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Beauty

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It wasn't until the following night that Joshua came to visit him in his cabin.

There had been a small celebration after Damon Julian's death, while Abner's heart was still thumping and Joshua had his thirst from the fight, but as they'd calmed down the effects had worn off, and Abner's broken arm and Joshua's lost arm and burns got to them, until the other night-people had to half-carry them back to their cabins. Cynthea had come to tend to Abner herself in gratitude for what he'd help to do, arranging a splint of sorts for his arm, giving what spare laudanum could be found - they thought to find a human doctor for him, but wanted to wait for Joshua to recover after a day or two.

It was clear as Joshua came in that he was not fully recovered - his eyes were still a little sunken from the daylight, though most of his burnt skin had peeled away, and the left arm of his shirt looked mostly still empty from where it had been shot off - but he still favored Abner with a thin smile. "How are you?"

"Arm hurts a mite," Abner conceded gruffly, while Joshua pulled the chair over to his bedside. "I'd get up, but they say not to move it overmuch."

"They're correct. We will all move from here soon, but don't do more than you need to until then. We can get you anything you need. We need to find a suitable doctor for Cynthea soon in any case."

"Hm." Abner didn't like being told what to do most times, but Joshua was like a king now, and in his own country. He also wasn't sure what to say. "Sorry about your arm. Hope it heals good."

Joshua chuckled. "It will, and you did what you had to. I've been thinking over and over about yesterday, a distraction from the pain."

"Me too," Abner said grimly. After the elation, his mind had buzzed with all the things that might have gone wrong, how easily he might have been dead now and all of Joshua's people still in Damon's thrall.

"Did you truly mean what you said?" Joshua asked, lounging in the chair all graceful.

"What I said?" Abner's mind had been filled with the danger and violence of it all, he didn't remember saying anything special.

"About coming even without the Fevre Dream. Saving my people. For me." Joshua sounded almost casual, but his gaze on Abner's face was unyielding.

He could feel his face flushing, though he wasn't sure why. "Well... yeah. Like I said. Partners, and all."

"Hmm," Joshua looked off into the distance for a few moments, before looking back to him with a fondness. "You are an incredible man, Abner Marsh. Brave, clever..." he sighed, "you have a beauty to you."

Abner almost choked on that, "Now I don't know about none of that, but no man's never accused me of no beauty. Are you sure you can see in here?"

"Better than you can," Joshua laughed, before turning earnest again. "And it's true. I've noticed it more than once. Damon was not entirely wrong: I did seek an unattractive business partner, but even that first night we met... when you looked upon the Eclipse, speaking of steamboats and your dream... I thought it just a trick of the dark. But from time to time, when you're alive with passion, when you smile at me... You have a beauty, Abner Marsh."

Abner's mind floundered for a joke, for an excuse, but came up empty as Joshua looked into his eyes with such... fondness, admiration, hope. Abner almost felt pinned in place as Joshua moved closer, but it was nothing like when Valerie and Damon had tried to mess with his mind; Joshua was silent, and there was no unnaturalness to it. Only disbelief, as Joshua pressed his lips to Abner's own.

The kiss was sweet, Joshua's lips slightly cool, and perfect and seemed to last an eternity, and yet ended too soon. As Joshua pulled away and sat back again, it felt like the breath Abner released was one he'd been holding half his life.

There was a long silence before Abner rediscovered his voice, along with doubts. "I... Cynthea...?"

"Cynthea will not mind. We don't have quite the same philosophy as most humans. You are also not the first man I have kissed, I confess, though you would be my favourite, probably just before Byron. Byron was beautiful to behold and very full of life, but he was everyone's."

Abner had never allowed himself to think overmuch on Joshua's history in Europe in that fashion. "I... I don't..."

"I know," Joshua said as he stood, with a hint of sorrow in his voice, "this is a different world, and you are a very different man. You would rather be alone than embrace such. I do not demand or expect anything from you, Abner. You have given me so very much already. I intend to provide you with anything you might ever want or need, and hope only for your happiness."

Abner's throat had sealed itself up tight and it seemed something had got itself stuck in his eye, so all he could do was give a curt nod and feel the pit in his stomach.

But Joshua hesitated, with his hand on the doorhandle, and looked back at him, so pale, slender and handsome. And smiled gently at him, "But still, there is a beauty to you, Abner Marsh."

Abner found himself just about able to smile back, and the pit eased away, filling him with a warmth even as Joshua left. Perhaps that would be enough.

 

~

 

Joshua's people never left him wanting, all of his days.

They decided elements of the steamboat were sensible, but changed instead to a large hotel in a city, with a bar and restaurant (Abner got to pick the chef), with easy access to the necessary ingredients of Joshua's concoction. They had a floor to themselves, and Abner was given a suite with a view over the river. Joshua made sure he got to hear - if not see himself - whenever any big steamboat races happened, and always agreed that the Eclipse would have been faster.

Abner was one of the first to meet Joshua and Cynthia's child in Cynthia's still-living arms, and was almost brought to tears when they told him her name was Abigail Marsha York, after the saviour of their people. Little Abi was a beautiful sweet little thing, who calls him 'unca Aba' before the end.

When Abner's heart starts to give out, Joshua sits on the bed beside him, talking about steamboats and old times, and is holding his hand at the end. He closes Abner's eyes and kisses his forehead, wipes away his own tears where they fell upon his saviour.

Abner Marsh is dead, and buried overlooking the Mississippi, but his life and legend and passion will live on a thousand years or more, amongst Joshua's people.