Title: A Boat Trip
Characters: Peter, Neal, the Boatman, El
Word count: 1550
Warnings: Character death as game mechanic. Entirely non-permanent.
Notes: Hopefully this will make some sort of sense without playing the game! For this segment, what you need to know: You have a Wounds quality. When your Wounds are high enough you die, and are sent to the river where you have to stay until you've reduced your Wounds enough to come back to life again. In Fallen London it is all but impossible to die permanently, and all the inhabitants know it.
Summary: Peter is temporarily dead. Neal thinks he should have some company.
- - -
Three decades ago, London was stolen by bats. Dragged deep into the earth by the Echo Bazaar. The sun is gone. All we have is the gas-light of Mr Fires.
But Londoners can get used to anything. And it's quiet down here with the devils and the darkness and the mushroom wine. Peaceful.
So welcome. Delicious Friend.
The boat is slowly passing a dark beach, drifting its way down the silent river. The water and the roof are black as vake-wings, and the banks are swathed in dark fog.
It's cold, and quiet, and surprisingly peaceful.
Peter is very tired. For now he is content to sit back in his seat, waiting for something to happen. The dark continent fails to draw him, and he thinks idly of London, knowing he can do nothing to force his return. A scoundrel had been trying that earlier, pilfering breaths from fellow passengers. Peter had, after a brief scuffle, ended up tossing the fellow overboard.
Even in Death, one encounters criminals.
He has barely finished that thought when a voice calls cheerfully, "Peter! Hi!"
Peter starts, and rubs his eyes, but it really is Neal making his way towards him, tipping his hat to the individual of mysterious and indeterminate gender who shuffles along the bench to make room. "What are you doing here?" Peter demands.
Neal grins at him. "Oh, you know. Just one of those unfortunate accidents. Focus on the fact that at least you get to have my company now."
"I can't believe you died!" Peter says, horrified.
"You were here first. No one likes a hypocrite."
Peter sighs resignedly, recognising the futility of continuing this line of argument. "How's El?"
"El's fine. She sends her love, and hopes you'll be back soon."
Peter sighs again, more regretfully this time. "That's in the hands of the Boatman." He gestures towards the shrouded figure crouched over the rudder.
Neal stares at Peter. "Don't tell me you were planning to just sit here until you were allowed to return to life."
"Well, yes," Peter says. "That is how it's supposed to work. Bodies need time to heal."
Neal tosses that away with an airy wave of his hand. "Oh, supposed to. Come on."
He tugs Peter's sleeve until Peter reluctantly gets up and follows him to the stern, joining the Boatman on his steering platform. Black water slides astern with barely a ripple, the wake fading back almost instantly into the current. "I've come for a game," Neal announces.
The Boatman looks up with a skeletal creak. "Oh, it's you again," he says.
Peter looks very hard at Neal, who is equally studiously avoiding his eyes. He can't have died that often, surely?
"I know you love our matches," Neal says to the Boatman, with relentless enthusiasm. "How about dice today?"
"Oh, very well," the Boatman grumbles, and brings out from some pocket an ancient set of bone dice. They rattle and growl like thunder as he shakes them in his hand. "Is your friend joining us?"
"Nope," Neal says, very quickly, before Peter has time to so much as open his mouth. He leans forward conspiratorially. "He aligns with the Constables, you know."
"Oh dear," the Boatman says, his teeth clattering as he shakes his head woefully at Peter. "You have my very deepest sympathies."
"Er," Peter says, uncertainly, "Thank you?" Although he suspects the sentiment had been less than complimentary.
The Boatman nods gravely at him nonetheless, and then he and Neal play.
It takes some time for Peter to realise what's going on. "You're cheating!" he whispers, appalled, as the jerking of the rudder provides a momentary distraction.
Neal shrugs, and grins. "Of course I am. What were you expecting?"
"But you can't cheat… him!"
Neal rolls his eyes. "If it's impossible that means you've got nothing to worry about."
Peter doesn't have time to insist that Neal's logic doesn't follow at all before the Boatman returns and the game is rejoined. The dice crash and roll against the deck with a roar like mountains toppling. Peter can't bear to watch, knowing what the stakes are.
"A good game," the Boatman announces at last, and Peter finally dares to look up from the river's surface and back towards the two of them. The Boatman is collecting up his dice, a little disconsolately. "You are an entertaining opponent."
"I do try," Neal says, preening. "I imagine I'll be seeing you again soon for a rematch."
"Please don't," Peter implores.
Neal ignores him, and shakes the long, pale fingers of the Boatman's hand.
And just like that, they return to Life.
Peter sits up very slowly in the cottage parlour, his whole body hurting. He groans.
"Peter!" El exclaims. The disappointing marsh-wolf leaps up from the rug before the fire and puts its front paws on the sofa to lick Peter's face. El gently pushes it out of the way, beaming. "I'm so glad you're back!"
Peter hugs her. "I'm glad to be back, believe me." He gets slowly to his feet, painfully and unsteadily and with support from El, but delighting in the experience of being reunited with his body. His hand goes to the back of his head, finding the place that's sore but no longer broken. "Remind me not to do that again."
"I do tell you to be more careful out there," El says. Her tigress purrs in agreement. "You're as bad as Neal, really."
"Neal!" Peter exclaims. He turns hastily towards the door. "Hon, he was on the boat too. And I didn't ask him where his body is! He could be anywhere —"
"I'm sure he's fine," El says, reassuringly, which makes Peter narrow his eyes in sudden suspicion. There is no way El would be that cavalier about the possibility of Neal lying alone in an alley, or drowned off the docks, or…
"What do you know?" he demands.
"What do you mean?" she hedges.
Peter glances towards the stairs, and El's eyes widen slightly. That's enough confirmation for Peter, who takes them two at a time, despite the protests from his only-just-alive body. A couple of bats in the rafters squeak sulkily at the clatter.
"Neal!" he snarls, bursting into the guest room.
Neal is lying fully clothed on the bed, blinking blearily at the ceiling. He turns his head sluggishly at Peter's entry, and cracks a slightly guilty smile. "Peter. Fancy meeting you here."
"You — You —" Peter finds himself speechless. He turns to El instead. "You let him!"
"I was going to anyway," Neal says. He pushes himself up, and instantly falls back down again. "Mozzie just shouted at me and then locked himself in his suite at the Royal Beth. Knew I wouldn't risk dying there."
"Mozzie was sensible," Peter says, grimly.
"I did try to talk him out of it," El says. "At least here I could make sure he was safe."
"He was dead!"
"So were you," Neal points out. This time he successfully manages to sit up. He makes a quick grab for the tiny glass bottle on the nightstand and tucks it into his pocket before Peter can get more than a glimpse of the label. One of F.F. Gebrandt's creations, of course.
"You are —" Peter splutters, unable to come up with something damning enough. "You can't do things like that!"
"But you didn't know how to get off the boat," Neal says. "I thought you might be lonely."
Peter drops his head into his hands as El puts her arms around him. "Neal," he says, his voice muffled by his fingers, "That was utterly reckless, and utterly stupid."
"It's not like dying is permanent. I don't see why you're so upset."
Peter drops his hands and stares at him. But no, Neal really doesn't get why he's so upset. "You died. You went and killed yourself."
"Well, yes," Neal says, like he's being perfectly reasonable. "To keep you company — I didn't want you to have to be in Death all by yourself. And I was there to help you get back quicker. London's better when you're around."
El kisses the back of his neck to show that she agrees with at least that part of the statement. Peter supposes he should be grateful Neal and Mozzie haven't finished teaching her their tricks, or there might have been an entire card party taking place on the river.
"I appreciate the sentiment," he says, gruffly. "But don't do it again. I mean it; don't."
Neal rubs his mouth and grimaces. "You know, Ms Gebrandt should really make poisons that taste more pleasant."
"…No, I think she really shouldn't," Peter says, taking less than a moment to consider.
Neal beams unrepentantly at him.
Peter groans. "I can't deal with this. I just can't."
"Dinner will take your mind off it," El says, brightly. "I got the three of us reservations at Dante's Grill."
He's lost this battle. Thoroughly lost. He sighs in fond exasperation as Neal gets to his feet, wavering for a second but then finding his balance. He can put this behind him. He can enjoy dining out with his friend and his wife…
"Wait," he says, sharply. "The last time we were at Dante's Grill you were observing someone for that Implacable Detective."
"Was I?" El asks, and blinks innocently. "I'm afraid I don't recall."
Smiling sweetly, she slips out of the room.
Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/84823.html with comments.