Last Laugh

A cheap room, latest in a series of cheap rooms.  She paced its length, as she had been doing for the last twenty minutes, ever since he had finally fallen asleep.  Fourteen steps and then the window, the snow.  It had never ceased to fascinate her, and for awhile she was content to watch it fall, thick and wet and gray, all but obliterating the street below.


Slowly her attention shifted, and she became conscious once again of the room behind her, the silence pressing at her back.  Small sounds struggled against it — the low buzz of the heater, a filtered ghost of the wind, his cough and the rustlings as he stirred and settled — but the silence was stronger.  There was always something stronger; that was a lesson she had learned very quickly.


Her coat was thrown across a chair; she fumbled a cigarette from the pocket and lit it with trembling hands, smiling wryly.  They had had to go somewhere, she supposed.  He had gradually lost his shakes, if not his nightmares, along their tangled, overtraced road from Los Angeles.  She was the one who had to worry now.


It would be all right again as soon as they reached St. Lawrence Central.   He had said so, and she trusted in his judgment.  It would be all right — not comfortable, but safe for another little while.  It wasn’t far, they could get there in a matter of hours, at most.  But he had fallen ill, growing worse until they had had to stop in a place he’d said used to be called Detroit, and St Lawrence had been hours away for three days.


He coughed again, a congested rale that shook the bed with its violence.  “Rachael?” Hoarse, unsure, barely audible.


“Here.  I’m right here.” Quickly stubbing out her cigarette, she went to him, smoothing a hand through his hair and bending to touch her lips gently to his forehead.  It was hot, far too hot.  She sat on the edge of the bed, lookinq into familiar hooded eyes, darkly shadowed now, luminous with fever and trying to focus on her.


He gestured yaguely, no more than a spasm of one hand.  She reached the glass of water from the bedside table, lifting his head to help him drink.   Lying back, breathing hard fron the effort, he tried to smile.


“You’ve got to have a doctor.”


He shook his head, wincing.  “Can’t… you know that.”


“You can’t stay like this, Deckard. It isn’t getting any better, and I don’t know what to do to help you.”


‘No:” The vehemence of it startled her.  It was undercut by a renewed fit of coughing, but when she moved to get the water again, he gripped her hand.   It hadn’t much strength, but the brief, dangerous flare in his eyes was enough, and she stayed where she was until the spell subsided. “Fine…  I’ll be fine. Tomorrow we’ll leave.  All right?”


//He’s trying to spare my feelings…There’s a joke in that, somewhere…// “And then what? You’re sick, you need a doctor.”


“Too many questions.  Maybe they would… want to check you, too…  They’d find out…” Another hint of his tired smile.  “And we couldn’t afford it, anyway.”


She bit back her reply, having to admit the truth of his argument.  His cashcard had long been worse than useless; even if there were anything left to transact with it, it would be far too easily traced.  Bartering, had they anything to barter, could be too suspicious, even as shabbily nondescript as they had become.  She was willing to take the risk, if it would help him.  But would it? He would find no more forgiveness than she would, if they were discovered.  Even if his life weren’t in jeopardy, how could she take everything he had done, everything he had left behind on her behalf, and negate it in a moment? Perhaps he hadn’t thought he was giving up anything worth keeping, perhaps it hadn’t been entirely for her — loving him, trusting him, didn’t mean she had ever been capable of understanding him.   It had never mattered, and certainly didn’t matter now.  The sting of futility had been another early lesson, one of the first any Six learned, even a sheltered one.  She would not do that to him.  ‘I owe you one’, he had said.  They were even, but there was so much more by now…  No better to take it on herself, and let be.  She wasn’t sure why, but that didn’t matter, either.


“All right, Deckard,” she conceded.  “Tomorrow.” She stood, automatically straightening into poised composure.


“Beautiful…” He reached out to her.


She smiled her flickering smile, gave his hand a light squeeze.  “It’s in the warranty, remember?”


His low chuckled turned into another cough, not so severe this time.  “See…  better already…”


“You should eat something.  We have enough for that, anyway.”


“Just tired.  You —


“I know, I have to be careful. You’re a good teacher.” She took a few steps toward the window. “It’ll be easier later, I’ll go then.  You try to sleep.”


“Wish… I had a drink…”


She hadn’t heard that in a long while, but let it pass without comment.  Being the cause of their delay was preying on him; rest would do more for him than anything she might say.  She hoped.


Instead, she drifted back to the window, unconsciously hugging herself against the cold outside.   The wind had heightened, and at this level the snow was whipped into frenzied arabesques.  The lights beginning to come on in the buildings across the street bled fuzzily into the storm; infrequent traffic opaqued the swirling flakes into a solid gray wall with the flare of their running beacons.   Cities and their machines never stopped; nature, however, could slow them to a crawl.  It slowed everything, eventually.


The room’s lighting coming up made her jump.   Almost simultaneously she realized how complete the silence had become, a singing in her ears.   Strong.   She turned, found him watching her.  Slowly she approached the bed.  “Deckard? I –“


Looking at her, through her, far beyond her…  For a long while she gazed down at him, her mind walking around the edges of what confronted her.  She caressed his lined face, his shaggy hair — so white! — and gently closed his eyes.  They had held even less life when she had first seen them, over thirty years ago…  Once again she bent to kiss his forehead.  Not hot now, not at all.


She straightened, calm.   They had been over it before; methodically she set about what he had asked her to do.   The access card for the car — she knew the startup code, it wouldn’t hurt her; the remaining valuables; the gun.  There was nothing else.


She paused at the door, looked back at him, at the room.  Her eye caught her reflection in the black rectangle of the window: slim figure, perfect oval face, raven hair.


Tyrell, she was sure, would have appreciated the joke.


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