Happy belated nineteeth birthday to copinggoggles, who asked for...something much shorter than this, I'm sure. It's just gone ahead and eaten my life, as crossovers have a habit of doing. Fucking nineteen.
Title: Crying Call
Fandom: milliways_bar canon(ish), comprising a crossover between Good Omens, Firefly and Sandman, with brief mentions of Harry Potter and Still Life With Woodpecker, and using a Lucifer character whose principal canon draws on the Gaiman short story Murder Mysteries. Are you scared yet?
Rating: I suck at ratings. Eh. There's swearing in both English and Mandarin. There's sexual references. There's drugs and weapons and probably violence later on.
Comments: Not being hugely acquainted with the Firefly Milli'verse, I am relying on miscellanny to pick up my small infractions of canon. Serenity has been more or less ignored, rendering this AU as far as the movie is concerned. For Millifolken: I am not well enough acquainted with the Dark Tower canon to understand the implications of the Beam plot, so this is either (again) AU or set at an indeterminate point in the future. Nobody has died or been born.
Alternatively we could just forget the whole mess and enjoy the story.
Oh yes - in poker, a crying call is a call made when you do not expect to win, but make it anyway. Am I a giant research dork? Why yes, yes I am.
To: Andronicus J. Crowley
From: Prior Ezra Fell
My dear boy –
I’m afraid persistence will not avail you in this case. Believe it or not, I’m not just here for the blessed peace and the charming climate. I have work to do, and – how did you put it? – buggering off to some rented floating mansion on Bellerophon for the weekend is just not on the agenda right now. Religions have politics too, much as I may wish it otherwise.
I miss you.
Everything here is as uneventful as ever. I received that book that your scout picked up at the Ariel antique festival – really, I’d protest that it cost too much, but I saw that article about you in that magazine. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an income that high attached to a single person before. Will you never tire of being classified as an Eligible Bachelor? Shall I have to beat my way to your door through hordes of sharp-boned young firebrands trying to snare the Bentley CEO?
It was a truly dreadful picture, too.
Yours, as ever.
To: Prior Ezra Fell
From: Andronicus J. Crowley
Of course it was a dreadful picture, angel, the photographer got pissy when I refused to take my sunglasses off and so she messed up the lighting on purpose.
I’ve extended the rent on the Bellerophon place indefinitely. My weekend has been appropriated by my staff, in any case; we’re going to New Boston to review an account offer by Nic Rosse, who’s apparently the best advertising executive in the business. Personally I don’t see why we need outside help at all, but Daniel Kant assures me it’s an amazing opportunity and if I don’t pay attention to at least a few of the things he says then he tends to sulk. I don’t think my PR exec is very happy to have her duties thus usurped, but I never liked the woman anyway. She’s the one who set up that ghastly magazine article. Maybe I’ll give Janine her job, when she gets back from her maternity leave.
Elana is settling in nicely, despite the fact that she’s displaying a distressing lack of terrorist tendencies. I think you infected her with morals at that place, though I suppose I shouldn’t have expected otherwise. She’s got a real knack for finding information, however, which is proving useful.
I’ll try and drop by the Abbey when I can.
“What kind of an arrangement is ‘indefinitely extended rent’, anyway?” Book asks, pouring more hot water into the teapot.
“It means ‘I felt like owning a slightly larger fraction of the Core, so I went and bought it’. Git,” Aziraphael says fondly.
Across the courtyard the bells ring out, pulsing bronze peals into the warm air.
Bentley Aeronautics: Internal Memo
To: Uncle Andy
That Wanky Enormous Office
The Top Floor
From: Your Harried Slave
The Poky Cupboard Outside That Wanky Enormous Office
(I’m just kidding)
Re: general business
So perhaps I’m pushing things with the nicknames from way back when (normally I’d only dare them if I was really certain you’d just gotten laid DON’T PUNCH ME I CONTROL YOUR PERSONALISED STAMP or if we were on opposite corners of the ‘verse) but you know what I’ve totally forgotten where this sentence was going.
Besides, if you punch me and I turn up to that networking shindig that Bett Pharmaceuticals are having with a black eye? I don’t think I’ll do much for your spotless corporate image. You’re just about the only executive who enjoys these things. I suspect everyone else thinks you just fake it real well.
That Alliance community choir has finally stopped sending us pleas for sponsorship, and that graffiti artist we hired to paint a Serenity Valley Memorial Mural on their rehearsal hall sent us an invoice. I tipped him 10%, if that’s all right – it was a gorram good job. I still think that was incredibly petty of you, but anyway.
Quality Control is suing Security because the last time someone broke into the south factory the subsequent brawl destroyed half a sterilised wing and contaminated a whole batch of ultrafine dust filters. Their efforts are being hampered by the fact that the company lawyers are all on strike due to your pay cuts and will take at least another fortnight to stop arguing over the fine print of their written demand for compensation.
…well done, boss. You’re an inspiration to all those other fēngle bastards who enjoy sabotaging their own company when they’re bored. But the quarterly reports came in yesterday and you’re still making filthy amounts of money, God knows how. Sorry. Blame the angel, he rubs off on one rather.
PS – Oh, I looked up that Rosse fellow, and I think DK might really be onto something this time. The official file and as much unofficial dirt as I could scrape together are on your desk.
Crowley is still smiling when the elevator doors slide open with an almost-silent hiss of air. Elana will work out just fine; not that he ever really suspected otherwise, considering her heritage.
Of course they can’t keep in touch with all of them; keep track, yes, and the angel has been keeping the best records imaginable since Crowley finally talked him out of using the word begat. So there’s masses of them, really, it’s ridiculous what time does to an exponential curve. But some are different, some of them have bright explosions of smiles underneath red hair or a streak of criminal nature or a knack of bumping into furniture. Sometimes his heart jerks. It’s not always in the names.
Elana Bernadette Young’s mother was a Wrangle, a witch and only the second Metamorphmagus to emerge from the line. Rare ability, that one, and only loosely tied to genetics. Demon and angel both adored her, and when she died her daughter was looked out for because of...what? Guilt? Certainly on Aziraphael’s part, though he’s always been close-lipped about it. They don’t talk about the details. Safer.
…fucking Bernardette. Crowley is continually amazed at the power of some names to stick around.
Elana has pale grey eyes and the slightest hint of strawberry in her blonde hair, which bounces into her face as she flicks though files with one hand and presses comlink buttons with the other, sending her boss a quick nod and flashing smile as he walks into the office.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Indeed.” The memo lands on top of her open file and Elana flushes, biting her lip, almost but not quite achieving the contrite look she is aiming for. “If I go to my next board meeting and find half my staff addressing me as Uncle Andy…”
“I’m sure transgenerational nepotism is hardly the worst sin you’ve committed. I’m also sure I sent that over the most secure line I could find, which probably means that not even Internal Intelligence have a bug on the number yet.” Her smile appears again. “Oh! A new development, thanks to the considerate numbskulls at the Alliance census archives who decided to drop the worst of the security barriers around their tech system for maintenance this morning. We’ve got a back door to their records, now, and we also have….” She flourishes a scrap of paper triumphantly.
“Yes!” Crowley crows, snatching the paper. “Oh, Zoe Warren, are you ever in for it now.”
“What’re we gonna get her, boss?” Elana grins and spins on her chair.
“Something really girly.” Crowley gives one of his more evil smiles. “Perfume. A pretty purse. You pick it out.”
“She’ll hate it.”
“Indeed she will.” Crowley gazes at the paper some more, deeply satisfied. “That’s what she gets for being so secretive. About her birthday, of all the ridiculous things.”
In Andronicus Crowley’s world, privacy is not something that happens to other people.
“Speaking of shopping for girly things,” Elana says, “what am I wearing to this party? Black cocktail? Room in the cleavage for a recording device?”
Crowley nods and makes a mental note to rescind that comment about her lack of terrorist tendencies in his next wire to Aziraphael. “Rosse?”
“File’s inside, like I said.” Elana looks more serious. “He’s been in the upper circles of the Londinium corporate elite for a while now, but just branched into advertising during the last decade. He doesn’t take many accounts and they’re always big companies and he always makes the first move. Recently he signed Bett and Dunsmuir Excel, the two biggest pharmaceutical giants operating in the Alliance. Never married, doesn’t do public appearances. Notable for his complete absence from the scandal sheets. That’s the surface stuff.”
Crowley frowns. “And below?”
“Below that? Darker things. There’s nothing even remotely concrete and the more interesting bits are locked down so tight that not even I could get in, but all signs point to the fact that this man has been linked to about a third of the top government officials, merchant bankers and corporate agencies in the Core. Everyone owes him favours. He covers his tracks and has a scrupulously clean official record. Be careful, sir.”
“I see.” Crowley nods.
“Careful,” she amends, “but sign the contract if it’s not ridiculously unfair. He’s got the kind of professional rep that can’t really be bought. Your products will sell.”
Crowley doesn’t point out that they sell anyway, but he knows enough about business by now to realise that this isn’t just about the advertising; it’s a silent acknowledgment that he’s a major player, and the account will add prestige. That sends a tingle of satisfaction down into his snakeskin-clad toes.
“Shi. Your first meeting is with Gillian Dree, who’s got the latest results from your new research lab on Osiris. Her wave should be coming through in half an hour.”
Once he’s behind his sleek black desk Crowley whistles, adjusts his collar, and prepares to ruin several people’s days.
“I still think this is a waste of time, sir,” Charmaine Yu says. “Why we need another balding workaholic with a bad tie and a knack for making good connections telling us how to sell our products is really beyond me.”
Crowley doesn’t say anything in return, but he keeps his sunglasses trained in her direction and eventually she coughs, embarrassed. He imagines she’s probably going pink, but he can’t be bothered to open his eyes and check. Reflective lenses hide all manner of sins. Crowley is a firm believer in them. He’s fairly certain he even manufactures them, in one of his subdivisions, although those ones might be for ship windows…
“Of course it is.” Luckily, he has no need to disagree with the woman when his personnel director is cheerfully prepared to do it for him. Crowley rolls his eyes, unseen, and thanks his stars for argumentative staff.
He’s found stars to be safer than deities, in this world.
“Of course it’s what?” Yu demands frostily.
“Of course it’s beyond you, Charmaine, you haven’t got a clue how the real world works.”
“I went to the best business management school on Ariel,” she says, and again Crowley doesn’t even have to open his eyes to take in her rigidly offended posture.
“And Nicolas Rosse didn’t, so you’d best keep your mouth shut about your academic snobbery unless you want us to lose this account.”
Crowley lets his mouth twitch as the PR executive subsides into a silence even frostier than before. Daniel Kant can be a right pain in the ass, but he’s entertaining enough.
The cityscape blurs in the window of the company shuttle. New Boston’s always looked a little thrown-together, but the buildings claw at the sky and the sun throws rectangles of mocking Morse code flashing across the city and really, Crowley thinks with irony, it’s just like home. There are worse places to spend a working weekend.
Rosse Advertising’s Lavinia office is a few floors of a building just adjacent to the terminal, and as their shuttle pulls in Kant hurriedly takes them through Rosse’s public file, which Crowley already knows back to front. It’s not nearly as interesting as the tantalising scraps that Elana managed to dig up, but Crowley looks out of the window some more and pretends to listen as Kant summarises the man’s lack of official education, his slow building-up of a modestly sized but incredibly successful corporate name over the past twenty years.
“Self-made man,” Kant says. “Like you, sir.”
“Mm.” Crowley folds his hands and manages to lounge even more impressively as they pull to a smooth halt. “Like me.”
There’s nobody waiting to greet them when the elevator doors glide open on the fifth floor. Crowley taps his fingers against his watch as Yu arranges her hair and tentatively pushes open the double wooden doors, which reveal a startlingly large study lined with a deep charcoal grey carpet. A single desk stands stark against the wall, angled towards the window, which shows a view through slanted maroon blinds of the chaotic New Boston terminal. A young man with his back to them is busily tidying papers and straightening the usual assortment of executive toys and expensive screenpads.
“Will Mr Rosse be long?” Yu asks, her voice resonating oddly in the room. The man holds up a few fingers in a casual wave that could mean almost anything and she sighs, glancing at her watch.
“Billionaires like to make people wait,” Kant says, checking and re-checking the papers in his folder for the third time. Crowley hides a smile. Of course they do. He does it himself; a well-timed pause is just enough to put cracks in the most impermeable mask of confidence.
Ten minutes later, he muses that Mr Rosse obviously operates by the same principles. There’s a single chair near the door, and all of them eye it with wary consideration but none of them sit. Kant shuffles his feet on the rich carpet and makes huffing noises that become gradually more audible, eventually losing patience and breaking into speech.
“Excuse me,” he says, with the perfect mixture of courtesy and condescension that spurred Crowley to hire him in the first place, “Young man, if you could perhaps send a wave through to someone and enquire –”
But then Nicolas Rosse turns around, looks straight at them and smiles, and Crowley has to pretend to be having a polite temporary coughing fit because the second words to spring to the front of his mouth are you tāmāde húndàn; which would not, he feels, be entirely constructive.
Though considering the circumstances they could go down better than his first instinct, which is: boss?
“Good morning, Mr Kant. Ms Yu.” Rosse inclines his head, perfect smile still in place. His accent is subtle and momentarily unplaceable; refined enough to be Core, certainly, but unfamiliar. “I am sorry to have inconvenienced you, but I’m afraid I will need to speak to Mr Crowley in private. If you will wait outside, I will have some drinks sent up for you.”
In private. Of course. Crowley makes eye contact with his flustered staff; they’re at least professional enough to show no surprise at being named outright, but they’re also unused to being excluded from conferences. He nods tersely and tilts his head towards the door, waiting until they are completely outside and the knob has clicked back into place before turning back to the young man now perched on the end of the desk. As his legs swing slowly to and fro, Crowley can see that his feet are bare.
“What are you playing at? Sir,” he adds tightly, clenching his hand around the slim silver pen in his pocket. Another antique.
“Won’t you sit down, Crowley?” Lucifer Morningstar stands up again and walks around the desk to lounge comfortably in the black leather chair. Or fake leather, at least, as so many things are at the moment, although Crowley wouldn’t be at all surprised if it were real. Lucifer looks perfectly at home as he nods at the chair opposite his, flicking his fingers in an automatic and imperious gesture, just another dark ornament in this room of plain dangerous colours. “Though if you’d prefer to stand…”
As Crowley walks stiffly across the room and sits down Lucifer’s accent clicks; it’s not unfamiliar, just old. The pure faint Italian of Earth-That-Was. Affected, of course, but almost everything about the Morningstar has generally been attributable to one façade or another.
“I’m afraid you have the advantage of me, sir,” Crowley says, feeling that it’s safest to simply point out the obvious until Lucifer makes an overt move.
“Of course I do,” Lucifer says calmly. “Now, about your account. My financial department has prepared a contract that –”
Lucifer laughs, almost under his breath. “Mr Crowley. As I’m sure I mentioned in my official wire, Rosse Advertising is delighted to offer Bentley Aeronautics an ongoing promotional account. I’m confident we can enjoy a long and productive professional relationship.” This time the laugh is louder. “It’s not as though we are lacking in precedent.”
“Oh.” Crowley relaxes marginally into the chair, nonplussed.
“Why did you think I’d invited you here?”
“Um. To show off? Sir,” he says. “No offense meant. Though if you were hoping to keep your lack of grey hairs and distinguished paunch a secret, I should warn you that my staff gossip. It’s likely halfway to the border moons by now.”
“No matter.” Lucifer moves two fingers in a dismissive motion.
“And you claim to have been building a name for the past twenty years?”
“And everyone knows that, so everyone will see what they want to see and apply the same excuse that you’re going to use, Crowley, when your own youth starts becoming difficult to explain.”
“Which is?” Crowley has a fair idea, but playing dumb has certainly worked in the past and sometimes it’s best to stick to the neutral basics and let the boss talk himself out.
“Money,” Lucifer says simply. “People make assumptions about what can be achieved when money is no object, and while medicine has as yet not slowed down ageing to the extent that my appearance would be explained, there are always rumours. Private clinics, hidden on the border planets, new technologies shared only with the richest of the rich.”
“They don’t exist.” Assured. He would know; these are the things it is his business to know, or at least the deeper and older part of his business.
“They exist in the envious minds of those who simply imagine themselves not yet rich enough, which keeps them unsuspecting and keeps them greedy. Quite convenient, really.” A smile dances around the devil’s lips as he gazes out the window, minute saccades of intelligence following the darting ships. “Humans haven’t slowed themselves down yet. They’re too fixated on acceleration. All they’ve done is lengthen and lengthen the years they spend in the worst period of life, the period that they were never meant to live through. The years they spend losing their senses, one by one, and slowly wilting into a ball of mindless metastasis lying in its own shit.”
“Hăo le,” Crowley says harshly before he can stop himself, his palm hitting the desk and sending a few objects rolling. He’s not sure whether Lucifer’s words have rendered him furious or terrified or if the two are even mutually exclusive. “Why this work? Why here, now?”
Lucifer raises his eyebrows and holds the silence for a while, letting the sounds of their surroundings seep in. There’s a buzzing hiccup as the window flickers, and Crowley realises with a hint of unease that it’s a hologram. This far up? He wonders how many people have tried to lean against it, been told to lean against it, putting a casual hand through those blinds the colour of dead blood and feeling body weight shift past the vital fulcrum, tipping outwards, objects in space.
Then he wishes that he hadn’t thought that.
“Why not?” Lucifer says eventually, with the same charming smile as ever. “I’m actually quite surprised I didn’t try it sooner. Really, it’s just a matter of playing with desire. Control public opinion and you control the ‘verse.”
“Having half its officials in your pocket doesn’t hurt either, I’m sure.”
“Well, no.” A quick grin.
“But you don’t –”
“Work?” Lucifer looks amused, and Crowley exhales. The Prince is in a very good mood. “I was bored. I felt like getting my hands dirty for a while. And it’s a diverting kind of entertainment, as I’m sure you’re well aware.” He eyes Crowley’s suit and then gestures near his own temple, irritably. “Take those damn things off, will you?
“I’d rather not,” Crowley says firmly, clinging to the remnants of his professional poise.
“Don’t let my subtle use of rhetoric fool you into thinking that was a question, Crowley.” Lucifer’s voice is perfectly pleasant.
So Crowley does so, slowly, not changing his expression. He’s not used to being on ice this thin and is still not quite sure of how to keep his balance. Any sudden movements could send him plunging, and it grates.
“Very good.” Lucifer smiles. Well; there are teeth involved. “It was either take them off here or take them off at Bett’s highbrow party, in front of that crowd of petty corrupts who consider themselves Lavinia’s elite. You should come to Londinium. That’s real moral filth, and the higher you get the harder it is to find the light.”
Until you reach the top, and find the Lightbringer himself casting shadows. Crowley blinks a little in the glancing shafts of sunlight, sliced by the blinds. “So you’re coming out in public after all.”
“As you said, it’s hardly a secret any more. And I was becoming quite bored of doing all my business by audio alone.”
“With an accent that’s six hundred years out of date.”
“It’s old and it’s foreign and that gives a certain edge in questo mondo.” Lucifer makes a gesture far more expressive than his normal tight elegance, completing the Italian image. “Londinium’s still clutching pathetically to the American Dream, Crowley. Build yourself up from nothing and become everything and they’ll pretend to love you. But they knew what they were doing when they dredged up Britain for the naming of its society; a perfect excuse for class and snobbishness and the elitism of the nouveau riche pretending to be old and established. Blood and connections. I have pieces of paper that say I am pureblood Florentine, all the way back. I’m a fucking aristocratic immigrant, and I own that planet from the surface all the way down.”
Crowley holds his gaze and tries not to flinch. Cracks in the ice. “And nobody questions you.”
“Of course not.” His smile widens. “Do you know what my name even means? Red. And victory of the people. It’s a Communist name, if anyone outside of the historians knew enough of the language and the history to attribute it. And nobody ever listens to historians. It’s one of the human race’s endearing little traits, their inability to learn from their own mistakes.”
“Did you call me here to reminisce, sir?” Crowley manages not to roll his eyes at Lucifer’s habitual fondness for his own voice; he keeps them fixed on the window, watching an advertising sign flicker from scene to scene. Drinks and holidays and fashion and he really shouldn’t have been surprised, he thinks suddenly, to find the Morningstar working in advertising. Telling people what they want and then making them pay for it.
“As I said. Contract.” Lucifer hands him a readout file and pressure pen.
The contract is normal as far as Crowley can tell, and he’s always been very adept at finding loopholes. He makes sure to read all the fine print, which gives him the beginnings of a headache. Lucifer sits and waits in silence, his fingers rapidly brushing and tapping the comscreen built into the desk. His hands glow with flashes of light as messages are sent and screens pop up.
Crowley reaches the end of the contract and rubs the bridge of his nose, a little disturbed by the absence of sunglasses. In fact, the disturbance is greater than that; just light, just niggling, but he can’t seem to shake this sense that something is ticking down just beyond his peripheral. He can’t find the right word for how he feels.
“Why Bentley? Why even bother to let me know what you’re doing?”
“Professional courtesy,” Lucifer says with cheerful insincerity. “And warning, really, because it would be such a shame if somewhere within your devious strategies you mistakenly tried to ruin my business.”
Trying not to glance at the window, Crowley twirls the pen around his fingers and then signs; it’s not as though he really has any choice, when it comes down to it.
Lucifer shrugs. “Besides, you’re a major presence. I’m a major presence. Really, it would look suspicious if we didn’t have some sort of dealings.”
Suspicious. Crowley pushes the readout across the desk and feels the disturbance tingling in his fingertips.
Suspicious is exactly the right word.
Bentley Aeronautics: Internal Memo
To: Andronicus Ji ‘Pervert’ Crowley
From: The pair of walking breasts
Bobbing around the corridors
Re: your fashion sense
When you said you were going to buy me a dress for Bett’s thing, I thought you meant a garment. Not a skirt attached to couple of pieces of lièzhì black ribbon held together by nothing much more than luck. I’m joking, I cheated and traced the tag. Once again, I will reiterate that the amount of money you make is embarrassing. Nobody is even going to notice that you’re not flirting with the requisite number of corporate wives, they’ll be too busy staring at my cleavage to suspect that you’re not equally enthralled.
Speaking of which, the Ariel scout reported another of the items on Aziraphael’s list, so I’ll let you have the pleasure of sending it on and awaiting the high-pitched screams of delight.
Gillian Dree says that she's found the missing data sheet and will send it on through tomorrow, and DK has been trying to get hold of you with increasing hysteria. I think Rosse shook him up but good.
(Really, the dress is quite nice. Xièxie nĭ. I’ll see you tonight.)
When they arrive at the party Lucifer is leaning against a window frame with understated grace that’s clearly producing a mass of dichotomies in the people around him. Envy combined with grudging admiration, lust produced from professional hatred. The young man currently being favoured with Lucifer’s attention appears to be alternating between looking like he’s been hit with tranquillizers and looking like he’s seriously questioning his sexuality. Crowley recognises him as the son of one of the Sihnon bank directors, handsome and filthy rich and the kid whose recent engagement is the only reason Crowley is currently at the top of the Eligible Bachelor stakes. Lucifer laughs, looking down, looking up, and the boy’s knuckles turn a panicked white around his champagne flute.
Crowley smiles in spite of himself. Well. It’s not really a surprise. Lucifer’s laugh is dangerous. The demon himself has spared no more than a glance for his boss and already he feels a vague itch to punch him or maybe – maybe – press the tips of his thumb and index finger against that crisp white shirt, just the right distance apart, and hear the Morningstar gasp as his wings erupt.
This is nothing new, and it passes in an instant.
Crowley pats Elana’s arm and glides across to the bar to procure himself a martini. He loses himself quickly in the tight grasp on wits needed at these networking parties; who’s in bed with whom, both literally and metaphorically, who’s in favour with which conglomerations, who’s been cosying with the Alliance and who’s losing money. It’s fun. It truly is. He spends a brief moment with Jamie Bett himself, taking careful note of the man’s beaming face and enthusiastic pumping handshake. Bett wants something, although he looks confident enough to suggest that he thinks he’s already got it. Odd.
And by the time the last of the soy sauce from the tray of dim sims has been licked from people’s fingers and the bored wives are halfway down their fourth glasses of champagne, Crowley’s almost forgotten about Nicolas Rosse. He looks around to make sure Elana’s handling herself all right; the girl’s good for parties in the same way that Kaylee is, chatty enough and with enough of her own technical know-how to hold her own amongst the misogynists.
Elana is – oh. Oh. Crowley barely has time to doubletake before he abandons his martini glass on a side table and weaves his way across the room, making nasty comments under his breath about girls who don’t have enough sense to stay out of trouble.
“Good evening, Mr Rosse.” This part is automatic. Nod, smile, do your level best to pretend that all of the poison that every other person in the room has been pouring into your ears hasn’t affected your high regard for your current company in the slightest.
Crowley manages with great effort to swallow what could have been a disastrous snort of laughter, and extends his hand to shake Lucifer’s. “Of course.” Nic, his raised eyebrows say, is not something that is going to be lived down easily.
“I think I’m going to find the bathrooms. Delighted to meet you, Mr Rosse.” Elana throws a guilty glance at her employer and makes a run for it as fast as her dress will allow.
“Charming girl,” Lucifer murmurs into his glass.
“Relax, mi amico. It’s a party.” Lucifer straightens for the first time from his casual, almost accidentally flirtatious stance. “Oh, by the way, Crowley….”
Click. Boom. The timebomb of Crowley’s attention detonates, every instinct for danger spiking and sinking in his gut.
“You’ll be making a deal with Bett Pharmaceuticals. Bioweapons.”
“I will not.” Through a dry mouth Crowley doesn’t even have to think about the words; this is his life, his place in this gorram ‘verse, and he can see it falling apart.
“Yes, Crowley.” Lucifer sighs. “I think you will. Because you may have people to find you information about whatever you please, but I have accounts with the security companies. The media units.” His voice falls into neat soft clips of noise, ringing against the sudden silence as the party’s hum fades away from Crowley’s brimming senses. “I have records, and I have addresses, and I have not quite the sentimentality to care overmuch for generations of redheads spread across the moons. Nor the precise moral hiccup that would prevent me from informing the Alliance officials of the exact whereabouts of one rogue spaceship –”
His hand is in front of his face almost before Crowley’s fist flies out, meeting it in midair with a sickening silent slap. They stand frozen; someone will notice soon. The demon knows that his eyes are panic-wide behind his glasses and he knows that Lucifer knows and blessed heaven the only thing he can think is that when he tells the angel about this, later, there’s going to be a tyre iron involved in the story somewhere.
“Do we have an accord, Crowley?”
“We do, sir.”
“I’m so pleased,” Lucifer murmurs, and before Crowley can make an excuse to slip away and sort out what the explosion has left salvageable of himself, Jamie Bett is tapping two champagne flutes against each other and clearing his throat to make a speech.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he says, his brusque Lavinian tongue slurred by alcohol, “thank you all very much for coming here this evening. I will let you get back to your conversations in just a minute, but I beg a moment of your time to make an announcement.”
There’s a rustle to Crowley’s right as Elana slips back beside him. “Sorry,” she mumbles. “I was curious about him.”
“Now, by the number of media representatives I cunningly invited, I’m sure this will be all over the news by tomorrow,” Bett goes on, before Crowley can reply. There’s a smattering of laughter. “But I wanted you, my colleagues and friends, to be the first to know the reason we are celebrating here tonight.”
Crowley murmurs something falsely flattered along with the rest of the room and digs a surreptitious elbow into Elana’s side, making her bite her lips against giggles.
“It gives me great pleasure,” and now Bett is drawing himself up, voice becoming more official, “to announce that Bett Pharmaceuticals has entered into a deal that will have enormous social, commercial…” he makes an attempt at a self-deprecating smile “…and, of course, economic benefit.”
Crowley feels his thoughts flicker and then solidify, like Lucifer’s fucking holo-window, as things fall into place with a horrible thud.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” Bett beams in Crowley’s direction, and the demon curves his mouth into something that could be mistaken for a smile if you were drunk enough, which he hopes the man is. “Please join me in drinking to a long and productive working partnership between Bett Pharmaceuticals and Bentley Aeronautics.”
Crowley turns, ignoring Elana’s gasp of surprise. “The invitations for this were sent weeks ago,” he hisses, feeling sick. “Weeks.”
Lucifer smiles tightly and lifts his glass. “Cheers, Crowley. Don’t look so surprised, it’s bad for your image.”
“Bioweapons,” Crowley says, turning it into a question, trying to keep the circle of space around them as the crowd presses forward to question and congratulate.
“Don’t pretend that you have morals, now,” Lucifer says brightly, and pats him on the arm as he drifts away to talk to someone else.
“That’s not –” the point.
“Sir?” Elana looks pale and tense as she turns to him in the privacy of his shuttle. “You know, I would kind of appreciate being let in on…sir? Are you all right?”
Crowley nods in a silently blatant lie and carefully uncurls his fingers from where they are clenched around the armrest, leaving them white and stiff and tingling. He doesn’t even consider telling her everything; she doesn’t need the extra burden of fear, not now. What to say? It’s not the nature of the business – I’ve done far worse – but what it symbolises? Bentley as one more subsidiary of the devil’s whims.
“It’s a setup,” he says before he can help himself, but Elana just relaxes, grins a bit and punches him in the arm.
“I knew it, boss,” she says proudly. “What do you have planned?”
And halfway through opening his mouth to explain that no, they’re the ones who have been set up, Crowley somehow wakes up. Why not? Why shouldn’t it be their setup, their rules, their dictation?
What else has ever been fought for in this sprawling world but independence?
Andronicus Crowley gives the tight smile that has been the last thing to flash before a handful of people’s eyes. “A big gorram sabotage mission, that’s what.”