Stories by Elizabeth Bear Part 113

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Hollis Leatherby stared at Sebastien with white-rimmed eyes.

Sebastien shrugged. "It must have been very difficult for you to meet her paymentsand such a tragic result to a brief dalliance, wasn't it, and perhaps an ill-considered note or two to Mademoiselle LeClere. Your wife's gloves need mending, and your collars are worn. And no doubt, your new position in the Puritan atmosphere of the Colonies would place you in an even more fragile position. Were the blackmailers increasing their demands?"

When Beatrice Leatherby fainted dramatically, sliding out of Captain Hoak's arms, Sebastien was ready. Hollis Leatherby backpedaled under cover of the flurry of activity surrounding his wife, and Sebastien was half a step behind himbut when his hand emerged from his pocket clutching the requisite gun, Sebastien hesitated.

He would let the criminal withdraw into the hallway, he decided, and then intervene. Gunfire on a dirigible in mid-ocean was an unacceptable risk.

Unfortunately, Virgil Allen responded like a frontiersman. His revolver was in his hand far faster and more smoothly than Hollis Leatherby's had been, and he cleared his field of fire with a quick crabwise sidestep. "Put it down, Hollis."

Leatherby's hand tightened convulsively on the pistol, his other hand groping behind him for the door latch. "You won't fire."

Sebastien was just calculating his angle of attack when Jack slipped past him. Jack did know how fast he could be, and dodged his grab as slickly as the guttersnipe he had been. Sebastien's fingers brushed Jack's wool suitcoat, and before he could grab again Jack had walked between the men with the guns, his arms spread wide.

"Neither of you is going to fire," he said. He faced Leatherby, his back to Allen, and Sebastien saw Allen's hand tremble. And he also heard the soft, near-silent sc.r.a.pe of chair legs on the carpet's pile, and knew that Michiel van Dijk was standing, cautiously.

Please don't, Sebastien thought, wondering if he was fast enough to intercept a bullet, if that was what it took.

"Dammit," Allen said. "Get to one side, boy."

And how ridiculous was it for a vampire to pray? He did, anyway; if he'd been a breathing man, he would have held his breath. And beside him, all but forgotten, Lillian gave a little squeak.

"Mr. Allen," Jack said, "put up your weapon. There's nowhere for Mr. Leatherby to run."

"He could sabotage the airs.h.i.+p," Allen argued, and Jack shrugged.

"So he could. And you could set us all on fire over the North Atlantic. Let him go for now. He's got nowhere to run to, until we reach New Amsterdam."

Allen shuddered, shook his head, and leveled the revolver again. He closed one eye, the revolver at arm's length, and squinted at the iron sight.

He was going to try to shoot past Jack, Sebastien saw, and he almost turned aside. Almost. Instead, he drove his nails into his palms and forced himself to watch.

"Your logic is impeccable," Virgil Allen said, and with a single crisp motion, elevated the muzzle of his gun.

No one intervened as Leatherby coughed out a labored breath and fumbled with the door. He slipped through it, back first and gun following.

Sebastien heard him moving on the far side of the doped fabric the way a cat hears rustling mice. Sebastien was much stronger than a cat, and much faster than a man, though Allen and van Dijk were both lunging for the door by now, along with one of the brawny crewmen. He simply moved through lathe and fabric, shredding it like crepe.

And on the other side, he broke Hollis Leatherby's right arm in two places in the process of relieving him of his gun. A spiral fracture, a nasty one.

It would likely never heal quite right.

Jack came to find him after dark. Sebastien stood on the promenade, his hands laced behind his back, and stared out at the air. The vast curve of the airs.h.i.+p blocked any chance of stars, but the night was soothing, and there was moonlight in the east. They stood silently for a little, shoulder to shoulder, and Sebastien sneaked a sideways glance.

Jack stared straight ahead, his spine stiff. "I've been thinking," he said.

Sebastien winced. "What you said to Captain Hoak is true, you know."

"That I'm a free man? I know it." Jack sighed, and let his hands fall to his sides. "They'll take the Leatherbys and Mademoiselle LeClere back to Germany for trial on their charges of murder and blackmail, respectively. And I don't think any of the pa.s.sengers for America will spread tales about you. I had a word with Miss Meadows and with Korvin ur."

"Thank you, Jack. Actually, we've been invited to visit Boston."

"We?"

"Oh, yes," Sebastien answered, letting his teeth show when he smiled. "You know, I think our Mrs. Smith quite fancies you."

They fell silent again. For a little while, Sebastien listened to Jack breathing, and considered what to say, to let Jack know it was all right, that Sebastien wouldn't hold a grudge. Jack frowned sideways at him, and Sebastien shrugged, and smiled slightly. But Jack spoke first. "Forgive me?"

"What's there to forgive?" Honestly startled, Sebastien turned and looked at Jack. Andat lastJack was looking back.

"I was unreasonable about Lillian."

"You are never unreasonable," Sebastien answered.

"Will you visit her again?"

"Atlanta is far from New Amsterdam."

"Actresses and wampyr both tend to travel."

Sebastien shrugged. "I won't, if you forbid it."

They stood for a little while, becalmed in silence, until Jack spoke. "I talked to her a little. Her patron... she burned."

Sebastien winced. Vampires only pa.s.sed one way: by violence, either at their own hand or that of another. Suicide was far more common than angry mobs, these days. And Sebastien knew very well that there were mornings when it would be far too easy to walk into the sun.

She burned.

"Whose was she?" he asked, because he had been avoiding asking.

"Jayne Fortescue," Jack answered, quickly. He'd been prepared with the name.

Sebastien sigheda human habit he had never quite lost. He'd never heard of her. "An American?"

"I don't know." Jack licked his lips. "There aren't supposed to be any of the blood in America. It wasn't Evie, Sebastien."

"Of course not." Evie Peletier was the name she had burned under, but he had met her as Eudeline la Noire.

Names changed; the woman never.

Sebastien continued, "Evie burned years ago."

Almost five years, and Sebastien had only just learned of it, hadn't he? Five years of silence, not so much as a letter, and he'd thought nothing of it. They'd encounter one other by chance sooner or later, he reasoned, in Paris or in Bonn. Europe was small, and unlife was long.

And there would always be time.

Burned, this Jayne Fortescue. As his Evie had burned, all alone in tiny, crowded Europe with its clubs and lineages and complicated alliances and agreements and rules. All alone, and empty with it.

"Lillian's scars are old," Jack said. "The casually visible ones, anyway. You might have thought"

He had thought, though he silently thanked Jack for permitting his dignity the lie. It would have explained too easily how she knew his name, and on some level, he had wanted to believe.

He shrugged and said, "That must be very hard for Lillian."

It didn't fool Jack. He caught Sebastien's sleeve and forced him to turn, to look Jack in the eye. "Promise me you won't."

"Jack"

"Promise, Sebastien."

"You didn't know Evie." What shall I tell you, Jack Priest? That it's very odd realizing that you are the oldest person that you are ever likely to know? That it is also very lonely?

At least in America, I shall be able to pretend I have a reason to feel so alone.

"No," Jack said. "But I know how I feel about you. Don't think I don't know what this sudden emigration is about. You've left everything. Sold your house, lied to your court. You're never going back to Spain."

"And what of it?"

"Nothing." Jack turned and pressed a warm hand to Sebastien's cheek. "But you're not going to shake me that easily. That emanc.i.p.ation means you don't get to tell me to go away any more than you get to tell me to stay."

Mulishly, Sebastien plowed ahead. "I can't give you a life. Life is for the living, not the undead."

Jack dropped his hand and stared at Sebastien, chin tilted up. "Don't be an idiot."

"Jack?"

Shaking his head, Jack lifted himself up on tiptoe and kissed Sebastien quickly on the mouth. Sebastien closed his eyes for a moment, to savor the pa.s.sing warmth, and so happened not to see when Jack turned on the b.a.l.l.s of his feet and strode away. He'd gone three steps by the time Sebastien stirred himself to movement and caught up. Without looking at him, Jack coughed and ran one frail-seeming hand through his hair. "I don't need you to give me a life, you old fool. Or haven't you noticed that I've got my own?"

Sebastien blinked. Slowed his steps, so that Jack slowed to stay alongside him. "There's no such thing as forever."

"That's all right. I haven't got forever. So if you leave me like Lillian got left, I shall be quite cross. Promise."

It was harder than it should have been, so he knew he wasn't lying.

Sebastien touched Jack's arm, and said, "I promise."

end.

Stories by Elizabeth Bear Part 113

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Stories by Elizabeth Bear Part 113 summary

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