Written for notatracer as part of the "while we tell of yuletide treasures" obscure fandoms secret santa project.|
Many thanks to shayheyred for beta'ing this story
Back to the Front
by Beth H.
(c) December 2006
"George," said Edmund Blackadder, as he lay down on his cot and closed his eyes. "This world in which we live is damnably unfair."
"Permission to ask which aspect of the world's unfairness has turned you into Captain Gloomy Boots?"
"It is this," Edmund replied, holding above his head a piece of paper with an official stamp affixed to one corner.
"I see," said George, nodding agreeably for a moment, then scrunching up his face in confusion. "No, I'm afraid I don't quite see. What does it say, Sir?"
"It says, George, that my old mate, Captain Lewis Culver Peale, will be amongst those transferred to Paris with General Appleby in three days time."
"Oh, I say! What awfully bad luck for the captain. Having to leave the front just before the big push. Well, he must be rather disappointed."
Edmund stared at his lieutenant for a moment, then shook his head. "George, if they handed out medals for point missing, you would be the most decorated officer in the British Army."
"Thank you, Sir!"
The following morning, Edmund's mood wasn't improved in the least when he received a message from HQ requesting his immediate presence in General Melchett's office. No sooner had he and George taken their seats than Captain Darling locked the door and closed the blinds on the windows.
Melchett leaned forward. "I presume you know why you were called in, Blackadder?"
"Actually, Sir, I'm afraid I don't have the slightest idea. Unless...unless it has something to do with Major Benton's riding crop, which I can assure you was...."
"Oh no, Captain," Melchett said. "Nothing whatsoever to do with the major's riding crop. Just between you and me, that man's a menace. He should never have been allowed to leave the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. No, the two of you are here to help Darling ensure there's a smooth transition when my replacement arrives."
"Your replacement, General?"
"Yes. General Charles Dolhurst. Good man, if a bit...well, just don't mention shepherding in his presence, and I'm sure everything will be fine."
"Begging the General's pardon, but did you say that General Dolhurst was going to be your replacement?"
Melchett sat back in his chair and nodded. "Yes, Blackadder. I've just been asked to return to London to join an advisory panel that the Prime Minister has created. Confidentially," he said, leaning forward and speaking in hushed tones, "I hadn't the foggiest notion that Lloyd George was the P.M. A recent promotion, was it?"
In the time it took Edmund to utter a rather weak "Ah," George had leapt up from his chair and had given a smart salute to General Melchett.
"May I be the first to say yippee, General?"
Melchett smiled benevolently. "Feel free to yippee away, George."
'Yippee' was not the first word that had come to Edmund's mind upon hearing Melchett's news. In fact, 'yippee' was far, far down the list, just below 'Oh bloody hell' and "I wonder if there's any way to turn this to my advantage?'
The 'Eureka!' moment came in the form of a sneeze from Captain Darling.
"Oh dear," Edmund said, inching his chair away from Darling's seat.
"What is it, Captain Blackadder?" Melchett asked.
"I'm sure it's not my place to say, Sir."
"Don't stand on ceremony, Captain. You're among friends. Speak freely."
"Well, Sir," he said, glancing in Darling's direction. "It strikes me that what with the latest round of influenza, it would be a great pity if anything were to delay your departure to London in a fortnight's time."
Even as Edmund spoke, he could see Melchett turn toward Darling, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.
"Admit yourself to hospital posthaste."
"But Sir, I don't have influenza. I'm sure Captain Blackadder is just trying to...."
"Honestly, it's just a bit of hayfever, Sir."
"Captain Darling, am I speaking to myself?"
"No, Sir," Darling said glumly. "Sorry, sir."
"Right then. Off you go."
"Yes," Edmund said, smirking a bit. "Off you go, Darling."
The captain glared at Edmund as he left the General's office.
"Well, Blackadder," Melchett said. "I'll have you know that's left me in a bit of a mess and no mistake. I don't suppose it crossed your mind that with Darling out, I shall need another aide-de-camp, and I'm certain you know as well as I do that good men are a bit thin on the ground these days."
"Oh dear," Edmund said, straightening his tie. "I begin to see your dilemma. Wherever will you find a loyal officer, one you've worked with for years, a man who...."
"Good Lord, Blackadder! It's as plain as the nose on your face."
"Yes, Sir." Edmund had hooked the fish; now he only needed to reel him in and a transfer to London would be within his grasp.
"Why, don't you see? That man you describe is none other than...."
The small voice that lodged deep within Edmund sighed contentedly in anticipation of a job well done.
Oh sod it, grumbled the small voice lodged deep within.
Edmund knew something had gone terribly wrong when George walked into the bunker late the following night with a dreamy expression on his face and his boots in his hand.
"Lieutenant, I think I'll throw caution to the wind and ask how you found your first day at HQ."
"It was absolutely top hole, Captain! Almost as if Fate had played a hand."
"I mean to say...working so closely with the General." The normally fatuous expression on George's face had metamorphosed into a combination of fatuous and wistful. "Bit of a family tradition, you know. Seeing to the General's needs."
"Oh yes, Sir. Don't know if I ever mentioned this, but my Uncle William fagged for the General at Harrow. He was Mother's youngest brother. Just a wee thing when he went away to school, she told me, but apparently he was absolutely tenacious whenever there was a tight spot. Got stuck right in, she used to say."
Edmund raised one eyebrow. "Your mother told you wee Willie got stuck in whenever he came across a tight spot?"
"Rather!" George said enthusiastically.
"I see," Edmund said, shaking his head. "That explains quite a lot."
"And now for me to be given such an honour. And the General being so....well, phwar!!"
"So what?" Edmund asked, hoping against hope that George hadn't actually said what it sounded as if he'd said.
"Oh, you know, Sir. Just...phwar! He's quite dashing, isn't he?"
Edmund frowned. "You are absolutely certain you're speaking of General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett?"
George sighed. "Oh, yes."
"Tall chappy? Hair parted down the center? Ears sticking out at all angles? Face rather like a walrus?"
George just sighed again.
Edmund shook his head. George had gone mad. It had been bad enough when he'd been a girl, but if wearing a frock had loosened a few cogs in his brain pan, serving as Melchett's aide-de- camp had knocked all the cogs straight out of his head.
When George sighed for the third time, Edmund knew it was well past time to devise a new plan.
"Come along, Baldrick. I understand this stack of reports might not have quite the allure of one of your turnips, but I'll need you to bring them to this afternoon's meeting."
"Sir...am I your assistant now?" Baldrick asked, trudging along after Edmund. "Seeing as how the lieutenant is working for the general and all."
"Sadly, the answer appears to be 'yes'."
"In that case," Baldrick said, as he reached into his pocket and pulled out an exceedingly grubby piece of paper, "would you send this to my mum, if it wouldn't be too much bother."
Edmund took a look at the piece of paper he'd been handed.
"Baldrick," he said. "This page is as bare as the pages of a book entitled The Collected Wit and Wisdom of Kaiser Wilhelm."
"Ah, that's because I can't write, Sir."
"Then would you mind explaining what the point is of sending this to your mother?"
"Well, she can't read, Sir, and...."
"No, never mind, Baldrick. I'm sure I'll be much happier remaining in blissful ignorance regarding anything to do with your future epistolary adventures."
Edmund's overly optimistic belief that his meeting with the General would be at least slightly more sane than his conversation with Baldrick had been was dashed two minutes after he walked into Melchett's office.
Not only was George apparently still in the throes of the sort of grand passion one generally only experiences when one is an adolescent - and a female adolescent, at that - but Melchett, too, seemed caught up in an infatuation of his own, judging by the way he appeared to forget where he was and what he was saying whenever he happened to glance in George's direction. Five times already, the discussion had stopped dead in its tracks because George and Melchett were so engrossed in gazing at each other in some peculiar manner Edmund could only imagine was the kind usually described as 'lovingly" by people with a far stronger constitutions than he possessed.
"Please God let this nightmare end before tomorrow tea time," Edmund muttered to himself.
"Tea?" Melchett said. "A splendid idea! George, I don't suppose we have any of those lovely little fairy cakes your Aunt Penelope sent 'round the other morning?"
"Of course, Sir," George said, smiling gently at the General. "Right away, Sir."
"Oh, George," Melchett said longingly, as he gazed at the lieutenant.
"Sir," George said softly, his fingers brushing up against the General's palm as he handed him an assortment of fairy cakes.
It was only with the greatest effort that Edmund was able to restrain himself from shrieking at a pitch so high that only dogs that had been raised in the Himalayas would be able to hear it.
He drew a deep breath, then leaned toward Melchett.
"You know," Edmund said, speaking as softly as a goose down pillow might speak if goose down pillows were in the habit of speaking. "I was thinking, just the other day, how very dreadful it is to be separated from those to whom one has become close. Take the three of us, to use just one random example. What haven't we been through? Sharing adversity..."
General Melchett leaned back in his comfortable leather chair. "Quite right."
George clutched the edge of the general's desk. "Fighting together against the Hun!"
Edmund nodded. "Like a band of brothers. A pity that closeness, that camaraderie, will soon be torn asunder. Ah, but what can one do when the leader of one's country calls?"
"I say, Captain," George said, enthusiastic admiration writ plainly in his face. "That phrase of yours -' band of brothers' - it's quite poetic, isn't it? Puts me in mind of...who is it?"
"The Bard of Avon, I'd imagine," said Edmund.
George frowned. "Barton Haven? I don't think I've heard of that fellow. No, it reminds me of that song...do you know the one I'm talking about, General? That cheerful one the men have been singing recently."
Melchett furrowed his brow, then brightened. "Right you are, George! 'Whoops, Sergeant Major, Sorry 'Bout Your Bum,' I believe it's called."
"Exactly, Sir!" George exclaimed happily.
"And once more," Edmund muttered to himself, "we see the value of a public school education."
Fifty centuries later, by Edmund's reckoning, the meeting finally came to an end; however, freedom was not to be his.
"A word, Captain Blackadder?"
"Of course, General," said Edmund warily. He'd already been subjected to George's near- interminable cataloguing of Melchett's sterling qualities the other night. If Melchett now intended to recite an ode to George's blue eyes, Edmund was going to find an unsanctioned use for his service revolver.
"You've opened my eyes, my boy," he said. If Edmund wasn't very much mistaken, there were tears swimming in the General's cow-like orbs. "How could I have imagined it would have been possible for me to be separated from...well, I'm certain I need say no more. Men of the world, and all that."
On the outside, Edmund merely nodded in agreement, but inside, tiny feet were doing the Highland Fling. His return to London was practically in the bag. It was so close that he could almost smell the waters of the Serpentine from where he stood.
There was only so much entertainment value to be found in watching George polish his boots until they were 'worthy of stepping on the same floor that the General stepped on,' so when Captain Darling walked into the bunker with a note clutched in his hand, Edmund was almost inclined to be welcoming.
"Darling, I see you've recovered from your nasty little bug."
"That's Captain Darling, and yes, I've recovered, although no thanks to you, Blackadder. I do have to say, though, that the home remedy you sent over worked a treat on the hospital's rodent population."
"Well, then," Edmund said dryly. "I suppose I mustn't complain. One dead rat is as good as another."
"I didn't have to come here, you know," Darling said petulantly. "If I wanted to, I could turn around and return to Headquarters, this note from the General undelivered."
"Yes, but you won't do that, will you, Darling?" said Edmund.
"And why not?"
"Because if you did, you wouldn't get to see my reaction, which is obviously why you came all the way out here in the first place."
Before Darling could say another word, Edmund snatched the note out of his hand and began to read it.
"It seems," he said, looking approvingly at George, "that the General has decided he can't bear to be parted from his men...."
"I say!" George exclaimed happily. "Pip pip and all that!"
"Yes, well just keep reading, Blackadder," said Darling, with an altogether too-knowing smirk on his face.
"...so he's turned down the transfer, and he'll be staying right here." Edmund sat down heavily on the cot. "Oh hell."
"Never fear, Captain," said George. "When I go in tomorrow, I'll ask the general if..."
"Oh, you won't be going in tomorrow or any other day, Lieutenant," said Darling with a superior air. "I have a note for you as well."
He handed the note to George, who opened it with trembling fingers.
"Well, George, let's hear what it says."
"I can't, Sir."
"I can," said Darling, taking the note back from George's hand. "Dear George," he read aloud. "What we two shared for the past seventy-two hours was honest and true, but surely you see that these golden moments must now come to an end."
Edmund shook his head as George sniffed loudly into a handkerchief.
"In the interests of keeping my reputation free from any scurrilous charges of favouritism, I'm afraid I have to send you back to the trenches, regardless of the fact that as my aide, you unerringly used your position to our mutual advantage every day and several times Tuesday night....."
Darling frowned, then his eyes widened. He crumpled up the note and dropped it at his feet before wiping the palms of his hand on his trousers. "That's quite enough of that, I'm sure. In any case, I'm back with the General, and you're...well, you're here," he said with a sneer.
"Don't you have somewhere to be, Darling?" Edmund said pointedly, as he loaded bullets, one after the other, into the chamber of his revolver.
Without saying a word, Darling spun about on his heel and beat a hasty retreat out of the bunker.
"Gormless idiot," muttered Edmund, while he patted the still-sniffling George on the shoulder.
"Did you call me, Sir?" Baldrick asked, standing in the doorway with a tiny cardboard valise in his hand. "Are we ready to go?"
"No, Baldrick. I'm afraid we won't be going anywhere just yet."
"Oh. Well then, I suppose I'd better unpack," Baldrick said, unlatching the suitcase and removing a pair of brown shoelaces and a single turnip, the latter of which he placed carefully on the table. "Home, sweet home...right, Sir?"
"At least for today. Baldrick," said Edmund. "At least for today."