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Enduring the Interminable Tribulations of Friendship, the Invasion of a Foreign Establishment and an Unforeseen Rival: a Bystander's Perspective

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9 November, 1865
James Rhodes, the Valiant Devil as some had taken to calling him, hid his face in his hands and tried desperately to pretend he had no ears. The drawing room Jarvis had escorted him to showed all the signs of Anthony's uncertainties. No less than three empty soul jars were left out on the mantle, with no signs of their inhabitants or what had become of them. Books were scattered left and right on side tables from where Anthony had flipped through and discarded them, distraction holding only a modicum of power over him. Even the rug, which bore a lush pattern of clockwork gears and was normally kept in impeccable condition by the staff, had soot marks and smelled faintly of sulfur.

"Anthony, please. I can take no more," he begged in earnest, looking up through his fingers. "Open it, and cease this madness."

"But what if it's a rejection?" his dear friend and increasingly probable murder victim protested, clutching a letter to his breast. It had been personally delivered early that morning by a diplomatic liaison, a particularly well-liked lady named Miss Van Dyne, and Anthony had predictably summoned James with alacrity. Since his arrival, five hours had passed, and the dithering had yet to cease. "Perhaps I should have spent more time considering his lips? How they would feel against my—"

"Anthony," James snapped. "If I am forced to listen to another sordid piece of prose, I may be forced to bottle you up and ship you downriver."

Silence fell, heavy and forlorn. Anthony drooped, head and tail both sagging low, the picture of dejection. "My apologies," he mumbled, lisping a bit behind his fangs. "It was impolite of me to force myself upon you. You are kind to have survived me so long."

Against the fragment of his better judgment that had not withered in Anthony's presence, James sighed and patted the seat beside him. The spot was promptly taken by a humbled Anthony, his tail slithering around James' knee pitifully. "I should not have lost my temper," James admitted, patting his friend's knee. They had been at one another's side since before the Bazaar had even come to be, before Rome had been a thought and fire was the latest of scientific discoveries. It pained him to think that he might be a cause of his friend's anguish, but even the friendship of millennia had some small limit. "I confess, I do not understand your upset over this matter. You've seduced plenty of humans out of their souls, even recently, but never have I seen you so anxious."

The tip of Anthony's tail slid along his calf, flicking back and forth. His eyes, a shocking blue uncommon in devils, stayed low on his precious envelope. "You haven't felt it, James," he murmured, fingers caressing the paper as if it were the skin of his precious Captain. "I cannot fully explain it—it is like being in the presence of a newborn star, but... Living, fresh. I imagine it must be what having a soul of one's own feels like."

James laughed, a fond chuckle. His arm slung around Anthony's shoulder, pulling him into an easy embrace. "You, my friend, are overly romantic," he chided gently, petting his friend's hair back from his brow. "If he refuses, then continue your efforts. You've never failed at the game of passions before, I do not see why this Captain should be the first."

"What if he is?" Anthony asked quietly.

"He won't be." Their tails wrapped around one another, fine hide sliding in a way that made pleasant shivers crawl over James' skin. Under normal circumstances, he might have thought to offer a distraction of a more prurient nature, but when taken by an obsession Anthony was rarely open to such things. "Read his response and you'll see."

Anthony settled deeper in to James' side, slipping a finger under the wax seal and sliding it open. It looked, to James' eye, as though the wax had been opened, warmed and replaced, but that wasn't unusual in the Neath. Any correspondence was at risk, secrets being as valuable as they were. He waited while Anthony read, and then reread the letter, the ink-stained tip of his tail giving sudden jerks against James' much more immaculate one.

"Not the most promising of reply," Anthony finally announced, head bowed and shoulders rounded with some disappointment, "and yet not the least."

Curiosity not being a fault limited to cats, James leaned over and inspected the text. Helpfully, Anthony tilted it up for him, so it was not so shadowed. ...extend my thanks for your very kind sentiments.. . Not risqué as hope could have provided, James had to concede, but certainly warm enough. "See? I told you that it would be well."

"And never should I have doubted you." With a wiggle that Mr. Wines' employees of the scarlet stockings and lucrative charms would have been paid fortunes to replicate, Anthony buried himself deeper against James' side, twining their tails into a Gordian knot. One of his horns scraped the side of James' neck as he settled down, pressing his cheek into James' shoulder. "What would I do without you?"

"Stumble into disgrace and exile, I imagine." James rubbed his companion's arm and then gave it a firm pat. "Perhaps the the colonies Londoners are building for their nearly-dead."

"Bandages would not suit me." Anthony nuzzled his shoulder, making James' suspicions rise. "You would miss me were I gone, wouldn't you?" Anthony continued. "And would want to keep me from mistakes which could cost me dear?"

Affectionate devil or no, Anthony seldom was so very affectionate without direct cause. Not that James minded much; it was, after all, the nature of being a devil. James stared down at Anthony's head on his breast, lips pursed. "Of course I would, as you would no doubt for me."

A beatific smile stretched across Anthony's face as he looked up, all innocence and sharp fangs. "I had so hoped you would say as much."


12 November, 1865
Sunday
"This is easily the most preposterous thing you have ever asked of me." James tugged at his cuffs, straightening them once, and then again. His tail was most properly trailing along behind him, but every now and then the tip would twitch in agitation. It was no happier with the farce they were about to be embroiled in than he was. "I cannot imagine why you would waste a day for this."

Newly renamed, Spartel Square felt like it would engulf them, similar to the way the Brass Embassy sometimes felt when senior devils were having a particularly difficult day. The fountains were cracked from the Fall, but still running brilliantly clear water whose spray cast fine rainbows in the gas-light. Children played among the tarnished statues and broken marble, the youngest of them trying to snatch rainbows from the air, fascinated by sights usually reserved for the surface. Matrons hustled to try and keep them from ruining their good clothing as they shuffled along toward the Church which was at the heart of the bustle.

"This is the premier way for our new neighbors to spend their Sunday morning," Anthony decreed, gesturing grandly to take in teeming masses of well-scrubbed Londoners. "As ambassadors of Hell, don't you think it is our duty to better understand their ways? I only seek enlightenment."

"And I suppose your quest has little to do with our sighting of the Widow Parker's carriage?"

In his excitement, Anthony nearly bounded forward, eyes bright and robin's egg blue cravat even brighter. "The Captain is not even in my thoughts," he promised as if he hadn't exchanged at least five letters with the gentleman. "Intellectual stimulation, I promise."

In James' experience, the intellect was not located so low on the torso, but Anthony found a distressing pleasure in confusing the two. Sighing, James stretched out his legs to catch up and then linked their arms; he was there in order to keep Anthony out of trouble, and by all that was Holy and not-quite, he intended to do so.

From the interior, it was difficult to tell that the church had fallen at all. Candlelight crawled up the walls in golden tendrils, setting the chandeliers to sparkling and hiding that no sunlight would ever again shine in through lovely glass windows. Either through some stroke of divine luck or via the work of particularly excellent restorers, the vaulted ceilings were pristine and the support columns unbroken. Pews of dark, polished wood lined the nave, some already filled with parishioners.

They drew a murmur of surprise from the people around them as they entered and removed their hats, but a brave usher offered them a prayer book and escorted them to a pew. No one chose to sit near them and, in fact, some of the other pews appeared crowded for the lacking. That was just as well, in James' opinion. Anthony was like a child seeing his first Rubbery Man, looking about the place in unabashed excitement, his tail curling into odd shapes as if it, too, were trying to see the spectacle of so many humans gathered together in their finery. James left him to it, embarrassing as it was. It was doing no true harm to aught but dignity—of which Anthony had little—and he hoped that seeing Anthony's cheerful excitement might soothe some fears without necessitating close contact.

He knew that Anthony had spotted his quarry when tail and devil both went still, a hound scenting the trail. "There he is, James," he whispered, drawing a sharp look from those close enough to notice; none were brave enough to actually reprimand him, however. "Near the front, the tall, tawny one standing in the aisle. I can taste him from here. Isn't he exquisite?"

The man in question was standing aside to let an elderly widow into the pew. James had to admit that he was certainly a class better than some of Anthony's other interests—sonnets could be and likely would be written about his muscles, and the candles were kind to his complexion and hair. Even his suit, while merely a sober brown and clearly not the finest of make, hugged his form in a way that was clearly setting young hearts to palpitating in the pews nearby. "He does seem very attractive," James agreed softly. "I don't see what you mean by tasting him, however."

Anthony's tail swatted his thigh, sharp enough to raise a welt under his trousers that stung pleasantly along his skin. "Perhaps you have to touch him first. I could tell he was here as soon as we stepped in." Another tail-smack, as if James were being punished for his great many failings.

Before a third blow could cause even more difficulties that were most unseemly inside a church full of worshipers, James snapped up his friend's tail in a firm grip. "Enough," he hissed. "The service is due to begin, and your American will be upset if you get us tossed from it."

Grumbling, Anthony settled in and quieted, but his tail kept jerking around in James' hand. He was forced to settle it on his lap, where the tip lashed back and forth like a cat with an unpleasant secret to share. He'd called it just in time; the congregation had only finished settling when the vicar made his appearance, fine surplice seeming made of Neath-snow in the flickering candlelight.

"God is our hope and strength: a very present help in trouble..."

The service proceeded as, James could only assume, it usually did. There were a few times when words tumbled and tongues tied where less-than-favorable references to devils and Hell were stumbled over. It gave him some pleasure that those lines were almost certain to be completely expurgated from future sermons. Anthony barely paid attention at all, having to be prompted to stand or kneel when it was called for. The only pleasure he seemed to find in the service itself was, unfortunately, the hymns, wherein his lack of vocal talent surely must have made certain in the hearts and ears of all within earshot that devils were not descended from angels, regardless of what some may rumor.

As the service went on, Anthony grew more and more reserved, shoulders tense, eyes narrowed and his tail lashings nearly violent. Try as he might, James couldn't quite make out the cause of his ire. His American seemed at peace in his pew, and there was nothing more offensive than he would have expected about the service. Seeing Anthony on edge set James on edge, as an anxious Anthony was an unpredictable Anthony.

Finally, while the vicar read the prayer during the Intercession, he gave in to poor manners and leaned over. "What is it?" James asked, as quietly as inhumanly possible. "You act as though you're on the verge of murder."

"That may be the case," Anthony actually hissed, the tips of his fangs bared. His tail snapped. "That—that seductress is trying to snatch him up!"

"Seductress?" Try as James might, he couldn't see what Anthony might be referring to. The Captain was hedged in on either side by a small child and the widow he was staying with. There were a few clearly lovestruck girls in nearby pews, but nothing to warrant such venom. "What seductress?"

"The widow." Claws bit into the prayerbook they were sharing as Anthony clenched his fists, leaving deep scores on the cover. "Look at how close she sits to him, nearly touching his arm! And how their heads lean in. She wants him, I know she does."

On further inspection, James could very nearly see what Anthony meant by the turn of their heads and the nearness of their shoulders. If the widow were decades younger, it would have been nearly indecent. But she was not decades younger; humans of James' experience tended to place odd importance on age. "You are a ninny," he snapped, his own tail bouncing against his knee with grand levels of irritability. "If you're so worried about someone else snatching him up, you had best hurry your courtship, hadn't you?"

In answer, James received a low growl that was just under a human's register for hearing. "Yes, I most definitely should."