia perched on the table, placing the delicate, borrowed silver bag beside her and pausing for a moment, before finally taking the plunge. “Do you know who I am?” she said. “What I’m doing?”

She thought he wasn’t going to answer. He shifted his gaze, now looking slightly to one side of her and put a hand in his jacket pocket. Eventually, he said, “Well, obviously I know you’re Julia Graves.” He met her gaze again and she had to look down: Berlin and her brother’s death lay between them and could never entirely be forgotten.

“And, yes,” he added. “I believe you must be hoping for information from me – the Common Front, I suppose. Hoping the Magical Arms Agreement will eventually be signed.” He leant against the wall. “I knew that you’d joined them in Berlin. My previous job was rather in that line, you know. I’m sorry.”

Julia bit her lip. She’d guessed that he had at least suspected the truth, but she had not dreamed he’d known for that long. “Then why did you encourage me? Keeping your enemies close, is that it?”

“Something like that,” he admitted, with a small quirked, smile. “But also – I meant to go back and see if you needed help in Berlin, but I was too late. I am sorry, Julia, and if I can help now, I will – I wasn’t lying when I told you that our families used to be friends.”

Julia still couldn’t look up. She put her hand into the bag and her fingers closed around the phial.

“If I thought you were an enemy,” he said, moving forwards, “I would never have said so much.”

Julia pulled out the phial and held it out to him. “You’re a magician, aren’t you? Can you tell me what this is?”

“Well, not just by looking,” said Edward, although he examined it carefully, and held it up to the light. “Why?”

She shrugged. “Someone gave it to me to use, and I wondered.”

“I see,” he said, with one brief glance across at her, before he became brisk and business-like and started rifling in the desk drawers for blotting paper, pulling out two sheets and laying them flat on the desk’s surface. “Not that this is going to be the most reliable test, but – I’ll try. Unless you think it might be especially lethal?”

Julia shook her head. “Oh, no. I opened it earlier and I’m still here.”

Mr Iveson removed the stopper and let a few drops of the colourless liquid fall onto the blotting paper, before crouching down to be at eye level with it. After a moment of what seemed to Julia to be pointless examination from that position, he straightened up again and held his hand over it, frowning in concentration. As the first real act of magic she’d seen performed in front of her, it was definitely an anti-climax.

Mr Iveson drew himself up, screwing up the paper at the same time and throwing it across into the bin. “You’d want a proper test done to confirm it, but I can’t mistake that. I’ve come across something very similar before – worse luck.”

“In your previous line of work?” said Julia, raising an eyebrow. “Military Intelligence, you mean?” She hadn’t realised that until he’d as good as confessed it just now, but it made a surprising amount of sense.

He gave another nod.

“So, I’m only an amateur, I suppose. No wonder you knew.”

“I’m not in the service any more,” he pointed out. “Old habits die hard, of course. And, yes, yes, you are. That’s part of what worries me. I don’t think your heart has ever been in it, and you’re too careless. That’s the sort of thing that will get you killed.”

Julia wasn’t entirely sure how she should react to his concern, so she pushed that aside. “So, this drug – what is it, what does it do?”

“Like most things, that depends on the context in which you use it,” said Mr Iveson.

Julia slipped off the table, impatient with his caution. “Say I was supposed to slip somebody a few drops of it in their champagne?” She raised her glass as she spoke, and held his gaze in challenge.

“Yes, sorry,” he murmured. “It’s only – it’s a combination of two substances, but I can’t tell you for certain what both are, because one is an inhibitor. The main could be poison, could be a sleeping potion, or something to make a person more docile – but you’d have to get it tested to be sure. For magic-users, you often need an inhibitor to make it effective or less detectable. The trouble is, inhibitors can have vicious side-effects, especially for technical magicians, rather than the practical or natural sort.”

Julia closed her eyes momentarily, suddenly unsteady. She had clung to the Common Front since the loss of Rudy – the last other surviving member of her close family – but Mr Iveson was right about her heart not being in their cause. She did agree with many of their aims, but certainly not all of their methods, and that was before one faction within the organisation had started getting worrying militant of late. If someone had given her something that could have injured or even killed Mr Iveson – who, as a member of the civil service, was almost certain to be a technical magician rather than a practical one, she owed them nothing. She was finally set free from the obligation she’d felt. She raised her head again, suddenly able to open up her mind to more possibilities again – maybe even to imagine a better future.

“When you say somebody,” said Mr Iveson, keeping his tone conversational, but watching her closely, “I take it that you mean me?”

Julia nodded, wondering how he would react to that revelation.

“Then thank you,” he said soberly, handing the phial back over. “Please don’t. And please don’t ever give it to anyone else. I’ve had a run in with this kind of thing before. I probably wouldn’t survive a second time.”

Someone had wanted, not information, but also to be rid of one more magician. Julia didn’t run to administering unknown drugs to anybody without some very good reason, but she felt both sick and angry at the idea of what they’d wanted her to do to Mr Iveson.

“I hate it,” she said, her voice low but nearly choking over the intensity of her emotion, surprising herself more than him. “I hate it, I hate them – I don’t want anything more to do with any of it! You’re right, you know. In some ways I don’t care. I’m not an idealist, or a terrorist. I did it for Rudy, because he’d been with them, and I didn’t know where else to go or what to do – but that was stupid.”

Mr Iveson made an awkward start forward, putting out his hand to her and then drawing it back. “I am sorry. As I said, I only wish I’d tried to help that day. I didn’t want to presume – to intrude on your grief.”

“I don’t suppose they’ll let me go, though, will they?” she said, lowering her voice further as she began to take in the ramifications of her position.

He sat down on the edge of the desk, and gave her an unexpected smile. “They might be unwilling, but I think I have an idea – it’s a little outrageous, but perhaps – in the circumstances – it might prove beneficial to everyone all round. Aside from, er, your people, that is.”

“I don’t think I’d make much of a double agent,” said Julia. “I’m not all that much of a single one. I’m not a politician, either – and your thing with the blotting paper was the first bit of magic I’ve seen. It wasn’t very impressive, by the way. Did you actually do anything at all?”

Mr Iveson laughed and reached out for the remaining spare sheet of blotting paper, catching it up in his hand and letting it fall into silver dust. “Did you expect glitter?” he murmured, with an amused glint in his eye. “Sparks, perhaps? I assure you, Miss Graves – Julia – we technical magicians are a dull lot. Not like natural magicians.”

Julia couldn’t help laughing in return. “I’m not sure I believe you, Mr Iveson!”

“Please – Edward,” he said. “And it’s quite true. We busy ourselves in offices and libraries.”

“They never taught us anything useful about magic at school,” she said. “The Common Front have a point, you know. It is a dangerous omission, and other countries are much better at training people. Well, some of them are, at least.”

Mr Iveson – Edward – gave another of his brief nods. “I couldn’t agree more, but that’s something I plan to work on from within the government, not by attacking people.”

“Easier said than done, though, I think,” said Julia, raising an eyebrow. “Still, what is it you’ve got in mind? I distracted you, didn’t I? I’m sorry. Please, go on.”

Edward smiled. “Oh, it all amounts to the same thing I’d say – it’s this lamentable lack of understanding about magic, even the difference between natural and technical magicians that leaves me in something of a predicament and, as I said, I think we could help each other out of our respective difficulties.”

“Goodness,” said Julia. “Whatever your idea is, it must be more than a little outrageous or you’d have got to the point by now.”

He frowned. “I am trying. The thing is, there’s still an archaic law in effect that requires a court magician to marry. To produce more magicians was the original idea, although it’s not a guarantee for natural magicians and has very little to say to technical magicians –”

“And they’re going to force you down the aisle or sack you?” she said, raising an eyebrow. “I find that very hard to believe!”

“Yes, well, in normal times, neither, I should imagine, but in times of crisis enforcing rules like that is a matter of being seen to do something. So, I might be at least politely asked to consider it.”

“How dreadful. Clearly you need to take drastic action to avoid such a possibility!”

Edward laughed, holding a hand up to acknowledge a hit. “Yes, yes, I know. But while I don’t think anyone will dismiss me out of hand, it might well affect my chances of advancement, and I’m not entirely lacking in ambition.”

“It’s a novel excuse,” said Julia. “I’ll grant you that much. Is this – is this a proposal? Please, Mr Iveson – Edward – this isn’t the time for jokes.”

He stood, holding out a hand to her, and taking hers when she responded. “I’m not. It is ridiculous, I know. But it would solve my current difficulty – and you could tell your people that I’ve fallen for you – that I’ve made this wild proposal and that you are sure you can put it to good use – maybe even turn me. And we make a marriage – of convenience, of course – and you may be gradually, unnoticeably extracted from their orbit with no cause for alarm. You do see?”

“I do, but ridiculous isn’t the word!” Julia said. “You can’t possibly mean it. Are you drunk?”

Edward shook his head. “No. And of course I don’t mean to try and bully you into the scheme – I shall arrange for you to visit my aunt and try and work out a deal for you with SIS. The Common Front aren’t supposed to be dangerous, but –” He shrugged. “My way covers all the points.”

“Aside from us being trapped in a marriage of convenience,” said Julia. “You can’t possibly want a second divorce, can you?”

“I’d survive it, however,” he said. “Given some of our other options, this one has that advantage for both of us.” He hesitated and then added, “Of course, I would ask you to wait a little while before divorcing me. My first marriage ended rather too quickly and if my second did the same, I’d wind up looking like Bluebeard or something.”

Julia nodded, although she had to bite back a smile at the improbable idea of Edward Iveson as Bluebeard. Elaine Morley had told her about Edward’s disastrous first marriage when she’d gone to see her about borrowing a dress, however, and she could easily imagine it must be a sensitive subject. “Edward,” she said, perching herself on the desk, and waiting till he looked at her to continue. “I do see the reasons as to why I should consider your offer, but I don’t understand what it is you want out of the arrangement?”

She couldn’t help thinking that he must want her. It was an odd way to go about it, but even after one meeting in Berlin and three in Paris, that was no longer very surprising. Edward was odd, at least a little. She liked him, though. She wished she hadn’t been so very alone for so long: she’d know just how to refuse him, then. As it was, she was tempted, ridiculous as the prospect was. She liked the idea of accepting his offer of a pretend marriage and then winning him over – if she did still like him on further acquaintance.

“Yes,” he said, and looked away again. “I know. It merely seems to me to answer all the problems – but I’ll get in touch with my aunt and talk to Mr Morley. I said it was an outrageous suggestion.”

Julia shook her head. “No,” she said. “Or, I mean, let me think about it. It was so unexpected, but – I’d make rather a good hostess. I can be the perfect wife and support your career until we part. But, look, what do you do? I don’t entirely understand the difference between your sort of magician and the other.”

“We’re trained to be attuned to the magic in everything around us,” he said. “And there is a certain amount in pretty much everything so then it’s a matter of identifying it, and of using it – rather like a miner seeking out a rich ore. Only with a lot more paperwork – but that’s more complex. Natural magicians are people with a greater than usual amount of innate magic in themselves. So we both use magic, but we come at it from opposite directions.”

Julia bit her lip, her question having been not entirely honest. She hadn’t been taught much about magic, but she had gathered a vague idea as to the difference between magicians. But listening to Edward in professional mode was something she found she was enjoying, and it also gave her a chance to think, and to watch him. However, one thing he said caught her attention. She slid off the desk, moving nearer to him. “So, you could use whatever magic is in me? I would have some?”

“Everyone does,” he said. “But it’s not something one just does, you know.”

“It might hurt?”

“Of course not, but it’s not the most appropriate behaviour.”

Julia laughed. “And making proposals out of the blue is? Go on, please. Try. Show me some magic close up. I’ve spent the last eighteen months or so among people who disapprove and the only court magicians I ran into before that – in my war work, you understand – had no time to spare on lesser mortals like me.”

“We’ll need contact,” he said, and held out his hand to her. She took it, and looked up at him, waiting, but he was gazing back so intently and yet almost looking through her, and she found it better to close her eyes. She felt light, butterfly touches against her temples and then her cheek, but when she opened her eyes, he hadn’t moved. She found herself debating again, idly, whether his eyes were blue or grey while he put his other hand to her arm, steadying her as she started, unknowing, to sway. She felt the same sort of light, fluttering sensation again, only this time inside her mind. It was strangely both dizzying and calming.

Her defences down, there was a moment afterwards when their minds seemed to meet. She didn’t know what he might or might not have seen, but she could sense strongly his wish to kiss her – so much so, she felt surprised when he didn’t and merely stepped back, leaving her alone again.

“Julia?” he said, keeping his hand on her arm in concern and then when she shook herself, he smiled, as if unaware of having betrayed his feelings, holding out a flower to her.

It had a black stem, soft grey petals and a silvery centre. She recognised the various parts of her dress and took it with a small cry of pleasure at the novelty.

“I used the fabric as well,” he said. “I didn’t want to be too intrusive. Will that satisfy you?”

Julia turned the flower around in her hands, feeling breathless. No, she thought, it was only the beginning. She couldn’t say that to him, however. “How – how charming. Thank you. Could I learn to do that?”

“I doubt it.”

She raised her head sharply, her magic-induced moment of pleasure entirely broken. “Oh? And why not? If you mean to say that it’s because I’m a female –”

“No,” said Edward. “Of course not. That’s merely a Victorian fallacy, you know. Ideally, a person would want training earlier, but a trick like that – yes, of course anyone could work their way up to it if they were determined.”

“Except me?” Julia clenched her fingers around the unnatural flower. “Well, I must say I don’t think that’s very flattering.”

He shook his head, moving forward. “Except any natural magician – it takes a great deal more work to override one’s own magic to see someone else’s. And it would be a considerable waste of effort, when one could be working with that innate magic instead.”

For the second time that evening, Julia found herself gaping in disbelief, sure he must be joking. “Me? But – I would have known! Somebody would have said.”

“You told me yourself no one at your school taught magic,” he said. “And, yes, it is a problem. Thousands of natural magicians go unnoticed until it manifests in some ways – often very damaging for the unfortunate magician or the people around them. Much better to do something about it before it comes to that.”

Julia glanced at the flower again. So, perhaps he hadn’t realised how much she’d seen when they’d touched in that way – only that she’d done something magical herself? She gave a smile, liking the idea. “Is this just another means of persuading me to marry you? No doubt, you’d see about my training if I do?”

“It’s another reason to get you well away from the Common Front,” he said. “If they’ve got an anti-magical extremist in their midst, you don’t want to be anywhere near them when your power becomes apparent. And it would at some point.”

“And you could you teach me?”

“The basics, yes – and arrange for the rest. But I’d do that anyway, even if you want me to speak to my aunt instead. But,” he said, giving her a sudden grin, “I do hope you will consider my offer – I think this marriage could prove very interesting.”

Julia slipped her hand into his again. “Very,” she murmured and stretched up to kiss him, briefly. “I shall certainly consider it, I promise.”

***

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
roisin_farrell
Nov. 29th, 2017 08:15 pm (UTC)
I love all of your AUs but a magic one, yes please!
lost_spook
Nov. 29th, 2017 09:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I wanted to do a magic AU from the moment I started doing them, but I could never think quite how to work it until I thought of doing just the 50s but with magic added in.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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