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for peace comes dropping slow

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Grant wakes quietly and immediately - one second his eyes are closed and the next he's staring into pitch darkness slowly reassembling itself into furniture shapes. He can't work out why at first - maybe just the ghost of nights of shallow sleep, stretched out under cars or canvas or dust-tinted sky - until a stone rattles the windowpane, more like a sequel than a first attempt. He knows who it is before he opens the window, but he makes a show of starting a little, to please Strange.

 

"Grant." Strange sounds pleasantly surprised to see him, like they've just run into each other in Tesco’s. "You took so long to wake up, I feared you would never come." He's leaning against something that glows in the gloom like a UFO. Knowing Strange, it could well be.

 

"What time is it, Merlin?" The window frame is a comfortable place to lean a forehead on, as it turns out.

 

"Just gone four," Strange replies cheerfully. "I'd get a move on, if I were you, Grant - we have to be in Dover by noon and I have errands to run. The sunrise should be spectacular..."

 

"Dover?"

 

Strange cocks his head at him. "Do you know it? Town on the coast. Nice place, but mostly used as a crossroads, unfortunately..."

 

"Yeah, I know Dover, Merlin, I just don't -" He finally makes out the object Strange is leaning against: the passenger door of an offensively yellow Jeep, as out of place on Grant's grey suburban street as a porn magazine in a convent. "What in God's name is that?"

 

"Our transport," Strange says patiently, as if explaining a simple concept to a small child. "Are you coming or not?"

 

Grant stares at him without saying anything for a good minute or so. Then he closes the window.

 

Fifteen minutes later he’s wrestling his rucksack into the passenger footwell and trying to ignore Strange’s smug grin.

 

-

 

Strange, as it turns out, has no idea how to drive an automobile at all.

 

“Merl- Jesus Christ, pothole! Can you not brake so hard - Merlin, did you ever pass your - Christ on a bike - pass your driving test, or did you just do some magic shit on your examiner?”

 

“I’m offended that you would even ask, Captain,” Strange replies, narrowly missing a badger. Grant’s never seen one so close to the city before; maybe it’s Strange’s magical aura, or whatever it is that makes the bedraggled geraniums in Grant’s tiny kitchen lift their heads when Strange comes over for coffee.

 

Not that he’s been coming over much recently. Grant wants to believe that he isn’t avoiding him - they’ve all been so busy since they got back, fitting themselves into daily life again, even those without hundred-acre estates in Shropshire, and Strange is a hard man to contact at the best of times, what with his aversion to modern technology; Grant once texted him to ask where they were meeting for lunch that afternoon and got a reply almost exactly a year later. He prefers unconventional methods of communication, including, but definitely not limited to: letters, smoke signals, and turning up outside Grant’s door in the middle of the night with a bright yellow Jeep and a road map of Italy on the dashboard.

 

Grant isn’t sure yet what exactly he’s trying to communicate this time, but he hopes it’ll become obvious at some point.

 

“So I’ll take that as a no, then.” Strange turns his head, mouth open to argue. “Eyes on the road, Merlin. Thanks for proving my point.”



“I’ll kick you out and you can walk home, you ingrate.”

 

What do I have to be grateful for? Grant thinks. Maybe that comes later, too. “Despite your frankly alarming driving, my friend, we are still on my road.”

 

Strange flicks him in the nose without touching him. “Then I’ll transport you to another realm and leave you there to be eaten by wyvern. For God’s sake, Grant, must you always be so difficult when I am trying to threaten you?”

 

“Oh, my family are famed for their difficultness,” Grant says cheerfully, inspecting the Jeep’s aged sound system. “It’s the reason Wellington kept me on so long.”

 

He realises it was the wrong thing to say a millisecond after it comes out of his mouth, but it’s too late now - the words hang in the space between them like barbs on wire. Strange's hands drum on the steering wheel. He makes a tiny movement, like the flutter of a moth's wing, and says, “The Duke and I may have had our differences, but honestly, the man is a veritable saint,” and means, It’s all right.

 

“I am so offended I don’t know what to say,” says Grant, and means, It’s not, but thanks for trying.

 

“Come on, then, navigator." Strange produces another map from underneath the Italian one, London in the centre panel, red pen snaking up the M1 to Yorkshire. Grant is pleased to know that Strange didn't set off entirely unprepared. “Pay your way.”

 

“Couldn't you just use magic?”

 

“And where would be the fun in that?” Strange flashes a grin at him, and God, it's too early for his smile, too early for his eyes, too early for Strange, damn him.

 

“Eyes on the road, Merlin,” Grant murmurs, instead of something altogether more embarrassing, and cracks open the map.