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Too used to being listened to

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When Edmund Pevensie finished his National Service, he got a job in a bookshop on the Charing Cross road and got very good at not selling books.

-----

 

Basic training is an... experience. They're chucked into the barracks and made to do constant drills and boot polishing. The first night, everyone tries to ignore the sounds of crying from the boys away from home for the first time. First night of boarding school all over again. And as happens when a large amount of young men are chucked together, there can be friction. Edmund decides keeping his head down is possibly the best way to get through this. Training last six weeks, not six minutes like he had before his first battle, and this is a different kind of army than he's used to. Less swords, for a start. However, it turns out keeping your head down can be almost as much of a flag to some people as crying at night.

He's on his way to pick something up from stores when a few of the blokes who everyone knows were in gangs before they got called up, turn the corner ahead of him, blocking off his route. Miller puts his hands in his pockets and sneers. "Heard you're a poofter, Pevensie. Think you're above us or summat? Think you need to be taught a lesson."

Edmund sighs. He really doesn't need this. Oh well, it's not as though it'll be all that much trouble. He puts down the box he was carrying and shakes a knife into his hand, smiling pleasantly. "Well, you can try."

Next to Miller, Bettany grabs Vaughan's sleeve, suddenly eyeing Edmund cautiously. "Er, lads, this might not be a good idea."

Vaughan shakes his hand off, smirking. "Suddenly become a pacifist, Bettsy? S'alright, we won't tell." Vaughan and Miller advance on Edmund, confident in their ability to beat up a posh boy and assert their dominance in the pecking order. Vaughan swings first. Edmund ducks, tucking his knife away as he does, then moves to get out of Miller's way, punching him on the backswing and jerking his elbow back to get Vaughan in the nose as he tries to grab Edmund from behind. Miller comes back, right in time to take a knee to the stomach and at just the right angle for Edmund to throw him into Vaughan, landing them on the ground in an untidy tangle of limbs.

He's picking up his box as Bettany comes forward, looking a bit sheepish in Edmund's direction. "Sorry about that." His tone turns long suffering as he addresses the pile on the floor that's trying to pick itself up. Vaughan's bleeding a bit heavily from the nose. "Your own fucking fault, you've got no sense of self preservation. You'd think you'd've learned to spot the dangerous ones."

Edmund shrugs. "Nothing broken." Then he grins. "Though you were right about me being a poofter." He goes on his way.

Sergeant Toms takes a close look at Vaughan's black eyes during clean-up later in the afternoon. "You been fighting, Vaughan?"

"No sir. Tripped." Vaughan says.

The sergeant looks at Miller next to him, who's moving a little stiffly. Well. A bit more than everyone else who's bone tired already from drills and a work pattern they're not used to yet. Oddly, the public school boys are the ones coping fractionally better, since they're used to being away from home, hard beds in the cold and tasteless food. Most of the working class lads still have their mums doing for them. Then he looks round, stopping when he sees Edmund, walking over to loom over him. "Let me see your knuckles, Pevensie."

"Sir?" Edmund asks.

"Knuckles, Pevensie, don't be smart about it." Edmund extends his hand. They're a bit discoloured. Miller's got a hard face. The sergeant sneers. "Thought so. You're a chip off the old block, aren't you, Pevensie?"

"Sir?" He repeats.

The sergeant leans in so close his face is barely a centimetre away from Edmund's. Edmund's had worse breath in his face, the sergeant at least occasionally brushes his teeth and eats fruit. "Don't play smart with me, lad, I had the unpleasant experience of shepherding your brother through when he joined up. The only hard bastard trained killers I like around here are the ones who follow orders. Do I make myself clear?"

Edmund meets his glare. "Don't know what you mean, sir."

The sergeant rears back slowly. Very slowly. "I'm watching you, Pevensie." he says once he's upright again. Presumably it's meant to be intimidating. To people who aren't used to being on the business end of a multitude of weapons. Or have ever had the misfortune of incurring his elder sister's wrath.

"Sir." Edmund replies, keeping his face straight.

Once his back's turned, you can see the recruits within hearing distance mouth 'trained killer?' at each other, then stare at Edmund. Edmund does his best puzzled shrug. He suspects it's not entirely successful.

----

 

Edmund's doing stock take - well, checking that no-one's moved any of the books, Mr Fell has a filing system and gets quite irritated when people put books back in the wrong place. There's no danger of them selling any, and as for stealing - well. He doubts any of their few customers would even be stupid enough to think of it, let alone try it.

The door jingles, and Edmund says "Afternoon, Mr Crowley." He pauses. "Mr Fell's in the back doing repairs."

Crowley glares at him from behind his dark glasses. He always glares at Edmund. Normally suspiciously. Has ever since Edmund took a job here. He harrumphs, straightens his jacket - just this side of spiv, it's that flashy - and stalks into the back room. "Oh, hello, my dear." says his employer to the newcomer. "Tea? I've just put the kettle on. Edmund?"

"Much appreciated, thank you." Edmund says.

Crowley slouches against the doorpost dividing the shop from the back room, and glares at Edmund again. "I don't know why you employ him, angel. You're only encouraging those spies that use it as a dropping-off point for those coded messages they're so fond of."

"Mr Crowley, I've told you, I've got nothing to do with them." Edmund says. It's an old argument. Crowley insists that he screams spook, never mind that he's not been one in years. From the whispers he's heard about Crowley from their furtive visitors, he really can't talk.

"Indeed. Really, Crowley, stop casting aspersions on my employee." Mr Fell says, getting up as the kettle whistles. "As I've told you, Edmund is incredibly useful at keeping an eye on the shop when I can't and freeing me up for my research and repair work."

"Keeps me off the streets." Edmund says cheerfully in the face of another glare. Crowley's territoriality when it comes to Fell is frankly rather amusing. Edmund's fairly sure he's a large portion of why the spies that visit to leave messages for each other wouldn't dare take anything but the slips of paper they leave amongst the shelves.

----

 

Edmund's out in Korea. His brother's upcountry, impressing his men and pissing off superiors with his inborn talent to lead and experience in close quarters battlefield violence, happy as a pig in mud. Word filters down very quickly about 'that mad bastard Pevensie'. Edmund does much the same, but in a quieter fashion, gathering intelligence in spite of himself. The girls were right, he does it on instinct. He got put on scouting detail quite quickly after they realised he'd been doing it off his own bat, and they'd rather he was on it officially than simply not having the slightest idea where he'd gone this time. It looks bad. So he slips away, quietly slitting throats to safeguard his men from ambush.

One of the Yanks nicknames him 'the ghost who walks' after a comic character, but their sergeant snorted when he heard that one. "Too much flesh and blood for that, mate. Fond of cold steel is our Ed."

----

 

They're sitting in the garden during the Easter holidays. It's a nice day.

Peter walked straight into the recruiting office the day after he left school, and they honestly didn't think their father would throw quite such a fit when he informed them of it over dinner. Apparently their father's experiences during the war had been a little more affecting than he'd let on, and he'd been hoping his sons would avoid it. Maybe an office job even if they got called up. It's a little difficult to explain that Peter has fifteen years experience as a soldier to the point that the place he's most comfortable is in the middle of a pitched battle, and had gained such a reputation there that it echoed down the centuries that came after their time. Still, he's shipped out and writes cheery letters home to them in code to get past the censors about modern army tactics, his men, the failings of his senior officers, troop numbers and so on. Their parents get the occasional postcard about how nice the weather was last sunday.

Lucy had very firmly stated since they came back to England to anyone within hearing distance that she was going to be a nurse, thank you, getting any scrap of experience she could when not at school, books and medical journals piled high by her bed as she learnt the techniques of modern medicine and every innovation possible.

Susan went to Cardiff because they needed girls for Customs and Excise and ended up being noticed by quite the wrong people due to excessive competency. Their parents know nothing about this whatsoever.

Edmund still has a year of school to go and honestly has no idea what he's going to do with himself when he leaves.

"There's university." Lucy says. "Isn't that what it's for? Making contacts and going to lectures and messing around while you figure out what it is you want to do with yourself. Don't they recruit from university for your field?"

Edmund sighs, sipping his tea. "To be honest, Lu, I'm not sure I want to go back into it."

Both his sisters stare at him. Susan composes herself first, as expected. "Well, a break is always good, I suppose. It's a bit of a shock, I thought you did it as naturally as breathing. You certainly gravitated towards it fast enough the first time around."

"Maybe." Edmund says. "However, I did a little bit of research on it - as much as I could during the holidays, anyway - and it operates very differently here. It's all gentlemen's clubs and very strange codes of conduct that seem designed to hamstring themselves and ignore huge swathes of potential information."

"You could rebuild it." Lucy says. "Insert yourself carefully and change it until one day they looked around and it was a different organisation."

Edmund shakes his head. "It'd take a lifetime, Lu." he smiles ruefully. "Besides, I realised running it is a very different proposition to starting as a very junior agent. I'm entirely too used to being listened to."

Susan chuckles. "Welcome to my world."

 

----

 

When his two years have an end in sight, he gets taken to one side by the major. The major's a good sort, and seems quite in favour of his brother, regarding him as a sort of amiable mobile weapon with good instincts that gains him entrance to tactical meetings.

The major lights a fag, staring out into the dark. "Thought of staying on like your brother? The army can always use men with your skills, Pevensie." He doesn't use the word assassin, but it hangs heavy over them. As does 'SAS' and strike force.

Edmund shakes his head. "Thanks awfully, but I think I've seen enough war."

"You've definitely got a knack for it." The major says. "Ever going to tell me where you learned it? You're too young to have been over in Europe."

"Same place Peter did." Edmund says.

"I'm half convinced you two walked out of the Three Musketeers some days." The major says. "Guns good for one shot, so you have to make it count, and sword at the ready to brawl at a moments' notice. And don't think I didn't notice that stunt with the horse."

"I don't think I could carry off the hat." Edmund grins. "Plus we got chucked out of the fencing club for not playing by the rules."

"Precisely the point I was making." The major says. "Sure I can't convince you?"

"I'm honestly quite looking forward to civvy street, sorry." Edmund says.

"Oh well, I tried." The major says. "If you get bored or in trouble, we'll welcome you back with open arms."

"The thought's appreciated, sir, but I'll try to keep my head down." Edmund says.

The major points his fag at Edmund. "That, Pevensie, is what worries your more suspicious superiors."

 

----

 

Edmund was having a quiet lunchtime pint when someone Edmund thought he'd never see again walked in, ordered a pint and asked if the seat was free. Same grace, same way of moving, and even if his face wasn't burned into his brain... Edmund was in the game too long to trust in coincidence. Or convenient twins.

After a few minutes - rather, the amount of time Edmund took to calm down and go through every possible reason for his appearance, chief amongst those 'playing fucking idiotic tricks with Edmund Pevensie because it's funny' - Edmund says casually "Haven't seen you in here before."

The man smiles, as though he were a normal person and not a cocky bastard who regarded everything as an amusing toy. "I haven't been here in a while. I take it you're a regular."

"I work a few streets away." Edmund says. He concentrates, checking for that feel you get around him. It's tamped down, but it's there if you know what to look for. A feeling of unease, that something's not right. "I'm sure I've seen you before, though."

"It's possible." The newcomer says. They continue sipping their pints, Edmund going back to his book.

The newcomer finishes his pint first, and sits back, tracing a line along the rim, Edmund looks up to find himself the focus of a steady gaze, which looks amused. Of course. "So. Given that I've not been here in a while, would you have any recommendations for entertainment around here?" At the end of the question, his mouth quirks in a knowing fashion.

"Couldn't rightly say." Edmund replies, holding the gaze. "Depends on your preferences."

"Oh, quite pedestrian." The newcomer says blithely. "Though I prefer company."

"Hmm." Edmund says. "Directions wouldn't make much sense around here. I'd have to guide you there. Let me just finish up my pint."

"Much appreciated." The newcomer says, sounding mild but flashing a grin that's pure filth. Edmund really wishes he wasn't incredibly familiar with it, sighs internally and finishes his pint. His companion watches every swallow.

Edmund puts his hat on, puts his book in his pocket and inclines his head in the direction of the door in a query. The newcomer nods, getting up from the table as Edmund does so. They walk out into the faint drizzle, possibly with a destination in mind, but they only make it as far as the nearest dark alley before his companion pulls him into it, snogging him into the wall, hands on his lapels. Breathe, their faces barely half an inch apart, and he says "Hello."

Edmund raises his hand from his companion's shoulder to tip his chin up. "So do you prefer Bacchus or Dionysus here?"

He chuckles. "Stefan is more suitable for this era, given that I'm not being actively worshipped." The god leans in again to snog him possibly even further into the brickwork. "I wasn't sure you'd remember me." He says as they break this time.

Edmund glares at him, then cuffs him on the back of the head for good measure, dislodging his hat. He's possibly the only person currently alive who could get away with it. "Over a decade, you bastard. Very funny."

Stefan - Bacchus - whatever he's called in the here and now, he's still the same incredibly annoying person that Edmund's been in love with for half his life and wanted to throttle for the same amount of time - just smirks. Typical.

 

----

Edmund's home on leave and having a quiet browse in the library when a man in a non-descript suit corners him and tries to recruit him, thinking a man of his talents could be useful to his employers in the parts of the government they insist doesn't exist.

Edmund looks at the book in his hand, a rather dry tome on the Tudor monarchs. It had been mostly interesting due to what it didn't say, laying bare the writer's inexpertise in court politics. "No thank you. Really not interested."

"You're aware that life could be rather difficult for you on Civvy Street. There's rumours of your proclivities that could be brought out into the open." The man says. Subtle he is not. Edmund despairs for the service, he really does.

"Given that you recruit so much from the misfits society forces to the edges, I'd have thought it was a clanger to attempt to blackmail said people into it for precisely those proclivities." Edmund says, flicking to the next page. "It would in all likelihood create a kernel of resentment that might fester and have them rethinking their loyalties when someone with cash and promises came calling. Just a thought."

"You're treading on very thin ice here." The man sneers.

"Well, I'm entirely open about my attraction to men so I doubt somehow you could create any problems with future employers or family that I hadn't already created myself." Edmund says. "I believe in letting people have all the information that they need so there are no nasty surprises in the future."

"You could get locked up." The man says.

Edmund looks at him. "Do you honestly think I'm afraid of that?" He runs a finger down the page. "Kindly take your blustering away."

----

 

Mr. Fell disapproves of his relationship with Stefan. Edmund's not entirely sure whether it's because he knows what Stefan is - Edmund's checked who owns the freehold of this place and when the contract was signed, and let's just say he wasn't all that surprised - or whether it's his personality. Edmund is personally of the opinion that he can't talk, given his taste in men.