The moonship's black corridors echo under Uther Doul's heels. Light filters through cracks in the ancient warped boarding, and dust sifts down as he strides down deeper into its hold.
It is silent here and warm, warm as the southern seas that slap the pilings and grease-stained ships' sides. Doul's shirt is rolled up at the sleeves, his coat discarded, but he wears his sword still. He frowns and his hands open and shut, open and shut. There -- around another passage -- is the vampir, the ab-dead one. The one making all the trouble.
The door is shut and two of the Brucolac's serjeants stand stonefaced outside it. Their eyes widen at the sight of Doul coming toward them like a mouthfish from the depths. He takes two more steps toward them and then stops. Says nothing. And after a very short silence, they stand aside and he opens the door.
Inside the door is an anteroom shrouded in velvet, and every person in Dry Fall who pays the goretax has seen that room: a woman reclines in it now, taking her ease, recovering from the bloodletting. But beyond the golden door behind the blue curtain is another room, and only a few people in Armada have ever seen it. Certainly the Lovers never have. Doul smiles thinly at the thought of them breaching this sanctuary.
The wires around his arm quiver as he brushes the curtain aside. The sleeping woman does not even stir as he puts his hand on the door and hears the lock click on the other side. He opens the door quietly and there, as he knew it would be, sits the Brucolac, head tilted slightly, golden hair falling over one eybrow, watching him as he pushes through the layers of velvet into the room beyond.
Here there is no velvet. The walls are stark and bare, wooden and crazed with age. There is a desk and a chair and a globe for lighting. And in the corner is the Brucolac's coffin. Made of a wood that Doul has forgotten the name of, lined in silk, containing only a dented pillow with a packet of dirt underneath it. The Brucolac is nothing if not traditional, even if those traditions are long forgotten by everyone else.
The vampir smiles, and Doul scowls back at him. On the desk is a page of correspondence to someone mysterious: the Brucolac, pen in hand, looks like he had been writing something before the interruption. Doul hates that smile, that faked politeness: the set of the vampir's shoulders says he is furious at the disturbance, and the way his fingers are white around the pen says he'd rather stab Doul in the eye with it than talk. And he knows that Doul knows it, and the smile is just to drive Doul bugshit, and Doul knows that too, but it's still working.
"Problem, Uther?" says the Brucolac, smiling that smile. "Something got past the big muscles and into the tiny mind?" He puts the pen down on the desk, leans back in the chair, sliding a casual arm behind his head and slouching, knees apart, still aiming that damnable grin Uther's way. From outside, through the portholes that serve as windows, Doul can hear the call of the night-birds and the whistling wind of Armada's passage.
Doul waits until he sees the grin slip a little and then he says, "Just came to have a little talk."
"Tea? Toast? I'm afraid I've gone and drunk all the blood." As he says it, Doul's narrow gaze sees it there at the corner of his mouth, a small red smear, the blood of the woman now sleeping in the anteroom. Contrasted with the Brucolac's pale skin in the dimness, it looks like chocolate. Doul concentrates fiercely on that smear, remembering what it means -- the shacks, the ab-dead clumsily begging for the wrists of passers-by. But it hardly helps, for watching the blood detracts not one whit from the beauty of that mouth. Doul slams his hand against his thigh impatiently.
"No tea. No toast. And by the gods, shut up and stop that damned smiling."
"We can't have a civilized conversation?"
"You aren't civilized."
The Brucolac puts his other hand on his heart mockingly. "Oh, you wound me, noble sir. Don't ever fail to remind me how much better you are."
"I am better," growls Doul, sparring on familiar territory. "Nobler. Or have you forgotten?"
"You don't let me forget. It's always the same story, the familiar refrain: drag me out in the sunlight, show everyone the face of the monster. Oh me, oh my."
"Someone has to warn them about you."
"Yes," says the vampir, and his tone bites sharp, "but who will warn them about you?"
Silence for a minute, so absolute that Doul swears he can hear the serjeants' creaking armour as they shift from foot to foot two doors away. He tries, mostly successfully, to get a hold on his temper. The Brucolac shifts downward in his chair, watching Uther and fiddling with a tie on his trousers. His shirt is open at the throat, showing a vee of white skin that almost glows. This, oddly enough, is familiar territory too -- nothing to be done about it. Yet.
"You must stop interfering with the Lovers' plan," he says finally. "We've harnessed the avanc and the whole city will soon be behind the movement. Your thickheaded intervention is only causing trouble."
"Oh?" says the Brucolac, and he takes his arm from behind his head and puts it flat on the desk. "Am I interfering with some plan thought up by your scar-faced freaks? Why don't I just go jump into the sea and let them have their gods-damned way, then?"
"Why not? It's not as if my lord and lady couldn't take care of Dry Fall too."
"Probably it would be better off without my blood-sucking ways. If I was gone, nothing could remind you of home. But are you sure you want me down with the fishes? If I was gone, there would be nothing on the whole of Armada that you really, really want." The vampir smiles again, this time showing all his teeth, and holds Doul's gaze as he lays his free hand on his own thigh.
"You think too well of yourself, ab-dead." It's an absent reply that mirrors the shift in power here, but it's quickly spoken and quicker forgotten. Doul is fixated on those long fingers, flicking a look upward to watch the Brucolac's pupils dilate blackly.
"Do I? I know you cultivate the Coldwine woman, leading her on to see what she knows about Fench. You get close to her, but though she's passing fair, you never touch. So what is it? Do you lust for the twin-scarred, the knife-mapped flesh? Or can you not forget how you thrill for something colder?"
Something unravels then in the moonlight, and Doul stands for a moment, lets the power and anger drain from him. Nothing will happen here: it will have to be justice from somewhere else. He can't deal with the vampir like this, not when his pulse is hammering and the wires in his arm are vibrating just enough to amplify. Nothing he can say will sway the Brucolac, and he knew it before he walked into the moonship. Honestly -- and it is hard to be honest -- this is what he wanted anyway, this light filtering through the dust. This moment there is between them.
He puts his hand to his mouth, licks his thumb, and reaches out to the corner of the vampir's mouth. Wipes slowly at the bloodstain, making sure it is all gone, then scuffs his thumb across that red lower lip. His ears are filled with his own breathing, which stops quietly when the vampir sucks that thumb into his mouth.
When they kiss, it thumps the vampir's chair back and his head whacks against the bulkhead, but they neither of them notice. Doul is half-leaning, half-kneeling in front of the chair, the hand with the wires tangled blond. When the serjeant knocks on the door because he heard the thump of the Brucolac's head, it's all Doul can manage to stop kissing him so the Brucolac can say unevenly that it's all right, he can go back to his post, they don't need his help.
They devour one another easily: Doul cuts his tongue on the vampir's fang and lets it bleed. The Brucolac tips his head back and lets Doul into that small space between neck and shirt. The space gets larger and soon enough they are skin to skin, and there is very little to say about that which hasn't been said already.
It is dawn when Doul wakes, sweat-sticky and shivering, head pillowed on coffin silk. His shirt is draped over him for a blanket. There is a pitcher of water on the desk, steam rising from it slowly. And the Brucolac is gone. Doul feels oddly peaceful but as he dresses it begins to drain away, and the space it leaves fills up with a familiar emptiness. That emptiness is who he really is. The peace is an aberration, an impossibility even for someone holding a Possible Sword.
The Brucolac's correspondence of the night before is also gone, but there is a note under the pitcher. In the ancient script of their homeland, it asks, "Is there no way we can be just this?"
Uther scrawls a reply, mouth drawn up tight, wires clattering with the black strokes. "It's not enough," he writes, and as his boots thump hollowly toward the moonship's decks, he remakes again all that was undone, pushing away anything resembling need and striding up into daylight, where nothing below can follow.