Actions

Work Header

The Windmills of Your Mind

Chapter Text

Grant was worried, and if Grant was worried there was definitely something to worry about. He’d always thought of himself as open-minded and he accepted that there was a lot he didn’t understand about the way things worked at the Windmill but this was getting a little too weird for his liking.

He gazed across the square from the table they had taken outside a small coffee shop and pondered the best course of action.

Childermass had left the club, muttering something about ‘making arrangements’ and telling them to meet him back there in a couple of hours, and Wellesley had taken Grant to one side and asked him to keep an eye on De Lancey in the meantime.

Rather than hanging around waiting, he had suggested that they go for a cup of coffee. He had thought that a change of scenery would be a good idea, but now he wasn’t so sure. He just wasn’t very good at this sort of thing and had no idea what to say.

De Lancey was stirring his coffee and staring into it as if he thought it might hold the answers to the questions that were clearly troubling him.

After his link with the box had been broken, the feeling of emptiness he’d been left with had been so overwhelming that he had lashed out, catching Grant’s face hard with his elbow as he’d struggled to regain the connection. Of course he was no match for the other man’s strength and he’d ended up being hoisted over a broad shoulder and carried half way across the room before being unceremoniously dumped on one of the Windmill’s red velvet couches.

He’d sort of tried to apologise by joking about it as they were leaving the club but Grant had remained stony faced and marched on ahead, his stride lengthening as he crossed the square.

De Lancey cringed at the memory. No matter how he looked at it, the fact remained that he’d been manipulated by something outside his control and behaved like a child throwing a tantrum and the whole experience had shaken him more than he cared to admit.

The silence was getting oppressive so he attempted a conciliatory smile. “Well this certainly isn’t what I signed up for. All I wanted to do was enjoy the music and help people have a good time.”

He looked up from his cup, wincing slightly as he noticed the beginnings of a bruise around Grant’s left eye. “What if we just don’t go back? What’s the worst that could happen?”

Grant sighed. De Lancey was only a few years his junior and the background checks he’d run had shown him to be perfectly capable of looking after himself in tricky situations, but right now he looked like he could make a break for it at any moment.

It was a look Grant had seen too many times before, on the faces of young recruits who had suddenly realised they were actually in the middle of a real life war zone and not just another training exercise or simulation. No matter how well they had prepared, how tough they thought they were, there was almost always that moment of self-doubt, that Oh Fuck I Can’t Do This, that split second when the fight or flight instinct could go either way.

“You’ll be OK.” He needed to find words that would encourage De Lancey without sounding patronising. In the army it had been so much easier. He could remind anyone who faltered of their orders, their duty, and, if necessary, the consequences of failing to comply.

I didn’t sign up for this either, he thought as he tried to affect an encouraging smile. “At least you know what to expect now, I would imagine it won’t be so hard to resist the effects next time.”

He reached out to cover De Lancey’s hand with his own, hoping that the gesture would provide more comfort than his feeble attempts at verbal reassurance, and as their fingers touched he felt a tingling shock and a sudden awareness that he was not alone in his own head.

It had happened before. When he’d reached into the lights that flickered and danced around the mysterious box, he’d had the same sensation and, for a brief moment before the music had stopped, the link had gone both ways. He had experienced De Lancey’s ecstatic immersion in the music, his need to follow the beguiling presence that a was urging him onward and his frustration and anger at being dragged away.

In the club, Grant had known enough about what was going to happen when he drank Strange’s peculiar brew to keep his guard up. He’d been using all his mental discipline to let De Lancey sense only what he wanted him to and the effects of the surge had been limited.

This was different, unexpected, intrusive.

De Lancey’s expression changed to one of shock and confusion and Grant could tell he’d given away more than he should have. He didn’t know how, but the combination of this man’s natural empathy and the unnatural forces that had been unleashed in the Windmill had penetrated his defences, exposing the pain and remorse he usually kept locked down with an iron grip.

He snatched his hand away and stood up abruptly.

“We’d best be getting back.”

----------

Strange was mixing drinks and decanting them into a row of small bottles.

“What the hell are you doing?” De Lancey wandered over and leaned against the bar.

“Just following instructions.” Strange inclined his head in the direction of Wellesley’s office. “He’s in there now. Told me to prepare some very interesting mixtures I’d never even thought of before.” He seemed excited and eager to learn more about Childermass’s plans. “I guess I’ll be going with you on this adventure, whatever it turns out to be.”

“Adventure?” Grant snorted. “I really don’t think you should be treating this as some kind of game. I doubt he’s taking you on a fucking day trip to Disneyland.”

“Oh relax, Grant.” Strange started packing the bottles into a small green backpack, along with a cocktail shaker and a couple of the plastic glasses that they gave to people who wanted to take their drinks out to the roof garden. “In case I need to improvise on the fly,” he explained in response to De Lancey’s quizzical look.

Childermass emerged from the office with Wellesley following a few paces behind, his brow furrowed in concentration.

“Ready?” At least their visitor seemed to have got rid of that eerie shadow effect as he approached the men at the bar.

De Lancey stood up straight and faced him, bristling with renewed indignation at being expected to do as he was told without any explanation. “Are you even going to let us know what this is about? I don’t know what you think is going to happen wherever you are taking us but I won’t be much use to you without that.” He pointed at the box, dark and silent on its pedestal in the booth.

Childermass smiled, or at least Grant thought it was meant to be a smile.

“Oh, don’t worry,” he replied with a knowing look, “you won’t need that where we are going.”

He walked over to one of the large mirrors on the wall and reached out his hand. The surface of the glass seemed to ripple and shift as he beckoned to Strange and De Lancey. “After you.”

“Wait!” Wellesley suddenly felt the need to take back some control of the situation.

“Grant,” he said, staring at Childermass as if daring him to challenge his authority again, “perhaps you should go with them.”

Grant glared at him. “What am I?” he snapped, “some kind of babysitter now?” But there was something about the way the boss was looking at the dark stranger that sent a chill down his spine.

“Shit,” he muttered, stepping forward to stand beside the others although he was pretty sure he was the last person De Lancey would want next to him in a fight.

“Oh great.” De Lancey’s voice was dripping with sarcasm and Grant wondered once again how deep into his mind the other man had seen. “Well now I’m much more confident.”

Childermass rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he motioned them forward with an exasperated sigh, “just get a move on, I can’t hold it open forever.”

Strange went first with barely any hesitation, jumping at the chance to explore the unknown, and De Lancey followed, clearly unwilling to show any sign of the trepidation he must be feeling.

Grant watched them vanish into the rippling surface and muttered under his breath “what the fuck am I doing?” as he took a deep breath and stepped through the mirror.

----------

The Windmill’s neon glow was replaced by a different kind of illumination, a phosphorescence that somehow seemed to emanate from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Grant shook his head to try and shift the feeling of disorientation. It was impossible to tell if they were indoors or outdoors, if it was day or night. He glanced up, hoping that the presence or absence of stars would answer his questions, but that just made it worse. Although there were no clouds or constellations visible, there did not appear to be any end to the darkness either.

He swallowed down the feeling of nausea and looked around to see if the others were faring any better.

Strange and Childermass were deep in discussion, the barman nodding and scribbling notes in the pad he always carried with him as his companion pointed out various features of the bizarre landscape that surrounded them.

Thinking it best to just leave them to it, Grant turned his attention to De Lancey and found him walking slowly towards a small mound in the earth that was glowing with a warm amber light and surrounded by a swarm of what appeared to be some kind of golden fireflies. He had a distant, blissful expression on his face and was tilting his head every now and then as if he’d caught a hint of something at the upper range of his hearing.

Fuck. That didn’t look good.

Grant rushed over and grabbed De Lancey’s elbow without thinking, only realising after he had done so that the layers of clothing between his hand and the other man’s arm must be preventing a repeat of the earlier incident.

“Hey.” He moved around in front of De Lancey to block his path, attempted a smile. “Don’t make me pick you up again.”

De Lancey hardly seemed to notice.

“Can’t you hear it?” he whispered, his voice filled with wonder.

Grant took hold of his shoulders and gave him a firm shake.

“Merlin!” he shouted over at Strange. “I think we have a situation here. Don’t suppose you could leave off the geography lessons and give me a hand?”

“Here!” Realising what was going on, Strange reached into his bag and pulled out one of the small bottles. He launched it into the air in their general direction. “Make him drink this.”

Unfortunately, his underarm bowling was nowhere near as good as his skills with a cocktail shaker and Grant had to leap sideways to catch the bottle, allowing De Lancey to resume his progress towards the mound.

Make him drink it? How the fuck am I supposed to do that?

There was only one thing for it. He clasped his arms round De Lancey’s waist, twisted to the side and threw him to the ground, pinning him down in a thigh lock before he had time to react.

“Sorry.” He shrugged. “Needs must and all that.”

Manoeuvring himself so that he was sitting astride De Lancey’s chest, he pulled a pair of black leather gloves from his pocket – he wasn’t going to risk any accidental contact, either with Strange’s potion or with exposed skin – and unscrewed the top of the bottle.

De Lancey squirmed and tried to turn his head away but Grant took a firm hold of his face and used his fingers to find the pressure points that he knew would force a man to open his jaws.

Never imagined I’d have to use that one, he thought as he poured the contents of the bottle into De Lancey’s mouth and held it shut to make sure he swallowed.