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07 April 2013 @ 10:45 pm
[fic: white collar] A Scholar of the Correspondence (Fallen London 'verse)  
More Fallen London 'verse fic!
Masterpost (fics by both myself and sholio)

Title: A Scholar of the Correspondence
Characters/Pairing: Peter, Neal, Mozzie
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 2700
Warnings: None
Notes: For this story I need to explain about the Correspondence, which is some sort of script from who-knows-where. One doesn't write it on paper, because of the paper's tendency to catch fire. mentalfirewall suggested I write Neal attempting to forge it.

Summary: "It's an exciting scientific discovery," Neal says, following Peter's eyes. "We were lucky enough to be able to save some of the evidence."

"By which you mean, the lead plaques which have
not yet spontaneously burst into flames."

 photo Ruins.png

It's the middle of the night when Peter is roused from a deep sleep by a rapping on the window. He groans and turns over, sure that it's just a confused bat, but then it comes again. A sharp rat-tat-tat. Definitely made by something with intent.

El mumbles sleepily and he touches her shoulder, letting her know he'll take care of it. He slides quietly out of bed, the wooden floorboards cool and smooth against his bare feet, and pads over to the window, pulling back the curtain.

The top half of a small and extremely dirty child is hanging upside down from the eaves, fist raised to knock on the glass again.

Peter opens the side of the window that won't knock the urchin down into the garden. "What are you doing?" he asks.

"Got a message," the urchin says. The grubby face and roughly-lopped hair give no clue as to gender. "You're Peter, ain't you?"

"You could have used the doorbell," Peter says.

He's answered with an upside-down shrug. "Quicker, innit."

"We aren't connected to the Flit. It can't possibly be quicker to climb up to my roof and work out which room I'm sleeping in than to use the bell on the ground-level door."

The urchin shrugs again, and rolls its eyes impatiently. "Look, gov, you want the message?"

"Yes, alright," Peter says, although he's sure that he's going to regret it.

"Your mate needs your help. Says its urgent."

"Oh god," Peter says, with a sinking feeling. "Which one?"

Yet another shrug. He's beginning to get the feeling it's the urchin's favourite form of communication. "Message gived me by the gov with glasses and no hair. He's our friend. We like him."

"Oh for —" Peter begins, but the sudden steely glint in the child's eye makes him shut his mouth on what he had been about to say about Mozzie. "Did he happen to mention what he needs my urgent help with?"

"Umm…" The dirty face screws up in thought. "Think it's about his other friend. We like him too. He's pretty." The declaration breaks up into a fit of giggles.

Peter rubs his eyes, mentally resigning himself to the prospect of no more sleep tonight. "Neal's done something stupid, got it. Where?"

He gets directions to a place at the edge of the Forgotten Quarter, and the urchin thrusts an unwashed palm into the room. Peter casts about hurriedly for something to use as payment. There's a couple of foxfire candles on the dresser. "Will these do?"

The urchin nods happily, and beams. The candles vanish into a pocket. "Thanks, bye!" With a wriggle, the upside-down child disappears over the roof.

Peter shakes his head in mild despair (a feeling that's become all too familiar) and shuts the window. "Hon?" he says. "I'm sorry. I've got to go out."

"I heard," El says, sleepily. "Should I come?"

"No," Peter says, and strokes her hair on his way to the wardrobe. "You go back to sleep. I'll see what Neal's got himself into this time."

"Be careful," she says, as he dresses hastily. He kisses her forehead as he leaves.

The main difference in London at night is the lack of many people walking openly on the streets; the gas-lamps and the false-stars glow just the same at any hour. But even in daytime the passersby fade away the closer one gets to the Forgotten Quarter. The cobbles underfoot change to cracked, dusty flagstones, and a hush clings to the ruins like the tattered remains of cobwebs.

Usually, that is. But tonight one of the old buildings is on fire.

Peter's steps automatically turn towards it in a way that has nothing to do with the urchin's directions (although they do of course also point that way). This is trouble, and therefore it's all but inevitable that Neal and Mozzie will be somewhere near its centre. He wonders, briefly, how a ruin here is even burning at all — they're stone and dust and very little else. Perhaps this one was thick with those spindly trees which grow here in odd places.

But a moment later he turns a corner to see that, in defiance of all natural law (although "defiance of natural law" is something of a daily occurrence in the Neath), the ancient stone is itself on fire. Flames flicker up walls and columns and across a low roof. The fire is golden and glorious and terrifying at the same time, chewing through the thick walls as if hundreds of years of weathering is taking place in a few heartbeats. Even as he watches, an arch collapses into nothing but dust, the flames that had been feeding on it flickering out.

"Psst!" There is a sharp hiss from a patch of shadow.

Peter jumps, and spins round. "What did you do?" he demands.

"Keep your voice down!" Mozzie snaps. "We're lucky a pack of devils hasn't shown up already."

That, unfortunately, is a valid point. Peter glances quickly around, and then joins Mozzie in the shadows. "What did you do?" he demands, in a whisper.

"Don't overreact," Mozzie cautions. Which is neither the most helpful nor the most calming thing he could have chosen to say.

Peter feels his jaw begin to clench. "I am working very hard to maintain my underreaction, believe me. Talk."

Mozzie beckons, and begins to walk fast. Peter follows him. "We saw a gap in the market," Mozzie explains, as little clouds of dust puff around their boot soles. "Not even anything illegal, simply a case where demand outstrips supply."

Peter keeps half an eye on the bright fiery beacon. "Go on," he says, with a distinct sinking feeling. "What were you supplying?"

Mozzie shrugs his shoulders uncomfortably. "Correspondence Plaques," he admits.

Peter comes to a dead stop for a moment, and then his brain catches up and he starts walking faster. "You and Neal have been forging Correspondence Plaques?"

"Not forging!" Mozzie protests. "Forging implies fakes. These are genuine works of craftsmanship."

"Craftsmanship that started that fire?" Peter guesses, grimly.

"It pains me to admit it, but. Yes."

"And where's Neal?"

"This way," Mozzie says, and abruptly vanishes into the ground.

Even knowing where to look, it takes Peter nearly a minute to find the flight of steps, hidden under a paving stone which instantly swings back above him to cut off the view of the cavern roof. He continues downwards into the cellar, or secret storeroom, or whatever it's supposed to be. Bright light is provided by the multitude of phosphorescent beetles scuttling over the walls.

"Peter," Neal says, in a voice which is only slightly strained. "Hi." He's sitting against one wall, and trying for a brilliant smile. The effect is somewhat lost by the fact that his eyebrows have been singed off, and raw, ugly burns run up his forearms beneath the charred remains of his shirt. He can only hold the smile for a moment before it sags into a grimace of pain.

Peter drops down beside him instantly, his hand going instinctively to Neal's neck to check his pulse. His skin is very cold, and clammy. Neal tilts his head slightly, pressing against Peter's hand like a cat. "My god, Neal," Peter says.

Mozzie crouches down on Neal's other side, now wearing an overlarge pair of luminous neathglass goggles and holding a box of slightly suspicious-looking medical supplies. "Here," he says, and drops a horsehead amulet into Neal's lap. "This should help a bit."

"That's just superstition," Peter objects.

Mozzie ignores him, and uncorks a phial of Tincture of Vigour. "Drink," he says, and holds it to Neal's lips.

Neal swallows it down in a gulp, grimacing. But it does its work — within a few moments he begins to look less shocky. "Thanks," he says.

"How badly does it hurt?" Mozzie asks, anxiously.

"Bad," Neal admits. He tips his head back against the wall, breathing deeply.

"Talk to him," Mozzie orders Peter. He unscrews the lid of a jar of faintly orange salve, and begins to daub it very gently on Neal's arms.

Peter casts around for a suitably neutral conversation topic, and then gives up. "Neal, what the hell were you doing?" he demands.

"Making Correspondence Plaques," Neal says, tiredly. "I guess Moz already told you."

"I meant, why?"

Neal shrugs slightly, and winces. "Why not? It seemed like it would be interesting. Also perfectly safe in theory."

"And yet…" Peter nods at his arms.

"And yet," Neal agrees, half-smiling. Peter is not inclined to join in. "If you put enough Correspondence sigils on it, apparently even lead can burn."

There is, Peter abruptly realises, a significant stack over in one corner of what looks like a lot of small, flat lead tiles. He gives them a deeply suspicious and rather pointed look.

"It's an exciting scientific discovery," Neal says, following his eyes. "We were lucky enough to be able to save some of the evidence."

"By which you mean, the lead plaques which have not yet spontaneously burst into flames."

"We're sure that won't happen," Mozzie interjects.

"How sure, exactly?"

"…Quite sure?"

"I can't believe I got out of bed for this," Peter mutters. He puts one hand on Neal's shoulder, gently rubbing with his thumb. "Are you doing okay?"

Neal nods tightly. "It was Mozzie's idea to send a message," he says. "I didn't want to disturb you."

Peter sighs deeply, and decides he's far too tired to try addressing that right now. "Why the Correspondence though?" he asks, falling back on the other line of conversation. "There are much safer ways of making money."

"Like hunting monsters for the Labyrinth?" Neal asks, with a slight knowing smirk.

Peter finds his mouth reluctantly forming a grin. "You have to admit, there are fewer spontaneous fires."

"But more teeth," Mozzie says. "And claws. Poison. Slime." He shudders, but his hands remain steady as he begins wrapping bandages around Neal's salved arms.

"I need to know more about it, Peter," Neal says, very quietly. He looks up and his eyes are shadowed; haunted. "The Correspondence needs me to know. It's got inside my head. I can barely sleep. I thought maybe if I could write some of it down…" He makes a gesture towards the pile of plaques, aborting quickly with a hiss of pain.

"And Elizabeth knows a professor at Benthic College who will part with an Incunabulum in exchange," Mozzie adds. Helpfully.

"That too," Neal agrees.

Peter stares at them both very hard. Neal at least has the grace to drop his gaze and look slightly guilty, but Mozzie seems impervious.

Finally Peter groans, and rubs at his eyes. "It's too late for this," he sighs. "Or early. Let's just get out of here, and we can deal with everything in the morning."

"We could just stay here," Neal says. He's leaning more heavily against the wall now. Peter suspects there's some kind of soporific in the salve, as well as the obvious anaesthetic.

"Nope," Peter says. "I am not spending the night in proximity to Correspondence sigils. Besides the fire risk, I can't imagine they're very conducive to a good night's sleep, which you need."

Mozzie nods at him gratefully. Peter suspects this was at least half the reason he'd been called in as backup. "He's right, Neal. Look, it's not far to the old steamer, and that's more comfortable than here."

And surrounded by water. Peter has never been in Mozzie's broken-down old steamer, though he's heard about it, but it already has that point decidedly in its favour. And hopefully it has a light source other than beetles. The ever-moving glow is becoming a little disconcerting.

Neal grumbles a bit, which Peter can't blame him for, especially when he realises that neither of them can really support Neal without hurting his arms further. But he gets up, if rather unsteadily, and Peter hovers behind him as they all climb the steps in turn. Outside, the light of the smoldering building is still visible. Thankfully for the dregs of Peter's sanity, both Neal and Mozzie resist the urge to comment on it and they turn away towards the river, walking silently under high white walls and weathered statuary.

"Say if you need to rest," Peter orders. Neal nods, and doesn't.

By the time they reach the steamer Neal is panting raggedly, and Peter can feel him shaking through the hand he keeps on the small of his back. Mozzie unlocks the cabin door and goes to light the storm-lantern hanging from the ceiling, and Neal stumbles straight over to one of the bunks, all but collapsing onto it.

Mozzie pours a generous slug of brandy into a glass (both items were very easily to hand) and holds it for Neal to gulp down. "I'm going to cut your shirt off, then you can go to sleep."

"What's left of it," Neal mutters morosely.

"You're in no position to complain about that," Peter points out, and Neal rolls his eyes, holding still as Mozzie snips through the charred cloth with a pair of metal shears.

He doesn't need to be told to lie down once Mozzie's finished. His eyes close, and he's out.

"Drink?" Mozzie asks Peter, seemingly lightly, although he's watching like a raven as Peter pulls off Neal's shoes and makes sure he's sufficiently piled with blankets. "There's brandy, of course —" he gestures at the bottle — "and I've also got some rather good wine around."

"Of course you do," Peter says, and is incredulous but not in the least surprised when it turns out that there is a fully stocked wine-cellar on board the steamer. Well, a wine-cabin.

"It's very important to carry proper supplies," Mozzie says. "As a zailor yourself, surely you know that."

Peter raises an eyebrow. "The only voyage this bucket could manage is a one-way trip to the bottom of the river."

"Don't talk about her like that!" Mozzie retorts. "You just don't appreciate the true worth of a place like this."

Recognising what is the very definition of a futile argument, Peter makes a tactical decision to drop the subject. "Neal's all right, isn't he?" he asks. "I mean, aside from the obvious."

"If the obvious is that he's completely insane," Mozzie mutters under his breath. (Peter tactfully decides not to notice.) "Oh yes, he's fine, just obsessed with a script that makes your eyes bleed if you study it for too long. And I don't mean that figuratively."

Peter sighs. "Well, he's not the only one trying to study it." Come to think of it, that isn't especially reassuring either.

At least Neal seems to be sleeping relatively peacefully, the stress-lines of pain wiped from his too-pale face. Everyone grows pale down here, away from the sun.

"You want a bunk?" Mozzie asks, as Peter yawns. He says it off-handedly, like he doesn't hate intruders in his spaces.

"Are you sure?" Peter asks. "I can head home —" Another yawn swallows the rest of the sentence.

Mozzie waves a hand at the empty bunk on the far wall from Neal's. "Help yourself. I'm going to sit up — I'm on cat-hours at the moment."

"Thanks," Peter says, and pulls his boots off. He drapes his overcoat over the back of the chair he's been sitting in, and stretches out on the surprisingly comfortable bunk. "Wake me if anything happens."

Mozzie grunts non-committally, but Peter knows he will.

 photo Scrawl1.png

Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/93662.html with comment count unavailable comments.
Sholio: WhiteCollar-Peter Neal soft filtersholio on April 7th, 2013 11:07 pm (UTC)
This is so adorable and sweet and perfectly in character. ♥ ♥ ♥

"Neal's done something stupid, got it. Where?"

... LOL. But of course he's going to go in a heartbeat. The burning building is such a wonderfully eerie image (so very Fallen London!), and everything with Peter and Mozzie taking care of injured Neal is lovely. And as always, there are so many delightful little Fallen London details -- the superstition of the horsehead amulets, Mozzie's wine-cabin on his steamer, "watching like a raven". :D

*smishes everybody*
Frith: Fallen London - mushroom hatfrith_in_thorns on April 8th, 2013 10:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you! ♥♥ I really like cramming in as many gameplay details as I can get away with. And I am still continuing in my pattern of Neal gets all the hurt from the Neath... XD
leesa_perrie: Mozzie Nealleesa_perrie on April 8th, 2013 03:24 pm (UTC)
This is full of lovely details and lots of h/c - and humour!

"Neal's done something stupid, got it. Where?"


"If the obvious is that he's completely insane," Mozzie mutters under his breath. (Peter tactfully decides not to notice.)

LOL!!! Ah, Neal! *shakes head* :D
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat bluefrith_in_thorns on April 8th, 2013 10:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :D More and more humour keeps finding its way into these XD I'm glad you're enjoying!
nieseryjnanieseryjna on April 8th, 2013 08:37 pm (UTC)
Lol okay I will not repeat the favorite line cos it seems it's everyone's favorite! I just have to tell you I enjoy those stories immensely, even not knowing "Fallen London", it just seems like a perfect world for our favorite characters.
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on April 8th, 2013 10:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! They really do fit so well into this world which is a blend of ridiculous and extremely ominous, and it's so much fun to write. I'm really glad that you're enjoying reading these stories!
aqwt101aqwt101 on April 9th, 2013 02:29 am (UTC)
Did I say I love this 'verse? Because I do ♥ Loved Peter & Mozzie taking care of Neal. And some lines made me snicker:)
Frithfrith_in_thorns on April 9th, 2013 12:14 pm (UTC)
Aww, thank you! I love writing it, and I'm very happy you're enjoying reading!
saphirablue on April 14th, 2013 05:01 pm (UTC)
Oh Neal. *pets him*

I love Peter and Mozzie here and that Peter immediately knew that Neal is in danger. :)

Thank you!

Just, I'm not sure I understand what "Correspondence" is and why it talks to Neal? *scratches head* Sorry.