[identity profile] waxbean.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] go_exchange
Title: Apologies, Famine and the Hazards of Christmas Shopping
Gift for: [livejournal.com profile] sanomi
gift from: [livejournal.com profile] dreya_uberwald
Words: 8800
Rating: R
Characters: The Them, the Horsepersons and Pestilence.
Pairings: Brian/Wensleydale, Famine/Pollution and hints of Adam/Pepper.
Summary: Brian wants to do something special for Wensleydale, but isn’t sure quite what. Can a certain personification of an apocalyptical persuasion help him out?

Brian looked down at the table and found himself engulfed by another wave of shame. He knew that he shouldn’t be here in this place, let alone here in this place sitting with him. It was bad, wrong and quite probably unforgivable by the standards of over half of his social circle. Yet there he was, staring at garish plastic and trying to resist the siren pull of the Burger Lord Double Megaburger with Cheese resting seductively in the cardboard carton in front of him. He just hoped to any deity that might be listening and of a mind to look favourably upon him, that Pepper and rest of the environmentalist society would not find out about this… this lapse.

He looked up from the horrifyingly seductive symbol of everything that was wrong with global capitalism, to see the immaculately presented man with jet black hair sitting opposite him give an amused smile. It was almost as if he knew that Brian was on the verge of crumbling and throwing three years of strict vegetarianism and one year of devout environmental consciousness out of the window for the sake of an overpriced, ethically-challenged, nutritionally-dubious, succulent, delicious, Megaburger of corporate oppression.

Brian inwardly cringed and wondered for the fourth time in as many minutes why the hell he’d thought that asking one Dr. Raven Sable for help with his quandary was a good idea.

The explanation to why Brian was both betraying his principles and violating several of the core codes of the University of Middle England Environmentalist Society was on one level very simple and on another somewhat complicated. The simple explanation could be given, well, simply as ‘Wensleydale’s Christmas present’. The complicated explanation on the other hand required a tad more elaboration.

To fully understand Brian’s current predicament regarding his best friend, one really had to go back a few months to the day of Adam Young’s eighteenth birthday party. It had been a good party, with about fifteen of Adam’s friends and acquaintances, including the once hated Johnsonites, turning up to commemorate the occasion.

Under normal circumstances Mr. and Mrs. Young would have doubtlessly vetoed the idea of so many seventeen to twenty year olds descending upon their home; but as a wholly unexpected nationwide strike by French baggage handlers had left them temporarily stranded in Normandy, Adam had decided that discretion was a virtue and refrained from mentioning to them in their last phone conversation that he was planning to celebrate his coming of age in such a fashion. Besides, Adam was quite possibly unique amongst teenagers in that no matter how much of a mess was made of the house during any given parental absence, the place was always miraculously returned to its original state on parental return.

As it was, things had started off very well, even if Michael Davidson from Adam’s A Level history class had turned up higher than a kite and fully convinced he was King of the Pixie People. The music was loud (even if it didn’t seem to travel beyond the threshold of the Young’s front gate), the fridge and kitchen cupboards were well stocked and most of the partygoers had been conscientious enough to bring a bottle or seven.

Needless to say it had not been long before Brian, Wensley and Pepper had reached that stage of pleasant drunkenness wherein inhibitions were lowered, giddiness abounded and maudlin was yet to rear its ugly head. Adam, no matter how much hard liquor he was seen to consume, never got drunk: a fact which his friends found very reassuring, given what had happened the last time he hadn’t been in full control of his emotional state. Thus, as Pepper cornered Neil Timpson-Wright, the mild mannered son of a local Tory councillor, and cheerfully attempted to engage the unfortunate young man in debate about the fact that the council had recently given planning permission for a supermarket to be built on green belt land, and Brian and Wensley giggled uproariously at the sort of jokes that were only ever funny after a few pints, Adam had merely grinned and gone about trying to get Dog to demonstrate his new trick to as many of his guests as possible. And given that said trick involved two seconds of outright levitation, it was possibly a good thing that none of the spectators were sober.

Aside from the fact that it wasn’t everyday that a friend came of age, Brian had not at first noticed anything particularly unusual about the occasion. Some people might have been a tad disconcerted at some of the things that seemed to happen when Adam was around; but you couldn’t grow up with somebody without becoming accustomed to most of their little quirks, even if several of the little quirks in question would probably be declared scientifically impossible by 95% of physicists.

No, nothing about the party had seemed at all out of the ordinary, until Wensleydale, face flushed and eyes fixed to the floor, had drawn uncharacteristically close, swallowed nervously, brought his mouth to Brian’s ear and haltingly mumbled four words that Brian had never in his wildest imaginings thought that his friend would utter.

‘I think I’m gay’.

For several moments Brian found himself unable to respond in any fashion other than gaping in a distinctly goldfish-like manner and stuttering out a reply that was monumental in its inanity.

“Er… are you sure?”

When Wensleydale looked at him with a mixture of hurt, anger and embarrassment it was the confirmation he needed that this was entirely and unequivocally the wrong thing to say. The thing was that he had never once contemplated the idea that Wensley might not be into the opposite sex. He hadn’t, after all, said anything when Brian had come out to the rest of the Them about being bi-sexual, the previous year.

“Of course I’m sure,” Wensley hissed, face bright red.

“It’s just… I thought that-”

“Look, forget I said anything.”

“I thought that you liked girls.”

“I do like girls, just not like that. Brian, please, just forget about it.”

For a while Brian wasn’t quite sure how best to respond, whether to change the topic and ignore the mild gnawing sensation that he knew would chew at his insides for ages if he just let things go, or press the issue and try not to irreparably wreck over a decade of friendship in the process.

The thing was that for some time now, Brian had been possessed of feelings for his friend that most definitely went beyond the usual bounds of buddydom. He’d not said anything, of course; Wensley was his best friend and the last thing he’d wanted was to make things awkward between them. But the certainty that Wensley was one hundred percent straight had been one of the main factors in preventing fantasy from infringing upon reality.

In the last few minutes, though, everything had changed. Wensleydale had said that he fancied boys, and Brian was suddenly faced with the fact that he couldn’t start repeating the mantra ‘Wensley is straight and therefore not interested’ to himself when experiencing the compulsion to pull him close, brush his fingers over those oft flushed cheeks and hungrily kiss those frequently chapped but oddly inviting lips.

For under a minute they stood there in silence as the sound of laughter, excited chatter and Pepper’s favourite punk band filled the air.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I’m saying something now.”

“But you never said anything before. I mean you could have when I-”

“I wasn’t sure then,” Wensley snapped, looking more uncomfortable by the second. “Please, Brian, let’s just forget I said anything.” There was a distinctly pleading edge to his voice as he said this last bit.

Aware that the situation could very well be about to deteriorate beyond the point of no return, Brian knew that he had to blurt out something. “But Wensley I… I really like you.”

It was neither eloquent nor unambiguous, but from the way that Wensley’s eyes widened he could tell that he got the gist of it.

“You mean…?”

It was Brian’s turn to stare nervously at the floor. “Yeah.”

He’d expected Wensley to either mumble something about not thinking about him like that or aggressively repeat the instruction to ‘forget about it’; and was therefore completely and utterly stunned when Wensley said, in an almost inaudible whisper: “I like you too.”

The memories of what had directly followed this confession were still a bit hazy for Brian, something which could be attributed either to the alcohol, the shock or a combination of both. But he did recall how they’d ended up ensconced in an unusually spacious upstairs linen cupboard - which he was almost certain had not been there during his previous visits to Adam’s house - trading enthusiastic, if hopelessly clumsy, kisses and humping desperately against each other. And he very clearly remembered dropping to his knees and fumbling with the zipper on Wensley’s jeans, before yanking them down and giving him what Brian hoped was a more than adequate blowjob. He certainly knew he’d never ever be able to forget the noises Wensley had made: the little gasps and moans that that he’d tried, but not entirely succeeded, to stifle with his left hand (Brian also knew that he’d never quite be able to forget the way the right hand had pulled at his hair, but this had probably been the least pleasant aspect of the whole thing).

When they’d emerged from the cupboard, dishevelled and sheepish looking, both had been rather relieved to note that none of Adam’s other guests seemed to have been in a position to notice what had transpired between them; though Brian had not been able to help but wonder about the knowing look that passed between Adam and Pepper when they returned to the living room.

After the party, which had caused surprisingly little disruption in the neighbourhood, but nonetheless inspired one R. P. Tyler to pen a denouncement of the young people of today and post it to the Daily Mail, Brian had worried that things between him and Wensley would become horribly awkward. To his surprise and delight, however, after a short bout of not quite being able to look each other in the eyes without blushing, things had gone back to normal. Well no, that wasn’t entirely true; their friendship did seem to have evolved to include a few added benefits. They hadn’t told anybody about this new aspect to their relationship: as far as the rest of the world was concerned they were just two first year university students who happened to share a flat (though the knowing looks that continued to frequently pass between Adam and Pepper made him suspect that it was not a complete secret). And they certainly weren’t calling it ‘a relationship’. But Brian was increasingly aware that some things had changed.

Hence the reason why he was currently in the process of thoroughly debasing himself - and perhaps more worryingly risking the wrath of Pepper - by frequenting a fast food joint owned by a multinational conglomerate, which had last year appeared at number three on the Planet’s Most Unethical list.

It was all because he didn’t know what the hell to get Wensley for Christmas.

In previous years not knowing what the hell to get Wensley for Christmas had not been a problem. Brian had merely taken the easy option and got his friend a present that he himself would want. After all, Wensley had stated his indifference towards the holiday a long time ago and had never once complained about receiving movies with such titles as Revenge of the Psycho Zombies from the Planet of Terror. This year though he was seized by a strange and overwhelming need to get Wensley something that he’d really like: something that wouldn’t be regifted to Pepper sometime in late January. Not that he was getting all weird and mushy about him or anything; he just… wanted to be a good friend.

Besides, Brian currently owed Wensley something of an apology. Four days ago he’d wantonly trampled mud all over the hallway carpet, knowing that Wensley possessed a special hatred for that kind of mess. He’d done it out of spite, because Wensley had taken it upon himself to, without seeking prior permission, tidy up the clutter of possessions that Brian left around the flat’s living room cum dining area. Brian had taken affront, feeling that it was one thing for Wensley to complain about the untidiness in their shared space but quite another to go and tidy everything away into places where he’d never find it; and had therefore, after a bit of a sulk and a walk outside, childishly stomped about the hallway in dirty shoes. Alas, Brian had been left feeling like a total bastard when Wensley had responded to the incident with genuine hurt rather than the expected brief bout of annoyance and expletives. Getting Wensley something good for Christmas seemed like the best way to make up for it, even if he didn’t any idea as to what that something good should be.

Most people, of course, would fail to see why being unable to think of just the right gift for one’s not-boyfriend could ever necessitate a trip to Burger Lord with the anthropomorphic personification of Famine. Indeed, had you told Brian that morning, as he set off to do his Christmas shopping in the quaint market town of Clovermill, that he’d end up in precisely this situation, his response would have been something to the effect of: ‘what the fuck are you smoking’. The idea had sprung - quite unbidden - into his mind shortly after bumping into the entity currently referring to himself as Dr. Raven Sable outside the local branch of Book R Us. Well, ‘bumping’ was perhaps a slight understatement; ‘crashing at high speed in embarrassingly slapstick manner after slipping in a patch of black ice’ was possibly a tad more accurate.

He recognised the man shaped creature at once. Aside from the fact that there was a poster in the Books R Us window excitedly proclaiming that the eminent dietician would be signing copies of his new tome, The Seven Fundamental Principles of Slim, between the hours of 10:00am and 4:30pm, he still remembered how the Horseperson could metamorphose from corporate charm personified to primal force of destruction personified. It wasn’t something that one easily forgot, at least not without Antichrist intervention.

Brian had been thirteen and a half when his recollection of the things that had occurred during the week of Adam’s eleventh birthday had been returned to him, courtesy of the events surrounding Almost Apocalypse Mark II. It would probably not surprise many people to know that the planet’s second near miss with Armageddon had occurred as a direct result of the onset of that most tumultuous stage of life known as adolescence. More specifically, the world had very nearly ended when the Antichrist had got a little upset about being grounded for month after being wrongly implicated in the sordid defacing of Mr. R.P. Tyler’s garden gnome arrangement. In the time honoured fashion of melodramatic teenage mood swings, however, Adam had calmed down by the time the four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse made their appearance, and had looked more than a little guilty and embarrassed as he dismissed the harbingers of doom, who, clearly not wanting to be banished for a second time, had decided to go quietly when asked to leave.

After that Adam had confessed all to the rest of the Them, who’d been far more annoyed about having their memories tampered with than they were about the whole Spawn of Satan thing. You couldn’t, after all, help it if public opinion tended to be against one of your parents, whereas you could most certainly help playing about with friends’ minds like that. Adam had subsequently made his friends three promises: 1) that he wouldn’t interfere with their mental processes ever again unless it was a life or death situation; 2) that he’d find a way of dealing with life’s little unfairnesses that didn’t involve thermonuclear destruction; and 3) that he’d give the rest of the Them fair warning before inviting War, Famine and Pollution around again (Death of course was a slightly different matter and even aged thirteen and a half Brian had an inkling that keeping him away permanently might not be the best of ideas even if such a thing were actually possible).

For Brian the most frightening thing about the Horsepersons was the way they’d seemed to correspond with the Them during the first botched attempt at Armageddon. Adam had told him that it was superficial, that he honestly hadn’t been trying to mold Pepper, Brian and Wensley in their image; but sometimes, Brian would spot that dangerous smile Pepper gave before launching into a verbal tirade on the human rights violator of the week, or catch himself staring euphorically at the play of light on the oil film that tainted the local canal, or… or take note of one of Wensley’s odd ascetic tendencies; and it would scare the shit out of him.

It was therefore quite understandable that for several seconds after crashing into the Horseperson, Brian found himself frozen to the spot, gaping in what he suspected was a thoroughly idiotic manner as a litany of ohshitohshitohshit ran through his mind.

His first instinct on recovering motor control was to walk away very quickly: a move that he would have doubtless made had Dr. Sable not at that moment put a hand on his shoulder, as if to steady him, and smiled.

“You’re a friend of Adam’s.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” he said, not quite sure how else to respond. It was strange, but aside from an intensification of the hunger Brian hadn’t been quite aware of feeling until that moment, the contact didn’t seem to induce any drastic effects: no descent into madness or unbearable pain, just a highly disconcerting moment of looking at the street pigeons and speculating on how they’d taste char-grilled.

“How is he?” Had there been any hint of threat in the voice Brian would have chose that moment to make a break for it. As it was, however, the question sounded exactly like the kind of innocuous enquiry one might make about an old acquaintance. Famine, it seemed, could be disturbingly genuine.

“Er… not in the mood for another Apocalypse yet.” It was not the most sensible or diplomatic thing to say, but he wasn’t quite able to stop it from leaving his mouth.

Fortunately, Dr. Sable seemed amused by the response, giving a small chuckle. “We’ll be there when he needs us.”

Unsettled by this statement, Brian took a step backwards. “Um, I’d better be going. Got to… er, buy presents and stuff.”


“For my friends.”


“No, Wensleydale.”

“The young man with the light brown hair?”

Brian nodded, hoping that that the entity didn’t bear too much ill will towards his friend vis-à-vis the whole vanquishment via twig and string scales thing.

“What are you going to get for him?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know; he’s difficult to buy for.”

“Ah, that’s always the way.” Dr. Sable gave another small chuckle. “I’d suggest my new book, but I don’t think that your friend Adam would approve.”

At this Brian felt himself relax a little. The Horseperson sounded like he knew that Adam wouldn’t tolerate anything untoward happening to any of the Them.

“Wensley doesn’t need to lose weight anyway,” he said.

Dr. Sable raised an eyebrow, clearly disagreeing with the sentiment that a BMI of twenty was in any way ideal, but didn’t make comment. Nor did he make a make any move to continue on his way.

It was strange, almost as if, for some unfathomable reason, he wanted to continue interacting with Brian.

Brian would never be sure what possessed him to act on the ludicrous idea that popped into his head at that moment: it could have been the desperate fatigue born of a day spent shopping, the effects of the cold weather or the fact the whole sceptical eyebrow raising thing had for half a moment reminded him of Wensley’s expression when Brian had tried to explain to him how the last toaster had spontaneously combusted. Alternatively, he might just have hit his head on something when he’d crashed into Dr. Sable and not noticed. Whatever the reason, and before he could fully think through what he was doing, he looked at Famine incarnate and opened his mouth.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got any suggestions. Other than diet stuff, I mean.”

Dr. Sable had looked thoughtful for a moment, an expression that was eerily reminiscent of the one Wensley adopted when pondering a question of moderate difficulty.

“I might be able to help you,” he said, expression amicable, “but I think we should get in out of the cold.”

He should have protested a little more when he was led in the direction of the nearest Burger Lord. Should have at least been more assertive in his insistence that he didn’t want any food, even if Dr. Sable was paying. And he really should have known better than to try and use ‘I’m not hungry, honest’ as an excuse.

Thus, he sat there somehow hanging onto the last vestiges of self-control by trying to dwell on how much he’d hate himself later if he caved in.

“So your friend, Wensleydale: what sort of things does he like?” said Dr. Sable, who, like Brian, was making no move to consume either his Extra Thick Choco Whippy Shake or Megaburger with fries.

“Well, he likes computers, but there’s nothing that he hasn’t already got that I could afford to buy for him. And he likes fishing, too, but there’s no way I’m going to do anything to support that.”

“Perhaps you could-” Dr. Sable’s suggestion was cut off by the sound of a mobile phone going off.

From the breast pocket of his clean and immaculately pressed black suit, the entity removed an ultra-slim device that better resembled a piece of modern art than a telephone.

Brian, catching his fingers drifting towards the Megaburger, put his hands in his pockets, hoping that the material might provide some sort of barrier against unconsciously succumbing to temptation.

“Hello.” Dr. Sable’s phone voice was imbued with a nauseating amount of what Brian could only think of as corporate cheerfulness.

The muffled voice on the other end of the phone seemed to have an edge of panic to it. From where he was sitting Brian could make out the words ‘government’, ‘three-billion dollars’ and ‘lawsuit’. Dr. Sable, however, remained unruffled.

“It looks like we might need to streamline our operation in that part of the world. Get on to the people in Strategic Planning about it.”

Dr. Sable switched his attention back to Brian. “What about books? I read a fascinating one last week about causes of mass starvation.” He gave a brief grin. “Of course, they didn’t get all the details right, but they did recognise some of the hard work done in the US over the last thirty years.”

“Er… I’m not sure what kind of books he likes to read.” Wensley didn’t seem go for fiction and the tomes which he did buy tended to have unfathomable things such as C++ and Visual Studio in the title. He was pretty certain, however, that one on mass starvation probably wouldn’t go over too well.

“Does he have a busy life?”

“Well, yeah, I suppose so. I mean, since we started uni he’s been talking about how he never seems to have enough time to do everything,” said Brian. Wensley, in his opinion, was abnormally busy for a first year university student. Unlike Brian and Pepper, who seemed to spend a sizable chunk of their time as first year students at the University of Middle England watching daytime television and sitting in the nearest pub, Wensley always seemed to be either working on an essay or going off to his part time admin job at the accountancy firm. Brian was certain this behaviour was neither right nor healthy, but any mention of this to Wensley invariably led to him bringing up the fact that while Brian was consistently getting just a bare pass for his assignments, Wensley was already on course for a First.

“Ah, not enough time,” he shook his head as if in sympathy. “My R & D people are always saying that they’d like a few extra days at the end of the year, but that’s one thing I can’t purchase for them.” He a small snort, as if rather amused by the idea. “How about an electronic organiser, though? So much sleeker than the paper ones used to be.”

Brian shook his head. “He’ll probably get about seven of those from other people. I need to get him something special.” Flushing as he realised that he might have just inadvertently given away more about how things stood with Wensley than he would have wanted to, he hastily added, “I sort of need to apologise to him about something.”

Dr. Sable raised an eyebrow. “How big of a something?” One got the impression that he had acquired a fair amount of experience of making calculated apologies – or at least a fair amount of experience at having a legal team that made them for him - since authoring his first diet book.

Deciding that it was no great secret, Brian regaled him with the whole muddy footprints fiasco. As he spoke a look that was close to thoughtful seemed to pass over the Horseperson’s face.

“Did you clean the mud up?”

“I tried to, but the harder I scrubbed the more it seemed to spread about. So Wensley got a bit pissed off and finished cleaning it himself.”

Dr. Sable’s lips quirked upwards, almost as if he was smiling at some kind of private joke. “If he were a woman I’d suggest flowers, jewellery or possibly zero calorie confectionary – we can make that, you know.”

Brian couldn’t help but give a snort of laughter at the thought of Pepper’s probable reaction to receiving any of the above as an apology. Well, chocolate might be okay, providing it was Fair Trade and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Newtrition Company.

“I don’t think any of those would work. He doesn’t wear jewellery and he doesn’t like sweet foods very much.” Wensley had once liked sweet foods, but a traumatic gastric experience after devouring twenty packets of Cadbury’s Chocolate Buttons in one sitting at age fourteen, seemed to have put him off almost everything possessed of a high sugar content.

“In that case I’d say that your most viable option is hard liquor. My people in marketing tell me that a good quality bottle can work wonders in the right situation.”

This, Brian thought, sounded like an acceptable idea. Despite several traumatic gastric experiences with alcohol and many vows never to touch it again, Wensley had proved strangely resilient to developing any kind of permanent aversion to the stuff. It didn’t, of course, seem like a very special sort of gift; but he was quickly running out of shopping days and it sounded better than all of the other ideas he’d so far come up with.

“He probably wouldn’t mind a bottle of whisky,” he said.

“There you go then.” Dr. Sable smiled. It was a personable if rather corporate smile. There was no thinly concealed malice evident in it, and it certainly didn’t look like it would belong to one of the original Hell’s Angels. It was disconcerting.

Brian suddenly noticed that one of his hands had unconsciously extricated itself from its pocket and was making its way to the burger. Fortunately, the fact that the thing had now cooled down to a point where it was looking unappetisingly congealed seemed to facilitate the exercising of self-restraint. Still, he really did need to get away before he cracked.

“I think I better be going,” he said, making a big show of staring at his watch, as if aghast at how late it was. “The bus leaves at half five.”

“You haven’t touched your food.”

“Don’t want to ruin my appetite,” said Brian.

Famine laughed; it was not an unkind laugh, but there was something about it that put Brian in mind of bones grating against each other.

“When you next see your friend Adam, tell him what I said: that we’ll be there when he needs us.”

“Er, right, will do,” said Brian, having absolutely no intention of doing any such thing.

“Goodbye, then.”

“Take care.”

As he stepped out of the door Brian vowed to never again to enter a corporate run fast food joint. The temptation was just too intense.


After discarding both his and Brian’s uneaten MEALS™, Sable stepped out of Burger Lord and onto Clovermill High Street. As he walked along the icy pavement, he noted with satisfaction the manner in which two horrendously obese yet thoroughly ravenous pigeons set upon a haggard looking magpie and snatched away the piece of Megaburger bun it had been carrying in its beak. His idea of adding a few appetite stimulants and addictive compounds to MEALS™ really had been a stroke of genius. Of course, his legal people seemed to be having a little trouble with the more tenacious of the health activists, but he was confident that dear Scarlet’s latest endeavour would have them ditching the food awareness campaigns in favour of the anti-War banners. He gave small smile as he thought of the ways he could ensure that the Newtrition Company became the premiere provider of refreshments to those attending the inevitable Stop the Invasion rallies. Scarlet, he was sure, would be rather amused. She, unlike some entities of an apocalyptical persuasion he could mention, would not take such an action personally, preferring instead to embrace the irony of the situation and make a personal appearance at the events in question. The ensuing riots were always entertaining.

His good mood faltered slightly as he thought of White’s angry, verging on petulant, reaction to the recent discovery that Sable had agreed to fund the replanting of several thousand acres of rainforest in exchange for permission to open another five hundred Burger Lord outlets in Brazil. Neither the personifications of War nor Pestilence had ever thrown quite so much of a strop when he’d done something that frustrated – in the most insignificant and temporary of manners – their activities, in the name of the greater bad. After all, it was hardly as if a little re-deforestation couldn’t transpire after the outlets were open. And even if he had been a little thoughtless in his endeavour, White’s little attempt to get back at him had been wholly uncalled for. The chemical contamination of the unfood being manufactured at over half of the world’s Newtrition Company owned production plants had set Sable’s expansion plan back by at least three years.

He had not interacted with White since, though a few months ago he had received an unexpected e-mail from Scarlet in which she mentioned that she’d seen him hanging around the Middle East with a disgruntled expression. The fact was that since their return from the minds of men, to which they’d been banished after the first aborted attempt at Armageddon, they had allowed their relationship – if it could be called such a thing – to go beyond that of fellow Horsepersons and occasional co-conspirators.

Sable paused for a moment to watch the perfectly healthy woman across the street tell her boyfriend about the next-to-no calorie diet she was about to embark upon. Much to Sable’s consternation, it was not enough to restore his cheer.

Walking on, he was unable to shake the air of… of whatever it was that seemed to engulf him when he thought about White. He was almost certain that he’d never experienced any strong emotions that hadn’t been directly related to his role as the personification of Famine prior to the banishment; and he couldn’t quite help but wonder if the Antichrist had perversely decided to let a little of the human rub off on the Horsepersons on their return from the human psyche. It was… unsettling.

Unbidden, Brian’s words on the subject of his dispute with his friend, came to mind: It was my stuff; he shouldn’t have gone tidying it up without asking me first. I mean, I wouldn’t have minded if he’d asked first, but he didn’t.

The corners of his thin lips quirked upwards. Unsettled as he might be, he could still appreciate irony when he came across it. Muddy footprints and chemical contaminants; was it really all the same when you got down to it?

Behind him a young child, made irritable by hunger and a day spent being pushed around the shops in a less than comfortable stroller, let loose an eardrum piercing wail. He picked up his step, making a mental note to ask the people at Newtrition’s research and design department to look at branching out into formula and baby food. After all, they didn’t seem to be doing anything with the under fours demographic and he prided Newtrition on being an inclusive company. Yes, he could see it now: a whole MEALS FOR TOTS™ line. They’d have to make some nod to health, though; the medical profession was being rather vocal about children’s nutrition at the moment. Maybe they could promote the new line as ‘containing essential fruits and vegetables’. Said fruits and vegetables would of course have to be included to satisfy labelling laws, but nobody said anything about them having to use the digestible parts.

As he turned the corner into a small square boasting a fountain that fell squarely into the architectural category of charmingly decrepit, Sable was so wrapped up in his pre-emptive product planning that it took him several moments to recognise the form sitting on one of the rain sodden benches and throwing putrid-looking bits of food to the birds. When he did, though, he was unable to hide his surprise.


A pair of rheumy eyes looked up at him and the ex-Horseperson’s pallid face broke into smile.

“Famine!” he rasped, before breaking into an enthusiastic bout of coughing.

“I thought you were in the Far East,” Sable said, oddly pleased to see his former colleague.

Pestilence gave a wheezing laugh. “Avian flu’s proving to be a more difficult hobby than I imagined.”

“What brings you here?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

“Book signing. Besides, I like to think that travel keeps the ideas flowing fresh.”

A rasped chuckled. “For me it’s nostalgia.”

“Bubonic plague?”

Pestilence grinned and shook his head. “Nothing quite so vigorous. In my dotage I seem to have found myself longing for the sedate pleasures of the English winter sniffles. Ebola’s all very well, but there are times when I prefer a less dramatic pace.”

Sable shook his head. “I never thought I’d hear that from you. What was it you said that time: give me mass graves or give me non-existence?”

“That was before antibiotics. Say what you like about the common cold, but you’ve got to admit that it’s got staying power: hundreds of little mutations just waiting to get out and cause an epidemic.” He spoke fondly, as if talking of a set of beloved grandchildren. “Anyway, how’s the new boy working out? Big news these days, isn’t he? Though I believe our dearest War is monopolising the headlines at the moment.”

“Pollution? He’s doing fine. Well, we have had a slight disagreement, but I’m sure it’ll blow over.”

Pestilence looked interested. “A disagreement?”

Sable told him about the whole rainforest replanting situation, leaving aside the bit about the relationship between him and Pollution going beyond that of fellow Horsepersons.

“So you’ve fallen out with each other then.” There was something in Pestilence’s sickly expression that made him wonder exactly how many of the unspoken details of the situation he’d picked up on. Then again, Pestilence always had been the one whose work with humans was the most ‘hands on’, so it wasn’t inconceivable that he might have picked up a thing or two about the troublesome nature of relationships along the way. “Well, I suppose that you don’t have to work well together,” he said, before adding: “You’re not planning to do something to get back at him, are you?”

He shook his head, deciding not to mention that he had briefly considered making all of Burger Lord’s milkshake cups recyclable.

“Good, you’d only end up cancelling each other out.” Pestilence gave another hacking cough. “Have you thought about apologising to him?”

Sable’s brow furrowed. “Apologising?” In his experience apologising was something that you did in the name of damage minimisation when you got sued by an angry relative of an overenthusiastic D Plan devotee.

Pestilence nodded. “It might work.” He didn’t specify what it might work at doing and Sable didn’t care to press the matter. “Anyway,” he continued, “I really must be getting on. I’ve got a hospital appointment at half past five and I really wouldn’t want to miss out on a chance to spend some quality time with my darling MRSA.”

Sable nodded. “Good to see you again,” he said, as, with a great deal of rasping and gurgling, Pestilence got to his feet.

“Goodbye Famine, think about what I said.”

He was about to query which part of what he’d said he wanted Sable to think about when the mobile phone went off.

It was the head of Burger Lord's marketing department, who wanted to know whether he felt the time was right for another shot at France.

He told him to go for it.

France might shoot back, but it would be a whole new market. Besides, he hadn’t done any serious work there for a while.


On 23rd December Brian woke up at 11:00am, having spent most of the night awake and dwelling upon his encounter with Famine. The liquor suggestion did seem perfectly sensible, but Brian wanted to give Wensley something more than sensible. That line about purchasing extra days though. There was something in that that had struck a cord: Brian wanted was to give Wensley a day that didn’t involve him having to do ‘something productive’. He had, after all, been looking a bit stressed out and tired lately.

Of course, he’d need Adam’s help to do it. Help that his friend the Antichrist might be reluctant to give. Following his teenage snit that had very nearly ended the world, Adam had always been very careful not to do anything that could drastically alter the state of the universe, refusing, despite Brian and Pepper’s most heartfelt pleas, to intervene in humanity’s many crises.

After eating breakfast and watching a little television Brian caught the train to Lower Tadfield.

When his three best friends had moved fifteen miles away to the town of Richworth in order to attend the university located there, Adam had surprised them by electing to remain in Lower Tadfield, saying that while it was nice to visit other parts of the world for short periods of time, Tadfield was his home. He therefore now worked at the little health food shop Anathema Device and Newton Pulsifer had recently opened up in the village. The rest of the Them visited regularly and were glad to see that he seemed to be happy, even if they did miss him. There was something strangely right about Adam being in Tadfield. And when it came down to it, it was a big relief to know that there was somebody around to make sure that Newt didn’t accidentally reroute too many NASA shuttles while trying to get his DVD player to work. Nobody wanted Scotland Yard, MI5, Europol or the CIA showing up at Jasmine Cottage again.

On arriving at Devices for Health, Brian found Adam in the tiny store room pricing cartons of herbal teas. He seemed delighted, but not surprised to see Brian.

“I wanted to ask a favour,” said Brian, as Adam pulled out a rickety old chair for him to sit on.

“What kind of favour?” Adam said.

“The kind that involves messing around with the mechanics of the universe.”

Adam gave him a sceptical look. “You know I don’t do that,” he said, and then, because he was a fundamentally honest Antichrist, added, “Well, nothing bigger than the local climate anyway.”

“I’m not sure how big this’d be,” said Brian. “I mean, it probably wouldn’t mean messing around with world politics or human nature or anything like that; but it would be physically impossible. It’s for Wensley, you see.”

“What physical impossibility are you talking about?”

Brian told him.

Adam tilted his head to the side, a gesture that indicated he was contemplating something. “I’ll have to think about it,” he said.

Brian nodded.

They then proceeded to spend the best part of an hour talking about what had been happening in Tadfield in Brian’s absence, a discussion that was ended when Anathema returned from her yoga class and Adam mentioned something about going to the cinema in Upper Tadfield with Pepper.

The fact that there was a slight blush in his cheeks as he said this meant that Brian refrained from asking if he could tag along.

On leaving the little shop Brian made a trip to the local off licence and headed straight to the liquor shelves. He needed, after all, to be prepared for every eventuality.


When Christmas morning came around Wensley seemed happy enough with the bottle of Jack Daniel's Brian presented him with. He was not ecstatic about the gift, but Brian got the impression that it was not destined for Pepper’s collection.

Brian, for his part, demonstrated great enthusiasm and delight at receiving a much longed for Playstation game. He also, managing to suppress the desire to somehow justify his carpet wrecking actions, apologised for the muddy footprints.

Wensley, managing not to comment on Brian’s laziness with regard to household cleanliness, apologised for messing about with Brian’s property without asking.

After they’d dressed and showered, Wensley, being the only car owner of the three, drove himself, Brian and Pepper back to Lower Tadfield, whereupon they split up – with instructions from Wensley to be ready to leave by 10:00pm if they wanted a lift back – and went to have dinner with their respective families.

It was a nice, if rather ordinary, Christmas.


The alarm went off.

Wensleydale’s eyes twitched open.

As his hand automatically went for the off button he noticed three things: firstly, that he was completely naked; secondly, that there was an equally naked Brian draped around him; and thirdly, that the display on the clock seemed to be trying to inform him that it was 10:30am December 25th .

“Bloody thing’s broke,” he mumbled as the arm around him pulled tighter.

“What’s broke?” asked a sleepy voice from behind him.

“Alarm clock,” he said, wondering what on earth had possessed him to set the thing to wake him up at such a late hour of the morning. There were at least three relatives he’d promised to go and visit on Boxing Day afternoon and he’d planned to get at least half of his Business Systems essay written before he set off for Lower Tadfield. Still, he did feel very comfy and relaxed, lying here with Brian curled up around him, even if the hand resting on his belly was giving certain bits of his anatomy ideas that he just didn’t have time to act on.

Brian loosened his hold – a move which left part of him feeling just a tad let down - and with a loud yawn, sat up.

“No it’s not.”

“Brian, it says that it’s still Christmas day.”

“Well, it is, sort of.”

Wensleydale gave an exaggerated sigh. Brian could be so deliberately and illogically contrary at times. For some reason he seemed to think it was amusing.

“Christmas was yesterday. You gave me a bottle of Jack Daniels and I gave you Grand Theft Auto, remember.”

For a moment Brian was quiet, something that Wensleydale initially took to be a concession to logic and good sense.

“Er, Wensleydale, you know how I said yesterday that I had another present, one that I’d give you today.”

“Yeah,” said Wensleydale, who’d assumed that by ‘another present’ he’d meant something to the effect of a ‘good long shag’; which admittedly would have been a rather nice idea if there wasn’t so much else that he needed to get done.

“It’s sort of from me and Adam.”

Wensleydale moved away from Brian, eyes widening. He hoped to god that Brian wasn’t about to suggest they have a kinky threeway with their mutual friend.

“Well, I’d probably include Pepper in there, too, because she likes the idea, even if she isn’t directly involved in making it happen.”

He gaped. Brian seemed to not only want to have a kinky threeway with Adam, but to have Pepper watch. Thinking about the digital camcorder she’d received yesterday, he could almost feel the colour draining from his face.

“You see,” Brian continued, seemingly oblivious to Wensleydale’s panicked expression, “I was thinking about how you seem to be busy with stuff all the time and thought that maybe you need something that would help you wind down for a bit.”

“And you think that sordid sex acts is the way to go?” Wensleydale, completely horrified that Brian seemed to just assume that he’d be up for that sort of thing, practically shouted.

Brian looked at him with an expression of perplexity. “We’re giving you an extra day.”


“I wanted to give you an extra week, but Adam said that would just be too much.”

Wensleydale was at once both highly relieved, very unsettled and incredibly incredulous. “An extra day! You mean that yesterday’s going to repeat itself?”

“Yeah, sort of, but just for you, me, Adam and Pepper. Everybody else is asleep – well, sort of, he said it was more complicated than that.”

Wensleydale knew very well that Adam was capable of doing this sort of thing, but he really didn’t think that it made any sense at all. “So everyone in the world apart from us four is asleep?”

“Nah, I think it’s just everybody within a twenty mile radius of Adam. Everywhere else it’s still a fraction of a second away from midnight last night.”

“So we’re in a sort of…,” he struggled to find the right words, “a sort of time bubble.”

“Yeah, it's yesterday again for today; but tomorrow we go back to normal.”

Pedants and physicists everywhere would have doubtless been quick to point out the logical flaws inherent in this statement, but Wensleydale thought that he sort of got it.

“You mean you got Adam to add a whole day to the year, just for me.”

“Well, you’re always so busy. I thought you should have some time off.”

Wensleydale couldn’t help but feel a warm glow at the thought that Brian had come up with the idea, even if it was Adam who’d gone to the trouble of making it happen.

“You mean I can’t use it to finish my Business Systems assignment?” he said jokingly. In all honesty the idea of using just a little of the spare day to get ahead on his List of Things that Really Need Doing did have some appeal, but he knew that it rather went against the spirit of the gift.

Brian certainly seemed to think so and responded by playfully throwing a pillow at him.

Wensleydale, not about to take assault by fluffy bedclothes lightly, picked up the pillow he’d been resting on and swung it at his friend.

Laughing, Brian tried to shield himself from the blows.

After a brief tussle both young men were flushed and rather giddy.

“Now what was it you were saying about sordid sex acts?” said Brian, with grin.

Wensleydale gave an exaggerated sigh. “Pillow fighting isn’t a form of foreplay, you know.”

“Who says,” said Brian, who lay back and did an exceedingly comical impersonation of an alluring pose.

Despite the fact that the trying-to-be-sultry pout was snickerworthy in the extreme, Wensleydale had to admit that Brian did look rather appealing, all mussed up and breathless from all the laughing. So much so that he was unable to dismiss the frisson in his lower belly that seemed to be slowly intensifying at the sight.

In violation of numerous past declarations that kissing people in the morning before they’d brushed their teeth was completely gross and not something he’d ever consider doing, Wensleydale leant over and pressed his mouth against Brian’s.

Brian, clearly a tad surprised by this, took a few moments to respond. After a couple of seconds however a pair of hands settled on his hips and pulled him closer, whilst a wet tongue slipped inside his mouth. Much to Wensleydale’s relief, Brian’s mouth didn’t taste too bad, though he could have done without the mild hint of cigarette that lingered there.

Already hard, and experiencing a sudden and overwhelming need to be as close as physically possible to Brian, he pushed his body flush against his, unable to keep himself from gasping a little as their arousals briefly touched. It felt wonderful.

Brian, clearly of the same opinion, parted his legs a little more, better allowing Wensleydale to settle between them.

For several minutes he and Brian rubbed against each other, until the heat and need grew too overwhelming and they came, first Brian then Wensleydale, their mouths still firmly affixed to one another.

For a while afterwards neither had the physical or mental wherewithal to move or speak. Eventually, however, Wensleydale managed to summon the will to pull away.

“Brian,” he said.

“Mmmmm,” was the response.

“I think this is going to be a good Christmas.”


On a grass verge boasting scenic views of a landfill site that lay eight miles from Tadfield, two entities sat enjoying the view. Well, one of them was enjoying the view. The other was thinking about how much more aesthetically pleasing it would be if the thing was more organised, with, say, discarded circuit boards being placed with other discarded circuit boards rather than just mingled up willy-nilly with everything else. He didn’t mention anything to his white haired companion, however; to him the chaos of it all was half the appeal and sorting waste by type was always the kind of thing that those despicable recyclers and hazardous waste disposal people did. Besides, the rotting remnants of uneaten nutrient-packed food did provide a certain amount of satisfaction.

“So wonderful,” White murmured, fingering the object bearing the Burger Lord logo he was holding with a care that was almost reverent.

“And it’ll take years to disintegrate,” Sable said, smiling. “Of course, when it finally does….”

“Tonnes of toxic gas released into the atmosphere,” White said, sounding ecstatic at the thought.

With a happy sigh the personification of Pollution carelessly flung the new and improved Megaburger container to the grass, watching intently as the wind blew it away from the landfill.

“I’ve been thinking about my expansion strategy,” said Sable, moving tanned, bony fingers to caress a slender white hand, “and I’ve come to the conclusion that my Brazilian plans were flawed. It was a bad decision to undo your work in deforestation. I was wasting our resources.”

White’s lips pursed. “I like wasting resources,” he said, looking slightly wounded.

“What I mean,” said Sable carefully, “is that we were cancelling each other out. It was a fundamentally pointless action. Not in line with the mission statement.”

“Yes,” said White nodding in a fashion that looked half thoughtful and half stoned, “it was a little like the way I had all of those meals contaminated. I should have arranged the spill somewhere that was producing things that would have supported life, but I was annoyed, you see.”

“Yes, I know.”

“That was a wonderful gift though.” White gestured to the discarded burger carton. “One of the best I’ve ever had.”

Sable’s fingers tightened around White’s hand.

A few minutes later two corporeal forms - one all skin, bone and sharp angles, the other pale flesh glistening with the sheen of a thousand toxic chemicals - writhed together on a patch of land upon which nothing would subsequently grow for centuries.

It was going to be a good Christmas for them, too.

Date: 2006-12-17 05:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] candidlily.livejournal.com
I loved this SO MUCH! I love it when Pestilence shows up for a bit of insight. :P And the focus on the less popular characters was very lovely. The character development you had here was very well done. I expect Wensleydale would grow up to be that sort of overachiever. Well done, secret author!

P.S. Yay for teenage drama almost causing the apocalypse. ;)

Date: 2006-12-17 05:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vulgarweed.livejournal.com
Oh, what a fantastic story this is! Brian consulting with Wensleydale's Other Number for gift advice is just an inspired idea, and all the interactions between the characters are so right-on and delightful.

That's a damn nice present. Oh yes, yes it is. Can't think of anything better! So big holiday warm fuzzies with this one!

Date: 2006-12-17 06:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] andremeese.livejournal.com
SO much love for this, Secret Author! I'm not usually a big fan of the Them or Horsepeople, but this was really quite nice!

LoveloveLOVE the Ebola reference. Hee.

Date: 2006-12-17 09:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shadowvalkyrie.livejournal.com
This was just /too/ perfect. I can't comment on all the little details I liked, because they are just too many. The irony of the whole situation really got me. I loved Pestilence's showing up and all the cynical little delights that make a horseperson's life. Also, your characterisations were lovely. The ending finally was very cute, without breaking the general tone.

My favourite sentence was, "Hence the reason why he was currently in the process of thoroughly debasing himself - and perhaps more worryingly risking the wrath of Pepper - by frequenting a fast food joint owned by a multinational conglomerate, which had last year appeared at number three on the Planet’s Most Unethical list." Sums it all up and works out of context as well. Simply *lol*!

Date: 2006-12-17 10:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bastloki.livejournal.com
*Grins* Fantastic. Lovely bit of work. Good job, that...person. Eh, I'm hopeless at telling on the 'net. Female, though, I'm presuming.

Date: 2006-12-17 12:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] runic-binary.livejournal.com
I love this. The characterizations, the tone, the language, the teenage angst-induced second near-Apocalypse...and there were so many lines that made me laugh out loud. Absolutely wonderful.

Date: 2006-12-17 04:44 pm (UTC)
ext_38381: (what you say?)
From: [identity profile] melandry.livejournal.com
White’s lips pursed. “I like wasting resources,” he said, looking slightly wounded.

I completely love this line. I can just imagine the look on Pollution's face; it's perfect.

I really like the idea of yet another aborted apocalypse, and the reason for it, and the way the Horsepeople have become slightly, er, domesticated by it all.

Date: 2006-12-17 06:39 pm (UTC)
erinptah: (Default)
From: [personal profile] erinptah
And when it came down to it, it was a big relief to know that there was somebody around to make sure that Newt didn’t accidentally reroute too many NASA shuttles while trying to get his DVD player to work.


Loved it.

Date: 2006-12-18 09:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] espresso-addict.livejournal.com
A few minutes later two corporeal forms - one all skin, bone and sharp angles, the other pale flesh glistening with the sheen of a thousand toxic chemicals - writhed together on a patch of land upon which nothing would subsequently grow for centuries.

A really unusual take on the Christmas theme, and I particularly loved your take on the horsepersons. Thanks!

Date: 2006-12-20 05:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sanomi.livejournal.com

Oh my god. This is SO unbelievably wonderful-- I wish I could be properly coherant enough to convey my awe and joy and thankfulness for this gift!

I'm sorry I haven't commented until now-- there's been power outages and whatnot here, ha...

But yes. Wonderful.

I love the slightly meandering way Brian's thoughts move, and how Pepper managed to beat tree-hugging, ethical, vegetarianism into her friends' heads.

And the fact that you used the parallels between Pepper and War, Brian and Pollution, and Wensley and Famine was brilliant! I always thought that was one of the most interesting bits in the book, and was sad that it wasn't utilized.

You officially rule, Secret Author! I can't say enough good things about this, really. I mean, Brian and Wensleydale's relationship is so awkward and sweet and just lovely all around.

Thanks for this fabulous gift, you have totally made this holiday and great one for me! <3

Date: 2006-12-20 05:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sanomi.livejournal.com
Oh! And the inclusion of Pestilence was spot-on! Very, very cool. I loved his characterization.

You get boxes and boxes of virtual cookies for that extra perk! :D

Date: 2007-02-10 07:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ayamemishi.livejournal.com
Wow, what an awesome story. I love Brian's gift to Wensley, and the Famine/Pollution pairing just rocks. :D

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