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The Windmills of Your Mind

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“Oh fuck off!” De Lancey groaned, pulling the covers over his head in an attempt to block out the sound of the doorbell. Nobody who knew him would be calling round at this time of the morning and he certainly wasn’t going to get out of bed for someone he didn’t know.

The ringing persisted. Whoever it was, they were clearly not going away.

Continuing to swear under his breath, he stumbled into the hallway and blinked blearily at the small screen beside the intercom.

“Shit!” The face on the screen was not a happy one and even without knowing how to lip read he could understand the words.

“Open the sodding door De Lancey!”

He hit the speaker button. “What the hell do you want?”

“Just let me in or I’ll disable the building’s security system.”

De Lancey had no doubt Grant could, and would, do exactly what he said so he buzzed him in and hurried back to the bedroom to grab a T-shirt before his unwanted guest made it to the tenth floor.

He’d made several attempts to find out more about the mysterious major - if that was even a real rank - over the past few weeks, but Wellesley deflected any questions he asked and the man himself remained stubbornly taciturn.

Admittedly, Grant had stopped a fight breaking out with a single look and handled himself very impressively in a physical confrontation a few days later with a group of dodgy looking characters who were hanging around outside the club, but there was clearly a lot more to him than a glorified bouncer and De Lancey hated being kept in the dark.

Anyway, he thought, there is no excuse for turning up on a person’s doorstep at such an ungodly hour, dragging him out of bed without an explanation and ordering him around like he is under your command.

He stifled a yawn as he opened the door and muttered a few choice words in protest as Grant barged past him into the hall.

“Christ, Grant, what’s the fucking emergency? And how the hell do you even know where I live?”

Grant ignored his questions and thrust a cup of coffee into his hand, “get dressed, you’re needed at the club.”

Finding himself on the receiving end of the stare that was usually reserved for troublemakers at the Windmill, De Lancey did what he was told without complaining and emerged five minutes later, having showered and thrown on the first clean clothes he could find.

The caffeine was starting to kick in – somehow Grant had known exactly how he took his coffee – and he was almost feeling bad about being so rude by the time they reached the sleek black Jaguar waiting in the building’s underground car park.

“Sweet ride.” He smiled, running his finger along the edge of a wing mirror, but all he got in return was a gruff “Get in.”

Despite his attempts to keep his eyes straight ahead, he could not help glancing over at Grant as they sped through back streets he didn’t even know existed, adding ‘shit-hot driver’ to his list of talents and wondering how much more there was to discover.

They arrived at the Windmill in around half the time he would have expected and he blinked to let his eyes adjust to the relative darkness in the club.

Wellesley was standing beside the booth with a proprietary hand on the box and a stern expression on his face and Strange and Bella were sitting at a nearby table, talking in hushed tones and glancing over at the bar every now and then.

De Lancey followed their line of sight and frowned, unable to work out what they were looking at until he turned his head slightly and caught sight of something in his peripheral vision. It was like trying to see a star in the night sky – if he looked directly at the space there was nothing there but if he let his focus drift he became aware of a man in a long coat standing in the corner where the bar met the wall.

He saw Grant’s hand go to the inside of his jacket.

“No need for that, old chap.” Wellesley put a hand on Grant’s shoulder as the shadowy figure stepped forward.

“So you’re the one.” The man was looking at De Lancey with barely concealed disdain.

De Lancey bristled at his tone.

“The one what?”

“The one who’s been playing with things he doesn’t understand.”

“And what would you know about it?”

“More than you, it seems. Show me what you have been doing.”

De Lancey looked over to Wellesley, expecting him to object to this challenge to his authority, but the club’s owner seemed remarkably unflustered. “Do as he asks, De Lancey.”

“I can’t just…”

Wellesley shot him a warning look and he figured out what was going on just in time. Without Strange’s cocktails, all the man would see would be a sound and light show, no different to what he might find at any other club.

“Ah, right, OK.” He started towards the booth, wondering once again why it was so important to keep everything so secret.

“Nice try,” the stranger growled, his tone becoming more threatening, “but aren’t you forgetting something?”

Wellesley was clearly getting angry now but for some reason he was still unwilling to refuse the man’s demands. His jaw clenched as he spat out the words. “Make us some drinks, Merlin.”

Strange rolled his eyes at the nickname as he made his way over to the bar and started mixing.

De Lancey watched him for a while to try and figure out what kind of concoction he was making but it was not one that he had seen before. Wellesley and Grant were talking quietly next to the booth and although they kept glancing in his direction they did not look like they were in the mood to give him any answers so he went and sat down beside Bella.

“What the fuck is going on?”

“Beats me. I just came in to pick up some stuff from last night and he was in the office with the boss when I arrived.”

“But why are we even going along with this? Why doesn’t Wellesley just tell Grant to get rid of him?”

Bella shrugged. “From what I overheard, it’s something to do with how they got hold of your box in the first place. I don’t think it was strictly legit, wherever it came from, and he’s threatening to tell its rightful owner where it is if we don’t do as he says.”

"Fuck!" The thought of having his music taken away hit him like a punch to the gut but he tried to keep the mood light as Strange passed the drinks around.

“Bottom ups! You may want to take a seat, Mr….?”

“Childermass,” the man growled, leaning back against the wall, “and I and fine as I am.”

De Lancey took a deep breath and opened the box. He tried to relax and let the music flow through him but the pressure to perform and the waves of nausea that hit him whenever his perception strayed too close to the distortion in the air around Childermass threw him off balance and the notes produced by his shaking hands were discordant and hollow.

“Shit!” He swallowed and shook his head, the fear of what would happen if he didn’t get it right making it even harder for him to concentrate. He was about to admit defeat when he sensed a solid, reassuring presence at the back of his mind and looked up to see Grant watching him with a hint of a smile and an encouraging nod.

Letting the feeling wash over him, he smiled back and began.

It started quietly: A deep, resonant chord that reflected the calm strength emanating from the ex-military man. De Lancey reached out to explore the connection, building up layers of sound as he felt Grant’s astonishment at the effects of Strange’s magical potion, adding harmonies and increasing the tempo as his confidence returned.

Wellesley’s presence was a steady beat in the background. A note of caution that was immediately drowned out by an exuberant fanfare when he shifted his focus to Strange. The barman was fearless, excited, the power of the magic amplified by his natural talents and his adoration as he looked at Bella.

De Lancey smiled and let the melody bring them together. He felt Bella respond with surprise and delight, her blushes echoed in a flurry of grace notes and a brief snatch of a swirling waltz.

Even the dark aura around Childermass no longer felt threatening. The music absorbed it and transformed it into a rhythmic counterpoint and De Lancey let his body respond to the changing patterns, merging the beats in a wild and hypnotic dance.

He brought his attention back to Grant, discovering soft dissonances and hints of melancholy that balanced the waves of joyful anticipation bouncing between Strange and Bella, binding it all together with his own sense of wonder until the sound became a part of him and he forgot anything else existed.

As if from a vast distance, he heard Wellesley say “Alright, you can stop now,” but the music was drawing him in with the promise of something just beyond his reach. He needed to go deeper, to get completely lost in it, to become one with the source of this mystery.

“De Lancey?”

A different speaker now, more urgent, trying to counteract the voice in his head that was urging him to keep playing until he found what he so desperately wanted.

No. He was so close he could almost touch it.

“William?”

He felt a pair of strong hands close around his own, stilling his fingers and silencing the sirens’ song. The last few notes echoed and died and he opened his eyes to see Grant searching his face for a sign of recognition, his brow furrowed with concern as he gently but firmly resisted De Lancey’s efforts to reach out for the shimmering lights.

“That’s enough.”